In the third edition of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book (since 1976), Paul O. writes the following:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.
Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. A.A. and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here. When I complain about me or about you, I am complaining about God’s handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God.
For years I was sure the worst thing that could happen to a nice guy like me would be that I would turn out to be an alcoholic. Today I find it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. This proves I don’t know what’s good for me. And if I don’t know what’s good for me, then I don’t know what’s good or bad for you or for anyone. So I’m better off if I don’t give advice, don’t figure I know what’s best, and just accept life on life’s terms, as it is today – especially my own life, as it actually is. Before A.A. I judged myself by my intentions, while the world was judging me by my actions.
Acceptance has been the answer to my marital problems. It’s as though A.A. had given me a new pair of glasses. Max and I have been married now for thirty-five years. Prior to our marriage, when she was a shy, scrawny adolescent, I was able to see things in her that others couldn’t necessarily see – things like beauty, charm, gaiety, a gift for being easy to talk to, a sense of humor, and many other fine qualities. It was as if I had, rather than a Midas touch which turned everything to gold, a magnifying mind that magnified whatever it focused on. Over the years as I thought about Max , her good qualities grew and grew, and we married, and all these qualities became more and more apparent to me, and we were happier and happier.
But then as I drank more and more, the alcohol seemed to affect my vision: Instead of continuing to see what was good about my wife, I began to see her defects. And the more I focused my mind on her defects, the more they grew and multiplied. Every defect I pointed out to her became greater and greater. Each time I told her she was a nothing, she receded a little more into nowhere. The more I drank, the more she wilted.
Then, one day in A.A., I was told that I had the lenses in my glasses backwards; “the courage to change” in the Serenity Prayer meant not that I should change my marriage, but rather that I should change myself and learn to accept my spouse as she was. A.A. has given me a new pair of glasses. I can again focus on my wife’s good qualities and watch them grow and grow and grow.
I can do the same thing with an A.A. meeting. The more I focus my mind on its defects -late start, long drunkalogs, cigarette smoke – the worse the meeting becomes. But when I try to see what I can add to the meeting, rather than what I can get out of it, and when I focus my mind on what’s good about it, rather than what’s wrong with it, the meeting keeps getting better and better. When I focus on what’s good today, I have a good day, and when I focus on what’s bad, I have a bad day. If I focus on a problem, the problem increases; if I focus on the answer, the answer increases.
Today Max and I try to communicate what we feel rather than what we think. We used to argue about our differing ideas, but we can’t argue about our feelings. I can tell her she ought not to think a certain way, but I certainly can’t take away her right to feel however she does feel. When we deal in feelings, we tend to come to know ourselves and each other much better.
(This famous personal story formerly page 449 in the Big Book moved to PART II – They Stopped in Time, now appearing on page 417. Read more)