We have previously covered two chapters from Alcoholics Anonymous. After learning from “The Doctor’s Opinion” about the dual sensation of physical cravings and mental obsession that comprise the deadly disease of addiction, we focused upon “Bill’s Story” and the lessons that we may derive from the tale of AA’s well-known co-founder Bill Wilson. Now, we turn our eyes toward “There Is a Solution,” the story in which the Big Book begins to truly shine in its depiction of alcoholism and its many, many dangers.
“There Is a Solution” contains numerous important revelations, illustrating one of them with a story pertaining to one of AA’s early members. Some of the lessons in this chapter are already known to those who have suffered the lashes of addiction and perhaps entered recovery after hitting rock bottom in a nasty way. But we may also take from this reading a few lessons that are less obvious, a bit more insightful. Bill wrote this book after AA had been around for a while, and he was able to draw from the experiences of his fellows as well as a few from his own life. This depth of experience is very clear from the insights presented by this chapter.
While we hope that “There Is a Solution” will present you with any number of vital lessons, one of the most important is the title itself. It is our sincerest hope that those who are still struggling—and even those of us in recovery will struggle from time to time—will come to believe with utmost faith that there truly is a solution to their problems. If we cannot believe in the possibility of recovery, we are doomed to never experience it. Let such a fate never befall you, and take the following reading guide to heart.
The Solution Is Common to All
Right off the bat, “There Is a Solution” begins with a discussion of the AA fellowship itself. Much as we discussed in our article on the Third Promise, the major lesson here is that anyone can enter AA. The book states:
“All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds. We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain’s table. Unlike the feelings of the ship’s passengers, however, our joy in escape from disaster does not subside as we go our individual ways. The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined.”
So what does hold us together, then? Well, this is the common solution of which the book speaks. One of the main lessons in the beginning of “There Is a Solution” is that addiction and alcoholism require a spiritual and social remedy because the disease model itself affects us on spiritual and social levels. We often speak of the fact that addiction is a family disease. It is not like more physical diseases, which hurt the family but do not cause the same sort of anger and resentments against the sufferer. As for the spiritual remedy needed to fix these relationships, there are many components. To aid our friends and family, we must make amends for the harm we have done, while naturally letting go of our own resentments. But we must also learn to correct our own spiritual outlook through the performance of service work.
Through this service, or even through telling our story in meetings, we will inevitably help other addicts and alcoholics. Likewise, we will be helped by the vision of others who are working to maintain their own spiritual recovery. In this way, groups such as AA and NA offer recovery in something of a continuous cycle. We share and perform service work to help ourselves, but in doing so we also help others. Then, those we have helped may someday grow to be pillars of our recovery community, helping us in turn. So when “There Is a Solution” states a common solution, the book is not exaggerating. Not only is it common, but it is so common that we will likely see it from both sides before our time on this earth has passed.
The Problem Is Also Quite Common
One of the more unfortunate messages in “There Is a Solution” is that, even if we spent all of our time in the service of others, we would never completely solve the alcohol problem that plagues so many. It is an unfortunate reality, but it is a reality nonetheless. While AA has expanded greatly over the years, “There Is a Solution” reminds us that there are many more who are suffering than who are in recovery.
Part of the reason for this is the many excuses we tell ourselves. We also try to solve the problem through self-will and flawed methods, such as the search for a geographical cure. And try as they might, many of us are surrounded by people who simply do not understand the nature of the disease.
“How many times people have said to us: ‘I can take it or leave it alone. Why can’t he?’ ‘Why don’t you drink like a gentleman or quit?’ ‘That fellow can’t handle his liquor.’ ‘Why don’t you try beer and wine?’ ‘Lay off the hard stuff.’ ‘His will power must be weak.’ ‘He could stop if he wanted to.’ ‘She’s such a sweet girl, I should think he’d stop for her sake.’ ‘The doctor told him that if he ever drank again it would kill him, but there he is all lit up again.’”
The prevalence of such misunderstandings is one of the reasons that alcoholics and addicts have such a bad reputation. People assume that they are slowly killing themselves on purpose, that their actions are entirely under their control. But the real addict or alcoholic is a different story.
“Here is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control. He does absurd, incredible, tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is seldom mildly intoxicated. He is always more or less insanely drunk. His disposition while drinking resembles his normal nature but little. He may be one of the finest fellows in the world. Yet let him drink for a day, and he frequently becomes disgustingly, and even dangerously anti-social. He has a positive genius for getting tight at exactly the wrong moment, particularly when some important decision must be made or engagement kept. He is often perfectly sensible and well balanced concerning everything except liquor, but in that respect he is incredibly dishonest and selfish.”
This selfishness, this utter lack of honesty, is something that often occurs in the pursuit of another drink. We do not have to be drunk to exhibit it, but that does not mean the drink or drug we seek is not in the back of our minds. And while drugs and alcohol lower our inhibitions, “There Is a Solution” reminds us that some addicts and alcoholics are at least smart and controlled enough to keep their addiction going. We will spend massive amounts of money to hide our substance of choice around the house, ensuring that no one can take it away from us. We learn to become more articulate when speaking, so as to throw others off the scent when we are wasted. But, as we noted in our article on functional addicts and alcoholics, “There Is a Solution” suggests that this deception will only last so long before the downward spiral begins.
The Spiritual Experience
There may be a social aspect to the spiritual remedy, but “There Is a Solution” also outlines a very personal one. It begins after we see others who have recovered, long for what they have, and decide that there is no harm in giving up our pride and utilizing some of the tools that have worked for them. This is when God, or whatever Higher Power we place our faith in, will deliver us to a better way of life. But in order for this to happen, we must let go of all reservations.
“If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help. This we did because we honestly wanted to, and were willing to make the effort.”
We speak often of willingness. In fact, very few of our articles have failed to mention it. Such willingness was found in an early AA member, who wanted to recover but simply could not put his finger on that common solution. He valued his intellect, and could not believe that it failed him so continuously. He visited the great psychiatrist Carl Jung, who told him that he was hopeless. Yet, the doctor continued:
“‘Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.’”
This did not immediately cure the man. He sought his cure through religion, but there is a difference between religion and spirituality. True faith lies in something else, something personal. And this is why, while AA may use the word “God” to describe a Higher Power, it is stated in “There Is a Solution” that a person’s religious affiliations mean nothing to their sobriety.
“We think it no concern of ours what religious bodies our members identity themselves with as individuals. This should be an entirely personal affair which each one decides for himself in the light of past associations, or his present choice. Not all of us join religious bodies…”
Take stock in these words, as “There Is a Solution” does not advocate nor admonish the joining of any religious organization. If you truly wish to maintain a sense of spirituality in your life, you shall have it through sheer honesty and willingness. “There Is a Solution” suggests that this has been the common remedy for all those who have entered recovery, and those who know the experience first-hand are aware of the truth behind this sentiment. Always remember that there truly is a solution. You simply must be open-minded enough to seek it.