I think AA could be called “Principles are Us.” There are AA principles to guide my conduct, measure my spiritual progress and establish perfect ideals to help me set my internal GPS. There is a principle contained in each and every one of the steps and traditions. There are the humble principles of the St. Francis Prayer. Then there are the guiding principles of the whole AA program: love and service.
I can even find principles to practice in my character defects. All I have to do is take a dictionary and look up each character defect, discover the antonym of the defect and Voila! I have a whole new set of principles to practice. If impatience is one of my defects, then the principle to practice is patience. If I am a perfectionist, I ask God to help me practice “good enough” today. If judging is a defect, then I practice accepting others exactly as they are. When I am practicing the opposite quality of my character defects, I “act as if” I am doing God’s will rather than my will.
By now I know most of the principles by heart. I can quote you a good long list. My life is the best it’s ever been, but am I as happy as I want to be? No. This passage from Step Seven in the Twelve and Twelve jumped out at me at a recent Step Study meeting:
“Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.'s Twelve Steps. For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all. Nearly all A.A.'s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven't much chance of becoming truly happy. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.”
Wow, this says I can stay sober with a half-assed effort at the steps, but I can never be truly happy. I want to be happier, I really do, but when things are going OK in my world I often forget to practice. I take my foot off the gas. I try to coast. Sure it’s easy for me to go to meetings, drink coffee and laugh at our hair-brained solutions to life. I enjoy passing on to others what was so freely given to me. But something inside resists practicing the uncomfortable principles, the ones that take real work like finding my part in resentments, making prompt amends and taking time in the morning to talk with God and listen.
Fortunately, life reminds me when I forget to practice. I get restless, irritable and discontented. I carry an ache of fear in my gut. I feel separate from you, life and God. If I ignore these warning signals, it won’t take long before I’m back to my darkened apartment with a liter of cheap wine, bag of pot and the remote control, lost in the illusion that being all alone is a great way to go through life.