How AA Works
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

How AA Works


“You don’t have to believe in God, you just have to admit that you’re not God. Use what you do believe in, whatever it is.”- Ebby Thatcher

I never thought I would be one of those people who started a piece off with a quote, especially a quote from someone most people have never heard of (for the record, Thatcher is credited with having introduced Bill Wilson to the principles of AA). Using an isolated quote has always had an air of pretentiousness to it for me; as if the writer wants to you know they are both educated and grave. But after reading ​Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey’s article in The Atlantic, I couldn’t help myself; it was just too f’ing good.

In doing research for a stage play about the relationship between Alcoholics Anonymous co-founders, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, Shem and Surrey found an abundance of material on Wilson but not nearly as much on Smith. So sparse was the information, in fact, that the pair traveled to Akron, Ohio looking for answers and tracked down Smith’s only daughter, who became instrumental in helping them get to know the more silent co-founder. Through this process, Shem and Surrey got a deeper look into the history of AA; a simple program that so few people understand but so many alcoholics and addicts have used to successfully stay sober and turn their lives around.

Although Bill Wilson is undoubtedly AA’s Mary to Dr. Bob’s Rhoda, if you have read the Big Book, you know there is no question of the Doctor’s equal contribution to the foundation and launch of the 12-step program. But I found the simplicity and clarity in which Shem and Surrey highlight certain key points of AA’s ideology to be super refreshing, especially on the heels of some of the more recent anti-AA articles that have surfaced—perhaps ironically, by the same outfit that published this piece.

Much like Dr. Bob, an equally important but less well-known pillar of 12-step recovery are the 12 Traditions; the 10th one states, “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” Unfortunately, this tradition has been muddled as of late with drama over whether court-mandated attendance of AA violates the First Amendment and a lawsuit involving a court-ordered attendee who was charged with murder hasn’t helped matters. But all of this public mishigas about whether 12-step programs are religious or safe or work or blah, blah, blah are just that: mishigas, a distraction from the essence of what programs like AA are all about—things like fellowship, personal responsibility and a willingness to change.

I love reading quotes like, “I realized that no amount of willpower could keep me away from a drink. The only thing that could keep a drunk sober was telling his story to another drunk,” which is from Bill W., because they help me get refocused and reminded me of what AA is really about: getting sober, staying sober and helping others do the same. AA’s are under no obligation to explain to skeptics why the program works or to cure addicts of the world who aren’t interested in doing the work to treat their illness. As many in recovery will tell you, the program is for people who want it, not people who need it. If it were for everyone who needed it, there would be more church basements than Starbucks locations. One of the beauties of 12-step programs is that their uber simplistic approach has, for nearly 80 years, managed to remain uncorrupted.

Courtesy of frankieleon from Kentucky, usa (Enduring Strength) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.