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.