Thursday, 26 August 2010

Being sold short with acceptance

Where acceptance is NOT the answer to all my problems:

When fear arises, I must accept (= not deny) that it has arisen. I must most certainly NOT accept it as a resident in my soul (= mind). To fear presumes that God is not big, strong, clever, resourceful, creative, and caring enough to provide me with the mental and ultimately physical resources to handle with love, skill, aplomb, and fortitude whatever circumstance arises in such a way that, natural pain notwithstanding, I can be delivered through the situation in question with joy, gratitude, and testimony to God’s omnipotence acting through and in me. To fear, therefore, is a mental act of dishonesty, which becomes wilful dishonesty as soon as the truth of the all-ness of God becomes known.

What is the answer? Ask God to remove the fear and turn my attention to what he would have me be: reliant upon Him and humbly seeking His will for me and the power to carry that out. Fear can must be transcended.

When anger arises, I must accept (= not deny) that it has arisen. I must most certainly NOT accept anger as a resident in my soul, either. Once it has performed its work of alerting me to a state of affairs in the world that is not to my liking, there is PLENTY that can and must be done.

Where I am angry because of how something is affecting some area of my ego (pride, self-esteem, personal relations, etc.), I have to ask God to remove me from the helm of these areas of my life and self and place me back at the helm of my actions on His behalf.

Even when nothing practical can be achieved, I can use Steps Four through Eleven to remove the blocks and create the space for God to effect a change in perception and a change in thinking, and this cannot fail to manifest as a change in external circumstances, because my external life, ultimately, is simply a reflection of my mental world.

The ‘acceptance’ passage from one of the stories at the back of the Big Book has a lot of great material. But it is not a substitute for the AA programme, which is spiritual (reliance on God) and altruistic (helping others) in nature.

For years in AA I accepted perceptions, emotions, thought patterns, behaviour patterns, circumstances, and even ‘secondary’ addictions as inevitable presences in my life. In truth, none of these should have been accepted. This does not mean that their presence had to be denied or that they had to be fought head-on.

Permanent change has never been effected in my life through a direct assault, except at a terrible price.

This does not mean that permanent change in perception, emotion, thought pattern, behaviour pattern, circumstance, and other addiction is not possible. Quite the reverse: but it is through absolute surrender and absolute devotion to the principles of the programme (with no half-measures in my approach but with cognisance of the fact that all I will get is progress, never perfection) that such change has occurred.

I must always accept that where I am is where I am.

I must never accept, however, that where I am heading based on where I am is inevitable.

That would be miserable resignation to lack, limitation, emptiness, and strife and a grotesque denial of the absolute power of God to transform lives rapidly and miraculously.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Step Twelve: letting the worst happen

I've been sober in AA for over seventeen years, and Al-Anon really helps.

Sometimes someone you are sponsoring and who, apparently, has been 'doing everything right' relapses. I have had this experience myself with my own alcoholism (and other neat addictive patterns over the years).

Unless my surrender is unconditional, the 97% of me that has surrendered will be periodically sabotaged by the 3% that has not, which has strewn landmines throughout what looks, superficially, like recovery. Until that 3% has been surrendered, all other activity is dancing blithely in an unmarked minefield.

What helps was looking at conditions I am placing on my sobriety, such as these:

• I will stay sober as long as it is not too painful.
• I will stay sober as long as God removes the obsession to drink without any effort on my part.
• I will stay sober as long as I get what I want when and how I want it.
• I will stay sober as long as 'he' stays.
• I will stay sober as long as I keep my job.
• I will stay sober as long as it is convenient.

"Some of us have taken very hard knocks to learn this truth: Job or no job—wife or no wife—we simply do not stop drinking so long as we place dependence upon other people ahead of dependence on God." (98:1, Alcoholics Anonymous)

I have to want sobriety for its own sake, come what may, and cost what it may. Only then will anything be achieved.

The big question in Step Twelve is how to help someone else reach that point.

The Big Book is jam-packed full of warnings and pieces of advice generated from experience of what kills people and what saves their lives.

". . . never force yourself upon him. Neither should the family hysterically plead with him to do anything . . . but urge them not to be over-anxious, for that might spoil matters." (90:4)

"If your man needs hospitalization, he should have it, but not forcibly unless he is violent." (91:1)

"Under these conditions your prospect will see he is under no pressure. He will feel he can deal with you without being nagged by his family. . . He may be more receptive when depressed." (91:2)

"Make it clear that he is not under pressure . . ." (94:1)

"If your talk has been sane, quiet, and full of human understanding . . ." (94:1)

"Do not wear out your welcome." (95:1)

"Never talk down to an alcoholic . . ." (95:1)

"He should not be pushed or prodded by you, his wife, or his friends. If he is to find God, the desire must come from within." (95:3)

"The first principle of success is that you should never be angry . . . patience and good temper are most necessary." (111:1)

"Our next thought is that you should never tell him what he must do about his drinking. If he gets the idea that you are a nag or a killjoy, your chance of accomplishing anything useful may be zero. He will use that as an excuse to drink more. He will tell you he is misunderstood." (111:2)

"Do not set your heart on reforming your husband." (111:3)

The Book really does speak for itself: no one could bring about my rock bottom and ensuing surrender. What people were capable of doing, however, was of obstructing that rock bottom in one of two ways.

The nags and killjoys

When I am nagging a sponsee, I become the focus of his attention, because I am getting in his way. Rather than him seeing and facing the consequences of his own actions or inaction, I become the distraction, the thorn in the side. I create resentment within him, which, as we know, is fatal to an alcoholic, and impede his progress towards his rock bottom. What I am really doing in such situations is attempting to exert my will that he stay sober and force sobriety or recovery on him, because I find his self-destruction and my own powerlessness uncomfortable. In my own alanonism, I will choose guilt over powerlessness and imagine I live in a world where, if only I explain things carefully enough and take charge of the situation, I will conjure his recovery, and guess who will get the credit? Old, reliable, wise, sane, rational, insightful, organised me! I'm essentially after my own credit. Sure, I care about the person, but what God's will is as far as his best and quickest path to surrender takes second place to my own Little Plans and Designs for him.

If there is any anger in me, I am useless—it means that I am trying to impose my will and failing.

If there is no compassion in me, I can achieve nothing, because God's love will not flow through the thin, pursed lips of judgement.

What are my faults in this case?

Presumption: "preference for our own ideas, customs, schemes, or techniques. . . Failure to recognise our job as a divine vocation or to offer our work to God. Unwillingness to surrender to and abide in God, to let him act in and through us. Failure to offer to God regularly in intercession the persons or causes that . . . should enlist our interest and support"

Arrogance: "insisting that others conform to our wishes, recognise our leadership . . . Being overbearing, argumentative, opinionated, obstinate."

Domination: "insistence that they conform to our ideal for them contrary to their own vocation. Imposing our will on others by force, guile, whining, or refusal to cooperate. Over-readiness to advise or command; abuse of authority. . . considering ourselves ill-used when others' . . . compliance is not for sale." (St Augustine Prayer Book, sacraments of penance)

Worst of all: I am preventing the alcoholic from reaching his rock bottom. I am aiding in his destruction.

The nurse for the sprees

At the other extreme, I will see someone suffering—even dying—and want to stick an emotional or practical elastoplast on the situation.

"Can we really delude ourselves into believing that such stop-gaps will work? Do we imagine they will do anything but prolong the alcoholic agony, since we know the disease is progressive? We would do well to realize that the inevitable collapse may be far worse than if we had allowed him to face up to his own responsibilities and mistakes, free of our interference.

If I take no part in protecting the alcoholic from the consequences of his drinking, and allow disaster to overtake him, then the responsibility for what happens is not mine. I should not create a crisis to "bring the alcoholic to his senses"—but I must have the courage to keep hands off and let the crisis happen.

. . . I will leave to Him whatever action is to be taken, and guard against interfering with the working out of His plan for us." (One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, 7 April)

Truth is, every time I nurse someone away from the brink, I am preventing the rock bottom from happening, and thus preventing absolute surrender to God. I may be killing him.

To quote Don P.:

"I was killing him with my own version of love. I kept rescuing him. In the middle of his life lessons I was rescuing him. And if you cut someone off in the middle, they don't get to start in the middle and finish, they have to go all the way back to the beginning and start over again. And that's not love. In my hands he was surely dead. In God's hands he had maybe one chance in a thousand. At least he had a chance."

* * * * *

"I recognise balance when I swing right past it"

How do I know where helping stops helping or where detachment becomes cruelty?

This is not about what is right and wrong. This is not about legalism.

The only question is 'what spirit am I walking in?'

Am I walking in patience, tolerance, understanding, and love (118:2) or in revenge, attack, control, or a quest for manifesting the mental illusion of power in my life and in the lives of those around me?

If I am not walking in patience, tolerance, understanding, and love, I am playing God. Period. And that is blocking God from playing God—being the only and single source of all knowledge and power to bring inspiration, direction, and strength into the life of the person I am trying to help.

Am I following the spirit of God inside me or my human intelligence?

Am I following the programme or am I following personalities?

* * * * *

Worked example

This week, I have had to watch someone I care about approach the brink of death, without interference, in order that the path he was following be followed to its natural conclusion. To rescue would have been to deny to him the lesson lying at the end of the path and to obscure to him the true nature of the path he was on.

Do this, and, for a while, he will royally hate you for it. And you will have to be prepared for the worst.

I must know I am on the floor before I can ask God to lift me up. I must not prevent another from falling, because how else will he ask for God's help with no reservation?

Sometimes, there will be blood. But I surely do not want blood on my hands for loving an alcoholic to death—through refusing to let him reach, through suffering, the absolute surrender to the only power that can save us: the God that lives within us and within every atom of the universe. I dare not become the human shield protecting the disease, preventing the swift, firm, and decisive action of God in the lives of others.

Step Ten: falling off the horse and getting right back on

'Oh that I were as in months past' (Job 29:2)
'. . . they look upon the days which they have passed in communing with the Lord as being the sweetest and the best they have ever known, but as to the present, it is clad in a sable garb of gloom and dreariness. They complain that . . . they have not present peace of mind. . . The causes of this mournful state of things are manifold. It may arise through a comparative neglect of prayer. . . Or it may be the result of idolatry. The heart has been occupied with something else, more than with God; the affection have been set on the things of earth, instead of the things of heaven. . . Or the cause may be found in self-confidence and self-righteousness.' (Charles Spurgeon)
'I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all.' (14:1, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')
'Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well.' (63:1)

I will on occasion discover myself dejected because the thrill, or the glow, or the ease and comfort of a life centred in trying to do God's work in AA has dissipated somewhat or outright disappeared and been replaced by an unease, a tiredness, a lack of trust in God's providence, and a sense that 'nothing will ever be the same again'. You know, that familiar alcoholic doom—distorted AND exaggerated, of course? (108:1)

(1) Neglect of prayer

How much quiet time did I have this morning? Less than an hour? 'nuff said, really. A lifetime of twisted, self-centred thinking surrounded by people doing just the same is not going to be overturned by uttering a few 'vain repetitions, as the heathen do' (cf. Matthew 6:7) culled from the Book. I need to spend time using my own voice and my own language to communicate with God from the heart: tell him what is going on; ask for the strength; ask for the guidance. I do not need to work out precisely what I need: He knows already; I do not need to work out ~how~ He is going to achieve what He will achieve in my life and in the lives of those around me (cf. Matthew 6:8). I need also to fill my thoughts with those who have experienced God, to supplant my own thinking. Books are vital as a way of listening to and for God. I cannot make up my own vision and structural understanding of how to build a relationship with God. I need to be shown the way. I have to go to God with an open heart and empty hands, no 'plan B', no fingers crossed behind my back, no doubt about the goodness of God's plan for me.

(2) Idolatry

This does not, of course, mean the literal worship of statues of God but the placement of anything in my heart as the centre and main objective of my life other than God. This 'worship of other things' (55:2) will immediately obscure the idea of God. If I want to know what I have placed above God, all I need to do is look at what my thoughts centre on. The exercise of jotting down every half-hour the dominant thinking of the previous half-hour and examining this at the end of the day will tell me what I am focused on—and therefore worshipping. Typically, if I am troubled, there will be something I believe I need for happiness and satisfaction that is out of reach or slipping from my grasp. The simple question, 'what do I want that I am not getting?' will immediately reveal the source of the problem. The term 'idolater' literally means a slave to an idol. Whatever is the centre and main objective of my life (or my day) I will be a slave to. I get to be either a servant of God (and reap the rewards—'He provided what we needed . . .') or a slave my idols ('sold under sin'—Romans 7:14). What I want that I am not getting may not necessarily be a bad thing in itself—it could be the health or welfare of someone I love—but placing this as a demand on the universe entraps me and blocks me from God; my focus is taken off God and concentrated on my mental interference usually in something I cannot directly influence, or at least can influence only partially, imperfectly, and with far from satisfactory results.

(3) Self-confidence and self-righteousness

Here, the idol I am worshipping is me. The usual sign that this is operative is the sense that others are wrong. Others, of course, can be wrong only if I am right. Criticism of others necessarily implies my placement of myself in the position of righteousness. And that is to deny that everything good in my life has flowed from God, and, consequently to deny God. Little surprise I feel cold in my lofty abode of judgement, then. One answer here is to look at the results: if I am so 'right', why do I feel so 'wrong'?

In the Book of Jonah, the city of Nineveh repents after being warned by Jonah of its sin, and God justifies his ready forgiveness, by comparing Nineveh to a plant given to Jonah for shade, which is then destroyed by God:

'But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." But the Lord said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" '

I trust that if I return to God with empty hands, no excuses, contrition, and an open heart, I will be received back instantly. That has been my experience.