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'Twenty-Four Hours a Day' touches
millions in recovery

Alcoholics Anonymous is sometimes called a simple program for complex people. Old-timers
in the program often counsel newcomers to remember the basics: Don't drink. Go to AA meetings. And, take life one day at a time--the theme of "Twenty-Four Hours a Day," the first meditation book for people recovering from alcoholism.

Richmond Walker, author of "Twenty-Four Hours a Day," was an alcoholic whose efforts to become sober predated the founding of AA. Walker's drinking habit cost him his marriage, his home, and his summer cottage on Nantucket Island. Groping for freedom from alcohol, he eventually settled on a guiding principle: Rather than dwelling on the past or future, focus on staying sober in the present.

"If we don't take that first drink today, we'll never take it, because it's always today," Walker wrote.

He expanded this theme into a book of 365 readings, one for each day of the year. The entry for July 31 includes this passage:

Anyone can fight the battles of just one day. It is only when you and I add the battles of those two awful eternities, yesterday and tomorrow, that we break down. It is not the experience of today that drives us mad. It is the remorse or bitterness for something that happened yesterday or the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Let us therefore do our best to live but one day at a time.

Walker's gift was to couch this insight in hard-working, pragmatic metaphors. The reading for April 17, for example, describes AA attendance as "an insurance against taking the first drink." He also notes that "every time we help another alcoholic, we're making a large payment on our drink insurance. We're making sure that our policy doesn't lapse."

This year, Hazelden celebrates a half-century of publishing "Twenty-Four Hours a Day." With over nine million copies sold, the book has a worldwide readership.

"Twenty-Four Hours a Day" is often called "the little black book," a nickname that acknowledges its status in recovery literature next to the Big Book--"Alcoholics Anonymous." In its English version, the Big Book has sold over 23 million copies. Though the numbers for "Twenty-Four Hours a Day" are smaller, sales of the book have held constant for decades.

"We use this book every day in treatment to help people remember the simple principles of the program," says Dave Schreck, a Hazelden counselor. "Live one day at a time, let go of the past, don't beat yourself up over what you did yesterday, and adopt a positive outlook on the future."

Cecelia, a recovering person, emphasizes the value of "Twenty-Four Hours a Day" for people who feel isolated. "When I first got clean, I didn't go to treatment but I did have a 'Twenty-Four Hours a Day' book," she says. "So I would read that book from cover to cover while I went through the withdrawal process. It just really spoke to me. The book has this kind of universal voice that says that we can get clean and that our lives are getting better. It's never outdated, never archaic."

Small enough to fit into a pocket or purse and designed to be digested one page at a time, "Twenty-Four Hours a Day" invites a slow and measured daily reading. Within the terse and highly structured format of a meditation book, Walker managed to put AA principles in the context of timeless truths.

In fact, the book's epigraph comes from an ancient Sanskrit proverb, one that expresses an insight to be rediscovered in each generation, and by each recovering person:

For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well-lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

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