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.

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.