Cross-Posting: Nicholas Montemarano’s “Alcoholics Anonymous (1939), i.e. The Big Book”

Editor’s Note:  Points today presents a cross-posting from Frequencies, an online “genealogy of spirituality” curated by Kathryn Lofton and John Lardas Modern as part of the Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC) Working Group on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life.  A collaboration with the SSRC’s blog The Immanent Frame and the online magazine Killing the Buddha, Frequencies works from the assumption that “spirituality takes hold beneath the skin and permeates below the radar of statistical surveys.  It resists classification even as it classifies its evaluators and its believers as subjects of its sway.”  With this in mind, the curators sought free-form meditations on spirituality–written and visual– from a diverse public.  Unsurprisingly, addiction and recovery are common themes on Frequencies, as in this  essay on the AA “Big Book,” written by Nicholas Montemarano  and accompanied by images from David Michalek’s Fourteen Stations.

“I’ll do anything! Anything at all! If there be a God, let Him show Himself!”
“Pass It On”: The Story of Bill Wilson and How the A.A. Message Reached the World

Station Two: Christ Accepts the Cross

Actually, Bill, there is one thing you can do. It’ll be good for both of us—a win-win proposition. Okay, maybe a bit better for me, but what’s good for me is good for everyone.

Bill, I need you to write a book, a big book, an important one, a kind of Bible for the hopeless. Don’t worry; I’ll tell you what to write.

As for the alcohol, just leave that up to me. You see, something more than human power is needed. Write that down and make sure to put it in the book. Intelligence isn’t enough. Self-knowledge isn’t enough. Will power isn’t enough. The misery of hitting rock bottom isn’t enough. The love of friends and family—important, but not nearly enough. Nothing human, nothing of this world, will ever be enough. Alcoholism is a terminal disease, and the only thing that can cure a terminal disease is a miracle. I am that miracle. I am the mighty purpose of the universe. Allow me, a Higher Power, to do for you what you can’t do for yourself.

Station Five: Simon Helps Christ Carry the Cross

An alcoholic in his cups is an unlovely creature. But I love even the unlovely. I’ve watched you all these years, Bill. I was with you when you had your first Bronx cocktails. I’ve seen you shaking violently how many mornings, a tumbler of gin and six beers before breakfast. I’ve seen you brawl with taxi drivers. I’ve seen you steal from your wife’s purse. I know you’ve considered jumping out the window. Listen to me: There’s no need to drag your mattress to a lower floor. Haven’t you already fallen enough? It’s time for me to catch you. If you allow me to help you, and if you in return help me, then alcohol will no longer be your master.

Station Eight: Christ Encounters the Weeping Women

Here’s the difficult truth: Everyone has an earthly master. Everyone, to varying degrees, is addicted to something. Drugs, alcohol, sex, love, gambling, food, success, failure, drama. Even I’m an addict: I need the devotion of human beings—as many as possible. Even were I loved and worshipped by all, I’d still need to make more humans. And they would still need to suffer, I’m afraid, so that they’d have nowhere else to turn but to me. I’ve brought you to your knees, Bill, for one reason: so that you would return to me. And with your help—the book I’m asking you to write—many others will return to me as well.

The Big Book should be small, a simple cover, red and yellow. Authorship, at least on the cover, should be anonymous. Of course, everyone will know it was you. All twelve steps will be important, but steps two and three—a belief in me and a decision to turn one’s life over to me—will be most important. Without these two, the other ten mean nothing. Once you believe in me and ask for my help, I will remove all your shortcomings. And then you will spread the good news that there is a Higher Power.

Station Ten: Christ is Stripped of His Garments

The bad news, Bill, is that you will receive the deity treatment. People will travel many miles and wait hours just to be in your presence. You’ll feel under a microscope. You’ll feel, rightly so, that you can’t mess up. You will lose your anonymity—you won’t even be able to attend a meeting. You will become depressed. Everywhere you go people will want your attention. They will want to tell you all their problems. They will want you to see their suffering as special. That’s when you’ll have an idea—just the slightest—of what it’s like to be me.

Bill, you’ll never quit cigarettes, not even when you can’t breathe on your own. You’ll cheat on your wife; you won’t give up your mistress; you’ll even write her into your will, leaving her ten percent of the proceeds from our book. Years from now you’ll go spooking: you’ll hold séances and play with Ouija boards; you’ll listen for voices from beyond the grave when mine is the only voice you’ll ever need to hear. You will forsake me on your deathbed, Bill, crying like a baby time and again not for me but for whiskey, but I will forgive you.

— H.P.

Station Twelve: Christ Dies on the Cross

One thought on “Cross-Posting: Nicholas Montemarano’s “Alcoholics Anonymous (1939), i.e. The Big Book”

  1. It’s interesting to find such a religious, artistic abstraction peppered with facts and generalized factoids here on Points.

    In this vein of creativity, though, I will offer an alternate perspective.

    One familiar with Rational Recovery can reinterpret the above content and imagine that H.P. stands for Hairy Predator (Wilson’s Beast) and understand the content as a summation of Bill Wilson’s own Addictive Voice having rendered him incompetent to recover on his own, his having never developed a technique to recognize that voice or that it could be defeated.

    Rational Recovery would also point out that the people in the photo are probably perfectly aware of the availability of free 12 step services, and that they have been led to believe that is the “only way”.

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