The Unauthorized Principles of AA

Cartoon for BlogSo, maybe you know. Maybe you don’t. There are unofficial principles for each one of the steps. I call them unauthorized because AA has not adopted a specific set of principles as part of the “Practicing these principles in all our affairs.” AA has left it ambiguous. I am not a big fan of ambiguity, though. I don’t think many writers or thinkers or alcoholics are.

Here are the principles:

  1. Honesty
  2. Hope
  3. Faith
  4. Courage
  5. Integrity
  6. Willingness
  7. Humility
  8. Brotherly Love
  9. Discipline
  10. Perseverance
  11. God Consciousness
  12. Service

I first time I encountered these principles was at a women’s retreat. I remember walking in and somebody saying, “We are focusing on the principles this year. Every meeting will be about three of the principles. The principles for steps 1-3, 4-6, etc.” Sometimes, I wish I could see my face because I am told it is very expressive. While some days I think I am pretty good at hiding my feelings, I’m frequently told I’m not. So, while I’d like to think my face said, “Oh excellent, the principles. I meditate on them quite frequently,” I am sure my face read, “What the hell is she talking about? Damn these woods and their no internet!”

Once the meetings started, though, I became transfixed. The first steps seemed obvious: honesty, hope, faith. But by the time we reached integrity, I was sold. I had never thought of integrity as a principle. In fact, I’m not sure I had thought much about integrity at all. The same with brotherly love. While I knew patience and tolerance had to be my code, seeing it as a principle of my life, one of the twelve dominating themes of my existence, put love for humankind on a much more significant playing field. What was equally startling to me was there was not a single principle that I thought needed editing or revision. Oh, humility is not that important; let’s cross that out and put financial gain.

Since that retreat, the principles have become an integral part of my sobriety. Whenever I am acting out, I think of the corollary principle and know immediately what step I should be working on. When I am being dishonest, then I know I have a Step One issue. If I am in fear, I need to look at my Fourth Step. When I returned to college, perseverance and discipline became my constant companions. Don’t give up. Do what you are supposed to do. Don’t give up. Do what you are supposed to do.

I think this way of looking for answers through the principles may be a bit unorthodox. I am not sure AA traditionalists would approve. But the unofficial principles have revolutionize my recovery. In a world where my brain makes everything so confusing and arduous, the principles have had a way of keeping me focus with just a single word or two.


I would love to hear your comments regarding the principles. Are they a part of your program? If so, how do you use them?


Part One: How I Became an Alcoholic

My German Big Book:

My German Big Book:

This week, I told three people (three people I did not intend on telling) about my blog. All three are in high school. All three of them are mature enough to understand the significance of my words. With each conversation, there was an opportunity to address my alcoholism. But I did not do so. I just stated that I had a blog and kept on movin’. In other words, I choked. I had a teachable moment but I did not accept the challenge. I regret my decision. So, for my three ladies, tonight I write for you.

I think, fundamentally, there are two separate questions. 1) How or why did I become an alcoholic? 2) Why do I write about my alcoholism in such a public forum? For the sake of brevity, I think I will address the first question in Friday’s blog and the second question in Monday’s blog.

How or why did I become an alcoholic?

Addiction in any form is a baffling and confusing topic. Many facets of society offer different reasons for how and why addiction starts. Some people feel one acquires alcoholism over time. Drink enough alcohol, and one will surely become an alcoholic. Some believe that alcoholism is a response to a traumatic experience or otherwise physiological unraveling. And still some others believe it is genetic, something that one is born with like brown hair or green eyes. I believe all three of these theories have merit. Ultimately though, Doctors and scientists have proven through MRIs (brain scans) that when an addicted person consumes drugs or alcohol, his brain kicks into overdrive, lights up like a Christmas tree. Clearly there is some kind of biological component to alcoholism.

But addiction does not just exist in the brain; the body physically becomes acclimated to this way of living. When an addicted person tries to stop drinking or using certain drugs, an acutely painful experience called “withdraw” can set in. Most alcoholics and addicts must check into the hospital or rehab in order to “detox” off these substances. To not do so is very dangerous. People can die from quitting abruptly; the change is too shocking to the system. This physical component often leads to a person continuing to abuse substances long after he has wanted to stop.  The necessity to continue drinking or using when one no longer wants, is the great paradox of addiction.

Think of it like this: you’re crazy hungry. You skipped lunch. Now, it’s after school and you are starving to death. Someone hands you your very favorite meal. And you eat and eat and eat. Have you ever eaten so much you felt sick to your stomach? Have you ever ate so much you felt guilty and gross and fat? Okay, alcoholism is like that but a billion times worse because it is alcohol and not chocolate.

Okay, so wait, back to the question. How did I, your lovely and talented Ann, become an alcoholic? I really don’t know. Yes, yes to all of it. What I do know is that I have a distinct memory of a conversation. It was a summer day in Boston. I am walking down the street. The conversation was not about me. It was about someone else, but my friend said, “You are not an alcoholic.” And I remember in my head thinking, “I’ve got you snowed.” Because I knew. I knew I was an alcoholic. I was eighteen years old.

It would take me another twelve years before I walked into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. We have a book. It is called the “Big Book.” My very favorite line is from page 152. It says, “He cannot picture life without alcohol. Someday he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end.”

The line says he (the alcoholic) cannot imagine life without alcohol. But in the next sentence there is a subtle shift. Now the man cannot “imagine life either with alcohol or without it.” A change has occurred in the man.

The passage goes on to say, “Then he will know loneliness such as few do.” I love the simple elegance of those lines because I know exactly that feeling. When one cannot continue the way one is living, and yet cannot stop, life feels impossible. Doing something, repeatedly, that one does not want to do is a humiliating and soul crushing experience. This feeling, this loneliness, I do not wish upon anyone. And yet, I know without a doubt, that emotion saved my life. Without that emotion, I might have never reached out and asked how to make it stop.

The end of my active addiction and the beginning of my recovery was both the worst and the best day of my life. That day was February 28, 2007.


To be Continued Monday.

Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Envy. Anger. Work. Emotions. Laughter. Love.

I had originally started this journal post by writing that I love talking to “Normies,” but that is a lie. Normies drive me crazy. Every once and awhile, though, the planets align in such a way that the most irritating of conversations actually allows me to walk away with a renewed sense of appreciation for my alcoholism. Yesterday was one of those days.

I won’t rehash the whole conversation, but here is how it ended. Her- “I always say it’s all about moderation. Moderation is the key”

In my mind, I imagine the response I am confident every alcoholic or extreme person thinks when someone suggests moderation as the answer, “You have zero idea what you are talking about. Clearly you have never struggled with addiction, or you would not have the audacity to speak such a ridiculous and near sighted idea.”

A few minutes later, I was driving home on the freeway (I do my best thinking on I-10), and a new emotion happened upon me. I realized I felt a little pity for my moderate friend. What is moderation? It sounds like no fun at all.

When I got home, I typed “moderate” in my online web browser. This is the definition that appeared:

Definition: Average in amount, intensity, quality, or degree.

Synonyms: Average, modest, medium, ordinary, common.

“Average in intensity” really spoke to me. Nothing about alcoholism is average in intensity. That would negate the entire point. But is it not just with alcohol that I lack moderation. I have zero conception of what it must feel like moderate anything.










But there is another side to extreme living. There is no doubt in my mind that when I have leave this planet, I will have lived an intensely felt life, a life that was thoroughly fun, undoubtedly interesting, and dramatically depressing.

I think that’s true of all alcoholics. Because we aspire with our whole body, we drink to forget the disappointments. Because we dream with all our imagination, we envy with all out might. Because we love with our whole being, we hurt to the same degree when that love is discounted. Maybe it is just me, but if you asked me to trade all that for an average or ordinary life, well… I think I’ll just decline.


 FB VI 600x300


Last week, I was talking to a co-worker. He said, “The reason writers drink is because they ca’t write anymore. Hemingway drank when he couldn’t write. He couldn’t express himself.”

I thought for a moment, cocked my head to the side. “Nope. No, I don’t think that’s right.”

I was a cute kid with chubby, pink cheeks, and a big mop of unruly blonde hair. Even though the only videos of me are the silent reel to reel kind, one can see me chuckling, my whole body shaking. What you can’t see in that silent reel to reel was my speech impediment. My Rs sounded like Ws. Till I was in fifth grade my name was “Ann Kwogwa.” While this added to my overall cuteness, it made me painfully self-conscious.

William’s Prize Winning Chicken

When no one can understand you, you stop talking. When you’re alone and silent, restless, irritable, discontent, you pick up a pen and start to write. My need to escape existed long before I found alcohol.

At thirty, I would get sober. I am still not sure how that happened. I sat in the back of a meeting and cried the whole way all through. At the end of the hour, I walked up to the front and got my desire chip. For the next several months, I attended multiple meetings a day. I did not think recovery would work. I just couldn’t think of any other place to go or anything else to do. I remember thinking, “These people seem fairly happy. Maybe it’s okay that I will never be able to go out to dinner or dance or write ever again.” That’s how intertwined drinking had become in my life. I just couldn’t imagine going out for dinner and not ordering a glass of wine. Well, I thought, sober people just don’t go out to dinner. (It’s when they invited me to join that I realized that sober people only eat in groups. That way they can keep an eye on each other.)

But writing was the hardest of all to give up. It saddened me. And yet, I knew writing was an impossibility. For the last many years of my life, a ritual surrounded my writing. It always involved me trying to reach, and maintain, a very specific level of inebriation. I needed the liquor to make the thoughts flow, but not so much to blur me into incomprehensible gobbledygook. While I would like to think that some days I was successful in this tightrope walk, I highly doubt I ever was.

See? It’s not that I drank because I couldn’t write. I couldn’t write because I am a drunk. And when I drink, I annihilate everything else around me.

For months after I got sober, I could not sit at a computer without wanting a drink. My hand would involuntarily reach for the highball which was not there. It made my palms sweat and my heart race. One day, I just stopped sitting at computers.

And I learned to talk instead. I don’t think my support group knows how little I talked before I got sober. Everything went on paper. Everything was processed through the written word. I remember my mom sitting me down one day and asking me to please stop saying, “You know what I mean?” after ever sentence. “Of course we know what you mean.” I didn’t ask that question so often because I thought the man next to me was an idiot. I asked because I feared the words coming out of my mouth were a jumble of random thoughts often supported by my mumble and odd vernacular. I’m not sure if what I am speaking is even English sometimes. Y’know what I mean?

In the fall of 2010, I went back to school. With a couple years of sobriety, I knew only two things. Be honest. Ask for help. My second week of school, I stayed after one of my classes. I approached my professor and said in the flurry of words that only the brave and the stupid use, “I don’t know how to write, I use to know how to write, but now I don’t know how to write, I got sober and now I can’t, I mean, I don’t know how to, and a five paragraph paper, I mean, see, I’m old and I’ve been out of school a long time.”

The teacher looked at me for what felt like an excruciatingly long and uncomfortable length of time. Skeptically, she quietly and slowly stated, “We don’t do five paragraph papers in college.” And somehow that is all I needed to hear. A giant smile crossed my lips. I knew what she meant. I could write how I needed to write.

I still struggle with my writing. I do not like showing to people. Or talking about it. It’s still something incredibly private and personal to me. I still live in fear. My dreams of writing are so soft and subtle, fragile and precarious; my insecurity is only barely kept in check. Some days I think one negative word will cause the entire house of cards to come crashing down.

But here I sit. Its 9:54 on a Tuesday morning. I am writing. And I am sober. I write to tell the newly sober man that sobriety can happen. I write to tell the woman with thirty days that she can go out to dinner and order a Coke. I write to tell the person with two years to continue asking for help. And I write to tell the woman in me to walk through yet another fear. For every day I proclaim I am an alcoholic. Today, I am also a writer.