This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book" by AAWS. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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What are some AA quotes from The Big Book? How do Alcoholics Anonymous quotes show what happens during the program?
AA quotes from The Big Book highlight the philosophy and approach of the AA program. Some of the reasons for AA being so widespread may be understood when reading these AA quotes.
Read more about the techniques in The Big Book and the AA quotes demonstrating these strategies.
Collection of AA Quotes
Here is a collection of Alcoholics Anonymous quotes found in The Big Book, along with notes about the techniques used by AA.
Recognizing the Problem
Don’t be accusatory and don’t blame the reader. The book deliberately avoids the use of the noun “you” and prefers to use “we.”
- The basic argument in the Big Book is phrased gently as: “We have undergone these problems. We thought (this common flawed belief). If you are one of us, you will also think this.”
- When the noun “you” is used, it’s usually phrased gently as these variants: “you may,” “if you,” “some of you are thinking,” or “suppose you do something like this.”
- The book conveys strong opinions in the form of confessions by people telling stories: “I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that willpower and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.”
- The book takes care not to say something too direct like: “Your will power and self-knowledge are not enough. You need to realize that you’re an alcoholic.”
- The exception to this rule is when giving commands on how to work with other alcoholics and to spouses on how to handle situations.
Don’t press the beliefs and classify the reader as an alcoholic. Lay your beliefs out there, then let people come to you once they identify and realize their situation matches the books’. Here are some AA quotes from The Big Book as examples.
- “But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly any exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.”
Give analogies to highlight the foolishness of alcoholic behavior. Here is one of the Alcoholics Anonymous quotes that exemplifies this.
- On thinking you can overcome alcoholism, despite many failed attempts: “Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs. On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jay-walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back.”
AA Quotes About Gaining Buy-In
Be inclusive to make no one feel alienated demographically, and to reduce the barrier of joining.
- “We are average Americans. 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. We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue. We have discovered a common solution.”
- “We have been speaking to you of serious, sometimes tragic things. We have been dealing with alcohol in its worst aspect. But we aren’t a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life.”
Teach by telling stories, not by instructing the reader. Provide plenty of anecdotes of success stories and warning stories.
- The Big Book includes 36 separate stories of recovering alcoholics. Their general structure:
- Here is my background and employment history. (There is a diverse set of backgrounds)
- Here is how I got into drinking, then fell deeper into alcoholism. Here is how bad it got. Here are all the things I tried to get over it, and the justifications I gave for drinking.
- Here was my turning point that turned me onto AA (often hitting a particularly bad time, or an AA member approaching me).
- Here was my process of recovery. Here’s what I liked most about the process.
- Here’s where I am now.
- Here’s my best advice.
- “I was out of hope. Then a man who made a complete recovery came to me. I was skeptical, but I tried it, and it worked.“
- “Each individual describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God.”
Preempt skepticism about the motives of people promoting AA.
- “Our hope is that many alcoholics will see these pages. Only by fully disclosing ourselves and our problems will they be persuaded to say, “Yes, I am one of them too; I must have this thing.”
Empathize with the reader. Address their misgivings.
- “Almost none of us liked the [tactics required]. But we saw it really worked in others.”
- “Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. “
- “Some of our alcoholic readers may think they can do without spiritual help. Let us tell you the rest of the conversation.”
- “Our friend was somewhat relieved, for he reflected that, after all, he was a good church member. This hope, however, was destroyed by the doctor’s telling him that while his religious convictions were very good, in his case they did not spell the necessary vital spiritual experience.”
- “We hope no one will consider these self-revealing accounts in bad taste. Our hope is that many alcoholic men and women, desperately in need, will see these pages, and we believe that it is only by fully disclosing ourselves and our problems that they will be persuaded to say, ‘Yes, I am one of them too; I must have this thing.”
- From a doctor: “Though not a religious person, I have profound respect for the spiritual approach in such cases as yours. For most cases, there is virtually no other solution.”
Give hope to the most helpless cases.
- “I have seen hundreds of families set their feet in the path that really goes somewhere; have seen the most impossible domestic situations righted; feuds and bitterness of all sorts wiped out. I have seen men come out of asylums and resume a vital place in the lives of their families and communities. Business and professional men have regained their standing. There is scarcely any form of trouble and misery which has not been overcome among us.”
- This is sometimes conveyed through a neutral third party like a doctor. “I thought there was no hope for you, but cure you did.”
Use a third party authority as indirect validation of the program, namely doctors.
- In the book, a doctor says to a recovering alcoholic, “Something has happened to you I don’t understand. But you had better hang on to it. Anything is better than the way you were.”
- “I have felt that AA is a group unto themselves and their best results can be had under their own guidance, as a result of their philosophy. Any therapeutic or philosophic procedure which can prove a recovery rate of 50% to 60% must merit our consideration.”
Don’t be pushy about onboarding. It only works for people who realize they need help and are at wits’ end. Let people come to their own conclusion about whether they need help, and be ready and willing when they are around.
Making the Program Work
These AA quotes show how The Big Book prepares the reader for the large changes that need to happen.
- “Almost none of us liked the [tactics required]. But we saw it really worked in others.”
- “It meant I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions out of the window.”
Have third parties directly address third parties (eg spouses, employers).
- “As wives of Alcoholics Anonymous, we would like you to feel that we understand as perhaps few can. We want to analyze mistakes we have made. We want to leave you with the feeling that no situation is too difficult and no unhappiness too great to be overcome.”
- “You should never tell him what he must do about his drinking. If he gets the idea that you are a nag or a killjoy, your chance of accomplishing anything useful may be zero.”
- ”If he is lukewarm or thinks he is not an alcoholic, we suggest you leave him alone. Avoid urging him to follow our program. The seed has been planted in his mind. He knows that thousands of men, much like himself, have recovered. But don’t remind him of this after he has been drinking, for he may be angry.”
- “We may have seemed to lecture. If that is so we are sorry, for we ourselves don’t always care for people who lecture us. But what we have related is based upon experience, some of it painful. We had to learn these things the hard way.”
The higher power provides a supernatural, omnipotent ally standing beside you.
- If you have doubts: “You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself.”
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- How alcoholism is a nearly insurmountable disease that non-alcoholics can't understand
- The key 12 steps of the program, and why they work
- Why Alcoholics Anonymous isn't a cult and why it works