Big Book Unplugged

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Big Book Unplugged:
A Young Person's Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous
Published 2003 by Hazelden
trade paperback, nonfiction
128 pages, $14.95

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"The author, a chemical dependency counselor, is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous with more than 20 years of sobriety. He has targeted this guide specifically toward teenagers and young adults in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, with the hope of demystifying the basic text for young people who may be put off by the length or language. Alcoholics Anonymous, more familiarly called The Big Book, was published in 1939 and is now on its fourth edition. The Big Book describes the basic AA 12-step program, including the personal story of Bill W., credited with founding AA. In this clearly written manual, John R. devotes an interpretive chapter that corresponds to each of the 11 chapters in The Big Book. Although many of the chapters will be useful to adolescents in recovery, chapter four, 'We Agnostics,' will be particularly helpful to those who are uncomfortable with AA's spiritual component. John R. includes eight personal stories of recovering alcoholics from the 42 in the original text that, according to him, speak most directly to young people. He strongly suggests reading a chapter or a personal story in The Big Book before turning to the guide for assistance with the meaning of information provided. In addition to those in recovery, this guide will also be useful to their family, friends, counselors and teachers." 

- Publishers Weekly, July 21, 2003

 

Readings and events
Author interview
Reviews
Excerpts
Web Links

 


AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Q. Why don’t young people read the Big Book?

A. I found when I was working as a therapist in an adolescent treatment center and later as a high school drug counselor, kids were reluctant to read the Big Book. It was too big, too old-fashioned. They didn’t see how it related to them.

Q. So, how does it relate to them? What’s the Big Book got to say to young people today?

A. That’s the beauty of A.A. Our stories connect us. It’s all in the Big Book. A white, middle-aged businessman’s story can resonate with a Native American teenager on the run. But, to hear that, you have to get past the superficial barriers.

Q. Superficial barriers. What do you mean?

A. Those outward appearances that trip us up. Those things we spot that make us want to write someone off before we hear what they have to say. Maybe we meet someone at a meeting who looks different from us, and we think, I don’t have anything to learn from that guy. Turns out, that’s probably the guy who says the thing we remember next week. Same thing happens in the Big Book. For instance, Bill W. writes about having a promising career on Wall Street. A kid smoking crack in Seattle reads that and probably says, Nope, I don’t have anything to learn from that guy. If she can get past that, she’ll realize she and Bill have a lot in common.

Q. Like what?

A. Their addiction. Doesn’t matter the type of alcohol or drug, if they’re addicts, they’re soulmates. Their stories will resonate with one another. That’s the basis of recovery. So, in addition to sharing their addiction, they share the solution. By working the Steps and following the program of recovery outlined in the Big Book, the kid in Seattle--or any young person, for that matter--can get clean and sober like Bill W. and the other early pioneers.

Q. You know this from personal experience, don’t you?

A. Yes. In the first chapter of “Big Book Unplugged,” I write about how, with some reluctance, I discovered all that I had in common with Bill W. I was a teenage dope fiend, but, despite our differences, I realized the solution worked for me. I sobered up at 17, so I know some of the challenges that come with being young and sober, one of which is getting past the age barrier in the Big Book.

Q. How does “Big Book Unplugged” do that?

A. First, I want to point out that this guide isn’t a substitute for reading the Big Book. It’s intended to help young people discover the Big Book’s hidden treasures. I think of it as a guidebook for a trip. It points out sights of interests and things not to miss, but it’s not a substitute for the trip itself. Rather, it helps readers make the most out of their trip through the Big Book. And recovery is a trip, believe me. But, to answer your question more directly, I break down each chapter so the Big Book doesn’t seem so big. And I make direct connections to young people’s lives, often drawn from my own experience, so they can see how what the authors have to say relates to what they’re living.

Q. Is “Big Book Unplugged” just for young people?

A. It’s for anyone interested in the wisdom of AA. I’ve aimed at young people, but others can sort of read over their shoulders and glean the nuggets of wisdom for themselves. In addition, two chapters specifically address other audiences, as the Big Book does itself. I’ve tailored the Big Book’s chapter “To Employers” to all adults who care about a young person with an alcohol or drug problem. And the chapter to the family is for anyone who has a family member struggling with alcohol or other drugs.

Q. What’s the single most important message someone will get out of your book?

A. That the Big Book’s worth reading because it’s message is, If you’re suffering from addiction, there’s hope for you. Here it is.

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REVIEWS

Publishers Weekly, July 21, 2003

The author, a chemical dependency counselor, is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous with more than 20 years of sobriety. He has targeted this guide specifically toward teenagers and young adults in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, with the hope of demystifying the basic text for young people who may be put off by the length or language. Alcoholics Anonymous, more familiarly called The Big Book, was published in 1939 and is now on its fourth edition. The Big Book describes the basic AA 12-step program, including the personal story of Bill W., credited with founding AA. In this clearly written manual, John R. devotes an interpretive chapter that corresponds to each of the 11 chapters in The Big Book. Although many of the chapters will be useful to adolescents in recovery, chapter four, "We Agnostics," will be particularly helpful to those who are uncomfortable with AA's spiritual component. John R. includes eight personal stories of recovering alcoholics from the 42 in the original text that, according to him, speak most directly to young people. He strongly suggests reading a chapter or a personal story in The Big Book before turning to the guide for assistance with the meaning of information provided. In addition to those in recovery, this guide will also be useful to their family, friends, counselors and teachers.

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EXCERPTS

Chapter 1: Bill's Story
Chapter 4: We Agnostics

from Chapter 1: Bill's Story

The Big Book begins like an old movie. We meet Bill, a high-flying, gin-loving Wall Street guy making millions during the Roaring Twenties. But, you wonder, what does this have to do with me?

Bill is a promising guy with a bright future. He crashes and burns because of his insatiable appetite for alcohol. I was one of those guys, too, only many years later. I was a pot-smoking kid from the suburbs. I washed dishes for spending money.

I first got drunk at fourteen. In the kitchen of a friend's house, I guzzled bourbon stolen from his parents' liquor cabinet.

Like Bill, I'd heard strong warnings about alcohol, especially from my parents. They'd told me about my grandfather, a promising salesman who ended up a skid-row drunk. That first night I drank, giddy with the alcohol in me, I walked a straight line along the pattern in the kitchen carpet. "See--alcohol won't affect me the way it does others."  So began an early delusion about being invincible.

Bill defended alcohol. When his wife voiced her concerns, he rationalized that men of genius had come up with their best stuff when drunk; that the philosophers thought their deepest thoughts under the influence. I remember saying the same sort of thing while smoking pot in another friend's basement.

Any of this sounding familiar?

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from Chapter 4: We Agnostics 

God. The very word gives some the heebie-jeebies. We see that word pop up on the page, and we want to close the book. We want nothing to do with God.

Even those more comfortable with the idea of God carry some baggage. I was one of those. I was raised by devout parents, but I grew angry at God over a string of prayers not answered to my liking. Eventually, I shifted my faith from God to pot and alcohol. Though they let me down as well, I was too immersed in my addiction to find my way back to God.

Many readers of the Big Book feel uneasy, even defiant, toward God. Chapter 4 intends to calm some of those fears and ease that resistance.

It's helpful to remember that the Big Book encourages you to find your own concept of God. The authors of the Big Book weren't speaking about the Jewish God, the Christian God, the Muslim God, or any other God of organized world religion. Their talk of God had nothing to do with organized religion--which is something separate altogether. When they said, "God,"  they weren't saying, "This God."  They were saying, "Your God"--whoever that might be. 

It helped me to know I didn't have to believe exactly what others believed. Perhaps that will help you as well. You can believe in your God--whoever that might be.

Still, the people who don't believe in a God or Higher Power of any sort find themselves in a tough spot. The Big Book does say, after all, that addiction will consume us if we don't accept spiritual help. If this is you, take heart in learning that about half of the original AA members were in the same boat. They considered themselves atheists or agnostics, and they didn't believe in any sort of God. But after giving AA's solution a try and discovering God could save them from the drink, they came to believe.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of faith, this chapter can help you understand the spiritual aspect of AA's approach to recovery.

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WEB LINKS

Hazelden: www.hazelden.org
Alcoholics Anonymous: www.alcoholics-anonymous.org

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