Monday, 13 August 2018

A setting-aside exercise

Whenever I’m in trouble spiritually, I have a mixture of true and false in my existing beliefs and thinking.

I ask God to set aside any/all existing notions I have about anything. Setting something aside simply means putting it up on a shelf, out of reach. Anything real and true will be returned to me by God in due course. Whenever ‘old thinking’ (i.e. current thinking!) comes into my mind, I gently and persistently imagine it floating up to a glass bowl full of clear water on a shelf. The idea drops into the water, dissolves, and disappears. In particular, anything troubling is ‘sent up to the bowl’.

Obviously, whilst I am setting aside, life needs to continue. I ask God to help me to maintain life support systems, in other words to do what I need to do today to (a) look after myself (b) fulfil practical obligations and (c) enjoy a few things. I am to do these things under God’s guidance, like someone who cannot fly being guided to land the plane under the guidance of air traffic control, without engaging intellectually in the content. Do what must be done, and no more.

This gives me space to do the internal work with God to recast my beliefs, and from there to rebuild.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018


I used to have trouble connecting with people in AA. I was fine with people from my own social background but steered clear of others. I got over it.

Here's what I did.

1. Recognised the universal worth of all people.

Read this

2. Performed twelfth-step work including: prisons, detoxes, treatment centres, telephone service, and the twelfth-stepper lists.

This enabled me to see past superficial differences and connect with anyone who has a drink problem.

3. I prayed the St Francis prayer from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace—that where there is hatred, I may bring love—that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness—that where there is discord, I may bring harmony—that where there is error, I may bring truth—that where there is doubt, I may bring faith—that where there is despair, I may bring hope—that where there are shadows, I may bring light—that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted—to understand, than to be understood—to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.
4. I asked God to help me with the following defects of character (adapted from the St Augustine Prayer Book):
PRIDE is putting self in the place of God as the centre and objective of our life, or of some department thereof. It is the refusal to recognize our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence, and placed by him in a specific relationship to the rest of his creation.
[→ HUMILITY is putting God in the place of self as the centre and objective of our life, or of some department thereof. It is the recognition of our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence, and placed by him in a specific relationship to the rest of his creation.]
Snobbery. Pride over race, family, position, personality, education, skill, achievements, or possessions.
Contempt. Scorn of another's virtue, ability, shortcomings, or failings. Prejudice against those we consider inferior, or who consider us inferior, or who seem to threaten our security or position. Ridicule of persons, institutions or ideals.
Failure to recognize our job as a divine vocation or to offer our work to God.
Unwillingness to surrender to and abide in God, to let him act in and through us. Failure to offer to God regularly in intercession the persons or causes that have, or should enlist our interest and support.
Indifference. Unconcern over injustice to others, especially that caused by currently accepted social standards; or unmindfulness of the suffering of the world. Neglect of duties to state or community.
Ignoring of needy, lonely or unpopular persons in our own or the parish family, or in the neighbourhood; or unwillingness to minister to them. Insufficient attention to the needs of our family.

5. I went to random AA meetings and got to know whoever was there, regardless of perceived differences, and went for fellowship afterwards, determined to connect with whoever I encountered.

It worked.

Children of a Living Creator

Page 28 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous:

'If what we have learned and felt and seen
means anything at all, it means that all of us, whatever
our race, creed, or color are the children of a living
Creator with whom we may form a relationship upon
simple and understandable terms as soon as we are
willing and honest enough to try.'

  • I did not create myself: I was created.
  • If I was created, there is a Creator.
  • As a child of God, I am made of the same substance.
  • That means, since God is not a body, I am not a body.
  • If I did not create myself and I am not a body, then my identity and worth do not flow from any 'personal characteristics' of mine.
  • To the extent that I have qualities, these were bestowed on me, so I cannot take credit for them.
  • My identity consists solely in being a spirit, a child of God.
  • My body is merely a communication device; my life circumstances are merely a context.
  • My worth is infinite because I exist.
  • Any assertion that I am not of infinite worth (or that someone else is not of infinite worth) is predicated on three false assumptions: (a) people have different worths (which they do not) (b) the universe has given me the role of judging those worths (which it has not) (c) I have special knowledge, experience, skills, and experience enabling me to perform that judgement (which I do not).
  • Low self-worth is therefore an error.
  • Contempt for others is therefore an error.
  • All others are my brothers and sisters, appearances notwithstanding.
  • They are made of the same substance as me (spirit).
  • A relationship with the Creator is possible.
  • That relationship requires willingness and honesty.
  • Honesty means a recognition of all of the above.
  • Willingness manifests as a concerted effort to establish a relationship with the Creator by seeking the Creator's will at all times and in all things.

God's healing Voice protects all things today.
W-pII.275.1. Let us today attend the Voice for God, which speaks an ancient lesson, no more true today than any other day. 2 Yet has this day been chosen as the time when we will seek and hear and learn and understand. 3 Join me in hearing. 4 For the Voice for God tells us of things we cannot understand alone, nor learn apart. 5 It is in this that all things are protected. 6 And in this the healing of the Voice for God is found.
W-pII.275.2. Your healing Voice protects all things today, and so I leave all things to You. 2 I need be anxious over nothing. 3 For Your Voice will tell me what to do and where to go; to whom to speak and what to say to him, what thoughts to think, what words to give the world. 4 The safety that I bring is given me. 5 Father, Your Voice protects all things through me.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Sponsoring and relapse

Effective sponsorship in AA:

  • Identify with the prospect whether he is an alcoholic, broadly speaking
  • Ask if he wants to quit for good and for all
  • If so, ask if he is willing to go to any lengths
  • If he says 'yes':
    • Give him a rock-solid daily and weekly programme of applying the last three steps, service, and fellowship to daily living
    • Get him going on the steps
      • Whatever system you establish, ensure that, if he does the work you ask him to do, you are available very promptly to go through it and progress him to the next exercise
      • Never leave a sponsee with no step work to do
      • Suggest at least an hour or two of step work a day
      • Ensure that the combination of the daily/weekly programme (the last three steps) plus this pathway through the first nine steps, together with work, family, and other obligations, means he always knows exactly what he's supposed to be doing, when, where, and how.
Pretty much any sponsee who follows the above will not relapse.

If relapse does happen, examine whether the above was being adhered to, and if not, why not.

The individual is then given the chance to recommit, on a new and more honest basis.

Always start back at Step One to Three (reviewing thoroughly but not in a laboured way any work performed to date, because relapse always suggests a reservation somewhere in these three steps: someone who has made a decision to turn his will and life over to God has decided to do what is right, not what he wants).

Watch out for:
  • Other unaddressed addictions
  • Resentments
  • Ongoing harmful behaviour
  • Nasty little secrets
If someone appears to be 'doing everything right', one of the above four is usually the culprit.

Good luck!

I've had a feeling

If you have a feeling and you don't like it, examine your beliefs, thinking, and behaviour for defects. If defective, fix. Any remaining feelings: accept them and don't dwell on them.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Handling people who are confused about love

'If-you-loved-me-you-would-agree-with-me-obey-me-and-let-me-shout-at-you-until-you-admit-that-you-are-wrong-and-I-am-right' is a sound that can be heard up and down the country in dysfunctional families. Maybe the people are crazy because someone in the family drinks a touch more than is strictly good for them, or maybe the drinkers are drowning themselves in a 'butt of Malmsey wine' because of the crazy people. Who knows. Anyway. How do you deal with it?

Well, firstly, arguing won't work. Egoic positions aren't amenable to rational discussion. Absenting yourself entirely is totally fine, and maybe if they get a therapist who encourages them to look at their own behaviour they'll figure out why. That might take, oh, a decade or two, in which case you're the witch and they're the princess in the meantime, and that can be hard to live with at a distance anyway.

So, how do you deal with it? Here's one way I've found successful:

First of all, I can say I disagree with a view or am turning down a request (actually it's usually a screaming demand but let's call it a request for the sake of argument). Then I can offer an explanation if it's asked for. I am willing to hear their explanation for their point of view or request. But I will then draw the line at engaging in cross-examination in either direction, any attempt to convince or persuade, in short, in any argument. Then I say I love them. Repeatedly.

This has worked out pretty well and has rewired several relationships in my life.

By the way, I checked it out and it's official: agreement and obedience are not synonyms of love. So there!

Sunday, 29 July 2018

How not to be a jerk

I'm an arrogant jerk sometimes. OK, a lot. Ya got me there. Inventory and corrective measures can sometimes be really simple.

Here are my corrective measures for this week:

Don't have an opinion. Be neutral.
Don't argue. Be agreeable.
Don't control. Yield.

Basically: Thy will be done. To God. And people.

If I keep it this simple there's a chance I'll remember it.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Fear and the basic questions

Four basic questions:

Who am I?
Now I'm here, what am I supposed to do?
Who are these other people, and how am I supposed to relate to them?
I'm going to die. How do I handle that?


Reliance on God provides answers:

I'm a child of God, born of spirit.
My purpose is to do God's will.
My relationship to others: love, forgive, and serve.
I'm not going to die: spirit can't die; I'm not a body.

I tried to solve these questions in other ways, placing my reliance for answers in the finite and the vulnerable: the material world. Fear was inevitable: self-reliance had failed me.

The answer is to stop trying to solve these myself and relying on God instead.

Friday, 20 July 2018


When trouble comes, we cheerfully capitalise on it, to show the Creator's omnipotence.

Here's my checklist:

I am 100% responsible for what I feel.
Everything outside me is 0% responsible for what I feel.
My negative feelings come from my negative judgements.
My negative judgements come from comparison of reality with my demands.
My demands total my blueprint for the universe.
Having a blueprint for the universe is usurping the role of Creator.

The solution:

I am a creature and agent not a Creator.
Drop the role of Creator.
Drop the blueprint.
Drop the demands.


Stay close to the Creator.
Recognise that my substance is eternal though my form is temporary.
Recognise this is true for all others.
Recognise that nothing is outside the Creator.
Recognise that all evil is but error and illusion.
Recognise my identity in the Creator.
Recognise my purpose in the Creator.
Seek only to live with integrity: to perform the Creator's will and nothing else.

That involves:
Fitting myself to be of service.
Being of service.
Observing rest-times.
Appreciating the universe.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Concept VI

Concept VI says that the chief initiative and active responsibility for world service matters lie with the General Service Board.

In life, whatever God delegates to me, acting through others, becomes my task under delegated authority. That means I must take chief initiative and active responsibility, but the outcome and the ultimate responsibility lie with God, acting through others.

That also means I need never be stressed about anything. My job is to take the initiative (considering the matter from all angles, spotting opportunities and threats, and using my intelligence proactively to determine the right action to take under God's guidance) and to take active responsibility, which means acting promptly, energetically, intelligently, diligently, carefully, and prudently. My contribution is reasoned and deliberate. The direction and strength to do this come from God.

I then deliver the work to God, who takes care of the outcome.

Mental states preceding ...

The Big Book, on page 35, says:

'So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for obviously this is the crux of the problem.'

The states are:

  • A peculiar mental twist (page 33, cf. Jim, falsely believing that milk combined with whiskey renders the whiskey safe)
  • A strange mental blank spot (page 42, cf. Fred, truthfully anticipating that two cocktails with dinner would be nice but failing to anticipate further consequences)
  • Beginning to drink deliberately not casually (page 37)
  • Little serious or effective thought (page 37)
  • Not thinking at all (page 24)
  • Two trains of thought running in parallel (page 37)
It turns out that the mental states preceding the first drink include: thinking, not thinking, thinking one thing at a time, thinking more than one thing at a time, thinking false things, and thinking true things. In other words, there is no single mental state preceding a relapse into drinking, and none of these constitutes a defence against drinking or even necessarily heralds a relapse.

The solution offered by AA is not therefore to straighten out our thinking (although that will happen) but to rely on God, which makes thinking secondary as a source of decision-making. What is primary? Direction from God as corroborated by sensible others.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Step One, whatever your problem (revised 15 July)

One way of rewording the 'powerlessness + unmanageability' combo for any problem:

Step One: I persistently return to destructive patterns.

That could be alcohol, sex-related acting out, romance-related acting out, gambling, pills, drugs, starvation, binging, purging, etc. Some of these are mine.

In Al-Anon: there are four destructive patterns (with variants) I see in my case:

(1) Taking responsibility where it's not my mine to take

  • Trying to control your addiction, recovery, or life
  • Offering you solutions you already have
  • Working those solutions for you
  • Creating a crisis
  • Martyrdom, mothering, managing, manipulation

(2) Not taking responsibility where it is mine to take

  • Neglect of my own needs, duties, and enjoyment of life

(3) Giving you responsibility where it's not yours to take

  • Blaming you for what is not your fault
  • Asking you to rescue me
  • Relying on you for energy, creativity, spontaneity, and passion

(4) Denying your responsibility where it is yours to take

  • Permitting unhealthy behaviour beyond reasonable bounds of tolerance / not setting boundaries
  • Making excuses / covering up
  • Denying the effect of your conduct on me
  • Preventing a crisis when it is in the natural course of things

That's the baseline, and that's what the Steps, Traditions, Concepts, Fellowship, and Service have solved for me.

Directions and suggestions

The programme is described as a suggested programme of recovery. There is reference also to clear-cut directions.

We suggest you use this map. That means you can use the map or not use the map. The choice is entirely yours.

The map contains directions. That means you will arrive at the destination if you follow the directions but will end up elsewhere if you don't.

The fact that the programme is suggested does not mean you can determine its content.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Service structure

Sometimes people don't like the service structure of twelve-step fellowships. It is true, sometimes they are operated inefficiently, so the formal process can become excessively cumbersome or actually prohibitively obstructive. But in general they operate reasonably smoothly.

One of the reasons people dislike service structures is that they provide clear channels of communication and decision-making and circumscribe the individual's ability to control through back-channels or usurpation of power, and it is this that is so often the root of the resistance to the structure: they stop one from playing God.

After all, the structure imposed under the Concepts has one overall purpose: to have God's will channelled into service actions for the good of all. I'm just a tiny decision-making cog with my own connection to the Higher Power, with a particular role to play, and a large society of others, so connected, to bow to.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Full measures vs half measures

When I commit to the programme, I'm saying I will go to any lengths for victory over alcohol (or over my -anonism). That means I am willing to follow any instruction given to me by my sponsor within the scope of the programme in terms of belief, attitude, and behaviour. It's therefore legitimate for my sponsor to ask me: 'have you done X, Y, and Z?' and to make further discussion contingent on doing X, Y, and Z.

All of the lessons are compulsory: my freedom of choice lies only in when I take them or whether I engage in the course at all. If my sponsor no longer has what I want, my duty is to find someone who does and follow their direction instead.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Is it OK if I don't ...?

When one gives a raft of instructions to a sponsee, the sponsee will often find a reason not to follow a particular instruction and then seek 'permission' from the sponsor not to follow the instruction. The 'legitimacy' of the reason is irrelevant. I've only just recently realised why I'm uncomfortable offering 'permission'. Partly it's because in one sense it's none of my business. But in another sense it somehow provides a 'blessing', as if to say 'you will be doing just as well in your recovery if you don't take this particular action'. Of course I cannot say that: if I take an action I will get the benefit from that action. If I do not, I will not. No one is in a position to 'grant' me the benefit without the action, and I'm in no position to do that for anyone else.

Resistance to the idea of God

'the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.' (Revelation 12:12)

'my grandfather’s good natured contempt of some church folk and their doings; his insistence that the spheres really had their music; but his denial of the preacher’s right to tell him how he must listen ... With ministers, and the world’s religions, I parted right there. When they talked of a God personal to me, who was love, superhuman strength and direction, I became irritated and my mind snapped shut against such a theory.' (Page 10, Alcoholics Anonymous)

'Instincts on rampage balk at investigation. The minute we make a serious attempt to probe them, we are liable to suffer severe reactions.' (Step Four, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions)

The ego has a built-in defence mechanism: if I act in its favour, it leaves me alone. If I act to its detriment, it rightly perceives the danger and generates resistance to the action in the form of anger (in all its forms), fear (in all its forms), and any manner of argument and rationalisation.

Fourth dimension

'We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed.' (Page 25, Alcoholics Anonymous)

The programme offers a dimension beyond the three physical dimensions: the spiritual dimension. If one has this dimension to find one's identity and reside in, it matters not what is going on in the material dimension: who we are is safe, and we are safe.

Middle of the road

'If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.' (Page 25, Alcoholics Anonymous)

Temporarily, there is a middle-of-the-road solution: half-measures AA (doing some but not all of the programme, or dawdling with it). This is an unstable approach. It is like balancing on top of a fence. If one does not deliberately jump fully and wholeheartedly onto the 'spiritual help' side, one will invariably slip back onto the 'bitter end' side, and by the time one is slipping it may be too late to jump.

Materialism v spirituality

Materialism is about arranging physical things, people, and circumstances to what I think is my liking.

Spirituality is about reorganising my beliefs, thinking, and behaviour, and then my emotions and circumstances sort themselves out.


'In the face of collapse and despair, in the face of the total failure of their human resources, they found that a new power, peace, happiness, and sense of direction flowed into them. This happened soon after they wholeheartedly met a few simple requirements.' (Page 50, Alcoholics Anonymous)

If I want the promises: power, peace, happiness, and sense of direction, I have to follow the requirements. What are they? Trust God, clean house, help others. What does wholeheartedly mean? Whenever I am tempted to engage in something other than one of these, gently and persistently draw myself back to these three.


'Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 20)

'Aside from fellowship and sociability, the prime object was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 160)

'No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 84)

'Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. "How can I best serve Thee—Thy will (not mine) be done." These are thoughts which must go with us constantly.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 85)

'Being wrecked in the same vessel, being restored and united under one God, with hearts and minds attuned to the welfare of others, the things which matter so much to some people no longer signify much to them. How could they?' (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 161)

Fellowship after the meeting is not just dinner with friends. It is dinner with friends. But it's also an opportunity to be a living embodiment of the principles of the programme, an opportunity to practise the virtues of patience, tolerance, kindness, and love. To this end, having a nice time or talking about topics that interest me plays second fiddle to the primary purpose of carrying the vision of God's will into this activity. In particular, I try and avoid topic areas that are controversial, encourage negativity, or divide rather than unite. Fellowship offers an opportunity to unite in a higher purpose and to think about others' needs: Who is suffering? Who is alone? Who is not being included? Who finds life difficult? Who is struggling with the programme? Who has had a difficult week? Who is seeking what, here?

Friday, 6 July 2018

Tradition IX in practice

Case study:

Members of a twelve-step fellowship are approached by a local hospital to set up a weekly meeting for patients. The formal structure of the fellowship in question requires the chair and co-chair of this institutional meeting to be voted in at a district meeting, 2-3 hours' drive away, and for one or the other to attend the monthly district meeting, 2-3 hours' drive away. This would effectively mean one day a month knocked out in order for this simple service to be performed.


The hospital group is to be run by the local twelfth-step fellowship group supervising the chair and other officers.

The principle of fellowship oversight (Concept II) is maintained, and organisation is kept to a minimum. Tradition IX is observed: no more organisation, administration, bureaucracy, or formality than is strictly necessary.

Sponsor's magic eight ball

Sponsoring is hard. Pretty much anyone could get to be your sponsee, and they might come to you with any type of question. Sometimes how to respond is clear; sometimes it is not. Here is a list to choose from if you get stuck.


How would you apply the Steps to this?
How would you apply the Traditions to this?
How would you apply the Concepts to this?
How would you apply the Just for Today card to this?
How would you apply the service literature to this?
What section of the Big Book is relevant here?


Complete your daily step work and call me back.
Complete your morning Step Eleven routine and call me back.
Ask God for guidance and revert in 24 hours if you still have a question.
Write an inventory and share it with three people.
Apply the Step Three Prayer.
Apply the Step Seven Prayer.
Apply the Step Eleven Prayer.
Find [insert number] applicable principles of the programme, meditate on their application, and revert in 24 hours.
Apply pages 60 to 62 of the Big Book to the situation and revert in 24 hours.
Call [insert number] people and ask how they are.
Help [insert number] people.
Go to a meeting and be of service.
Double the amount of service you are doing.
Double the amount of time you are spending on Step Eleven.
Read spiritual literature.
Let go of your old ideas completely.
Trust God not self.
Make a gratitude list.
Apply the self-centredness solution on page 20.
Apply the resentment solution on page 67.
Apply the fear solution on page 68.
Apply the bad behaviour solution on page 69.
Apply the obsession solution on page 70.
Apply the intrusive thought solution on page 84.
Apply the selfishness solution on page 85.
Apply the agitation solution on page 87.
Apply the doubt solution on page 87.
Apply the conflict solution on pages 117 to 118.

Higher Power, broken down

Commodities (what God gives us): knowledge of what to believe, think, and do ('wit') and the power to do it ('wherewithal') (Step Eleven).

Channels (how God reaches us): directly (inspiration, an intuitive thought, a decision, (page 86)), through people (fellowship), through service (ours!), through nature, through creativity, through media (listening, watching, reading).

Activation mechanism: honestly, open-mindedness, and willingness, which in aggregate entail action.

Interface: prayer and meditation; saying words into the ether is no sillier than typing words into the computer. There is no tiny person inside the computer; God is not a massive person on a cloud. But we are limited by language, at least at early stages of development, so we use the tools we have.

Source: nothing is without cause.

The page 48 girder example

'The prosaic steel girder is a mass of electrons whirling around each other at incredible speed. These
tiny bodies are governed by precise laws, and these laws hold true throughout the material world. Science tells us so. We have no reason to doubt it. When, however, the perfectly logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince ourselves it isn’t so. We read wordy books and indulge in windy arguments, thinking we  believe this universe needs no God to explain it. Were our contentions true, it would follow that life originated out of nothing, means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 48 to 49)

The girder looks solid but isn't, at sub-atomic level. How do you know? Physics tells you. The laws of physics are in charge

The world looked chaotic but isn't, on the spiritual level. How do you know? Spirituality tells you. The laws of spirituality are in charge.

You don't have to understand physics to recognise the authority of the physicist.

You don't have to understand spirituality to recognise the authority of someone successfully living by spiritual principles.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

One day at a time, in the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous'

Page 16

Page 86

Page 188

Page 286

Page 287

Page 288

Page 293

Page 300

Page 333

Page 336

Page 345

Page 346

Page 357

Page 401

Page 451

Page 528

Page 559

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Doctor's Opinion: 'outside our synthetic knowledge'

If you want to get to five, you need to start with two plus two. That's synthetic knowledge. That will get you to four. But you want to get to five. You need a nudge from God, and that will get you there. But you need to get to four first.


The Doctor's Opinion:

'The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false.'


The feeling that alcohol gave me was elusive in three ways:

  • It was hard to achieve;
  • It was hard to describe clearly;
  • It was hard to keep the full picture in mind: at critical moments I could recall the ups but not the downs.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Detachment with love

This means I can still feel compassion for another, as a healthy person would when faced with any suffering, but the compassion is not enhanced with self-centred fear or other negative emotions, distorted in other ways, magnified, or bottled and preserved like a pickled pain on the shelf along with any other feelings I am not letting go of.

Detachment means feeling the feeling then showing up for the next moment and its emotion rather than holding onto a moment that has passed.

Then: my job is not to fix, direct, control, or manipulate but to offer appropriate experience or principles to help the individual find their own path and their own Higher Power.

Al-Anon and boundaries

The pre-Al-Anon recovery state in me:

I take responsibility for things I am not responsible for.

Manifests as: control, interference, bulldozing, worry, plotting, scheming, fretting, belief I have caused everything that goes on around me, including how other people think, behave, and feel.

I feel: frightened, high on the perceived power, angry, frustrated, disappointed with others, critical.

I do not take responsibility for things I am responsible for.

Manifests as: neglect of my own life because I'm too busy with the above.

I feel: claustrophic, guilty and ashamed, embarrassed, empty, despairing that anything will ever get sorted out, frightened that there will never be any time for me.

I deny your responsibility for things you are responsible for.

Manifests as: caretaking, worry, plotting, scheming, fretting.

I feel: loved, needed, wanted, but frustrated when things do not work out and increasingly angry at the person I caretake, plus raging when I stop caretaking but am faced with careseekers and/or their reactions to my new boundaries.

I give you responsibility for things you are not responsible for.

Manifests as: careseeking, blame, and manipulation.

I feel: looked after, vindicated, relieved of guilt, but angry when you don't behave how I want.

The solution I've found through Al-Anon friends, tapes, and literature:

I am 100% responsible for my beliefs, thoughts, actions, and feelings. You are 100% responsible for yours. In joint situations I have a part to play, but ask God for that part. Outcomes are none of my business. My chief responsibility is to look after my own recovery and wellbeing then devote spare energies to serving God in ways which don't (a) go beyond the scope of my duties or (b) deny your responsibility for your own life. I set boundaries kindly and stick to them. I do not blame anyone for how I am feeling. I recognise that the destination is printed clearly on the ticket whenever I have become entangled, and I have invariably made a decision based on self that has later placed me in a position to be hurt. Ultimately, I rely on God not others, but God works through others.

On a good day I can achieve this. On a bad day I can learn how best to walk towards this ideal tomorrow.

Tools of the programme

Broadly, there are two ways of doing AA:

The first way: I have my own life, and I use the tools of AA to live my own life.

The second way: I give my life to God and give up caring about the results. The tools of the programme are how I give my life to God, and my life is in God's hands.

I opt for the second.

'I drank on ...'

Fred's story in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (pages 39 to 43) is interesting because he's smart, nice, competent, emotionally mature, successful, and having a nice day.

Then he drinks again.

That means he did not drink again because he was stupid, nasty, incompetent, emotionally immature, unsuccessful, or having a horrible day.

It also means that, for me to get and stay sober, I don't need to become smart, nice, competent, emotionally mature, or successful or have a nice day, although these may be by-products.

To get and stay sober I have to drop my old ideas, go to God like a child, and be led.

Stuck on Step Seven

Step Six is 'we were entirely willing to jump into the water'.
Step Seven is 'we jumped into the water'.
If there is no jumping, there is a problem with Step Six, not Step Seven.

Friday, 29 June 2018

A standard list of solutions

A standard list of solutions, in no particular order

Read the Big Book (which you should always carry on you) looking for solutions: then apply them
Read the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (which you should always carry on you) looking for solutions: then apply them
Read other spiritual literature (which you should always carry on you) looking for solutions: then apply them
Read the Just For Today Card (which you should always carry on you) looking for solutions: then apply them
Read any other AA literature looking for solutions: then apply them
Read any other Twelve-Step programme literature looking for solutions: then apply them

Practise Step Three
Practise Step Seven
Practise Step Ten
Practise Step Eleven
Practise Step Twelve

Consult your notebook containing all solutions and tools you have ever been given in recovery.
If you don't have such a notebook, start one now, and keep it with you permanently.

Pay particular attention in the Big Book to the last eight pages of Bill's Story, We Agnostics, then the AA programme set out between pages 59 and 88, and the principles contained in the later chapters: seven, eight, nine, and eleven.
Most importantly, pay attention to:
Pages 84 to 88, which contain the daily programme
Page 67, which contains the solution to resentment
Page 68, which contains the solution to fear
Pages 69 to 70, which contain the solution to guilt, shame, or bad behaviour

Turn everything over to God
Help others
Call a newcomer
Make yourself useful
Reject all negative thinking

Read one of the 700+ articles on this blog (if you like, using the labels visible on the desktop version): and apply the principles contained therein.
Read one of the 270+ articles on this blog:
Read one of the 40+ articles on this blog:

A standard list of corrective measures

A standard list of corrective measures:

(1) Stop it.
(2) Stop thinking about it.
(3) Keep your mouth shut.
(4) Mind your own business.
(5) Do something useful.

If you do not plug your phone in, it dies. If you do not plug into God, so do you.

Want more power? Plug in for longer. Then use the power. It is useless unless applied to constructive action.

Have a plan for the day. Have it include plenty of useful, outward-turned activity, some life-maintenance, some physical activity, and some fun.

If you are tempted to say something, ask, ‘is it both kind and necessary? Must it be said by me? Must it be said now?’

If you are judging, ask yourself if anyone asked for your opinion. If not, stop it.

Pity was supposed to be for others, not for oneself. Find someone worse off than you and help them.

If you are angry, pause. Pause as long as necessary, praying for peace and guidance. If neither come, remove yourself temporarily from the situation so as not to cause harm.

If you are frightened, remember that God is looking after who you really are. Anything that is real cannot be destroyed. Anything that can be destroyed is not real.

If you have got a problem, do not think about the problem beyond briefly jotting down pros and cons of different courses of action. Think about God. Think about how the problem will certainly be solved as have all others. Know that you will be guided and kept safe. Everything works out in the end. If it has not worked out, it is not the end.

If you must ask for advice, ask one excellent person, not five mediocre ones. Then follow it. The worst thing it can be is a terrible mistake, and you make those all the time anyway. Step Ten will fix that.

If you feel guilty, make amends now for what you feel guilty about or make a concrete plan if you are physically unable to make amends now. If you still feel guilty, stop attacking people in your mind. If you still feel guilty after that, drop the excessive spiritual ambition and sense of entitlement and get over yourself. You are flawed. We get it. So we are. If still stuck, ask yourself who are you not to forgive yourself when God already has. Answers on a postcard.

If you are not actively seeking guidance from God in prayer and meditation, the chances are that you will be running on self-will, unless you are at peace and filled with quiet joy. If in doubt, pray for the next right action and for strength.

Think about the past only (1) to work out who to make amends to (2) to work out who to forgive (3) to work out how you would do things differently in the future.

Think about the future only for practical planning purposes.

If very agitated, bring yourself back to the moment by ‘listening’ to your five senses and concentrating on those. They are telling you what is happening right now. Is anything bad actually happening right now?

Remember the rhetorical question slogan: how important is it anyway?

If you are depressed, consider the option that it may be your life that is depressing more than some internal condition. Find someone functional and happy and get them to review your typical day and week. They will probably spot some structural problems straight away.

If you can’t get through to anyone on the phone, ask yourself what you would tell a newcomer or sponsee if they found themselves in the predicament you are in.

Drop the plan for others. When they are foolish, slow, thoughtless, refractory, repetitive, stuck, wilful, contradictory, confused, inconsistent, avoidant, or whatever else, hoorah! That is how they are meant to be! Wonderful!

Drop the plan for your results. If you cannot achieve what your ego wants, wonderful!

Be more actively thoughtful of others’ needs, especially in company.

Continue the practice of just serving. Nothing more.

Be more cheerful by removing any sense that anything is other than it should be.

Curtail engagements or interactions that serve no fruitful (= altruistic or spiritual) purpose. Feel no guilt about this.

‘Anything you offer me by way of advice cannot possibly be worse than what I have planned for myself,’ (Bill C.)

 ‘Your problem is that you think you are separate from God. You are wrong,’ (Mildred F.)

‘Faith is the courage to take action despite the fear,’ (Sheldon F.)

‘I’m not scared of who might be around the corner. I know who’s around the corner. My Higher Power.’ (Spiritual Paul)

Monday, 25 June 2018

Step Two: who is God?

I don't know for sure.

I do know that surrender followed by the remaining steps activates God in my life, which generates transformation.

God is that which generates the transformation. The wind is what generates the fluttering of leaves.

A bad idea: figuring it all out.

A good idea: letting God reveal Himself.

In the meantime: God is big, strong, clever, creative, caring, resourceful.

Is it God's will?

Three helpful parameters:

Is this activity an effective use of my resources?
Is this activity an efficient use of my resources?
What is the cost: materially, financially, emotionally, morally, socially, physically?

The castle and the activities within the castle

The first nine steps build the castle. The last three steps are living in the castle.

Castle foundations will need repair and sometimes substantial overhaul and renewal.

Long-term recovery will likewise require periodic repair, overhaul, and renewal of the first nine steps.


On a good day, surrender will be involuntary.

On a bad day, I can act surrendered, and that will surrender me.

Guidelines for chairing event committees

This is a list I find helpful. The chair should:

  • Delegate responsibilities but also be clear about deliverables and deadlines;
  • Use discretion about the degree to which content of deliverables flows from above in the structure, is discussed and decided by the entire committee or part thereof, or is left to the discretion of the individual;
  • Make clear that, as an event approaches, the situation may develop dynamically, and decisions may have to be made by the chair that add to, remove from, or alter the content of delegated tasks;
  • Request flexibility on this question from committee members but also show flexibility in handling responses;
  • Always follow due process on major matters of policy or finance but, in the spirit of Tradition IX, may streamline or simplify process for the sake of efficiency or effectiveness in time-pressured or dynamic situations;
  • Encourage all members of the committee to keep the focus on achieving an effective outcome and to recognise that the purpose of process is to serve the outcome, not the other way round;
  • Listen to grievances or complaints by committee members, adjust procedures going forward, apologise where necessary, and keep the focus on what should be done differently in future not what was done wrong in the past;
  • Agree everything in writing; if an agreement is made over the phone, it should be followed up with written communication;
  • Always treat committee members with respect and kindness.


A useful way of assessing communications I am planning, in tricky situations:

1. What is the purpose of the communication?
2. Does the proposal achieve the purpose efficiently and effectively?
3. Is the communication free of ulterior (covert) motive (manipulation)?
4. Is it polite?

A useful list of manipulative techniques for inventory

Manipulation: inappropriate means to get someone to act a particular way (in contrast to a polite request, overt or covert boundaries, and/or positive reinforcement)

Verbal anger
Making noise (with furniture, household objects, doors, windows, and vehicles)
Encroaching on physical space (including in vehicles)
Talking over
Expressing grudging acceptance
Withholding thanks
Mismatch between tone and words
Running away
Partial engagement
Intermittent reward


Concept IX

  • Dedication
  • Flexibility
  • Tolerance
  • Responsibility
  • Stability
  • Vision
  • Special skills

  • Surrender personal ambitions, feuds, and controversies
  • Act on behalf of those they serve
  • Are happy to be accountable to and hear feedback from those they serve and make adjustments accordingly
  • Accept disagreement, exercise tolerance, and do not attempt to force uniformity
  • Seek advice, counsel, and support
  • Lean first on others who have the answer and then on the Higher Power who stands behind them
  • Take action in such a way that others are inspired to back and support them
  • Neither meekly take orders nor bulldoze the fellowship
  • Originate plans, policies, and ideas
  • Consult widely on new and important matters before making decisions and acting
  • Make no snap decisions but allow even apparently certain decisions to rest for a period of consultation before implementation
  • Make all decisions by asking for God’s guidance
  • Are willing to discard own plans for a better one originated by another
  • Are willing to stand up against a disturbed or uninformed majority
  • Avoid unreasoned, resentment-based opposition
  • Are able to compromise to promote unity and seek gradual improvement over revolution
  • Are able to compromise with a loving attitude rather than forced resignation 
  • Avoid black-and-white thinking and solutions
  • Listen to criticism without being defensive and modify views or actions accordingly when appropriate
  • Listen to the principles behind a person’s words with an open ear and an understanding heart, praying before responding to avoid reacting
  • Listen sometimes without commenting at all, deferring a response until the response is certain
  • Separate the content from the source and do not fall out with the source 
  • Sift through destructive criticism for useful information and discard any other material without personalising the content
  • Recognise that destructive feedback is sometimes the best a person can offer at his particular stage of development
  • Can disagree without being disagreeable
  • Deploy foresight in the short and long term, exercising prudence
  • Perform mental experiments (run-throughs of scenarios) and then trial a policy or plan before implementing a major change
  • Assess the impact of policies or plans within and outside AA, considering financial aspects, internal resourcing, and internal capabilities
  • Effect change through the following sequence: idea, experimental policy, firm policy, and tradition

Concept IX

The structure of AA has been established and is stable but new leaders will continually need to be found.

The key to finding leaders lies in GSRs, as these elect officers further down the structure, including ultimately/indirectly the delegates and trustees.

When selecting leaders, the most important questions concern their qualifications and suitability.

Elections should not be taken lightly.

The third-legacy procedure (two-thirds majority or failing that the hat) is effective.

Even the General Service Board is accountable to the fellowship: there is no unqualified authority.

Concept IX in brief

  1. Surrender self-will
  2. Serve others
  3. Seek counsel
  4. Practise vision and foresight
  5. Take initiative
  6. Pray for God’s decision
  7. Listen to criticism and ideas
  8. Take nothing personally
  9. Pause before responding
  10. Disagree without being disagreeable
  11. Take a stand exceptionally
  12. Routinely compromise for unity

Saturday, 23 June 2018


I can only be bothered if (a) I have negative thoughts and (b) I believe them. Why should I believe my own thoughts? Humility: realising I am not God, so my thoughts do not need to be believed. Stop thinking; start praying!

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The physical allergy

... wanting more even if more does not bring benefit.

The mental obsession ...

... the persistently recurring, overriding thought: 'this time I'll get away with it.'

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

De-religioning AA

AA isn't religious but AA does do religious things.

Let's stop ...

  • ... chanting (the last words of the Traditions, 'we think not' in the Step Nine promises) ...
  • ... hanging scrolls on the walls like they're the Ten Commandments (in any case they're misleading if you don't know the full content of the Steps and Traditions and redundant if you do)
  • ... praying prayers publicly (maybe have a moment's silence in which people are inviting to pray or contemplate silently, in accordance with their beliefs)
  • ... reading the same readings every week like it's a liturgy (especially page 58 to 60 from the Big Book, which make no sense to or even alarm newcomers, because the passage is presented out of context; if you must read something for newcomers, mix it up and pick 'entry level' passages which set out the defining features of alcoholism)
If we want to stop people thinking we're a religious organisation, we should stop behaving like one.

How do you turn it over?

Drop all plans in the areas of sex, money, power, prestige, comfort, thrills, and appearance.

Ask God what God's will is for me today in terms of:

  • Looking after myself (physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, socially)
  • Fulfilling obligations (home, family, work, recovery, friends, community, society)
  • Having fun

When considering activities, ask (where relevant):

Whether or not, when, with whom, and how (content, principles, and procedures) to perform the activity

Friday, 8 June 2018

Role of a sponsor

The main role of a sponsor is twofold:

(1) To take someone through the Steps, Traditions, and Concepts, to give the individual these tools to use in their lives.

(2) To help the sponsee apply those principles.

To this latter end:

The sponsee takes the situation in question (either a situation in which he or she is unclear what to do, or a situation in which he or she is disturbed and cannot shift the disturbance), and asks the following questions:

(a) What are the facts?
(b) How do the Steps, the Traditions, the Concepts, and the literature, including service literature, apply?
(c) Is there any outstanding question?

If it is unclear what the outstanding question is, the work is not complete on (a) and (b). Ask God to guide your thinking and either resolve the situation or work out why you can't resolve it.

Then, and only then, present the situation to the sponsor.

The sponsor's job is to take you on from the furthest point you can reach based on your own knowledge, experience, and relationship with God. A sponsor should not review unprocessed situations but can ask questions arising out of (a), (b), and (c) above.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Wearing recovery ...

... like a loose garment

(Now converted to more accessible file type)

What do you want?

Do you want to feel better or do you want a worthwhile life?

A worthwhile life is one that maximises the deployment of one's skills, experience, and energy for the good of all.

Many worthwhile lives are extremely tough on the individual, but a deeper satisfaction beyond thrills and comfort is provided over the long term.

If you just want to feel better, it's probably not worth bothering at all with the programme, and the world of medicine provides many products that will directly change how you feel. Not to mention sugar, caffeine, sex, roller-coasters, television (= Valium with a plug), gambling, Las Vegas generally, and computer 'games'.

Regarding feelings: the purpose is as part of a situational navigational system. Poisons cause pain; reproduction causes pleasure. Creatures guided by the avoidance of poison and the pursuit of procreation will be more likely to pass on their genes. Evolution in action.

Back to the present: if someone criticises you and you feel under threat, your navigational system is broken. You are not under threat. Your ego is. Such feelings are 'authentic' in that they are happening but they do not authentically reflect reality and they do not perform any useful function.

Some people talk of 'honouring feelings'. Feelings are not brave little soldiers, noble public servants, or rare orchids to be placed on a pedestal and admired; they're data to be mined. Most feelings derive directly from the ego. Honour them and you're honouring the ego, buddy. NB your ego is not your amigo.

Also, if you're feeling bad now because of something in the past, you're a dummy. The feeling was a voice on the GPS that said turn left or turn right. If you missed the turning, hard luck. Listen more carefully next time. Don't keep looping the voice in your head or you'll miss the next turning. Such feelings are not authentic. They're a delusional avoidance of present reality by mentally reconstructing a past situation (which one likely misinterpreted anyway) and then reliving it perpetually like Miss Haversham or a '78 stuck at the end of the disc.

'The horror of that moment,' the King went on, 'I shall never, never forget!'

'You will, though,' the Queen said, 'if you don't make a memorandum of it.'

Rather than honouring feelings, I use them to help determine what God's will is for me and to determine where the ego-spewing bullshit factory that is my brain is out to sabotage The Mission.

Purpose: so I can maximise my usefulness and not have myself dragged down by authentic-inauthentic feelings grabbing at my skirts like a Dickensian rabble of starving, rapacious street urchins.

Who is the chair of a committee accountable to?

If the chair was elected by the committee, he is accountable to that committee, e.g. a Group, an Intergroup, or a Region. The committee he chairs simultaneously forms the body whose group conscience he is accountable to. In principle there should never be a situation where he is able to override the conscience of that committee except in the gravest of circumstances.

If the chair is the chair of a sub-committee, to which he was appointed by the Region (say), and the other sub-committee members are volunteers or co-appointees, the chair is accountable to the Region, not to the sub-committee. The sub-committee are his collaborators; the Region is the body whose group conscience he is accountable to. In principle, there could be a situation where he is able legitimately to override the conscience of that sub-committee. Such instances will be rare, and views of the sub-committee are typically to be taken as indicative of the views of the body that formed the sub-committee.

Why this discrepancy? In service, you are responsible to those who appointed you, not those who assist you. In Regions (say), these are the same people; on sub-committees, these are different people (or at least the same people in different roles).

The sub-committee authority question is most evident in sub-committees to the General Service Board. Such committees are appointed individual-by-individual by the Board, and the Board Member is appointed by the existing Board, as ratified by the fellowship of AA. The Board Member is not accountable to the sub-committee: the purpose of the sub-committee is to assist the Board Member in the discharge of his duties. This is a fundamentally different position in relation to the chair than is seen at Region, Intergroup, or Group level. In practice, the Board Member will seek to proceed on the basis of consensus-building and will actively seek and take into account the views of the sub-committee's members. On occasion, the Board Member, in response to or in anticipation of the response of the Board to an issue, will override the consensus of the sub-committee. This is completely legitimate and happens regularly.

Delegation procedures also differ. A secretary of a Region is appointed by the Region, to which he is accountable. A secretary of a sub-committee appointed by the chair is accountable to the chair. Just as the Region may direct the secretary, defining the scope of those responsibilities and increasing, amending, or curtailing them over time, so the equivalent responsibility on a sub-committee falls ultimately to the chair, not to the group conscience of the sub-committee. Again, whilst consensus-building is the ideal, in situations of conflict where an urgent decision is necessary or where there is a conflict between the appointing body (e.g. the Region) and the sub-committee members, it is the chair whose decision is carried, in line with the stated or anticipated response of the appointing body (e.g. the Region).

Grievance procedures nonetheless apply.

References: Concepts I, II, III, V, IX, X, XI, XII

Friday, 11 May 2018

Do I tell them my feelings were hurt?

Sometimes I need to request that someone behave differently. That's fine if the request is appropriate.

But I tend not to broadcast how other people's behaviour has affected me emotionally.

(Obviously I do discuss this with a sponsor or friend: I'm talking about telling the person whose behaviour has affected me.)


Firstly, I'm responsible for my emotional reaction. They're not. If I'm telling them, why would I be doing that? To punish them? To get them to change? Not my business. I can eliminate my emotional reaction whenever I want through spiritual principles. No need to involve them. We don't criticise or find fault.

Secondly, if someone has been randomly bombing your territory, you would not send them a report telling them exactly which bombs hit your secret facilities, or you're betraying yourself, literally, and handing the other person the blueprint to your industrial and military complex. Or network of beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. In short, you're enabling them to attack your weakest points before you've had time to establish a defence shield. Nuts. Don't do it.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Service ethos

I have been trying to serve AA in various ways since I joined on 24 July 1993. I had been attending AA since January/February 1993, but my joining date reflects when I fully committed. My first assignments included tea and literature at meetings I attended. Since then, I have served at numerous groups, intergroups, and regions, on a national sub-committee, and at conference, amongst other settings. Over this time, I have undertaken many roles, both internal to AA and outward-facing. I have decided to write down the service ethos I have developed, which represents the ideals I strive to embody, although I am the first to admit that I do not always succeed. These considerations are free for anyone to use, either as a guide to their own future service, or as a checklist for inventory when a service assignment has generated problems. A comparison between these ideals and my own past conduct can be revealing and instructive.

General principles of service

As a servant I serve. I do not govern. I perform tasks for those I serve. These tasks are delegated to me through the conscience of the group I serve. I then take initiative, act swiftly, consult others if input is required, ask others if help is required, and produce the output to the best of my ability promptly, and certainly by any agreed or implicit deadline. I do not need to be chased: I perform my function at first request. I provide regular progress reports and final reports to all concerned. When I produce output for those I serve, I am open to their feedback on whether the output matches what they need, and if it does not, I reperform the work or adjust the process for future tasks, as appropriate. I document my process for those who succeed me.

Who is in charge?

I am not in charge of those I serve: the Higher Power is in charge, speaking through the group conscience, and ultimately through those who delegate to me. When a job is presented to me, if I am capable, if I have the capacity, and if it is suitable, I perform it. I do not need to judge the task. I am reminded by my sponsor that Step Three asks me to help the rest of God’s children get their Heart’s Desire. I am in no position to judge what that Heart’s Desire is: as long as it harms no one, I do what is asked of me. It is sometimes appropriate to discuss a delegated task with the delegator, and sometimes I disagree with the delegator. On those occasions, I may quietly present my view, but the right of decision lies with the delegator, not me, as the delegator is answerable to those they serve, not to me. If I am unable or unwilling to perform a role or task, I decline politely, offer an explanation only if asked, and swiftly make way for another trusted servant. I do not usurp the delegator’s role or hog a role in which I am inactive or only partially active.


I recognise that delegators have differing styles, and I am flexible and fit myself to their style rather than seeking to fit them to mine. No individual has unqualified authority over me: the delegator is subject to spiritual principles (including those contained in the Twelve Traditions and the Twelve Concepts), the demands of the task or role, their own duty to those they serve, and their own ultimate authority: the Higher Power.

Process and outcome

I recognise that process is important but is there to serve outcome: in fast-moving situations, particularly as deadlines or events approach, pragmatic considerations can require flexibility, simple solutions, compromise, and teamwork, at the cost of formal process and delineation of responsibilities, remembering that Tradition Nine suggests we be no more organised than strictly necessary. When tasks are delegated to me, I do not own them, but I do have right of decision on how to perform the task. The task is held by me in trust for those I serve. That means that the task may change, expand, or contract, and that requires my flexibility. I have right of decision over my process to achieve the outcome or product wanted by the delegator, but not over the outcome or product.

Service structure—the upside-down triangle

As I proceed down through the structure, I serve the layer above. The GSR serves the group. The intergroup serves the groups. The regions serve the intergroups. The conference serves the regions. The General Service Board serves the conference. The incorporated bodies, staffs, consultants, and sub-committees serve the General Service Board. The relationships are ones of service not governance. I proceed ‘down’ through the structure, not ‘up’.


Good service requires administrative excellence. This means that all necessary information must be at my fingertips and up to date, in documents or other formats that are easily distributable, and the information belongs to the fellowship, not to me: if the information is asked for, I give it promptly and at first request, provided there is no material reason to withhold it. I do not need to judge the person’s need: their belief they need the information is sufficient.


‘Prompt’ usually means now or within 24 hours—most service tasks take minutes not hours. If I do not act promptly, I am holding up other people’s service work. I am to keep my service in-tray at or near zero. With longer projects that require extensive work, pauses to maintain objectivity, and prayerful consideration, I schedule daily or weekly slots to ensure that even large projects are completed swiftly and well ahead of agreed and implicit deadlines.

Written work

I compose documents and correspondence to professional standards, free of typographical or orthographical errors, and with punctuation, layout, and other text treatments in accordance with a standard style guide (I use the Oxford Style Guide, but simpler guides are also available, as are online guides to writing reports, agendas, and minutes, the chairing of meetings—e.g. Robert’s Rules of Order, and other administrative tasks). My aim: every word should be well chosen; every sentence should be well constructed; the message should be crystal clear to any reader, complete, yet free of superfluous material. Style should be formal but not pompous. I place myself in the shoes of the reader and ask myself what the reader would understand from what I have written. It should be carefully proofread, more than once, and presented impeccably, and in such a way as to meet the needs of the user. Formatting, presentation, and other text choices should be logical and consistently applied.

Comment and review

When I am called upon to comment on others’ output, for review or other purposes, I refrain from making personal comments about the individual, instead focusing on output, and whether that output meets the needs of those it serves. I do not speculate about process, capability, commitment, or other matters personal to the individual. I comment on important items only, refraining from micromanaging minor detail, bearing in mind that some detail is always important: dates, times, and locations; ambiguous, misleading, or contentious material; personal data or anonymity breaches.
At the appropriate time and when invited, I suggest how things could be done better or differently in the future rather than criticising how things were done in the past. Where possible I share through the prism of experience and cite Traditions, Concepts, and principles contained in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.

Workload and rotation

If I am keen to take up a new service assignment, I ask myself: am I fulfilling my current service assignments to the absolute best of my ability, maximising input in roles with flexible scope and content (e.g. public information roles), easily outperforming the average, and completing all tasks delegated in a timely way? If not, I devote the spare capacity into perfecting the current role. I see my role through to its natural term but if my circumstances change materially I am free to go at any time provided I hand over to the next incumbent, sharing everything I have learned.

Charing and delegation

When chairing or delegating: I am clear about deliverables and deadlines and about the scope of discretion left to the serving member; I share the principles contained in these guidelines, where relevant, particularly with regard to flexibility, pragmatism, the prioritisation of outcome over formal process, and the Tradition Nine principle of avoiding excessive organisation. I listen to grievances or complaints, adjust procedures going forward, and apologise where necessary. I keep the focus of such discussions on future improvement not past wrong. Oral discussion can be best but for clarity must be followed by written confirmation. At all times I bear in mind unity and the needs of those the service serves.

The spirit and the law

Discussions can easily become bogged down in legal argument, referencing AA literature, the Twelve Traditions, and the Twelve Concepts. I try to retain clarity and purity of vision and sincerity of purpose. I aim to seek, with others, the good of all, untainted by personal ambition or the desire to be right for its own sake. References guide, but God speaking through the group conscience pulls rank. It is the spirit of the law not the letter of the law that must prevail. I try to avoid heated argument, remembering that right thought, words, and actions flow from peace, and peace flows from union with God.


I read the books Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and Language of the Heart, Bill W.’s essays on the Twelve Concepts, and the Service and Structure Handbooks for AA in Great Britain. I reread these and study the Twelve Traditions and Twelve Concepts—privately and with others—both as they apply to service and as they apply more broadly as a set of principles for living. I share my knowledge and experience with sponsees.

Big Book quotations

‘My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of demonstrating these principles in all my affairs. Particularly was it imperative to work with others as he had worked with me. Faith without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the alcoholic! For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he did not work, he would surely drink again, and if he drank, he would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that.’

‘My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems. It was fortunate, for my old business associates remained sceptical for a year and a half, during which I found little work. I was not too well at the time and was plagued by waves of self-pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove me back to drink, but I soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day. Many times, I have gone to my old hospital in despair. On talking to a man there, I would be amazingly lifted up and set on my feet. It is a design for living that works in rough going.’

‘All of us spend much of our spare time in the sort of effort which we are going to describe. A few are fortunate enough to be so situated that they can give nearly all their time to the work.’

‘Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.’

‘Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.’

‘Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. “How can I best serve Thee—Thy will (not mine) be done.”’

‘We usually conclude the period of meditation with a prayer that we be shown all through the day what our next step is to be, that we be given whatever we need to take care of such problems. We ask especially for freedom from self-will and are careful to make no request for ourselves only.’

‘He may be an example of the truth that faith alone is insufficient. To be vital, faith must be accompanied by self-sacrifice and unselfish, constructive action.’

‘Suggest how important it is that he place the welfare of other people ahead of his own.’

‘Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be. It may mean the loss of many nights’ sleep, great interference with your pleasures, interruptions to your business. It may mean sharing your money and your home, counselling frantic wives and relatives, innumerable trips to police courts, sanatoriums, hospitals, jails, and asylums. Your telephone may jangle at any time of the day or night. Your wife may sometimes say she is neglected. A drunk may smash the furniture in your home or burn a mattress. You may have to fight with him if he is violent. Sometimes you will have to call a doctor and administer sedatives under his direction. Another time you may have to send for the police or an ambulance. Occasionally you will have to meet such conditions.’

‘Both saw that they must keep spiritually active. One day they called up the head nurse of a local hospital. They explained their need and inquired if she had a first-class alcoholic prospect.’

‘Though they knew they must help other alcoholics if they would remain sober, that motive became secondary. It was transcended by the happiness they found in giving themselves for others. They shared their homes, their slender resources, and gladly devoted their spare hours to fellow-sufferers.’

‘A year and six months later these three had succeeded with seven more. Seeing much of each other, scarce an evening passed that someone’s home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release, and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer. In addition to these casual get-togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be attended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life. Aside from fellowship and sociability, the prime object was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems.’

‘I spend a great deal of time passing on what I learned to others who want and need it badly. I do it for four reasons: 1. Sense of duty. 2. It is a pleasure. 3. Because in so doing I am paying my debt to the man who took time to pass it on to me. 4. Because every time I do it I take out a little more insurance for myself against a possible slip.’

‘The example that they and Bill W., whose visits to Akron were fairly frequent, set for me of service to their fellow men imbued me with a great desire to emulate them.’

‘I got deeply involved in A.A. service because you told me if I did, I would never have to drink again. You said as long as I put A.A. first in my life, everything that I put second would be first class.’

‘I was also told that my purpose here on earth was to be of maximum service to God and the people around me’

‘[O]lder members told me that service would keep me sober, so I tried it. It worked.’

‘A.A. has given me serenity of purpose and the opportunity to be of service to God and to the people about me, and I am serene in the infallibility of these principles that provide the fulfilment of my purpose.’

Friday, 27 April 2018



When I'm frightened, I believe my happiness depends on something outside my control, i.e. something in the world. It doesn't. It depends on my attitude towards the situation, which can be placed fully in the hands of God.

One of the things that is outside my control is my own ego. So sometimes I'm scared I will mess up. The answer is the same: make a decision, one day at a time, only to do God's will.

Active addiction

'The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.' (Page 30, Alcoholics Anonymous)

What this means to me:

In active addiction, there is usually some degree of control possible, although it will be eroded in time. This may be reflected in periods of moderation or periods of abstinence.

However, if this is not 'enjoyable', it will not be sustained.

However, if one is 'enjoying' the addiction, i.e. 'relaxing into it' fully with no attempt at abstinence or moderation, it will produce consequences that outweigh the enjoyment.

In active addition, the two modes are miserable control or enjoyment which ultimately produces misery due to the consequences of being out of control.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Being pissed off

Sometimes we're pissed off

Here's what I do.

(1) Examine the internal condition:

If I'm pissed off (upset at anything in the past, present, or future), I have a plan, which is based on the belief, 'Certain things have to be a certain way for me to be OK.' I list the demands in the areas of self-image (pride/self-esteem), as it exists in my mind or as I speculate it exists in others', in the area of scripting others' conduct (personal/sex relations), and in the area of outcomes (ambitions, security, and pocketbooks).

Once I have the demands, I allocate to one of four options: (a) Drop the demand because it's insane. (b) Downgrade from demand to preference. (c) Work for its attainment. (d) Suck it up.

(2) Examine the external situation:

Sometimes, under (b) and (c) above, a demand stems from a reasonable objective in the world, and sometimes that objective requires others to behave a particular way.

If that be the case, I have five options:

(i) Make a polite request
(ii) Offer a transaction ('If I ..., will you ...?')
(iii) Covertly threaten a consequence
(iv) Overtly threaten a consequence
(v) Use force

99.9% of the time, (1) and (2) are suitable.

(iii), (iv), and (v) are suitable rarely, e.g.

(iii) Not responding to aggressive texts but responding to pleasant ones.
(iv) 'If you carry on shouting, I will put the phone down.'
(v) Calling the police, blocking someone in electronic forms of communication and interactions including on social media, taking necessary action without consultation or permission, etc.

It is usually best to escalate to (iii), (iv), and (v) only once (i) and (ii) are thoroughly exhausted. I bear in mind that others have the right to turn down requests or offers.

In these situations, focus entirely if possible on future action, not on criticism of past action. This ensures the conversation is constructive and non-accusatory.

If still emotionally engaged, I pause and wait for peace to be restored before acting.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Maximum usefulness

Page 77 of the Big Book talks about fitting ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.

One way of doing this is discharging one's duties as soon as they arise rather than putting them off and letting things build up.

Here's the simple tip: go to bed an hour earlier, get up an hour earlier, and get everything up to date before you start the ordinary business of the day. Do this for one or two weeks and you'll likely discover yourself all caught up.

Sometimes efficiency is seen as a quality that some people have and others do not. It is actually a practice that can be fostered. This requires putting service to others ahead of comfort.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

What is our responsibility within the change process?

God will do for me what I cannot do for myself.

What is up to me is the following:

  • Choosing to withdraw my loyalty towards my own (= ego-based, = fear-based) thinking
  • Deliberately turning my thoughts to service and God
  • Deliberately turning my actions to service and God.
God won't do any of these for me but will give me the strength if these are the choices I make.

If, by contrast, I choose to believe my own (= ego-based, = fear-based) thinking, dwell on it, and then act on the basis of it, God will not stand in my way.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Recovery or relief

Willingness for recovery is different than willingness for relief.

Willingness for recovery persists indefinitely as recovery is a process followed by a state that must be maintained.

Willingness for relief is effective only for as long as relief is provided; As soon as the going gets tough, the willingness evaporates.

Guilt-based willingness also evaporates as soon as the guilt abates, and the drinking, using, or acting out resumes.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Concepts in a nutshell

  1. The groups have ultimate authority for AA.
  2. The groups speak through Conference, which has immediate authority.
  3. Don't micromanage trusted servants, who act, report, consult, and ask.
  4. If you do the work you get to vote.
  5. If you disagree we'll hear your voice.
  6. The Board implements what the Conference decides.
  7. The Board's power is legal; the Conference's power is traditional and financial.
  8. The Board initiates and supervises the work of staff, committees, and hired help.
  9. Lead by example: be responsible, proactive, impartial, and flexible.
  10. Authority and responsibility go together.
  11. Carefully select and train workers and define their work.
  12. No accumulation of wealth or power; no acts of government; no unqualified authority; keep a prudent reserve; no incitement to public controversy; do not punish; decisions made by discussion, vote, and substantial unanimity.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Groups, Conference, the Board, and the Concepts: a snapshot

Most AA activities occur at group level. The group gets on with its business, and that is that.
Sometimes actions need to be taken at the level of AA as a whole, e.g. organising public information work, running the offices, publishing literature, and sharing best practice on how to deal with problems. That is why we need a structure.
Who decides what to do and how to do it? Ultimate authority resides with the groups (Concept I), and the ultimate authority behind groups is the Higher Power, expressed through the group conscience (Tradition II). The active voice and effective conscience of the fellowship as a whole is the Conference of AA in GB (Concept II). The Conference has delegated authority.
One purpose of the Concepts is to enable the active voice, the Conference, to be informed by the ultimate authority, via the groups.
What is discussed and where? Questions are posed by members, groups, intergroups, regions, or other bodies, and they are distributed to the fellowship for discussion at group level.
What happens to the views expressed? Group service representatives convey the conscience of groups to delegates, and delegates attend Conference along with Board members and staff.
How are major decisions of policy and finance made at Conference (Concept VI)? Discussion, vote, and substantial unanimity (Concept XII), with voting power matching responsibility (Concept IV), plus the right to voice a minority opinion (Concept V).
Who implements the decisions? The trustees of the General Service Board, the charity that stands in parallel to the fellowship, which has chief initiative and active responsibility (Concept VI).
Conference’s power is not legal but traditional and is backed by the flow of AA funds from groups; the Board’s power derives from legal documents (the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the charity). There is a delicate balance: the fellowship acting through the Conference is in charge, but the Board is obliged (albeit rarely) to override this in order to comply with the law (Concept VII).
Pitstop summary? The ultimate authority is the Higher Power, speaking through the group conscience, and authority is gradually delegated through the system to the Board, which acts.
How does the Board act? It either directs activities or incorporates new entities, hiring staff to direct them and supervising those staff (Concept VIII).
Who does the actual work? Sub-committees, staff, and consultants. The Board initiates and supervises; the ‘doers’ ‘do’. (Concepts VIII and XI).
What principles govern how the work is carried?
Each level serves those it is accountable to: sub-committees serve the Board, who serve AA groups through the Conference, Delegates, and GSRs, and the groups serve the Higher Power.
Each servant is not blindly following the dictates of those it serves: within the scope of the authority delegated, each acts intelligently and responsibly, exercising right of decision to discharge their duties as they see fit (Concept III, which suggests we respond to each situation by acting, reporting, consulting, or asking). Servants exercise judgement, listen to their conscience, and lead through sound example (Concept IX), by accepting responsibility, acting promptly, placing principles before personalities, and exhibiting flexibility.
Under Concept X, authority and responsibility go together: if you’re carrying the can, you’re the one who may exercise the authority, and vice versa.
Concept XII sets out the ‘general warranties of Conference’:
No concentration of wealth or power
No unqualified authority over others or acts of government
No action that is publicly controversial or personally punitive
Prudent financial management and the maintenance of a prudent reserve
Decisions made by discussion, vote, and substantial unanimity
Overall principle: democracy
To sum up: there is a chain of responsibility running from the doers, all the way back through the decision makers to the Higher Power that is behind Alcoholics Anonymous, as it expresses itself in the group conscience.