By Joe C.
The 12-step story isn’t something that happened way back when, which leaves us the choice of either taking an 80-year-old modality as it was written or leaving it. Our ongoing history is happening right now in a language in the rooms that is always evolving. Example: Punk rocker Jack Grisham’s A Principle of Recovery: An Unconventional Journey Through The Twelve Steps doesn’t read like you’re sponsor’s sponsor’s sponsor’s Big Book. More has been revealed. The 12-step approach to substance and process addiction has been translated into many languages to explain our process. Even within our common English languages we can feel quite divided by our cultural difference.
Grisham was the lead singer for the LA punk band T.S.O.L. The punk rock language has always aimed to comfort the inflicted and inflict the comfortable. Grisham’s 25-plus years of being clean and sober doesn’t find him curbing his tongue to fit the mold of prime-time recovery.
“Don’t be surprised if you have more oh-shit awakenings than you have of those delightful ah-ha realizations,” he says. “I write the book the way I would talk to you or anyone — just like I have done with many men over the years. In the book, I confront objections I hear all the time. I use my own life as an example. That’s how we do it in the rooms. You’ll even notice other voices, other points of view interrupting the flow, but again, that’s how I meant it to read, just like being in a coffee shop after a meeting.”
Grisham’s writing style was so familiar that, by the time I spoke with him, I felt like I knew him. He seems like someone I’d be happy to know was sponsoring someone I love. If you only read 12-step literature befitting a gentleman or a lady, then you’ll find a few too many f-bombs in these pages. Grisham talks with candor from the culture he comes from. If you’re finding our message feels a little old-fashioned and maybe this 12-step thing is on the verge of being reified into irrelevance, you don’t know Grisham. Get to know this book, and then tell me that you think 12-step talk is so passé.
It is not just because Jack drops swear words between syllables. A Principle of Recovery talks about Dr. Bob and Bill W’s modality against present-day realities. The turning century presented us with more diverse newcomers, and our success stories in recovery are just as diverse.
As a for instance, Grisham relates the ways people work through Steps Two and Three today: “Some of us have an image of God in our minds, an image we constructed, or was given to us, when we were children. … The image I brought to the program dissolved long ago. I have friends that are Christians and friends that are Jews. I have friends that are agnostic and those that are atheists. All of us are sober. We follow the same directions, working with the same material of flesh and spirit — our beliefs were not uniform, but our outcome is.”
Grisham thinks and writes like a songwriter. A Principle of Recovery seamlessly drifts between graphic, factual accounts of his deeds and darker nature to metaphors and imagery about addiction and recovery. If you are either a secular reductionist or a by-the-book believer, expect to have knee-jerk reactions to how this book speaks of God. You and Grisham will likely each mean something different where the word “God” is concerned. He doesn’t believe in a prayer-answering, sobriety-granting deity. Nor does he dismiss the G-word as a fraud.
In this regard, Grisham exemplifies something Katherine Ketcham and Ernest Kurtz say in their book, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling: “A myth is something that never happened because it is always happening.”
I didn’t agree with everything I read, and if I did, I know Grisham would say, “What’s the matter with you? Think for yourself!” But I was moved by Grisham’s storytelling. I cried reading stories of his daughter and him, and I laughed out loud at some of his rants about sponsorship.
A Principle of Recovery is an important book for a couple of reasons. First of all, it could be a game changer for someone out there who’s ready to give up because an 80-year-old book just doesn’t talk to her or him. Secondly, “We realize we know only a little,” written in Alcoholics Anonymous is still true. No meeting, mentor or methodology is getting everyone clean and sober every time. So Grisham has done his part to widen our gateway. A Principle of Recovery breathes life into our legacy of recovery.
Joe C. is a radio host; music, finance and recovery columnist; and author of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life (Rebellion Dogs Publishing, 2013). Joe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.