May 2013: A Beloved Book Turns 25
Grapevine celebrates the 25th anniversary of The Language of the Heart
THE LANGUAGE of the Heart turns 25 years old this year. It features virtually every article our co-founder Bill W. wrote for Grapevine. It's an important historical document, walking us through the early days of Alcoholics
Anonymous with writings as relevant today as they were when Bill wrote them decades ago. His essays and recollections of the early years of AA continue to be an inspiration for millions of members and a valuable guide that many AA groups use in their meetings today. Here are some wonderful excerpts ...
The Individual in Relation to AA as a Group (page 35, July 1946)
Several years ago, speaking at Baltimore, I ran on at a great rate about the terrible sufferings we alcoholics had endured. My talk must have had a strong flavor of self-pity and exhibitionism. I kept referring to our drinking experience as a great calamity, a terrible misfortune. After the meeting I was approached by a Catholic clergyman who genially remarked, ‘I heard you say you thought your drinking a great misfortune. But it seems to me that in your case it was your great good fortune. Was not this terrible experience the very thing which humbled you so completely that you were able to find God? Did not suffering open your eyes and your heart? All the opportunity you have today, all this wonderful experience you call AA, once had its beginnings in deep personal suffering. In your case that was actually no misfortune. It was your great good fortune’ … That simple yet profound remark affected me deeply. It is a landmark in my life.”
God As We Understand Him: The Dilemma of No Faith (page 251, April 1961)
The phrase “God as we understand him” is perhaps the most important expression to be found in our whole AA vocabulary. Within the compass of these five significant words there can be included every kind and degree of faith, together with the positive assurance that each of us may choose his own. Scarcely less valuable to us are those supplemental expressions—‘a higher power’ and ‘a power greater than ourselves.’ For all who deny or seriously doubt a deity, these frame an open door over whose threshold the unbeliever can take his first easy step into a reality hitherto unknown to him—the realm of faith.
In AA such breakthroughs are everyday events.”
Dr. Jung, Dr. Silkworth and AA (page 285, January 1968)
Dr. Silkworth let me work with a few people in the hospital at the risk of his reputation. And lo and behold! Nothing happened. Because—some of my old grandeur had come back, I had thought my experience was something very special. The old ego began to boom again. I was destined to fix all the drunks in the world—quite a large order.
Naturally nothing happened until—again—the deflation came. It came on that day when, in the Mayflower Hotel in Akron, I was tempted to take a drink for the first time since my hospital experience. That was when I first realized that I would need other alcoholics to preserve myself and maintain that original gift of sobriety. It was not just a case of trying to help alcoholics. If my own sobriety were to be maintained, I had to find another alcoholic to work with. So when Dr. Bob and I sat down for the first time face-to-face, it was a very different act. I said, ‘Bob, I am speaking because I need you as much as you could possibly need me. I am in danger of slipping back down the drain.’”
What Is Acceptance? (page 269, March 1962)
One way to get at the meaning of the principle of acceptance is to meditate upon it in the context of AA’s much used prayer, ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’
Essentially this is to ask for the resources of grace by which we may make spiritual progress under all conditions. Greatly emphasized in this wonderful prayer is a need for the kind of wisdom that discriminates between the possible and the impossible. We shall also see that life’s formidable array of pains and problems will require many different degrees of acceptance as we try to apply this valued principle.”
What Is Acceptance? (page 271, March 1962)
"I try hard to hold fast to the truth that a full and thankful heart cannot entertain great conceits. When brimming with gratitude, one's heartbeat must surely result in outgoing love, the finest emotion that we can ever know."
Those ‘Goof Balls’ (page 103, November 1945)
Near the end of my own drinking career I had an alarming experience. Chloral hydrate was prescribed for one of my terrible hangovers. The doctor warned me to stick rigidly to his dosage, but I kept possession of the bottle. While my wife slept quietly beside me, I reached under the mattress, took out the flask, and guzzled the whole business. I had a close shave. Moral: When a doctor gives a legitimate sedative prescription, don’t let the alcoholic have the bottle.”
The Book is Born (pages 9 -10, October 1945)
During the first three years of AA no one gave a thought to public relations. It was a time of ‘flying blind,’ when we feverishly sought the principles upon which we might stay sober and assist the few alcoholics who came around wanting to do likewise. We were entirely preoccupied with the life-and-death question of personal recovery. It was strictly a man-to-man affair. We hadn’t even agreed upon a name for our movement. There was no literature.
By the fall of 1937 we could count what looked like forty recovered members. One of us had been sober three years, another two and a half, and a fair number had a year or more behind them. As all of us had been hopeless cases, this amount of time elapsed began to be significant. The realization that we ‘had found something’ began to take hold of us. No longer were we a dubious experiment. Alcoholics could stay sober.”
Take Step Eleven (page 241, June 1958)
“As for those folks who claim that God tells them where to drill for oil, or when to brush their teeth—well, they just make me tired. Great modesty and humility are needed by every AA for his own permanent recovery. If these virtues are such vital needs to the individual, so must they be to AA as a whole. This principle of anonymity before the general public can, if we take it seriously enough, guarantee the Alcoholics Anonymous movement these sterling attributes forever. Our public relations policy should mainly rest upon the principle of attraction and seldom, if ever, upon promotion."
Additional Web-Only Excerpts
Our Anonymity Is Both Inspiration and Safety (p. 20, March 1946)
"Great modesty and humility are needed by every AA for his own permanent recovery. If these virtues are such vital needs to the indi¬vidual, so must they be to AA as a whole. This principle of anonymity before the general public can, if we take it seriously enough, guar¬antee the Alcoholics Anonymous movement these sterling attributes forever. Our public relations policy should mainly rest upon the prin¬ciple of attraction and seldom, if ever, upon promotion."
What is Acceptance? (p. 269, March 1962)
"One way to get at the meaning of the principle of acceptance is to meditate upon it in the context of AA's much used prayer, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Essentially this is to ask for the resources of grace by which we may make spiritual progress under all conditions. Greatly emphasized in this wonderful prayer is a need for the kind of wisdom that discriminates between the possible and the impossible. We shall also see that life's for¬midable array of pains and problems will require many different degrees of acceptance as we try to apply this valued principle."
The Greatest Gift of All (p. 234, December 1957)
"No, sobriety is only a bare beginning, it is only the first gift of the first awakening. If more gifts are to be received, our awakening has to go on. And if it does go on, we find that bit by bit we can discard the old life—the one that did not work—for a new life that can and does work under any conditions whatever. Regardless of worldly success or failure, regardless of pain or joy, regardless of sickness or health or even of death itself, a new life of endless possibilities can be lived if we are willing to continue our awakening."
Humility for Today (p.259, June 1961)
"Perfect humility would be a state of complete freedom from myself, freedom from all the claims that my defects of character now lay so heavily upon me. Perfect humility would be a full willingness, in all times and places, to find and do the will of God."
The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety, (p. 238, January 1958)
In the first six months of my own sobriety, I worked hard with many alcoholics. Not a one responded. Yet this work kept me sober. It wasn't a question of those alcoholics giving me anything. My stability came out of trying to give, not out of demanding that I receive. Thus I think it can work out with emotional sobriety. If we exam¬ine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependency and its consequent unhealthy de¬mand. Let us, with God's help, continually surrender these hobbling demands. Then we can be set free to live and love; we may then be able to Twelfth Step ourselves and others into emotional sobriety.
Problems Other than Alcohol (p. 223, February 1958)
"Sobriety—freedom from alcohol—through the teaching and prac¬tice of the Twelve Steps, is the sole purpose of an AA group."
Leadership in AA: Ever a Vital Need (p. 290, April 1959)
"Now comes that all-important attribute of vision. Vision is, I think, the ability to make good estimates, both for the immediate and for the more distant future. Some might feel this sort of striving to be a sort of heresy because we AAs are constantly telling ourselves, "One day at a time." But that valued maxim really refers to our emotional lives and means only that we are not to repine over the past nor wishfully fantasy or daydream about our future."
The Significance of St. Louis (p. 140, April 1955)
"There comes a time in the life of every family when the parents must say to sons and daughters alike, "You are grown up; here is your inheritance. Do with it as you will. We will watch, we will help, but we must no longer decide for you, act for you, or protect you. You are henceforth responsible for your own lives and well-being. So now take your destiny by the hand. And may God love you." Everybody knows that a good parent must do this. All par¬ents, at some point, simply have to "let go and let God." That's exactly what we old-timers will propose to you at St. Louis. At least that's what I plan to do, as I believe such decision will be healthy, timely, and right."
The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety (p. 237, January 1958)
"Suddenly I realized what the matter was. My basic flaw had always been dependence—almost absolute dependence—on people or circum¬stances to supply me with prestige, security, and the like. Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them. And when defeat came, so did my depression."