Humility with a touch of Gratitude maybe the answer to all my problems today.

Note to Reviewer

I am preparing a scientific paper for publication in a scientific journal. If you would like to see it, its at with a password aa


“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”. Matthew 5.5
(Are meek people also humble?)


I am feeling a little bit scared as I prepare this story for the Grapevine. It is likely to be very contentious as it puts forward the notion that I don’t have to have a Higher Power to stay sober, I just have be humble. It may take away the magical mysterious aspect of our program and replace it with prosaic mundane neurobiological science. What are my motives? Yes, there still is an ego part of me that wants accolades and fame (sigh) .But hopefully there is a part that wants to contribute to my fellow members sobriety by suggesting that their sobriety may benefit from taking more actions that are humbling. And also may help atheists and agnostics who don’t like being forced into using a Higher Power.

My Story

It’s the usual story. Father smoked himself to death and was retired early due to his alcohol use. Mother was called a prescription addict by a physician. I have memories of being sexually abused. I liked drinking beer. When I was invited to and attended my first AA meeting, I learned that other attendees could not control their drinking. I knew I could stop drinking anytime I wanted to. I didn’t want to or need to join AA. So I didn’t.
Years later I went into a bar to have just one beer and came out six or so beers later. I realized that once I drank the first beer I couldn’t stop. No big deal. I didn’t need to take the first drink and then I wouldn’t get drunk (so I thought).

Later it hit me. My car would visit this liquor store after work every Friday. I would buy some beer. I would have another beer on Saturday morning to help with the hangover. On Sunday I would decide to stop drinking forever. Guess what happened next Friday.
And I got it that I couldn’t stay stopped. Eventually I found my way to a treatment center which sent me to an AA meeting. There I heard the music of AA, that it was possible for me not to have to drink again. So, I did the things we do to stay sober. went to lots of meetings, got sponsored, sponsored, worked the steps. I was of service, first as a secretary of a meeting, then chairperson of a group, then DCM, wrote the first website for a district and for a new Area and landed up as Registration Chair for an Area . I also worked in a detox , halfway house and treatment center.

I developed a side interest. I got fascinated that my heart rate would go up and down in a wave like fashion when I breathed deeply and slowly. As I studied this, I learned about my Autonomic Nervous System and that it had two major modes, the Sympathetic Nervous System, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
When my Sympathetic Nervous System is active, I experience fear and anger and I fight and flee from other people. I now recognize this as an ego dominated state, the self-centered state that the Big Book talks about on page 52 when it states” Selfishness–self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity…”

I learned that the other major state was the Parasympathetic Nervous System, a state characterized by lot of acceptance of what is, lack of fear, lots of trust that everything IS and WILL BE OK. Connection and respect for other things especially human beings. And I wondered if this could be the Serenity that we pray for in the Serenity Prayer.

I attended a meeting on the Promises of AA ( Big Book p.83-84) and wondered how the Promises could be viewed from the perspective of the Autonomic Nervous System. So this was what was what I saw.

Big Book Neurobiological Perspective as seen from
the Autonomic Nervous System
p. 83
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through
If we take the necessary actions (e.g., meditation, slow deep breathing, etc.) to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System) we will start experiencing more peace, calm, connectedness our lives but it may take a while, maybe 30 days.
p 83:
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
We will start experiencing more peace, calm, connectedness, and less fear. Less fear means more freedom and more happiness.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. 
With an activated Parasympathetic Nervous System comes more acceptance of what is/was and so we are less upset when we remember the past.
p 83-84:
We will comprehend the word serenity, and we will know peace
That’s the result of activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System/Relaxation Response. See for some ideas on how to do it
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
We get feel more connected when our Parasympathetic Nervous Systems are active and start contributing to others.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
We get to accept ourselves more and concern ourselves less with our ego’s as our Sympathetic Nervous System get lets active.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
We get to accept ourselves more and concern ourselves less with our ego’s as our Sympathetic Nervous System get lets active.

p84: Self-seeking will slip away.
We get to accept ourselves more and concern ourselves less with our ego’s as our Sympathetic Nervous System get lets active.
p84: Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.As we shift our Autonomic System from an active Sympathetic Nervous System to more active Parasympathetic Nervous System, we can shift our attitudes, get more accepting, less complaining and even get into humility and gratitude!!!
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us
Of course, it will as fear goes down as we move out of the Sympathetic Nervous System (which is characterized by fear, anger, and flight) into a more active Parasympathetic Nervous System where there is less anxiety.

p84: We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us
When we were into an active Sympathetic Nervous System, we experienced a lot of fear and our blood flow went from our brains to our muscles. When we relax as the Parasympathetic Nervous System gets activated, more blood goes to our Pre-Frontal Cortex and we can think better.

p84: We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Yes, our egos could not make this change as our ego’s happen when we are in the Sympathetic Nervous Systems. But if we (usually unwillingly and forced into it by circumstances) work the 12-steps, each of the steps forces me/us to become a little humbler. As humility is a characteristic of the Parasympathetic Nervous System. By acting as if me/we are humble (when me/we DO the steps) me/we gradually slide into a more active Parasympathetic Nervous System with more peace, calm, connectedness, and less anxiety. (Isn’t that nice!)
Of course, our egos can’t understand this process at all and so I/we invents a Higher Power/God/Allah /Jehovah to blame it all on!!!
See for a discussion on this idea
Parsing the 12-steo promises as seen through the perspective of the Autonomic Nervous System

NOTE TO EDITOR: I am not sure that these tables are appropriate for the Grapevine and will not develop a resentment if you remove them, John M

After I saw that the Promises represented a transition from the Sympathetic Nervous System to the Parasympathetic Nervous System, I started wondering how that happened. Recovery from alcoholism seem to happen when alcoholics attend meetings and especially work and live the twelve steps. So, what happened when I worked the steps?

Step Neurobiological Interpretation
Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.The ego (Sympathetic Nervous System active) has recognized that it has failed to control things
Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanityAlcoholic realizes that his ego (Sympathetic Nervous System active) is doing insane (destructive actions) and has to do something else. Hasn’t realized yet that peace and calm, God connection happens when Parasympathetic Nervous System is active
Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.Decides to listen to intuition which happens when Parasympathetic Nervous System is active and all brain segments are interacting closely
Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.The Parasympathetic Nervous System excels in acceptance and so can look at and accept any unwanted behavior patterns I might have.
Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.By reciting the nature of the unwanted behavior patterns I have, I get more into acceptance, i.e. I activate my Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of characterAcceptance and humility because the Parasympathetic Nervous System is activated
Step Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.I can only be humble when my Parasympathetic Nervous System is active (I have no pride). This usually happens for me when I have got myself into a lot of trouble.
Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.Became willing means alcoholic must let go of anger and resentments against other person and become humble (activate Parasympathetic Nervous System) enough to consider making the amends
Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.The alcoholic must let go of anger and resentments against another person and become humble (activate Parasympathetic Nervous System) enough to perform the amend.
Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.Continued to be able to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System to repeat the previous steps Each time this step is performed the alcoholic’s Parasympathetic Nervous System is activated.
Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with
God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Prayer is humbling to the person prayer as it involves asking some object for something. Acting humbly activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
There is a lot of evidence that Meditation activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.Could the spiritual experience be moving from a dominating Sympathetic Nervous System (ego) to a dominating Parasympathetic Nervous System (serenity)? We, now in our Parasympathetic Nervous System, value others well-being and (humbly) try to support them. We like where we are at so much that we express a desire to keep taking the actions that increase our Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Table 2 The 12 steps of AA as seen from a Neurobiological Perspective

So, was it the act of humbling/surrendering myself that was the key to not having to have a drink today?

And AA and my sponsor helped me to get humble by telling me that I had to invent/choose a Higher Power to ask for help in staying sober by doing the Third step prayer)
And in a moment of AA heresy, I wonder if a HP is really necessary. All that seems to be necessary is to act with humility.
James Burwell, (the Ed of page 143 of the 12x 12) started a trend in AA in 1938 by his ” insistence that the phrase as we understood Him be inserted into the 3rd and 11th Steps.”. This seems to be the first move in AA in recognizing that it’s the humility that is important, not the object of the humility!

Note to Reviewer: James Burwell’ s history is at

But AA experience, strength, and hope suggests that it is especially useful to develop a concept of a Higher Power. Then the recovering alcoholic can experience humility by asking their Higher Power for help in staying sober, removing character defects etc. And their Higher Power can be anything, Door Knob, Green Chair or even a Garbage Truck.

I am wondering if the recovering alcoholic implementing /living/working the Twelve Steps of AA is most probably experiencing a shift of activity in their Autonomic Nervous System from the Sympathetic Nervous System(ego) to Parasympathetic Nervous System (serenity). Experiencing more calm, peace and acceptance and connectedness in their lives?
Is this the “psychic change mentioned in the Doctors Opinion?

What it’s like for me now.

So, what I have discovered after my investigation into neurobiology and AA is very valuable.
I have learned that if I “get into action” by acting from a place of humility to do things like being of service, working with others, praying and meditating, doing self-inventory, making amends etc. then I will most probably activate my Parasympathetic Nervous System and experience more happiness, joy and freedom .

Of course this is what you have been
telling me to do all along !

Now for a over-educated old timer like me, humility is extremely hard. I routinely think I know everything and what people should do. But maybe if I use our methodology of “Fake it until you make it” enough, and act humbly .I may eventually become humbler and not have to drink again!!!

Anonymous, humbly trying to be of service by bringing more understanding of our wonderful program.


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