Getting Started

The first thing to state is that in our experience AA works… if you work it. It may all seem overwhelming at the moment, but we have all been through early days in AA and we understand. Our experience is that if we follow some basic suggestions we can stop, stay stopped, and lead happy lives. So here are some things you can think about right away. The following are not all of the suggestions needed to get well – but they helped us to hang around long enough to hear the rest.

The first suggestion is: Get to Meetings
The primary purpose of every AA meeting is to carry the AA message of hope and a happy sobriety to the suffering alcoholic. Whatever else might be going on in your life or however little else you may feel you are doing about your situation, even you are still drinking, there is a chance that things will get better if you keep going to meetings. A meeting seems to make most things seem better, sometimes it’s not clear why, but it’s true. We find that we like some meetings better than others and that’s fine – all meetings are good, so just go to the ones that seem to be offering what you want. “We meet frequently so that newcomers may find the fellowship they seek.”{p15} We were told in our early days that no old timer regretted going to too many meeting in their early days. (See also section ‘How Often Should I Go to Meetings?’ in Step 12.)

Next, Get a Big Book… and Read It
The book Alcoholics Anonymous, which is very often referred to in meetings as the “Big Book” contains the basic text for recovery. The first section, up to page 164, is the manual on getting well. It is an amalgamation of how the first 100 members recovered from their drinking problems. The stories afterwards are good too and are as valid a part of the Big Book as the first section, but of less importance if you are in a position to get to lots of meetings and so hear first hand the personal experiences of many alcoholics in AA. Many of us still read the Big Book daily even after years of sobriety, perhaps a couple of pages, and when we get to the end we start again. Every word is gold and every reading seems to reveal a bit more.
We are told why the Big Book was written: “To show precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.” {page xiii, Foreward to First Edition}. At the time of its writing, its greatest use was perceived to be the communication of the means of recovery to those who had no contact with the then small number of AA groups and existing members. Once written, however, it was quickly found that the Big Book was an invaluable tool for everybody wanting to recover, including those who had contact with AA groups and had sponsors. This is explained in the book AA Comes of Age: “The Cleveland pioneers had proved three essential things: the value of personal sponsorship; the worth of the AA book in indoctrinating newcomers, and finally the tremendous fact that AA, when the word really got around, could now soundly grow to great size.” {p22} Cleveland, was one of the places where the early AA groups existed.

Get a Sponsor
When we talk about a sponsor, what we have in mind is someone who has been through the AA program, the 12-steps of recovery, who will help you to do same by passing on his or her experience. We have found a sponsor invaluable in recovery. If you are unsure as to how to get one, then here are some guidelines that were useful to us: we chose someone who has been through the steps as they are laid out in the Big Book, the AA steps. We chose someone who had what we wanted – by this we mean: if you want to be happy and content then it might be an idea to pick someone who is himself happy and content. We chose someone who still has a sponsor – it is reassuring to know the he is still taking guidance and is plugged into AA experience beyond just his own. If the person you have in mind has other sponsees, look at them and see how they seem to be doing – if he has passed something on to them, then the chances are that he can pass something on to you.
To get a sponsor, you might have to ask someone to help you. It might seem a bit daunting, but remember that alcoholics in AA want to help other alcoholics. It is a great honor to be asked to sponsor someone, so most will say yes, but if the person you ask says no and that they are too busy, it is almost certainly the truth and not an excuse. If you are unsure about someone, then you can always start on a temporary basis and see how it goes. Also, if you are reading the Big Book, then you will be able to see for yourself whether or not the suggestions given to you are consistent with the principles of the program of AA. This will help you to develop trust in the person you have chosen.
The booklet Living Sober explains {p25} that the reason that the word “sponsor” did not appear in the first section of the Big Book was that it was not part of AA jargon at that stage. The principle, however, had been established right at the earliest days as Bill subsequently refers to Ebby as his sponsor and himself as Dr Bob’s. In other words, Bill did the job of a sponsor in taking Dr Bob through the steps, even if he didn’t call it that until later. Dr Bob and the Good Old timers describes how sponsors were found to be the effective way of taking people through the program {p144-146} including reference to Bill as Bob’s sponsor. So, by the time we get to the third edition, it appears in the Big Book itself {p477}: “Get a sponsor and phone numbers, call friends in AA when bad thoughts come.”

Keep Away from Drinking Places
It is often said in AA that if you don’t take the first drink, you can’t get drunk. We are more likely to take that first drink if we frequent bars and pubs. No situation is exactly the same as another so a sponsor can be a great help in specific situations. You may feel that you are okay frequenting your old drinking haunts and ordering orange juice, but in our experience it pays to take care. Some of us have had the experience of trying to stop and then finding ourselves with a glass in our hands with the beer half drunk before we remember that we were supposed to be stopping. As someone once put it in a meeting, he ‘forgot that he was supposed to remember’. By then it’s too late, of course, and so we think we might as well get drunk this time. This disease is cunning baffling and powerful. So perhaps you could arrange to meet friends for coffee in a café instead.
Having said this, it is inevitable that even despite our best efforts, occasionally we will find ourselves in social situations where drink is served. If this happens, there is no need to feel put upon if you are offered an alcoholic drink. A polite “thank you but I think I will have water today” is fine. There’s nothing more to explain if you don’t want to.
Also, many of us worry about big drinking days in the calendar. We have known people come into AA in February who were worried about Christmas. That is where the slogan, ‘it’s just for today’, helps. When Christmas comes, there is lots of help and advice, but just for today it isn’t Christmas, and so it’s not a problem.
The approach to take comes from page 101. It describes how we have nothing to fear if “we have a legitimate reason for being there”. We should ask ourselves, it says, “have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?”. The book then goes on to say that if we can answer these questions “satisfactorily”, we will be fine. Our experience is that until we have been through the steps, or at the very least have a sponsor to show us the way, we are not able to distinguish genuine reasons from “shaky” justifications. At this stage part of us is wishing we could somehow enjoy the drunken atmosphere even if we don’t want to take a drink to do it. So why take the risk? In time we will know how to make the distinguish between good and bad reasons for being in a bar.