Thursday, 14 September 2017

What are the principles we practise in all our affairs?

The Big Book, right up to page 164 (and also beyond) frequently sets out principles and how to apply them. For instance, page 117 talks about not disagreeing in a resentful or critical spirit, page 96 talks about not flogging a dead horse in a sponsorship setting, etc. The contents of the Big Book up to page 164 are the AA programme, and the Twelve Steps as set out on page 59 summarise this programme. The principles themselves are scattered throughout.

A good way to establish whether something is a principle is to ask yourself whether any particular line or instruction contains an idea that could be fruitfully used more broadly in one's life.

A certain attitude toward that Power

‘They flatly declare that since they have come to believe in a Power greater than themselves, to take a certain attitude toward that Power, and to do certain simple things, there has been a revolutionary change in their way of living and thinking.’

What is that attitude?

I am the servant of that power. I am not in charge of the world. I do not therefore need to keep tabs on everything going on in the world or in the lives of the people around me, gathering data, assessing, criticising, condemning, and instructing.
As a servant of that power, there is work to do, however, and most of that work involves discharging my immediate obligations, within AA, in my family and social life, and at work.
There is a question of looking more broadly into the community and society, but not in the position of the ‘judge, jury, and executioner’ of all I survey but, in line with the attitude outlined above, as a servant, so my job is to ask God in relation to the community and society: (1) Is there a role, and if so, what is it? (2) What do I need to do to discharge my duties within that role?

Since what goes on in the community and in society more broadly can be catnip to an alcoholic with delusions of grandeur and a touch of megalomania, if I engage in broader affairs in the world around me I have to stay detached from the subject matter and close to God and to a revealed and tailored purpose, rather than flailing round in a sea of information which, on a bad day, I can react to like a chunk of sodium thrown into water.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Tolerance in AA

What does tolerance mean in AA?

Here's a good starting point:

'Most of us sense that real tolerance of other people’s shortcomings and viewpoints and a respect for their opinions are attitudes which make us more useful to others.' ('Alcoholics Anonymous')

This means that I can explain how I do things and let others explain how they do things without telling them they're wrong. Good-natured discussion is one thing and obviously to be encouraged. High-handed and peremptory condemnation, ridicule, or denigration is another.

The purpose of discussion should be for me to understand others and where possible help through example not to ride roughshod over them.

Tradition Four, in the extreme, does mean letting other people and other groups be wrong. But in the vast majority of circumstances it is letting them be different without judgement, and refraining from interfering.

There is a tendency in AA to think that the way one has been shown is correct merely because it is the way one has been shown, and because it is reasoned. There are often multiple solutions, and multiple ways of doing things, all of which work, all of which have their pros and cons, and all of which are reasoned and reasonable.

Unity in Tradition One means not that we are uniform but that we are unified despite difference, and tolerance of difference means listening to differences without trying to change them.

In life, not everyone is supposed to be like me and think the same as me and act the same as me. That could be called narcissim: wanting to build the world in my own image.

There is a danger in AA of doing the same thing: the rest of AA must be like us and think the same as us and act the same as us. That's still narcissim, just at a higher level.

Humility appears to be a hard-one virtue, as pride wears all sorts of plausible hats.


Intellect

Is there room for the use of intellect in recovery?

The limits of intellect are clear:

'But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an expectation, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge.'

'If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried.'

'Yes, we had been faithful, abjectly faithful to the God of Reason. … Were nothing left but pure reason, it wouldn't be life. … Hence, we saw that reason isn't everything. Neither is reason, as most of us use it, entirely dependable, though it emanate from our best minds.'

On the other hand, the Big Book does not advocate the retirement of the intellect but a balance between intellect and reliance on God:

'Logic is great stuff. We liked it. We still like it. It is not by chance we were given the power to reason, to examine the evidence of our senses, and to draw conclusions. That is one of man's magnificent attributes. We agnostically inclined would not feel satisfied with a proposal which does not lend itself to reasonable approach and interpretation.'

'Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness.'

'Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists choose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all.'

The balance is well summed-up in the Step Two chapter of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

'By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first.'

Keep it simple. But not stupid.

Are you on the pill?

Periodically there are reports in the media about pills that cure alcoholism.

Maybe a pill could stop me from drinking or cause me to drink moderately. Who knows? I'm certainly not going to investigate.

However, this is missing the point. The reason why I never took medication from my alcoholism and don't take medication for my emotions (NB I have no opinion on others' conduct in this area) is that the returns to drinking and the rotten emotions, sober, were not a cause but an effect. Sure, maybe a pill could take away the effect, but that would not take away the cause.

What was the cause? A moral problem: thinking I was the centre of the universe and acting like it. Compounded by all sorts of distortions in my thinking, which were quite distinct from the moral problem but also had to get sorted out using the Steps and sponsorship.

Life seems to involve lots of challenges, namely how to find a way to live to maximum benefit for all, how to live at peace when surrounded by suffering and injustice, and how to see what is really there rather than a distorted picture of reality.

Take away the emotion, and I take away the motivation to challenge my behaviour, thinking, attitudes, perceptions, judgements, and whole mode of thinking.

It would miss the point of life. I am so grateful I have been given the strength and resources through AA to learn to rise to these challenges, which have resulted in a complete psychic change and as a result a complete change in the way I live.

I am equally grateful that I am not living the way I used to live, with the thinking, attitudes, perceptions, judgements, and whole mode of thinking intact and unchallenged, with the negative emotions stemming from those categorical mistakes dulled or distorted to the point I have no motivation to challenge them.

Steps Four and Eight in particular, and the 'watch' part of Step Ten have been instrumental, particularly bolstered by the additional reading suggested on page 87 in Step Eleven, in challenging and redirecting my thinking, on an entirely new moral basis, that of serving God not self.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The solution to resentment

(1) No, being miserable about the past, however awful it was, is not ‘part of life’ and ‘something you just have to accept’.

(2) No, the solution does not consist solely of ‘write it down’, ‘write it out’, or even ‘share about it’.

(3) When your clothes are dirty, the solution is not (just) to write a shopping list for fabric detergent and conditioner (or to share about your dirty clothes) but to take the list you’ve written, go to the shop, buy the products, and wash the clothes.

(4) When your mind is dirty with resentment, the solution involves writing out inventory and maybe sharing it but then following this up with:

(5) Dropping wholly unreasonable demands and expectations entirely.

(6) Downgrading excessive demands and expectations to reasonable preferences.

(6) Negotiating or taking action on reasonable preferences where possible.

(7) Accepting everything else as being exactly the way it is without complaint.

(8) Praying for a new attitude and for forgiveness towards the person or situation (see page 67 of the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’).

(9) Making amends where necessary.

(10) Keeping the mind free of old narratives by watching out for, spotting, and eliminating them at sight, through substitution of positive, grateful, outward- and service-oriented thinking and action.



Saturday, 19 August 2017

There are many ways to get and stay sober

There are indeed many, many ways to get and stay sober, if you are an alcoholic. This is a very common assertion in discussions about how to stay sober permanently (and be content and productive, while you're at it). We all know people who are sober for years, if not decades, with no AA, or with no AA any more, who are content and productive. We also all know people who tried to go it alone or who stopped AA after a while and sooner or later wound up drunk or dead. In my experience, the latter vastly outnumber the former.

Whilst it's certainly true that there are many ways to stay sober permanently, other than AA, it's very hard to find such people. None of the people I know who are sober long-term and who are not in AA are organised into groups or organisations of such individuals (although such groups and organisations do exist, although none of the breadth and size of AA), none of them have codified their approach to staying sober into a programme, and there is therefore no programme for them to systematically convey to other people, should they even care to.

One approach one sometimes encounters in AA is the suggestion that we all need to find our own way, and that there are many, many ways of staying sober permanently. This will be shared at meetings and told to newcomers. However, I have yet to hear anyone present a systematic, comprehensive, codified alternative to the originally devised programme. The result of this is that the options are: (1) the AA programme as originally set down in 1939 (2) a plethora of other paths which must be self-devised or compiled from elements of any number of other people's experiences.

If a new person in recovery is presented with (1), what to do is clear: follow the programme.

If a new person in recovery is presented wth (2), the only system available is trial and error.

Now, if you're cooking a curry or painting a tree, trial and error is a great way to learn.

If you're trying to recover from alcoholism, trial and error is a terrible way to learn. Why? Because people don't always return from relapses, sometime dying on the relapse or going back into the unstoppable downward spiral of alcoholism, never again to emerge.

I welcome the presentation of any other systematic alternative approaches to recovery from alcoholism. AA has absolutely no view on such approaches, and if such approaches save lives, all the better.

Within AA, there are certainly many elaborations of the steps, which take the original programme, add some elements, remove some elements, and change some elements. There are also approaches within AA which pick just a very small number of elements of the programme, leaving out the lion's share (particularly steps and systematic message-carrying service), leaving a regimen consisting of not drinking, going to meetings, and talking about what is on your mind.

What is curious is that no comprehensive and coherent alternative to the programme as originally envisaged has coalesced and become established even within AA. Many other approaches come and go, but such approaches are invariably marginal or ephemeral.

With the beef that many people have against the notion of the Higher Power or God, which is central to the original programme, I have much sympathy. I've had my own fair share of theological struggles over the years. Why I still adhere to the notion of a Higher Power and actively practise to improve my conscious contact with that Higher Power is that, frankly, there are many situations where nothing else works.

To the Higher Power-naysayers: what is your sufficient substitute for a Higher Power in the face of the failure of all human resources, tricks, intellectual constructs, material plans, interpersonal reliances, and other mechanisms? It turns out that the best on offer is everything that the AA programme has to offer, just without the Higher Power. There is no alternative. There is no back-up plan. There is no emergency generator. There is nothing to take its place. There is just 'AA minus'. Non-Higher Power approaches may involve meditation, yoga, therapy, all sorts of things, but fully fledged AA (with the Higher Power) does not preclude these and actually actively embraces these.

There are, one assumes, many people who stay fit and well by using all elements of the AA programme except the Higher Power bit. The question is, for those for whom that is not sufficient, where else do you go, what else do you do, and how do you cope?

The last house on the block for alcoholics seems to be AA. The last, Upper Room in the last house on the block is holding a meeting right now. And in that meeting they're talking about God.

Playing the long game

When I got sober, there were around 550 meetings a week in London. Now there are over 900, I'm told. The average age of people in those meetings, 24 years ago, was probably somewhere in the early forties. Only a proportion of the people who were sober then will have died of natural causes since then. Life expectancy is up around the high seventies. Yet there are very few people in meetings who are 24 years sober, plus.

Of the remainder, a lot retired or moved to the country, and London's population is being replenished by youngsters, so one would not expect as many long-timers in AA as in rural areas. Still, I can go weeks without meeting someone sober longer than me.

Where are the others?

Countless people I know are dead or drunk. Whenever I go to a treatment centre or detox, there are people in there who were sober many years (including people who were sober back in 1993) but who relapsed, and a large proportion of the newcomers are actually people returning after a slip after a long period of sobriety, often over ten years or so.

There are certainly many people who are unaccounted for, but of those I have run into over the years who have left AA, whilst some are absolutely fine, many are not, and the range of ways in which people are not is alarming.

Very clearly, these anecodotal statistics are not promising.

However, there is something that is promising: my sponsor was at an AA conference a while ago, sitting at a banquet dinner with nine other long-timers. Someone asked if anyone at the table (and these were people averaging 30 to 40 years of sobriety in AA) knew of anyone who completed the steps, including all of their amends, and who then remained active in steps, service, and sponsorship but who drank again. They all thought for a while, but could not come up with anyone.

This is consistent with my experience.

I'm playing a long game, here. I got sober when I was 21, and my alcoholism is of the sort that kills ya as soon as look at ya. When I drink, catastrophic things happen, and I can't get off the merry-go-round because the fog comes down and I get stunned and desensitised by the whirling and the lights and the nausea. I cannot afford to have a drink again, yet that means, if I live a normal life span, I need to look at the people who are fifty or sixty years sober as an example.

I've known some people who are fifty or sixty years sober, and a smaller group of people with that length of sobriety who are content and well-balanced. What do they all have in common? Continued application of the steps, service, sponsorship, home group.

I'm admittedly hardline about how I 'do' AA, and this is accused of being 'harsh'. What's interesting, though, is that, whilst the accusations of extremity, harshness, and inflexibility remain the same, the people carrying these opinions come and go. By contrast, the friends of mine around the world in AA who are equally keen on the formula: steps, service, sponsorship, home group, years later, decades later, are all still sober, content, and useful.

Obviously lots of people stay sober without AA. Maybe some of them have a different type of alcoholism than mine or that of those many people who leave AA, relapse, and live miserably or see their lives curtailed.

I'm not a gambling man, and, since I've found a formula that works, I'm sticking to it.

Steps, service, sponsorship, home group. AA remains at the core of my life, every day, and my life is filled with AA people. Do I have time for other things? Yes. I have a career (two careers actually), I look after my family, I look after my home, I get to go on trips, I have hobbies and interests I have time to pursue, and I cannot see any deleterious effects of placing AA at the centre of my life, other than, in some people's eyes, being insufferably intransigent about my AA life.


To sum up: play the long game. Swiss government bonds may be duller investment choices than the latest tech start-up stocks. But I'll tell you one thing a professional wealth manager once told me: the Swiss have never once defaulted, in hundreds of years; and my Higher Power has not once let me down.

Friday, 18 August 2017

A helpful reminder from Chuck C.

What keeps you sober

A very good post by a friend

Al Kohallek's pay forward gifts: Al Duplex

Stop before it's too late

There is a terrible risk menacing pretty much everyone in AA. This (tongue-in-cheek) blog post is an open letter to anyone in AA concerned about the direction their recovery is taking.

There are a growing number of people in AA who seem to have crossed a line, and people who have crossed the line rarely seem to make it back. These people are very easy to spot:

  • They seem blithely indifferent to all sorts of things that used to be important to them and are still important to others (for instance, what is on television, what other people are saying about them, how their week pans out, in fact how their lives pan out).
  • They are so busy the whole time that they do not have time to listen to your grievances and recriminations. When they're not busy, they seem to be sitting very still somewhere.
  • When they do listen to your grievances, upsets, and recriminations, they have the temerity to suggest that you might be creating the world that you see around you and that you, rather than other people, are actively creating your emotions through your attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, demands, expectations, judgements, and condemnation. They seem completely unwilling to validate your experience. They are literally threatening the world you live in.
  • They propagate the nonsensical notion that your current experience of life is due to your current living of life, not the events of the past week, month, year, decade, or even remote past. It's as though they actually believe that what is going on in your mind now rather than what others did in the past is responsible for the emotions generated by your mind right now.
  • If business-people or academic folk, they waste a lot of time gaining impressive qualifications or soaring to dizzying heights in their careers but mention these things so rarely it's as though they don't care.
  • And here's the killer, the thing that proves they never did care about you: if you tell them they're no longer sponsoring you, they'll say, 'OK. See you around' and go back to what they were doing. No pleading. No hysterics. Nothing.
Fortunately, there are some simple remedies that can mitigate this risk, and this solution will be effective for the rest of your life as long as you maintain this fit spiritual condition.

The first important thing is to talk about 'balance' a lot. Except, as with everything else in AA, you need not just words but action. To achieve this, make sure your schedule has plenty of 'me time', and cut down on service, sponsoring, and especially 'spiritual' reading. Remember, other poor folks before you have fallen into the trap because they were not sufficiently aware of themselves and were so credulous when they were presented with new 'spiritual ideas' that, well, they fell for them hook, line, and sinker. Remember: with AA, a little goes a long way, and only a fraction of what is on offer is necessary to achieve what you want to achieve.

Secondly, remember that you are the centre of your universe, and unless you find out what your purpose in your life is, you can never feel that you have fully attained your life goals. Note the language of the previous sentence: there are eight 'yous' and 'yours'. Try to mimic this in your discourse about your own life to make sure you stay firmly anchored at the dead centre of things. Don't try to use the programme to change how you feel: sit with your feelings and honour them. Even though other people are responsible for them. Don't analyse that. But, when you feel at risk of forgetting about all of the bad things others have done to affect you, do find like-minded fellows to rake over the past with, and keep the focus on others' bad behaviour. If you don't do this, how will they ever change? Remember: you are responsible for ensuring that they change by concentrating hard on their faults. Just like they're responsible for your feelings. In spirituality, everything is connected. See?

Be very careful about what AA group to belong to and what sponsor to have. Avoid extreme groups and sponsors, and find someone whose life outside AA is what you aspire to. Wit, charm, panache, and allure are key. Obviously don't go to the other extreme and become all wishy-washy: again, balance is what is required. Good, solid AA, but none of the incessant banging on about God or the Steps. In fact, stop capitalising both: god and the steps. Aah! Feeling better already?

And the relevant slogan? Keep it simple!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Offence

Would I get offended if …?
I have more important things to do than be offended that other people don't think, act or speak how I would like them to.
Not only it is unpleasant (for me), it is pointless, embarrassing (because I'm letting someone else dictate my feelings), and ultimately one more pebble in the when-it's-full-I'll-relapse jar.
One is at perfectly liberty to be offended, it being a free world'n'all, but who would want to, and why? Maybe to enjoy the self-righteous satisfaction? That has always been a great appeal for me: look at me, Snow White, surrounded by at least seven malevolent and recalcitrant dwarves, not to mention the witch with her poisoned apple. And that’s the point: one’s offered poisoned apples the whole time. It’s no one’s choice but mine to eat one. Or a whole bowlful.
No, I enjoy my life much more not deliberating manufacturing my own misery by subconsciously laying behaviour traps for other people (technical term: expectations) and jumping up and down like Rumpelstiltskin whenever anyone puts a foot wrong.
If people are persistently unpleasant, my real question is, ‘why is this person in my life?’ or (if they’re necessarily there) ‘why am I having or perpetuating this interaction?’

Monday, 14 August 2017

In 1833, ...

In 1833, slavery was abolished. Do pass the word.

A little reminder: one does not need to remain in a relationship with someone who is malicious, menacing, unreasonably critical, or overly demanding. Even if they've been in your life for a long time. Even if they've been in your life forever.

It's tempting to try to remedy such situations with a judicious use of amends, boundaries, and general Good Deeds and Piety. That sometimes works. But sometimes you're playing chess with a pigeon. It ignores the rules, knocks over your king, poops on the board, then struts around like it won the game.


Leave the room. Put the phone down. Take the car keys and go. Maybe send a birthday and Christmas card, and an occasional bunch of flowers. But you do not have to keep trying to fix things, and their emotions in response to your decision to spend your life, instead, with people who are genial, affable, ask nothing of you, and laugh a lot, are not your responsibility either. They can find their own Higher Power, and it ain't you.

If ever you falter, read some Mary Oliver to remind yourself of some basic truths.

'You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles, repenting.'

'... though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, ...'

And when you stop trying to fix broken things and feeling guilty because you can't, all of the lights turn on, and you realise you already are wherever you thought you were headed.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Gossip

From the St Augustine Prayer Book list of undesirable character traits: ‘Malice. Ill-will, false accusations, slander, backbiting. Reading false motives into others’ behaviour. Initiation, collection or retailing gossip. Arousing, fostering, or organising antagonism against others. Unnecessary criticism, even when true.’

From the Big Book: ‘We families of Alcoholics Anonymous keep few skeletons in the closet. Everyone knows about the others’ alcoholic troubles. This is a condition which, in ordinary life, would produce untold grief; there might be scandalous gossip, laughter at the expense of other people, and a tendency to take advantage of intimate information. Among us, these are rare occurrences. We do talk about each other a great deal, but we almost invariably temper such talk by a spirit of love and tolerance.’

From Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: ’Self-righteous anger also can be very enjoyable. In a perverse way, we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticise; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness.’

From Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: ‘One unkind tirade or one wilful snap judgment can ruin our relation with another person for a whole day, or maybe a whole year. Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven argument.’

From Dr Bob’s Farewell Talk: ‘Let us also remember to guard that erring member the tongue, and if we must use it, let’s use it with kindness and consideration and tolerance.’

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Quarantine that thought!

Ask God: what mental topics are not fit for consumption (anything one is panicky, doom-laden, or contemptuously angry about). Make the list.

Then, whenever the temptation arises to think about these topics (which it will), quickly dismiss the thought and turn your mind to God, for instance by repeating a line or two from a favourite prayer.

Try this for 30 days.

Emmet Fox's original writing on the matter:
Stand By For Quarantine! (Emmet Fox)
When you are praying or treating about a particular thing, you should handle it, mentally, very carefully indeed. The ideal way is not to think about it at all except when you are actually praying about it. To think about it in between, especially to talk to other people about it, is exceedingly likely to invite failure.
When a new problem presents itself to you, you should immediately know the Truth[1] about it, and then decline to consider it except in the light of Truth. I call this ‘putting a subject in quarantine,’ and whenever I have been able to ‘quarantine’ a problem of my own I have always demonstrated very easily and very well.
Even and old, long-standing problem can be ‘put in quarantine’ today, if you mean business and will resolutely break the habit of constantly thinking over that problem.
Everyone knows that a photographer must not expose unfixed film to daylight if he wants to get results. Everyone knows how careful a chemist is to isolate (i.e., quarantine) his materials in the laboratory, since the slightest contamination of one chemical by another will probably ruin any experiment. What many Truth students do not seem to understand is that mental operations have to be just as carefully safeguarded if demonstrations are to be made.
Whenever you think about any subject, you are treating it with your thought—either for good or evil.

[1]  Sin [= "missing the mark"] is a sense of separateness from God, and is the major tragedy of human experience. It is, of course, rooted in selfishness. It is essentially an attempt to gain some supposed good to which we are not entitled in justice. It is a sense of isolated, self-regarding, personal existence, whereas the Truth of Being is that all is One. Our true selves are at one with God, undivided from Him, expressing His ideas, witnessing to His nature—the dynamic Thinking of that Mind. Because we are all one with the great Whole of which we are spiritually a part, it follows that we are one with all men. Just because in Him we live and move and have our being, we are, in the absolute sense, all essentially one.


Is it God's will? Resources

When asking God for God's will for us, answers may come through inspiration, an intuitive thought, or a decision.

To determine whether the answer is in fact the right answer, the following are useful questions:

  • What is for the good of all?
  • Is the motivation giving or getting?
  • Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said right now?
  • Is the proposed action the best use of my time and energy?
  • Is the proposed action in alignment with the principles of detachment in Al-Anon?

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What shape is my ego?

The ego is invisible.

In some films, there is an invisible entity. The invisible entity is shown by throwing dust over the whole scene, and the shape of the invisible entity shows up, in outline. If you like Star Trek, you'll discover that the tachyon detection grid works in a similar way to reveal cloaked Romulan warships (http://www.starshipexcelsior.com/union_rpg/unitsdefenses/system.html).

When I examine why I'm upset, I invariably find that I'm upset because I have a demand or an expectation. The sum total of the demands and the expectations is the plan for the universe devised by my ego. It is only by examining upset that the ego's global plan can be gradually revealed, and then dropped or redirected.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Endless inventory

Over time, further inventories will be needed, beyond the first Step Four. Whether these are cast as further Step Fours or Step Tens is a futile argument. Either way: they need to be done.

Nonetheless, it's possible to become fixated on inventory and thus avoid the solution.

Sometimes no new information is needed about resentments or fears and we need to flip straight to the solution:

Recognise the nothingness of self and the allness of God.
Remember that there is 'One Who Has All Power'.
Withdraw faith in one's own perception of 'reality'.
Mind one's own business.
Withdraw judgement.
Actively forgive.
Stay out of the past.
Stay out of the future.
Stop recreational speculation, interpretation, generalisation, and extrapolation.
Seek to understand in the place of judgment.
Seek to learn more about the object of the judgment.
Prohibit catastrophisation.
Actively foster gratitude.
Come back to the present.
Turn one's attention to a constructive activity.
Help others.
Gently and persistently turn the mind away promptly from negative thinking.
Downgrade demands into preferences.
Prayer and meditation.
Spiritual reading (I particularly recommend Emmet Fox).
Constructive activity.
Physical activity.
Creative activity.
Contact with others.
Contact with nature.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Ten tips I’ve been given:

  • Don't take what happens to you personally. If you did genuinely provoke, cause, or contribute to a negative situation, review your conduct, apologise, and amend your behaviour going forward. Then drop the matter.
  • Don't script your life: instead go with the flow, however unexpected.
  • Catastrophisation is irrational and habit-forming. Don't indulge it.
  • Don't have expectations. If you must have them, take responsibility for them by communicating them clearly and politely and accept being perceived as bossy.
  • When making decisions, stop waiting for superstitious signs or bizarre coincidences, and instead embrace prayer, evidence, reason, consultation, and detachment.
  • Don't avoid risk at all cost. Risks are sometimes reasonable to take. Be prepared for some things to go wrong. If they do, admit it promptly and recalibrate.
  • Don't compare your life to that of other people except, occasionally, to use others as a positive example and set a realistic objective. Then work for it.
  • Give your time only to those who deserve and respect it.
  • Forgive everyone for everything.
  • Give of yourself.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Thinking

My mind takes perceptions, interprets them based on beliefs, and causes unhappiness. It does this without me wanting it to. It seems to enjoy it.

I might have to share a body with my mind, but I needn't be upset by it, provided that I remember I do not need to believe what it yields. It's a wordbox, not the Oracle of Delphi.

The book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' suggests that one has to let go of all old ideas to recover from alcoholism and live fruitfully and happily.

Here's a simple method I use, namely a prayer:

'Higher Power, I hereby place in your hands my welfare in all areas, knowing that if you need me to take any action in my own interest you will tell me directly and clearly. I hereby surrender to you all perceptions, beliefs, and interpretations: please dissolve, revise, and replace them, where necessary, according to Your will. I hereby place under your direction the only two resources I have: my time and my innate talents moulded by experience, for deployment as You see fit, for the good of all.'

Repeat as necessary.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Connection

I felt lost for a while in recovery. I didn't do the programme very thoroughly for a number of years. When I was many years sober I went through the Big Book turning everything I read into a question to learn about myself and then when I got to the instructions bit from page 63 I followed everything there to the tee.

In particular, there had been gaps in terms of forgiveness and amends. I deliberately and systematically forgave everyone and made amends to many people who had been missed, until I got to a point there was no one left to forgive and no one left to make amends to.

The top of my life blew off and I found I could be immensely use to other people who were struggling as I had struggled. Life became far smoother and far easier, and a lot of joy and light flowed into it.

In the many years since that happened one of the chief joys has been carrying this message to many people through sponsorship in AA and through service carrying AA's message to the community and to the society I live in.

A relationship with a Higher Power was established through working for that Higher Power through service, and once that relationship was fully established all sorts of other joys and interests erupted into my life that I had not been able to connect to properly before that point.


My job was and remains: find out not what my will is for me but what the Higher Power's will is for me. Sponsorship and service turned and kept the lights on, and the light has now filled my entire life.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Courage

Courage: the strength flowing from a higher power channelled from deep within to face external adversity, challenge, or uncertainty.

Recovery has required me to change by facing not evading difficulty, pain, or discomfort and uncovering, discovering, and discarding all beliefs, attitudes, thinking, and behaviour that are not for the good of all.

It has required the abandonment of perfectionism—striving to acquire qualities serving base or selfish interests—in exchange for daily, concerted character-building: the relinquishment of vanity (in all its senses), self-centredness, and comfort- and thrill-seeking in favour of the virtues of patience, tolerance, kindness and love.


Everything worthwhile in my life has been achieved at the cost of self, and the price had always been well worth paying.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Change

Where the solution starts in any situation I am in is as follows:
(a) If I'm unhappy, discouraged, or otherwise at a loss, my perspective is wrong.
(b) I am entitled to my perspective but will continue to feel what I am feeling unless my perspective changes.
(c) I resolve to drop my entire perspective—to hold onto part of it is to hold onto all of it.
(d) I ask for a new perspective—from the Higher Power and from those I trust.

(e) I implement the course suggested.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Simple answers for people who stupidly think they're complicated

I posed four questions in prayer and meditation yesterday. (1) What is my relationship with humanity supposed to be? (2) What is my relationship towards the future supposed to be? (3) What is my purpose? (4) Where am I supposed to be? I asked these four questions because of generalised disquiet in these four areas over the last day or two. It's been suggested by people far wiser than me to take problems directly to prayer, and to seek answers that establish the attitudes and 'vision of the Higher Power's will for me' to embed in my consciousness. Whatever is embedded will then manifest, as it always has. If I embed negativity, that manifests. If I embed love, that manifests. And so on.

The answers that came – which when I consider them obviously come not from me but from the pool of wisdom and frankly sensible ideas I have been exposed to in recovery – were:

(1 Forgive, love, and serve others.
(2) Ignore the future except in as far as planning is strictly necessary and concentrate on the day.
(3) See 1.
(4) Grow where I'm planted.


None of these are novel or interesting, but this does not worry me. All spiritual answers to difficulties I have ever had boil down to simple, ground-level solutions rooted in humility.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Turning it over

Turning it over to the Higher Power for me means this: when I'm emotionally detached from the problem, I can access the Universe's best wisdom to act optimally, and the optimal solution will be achieved; when I'm emotionally involved, I don't see right, and I don't act right.

Occasionally, even when I act optimally, something bad happens: then, turning it over is asking to be given a way to look at the situation, namely the right way, which brings peace and love.

There is no situation I have ever experienced where this has not worked, with enough practice and dedication.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Turning to the Father of Light

Bill's Story: 
'Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all. '
A lot of people are unhappy. We create our own lives. Our physical lives are a manifestation of our thinking, and in turn of our beliefs, perceptions, and ideas. If we're unhappy, our beliefs, perceptions, ideas are wrong.

Here's a good solution:

(1) Make a list of areas where there are problems (either confusion, bad behaviour, or negativity):

Areas to look at:

Job, career, key intimate relationship, individual family relationships, relationship with friends in general, relationship with key friends, home, community, society as a whole, money, fun, particular hobbies, interests, or pursuits, body, food, sex, romance, religion, spiritual path, homegroup, AA as a whole, AA service, AA meetings, AA friends, stepwork, being sponsored, sponsoring

This is not an exhaustive list. Include the areas you have in your life.

(2) Spend half an hour a day to an hour every day saying a prayer something like this:

'God is big, strong, clever, creative, caring, and resourceful. God has infinite power and is infinite good. God is working through me out into the world, right now. God is currently dissolving all of my old ideas in the areas of ..., ..., and ... to replace them with new beliefs, perceptions, and ideas in order to bring about revolutionary change and fill my life and that of those around me with joy and purpose'.

Then visualise this actually happening.

Tips:

Start with no more than three areas but build up as you start to become more practised.
Do this for one month at least.
Do not monitor results (although feel free to observe them).
Do not give up if any old thinking 'sticks': just persist with the exercise in the sure knowledge it is already working.
Make sure the exercise is sufficiently general in each area to cover the whole relationship or the whole area of your life.

Your life is about to change.

Meanwhile: adopt this approach in all matters at all times:
'Go slowly from duty to duty, everything in order, resting often and praying in between, and claiming the power to work miracles in the lives of other people.'

Friday, 7 July 2017

The gap in Step Four

Step Four is supposed to be a complete moral inventory.

The instructions as they stand in the Big Book will catch most defects (defective beliefs, thoughts, and actions), but there is a gap.

The questions that elicit the defects are chiefly those in the 'fourth column' (the questions in the middle of page 67) and those in the sex inventory (on page 69). However, if an area of one's life does not trigger substantial resentment and does not involve sex, defects can be missed because there is no question that elicits them.

To remedy this, take the page 67 questions, which according to the Book should be applied to the items on the resentment list, and apply them to the following areas (in as far as they are not covered elsewhere in the inventory):

(1) Work and study
(2) Community and society
(3) Religion and God
(4) Money.

This can then act as the basis for a wholesale redesign of these areas under God's guidance.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Conceptions of God

I wouldn't bother, if I were you, with elaborate conceptions of God.

It might be helpful to stick just to this: God fills the universe and you and me, God is good, God's will is in everyone's best interests, and if you want to serve God and not self, He'll be happy to point you in the right direction and give you everything you need to be OK.

Anything more sophisticated than that, and you'll likely run into difficulties.

A lot of people tie themselves up in knots trying to come up with a conception of God they understand, discovering that it does not answer all the questions, then abandoning the effort to actually establish a relationship with God out of the cynicism that then develops.

I'm all for what a friend of mine once said: less thinking, and more believing.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Steps Ten and Eleven in a nutshell

· Step Ten: monitoring one’s own thinking and behaviour in real time and redirecting both outwards to service and contributing to the world whenever resentment, fear, selfishness, and dishonesty strike.

· Step Eleven: checking in with God in the morning to plan how to serve God that day, and checking in with God in the evening to debrief.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

No such thing as a bad meeting

Here's a checklist of how to approach going to a meeting where one might be tempted to call it a 'bad meeting' because no one talks coherently about either the nature of alcoholism or their experience of the solution.


  • Find a bunch of friends to go with.
  • Get there early.
  • Find something practical to help out with.
  • Talk to a bunch of people before, asking God to work through me so that we can all benefit.
  • Aim to learn something from what is shared, even if it is about what not to do or what does not work.
  • Use the three minutes or so I get to share to carry a message of hope.
  • Talk to a bunch of people after, asking God to work through me so that we can all benefit.
  • Swap my number with people and tell them about my home group (assuming my home group is a good group).
  • If irritation arises with the meeting, use this as an opportunity to set aside my demands and expectations and instead visualise God's presence within me and within everyone else in the room.
  • Help clear up the room afterwards.
  • Go for fellowship with people afterwards.
  • Pray continuously, asking God for who to talk to and listen to and, if relevant, what to say.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Step Eight: helpful questions

When I write Step Eight, for each incident or relationship, I write:

What did I do?
What should I have done instead?
Who suffered and how?

When I examine the results, I find that they fall into five categories:

The act constituted a definite harm for which an amend is necessary. Action: formal amend.
No real harm was done, but an apology is required as a courtesy. Action: low-key apology.
The act was an error which merely needs correcting in my future behaviour. Action: corrective measure.
The act was part of the normal rough and tumble of life. Action: none.
The act was entirely harmless. Action: none.

Common sense will usually resolve which category an item falls within.

Where common sense fails, these questions may help to focus the mind:

What principle, rule, or custom did I breach?
Is the principle, rule, or custom universal?
Is it specific to a particular social, familial, or professional context?
How do I know this is a principle, rule, or custom?
Where did that information come from?
Is the source reliable?
Is it a principle, rule, or custom I see others observing?
It is a principle, rule, or custom I am morally obliged to follow?
Are there are any moral precepts involved?
If so, which?
Is the principle, rule, or custom hard and fast or merely a flexible guideline?
Would acting differently have breached any other principle, rule, or custom?
Have I ever breached the principle, rule, or custom in other relationships?
Did/do such breaches require amends in those relationships?
Do I see that principle, rule, or custom breached between others around me?
If so, do I see lasting harm being done?
If so, do I see temporary upset?
If so, are formal amends made?
If so, are apologies made?
Has anyone ever breached that principle, rule, or custom with me?
If so, was I harmed, was I merely upset, or was I unaffected?
If I was upset, was that reasonable, or was that because I was unduly touchy or sensitive?
If the act in question is not generally harmful, why do I think it was harmful in this case?
Did the other person contribute to the harmful situation?
Did they express consent, actively participate, fail to object or withdraw, or otherwise show that they were not actually upset, affronted, harmed, etc.?
Is the other person mentally ill, mentally disabled, a minor, physically frail, or otherwise disadvantaged, subordinate, or dependent such that they are not able to withhold consent or participation or to object or withdraw?
Was otherwise harmful or hurtful behaviour justified as a defensive measure?
Did the other person say that they had been harmed or upset, temporarily or for longer?
Have you observed a change in the person's behaviour towards you since the action?
Has anyone else reported to you that the person was harmed or upset?
Has anyone told you that your behaviour was wrong?
Is that person of sound mind, rational, sensible, and emotionally mature?
Have you already apologised?
Was the apology accepted?
Have you already corrected the behaviour?
Has the relationship already returned to normal?


A careful consideration of these questions will likely make the penny drop.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Meeting Format

Welcome to the ............ group of Alcoholics Anonymous. My name’s ............ and I’m an alcoholic. Could we please have a moment’s silence to remember why we’re here and the still-suffering alcoholic both in and out of the rooms?

I’ve asked ............ to read the preamble.

This is a closed meeting of AA. In support of AA’s singleness of purpose, attendance at closed meetings is limited to persons who have a desire to stop drinking. If you think you have a problem with alcohol, you are welcome to attend this meeting.

Are there any newcomers to AA who would like to introduce themselves? This is not to embarrass you; this is simply to give you the welcome we enjoyed when we first came in.

Are there any visitors from out of town or other groups who would like to introduce themselves?

The format of this Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Meeting is as follows. The instructions for the Twelve Steps are contained within the book Alcoholics Anonymous, fondly termed the Big Book. The book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions provides commentaries by AA members on the Twelve Steps plus essays on the Twelve Traditions. At this group we read from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, starting from the text of Step One and working through to the end of the text on Tradition Twelve.

At each meeting, we go round the room clockwise, each reading the next paragraph, and then sharing for up to two minutes on that paragraph. Anyone else who wishes to share on that paragraph may do so, for up to two minutes. Attendees may share more than once per meeting but are encouraged to allow others to share first if they have already shared, and to wait for a silence of a few seconds if wishing to share for a second or subsequent time, to allow everyone to share at least once, if they want to.

If you have experience taking the Step in question or experience with the Tradition, please share. If you do not, we invite you to listen for now, and to come for fellowship after the meeting at a local restaurant, where we can talk about AA and recovery-related matters more broadly.

I’ve asked ............ to start the reading.

............

That’s all the time we have for sharing, I’m afraid, but it’s not quite the end of the meeting.

We now practise Tradition 7, which states that AA groups ought to be fully supported by the voluntary contributions of their own members. Whilst the pot is going round, are there any AA-related announcements? [make sure pot makes it all the way round.]

In this group, we believe that sponsorship is an important resource in recovery. A sponsor is a guide to the Twelve Steps, fellowship, and service. Would all those willing to act as sponsors or answer questions about sponsorship please raise their hands now and keep them raised? If you are looking for a sponsor or have questions, please see one of these people afterwards.

I’d like to thank the service members of the group for making this meeting possible.

If you have enjoyed this meeting and would like to become a service member of the group in order to participate in its running, we invite you to attend our monthly business meetings, which are held immediately after the meeting on the first ............ of each month, and we will offer you a service assignment. Talk to any of the service members of the group, who are now raising their hands, if you have any questions.


Would you please join me in the Serenity Prayer to close our meeting. God ............

Monday, 29 May 2017

Fellowship

If I’m experiencing difficulties, I lack either information or power or both. Step work provides information and some power but sometimes not enough power. The amount of power I need is in line with the amount of spiritual growth I have undergone. That means that the need for power is progressive and increases over time, provided of course I am growing spiritually and am not stalled because of an active addictive process. Power comes from God, but there are many channels. In addition to step work, I find that prayer, meditation, nature, music, and physical activity are all powerful activators of the flow of power into my life. These alone and in aggregate are insufficient without people, and a relationship with God that does not involve a relationship with people is tenuous if not impossible.

The solution is to surround myself with people with more spiritual power than me. That has meant looking further and wider for accomplices in recovery and in my spiritual development more generally. It is also the solution to emotional difficulties where the step work is complete, at least formally, but the power to change is absent. Whenever I’ve been stuck I’ve discovered the missing element to be fellowship. The reason for this lack is often a resistance to building more or deeper relationships with others, usually due to contempt or disdain for others, combined with laziness, fear, or some other character defect.


Therefore, accessing power generally requires improving relationships with people with an extremely strong spiritual programme, and this in turn usually requires getting over the obstacles erected by character defects. To do this, I plan and execute the requisite action to build relationships, bolstered by Step Seven: lots of meetings, especially those with very strong AAs in attendance, going for dinner or coffee before or after, becoming regular at these meetings, and then finding people to build relationships with in between meetings.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The role of GSR at Intergroup

The role of GSR at Intergroup:
  • The GSR, attending Intergroup, becomes a member of a single spiritual entity. To understand the work of the GSR, one must understand the work of that spiritual entity.
  • Intergroup has three main roles: (i) to act as a link in the chain between AA as a whole and the individual group and its members; (ii) to facilitate public information work; (iii) to run internal AA events and take care of other internal matters of importance beyond group level.
  • Under Concept I, the ultimate authority for AA resides in the groups and their members. Under Concept II, a chain of delegation is established between this ultimate authority and the actual doers, who have delegated authority. This is like the relationship between the brain and the hands. This delegated authority is exercised by the people who perform the actual general service work in AA, whether it answering telephones or performing PI work. The GSR is the first and most important link in this chain, as without a GSR the group is detached from AA as a whole.
  • Preparation for being a GSR: a GSR must be well-read in AA literature, particularly on the Traditions, the Concepts, AA history, and AA service literature; a GSR should be sponsored by someone with extensive service experience; if the GSR’s sponsor does not have this experience, there should be someone further up the sponsorship chain able to provide service sponsorship, or another service sponsor can be taken on; the GSR should be a weekly attendee of the group and know the group’s ethos and its members sufficiently well to be able to make decisions on its behalf at Intergroup, even when the material presented at Intergroup is novel and has not been discussed at group level. There is not always time to refer every detail back to groups, and the GSR has to be able to think on her or his feet.
  • In AA as a whole, the General Service Conference has the final decision respecting large matters of general policy and finance; however, the General Service Board (GSB) has the chief initiative and takes active responsibility for these matters. General policy and finance means ‘what we want to do, and how much money we want to spend on it’. (Tradition VI)
  • The GSB plans and administrates its committee activities, but acts as stockholder to its corporations, so elects directors and then exercises oversight. (Tradition VIII)
  • Intergroup performs all three functions: (i) it covers general questions of policy and finance, akin to Conference; (ii) it has the chief initiative for projects and takes active responsibility for them, akin to the GSB, so that would include Intergroup’s PI activities; (iii) it exercises custodial oversight in relation to separately incorporated entities, e.g. financially ring-fenced conventions, where the actual running is left to the convention committee, and Intergroup merely oversees, intervening only when there is a serious problem affecting policy or finance (e.g. primary purpose, other traditions issues, or over-spending).
  • The GSRs role with these three is to be part of the Intergroup, acting as a single spiritual entity, (i) taking full responsibility for decisions on overall policy and finance; (ii) overseeing PI activities whilst trusting the PI officers to take care of the detail (Concept III—right of decision); (iii) exercising more remote oversight of conventions etc., in relation to which interference should be very rare.
  • Under Concept VIII, individual officers, committees, and directors are appointed by the GSB, and this applies at Intergroup; the Intergroup appoints officers, PI committees (e.g. Crisis at Christmas committees), and financially ring-fenced convention committees; under Concept XI, the aim is to appoint the best possible people to do the work required, with reference not just to AA skills but also to external experience, e.g. financial, management, leadership, technical, or administrative experience. To do this, we need to know the candidates. AA CVs need to be scrutinised, individuals, questioned, and concerns, raised. The best person for the job needs to be chosen.
  • The GSR’s job is also to collate service opportunities based on information learned at Intergroup. Some of these are recurring (e.g. telephone service) whilst others are non-recurring (e.g. particular vacancies). These opportunities could be at national, supra-regional, Regional, Intergroup, or more local level. These opportunities need to be presented weekly or monthly to the group.
  • The GSR can report news of the group to the rest of Intergroup. Such news includes temporary or permanent relocations and special or recurring events.
  • Conference Questions: every year, AA’s General Service Conference discusses questions and topics chosen by a committee out of all those submitted by members, groups, Intergroups, Regions, and other entities within AA. These must be discussed at group level, and the findings must be collated and presented at the London Region (North) Pre-Conference Assembly to the six Conference Delegates who represent the Region at the General Service Conference. At the Post-Conference Assembly, the Conference Delegates then report back to the GSRs the main decisions made at Conference, and these in turn are reported back to Groups.
  • GSRs are the main pool for taking on service at Intergroup. When there is a vacancy for an officer’s role at Intergroup, this vacancy should be brought to the attention of the group but the GSR should also consider taking up that vacancy herself or himself. Directly approaching potential good candidates is an important part of the GSR’s role. Many vacancies get filled in this way, rather than by someone spontaneously volunteering.


Friday, 12 May 2017

Why aren't the promises showing up?

Each Step in the Big Book is associated with promises. The promises come true, always. Sometimes they don't appear to show up.

There are three reasons:

(1) Not being painstaking or sincere with the Step.
(2) The promises are lost in the post; they'll arrive, but there may be a delay.
(3) The Step in question has been worked so slowly the joy is drip-fed. If someone gives you one thousand pounds, you'll notice it; if someone gives you one pound a day for three years, you won't notice anything.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

A sorry tale

Friend: “Good morning. You look a bit down.”
Alcoholic: “Yes, well, I’ve had a bit of bad news.”
F: “I’m sorry to hear that. What is it?”
A: “Well you know the people who helped me stop drinking?”
F: “Yes?”
A: “Well, I was happy to go through their programme to get me off the sauce; that was a few months ago now, and I’ve got my life together, my job’s going well, my girlfriend’s come back, and I’m having a great time.”
F: “So what’s the problem?”
A: “The problem is that that they say there’s more I have to do, to stay sober forever.”
F: “That sounds rough! What do you have to do?”
A: “It’s just awful. I’m not sure I can bring myself to say it.”
F: [stares blankly]
A: “I suppose I have to tell you. They say I have to spend time with people, for the rest of my life.”
F: “What do you mean, ‘spend time with people’?”
A: “Just that. I’m supposed to go to these places a couple of times a week where there are people, and they take turns talking about their lives and discussing things. They actually want me to participate, and talk. And then I have to spend time with individual people, where I talk about myself, and they talk about themselves, and then we discuss things. Can you believe it?”
F: “That does sound rough. I mean, you really don’t like people, do you?”
A: “Actually, I do. I’m scared this is going to detract from my social life.”
F: “Your social life? What does that consist of?”
A: “Oh, spending time with people.”
F: “And what does that involve?”
A: “Well, we get together in groups and talk about our lives and discuss things. Sometimes I hang out with just one person, and we take turns talking about ourselves, and then we discuss things. See?”
F: “Erm … so what’s the problem? Don’t you like the fact that these people are also sober?”
A: “No, of course, I’m glad they’re sober. Sober people are much easier to be with than drunk people.”
F: “So what is the problem then? Are the sober people fundamentally different from the ‘social life people’? Is it that you have to spend time with particular sober people?”
A: “Well, firstly they’re just like the social life people, except firstly they’re sober all of the time rather than most of the time, and secondly they, like me, are condemned to having to spend time with people just to stay alive. On the second point, no, I can go where I want; in fact there are tens of thousands of people to choose from, and over nine hundred different places I can go in London, many in walking distance from my office and home.”
F: “So what you’re saying is, you have recovered from alcoholism, and all you have to do to stay sober forever and maintain the wonderful life you have been given is spend time with people?”
A: “Yes.”
F: “My heart goes out to you, mate.”

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Opportunities for service

Here is a list of opportunities for service in London:

  • Sponsor people
  • Perform service at group level
  • Visit other groups to carry the message
  • Become a GSR
  • Attend Intergroup/Region, either as a visitor, a GSR, or an officer
  • Take up an officer role at Intergroup or Region
  • Find opportunities to speak at treatment centres or rehabs, through Intergroup
  • Volunteer for telephone service (attend the monthly workshop at the Southern Service Office (SSO) for details, sso@btconnect.com, relevant files here)
  • Volunteer for prison postal sponsorship (relevant files here: here)
  • Through your Intergroup, get on the twelfth-steppers list for your local postcode
  • Through the SSO, get on the relevant specialist twelfth-steppers lists: young people, speakers of foreign languages, people with armed services experience, and users of British sign language
  • If you speak Polish, Spanish, Russian, Farsi, Lithuanian, or Portuguese, attend meetings in those languages in London to help provide a bridge between those groups and the rest of AA
  • Volunteer for AA's annual contribution to Crisis at Christmas, through the SSO
  • Volunteer for prison service, through your local Intergroup Prison Liaison Officer
  • Engage in the 'though the gate' AA prison service: details
  • Volunteer for schools talks, though your local Intergroup Public Information Officer
  • Become an online responder: details
  • Volunteer for the online 'chat now' service: details
  • Scan this part of the website for further opportunities and vacancies: details 
  • Take up a role for Share magazine
  • Write for Share magazine: details
  • Become a member of a convention committee
  • Engage in online AA forums and carry the message there
  • Become a conference delegate or alternate conference delegate
  • Take up a role on one of the national sub-committees If you've been a conference delegate, become a board member.

Friday, 28 April 2017

90 in 90

Sometimes the idea of attending 90 meetings in 90 days is disparaged as a treatment centre invention or somehow incompatible with Big Book-based recovery. The Big Book does actually suggest daily meetings:

'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.' (Page 159)

My experience is that people who are interested in the Steps and Service sometimes neglect fellowship. They stall in their programmes and wonder why. If the problem is not lack of information it is lack of power. Meetings are an amazing source of power, as God works through people.

Other reasons for going to 90 in 90:

  • You meet lots of new people.
  • You make new friends.
  • You learn new things.
  • You can share widely with a large number of people.
  • You see how AA is done differently at different groups.
  • You see the benefits and drawbacks to a wide variety of approaches.
  • You realise you are a small part of a greater whole.
  • You realise that people can have successful recoveries doing things completely differently than you.
  • You realise that there is a still a lot of suffering out there and that there is much work to do.
  • You place yourself in God's hands by placing yourself in a position to be of maximum service to others.
  • You build your life around AA not the other way round, and everything becomes easier and simpler as sure power flows through you.
  • You are forced to be ingenious about how to fulfil all of your non-AA obligations and your AA obligations.
  • If you're anything like me, you become a lot happier!

Step Eight, harm or upset?

When writing out the list of harms in Step Eight, it can be difficult to work out whether something is severe enough to warrant a verbal amend instead of a mere correction of behaviour going forward.

When you manipulate water, it changes shape, but then it finds its own level again. When you manipulate clay, it changes shape, and stays that way.

If there is no lasting effect, in the sense of continued upset, a material change (for instance in someone's finances), or an alteration in how that person perceives himself or others or how he relates to you or others, then an amend is unlikely to be necessary.

If, like clay that has been manipulated, there is a lasting change, restoration is likely to be required.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

It's not about the past

It is impossible to be affected by the past. If I was hungry in 1984, I'm not currently affected by that hunger. I might be affected by current anger because of that hunger, or because of the current beliefs I have about that hunger and what it means about what the world then thought of me or what that tells me about what I am worth, but my problem is my current belief, my current thinking, or my current anger, not the past.

A good example is if I believed that something happened when it did not. The feelings are identical regardless of whether or not the event occurred. It is clear, therefore, that what affects me is not what happens to me but what I think about it. If some past events do not appear to affect me but others do, it is clearly not the past event, or even what I thought about it at the time which affects me, but what I think now.

Katie P once said, 'You want to talk about feelings? Your feelings come from a delusional mindset. Let's talk about delusion!'

When I'm resentful, or upset, or frightened, I am literally delusional: I think that I can be harmed or have been harmed, or will be harmed. I cannot. I am spirit. There is nothing wrong, there never has been, and there never will be, because I am not my body, my material circumstances, my external life, or anything that happens around me. WAKEY WAKEY! God is here, God is now, and all is well.

God provides what I need if I stay close to Him and perform His work well. That is what I need to keep my mind on: not delusions about the past, present, or future.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Treasury

AA groups have a treasurer to look after the money. Sometimes problems arise. These procedures minimise the risk to the individual and to the group.
  • Records should be kept in a book or folder.
  • This book or folder should be displayed prominently during group meetings and be available for inspection by group members at any time.
  • An oral report should be given every month.
  • The treasurer should be open to reasonable questions and not be defensive or secretive.
  • The records should be kept up to date.
  • The records should clearly show Tradition 7 receipts (the amount collected from the pot), expenditure on refreshments and literature, payments of rent, and contributions to Intergroup.
  • All entries should be initialled.
  • Documentary evidence of all expenditure and payments is required.
  • Tradition 7 receipts in particular should be signed for.
  • If a bank account is maintained, payments from the account must require two signatures, and receipts should be obtained for deposits into the account.
  • A prudent reserve of one month's expenses must be maintained, but no more.

If these procedures are adhered to, this minimises the possibility of the group being defrauded and protects the treasurer against unreasonable accusations of impropriety. These procedures also dissuade fraudulent individuals from taking up the role in the first place and deter fraud or 'borrowing' on the part of a normally honest treasurer.


Banks accounts tend to be time-consuming to set up and manage, because banks have complex administrative procedures that can be completed only during normal working hours and because the procedures often break down. The experience of most groups is that high street banks tend to lose documentation submitted, mis-key information, fail to implement requests for changes in correspondence address and authorised signatories, etc. Unless the group is taking a relatively large amount of money every week, it can be best to keep everything cash-based and keep the prudent reserve to an absolute minimum (maybe a couple of weeks of expenses).

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Is the Big Book sexist and does it matter?

The chapters 'To Wives' and 'The Family Afterward' presume that the alcoholic is male and the head of the family. The presentation of ideas and language used (specifically 'he' etc.) reflects this.

This was an accurate reflection of the membership of AA in 1939 and an accurate reflection of the structure of American society in 1939.

Is AA different and is society different now? Yes. Is it better that women are in AA? Obviously. It is better that women are emancipated and that there is greater equality between the sexes? I think so, and most would agree in western society. There are many cultures round the world where society does not reflect the current western model, however.

Is there a problem with the Big Book? I don't think so.

Firstly, part of the virtue of tolerance is to accept that different ages and different cultures have different sets of values. I cannot presume to impose my culture and values on others. It is particularly unfair to retrospectively condemn a prior culture and to dismiss what it has to say in general because one particular set of values or norms inherent in that culture differs from mine.

Secondly, I have intelligence and imagination. When I am reading the Big Book, I can be tolerant of the fact that the culture and values were different, and take any description of the alcoholic husband and alanonic wife and children to represent any constellation of individuals where one is alcoholic and the rest are not, regardless of sex, gender, age, or orientation. With the use of intelligence and imagination, I can extract the principles underlying the material and not get floored by the fact that I hold different values.

Sometimes people want to rewrite the Big Book to reflect modern, western, liberal values.

Firstly, this is not necessary, if tolerance, intelligence, and imagination are exercised, as above.

Secondly, this is presumptuous, because, whilst a revised Big Book might stop alienating some cultures, a politically correct version might equally alienate others. Who am I to say that my modern, western, liberal values trump all others? Do we need a different Big Book for every single culture, for every single set of values? A modern, western, liberal Big Book would be great. But we'd also need to rewrite it for orthodox or ultra-orthodox Jews, for ultra-orthodox Christian Russian nationalists, for tribes in South America with barely any contact with modern civilisation, and for Islamic societies where women are indeed treated very differently: in fact, the Big Book would probably be viewed in places as far too liberal by many cultures around the world.

Rather than rewriting the Big Book for every possible culture and set of values, and having to rewrite it every time the culture changes or values are updated, we could just adjust ourselves to what is: the document is a document of its time and place, and it takes little skill to overlook the differences between that culture and this, their values and ours, and to see that 99.9% of the material is universal to all cultures and applicable under any circumstances.

In fact, the call for a rewrite has already been answered in the form of the plethora of AA literature that has been published over the last few decades, and in particular the avowed aim of the stories which are reselected and rewritten with every new addition, to reflect changes in society and broadening of our membership.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Craving, obsession, and preoccupation

To be clear:

Physical craving: this is the powerful urge to continue drinking after the first drink, regardless of whether or not I am having a nice time, enjoying the drinking, feeling ill, acting anti-socially, or the threat of consequences. The physical craving refers to the effect of having the first drink and therefore to the effect of alcohol on the body and mind. It is physical not in the sense of being perceived physically but in the sense of being triggered by a physical change, namely the introduction of alcohol into the body. Wanting the first drink, even badly, or being preoccupied with the first drink is not an example of the physical craving.

Mental obsession: this is the thought that prompts the first drink, namely the idea that a drink would be a good idea (and the absence of effective counterargument). This is separate from a desire to drink and certainly distinct from the physical craving. It is termed an obsession because it persistently recurs, not because it is necessarily associated with powerful emotion, preoccupation, etc. It can be merely a passing thought that allows a person to take a proffered glass of champagne, 'accidentally' order a pint rather than an orange juice, or unexpectedly put a bottle of wine in a shopping trolley. It need not occur often to be fatal.

Preoccupation: this is sometimes referred to as 'craving' or 'obsession', but this causes confusion, as these two terms, in the Big Book, are reserved for other phenomena. Preoccupation is continually or continuously thinking about drinking or wanting to drink. It will not necessarily lead to a drink, unless accompanied by the mental obsession. If the person is sane, preoccupation will simply be a painful irritation, and can persist to some extent for years after a person joins AA and stops drinking. See the last page of Dr Bob's Nightmare for an example of this, or page 15 of the Big Book (Bill's Story).

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Early days

I struggled to get and remain sober in AA for a few months. There are some key elements in what ultimately succeeded:

I got a job. It was not a skilled job, an interesting job, or a job that contributed in any way to the development of a career. But it kept me out of trouble during the day, gave me something to think about other than myself, gave me an opportunity to practise the principle of service, put money in my pocket, secured the necessities of life, gave me a place in society, and positioned me as a giver not a taker. For seven hours a day, I was too busy to think about my emotional dramas, and I had respite from myself.

I placed action above emotion. I felt truly awful a lot of the time but made the decision under the guidance of the people around me to stick to my job, my other obligations, the daily actions of the programme, the process of the steps, attendance at meetings, fellowship with others, and service in AA, regardless of how I felt or what my opinion was on whether any of these particular actions were good for me: the examples around me in AA established that these were right, and I wasn't going to question them. I was told that if my arse fell off, I should pick it up and take it to an AA meeting. This is great advice: feeling bloody awful is not a sign to stop taking the right action but a sign to step up the right action. The best self-care was not to run away and lick my wounds but to go to an AA meeting and put out chairs.

My modus operandi throughout my life before AA was as follows: I was the centre of my own dramatic narrative, in which I played the leading role of hero and victim, misunderstood, out of place, and irreparably damaged by, yes, a cruel, cruel world. Now, the world was indeed unpleasant in certain ways, but on top of actual suffering I built a fantasy world of character, plot, and even theme music. I was most comfortable when I was lost inside my dramatic narrative, and when I was placed in a situation where I was not the centre of attention, I would act out: tears, hysterical outbursts, attention-seeking, vocalised suicidal ideation, self-harm, placing myself in dangerous situations, deliberate damage to physical objects, overt or covert accusations, theatrical gloom, emotional vomiting, endless talking about the dramatic narrative, and a complete resistance to any suggestion that there was another way to look at things. I was expert at recruiting people into my narrative, first as heroes but ultimately as villains, as no one was able to rescue me in the manner that I saw fit, and anyone who sought to dismantle my fantasy world became the enemy and, in my perception, a contributor to the growing evil of my life. Here is an illustration of how and why this began to change: in my first few weeks and months in AA, I would have panic attacks and run out of AA meetings. For a while, people would follow me to see if I was OK. Eventually, they gave up and left me to it. Once I had demonstrated to myself a few times that this was no longer going to work, the panic attacks, which had previously seemed involuntary, stopped spontaneously. Behind the apparent automatic behaviour was subconscious calculation. This was how AA helped me: genuine assistance was provided at the same time that people around me refused to indulge my unhelpful behaviour.

To become sponsorable, the following were necessary:

(1) I had to be willing to supplant my sponsor's perception of my situation for my own, without resistance.

(2) I had to be willing to take actions my sponsor suggested, without resistance.

Another issue I had in early recovery was mixed messages and mixed approaches. I was extremely unwell, mentally ill in fact, when I got sober. Many very well-meaning people suggested therapy. I followed their advice, and within a few sessions became persistently preoccupied with the sorry events of my childhood, convinced I could not start to have a positive experience of my life until these sorry events had been processed, believing that my modes of thinking and behaviour were so intrinsic to who I was that I could not be expected to change, and hyperaware of the tangled ball of painful perceptions and memories in my mind, which I believed meant that I could not be happy today or indeed ever until this was resolved, but unclear if, when, and how the therapeutic process I was engaged in could ever achieve this. I quickly acquired the perception of myself as so utterly damaged and broken that I would never be happy, and even more angry at my childhood and the figures that populated my narrative about it. As if this wasn't bad enough, the ideas in the therapy directly contradicted what was being taught to me in AA about how to live cheerfully, usefully, and kindly in the here and now. You cannot live in the day and talk about your past at the same time. The AA steps do look at the past, but only briefly and in a controlled way, to examine where my moral failings lay, and to provide the basis for forgiveness of others for their wrongs towards me. This is quite different from the therapy I was the subject of, which was psychotherapy largely consisting in me telling the therapist my thoughts about my feelings without any critical distance being introduced or without my beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes being challenged. When I stopped the therapy and started applying AA's approach of learning to live cheerfully, usefully, and kindly in the day, hope returned, and I started to get well. Over the 12 years that followed, I tried a couple of times to resume therapy to handle the residue left over from my childhood, but my experience in each case was that, although the therapy provided some temporary emotional relief, it did not contribute at all to the changes in perception of my past and myself that ultimately proved the road to wellness. The tools of the programme that did resolve these problems were as follows:

(1) Recognising that others are unwell

(2) Recognising that that everyone is dealt some good cards and some bad cards

(3) Recognising that what is past is literally no longer there

(4) Recognising my own infinite worth as a human being and that this applies equally to others

(5) Recognising that inferring who I am from what happens to me is flawed thinking

(6) Dropping the whole value system underpinning my interpretation of and interaction with the world

(7) Forgiving

(8) Making amends

(9) Guarding my thoughts and preventing negativity from gaining a foothold

(10) Actively seeking and developing a relationship with God

(11) Seeking to implement that relationship by working for God by serving others

(12) Remaining in the now

A key principle of the programme is letting go of old ideas. The Big Book suggests that we have to be willing to let go of our old ideas, and that the result is nil until we let go absolutely. I have learned to beware also of new old ideas. When I was new in AA, I went to too many different types of meeting and spoke at depth with too many people. The result was a soup of inconsistent ideas and belief systems, and my attempts to reconcile these ideas produced half-hearted action in all directions, dissipating my efforts, and putting the brakes on all lines of attack, as I was not fully committed to any particular approach. Once I adopted one particular approach to AA and decided to disregard the rest, the task was simpler, my mind was clearer, and I started to make very rapid progress. What this did mean, though, was that, to make progress, I had to be willing to have my sponsor challenge any idea I presented without resistance from me. The ideas I presented were old ideas from before AA but also new ideas from other people in AA or other domains (religion, spirituality, self-help, therapy, etc.) which were incompatible with what my sponsor was suggesting. For a while, until I was trained out of it, I would play my sponsor off against these other ideas and challenge what my sponsor was saying. Fortunately, I was trained out of this swiftly, as he said that he was merely offering me a package deal. I could take the package deal or leave it but he was not going to justify the package deal: he was simply offering me what he had been shown and what had worked for him. There was also no point in me trying to follow another spiritual or therapeutic process whilst trying to learn and adopt the programme, because it's impossible to create the space required by letting go of old ideas if, as I'm pouring out bad old ideas from one side of the jug, someone else is pouring bad or at least incompatible new ideas into the other.


To sum up, I had to let go of old, bad ideas, be wary of new and bad or incompatible ideas, adopt the programme of action wholeheartedly, and adopt a very simple approach to life: get on with what is in front of me, trust God, and disregard my own perceptions, beliefs, and thinking.