By Jeff Vircoe
Looking out at the beaming crowd of some 3,000 sober alcoholics, the doctor who co-founded the movement spoke for just 10 minutes, but what he said has lasted generations.
“There are two or three things that flashed into my mind on which it would be fitting to lay a little emphasis. One is the simplicity of our program. Let’s not louse it all up with Freudian complexes and things that are interesting to the scientific mind, but have very little to do with our actual A.A. work. Our Twelve Steps, when simmered down to the last, resolve themselves into the words “love” and “service.” We understand what love is, and we understand what service is. So let’s bear those two things in mind.”
The simplicity of the program. Freudian complexes can louse it up.
Two thoughts, which when added up clearly mean Dr. Bob Smith’s idea for the continuing success of the program was Keep It Simple. Spoken in the last year of his life, when he was dying of colon cancer, when he was 15 years sober, at a public auditorium in Cleveland, the Keep It Simple slogan was forever solidified as one of AA’s standards.
The slogan has always resonated with addicts. In the meeting rooms, one can regularly hear the comment “This is a simple program for complicated people.” Or “Get out of your own way.” Or “I’ve never seen anyone too dumb to get this program but I’ve seen many who were too smart.”
Addicts of all ages, walks of life and time in recovery chimed in for this story about the slogan. From Halifax to Victoria, they see the need for Keep It Simple regularly.
“Over thinking kills,” says Eric P., a man with almost 20 years off the bottle. He offers a fascinating insight into the addict mind, even in recovery. What does on between the ears of a perfectly sane human is on one hand comical, on the other, sad and frustrating for the addict.
“Am I going to do this thing or not? It seems simple, but I have never been good at this. This could be a new adventure, but I have always been afraid. Some people think I am dumb but this could show them … oh it’s too late. Shit. Am I going to do this? Yes or no? Yes – do it!”
Complicating a simple situation is a regular occurrence for addicts it seems. Lauren M., a woman with 29 years of recovery, explains it this way.
“Negative thinking will take over and I will talk myself out of something before I even start. Also known as the f-it syndrome.”
When you ask a question of an addict to explain why Keep It Simple is good advice, expect the proof in the pudding.
“Even trying to write down a good answer, I’m over-thinking,” says Edgewood alumnus Andrew Z., a man with recovery since 2012.
“Keeping it simple keeps the crazy hamster at bay,” says Kellyanne. “Break it down to one nanosecond task at a time.”
Roberta D., a woman with nearly 30 years in recovery puts it this way.
“We (addicts) are so good at complicating things. We’re too much in our heads. Keep It Simple helps us relax and let go.”
The advice that Dr. Bob gave the 3,000 who heard him share in Cleveland all those years ago about simplifying the program is as pertinent to some members of 12 Step programs today as it was then. Some believe the answer to addiction – the solution – remains the same.
“Keep It Simple applies to the Steps,” says Dave R., a man with over 35 years in. “Over the past few years so many different ways of doing the Steps have come about and have actually complicated and misrepresented the original 12 Steps. The program was developed in such a way that the process is simple and does not have to be complicated at all.”
Kella-Lee N., an Edgewood alumnus with nearly 14 years clean, agrees.
“I think if we believe that the program is simple, it helps us to stop overthinking things and complicate recovery. Really it all boils down to trust God, clean house and help others. Simple eh?”