“We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it…”
These words from the 9th Step Promises on page 83 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous may seem like a daunting proposition to the newcomer. For those experienced and practiced in AA’s 12 Step Recovery Program, the past is viewed quite differently. Indeed, after a thorough completion of all 12 steps, the alcoholic will have changed life and thought, as a result of the spiritual transformation which makes this possible. Particularly in Steps 4, 5, 8, and 9 is the past something that must be confronted.
The healing that takes place as a result of these particular steps is nothing short of extraordinary.
“How is this possible?”, the newcomer may ask. Many of our past experiences as alcoholics would seem to the non-alcoholic person as something to be avoided and regretful. And yet, often can one see firsthand an alcoholic sharing his past, no matter how sordid, with a roomful of understanding nods and joyous laughter in reply. Yes, the experience of each alcoholic is frequently a similar one to that of others, despite all the people “who normally would not mix” that make up AA membership.
The commonality of experience among alcoholics is just one reason the past is not something to regret or shut the door on.
More importantly is the issue of the past to each individual alcoholic’s recovery. The program of action that is the 12 Steps must be “thoroughly followed “ if one wants to achieve what successfully happy, joyous, and free alcoholics have. The 12th Step includes “carry(ing) this message to (other) alcoholics…” To keep what one has received in AA, one must give it away.
The past of an alcoholic is in fact the primary tool in his arsenal for carrying the message to and assisting others who suffer. Consider, if one wants to learn an instrument, wouldn’t he want instruction from someone understanding not only of its mastery, but also patience and understanding in light of the difficulty required?
So it goes with alcoholics. The Big Book accurately speaks to an alcoholic’s willingness to open up to another who has similarly suffered, rather than wives, family, friends, doctors, priests, & clergy. A fellow alcoholic is more than just a friend. He is a sympathetic and understanding fellow sufferer, who offers only what it was like, what happened and what it is like now. The past is as much a part of his story now as it ever was, shaping the person now recovered.
So it is primarily for this reason, working with others, that the alcoholic who has recovered can begin to experience the Promise: “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it…” The Big Book goes on to intimate, “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.” (page 84)