Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Getting out of self

“Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.” (20:0)

When the programme was first designed, the Steps did not take long, perhaps a few days, to complete. Helping others was therefore an instant part of the package deal. These days, people seem to take much longer to get round to the helping others bit of the programme. This delay is unnecessary.

This line is often quoted in meetings as an excuse for remaining trapped in morbid self-reflection:

“But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got.” (164:2)

Almost no one, however, quotes the following line:

“See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us.” (164:2)

The simple attitude of placing ourselves in humility at the feet of God and asking to be of service can be adopted at any time.

Some of the key lines regarding helping others are these:

“No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.” (84:0)

“Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seem so worth while to us now. Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have—the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them.” (124:2)

Here are some tips for how we get out of self, today:

In and around meetings

(1) Get to a meeting early and help set up.
(2) Talk to the people before and after the meeting. Specifically, ask them about their day, actually listen when they tell you, and ask God to show you what experience of yours could help them. Perhaps you will just need to listen and be compassionate. Perhaps you can match their story with a similar experience (coupled with how you were given help in AA). Perhaps you have been shown a solution that could help them.
(3) In particular identify newcomers or people who have not been to the meeting before. Show them where everything is. Exchange numbers. Introduce them to others. Find out if they need any literature. Get them a cup of tea or coffee.
(4) Ask the group secretary if there is something you can read out.
(5) During the meeting, ask God to show you what you can contribute: talk about the solution you have been shown in the Book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’, talk about your experience, and talk about your difficulties and how you were given help. “We want to leave you with the feeling that no situation is too difficult and no unhappiness too great to be overcome.” (104:4). This should be your aim.
(6) After the meeting, approach anyone who was looking visibly troubled or shared some difficulty and seek if you can be there for them and offer relevant experience or just a compassionate ear.
(7) Help clear up afterwards.
(8) Go for fellowship after the meeting with others from the group.
(9) Throughout the whole meeting, pray to be shown how you can be useful to others.

Outside meetings

(1) If you are doing the above at meetings, you will soon have a long list of AA members of varying lengths of sobriety. Text them. Call them. Email them. Be there for them in the manner described above.
(2) Become a member of an Internet forum where the AA solution is discussed with enthusiasm and contribute regularly.
(3) Write an article for the Grapevine/Share/Roundabout magazine.
(4) Take these attitudes into every endeavour:

“If it is a happy occasion, try to increase the pleasure of those there; if a business occasion, go and attend to your business enthusiastically.” (102:1)

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

“Giving, rather than getting, will become the guiding principle.” (128:0)

“Father feels he has struck something better than gold. For a time he may try to hug the new treasure to himself. He may not see at once that he has barely scratched a limitless lode which will pay dividends only if he mines it for the rest of his life and insists on giving away the entire product.” (129:0)

The risk of being crippled by self-absorption and crushed under the weight of your own personality is something that any of us can run, no matter how long we have been sober.

The answer is always placing ourselves in the service of God to be of use to others.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


This exercise is for members of Alcoholics Anonymous who would like to get back on the spiritual beam.

Page 53 § 2 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the 'Big Book') poses the Step 2 Proposition:

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?

What does God being everything mean?
Many members will concede that God has absolute power—through AA as the conduit—to keep alcoholics sober. In this regard, He is everything, and we are nothing—we could not stay sober on our own.
With regard to alcohol, we will agree to be the actor in life and let God be the director, to be the agent and let God be the principal, to be the employee and let God be the employer, and to be the child and let God be the father who provides everything we need 'if we kept close to Him and performed His work well' (p. 63 § 1).
Many of us balk at applying this with other areas in our lives, however.
We are 'victims of the delusion that we can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if we only manage well' (p. 61 § 1). Manage what? Ourselves and the people and circumstances around us.
Note that this is a delusion. This means that this idea is untrue.
If we are victims of this delusion, we will make a decision about (a) what we want (b) what we have to do and be to get this (the 'job description') and (c) what everyone else has to do and be for us to get this (the 'script').
This is the 'decision based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt'.
Why? Our alcoholic egos are over-ambitious and we cannot fulfil our own job descriptions. The rest of the world fails to follow our script, which places us 'almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good' (p. 60 § 8). 'Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows, and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt' (p. 62 § 1).
What is the result?

We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn't control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn't make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn't seem to be of real help to other people... (p. 52 § 2—the 'bedevilments')

So, the delusion that, if we manage well, we will make ourselves happy gives rise to the decision about what we and the world should be and do, and, once this decision is implemented, we end up in conflict with the world and ourselves and find ourselves beset by the bedevilments.
Where does this delusion come from?
Dr Harry M. Tiebout (the psychiatrist who advised and informed AA in its early years and acted as a non-alcoholic trustee of AA) wrote, in The Ego Factors in Surrender in Alcoholism (in 'Harry Tiebout: The Collected Writings', Hazelden):

Certain aspects of the infant's psyche may be usefully examined. There are three factors which should receive mention. The first is, as Freud observed in his priceless phrase "His Majesty the Baby," that the infant is born ruler of all he surveys. He comes from the Nirvana of the womb, where he is usually the sole occupant, and he clings to that omnipotence with an innocence, yet determination, which baffles parent after parent. The second, stemming directly from the monarch within, is that the infant tolerates frustration poorly and lets the world know it readily. The third significant aspect of the child's original psyche is its tendency to do everything in a hurry. Observe youngsters on the beach: they run rather than walk. Observe them coming on a visit: the younger ones tear from the car while their elder siblings adopt a more leisurely pace.
Thus at the start of life the psyche (1) assumes its own omnipotence, (2) cannot accept frustrations and (3) functions at a tempo allegretto with a good deal of staccato and vivace thrown in.
In the alcoholic, this infantile ego persists into adulthood.

How does this ego manifest? Additional descriptive words provided by Dr Tiebout include:

prideful, arrogant, pushing, dominating, attention-seeking, aggressive, opinionated, headstrong, stubborn, determined and impatient

Ring any bells?
Dr Tiebout continues:

Therapy is centred on the ways and means, first, of bringing the Ego to earth, and second, keeping it there. ... namely the astonishing capacity of the Ego to pass out of the picture and then re-enter it, blithe and intact. ... Like the cat with nine lives, the Ego has a marvellous capacity to scramble back to safety—a little ruffled, perhaps, but soon operating with all its former aplomb, convinced once more that now it, the Ego, can master all events and push on ahead.
The capacity of the Ego to bypass experience is astounding and would be humorous were it not so tragic in its consequences. Cutting the individual down to size and making the results last is a task never completely accomplished. The possibility of a return of his Ego must be faced by every alcoholic. If it does return, he may refrain from drinking, but he will surely go on a "dry drunk," with all the old feelings and attitudes once more asserting themselves and making sobriety a shambles of discontent and restlessness. Not until the ego is decisively retired can peace and quiet again prevail. As one sees this struggle in process, the need for the helping hand of a Deity becomes clearer. Mere man alone all too often seems powerless to stay the force of his Ego. He needs assistance and needs it urgently.

An alcoholic rock-bottom can bring the ego to earth, enabling the alcoholic to come to AA and accept help from outside of himself.
The problem is keeping the ego there. If we do not, and it returns—'a little ruffled, perhaps, but soon operating with all its former aplomb'—we will become prideful, arrogant, pushing, dominating etc. (see the list above!)
Where does that leave us? The bedevilments.
As if that were not bad enough, we are at risk of drinking again: what once successfully treated the bedevilments? Alcohol. And our alcoholic minds will always remember this.
To get back on the beam and remain sober by reducing the ego, as Dr Tiebout says, we need God's help.

... unless the individual attains in the course of time a sense of the reality and the nearness of a Greater Power, his egocentric nature will reassert itself with undiminished intensity, and drinking will again enter into the picture. (Therapeutic Mechanisms of Alcoholics Anonymous. American Journal of Psychiatry: 468–73.)

COLUMN 1: What areas of my life have I not turned over (fully) to God?

Meditate for a few minutes, asking God, before you meditate, to direct your thinking and asking to have prejudice (= prejudging the purpose, nature, method, or outcome of this exercise) set aside.
Go through each area of your life, each relationship, asking yourself these questions:
·         Am I having trouble with personal relationships?
·         Am I being controlled by my emotional nature?
·         Am I a prey to misery and depression?
·         Am I able to make a living?
·         Do I feel useless?
·         Am I full of fear?
·         Am I unhappy?
·         Am I able to be of real help to anyone?

List and number the areas of your life where this is the case.
If I am suffering from any of these bedevilments, it is pretty certain that I am operating out of self-will: there is something I want I am not getting or have got and am afraid to lose.
If I had given these areas to God, I would be trying to follow God's will in terms of what to be and what to do, and I would be matching even calamity with serenity:

Just to the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity. (p. 68)

What I have now listed, in column 1, therefore, is the areas that I have not yet turned over (fully) to God.

COLUMN 2: What are my fears in these areas?

For each of these areas, write down your fears. Number them.
Unless we are trusting that God will look after us to the extent that we act as we think he would have us act, we will be seizing control ourselves or—perhaps worse—shivering impotently, waiting for doomsday.

COLUMN 3: What would God have me be?

We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be. (p. 68 § 3)

Before we can decide what to do, we need to know what God would have us be. Just as we cannot set out on a trip until we know the destination, we cannot work out what actions to take until we know what the spiritual destination is—what God would have us be.
In the third column, against each numbered fear, write what you believe God would have you be.
This requires meditation.


Take the information you have found, and place it on a 3" x 5" card or in a notebook—anything easy to carry around with you, so that you can refer to it at all times.
It should look something like this:
What areas of my life have I not turned over (fully) to God?
Why am I afraid to turn these areas over (fully) to God?
Fear of
What would God have me be?
1. Work
1.Not being good enough
1.   Trusting, diligent, hard-working, accepting of myself, unselfconscious
2.   Being sacked
2.   Trusting, open to change, flexible, accepting, unselfconscious
3.   Not having enough money to live
3.   Grateful for what I have, trusting, accepting
2. Relationship with my partner
4.   My temper
4.   Patient, kind, tolerant, thinking before acting, unprejudiced, flexible
5.   Rejection
5.   Accepting, trusting, selfless, self-forgetting
6.   Not getting enough sex
6.   Giving, generous, accepting
3. Relationship with my sponsee
7.   The sponsee not doing what I want him to do
7.   Patient, non-controlling, loving, thoughtful
8.   The sponsee drinking
8.   Patient, loving, accepting, trusting
9.   Me failing as a sponsor
9.   Humble about my defects, open to the advice of others, accepting of myself
4. Relationship with my neighbour
10. Noise, being kept awake at night
10. Accepting, thoughtful, patient, understanding
11. Confrontation
11. Patient, friendly, even-tempered

Step 11 morning meditation

On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. ... In thinking about our day we may face indecision. We may not be able to determine which course to take. Here we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or decision. (p. 86 § 2)

Our card gives us specific targets for meditation. When considering work, for instance, we can try to imagine how we could be trusting or accepting in particular situations we envisage. We can then ask God what actions would bring us into line with that mode of being.

Step 10 watching/"when agitated or doubtful"

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. (p. 84 § 2)

We now have specific fears to watch for as we go through the day.

As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. (p. 87 § 3)

Since we now have a vision of what we should become, it will be easier to divine the right thought or action, as we have a 'spiritual destination.

Step 11 evening review

When we retire at night we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? (p. 86 § 1)

We now have specific questions we can ask: "Was I patient with my sponsee?" "Was I selfless with my spouse?"

Most of all, we have an 'instant vision' of what God's will is for us, like a North Star by which we can navigate: when we get out of whack, off beam, 'into a state', we do not have to start the inventory process from scratch—all we need to do is
(a) go to the card
(b) work out which area of our life we have stopped trusting God in
(c) identify the fear
(d) ask God to replace the fear with the qualities in the third column
(e) ask God for the right thought or action in line with those qualities (p. 87)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Step Three—moving from management to shop floor

Step One suggests I admit powerlessness and unmanageability. These apply not just to what happens when I have a drink and to whether or not I can stay away from a drink when left to my own devices. These apply also to an inability to manage my life under any circumstances.

Managers of a business are in charge of strategy, policy, planning, monitoring and control, and discipline. Shop floor workers are in charge of getting on with the business of the business—its daily activities.

All my life, until I was given a programme, I felt inadequate. Part of this inadequacy stemmed from being a shop floor worker sitting up in the executive suite surrounded by consoles and computers and pie charts and graphs and reports with all of the phones ringing and endless decisions to be made. I am not trained for management of life—my life, your life, or life in general. I am not equipped; I do not have the necessary omnipotence, omniscience, prescience, and omnipresence to undertake this role. I felt inadequate because I was indeed truly inadequate to this particular task. And, like a child running a factory, when I ran my life, the results were disastrous, ever deepening my sense of inadequacy.

When I was new in AA, I was told to get a job. So I did. I worked in a sandwich bar, buttering bread. Then in a canteen, folding napkins. I was taught that all I had to do was show up, ask for instructions, follow them, go to my boss if there was a problem, then go home at the end of the day and forget about it. And, magically, money appeared in my bank account. If I thought I had a problem, I really did not—my boss had a problem, and my responsibility was to go to my boss, share the problem, and follow direction. For the first time in my life I felt truly free. I finally understood that, as long as I followed instructions and did what was in front of me, my responsibilities were fulfilled and I owed no one anything. In this area, the guilt and shame and sense of inadequacy left me to the precise extent that I followed this regimen. At last, I had a job I was adequate to. I am not talking about buttering bread or folding napkins—I am talking about being adequate to asking for instructions and following them to the best of my ability, rather than assuming management functions.

In the sandwich bar and the canteen, strategy, policy, planning, monitoring, control, and discipline were not my problem. I just had to be concerned with my actions and the spirit I was to bring to such actions.

This is the essence of Step Three.

Once I make the Step Three decision, I never need to make another decision in my life. The decisions that need to be made I ask for from my Boss. In the morning, when I plan my day, I ask for guidance, and, once the plan is set, that is the plan. I do not need to undertake any management role in this regard. My job, as it were, is to go to Management every morning, receive my instructions, and get on with it. I need to report back to Management at the end of the day, admitting what did not go well, but leaving the responsibility for determining what the corrective measures are to Management and especially asking Management for the necessary resources to carry out those corrective measures.

My responsibilities are thus extremely limited, in one way. However, the job that is assigned to me is totally my responsibility, and, if I do not discharge that responsibility, the job assigned to me will not get done, as there is no duplication or waste in this Divine System, and no one can deputise for me.

To sum up: my sense of total adequacy and fulfilment comes not from convincing myself I am adequate to a role above my station but from admitting my total inadequacy in the management role I had hitherto been usurping from God, and finding my true place. Shop floor, in the same uniform as everyone else, trotting up to my boss to ask for instructions, reporting back, and resting in the secure knowledge that the Real Manager knows what He is doing and the business is in expert hands. And I am provided for in every way and given all of the necessary tools of the trade.

Whenever I find myself donning management garb, I have to stand in front of the mirror and fire myself. There is only one Real Manager.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Powerless over people, places, and things? ... Erm, no.

When I am sober, I differ from non-alcoholics only in the potential to fall through the trapdoor in my mind that would permit a drink despite my experience. To examine whether I am powerless over people, places, and things, I need to look at general principles, therefore—are people, in general, powerless over people, places, and things?

If I were powerless over things, I could not lift up objects and throw them, create chemical reactions every time I cook, make things, or destroy things. If people were powerless over people, then no person could persuade or coerce another person to do anything. One glance at the world reveals this to be entirely untrue. The universe is a universe of universal persuasion and coercion, to the extent that few people are really making their own decisions, guided, as they are, by external influences, chiefly from other people. If people were powerless over places, man would be unable to effect change in the world, and every 'place' would look the same as it did thousands of years ago, before it was touched by human hand.

Clearly, as a universal statement, it is rubbish.

It is not, incidentally, to be found in the first 164 pages of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' (although its presence there will be regularly cited!)

Yet this statement is regularly trotted out at meetings, perhaps accompanied by an apathetic wave of resignation to continued gloom at being at the mercy of a cruel world. 'Life doesn't stop happening just because you're sober' and 'life stuff is happening to me' are used as justifications for the inevitability of grinding suffering.

The doctrine, thus, is this:

I am powerless over other people. Yet people have power over me.

A more insane counsel of doom could not be devised by the cruellest of tyrants.

What does the Book say?

I am not going to talk here about powerlessness over alcohol, per se. The powerlessness I have, sober, is this:

It is the powerlessness to bring about the psychic (= mental) change necessary to live well, let alone sober, based on information alone.

"If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed will power wasn't there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly." (44:4)

I am also powerless, unaided, to stop anyone else drinking and over the consequences thereof—and all my efforts come to nought.

"Our loyalty and the desire that our husbands hold up their heads and be like other men have begotten all sorts of predicaments. We have been unselfish and self-sacrificing. We have told innumerable lies to protect our pride and our husbands' reputations. We have prayed, we have begged, we have been patient. We have struck out viciously. We have run away. We have been hysterical. We have been terror stricken. We have sought sympathy. We have had retaliatory love affairs with other men." (105:1)

And yet they still drank . . .

However, in most of my human relations and relationships with the world around me, the real question is not one of powerlessness but one of how to exercise the power I have.

Option 1: be driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, stepping on the toes of our fellows, with them retaliating. Sometimes they hurt me, seemingly without provocation, but I invariably find that at some time in the past I have made decisions based on self which have placed me in a position to be hurt. (Cf. 62:1)

Under option 1, I will create confusion, not harmony (61:1) and not really be in charge, because I am the passenger in a car driver by fear.

Under option 1, even though the power, arguably, is being directed by my fear rather than my true Self, the power is definitely there, and I can have a profound effect on people, places, and things. It's just that the effects are baleful.

Clearly, under such scenarios, we can persuade or coerce, depending on our respective skills and position in the world, but the results of such persuasion and coercion will necessarily be limited and sometimes unanticipated and will certainly come at a price.

Option 2: be an intelligent agent, spearheads of God's ever-advancing Creation (49:1)

Also: "We know what you are thinking. You are saying to yourself: 'I'm jittery and alone. I couldn't do that.' But you can. You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself. To duplicate, with such backing, what we have accomplished is only a matter of willingness, patience and labour." (163:1)

The whole point of this deal is that we can gain access to infinite Power, which knows neither time nor limitation, so that we can have a positive impact on the people, places, and things around us. We can create order out of chaos and be the instruments by which people are lifted out of the mire that is alcoholism. That is real Power.

The condition is this: whereas, before, lack of power was our dilemma, now, what to do with that power is our dilemma.

For that power to be exercised appropriately, I must turn to God for guidance and strength.

Where the idea at the top is useful—the idea of being powerless over people, places, and things—is as an antidote to resentment. At any given point in time, what is, is. Railing at what is, because I cannot let go of my cherished vision of what I think should be, is insane, and, to this extent, I am powerless—wishing that, right now, things were different does not change things.

But that does not mean blind resignation to being the audience to a car crash.

It means seeking God and the vision of God's will (cf. 85:1), particularly with regard to the role I am supposed to play as the actor to God's director.

In other words, in the moment, I am relatively powerless over people, places, and things. However, over the course of a life, huge Power can flow through me to excellent effect in every part of my life, if I place seeking that Power above all things. We become the channels for the total recreation of our lives, and the people, places, and things around us inevitably change.