Twelve Steps to Psychological Good Health and Serenity


Reviewed by bob k

There is a tendency for those of us in the “non-believer” camp to throw out the baby with the bathwater in regard to the dark blue prayer book. What is personally offensive, or at the least, unpalatable, can blind us from some essential truths contained therein.

There are few, if any, who have understood alcoholism and alcoholics better than Bill Wilson, ably assisted as he was by Dr. William Silkworth.

Many millions have drunk to great excess, experienced debilitating consequences, and quit drinking. Only some miniscule percentage “stays quit.”

Abstinence is REMARKABLY unsatisfying.

“THE DOCTOR’S OPINION” describes a cycle that has been experienced by many (most?) of us. I stopped drinking numerous times and experienced something much akin to:

They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks – drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery. (p. xxviii-xxix)

It’s unfortunate that the AA Big Book didn’t stick with the “psychic change” talk, rather than treading down a path of “spiritual maladies” and supernatural solutions.

Nonetheless, when drinkers of my type put down the booze, we are not “fixed,” but propelled into some unpleasant and uncomfortable state of “existential angst.” Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but eventually and inevitably, the temptation of “the sense of ease and comfort that comes AT ONCE by taking a few drinks” wins out once again prompting a new bout of “drinking problems.”

Gabe, a brilliant fellow, the son of an eminent psychoanalyst, is a graduate of Oxford University and has a PhD from MIT, and taught philosophy and psychology for many years at King’s College in London.

Gabe is also an atheist, someone who has suffered from a variety of depression and anxiety related problems, and an author.

Twelve StepsHis very recently published Twelve Steps to Psychological Good Health and Serenity – A Guide is a tribute to the wisdom inherent in the psychology which underlies AA’s process of “spiritual” healing. As a skeptic, both personally and professionally, Gabe came very grudgingly to a recognition of 12 Step benefits.

He questioned EVERYTHING.

A psychological crisis pushed him to do a personal “modification” of the process.

He needed SOMETHING!

In many ways, Gabe’s book is a translation from the language of religion to the language of science. It offers a path of transformation that is palatable to the secularist. It saves the baby while dispensing with the loathsome grungy liquid.

Books written by philosophers can be cumbersome, even tedious, but Gabe has brought a “lightness” to a heavy subject. The writing style is “breezy” akin to that of Bertrand Russell, or Bill Wilson.

Relevant quotations are drawn from the broadest of sources:

By letting it all go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. When you try and try… the world is beyond winning. Lao Tzu

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength. Marcus Aurelius

Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace. Dalai Lama

Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession. Mahatma Gandhi

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. Muhammed Ali

This book offers a scientist’s view of addiction, and a simple, directed tour through the 12 steps, albeit a secular version.

As I did, Gabe needed SOMETHING, and he seems to have found it in the psychological healing that is attainable through the 12 step process. Not a miracle.

More like therapy.

Bill Wilson wrote: “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.”

When “spiritual” is translated to its most human meaning, he seems to have been correct.

Twelve Steps To Psychological Good Health And Serenity – A Guide is available at Amazon.

12 Responses

  1. Mary R says:

    As someone else noted, I ordered two… one to keep, one to share. Now need to go back and order several more.

    Concise, engaging, psychological (mostly) analysis of the steps. What we have all said for years: Everyone needs the principles.

    Thanks for the recommendation. I plan on sharing some reading at my women’s AA meeting that I take to a local rehab.

    As an aside, would recommend the Greta Christina blog for those who haven’t yet seen it. Her comments on mindfulness meditation and the Serenity “Saying” are quite good. And she is a take no prisoners atheist.

  2. James S. says:

    Nice review. Ordered two books, one a keeper a second to pass it on.

  3. Glenna R. says:

    Hi Bob| Thank you for drawing my attention to this book; I’m in a hurry to read it. Your build up has me hooked.
    I gather it’s more of a scientific treatise, yet the quotations are from philosophers who have many times been the only higher power I ever had. I find some religious people philosophical enough that I can learn from them too. I never did throw out the baby. There’s just too many times that the BB throws me right off. Stories are always fine as sometimes that’s all we really have. Maybe, I don’t find the BB philosophical enough? Maybe I have a hard time with simple solutions? I’ve always been too thoughtful, too reflective too introspective and too sceptical to jump to the supernatural solution. However, if it helps others, I say, let it be. I suspect anything that helps an alcoholic to recovery is fair. I know a man who seems to have found it in the Legion. I can see how that would work. Even though he’s surrounded by alcohol, he’s also surrounded every day of his life with a strong support network of friends as he spends every day there. Also, without checking, I’m convinced that there are people there besides him who cannot and do not drink. Meetings work as they supply a support system which may be the most important part of AA, I believe, more important than a belief in a god of whatever description. AA seems to have preached that people will fail us. Will they? Many will, but there’s always those who are willing to go the extra mile. Thanks again for all this, Bob and thanks to Roger for keeping the dialogue going. Glenna R

  4. Brent says:

    The most satisfying books I’ve read on addiction have primarily been written by scientists probing the neurological, genetic, psychological, sociological and cultural issues that seem to be present in most alcoholics. It’s not that the BB doesn’t provide a pretty good description of the malady in the Doctor’s Description but science has caught up to and passed the BB in understanding how the factors named above conspire to make us powerless over alcohol and all manner of drugs and behaviours.
    There’s little doubt there are some great insights in the BB but it’s very difficult to excise one paragraph or as little as a sentence or two without leaving gnarled remains.
    A coherent explanation of what’s going on with the addict, when written by a scientist who provides context, process and experimental rigours just can’t be compared to the BB. It’s not that the BB is bad, or wrong or entirely misguided but, like any book, it’s very difficult to rip out sections that still seem relevant while ignoring it’s context. The BB WILL eventually lose all its relevance by virtue of its reflection of the times when it was written and the soon to be overwhelming empirical data gathered by respected medical scientists, sociologists and psychologists. It will be rendered a relic that helped shine a light on a real problem, that has real origins. But just as most Christians will visit a doctor when they are ill – rather than just pray for it to go away – more and more alcoholics will gain their greatest understanding of the malady that bedevils them from professionals who are completely up to date on the current science.

  5. Tim C. says:

    I’d appreciate it if you gave the title of the book and name of the author and the publisher at the very beginning of any book review.

  6. Thomas B. says:

    Add my enthusiastic endorsement, Bob, to your pertinent review of Gabe S.’s timely book. Driving home from my morning AA meeting I was thinking of writing an email to a sponsee, who recently relapsed just before his 6th month following treatment. I initially thought I would recommend to him Marya Hornbacher’s book “Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power”. Now, I can recommend to him two books, Marya’s and Gabe’s, letting him decide which one he wants to follow, if he choses to do some step work at all.

    Coincidence? Serendipity? Mystery? Whatever !~!~!

    I also greatly appreciated reading your use a term from my callow youth that I still struggle mightily with: existential angst — thank goodness for our gathering here at AA Agnostica, wherein those of like minds and similar afflictions can share “experience, strength and hope” to stay sober and help others to do the same . . .

  7. Craig T. says:

    If you define “spirituality” as living a life that is positive for yourself and others, than I’m all for it.

    Unfortunately, many people have expanded what it means to be spiritual into what rites you perform as part of that spirituality and the line has blurred between it, and religion. I cringe when I am told I have to have either to find recovery.

  8. John M. says:

    Excellent, Bob! I’ll check the book out.

    We miss so much if we get hung up on words or texts, and as you suggest, throw the baby out with the bathwater. The point is to find the core of the experience – whether I call the experience spiritual or psychic, or a personality change or a change in my character makes no difference to me as long as I feel something is working better for me and for my relationship with others than had been the case when alcohol was the centre of my universe.

    Thanks again for this delightful surprise!

  9. Mike S. says:

    Timely. Yet once again, at 22 years of continuous sobriety I find myself “restless, irritable and discontented.” I’ve always wondered if this was due to my alcoholism/addiction. A couple of spooky statements: “Abstinence is REMARKABLY unsatisfying” and “Only some miniscule percentage “stays quit.” Thanks for the great post.

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