Monday, 15 January 2018

Relationship with God: a user’s manual

Imagine your mind as a large room, and in the corner there is a hatch at the bottom of a chute, next to a console. They’re both covered with a throw. Everyone has this assembly, but not everyone realises it, because of the throw. Take off the throw, and fire up the console. It takes just a couple of seconds to initialise. There is a keyboard, a send button, a screen to display what you’re typing, and a ‘booster’ button.

If you don’t know what to do in a situation, type your question using the keyboard, and it will appear on the screen. The question might be how to get undisturbed in a situation or what to do in a situation. Those, really, are the only two types of problem. Click ‘send’. Then, if you feel you need strength to do the right thing or refrain from the wrong thing, click ‘booster.’

A few seconds later, or sometimes longer (the lead times vary), there will be a clattering in the chute, followed by a loud ‘ding’, and if you open the hatch you will find instructions on what to think or what to do, and, if you’ve requested one, a booster pack. Follow the instructions, swallow the booster pack, and off you go. Sometimes the handwriting is hard to read, so check with an adult if you’re not sure what it says. Note it’s always handwritten, never typed. It’s personal.

If you really are getting nothing coming down the chute, it’s probably blocked at your end. Forgive everyone for everything, make all of your amends, help others, tell your secrets, engage in no deliberate harm, and you’ll discover the chute unblocked.

You have now learned to operate your factory-installed Relationship With God.


Friday, 12 January 2018

Nightly review: a fresh look

Here's a way of doing the page 86 review without it becoming morbid.

Who am I practising forgiveness towards by saying, 'I withdraw all judgement from this person/situation. He/she/it is exactly the way he/she/it is meant to be. I bless [name of the person] as I bless myself'?

Where will I prioritise other people's interests or do something for others in the next twenty-four hours?

What am I placing in God's hands by saying, 'God, I trust you will resolve this problem for me better than I can solve it myself. Please show me if any right action is needed from me'?

What do I need to come clean on?

Do I need to apologise to anyone?

Is there something that needs to be discussed with a sponsor or another long-term sober person (provide details)?

Who will I reach out to over the next twenty-four hours?

What constructive things can I do over the next twenty-four hours?

What topics am I banned from thinking about, and what will I focus my attention on instead?

What's my spiritual motto or quotation of the day?

Sunday, 7 January 2018


On page 67 of the Big Book, when we perform inventory, we are asked to identify our mistakes. This can include errors in the way we think and perceive. Set out below are useful lists to help in this regard: cognitive distortions, cognitive biases, and informal logical fallacies.

Cognitive distortions

Always being right
Starting from the premise that one is right then looking for evidence to justify it rather than examining the evidence to see if one is right.
Belief in fortune-telling
Believing one can read the future.
Belief in mind-reading
Believing one can intuit or work out what someone else is thinking.
Belief in signs
Belief that the universe provides signs to enable decision-making, e.g. seeing a poster for holidays in Thailand and believing this is a sign that God wants you to move to Thailand.
Exaggerating risk or other negative circumstances.
Emotional reasoning
Assuming that emotions are a faithful guide to objective reality.
Fallacy of fairness
Reacting to unfairness (typically negative) as though an instance of unfairness breaks a cosmic rule.
False generalisation
Generalising based on insufficient evidence.
Filtering out counter-evidence
Filtering out any evidence opposing one’s view to leave only evidence in support of one’s view.
Filtering out the positive
Filtering out any positive events to leave only a negative evaluation.
Inappropriate blame
Holding others entirely responsible when one has had a part to play in a situation, either practically or in terms of one’s emotional reaction.
Inferring the presence of a steady trait in someone’s character based on an individual action instead of evaluating the person as a whole.
Insisting on adherence to (often arbitrary) moral rules regardless of situational factors.
Believing one has a greater impact on others or is more of a causal factor in others’ behaviour or external events than is the case.
All-or-nothing, black-or-white, always-or-never thinking.

Cognitive biases

Confirmation bias
The gathering or interpreting of evidence that supports a conclusion already drawn.
Fundamental attribution error
People over-emphasize personality-based explanations for others’ behaviour and under-emphasize the role and power of situational influences.

Informal fallacies

Ad hominem attack
Attacking the arguer rather than the argument.
Appeal to authority
Deeming a statement true because of the position or authority of the person asserting it.
Appeal to fear or pity
Trying to strengthen an argument by stimulating fear or pity.
Appeal to motive
Dismissing an idea by questioning the motives of its proposer.
Appeal to novelty
Advocating the superiority of an idea merely because it is new or modern.
Appeal to ridicule
Discrediting an opponent’s argument by distorting it to make it appear ridiculous.
Appeal to the stone
Dismissing a claim as absurd without demonstrating why (kicking a stone fails to disprove the assertion that there are no material objects, only minds and ideas in those minds).
Appeal to tradition
Advocating the superiority of an idea merely because it is old.
Argument from fallacy
The belief that because one argument for a conclusion is fallacious, the conclusion is necessarily false.
Argument from incredulity
Asserting that something cannot be true because it is unimaginable.
Argument from repetition
Simply repeating your assertion until people stop arguing with you.
Argument to moderation
Assuming that the compromise between two positions is either correct or more correct than the original two starting points.
Argumentum ad populum
Claiming a proposition is true because most people believe it to be true (regardless of whether or not they are qualified to draw a conclusion).
Begging the question
Including a conclusion in the premise. (‘Why do you hate me so much?’)
Ecological fallacy
Attributing a feature to individuals in a group based on aggregate statistics for the group.
Fallacy of composition
Believing that what is true of a part is true of the whole.
Fallacy of division
Believing that what is true of the whole is true of a part.
Fallacy of the single cause
Believing that there is only one, simple cause of an outcome that could be complex.
False attribution
Appealing to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased, or fabricated source.
False authority
Using an expert of dubious credentials or an insufficient sample of sources.
False dichotomy
Two alternative statements are held to be the only possible ones, whereas there are actually more.
False equivalence
Arguing based on equivalence between two non-analogous situations.
Inflation of conflict
Dismissing the authority of a learned domain in general or on a specific matter because of relatively insignificant differences of opinion within that domain.
Nirvana fallacy
Rejecting a solution to a problem because it is not perfect.
No true Scotsman
Upholding a generalisation by excluding exceptions.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc
Believing that correlation entails causality.
Quoting out of context
Attributing a different meaning to a source than was intended at the time.
Slippery slope fallacy
Arguing incorrectly that one step down a path necessarily entails proceeding fully down a path.
Straw man fallacy
Arguing based on misrepresentation of the opponent’s position.
Survivorship bias
Excluding from the population of examination those who are invisible because they have left the process.
Thought-terminating cliché
Using a cliché to shut down substantive discussion.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

A blast from the past

… I did come to the conclusion that I was willing to put everything I had into it, with God’s power, and that I wanted to do just that. As soon as I had done that, I did feel a great release. I knew that I had a helper whom I could rely upon, who wouldn’t fail me. If I could stick to Him and listen, I would make it. I remember when the boys came back, I told them, “I have gone to this Higher Power, and I have told Him that I am willing to put His world first, above everything.” … Of course, we had talked over quite a number of the failings that I had and made a sort of an inventory, which wasn’t too difficult, because I had an awful lot of things wrong that were very apparent to me. Then they said, “There is one other thing. You should go out and take this program to somebody else who needs it and wants it.”
(Pages 189–190 of Alcoholics Anonymous)

What is so interesting about this story from the early days of AA is that building a relationship with God is the core of the programme: relying on God, seeking power from God, seeking help from God, staying close to God, listening to God, putting God's world first (ahead of the material world). As a footnote, the inventory is mentioned, and then helping others is introduced as an immediate measure.

In AA today, we can get very bogged down in lengthy inventory, and in some parts of AA people are told they can't sponsor until they are sober one year. Assuming, that is, they can get that far without sponsoring others.

The core of AA is very simple, and the relationship with God can start now.

How to have a simple day

On a good day I concern myself not with:

My welfare and your conduct

... but with:

Your welfare and my conduct.

And I don't lift the lid and look inside your head.

Fear and God-reliance


Friday, 5 January 2018

What to do if you don't know what to think or do

What to do if you want to drink, use, or act out

Is it an illness? Two-fold or three-fold?

(3095 Younger People in AA)

I am not personally interested in whether alcoholism is technically an illness, a condition, a disease, or a whatever. What matters is knowing whether I have it and what it means to have it (namely: I'd better have a spiritual awakening, or eventually I'll likely drink, and there is no knowing what will happen then). It is interesting that this little question-and-answer section of this pamphlet suggests that the Conference of AA in Great Britain has resolved two questions, at least to its own satisfaction:

1. It is an illness.
2. It is two-fold, not three-fold.

Empathy vs sympathy


Thursday, 4 January 2018

'Action keeps you sober'

To a certain extent, yes. However, the danger is reserving the right to pull the emergency cord and jump off the recovery train. No matter how good my AA actions are, if I am still in charge, still entitled to make my own decisions instead of obeying a Power Greater Than Myself, there is always the risk I will reassert myself. In fact, right action can be a perfect cover for a latent self, waiting to pull the cord.

It's not about the consequences

I can't stay sober based on a Step One based in turn on the consequences of my drinking.

This logic:

  • If I drink, bad things happen,
  • If bad things happen, I feel bad,
  • I don't want to feel bad,
  • I must not drink,
... fails, because as soon as I feel bad sober, the motivation for not drinking vanishes.

My Step One is based on two realisations:
  • If I start drinking I may never stop;
  • Left to my own devices I will start.
The image is this:
  • I'm in a lift going down.
  • It does stop at certain floors, but not at all floors, and I can't choose which floor it stops at.
  • When it stops, the doors open, and on some floors there is a lobby.
  • On the far side of the lobby, there is a lift going up.
  • Sometimes the doors open and I could cross the lobby, enter the up lift, and recover.
  • Sometimes the doors open, and there is no up lift. Just a wall.
  • If I get in the down lift again, it might never stop, or it might stop and there is no up lift.
The horror of this is way beyond the consequences of drinking themselves: it's about throwing one's life away and having to remain conscious to observe it. Nothing I experience sober will ever come close to matching this.

It is only this full understanding of Step One that provides enough fuel to me to continue taking the right action in AA even in periods that are extremely tough.

Monday, 1 January 2018


Do you want the noise to stop?

The annual or semi-annual housecleaning

The book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions suggests an annual or semi-annual housecleaning.

One method is to approach this in a considered way, over time, rather than scribbling for a weekend.

Try this:

Each day, ask God, 'What is the most troublesome difficulty in my life?'

Then, depending on whether the difficulty is a resentment (= an emotional disturbance about the present or past), a fear (= an emotional disturbance about the future), a problematic sexual relationship, or more general strife or discord in another relationship, pick from

(a) The resentment inventory (page 64)
(b) The fear inventory (page 68)
(c) The sex inventory (page 69)
(d) Step Eight (What did I do? What should I have done instead? Who suffered and how? What can I do to make this right (amend/sane and sound ideal)?

Write, and discuss.

Gradually work through until there are no major issues left. Don't repeat the analysis of any one problem but do revisit to tighten up what has been written if necessary.

The connection between alcoholism and reliance on God

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 44)

The connection between recovery from alcoholism and reliance on a Higher Power is real, and the question is pressing, because ruin could arise today or years hence and is unpredictable. For me, to live life on a spiritual basis means I am not the pivot point of the universe, I am not the wisest creature alive, my perception is not the definitive representation of the world, my so-called needs and wants are not the centre and main objective of my life. Living life with those beliefs opened the door to the mental obsession with alcohol, and created endless emotional problems: anxiety, depression, and rage.

And if I am not those things, what I am, and what is the purpose of my life? One option is existential nihilism ('God is nothing' (page 53), which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. This will generate apathy, withdrawal, and probably also depression and rage, if my experience is anything to go by. Essentially, the same emotional result as living life based on self as the meaning, just with a slightly different flavour.

I have tried nihilism, but something in me refuses to accept it wholeheartedly, and as soon as any light breaks into it, and the darkness is not absolute, the proposition that there is only darkness no longer holds.

Ultimately, I have had no real choice: the only viable option is to live life on a spiritual basis, with the Higher Power as the centre and main objective my life, with my only concern my channel to the Higher Power and my positive contribution to the world.

The or else is chilling. It can come in the form of resumed alcoholic drinking, the onset or resurgence of other addictions, or out-and-out madness, sober, preceded sometimes by months or years of anxiety, depression, and neuroticism. I've progressed along all of these paths in my time, fortunately never to their conclusion, and I'm now clear which side of my bread is buttered. Today's answer: give up all self-made notions, trust, and serve.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Problems other than alcohol: adapting the checklist

(From 3095 Younger People in AA)

Once you're in AA for a while, problems other than alcohol can arise. Sometimes one does not realise how much a behaviour pattern is causing difficulties until this is thrown into stark relief using the above questions.

The method is simple: substitute for instance 'my sexual behaviour' or 'my eating beahviour' for 'drinking' etc., as appropriate, in the above 20 questions. This can be very revealing.

Wood and trees; carts and horses

In sponsorship, we often focus on sets of instructions, both for the arc of Steps One to Nine and for the daily arc of Steps Ten to Twelve. The danger is that we can miss the point. The purpose of these actions is not merely to sprinkle them across a life based essentially on self and on the material world but to embody the desire to live on a higher plane and abandon everything that manifests a self-centred life.

To recover and stay recovered, the whole basis must be different, and the actions we take and instructions we follow reflect this rather than inducing this. The actions and instructions will not induce a permanent spiritual awakening if there is a fundamental loyalty to self remaining; eventually, self will become resurgent and peep through like an underlying colour when a thin coat of cheap paint is applied to a wall or door.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Does it taste nice?

(Taken from the pamphlet: 3095 Younger People in AA)

I didn't always like the taste. I hated whisky but would drink it if there was nothing else. I drank for effect not for taste. The actions of AA are the same. Whether the 'taste nice' is irrelevant: it's effect we're after. Medicine doesn't always taste nice.

'I don't want to work the programme'

Sometimes I think, 'I don't want to go to a meeting', 'I don't want to do my review', 'I don't want to answer the phone'. Sometimes I think 'I do want to go to a meeting', 'I do want to do my review', 'I do want to answer the phone'. Sometimes I accordance with the former; sometimes, with the latter.

It would appear that I am unstable! As the mind changes, one of two things might happen: I might do the wrong thing (by following the 'I want to do a bad thing'/'I don't want to do a good thing'-voice), in which case my spirit is dejected, or I might do the wrong thing, in which case my ego rebels. Either way, conflict is created.

There is a way out.

I am neither of the two voices. I am the chooser between the two voices. There is a voice for God and a voice for the ego. Just because the voices are in my mind does not make the voices mine, any more than an avocado in my presence is necessarily my avocado, and any more than I am the avocado just because I am next to the avocado.

So, throughout the day, I am presented with voices that are merely in my presence, are certainly not me, and are not mine either.

My choice is this: which will I believe and which will I follow? Both can't be right as they are mutually contradictory and mutually exclusive.

First, I choose the sort of day I want: peaceful, productive, and harmonious.

Then I choose the beliefs and the path that are consistent with these qualities.

The other beliefs and the path that the other beliefs promise is smoke that dissolves into the air.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

How to form a sub-committee

To get work done, AA may form sub-committees (Tradition IX).

For example, if an Intergroup is very large, the public information (PI) officer may not be able to cover the entire Intergroup. A sub-committee might be formed to take care of PI for a particular remote area.

How would this be done? Set out below is one option.

First of all the sub-committee has to be constituted. The sponsoring body (in this case the Intergroup), acting through the PI officer, agrees that the sub-committee be established.

Now, people must be appointed to the sub-committee. There are three ways: the PI officer could be authorised by the Intergroup to handpick trusted and experienced members; the Intergroup could request volunteers from amongst its number; or the posts could be advertised more broadly (with the usual process of AA CV-submission, maybe an interview of some sort, and vote by the Intergroup). At any rate, this is merely to establish who the initial members are. Once these are selected, they vote amongst themselves for a chair (to run the meetings) and a secretary (to maintain records). An agenda can be drafted by the chair, and the sub-committee can start its work.

There are two types of work on sub-committees: the job of devising and organising the work (for instance PI work), and the job of actually performing the work. The committee-members may do both, or maybe volunteers may be attracted to perform the work. These could but need not necessarily sit in on the sub-committee meetings, participate, and vote. There is precedent for both options in AA. For instance, on some convention sub-committees, all those involved attend the sub-committee meetings and vote. At others, this would be unwieldy (if the convention is very large), and certainly all telephone line volunteers do not attend and participate in meetings concerning how the telephone service is to be run.

The sub-committee must also establish its terms of reference. These may be adopted or adapted from other sub-committees or formulated from scratch. They could be simple, defining the scope of the work, the regularity and content of meetings, and the guidelines for rotation.

Once a stable sub-committee has been established and maybe running for while, it is safe to open up membership of the sub-committee to anyone interested by advertising the availability of a post throughout the service structure. Concept XI must be observed: composition, qualifications, induction procedures, and rights and duties are important. This is why it is important that, when a sub-committee is initially set-up, membership is not a free-for-all. The fellowship is responsible for ensuring that stable, experienced, and knowledgeable people establish the sub-committee in such a way at to maximise its chances of success and to establish a sound precedent as leadership rotates.

Finally, the sub-committee is responsible to those who established it, in the example above, the Intergroup. There is no separate and direct line of responsibility to the groups or to AA as a whole, and there is no governance by the sub-committee of the groups or AA as a whole.

A public information sub-committee appointed by Intergroup is responsible to the fellowship through the Intergroup. It is not accountable to local groups directly, but via the Intergroup, and likewise cannot dictate or stipulate to groups: if it formulates public information guidelines to be followed by groups, at the request of Intergroup, it is up to the Intergroup to approve these by gathering the views of AA members via the GSRs and then to implement them (although even then such guidelines have the force of suggestion not law). Sub-committees are thus trusted servants, and governors.