A.A. does not function in a way which people normally expect it to. For example, instead of using our “will power,” as everyone outside A.A. seems to think we do, we give up our wills to a Higher Power, place our lives in hands -invisible hand’s-stronger than ours. Another example: If twenty or thirty of us real drunks get away from home and meet in a clubroom down-town on Saturday night, the normal expectation is that all thirty of us will surely get roaring drunk, but it does not work out that way, does it? Or talking about whiskey and old drinking days (one would normally think) is sure to raise a thirst, but it does not work that way either, does it? Our program and procedures seem to be in many ways contrary to normal opinion.
And so, in connection with this idea, let me pass on what I consider the four paradoxes of how A.A. works. (A paradox, you probably already know, is a statement which is seemingly self-contradictory; a statement which appears to be false, but which, upon careful examination, in certain instances proves to be true.)
We SURRENDER TO WIN.
On the face of it, surrendering certainly does not seem like winning. But it is in A.A. Only after we have come to the end of our rope, hit a stone wall in some aspect of our lives beyond which we can go no further; only when we hit “bottom” in despair and surrender, can we accomplish sobriety which we could never accomplish before. We must, and we do, surrender in order to win.
We GIVE AWAY TO KEEP.
That seems absurd and untrue. How can you keep anything if you give it away? Rut in order to keep whatever it is we get in A.A., we must go about giving it away to others, for no fees or rewards of any kind. When we cannot afford to give away what we have received so freely in A.A., we had better get ready for our next “drunk.” It will happen every time. We’ve got to continue to give it away in order to keep it.
We SUFFER TO GET WELL.
There is no way to escape the terrible suffering of remorse and regret and shame and embarrassment which starts us on the road to getting well from our affliction. There is no new way to shake out a hangover. It’s painful. And for us, necessarily so. I told this to a friend of mine as he sat weaving to and fro on the side of the bed, in terrible shape, about to die for some paraldehyde. I said, “Lost John”-that’s his nickname-“Lost John, you know you’re going to have to do a certain amount of shaking sooner or later.” “Well,” he said, “for God’s sake let’s make it later!” We suffer to get well.
WE DIE TO LIVE.
That is a beautiful paradox straight out of the Biblical idea of being “born again” or “losing one’s life to find it. When we work at our Twelve Steps, the old life of guzzling and fuzzy thinking, and all that goes with it, gradually dies, and we acquire a different and a better way of life. As our shortcomings are removed, one life of us dies, and another life of us lives. We in A.A. die to live.
From the book; Alcoholics Anonymous, 1st ed., ‘The Professor and the Paradox’