AA speaker Dr. Mike presents a Big Book study podcast and thoughts on recovery

Thoughts on Recovery – No. 23 – The Spiritual Axiom – 12 Steps and 12 Traditions P. 90 -Step 10 – Also listen to podcast Saturday year 3 episode 28

It is a spiritual axiom that every time I am disturbed there is something wrong with Me. Notice it says every time. Do you think this is true for you?  If you are brand new to AA you may think there are exceptions but if you start working the steps, especially when you have worked step 4 to 9 , you will see the spiritual truth of this statement. This is the essence of trying to live a spiritual life. I can’t blame people or circumstances any more for being disturbed. I think the perfect spiritual life would be to never get disturbed. Unfortunately we are not perfect and the steps are designed to help me get undisturbed. Step 10 is designed to enable us to be undisturbed.

I gave some thoughts on the World of the Spirit. That is where God is and is in the now, the moment. If  I am disturbed what is the problem? The problem is I am disturbed. Why is that a problem? If I am disturbed there is no contact with God and I am on my own. Separated from God. Then I react self centered, my character defects are triggered and I make decisions and take actions that harm myself and others.

Therefore the steps are designed for me to see through a new pair of glasses. When I am disturbed I am seeing things through self centered glasses and I see problems. Then I need to take off those glasses and put God centered glasses on. The result is I then see a situation not a problem. I take the label off of what is happening. So whenever disturbed I turn to God and say with your power and direction help me see it differently so I can utilize the serenity prayer then I can either accept or change. When disturbed I am not spiritually fit and I can never react appropriately.

I wrote this 2 years ago. If you go to episodes and choose Saturday you will see I did several recent podcasts on step 10 and 11 and in particular episode year 3 no.28 is devoted entirely to the spiritual axiom. Hope you find these helpful. Welcome any comments mhurwitz50@gmail.com

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  1. John E. on October 10, 2017 at 2:15 am

    Dr. Mike,

    I beg to differ. This is one of the worst statements that Bill Wilson made. It is rigid, totalizing, and dismissive. I am a former resident of Topeka – while I was do doctoral studies at K.U. in history. While at K.U., I taught an upper-level course on 20th century genocides. The historical record is replete with examples that disprove Bill W.’s statement.

    There are two broad areas in which I feel the “axiom” is wrong. First, there is the becoming disturbed that leads to positive change. Jesus Christ was disturbed by the money-lenders in the temple. Few Christian theologians who have studied this passage of the Bible point to the fault lying with Jesus. Martin Luther King, Jr. was disturbed by the systemic racism and violence of the Jim Crow South. I am thankful that he was disturbed and did NOT choose to accept what he had the power to change.

    Second, there are those who have experienced horrific abuse and violence through no fault of their own. Are there any exceptions as you ask above? There most certainly are. Not only have Holocaust survivors had to deal with deeply disturbing recollections throughout their lives afterwards, but I have also had students who survived ethnic cleansing in Bosnia who have faced similar horrors. To suggest that there is some responsibility on their part is abusive and, in my opinion, far removed from sobriety. Finally, perhaps the majority of young women who find their way to A.A. (and more than a few men) have been subjected to childhood and adult sexual molestation and assault. Unless you have experienced these firsthand, it is beyond flip to suggest that people can “get over it”. The scars are not unlike an amputation – – one does not simply grow a new arm.

    I certainly agree that alcoholics tend to turn any small problem or snub into something huge. A scratch on the car or an unrequited flirtation becomes an incident of international proportions. But that is not what Bill Wilson says in the quote above. He says, “Axiom.” He says, “Every time.” And you quote the latter. One of the aspects of my years of alcoholism was my inability to say, “No.” After nearly 30 years of sobriety, I now have that ability. And in this case, I am saying, “No.”

    John E.
    Buffalo, WY

    • Beth on September 8, 2018 at 10:51 am

      It’s the energy behind the reaction – and even the reaction itself that matters here, not the judgment of right and wrong. Of course action is required of us in life but as Mother Theresa said, “I will not participate in a march “against” war – but I will march “for” peace.

      • Dr. Mike on September 8, 2018 at 12:28 pm

        Thank you Beth. Like your thought about the energy. Whose energy am I using to react? Mine or God’s…. Excellent point. Thanks again

        • Alan on October 31, 2019 at 10:03 am

          The thing about 12 step ideas is that they are not universal statements. They are for people who identify as alcoholics.

          There were no AA meetings in Auschwitz.

          But what about the alcoholic Holocaust survivor? There were plenty of non alcoholic Holocaust survivors, so the axiom could still apply.

        • Helen B on October 10, 2020 at 3:13 am


    • JimiZee on June 24, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      To John E: After nearly 30 years of sobriety…
      Great start John, keep coming back 🤗

      • Anonymous on June 27, 2019 at 2:43 am


        • Anonymous on October 16, 2020 at 2:24 am

          Well written take on the spiritual axiom. I think you know my feelings about this and step 10 in general. Thank you for what you have done and what you continue to do for so many. To me, being disturbed always means That I am blocked from the power and that is not a good position to be in

      • Chuck on August 2, 2020 at 1:58 pm

        Great reply to John. He just doesn’t get it. Glad you posted to “keep coming back.” That alone says volumes and without judgement, just discernment.

      • Laura on October 21, 2020 at 1:25 am

        Disturbed by John’s comment? They’re must be something wrong with you…

    • Anonymous on June 27, 2019 at 2:46 am

      30 years, huh? Well… as you keep saying in the rooms…. “Do not leave until the miracle happens!”. Blessed be, Johnny. 🕊

    • James on August 10, 2019 at 11:53 pm

      Very well thought out and written comment. It reminds me that there are always exceptions to a rule. I think what the author is asking us to look at is our side of the street. In most cases we will find that there is some underlying manifestation of fear that pressures us to respond. In Jesus’s case I will believe that it was justified anger.

    • kelly on August 23, 2019 at 12:41 am

      Thank you for this!

    • A Jim on October 9, 2019 at 11:03 am

      This is an issue with , what appears to be, the emotional aspect of our disease in me. I agree that Bill W is not infallible and perhaps his understanding was limited In this area. I suspect that the word “wrong” throws me towards a different direction than Bill intended. I personally have a negative emotional reaction to this word. It also makes sense from my experience that this “wrong” is only part of an equation that shoves me towards my fear, anger, resentment Reaction to the situation. I believe that any of these fear, anger etc experiences cause further reactions in me. The truth, in my experience, is whenever I can be rigoriously honest and examine my reaction to negative experiences of the nature we speak of in Step 10, I find a peace and clarity that allow me to respond appropriately. I have some recovery of my sanity.

    • Yasin on October 15, 2020 at 7:26 pm

      You should try some controlled drinking.

    • Arlene on April 20, 2023 at 7:09 pm

      Bill Wilson didn’t write about the spiritual axiom. The idea was presented in the personal story “Acceptance is the Answer”.

    • Heather L on July 21, 2023 at 11:43 pm

      I’ve wondered if this is simply at statement of condition rather than one of cause and effect. It is true, when I am disturbed, something is wrong with me…I’m disturbed. Much like when I am sad, I am blue. When I am energized I am active.

      When I’m neutral it is also true I am simultaneously not disturbed.

      The root may be irrelevant. The solution is turn to a Power for readjustment.

    • Amy on July 16, 2024 at 12:24 pm

      When we are encouraged to take a look in the mirror upon feeling disturbed, we are to ask “why am I disturbed?” We take a look, get to the bottom of it — there is danger in taking the words “there’s something wrong with us” way too personally. Rule 62 comes into play here and it’s dangerous.
      There IS something wrong within the Holocaust survivor, the abused child—it is PAIN. And as a survivor of abuse, MUST accept today what happened to me because I cannot change the past, nor was it my doing. What I can do is ask God for the wisdom and courage to change what I can—my response to the pain, my reaction to the pain, my use of the pain for good or to strengthen and comfort others.
      Pain, suffering, injustice, offenses come daily. And Bill is just asking us to at all costs to take it upon ourselves to right the wrong inside of ourselves. To deal with it, accept it and move on WITH it, develop a deeper contact with The Higher Power to live well in spite of it. Bill uses “wrong with us”. Can we all agree that feeling like shit, angry, sad, is pretty wrong—uncomfortable, uneasy, disturbing, frustrating, just wrong really. Negative disturbances are designed to move us in a positive direction.
      Maybe therapy. Maybe call a sponsor, go to a meeting, work out, get into nature, take a nap, journal, pray. That’s what he’s asking us to change.
      Change our focus from the offender to the defender— our Higher Power.

  2. Patty on October 10, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    In relation to societal issues, you make a good point. I believe that the “axiom” is intended for individuals working the program. It is intended to alleviate the tendency to become disturbed in reaction to day-to-day events in their lives. So often, alcoholics make excuses for their anger and actions by blaming others or circumstances. Anger and actions are choices. Each person is responsible for their own actions and choices regardless of events or actions of others. Seeking the spiritual rather than becoming disturbed is a path to a more positive way of living.

  3. Lyall on October 14, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    I think that acceptance is about admitting to ourselves that we are powerless over the situation. When we can admit our powerlessness to God and seek his will, we can tap into his power and take the needed action to change according to his will. In doing this we aren’t getting over anything, but we are letting go of the burden of it, and letting God carry it. The power that the situation had over us dissapates, and we feel new God power flow in. The past is still part of our story, but it no longer has to rule our future.

  4. Jessica on October 28, 2018 at 4:00 am

    Enough said. Love and tolerance is the way and it comes when we take responsibility for our feelings. Regardless of whatever offenses occur, A.A. brings me to the true knowledge of knowing how I can take care of myself and that’s the power in the axiom’s powerlessness. This is the loving power of altruism that doesn’t require too much thought

    • Dr. Mike on October 28, 2018 at 6:48 pm

      Appreciated your comment! Well said

  5. Anonymous on June 27, 2019 at 2:47 am

    Common sense is oddly enough not common.

    Well said, Patty.

    • Dr. Mike on July 20, 2019 at 5:27 pm

      Thank you Patty

  6. Tory on October 10, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    Progress, NOT Perfection. If we can make daily progress towards an uncontrollable environment/situation and find serenity in ourselves and surrender to our Higher Power, wisdom to do things differently day by day, that’s progress from where we were to where we are now and hope for our futures.

  7. Grady Golden on October 16, 2020 at 2:25 am

    Very well written in terms of explaining the spiritual axiom. I think you know my feelings on this as well as step 10 in general. Anytime I am disturbed, for any reason, I am blocked from the power, and that is not a good position to be in.

  8. Bricky Dave on November 15, 2021 at 1:52 pm

    The pertinent words in this quote are ‘no matter what the cause’. An axiom is something regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true. We mustn’t forget we’re talking about spiritual, not psychological matters here. No one is suggesting that being subjected to a traumatic experience, particularly as an entirely innocent child will not leave emotional scars. But, if we fall into the trap of selecting what the programme can and can’t help us to overcome, we’re setting ourselves up to prolong our own misery. Bill Wilson is using the word ‘disturbance’ in the context of resentment, which is a spiritual, not psychological condition. I doubt anyone’s childhood was perfect, and although I wasn’t subjected to sexual abuse, I could, if I was determined, magnify certain negative experiences so I could feel justified in holding resentment. The entire programme is designed to free us from these chains. In most cases, Step 4 reveals to us that we played a part in most of our misfortunes. This opens the door to us finding the willingness to forgive that part which wasn’t played by us. Child abuse and acts of unprovoked violence and rape are different in the sense we may have played no part in our misfortune. This is of course more difficult, but the principle remains the same. We have to find the grace by which we can forgive and if we don’t, we will drag these hurts through our entire lives. Certain crimes, particularly those against children are understandably reviled by our society. In prisons, those convicted of such offences have to be protected against the violent wrath of other prisoners ! In this scenario, these people are stating “we’re nice criminals but they’re beneath us”. The equivalent in AA which I have witnessed the growth of this tendency over 34 years of my own sobriety is the detrimental gossiping amongst members. Tradition 3 clearly states, The Only Requirement For Membership Is A Desire To Stop Drinking and accordingly, murderers, rapists, thieves and yes paedophiles are welcome. We must recognise, that whatever our own experiences might be, we MUST forgive and the recognition of this axiom cannot be ignored or evaded. I have 12 children and have been present at the birth of 10 of them. I’m sure we would all agree, these lovely babies enter this world absolutely perfect, as did we, but we ae formed by our experiences through life and one might speculate, it was our unwillingness to squarly face life’s challenges which led us to the bottle for escape. We MUST forgive if we’re not to die or live in misery and to do so, we must recognise that ‘there but for the grace of God’ within us all is a potential murderer, rapist and paedophile. We are ALL loved by God and if he doesn’t judge anyone, nor must we. Without the strictest adherence to this principle, there can be no peace for us.

  9. Mark F. on July 24, 2022 at 3:06 pm

    One of the true freedoms that we freely receive from the fellowship, is the option to “take what works, and leave the rest”. No organization is perfect, including AA. We are at liberty to come to our own conclusions about the spiritual aspect of recovery.
    After more than 28 yrs of continuous sobriety, the development of my spiritual condition is the bedrock upon which I can “live to good purpose”. I was a total failure at running my life, and can still be the chief saboteur, which is why I don’t look for things to criticize in our literature. My overall conclusion, based on the fact that I’m STILL ALIVE, is that the immense transformation in my life is the direct result of “living in the solution, instead of the problem”. “Go to meetings, (Step) clean house, and help others”! Simple!

  10. Anonymous on October 11, 2022 at 7:38 pm

    I like Mark F’s comments. There are always things about which people can agree, disagree, pick apart and argue about regarding Bill Wilson’s teachings and statements. I choose to keep it simple. If I look too deep or analyze I am using my “complicated brain”. So far, after 35 years of continuous sobriety AA has given me G d and a fullfilling and joyous life. I’m usually pretty serene by not picking apart every thing. “Keep it Simple Stupid !

  11. John H on April 16, 2023 at 1:52 am

    I’m not trying to sell anything and I have nothing to prove. I usually try to avoid competitive-AA the best I can, but here goes: I was told early on that I’m not responsible for being an alcoholic, but I am responsible for my recovery. That’s what this axiom means to me. When I have waited for some situation or some person to change before I could get better, then it usually led to a dry spell for me. I haven’t had to drink over these soul-storms, and by Gods grace I’ve been able to stumble through to the other side. And for me, when I’m disturbed, the antidote is always God-consciousness. One last thing a dear friend told me years ago, “I don’t want to get too big for my britches in AA.”

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