The Myth of A.A. Identification: The Jay-Walker Story, A Case for Using the Big Book for Any and All Addictions

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

There’s a well known saying in A.A. that “only an alcoholic can identify with another alcoholic.” That’s why we have hundreds of different 12 Step fellowships—Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, Food Anonymous, Sex, Love Addicts Anonymous and so on.

In the 12 Step rooms today we can witness all kinds of addictions and, in many cases, people who suffer from more than one kind of addiction. Furthermore, when one overcomes one addiction, often another substitute addiction arises.

In many 12 Step fellowships, it is difficult and sometimes forbidden to share and discuss these other afflictions because of Tradition Five: “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”

Many addicts feel that identification, one type of addict with another addict of the same type is vital to securing the confidence of the one who suffers and that the addict who is making the approach has a real solution to the addiction. However, there are many cases where a Big Book sponsor does not share the same addiction, but has been able to identify with another type addict and successfully show them how to recover using the Big Book as a recovery text. For example, we know of a Big Book sponsor in Alberta, who is an alcoholic but has successfully shown food addicts, sex addicts, drug addicts, emotion addicts, self-mutilation addicts, and others how to recover. There are other examples of these kinds of Big Book sponsors throughout Canada, United States and the UK.

In the Big Book of A.A., the jay-walker story makes an excellent case for using the Big Book as a recovery text for treating any and all addictions.

On pages 37-38 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it says:

“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 jaywalking 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. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?”

“You may think our illustration is too ridiculous. But is it? We, who have been through the wringer, have to admit if we substituted alcoholism or any addiction for jay-walking, the illustration would fit exactly. However intelligent we may have been in other respects, where alcohol has been involved, we have been strangely insane. It’s strong language but isn’t it true?”

What terms and phrases can we substitute for drinking, drink, alcohol, alcoholic when working with other addictions?

Alcoholism Alcoholic Alcohol Drink Drinking
(Mind-altering) Substance Addiction Addict Drugs, Cocaine, Crack, Marijauna, etc. Use Using
Nicotine Smoker Cigarettes Puff Smoking
Food Addiction Over-Eater Food Bite Over-eating
Gambling Addiction Gambler Gamble Bet Betting
Sex Addiction Sex & Love Addict Sex and or Love Act Acting Out
Codependence Care-Bear Relationships Care Worrying, People Pleasing, Placating or Fixing Others
Emotions Addiction Addict Control Care Worrying
Anger Addiction Addict Control Over-reaction Raging
Self-mutilation Addiction Self-harmer/Cutter Self-mutilate Cut Cutting
Anorexia/Bulimia Anorexic / Bulimic Food Restrict Restricting/Binging-Purging
Sugar Addiction Addict Sugar Sweets Sweet Eating
Debt Addiction Addict Money Purchase Spending.

VIDEO: A recovering addict’s story a cautionary tale about insidious nature of opioids

TORONTO — At 13, Christie was smoking pot daily. In time, she began dabbling in cocaine. But it wasn’t until she was prescribed Percocet by her dentist following wisdom teeth removal in her early 20s that she began the long spiral downwards into a full-fledged opioid addiction that took over her life.

“I really liked that — the way it made me feel,” says Christie, who asked that her last name not be used for privacy reasons.

She subsequently received another Percocet prescription to treat abdominal cramps and “kept going back to my doctor for refills.”

“And then I wasn’t getting enough for how much I wanted to do,” she says of the pills. “So what I did is I stole the prescription pad … I took the script that she gave me and just copied it.”

Christie got caught when a pharmacy checked with her doctor, who immediately dismissed her as a patient.

“When it started, it was medical, it was to help me with the pain management,” she says.

But the medication had another alluring benefit.

“I never really felt like I had fit in, and the effects that the drugs gave me was that I did, like I could be that person that I wanted to be.”

Christie was able to score Percocets from a street dealer in her southwestern Ontario hometown. But when she moved to Vancouver, “percs” weren’t available, so she turned to OxyContin, a slow-release opioid that could be crushed for snorting or smoking to produce an instant high.

Living in Vancouver and working at a high-paying job in the Yukon two weeks per month, Christie continued to use whatever drugs she could get her hands on, though “Oxys were always the thing that I wanted the most.”

When the manufacturer pulled OxyContin from the market in 2012 in favour of more tamper-proof OxyNeos, her West Coast dealer suggested she try a new pill that “looked just like the green Oxys.”

“So I did — and I really liked the way that made me feel,” says Christie, her eyes growing wide at the memory.

The Oxy look-alikes turned out to be illicit fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic 100 times more potent than morphine that has led to an epidemic of overdose deaths, particularly in B.C.

By then in her early 30s and having lost her job, Christie was desperate to stop downing the eight to 10 fentanyl tablets that were costing her $200 to $300 a day.

“I had built up such a tolerance. I overdosed twice where I had to be Narcan-ed,” she says in reference to the medication used for emergency treatment of opioid overdoses.

“I remember trying really hard to try to stop. I remember not wanting to have to go through that life anymore.”

She went to a doctor and was put on methadone, an opioid-replacement drug used to help people manage their addiction or wean off their habit by keeping withdrawal symptoms at bay.

“But I couldn’t stay sober, even with the methadone. I kept wanting to go back to doing the fentanyl.”


Just why do opioids — painkillers that run the gamut from codeine and morphine to oxycodone and the fentanyl patch — lead to dependence, or in other cases become so stubbornly addictive?

First, let’s look at how they work.

When ingested, the drugs bind to opioid receptors on the surface of cells, primarily in the central and peripheral nervous system — much like keys fitting into a lock — and block the transmission of pain messages to the brain.

But opioids also work on multiple systems in the body, including the one that controls emotions, giving rise to feelings of pleasure, relaxation and often euphoria.

What’s insidious about the medications is that they create physical dependence: over even a short period of time, patients build up a tolerance and need increasingly higher doses to achieve the desired effects, says Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

“Let’s say I put you on opioids for a week or two and you suddenly stop them,” he says. “You would feel very unwell. The symptoms vary from person to person, but they include pain — generalized pain, pain in the abdomen, pain in the legs.

“When you resume the drug, you feel better. And so you can see how a patient would construe that as evidence of effectiveness and even ongoing need for the drug, even after the pain-relieving effects have waned with time.”

While short-term use of opioids can be a godsend for people with acute pain related to cancer, accidental injury or following surgery, many doctors now realize the narcotics aren’t really beneficial for long-term treatment of chronic conditions such as arthritis, nerve damage or back pain.

“In fact, they cause pain,” says Dr. Mark Ujjainwalla, co-founder and medical director of the opioid addiction clinic Recovery Ottawa. “So you get this hyperesthesia thing,” he says. “It’s actually a paradox. So the more opioids you get, the more painful everything is.”

Physical dependence is pretty well a given for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have been prescribed an opioid, most of them for chronic pain.

But some people slide over the line into addiction, in which their craving for the physical and psychological high the drugs provide consumes their every waking hour — despite the often life-shattering harms.


Before she lost her job in Yukon, Christie’s life appeared idyllic.

“I had the nice condo, I had the good boyfriend, I travelled around the world,” she recalls. “My life externally was really wonderful. But inside I felt like everyone had something that maybe I didn’t have.

“I couldn’t cope, everything was overwhelming. My life was really unmanageable.”

Opioids, primarily black-market fentanyl pills, were the solution.

But she and her boyfriend, also an addict, couldn’t keep up financially with their insatiable need for the drugs.

“At the time, we had sold pretty much everything we had and we were manipulating people, lying to people, stealing, doing whatever we could to support our addictions, which were very expensive.”

Eventually, the pair split up. Christie could no longer afford fentanyl, so she starting smoking, then shooting, heroin. She lost her condo and ended up homeless, finding shelter in a crack house in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, crashing on the couch of a sex worker.

“I would wake up every day just thinking ‘This isn’t my life’ … I would promise myself ‘I’m not going to use today,’ and within five minutes I’d feel just the tiniest bit dope sick and I would call my dealer.”

Dope sickness — the result of withdrawal — doesn’t only cause pain, but also nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Christie also had violent temperature swings — one minute she was shivering with cold, the next soaked in sweat.

“It’s like the worst flu you’ve ever had in your life — times 20,” she says. “And then you have restless legs. You can’t sleep. I couldn’t eat…. The restless legs were really, really bad for me. I couldn’t stay still.

“So I would do anything not to feel that way.”

After four months on the street — except for occasional stints in detox clinics where she tried and failed to get clean — Christie in desperation phoned her family, whom she hadn’t been in touch with for years. They thought she was dead.

Her father flew to Vancouver and brought her home, where she went through “two weeks of hell” as she quit the drugs cold turkey. Ten days later, she entered a month-long addiction treatment program.

That was in the fall of 2015.

Now 35 and living in Toronto, Christie has been sober for about 18 months. She gives much of the credit to Cocaine Anonymous, a 12-step support program for those struggling to overcome their reliance on drugs or alcohol.

As part of her recovery, she has worked to make amends to her family and others whom she hurt because of her addiction.

Long drawn to yoga, Christie now teaches the discipline and also works “with other women like me” at hospitals and institutions, as well as leading or speaking at meetings of Cocaine Anonymous.

“So I started giving back, and that is when I really started to grow,” she says, her face reflecting an inner contentment. “About halfway through my amends, I started feeling happiness like I’d never felt before.”

For the first time, she is able to build relationships with her family and have “real friends in my life.”

“I live a spiritual life now. I’m free.”



Cocaine Anonymous telephone and web directory by region –

– Follow @SherylUbelacker on Twitter.

Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press

Confessions of a Big Book Sponsor

I am a Big Book Sponsor. I practice the 12 Step Program as outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the original recipe for recovery as practiced by the original 100 who recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.

By working the Twelve Step program as described in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I have had a spiritual awakening. The obsession to use cocaine or any mind-altering substances has been removed. My progressive addiction illness has been arrested. My disease has been placed into remission. I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. As a result, I am able to remain, almost effortlessly, abstinent from cocaine and all other mind-altering substances. I have ceased fighting anything or anyone, even cocaine. My sanity has been returned. I am not fighting temptation, nor am I avoiding people, places and things on a trigger list. I feel as though I had been placed in a position of neutrality safe and protected by a Higher Consciousness. I have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for me. I am neither cocky nor am I afraid. This is how I react so long as I keep in fit spiritual condition. Furthermore, by living in the disciplines of Steps 10, 11 and 12 everyday, I have a daily program of action that really works in rough going. I have way of living without cocaine or any mind-altering substances.

You can recognize me at 12 Step meetings because I am armed with the facts about myself. As an ex-problem addict, you will see me making an approach to the newcomer—looking for someone who is open-minded about our common solution—someone with an honest desire to stop using cocaine or any mind-altering substances—someone who wants what I have and is willing to follow the instructions as outlined in the Big Book—someone who wants to be joyous and free of active addiction.

To show other addicts precisely how I have recovered is the main purpose of this book. I carry a common solution—a recipe for recovery on which we can absolutely agree and upon which we can join together as brothers and sisters in harmonious action. My deportment shouts that I am a person with a real answer. I carry no attitude of Holier Than Thou. I do not talk down to the addict from any moral or spiritual hilltop. I ask for no payment. I have no axes to grind nor people to please. You can expect to endure no lectures from me. My only desire is to be helpful. I offer friendship and fellowship.

I have carried the message of the Big Book to many addicts and rarely have I seen a person fail who thoroughly follows our path. But untreated addicts are unlovely people. My struggles with them are strenuous, comic and tragic. Those who could not or would not see our way of life are often consumed by their temptations which leads them to the gates of insanity or death. Helping other addicts is the foundation stone of my recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough for me. I have shared time, energy and money. My business and personal life has been interrupted by the telephone ringing at any time of the day or night. My spouse sometimes feels neglected. I have made innumerable trips to police courts, detox centers, hospitals, jails and asylums. I have counseled frantic spouses and relatives. Occasionally I have to meet such conditions.

I have worked hard with many addicts on the idea that only an addict can help another addict. I have had many failures. I often hear that this is a “selfish program”, but whenever I put my sobriety first I could never stay sober. When I started showing the newcomer how to stay sober, I have found no trouble staying sober. As Doctor Bob once remarked, “strenuous work one alcoholic with another was vital to permanent recovery.”

Sometimes I am confronted with Big Book animosity, but my program tells me I have to look at my part. Have I been crusading, righteous, or critical? Have I been engaging in frothy debates or windy arguments? Have I been demonstrating an attitude of intolerance? Yes, there have been times when I have been all these things, but I claim spiritual progress not perfection and I am no saint. I must remember that when I focus my mind on what is wrong with the fellowship and the meetings today, the more I become restless, irritable and discontented. I must remember that the meetings are filled with many suffering and untreated addicts. Love and tolerance of others is my code. So, I practice acceptance and focus on what is good about the meetings and the fellowship. I try to see what I can positively add to the meeting—my only desire is to be helpful. I must remember that I have no monopoly on recovery, but I do know that the Big Book solution works.

Why do I continue to work with other addicts? Having had a spiritual experience, I try to practice the 12 Step principles in all my affairs. First, I take care of family, for sobriety is not enough and I am a long way from making good to my spouse, parents and children whom for years I have so shockingly mistreated. Second, I take care of my business, for there can be no family if I am not self-supporting. And third, in my spare time, I carry this message to other addicts. For me, this approach, in this order, is a balanced program.

Over the years I have witnessed a fellowship grow up about me. I have watched the spirit grow in the eyes of a suffering individual and seen them recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. I have seen them make a 180 degree turn in life, only to help some other suffering addict do the same. This is the experience I would not miss. I know you will not want to miss it either. Frequent contact with newcomers and with other Big Book sponsors is a bright spot in my day.
My life has taken on a new meaning and I seem to be of benefit to others. I have found a new freedom and happiness. I know serenity and peace. I continue to lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in the people in my life. My attitude and outlook on life has changed. Fear and economic insecurity is down and I know how to intuitively handle situations which use to baffle me. I realize that my Higher Power does for me what I could not do for myself alone.

Thus I grow spiritually and so can you with a Big Book in your hand. It contains all you will need to begin working with the addict who still suffers. I know what you are thinking, “I’m a newcomer myself and I do not have enough clean time to be of use to anyone. What could I possibly offer another newcomer? Maybe I should wait a year or two.” Rubbish! By working the Big Book solution, you will tap a source of power greater than yourself. To duplicate, with such backing, what I have accomplished is only a matter of willingness, patience and labour. Remember your reliance is always upon your Higher Power. It will show you how to create the fellowship you crave. Ask in morning mediation what you can do for the addict who still suffers. The answers will come if you work your program. But if you are shaky you had better work with another addict instead. Remember you have recovered and have been given the power to help others. You will soon find out that when all other measures fail, work with another addict will save the day. Give freely of what you have been shown and join us on the Broad Highway of the Fellowship of the Spirit. You will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.

Trust God, Clean House, Help Others.

To the Chronic Relapser

To the Chronic Relapser: The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous promises us that “When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”(A.A. p.64) Imagine three layers. The first layer is our bodily reaction to alcohol/drugs when we ingest it — the physical craving. Under that is the second layer: the insanity of the mind just before the first drink/use — the mental obsession. Under that is the third layer: the inward condition that triggers the second layer, which in turn triggers the first — the “spiritual malady.” Symptoms of this “third layer” as described in the Big Book include:

a. being restless, irritable, and discontented (A.A. p. xxvi)
b. having trouble with personal relationships (A.A. p. 52)
c. not being able to control our emotional natures(A.A. p. 52)
d. being a prey to (or suffering from) misery and depression (A.A. p. 52)
e. not being able to make a living (or a happy and successful life) (A.A. p. 52)
f. having feelings of uselessness (A.A. p. 52)
g. being full of fear (A.A. p. 52)
h. unhappiness (A.A. p. 52)
i. inability to be of real help to other people (A.A. p. 52)
j. being like “the actor who wants to run the whole show” (A.A. p. 60-61)
k. being “driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity” (A.A. p. 62)
l. self-will run riot (A.A. p. 62)
m. leading a double life (A.A. p. 73)
n. living like a tornado running through the lives of others (A.A. p. 82)
o. exhibiting selfish and inconsiderate habits

These name just a few of the symptoms of the “spiritual malady” that’s described throughout our text. But still in all, these are just symptoms of the “spiritual malady.” What is the driving force of these symptoms? On A.A. 62 the text explains that selfishness-self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” This SELFISHNESS, self-centeredness or ego drives us to respond to life situations with the above “symptoms” as well as disorders and addictions other than alcoholism.

If this selfishness—self-centeredness continues to manifest in an alcoholic’s life — even in someone who is not drinking/using and continues to attend meetings – and the ego is not smashed and re-smashed by continuous application of all twelve steps, the sober (or “just not drinking/using”) alcoholic/addict is sure to drink/use again eventually… Or even worse, continue to live miserably being “undrunk” (better known as a “dry drunk”). This is why we see people with 10 years in 12 step groups wind up in mental institutions — and they haven’t even drank or used!

If you are suffering from symptoms of the spiritual malady, use these clarifying questions to ascertain where the problem lies.

• Has it been a while since you’ve taken another alcoholic through the Steps? How long?
• Has it been a while since you have gone through the steps? How long?
• Have you ever taken all of AA’s Twelve Steps?
• Have you done more than one 4th Step inventory? Have you omitted anything?
• Have you completed all your 9th Step amends wherever possible? What remains to be done?
• Is there something wrong in your life that you will not face and make right? What is it?
• Is there a habit or indulgence you will not give up? What is it?
• Is there a person you will not forgive? Who is it?
• Is there a wrong relationship in your life you will not give up? What or Who is it?
• Is there a restitution you will not make?
• Is there something God has already told you to do that you will not obey? What is it?
• Are you working with the disciplines and practices of steps Ten and Eleven (self-examination, meditation and prayer)… consistently… EVERY DAY?

If the alcoholic/addict fails to perfect and enlarge their spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, they could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If they did not work, they would surely drink/use again, and if they drank/used, they would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that.” (A.A. p. 14-15).