1938 Original Manuscript for 1939 1st Edition BigBook Searchable 1976 3rd Edition BigBook On-Line
The Prescription
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Intro to "Working the Steps"
From "Barefoot" Bill L.

I usually like to start a study of the Big Book way of life with something on the Circle and Triangle. Since alcoholism effects us physically, mentally and spiritually (more on that in "Working Step 1"), it's important to realize that AA's solution to alcoholism (as outlined in the Big Book) would also need to have three parts. When I first heard this, after being in AA for three and a half years, it was news to me. I really thought at that time that AA's solution to alcoholism was "don't drink and go to meetings" because that was what I heard constantly. After my experience showed me that there's a big difference between not drinking, and not drinking and being happy about it, I started to integrate all three parts of AA's solution. This focus and consistency has brought about continued serenity, growth and freedom for me and everyone I've every known who did the same. [Click for more on the CandT]

I also think that it's important to note that there is a BIG difference between "the fellowship" and "the Program." Both are important. The fellowship (meetings and interaction with other AA's) is "a group of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other", and the Program (the Steps) is "a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole." Understanding this then, it is very incorrect to be at a meeting and say "I've been in the program for six months but it doesn't seem to be working for me." If you haven't gotten into working all of the Steps (no matter how long you've been dry), you are ONLY in the FELLOWSHIP, not the PROGRAM. I know that we hear the expression "in the program" all the time but I must say that it is often misused.

Let's start the introduction by turning to Roman numeral page 13 (xiii). At the top of the page xiii, in the Foreword to the First Edition, we find:

"We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. To show other alcoholics PRECISELY HOW WE HAVE RECOVERED is the MAIN purpose of this book. For them, we hope these pages will prove so convincing that no further authentication will be necessary. We think this account of our experiences will help everyone to better understand the alcoholic. Many do not comprehend that the alcoholic is a very sick person. And besides, we are sure that our way of living has its advantages for all."

With all the many different Fellowships in the world today that use the 12-Step format, that last line certainly has come true. Also in the paragraph we just read, the "Big Book" authors immediately tell us that the purpose of this book is to show us how to recover from alcoholism. This is a revolutionary statement, because until this book was written, there was no hope for alcoholics. Now, anyone who is willing to follow the directions they have provided, CAN RECOVER.

We know that the words "recover" or "recovered" are not necessarily popular words in A.A. today. However, these words ARE used throughout our literature. For a new person in A.A. (and perhaps for those who do not know), what does the word "recovered" mean? Well, the Big Book gives what can be considered as our definition for the word "recovered" beginning at the bottom of page 84. What I am about to read are the results of working the first ten Steps, otherwise known as the Tenth Step Promises. The bottom of page 84 gives a description of "recovered" as:

"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone - even alcohol. For by this time sanity (which means seeing the truth about alcohol) will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality - safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. (Now here's a warning.) That is how we react so long as (or IF) we keep in FIT spiritual condition."

Please now turn back to the beginning of the book, Roman numeral page 20 or xx. This is from the Foreword to the Second Edition and was written in 1955, 16 years AFTER the Big Book was published. Five lines down from the top of page xx it says:

"Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way, 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A. showed improvement."

Remember that this was written 20 years after AA began. This is saying that all those who came to AA and went through this process, 75% eventually got sober. And let us remember that this is long before there were a lot of meetings so it was IMPOSSIBLE for people to get sober on the fellowship, they needed to get sober on the Program. They applied these Steps to their life, they had a spiritual awakening or a spiritual experience, and they didn't find it necessary to drink from that point on. Maybe after these next five weeks, we can apply these principles to OUR life, get the same results, and carry this simple little message into our fellowship, and then maybe AA as a WHOLE will again have a 75% rate of recovery like they did back then. [Click for more on Rates of Recovery in Early AA]

Here is some history on How The Big Book Was Put Together and How A.A. Began.

Here is Why We Call It The Big Book. >

This is a Big Book Step Index

And here is a good prayer to use when studying the Big Book, the Set-Aside Prayer

When do we start working the Steps? -- When Do You Want to Get Well?

Index to Working The Steps

Intro to Working the Steps -- This Page

Working Step 1

Working Step 2

Working Step 3

Working Step 4

Working Steps 5, 6 and 7

Working Steps 8 and 9

Working Steps 10 and 11

Working Step 12

The Circle and Triangle

"When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically." - Big Book page 64 (When it says "physically", please keep in mind that this includes the physical world around us.)

For me, the circle and triangle represents the Alcoholics Anonymous solution to alcoholism. It is a perfect overview of our three-part answer (unity, recovery, and service) to our three-part disease (physical, mental and spiritual).

The foundation of this triangle (which the rest of the solution is built upon) is recovery. The set of 12 spiritual principles associated with recovery are contained in the 12 Steps (which are located in the Big Book, pages i - 164; and then talked about in the 12 and 12, pages 15 - 125). The part of the disease that it treats is the mental.

The left side of this triangle is unity, which can be found in fellowship with other AA's. The set of 12 spiritual principles associated with unity are contained in the 12 Traditions (which are located in the 12 and 12, pages 129 - 192). The part of the disease that it treats is the physical.

And the right side of this triangle is service, which can be found in carrying the message and, with unselfishness and love, contributing inside and outside of AA. The set of 12 spiritual principles associated with service are contained in the 12 Concepts (which are located in the booklet "Twelve Concepts for World Service"). The part of the disease that it treats is the spiritual (remember that the Big Book says on pages 14 - 15 that "we perfect and enlarge our spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others", and on pages 14, 76, 88 and 93 it says, "Faith without works is dead."

Also, notice that the sides of the triangle are all equal in size, which means that not only do I need to be living in all three areas but that I need to incorporate all three proportionately. I have seen many people go back out who were using LESS THAN all three parts, but I have NEVER seen ANYONE return to drinking who was living in ALL THREE. I've heard people refer to it as a three-legged stool. If all three legs are there then the structure is solid, but if one or two legs are missing then what is supporting me is shaky and I am sure to fall.

If actions in these three areas are taken, I can be whole in body, mind and spirit; together as one.

There are times when these principles spill into each other because the lines between them are blurred (like, it could be said that all of the Steps lead to our awakening to the awareness of spirit, or service sounds a lot like our Step 12, or there are aspects of the Traditions that can be used in all of our affairs). But if we want to stay on the "Road of Happy Destiny" we need to be familiar with the whole package that leads to freedom, recovery, peace of mind, joy, usefulness and "a way of life that is incredibly more wonderful as time passes."

It doesn't matter how long it's been since our last drink. What matters MORE is how close we are to our next one. How can we tell if we are closer to the next drink then we would like to be? We can get a good indication every few months (as part of taking personal inventory) by asking ourselves, "Am I participating equally in all three branches of the AA solution?" If our answer is, "YES!", we will know as best we can if we are still on the beam in AA's design for living.

At the 20th Anniversary Convention of AA in St. Louis, MO. on July 1 - 3, 1955; Bill Wilson said the following: "Above us we see a banner and that banner shows a circle which is AA circumscribing the world. Within it is a triangle. The base of the triangle is the foundation of recovery on which we stand. The left of the triangle symbolizes our unity, and the right of the triangle our arm of service. Such is the symbol of AA. I first saw it in Norway in 1950, but this symbol is not new with us. We have attributed a particular significance to it but in actuality its significance is very old. Students of ancient days tell that centuries ago it was regarded by priests and witch doctors alike as the symbol by which evil spirits could be kept away, and may that symbol ever stand guard over the society of Alcoholics Anonymous."

This symbol is also an ancient spiritual symbol for wholeness of body, mind and spirit; or "Oneness."

On May 21, 1993, AA World Service released an unsigned document titled: "Follow-up Statement Regarding Use of the Circle/ Triangle Symbol." In it, AAWS stated that "Alcoholics Anonymous will phase out the 'official' use of the circle and triangle symbol in and on its literature, letterheads and other material." That action has generated a considerable amount of discussion because it was taken without a conference action or a "group conscience."

I hope you can see the significance of the Circle and Triangle and please let others know (especially people you work with) about its representation of the 36 spiritual principles in AA's solution to alcoholism that leads to integrity on the personal, group, and service level.

Barefoot Bill

The Truth Of What Happened To The Triangle In The Circle

Metaphysics and copyrights aside, anyone can still use the circle and triangle logo! It's just not the "official" trade mark for Alcoholics Anonymous anymore...Since 1993, lawyers advised the General Service Board that the copyright on the logo was unenforceable.

I remember the reports generating out of the Board and an Ad Hoc Committee meeting in January 1993 (two months before the General Service Conference). The Ad Hoc committee of Delegates and Trustees (chosen from a cross-section of AA Regions) came to the conclusion that recommended a simple phrase replacing it in all the AAWS printing and publications from the Conference forward "This is A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature." The Conference also agreed with this idea, and by the beginning of May 1993 a notice was sent out by the General Service Board that AAWS, Inc. would discontinue the use of the Circle and Triangle logo in its then-existing formats (1) blank, 2) with "AA" in the center of the triangle, 3) with "AA" and General Service Conference on the outside of the triangle, and 4) "AA" and Recovery, Unity, Service outside the triangle - those were accepted uses by AA through that 1993 announcement).

The logo had been used officially from 1957 to 1993, and that's thirty-six years of uncontested usage - until the General Service Board thought to ask the medallion and coin makers to "cease and desist" using it. For a time in 1991-92 the coin manufacturers complied (to this member, with unsightly results...), but somewhere in 1992 decided to re-negotiate and contest the Board's position. Not that the case ever went to trial as a violation of copyright law; advise to the Board was that the copyright was either not renewed (in 1976, the Big Book copyright was unfortunately not renewed by an oversight error of omission in legal advice to the GSB, too!) or completely unenforceable, perhaps due to the compliance of the coin makers not using it (some who claimed or threatened to claim their own copyright in the coin formats, etc.).

To remedy a pretty bad legal situation, the Conference heard the recommendation of simply using the 'conference-approved' phrase on literature. Where much discussion for a few years centered on AA going into the business of minting its own coins (definitely an outside issue), and suing the coin makers (against the 'spirit and letter' of the 12 Concepts for World Service--avoiding lawsuits whenever possible), the "catch-22" choices were evident, and the Conference recommendation was a workable solution. I have a friend and past Delegate who is also a lawyer, and he shared with me, that if anyone can put together a terrible process of lawsuits, it's us...no wonder we are advised against litigation, especially on outside issues.

Did you know that upside down, the blank logo is the symbol for an air raid shelter? We had even found the same circle and triangle on manhole covers in Illinois (old ones from the Elgin City Water Dept.). You can imagine the view that any copyright court might take on this if we had followed through with long litigation - it would almost be the question asked "are you joking?"

Today we can have a bit of fun discussing our use and its current "unofficial" status. The official logo was a beautiful part of our past, when the 1993 Conference also allowed that many AAs, AA events, etc. would still be using our circle and triangle logo, and there would be no interference in that. Of course, now we don't "own" the logo, but as far as I know, no one does... Perhaps you'll use it in the same spirit used in our past years, but don't worry about infringing on another's copyright. Use your own judgment, seek an informal consensus, but lightly take the above ideas into consideration. The circle and triangle is not "banned by A.A.," just discontinued since 1993 as a trademark.

Rick T., Area 20 Archivist, Illinois.

Early AA Recovery Rates

Of alcoholics who came to A.A. (from 1935 to 1955) and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way, 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A. showed improvement. (Big Book, page xx.)

Dr. G. Kirby Collier, psychiatrist: "I have felt that A.A. is a group unto themselves and their best results can be had under their own guidance, as a result of their philosophy. Any therapeutic or philosophic procedure which can prove a recovery rate of 50% to 60% must merit our consideration." (Big Book, page 569.)

Records in Cleveland show that 93 percent of those who came to us (in the early days) never had a drink again. (Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, page 261.)

It is probably fair to say that 3 out of 4 who came during that period, and who have since remained with the groups, have recovered from their alcoholism. (Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Vol. 6, No. 2. A talk given by Bill Wilson, September 1945.)

About two thousand recoveries now take place each month. Of those alcoholics who wish to get well and are emotionally capable of trying our method, 50 percent recover immediately, 25 percent after a few backslides. The remainder are improved if they continue active in A.A. Of the total who approach us, it is probable that only 25 per cent become A.A. members on the first contact. A list of seventy-five of our early failures today discloses that 70 returned to A.A. after one to ten years. We did not bring them back; they came of their own accord. (N.Y. State Journal of Medicine Vol. 50. A talk given by Bill Wilson, July 1950.)

This is from the August 1946 AA Grapevine: "MINNEAPOLIS RECORD INDICATED THAT 75% ARE SUCCESSFUL IN A.A." The Minneapolis Group, in March 1943, inaugurated a system for keeping a record of the sobriety of members from three months on up. As a result, the following exact percentages have been arrived as:

For the Year 1945 - 5 year members - 100% successful, 0% slipped
4 year members - 100% successful, 0% slipped
3 year members - 100% successful, 0% slipped
2 year members - 89% successful, 11% slipped
18 month members - 90% successful, 10% slipped
1 year members - 80% successful, 20% slipped
9 month members - 82% successful, 18% slipped
6 month members - 70% successful, 30% slipped
3 month members - 48% successful, 52% slipped
(Of those who slipped in 1945, only 16 1/2 % have worked back to any degree of sobriety.)
Overall Percentages -
1943 - 78% successful, 22% slipped
1944 - 83% successful, 17% slipped
1945 - 77% successful, 23% slipped

We now have an active membership of one hundred and thirteen alcoholics, eighty-three of whom have not had a drink since their first A. A. meeting. Five of these have been dry from two to four years, twenty-seven dry from one to two years, forty-one dry from six to twelve months and twenty-six dry three to six months. (From a letter dated 9/29/41 from Drs. A. Weise Hammer and C. Dudley Saul, who were Medical Directors at Philadelphia General Hospital. Philadelphia's first AA meeting was on 2/28/40.)

One-hundred-percent effectiveness with non-psychotic drinkers who sincerely want to quit is claimed by the workers of Alcoholics Anonymous. The program will not work, they add, with those who only "want to want to quit," or who want to quit because they are afraid of losing their families or their jobs. The effective desire, the state, must be based upon enlightened self-interest; the applicant must want to get away from liquor to head off incarceration or premature death. He must be fed up with the stark social loneliness, which engulfs the uncontrolled drinker, and he must want to put some order into his bungled life.

As it is impossible to disqualify all borderline applicants, the working percentage of recovery falls below the 100-percent mark. According to A.A. estimation, fifty percent of the alcoholics taken in hand recover immediately; twenty-five percent get well after suffering a relapse or two; and the rest remain doubtful. This rate of success is exceptionally high. (From the March 1941 Saturday Evening Post article by Jack Alexander.)

Concerning the original twenty nine case histories, it is a deep satisfaction to record, as of 1955, that twenty-two have apparently made full recovery from their alcoholism. Of these fifteen have remained completely sober for an average of seventeen years each, according to our best knowledge and belief. (From page 167 of the Second Edition of the Big Book.)

For the first time in 10 years he feels he has found a path to a decent life. It's too early to tell whether he'll stay on it, but AA's record of 75 per cent recovered is in his favor. (From the June 26, 1945 Look magazine article called "Case History of an Alcoholic." )

Complete abstinence appears the only way out, but except in rare cases that has been impossible of attainment. Religion, psychiatry, and medicine have been tried, but with only sporadic success. The members of Alcoholics Anonymous, however, appear to have found an answer, for they claim that at least fifty per cent of those they interest have stopped drinking completely. (From a sermon preached on November 26, 1939 by Rev. Dilworth Lupton at the First Unitarian Church [Universalist - Unitarian], Euclid at East 82nd Street, Cleveland, Ohio. It was called "Mr. X and Alcoholics Anonymous" and Mr. X was Clarence Snyder. This sermon was turned into one of the first pamphlets concerning A.A.)

"Members of Alcoholics Anonymous answer a call from a man who admits the liquor habit has completely licked him," the Sacramento Union newspaper of Dec. 12, 1943 reported. In the early days of AA, the Fellowship sought and received more publicity than today. "Fifty per cent of AA 'cures' take effect immediately and are permanent," the article said.


Step 1 We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
This Step is described on Roman numeral pages 25 - 32 (xxv - xxxii), on pages 1 - 44:1, and 52:2.

Step 2 Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
This Step is described in parts of chapters 1, 2, 3, and all of chapter 4.

Step 3 Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
This Step is described on pages 60:3 - 64:0. The directions for taking Step 3 are on pages 60:4, 62:3, and 63:2 - 64:0. The results of taking Step 3 are given on page 63:1 and the last line of 63:3.

Step 4 Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
This Step is described on pages 63:4 - 71 and directions for taking this Step are given throughout. The results of taking Step 4 are given on page 70:3.

Step 5 Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This Step is described on pages 72 - 75. The directions for taking Steps 5 are on page 75:1, the first sentence of 75:2, and 75:3. The results of taking Step 5 are on page 75:2 after the first sentence.

Step 6 Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
This Step is described on page 76:1. The directions for taking Step 6 are also there.

Step 7 Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
This Step is described on page 76:2. The directions for taking Step 7 are also there.

Step 8 Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
This Step is described on page 76:3. The directions for taking Step 8 are also there.

Step 9 Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
This Step is described on pages 76:4 - 84:1 and the directions for completing Step 9 are given throughout. The results of taking Step 9 are on page 83:4 - 84:1.

Step 10 Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
This Step is described on pages 84:1 - 85:2. The directions for taking Step 10 are on page 84:2, the first line of 84:3, and 85:1. The results of taking Step 10 are on page 84:3 - 85:0.

Step 11 Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.
This Step is described on pages 85:3 - 88:3. The directions for taking Step 11 are on pages 86:1 - 88:0. The results of taking Step 11 are found on page 88 lines 2 - 8.

Step 12 Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all of our affairs.
This Step is described on pages 89 - 150. Many tips on how to carry our message of recover to another alcoholic are found throughout chapter 7, and many tips on how to carry our message and practice these

The Set-Aside Prayer

"Dear God, please set aside everything I think I know [about myself, my disease, the Big Book, the 12 Steps, the Program, the Fellowship, the people in the fellowship, and all spiritual terms, and especially about you God] so I may have an open mind and a new experience [with all these things]. Please help me see the Truth. Amen."

"The Set-Aside Prayer" (sometimes referred to as the "Lay-Aside Prayer"), as stated here, is not word-for-word stated in the Big Book; but statements and ideas that have inspired the prayer can be found in the Big Book on the pages given below and are highlighted in bold font. The words used above, excluding those in the brackets, comprise the prayer in its purest form. Feel free to adapt or modify the bracketed words as needed. Our spiritual advisors have found that this prayer seems to have a profound affect when used while taking someone through Steps 1 and 2 out of the Big Book.

Page 42, 2: "But the program of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty drastic. It meant I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions out of the window."

Page 46, 1: "We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results..."

Page 47, 1: "When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you."

Page 47, 4: "Besides a seeming inability to accept much on faith, we often found ourselves handicapped by obstinacy, sensitiveness, and unreasoning prejudice. Many of us have been so touchy that even casual reference to spiritual things make us bristle with antagonism. This sort of thinking had to be abandoned. Though some of us resisted, we found no great difficulty in casting aside such feelings. Faced with alcoholic destruction, we soon became as open minded on spiritual matters as we had tried to be on other questions. In this respect alcohol was a great persuader. It finally beat us into a state of reasonableness. Sometimes this was a tedious process; we hope no one else will as prejudiced for as long as some of us were."

Page 49, 2: "We, who have traveled this dubious path, beg you to lay aside prejudice, even against organized religion."

Page 58, 3: "Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely."

Continue to Working Step 1

Index of AA History Pages on Barefoot's Domain

As in so many things, especially with we alcoholics, our History is our Greatest Asset!.. We each arrived at the doors of AA with an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That Do Not Work" .. Today, In AA and In Recovery, Our History has added an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That DO Work!!" and We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it!!

ABC Page 60 from the Big Book



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