Getting Rid of The Bondage of Self
Alcoholism recovery can be understood within the concept of self-centeredness as a central factor in the development and maintenance of alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book (as it is affectionately known) is filled with warnings of the dangers of selfishness, self-centeredness, self-absorption, self-justification, self-pity, and self-deception. The collective experience of AA’s original members acknowledges self-knowledge, self-reliance, self-control, and self-sufficiency as failed paths to sustaining sobriety.
Whereas mutual-aid alcoholic societies in the 19th century viewed self-assertion as liberating the alcoholic from the disease, AA’s founders characterized the illness as stemming from the “bondage of self”, which could only be broken by personal surrender and self-transcendence.
AA’s Big Book emphasizes key exercises for ego reduction, which is referred to as the foundation of recovery. The AA recovery process involves;
- (a) surrender—admission of powerlessness and personal limitations (Step 1) (“. . .we had to quit playing God”);
- (b) transcendence of self via reliance on a power greater than self (Step 2);
- (c) witnessed confession of wrongs done to others (Step 5);
- (d) repair of family and social relationships through making amends (Step 9);
- (e) carrying a message of hope to other alcoholics (Step 12), which is often done in ritualized storytelling within a community of recovering people; and
- (f) personal anonymity as a spiritual principle—a metaphoric and literal shedding of self (Tradition 4).
Seen in this light, AA is not a “self-help” program but a mutual-help program that rests on the premonition that sustained sobriety cannot be achieved alone. Helping in AA enacts many of these exercises designed to increase other- orientation and self transcendence, which occurs quickly for some and slowly for others. Recovery only occurs in fellowship with other alcoholics.