Inspiration from the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous

By Robert Burney

"One of the core characteristics of this disease of Codependence is intellectual polarization - black and white thinking. Rigid extremes - good or bad, right or wrong, love it or leave it, one or ten. Codependence does not allow any gray area - only black and white extremes.

Life is not black and white. Life involves the interplay of black and white. In other words, the gray area is where life takes place. A big part of the healing process is learning the numbers two through nine - recognizing that life is not black and white."

"The Twelve Step program of AA provides a practical program for accessing Spiritual power in dealing with day-to-day human life. A formula for integrating the Spiritual into the physical. Even though some of the steps, as originally written, contain shaming and abusive wording, the Twelve Step process and the ancient Spiritual principles underlining it are invaluable tools in helping the individual being start down, and stay on, a path aligned with Truth."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

In the quote from my book just above, I mention that some of the 12 steps contain shaming and abusive wording. I was speaking specifically of step 5 and 6 - which are part of the 4th step inventory process. Here are those steps in an excerpt from an articles on my site in a series on the 12 steps.

"4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Even though this page is about step 4, I included step 5 and 6 above because I want to first address the shaming language in which the twelve steps - as used in AA and adapted by CoDA - are written. Step 6 actually refers to the negative side of the inventory done in step 4, so is a part of the fourth step process. . . . .

I hate the term "defects of character." There could be no better term to describe toxic shame. That is what I felt most of my life - that I was somehow defective, that something was wrong with who I am.

I prefer to refer to these "defects" as codependent behavior patterns and dysfunctional attitudes. They are part of the emotional defense system which we adapted to protect ourselves as children. They are not signs that we are defective, nor are they "wrongs" as step 5 states - they are dysfunctional because they do not work to help us have a Loving, fulfilling relationship with ourselves. They are a part of the disease of codependence that we were powerless over as long as we were unconscious to them. By starting to get conscious of these behavior patterns and attitudes we start to access the power to change them. That is what step 4 is Truly about - becoming conscious."

- The Miracle of The Twelve Step Recovery Process - Step 4 inventory

The underlining dynamic of codependency is black and white thinking. Drinking or not drinking is a black and white issue. Thus many recovering alcoholics can stop drinking while still empowering the black and white thinking of codependency. Many recovering alcoholics are rigid in their perspective and don't ever do the emotional healing of their childhood wounds because they tell themselves it is not necessary to sobriety - and they are scared to death of their own emotions on a subconscious level. Some of the most wounded codependents I know have 30 or 40 years sober and have never addressed their emotional issues - while justifying their rigidity as doing AA the "right" way.

According to this "old time" AA perspective, "outside issues" should not be discussed in AA meetings. There are many suffering codependents in AA who are not open minded enough to realize that Bill Wilson - one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous - would have loved to have had the tools we have available to us today. He would have run to an Adult Children of Alcoholics or Co-Dependents Anonymous meeting where he could have found the roots of the depression which tormented him. The suffering codependents in AA are terrified that if they don't follow a rigid formula - the "right" way - in their recovery, they will end up drinking again.

That "right" way, according to the rigid members of AA, includes not discussing drugs in an AA meeting. Alcohol is of course a drug - so this is nonsense in my view. But some old timers are very adamant about AA being only for alcoholics and not for drug addicts.

That rigid black and white thinking led in recent years to something which I personally find ridiculously petty. In the newest revision of the AA Big Book, the story that was most important to me in the book had it's title change to remove the word addict.

This chapter - which used to be called "Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict" - was written by a man named Dr. Paul. It was from his chapter that I got a lot of the basic foundation for my codependency recovery. His chapter was instrumental in my search for a Higher Power of my own understanding.

There is a multitude of good stuff in this chapter but I will touch on three that were very important to me here.

1. He talks about being part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. Seeing the half of the glass that is full instead of focusing on the half that is empty. Out of this I came up with a little saying for myself: "I don't have any problems, I have opportunities for growth."

This was a little saying that had a huge impact on my recovery. It started shifting me out of the victim role I had been programmed to react out of in childhood. This saying was a paradigm buster for me. It caused me to change my perspective of how I viewed life and led to me changing my relationship with life. I stopped automatically seeing myself as the victim of life and other people and started looking for the silver lining, the opportunity for growth, attached to the events in my life.

Little sayings can have a huge impact on our healing paths.

2. He says something in his chapter that I interpreted to be "If God Loves me unconditionally, whom am I to not Love myself." It was a shocking concept to me. That God could actually love me - the shameful, sinful, weak creature of the flesh who was certainly going to be condemned to burn in hell forever - was shocking enough when I first started in the program. What was more shocking was to realize that if I put myself down I was saying that God made junk. I realized it was actually arrogance to believe God could love everyone else but I wasn't lovable. It was my dysfunctionally programmed ego that was giving me that message - it was negative grandiosity. It was another paradigm buster for me and a real catalyst in me changing my perspective on, and relationship with, both my self and a Higher Power of my understanding.

3. The other vitally important thing that I got out of this chapter was a new perspective on how I gave away power over my emotions. Dr. Paul talks about how his serenity was directly proportional to his level of acceptance - and inversely proportional to his expectations. Looking at how my expectations were setting me up to have emotional reactions to life - and learning to be honest with myself about those expectations - was one of the most important pieces of the puzzle for me. It was vital in the process of learning to be emotionally honest with my self - and in learning to take responsibility for my emotional reactions. I have an article on my web site in which I talk about how pivotal focusing on my expectations was for me in learning to stop buying into the belief that I was a victim. Serenity and Expectations - intimately interrelated I mention Dr. Paul's chapter in the Big Book in that article.

So, I am very grateful for Dr. Paul's chapter of the Big Book - it was inspirational for me, and provided a great deal of fundamental insight into my relationship with myself and life. I am also very grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous because it saved my life. I find myself alternately sad and angry about the rigidity in AA caused by codependency - and the shaming messages that rigid members often give to anyone who is looking at other issues or doing emotional healing. Something that has been true in a lot of religions in world history is also true in AA to a certain extent. When human beings - reacting out of fear - place rigid interpretations on the words that carry the message, they often lose the spirit of the message.

Next in series :God the Father, and my father