Thursday, 29 April 2010

An exercise for re-approaching Step Four

Step One

Does my experience abundantly confirm that, whenever I take any alcohol whatever into my system, something happens both in the bodily and mental sense, which makes it virtually impossible for me to stop? (22:4)

Do I have any lurking notion that someday I will be immune to alcohol? (33:1)

Do I believe I am unable, at certain times, to bring into my consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago, let alone the suffering and humiliation of whenever my last drink was? Do I believe I am without defence against the first drink? (24:2)

Do I believe such a defence must come from a Higher Power? (43:3)

Identification of current problems

Is living unsatisfactory? (51:0) → 'Lack'

Am I making heavy going of life? (51:0) → 'Limitation'

Am I baffled by the seeming futility of existence? (51:0) → 'Emptiness'

Have I almost always been in collision with something or somebody? (60:8) → 'Strife'

Am I having trouble with personal relationships? Is my emotional nature controlling me? Am I a prey to misery and depression? Am I having troubling making a living? Am I existing rather than living? Do I have a feeling of uselessness? Am I full of fear? Am I unhappy? Do I seem unable to be of real help to other people? (52:2)

This represents current unmanageability.

Step Two

Can a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life solve these problems? When I wish to be moral or philosophically comforted, and will these things will all my might, do I find that the needed power is not there? Are my human resources, as marshalled by the will, insufficient—have they failed utterly? (44:4)

This represents current powerlessness.

Do I believe that lack of power is my dilemma—that I need to find a power by which I could live? Is it obvious that this Power must be greater than me? (45:1)

Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself, who can lead me beyond where I am now to a resolution of these problems? (47:2)

Have I been keeping God out of the above areas of current unmanageability and powerlessness due to lack of faith?

This represents current agnosticism.

Either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn't. What is our choice? (53:2)

Step Three

Am I convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success? (60:8)

Taking the areas of current powerlessness, unmanageability, and agnosticism:

Am I trying to fulfil any role other than actor/child, with God as the Director/Father? (62:3)

Am I playing the director—in charge of the overall plan?

Am I playing the producer—in charge of the detail?

Am I playing the playwright—in charge of everyone's scripts, including my own?

Am I playing the choreographer—in charge of everyone's moves, including my own?

Am I playing the prompt—in charge of reminding other people of their lines?

Am I playing the critic—in charge of judging and rating?

Am I playing the audience—standing back and shirking my assigned role?

These are areas of current self-will run riot.

Am I willing to quit playing God because it does not work? (62:3)

Proceed from 62:3 ("Next, we decided ...") to 103:3 ("... We have to!"), following the clear-cut directions (29:1).

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves: the victim and her trusty companions

When I examine the (fancied or real) wrongdoing of others (columns 1 and 2 of the Step Four resentment inventory), I discover I am upset because it affects ME (column 3: my pride—what you think of me, my self-esteem—how I see myself, my personal and sex relations—how you treat me, and my ambitions, security, and pocketbooks—my wants and needs).

At this point in the inventory process, I'm still the victim of a cruel world that just cannot or will not follow my obviously divinely inspired script. I'm the rag doll in the mouth of the grizzly bear.

Another image: my demands are a mine field I have laid, and the world, unwittingly, tramps on through, carrying on its own business apparently regardless, and steps on mine after mine. Trouble is, I'm the one that blows up, not them. Everyone else just plods on, unsuspecting (if they are out of range) or incredulous at the explosions (if they are unfortunate enough to be in range).

"The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong." (P. 66:0)

Funny thing, the Big Book does not contradict this! It does concede that the wrongdoing may be real or fancied, but it does not suggest that our observations of the wrongdoings of others are, themselves, necessarily inaccurate. There may be part of a bigger picture that is obscured from our gaze, and p. 66:3 ("We were prepared to look at it from an entirely different angle") sets us down a path that expands our view of the situation sufficiently, with any luck, for us ultimately "to take a kindly and tolerant view" (p. 67:1).

In my inventory, there were, however, categorical wrongs done to me. Pretty much everyone's inventory has them.

And the pain caused by those events was real. Incidentally, if the pain was not felt at the time, it may need to be felt now. All this is good and natural as a response to painful stimuli.

However, I found myself at five, ten, fifteen years sober still smarting in my victimhood at the terrible unfairness of being born into the family I was born into, with all of the consequences that flowed from that in terms of damage as I was growing up, or, more accurately, failing to grow up.

"We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future. We were prepared to look at it from an entirely different angle. We began to see that the world and its people really dominated us. In that state, the wrongdoings of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill. How could we escape? We saw that these resentments must be mastered, but how? We could not wish them away any more than alcohol." (P. 66:3)

The real question is, 'do I want to be free'? Of course! However, I am not responsible for what was done to me, and, as p. 66:0 indicates, the world and its people are often quite (= 100%) wrong. Where on earth do I go from here?

My problem, for a long time, was adopting the whole "what is my part?" approach. Whilst you still have a part in my unhappiness, I will never be free. And, the greater your actual wrong, the greater your part, and the less free I will be. I'm screwed!

That is why I am so grateful for the following insight I was given:

Other people are 100% responsible for their actions and reactions ("... quite wrong"); I am 100% responsible for my actions and reactions.

That is why there is no such thing as 'their part' and ’my part'.

P. 67:2 tells us repeatedly:

"Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done ... we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely ... The inventory was ours, not the other man's".

Take your actions and reactions out of the picture, and I'm left just with mine. There are no 'parts' any more. If I am 100% responsible for my actions and reactions, you have no dominion over me at all.

So, now I had established that freedom was even possible, I was left with the thorny question: why was I perversely hanging on to, entertaining, nursing, and harbouring past resentments at genuine wrongs? I was clearly suffering and clearly wanted to be free. I felt completely trapped, however, and continued to blame those who had wronged me for the lifelong prison I believed myself condemned to. I did not want to be a victim (who, really, would want to be?), but I saw no way out.

"We were prepared to look at it from an entirely different angle" (p. 66:3).

Let us take the 'it' to be my victimhood. Flip it over, see what happens. Inextricably tied to my victimhood is a set of other roles: prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner, amongst others. And these are extremely enticing. Self-righteousness rocks, for a while! Momentary satisfaction every time I garner sympathy and understanding, set out the prosecutor's case, deliver the jury's verdict, hand down the sentence, and strike back, or strike out, to punish whoever happens to be in the way.

Furthermore, victimhood means I do not need to take responsibility for my conduct, because, if my conduct flows unimpeded from my ineradicable past, from the wrongs done to me, I can just pass the blame on to the source and avoid any accountability.

To be free of victimhood—to be free of what was done to me—I have to become willing to be liberated, also, from the roles of Snow White (who is clearly responsible for nothing—she's Teflon) and her Seven Dwarves: the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, the executioner, the politician, the reformer, and the minister sighing over the sins of others. They come as a package deal with victimhood.

I have found change to be possible, but only once, in Step Six, I find what I identify in me to be objectionable (p. 76). I was not responsible for the wrong done to me—for the slaps in the face and far, far worse. But, as I repeated the story back to myself time and time again over the decades, each time unwittingly embellishing, stylising, and honing, I was inflicting on myself the same slaps in the face—and far, far worse, in the form of actions taken on the basis of this narrative of myself.

This continual self-imposed re-enactment from a self-righteous vantage-point was what I ultimately had to find objectionable, although the admission of this was gruelling.

"The truth will set you free, but, first of all, it will really piss you off." (Not in the Big Book, literally, but the idea is set out on p. 25:1.)

May some dark insight really piss you off, because freedom may therefore be on its way!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Jigsaw puzzles

We are jigsaw puzzle pieces. Protuberances and gaps. Funny-looking. Unsightly. Apparently futile and useless. And hopeless. Lost under the sofa. Separated from the rest of the pieces.
Sometimes recovery is presented as a way of getting rid of all of those protuberances and gaps. Rounding everything off, so we're all defect-free. And, since that's clearly impossible (still spotting those protuberances and gaps?), recovery is not possible.

The purpose of jigsaw puzzle pieces is to be fitted into the jigsaw. Your surpluses match other people's deficits. Perfectly interlocked!

"Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us." (p. 77, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

My only problem is resistance to being fitted into the jigsaw puzzle, because I am frightened I will lose my identity. The truth is, my identity is there precisely to be fitted to fulfil a greater purpose.

Once the jigsaw is complete, and we are fully interlocked with the world around us, the protuberances and gaps, the surpluses and the deficits, vanish, and the full picture is revealed, a picture that could not have been discerned from examining each piece individually.

The brokenness is still there, but invisible in perspective. That's the promise of recovery. Recovery is possible, connectedness is possible, healing is possible. Not despite our defects. Because of them.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Sistine Chapel, cardboard boxes, and great persuaders

"The outer world, far from being the prison of circumstances that it is commonly supposed to be, has actually no character whatsoever of its own, either good or bad. It has only the character that we give to it by our own thinking. It is naturally plastic to our thought, and this is so, whether we know it or not, and whether we wish it or not." (Emmet Fox, 'Sermon on the Mount', p. 13)
I've spent a lot of my life living, metaphorically, inside a cardboard box, painting the inside with pictures of what I think the outside world looks like, and then cowering or spitting at it.

If my external world evinces stagnation, that is merely a reflection of stagnation in my inner world of thought.

How do I know my inner world of thought is stagnant? Stuck needles.

How is thought changed?

First of all, I have to come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as I had been living it (p. 25, Alcoholics Anonymous). Life, not in any absolute sense, but as I had been living it.

(I have a habit, by the way, of blaming, for my predicament, 'life', whose true nature I'm blinded to, trapped as I am inside my own thoughts, images, ideas, attitudes, and judgements—the painted interior of the cardboard box. What would a passer-by say about that blame, hearing the despair, the shouting and cursing at the painted ghouls from inside the box?

I am so proud of my work—the Sistine Chapel of my mind—that the very suggestion I may be mistaken is highly offensive. What will happen to all that hard work? If I was wrong all along, what does that say about how much time and energy I have wasted? Is lifelong self-delusion really possible? What an appalling prospect!)

People say they're scared of change.

I am not. Not really. What is hopelessness but a fear that nothing will ever change? What is futility but a sense that nothing you do will ever cause change? What is hell but ever decreasing circles, ever-concentrating yet unchanging pain?

No, unless I can experience the hopelessness and futility of my situation, unless the walls close in, I am going to continue the recreational activity of the re-creation of my own thoughts, images, ideas, attitudes, and judgements, and from that will flow the perpetuation of the life I have created around me.

If I can see that stagnation is the problem and my thinking (thoughts, images, ideas, attitudes, and judgements) is the cause, there is a chance that I will start to find my thinking sufficiently "objectionable" (p. 76, Step Six) to abandon myself (p. 164, p. 59), the 'self', here, being the thought-world driven by the ego.

Fear of change? Really? When my radio is kaput and I get the chance to go and buy a brand-spanking new one, I am secretly thrilled, once I get over the anger at the shoddy manufacturing.

"Is not our age characterized by the ease with which we discard old ideas for new, by the complete readiness with which we throw away the theory or gadget which does not work for something new which does?" (p. 52)

I am not scared of change. My ego is afraid of its own death.

Step Seven involves humility—being poor in spirit, which, according to Emmet Fox, means "to have emptied yourself of all desire to exercise personal self-will, and, what is just as important, to have renounced all preconceived opinions ... It means to be willing to set aside your present habits of thought, your present views and prejudices, your present way of life if necessary; to jettison, in fact, anything and everything that can stand in the way of your finding God."

Surprisingly, this is not actually difficult terribly difficult, given the right awareness.

"This sort of thinking [obstinacy, sensitiveness, unreasoning prejudice, etc.] had to be abandoned. Though some of us resisted, we found no great difficulty in casting aside such feelings. Faced with alcoholic destruction, we soon became as open minded on spiritual matters as we had tried to be on other questions. In this respect alcohol was a great persuader. It finally beat us into a state of reasonableness." (p. 48)
I pray, therefore, for a "great persuader" to make itself felt: alcoholic destruction or some other hell of stasis, stagnation, or inexorable deterioration. If I can see with clarity the inevitability of my annihilation—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially—brought about by a mind "fettered by superstition, tradition, and all sorts of fixed ideas" (p. 51), I can, at last, be restored to sanity, I will, at last, recoil from my own mind "as from a hot flame" (p. 84).

Get out of the cardboard box!

Monday, 12 April 2010

"I don't miss it at all. Feel better. Work better. Having a better time."

"As ex-problem drinkers, we smile at such a sally. We know our friend is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits. He fools himself. Inwardly he would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn't happy about his sobriety. He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end," (pp. 151–152, 'Alcoholics Anonymous').

Over to Tom Waits for the worked example:

"Well, Frank settled down in the Valley
and hung his wild years
on a nail that he drove through
his wife's forehead.
He sold used office furniture
out there on San Fernando Road
and assumed a $30,000 loan
at 15 1/4 % and put down-payment
on a little two-bedroom place.
His wife was a spent piece of used jet trash,
made good bloody Marys,
kept her mouth shut most of the time,
had a little Chihuahua named Carlos
that had some kind of skin disease
and was totally blind. They had a
thoroughly modern kitchen—
self-cleaning oven (the whole bit).
Frank drove a little sedan—
they were so happy.

One night Frank was on his way home
from work, stopped at the liquor store,
picked up a couple Mickey's Big Mouths—
drank 'em in the car on his way
to the Shell station; he got a gallon of
gas in a can, drove home, doused
everything in the house, torched it,
parked across the street, laughing,
watching it burn, all Halloween
orange and chimeney red. Then
Frank put on a top-forty station,
got on the Hollywood Freeway,
headed north.

Never could stand that dog." ('Frank's Wild Years')

"We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defence against the first drink," (24:1).

"Suddenly the thought crossed my mind that if I were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk it couldn't hurt me on a full stomach," (36:2).

[Suddenly, but inevitably.]

"In some circumstances, we have gone out deliberately to get drunk, feeling ourselves justified by nervousness, anger, worry, depression, jealousy or the like. But even in this type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what always happened," (37:3)

"Or perhaps he doesn't think at all," (24:3).

"...when he has before him a way to stop his drinking and abuse if he really wants to pay the price," (108:3).

"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" (14:1).

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Step Ten and the Road of Happy Destiny

Fed up of wretched and repetitive lists of your daily crimes and misdemeanours? Try this out for size!

"Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along," (p. 84:1, 'Alcoholics Anonymous').
When you drive, you adjust the steering wheel as you go. You do not wait until you crash. For the longest time, I limited Step Ten to a nightly review of the day. This is a good practice as it stands, but the Book suggests this as part of the Step Eleven evening meditation (p. 86). When Step Ten was this—and only this—I was missing out, and the people in my life were the real victims. It was like driving along with my eyes shut, stopping at nightfall, and examining the bumpers for traces of blood or fur to explain the strange thuds and jolts I experienced along the way during the day. Regret and remorse do not bring road-kill back to life. The real job of Step Ten is to avoid ploughing into God's creatures in the first place.

Step Ten is about adjusting myself towards the line of God's will in the moment.

"We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past."
To me, this is an instruction to start living in accordance with Step Ten as soon as Step Four is commenced—that is the other point in the Book where we engage in "vigorous action" (p. 63), which, in turn, follows Step Three immediately—"Next ..."! (p. 63)

"We have entered the world of the Spirit. Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness."
The world of the Spirit—the Fourth Dimension—is what lies beyond the first three—the physical, the mental, and the emotional. Paul Coutinho, SJ, talks about the material world being 1% of reality. The other 99% is the world of the Spirit. The world of the Spirit consists in truth and love. Understanding and effectiveness are the consequences of living in accordance with these. NB 'grow'. Limitless expansion!

"Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear."
Selfishness is thinking about myself rather than others—it flows from putting self in the place of God as the centre and main objective of my life or of some department thereof.

Dishonest is lying, withholding the truth, distorting the truth, or self-delusion.

Resentment is the emotion that flows from comparing the past with how I think it should be and finding it wanting; fear is the emotion that flows from comparing the future with how I think it should be and finding it wanting.

As I proceed through my day, I watch my thoughts, words, voice, being, and action for these four tell-tale signs that:
(a) I have put myself in charge of the world
(b) I have started moulding the world to suit me.

When I am watching my own thoughts, words, voice, being, and action, I am not these things. That which observes cannot, simultaneously, be that which is being observed. This is about detached observation, not judgement. I regularly experience the wild horses of my mind dragging me behind them, my foot caught in the stirrup. When I observe—am aware—my foot loosens and I am eventually freed. I start to dis-identify, and move beyond. Who we really are is the observer, not the observed.

Another image: after I have been watching for a while, I realise I am no longer in the middle of the storm, and I am safe behind glass, merely observing.

Someone once said to me: "Name the thoughts as they come past: do not say, 'I hate Tim'; say, 'I am having the thought that Tim is a terrible person. My mind is judging Tim.' If I can observe my judgement, for a moment, I am no longer judging.

As in Step Six, constant, unrelenting observation and awareness will deepen how objectionable (p. 76) I find my thoughts, words, voice, being, and action as they arise out of the ego's attempt to re-landscape the whole world in accordance with its own plan, and willingness to have God transform me will flow in automatically.

"When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them."
Firstly, 'when', not 'if'. The steering wheel will need to be constantly adjusted even on a very straight road.

We do not analyse. We ask God 'at once' to remove them. This means that the asking is 'at once'. The removal may not occur at once, however. We may have to keep on asking. This is the proper use of the will (cf. p. 85)—to keep on asking.

"We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone."
If I am driving along and I actually hit something, I need to stop, swap insurance numbers, apologise, see if there is anything I can do to help, and only then continue along my way. No hit-and-runs.

But I do not stop and re-examine the engine every time my steering goes a little off centre.

I do not, therefore, stop every five minutes to call people and analyse my latest skew-whiff thought; my job is to get on with executing God's will, moment by moment.

"Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help."
Whatever task I am engaged in—whether it is doing the work I am being paid to do, cooking the dinner, or simply relaxing in order that, tomorrow, I will be rested enough to be able to continue to play the role God assigns me in the world (p. 68)—I consider how, if I engage in the activity I am supposed to be engaged in, this is in fulfilment of God's plan for me. This is about expanding the picture from my tiny corner of creation to the specific relationship I have been placed in by God with everyone around me. Bigger picture!

Often, what also happens at this point is that an actual, practical opportunity to be helpful will present itself. Grab this opportunity with both hands. Our work is here and now.

It is funny how, even when you think your day is full, you can always insert additional acts of helpfulness or kindness towards others, the way a pot that is full of potatoes has plenty of room for water.

"Love and tolerance of others is our code".
Ask: is what I am thinking, saying, doing, and being loving and tolerant?

I have been taught that true tolerance comes from the realisation that we are all abysmally ignorant. Frogs stuck down wells looking up at our patch of the sky thinking it is the whole universe. Other people are perfect children of God looking at the world—as am I—through dirty glasses and acting accordingly. Sometimes, like us, they are separated from their true spirits, from their heart's desire—which is God's will—, and they are running round like crazy people, trying to wrest satisfaction and happiness from the world by managing, managing, managing (p. 61). They are simply cut off from the spirit (p. 66), looking to the material, mental, and emotional to satisfy the spiritual yearning within them. Poor them! Poor us! How can we hate people in the same predicament as us?

"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone ..."
Cease fighting! The instruction to myself when I catch myself fighting: stop, and stop now! Resign from the debating society (the debating society is where they debate for the sake of debate—I have no business there)! Cf. "We do not mean that you have to agree ... whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit," (p. 117).

You may think there is good reason to fight. Perhaps there is. There is probably a philosophical discussion buried somewhere in there. I know, however, that I will die if I become and stay resentful (p. 66—becoming cut off from the sunlight of the Spirit, and the insanity of alcohol returning), and so will those I could otherwise have helped. I have used up my fighting vouchers. I have been shown that my job is to be a channel for God's love, which is far more powerful than fighting, anyway. I am still learning that what I never thought would be sufficient—love, service, and commitment—are indeed sufficient.

"Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all our activities. 'How can I best serve thee—Thy will (not mine) be done.' These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will," (p. 85:1).

"Show me the vision of your will, God."
"How can I best serve thee?"
"Thy will (not mine) be done!"
"Let these thoughts go with me constantly."

When I am doubtful or between activities, I ask for the vision of how God would have me be in the present or upcoming situation. I ask God for the thoughts, words, and actions which will lead me to this state of being.

God's will is a road; God lies at the end of the road. If I keep my eyes on God, the road to God will become apparent.

The line of God's will ("... along this line") has, on one side, love, and, on the other side, truth. When I am examining my thoughts, words, voice, action, and being for their consistency with God's will, the 'testers' are love and truth. Am I being loving? Am I being truthful? If I stay between these lines, I am safe. Dishonesty lies beyond truth; selfishness lies beyond love. The land on either side of God's will is strewn with the landmines of resentment and fear. Step over the lines of love and truth into dishonesty and selfishness and you will be blown sky-high by resentment and fear.

Roads have rumble strips and raised lines to let us know, if we are listening carefully, that we are drifting out of our lane. On a good day, if I am listening carefully to my conscience, in touch with the sixth sense we are told on p. 85 will develop, I hear the vehicle straying onto these rumble strips, telling me that I am in danger of leaving the line of God's will (truth and love) and entering the wastelands of self-will (dishonesty and selfishness).

Fortunately, if I am distracted and I miss or mistake the rumble strips of my conscience, the exploding landmines of resentment and fear will grab my attention.

God's will lies in the now, not the past, not the future.

Drift out of the sacred space between love and truth into selfishness and dishonesty and I am out of the now into the past (resentment) or future (fear).

These two lines, love and truth, running along either side of the road of God's, will meet at infinity. God is at the intersection between these parallel lines of love and truth. Love without truth is frothy emotional appeal (p. xxviii). Truth without love is cruelty.

This is the Road of Happy Destiny. May God bless you and keep you—until then, (p. 164).

Monday, 5 April 2010

Alcoholism in 100 words

(1) When I drink, I can't stop. Powerless. Ain't managing my life.

(2) Left to my own devices, I drink even when I don't want to. Powerless. Ain't managing my life.

(3) Alcohol gave me a sham knock-off of God's grace. Unless I connect with God, I'll drink, because the Promised Land will always call to me in the desert.

(4) Separated from God, I start trying to rearrange the world around me to suit me. Cue collision. Cue failure. Cue resentment. Cue fear. Cue bedevilments. Help!

(5) Enter alcohol, stage left. BOOM.

Cheap grace, or real grace. Your choice.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Splinters, Rabbit Holes, and Wonderland

The manifestation in my consciousness of the spiritual malady that underlies alcoholism is, for me, best described by the phrase 'restless, irritable, discontented' (p. xxviii of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous'). Restless: I want to be anywhere but right here, right now. Irritable: nothing seems right, even when it is right. Discontented: nothing seems enough, even when it is enough. This is less a set of emotions and more a state of being stemming from a perception: that, even when all is well, everything is wrong.

When alcohol worked, this was reversed: right here, right now was where I wanted to be. Even when everything was wrong, it was right. Whatever I had—as long as I had drink—was enough.

I did not drink solely to change how I felt or to escape the consciousness of my circumstances, although these were pleasant—and somewhat hit-and-miss—by-products of the effect of alcohol on my brain.

I drank to change the way I saw the world. One drink and the invisible goblins would set to work restoring the world around me to its rightful state, making innumerable tiny adjustments, until, after the third or fourth drink, I could rest. This is the effect on me produced by alcohol (p. xxviii). This sensation was indeed elusive: sometimes I caught it, sometimes I didn't; it was elusive also in that I muddled the superficial emotional shifts with this underlying change in perception: I thought that I drank just because of anxiety and depression, but, in truth, I drank—and drank to alcoholic excess—even when there was no anxiety or depression to treat.

But there was always the distortion of perception: and this is what alcohol really addressed.


For the longest time, I tried using the AA programme like a set of ordinary psychological devices to help me manage my life more effectively. And, externally, it did just that. But there was still a sense of wrongness: like watching a 3D film without the 3D glasses. At times, everything was perfect externally, but something was wrong deep inside, at a level beyond emotion and circumstance. When my emotions were out of kilter or my circumstances needed correcting, the noise of my thinking and the seismic tremors of how I felt were so distracting that I could not see the underlying uneasiness with the world, as though the whole planet were turning on a tilted axis. Ironically, I spotted it only when everything else was aligned, when my mind and emotions were quiet.

(This, incidentally, may be why, although we have stories in the basic text part of the Big Book ('Alcoholics Anonymous') like the crazy man who hits himself on the head with the hammer so he doesn't feel the ache (p. 23) and the thrill-seeking jaywalker (p. 37), our four main characters who display the anatomy of alcoholism without the emotional flesh—the certain American business man (p. 26), the man of thirty (p. 32), Jim (p. 35), and Fred (p. 39)—cannot blame their first or subsequent drinks on unusually warped emotion or circumstance. Respectively, we have a man whose physical and mental condition are unusually good, a man who has had a successful and happy business career, a man having a perfectly normal day, and a man without a cloud on the horizon. Strip away emotion and circumstance, and real alcoholics try the desperate attempt of the first drink (p. 35) despite the suffering and humiliation (p. 24) of whenever—last week or twenty-five years ago. No excuse. There must be something else going on.)

This is one of the baffling features of alcoholism as we know it—the utter inability to be at ease in the world, no matter how great the necessity or wish (cf. p. 34). I knew I ought to be at ease, that I ought to be satisfied, that the world ought to be enough. And, being a 'good boy' in AA (with my regular meetings, my sponsorship—in both directions, my periodic Step Four reviews of the tired old defects, my chatting through my problems with AA friends), I could not understand why I was consistently alienated from the world around me and drawn back to an AA that, cognitively, I no longer believed could alleviate this underlying uneasiness. After all, if it was going to, it would have kicked in by now, surely? Fifteen years is a long time to wait.

But something (or Someone) told me that the answer did indeed lie somewhere in AA, even though I felt, erroneously as it turned out, that I had exhausted its possibilities. The best description of this endless searching is this:

"You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life—that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there ... like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?" (The Matrix)

I had always known I was an exile from the kingdom (sorry, Camus). The kingdom had consistently eluded me ("the sensation is so elusive ..." p. xxviii). Alcohol (and a couple of other neat substances and behaviours) temporarily gave me a sham sensation that I was home. AA gave me a pink cloud (aka God's infinite grace) for a while, which, years later, I would nostalgically yearn for, while dismissing that yearning as unrealistic.

But I have now found the kingdom, and, though everything is the same, nothing is the same.

The splinter in my mind is gone.

I've been shown a path through the book Alcoholics Anonymous and the programme set out in such masterly detail (p. xxvii) in its pages that has released me from the Matrix. It has not taught how to manage my life, or the world, more effectively: it has released me from it. I still move within it, obviously; my feet are on the ground, because that is where my work is (cf. p. 130), but I am no longer of it.

"Do not try and bend the spoon ... that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.
What truth?
There is no spoon.
There is no spoon?
Then you will see, it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."

What I tried to do for fifteen years in AA was to satisfy the spiritual yearning with the material, the mental, and the emotional. It did not work. I was always left wanting.

What I have been shown is the attachment—at cellular level—to the world around me, my utter dependence for any shred of happiness or satisfaction on the kaleidoscopically shifting fragments of approval, respect, appreciation, belonging, validation. My attachment to things, to achievement, to fixes, to thrills, to sensations, to people, to patterns, to routine, to identities I had invented merely so I would have something to identify with.

"The Matrix is everywhere. It's all around us, even in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you pay your taxes. The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth. What truth? That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is—you have to see it for yourself."

Steps One to Nine unhooked me, cell, by cell, by cell. And I could not be told: I had to see it for myself: my automated reactions, the endless banks of buttons inside me just waiting to be pressed, and how I would dance like a puppet for my masters: alcohol, approval, respect, appreciation, belonging, validation.

In 'The Matrix', the separation from the system is sudden. In AA, it is slower, and the process appears never to be complete. But it is just as inexorable.

"You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependant on the system, that they will fight to protect it."

Only when the system became unbearable was I willing to face the choice: one was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of my intolerable situation as best I could (drunk, or sober); the other, to accept spiritual help (p. 25).

"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back ... You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up and believe ... whatever you want to believe."

I do not know how many chances we are really given: drunk, or sober. I've learned to take the opportunity now, because I never know if I will be passing this way again.

"You take the red pill ... you stay in Wonderland ... and I show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember ... all I'm offering you is the truth: nothing more."

Strip away illusion, and you are left with truth. Like the sun hidden in a cardboard box.

The world has become Wonderland to me. A world where the sky above Bethnal Green is filled with diamonds and clouds of butterflies fly out of people's mouths.

As a friend of mine replied with a grin when asked how he was, "Fourth Dimension, innit?