Thursday, 29 December 2011

True ambition

Question: but surely it is normal to have ambition?

Aspiration is fine, as long as it is focused on the contribution we will attempt to make, not on the outcome.

As soon as the outcome is the focus, we're set up for unhappiness. If we want to be happy, we have to be indifferent to outcome.

There is also the problem of apparently noble aspirations (e.g. career success) concealing egoic desires.

Have a long-term plan. Great!
Break it down into individual actions. Great!

But then "be" in the actions.

Whenever our minds are other than here, except for necessary and fruitful planning, we have to ask "why?" The chances are, we're then in an egoic fantasy.

The Step Three requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. Step Four elaborates upon this.

It gives worked examples of what happens when you go through life with self-centred wishes and ambitions and plans and designs and demands.

The question is: are you happy?

If not, question every belief you hold and be willing to let go of any life-long conception (page 42).

The merits of any particular idea in isolation are irrelevant. It is its role in a structure, a way of living, that makes you inevitably unhappy that must be examined to form the basis of whether the idea be accepted or rejected.

The alternative?

Ask God only for direction. Be pleased at whatever the task appointed is. Chop wood. Carry water. Cook the dinner. Clean your ears. Run a corporation. Win a prize. Make the bed. All the same. All for God. Not for you.

Anything I do for me turns sour. Anything I do for others comes with a price tag. Anything I do for God is endlessly fulfilling.
The holy instant in which everyday tasks transcend their apparent insignificance is eternally available.

But only once the grip of the ego has been released. How? We see through it. That is all.

From Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

"As to our grandiose behavior, we insisted that we had been possessed of nothing but a high and legitimate ambition to win the battle of life.
We have seen that we were prodded by unreasonable fears or anxieties into making a life business of winning fame, money, and what we thought was leadership. So false pride became the reverse side of that ruinous coin marked "Fear." We simply had to be number one people to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities. In fitful successes we boasted of greater feats to be done; in defeat we were bitter. If we didn't have much of any worldly success we became depressed and cowed. Then people said we were of the "inferior" type. But now we see ourselves as chips off the same old block. At heart we had all been abnormally fearful. It mattered little whether we had sat on the shore of life drinking ourselves into forgetfulness or had plunged in recklessly and willfully beyond our depth and ability. The result was the same—all of us had nearly perished in a sea of alcohol.
But today, in well-matured A.A.'s, these distorted drives have been restored to something like their true purpose and direction. We no longer strive to dominate or rule those about us in order to gain self-importance. We no longer seek fame and honor in order to be praised. When by devoted service to family, friends, business, or community we attract widespread affection and are sometimes singled out for posts of greater responsibility and trust, we try to be humbly grateful and exert ourselves the more in a spirit of love and service. True leadership, we find, depends upon able example and not upon vain displays of power or glory.
Still more wonderful is the feeling that we do not have to be specially distinguished among our fellows in order to be useful and profoundly happy. Not many of us can be leaders of prominence, nor do we wish to be. Service, gladly rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with God's help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a common effort, the well-understood fact that in God's sight all human beings are important, the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons, the surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes but can fit and belong in God's scheme of things—these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes. True ambition is not what we thought it was. True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God."

Monday, 26 December 2011

Step Eleven: what is, is

"We ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives." (86, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

These three items are broader in scope than they appear to be at first sight.

Turned into instructions, they can become:

Do not regret that anything is other than it is.
Do not imagine that anything is other than it is.
Do not wish that anything be other than it is.

Do not overlay the universe with (a) alternative, self-centered plans that have been thwarted in the past or whose fulfilment is to be sought in the future or (b) opinions, judgements, interpretations, beliefs, etc.

Or, simpler: what was, was; what is, is; what will be, will be.

Only then, say: "God, what shall we do today?"

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

How to deal with periods of spiritual "dryness"

Aridity is a word that Theresa of Ávila once used. Or, at any rate, the Spanish for it, but you get what I mean. If you have ever been to Ávila, you will see why this occurred to her as an image. That part of Spain has endless, desolate expanses. It is extraordinary to drive through or fly over.

She experienced periods of desolation as well as consolation. Both are natural parts of the spiritual journey.

Judging the path by the emotion it induces is what makes least sense, however. Even years in, the emotions tend to lag significantly behind the causal events or actions. That's why we detonate small nuclear devices over people's heads and have no idea why we're doing it. We're actually reacting to what Jennifer said to us in autumn 1996, and it's taken 15 years to hit us. Like the light from stars that have burned out, lighting up today's sky. Also, at any given moment, what you feel is the result of everything you have ever thought and done. Everything. All condensed down to one moment. Pretty hard to judge, therefore, exactly why we feel what we feel when we feel it.

Alcoholics are people who wonder why we're still hungry when we're still mixing the flour and butter. Or wonder why we are still in pain a day after the surgery is over.

Electricity works only if you have a circuit. Remove what interrupts the circuit, and you have a circuit. Unlike an electrical circuit, however, the flow is not always instant.

Perhaps a better image is opening up the gates in a dam. Except we're way downstream. The aridity can seem to last forever, and become more acute when we are already taking the right actions.

Spiritual laws would suggest that no prayer or prayerful action can go unanswered, just like gravity is not partial or sporadic.

Hang in there.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tradition Four and fundamentalism in AA

Tradition Four and fundamentalism in AA

Oftentimes, I hear an argument which runs like this:

"I took the Steps a particular way. They worked. Previously I tried another way. That didn't work. Therefore, there is only one way: the way I took the Steps. If you took them differently, you're wrong. I've been sober 20 years. I should know!"

There are several logical fallacies at play here:

Excluded middle/false dichotomy: the presumption is that there are only two alternatives, the speaker's, and the other, failed method. In truth, people with very different experiences of the Steps stay permanently sober and become free and well.

A variant of this is: "I haven't done X [some element of how someone else has worked the Steps], and I'm OK, so X is superfluous." This is like saying that, because I get my carbohydrates from potatoes, I have not needed rice, so getting carbohydrates from rice is wrong.

The fallacy is that there is only one right vehicle for carbohydrates.

To apply this to the Big Book, there is no evidence that the "We" of the Book, for instance, all asked precisely the question, "wasn't it because self-reliance failed us" or took an hour's break between the end of Step Five and taking the Book down off the shelf.

The "path" that the people who wrote the Book followed thoroughly was not, in truth, one path but, at microscopic level, a multiplicity of paths all devised on a set of consistent principles.

One glance at how the Book was written reveals that there was a lot of in-fighting over precisely what it should say, because, even by 1939, experience varied hugely amongst those staying successfully sober.

This assertion, that there is more than one "right way", is usually countered by this argument:

"If anything goes, then we're all screwed ... If you open the door to any variation, we will end up in a free for all, and no one will get sober."

This is a combination of argument by adverse consequences (scare tactics) and the slippery slope fallacy.

The latter is also called the 'camel's nose' fallacy ... there is an old saying about how, if you allow a camel to poke his nose into the tent, soon the whole camel will follow.

The fallacy here is the assumption that, because something extreme (trying to get sober just by going to one meeting a week) does not work, everything between here ("what I did", which worked) and there (a) does not work and (b) will lead to the undesirable extreme.

Another fallacy is argument by generalisation: the presumption that what is true for one is true for all. For example, "I didn't need a workbook, so no one should need one."

All of this is often capped by an appeal to false authority.

I can say what I did and what worked for me. I am not right about what can and must work for someone else BECAUSE I am eighteen years sober, however, or because I have sponsored X people. All this may prove the efficacy of what I and my sponsees have done but does not extend to prove every assertion I make, particularly when I start to speak about YOUR experience.

One principle behind Tradition Four is the admission of variety of approach.

There can be a fondness for uniformity and black-and-white thinking amongst alcoholics.

One thing that these groups have taught me is that there are matters on which reasonable people of good will rightly disagree.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Self-esteem: a candyfloss castle in the rain

"My wife and I abandoned ourselves …" (Alcoholics Anonymous, 15:1)

I think I have lots of problems. I really have only one, although it has different aspects.

My problem is conscious separation. The solution is conscious contact.

Whilst I think I exist as a separate entity apart from God, I am doomed.

I have a plan for my own salvation that is other than God's. This plan does not work, which induces a sense of gross failure. And who I really am—the essence of me that is part of God—becomes the enemy to 'my will'. And I am split in two.

My problem is always that I believe in my own plan and believe it can oppose God's will.

I do not know a way of thinking about me in such a way that I transcend thinking about me. Understanding 'me' to transcend 'me' is like studying the physiology of a ghost which I have seen but which does not really exist.

The 'me' which is causing all the problems (the hurt feelings, the sensitivities, the fear, the whatever) is a story I have made up. It's an entire fabrication.

To have low self-esteem is a function of having a self. Any form of 'therapy' which aims to produce 'positive' self-esteem is really a cop-out.

'Positive self-esteem' is always at the expense of someone else. If I have positive self-esteem for X, Y, or Z (even 'I'm a good person'), what do you do with 'bad' people? They are worthless, under that system. And that worthlessness will hit me straight back in the face, because I will always suspect I am like them. If everyone is 'good', what value is there in goodness? What happens if I cannot live up to the X, Y, or Z? It is not effective to have esteem based on some subjective factor where you have to shift the goalposts every time you trip over: 'I'm worthy because I am a good person; but when I do not act well, I am still good, because I am only human'. Where does that leave the first statement? Trying to fool around with self-esteem is like trying to build a candyfloss castle in the rain. Developing positive self-esteem is like trying to turn the ghost that is not there from a devilish to a benign ghost. It is still not there.

You can try to believe in benign ghosts all you like. It does not make them real. It does not address the underlying problem of there being no 'self' to have esteem.

Does one leaf on a tree have independent value? Where does the value in a person lie? Cut off the arms, is it still there? Remove the body, is it still there? Where is it, this self that is to be esteemed?

The aim of the programme is to be dissolved into the world so you forget you exist and simply become a part of rather than apart from. The aim of the Steps is effectively to blow apart the ego and to reveal it for the bloated nothingness that it is.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Page 89 thoughts

"It works when other activities fail."

This means other activities will sometimes fail! Having working with others structurally integrated into my day and week means I am regularly saved from myself when nothing else saves me from myself. I naturally turn back in on myself, start 'wanting', and start judging myself and others for not fulfilling my wants. This happens quickly and easily.

I am so not cured. Applying the programme as a way of living is pretty automatic, these days, but it is not first nature; it is only ever second nature.

Working with others keeps me turned outwards.

"It works when other activities fail."

If I do not help, who will? This is where the moral obligation comes in.

I always wanted to know WHO I was. My real problem was not knowing where I belonged and what I was supposed to be doing with my life. This line is a starting point: if I do not help people, there will be a hole in the world where my help was supposed to go.

There is a screw for every nut in AA; everyone has been perfectly crafted by God through these Steps to be uniquely useful not just to alcoholics in general but to specific alcoholics. That is why the one-size-fits-all, Stepford Wives approach in AA I do not believe in: we are supposed to be different so we can help people who are different. The Steps are the same, but the crafting by God is individual.

"Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends—this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives."

These are the first Step Twelve promises.

The last line of this provides an instruction and a question: do I have frequent contact with newcomers and my peers?

'The' not 'a' bright spot: there is something that shines through this experience that is irreplaceable.

"Don't start out as an evangelist or reformer. Unfortunately a lot of prejudice exists. You will be handicapped if you arouse it."

This applies within AA as much as without. People sniff this a mile off. What matters is not the principle of whether evangelism or reform should or should not work; what matters is the fact that, with alcoholics, this simply does not work.

It is interesting that Step Four talks about 'grosser handicaps'. Evangelism and reformist tendencies certainly fall within this category. It is not that the carrying of the message and reform are not necessary; it is the direct effecting of change that is in question: we do not change anything by muscle. We change by removing the blocks to change: old ideas, emotions, and attitudes. And we do this in the spirit of Tradition Eleven (attraction not promotion) and Concept XII (discussion, vote, and substantial unanimity).

"So cooperate; never criticize. To be helpful is our only aim."

This is a good general approach to life, applicable with sponsorship, friendship, closer relationships, work, society as a whole. It is a distillation of the programme into a few words.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Step Two: the page 49 conundrum

'When, however, the perfectly logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince ourselves it isn't so. We read wordy books and indulge in windy arguments, thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it. Were our contentions true, it would follow that life originated out of nothing, means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 49:0)

Here goes with an argument quite as windy as Bill's glorious ramblings in We Agnostics.

His logic here is this:
(1) A universe without God (= 'All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence') is one where (a) life originates out of nothing, (b) means nothing, and (c) proceeds nowhere.
(2) (a), (b), and (c) are untrue.
(3) Therefore, an 'All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence', i.e. God, exists.

There are several problems with this.

Firstly, (a) is true, scientifically. There was a point at which, on this planet, no life existed. The origins of life, biologically speaking, are indeed explainable without God. Whether 'God' is behind this sparking of life is moot.

Secondly, with regard to (b), the experience of any alcoholic coming into AA is quite specifically that life means absolutely nothing at all—life has been hopeless, pointless suffering for quite some time. In fact, if life still means something, you may not be at rock bottom, yet.

Thirdly, with regard to (c), the idea of 'life' having no destination but simply being a continuum guided by randomness and the laws of physics, like molecules bouncing off each within a liquid, occasionally causing chemical reactions, is not, to anyone in the state described by (b), implausible: au contraire, it is far more logical than the idea that life has some kind of teleological destination.

In fact, in the world of science, the explanation of phenomena in terms of teleology ('any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature') was rejected in 1620 by Francis Bacon on the grounds that the truth or falsehood of teleological explanations are beyond the ability of human perception and understanding to judge. I buy that. So has science, for the last four hundred years or so. Bill should have read up a bit on this.

So, we have a problem, Wilson.

The basis for Bill's 'logical assumption' is, from the point of view of the newcomer, totally flawed. Far from proving that God exists, Bill has actually done the opposite.


Except, Bill is quite right.

And the reason is this:

When I came to AA, life had no meaning. Life was pointless. Life originated in nothing. Life was going nowhere.

However: I was bothered by this observation.

Now, if this were true—if life were truly meaningless, why would I be bothered by it?

Being 'bothered' implies a conflict; the conflict was this: beneath the surface reality of pointlessness was a dim awareness that this 'pointlessness' was not the way things 'ought to be'. The sense that things should have a point is beyond logic, beyond experience, and, I presume, beyond mere biology. And, however pessimistic or nihilistic I became, I could never be comfortable with this conclusion.

If, in truth, nothing meant anything, then there was nothing to worry about, right? There was, however, the unavoidable sense that the pointlessness I felt was not inherent to life but stemmed from my failure to find a point which did indeed exist, somewhere out there—or in here (points at chest).

I could not, therefore, resolve this conflict in favour of pointlessness. There was an immovable grit of hope which was the source of the conflict.

Furthermore, I saw people in AA who matched this description:

'People of faith have a logical idea of what life is all about. Actually, we used to have no reasonable conception whatever. We used to amuse ourselves by cynically dissecting spiritual beliefs and practices when we might have observed that many spiritually-minded persons of all races, colors, and creeds were demonstrating a degree of stability, happiness and usefulness which we should have sought ourselves.' (49:2)

The truth was, I saw this hope in you.

I find it hilarious that Bill is following the line that one cannot possibly begin to believe in God unless one has obtained a satisfactory explanation of the universe ('thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it'—he presumes that explaining the universe is our paramount goal in Step Two, the riddle which must be solved before we can get off the starting blocks).

I could not, and cannot, explain the happiness of others (and, now, of myself) unless there IS 'something' 'underneath the material world and life as we see it'. That was the satisfactory explanation that I sought.

And that 'something' (which we can comfortably and conveniently call 'God') is the light at the end of the tunnel in Step Two. That 'something' incontrovertibly existed.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Jim vs the pamphlet

After Jim's slip: "on each of these occasions, we worked with him, reviewing carefully what had happened." (35:3, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

Vs 'Questions & Answers on Sponsorship"

"In order to make the return truly a new beginning, it may be wise at this point to avoid post-mortems on the reasons for the slip. Instead, the sponsor can help guide the newcomer back to the simplicity of the First Step and the prime importance of staying away from the first drink just for the day at hand.

Later, the newcomer may want to check the kind of thinking that possibly led to the slip in order to guard against its recurrence."

I'm more with the writers of the Big Book on this one.

People drink again because they still have an alcoholic mind. ("We meet these conditions every day. An alcoholic who cannot meet them, still has an alcoholic mind," 101:1).

This must be examined, or the individual will not (a) understand why he drank again and (b) take the actions necessary to bring about the psychic change vital to permanent recovery.

The simplicity of the First Step is this: as I currently am, I WILL drink again, whether I want to or not, and, once I start, I may never stop. Suggesting that this be coupled with 'the prime importance of staying away from the first drink' is frankly idiotic.

Essentially, the pamphlet is saying we suggest to the newcomer: "it is vital you do not have a drink ... but you are powerless over alcohol, so you are going to! Have a nice day!" and leaving it at that.

Nonsensically, the pamphlet suggests that newcomers are able to guard themselves against drinking. I was not able to. That is the whole point of Step One—the inability to guard oneself against it.


The slip must be subjected to a post-mortem whilst the memory of the pre-slip thinking is still fresh, to help the individual diagnose himself as the alcoholic of the doomed variety ... doomed, that is, unless he has a spiritual awakening. Only then will he take the necessary actions.

If the person drank, he had not surrendered totally to this programme. It is only by creating the conditions in which the individual can and will surrender (and a full knowledge of the hopelessness of his condition is one such condition) that we can hope to be of service to AA members who are relapsing.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Take responsibility

Many AA meetings are desolate places. The sharing can veer between confession, venting, and emotional exhibitionism. The atmosphere is gloomy, and there is little talk of hope, faith, progress, the victory or transcendence over problems, the all-powerfulness of God, and the promises of AA coming true. There is a grim resignation to "life on life's terms" and comfort and relief in discovering other people are miserable, too, as this alleviates guilt.
There are of course many exceptions, too, and many 'in-between' meetings, and individual groups can vary hugely in their atmosphere from week to week.
When I was struck sober in 1993, there were about 550 AA meetings in London. Now, there are 700 or so meetings. That's only a modest increase, and the meetings themselves are barely any larger.
It is rare to see someone with 18 years' or more sobriety in an AA meeting in London. Consequently, the people filling the rooms in 1993 are largely not attending AA any more. Some have died of old age, sober. Many did not follow the programme and got drunk and are now still drinking, dead, or institutionalised. Some now live elsewhere. Some have found other ways of successfully staying sober.
The remainder are those who were AA success stories (worked the Steps, were transformed, developed full, healthy lives) but who no longer attend AA or barely attend.
There should be leaders in AA, according to our Traditions. Our leaders, obviously, are not leaders in the sense of being directors but are, instead, trusted servants. Our role is to make a contribution and lead largely by example, acting also as the guardrails or early warning systems when a breach of the Traditions or Concepts threatens.
It is this element which is often sadly lacking.
AA provided me with a structure in which I built a big, successful life.
I owe a massive debt to AA, and it is my number one responsibility to ensure that everything that has been given to me is passed on constantly and as widely as possible.
I go to at least five AA meetings a week and have service assignments at two, currently. I am an active participant in each of these meetings, and see it as my primary purpose to carry the message that was carried to me, and to reach out constantly to people in trouble, whether they are new or have been around for a long time.
There is no merit in this: it is a simple moral requirement. There is no more merit in this than in paying taxes or refraining from stealing.
There is also a massive shortage of strong sponsors. There are many people with ten to thirty years' sobriety and plenty of experience with the Steps who do not sponsor or sponsor just a couple of people. Women, in particular, find it difficult to find sponsors. I sponsor a number of women who asked up to a dozen 'long-timer' women to sponsor them but were turned down by every one for various not entirely compelling reasons. The slack is mostly taken up by members with two to five years, many of whom have a large number of sponsees and are successfully trusting God to guide them in managing the workload while maintaining their own lives.
I can think of only two women with more than ten years' of sobriety who regularly attend ANY of the five groups I regularly attend, and some of these meetings are substantial.
There is no excuse here:
(1) A few hours a week does not detract from the rest of one's life, and the release of energy and inspiration which flow from this work typically make the remaining hours far more productive. God will always show you how to grow in understanding and effectiveness—artificially imposed limits on God's power are borne of a self-fulfilling fear. Say 'yes', and let God show you how to follow through.
(2) Yes, newer people need to be given responsibility, but not without leadership by example in situ.
(3) Yes, some groups are grim. But why would they not be if people who do have a strong programme stay away or nod off at the back? The non-attendance or non-participation of long-timers is the reason for this, not the consequence.
(4) Yes, you may no longer "need" meetings in the sense of needing to get something FROM them; but there is a need to give something TO them. If this shift in need is not observed and acted in accordance with, a great disservice is done to you as much as to AA.
(5) Yes, your ten-man early morning Big Book study may be cosy, but who are you reaching? Where is the firing line? Where are the trenches? We carry the message TO those who are suffering.
I'm going to be a little coarse here: get off your complacent butts and make AA the cheer-leading rally for the power of God that it was intended to be. WE are responsible for how AA is, and are equally responsible for seeing the vision of God's will for how it COULD be.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Step Nine

Read page 76:4 ("Probably . . .") to 83:3 (". . . anyone") and 98:3 ("Now . . .") to 99:2 (". . . parties").

The spirit of amends

Real purpose: fitting ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us (77:0)
Demonstration of good will (77:0)
Sincere desire to set right wrong (77:0)
Tact and common sense (77:1)
Helpful and forgiving spirit (77:1)
Do not criticise or argue (77:2)
Do not tell others what to do (78:0)
Do not discuss their faults (78:0)
Calm frank and open (78:0)
Quietly (80:3)
Good sense and loving kindness (82:1)
Patience, tolerance, kindliness, and love (83:1)
Lead the way with behaviour as well as words (83:2)
Do not urge others to following a spiritual path or bang on about spiritual matters (83:2)
Sensible, tactful, considerate, and humble, without being servile or scraping (83:3)
Stand on our feet as God's people (83:3)
Do not crawl before anyone (83:3)
Concentrate on one's own spiritual demonstration (98:3)
Avoid argument and fault-finding like the plague (98:3)
Sober, considerate, helpful (99:1)

How to make amends

Say why we are making the appointment to see someone, calling them, writing them a letter, etc. (77:2)
Be direct about the drinking and recovery (77:2, 78:2)
Mention God/spirituality if it would help (77:0)
Admit faults (78:0, 79:3, 81:1)
Frankly analyse the past (83:1)
Confess former ill-feeling (if they know about it!) (77:1)
Express sorrow, regret (77:1, 78:2, 81:1)
Ask forgiveness (79:3)
Ask if there is anything else we have done to harm the person and if they want to tell us how it affected them.
Ask what we can do to make things right (83:2—'our behaviour . . .')

Follow-through with family or other people close to us

"So we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindness, and love.
The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it. . . Our behaviour will convince them more than our words." (83:1–2)
". . . thoroughly explain to them the new principles by which he is living . . . proceed to put these principles into action at home." (98:3)
"Though his family be at fault in many respects, he should not be concerned about that. He should concentrate on his own spiritual demonstration. Argument and fault-finding are to be avoided like the plague." (98:3)
". . . provided, however, the alcoholic continues to demonstrate that he can be sober, considerate, and helpful, regardless of what anyone says or does. Of course, we all fall much below this standard many times. But we must try to repair the damage immediately lest we pay the penalty by a spree." (99:1)

What to do if you cannot see the person directly

Write a letter (83:3).
Other options (not in the Book) for where it is agreed the direct approach is impossible or inadvisable—consult with a sponsor concerning these:
  • Praying for knowledge of God's will as to how to make alternative/indirect amends.
  • Writing an anonymous letter.
  • Writing a letter and reading it to a friend, sponsor, or spiritual advisor.
  • Writing a letter and reading it at a person's grave or a place with significance for the person in question.
  • Sending money anonymously.
  • Giving money or time to an appropriate charity.
  • Making indirect amends, e.g. finding a way to help people in a similar position to those your have harmed but cannot make direct amends to.
  • Considering what changed behaviour patterns are required on an ongoing basis and adopting those new behaviour patterns.
  • Ask your sponsor for further ideas on how an indirect amend can be made.
In any case, place the matter in God's hands (120:3).

When not to make amends directly (because it would harm them or others)

"Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us." (77:0)
"Therefore, we are not to be the hasty and foolish martyr who would needlessly sacrifice others to save himself from the alcoholic pit." (79:2)
If the amend would actually make it harder for us to be of maximum service to God and the people around us, we need to be careful, and consult with others and God (80:1).
Examples could include causing ourselves to be unemployable or costing taxpayers money through court cases, etc., or placing those dependent on us financially in a worse financial position.
If possible, obtain the permission of those who may be affected (80:1).
Do not generally reveal new information (81:1).
Do not involve other people (81:1).

Factors that do not stand in the way of amends

Them having harmed us more than we harmed them (77:1)
Still not liking the person (77:1)
A negative response from them (anticipated or actual) (78:1)
Financial harm to us (78:2)
Personal consequences in general (loss of position or reputation, or jail) (79:1)

When do you make amends?

Now (83:3)

Financial amends                                          

Face the creditors now and arrange the best deal ("Arranging the best deal we can we let these people know we are sorry ... We must lose our fear of creditors no matter how far we have to go, for we are liable to drink if we are afraid to face them.") (78:2)
A practical note: prioritise debts where you will be pursued legally and consider consolidating such debts through an agency. Consider how much you can afford to pay off per month in total and split, if possible, between all your creditors, in terms of an opening offer for how much to pay back. Then you will be able to approach everyone more or less simultaneously and will not have to delay approaching any particular creditor. It may be best to approach and negotiate deals with all of the creditors who can pursue you legally first before entering into any arrangements with people who do not have a legal claim or do not even know you owe them money.
The key priority is approaching creditors promptly.

Step Nine prayers

"God, please fit me to be of maximum service to you and to those around me." (77:0)
"God, show me whether or not to make these amends directly." (80:1)
"God, let me place the outcome of these amends in your hands." (80:4)
"God, show me the right way to approach these amends; have me keep the happiness of X uppermost in my mind." (82:1)
"God, show me the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness, and love." (83:2)

A way of 'managing' the amends

Split the amends cards/sheets into four piles:
Willing and able
Willing and unable
Unwilling and able
Unwilling and unable
'Willing' means you are prepared to make the amend today.
'Able' means you understand clearly the harm, are clear on how to make the amend, and have the details for how to contact the person in question.
Proceed with the willing-and-able pile (under the guidance of a sponsor) and pray to God for willingness/ability/further preparatory steps to take for those where you are unwilling or unable.
Review periodically to see which amends have shifted from unwilling and/or unable to willing and/or able.

The ego's excuses for not making amends

(1) I'm too emotional—I will drink if I make the amend

If I am an alcoholic (which I am), the chief remedy is abstinence from alcohol. My real problem, however, is a mind that will convince me a drink is a good idea, and, because of the physical craving, if I drink at all, I may be doomed never to attain sobriety once more.
Since my mind cannot be relied on to keep me sober, my number one priority is remaining connected to the power that is already keeping me sober, regardless of the contents of my mind or heart.
It does not take much exposure to AA to realise that high emotion does not lead to a drink any more than apparent emotional balance or normality ensures sobriety. The real question is whether or not I am on a path that re-establishes a connection with others and God—it is that which will ensure sobriety. If I am on that path, over time, my emotions, as a pleasant by-product, will indeed sort themselves out. If I am not, I am more likely to run into extreme negative emotion. There is thus a correlation between emotional state and relapse, but the relationship is not causal—both problems stem from the same source, conscious separation from others, God, and my true self.
High emotional alert in relation to a particular amend is therefore a jolly good sign that the amend is indeed urgently necessary, not that the amend itself is dangerous: this will be a relationship where there is a particular serious rupture, which needs to be mended.
The book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' is clear about the link between unfinished amends and relapse. Shame, unchecked, will lead back to the bottle—which is why amends, which, over time, clear shame, are vital.
"The inconsistency is made worse by the things he does on his sprees. Coming to his senses, he is revolted at certain episodes he vaguely remembers. These memories are a nightmare. He trembles to think someone might have observed him. As fast as he can, he pushes these memories far inside himself. He hopes they will never see the light of day. He is under constant fear and tension that makes for more drinking." (73:2)

(2) In God's time, not mine—I have to wait for the opportunities to come to me

'Alcoholics Anonymous' is clear that we approach the people to whom we owe amends and do not wait for them to come to us.
". . . we take the bit in our teeth." (77:1)
"But we don't delay if it can be avoided." (83:3)
God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. But we need to take action to activate our faith. God ain't gonna slide no hotdog under our door. God certainly does step in where every effort of mine is exhausted. But God is not like Cleopatra's attendants, deferentially feeding her peeled grapes whilst the world revolves around her. I must take the initiative, first!

(3) Attempting to complete amends is just being alcoholically perfectionist—'Alcoholics Anonymous' tells us that it is progress not perfection

This is an underhand argument. The word 'all' appears in Step Eight, and Step Nine refers to 'such people'. There is no suggestion in 'Alcoholics Anonymous' that we should not make every effort to apply each Step to the best of our ability. The 'progress rather than perfection' line refers to the actual results that we obtain rather than the effort we put in. Even if we make a full effort, the results are going to be less than perfect, and there is no cause for self-reproach or dismay. And what is claimed is progress, not stagnation. This means that, if I have any outstanding amends, and I am not making at least stately progress but simply letting them lie, I am stagnating. This is not what the Book encourages.
These lines are much more apropos regarding our approach to amends:
"At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. . . Half measures availed us nothing." (58:3 onwards)
"Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past." (77:2)
"If we are painstaking about this phase of our development . . ." (83:4)

(4) Making amends just so I feel better is selfish—I have to think about others

It is possible for a good action to have a selfish aim, too. That does not invalidate the good action. The fact we will benefit is irrelevant.
Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us (77:0)—if we wait till all other purposes and motives are extinguished, we may be waiting for a long time.
Step Nine does indeed suggest we be tactful and considerate, etc., but this is with regard (a) to the manner in which we make amends and (b) the caution we exercise should our amends be at risk of causing additional (i.e. fresh) injury to the person in question or others. It is not in another person's interests per se for us not to make amends to them.

(5) I have not changed yet—there is no point in me making the amends until I have changed

This is rarely entirely true. If you are sober, you are likely not doing drunken things. This particular excuse refers usually to ongoing behaviour patterns, e.g. tetchiness, tardiness, sulking, manipulation, and other unpleasant daily habits.
Many of the people on the list I will never see again once I have made the amend. Whether or not I am displaying character defects in general is irrelevant in these cases.
With regard to friends, family, colleagues, etc., the amends are likely to consist in an admission of (a) big-ticket items (which can certainly be made amends for straight away) and (b) ongoing irritating or harmful behaviour patterns (where we can admit our wrong and explain that we are on a path of spiritual growth which involves ongoing inventory and correction of errors).
If we wait until all character defects have been straightened out until we make amends, we may be waiting for a very long time indeed. People deserve an apology and a commitment to change now.
Amends are about admitting wrong and expressing the wish to behave well in the future and to grow towards such ideals. They are not and cannot be a promise never to do anything wrong again.
It is in fact the clearing away of the past and turning over of a new leaf which is most likely to pave the way for a change in behaviour, because of the stripping away of a whole layer of tense guilt and shame relating to unfinished amends.
Make the amend, and clean up any future mess when you make it. That is what Step Ten is for.

(6) They harmed me more than I harmed them/I still do not like the person

"Though his family be at fault in many respects, he should not be concerned about that. He should concentrate on his own spiritual demonstration. Argument and fault-finding are to be avoided like the plague." (98:3)
"It may be he has done us more harm than we have done him and, though we may have acquired a better attitude toward him, we are still not too keen about admitting our faults. Nevertheless, with a person we dislike, we take the bit in our teeth." (77:1)

(7) There is no hurry—it is not a race

Yes there is, and yes it is. It is a race against the ego, and it is one you want to win, if you do not want to drink again.
"We will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past." (77:2)
"But we don't delay if it can be avoided." (83:3)
"We must lose our fear of creditors no matter how far we have to go, for we are liable to drink if we are afraid to face them." (78:2)

(8) People just want me to be sober and happy—that is my amend

If you follow the amends procedure, admit your harms and express regret, and then ask what you can do to straighten things out, and this is what they say, then marvellous!
But there is only one way of finding out whether this is true—by making the amend first and then asking the question. Often it is discovered that people will benefit hugely from being able to tell their side of the story of how our harm affected them. If they are indeed already healed of the harm we have done, then the amends conversation will, in any case, be painless for them. If they are not, it will have been a jolly good plan to have made the amends and afforded them the opportunity for healing.
Creditors, furthermore, are usually more interested in having their money back than our wellbeing.

(9) It will upset the person to bring up past harms

Bringing up known harms cannot create fresh injury; only the revelation of new information can cause fresh injury.
If someone is still upset at the recollection of the harm, that upset is within them, affecting them 24 hours a day at some level. What better approach than to offer them the opportunity for healing through the conciliatory process of Step Nine? Having been on both sides of the fence with amends, I know the process to be more healing than any other I know.
If someone is indeed 'over it', as indicated above, the entire process will be quite painless in any case.

(10) They (an ex-partner) are or might be with someone else now

I denied myself—and others—freedom for a long time by using this excuse. I had an unmoveable layer of shame and an inclination to repeat old patterns in current relationships. Certain obsessions, particularly with the past, would not leave me. I had unshakeable low self-esteem.
One day I took the bull by the horns and the bit between my teeth.
There is always the option of making the amend in person in public or in the (nearby) presence front of a third party, if there are concerns about propriety, or leaving the amend at a letter and/or phone call where there are other sensitivities.
Stating why I am making the approach (that I will not get over drinking unless I do my utmost to straighten out the past) makes it clear why I am in contact and removes the appearance of ill motives.
In a spirit of tact and consideration, I approached the exes I could find initially by letter, frankly admitting my harms and expressing the desire to meet or talk over the phone (where they were geographically distant) to express my regret. This I did, where they allowed. No harm came to anyone. There was no bogeyman here.
And the problems described above shifted.

The ego's excuses for not working with others

(1) No one wants someone as old/young/new in sobriety/old in sobriety [fill in the blank] to sponsor them

I have heard all of these excuses, and used some of them myself. I believe God is of limitless power. Do any of these 'limitations' really stand in the way? A glance at one's broader acquaintance will reveal people sponsored successfully in matches one would never have anticipated.
"Outward appearances are not inward reality at all." ('Alcoholics Anonymous', 48:3)
The ability for two people to connect derives not from any external factor but from an inward identification which initially surprises—yet how often have we heard people describe how, at their first AA meeting, they heard someone with diametrically opposed biographical circumstances 'tell their story'. I have seen people successfully sponsor people twice their age and half their age; I have seen old-timers successfully sponsor newcomers, relative newcomers sponsor people with many years, and people successfully sponsor near-peers.

(2) I'm willing, but no one asks me

There is an old picture of 'The Land of Cockaigne' by Breugel the Elder, Cockaigne being a mythical land of plenty, where pigs run around helpfully furnished with knives stuck in their side so you can carve yourself a slice with ease.
Only rarely will sponsees throw themselves willingly onto the silver platter of sponsorship from a standing start. AA is not Cockaigne.
When I was new, I did not understand what my problem really was or what was on offer through sponsorship or the Steps. I was nervous and hostile and did not, initially, approach people with ease. The phone weighed a ton, and I was nervous of addressing people I did not know.
Like Ebby Thatcher approached Bill Wilson, and in line with the suggestion on page 25 regarding those with a solution approaching those with a problem, I was approached by people who actively wanted to help.
Obviously, sponsorship cannot be forced. However, the opportunities can be created. When I was a couple of years sober (and not sponsoring anyone), I resented my friend Melody, who was sober the same time and had five or six sponsees. Not coincidentally, she was usually to be found shepherding some bewildered newcomer to a meeting or to coffee afterwards. She did not force sponsorship, but she created the conditions in which people felt comfortable enough and familiar enough to ask her to take them through the Steps.
Even if sponsorship per se does not arise out of such attempts to be of help and use to newcomers and anyone, in fact, who is struggling, this activity and the relationships that arise out of it are equivalent to sponsorship in the opportunity they afford to be of service and practise the Twelfth Step.
The service structure also affords opportunities to encounter newcomers or people who have not yet found AA. People who engage in this sort of work will have no difficulty acquiring people to take through the Steps.

(3) It is obviously not God's will, or I would be sponsoring; if God wanted me to sponsor, he would put someone in my life

This is a variation on (2) above and has about as much validity as sitting at home expecting God to push a job offer or a boyfriend through your letterbox.
An old Jewish story tells of a tailor who was good at his work but slow and lazy. He repeatedly fails to complete a tailoring job for a rabbi by the agreed deadline, each time telling the rabbi, "God willing, it will be complete by next Thursday." Eventually, the rabbi becomes impatient and snaps back, "and if you leave God out of it?"
Similarly, a passer-by ingratiates himself with a monk tending a beautiful monastery garden, saying, "isn't God's bounty magnificent?" The monk, stony-faced, replies, "you should have seen it when he had it to himself."

(4) I am not cut out for sponsorship

The only qualification for sponsorship is having been through the process of the Steps yourself.
"Having had the experience yourself, you can give him much practical advice." (96:2)
"Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seem so worth while to us now." (124:2)
We do not need to make anything up; we share the experience and insight we have gained.
If we do not know how to deal with a situation, there are instructions in Chapter Seven and elsewhere and many people who can help us.
In AA, there is a screw for every nut. Anyone who has been sponsored can sponsor.

(5) I travel a lot

Luckily, since the invention of the letter, the telephone, email, the Internet, and Skype, this is no longer a difficulty. You can even see your sponsee eyeball-to-eyeball when you are thousands of miles away. Writing sponsees emails or having them call you will give you something to do whilst you are on long train and plane journeys, waiting in airport lounges, and bored in foreign hotels. Just thing of how their little faces will light up when you return, too!
You can also sponsor by post people who are in prison or live in remote places.

(6) I carry the message through my behaviour: I am a walking Big Book

This is one of my personal favourites. Beware of any interpretation of any steps whose bottom line is: do nothing beyond what you are already doing.
Moreover, this is like the "I make amends by staying sober" argument—if it is only the grace of a Higher Power that is keeping you sober and removing your defects of character, then God is left to make your amends and, apparently, do your Twelfth Step work for you, too.
Whilst the principle holds that our behaviour is testament to the values we adhere to, the chief value of the Steps as a way of life is not being nice but being useful. If we really are to be a walking Big Book, we must be not niceness personified but usefulness personified, and back we are at the starting point:
One of the most useful tasks we can perform is to carry actively the message of AA to people who will die of or with active alcoholism unless they are shown a way up and out.
The Big Book is about fitting us to be of maximum usefulness to others (77:0)—which, presumably, means actually getting off our arses and being useful. And who can do that but us?
"Both saw that they must keep spiritually active. One day they called up the head nurse of a local hospital. They explained their need and asked if she had a first class alcoholic prospect." (156:2)
The best example of a walking Big Book is an active sponsor—not sponsoring means you have not actually taken all of the Twelve Steps.

 (7) I carry the message by going to meetings and sharing

Good! For how long? I go to around five meetings a week and share for 4 minutes or so on average. This gives me 20 minutes. There are 10,080 minutes in a week. That is around one-tenth of one per cent of my time.
"Faith without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the alcoholic! For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he did not work, he would surely drink again, and if he drank, he would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that." (14:6)
"Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics." (89:1)
"All of us spend much of our spare time in the sort of effort which we are going to describe. A few are fortunate enough to be situated that they can give nearly all their time to the work." (19:1)
If this suffices for you, great! If you're anything like me, your murderous self-centredness is not going to be smashed by 20 minutes a week. I am the kind of alcoholic that needs to be turned outwards to be useful to others on a daily basis to maintain my connection with God and the universe. Perhaps you are too.

(8) I do other service instead

I do other service too, but not instead of sponsorship. This is a diversionary excuse—a way of distracting attention from the real issue, which is the reluctance to engage in one-to-one work. Whatever your particular experiences, they will be useful to someone—it is just a matter of finding whom. Anyone can make a cup of tea. But your experiences are unique to you and uniquely fit you to be of service to a particular poor soul who will be lost without you.
The mistake is to believe that we were sobered up and straightened out for our own sakes. I do not believe this to be the case. Individuals can transform the lives of hundreds or thousands in AA. Who is to say you are not one of them?

(9) I do not have time

It is true that many people have heavy commitments, in terms of work, study, family, etc.
If you are anything like me, active alcoholism stripped me of these things. The reason I have these areas of my life back is because of other people giving their time freely to me. "I've got mine; thanks for everything; I'm off now," is a sign of ingratitude and tends to augur badly for the future.
I have become overly absorbed in my concerns and found I had little time for sponsorship. I discovered, to my dismay, that I had plenty of time for upset, anxiety, self-obsession, sleepless nights, unproductive long hours at work etc. When I have been working 70+ hours a week, I really have had to ask myself why I am doing it. Usually (though there were exceptions when I was training) I was concerned chiefly with me and my success (in turn an attempt to overcome a gnawing sense of uselessness).
I have a new employer (p. 63)—and He's not me. There is such a thing as excessively focusing on AA duties and ignoring the other occupations and affairs of my life. But the reverse is just as dangerous for my state of mind.
Twelfth-Step work has removed entirely any sense of uselessness or lack of fulfilment, and ambitions in other areas are now healthy (or healthier). The Twelve and Twelve aim of being a worker amongst workers (on the principle that not everyone can be a leader) is achieved not so much by aiming for that attitude per se but by being of service in this most crucial way and having one's values and perspective brought automatically into alignment.
Furthermore, work for a Higher Power who is, well, all-powerful, you would be amazed at how much more efficient not only the Twelfth-Step work but other activities become, and how the 'reckless martyrdom' in other areas gets tamed as you stop co-dependently doing for others what they frankly should be doing for themselves.
I have stopped being a people-pleaser and become, instead, a God-pleaser, on the grounds that there is only one of Him and His yoke is light, so the job is infinitely easier.
As my AA duties and obligations have mushroomed, my efficiency and effectiveness in other areas have equally burgeoned. God is unusually skilled at scheduling and time management.

(10) I do not enjoy it

This is typically short-sighted argument. The quality of enjoyment lies not in the activity but in the actor. Enjoyment—and joy—are the natural states that are revealed when everything that blocks them is removed.
Fear, resentment, self-pity, self-seeking, a desire to control, and numerous other character defects can render sponsorship an unpleasant experience. It is a mistake to attribute these to the nature of sponsorship itself—when these blocks are examined and let go of, enjoyment—and joy—invariably result, as you see God working through you to achieve in your prospect—and in yourself—what you never could have achieved on your own unaided strength.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Should and can AA change with the times?

This is a valid question, but it is too broad, as it stands, to be useful.

If what is meant by 'AA' is the spiritual principles of the Twelve Steps, these are obviously ever unchanging: the principles of admission of defeat, inventory, confession, restitution, reliance on God, and service are unassailable.

If what is meant is the 'clear-cut directions' in the Book, then we have a different question entirely. I have sponsored people whose minds do not work very well. I have sponsored people whose minds work very well indeed. The basic instructions stay the same, but how the ideas get conveyed, the depth of understanding attained in Step Four, and even some aspects of the mechanics will vary substantially from person to person, without the principles being compromised. This IS one-size-fits-all ... but the programme shapes round any individual to meet them where they are at the time they give themselves to the process. As a friend of mine called Bob says, 'this programme is Bob-shaped'.

The 'clear-cut directions' described in the Book were obviously not precisely what even our founders used. Page 263 gives a wonderful example of how Dr Bob took people through. It is quite clear that this does NOT conform to the instructions in the Book. There are many who would say that this is not AA, if someone were to do this today.


If what is meant is the content and format of any particular meeting, then we have a real problem. Which meeting is 'the' model? A particular meeting in November 1937 in New York? The meeting on the same night in Akron? These would have been radically different! Which one is real AA?

The conservative approach is essentially nonsense because there is no original gold standard to adhere to. The arguing over the writing of the Book is splendid testament to this.

Any attempt to reduce the whole of AA down to a mechanical set of over-simplified instructions which must be followed by the little tin soldiers of AA marching to the beat of a martinet sponsor is inconsistent even with the early days of AA.

AA has always been a cloud of bees buzzing round a set of principles, guided by an unfathomable inner instinct and resource which we presently identify with the power greater than ourselves that restores us to sanity. The closer we adhere to the principles, the more successful we are. The further away we drift from the principles, the less successful we are. Experience is the teacher.

God's creation is a manifestation of constantly shifting, constantly changing variety, with everything obeying basic rules of physics. AA is much the same.

A glance at any spiritual tradition will reveal an emphasis on a dynamic tension between eternal principles and the shifting circumstances of the present.

If it ain't moving, it's dead.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Page 67 of the Book talks about how situations are not entirely our fault; page 62 says that our troubles are of our own making.

We do not cause every situation in our lives.

But the situation is not the trouble.

The trouble is the disturbance.

When something unpleasant happens to me, I am not responsible for the experience of the event.

But, when I recall it a thousand times and re-feel the same cascade of feelings, who is responsible for that?

When I form opinions and judgements, when I interpret and extrapolate, when I draw conclusions, who is responsible for that?

When I hold onto a memory of an unpleasant experience, distorting it every time I replay it, and exclude from my mind the tens of thousands of instances of human decency and kindness, who is responsible for that?

If, at the end of the week, you made a list of every single kind, loving, polite, civil, helpful, thoughtful, dutiful, patient etc. act you have experienced or witnessed, you would run out of paper, because almost every single human interaction is one in which people play by the rules of decency.

But no one obsesses about goodness.

You laugh at a joke once or twice at most.

You can cry at a slight for years. One would have to conclude there is a perverse pleasure in victimhood.

You choose the contents of your mind, ultimately, and it is those that dictate your experience of the world.

Max Frisch said that there are no natural disasters, only human disasters. Nature (including other people) is just doing what it is programmed to do. It is all in the perception.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Emotions. A fourth-rate navigation system.

I used to navigate by emotion. I want to feel good. I check my emotions. I don't feel good. So I use my intellect to devise a plan to feel good. And my body is pressed into service (its opinion, by the way, is not asked).

The result: I rarely felt good.

If you've tried this for a few decades, and you do not feel good, give up; wave the white flag.

What is the alternative? Navigate by principle, use emotion as an early warning system for possible errors in thought, use intellect to devise the plan, and power the whole thing with spirit. And consult the body along the way, as it never lies.

How do you navigate by principle? The guiding principle (page 128, 'Alcoholics Anonymous') is giving rather than getting: in every situation, what can I give? The guidance behind this guiding principle comes from God, and hence comes all strength.

To give, my life needs to be maintained, so sometimes I need to look after myself in order than I can fit myself to be of maximum service to others (page 77), but for that reason in particular, not for its own sake.

To live by emotion is to live like a five-year-old. You can dress up the consequences with fancy words all you like, but it's essentially immature.

The AA programme is about growing up and developing character rather than personality. Not a popular topic, but this is all that is on offer.

The results of living by principle are peace, power, happiness, and a sense of direction.

My emotions do not really matter. They are no more valid or invalid than a cloud in the sky is valid or invalid. It just is. They just are. What is certain is that their examination yields little benefit and any attempt to control them is the tail wagging the dog.

And I do feel good, incidentally. What a great by-product!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

When they said, "all our affairs", I think they meant it ...

If the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps is the function of AA meetings (see Bill W.'s essay on the matter in Language of the Heart), and the primary purpose of a group is to carry the AA message, which, according to the Third Edition of the Big Book, is the contents of the first 164 pages of said book, then, presumably, a discussion of the application of the Steps in practice is a fair discussion topic at meetings.

Agreed? OK. Great. Presumably, we can therefore discuss Step Twelve at meetings. We can discuss a spiritual awakening. We can discuss how we work with others. We can discuss how we apply the Steps to our work life, home life, etc., as, presumably, since part of the Twelfth Step is to practise these principles in all our affairs, and these are our affairs, discussing the application in these areas forms part of our primary purpose.

But here we have a dilemma. Sex is one of the affairs we have. So is sex addiction. Eating is part of our affairs. So are eating disorders. But the Traditions formalists insist that such matters are "outside issues" and not fit for discussion. We can therefore discuss the application of the Steps in all our affairs ... except sex, gambling, food, drugs, or anything else to which the Steps are apparently applied with laudable success.

There is an inherent contradiction here.

One argument is that "not everyone will identify." However, I have never heard the suggestion that one should not discuss the application of the Steps to one's work life on the grounds that people who are not in employment will fail to identify. A large proportion of the stories I hear about drinking I don't identify with from my experience, and I'm a bone fide alcoholic. But I don't begrudge people sharing drinking experiences I don't happen to have had.

There is a profound inconsistency here, as well.

The result is that there is a hush in AA about sex, gambling, food, pills, etc., precisely in the parts of AA where there is actually a solution available in the form of the establishment and maintenance of a spiritual experience, because these are likely to be the places where the Traditions enforcers come down hardest on "outside issues".

And so people do not get to hear about how members who DO have a solution to these problems have been healed in these areas too by practising the Twelfth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous. So we push them off to other fellowships, where the experience of recovery can be, shall we say, mixed.

We are now in the perverse position of allowing people to discuss the practising of the AA principles in every single affair of theirs except the ones which are actually killing them.

And people in AA are finding their lives ripped apart, left right and centre, by the silence, within AA, on these very topics. How many people do we know with double-digit sobriety with sex addiction, love addiction, untreated Al-Anonism on the rampage, anorexia, bulimia, gambling and other addictions to risk-taking behaviour, etc. ad nauseam? How many people do we know who cover this up? Why might they be doing that? Are our problems of our own making here too? Are we fuelling these addictions by denying such people openness within AA?

The hounding of people who discuss these matters in AA into other fellowships under cover of darkness (lest they compromise the primary purpose) actually confounds the primary purpose because we are insisting that people's various other addictions or problems are so separate that they need separate treatment.

I would continue to insist that one be an alcoholic to attend AA. However, I would also suggest that we be permitted to discuss the practice of the principles in all our affairs. NB I wasn't the one who wrote the word "all" in Step Twelve. That is down to our founders. It appears that the word "all" is inconvenient to the Tradition Five police.

Page 45 of the Big Book insists that we have a single problem. Go look it up. Just one.

Conscious separation is the problem; conscious contact is the solution; unity is our method.

Unless each of us can bring all of himself or herself to the source, there is a risk that true healing will never take place.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Step Eleven review

Most people call it "doing a Step Ten" ... The best kept secret in the Big Book is the fact that the evening review (really a focused meditation) is actually part of Step Eleven. Really? Check it out! (Small print: by the time the 12 x 12 is written, it has been silently shifted to Step Ten.)

Here's what was passed down to me based on page 86:

At the end of the day, carry out a 5–10 minute review of the period since the last review. This is part of the evening meditation. Start with realising that a loving God is present with you. Then ask God to show you the truth. Do not beat yourself up for what you find.

• Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Pick the top one of each and resolve to discuss with a sponsor or friend the next morning.

• Do we owe an apology? Make a list of people to apologise or make amends to the next day, where applicable.

• Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Make a list of such matters and whom they will be discussed with.

• Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better?

• Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life?

• Be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others.

• Ask God's forgiveness (and know that it will be totally given).

• Inquire (of God) what corrective measures should be taken. Keep it simple (a couple will do). Check them out with someone with more experience in the programme if you are new to this or unsure.

What this is really about ...

AA is a fellowship centred on Twelve Steps, which are about establishing a relationship with a power greater than ourselves.

Sometimes people come to AA and rail against the 'higher power thing' or try to strip the 'higher power thing' out of AA.

Sometimes, people pussy-foot around the 'higher power thing' for fear of offending others. Sometimes, noisy people will attack those who talk about the higher power or God, offended that the subject is even brought up.

The result is that, frequently, the higher power does not get mentioned at all in an AA meeting, and the whole point of AA's existence is confounded.

There are lots of agencies which help alcoholics using various approaches which do not involve a higher power. Their doors are wide open, and they are successful with a great number of people.

AA seems to work best when it sticks to what it is good at and what it is uniquely equipped to do: helping people to find a power greater than themselves to solve their problem.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Am I willing?

Often I have complained I am trapped in behaviour and thinking patterns. Often I have felt a victim.

The truth was: I wanted the pain to go but I still wanted to keep all of my ideas, ideals, attachments, and values.

Questions I have asked myself over the years:

Am I willing to live without the chemical rushes of guilt, rage, and victimhood?
Am I willing to yield up every pleasure, every "asset", every "virtue" in Step Seven as well as all the bad stuff?
Am I willing to place character building ahead of comfort?
Am I willing to seek only God's will?
Am I willing to stop depending on any individual for my happiness?
Am I willing to let go of everyone from my life should their paths lead them elsewhere?
Am I willing to admit that every perception I have may be distorted and cannot be trusted?
Am I willing to admit that I actually secretly enjoy the pain I am inflicting on myself by my behaviour because it makes me feel alive?
Am I expecting God to rip the thinking or behaviour from me without my own consent or willingness?
Am I trying to use good action to hustle God into doing for me what I should be doing for myself?
Do I want relief or recovery?
Do I want freedom from the bondage of self regardless of the pain the process will cause?
Or would I prefer, instead, to decorate the prison and hope for the day when a reprieve will come from on high?
Do I want to serve God or my own mind?
Do I genuinely believe in the futility and fatality of being trapped inside the goldfish bowl of my mind, painted, as it is, on the inside with visions of hell I myself have conjured but take to be the world?
Am I willing to let the sky turn black and be led?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The main problem of the alcoholic ...

... centres in the mind.

Something will fail to go 'my way'. This will happen frequently, as the universe is, by nature, chaotic. There is some order (e.g. gravity), but we are part way through the process towards the establishment of order. There is a long way to go.

Consequently, I feel terrible, and I want to make sense of it. The idea of a chaotic universe is really quite frightening, especially if I value all sorts of external or imaginary things which are beyond my direct control.

So I deploy my mind to construct an interpretation of 'what just happened' that establishes some kind of order and sense.

First of all comes the evidence-gathering: out of all of the facts available, I will select just a few.

Then I will fill in the blanks, by assuming certain other facts (including other people's motivations and what they are saying to each other or doing behind my back). These are not, themselves, facts, but, to my mind, they serve just as well as real facts.

Then, I apply my perception of those 'facts'.

Did Sally leave the room or 'storm off'? Well, once I have applied my perception, I will start to believe my own narrative about the 'fact'. The real fact is that Sally left the room. The perception is that she stormed off. What is real?

Then we have interpretation. 'She stormed off because ...'.

And now we have a story. And that is really what it is: a story. But I believe the story to be the representation of reality.

It is not.

The story is a misinterpretation of a distorted perception of a fraction of the facts, which have been supplemented with other 'non-facts' of my own concoction.

Then I tell the story to everyone I know, and, because I am feeding them a particularly well-honed version, I can elicit from them precisely the response I want: 'yes. Aren't they awful? Aren't you innocent?' And, each time I tell the story, I distort it and refine it down to its essence.

And the character I am playing in this fairy tale is Snow White. Where it gets really perverse is the self-pity of being the Snow White who is the victim of her own personality, upbringing, character defects, etc.—even when the finger is pointed inwards, the distortion is so great there is no real humility, because I have built a version of myself which is beyond help.

Why would anyone do this?

Well, I'm not a psychologist. But I do know that I can perversely find implacable, inexorable, unfixable doom (especially doom which is your fault) more comforting than randomness or chaos. In particular I can find victimhood appealing.

If the universe is chaotic by nature, there is no hope of controlling my life.

If my life is the way it is because of your wrongdoing, then the crime-and-punishment model (I identify what crime you have committed and punish you in order to mend your ways) offers hope—hope of control.

And who is in charge of the universe then?


"We had to quit playing God. It didn't work." (62:3, Alcoholics Anonymous)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Self-obsessed? Bored? Frustrated? Full of self-centred thoughts?

What's the solution?

Analyse what I think is wrong with me? Run a bubble bath? Be kind to myself? Give myself a break? Take myself on a date? Phone a friend and talk about me? Journal about me and my thoughts and feelings? Think about it one more time?

If these do not work, you could try this. Or, actually, cut straight to this. Might save time:

The three basic questions I need to ask are these:

(1) How much time am I spending on Step Eleven in the morning?

(2) Do I have a plan for the day?

(3) What can I do for other people?

I do not get well by getting myself well. I get well by preparing myself to serve God by being his instrument in the world. "He has no hands but yours," as the old quotation goes.

"Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God’s ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists chose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all. Rather vain of us, wasn’t it?" (We Agnostics)

Agnosticism is not (just) about not believing in God. It is about deficient or doubtful belief. It is about failing to see my place in the universe as an expression of God's love for others, there to serve Him by serving others, and running around using my mind to devise ways of making ME happy by getting what I think I want or need. This is what self-reliance is. This is what fails.

This line from Bill's story is the key:

"Never was I to pray for myself, except as my requests bore on my usefulness to others. Then only might I expect to receive. But that would be in great measure."

So, if I'm not receiving enough from God, I'm likely not giving enough to my fellows

"Dr. W.W. Bauer, broadcasting under the auspices of The American Medical Association in 1949, over the NBC network, said, in part: 'Alcoholics Anonymous are no crusaders; not a temperance society. They know that they must never drink. They help others with similar problems . . . In this atmosphere the alcoholic often overcomes his excessive concentration on himself. Learning to depend upon a higher power and absorb himself in his work with other alcoholics, he remains sober day by day. The days add up into weeks; the weeks into months and years.'" (The Medical View on AA)

In brief: I need to focus on others, not me.

When I am in the middle of my others-focused day, I will, of course, lapse into self-absorbed mind-chatter.

Step Ten can be used whenever I can catch myself trapped in my own thoughts:

"Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code." (Into Action)

Friday, 5 August 2011

Proving the pudding

Sometimes there is a lot of talk in AA about the right way to work the programme, or the wrong way to work the programme. Or indeed to 'do' recovery in general.

Here are some Big Book quotations:

"Upon therapy for the alcoholic himself, we surely have no monopoly." (xxi:0)

"We have no desire to convince anyone that there is only one way by which faith can be acquired." (28:2)

"If he thinks he can do the job in some other way, or prefers some other spiritual approach, encourage him to follow his own conscience." (95:4)

How, then, can one decide what the right path is?

"The practical individual of today is a stickler for facts and results" (48:2).

At the start of the journey, the key question seems to be, "Which people in AA have what I want? What path did ~they~ follow?" That then becomes the path I choose.

The question later one, say, after I have been trying a particular approach for a few months or years and/or have completed a set of Steps, is "How well is this actually working out for me?"

Here are some questions which can help make this question really practical.

1.     Has the path I have followed given me continuous, contented sobriety?
2.     Has fear been relieved?
3.     Has resentment been relieved?
4.     Have guilt and shame been relieved?
5.     Am I more happy?
6.     Am I more joyous?
7.     Am I more free?
8.     Has this path made me more useful?
9.     Am I now more focused on what I can give rather than what I can get?
10.  Is my conduct kind and loving in my home, occupation, and affairs?
11.  Is this path one that allows for continuous growth?
12.  Do I have hope?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If I have carefully followed instructions, and the pudding still tastes bad, I need a different recipe.