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Practice These Principles: Living the Spiritual Disciplines and Virtues in 12-Step Recovery to Achieve Spiritual Growth, Character Development, a Paperback – February 9, 2012
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The question has to do with the efficacy of the 12 Steps beyond their ability to bring release from alcoholism. Today this question would broaden to include not only people suffering from other addictions, but those suffering from other spiritual and emotional afflictions as well. In plain words, the question is whether the 12 Steps can really bring about a radical or at least a substantial change for the better in a person's character and emotional make up and thus result in what Bill called emotional sobriety. How do we work them with those goals in mind? How do we practice their principles?
This wasn't a theoretical question for Bill. It arose out of the continuing struggle and the pain of having to deal with Bill, even after many years sober and after persistent efforts to work the 12 Steps. Many of us in long-term sobriety come to a similar place. Thus this is not one of those books about the "dry drunk" syndrome or about getting "stuck," which address mostly people in early recovery who have not made much headway with the Steps.
The book also distinguishes itself from other works which broach the subject of emotional sobriety, but which do so mostly around the margins and primarily in terms of psychology rather than in terms of the 12 Steps. Practice These Principles treats the issue in depth, specifically in the context of the 12 Steps, and with particular reference to the principles which Bill believed would bring about emotional sobriety if practiced in all areas of life. It focuses consistently on those principles, raising and answering questions with a clarity that is rare.
The author writes with the passion and conviction of one who has deeply experienced the things he talks about, but also with the care and attention of one who has given them a great deal of thought. Intensity and intelligence complement rather than conflict here, so that the book is closely reasoned even as it is forcefully argued. Some of its passages are striking and some even memorable.
The work is well researched and its discussion of the principles draws on a wide spectrum of sources and disciplines while remaining firmly anchored in the Big Book and the 12&12. This is one of its refreshing qualities, this thinking out of the recovery box (which can be needlessly narrow at times) while maintaining balance and perspective and not straying from the Steps and from the foundations on which they are built.
The book is not a hard read, but neither is it a fast and easy one. Each chapter is an extended and in-depth discussion of its subject, which is why the entire book covers only three Steps. It requires concentration and is best read slowly and in stages. The detailed table of contents and index are a great help. They allow the reader to zero in on key concepts and principles, think them through, and see if they help to make sense of his or her daily experience.
The challenge for many of us in long-term recovery is the same as it was for Bill W. How do we continue to grow beyond early sobriety? How can we use the Steps to continue to grow spiritually and in character? How do we achieve emotional sobriety? I've been around for a few 24 hours and I know these are difficult questions. Practice These Principles tackles them with all the seriousness they deserve, and it begins to suggest a set of answers that appear very promising.
Ray A. shares his experience and I was able to identify with much of what he says. He then moves to the AA principles,
and how the steps and the Big Book bring the 'Program' all together so we can finally live in serenity, even in turmoil.
Royal Palm Beach, FL
The book also helped me to understand other things I had only a vague notion of, like what character actually is and how one can go about building it, and what an emotion is and how character and emotion tie in with each other. Another basic idea behind the book has to do with habit. Character and emotions are formed through habit, says the author, and to change the way we feel and the way we act we have to change our habits in these areas. This is done by practicing the principles of the program like the 12th Step suggests, which is a process of letting go of old harmful habits and developing new healthy ones.
Many of these principles are discussed at length. Some of these are what the book calls "virtues," like honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, acceptance, humility and gratitude, and they're practiced through what the book calls "disciplines," like surrender, self-examination and restitution. All these concepts are presented in the context of AA experience and explained in ways that anybody can understand and put into practice. The book is a good companion to AA's Alcoholic Anonymous (the Big Book) and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (the 12&12), and it inspired me to get back into those books again.