Sunday, 27 February 2011

More About Alcoholism (considerations)

When considering the following questions, it may be well to consider this:

"There are three types of people: the pious man or woman, who agrees with everything placed before him or her to avoid having a genuine experience with the questions posed; the bigot, who disagrees with everything placed before him or her to avoid having a genuine experience with the questions posed; the man or woman of consideration, who refuses to answer a question point-blank, instead considering the question in order to have a new experience.

Once you have answered a question, you have blocked yourself off from having a new experience with the question. All of the questions that are posed out of the Big Book are therefore questions to consider rather than answer.

The principle operating here is that, when I want a new experience with the Big Book and with the programme and God, whatever got me to this point cannot take me further or I would already have made the progress I need to make. Everything I know to date, which has been my greatest asset, becomes the greatest obstacle to having a new experience, my greatest liability."

A suggested set-aside prayer (based on Emmet Fox):

"God, I hereby renounce all preconceived opinions; please set aside for me my present habits of thought and my present views and prejudices; please jettison anything and everything that can stand in the way of my finding the truth; remove my fear of public opinion and of the disapproval of relatives or friends; help me see that my most cherished beliefs may be mistaken and that my ideas and views of life may be false and in need of recasting. Let me start again at the very beginning and learn life anew."

* * * * *
Read Chapter Three. Then consider these questions.
* * * * *

Opening paragraphs—the definition of alcoholism

"The idea that somehow, someday he would control and enjoy his drinking is the greatest obsession of every abnormal drinker." (30:1)

The key word is and. When you controlled it, did you enjoy it? When you enjoyed it, could you control it?
A friend says that, for him, this translates as "every time I drank I thought I could get away with it—I could get the kick I wanted to get, and the price I would have to pay would not be too high". Is this you?

"We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery." (30:2)

Note that this is the First Step. There is no mention, at this point, of the words "powerless" and "unmanageable"—there is the concession that we are alcoholics. The Big Book then defines what alcoholics are:

"We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control. All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals—usually brief—were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable period we get worse, never better." (30:3)

Apply this paragraph first with regard to whether or not you can control whether or not you have the first drink.
Then apply this paragraph with regard to whether or not you can control how much you drink after you have had the first drink.
Can you see that the periods when you thought you were regaining control—over the first drink and after the first drink—were merely pit-stops on the road to destruction?
How did your illness progress?
Given that real alcoholics never regain control (= power, = choice), do you still believe you are choosing not to drink today, i.e. have power and control over whether or not you have the first drink?
If you have power and control and choice over whether or not you have the first drink, can you be a real alcoholic?

"Here are some of the methods we have tried: Drinking beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going to health farms and sanatoriums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums—we could increase the list infinitum." (31:2)

Which of these describe you?
What other methods have you tried to control your drinking—before the first drink and after the first drink.

"We do not like to pronounce any individual as alcoholic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself. Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it more than once. It will not take long for you to decide, if you are honest with yourself about it. It may be worth a bad case of jitters if you get full knowledge of your condition." (31:3)

Imagine this: could you do this consistently, forever?

The Man of Thirty

Read the story about the "man of thirty" (32:2–33:1).

  1. Have you ever successfully stopped drinking for a time and started again?
  2. Was the physical craving still there?
  3. If you slipped, do you believe you could come back to AA?
"If we are planning to stop drinking, there must be no reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday we will be immune to alcohol." (33:1)

Do you have any such lurking reservation or lurking notion—that you could drink and not trigger the craving?

Jim's Story—the "peculiar mental twist"

"... peculiar mental twist ..." (33:1)

This can be described as a distortion in reality. Later on, in Jim's story, a distortion in reality will be described (the whisky-in-the-milk incident).

"For those who are unable to drink moderately the question is how to stop altogether. We are assuming, of course, that the reader desires to stop." (34:2)

Do you want to stop altogether?
Is this, therefore, your question?

"Whether such a person can quit upon a non-spiritual basis depends upon the extent to which he has already lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not." (34:2)

Note that if you have lost this power of choice, the Big Book is suggesting you cannot stay stopped unless you live life on a spiritual basis. Do you believe this (yet)?

Read Jim's story (35:2–37:2).

  1. Do you believe that, if you achieved all of the things that Jim had achieved, had all the qualities that Jim enjoyed, and had all of the knowledge that Jim had acquired, all of that would keep you sober?
  2. Have you been relying on achievements, and qualities, and knowledge to keep you sober?
  3. What is the one area in which Jim fell short?
  4. How long did Jim fall short for?
  5. If things are going well, does that mean you are going to stay sober?
  6. Compare this to 14:6–15:0—what does "enlarging your spiritual life" mean?
  7. Are you doing this?
  8. If not, how long do you have before you drink?
  9. Does Jim have resentment? Do you need to be free of resentment to stay sober? Does Bill, on page 15, have resentment? Does he stay sober? What is the difference between Bill and Jim?
  10. Jim drinks after having a "sudden" insane thought. What is the insane thought (the "peculiar mental twist")?
  11. Is he "sane" before the first insane thought? Is there any sign or warning that the first insane thought is on its way?
  12. Did Jim think of the consequences?
  13. If you are "sane" today, how do you know whether or not you will "suddenly" succumb to the "sudden" insane thought, like Jim?
  14. Have you ever had an experience like Jim's?
  15. What were the insane thoughts/the peculiar mental twists that persuaded you to drink?
  16. Do you have, under all circumstances and at all times, a sufficient mental defence against such thoughts?

The Parallel-Thinker—"the curious mental phenomenon"

"But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitable ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink." (37:2)

  1. Have you ever had two sets of thoughts in your mind at once—a sane set and an insane set?
  2. What is your experience of this?
  3. What happens if the insane set out of thoughts wins, even for a moment?
  4. Can you fight this, consistently, under all circumstances, at all times?

The Jaywalker

Read the jaywalker story (37:3–38:3).

  1. What is the "thrill"?
  2. What are the consequences?
  3. Should the "thrill" outweigh the consequences?
  4. Does knowing that the consequences outweigh the thrill stop you?
  5. Can you see the insanity of this?
  6. Is this you?

Fred's Story—the "strange mental blank spot"

"But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an expectation, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience." (39:1)

Do you believe this?
Do you see, now, that whether or not you are an actual or a potential alcoholic is irrelevant—even a potential alcoholic cannot stop based on self-knowledge?

Read Fred's story (39:2–43:1).

  1. Fred has standing, money, property, a happy marriage, successful children, an attractive personality, and friends and is, on apparently stable and well-balanced. Yet he is an alcoholic and continually relapsing. Do you still believe your alcoholism can be blamed on your lack of standing, your lack of money, your financial insecurity, your broken relationships, your broken personality, your loneliness, or your emotional instability?
  2. If Fred does not even have the problems you have and is still drinking, are you still under the delusion that, to stay sober, you only need to solve such problems or need to solve such problems at all?
  3. Fred's "fault" is failure to admit he is an alcoholic and failure to accept a spiritual remedy for his problem. Do you still believe a non-spiritual remedy could work for you?
  4. He has all of the knowledge about alcoholism of the people that wrote the Big Book. Yet he continues drinking. In the light of the fact that Fred has such knowledge and continues drinking, do you still believe that reading and understanding the Big Book will solve your problem?
  5. He was positive that humiliating experience plus knowledge would keep him sober—do you still believe that, if you remember where you came from, if you remember what drink "did to you", if you remember your last drink/your last drunk, if you keep the memory evergreen, all of that, plus the knowledge of all of the people around you in AA, will keep you sober?
  6. Fred believed that he could exercise his will power to keep himself sober. Do you still believe you have the power, at all times, "to get to bed tonight without a drink", "to not drink no matter what"? Do you believe you can, at all times, follow the instruction "don't take the first drink"?
  7. Fred believed that he could stay sober by "keeping on guard". Do you still believe that this will work to keep you sober, at all times?
  8. Fred has a period when he has no trouble refusing drinks. Yet he relapses. Do you believe that, because, for the time being, you have no trouble refusing drinks, this will automatically remain the case?
  9. In the period immediately before Fred relapses (41:0), does he have anything to "drink on"? Do you still believe you "drink on" emotion or circumstance?
  10. 41:1 "the thought came to mind": can you control what thoughts come into your head?
  11. 41:1 "it would be nice to have a couple of cocktails with dinner": is this thought, in itself, true or false—sane or insane? How many cocktails does he actually have with dinner? Did he follow through with what he said he was going to do? Were these cocktails indeed "nice", as far as we can tell from the story? Again—is what his mind is telling him—in itself—true or false?
  12. 41:1 "that was all. Nothing more". This is the strange mental blank spot—have you ever experienced the failure of any thought of consequences to show up on the tails of the drinking thought?
  13. 41:2 "I had made no fight whatever against the first drink." Do you believe that fighting will be effective to prevent you from drinking?
  14. 41:3 "This time I had not thought of the consequences". Do you believe that thinking of the consequences will be effective to prevent you from drinking?
  15. 41:3 "they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come—I would drink again... what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank      spots." Do you have an alcoholic mind?
  16. 42:0 "I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow." Are you defeated?

Wrap-up questions

"then asked me if I thought myself alcoholic and if I were really licked this time. I had to concede both propositions." (42:1)
"there is no doubt in my mind that you were 100% hopeless, apart from divine help." (43:2)
"The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defence against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defence. His defence much come from a Higher Power." (43:3)

Are you alcoholic?
Are you licked?
Are you 100% hopeless, apart from divine help?
Must your defence come from a Higher Power?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The cardinal error of the recovered alcoholic

A year or so ago, I found myself somewhat angry at pretty much everyone in AA. What is more, my anger was totally 'justified'. I could use the Big Book to back up every single judgement.

I'm grateful strong sponsorship showed me a way out of that trap, because I was becoming useless.

What follows is a cheeky rewriting of pages 60 to 62 of the Big Book, from this specific angle.

If I discover myself remotely concerned with anyone else's programme (or lack of it), I need to read this and see where I am at fault.

Either my troubles are of my own making or they are not. Either I believe what the Book says in this regard, or I don't. Any emotional disturbance will point the finger directly back at me.

"The first requirement is that we be convinced that AA run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives—saving the lives of suffering alcoholics—are good. Most people try to carry the AA message by self-propulsion. Each Twelfth-Stepper is like a humble servant who tries to run the whole of the Fellowship; is forever trying to arrange the meeting, group business, the service structure, and the lives of his sponsees in his own way. If only his arrangements would stay put, if only people would work the Steps as he wished, if only people would follow the Big Book not the 'Twelve and Twelve', if only people would carry the message, not the mess, if only people would ditch the therapy-speak, if only people would stop talking about other addictions, AA would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be happy, joyous, and free. AA would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our humble servant may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish, and dishonest. But as with most humans, he is likely to have varied traits.
What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well—his sponsees become disaffected, he gets a reputation in local AA meetings for being a fascist, and local AA is polarised into two self-righteous camps, each convinced the other is wrong. He begins to think AA doesn't treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still AA does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of AA if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the alcoholics that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of AA? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?
Our humble servant is self-centred—egocentric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired Twelfth-Stepper who lolls in the Sunshine of the Spirit complaining of the sad state of the Fellowship; the bleeding deacon who sighs over the sins of 'Middle of the Road AA'; politicians and reformers who are sure AA would be Utopia if everyone else would only behave; the deposed group chairman who thinks the group has wronged him; and the Twelfth-Stepper who has lost all credibility and is locked up in the prison of his own judgements. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?
. . . So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making.
. . . We had to quit playing God. It didn't work."

"AA does not belong to you. It did not even belong to Bill or Bob. They were the co-founders. AA was founded by God, and that is who it belongs to." (Poplar Paul)

Sunday, 13 February 2011

'Practising the principles' and online behaviour

From the dust-jacket of the Third Edition of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' (the Big Book):
". . . the basic text (pages 1 through 164) remains unchanged. This is the AA message."
The foreword to the third edition contains the line:
"The Twelve Steps that summarise the programme . . ."
The Twelfth Step, introduced for the first time on page 60, suggests that we "practise these principles in all our affairs."
If, therefore, I believe in what the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' presents as a way of life, the 'design for living' referred to on two occasions (15:1 and 28:1), I have to adopt the entire package: practising the last part of Step Twelve therefore means practising all the principles set out in all 164 pages, not just those that are attractive or convenient.
How does this apply to online behaviour? Down to business:

(1) Demonstration
"A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations, and affairs." (19:1)"The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it." (83:2)
This means that, of far more importance than regurgitating my knowledge of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, is a demonstration, in my actual conduct online, that I am living in accordance with those principles. Paragraph 18:4 does indeed indicate the importance of being armed with the facts. The next paragraph, however, goes on to say that "his whole deportment shouts at the new prospect that he is a man with a real answer". If my deportment does not demonstrate that I have a real answer, if my demeanour and conduct does not attract people to this way of life, the facts are dead. "Then faith would be dead indeed" (15:0)—and so might those people who could otherwise have been helped.

(2) Tolerance
"Most of us sense that real tolerance of other people's shortcomings and viewpoints and a respect for their opinions are attitudes which make us more useful to others." (19:4)
"Each group had the right to be wrong" (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Tradition 4:4)
"Love and tolerance of others is our code." (84:2)
In online forums, people will disagree. I will regularly believe that others are wrong. They will regularly believe I am wrong. If I am to practise tolerance, I must respect others' right to hold whatever views they wish. We all have the right to be wrong. It is not my job to change others' views. It is my job to present mine. What other people do with those views of mine is their business, not mine.
The Book does not list exceptions to the code of love and tolerance. This is because there are none.

(3) Cease fighting
"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone—even alcohol." (84:3)
Again, the Book does not list exceptions. This is because there are none.
"We do not mean that you have to agree with your husband whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit." (117:3)
"So cooperate; never criticize." (89:3)
"Our best defence in these situations would be no defence whatever—namely, complete silence at the public level." (Concept XII)
"It is of little use to argue and only makes the impasse worse." (126:3)
"If you cooperate, rather than complain, you will find that his excess enthusiasm will tone down." (119:2)
"We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness." (122:1)
I know I have tipped over from presentation of my views into fighting if:
(1) I repeat myself in a discussion.
(2) I personalise any comment.
(3) I feel heated—I am not at peace.
(4) I criticise.
(5) The posters on a particular thread are reduced to me and my co-fighter—everyone else has fled.
(6) I cannot stop typing until (a) my co-fighter has conceded defeat (b) my co-fighter has left the ring.
"As in war, the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were short-lived." (66:1)
(4) Let it begin with me
"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. In many homes this is a difficult thing to do, but it must be done if any results are to be expected. If persisted in for a few months, the effect on a man's family is sure to be great. The most incompatible people discover they have a basis upon which they can meet. Little by little the family may see their own defects and admit them. These can then be discussed in an atmosphere of helpfulness and friendliness." (98:3)
I cannot change how others operate online. I can, however, concentrate on my conduct.
Here is how I apply the above principles online:
(1) Say it once. Repetition within a thread is either bullying or manipulation.
(2) Say it kindly—never personalise (Tradition XII) . . . and never take anything personally.
(3) Keep it to my experience—the words 'you' and 'they' are best avoided.
(4) Ignore attack—a fight needs two people.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Fear and the Two Voices

Imagine a child instructed to sit down at a table and draw the most frightening thing it can conceive of.

Then imagine that the child has forgotten that the instruction came from without and believes it is its nature or duty to draw images of unimaginable horror.

Then imagine that the child, in the moment of drawing, forgets that it is the one doing the drawing.

Then imagine that the child, as the images unfold like a tableau vivant, forgets that this is a drawing and believes it to be the future unfolding before its eyes.

Firstly, it would scream in terror. Secondly, it would be transfixed.

For this to occur, there are three conditions which must be met, which must equally be 'un-met' for the situation to be resolved:

(1) The child has forgotten that what is sees is a fabrication, not the actual future.
(2) The child has forgotten that it is the one drawing this fabrication.
(3) The child has forgotten that the instruction to draw came from without, not within its true self.

The problem, with fear, is apparently, then, one of forgetfulness.

If the instructing voice were not listened to, the page would remain white, in perpetuity.

The instructing voice may not go away permanently.

But there is a stronger voice, one of love and gentle direction.

Kids have to follow some voice or another.

What's your choice to be?

"When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn't. What was our choice to be?" (53:2, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')
"a God personal to me, who was love, superhuman strength and direction" (10:4) 
"We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be. At once, we commence to outgrow fear." (68:3)