Dr. Bob’s Nightmare

12 Step Program
When I got to AA in 2011, I realized upon skimming through Dr. Bob’s Nightmare from the Big Book I became upset.

In the last paragraph of that chapter, Dr. Bob writes,

“If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you. If you still think you are strong enough to beat the game alone, that is your affair.”

After reading that Dr. Bob said he felt sorry for atheists, agnostics and skeptics or those with any form of intellectual pride, I took those words personally.

I wasn’t an atheist, and even though I came from a religious background, I was more of an agnostic. But I wasn’t sure what Dr. Bob meant by intellectual pride. Instead of asking my sponsor, I became resentful.

Who was this Dr. Bob? What’s wrong with having intellectual pride?

(That was not what Dr. Bob wrote, but naturally, I took his words out of context, because deep down inside, I did not want to become a part of AA. I was too busy looking at the differences, instead of the similarities.)

So I decided to do a little research on Bob Smith, MD.

Well, for one thing Bob Smith was a highly educated physician, who had graduated from the prestigious Dartmouth College, and then he went to medical school at the University of Michigan. Even though his drinking was out of control, and the University said he had to attend two more quarters, Smith managed to graduate, and become a hospital intern.

His story is as fascinating as Bill Wilson’s.

After Dr. Bob opened his own practice, in which he specialized in proctology, his drinking became worse.

I wonder if he was drunk when he used a proctoscope to examine his clients’ rectums.

While that might be a hilarious concept for a New Yorker cartoon, it’s a frightening thought, and Bob’s intoxication during his medical practice shows the insanity of alcoholism.

Alcoholism takes over every aspect of a person’s life.

After years of boozing, along with his wife, Anne’s desperate efforts to help him stop drinking, Dr. Bob hooked up with Bill Wilson in 1935. While on business in Akron, Wilson had a moment when he thought about relapsing, called some people and was referred to Dr. Bob via an Akron Oxford Group member. The two men talked for hours, and Dr. Bob stopped drinking. Bill W. stayed in Dr. Bob and Anne Smith’s house for three months.

That first encounter between Dr. Bob and Bill W. was probably the first AA meeting.

Both men realized that sobriety was possible, and that recovery could be a good thing. There was no judgment between the two men. There was only support and understanding.

As Dr. Bob himself wrote of his meeting with Bill W.,

“Of far more importance was the fact that he was the first living human with whom I bad ever talked, who knew what he was talking about in regard to alcoholism from actual experience. In other words, he talked my language.”

A month after he met Bill W., Dr. Bob relapsed while he was at an annual Atlantic City Medical Convention, in New Jersey. According to Bill W., he and Anne did not hear from him, and they were worried. Then, Dr. Bob’s nurse and her husband found Dr. Bob at the railroad station. He was a complete mess.

And to top it off, Bob Smith, MD had a major surgery to perform in three days, and there was no other specialist at hand. So Bill W. and Dr. Bob slept in twin beds, and Bob underwent detox, in which he tapered off alcohol.

The morning of the surgery, Bill W. gave him a bottle of beer so that he did not have delirium tremens while he performed the operation, which was successful.

The patient lived.

Dr. Bob never drank again.

That day was June 10, 1935, and incidentally, was the same day both men founded AA.

Dr. Bob’ story made me realize that this was a man who had perhaps exhibited intellectual pride at some point in his own life. Achieving sobriety made him a living miracle, and it seems that he had overcome that pride, and just wanted to share his experience, strength and hope with other alcoholics.

Dr. Bob expressed his reasoning for helping other alcoholics.

“1. It is a sense of duty.

    1. It gives me pleasure.
    1. Because in so doing I am paying my debt to the man (Bill W.)

          who took time to pass it on to me.

    1. Because every time I do it I take out a little more insurance for myself against a possible slip.”

In the five plus years, that I have been sober, I have read this chapter many times. Now, as I reflect on Dr. Bob’s story, I realize that perhaps my initial irritation towards his comment about individuals with intellectual pride was because he was talking about someone like me!

I was proud, and considered myself an intellectual, often looking down at others. On the flip side of the coin, I also felt less than.

That feeling was kind of like being a seesaw.

One minute I am looking down at people, and the next minute, I am on the ground, staring up above, feeling small and insignificant.

This emotional seesaw was one reason why I drank.

Learning humility was difficult, but ironically, the life challenges that I encountered in sobriety made me stronger, because I stayed sober.

And humility made me realize that I did not know everything!

When I first read the last paragraph of Dr. Bob’s Nightmare, I became defensive when I read, INTELLECTUAL PRIDE. Instead of reading the complete sentence, my eyes jumped to the words, I FEEL SORRY FOR YOU. And then I slammed the Big Book shut.

When I gave Dr. Bob a chance, and carefully reread the entire chapter, word for word, I finally understood! I also realized I was ready to become part of AA.

And that’s still in the works.

Feeling part of doesn’t happen overnight.

But that’s okay.

I am still cultivating my recovery.

As long as I stay sober, I will always be learning.

As they say in AA, “Sobriety is a journey…not a destination.”

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