Monday, 21 June 2010

P. 126 Worldly Clamours/Pendulum Inventory

"We think it dangerous if he rushes headlong at his economic problems. The family will be affected also, pleasantly at first, as they feel their money troubles are about to be solved, then not so pleasantly as they find themselves neglected. Dad may be tired at night and preoccupied by day. He may take small interest in the children and may show irritation when reproved for his delinquencies. If not irritable, he may seem dull and boring, not gay and affectionate as the family would like him to be. Mother may complain of inattention. They are all disappointed, and often let him feel it. Beginning which such complaints, a barrier arises. He is straining every nerve to make up for list time. He is striving to recover fortune and reputation and feels he is doing very well.
Sometimes mother and children don't think so. Having been neglected and misused in the past, they think father owes the more than they are getting. They want him to make a fuss over them. They expect him to give them the nice times they used to have before he drank so much, and to show his contrition for what they suffered. But dad doesn't give freely of himself. Resentment grows. He becomes still less communicative. Sometimes he explodes over a trifle. The family is mystified. They criticize, pointing out how he is falling down on his spiritual program." (126:1–2, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')
"A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations, and affairs." (19:1)
"There had been a humble willingness to have Him with me and He came. But soon the presence had been blotted out by worldly clamors, mostly those within myself. And so it had been ever since. How blind I had been." (12:6)
If I am not practising the programme in the home, I am in serious trouble. I am given inspiration, strength, and direction not to pursue my obsessions but to do God's will, which is my true heart's desire. And that will lie principally in my role in the lives of people around me, outside AA and inside AA, although I will probably not realise that at the time.

Trouble is, I have Little Plans and Designs (63:1). If I get over-involved in these Little Plans and Designs, I will neglect my true purpose. The harm that I do is always two-fold: I am doing harm in the place where I am but should not be, and I am doing harm in the place where I am not but should be. When the clamours of these Little Plans and Designs get loud enough, the voice of God is drowned out, and with it the connection with the spirit within me that will pull be back from the brink, from the drink, from the other 'stuff' that'll kill me in those mental blank spots.

This little inventory, based on page 126, can serve as a Worldly Clamours diagnostic tool—not by focusing on the Little Plans and Designs (as is the case with the Step Three Requirement inventory and the Step Four inventory) but on the knock-on effects in my home life of absorption in such plans. The inventory can also be applied to AA life, with a bit of adjustment: the family dissensions (117:3) can be in the AA family, too.

1. Am I tired at night and preoccupied by day?
2. Do I take little interest in my family/flatmates/close friends/AA family?
3. Do I show irritation when reproved for my delinquencies?
4. Am I dull and boring with my family/flatmates/close friends/AA family?
5. Do they complain of inattention? Are they disappointed?
6. Am I straining every nerve to make up for lost time? Am I striving to recover fortune and reputation? (Am I putting so much time into AA that I am neglecting my job, family, and other responsibilities?)
7. Do I make a fuss over family/flatmates/close friends/AA family? Do I give them 'nice times'?
8. Do I show contrition for the suffering I have caused them in the past—or am causing them now?
9. Do I give freely of myself?
10. Is resentment growing—on my part or theirs?
11. Am I withdrawing—becoming less communicative?
12. Do I explode over a trifle?

We are extreme people, and the pendulum can easily swing too far. This inventory, with any luck, will go some way to relieving the 'blindness' (or, more properly, deafness) caused by worldly clamours.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Step Eleven, 'On Awakening': Grand Openings and Daily Traffic

"I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be witholden from thee . . . I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhore myself, and repent in dust and ashes . . . And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had had before." (Job 42:10)


When I was new in AA, I was told to pray, in the morning, for a sober day. I did, sporadically, and stayed sober, both on the days I thus prayed and on the days I did not. I no longer pray for a sober day, however.

"We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control." (30:3, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

I do not believe that whether I stay sober depends on whether or not I ask for a sober day. This would mean that God is hovering over the Big Red Button of Relapse, closely monitoring my prayers for the right formula, rewarding compliance and punishing failure. If this were true, God would not be God; God would be my puppet; I pull the strings, and God obeys; I pray in the right way, submit the right petition, God keeps me sober; I do not, God does not.

I know, today, I have no control over whether or not I stay sober, and I certainly cannot bargain with or manipulate God into doing my will—staying sober—even if I am certain that that is God's will, too.

And there is the crux—if I am sober today, it is because God has already shamelessly pulled rank and decided I am not to drink. If I wake up sober, without relapsing the night before, I have already been kept safe, with or without my knowledge, with or without my permission, with or without my acknowledgement.

Either God has all power or He does not; either God is everything or God is nothing; God either is, or He isn't. (cf. 53:2).

My job (pardon the pun) is to wake up to what already is—not to hang around for the miracle to happen but to acknowledge the miracle that has already taken place. I spent years unable to get through the day without getting slaughtered on alcohol. And yet, for 16 years and 11 months, I have not drunk.

To ask God to keep me sober would be to deny the miracle that has already been wrought. It is done. This is the seeing. It would be like a person who has been shipwrecked and who has been washed up on shore praying to be saved from the shipwreck or to remain on the shore.

Anyone shipwrecked and washed up on shore needs to get away from the ocean as fast as possible, or a rogue wave will catch him and wash him back out to sea. I cannot petition God directly to prevent that from happening; what I can do is ask God to give me the grace to take actions that will take me further inland into His country, into real safety. I need to ask, but the power and direction will come from Him.

The abhorrence of self is not the self-abasement of inferiority to other men—that 'low self-worth' has always had much more to do with recognition of my failure to achieve or maintain a superior status over others. No, the abhorrence of self that needs to be fostered is the abhorrence of the ocean in which I was shipwrecked, the waves of ego which determined my course, the winds of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity that my ship was forced to submit to and which ultimately brought my downfall. For a time, all went well, but the elemental forces of the ego will always destroy me. And this I started to realise when I was on the shore: the two-fold admission of my own failure at life plus the miracle of restoration by a power greater than myself.

In the past, I have missed the point: I thought my sobriety was an end in itself. Of course, anything that benefits me, I will see as an end in itself! If I concede that God struck me sober, I have to ask 'why?' In the land on which I am shipwrecked, there is work to do. God's country extends endlessly, and He has no hands but ours. It was never about me; it was never about the ocean and the shipwreck; it was always about the work that needed to be done by me, through me, in the country inhabited by His kids.

I do indeed thank God for getting me sober in the first place and showering me with grace on a daily basis since then.

The question, when I rise in the morning, is not whether God will keep me sober but what God wants me to do NOW I am sober.

I do not even say, on a routine, daily basis, grand dramatic prayers asking God to take my life, to take all that is good and bad in me and transform it (Steps Three and Seven). To me, these are reserved for pivotal points, for junctions, for the moments of true surrender—which usually follow a re-enactment of the whole self-will-run-riot escapade followed by a further shipwreck and miraculous rescue. I will also share in others' praying of these prayers at their pivotal moments.

If God really is my employer, I would feel a little foolish turning up at work every day, grandly declaring my allegiance, my commitment to God in that capacity. Whilst I am obsequiously bowing and scraping, offering the great gift of my whole life—I'm the type of alcoholic who relishes the dramatic—I imagine God with a long to-do list, wondering, patiently, when I am going to be done, so we can get down to business and He can give me my chores today, starting with washing a few cups and emptying the bins.

A great danger for me is to decide that, now I have accomplished the florid daily gesture of turning my life over to God (as though, the last time I did that, he did not take it), I can get on with the day, doing precisely what I had already planned to do before I prayed my theatrical Thee–Thou prayer, as though this great offering absolves me of any responsibility for the detail. After all, I've done so well to turn over my whole, life; the detail will take care of itself!

I need to pray not for sobriety itself but for the knowledge and power to do something with it. I need to pray, once I have been saved, for the salvation of others and for knowledge of my role—if any—as an instrument of God in that salvation. I need to pray for inspiration (in my spirit), an intuitive thought (in my mind), or a decision (a commitment to action) (cf. 86:3) concerning each specific matter (69:3).

In practice, this is almost invariably banal, humdrum, and at times frustrating (because I pray and sometimes nothing comes—at least, then and there). It is also humbling, because without Him I am lost, even—perhaps especially—in the detail.
But it is through asking for—and receiving—specific guidance in tiny daily matters that I have been granted freedom, happiness, and plenty.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Fear: the early-warning system (for the slip from God's grace)

Fear is an early-warning system that I am entering a Godless land—a place in my life where I am refusing to take God or have never been so I do not know whether God will follow. Sometimes, I am sure God will not follow only because I have never taken Him there before. So I saddle up and arm myself using my self-reliance toolkit: I need to look after myself (because who else will do that for me?), so I need to monitor myself and my needs and wants and demands, constantly (self-centredness, self-obsession). I need to make sure I get everything I need (because who else will do that for me?), so selfishness (putting me above you) and self-seeking (making shopping lists of how the world should view me, treat me, and shower me with goodies) are now in my left and right hands. And the whole sorry business begins again . . . Cue pages 60–62 (self-will run riot), 52 (bedevilments), 73 (double life), and 152–153 (whistling in the dark).
So I stop. And ask God to come with me. If He will not, and I still feel the cold wind blowing, I might need to examine why I am entering the lands I am entering. Perhaps I am wanted elsewhere. As though I had taken the left at the fork and God had taken the right, and I hear Him shouting back at me "Not that way, this way, dummy!" I have to listen carefully at junctions—if I get too far past the fork, I will not be able to see Him and think myself abandoned.

As soon as fear enters the scene, I need to pay attention: the hazard lies not outside me but inside me—the real danger is my ability to desert God when He's calling me to His side, to His work, to His banquet, to His Kingdom.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A Step Three Requirement Inventory

"We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn't control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn't make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn't seem to be of real help to other people—was not a basic solution of these bedevilments more important than whether we should see newsreels of lunar flight?" (52:2, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

A SPOT-CHECK DIAGNOSTIC TOOL—THE BEDEVILMENTS

• Are you experiencing lack, limitation, emptiness, or strife in your personal relationships?

• Do emotions lead you to make (or not make) decisions, take (or not take) actions, or say (or not say) things that you then regret?

• Do you suffer from misery, depression, unhappiness, or low self-worth?

• Are you able to be of real help to other people?

• Do you suffer from fear, anxiety, misgivings, or perfectionism (a sign of fear)? Do you try to discern the future? Do you spend much time pre-playing future scenarios?

If you're suffering in any of these areas, there is probably self-will in operation.

"The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who tried to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery, and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish, and dishonest. But as with most humans, he is likely to have varied traits.

What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well. He begins to think life doesn't treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

Our actor is self-centered—egocentric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which has placed us in a position to be hurt." (60:8–62:2)

Self-will can be defined as what I want for myself. This manifests in seven ways (cf. p. 64–65):

(1) Pride (what I think you think about me)

(2) Self-esteem (what I think of myself)

(3) Personal relations (the script I give you)

(4) Sex relations (the script I give you inside the sexual arena—a subset of 'personal relations')

(5) Ambitions (what I want in order to be happy and satisfied (p. 61:1))

(6) Security (what I need to be OK)

(7) Pocketbooks (money and what it means to me).

Thus self-will provides me with DIRECTION. Self-propulsion is where I am using these seven areas of self to provide me with motivation, therefore POWER. This takes the place of seeking DIRECTION and POWER from God.

Before I can turn to God for DIRECTION and POWER, I need be convinced that living life with self-will and self-propulsion as DIRECTION and POWER can hardly be a success.

The aim of this inventory is to convince me of this at gut level.

THE SELF AS THE SOURCE OF DIRECTION AND POWER

• Do I make demands in the seven areas of self (= self-seeking)?

• Is this what propels me through my day, through my life (= self-propulsion)?

• Am I driven by fear?

• Self-pity?

THE DELUDED IDEALIST

• Am I a victim of the DELUSION that I can wrest satisfaction and happiness from this world if only I manage (myself, others, and circumstances) well?

• Do I believe that, if only my arrangements would stay put, the show would be great?

• Do I believe that, if only people would do as I wished, THEY would be pleased, too?

• Do I believe that the world would be Utopia if only the rest of the world would behave, like the politician or reformer?

• Can other people not see that all I want is the best?

THE ACTOR PLAYING OTHER ROLES

• Actors act.

• Do I play the director, the producer, the playwright, the choreographer, the prompt, the critic, or the audience in my life?

• Do I use egotism, selfishness, dishonesty, or demands to get my own way?

• Do I use kindness, consideration, patience, generosity, modesty, self-sacrifice, or graciousness to get my own way?

• Am I like the outlaw safe-cracker—trying to get something for nothing?

• Do I respond to failure simply by exerting myself more?

THE PRODUCER OF CONFUSION

• Does this cause internal collision (conflicting demands within myself)?

• Does this cause collision with people, institutions, or principles?

• Do I step on the toes of others?

• When others retaliate, can I see that my selfish decisions prompted the reaction?

• Do I produce confusion or harmony?

THE BLAME-THROWER

• Do I blame the world around me for my troubles?

• Do I complain about the sad state of the world like the business man?

• Do I sigh over the sins of the world like the minister?

THE SELF-OBSESSED, SELF-PITYING ALCOHOLIC

• Does the play suit me?

• Do I believe that society has wronged me?

• Do people hurt me, SEEMINGLY without provocation?

• Am I angry, indignant, and self-pitying?

• Do I believe that life does not treat me right?

• Am I concerned mostly with myself, my resentments, and my self-pity?

• Have I lost all?

• Am I locked up—either literally, or inside myself?

"Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. . .

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it will kill us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God's help." (62:1–2)

WRAP-UP QUESTIONS

• Can I see that my troubles are of my own making?

• Can I see I must be rid of selfishness or I will drink and die?

• Can I see that moral and philosophical convictions are insufficient for me to rid myself of selfishness?

• Am I unable to get rid of my own selfishness on my own power—by wishing or trying?

• Can I see God making this possible in others?

• Must I have God's help?

WHAT NEXT?

If the answer to these six questions is 'yes', follow the instructions from 62:3 ("This is the how . . .") to (83:3 ". . . this phase of our development").

This process will fulfil the following promises, which are the reversal of the bedevilments described above.

"We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves."

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Meditation. Aaaaaargh! Do I really have to become a Buddhist?

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. (p. 58, 'Alcoholics Anonymous)

On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. (86:2)

There are many helpful books also. Suggestions about these may be obtained from one's priest, minister, or rabbi. Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they offer. (87:2)

We never apologize to anyone for depending upon our Creator. . . We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be. (68:3)

Most people I know trot off to the local Buddhist centre for the meditation bit. I, personally, have benefitted from various Buddhist practices (which I am not going to discuss here).

My principal problem is lack of power (45:1–2), and God, to put it bluntly, is the source of my power. I need a relationship with God, and I need it now. Very alcoholic, I know, but that is what I am. God does not make too hard terms with those who seek him (46:2). I have to trust that they meant what they said when they wrote that. Prayer I started to get the hang of early in AA, but meditation—as a means of seeking God's will for me and the power to carry that out—was a different matter. Mindfulness, awareness, breathing exercises, and other techniques have been sensational. But they did not help me develop a relationship with God as I understand him (which is not to say they do not help other people do precisely that—I am speaking solely of my own experience).

I suspect my failure successfully to use Buddhist techniques to develop a relationship with God may lie largely in my own inadequacy. I suspect a further significant problem has been trying to marry a concept of a loving God as father who will look after me if I stay close to Him and perform His work well (63:1) with techniques that arise out of a tradition where God—in this sense—is not such a big topic, to say the least. But I'm going to shut up about Buddhism, now, because, relatively speaking, I know squat.

Back to my experience: I have needed to develop meditation techniques that (a) fit in with what has worked for me in terms of a concept of a Higher Power (as indicated above: father/child, director/actor, cf. 62:3) (b) suit my alcoholic mind (which is busy-busy-busy) and (c) allow me to fulfil the precepts of the AA programme without huge amounts of cross-adaptation from one culture to another.

To this end, here is a meditation technique that really works for me.

To put it simply:

I take a passage of spiritual (or religious) literature—some piece of AA literature, some 'page-a-day' spiritual book, some piece of spiritual writing, a prayer book, the Bible, some other religious text, whatever. As long as it emphasizes the principles of the programme (87:2).

I read it slowly, line by line, assimilating the meaning into my being.

I wait for a line to go 'ping' and strike a chord, as being of relevance to me, my life in general, or a particular situation.

I memorise the line, and repeat it over and over, whispering or silently, entering as deeply as possible into the meaning and returning to the line every time I get distracted.

As I enter the meaning, eventually, the words start to evaporate and appear superfluous, and I end up with just the idea, on which I am fully concentrated.

Once that happens, I talk to God about the idea and let the words flow out of me, however they come, with no censorship. I might talk to God about how the idea relates to my life or a particular situation; I might let out thoughts or feelings; I might confess; I might laugh; I might cry; I might petition; I might beg; I might apologise; I might give thanks; I might complain and bitch. But whatever I say, I say knowing I am in God's presence, and He accepts me as I am. When the conversation dries up, I listen for a bit, then loop back to the beginning of the exercise and carry on reading.

Why this is good for me:

(1) It uses my busy mind to build my relationship with God. The aim is not to de-busy my mind, but to work with it and lift it above its current plane onto a higher plane (86:2). This means even newcomers can use it, too! And, some days, I might as well be a newcomer. CRAY-ZEE.

(2) As I am, in any case, asking God to direct my thinking (86:2), I am implementing that by filling my brain with the thoughts and words of those far wiser than me and assimilating those into my being before I let my own mind loose on the material. Much more effective for me than simply observing, as if as a bystander, the craziness of my mind with increasing objectivity (which is a mindfulness technique I sometimes employ alongside the AA programme to calm myself before meditation or when stressed). The latter is great, but, in my first ten years, every time I was left alone with my own brain and told just to observe the thoughts like clouds passing I wanted to shoot myself. True fact. Might as well give me a bottle of vodka. I could not stand it. SUBSTITUTION (152:2) is the name of the game.

(3) It can provide a link between (a) the situations I am bringing to God—the plans for the day/the twenty-four hours ahead (86:2), (b) other people's wisdom ('being quick to see where religious people are right' (87:2)), and (c) inspiration, intuitive thoughts, and decisions from God (86:2).

(4) It can be practised for a few minutes or even a few hours without excessive exhaustion. It also prevents me from lapsing into trances, falling asleep, or just becoming plain kooky through abstraction from the 'real world'. Being brought back to words on the page, letting out what comes up inside my mind, and yielding that up to God keep it majorly real.

(5) It provides lots of nice variation as I get to pick the material I use, and, ¡boy! do I choose diverse material.

(6) Looking at my daily circumstances or past or prospective situations through the lens of written spiritual/religious material and combining that with two-way conversation with God and a touch of the mindfulness technique of repeating and concentrating on a particular word, phrase, or line is the best combo I have encountered in seventeen years for changing my attitude to the past, present, and future and converting that attitude into an action plan that approximates as closely as I can possibly get to my idea of what God's will is for me. Sorry about the long sentence. See? Busy mind! And Step Ten is right there to clean up the inevitable messes (absurd ideas and actions—87:0) that sometimes ensue from my presumption.

I do not know about any other alcoholic, but I need the loving hand of God in my life at all times. I need techniques that put me straight in touch with God. I need conscious contact, or I'm toast. I need God on speed-dial. And this technique has provided it to me.

If this works for you, hoorah! If it does not, too bad!

By the way, if you're wondering where it came from, it's said to be from Saint Benedict, and has been used for centuries. If you want to find out more about it, Google lectio divina.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Not-So-Merry-Go-Rounds, Labyrinths, and Chess with the Devil

“Physical craving vs mental obsession: how do you tell them apart? Why does it matter?”


The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous provides a lot of material on Step One—Doctor's Opinion plus Bill's story and a couple of whole chapters on alcoholism. The dual nature—physical craving plus mental obsession—coupled with the spiritual malady, which, if left untreated, will leave the door open to the mental obsession, is not often instantly grasped. Certainly not by me.

From my experience:

If I have just had alcohol—or have had alcohol in the last 24–72 hours depending on how much I drank—there are likely metabolites of alcohol running round my body. I have been taught that how I process alcohol differs from how normal people process alcohol and my body will crave more. Figures.

By June 1991, I had had a horrible year of drinking, humiliation, failure, and desperation. I stopped drinking, as I had the previous summer after a similarly catastrophic year. But this year had been far worse. Progression! And I was still in my teens.

Stopping, itself, was no problem, then. However, in September 1991, I started again (I'll come back to that), and then drank daily and alcoholically until 2 January 1993. My intention on that day had been to have a few drinks that night, not get drunk, and certainly not get drunk every night—in other words, to enjoy my drinking like normal heavy-ish drinkers and to avoid the worst excesses in terms of consequence—penury, moral and sexual sloppiness, suicidal ideation, physical illness, destruction of my ability to operate.

But my intention for the coming year changed INSTANTLY when I put ANY alcohol whatsoever into my body. The circus was back in town and I knew I had sunk to the bottom of the ocean again. Instantly. I was back precisely where I had been three months earlier.

Alcohol changes my body, which changes my mind, because my mind is in my body. OK, someone had to point that out to me: I am so detached at times that my mind thinks it can dispense with my body altogether. Sister Bea would say that her head would kill her if it did not need her for transportation.

On any given day, I never started drinking until 6, 7, or 8 in the evening. But I was always less than 24 hours since the last drink.

The only difference between any given day in the summer of 1991 (when I was staying sober continuously) and the autumn, say, of 1991 (when I was getting drunk continually) was what I had done the ~previous~ day, i.e. drink. There was no thought preceding the drink at all: merely the zombie-like homing instinct towards the warm fuzzy glow of the first few drinks that would take the brittle edge off. I needed to get back to par, because I was still ill from the night before. During the day, it was like being stretched elastic, and I would let go in the evening, the elastic would snap back into shape, and I would be drunk, instantly, on the first drink, which would trigger a gazillion more.

That was then my experience until 24 July 1993 (my date of resurrection from alcoholic death). The first couple of days were tricky after a drink; I would feel a constant pull.

After a few days, if—through some miracle—I stayed sober, a different process would kick in.

All would go well for a while (cf. 35:2, 'Alcoholics Anonymous', 40:3). I would start to get myself together physically, mentally, emotionally, socially (not spiritually: I had no idea what that meant—I was stuck in the first three dimensions). I would very soon realise that drinking was a REALLY bad idea, and the truth of the consequences would start to hit home at a cellular level. Within a week or so, I was wondering what all the fuss was about and whether I had not been making too hard work of a simple matter (cf. 40:3). There was no physical pull at 6.00 p.m.; in fact, I found it difficult to understand why I had drunk the amount I had drunk every night for so long. It started to feel like it had been a different person who had been drinking.

Then the clouds would start to gather. The walls would start to close in. It was like someone had pulled the plug on the colour in my life, and it gradually drained out. The knot around my stomach tightened. People started seeming more hostile, and certainly more distant; I started suspecting every word, every gesture, every nuance. I was locked behind glass, tapping, and no one could hear me.

Spiritual malady.

"The less people tolerated us, the more we withdrew from society, from life itself. As we became subjects of King Alcohol, shivering denizens of his mad realm, the chilling vapor that is loneliness settled down. It thickened, ever becoming blacker. Some of us sought out sordid places, hoping to find understanding companionship and approval. Momentarily we did then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face the hideous Four Horsemen Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair. Unhappy drinkers who read this page will understand." (151:2).

And that I've experienced both drunk and sober. Unhappy ex-drinkers will also understand.

I needed relief. And that is when I would start to play with the idea of drinking. Nonchalantly, idly, sometimes frantically, sometimes fearfully, but definitely in the labyrinth of mental calculus, or like the chess grandmaster who goes around the room simultaneously trying to defeat a hundred opponents.

Part of me would want to find my way out of the labyrinth, knowing that it would be more luck than judgement. Part of me wanted just to sit down and cry and relent to the alcohol, because journeying through the labyrinth of my arguments for drinking/not drinking was a seemingly endless, exhausting odyssey: best to give up, give in, sit down, and swig.

Double-minded—"But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning . . ." (37:2). Two tracks at once: sanity and insanity—and the insane track has to win only for a moment to win for eternity, because the physical craving may ~never~ let go.

Chess grandmaster: playing chess in my mind against the hundred opponents (the hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, (62:1)) is equally exhausting. Funny thing: even when I am winning every game, I am so tired, that I am willing to concede defeat, knock over the kings, just for the game to stop.

And all you can see from the outside is me sitting at the back of an AA meeting, my foot twitching and my eyes fixed on the floor.

Then, after a while, the 'click' happens. I suddenly know I am going to drink, and I may go through the motions of calling sponsors, reading some literature, blah blah blah, but it is all too late. That click is like the flicking of a switch which lets out a chemical surge. Everything is shut down except the thought of the drink. Single-minded, at last. The thought that crowds out all others. And it is exciting: the chemical surge is like a foretaste of what will come once I have actually started drinking.

That excitement, that anticipation, that relief that the arguments in my mind are finally over and I can rest in my new-found singleness of purpose, is, in my belief, chemical in nature. I have had the same rush when my mind 'decides' (without 'me' consciously deciding) that I am going to drink as I have experienced with other, behavioural addictions (i.e. those not involving self-administering some chemical). And, once that rush has surged through my body, I'm toast.

Why does the difference matter?

When I am in physical craving (0–72 hours after a drink), only grace or physical force could stop me from drinking.

When I am beyond the physical craving, psychological measures can then be of benefit (xxviii:0), and I need full and effective treatment of the spiritual malady, or the mental obsession will start to return. If that wins out and I drink, the physical craving kicks in, and I am off to the races.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Camels, Gardens, and Ruby Slippers

"16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. 23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? 26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." (St. Matthew)


"We must realize that, if God withholds the waters of grace, no work is enough. We must consider ourselves as nothing, or less than nothing. In this way, great humility is gained, and then the flowers begin to grow again." (St Teresa of Àvila)

"This programme is not mechanical; you cannot just click the heels of your ruby slippers three times and hope to find yourself back in Kansas." (Bob B.)

Living inside all three sides of the triangle—recovery through the Twelve Steps, fellowship of the common peril and common solution, and service to God through work and self-sacrifice for others—is like the ingredients of a soup. Without heat—without power—all you have is cold, hard ingredients.

I've tried treating the programme as a set of mechanical actions and found myself despairing that I was not getting the results I wanted—power, peace, happiness, and sense of direction. This is the 'eternal life' described in verse 16. 'Eternity is now,' would say Sister Ignatia. But I remained trapped in the past and the future, in resentment, guilt & shame, and fear. And no one could understand it because I was 'doing everything right'.

I've tried treating the programme as a set of mechanical actions and found myself drunk. As I said to the police officer who arrested me on my last relapse in 1993, 'I did everything they told me in AA, and it doesn't work'.

It does not matter how much I work on the garden, without rain, nothing will grow, and I will end up with a desert.

Conversely, it does not matter how much rain there is, if there is no work, I will end up with a jungle.

Both work and grace are required.

St Teresa talks about the necessity of humility—putting God in the place of self as the centre and objective of our life, or of some department thereof, and recognising our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence, and placed by him in a specific relationship to the rest of his creation.

"I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost." (13:1)

"Of myself I am nothing, the Father doeth the works." (12x12, 77:0, UK hardback edition)

The nothingness is not the nothingness of low self-worth. It is the recognition, firstly, that the dance is nothing without the dancer, the wave is nothing without the ocean, the song is nothing without the singer. Me and God—not two, not one.

As important as this is the understanding that the gift of grace—the granted power to choose God over self—requires that my hands be empty. That the camel groaning with earthly treasures cannot enter the narrow gate into Jerusalem until its treasures are unloaded.

And these earthly treasures are not physical but metaphysical—ideas, emotions, attitudes, conceptions, and motives (27:4). Unless I am divested of these, I will never get into Jerusalem, I will never have eternal life, I will never stay sober, I will never be relieved of the pain of resentment, guilty & shame, and fear. Unless I am able to receive grace, the garden will never grow, because it will lack the necessary water, whatever work I do.

"Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely." (58:3)

"But the program of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty drastic. It meant I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions out the window." (42:2)

What is the cargo on the camel's back? What ideas, emotions, attitudes, conceptions, and motives am I holding onto?

Some recent ideas I have had to discard—or be willing to discard—because my score cards were reading zero (12x12, 29:2, UK hardback edition):

That I have the right to judge or measure anyone or anything including myself.

That I can control the course of my own Twelfth-Step work—and be effective—through intelligence, experience, and ability alone.

That I can afford resentment about my perception of AA.

That drinking again is not the path that some alcoholics needs to follow to reach surrender.

That action without faith is enough.

That faith without action is enough.

I cannot discard these ideas as an act of the will; with God, however, all things are possible.

What lifelong conception are you going to throw out of the window today?