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The Promises.

5 October 2017

Last night in my men’s meeting, the chair talked about the promises. AA has a passage called “The Promises” and they’re among the most widely cited words in all of the program. Even non-alcoholics have often heard of them, or recognize it:

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

Alcoholics Anonymous, pps 83-84

As I know I have many non-spiritual readers, I always like to remind people reading this that “God” as referenced in AA is always “as you understand him”. Many people in AA are atheists or agnostics – and always have been, going back to the earliest members. “God” is short hand for “a power greater than yourself”. Whatever that means to you.

Talk to anyone with some time in sobriety, working the program, and you will almost certainly find they agree that “the promises come true”. They certainly have for me. There are times I regret the past. There are times I am still baffled. There are times I feel useless. But they are the exceptions now. Most of the time I feel happy and confident, I am not afraid of people. I am able to devote myself to causes that support others. And the things I could never do for myself are somehow being done – I am capable in ways I never was before.

But the promises belong in a specific place in the program, and they’re there for a reason. The promises are introduced in the book during the explanation of how to take step nine. Step nine: “Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” (“Such people” refers to step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.)

Step nine is a step that most alcoholics dread. And some few are far too eager for it. Step nine is the last of the action steps prior to the “maintenance” steps of 10-11-12. When you finish step 9, you should be ready to enter into your long-term recovery. But there’s a lot of work to do before you get there.

When we talk about the promises, we should be careful to let those new to sobriety know that this is the result of long and hard work, assiduously done, over months or years. It’s not a quick fix. Yes, when we get sober, most of us see dramatic improvements in our health, wellness, and circumstances rapidly. But not all of us. And not in a complete way.

Walking through the steps – trudging through – is required. We learn how to manage. We learn how to cope. We learn how to help others. And we become people worth trusting and investing in and relying on. I worry sometimes that prematurely introducing newly sober people to the promises without context might discourage them when they don’t see results immediately. Well, results are rarely immediate. They’re the outcome of work, time, and diligence.

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