A little ditty on the “Big Book”, Alcoholics Anonymous (Bills Story).
Why is Bill’s story the first chapter?
Yes, Bills’ story is the first chapter following the doctors opinion. So it would seem that the doctor’s opinion is pretty important, then followed by Bills story, which is called Chapter 1. I cannot make any absolute confirmation to why Bills story was the first chapter, except to say that Bill was in fact the main author of the book, with much input from the original approximately one hundred members. Also Bills story is very much about identification for the reader. This is part of the initial approach of an AA member to an alcoholic in the twelfth step. “… we tried to carry this message to alcoholics …”. Bill was sharing his story just as any active AA member would do if asked to do so at a meeting or one on one with an alcoholic who has reached out for help. Bill describes the good times through the troubles and progression of the disease, and into the hopelessness when an old drinking buddy comes to visit with a sober message.
What is the purpose of having his whole story here anyway?
In the text of the book, it states that “Our stories disclose in a general way, what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.” In the back of the book you will find plenty of stories of individual members lives. Their stories differ in many details, yet all are alcoholic. This is for a person who suspects they may be an alcoholic. They can read members describe their drinking lives, how they came to AA, and what their lives are like in sobriety. Bills story just happens to be the first. His story allows the reader to look for similarities in their own lives.
At the beginning of Bills story he quotes the words he saw on a gravestone outside Winchester Cathedral, during world war one.
“Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier, Who caught his death drinking small cold beer. A good soldier is ne’er forgot, whether he dieth by musket or by pot.”
Bills states it was a warning he soon forgot, which is an example of how an alcoholic can ignore the warning signs along the way. Yet later after a sober friend came to see him and shared his own story, Bill’s memory of that gravestone came back in a powerful way. Suddenly Bill identified. By sharing the long view of Bills’ life the reader can find where they may identify with him. Not every alcoholic is exactly the same as far as when they started drinking, how they drank, or what they drank. However they may find areas where they can say ”that sounds like me”.
When Bill wrote about his getting sober he was describing the foundation of what was to become the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and the growth of the fellowship of AA in the early days. As Bill went to the hospital where he had been a patient many times, himself, to talk with other alcoholics, he found himself emotionally and mentally lifted up.
This was a long time ago and Bill was very different than I am. How can reading this help me?
In AA it is suggested to a potential member to look for the similarities and not the differences. It would be easy to say, “well I’m not a stock broker” or “I never fought in a war”, etc. There are current members who could say they fit into one or both of these categories but it is not necessary to identify with the details. It is more likely that you could read Bills story and say well I drank like that or that happened to me. And maybe more importantly, “I felt like that”. This is often the beginning of one’s recovery from a hopeless state of mind and body. Alcoholism.