HOW IT WORKS
RARELY HAVE WE seen a person fail who has
thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not
recover are people who cannot or will not completely
give themselves to this simple program, usually men
and women who are constitutionally incapable of be-
ing honest with themselves. There are such unfortu-
nates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been
born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasp-
ing and developing a manner of living which demands
rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average.
There are those, too, who suffer from great emotional
and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if
they have the capacity to be honest.
Our stories disclose in a general way what we used
to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.
If you have decided you want what we have and are
willing to go to any length to get it--then you are
ready to take certain steps.
At some of these we balked. We thought we could
find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With
all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to
be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of
us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result
was nil until we let go absolutely.
Remember that we deal with alcohol--cunning, baf-
HOW IT WORKS 59
fling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us.
But there is One who has all power--that One is God.
May you find Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the
turning point. We asked His protection and care with
Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as
a program of recovery:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--
that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than our-
selves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives
over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another
human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all
these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and
became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever
possible, except when to do so would injure
them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when
we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to im-
prove our conscious contact with God as we un-
derstood Him, praying only for knowledge of
His will for us and the power to carry that out.
60 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result
of theses steps, we tried to carry this message to
alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all
Many of us exclaimed, "What an order! I can't go
through with it." Do not be discouraged. No one
among us has been able to maintain anything like per-
fect adherence to these principles. We are not saints.
The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual
lines. The principles we have set down are guides to
progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than
Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the
agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after
make clear three pertinent ideas:
(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage
our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have re-
lieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.
Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is
that we decided to turn our will and our life over to
God as we understood Him. Just what do we mean by
that, and just what do we do?
The first requirement is that we be convinced that
any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On
that basis we are almost always in collision with some-
thing or somebody, even though our motives are good.
Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each per-
son is like an actor who wants to run the whole show;
is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the
scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If
HOW IT WORKS 61
his arrangements would only stay put, if only people
would do as he wished, the show would be great.
Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life
would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrange-
ments our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He
may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even
modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he
may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But
as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied
What usually happens? The show doesn't come off
very well. He begins to think life doesn't treat him
right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes,
on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious,
as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him.
Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure
that other people are more to blame. He becomes
angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic
trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when try-
ing to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that
he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this
world if only he manages well? Is it not evident to all
the rest of the players that these are the things he
wants? And do not his actions make each of them
wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the
show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a pro-
ducer of confusion rather than harmony?
Our actor is self-centered--ego-centric, as people
like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired business
man who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter
complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister
who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; poli-
ticians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia
62 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw
safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and
the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. What-
ever our protestations, are not most of us concerned
with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?
Selfishness--self-centeredness! That, we think, is the
root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of
fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step
on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Some-
times they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but
we invariably find that at some time in the past we
have made decisions based on self which later placed
us in a position to be hurt.
So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own
making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic
is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he
usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we alco-
holics must be rid of the selfishness. We must, or it
kills us! God makes that possible. And there often
seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without
His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical con-
victions galore, but we could not live up to them even
though we would have liked to. Neither could we
reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or try-
ing on our own power. We had to have God's help.
This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to
quit playing God. It didn't work. Next, we decided
that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to
be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His
agents. He is the Father, and we are His children.
Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the
keystone of the new and triumphant arch through
which we passed to freedom.
HOW IT WORKS 63
When we sincerely took such a position, all sorts of
remarkable things followed. We had a new Employer.
Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if
we kept close to Him and performed His work well.
Established on such a footing we became less and less
interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs.
More and more we became interested in seeing what
we could contribute to life. As we felt new power
flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered
we could face life successfully, as we became con-
scious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of
today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We were reborn.
We were now at Step Three. Many of us said to our
Maker, as we understood Him: "God, I offer myself to
Thee--to build with me and to do with me as Thou
wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may
better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that
victory over them may bear witness to those I would
help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!" We thought well before
taking this step making sure we were ready; that we
could at last abandon ourselves utterly to Him.
We found it very desirable to take this spiritual step
with an understanding person, such as our wife, best
friend, or spiritual adviser. But it is better to meet God
alone than with one who might misunderstand. The
wording was, of course, quite optional so long as we
expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation.
This was only a beginning, though if honestly and
humbly made, and effort, sometimes a very great one,
was felt at once.
Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action,
the first step of which is a personal housecleaning,
64 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
which many of us had never attempted. Though our
decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little
permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenu-
ous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in our-
selves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was
but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and
Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory.
This was Step Four. A business which takes no regular
inventory usually goes broke. Taking a commercial
inventory is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process. It
is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-in-
trade. One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable
goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret.
If the owner of the business is to be successful, he can-
not fool himself about values.
We did exactly the same thing with our lives. We
took stock honestly. First, we search out the flaws
in our make-up which caused our failure. Being con-
vinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what
had defeated us, we considered its common manifesta-
Resentment is the "number one" offender. It destroys
more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all
forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only
mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually
sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we
straighten out mentally and physically. In dealing
with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed
people, institutions or principles with whom we were
angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry. In
most cases it was found that our self-esteem, our
pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships
HOW IT WORKS 65
(including sex) were hurt or threatened. So we were
sore. We were "burned up."
On our grudge list we set opposite each name our
injuries. Was it our self-esteem, our security, our am-
bitions, our personal, or sex relations, which had been
We were usually as definite as this example:
I'm resentful at: The Cause Affects my:
Mr. Brown His attention to my Sex relations.
wife. Self-esteem (fear)
Told my wife of my Sex relations.
mistress. Self-esteem (fear)
Brown may get my Security.
job at the office. Self-esteem (fear)
Mrs. Jones She's a nut--she Personal relation-
snubbed me. She ship. Self-esteem
committed her hus- (fear)
band for drinking.
He's my friend.
She's a gossip.
My employer Unreasonable--Unjust Self-esteem (fear)
Threatens to fire
me for drinking
and padding my ex-
My wife Misunderstands and Pride--Personal
nags. Likes Brown. sex relations--
Wants house put in Security (fear)
We went back through our lives. Nothing counted
but thoroughness and honesty. When we were fin-
ished we considered it carefully. The first thing ap-
66 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
parent was that this world and its people were often
quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was
as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was
that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore.
Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at
ourselves. But the more we fought and tried to have
our own way, the worse matters got. As in war, the
victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph
It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment
leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise
extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours
that might have been worth while. But with the alco-
holic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a
spiritual experience, this business of resentment is in-
finitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when
harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the
sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns
and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.
If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The
grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may
be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcohol-
ics these things are poison.
We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the
future. We were prepared to look for it from an en-
tirely different angle. We began to see that the world
and its people really dominated us. In that state, the
wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to
actually kill. How could we escape? We saw that
these resentments must be mastered, but how? We
could not wish them away any more than alcohol.
This was our course: We realized that the people
who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick.
HOW IT WORKS 67
Though we did not like their symptoms and the way
these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too.
We asked God to help us show them the same toler-
ance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully
grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said
to ourselves, "This is a sick man. How can I be helpful
to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be
We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn't
treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our
chance of being helpful. We cannot be helpful to all
people, but at least God will show us how to take a
kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.
Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds
the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for
our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dis-
honest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situa-
tion had not been entirely our fault, we tried to
disregard the other person involved entirely. Where
were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the
other man's. When we saw our faults we listed them.
We placed them before us in black and white. We
admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set
these matters straight.
Notice that the word "fear" is bracketed alongside the
difficulties with Mr. Brown, Mrs. Jones, the employer,
and the wife. This short word somehow touches about
every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding
thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through
with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which
brought us misfortune we felt we didn't deserve. But
did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling? Sometimes
68 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It
seems to cause more trouble.
We reviewed our fears thoroughly. We put them on
paper, even though we had no resentment in connec-
tion with them. We asked ourselves why we had
them. Wasn't it because self-reliance failed us? Self-
reliance was good as far as it went, but it didn't go far
enough. Some of us once had great self-confidence,
but it didn't fully solve the fear problem, or any other.
When it made us cocky, it was worse.
Perhaps there is a better way--we think so. For we
are now on a different basis; the basis of trusting and
relying upon God. We trust infinite God rather than
our finite selves. We are in the world to play a role
He assigns. Just to the extent that we do as we think
He would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He
enable us to match calamity with serenity.
We never apologize to anyone for depending upon
our Creator. We can laugh at those who think spiritu-
ality the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way
of strength. The verdict of the ages is that faith means
courage. All men of faith have courage. They trust
their God. We never apologize for God. Instead we
let Him demonstrate, through us, what He can do. We
ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to
what He would have us be. At once, we commence to
Now about sex. Many of us needed an overhauling
there. But above all, we tried to be sensible on this
question. It's so easy to get way off the track. Here
we find human opinions running to extremes--absurd
extremes, perhaps. One set of voices cry that sex is a
lust of our lower nature, a base necessity of procrea-
HOW IT WORKS 69
tion. Then we have the voices who cry for sex and
more sex; who bewail the institution of marriage; who
think that most of the troubles of the race are traceable
to sex causes. They think we do not have enough of it,
or that it isn't the right kind. They see its significance
everywhere. One school would allow man no flavor
for his fare and the other would have us all on a
straight pepper diet. We want to stay out of this con-
troversy. We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone's
sex conduct. We all have sex problems. We'd hardly
be human if we didn't. What can we do about them?
We reviewed our own conduct over the years past.
Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsider-
ate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse
jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were we at
fault, what should we have done instead? We got this
all down on paper and looked at it.
In this way we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal
for our future sex life. We subjected each relation to
this test--was it selfish or not? We asked God to mold
our ideals and help us to live up to them. We remem-
bered always that our sex powers were God-given and
therefore good, neither to be used lightly or selfishly
nor to be despised and loathed.
Whatever our ideal turns out to be, we must be will-
ing to grow toward it. We must be willing to make
amends where we have done harm, provided that we
do not bring about still more harm in so doing. In
other words, we treat sex as we would any other prob-
lem. In meditation, we ask God what we should do
about each specific matter. The right answer will
come, if we want it.
God alone can judge our sex situation. Counsel with
70 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
persons is often desirable, but we let God be the final
judge. We realize that some people are as fanatical
about sex as others are loose. We avoid hysterical
thinking or advice.
Suppose we fall short of the chosen ideal and
stumble? Does this mean we are going to get drunk?
Some people tell us so. But this is only a half-truth.
It depends on us and on our motives. If we are sorry
for what we have done, and have the honest desire to
let God take us to better things, we believe we will be
forgiven and will have learned our lesson. If we are
not sorry, and our conduct continues to harm others,
we are quite sure to drink. We are not theorizing.
These are facts out of our experience.
To sum up about sex: We earnestly pray for the
right ideal, for guidance in each questionable situa-
tion, for sanity, and for the strength to do the right
thing. If sex is very troublesome, we throw ourselves
the harder into helping others. We think of their
needs and work for them. This takes us out of our-
selves. It quiets the imperious urge, when to yield
would mean heartache.
If we have been thorough about our personal in-
ventory, we have written down a lot. We have listed
and analyzed our resentments. We have begun to
comprehend their futility and their fatality. We have
commenced to see their terrible destructiveness. We
have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will
toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on
them as sick people. We have listed the people we
have hurt by our conduct, and are willing to straighten
out the past if we can.
In this book you read again and again that faith did
HOW IT WORKS 71
for us what we could not do for ourselves. We hope
you are convinced now that God can remove whatever
self-will has blocked you off from Him. If you have
already made a decision, and an inventory of your
grosser handicaps, you have made a good beginning.
That being so you have swallowed and digested some
big chunks of truth about yourself.