The Myth of A.A. Identification: The Jay-Walker Story, A Case for Using the Big Book for Any and All Addictions

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

There’s a well known saying in A.A. that “only an alcoholic can identify with another alcoholic.” That’s why we have hundreds of different 12 Step fellowships—Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, Food Anonymous, Sex, Love Addicts Anonymous and so on.

In the 12 Step rooms today we can witness all kinds of addictions and, in many cases, people who suffer from more than one kind of addiction. Furthermore, when one overcomes one addiction, often another substitute addiction arises.

In many 12 Step fellowships, it is difficult and sometimes forbidden to share and discuss these other afflictions because of Tradition Five: “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”

Many addicts feel that identification, one type of addict with another addict of the same type is vital to securing the confidence of the one who suffers and that the addict who is making the approach has a real solution to the addiction. However, there are many cases where a Big Book sponsor does not share the same addiction, but has been able to identify with another type addict and successfully show them how to recover using the Big Book as a recovery text. For example, we know of a Big Book sponsor in Alberta, who is an alcoholic but has successfully shown food addicts, sex addicts, drug addicts, emotion addicts, self-mutilation addicts, and others how to recover. There are other examples of these kinds of Big Book sponsors throughout Canada, United States and the UK.

In the Big Book of A.A., the jay-walker story makes an excellent case for using the Big Book as a recovery text for treating any and all addictions.

On pages 37-38 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it says:

“Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs.”

“On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jaywalking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?”

“You may think our illustration is too ridiculous. But is it? We, who have been through the wringer, have to admit if we substituted alcoholism or any addiction for jay-walking, the illustration would fit exactly. However intelligent we may have been in other respects, where alcohol has been involved, we have been strangely insane. It’s strong language but isn’t it true?”

What terms and phrases can we substitute for drinking, drink, alcohol, alcoholic when working with other addictions?

Alcoholism Alcoholic Alcohol Drink Drinking
(Mind-altering) Substance Addiction Addict Drugs, Cocaine, Crack, Marijauna, etc. Use Using
Nicotine Smoker Cigarettes Puff Smoking
Food Addiction Over-Eater Food Bite Over-eating
Gambling Addiction Gambler Gamble Bet Betting
Sex Addiction Sex & Love Addict Sex and or Love Act Acting Out
Codependence Care-Bear Relationships Care Worrying, People Pleasing, Placating or Fixing Others
Emotions Addiction Addict Control Care Worrying
Anger Addiction Addict Control Over-reaction Raging
Self-mutilation Addiction Self-harmer/Cutter Self-mutilate Cut Cutting
Anorexia/Bulimia Anorexic / Bulimic Food Restrict Restricting/Binging-Purging
Sugar Addiction Addict Sugar Sweets Sweet Eating
Debt Addiction Addict Money Purchase Spending


Do you have experience working with other additions using the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as your recovery text? If so, please share your experience with us and tell what terms and phrases do your substituted for Alcoholism, Alcoholic, Drink and Drinking.


11 thoughts on “The Myth of A.A. Identification: The Jay-Walker Story, A Case for Using the Big Book for Any and All Addictions

  1. I have worked with all kinds of addicts. I keep it simple. I use "addiction" and "addict" as substitutes for alcoholism and alcoholic. I prefer "using" as a substitute for drinking when working with substance abusers. I use "acting-out" for non-substance abusers such as codependency. I also designate the different types of users by types–1, 2, or 3. Moderate users or Moderate Behavior I use the term "Type 1s". Hard users or Heavy Behavior I use the term "Type 2s" and for the real addict, I use the term "Type3s". So whenever we read alcoholic in the Big Book, I have the newcomer substitute the word with T3. This works for all and any addiction.

  2. This is a true definition of insanIty – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
    Been sober since July 27,2009

  3. I am wondering who wrote the Jay Walker , we have a person at our group who is a self proclaimed ICON! This person says he has been around since the beginning of AA and even part of the Oxford Group he is claiming 56 years of sobriety and says he is 90 years old . Is there any way you could tell me who wrote the Jay Walker?

  4. Timothy: Do the math…if he’s 90 years old now in 2014, then he would have have been 16 years old in 1939 when the Big Book was published. It’s not likely he was the contributor of this story to the Big Book. Best to treat the old fellow with kindness and love…he’s probably losing some his mental abilities.

  5. I love and identify completely with The Jay walker. It really help my partner to understand the insanity and the predicament I was in. Thank you author, whom ever you are.
    God bless all here.

  6. I use the paragraph quoting here are some of the methods we have tried. Then I focus how I used drugs to treat my alcoholism because I’m a lightweight drinker. But I know I have the allergy to alcohol. It’s not about the substance it’s about my thinking.

  7. Ridiculous? It’s an extremely accurate portrayal of an addict. A drug is a drug. An addict is an addict. Alcohol, heroin, crack. Geez are we that rigid that we can’t change the word alcoholic to addict. Yeah we are, where addicts! The first symptom I display is my resistance to look at another point of view.

    • That rigidity bugs me. People tend to forget the Big Book clearly states “Take what you need and leave the rest”. My road to sobriety is MY road to sobriety and won’t be exactly like yours. Stop trying to force me into thinking it’s your way or the highway. I like meetings but…sponsors, for me at least? Not so much. And I agree…an addict is an addict no matter what the substance or behavior.

  8. I have to agree… There is no better person than another who has experienced the same situation to help said person to get through their state of being “strangely insane”. It also takes hard work honesty and willingness. I love that we can be comfortable in the rooms of AA or any of the A’s to share about our adventures as well as the tools that we use on a daily basis to deal with our issues Personally I think that all people should try going through the 12 steps with sponsor. Insane or not it is my belief that everyone living could benefit from the process. For me it is the best thing I have ever done for myself please get help before someone gets hurt or even dies.

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