At nearly every meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous I’ve ever attended there are readings at the beginning of the format. The chairperson chooses a few people beforehand to read excerpts from the Big Book like “How It Works”, “The Twelve Steps” or “The Twelve Traditions”. Sometimes they might be asked to read “A Vision For You” or “The Promises.” Generally a couple of these readings are assigned and read before the chairperson reads “The AA Preamble” and ultimately introduces the speaker. I’ve been asked to read many times.
I can just about recite most of this stuff by heart. I’ve heard these readings hundreds of times and they are ingrained in my brain, especially How It Works and The Twelve Steps. I’ll happily agree to help with the readings whenever I’m asked, no matter which one is handed to me. But I definitely have a favorite one that I love reading out loud in the rooms…The Promises.
This particular reading comes directly from pages 83 and 84 in the Big Book.
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
Wow. So these promises aren’t extravagant? Really?
If you look at them one way, the promises sound like they offer pretty basic everyday stuff. Bare minimum stuff a normal person might easily take for granted. Things like freedom. Happiness. Peace. Feeling useful. Not having to feel afraid or confused about people and life. Aren’t these things what every human being should simply have as a default way of living? Of course they are.
But things aren’t quite so simple for us drunks. Serenity? Life without regret? Living without fear and confusion? Giving a shit about other people? Are you kidding me?
Alcoholics like me have something seriously wrong with the way we think. Something is missing. Something is not quite right. Our fear and anger direct how we live our lives. There’s regret. Resentment. Chaos. We often pity ourselves and believe that we are useless. Things get confused. We get pissed off and irritated to the point of rage. We don’t give a crap about anyone but ourselves. We’ve lost all faith in your God or the belief that He even exists. Life can be a pretty dark place for us. We don’t want to feel anything at all. Most of us would rather be dead.
Serenity? Sure, hand me the bottle.
These twelve promises from the book are what we’ve been seeking and needing our whole lives. They are the simple default way of living and being that’s always eluded us. We thought we’d found the answer to our discomfort in alcohol, which only made things worse. The solution that we found in drinking only took us further and further from the real answers. Our disease made living a peaceful and happy life impossible.
I can tell you that I am amazed at the changes in my life since I began working the steps. The promises are something that I’ve seen coming true for myself and many others in recovery. Working the steps has given me a whole new attitude and outlook on life. My self seeking has all but disappeared and I have new purpose. There is less fear and confusion in my mind today. I’ve finally found some peace and I’m beginning to know the meaning of serenity. I can feel the presence of God (most days) and I can see how He is helping me in this journey. The promises are real for me and I know they aren’t just words. They are part of my spiritual awakening. They are the result of working the steps in my life.
Not long ago I was at a meeting and heard someone reading the promises. This girl was someone I hadn’t seen in the rooms before. She was brand new. The chairperson had given her the laminated page and she was doing as asked somewhat uncomfortably. I could tell that she was nervous and she stumbled over the first few words. But as I watched her and listened to her read, something changed. Her nervousness became less and less and I saw that she was affected by the promises she was reading. She was being promised a new freedom and a new happiness. She was promised that fear and insecurity would leave her. Her voice broke. She was promised that she would intuitively know how to handle life. Tears started to well up in her eyes. She would know that God was helping her do what she couldn’t do for herself. These were promises. A tear slowly rolled down her cheek. She had been given hope.
Promises of the life that we have always sought come true if we simply work the twelve steps as outlined in the book. “They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
Serenity? Sure. Work the steps. Live them.