Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Big Debate About Books in AA

For years we were admonished to not talk about “non Conference-approved literature” in meetings. We were cautioned to not quote from our self-help books or psychology texts and certainly never from the sacred text of any organized religion.

And so, being the contrary and mostly irreverent recovering people that we are, we do mention those books we are fond of but with a caveat or preface that goes like this, “I know we’re not supposed to talk about non-conference approved literature but…” and then we quote from our favorite self-help books, psychology texts or The Bible.

I’ve done that too, sometimes apologetically and sometimes boldly and often just to give credit where credit is due. My intervention, the resource that saved my life was Robin Norwood’s book, “Women Who Love Too Much”---that book directed me to AA and OA and Alanon and ACOA. I owe her and, I think, we owe all the other writers of self-help and spiritual literature that help people to find recovery.

But there is another reason why we need to keep the bookshelves open and our discussion of literature a bit more user friendly and that is because the people we quote most often—the founders of AA and the early members who created our organization—all depended on “non-conference approved” literature. Think about it—there was no conference, and there was no “recovery literature” for most of their years.

Go back and take a look at what kinds of things those early members were reading. Most of it would be pretty cringe-worthy today. They read the Christian Bible, a lot of William James psychology texts; especially his, “The Varieties of Religious Experience” and they read a lot of motivational literature—what today we call “self-help.”  And perhaps the most important book that early AA’s read was written by a rabbi.

“Peace of Mind” written by Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman was the book that Bill Wilson and Bob Smith leaned on in their early years of creating AA. Bill and Bob gave copies of Rabbi Liebman’s book to their AA members, buying 20 copies at a time and handing them out at the “house meetings” where AA’s worked the steps.

For many years, “Peace of Mind” was America’s best-selling nonfiction book. You can still purchase  “Peace of Mind”. Try your local used book store or Amazon. If you love the Big Book you’ll be fascinated by the ideas and the familiar suggestions in Liebman’s bestseller.

An example is Chapter Five, which is titled, “Fear Wears Many Masks” where we are cautioned about “economic insecurity” and the neurotic “fear of people”. You will also feel the echo of that period’s cultural climate –post-Depression and the rise of the industrial in the Liebman’s language, and you’ll recognize the rhythms and tones that we know today in our Big Book and the step book, “The Twelve & Twelve”.

It is a luxury and a pleasure in later recovery to open our minds to many and all sources of help—those of current medicine, psychology and addiction studies, and also to the resources from years ago that led to the programs of recovery that we cherish today.

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