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.

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).