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Promises: Peace




Promise 4 - We will know peace.

The phrase "We will know peace" seems as simple as it can be. There are no complex words that might cause us to reach for a dictionary. Surely words have not changed in meaning very much since the Promise was written back in the 1930s. Or have they?

I looked up the definition of "peace" in Webster's 1934 dictionary, I fully expected a definition along the same lines as the words "tranquility" or "serenity". That's the meaning I usually have in mind when I say something like "I had a peaceful afternoon yesterday".

However, I discovered something unexpected in my old dictionary: "Peace n. A pact or agreement to end hostilities or to come together in amity." 

Peace is an AGREEMENT? Yes, peace is an agreement to end hostilities. By this definition—peace cannot exist unless there were hostilities and they have ENDED. I was reluctant to believe that "peace" is ALWAYS a byproduct of something negative like hostilities. Don't people have peaceful days or peaceful moods? I reread the definition but it definitely tied "peace" to an END of hostilities. 

I soon recalled that the Big Book of AA says, "We had ceased fighting anything or anyone." (on p. 84—right after Step Ten). That sounded like a deliberate decision to END of hostilities instead of seeking a victory. But why would anyone do that? Isn't a conflict supposed to produce a winner? If we cease fighting our addiction, won't we immediately become some sort of "loser"?

Trying to apply the definition in the dictionary to my recovery was confusing stuff. 

So, I prayed and meditated. Ideas swam in my mind of surrendering to God as I understand Him. That didn't make immediate sense, because I wasn't actually at war with God. Maybe I was supposed to negotiate a surrender with my addiction? That's what I was already doing...negotiating by totally giving in to the demands of my addiction. These ideas made little sense. Then I realized a very important thing about my conflicts. Most of the brutal hostilities that I needed to cease were entirely inside my head. My anger battled my guilt, which battled my fear, which battled my self-hatred. The more fiercely I fought with myself, the more victories my addiction won. 

If I wanted to know peace, I needed to cease hostilities within myself. There would be no "winner" and certainly no "loser". My unwinnable war would simply end. ENDING HOSTILITIES. That was the key to peace.

My thoughts turned to creating a drawing for this type of "peace". In making drawings, I try to choose images that are exactly what they appear to be. None of them are intended to be a riddle for viewers to solve.  What, then, would be a sensible way to show a pact to end hostilities? I knew that history offers one very dramatic example. Surrendering generals often formally handed their ceremonial swords over to their conquerors, thereby completely disarming themselves. 

In my drawing, I needed to go even further and depict a total withdrawal from ALL forms of conflict—not just one side surrendering to another. Then the idea struck me. Utter and complete surrender would include grasping your unsheathed sword by the razor-sharp edge and then presenting the sword's handle for your opponent to grip. That, I thought, would be the ultimate and unconditional sign of surrender. Were your conqueror either sadistic or evil, they could yank the handle and viciously wound you even as were offering your total surrender. A truly mutual surrender would include BOTH sides making that same abject gesture. Thus, I invented the rather unorthodox subject matter of my drawing.

Why would anyone in real life exchange swords in such a way? Would anyone ever really agree to a MUTUAL surrender? Yes, but only if both warring sides simultaneously recognized that the cost of fighting had become too high. Perhaps a hoped-for "fair fight" had degenerated into an inhuman exchange of brutalities. Perhaps the combat which was supposed to keep children/families/country safe had ended up destroying those very things. Perhaps the march to victory had become a march to mutual self-destruction.


My own fight to "win" my sanity back reached exactly such a hopeless condition. I was losing everything by continuing to fight. And I mean everything. Home. Family. Job. Community. Self-respect. Hope. Belief. Every one of the things I treasured was being damaged or demolished. My fighting was causing me to LOSE the war.


And so I finally gave UP. I mean to say that I surrendered everything in an UP direction. I stopped fighting myself and everyone around me. 


I finally found a phone number and called a local Twelve Step meeting. I went to the Meeting and admitted my total defeat. I placed my troubles onto shoulders much broader than mine. I would no longer do battle with myself. Too many innocent people had suffered already. That explains the flaming and war-torn community seen in my drawing.


If you don't know it already, Twelve Step recovery occurs one day at a time—not weekly, monthly, or yearly. My inner conflicts are fully capable of flaring up again within each new day. (I believe this is why many people in Twelve Step programs make a point of saying "I am recoverING rather than recoverED.") If I react to any flare-up by fighting it, I will guarantee my own defeat. But if I can surrender flare-ups of anger, fear, and regrets to a greater Power than myself, I can once again come to know peace.




TRIVIA: The sword on the left is fictional, based loosely on an Italian fencing saber I once owned. The implement on the right is a Japanese bayonet. There is no significance to their nationalities. Nor is there a symbolic meaning behind the missing ring finger on the hand seen at left. Its healed condition does, however, suggest how long this conflict has lasted.

Promises: Comprehend



Promise 3 — "We will comprehend the word serenity"

You are looking at a failed drawing. In my experience, every drawing starts as a failed drawing. I once heard a painter say that if he knew right away that a picture was going to succeed, he threw it away and started a different one. He wanted to learn something new or not even bother, and I agree with that. So when this drawings started as a failure, I wasn't immediately concerned. But it ended as a failure, in my eyes, and this is a story of that failure.

The first-ever TwelveDrawing illustration was the word "serenity" from the Serenity Prayer (you can find it on this website). It shows a lone tree sitting picturesquely in the bend of a small river. There is more to it than that, but that's the only part which relates to this Promise 3 drawing.

My 1934 Webster's Dictionary offers this definition: "Comprehend v. To take into the mind".

I pray and meditate before drawing. That doesn't make my drawings special. If you are in recovery, you're wise to pray and meditate before many everyday tasks. This drawing frustrated all of my attempts to begin it. What happens inside the mind is unseen and, without symbolic devices, the mind is beyond my ability to illustrate.

I remembered that peaceful tree from the "Serenity" drawing and wondered how a person could take that into their mind. You can see the result. A figure in the foreground is surrounded by the reflection of that same tree of Serenity. She has paused to gaze at the mesmerizing pattern caused by of the waves and the expanding ripples spreading out before her.  Who she is, where she is from, and what she is thinking remains unknown. She cannot see how the image of the spreading tree and she herself have become mingled together, but the viewer can. She cannot see us, but we see her as she lingers in a moment of solitary reflection (pun intended).

Determined not to indulge in careless or lazy symbolism, I worked very hard to create an effect which—sadly—fails to materialize. Just behind the woman's head are a series of gradually expanding ovals. They happen to visually line up almost exactly with the brim of her summer hat. My goal was to deliberately confuse the viewer about about where the woman's head ended and where the concentric circles in the water began. I wanted you to do a "double-take", trying figure out what was in her mind vs. in reality.

Now that I have described it, you can probably see what I was attempting. It fails for two reasons. First, to connect this drawing to the word "serenity", the viewer must have already seen the "Serenity" drawings. That makes this image like a movie sequel—one that first-time viewers would have no chance of comprehending. Second, the visual special effect didn't work. From the start, I sensed I was fighting a losing battle and I kept struggling to save the drawing—trying to somehow lighten it by making it darker and darker. As a result, the woman appeared rather sinister and the looming tree appeared more ominous than serene. Neither the spiritual concept nor the artistic execution is what it should have been. 

I could have started over from scratch. In fact I have done so on a couple of other drawings when the final result was entirely worthless and confusing. In this one, some good qualities do remain but the overall effect is weak. Still, one of the principles of recovery encourages a focus on "progress not perfection". If I attempted again with a less ambitious concept, it would only be out of a desire for a safe but vain sort of perfectionism. Thanks, but no thanks.

The job of true perfection is now occupied by my Higher Power. I no longer try to mimic His utter mastery in the area of fixing mistakes, nor could I if I tried. He can turn my miserable mistakes into intricate and wonderful miracles. All I can do is post my mistakes on this website, and humbly ask you yourself to draw whatever fractured lessons you can from them.

Promises: Past



Promise 2 — "We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it."

I enjoyed creating this drawing, but I find myself having very little to say say about it. My image of a new clock hanging where a grand old clock resided for many years illustrates the rather unremarkable definition of the word "past". A silhouette that has aged itself into wallpaper is a sight I have seen sometimes in the homes of elders who were in no hurry to part with the past. My own impulse is to apply a coat of fresh paint, but wiser souls preserve these reminders of memories that now dance only in their hearts. 

I have always had a strong respect for the past, but my recollection of it is often tinged with some regret. As I write this, my thoughts are taking an unexpected turn. If you will indulge a temporary change of subject here, I will share some healing thoughts about the word "regret".

The phrase "shame, guilt and remorse" appears repeatedly in Twelve Step literature. I personally sum up these three feelings with the word "regret". Addicts do struggle with various foms of regret triggered by their own lying, cheating, and stealing. Sober people assume that MORE regret is needed—that if the addict would just feel MORE sorry then their behavior would quickly correct itself.

It came as a surprise to me that I could not get sober until I rid myself of toxic regrets. Put another way, I should surrender all of my disturbed FEELINGS of regret to my Higher Power and focus my actions on correcting the root causes of those regrets.

Since the Big Book clumps the words "shame, guilt, and remorse' together, I assumed that they all meant roughly the same thing. Then I looked up those three words. Their meanings were surprisingly different. Working from memory, I believe the differences were these:

Guilt - Wrongs which violate a civil law (i.e., stealing)

Shame - Wrongs which violate socially accepted behavior, but do not break a law. (i.e., being rude)

Remorse - Wrongs which are socially acceptable and legal, but violate a personal value (i.e., buying something you did not really want or need)

The three words mean three different things. Their definitions helped me see a painful mistake I was making. I often feeling "guilty" about everything I did wrong. Feeling GUILTY about everything I do is dishonest. True guilt should be reserved for violations of the law—for actual crimes I may commit. If I am merely rude to a friend, but do not break the law, then what I feel is actually SHAME. Ordering a fattening dessert is perfectly legal and socially acceptable—it hurts no one but me and so my emotion would be called REMORSE.

I can almost see a reader rolling their eyes. What difference do these labels make? 

The Big Book says that all alcoholics suffer "a lack of proportion". That means that big things seem small, and small things seem big (i.e., driving while intoxicated seems small, but spilling a drink seems big). To make progress in recovery, my blindness to proportions eventually had to be replaced with an ability to see the true proportion of things. To the non-addict, this may sound like a simple feat but for alcoholics and addicts, it requires Divine assistance.

What does this have to do with the Second Promise? I'm getting to that. As part of the Twelve Steps, I inventoried things in my past that I regret. As part of that inventory, I had to carefully consider the true proportion of the things I regretted. Finally and most importantly, I had to consider whether I had truly HARMED that person—damaging them in some real way. I always used prayer and a good sponsor to do that part.  If I did not harm the person, then it is incorrect to say I feel GUILTY. Sure, I can still feel SHAME or REMORSE, but I never need to feel GUILTY about that again. My old habit of blowing my regrets wildly out of proportion created unnecessary pain and increased my craving for painkilling addiction.

As I went through the Steps, I did sense my unbearable feelings about the past slowly dissolving. I could more easily see who I had harmed without exaggerating it. I never realized that exaggerating a wrong is as dishonest as ignoring it. I soon learned that facts were my friends in recovery. I no longer feared the honest facts about anything coming to light. I knew how to see each fact into its correct proportion and—IF I actually harmed someone—to channel my guilty feelings towards making amends for that harm. Sounds so easy; yet it nearly killed me trying to learn that simple lesson.

For me, the Second Promise came true when I no longer feared running into old acquaintances. If I was GUILTY of harming them, I knew I owed them an amends and I would promptly make it. If I felt ASHAMED for something I had done to them, I would deeply apologize. But sometimes (and this part is amazing) I could see I had not harmed them at all. Whatever lingering and harmless REMORSE I felt was something private between me and my Higher Power. No further action was required.

I no longer shut the door on the past. If someone asks me, "Weren't you the guy who screwed up that day?" I no longer feel irrational guilt. I think about it for a moment, decide what the honest answer is, and give it. In my case, I didn't need MORE regret to get better. I needed my regrets to be in true proportion to whatever I had or had not done wrong. That way, I no longer have to shut any door (or use any form of painkilling) to avoid painful regrets.

Like my drawing of the clock on faded wallpaper, our memories linger for a long time. New ideas, attitudes, and beliefs can take their place but the past remains. When I see people shuffling in and out of a Twelve Step meeting at a local church or rehab center, I feel a lot of respect for them. They are on a long journey to recover some simple truths that everyone else takes for granted. With the help of the Twelve Steps, a sponsor, and a Higher Power, we can make that journey in light of—not despite of—our past.


TRIVIA: How many people use the word "guilt" in the exact way I described above? Not many. Who hasn't sometimes said things like: 

• "I feel so guilty for ordering dessert"

• "Watching TV is my guilty pleasure." 

• "I feel guilty about not spending more time with my kids"

• "You should feel guilty about living so well when so many people in the world are suffering."

I have said all of those things. I knew what I meant, and I'm sure you know too. But people in recovery are on a 24-hour watch to prevent what we affectionately call "stinkin' thinkin'". That happens when I lose my inner sense of proportion and straight thinking. It's more than a slip of the tongue or a poor choice of words; it is a slip into addictive thinking. All hell can break loose if we don't quickly realize it is happening.

I see strong evidence that Bill W., the writer of the AA Big Book, carefully chose his words to prevent "stinkin' thinkin'" among his readers. I try to follow his example by using correct words to the best of my abilities. So, I try not to use the word "guilty" unless I am referring to legal matters. It is never accurate to say, "I am breaking the law by eating this dessert" because that is simply not true. Instead, I say exactly what I mean: "I am going to REGRET ordering dessert when I step on the scales tomorrow." 

Guilty as charged.


Promises: Freedom



You don't need to tell me. I know the drawings shows a fly on a window screen. I know. I drew it. But I know of no other way to tell you about my escape to freedom, unless you yourself have already experienced it for yourself. Let's forget about the fly for a moment and come back to it later.

I hope you have never lost a loved one to addiction. But I am willing to wager that you have. Whether a father, sister, cousin, pastor, actor, teacher, lover, or spouse, I bet they were someone very unique. Alcoholics and addicts are like that. The last of the genuine "real characters". 

Maybe you knew someone who had a problem for a long time. Good old Uncle Charlie. Or that wonderful teacher. Or your parent. Or worse, your child. I bet you started to say something to them a thousand times, but when the moment came, you lost your nerve. Or maybe you started delivering your planned talk, but as the words reached your lips, they suddenly didn't make a damn bit of sense. Maybe you found yourself apologizing to them for bringing it up. Maybe you gave up, feeling like a miserable failure. I know I did.

Don't feel bad. I have read that the vast majority of alcoholics and addicts die without even realizing they have a problem. Plenty of people warn them, but the truth never gets through. They just keep on going and going until they reach the End. People who do make it into AA and other Twelve Step meetings are a small, small minority compared to those who go to the bitter end believing they have no problem.

How could they not see it? I do no know, even though I have been one of them. I too was trapped but insisted I was totally free. It didn't bother me one bit to be dying in that way. Every time I crashed into reality, I thought surely that reality was wrong. Every time I banged into someone, I thought they should have stayed out of my way. My life was full of emotional collisions. Crash. Boom. Bang. But I never could figure out why.

I was like a fly. Trapped inside a window screen. I could see the whole wide world right in front of me and energetically flew straight at it. But I kept crashing into something. It was something my mind could not comprehend. I was doing everything right....according to every instinct I had. So I ignored it and tried again. Crash. Boom. Bang.

Few of us realize that whatever this incomprehensible thing we are trapped by will never yield. We can fight against it, but we will not win by doing that. And so slowly or quickly, we die. By the dozen, the hundred, the thousand, the millions. (Did you notice the dead flies littering the bottom of the drawing?)

Dying for what? Because we continue to believe we are free when we are trapped. Our false belief drives us again and again to try what doesn't work. Addiction—like that simple wire window screen—will not yield to our most brilliant and energetic efforts. Many of us die in the bottom of that window, eyes filled with visions of freedom just outside our reach.

Why do some reach freedom when so many others don't? The 1930s Webster's dictionary says freedom is "Not being subject to an arbitrary external power." The window screen is an arbitrary external power. The fly didn't create it any more than addicts create addiction. But the screen does not care whether it keeps flies out—which is its intended purpose—or traps them inside. Like addiction, the inanimate screen doesn't care about anything. 

My Twelve Step work involved abandoning the arbitrary power of addiction. Instead, I placed my trust in the loving power of a Higher Power. It took a while, but I finally found that one escape from an enormous and baffling window screen. That Higher Power was not arbitrary. It wanted me to be out of trouble. It cared whether I lived or died. My Higher Power wanted me to be free. Today, that Promise has come true for me.


Metaphors: Tornado

 Corroding Arch


What did I want from addiction? Happiness at first. Then freedom from pain. What did addiction bring me? Unhappiness. Pain. I didn't go there alone—I was married and had a family.

As the winds of addiction hollowed out my humanity, I became less of a comfort to my loved ones. No matter what touch, or thought, or feeling I shared, I was always holding something back. I would enjoy the moment only with the permission of my addiction. If my kids wanted to go to the park, but my cravings said "no", the kids lost out. If my wife wanted understanding, I would listen only as long as my addiction would allow. I loved them still, but was blocked from feeling the love or kindness. I was hollow inside yet full of colliding forces; like a tornado.

Bill Wilson described the alcoholic (and by extension, the addict) as being "like a tornado roaring his way through the live of others." I don't know if I was all that dramatic. I wasn't exactly roaring. I was meekly hoping no one would notice how awful I had become. I was trying to disappear quietly into my own destruction and not really bother anyone. But that is apparently not how love works.

While I was in a dizzy stupor, there were people trying to hold onto me. They weren't trying to hold me back or hold me down. They just needed a father or a husband and they reached for me as a solid support. I was not that solid. If you ever try to hug a tornado—even a meek one—you will discover it is impossible. Anyone who tried to hold onto me promptly had their arms ripped cleanly away.

If you stayed clear of my path, you would probably be okay. And increasingly, my loved ones began to stay out of my way. My wife confided more and more in other people, less so in me. My kids stopped asking for attention or support and made their own arrangements. Friends stopped contacting me, probably because their invitations and inquiries were completely ignored. My job spun further and further way, then flew off completely. I arrived at church later and left earlier, until I felt no connection at all.

I felt numb during most of this time. It was like watching a sad disintegration happen to someone else. I still knew and loved my kid's faces, and I still greeted my wife nicely, but eventually there were no more faces and there was no more wife. They were carried off in this slow motion dance of destruction that spun out from me in all directions. What had been near now flew off into the distance. What had once been high now fell low. Not much mattered, because not much was left to matter.

The Big Book had it right; I was like a tornado. Whoever I approached would flee from me. Whatever I embraced would shatter. Once a productive person, the path I now left behind me was strewn with scattered feeling and lives. And in surveying the terrible destruction, my reaction was to gape in amazement at the damage as if I were not its very SOURCE! Recovery has helped me see that I was destructive, even while considering myself meek and weak. I didn't chase down and hurt anyone on purpose. But I allowed the winds of addiction to blow me wherever they pleased, and in doing that, I broke up a pretty good home, and people who I love still bear the emotional lacerations.

The illustration for the "Tornado" is perhaps my most chaotic in appearance, as fits the subject matter. The detail that rips a tiny new hole in my heart each time I see it, are the childhood belongings standing untouched in the window. There used to be such small items in my children's windows as I sat up late telling them bedtime stories. (Sentimental yes, but somberly accurate.) Those remnants of my children's lives before the storm forever remind me of what had once been.

Still, in the real world, people usually do survive tornados. The obvious warning signs of unholy noise and destructive fury usually trigger instincts to flee for safe shelter. My loved ones did that. They got away safely, in their own ways. I don't blame them; instead I bless them and hold them in the Light every day.

The ending is not a sad one. I no longer rage and storm, even in a meek or weak way. In recovery, I am a person who you could count on to be there for you. Today I am wobbly in ways that don't show, but with the help of my Higher Power, I am a solid friend, father, husband, and neighbor. With that help, I hope the last tornado I ever see is the one disappearing over the horizon in this drawing.



TRIVIA: After tornados pass, people report all kinds of improbable circumstances left behind. One house might be torn to splinters while the one directly next door remains intact. Or an untouched drinking glass may remain perched upright and filled with juice on a shattered marble kitchen counter. I hope my loved ones have been miraculously preserved in similar ways. When I see photographs of our family from those years, there is no visible sign of anything being wrong. You wouldn't pick me out as a person with a grave problem. All of my insanity swirled inside the confines of a good-natured guy and a gentle father. When my addiction permitted it, I did throw fun birthday parties and worked hard to romance my wife. And love never vanished from my heart. Neither love of family or love of God left me entirely, even as I threw both into a blender. I hope you cannot understand what I just said, I really do. But if you knew nothing of these strange truths, you probably would not be reading this sentence right now.

Metaphors: Corroding Thread

 Corroding Arch


"Unspeakable fear" is not from the Twelve Step literature; it is from me. I find fear to be almost impossible to talk about. When I talk about fear directly, the subject matter has no solid meaning. There is my fear of falling, of taking tests, of public speaking, or of dying. Clearly, fear has many degrees, most of them go unnoticed by me until they drive me to regretable actions. Only afterwards do I recognize that fear was my motive for grabbing more than I deserved (selfishness) or avoiding the truth (dishonesty) or disregarding the needs of others (inconsideration).

In other words, fear "was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it." (NOTE: Some people don't like to use the word "fear", perhaps because admitting fear is considered weak by some. At first, I substituted the word "anxiety". To me, they were the same emotion but felt to much different degrees. Soon, I became comfortable using the word "fear" freely.)

I know my Higher Power can break the spell of fear, but only if I ask to be filled with His will. For example, when I feel tempted to get angry, selfish, or inconsiderate, I ask God what He would have me be. Most of the time, I realize my fear has taken control of my thoughts and actions. Driven by my fear, I might feel justified in somehow punishing someone who has triggered my fear. But my Higher Power's view might be: "Don't worry about it. You have done much worse. Leave justice up to Me."

I have begun to call fear my "lower power" because it seems to grow stronger when I neglect or ignore my Higher Power. In my experience, fear steals power from me whereas God seems to flood me with His power.

The Illustration

When I thought about how to make a drawing based on the word "Fear", the choice was not an easy one to conceive. I don't like to use pure symbolism, preferring real situations like Bill might have had in mind. I wondered in what circumstances might a single "corroding thread" be a serious problem. Thread does not truly corrode in exactly the same way that rusty metal can corrode nearby metal. But if a thread were to ruin the usefulness of nearby fabric, that would fit the definition as I understood it.

Thus, I conceived of a sailing ship with one single sail. Across its center is a tear which follows the path of a single thread. The failure of that one thread threatens the usefulness of the entire sail. This failure is especially worrisome considering the dark storm clouds looming in the background. Such a failure of a single thread puts the sail, the ship, the cargo, and everyone on board at risk.

I am not certain what Bill W. had in mind when he wrote about a "corroding thread". But his words reminded me that I must prevent fear from holding a key place within the fabric of my being. Another way I say it is, every day of recovery involves a choice between the lower power of my fears and the Higher Power of the Divine.

Metaphors: Triumphant Arch

 Triumphant Arch



You may know that a triumphant arch (a.k.a. triumphal arch) is a type of monument found in ancient Rome. It was not an entry way into a city or any place else. It simply stood in a visible location and usually served as a reminder of a military victory; great victories inspired great arches. In modern times, new arches have been built for special occasions and this is not the place to list them all. What is important here is that such arches are very real things, but their purpose is mostly symbolic.

I enjoy drawing things, and when I decided to draw Twelve Metaphors I found in the Big Book of AA, I thought the triumphal arch would be the easiest one to depict. After all, there are hundreds of existing photos and images of triumphant arches from locations all over the word. I could just pick any one of them as inspiration, right?


If you read through the Big Book description of the Triumphant Arch, there are only a few specific details. The book describes a structure with one arch, capped by a keystone. But that description does not fit most triumphant arches. (I suggest you research this point for yourself.) Most triumphant arches I found have multiple arches; one prominent central arch, flanked by at least two smaller arches (below). Since arches typically require a keystone, a three-arch monument would have THREE keystones. 

But the Big Book describes only a single arch. Am I nitpicking? Read further.

Bill Wilson, writer of the Big Book, used the triumphant arch to make an incredibly important point, declaring that our Higher Power is the keystone to our spiritual arch of recovery. One arch, one keystone, one God. Period!

I searched hundreds of images of triumphant arches and found only one ancient arch that had a single arch and single keystone: the Arch of Titus (below). Built in the first century in Rome, that arch was certainly majestic and massive enough to inspire a Twelve Step Metaphor. The problem was, Bill was writing primarily for a American audience...not a group of architectural historians. Why would Bill choose an arch that very few readers would be familiar with? I couldn't answer that question, but I had found an accurate model.

Photograph of the ancient Arch of Titus

With my amateur research completed, I was ready to begin a drawing inspired by the Arch of Titus. Something still bothered me, but I had no other choice. On the day I started sketching the arch, I was sitting in a crowded office, waiting to go home (it was a slow day). My gaze wandered several desks away to where a coworker was showing her friend a thick stack of vacation photographs. Up popped a snapshot of a perfect white triumphant monument with only a single arch! The pure coincidence was stunning.

I wasn't sure what to say. I abruptly interrupted the pair and asked the startled women where the photograph was taken. "Washington Square in New York City," the older lady replied, "Last week when I visited my daughter." I stammered something like, "M-m-may I look more closely at it?" Slightly alarmed, she slid the color print towards me. As if hoping to get rid of me, she added, "You keep it, dear. I have other copies." I hope I remembered to thank her!

I couldn't believe my luck. Washington Square Park Arch is one of New York's most familiar landmarks. It exactly matches Bill's description of a Triumphant Arch. It is less grand than the Arch of Titus  but it is familiar to far more people. Unlike most other such structures, it has only one arch—and one keystone.

Photograph of Washington Square Arch

My earlier hesitations vanished. I drew the arch much as it appeared in that photograph, but I simplified it to suggest the twelve-stone construction that Bill Wilson described. After it was finished, I told and retold the story about randomly seeing the photograph at exactly the moment I needed it. Others were not as impressed as I was, but the pure coincidence continues to amaze me today.

Is it pure coincidence that Bill's description matches the arch in New York City? Perhaps not.

Bill Wilson got sober while attending Oxford Group meetings in New York City. The Oxford Group met approximately one mile from Washington Square. The square's magnificent arch stands very close to the street. While one mile is a great distance in Manhattan, Bill and his wife Lois reportedly took pleasure walks measuring dozen of miles. Bill could easily have passed Washington Square on his way to or from Oxford Group meetings. 

Whether he knew it or not, Bill chose a triumphant arch which readers could find either in the agelessness of ancient Rome or in the bustling center of New York City. I can't speak for the rest of his audience, but Bill's description was very easy for me to picture. I owe my thanks to Bill Wilson for his choice of metaphors. And for a generous lady at work for sharing a vacation photos with me.


TRIVIA: I am often asked where the all-important keystone is in my drawing. I numbered the stones to help the viewer understand my meaning, but there is no number twelve visible. Some expect the keystone to be the highest stone in the entire triumphant structure. But by definition, a keystone is located at the top of the rounded OPENING of the arch. Additional stones typically do rest above it. Traditionally, the keystone is made larger than the other stones because that it is widely believed to give the entire arch greater strength. Because Bill described his keystone as being Divine in nature, I showed it hidden in a burst of blindingly radiant sunlight. I left off the numeral XII out of respect for the Divine power that continues to fill me with hope and help daily.

(BTW: An engineering professor recently challenged the age-old belief that an enlarged keystone is necessary give to a structural arch its strength. Through whatever computer or construction models, he and his students determined that the keystone does not necessarily play a crucial role. They scientifically proved that every archstone is equally important. That makes sense to me. My Higher Power has illuminated every Step of my recovery, not just the Twelfth Step. The keystone retains its majestic presence, but to paraphrase Bill W., Divinity is everywhere or nowhere at all.)






Metaphors: The Actor



When I first read the Big Book of AA, I was on on a sort of mental autopilot. I was hurting and distracted. Honestly, I didn't care very much what this man in the 1930s had to say. I respected his military service, but that was in WORLD WAR I...more than 100 years ago! So, I muddled through the yellowed pages, griping to myself that someone should update this musty old book into modern language.

Things changed when, on page 60, I met an imaginary actor. The writer Bill W. appeared to be inviting readers to rethink their own ways of thinking. He was writing the book specifically to alcoholics who generally do not like being told how to think. To get his point across, Bill invented a character who does not exist in reality, but whose story makes a very real point. In short, he used an imaginary actor as a metaphor.

The description is one of the longest metaphors in the book, so I won't repeat it here. But in it, this actor decided he knew better than anyone else how the current play should be staged. Overruling the director, the actor was "forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery, and the rest of the players in his own way." (Big Book p. 60). 

Bill W. used this tale about this egotistical actor to nudge me into admitting I was guilty of the same attitude. Until that moment, I honestly believed I should be the one who ran the entire universe. I thought I knew everything and that others were incompetent pretenders. Like that actor, I had tried to control everyone around me using charm, threats, dishonesty, and bribery, but I was never satisfied with the outcome for long. 

In that description of the actor, I saw myself. And through that actor, I realized that whoever wrote this stale, outdate, Depression-era book knew me better than anyone else alive. My arrogance deflated slightly. Through Bill's metaphor, I could clearly see that this actor character was causing his own problems through HIS attitudes, and that his attitudes were MINE as well.

My drawing "The Actor" is perhaps the most literal of all my Twelve Metaphor illustration. I drew exactly what I heard described: the ballet, the lights, the scenery, the director. I had fun staging exactly as I had pictured them. A different person might picture it differently, but that is the magic of well-chosen metaphors... they get into each reader's imagination, then use that imagination to make their point.

I have nothing to add beyond what the Big Book says about the actor. Like him, my ego was out of control and the harder I tried to direct other people, the more I hastened my own downfall. Like him, I had scampered up the ladder but could never stay there long. Like many other Big Book readers, I had to start a search for a new and more qualified "Director" whom I could trust to run the show. I found such a director in my Higher Power—thanks, in large part, to a real World War I veteran and an imaginary actor in an imaginary play.

Metaphors: The Wringer

 The Jawalker


This drawing is important because laundry wringers have completely disappeared from the average home today. The people, places, and things that inspired most of Bill Wilson's metaphors remain intact today, including ocean liners, jaywalkers, men without legs, etc. But it is mostly a dwindling number of older people who know first-hand what it means to feel the "nip of the wringer" or to be "pretty badly mangled" by it (p. 43).

Until the early 1900s, clothes washing was a daily and time-consuming chore. Clothes emerged soaking wet from the washing process and had to be hung up to dry. If the sopping wet clothes could be wrung out before hanging up, it speeded up the process tremendously.

Thus, the roller wringer came into wide use. It was nothing short of a miracle in the eyes of homemakers for it shortened their laundry time without harming the clothes. Two rollers which were synchronized by metal gears would wring out the clothes quickly and efficiently. The earliest models (shown above) were hand-cranked. Electricity became widespread around the time the Big Book was written and an electric-powered wringer was a prized home appliance.

There was only one serious problem with wringers. The twin rollers were made out of an extremely stiff material (initially wood and then metal) and were sometimes coated with a thin layer of rubber. This combination made for a serious safety hazard since there was nothing preventing the operator's hands, hair, or jewelry from being grabbed by the rollers, thereby dragging the struggling operator directly into the relentlessly grinding rollers. Though rare, wringer accidents could create serious injuries.

I am barely old enough to remember my grandmother running wet clothes through an electric wringer. The smooth rollers fascinated me and an irresistible urge rose in me to touch the seam where the spinning rollers came together. When my grandmother's back was turned, I decided to touch those wringers in exactly that spot. I will never forget the ferocious way the fast-moving rubber rollers took hold of my tiny fingertip. By some miracle—my reflexes must have been lightning fast—I yanked my fingertip painfully back out of the rollers. My heart pounded fast and my fingertip burned with pain. That instant scared me badly, for I could tell the mindless machine would have happily gobbled up my entire hand. In Bill Wilson's words, I had "felt the first nip of the wringer". 

When doing research for this Wringer drawing, I was surprised to learn that wringing washing machines caused horrible injuries in homes all across America. Friends recounted stories of women who had an arm yanked into such a machine and the result was blood and screaming. Someone whose grandfather was a doctor at that time reported it was not uncommon for women to fracture every bone of their hand and arm from a wringer accident (Gulp!). Bill Wilson was speaking literally when he said such an experience would leave the person "pretty badly mangled". 

Today, a new emphasis on safety surrounds all home appliances. A motorized wringer in its original configuration would raise serious liability concerns. But for many years, homemakers eagerly accepted the risks of the dangerous machines to spare themselves the drudgery of hand-wringing their water-logged laundry. Perhaps Bill Wilson was drawing a parallel... that many drinkers willingly endure the dangers of liquor to be relieved of their terrible cravings.

Regardless, people like me were lucky if we experienced only the "nip" of the wringer. That childhood scare was enough to convince me to never repeat the experience. Others—and Bill Wilson believes it was "most"—kept flirting with the risks until they were badly mangled. In either case, the alcoholic (and addict) remains forever strangely fascinated by the thrill of flirting with many dangerous practices. This is the only one of the Twelve Metaphors that I think the contemporary reader might require so much explanation of. The other eleven metaphors still carry their message unaided from the 1930s through to today.

Metaphors: The Jawalker

 The Jawalker



If a vote were taken, the most beloved character in the Big Book would almost have to be the Jaywalker. I base that hunch on the grins, laughter, and head-nodding I see in my Meetings whenever that character is mentioned.

If you have even casually read the Big Book, you probably remember his story. The Jaywalker is sort of a tragic clown who enjoys intentionally dashing out in front of fast-moving traffic. At first, he enjoys his dangerous habit, but over time he is plagued by increasingly frequent and serious injuries. He vows he will stop but soon finds himself returning to the busy roadway and continues taking ever-greater risks. After one too many mad dashes, this tragic clown is flattened by a streetcar and suffers a broken back—ending up being paralyzed or perhaps even dead.

The Big Book's author Bill Wilson writes: "if we substituted our alcoholism for jaywalking, the illustration would fit us exactly." 

I do not believe Bill W. used casual or loose language in the Big Book. He had a panel of sober alcoholics overseeing his writing at every step. So please consider exactly what "illustration" Bill was referring to. Was this really a tragic clown story? Was he saying that every alcoholic is a laughable Jaywalker who takes senseless risks until one day it catches up with him. Is THAT the lesson that AA teaches—that alcoholics should stop their foolishness and act sober? Seriously?

Doesn't that description sound more like how NON-drinkers view alcoholics (and addicts)? Non-drinkers tend to view drunks as tragic clowns who merely need to straighten up. They believe that alcoholics could—if they really wanted to to—simply give up alcohol and then all of their problems would go away. Non-drinkers have those beliefs for their own reasons, but isn't that  totally at odds with the AA view of the drinking problem? Does the Twelve Step program of recovery ever describe real alcoholics as tragic clowns who merely need to "wise up"? I don't see where it does.

So if the Jaywalker is not a foolish, cartoon-like character, what OTHER interpretation could there be?

I see an alternative interpretation in plain sight. I notice that the Jaywalker story appears in the Big Book (BB p. 37), right after Bill Wilson defined the "insanity" of alcoholics. He reduced it to two traits: "the lack of proportion, of the inability to think straight". I believe Bill Wilson traced the countless mis-steps, mistakes, and tragedies associated with alcoholic behavior to only those two traits. On the very same page, Bill offers his description of the Jaywalker.

This is why I doubt that the Jaywalker is merely Bill's attempt at comic relief. Bill could have invented any insane character he wanted, including an insane person who jumps off a bridge or sets themselves on fire. What then did Bill choose a Jaywalking pedestrian to illustrate alcoholic insanity?

To understand my answer, please put aside any cartoonish view you may have of the Jaywalker. Picture him instead as a living, breathing human being—someone you might pass every day on the street. Imagine this gentleman stepping out of a cigar shop and onto a busy New York sidewalk. He notices that his barber shop is located directly across the street and realizes he needs a haircut. He wants to cross the street but he's in the middle of the city block—far from the traffic lights located at either end of the block. 

At those traffic lights, there are countless people crossing this same street in complete safety. The people in those crosswalks simply wait for the "Walk" signal, then they cross without a care. They feel no need to hurry, because the cars will remain motionless as long as the light remains red. At those distant crosswalks, the Jaywalker knows he can find a proportioned (sane) and straight (sane) route across the street.

But something is troubling the Jaywalker. The crosswalks are many yards away. He doesn't want to walk from the cigar shop to the crosswalk and back to his barbere shop. Why walk so far—he asks himself. That seems crazy when a quick dash across the street will get him there within seconds.

Let's pause and consider his situation. The Jaywalker has two clear choices. One is to walk calmly and safely for five minutes. The other is to dash into the open road, legs furiously pumping, heart pounding, narrowly eluding painful death....and arriving at the other side within a few moments. His reward? He will be seated comfortably in a barber's chair while those trudging slowpokes at the crosswalk are still staring at a red light.

The excitement and superiority he feels after jaywalking is irresistible. He willingly risks his life to avoid five minutes of boring safety. Let me repeat that for those of you who do not suffer from an addict's insanity. This Jaywalker is willing to literally risk his LIFE to prevent just FIVE MINUTES OF BORING SAFETY. If hel suffers a near-accident, he will brag about it later to his friends. Then he will indulge in more risk-taking again at every opportunity in the future.

Bill's definition of insanity becomes perfectly clear. The Jaywalker suffers "the lack of proportion" and "the inability to think straight."

I do not believe Bill was describing alcoholics as tragic clowns—that would make no sense given the contents of the entire Big Book. I believe he was describing a type of person who is constitutionally incapable of doing things the ordinary and "boring" way even when the ordinary way is simple, safe, convenient, nearby, and free. I believe Bill was pointing out that alcoholics (and all addicts by extension) lack the proportion and straight thinking to take the safe route—to choose the sensible solution even when it is easily within their grasp.

My drawing reflects that understanding. It shows the Jaywalker's making his typical mad dash across the open road, heedless of whether cars are coming or not. He shows contempt toward the dull "trudgers" who cross safely at the distant intersections. His body already bears certain bandages and scars from his recent close scrapes, but he is lured back to his habit by an insatiable desire to "beat the system" and return to his favorite shortcut. His sense of superiority motivates him to defy ordinary rules, customs, and habits.

He is not a clown, in my eyes.....tragic or otherwise. He is me. The Jaywalker is ME. He is my tendency to take shortcuts. And my secret desire to defy society's rules. And my aching need to feel better than everyone else. And my egotistical love of always being right. He is my lack of proportion. He is my inability to think straight. 

I am the Jaywalker. Plain and simple.

That is, until I ask God what HE would have me be. Would He have me walk 100 yards, wait with the crowd at the intersection, cross with the WALK light, then trudge the Road of Happy Destiny another 100 yards back to my barber shop?

I think so. I believe so. And I now do so.


TRIVIA: Around the time Bill W. wrote about the Jaywalker, there were a number of political activists who believed anyone should have the divine right to cross any street when and wherever they pleased. These believers weren't entirely crazy. They were holding onto the pre-automobile days when people on foot reigned supreme over the streets. They felt all cars should be compelled to stop for any pedestrian who stepped into traffic, period. The historical snippets I found suggest that Chicago was a focus for these die-hard bipedal believers. I have no idea whether that movement had followers in New York City where Bill W. got sober. Had it existed in my time, I guiltily admit I would have considered joining it myself. It would have allowed me to explain my own insane Jaywalking tendencies.

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