Archive for the ‘Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)’ Category

by Fred W. Anson
A recovery parable
The story is told of an accused man whose guilt or innocence was difficult to determine.

In this culture they had a strange form of justice for such cases. Near the town there was a subterranean cave that the accused was lowered into via a rope. After the prisoner was there a week’s worth of food and water was also lowered down in a basket and the rope pulled back up. The accused was then left to contemplate these words, “There is a way of escape from this prison.  Should you indeed escape you will be welcomed back into society and given a full pardon. However, we will not return for you, check on you or help you in any way. Your future is before you and your fate is in your hands – life or death, guilt or redemption. In this way, and this way only will our justice be served.” And with those words they left.

After his eyes adjusted to the darkness – for the cave was very deep – the prisoner noted that the hole in the ceiling that he had been lowered through was too high to reach.  Further the walls were rough and probably impossible to climb. Yet the only world he knew was outside that hole so he knew he must reach it somehow and pull himself through to freedom, redemption, and justice!  His heart yearned for justice and home.

In the ensuing days dirt was piled high, so were rocks. But there simply wasn’t enough dirt and rocks to reach the hole. When he tried to scale the cave walls after great exertion and pain he would merely get as high as the smooth, slick, unyielding ceiling before falling hard onto the floor. This progressively caused more and more pain and injury with each failed attempt. All the while the sheen of the sun, the chirping of birds and the song of wind above the hole at first teased him then tortured him with thoughts of what a new life of freedom could be “out there!”

He jumped. He yelled. He cried. He sobbed. But no one came to his aid. He raged and stormed at the hole. Still no rescue came. He was alone with only pain and regret as his constant companions.

Then his food and water began to get low. “Rationing and time! Surely, that’s the answer – this is a test of wills I will simply wait them out. They will see my determined resolve, my regret, repentance, and humble state if just enough time passes. In the end they will surely have mercy and come back and save me!” So he carefully measured and extended his supplies well beyond the one week period. But to his shock and horror, still no help appeared. He was alone. And though he barely had the energy to do so, he wept again.

Finally, weak from hunger, thirst and fatigue the prisoner succumbed to the inevitability of a slow, lingering, pain filled death. In his final moments as he lay staring at the hole he quietly whispered, “They lied! The whole world is a lie! Life is a lie! There is no escape from this hell – the hole mocks me while this cold, dark, empty cave consumes me! I am lost.” And with those words he died.

A few days later from the back of the cave in the deep, deep darkness came the quiet sound of crawling men. They squeezed through a hole in the back of the cave just large enough for a man to get through. Finding the body they pulled it through the hole, which lead to another even darker, colder cave that led to a tunnel which lead to a large dimly lit cave which opened to a vast, open forest. It was there where the road back home could be seen past a thick thicket of ripe berry bushes and a rippling creek. Ironically had the prisoner been less fixated on returning by the same means that he had come in he might have found the way out (though hard, complex, and difficult) was there all along.

The former prisoners of that very same cave who now carried this lifeless body had ultimately discovered the answer that others had who died slow painful deaths desperately tried to find. For both the living and the dead the answer was the same: The way out is through.

. . . And so dear reader should you ever find yourself in that dark cave please remember these words, “The way out is through!”

(Adapted with profound thanks and appreciation from “Healing the Shame that Binds You” by John Bradshaw)

I had been in Alcoholics Anonymous for some time before I discovered that the Serenity Prayer used there and in other 12-Step Groups is actually a faint shadow of the powerful prayer that was originally included in a sermon by Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1943.[1]

So, for your edification (and for mine, for it never gets old) is that original prayer:[2]

The Serenity Prayer
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.


[1] While there is much I would like to say about how the potent source of the original movement (the power of Jesus Christ to seek out, save, redeem, and restore lost sinners ensnared in sin) has slowly leaked out  and left AA a hollow, less efficacious shell of what once was, I will save it for a later blog.

[2] Source: Serenity Prayer Wikipedia article . Please note that the prayer was not originally untitled.  I have added the title that it was later added by Bill Wilson and AA for the sake of aesthetics.