A Special Project: The Practical Book

Practical Book

by Roger C.

We are today launching a special project. A book. A special book.

It is a book that would fit perfectly in Alcoholics Anonymous. Anyone in AA could read it and benefit from it. It wouldn’t be a replacement for or a rewrite of the Big Book (BB). It would be a modern day supplement to it: The Practical Book (PB). The subtitle of the book would be: Tools We Find Helpful in Recovery.

The proposed book would be relatively short. It would consist of a number of chapters that would be writings about a variety of tools that help us in our recovery from alcoholism.

Tools that we alcoholics have learned about over the 75 years since the Big Book was published. Tools that we have gleaned from our very own and personal insights in recovery. Tools that we have learned from science and research.

This is a book that cannot be written by one person alone. That typically limits this kind of effort to the experience of a single person. The Practical Book (PB) would be what the Big Book (BB) was also designed to be: the insights of a group of people in recovery.

The tools we have found that help us in recovery. A whole book. Written by people in recovery in AA.

Find this project Interesting? Then please, keep reading…

Tools in Recovery

What got us sober? What keeps us sober?

Answering those questions would be the goal of the PB.

And often, but not always, the answers could be based on ideas initially put forward in the Big Book.

In fact, this whole project began with the BB. Denis, from Vancouver, raised it with me one day, when he wanted to get to the bottom of something Bill Wilson wrote in the BB: “Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” Bill goes on to write that “the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot.”

Is that true? Denis and I had a good discussion about that. And so the question: What role does a re-evaluation of the “self” play in sobriety and recovery? As happens so often in the Big Book, an important issue is raised and then abandoned.

Bill and Bob

“Something passed between us. Something happened. I think AA began right there.”

This would be a wonderful chapter in The Practical Book.

And there are many, many more.

For example, many of us believe that what is at the root of our recovery is the principle of “one alcoholic talking to another alcoholic”. It is the fellowship. It is group therapy. It is not drinking and going to meetings. It is listening to others share their experience, strength and hope and being able to relate to that. Another chapter in the PB?

Some time ago (February, 2013), John L shared an important article on AA Agnostica: Physical Recovery. What role does a healthy lifestyle involving exercise and a proper diet play in our recovery? To the best of my knowledge, that crucial topic is not mentioned in the Big Book. Surely an important chapter in The Practical Book.

What about making amends? Of course that hearkens back to 1939 and “How It Works” in the Big Book. And some Steps could be discussed in this manner in various chapters in The Practical Book. Is making amends an important part of recovery for some of us? Is realigning ourselves with people we may have harmed in the past crucial to maintaining our sobriety?

Of course, making amends is Step 8 of the suggested program of AA. And there would be other chapters about the Steps.

For example, Step 12 is about service. What role does service, supporting and helping others, play in our recovery? Some would argue that it has a huge role in our lives in recovery. A chapter in the PB?

What about meditation as a tool (Step 11)?

An essential tool in my own recovery is what I call “acceptance”. Others call it “surrender”. I personally don’t like that word. Surrender is “to” something while acceptance is “of” something. In sobriety I try to accept who I am and my relation to other people and my (modest) place in the universe. As Bill put it: “We have ceased fighting anything or anyone”. What a relief! How that is done and and how it works could be a chapter in The Practical Book.

Finally, on the last page of the BB, Bill Wilson writes: “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little.” And thus, in order to declare openness to new ideas in the future, the last chapter of the PB could be called “We Know Only A Little”. It would affirm that subsequent editions of The Practical Book could incorporate changes, new ideas and fresh insights into the essential ingredients of recovery and sobriety for all of us suffering from alcoholism and addiction.

That is a brief and tentative outline of nine potential chapters in The Practical Book. How many chapters would there be in all? Well, how many tools are there in recovery? And would some tools warrant more than one chapter?

Simple and Secular

The book will use secular – that is, non-religious – language. But it would in no way be anti-theist. It would not have content that would repel someone who has faith in God or, indeed, believes that a God or Higher Power played a role in her or his recovery. There are many, many topics – and many useful tools in recovery and sobriety – that can be discussed without mentioning religion or religious beliefs. And of course AA is not allied with any religious organization or institution, so that is the only appropriate course to follow. A discussion of practical topics is open to everybody, be they Jewish, Christian, atheist, pagan, Muslim or whatever. That’s why it’s The Practical Book.

And so literally all in recovery – religious, non-religious, uncertain – are invited to contribute to The Practical Book.

The book also has to be written in simple language, easily understood by everyone. The kind of language used, for example, in Living Sober. Even if it is based on complicated science and research, it must be written in such a way that it would be understood by someone with a Grade 8 education. “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying this; he actually didn’t say it but nevertheless the point is still valid.

Timeline, Committee, Distribution

An editorial committee has been established to oversee this project. It’s called the Practical Committee (PC). That committee consists of the following people: Roger C, Doris A, Chris G and John S.

We would set aside a year to put this book together. But if it took longer, so be it. Here’s the “why and how” of the plan as of today.

We want as much input as possible, from all those who wish to be heard. As chapters are submitted, those that look promising will be posted on AA Agnostica. This will permit us to get feedback and commentary on each tool / chapter. Whatever changes and insights are gained as a result will be incorporated into that chapter.

This work of deciding which chapters will be included and how they might be perfected – in full collaboration with their authors, of course – will be done by the PC.

Finally, if those organizing it were willing, a draft of the book could be given to delegates at the We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention in Austin, Texas, in November, 2016 and made a part of a panel discussion – or a workshop – at the Convention.

After this final session of feedback on the content of the book, it would be published by AA Agnostica.

Royalties come with publication and sales. A commitment would be made so that after a specific threshold was reached, profits from book distribution would be shared among AA organizations, such as AA World Services and various agnostic and atheist AA service organizations.

But here’s the kicker.

In preparing this book, we would keep in touch with the AA General Service Office Literature Committee. At the very least, we would keep them updated on progress on the Practical Book.

But in the end, our aim would be to give the copyright of the PB to AA World Services in order to have the book published as “Conference-approved” literature. That would certainly not happen in the next year or two, indeed it probably will never happen, but the offer would remain open ad infinitum. It is certainly time for AA to publish something contemporary about what we have learned over the years about the key assets in our recovery and sobriety and, at the very least, our fellowship should officially be invited – and continually challenged – to do just that.

We Are AA

Over the past while, there has been an ongoing discussion of the place of the agnostic and atheist movement in AA.

Are we to remain in AA or will we become a separate movement? Will AA accept us? Will AA change enough to accept us or for us to accept AA? There are doubts about our place within the fellowship. There are different opinions as to how best to move forward.

I believe we agnostics and atheists are a movement within AA.

And we should be open and proud about who we are and what we do.

This special project – The Practical Book – is in fact a way of anchoring and solidifying our presence within the fellowship of AA.

To date we have started our own meetings and written our own books. We had to do that! We had to do it to survive, to move on from one day to the next with at least a certain sense of integrity.

But now we can do something for ALL of AA. We can reach out, we can very much be a part of being there “when anyone anywhere reaches out for help”. We can make a real contribution. To all of AA. And who knows? Maybe that contribution will be acknowledged by everyone within the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Even those who might have been dubious about us in the past.

Can you imagine a newcomer coming into an AA meeting and handing her The Practical Book?

We are AA.

Some Practical Words

There will, of course, be no Practical Book without authors.

We need women and men who are willing and able to share their insights into what has worked for them in recovery. People who have thought it through and perhaps discussed it with others and done some research.

Are you one of those people? If so, please contact us by the end of this year via email at admin@aaagnostica.org.

A special project.

The Practical Book: Tools We Find Helpful in Recovery.

We’re on our way!

37 Responses

  1. Jerry F. says:

    It’s an exciting idea, Roger. Several topics come to mind that I think would be applicable and even original, compared, that is, to the list of already accepted topics.

    I am a bit concerned, though, about keeping the writing to that which would be comprehensible to anyone with an eighth grade education. Your example, Physical Recovery by John L. was an excellent article and the subject matter is one that has been largely neglected in the recovery community. But, I very much doubt that anyone with an eighth grade education would understand many of the words and would grasp the main points of the article.

  2. Jon S says:

    Fantastic idea. Would you include a chapter on CBT as an adjunct to the steps, and one on understanding the evolutionary psychology behind alcoholism to explain what’s really going on? They needn’t need to be long and could be in layperson’s terms. I could help write it – or know people who could.

    • Roger says:

      These are both excellent topics, Jon. And we aim to have the whole book in layperson’s language. If you could take a moment to complete a form here, that would be wonderful: The Practical Book. Thank you!

      Any others with topics in mind? Tell us about it with a comment or go directly to the form above…

      • Jon S says:

        Motivational Interviewing is a very good intervention for alcoholics and would also be useful to explain. AA includes an element of MI, by default rather than design. Could be useful to get someone who knows about it to pull the threads together.

  3. JoanneO says:

    What a wonderful, overwhelming, essential undertaking. As with a good meeting, a little humor always helps the wisdom sink in far better than pontification. As I waded through AA’s sacred texts, trying to extract the truths and practical tools, I found them obscured by dogma, threats, and magical thinking. But what was real, and from the stories people told, Universal among us was the physical cravings and automatic responses that lead us to drink, the inability to stop once we start, our self defeating behaviors, and the unexamined character defects and “alcoholic thinking” that we exhibit repeatedly when drinking.

    Summarizing all of that insight took too long in practical application, so I invented “Alkie, Alkie Cravens” for short. He is a cartoon character that I created to personify the cravings, triggers, and Alcoholic thinking that plagued my many attempts at sobriety. He is a “Tool” who is a real tool.

    Alkie is more subdued now that I have 18 months sober, but he is always lurking. He is cunning, baffeling, and loves it when people call him powerful. I visualize him sitting on my shoulder, just waiting to whisper an excuse or some long winded rumination in my ear. At first, he was loud, urgent, and physical, pulling my strings with glee. Now he is more nuanced, with long rationalizations about self righteous indignation or real fears or embellished stress. He tempts and entices and ruminates ad nauseum. I don’t. I recognize his subtle hiss and flick him off, tell him off, or question his faulty premise. By personifying my cravings and alcoholic thinking, I was able to enlist my innate stubbornness to challenge the automatic loop that always ended, eventually, with a hangover.

    Maybe he could be sort of an anti-narrator. He certainly has an opinion about everything and is the very voice of the self defeating stupidity that we eventually come to recognize. I have shared him as a tool of early sobriety in my home groups in New Jersey. In Houston now, dealing with my first real family crisis as a sober woman, I have heard his slithery voice a lot lately. So I outed him today in a meeting here. The kids laughed and practiced flicking him off their shoulders. (I finally got sober at 60, with your help.) There is something downright satisfying about recognizing Mr. Cravens and flicking him off your shoulder. Pass it on… he’ll hate that!

    Joanne O.

    • Roger says:

      We will reserve a special place in The Practical Book for Alkie Cravens, Joanne!

    • Denis K says:

      Thanks Joanne, a great piece of writing; greatly enjoyed your sense of humour related to “Alkie Cravens”. No doubt about it, left unchecked, these little demons can cause us a lot of pain that could lead us back to the bottle. Many of us refer to this type of background noise as “The Committee”, call it what you like but it has to be put into perspective in order to enjoy piece of mind. You certainly have a tried and true method of overcoming the Alkie Cravens by discussing what’s going on with you with another person then flicking them away. Great writing Joanne, please consider signing up to write some more for our Practical Book; we need people with your insight, practicality and sense of humour!

    • Chris G. says:

      Joanne, I absolutely love the idea of your little shoulder-rider. I also very much like your writing and sense of humor. Can you please send us a sample of Alkie? Just click the Practical Book link to join the project!

  4. Rick H says:

    We already have a book in our literature called living sober. It fills this void that is perceived. It is exactly what is described.

    • Roger says:

      Hi Rick: Sorry but I disagree totally with you. Don’t get me wrong: I like Living Sober. It certainly leans in the direction of The Practical Book, but that’s all. It is not at all comprehensive, nor is that its goal. Most importantly, it is not diverse. It was written by one person with one point of view. It was not written by a wide range of women and men, with unique perspectives on what kept them from drinking or using, or killing themselves. That will be The Practical Book. Roger.

    • Mike says:

      Um, no. No it doesn’t.

  5. Suzanne G says:

    Roger – you are a brave and a good man. How glorious to finally have a realistic chance of getting a well-written, well-researched and up-to-date handbook for sobriety in the 21st century. Please count me in. Suzanne.

  6. Linda says:

    No matter what happens, dont pick up! I would like the opportuning to share my experience srength and hope.

  7. Alyssa (soda) says:

    Roger, I knew u had some idea brewing & it’s not no 40% anything. 100% brilliance.
    I hope to attempt to contribute. At least it will give me a focus.
    You are so helpful to the recovery journey of others. Perhaps you don’t know how much. Love & Respect.

  8. Martin D. says:

    As someone from a District that is voting on Dec 31 whether or not to eject our secular group, I find this a positive and refreshing antidote to dogmatic thinking. The Practical Book will be a tremendous contribution to AA that will be useful to non-theists and theists alike. Good thinking!

  9. Cay says:

    I would love to see how newer science has helped people. Personally when I discovered an article on neuroplasty (SP) the light came on for me and I had hope for the first time that I could really heal and recover. I’m not a good typer but would be happy to contribute.

    Really looking forward to this book. It’s exciting to think of recovery stories I could relate to.

  10. Thomas B. says:

    I’ll say it once again:

    BRAVO !~!~! BRAVO !~!~! BRAVO !~!~!

    Looking forward to participating with this much needed project to bring AA into the 21st century.

    I’m hoping that AA will follow-thru, Roger, on your most gracious and kind offer to give our efforts permission for AA to reprint them as “conference approved” literature. In addition, it is most generous, as well as following our 7th Tradition of self support, to share with GSO a portion of the proceeds from the project.

    However, I won’t hold my breath waiting for this to happen, which shall no doubt take a number of years, if not decades, for it to ever be realized.

    Nevertheless, it will certainly be an added resource to what we in the secular AA community have published for ourselves, so that recovery in AA is possible for anyone regardless of belief or lack there of.

  11. Mike says:

    Sounds like an awesome project! I’ve applied to be a contributor. Whether chosen or not, I look forward to reading everyone’s essays.

  12. Greg H says:

    I’m on board! But it’s difficult for me to imagine how it could ever end up as just one “relatively short” volume (like Living Sober) without leaving out reams of valuable information and insights that members of our WAAFT community will no doubt be submitting. The Practical Committee is certainly going to find itself with a mega-project on its hands.

  13. Roger C. says:

    I’m an old journalist – always happy to help out.

  14. Joe C. says:

    Good idea. Sure, it’s nothing new, we have Voxx’s book and there is Living Sober and it seems the vast majority of literature on addiction/recovery these days is secular but this will be multiple authors and as such, more of a conversation, a diverse collection of experiences and outcomes. I read three or more books a month and this will certainly be one of them.

  15. Jeb B. says:

    Again Roger, you are planning something very much needed. I commend your persistence. After sponsoring others for more than 3 decades, I have learned something of what can reall works for thinking people like me. For my own recovery, it was necessary to distill the program to the totally pragmatic process Bill gleaned from early recovery, filtering out the magical or “spiritual makebelieve” so common in the 1930’s and therefore in the BB. I continue to value and respect the founders work and experience. However, hold firmly to their claim that there was and still is more to be learned from one another, as well as the medical and other professions. Many thanks!

  16. jack says:

    A chapter of the book could be addressed to the number one Killer of us alcoholics: ANGER! There are many comments in the “big book” such as: 1. we were almost always in collision with someone or something. 2. we admit that we are somewhat at fault; but, others are more to blame. 3. concluding that others were more wrong is as far as we got. 4. resentment/anger is the dubious luxury of normal men-poison to us. 5. we must resolutely look for our own mistakes. AND SO ON!

  17. Carlos D says:

    Great idea. I live in Portugal and I have been an avid reader of all the materials that have been published here. It is from them and from others that I have finally made “modern” sense for my recovery. I have never been at ease or able to make sense of some of the more religious aspects of traditional writings of AA. Always felt, as an agnostic, like a foreign fish that was not comfortable in the religious aquarium. AA groups in Portugal are not as dogmatic as some of the groups in the USA. But here,even though, there is no Back to Basics movement, the reading of how it “worked”, the Steps with the following paragraphs from the Chapter Five of the BB and the Serenity Prayer with the word God, are standard fare of meetings. This project and its future result will be a good tool for the fistful of agnostics, atheists, humanists and believers who do not feel that the God personality belongs in the program of recovery that are recovering in this country. I have disseminated the contents of this site and of others “in the same” spirit among the pioneers of the secular recovery movement in this country. It has been amazing how many I have found and the word has started to spread. Many thanks to all of you that have maintained the lights on for those, like me, that could not see the other Heavenly Light.

  18. Diana says:

    Great idea. I especially like the idea of keeping it going for ever. Really anything that will help more people and this sounds like it will.

  19. Charles F. says:

    This is very exciting news to a person tired of having to edit (internally edit for myself and audibly to newcomers) most of what I read in the original texts – texts written by one man. I want to contribute if at all possible.

  20. Ed W. says:

    Living Sober?

  21. Denis K says:

    This is exciting Roger; I certainly want to be part of this endeavour in one way or another.

  22. Steve says:

    Wow – what a great project, and yes, it is something I want to find a way to contribute to.
    Very excited!

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