Who are Joe & Charlie?

You will see several references on this site to "Joe & Charlie". Their names are sometimes heard at local Twelve Step meetings. So, who exactly are Joe and Charlie? They were two long-recovered alcoholics who traveled the world for several decades, sharing their insights into the Big Book of AA. Because all Twelve Step programs are derived from the AA Big Book, I suspect their recordings might help anyone in ANY Twelve Step program....not just AA.

The Big Book Study (officially called "The Big Book Comes Alive") recordings are not conference-approved literature. Any sponsee interested in listening to the series should ask their sponsor first. I can recommend the talks with confidence because many long-sober speakers have openly given credit to Joe and Charlie with their own recovery. I have heard people say said they never really "got" how Twelve Step recovery works until they heard the free-wheeling and good-natured recordings of Joe P and Charlie McQ. I know that was true for me. 

To say it more clearly, Joe and Charlie's talks saved my life. When I first got into recovery, I could not really grasp what I was reading and I did not get sober. I was about to give up and go back out there. My kindly mother startled me by mailing me a complete set of the recordings. At first, I scoffed. Then, I listened. Honestly, I doubt I would be alive today if I had not heard that Old-School message carried directly to me by Joe and Charlie's talks.

Joe and Charlie inspired my habit of looking up recovery-related words in the dictionary. Listening to two rough-hewn men casually discussing the Latin roots of the word "resentment" was stunning at first (i.e., I was startled to learn that to "resent" meant to "feel again". I had always inventoried my resentments as if the word meant to simply feel angry. With a new and more historically accurate definition in mind, the resentment inventory became much more powerful for me.) Bringing such mental discipline reading the Big Book had never occurred to me. Joe and Charlie's lifelong search for recovery in the Big Book still inspires me today through their recordings.

This website is dedicated to the tireless work of Joe and Charlie, and the others behind the scenes who helped them carry their Message to thousands like me.

Joe McQ passed away October 25th, 2007. Another gentleman (coincidentally named Joe) continued presenting the Big Book Study with Charlie P until the latter died in April of 21, 2011. All three of these men gave voluntarily of their time for many years, helping others gain a better understanding of the practice and history of Twelve Step recovery.

Listening to Big Book Study recordings cannot change the importance of thoroughly reading the Big Book or your own recovery program's literature. But because the complete series of recordings lasts many hours, I believe only the most devoted sponsor could duplicate all the careful review of the Twelve Step process that is presented in these talks. 

If you go looking for these recordings online or elsewhere, you will probably find numerous versions of them. The exact content of Joe & Charlie's discussions changed surprisingly little over the years—I notice that recordings from the 1980s sound remarkably similar to talks given decades later. I suspect the pair saw many lives being saved by their original talk and made a strenuous effort not to change it for fear of "spoiling" its good results.

•  Here is a link to FREE MP3 downloads up-to-date Joe & Charlie Big Book Studies: 

I personally got sober while listening to one of their earliest recordings. However, the core material is the same over all the years of recordings. I happen to prefer the 1987 talk because it included Joe McQ in his full vibrancy at Please note that you may be able to find a free 1987 recording if you search more thoroughly than I did.

DISCLAIMER: Neither of the above sites endorse my site, nor can I guarantee their current availability. Naturally, you may do your own search for Joe and Charlie's Big Book Study (officially titled "The Big Book Comes Alive").

May we meet you as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny. God Bless you and keep you until then.


Bill W.'s Use of Words

I confess I am a LITTLE obsessed with the historical roots of words that Bill W. used in writing the Twelve Steps. Words can have very vague or very precise meanings, depending on who is using them and when. For example, lawyers choose words for their precise meanings. Bill W studied law for more than two years. He passed every class, but for some reason Bill never took the bar exam and so never earned the right to be called a "Lawyer".

Still, Bill's legal training must have come in handy when he began writing the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. He knew that the lives of his alcoholic readers were on the line when they read the Big Book. He was painfully aware that words could be slippery things, especially in the hands of alcoholics who were well-practiced in evasion and denial. When Bill re-examined the six Oxford Group tenants that helped him get sober, he reportedly found there too many loopholes in the wording; loopholes that alcoholics might use to wriggle out of sobriety. So, he recast those six tenants into twelve steps. I assume he did that to close those loopholes using clearer wording.

My point is that I now pay close attention to the precise meanings of words in the original Twelve Step literature because I suspect Bill W. did too. I first got that idea from Joe & Charlie's "Big Book Comes Alive" lecture series. They carefully examined the exact definition of such words as "resent", "believe", "decide", and many others. I went an extra step and found a 1930-era Webster's Dictionary since it contained exactly the definitions Bill had at his disposal.

Have I taken it too far? I suppose it is possible. I have no professional training that relates to recovery or the roots of word definitions. Most of what I have said above come from my own assumptions. But the process of looking up the precise definitions of Twelve Step words has helped me stay sober for another day. One day at a time.


TRIVIA: I have read that Bill W. began writing the Big Book of AA under the strict editorial review of some 40 recovered alcoholics. They probably wanted the book to have the continuity and tone that comes from the pen of a single author. Unfortunately, there were countless disagreements about the words Bill W. chose. In a particularly important example, some loved the word "God" because of what it meant to them. Others objected to the word "God" because it meant something different to them. I have no idea how Bill and the group reconciled their differing definitions. It is possible someone pulled out a current Webster's dictionary and read this definition to the group: "God n. - a being of greater than human attributes and powers". Bill did settle on a similar phrase—a power greater than human power—to refer to God. Coincidence? Maybe. But, as a student of the law, Bill knew that choosing words with well-documented definitions was a wise strategy. This would ensure that if anyone raised later objections to the word "God", a dictionary could be used to settle the matter. Plus, there was another benefit to that strategy. In the early days of AA, the Big Book was mailed by the thousands (later millions) to individuals and groups across America. Since AA groups would be initially established in scattered and diverse locations, arguments over Twelve Step writings would have to be settled using locally-available resources—like a dictionary. Do I have any proof that Bill or any AA founder chose words by looking up their meaning in Webster's 1934 Dictionary? I do not. My speculations are just that. Your guess is as good as mine.

Principles Before Personalities

This site contains the opinions, impressions, ideas, and assumptions of one person. Through it, I am sharing my experience, strength, and hope in case anyone wants to hear it. Whatever I say is a reflection of my own individual personality and nothing more. 

The original source of information about the Twelve Steps is the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  That text was written in 1938 under the close supervision of the first people to get sober using the Steps. To the credit of the later generations of AA members, the basic text of that book has remained remarkably unchanged since its original publication. Whether you are an alcoholic or not, I believe that a study of that literature is valuable to learning more Twelve Step recovery. 

The Twelfth Tradition is "ever reminding us to place principles before personalities". The principles being referred to can be found in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous or in your own Twelve Step group's primary  literature. If you see anything on this website that contradicts the principles expressed in those original writings, please disregard that as an unfortunate—and hopefully forgivable—part of my personality.

Principles BEFORE personalities.

Who Says There are Twelve Metaphors?

No one thinks of there being "Twelve Metaphors" in the Big Book of AA besides me

This is your fair warning. If you ever mention the "Twelve Metaphors" to anyone in a Twelve Step meeting, they will not know what you are talking about. The idea that there are twelve metaphors is based on my own observations. Please do NOT regard this idea as an official or traditional interpretation of the Big Book of AA. It is not. Period.

The Big Book is littered with descriptions of people and situations. While many of those mentioned in the text are known to be based on people who Bill Wilson personally knew, others appear to have been invented simply to make a point. A good example is the quirky Jay-walker who dashed around in busy street traffic (BB p.37). Another is a man sinking hopelessly into quicksand (BB p.8). Another is an actor who insists on directing the play he is starring in (BB p. 60). I doubt that these descriptions are based on real events in Bill's life. I suspect he created them to help make a point. These vivid scenarios served that purpose, teaching me important lessons about recovery. I asked an English major what to call fictional ideas that illustrate an important truth. She thought for a moment, then said that the proper word was "metaphor".

Once I started looking, I found numerous metaphors in the Big Book. Some were familiar facts or phrases that I had heard elsewhere, like "In the prize ring, this would be called leading with the chin." (BB p.77). He writes that a certain alcoholic "is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits." Bill wrote about Christopher Columbus proving that the world is round (BB p.51).

However, I chose to focus on those unique scenarios that Bill probably invented for his own use. For example, Bill described a drowning man grasping for a slender reed (BB p.28). I doubt he ever experienced that. He talked about the plight of men who have lost their legs (BB p.30). Bill still had both of his legs. He spoke in detail about people who survived the sinking of an ocean liner. I doubt that Bill or anyone he knew had ever been rescued after a shipwreck—though the sinking of the Titanic was well known (BB p.17). Bill made use of metaphors that everyday people could relate to during the  late 1930s. Happily for us, most remain remarkably understandable today*.

I do not claim that Bill W. deliberately included Twelve Metaphors—that is not supported by any facts. But I once heard a long-recovered person say "I have to re-read the Big Book often to discover those new parts that seem to appear in it overnight." Bill's use of various metaphors have often helped me expand my understanding of his Message as I go back over the literature. I try to bring those insights to life through my illustrations. Renewing and deepending my connection to the Big Book remains a vital part of my own daily recovery.


* "The nip of the wringer" (BB p.43) is Bill's way of describing a near miss with trouble. An example would be getting stopped by the police for DUI, but before reaching your car window, the policeman gets called away to stop a bank robbery. You deserved the punishment that was coming, but somehow you were spared. "Nip of the wringer" was probably a very common figure of speech in the 1930s. The wringer being mentioned was a hazardous mechanical roller on clothes washing machines at that time. However, such wringers are  outdated today. In the Artist's Comments for my "The Wringer" drawing, I explain why I included it among the Twelve Metaphors.

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