The Early History of ‘How It Works’ by Wally P.

Back to basics, 12 steps in 4 hours

Listen to Wally P., author of Back-to-Basics speak to a Toronto CA group about AA sponsorship in the 1940s on November 11, 2008.

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Wally P. is the originator of the Back to Basics Beginners’ Meetings, which have grown to more than 2,200 groups, and produced more than 120,000 recoveries in the Twelve-Step community in 1997. This “original” 12-Step meeting format produced 50-75% success rates in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Wally P., is a recovered alcoholic/addict and the world’s foremost authority on A.A. and its’ success in the 1940’s. He has personally interviewed and tape recorded almost 200 of the original A.A. Members, all of whom recovered from the alcohol addiction in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Key Concepts from the 1940’s

1. Put no block between the newcomer and Step Twelve.

Get the newcomer to Step Twelve as quickly as possible, so he or she can experience the life-changing spiritual awakening that occurs as the direct result of taking the Steps. Assure the newcomer that our program of recovery will relieve his or her alcoholism/addiction. Show the newcomer that the process is simple, straightforward and that it really works.

2. Call the newcomer!

Demonstrate that you are there for the newcomer by checking in with him or her on a regular basis. Remember, the newcomer is very ill and needs your encouragement and support.

3. Read the appropriate parts of the “Big Book” to the newcomer.

The newcomer is in no physical or emotional condition to read, let alone comprehend, the “Big Book” by him or herself. Therefore, read and explain the appropriate parts of the book to the newcomer, specifically those 50 or so passages that pertain directly to taking the Twelve Steps.

4. The healing is in the sharing not in the writing.

Sit down with newcomer and guide him or her through the Fourth Step inventory. If necessary, write the inventory while the newcomer does the talking. this will help relieve any anxiety or apprehension the newcomer may have about this part of the program.

5. Assist the newcomer with his or her amends.

Work together on the newcomer’s amends. Be the first person the newcomer sees after an amends is made.

6. Share guidance with the newcomer.

Show the newcomer that you believe in and are practicing two-way pryer on a daily basis.

7. Co-sponsor the next newcomer.

Have the newcomer accompany you as you work with the next person. This way, the newcomer will gain confidence in his or her ability to guide others through the recovery process.

Sponsorship (A.A. Grapevine, April 1961)

“Though three hundred thousand have recovered in the last twenty-five years, maybe half a million more have walked into our midst, and then out again.”

“We can’t well content ourselves with the view that all these recovery failures were entirely the fault of the newcomers themselves. Perhaps a great many didn’t receive the kind and amount of sponsorship they so sorely needed. We didn’t communicate when we might have done so. So we AA’s failed them.” — Bill W.

Back to the Basics of Sponsorship

Suggest Big Book passages for Taking a Newcomer through the Twelve Steps


  • Who are we? pg. xiii: 5 (1) and pg. xiv: 0 (1-6)
  • What do we have to offer? pg. 17: 3 (1-6)

Surrender (Steps 1, 2 and 3)

Step One

  • Physical symptoms: pg. xxx: 5 (1-3, 5-8); pg. 44: 1 (4-7)
  • Mental symptoms: pg. xxviii: 4 (1-6) and pg. xxix: 0 (1-9); pg. 23: 1 (3-10) and pg. 23: 2 (1-9); pg. 30: 1 (4-10)
  • Psychic change: pg. xxix: 1 (1-7)
  • Unmanageability: pg. 52: 2 (3-8)
  • Loneliness: pg. 151: 2 (1-10)
  • First Step question: pg. 30: 2 (1-3)

Step Two

  • Lack of Power: pg. 45: 1 (1-4) and pg. 45: 2 (1-3)
  • Where do we find the Power? pg. 55: 2 (1-7), pg. 55: 3 (5-7)
  • Look within: pg. 55: 4 (3-4)
  • What if the newcomer doesn’t believe? pg. 46: 1 (3-8)
  • Second Step question: pg. 47: 2 (1-3)

Step Three

  • A life run on self-will: pg. 60: 4 (1-8)
  • Selfishness blocks us from God’s will: pg. 62: 1 (1-8) and pg. 62: 2 (1-8)
  • A life guided by the vision of God’s will: pg. 62: 3 (1-4, 6-8) and pg. 63: 1 (1-4)
  • Third Step prayer: pg. 63: 2 (2-8)

Sharing (Step 4, 5, 6 and 7)

Step Four

  • Explanation: pg. 63: 4 (1-2) and pg. 64: 0 (1-5)
  • Assets and liabilities checklist: pg. 64: 1 (1-7)
  • Fill out liabilities side of the checklist first: pg. 64: 2 (1-6)
  • Sponsor does the writing: pg. 13: 3 (1-4)

What do we inventory?

  • Resentments: pg. 64: 3 (1-2, 6-9)
  • We overcome our resentments with forgiveness: pg. 66: 4 (1-2), pg. 67: 0 (1-8), and pg. 67: 1 (1-2)
  • Fears: pg. 68: 1 (1-3)
  • We overcome our fears with faith: pg. 68: 2 (1-4) and pg. 68: 3 (4-10)
  • Harms: pg. 69: 1 (1-6)
  • We overcome our harms with amends: pg. 69: 3 (2-4)

Step Five

  • We share our inventory: pg. 72: 2 (4-10)
  • With whom? pg. 73: 4 (1), pg. 74: 0 (1-9), and pg. 74: 1 (1-4)
  • This Step may be temporarily postponed: pg. 74: 2 (2-6)
  • How do we take this Step: pg. 75: 1 (1-4)

Step Six

  • Explanation: pg. 76: 1 (1-7)
  • Sixth Step question: pg. 76: 1 (3-5)

Step Seven

Amends (Steps 8 and 9)

Step Eight

  • Explanation: pg. 76: 3 (2-5)

Step Nine

  • Explanation: pg. 76: 3 (6-11)

Specific Amends

  • People we dislike: pg. 77: 1 (9-14)
  • Creditors: pg. 78: 2 (1-12)
  • Where other people are involved: pg. 79: 2 (1-3) and pg. 80: 1 (1-5)
  • People who cannot be seen: pg. 83: 3 (1-5)

Guidance (Steps 10, 11 and 12)

Step Ten

  • Explanation: pg. 84: 2 (1-8)
  • Tenth Step process: pg. 84: 2 (8-14)
  • Tenth Step question: pg. 84: 2 (2-3)

Step Eleven

  • Explanation of two-way prayer: pg. 85: 3 (1-2) and pg. 86: 0 (1-4)
  • When we retire: pg. 86: 1 (1-9)
  • Upon awakening: pg. 86: 2 (1-5)
  • How does God communicate with us? pg. 86: 3 (1-6)
  • How did god communicate with Bill W.? pg. 14: 2 (1-8)
  • Practice, practice, practice: pg. 87: 0 (1-9)
  • Throughout the day: pg. 87: 3 (1-3), pg. 88: 0 (1-7), and pg. 88: 1 (1)

Step Twelve

  • Explanation: pg. 89: 1 (1-7) and pg. 89: 2 (1-7)
  • Twelfth Step question: pg. 89: 1 (5)


  • Program summary: pg. 164: 2 (1-10), pg. 164: 3 (1-6), and pg. 164: 4 (1)
  • There is a solution: pg. 25: 1 (1-12) and pg. 25: 2 (1-9)

Taking Steps Four Through Nine using the B2B Assets and Liabilities Checklist


  1. The sponsor and newcomer have 2-3 hours they can spend together.
  2. The newcomer has agreed to share his or her inventory with the sponsor.
  3. The sponsor asks the questions.
  4. The sponsor does the writing.

The inventory contains those situations and circumstances that are bothering the newcomer at this moment. If he or she has made previous inventories, items from those lists should have been resolved by taking them through Step NIne. As result, they are not carried over to subsequent lists.

The inventory is based on the principle that, “The healing is in the sharing, not in the writing” and the suggestion that, “The newcomer put nothing in writing that an be used against him or her in a court of law.”

First, the sponsor folds he checklist so the assets are hidden from view.

Next, the sponsor reads the definitions of the liabilities so the newcomer is clear as to what each of them means.

  • Resentment: When we are angry or bitter toward someone for an extended period of time over some real or imagined insult, we are feeling resentment. It is a hostile or indignant attitude in response to an alleged affront or personal injury.
  • False Pride: is either feeling better than or less than someone else. Feelings of superiority include prejudice about race, education or religious beliefs, and sarcasm (putting someone else down to make us feel better about ourselves). Feelings of inferiority include self-pity (dwelling on one’s own problems), and low self-esteem (lack of self-worth or self-respect).
  • Envy: has to do with things — wanting someone else’s possessions.
  • Jealously: has to do with people — being suspicious of another’s motives or doubting the faithfulness of a friend.
  • Selfishness: is concern only for ourselves, our own welfare or pleasure, without regard for, or at the expense of, others. It’s a belief that, “It’s all about me” rather than “how can I best serve Thee, Thy will (not mine) be done.”
  • Laziness: means lacking the will or the desire to work. Procrastination, which is postponing or delaying an assigned job or task, is a form of laziness.
  • Dishonesty: involves theft or deception. It includes taking things that don’t belong to us, cheating people out of what is rightfully theirs, and lying to or withholding the truth from others.
  • Fear: is being afraid of losing something we have or not getting something we want. It manifest itself in many ways including phobia, terror, panic, anxiety and worry.
  • Shame: refers to a condition or feeling of discomfort or embarrassment. It focuses on the sense of one’s own responsibility for an act, whether its is foolish, improper, or immoral.


Then the sponsor asks the following questions:

  • Resentment Inventory: Who or what are angry at?
  • Fear Inventory: Who or what are you afraid of?
  • Harms Inventory: Toward who have you been selfish? Where have you been dishonest? What about false pride — do you feel better than or less than others? Are you jealous of any relationship? Do you envy anyone’s possessions? Where have you been lazy?

The sponsor writes the names of the people, institutions and principles across the top of the page and puts a mark, such as a dot or an x, in the appropriate boxes under the names (Step Four). Usually the newcomer has to describe only a few incidents in order to get to “causes and conditions.”

After the checklist has been compiled, the sponsor asks the newcomer to describe the circumstances surrounding each of the marks on the page. During the course of the discussion, the sponsor asks the newcomer to “resolutely look for (y)our own mistakes…Though a situation had not been entirely (y)our fault, (you are) to disregard the other person entirely. Where were (you) to blame?” (Step Five).

If the newcomer has been harmed, the sponsor asks if he or she is willing to forgive the person. If the newcomer has harmed anyone, the sponsor asks if he or she is willing to make amends. If they both agree to an amends, he sponsor alters the mark in the appropriate box or boxes, by converting a dot to a check mark or by circling an x. this become the Eight Step amends list.

Then the sponsor unfolds the checklist so they can look at the assets. Those assets with the least number of check marks or circles to the left of them are the assets the newcomer already has. those assets with the most number of check marks or circle to the left of them are the assets that will be strengthened as the result of making the appropriate amends.

The sponsor asks the newcomer if he or she wants the liabilities removed. If the newcomer does, then the sponsor asks the Sixth Step question: “Are you now ready to let God remove from you all the things which you have admitted are objectionable?” If the newcomer is still holding on to any of the liabilities, the sponsor and newcomer pray together for the willingness for those liabilities to be removed.

Next, the sponsor and newcomer say the Seventh Step prayer together.

“My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.”

Then the sponsor and newcomer talk about the details of each amends. the sponsor commits to “being there” for the newcomer as he or she makes the first few of them. They decide when and where they will meet immediately following an amends so they can discuss what happened and determine if any follow-up work needs to be done (Ninth Step).

So, on one sheet of paper the sponsor has everything he or she needs to take the newcomer through Steps Four through Nine.

Download the Back-to-Basics Step 4 Worksheet

Reprinted with permission. Copyright: Faith With Works publishing Company, Wally P. 2005 (Rev. 1/08)