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.