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Three Simple Rules

Uncomplicating Life in Recovery

Published by Hazelden Publishing
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



About The Book

Recovery is hard, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

If sobriety were easy, everybody who wanted to be sober would be. And especially for those who are just starting out in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or another Twelve Step program, the prospect of trying to change drinking, using, or other harmful behaviors can seem overwhelming. The good news is there are just three key things we need to focus on. Trust God. Clean house. Help others.

Three Simple Rules offers a new take on this valuable slogan and explains how these rules can help anyone find fulfilling recovery. Author Michael Graubart also knows that those six short words are packed with meaning and may not sound so straightforward. Luckily, you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Michael uses wit and wisdom gained in more than twenty years of Twelve Step recovery to explain what worked for him so you can figure out what works you. In Michael’s experience, if you follow the Steps, and focus on the three simple rules, you’ll be changed by the process.


Three Simple Rules
Michael Graubart

An Invitation
They’re everywhere.
From morning until night, from cradle to grave, our lives are bound by rules.
Rules from our parents. Rules from school. Rules from our siblings. Rules from the government. Rules from our religion.
It’s amazing that any of us can move a muscle given the sheer number of rules, regulations, laws, statues, ordinances, and cultural cues to which we must adhere.
I’m not saying that rules are entirely unnecessary. Imagine driving somewhere without speed limits and stop signs.
(Actually, that just sounds like Boston, where I live.)
Seriously, we couldn’t have a society without rules.
The problem is that we spend almost all of our days following rules and placing rules on people around us. Rules about what we can do. What we can say. Where we can go. What we can spend.
Sometimes it seems like that’s all life has become—we don’t have room for anything else.
As a result, we can forget the very essence of life.
Spending every day making sure we’re following every rule obscures the really important questions.
Why are we here?
What are we supposed to be doing with our short time on Earth?
How do we live fulfilling lives?
How can we harness the gift of recovery to become the best versions of ourselves?
In order to reach our highest potential as human beings, we need to stop thinking, at least for a moment, about the thousands of rules laid out for us each waking moment.
If we truly want to have enjoyable, fruitful, spiritual, meaningful, and sober lives, there are just three key rules by which we need to live.
Three simple rules.
Those three simple rules come from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and go like this:
Trust God. Clean house. Help others.
That’s it. The key to a happy, useful life in six short words.
Now, just because these rules are simple, that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Mastery of the rules takes a lifetime. And just offering my interpretation of them will take up this whole book.
In particular, you may already be apprehensive about that first rule. Especially that word God.
Maybe because the word God implies too many rules!
Seriously, for many people, just the mention of God conjures up feelings of shame and judgment for not being able to live up to countless laws, commandments, and customs. How can such a loaded concept be part of a set of simple rules?
We’ll get back to that question.
But, with the purpose of making this book useful for everyone, I’m going to make a couple small changes to the way we’ll talk about the rules here.
First, let’s change that “G-word” to another term. One that you’ve likely heard before if you’ve ever been to a Twelve Step meeting: Higher Power.
Then, I’m going to rearrange the order of the rules slightly.
So, now, they look like this:
Clean house. Help others. Trust your Higher Power.
Eight words instead of six. But still. The simplest possible recipe for a happy, useful life.
We’ll tackle cleaning house and helping others first, then get back to the big one.
Now, it’s important to point out here that I’m not trying to change tradition or claim that I know a better way to write these rules. Quite the opposite, I’m happy to call myself an “old-timer” in recovery. The rules “Trust God. Clean house. Help others,” in that order, with those words, is what has saved my life and has saved the lives of countless other people in the program.
The point is, I want as many people as possible—including you, dear reader—to be able to know what that’s like. I also recognize and respect that understanding and internalizing what it means to trust a Higher Power is often a lifelong process. Doing the work of cleaning house and helping others is often needed to get there.
So, if you’d like to tackle these in the traditional order, go ahead and read chapter three first. That’s your call—you bought the book, after all. Maybe you’re “old school” about recovery, the way I am! Otherwise, we’ll start our journey through these rules from a place that might be more approachable for people coming into recovery today.
So, where in the Big Book can we find these rules?
There are two pieces to that puzzle.
The first can be found in the foreword called “The Doctor’s Opinion.” Back in 1939, the authors of the Big Book realized that the readership may be suspicious of a new and barely proven approach to recovering from alcoholism. So, they thought hearing from a doctor with a history of treating alcoholic and addicted patients would help legitimize the whole thing.
Also, the initial primary audience for the book was doctors. The Big Book’s authors figured that doctors would read the book and then “prescribe” it for their alcoholic patients.
The doctor they chose was Dr. William Silkworth.
In Silkworth’s foreword, he says “once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules.[1]
Sounds like a good deal, right?
He doesn’t name those rules, however. For the text of the three rules themselves, we need to turn to chapter 7, “Working with Others.” There, trust God, clean house, and help others are all introduced as central tenets of the program that should be explained to newcomers who are just starting out.[2]
Who is the genius who first pulled all of these concepts together into the rules as we know them? Not sure. But it wasn’t me.
So, what do I, and this book, have to offer you?
This book is an invitation to a better understanding of the three simple rules that come to us from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. But, more importantly, it’s an invitation to simplify your life and your recovery.
These rules, by the way, are useful to everyone, not just recovering alcoholics or addicts. So if you’re a “civilian” or “normie” (as we like to call non-addicts) reading this, welcome! This is an invitation for you, too.
“But Michael,” you may be asking, “don’t Twelve Step programs have, well, twelve rules?”
Kind of. There are, indeed, Twelve Steps.
In recovery, of course, taking the Twelve Steps is the foundation of everything important—preventing relapse, understanding ourselves, developing spirituality, and learning to live comfortably in our own skin.
In a perfect world, newcomers would get into the Steps at their very first meeting.
Unfortunately, today, newcomers sometimes have no exposure to the Steps, or avoid the Steps, or sometimes are even told not to start with the Steps for a period of time.
Then, when they finally do get to them, the Steps can seem confusing and overwhelming. So the question becomes, how can you make a start in recovery before you really get to the Steps? Or, how can you simplify your experience taking the Steps by focusing on the “big picture” of recovery?
That’s where the three simple rules come in.
And that’s where this book comes in.
The amazing thing is, the core concepts of those Twelve Steps can be found in—you guessed it—the three simple rules!
The first three Steps basically boil down to “Trust your Higher Power.”
Steps Four through Eleven are really about cleaning house.
And Step Twelve is about helping others.
Am I suggesting that you can ignore the full Twelve Steps? No. Please do still work a program to the best of your ability! But, if you find yourself (reasonably) confused or overwhelmed by all of those Steps, if you’re stuck on a particularly difficult Step, or if you seem to be losing focus of what the program is really about, the three simple rules are there for you.
I’ll admit, there is some irony in quoting “rules” from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
As any recovering alcoholic or addict will tell you, recovery is not about following rules or placing rules on people—it’s about offering and accepting suggestions.
When you give someone a rule, you are saying, in effect, “I have the power. I know better.”
By contrast, when you are offering a suggestion, you are saying, “Try this if you want. It worked for me. It might just work for you.”
So it wouldn’t make much sense for me, as a recovering alcoholic, to go around telling everyone else which rules to follow.
Instead, I want to offer my own thoughts (and suggestions) about what it means to live by those three simple rules and how they have helped my recovery and my life. How applying these rules, even before you completely understand them, changes you from the inside out.
When you apply these rules to your life, your relationships get better, starting with your relationship with yourself.
Your external life gets better, because you become a much more attractive person to hire, to marry, to be friends with, to have kids with, and so on.
Your internal world changes radically, because you become the spiritual being you were always meant to be.
And all you have to do is follow three simple rules.
Ready for the journey of a lifetime?
Then let’s begin!

Rule #1: Clean House [excerpt]
Okay, but which house?
We’re not talking so much about the physical home, house, or apartment in which we live.
We’ll get to that soon enough.
Right now, we’re talking about another home we have created for ourselves, or perhaps, have neglected for too long. That “home” is spiritual, and it is always with us everywhere we go.
Most of us are moving into the future carrying a lot of our past that no longer serves us.
Ideas, attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, behaviors, habits, relationships, things. What patterns and behaviors did you cling to when you were drinking and using? How many of those are still a part of your life, your spiritual house, right now?
No matter what time of year it might be as you read this, it’s time for an internal spring cleaning! It’s time to clean house.
When the Big Book authors speak of “cleaning house,” they’re talking primarily about inventorying our attitudes, behavioral habits, thinking habits, and actions or inactions. If you aren’t familiar with the Steps, the basic idea is that alcoholism and other addictions are physical, mental, and (you guessed it) spiritual.
The physical part is the compulsion to drink or use. The brain disease.
This combines with a mental obsession, in which we think more about our drug of choice—whether it’s alcohol, cocaine, food, sex, spending, or whatever—than anything else.
Our addictive substances or behaviors ultimately become more important to us than life itself.
So comes the spiritual part.
The purpose of the Twelve Steps is to create a reawakening of the spirit inside the alcoholic or addict.
In other words, our spirit is still within us, but it has been buried under gallons of alcohol, ounces of cocaine, unavailing sexual relationships, and other forms of addictive or compulsive behavior. We have replaced our quest for meaning and fulfillment with a quest for more of those unhealthy things that have given us temporary relief or enjoyment.
We need to get that spiritual quest back on track.
The first three Steps are about understanding and accepting the need for spiritual help. We’ll explore exactly what that means and how to do it when we get to rule number three.
Then comes Step Four, which is the place where members of Twelve Step programs figuratively clean house, and that’s what we’ll focus on first.
Now, the Twelve Steps are complicated enough. The language of them isn’t exactly easy reading; they cannot be interpreted without written guidance from literature and lore from fellow sober alcoholics and addicts.
If you’ve ever seen the Marx Brothers’ movie A Day at the Races, where Chico is trying to tout Groucho onto a horse, and sells him all kinds of horseracing books, that’s what the Steps feel like to many.
Way overcomplicated.
So complicated, in fact, that they scare people off from working the program and getting sober.
When Bill Wilson, one of the cofounders of Alcoholics Anonymous, wrote the Big Book, he said the Fourth Step was a place where we list our “grosser handicaps.”
In other words, anything that’s big and stands in the way of our spirit’s reawakening should be written down and put on the list.
Somehow, over time, the simplicity of the Fourth Step was lost.
In the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous, the sponsor or mentor figure did the writing, because the newcomer’s hand was still too shaky to hold a pen.
The entire Fourth Step process only took about half an hour.
Today, the Fourth Step has turned into huge lists, essays, turn-arounds, and all sorts of other complications never intended by the founders of the program.
It can take years, and all too often, it never gets done. The newcomer is robbed of the opportunity to have the spiritual awakening promised in Step Twelve, and therefore doesn’t get the insurance policy against relapse that the program guarantees.
If you overcomplicate the process of getting well, you are going to make recovery all but impossible for large numbers of people.
So maybe the program needs to clean house a little bit, too, and get back to the simplicity of the original manner of taking the Fourth Step.
Here’s the proof: Somebody asked one of the companies that produces the chips or coins that are given out in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve Step programs, “How many newcomer chips do you sell, and how many two-year chips do you sell?”
The answer: “We sell twenty newcomer chips for every two-year chip we sell.”[3]
In other words, maybe one in twenty newcomers to various Twelve Step programs actually makes recovery stick.
This is compared with 50 to 75 percent of newcomers who got sober back when the program started. [4]
One key reason why: we’ve overcomplicated the process of cleaning house.
Who on earth would want to spend months rehashing and writing about all of the sordid, miserable, embarrassing, shameful things we’ve done?
The Big Book tells us, “We absolutely insist on enjoying life.”
It’s hard to do that when your head is stuck in the past, reliving all those nightmare scenarios.
That was never what the founders of the program intended.
Instead, cleaning house, at least on one’s first time through the Steps, was meant to be that simple list of things we did that weren’t really making us better people.
The Twelve Steps, as Bill wrote them, were too complicated even for AA’s other cofounder, Dr. Bob Smith. Dr. Bob, in Akron, published his own literature—not a book, but a pamphlet that laid out not twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, but just four.
Dr. Bob really wanted things kept simple.
So perhaps we can use our simple rule as a guidepost to understand how to move forward in this area of our lives.
Clean house.
When recovering alcoholics and addicts do a Fourth Step, they learn that they have certain “defects of character.”
My sponsor, the late and beloved Milton D., never liked that expression. Who wants to think that he or she has a defective character?
Instead, he preferred to replace the phrase “defects of character” with something simpler—“bad habits.”
If your character is defective, you feel doomed. There is nothing you can do to turn the situation around.
But if you have some bad habits, you could probably get to work on eliminating or at least reducing them.
So what exactly are the bad habits?
The list isn’t a state secret.
Fear, which keeps you living small, feeling miserable, and unable to try new things (like getting a job or going a date, for example).
Resentment, which means re-sentiment—to feel something again, usually in a negative way.
Procrastination, which means laziness.
Greed and envy, which is endemic to alcoholics and addicts because when you drink too much and don’t work enough, other people end up with all the things that you wanted.
Arrogance, which is a mask for fear.
Self-hatred. Guilt. Shame.
You get the point.
Do you want to keep carrying these negative emotions and behaviors around with you, cluttering up your spiritual house? I didn’t think so.
The reason AA and other Twelve Step programs work is because we have more in common than what divides us—and we focus on what we have in common.
How do people typically sum each other up in modern society? By race, religion, age, appearance, quality of clothing, personal grooming, job title, possessions.
Twelve Step programs aren’t to be confused with Heaven. These external identifiers are certainly noticed, but they don’t predominate. In many ways, they don’t matter.
What matters is sincerity. Are you really trying to get and stay sober or abstinent? When you share, as the expression goes, “Are you carrying the message to the meeting and the mess to your sponsor?” Do you even have a sponsor?
The newcomer with thirty days who is sitting toward the front of the meeting instead of the back row (the “slipper seats”), who is actively listening in the meeting instead of playing with her phone, who is getting phone numbers and making calls to members of the group, gets ten times the respect as the old-timer with thirty years, no sponsor, and a bad attitude.
By avoiding the social labels that we use to pigeonhole people, Twelve Step recovery focuses on the commonalities addicts and alcoholics share. These are the nature of addiction, the “character defects” or bad habits we discussed earlier, the life problems we tend to cause for ourselves, and the solutions we have found to make our lives great.
As I tell my sponsees, if you end up with a character defect or bad habit that I’ve never seen before, we’ll name a Step after you.
So how do you clean house?
How do you stop being the kind of person who thinks and acts in such a self-destructive way?
It takes a written inventory—again, not of every bad thing you’ve ever done, but simply of the grosser handicaps.
In the Big Book, Bill uses the analogy of the commercial inventory, wherein a store shuts its doors for the day, lists what’s on its shelves, and gets rid of unsalable goods.
Those unsalable goods are usually the same list of traits and behaviors that I offered a moment ago.
Take a look back at that list and ask yourself which of those traits applies to you. If you’re like most alcoholics or addicts, the honest answer is, all of them.
How are we different from our “civilian” counterparts? Non-alcoholics and non-addicts typically don’t try to drink or use their problems away. They either ignore them, live with them, or—think of it—solve them. Maybe we could learn something from that.
One of the things I can’t stand in meetings (not the only one, but that’s not what this book is about) is the guy who sits there and says, “All you have to do in AA is change everything! Ha, ha, ha!”
Hey, if I could’ve changed anything, I would never have come to these meetings.  
The reality is that change is hard.
I once heard it takes about two years for people to change in a meaningful way—and only if they are willing to put in the effort required to change.
People don’t change overnight, even if they want to. Patterns of thought and action are so grooved—not indelibly, but certainly deeply—in our brains that overcoming them takes time, effort, and above all, help.
The good news is that change is possible
One of the most useful things I ever heard in a meeting came when an individual said, “You don’t have to change. If you take the Steps, you will be changed by the process.”
Wow! The one thing I can’t do by myself—change—I’ll be able to do if I take the Steps? Seriously? Okay, I’m in.

Rule #2: Help Others [excerpt]
Everyone can help someone else. Everyone.
Sometimes newcomers in Twelve Step programs think they have nothing to offer, and that their job, in the gruff words of certain old-timers, is to “fill a seat.” 
I get it. If you’re just starting out, you’re not in a good place. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything positive going on in your own life, so how in the world are you supposed to do anything good for someone else? Well, that’s the point of having a rule about this. If you follow the rule, you’ll help others. Then once you start helping others, you’ll realize you have plenty to give them. And, get this, it will help you too! Let me explain.
There is a story I love—A newcomer in a meeting turns to the person sitting next to him and says, “How much time do you have?”
The guys says, “Ten years.”
So the newcomer turns to the person on his other side and says, “How much time do you have?”
That guy says, “Ten days.”
Amazed, the newcomer says, “How did you do it!”
In other words, newcomers can often relate more easily to other newcomers than they can to people who have been sober for a long time.
That’s because ten years sober may just seem unattainable to the newcomer. Nobody can stop drinking or using for that long!
Of course, we can and do.
So if you are reading this book and you have just joined a Twelve Step program it might feel like you have an endless amount of time and work ahead of you. But keep in mind that even as we speak, you’ve already tackled “Secret Step Zero,” which reads, “I’m tired of this s***.” And there are plenty of people who haven’t even gotten that far.
Those pre-newcomers, if you will, are just making the decision to find a meeting.
And when they get there, they will be looking at the person with ten years and saying, I cannot relate.
And then they will be looking at you.
So we all can help others, and while the person with decades of sobriety may have all kinds of brilliant advice, chances are the person with a few weeks or months sober may be even more useful to the “new” newcomer than the old-timer can be.
We can help people in the most mundane of ways. Can you read a meeting book? Then show the person who is even newer than you how to find the next meeting.
We can also help people in extraordinary ways, as when we are volunteering in a hospital, donating blood, or doing a million other things.
To paraphrase an ancient fable, God divided people into individuals so we might help each other.
But we first need to discuss what I mean by “help.” There are basically two types of help, which we can call “helpful help” and “unhelpful help.”
Let’s start by talking about unhelpful help. You may be tempted to “help” someone by trying to change them to fit your needs.
We addicts and alcoholics especially love to try to “help” our spouse, our partner, our boyfriend, or our girlfriend in this way, because if they’ll just change, everyone would be better off, right?
No, that’s not okay. 
Oh, you can help your significant other in other ways. You can drive them to work (or to distraction, or to drink).
You can do the dishes.
You can run that errand.
But “helping” in a broad sense, as in helping them to become a better person, or at least a different person?
Fuggedaboudit. Unhelpful help. Stop it.
Most of us are guilty of trying to help people with whom we are emotionally involved, not out of a spirit of altruism, but out of a desire to make our own lives easier.
These are the “if onlys” of life—if only he were more considerate. If only she were more interested in emotional intimacy. If only he would spend more time with the kids. And so on. Then we would be happier.
The unfortunate reality is that we cannot “help” those around us develop behaviors and attitudes that we would consider more conducive to our own happiness. The suggestion in these situations is to practice acceptance as opposed to putting more time into a futile effort to change people.
So why do we do it? Because we think it’s too much trouble for us to accept others as they are. We think the “easier, softer way” is changing them.
To put it simply, trying to change other people doesn’t work.
So everything that you’ll read here refers to a different type of help. The helpful help. Not helping change our family members, girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, or partners.
Instead, the rule asks us to help, in a meaningful way, our sponsees, our neighbors, our communities, our world. Not make them conform to our desires and expectations, but actually be useful to them. 
So how do we do that?
Milton, my late sponsor, used to say that the program of AA, in regard to other people, can be summed up with the doctors’ creed, “First, do no harm.” Before you even worry about helping people, just try not to make their lives worse.
Milton added that an alcoholic or addict who gets through the day without hurting anybody has had a good day. So the simplest way to help others is not to harm them.
Most alcoholics and addicts I’ve met grew up in homes where parents were not parents.
Of course, they were parents in a biological or legal sense, but either or both, if both still lived under the same roof, were emotionally unavailable and often were just as alcoholic, angry, depressed, and self-absorbed as we became.
Under such circumstances, it’s not surprising that people who grew up in these homes would A, grow up to become alcoholics and addicts, and B, find it very difficult to ask for help.
Let alone help others.
The Big Book tells us that alcoholics are selfish in the extreme. Roger that. You may have heard people say in meetings, “I’m not much, but I’m all I think about.” So true!
Here’s one I love – if you’re all wrapped up in yourself, you make a very small package.
So, the idea of AA and most other Twelve Step programs is to get the alcoholic or addict to stop thinking about himself or herself constantly and instead to think about…someone else!
What does the other person need?
How can I be of love and service?
Hard questions to ask when Job One is killing pain.
So now comes the alcoholic, seeking recovery, and yet self-absorbed to the extreme.
After all, our problems might have been of our own making, but we were too drunk to deal with them. Or we kept getting drunk so that we wouldn’t have to deal with them. For example, my sponsor Milton says that before he got sober, he thought of parking tickets as annuities—he would toss them in his glove box and wait for them to mature.
Those annuities matured faster than he did.
So by the time we get to our first meeting, not only are we banged up physically from all the abuse we’ve done to our bodies, but we have a huge number of problems that have to be unwound. Money problems. Marriage problems. Family problems. Legal problems. Once again, the list goes on ad infinitum.
So what does the second simple rule come along to tell us, as a way of solving all these complicated, seemingly impossible problems?
We help others.
“I’m supposed to help others right now?” you’re asking. “Isn’t the goal here to help me?”
Yes, of course, you self-obsessed addict or alcoholic. We’re all here to help you.
Everyone in your Twelve Step program is here to help you, even the people you can’t stand, perhaps especially the people you can’t stand. Why? Because most of us discover that the traits we abhor in others turn out to be the same traits we abhor in ourselves. By talking this over with a sponsor, we’re often able to recognize that we share that behavior and then we’re able to do something about it.
So, as long as you’re open to receive what your program is offering you, while you work on helping others, there will be others working on helping you. Cool, right?

Rule #3: Trust Your Higher Power [excerpt]
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that alcoholism (and by extension, any form of addiction) is a spiritual disease.
This usually makes zero sense to the newcomer.
Spiritual? My problem isn’t spiritual. My problem is that I got fired/divorced/kicked out of the house/estranged from my kids/went bankrupt/fill in the blank.
What’s so spiritual about that?
Maybe there’s some kind of connection between my drinking and/or using and the fact that my life is jacked…but what do you mean, spiritual?
To answer that, let me tell you about another disease that also has a huge spiritual component.
Heart disease.
Back in the 1950s, Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, two San Francisco cardiologists, termed the phrase “type A behavior”—a major, controllable risk factor for heart disease—after they had a surprising conversation with the man who upholstered their waiting room chairs.
“I’ve never seen damaged chairs like yours anywhere,” he told the doctors. “The only part of your chairs that are damaged are the armrests where your patients grip them so tightly. The rest of the chairs are fine.”
The doctors pondered this intriguing piece of information. Before long, they realized that the tension their patients felt—people who had either survived heart attacks or were at serious risk for having them—revealed itself in the tension-filled way they went through life.
It wasn’t just the armrests that these individuals gripped so tightly.
It was life itself.
The predominantly male patients were predominantly high-powered San Francisco executives, impatient, hard-driving, overworked, and numbers-obsessed, with no time for anyone or anything that didn’t contribute to career success.
In other words, heart attacks waiting to happen.
The “prescription” that the doctors offered had nothing to do with medication, because they didn’t see the problem as primarily a medical one.
Again, they saw the problem in spiritual terms.
They “prescribed” long walks through nearby redwood forests.
Visits to museums.
Attending the symphony.
The term they used was “restoring lost parts of their personality through the appreciation of beauty.”
They advised slowing down and smelling the flowers, instead of obsessing over work and the incessant demand to do more and more in less and less time.
I read about this in Friedman and Rosenman’s book Type A Behavior and Your Heart, which continued with a comment that I found searing: “Never in human history have so many people lived in such a deep spiritual void.” Amazingly, he was talking about life in the 1960s. Today, sad to say, the comment is even more applicable.[5]
In other words, what drove type A behavior?
It wasn’t a lack of career success or financial reward.
These men—it was the 1950s, mind you—had all that money could buy, all the prestige and power the world offered.
What they really lacked...was a meaningful spiritual life.
Not just “check the box” attendance at religious services because such was expected of them.
Instead, a real relationship with a Higher Power.
It’s not as though if you believe in God you’ll never have a heart attack.
It’s that if you recognize that you’re living in a spiritual void, and then do something about it, perhaps you’re less likely to die before your time. Or, at the least, less likely to waste your life away drinking and drugging.
The San Francisco cardiac patients had been trying to fill a God-sized hole with work, money, property, and prestige.
Alcoholics and addicts try to fill that same God-sized hole with alcohol, money, sex, food, gambling, debting, or any of a host of activities that may provide temporary relief but fail to address the problem and, if anything, make things even worse.
A God-sized hole.
A hole in the soul.
Indicating that at base, the problem of addiction is indeed a spiritual problem.
Which brings us to our third and last simple rule: trust your Higher Power.
Before we even get to the concept of trusting, we first have to talk about what or who your Higher Power is, or how you get one if you don’t have think you have one.
Remember that this simple rule is really about boiling down the wisdom of the first three Steps, which talk about “a Power greater than ourselves” and “God as we understood Him.” In meetings today, these concepts are summed up as your Higher Power.
Your Higher Power, as the name suggests, can be any power greater than yourself. It can be the laws of physics. The program itself (some people refer to their Higher Power as G.O.D.—Group of Drunks). Mother Earth. One of the several conceptions of God from mainstream religions. Your call.
And this is why I love AA so much. Twelve Step recovery is the only spiritual entity I’ve ever heard of where the individual gets to design and even name his or her own concept of God—without anyone else interfering or criticizing. Isn’t that cool?
I’m not here to tell you what to believe. I am here to explain why finding and trusting a Higher Power is one of our three essential rules for sobriety and life. And to explain that you don’t have to have everything figured out to reap the benefits of living by this rule. If you just take the leap, trust in something, and go through the motions, you’ll soon realize you are living it.
[1]Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001), xxix.

[2] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001), 90 and 98.

[3] Number of chips sold comes from the Southwest (Houston) intergroup office in 1996: “Sobriety Statistics, 12 Step Recovery Rates,” Big Book Sponsorship

[4] Dick B., “Is Alcoholics Anonymous Effective? A.A. Success Rates to Consider,” 2008,

[5] Myer Friedman and Ray H. Rosenman, Type A Behavior and Your Heart (New York: Alfred A. Knopf ,1974).

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  • Publisher: Hazelden Publishing (August 21, 2018)
  • Length: 136 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781616497767

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“Michael is a master wordsmith as well as an inspirational and thought-provoking storyteller for the Twelve Step community.”

– —Wally P., author and originator of the Back to Basics book and meetings

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