Sunday, 30 December 2012

GSR checklist

What literature should a GSR be familiar with?

Books and handbooks:

Alcoholics Anonymous ('Big Book')
The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
The World Service Manual
The AA Service Handbook for Great Britain (this incorporates the Guidelines for AA in Great Britain)

The AA Group
The rewards of being a GSR
Twelve Concepts Illustrated
AA Tradition—How it Developed
Twelve Traditions Illustrated

Why Step Five is important, as teller, and listener

From pages 56–58, "Storytelling: Imagination and Faith"

"On the day the Baal Shem Tov was dying, he assigned each of his disciples a task to carry on in his name, to do some of his work. When he finished with all of them, he had one more task. He called the last disciple and gave him this task: to go all over Europe to retell the stories he remembered from the Master. The disciple was very disappointed. This was hardly a prestigious job. But the Baal Shem Tov told him that he would not have to do this forever; he would receive a sign when he should stop and then he could live out the rest of his life in ease.
So off he went, and days and months turned into years and years of telling stories until he felt he had told them in every part of the world. Then he heard of a man in Italy, a nobleman in fact, who would pay a gold ducat for each new story told. So the disciple went to Italy to the nobleman's castle. But to his absolute horror he discovered that he had forgotten all the Baal Shem Tov stories! He couldn't remember a single story. He was mortified. But the nobleman was kind and urged him to stay a few days anyway, in the hope that he would eventually remember something.
But the next day and the next he remembered nothing. Finally, on the third day, the disciple protested that he must go, out of sheer embarrassment. But as he was about to leave, oh, yes, suddenly he remembered one story, and this would prove that he indeed did know the great Baal Shem Tov, for he was the only one there when the story happened. And this is the story he remembered.
Once the Baal Shem Tov told him to harness the horses, for they were about to take a trip to Turkey where at this time of the year the streets were decorated for the Christians' Easter festival. The disciple was upset, for it was well known that Jews were not safe during the Christian Holy Week and Easter. They were fair game for the Christians shouting 'God-killers!' And, in fact, it was the custom during the Easter festival to kill one Jew in reparation.
Still, they went. They went into the city and then into the Jewish quarter, where the Jews were all huddled behind their shutters out of fear. They were secluded, waiting till the festival was over and they could go on out into the streets again in safety. So imagine how startled and surprised they were when the Baal Shem Tov stood up and opened all the windows of the house where they were staying. And furthermore he stood there in full view!
And looking through the window he saw the bishop leading the procession. He was arrayed like a prince with gold vestments, silver mitre, and a diamond-studded staff. The Baal Shem Tov told his disciple, 'Go tell the bishop I want to see him.' Was he out of his mind? Did he want to die? But nothing could deter this order, so the disciple went out and went up to the bishop to tell him that the Baal Shem Tov wanted to see him. The bishop seemed frightened and agitated. But he went. He went and was secluded for three hours with the Baal Shem Tov. Then the Master came out and, without saying anything else, told his disciples they were ready to go back home.
As the disciple finished the story, he was about to apologise to the nobleman for the insignificance of the story, when he suddenly noticed the enormous impact the story had on the nobleman. He had dissolved into tears, and, finally, when he could speak, he said, 'Oh, disciple, your story has just saved my soul! You see, I was there that day. I was that bishop. I had descended from a long line of distinguished rabbis, but, one day, during a period of great persecution, I had abandoned the faith and converted to Christianity. The Christians, of course, were so pleased that, in time, they even made me a bishop. And I had accepted everything, even went along with the killing of the Jews each year, until that one year. The night before the festival, I had a terrible dream of the Day of Judgement, and the danger to my soul. So, until you came, the very next day, with a message from the Baal Shem Tov, I knew that I had to go with you.
For three hours, he and I talked. He told me that there still might be hope for my soul. He told me to sell my goods and retire on what was left and live a life of good deeds and holiness. There might still be hope. And his last words to me were these: 'when a man comes to you and tells you your own story, you will know that your sins are forgiven.'
'So I have been asking everyone I knew for stories from the Baal Shem Tov. And I recognised you immediately when you came, and I was happy. But when I saw that all the stories had been taken from you, I recognised God's judgement. Yet now you have remembered one story, my story, and I know now that the Baal Shem Tov has interceded on my behalf, and that God has forgiven me.'
When a man comes to you and tells you your own story, you know that your sins are forgiven. And when you are forgiven, you are healed."

Q: who gets to share at the meeting?

Tradition 4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.

A group can therefore stipulate who has the opportunity to share. In some groups, there is no restriction whatsoever. In others, those sharing are handpicked by an officer of the group.

Tradition 9. AA, as such, ought never be organised; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

The spiritual principle here is allowing God to work through the room.

Here are some useful questions:
Will we allow God to act just through the picker, who chooses without raised hands?
Will we have raised hands for those wishing to share plus a picker?
What are the picker's criteria? Length of sobriety? Likelihood to observe Tradition 5 and the other Traditions?
Or individual fairness? Picking people in the order they raised their hands?

I've been to some great meetings where there is hand-picking, but some awful ones too. The same applies to free-for-all meetings.

Tradition 5 is important: structures and formats are often chosen to promote Tradition 5 above all else. This is not bad. It is a group's prerogative.

There are, however, other principles that might be relevant.

Tradition 1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.

To be unified, we must all have a common stake. As my friend Tom W. says, 'we all have one share in AA. You don't get an extra share or an extra vote just because you've been here longer.' Linked to this is Concept IV:

Concept IV. At all responsible levels, we ought to maintain a traditional 'Right of Participation,' allowing a voting representation in reasonable proportion to the responsibility that each must discharge.

Now, this is obviously not about voting, but sharing, but the principle of participation nonetheless applies. AA is a participation, not a spectator sport. I see AA functioning and flowering most effectively where everyone is given the chance to participate. Having even newcomers participate allows them to feel part of AA right from the start and to be valued as such. At my home group, newcomers participate freely, and they are simultaneously very eager to take on active service at the group, as tea-makers, greeters, etc. I do not think this is coincidence.

Tradition 2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

A group is indivisible: Tradition 5 (long form) refers to a group being a spiritual entity.

A partly stifled voice is no voice at all.

God, unfortunately, has no taste whatsoever. He has the habit of picking the most improbable people to speak through. Sometimes, He has the temerity to voice AA's message of recovery and love most clearly through someone who is a few days sober, and resolutely fails to use the old-timers routinely trotting out their well-worn spiel.

It is established in spiritual traditions outside AA that it is often the most innocent or the outsider who are chosen by the Spirit as the voice of God, and that the established leaders are bypassed by the Healing Force.

I would therefore be very hesitant to see sharing restricted only to old-timers or 'trusted hands'. There's a risk of an AA group being a command-and-control pharisaic institution.

The pendulum can, however, swing too far, and I have been to meetings where there is little message and a lot of craziness.

Typically, timed sharing tends to take care of that. If sharing is limited to three or four minutes (and this is monitored by a bell, and the bell is respected), enough people will be given the opportunity to share for balance to prevail. This will often be sufficient to ensure balance.

If there is far greater demand for sharing time than there is supply, a group will have to have raised-hand sharing plus a picker.

Here, one way of ensuring that the above Traditions and Concepts are respected is a principles-based system rather than a personality-based system (cf. Tradition 12).

E.g.: alternating men and women; alternating established members and visitors; alternating experienced and inexperienced members.

This can act as the minimum organisation necessary to allow smooth and effective running.

As with much else in AA, lightness of touch can go a very long way.

Q: what happens if we disagree with how the secretary is running the meeting?

The key principle here is Concept III:

III. To insure effective leadership, we should endow each element of AA—the Conference, the General Service Board and its service corporations, staffs, committees, and executives—with a traditional "Right of Decision."
This means that the secretary can discharge his duties as he sees fit.

The checks and balances reside in Concepts I, II, and X

I. Final responsibility and ultimate authority for AA world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole Fellowship.
II. The General Service Conference of AA has become, for nearly every practical purpose, the active voice and the effective conscience of our whole Society in its world affairs.
X. Every service responsibility should be matched by an equal service authority, with the scope of such authority well defined.

This means that the group may define clearly what the scope of a secretary's authority is. Tradition IV would suggest that groups may be very prescriptive or very permissive. Most are the latter. Tradition IX suggests not being over-organised, and this principle is, in general, liberally applied.

If something goes wrong, Tradition XII comes into play. It usually does little good for the group to hammer down on the officer for exercising his discretion in such a way that others do not happen to like. If he was within the bounds of the authority given, hard luck! Only if the secretary exceeded the authority granted or went beyond the scope stipulated are there any grounds for criticism, and then only with reference to the established principle of what the role requires. Concept XII would suggest not making such discussions punitive in any way.

If there is consensus that the secretary be given less discretion and be directed in a particular way, then that is a group conscience matter (or steering committee matter, as the group decides). The discussion then is one of how things should be going forward, not on how things were done differently the past. It is important not to criticise someone for rightly exercising right of decision in accordance with their own conscience in the absence of specific direction.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Short form:

To insure effective leadership, we should endow each element of AA – the conference, the General Service Board and its service corporations, staffs, committees, and executives – with a traditional “Right of Decision".
Long form:

As a traditional means of creating and maintaining a clearly defined working relation between the groups, the Conference, the AA General Service Board and its several service corporations, staffs, committees and executives, and of thus insuring their effective leadership, it is here suggested that we endow each of these elements of world service with a traditional "Right of Decision".


"... the latter part of Tradition Two, which provides for "trusted servants." This really means that we ought to trust our responsible leaders to decide, within the understood framework of their duties, how they will interpret and apply their own authority and responsibility to each particular problem or situation as it arises. This sort of leadership discretion should be the essence of "the Right of Decision," and I am certain that we need not have the slightest fear of granting this indispensable privilege at nearly every level of world service."

"This "Right of Decision" should never be made an excuse for failure to render proper reports of all significant actions taken; it ought never be used as a reason for constantly exceeding a clearly defined authority, nor as an excuse for persistently failing to consult those who are entitled to be consulted before an important decision or action is taken."

"Our entire AA program rests squarely upon the principle of mutual trust. We trust God, we trust AA, and we trust each other. Therefore we cannot do less than trust our leaders in service. The "Right of Decision" that we offer them is not only the practical means by which they may act and lead effectively, but it is also the symbol of our implicit confidence."

Basic questions

In my service assignment, is it clear, by tradition, charter, written procedure, etc., what my responsibility and authority is?

When I have a service assignment, do I exercise right of decision over what I take back to those I represent for guidance and what I will decide upon myself? Or do I simple make all decisions myself or refuse to make any decisions myself.

Am I then accountable back to those I serve for the decisions I have made in exercise of this right?


The only decision I can ever make is to decide to pray. I will then follow my ego or what comes to me when I pray. I am either deciding to serve self, or I am deciding to serve God.

All problems are caused by a failure to pray, and thus remaining in the thrall of my ego.

Extended questions

When I want to drink, do I decide to pray, and act accordingly?
When a defect arises, do I decide to pray, and act accordingly?
When I realise I am serving self, do I decide to reboot and serve God instead?
Do I exercise right of decision over what to seek guidance in relation to from others? Or do I either seek no guidance or, at the other extreme, refuse to take any responsibility for myself?
Do I trust others to follow their consciences?
Do I let others exercise that right even when I disagree with them?
Do I respect others' right to drink or otherwise not work the programme, without interfering?
Do I try and make others go against their consciences to please me?

There is nothing wrong right now

This is not strictly true always. If a knife is being inserted into you; if a joint is aching terribly; if you slept only two hours last night, there will be suffering. I have had the experience of suffering, both physically and emotionally, and being "OK", however: nothing was wrong right then. The wrongness would have come from a mental superstructure or add-on about the suffering. "This shouldn't be happening." "This is unfair!" "If I hadn't ..., I would not be feeling ..." "When is this going to stop?" The wrongness is not inherent in the experience itself.

Other than that, any "wrongness" in the moment, if analysed carefully, will be revealed to be attributable entirely to interpretation through the ego of an essentially benign or at least insignificant circumstance.

There is nothing wrong

What is true in the moment is eternally true. What is eternally true is true in the moment. If wrongness is ever possible, it is always possible. If it is ever impossible, it is always impossible. If God cannot heal one thing, I might as well throw the towel in now. If God can heal one thing, there is hope for everything. God is everything or God is nothing. God is or God isn't. What is the choice to be?

There is nothing

Oh, there are certainly electrons, quarks, protons, and other atomic and sub-atomic particles. There is certainly light. Something let that be and it is. Isn't it? But is there a chair? An elephant? A slight? A catastrophe? Or are these things merely interpretations of the electrons, protons, neutrons, and photons, interpretations residing in my mind? Are these things merely temporary form belying a mysterious, ineffable, harmless, and indestructible substance?

There is

When the interpretation is removed, all that is left is the "isness" of what is.


But in the observation of what is, the "there", who is doing the observing?


The observer of the there is the here: as you realise you are the observer that is part of what is being observed, the last sense of separation is dissolved, and you are left with ...

Letting go. Or not.

Stop. Stop now.

There is an illusion in recovery that wellness comes from an accumulation of "recovery actions", like wealth might come from an accumulation of things. A man who merely takes recovery actions is no more well, necessarily, than a monkey with a bank account is rich.

"You have not only been fully created, but have also been created perfect. There is no emptiness in you."

All recovery acts are like an actor's words cast into an empty auditorium, or a gourmet banquet set for a colony of ants, unless their purpose is revealed.

In themselves, they are useless. If they remove the illusion of sickness, they release power, like a split atom. They transfigure.

If, however, they are undertaken out of a sense of duty and labour, to escape or mask a sickness that is not there, to win points or acclaim, to be a good boy or girl, to allay guilt, to fill time as though it is empty, they will become a frantically active addiction in themselves, the worst, in fact, because there is then no pleasure in them and no apparent solution when they are supposed to be the solution.

Some people who slip work the Steps over and over, to no avail. If they did not work the first time, another hack at them will not work, if the reason for their failure is not uncovered.

There is only one reason for failure: the futile clinging to a set of beliefs about the world that condemn one to the perpetual climbing of a mountain whose summit becomes the foothills of the next mountain. When recovery is another mountain, there is no recovery.

So, what is the solution?

Let go.

I can't tell you how to let go. I can only tell you that that is the only action (or actually the reverse of an action: becoming the acted upon rather than the actor) that will release you.

Then, every recovery act becomes a joyful expression of that release.

Tense? Frustrated? Panicked that whatever you do will never be enough? If so, then it won't be, because letting go is not about doing.

So, let go. How? Perhaps, by realising you cannot.

Until then, keep up the good work.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A brief service inventory

(1) What are my service assignments?
(2) Am I applying the Traditions and Concepts in those service assignments?
Over the last week:
(3) What has gone well?
(4) What has gone badly?
(5) What are my corrective measures (using the Traditions and Concepts)?
Over the coming week:
(6) What service is scheduled?
(7) How can I apply the Traditions and Concepts to plan under God's guidance what my role will be?
(8) Am I spending time reading about the Traditions and the Concepts, and reading service literature (e.g. the World Service Manual) to learn more about how things are best done?
(9) Am I taking specific difficulties to my sponsor, service sponsor, or other people experienced in successful, Traditions- and Concepts-based service, or am I struggling to handle such difficulties on my own?
(10) At my home group, do I discuss difficulties constructively or destructively?
(11) Is there a matter I need to bring to the group conscience—does the group need a group inventory?
(12) Have I given what I cannot change to God?

Is wanting bad?

All desire is God-given. Our egos get in the way and tell us how that desire should be met, in the three dimensions available to us. Then we get fixated on those three-dimensional things, thinking it is the things we want, when they are only our egos' idea of how we should get what we want. So wanting is fine, but outlining how God is going to give that to us is not, because it gets us chasing after things that do not work and will not give us happiness anyway. Or health, or harmony, or love, joy, peace, or connection. For these seven experiences are ultimately what at least I am after, fail to recognise this as I do.

It is no good repressing desire and wants. They will not go away. Rather, we have to ask God how we can serve Him and others today, how we can use the skills and experience we have accumulated, how we can develop further, how we can give, and trust that, in so giving, we will be given the opportunities for situations and relationships in which the underlying desires and wants are met, typically in ways we had not anticipated.

It is like we want to be warm but we have been wearing fishnet stockings or string vests and missing the fur coats because we actually have no idea that fur coats will keep us warmer.

What God has in mind for us is luxury; what we have in mind for ourselves is explosive, bitter poverty that looks like luxury in the shop window.

Do we have to work in a soup kitchen in Ethiopia and knit for Jesus to be happy? If we are good at making soup, speak Amharic, have a collection of knitting needles, and already love Jesus, then, possibly, yes.

However, I have always been taught in AA to grow where I am planted and have figured that a normal life of love, work, and play is likely to be precisely what God wills for me.

The only way to find God's will is to exercise a little vision in Step Eleven and choose from the available three-dimensional-world options for the next move in each area of my life.

Progress is not linear, and going from A to B involves travelling through a lot of unfamiliar letters, including J, L, Z, and occasionally Ж and Я. This can be challenging, disconcerting, and frustrating. But if I hold back on outlining (fixating on the means rather than the end and becoming rigid about attachment to things of the world), the promised land eventually comes into view, in the rear-view mirror, as my everyday life is endowed with qualities I hitherto believed would reside only in extraordinary circumstances.

In other words: trust God, choose as best I can from the available options each day, and keep talking, to scoop the water out of the bottom of the leaky boat. And, until God's will is revealed and the trumpets blast to herald the arrival of the new life, some people find knitting really helps.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

'I'm full of resentment. And fear. And guilt.'

Are you? How did that happen?

I certainly know what this feels like. You feel like you're a bucket, and someone has poured something terrible inside you, and you are left with the consequences.

A more accurate assessment would be this: 'I have been concentrating on the ills of the past, the present, the future, others, and me, and I feel the natural and unavoidable consequences of this concentration on the negative'. It is rightly said that what we get out is a reflection of what we put in.

I cannot control what you do to me, but I am in charge of my reaction to it, at least past the initial, instinctual response. I cannot control the past, but I am in charge of whether or not I perceive myself as a victim of it, constantly replaying the tape, each time adding a tragic or dramatic flourish. I cannot control the future, but I am in charge of whether I quiver in anticipation or plan my contribution and choose to rely on God to guide my thoughts and actions and remove my fear. I cannot choose what trains come into the mental station, but I can choose which ones I get on.

Naturally, if we have spent years letting ourselves be dragged behind our minds like fallen riders with their feet trapped in the stirrups, regaining control of our thought lives (from which all else, our actions, and our emotions, flow) will take some work, and we will encounter numerous setbacks, small and large. The only way to retrain ourselves, however, is to start, and the only day to start is today.

Essentially, this is the practice of Step Ten:

'Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. … Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 84:2)

The task, therefore, is to watch for these negative mental manifestations (and I would add fruitless fantasy and nostalgia to the list, equally harmful as they can be) and deliberately turn in one of two directions when they crop up:

(1) Think about where I am now and what I am doing now.
(2) Think about God.

The former is straightforward. If I have taken a strong Step Eleven that morning, I will have a plan for the day, and, at any particular point during the day, there will be something I am supposed to be doing and some activity I am supposed to be concentrating on.

The latter may be harder. The best approach is to take some spiritual reading and select a passage that appeals and concentrate on that. This might involve repetition of a prayer, concentrating on an idea about God or a spiritual principle and how it applies to our situation, or simple recitation, to block out the negative thinking and replace it with something better. At the very worst we are sparing ourselves a few minutes of further thrashing around inside our mental quicksand. At the very best, we will be lifted clean out of the morass.

Applied diligently, this will change your life.

There is no need to be a victim of the egoic mind forever. There is a solution, and that solution starts now.

What am I doing? Step Four, Ten, or Eleven?

The book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions encourages spot-check inventories, a nightly review, and a periodic housecleaning, say once or twice a year. All three exercises are regularly termed 'doing a Step Ten'. The short form of Step Ten 'Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it' seems to encapsulate all three, as well.

However, the short form of the Steps (what are printed on page 59 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous and what appear on the wall shades or scrolls) are simply handy aides-memoire and do not attempt to capture every nuance of the Step in question. The foreword to the Third Edition for instance describes the aide-memoire version of the Steps as what 'summarise' our programme. Nor does each Step claim for itself exclusivity over its subject matter.

The long form of the Steps—the AA programme in full—consists essentially in the content of the basic text section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. The Steps, although simple, are not simplistic, and overlap in content. Prayer is not limited to Steps Three, Seven, and Eleven, the ostensible prayer Steps. Prayer is talked about through the programme, most notably perhaps in Steps Four and Nine. Steps Four and Nine, performed without a great deal of prayer and meditation, lose much of their substance and efficacy.

So, what inventories are there in the Big Book?

There is a Step Four inventory, a highly structured, systematic review of thinking and behaviour, taking as its entry point the emotional signposts of resentment, fear, and guilt for its three chief inventories. Add the harms list forming part of Step Four (as implied by page 76), and our review is complete.

There is a review at the end of the day, to be included as part of the evening meditation, and itself including prayers to God for forgiveness and corrective measures. This is set out as part of the meditation of Step Eleven, in the Big Book. It should be noted that meditation, in the 1930s, denoted chiefly contemplative, concentrated thought.

Then there is Step Ten in the Big Book. This deserves an essay of its own. Essentially it falls into two halves: developing an awareness of our own thinking and behaviour in real time, and envisioning and carrying out God's will in real time, too. A successful application of Step Ten will result in a shift from being the hapless victim of our lives, pushed and pulled by emotion and unbridled instinct, to being an observer-meets-actor, with a permalink to God and an array of mechanisms to keep the show on the right road. (See and

So, if I am following the instructions set out on pages 84–85 of the Big Book, examining what is going on in the moment, etc., I am taking Step Ten. If I stand back from my life for a few minutes and examine the last twenty-four hours, I am taking Step Eleven. If I stand even further back and survey my entire life since the previous systematic review, I am taking Step Four.

Why are all three necessary? In principle, a perfect Step Ten will result in no need for a Step Eleven review. In principle, a perfect Step Eleven review will result in no need for a periodic Step Four.

However, 'No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 60:2).

These are the three safety nets, therefore, that stop us from falling back into alcoholism.

Furthermore: driving provides good analogies: Step Ten is adjusting the steering wheel as we are driving along; the Step Eleven review is checking the petrol, oil, tyre pressure, etc., cleaning out the detritus that has built up inside the car, and checking our progress along the map; Step Four is the annual or semi-annual servicing of the car, which may include large-scale repairs or even the replacement of the engine.

No amount of steering will re-inflate the tyres or clean the cup-holders; no amount of changing the oil will replace a dud engine.

The reviews may overlap somewhat in method and substance but are essentially complementary. A programme that includes only or or two of these three review methods is incomplete.

Lastly, it does not really matter what you call these reviews: the main thing is that you do them.

Friday, 30 November 2012

How to get the most out of the Step Eleven Review

The Step Eleven review, based on the first paragraph of page 86 of Alcoholics Anonymous, is a useful tool in recovery. Many people perform a written review once a day and share that review with others. It is easy, however, to get side-tracked.

Let's look at what the questions are really about.

Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? This focuses 50/50 on thought life and action.

Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better?

These focus entirely on action.

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?

This focuses on thought life—but whether that thought life was focused on action.

After making our review we … inquire what corrective measures should be taken.

This focuses chiefly on action.

In other words, the review is largely a review of action, with a little bit of attention paid to obstructive thought (resentment, fear, and self-centred thinking).

What happens in practice?

A bad review will focus 90% or more on resentment and fear and other mental and emotional manifestations of self-centredness. This is not constructive.

As the Book says: 'we constructively review our day… But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others.'

Many reviews will do precisely that: focus on regurgitating and further embedding the negative.

The substance of the resentment and fear may need to be mentioned in passing to provide some context. However, the point of having done a Step Four is to have learned that resentment is miserable, futile, and dangerous and that fear is self-defeating. Moreover in Step Four, we have been given solutions: forgiveness and reliance on God. Step Ten furthermore gives us the tool of regaining (or gaining) control over our own thought life through the diligent observation and turning of our thoughts to God and outwards to others.

By the time we arrive at Step Eleven, we cannot honestly plead ignorance.

If the day has been a resentful, fearful one, the problem lies not in the circumstances we have been resenting or fearing but the very fact we have deliberately failed to pick up the tools to nip these afflictions in the bud the moment they arise.

It can be easy to use the review to regurgitate the symptoms of the problem without ever facing the real problem: the decision when tempted to resent or fear to meditate and ponder on the wrongs of others or future catastrophes rather than turning our thoughts to the task at hand or to higher principles of love, service, patience, tolerance, etc.

Finally, a chief purpose of the review is to establish a set of corrective measures that we use our willpower along with God's power to apply the following day.

If there is a month of identical reviews without any corrective measures or genuine effort to apply such corrective measures as there are, continuing a Step Eleven review may actually be harmful to recovery, because it gives the appearance of diligence whilst acting as a fig leaf for complacency and indolence.

I am the first to admit that I have misused the Step Eleven review, not wilfully or negligently but misguidedly, hence the desire to pass on what I have since learned.

Monday, 26 November 2012

"But I just don't feel connected to God"

'God came to meet me, though you, but you knew me, because I was an alcoholic, and it didn't make any difference.' (A New Pair Of Glasses, Chuck Chamberlain)

'We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 46:2)

'When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to us!' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 57:2)

'Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.' (James 4:8)

'God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 164:2')

A lot of people worry about how to establish a relationship with God. They worry that they do not 'feel' a relationship with God.

My experience has been that the quickest way to establish a relationship with God is to establish a relationship with other alcoholics, based on me being honest with them, and them being honest with me back. We may not realise that this is establishing a relationship with God, but it is, as, if we are all children of a living Creator (28:2), we are establishing a relationship with the very substance of God by connecting with others.

To establish an ongoing, permanent relationship with God that will sustain me through thick and thin, however, I need to meet the terms described in Alcoholics Anonymous for God to reach me.

There are seven 'death threats' in Alcoholics Anonymous. If we see to it that these seven areas of relationship with others are resolved, (a) we will stay sober and (b) we will invariably find some sense of a power greater than ourselves operating in our lives. If we have unfinished or unattended-to business in these areas, we will eventually drink and God will remain an abstract idea.

(1) Resentment

'But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harbouring such feeling we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.
If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.' (p. 69)

(2) Harmful conduct

'If we are sorry for what we have done, and have the honest desire to let God take us to better things, we believe we will be forgiven and will have learned our lesson. If we are not sorry, and our conduct continues to harm others, we are quite sure to drink. We are not theorizing. These are facts out of our experience.' (p. 70)

(3) Secrets

'The best reason first: If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is that they never completed their housecleaning. They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock.' (pp. 71, 72)

(4) Unmade amends

'we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past. We are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worthwhile can be accomplished until we do so' (pp. 77, 78)

(5) Unfaced creditors

'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.' (p. 78)

(6) Complacency

'It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities.' (p. 85)

(7) Working with others

'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.' (pp. 14, 15)

Absolute surrender. Again.

'God ought to be able to do anything.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 158:1)

'He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had." '

'On the third day the lawyer gave his life to the care and direction of his Creator, and said he was perfectly willing to do anything necessary.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 158:2)

'the condition of God’s blessing is absolute surrender of all into His hands' (Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murray)

When I do not like the experiences I am getting out of life—life that is given to everyone to do with as they wish—the only person I can blame is the manager. If I have been managing, that manager is me. I have to fire me, and everything that goes with me—the attitudes, the ideas, and the behaviour that flow from those. It is no good negotiating parts and portions. This is not the World Trade Organisation. We are not doing a deal where we have to make sure we 'get our own'. The problem is precisely that: we have been 'getting our own'. Instead, this is about absolute surrender. This is about getting up in the morning and saying to myself, 'I do not want to run my life today: I do not want fantasy, nostalgia, fear, resentment, and selfishness to run my life today.' Why? Because I do not like the results, and, as the book Alcoholics Anonymous tells us, we are sticklers for facts and results (48:2). So I continue: 'God, you are in charge. I am not. I am just here to serve. Give me a list of things to do today. Show me the spirit in which to do them.'
Sometimes the only advice that can be given is, 'for heaven's sake, give it up. Give it all up. Stop trying to work it out. Just look for the next indicated action and let God and life carry you forward to where God and life want to take you.'
Why, after all, would you not want to surrender to this:
'He is the Fountain of life, the only Source of existence and power and goodness, and throughout the universe there is nothing good but what God works.' (Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murray)

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Concept II

Short form:

The General Service Conference of AA has become, for nearly every practical purpose, the active voice and the effective conscience of our whole Society in its world affairs.
Long form:

When, in 1955, the AA groups confirmed the permanent charter for their General Service Conference, they thereby delegated to the Conference complete authority for the active maintenance of our world services and thereby made the Conference—excepting for any change in the Twelve Traditions or in Article 12 of the Conference Charter—the actual voice and the effective conscience for our whole Society.

What problems does Concept II solve?

·         Authority must be delegated for AA's work to be effective and efficient—the groups cannot directly manage the telephone service, literature production, etc.
·         The ultimate authority, expressed through group conscience, is scattered amongst many groups; representation is necessary to bring this together to make decisions.
·         Representative bodies (e.g. Conference) provide the link between the groups and those exercising authority on their behalf, the voice guiding the executive arms of AA.

Concept II ideas

·         Ultimate authority resides in the groups; this authority is delegated to those who have immediate authority for the actual work of AA.
·         Conference should be a representative cross-section of the entire fellowship.
·         For services to be actively maintained, servants need to be dedicated to the group conscience and disciplined in their work.
·         Conference itself cannot itself change the general principles under which it operates—this authority always remains with the groups.
·         This principle therefore applies to any representative bodies in AA.
·         The principle of subsidiarity[1] applies—we delegate immediate responsibility and authority to representatives only where it must be delegated because the responsibility cannot be discharged at group level.
·         This prevents excessive power from accumulating in representatives—decisions continue to be made by the group as a whole wherever practical (see Concept XII).

Concept II questions

·         When I am offered service, do I remember that AA has no hands but mine?
·         Am I disciplined in my dedication to service?
·         When I take up service, do I remember my authority is only immediate—that ultimate authority resides with the groups, and that I remain forever accountable?

Quotations (from Bill W's essay)

'It is self-evident that the thousands of AA groups and the many thousands of AA embers, scattered as they are all over the globe, cannot of themselves actually manage and conduct our manifold world services. The group conscience is out there among them, and so are the needed funds.'
'The power of the groups and members to alter their world service structure and to criticize its operation is virtually supreme. They have all of the final responsibility and authority that there is.'
'In order to get effective action, the groups must delegate the actual operational authority to chosen service representatives who are fully empowered to speak and to act for them.'
'The group conscience of AA could not be heard unless a properly chosen Conference was fully trusted to speak for it respecting most matters of world service.'
'The final say—the ultimate sanction in matters of large importance—has not been given to the Trustees alone.'

[1] The idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Worried about AA? Run a good home group

'In addition to these casual get-togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be attended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life. Aside from fellowship and sociability, the prime object was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems.'

'The very practical approach to his problems, the absence of intolerance of any kind, the informality, the genuine democracy, the uncanny understanding which these people had were irresistible.'

(Alcoholics Anonymous, 'A Vision For You')

Tradition IX. AA, as such, ought never be organised; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

Concept I. Final responsibility and the ultimate authority for AA world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole fellowship.

Concept IX. Good service leadership at all levels is indispensable for our future functioning and safety. Primary world service leadership, once exercised by the founders, must necessarily be assumed by the trustees.

Concept XI. The trustees should always have the best possible committees, corporate service directors, executives, staffs, and consultants. Composition, qualifications, induction procedures, and rights and duties will always be matters of serious concern.

* * * * *

My home group looks and feels pretty relaxed. We like the passages set out above from the Big Book—some of us have experienced very militaristic groups, and prefer the very informality of our gatherings.

There are some matters, however, that are important, in fact vital, for the group to run effectively.

The doors need to be open a good time before the meeting (we are never open later than half an hour before we start). Tea and coffee need to be available and ready to roll for when people start to arrive. Literature needs to be ordered and set out (especially meeting listings and plenty of copies of the Big Book). The group meetings need to be furnished with watertight scripts. The business meetings need to be held regularly, with a circulated agenda, and an up-to-date list of who has taken on service assignments and when they are rotating out, with contact details so that we can contact each other should something untoward arise between meetings.

Very importantly, we have an alternate system. This means that, if someone cannot fulfil his or her commitment, there is either a designated stand-in, or the service member reverts to a list of general alternates who have agreed to make themselves available to stand in for any service assignment. The list of general alternates needs to be ample to ensure that all commitments are covered at all times.

If these basic housekeeping measures are in place, which are largely invisible to those not involved in the running of the group, the group can then function smoothly, and everyone can relax.

What can go wrong?

'Composition, qualifications, induction procedures, and rights and duties will always be matters of serious concern.' (Concept XI)

This principle is important. We need to make sure, when appointing people, that we choose the right man or woman for the job.

For example, someone who has a chaotic, irregular schedule should not be the key-holder for the group. Someone who can definitely commit to being there every week, come rain or shine, should hold the keys for the meeting (and there should always be a back-up plan with a second set of keys or another means of accessing the venue for when that person is late for whatever reason). The treasurer should be good with handling money and preferably not be clipping coupons. The secretary (in our group the person who maintains records, draws up agendas, keeps lists of service members up to date, and maintains the scripts for the group meetings, business meetings, and group consciences) should be someone who is good with computers, ruthlessly efficient, and proactive.

It is the group's responsibility to ensure that, when someone is inducted into a role, all of the knowledge and wisdom acquired by the previous incumbent is passed on. Sometimes this will concern general traditions about how the group operates; sometimes this will concern specific information about the venue. In any case, such knowledge and wisdom will often need to be written down not to be lost.

Lastly, duties should be well-defined. It is good for all jobs in AA (from tea-maker through to board trustee) to have job descriptions, even if the job description is a couple of lines long, to make sure incoming service members are clear on what the job entails. This saves a lot of argument later.

'Good service leadership at all levels is indispensable for our future functioning and safety' (Concept IX)

'Final responsibility and the ultimate authority for AA world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole fellowship.' (Concept I)

What happens when service members are not fulfilling their duties properly? Even in the best groups, this sometimes happens, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the incumbent is spiritually off-beam; sometimes he or she has other distractions; sometimes he or she has not been properly inducted; the reasons are countless.

Whatever the reason, the responsibility for the group lies with all of the members. When things go wrong (the tea is not ready on time; the group runs out of Big Books; the scripts go missing), everyone is affected, and the ultimate responsibility and authority lies with all group members. However, practically speaking, group members look to the service members to be custodians of the group.

Although each service member has 'right of decision' (Concept III) over doing his or her job, it is up to the remaining service members to be aware of whether the various disciplines are functioning properly and to step up to the plate collectively to solve problems that arise. One cannot simply blame the treasurer, for instance, and walk off, muttering under one's breath that things are going to hell in a handcart.

Service leadership can often mean gently bringing up problems in business meetings, preferably with helpful (rather than critical) suggestions about how things could be done better or differently. These should not be personal (Tradition XII) but concern what the role requires, and solutions then become incorporated into how each role is designed, so that the improvements are passed on to the next incumbent.

It is very common for alcoholics to snipe and gripe but not take any action. It is also common for alcoholics to take charge rather than letting others get on with their jobs. Wisdom suggests a balance between these extremes is what is most effective.

As a home group member, I am chiefly responsible for discharging my duties, whether as GSR, tea-maker, or secretary. But I am also responsible for helping and supporting other service members, and watching for whether people need help or guidance. Under Concept I, I retain, along with everyone else, joint responsibility and authority for the group as a whole.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Can my sponsor tell me what to do in my life outside AA?

The main purpose of the AA programme is to establish for me a relationship with a power greater than myself. This power will provide sufficient direction and strength to outrank and overpower my ego, which, if left to its own devices, will wreck my life, drive me to drink, and then sit on top of the steaming, tangled mess and blame me while it files its nails.

If this works, which it will if I promptly and fully complete the Steps as set out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, I will have access to that power, I will not drink, and my life will improve massively, as I pass through it like a hot knife through butter.

The main purpose of the AA sponsor is therefore to show me how to establish that relationship, namely how to work the Steps, how to apply the Traditions in my group to maintain unity and fellowship, and how to apply the Concepts in service, both in and outside AA.

What about the rest of my life?

Well, since I joined AA, I have asked sponsors and others what to do in questionable situations. I was 21 when I got sober, and was extremely naïve and gullible. I regularly granted sponsors the authority to pull rank and essentially tell me what to do. 'Oh, OK' was my invariable response, and, because I chose well (individuals with a decade or two of sobriety and enviable lives of happiness and usefulness), the results were good, as far as I can remember.

In fact, my sponsor says, 'I would rather see a person follow the bad advice of a well-meaning sponsor than their own best thinking.' I agree with this, in the main. All the trouble I have gotten into has been as a result of my own self-seeking, self-pity, or dishonest motives. I have never gotten into trouble following a sponsor's advice.

However, and it's a big however: the age-related idiocy I was encumbered with on arriving in AA is not a universal phenomenon. I was prone to making spectacularly bad decisions, particularly in the sexual and dating arena, and had zero instinct and zero ability to apply any moral or spiritual principles. Initially I had to have other people apply those for me until I had enough programme under my belt and enough stability of mind and spirit to start trusting instincts and conscience. Many people on arriving in AA, however, particularly older alcoholics who have had busy, successful lives but who have been cut down by alcohol in their prime, do indeed have plenty of skills to fall back on pending the full spiritual awakening. The need to resort to a sponsor for every outside decision, large and small, like a baby bird craning its neck for the next worm, is not necessarily there.

There are spiritual principles at play, here, too.

I do not tell other people what to do in their lives outside AA. This is for several reasons:

(1) If you take action, the consequences must be yours not mine. If I tell you what to do, and no opposition is brooked, I am responsible for your consequences. This breaches Concept X, the idea of responsibility and authority going hand in hand. If I have authority, I have to have responsibility. But I really can't bear the responsibility for your consequences.

(2) I rely on God for guidance in my life. God speaks through my conscience. He also speaks through others. I will listen heartily to others, but the decision is ultimately mine. That decision is not always right, however. I can share experience with you—I can share similar situations I have been in, what principles I applied, what decision I took, and what the consequences were. I can suggest that the outcome may be the same for you if you follow the same course, but I cannot guarantee it. In short, I cannot know what is right for you.

'Before taking drastic action which might implicate other people we secure their consent. If we have obtained permission, have consulted with others, asked God to help and the drastic step is indicated we must not shrink.' (80:1, Alcoholics Anonymous)

There is a school of sponsorship that is essentially dictatorial, where sponsees, even those years sober, defer to their sponsors for the smallest of decisions. This is not God-reliance. This is reliance on a human hierarchy, like a spiritual Ponzi scheme. Apart from causing untold difficulties as individuals run each other's lives much like Stalin ran Russia (with similar results, a friend adds), this results in the sponsees never learning to rely on God and the sponsors becoming conceited about their powers (I have made this latter mistake  myself). The groups of recovered alcoholics thus formed tend to reflect this dictatorial approach. There is no true group conscience; instead, there is decision-making by trickle-down.

To sum up, therefore, I do not tell people what to do, and I am doing them a disservice if I do, ultimately enabling them to become dependent on me and ever more fearfully unable to depend on God, lest they make a mistake. Instead, I provide them with spiritual principles, practical tools, and experience of cause and effect in my life, sober.

There is one exception.

God does not always speak loudly and clearly through my conscience. I can perfectly well lose spiritual fitness and become blinded by my own desires or frustrations. In such situations, I rely on others in AA who know me well and are of sound mind themselves to call me out on such folly and strongly suggest a change in course.

That kind of trust can be built up only over months and years, however. Random strangers in AA or even people I know moderately well I will not automatically endow with that authority to override me. I have to have genuine confidence in their spiritual fitness, understanding of my situation, lack of desire to run my life, and whether they have my best interests at heart.

Even in such situations, and there was one spectacular example from a couple of years ago, the people I turn to have never said, 'you must'. They have said, 'I strongly suggest … although I might be wrong.' Now, when my sponsor or my best friend says, 'I strongly suggest … although I might be wrong,' I do indeed take that as an order, but that 'reading' of the statement is mine, not theirs, so the consequences of the decision I then take are mine. When such people speak to me, my conscience resonates, and I know they're right.

Our leaders do not govern.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Acceptance. Part of the programme?

Is the famous 'acceptance passage' from the Big Book story 'Acceptance is the Answer' a valid part of the AA programme? Or do we dismiss the stories entirely on the basis that they're written to attract still-suffering alcoholics to the AA way of life?

(1) Both of the co-founders would be appalled at the suggestion that the only source of wisdom in the universe lies in the first 164 pages of the Big Book.

(You might want to check out page 310 of Dr Bob and the Good Oldtimers for Dr Bob's reading list, and it is no secret that Bill, too, read widely.)

(2) The Big Book itself does not state that its first 164 pages have a monopoly either on recovery or on spiritual wisdom.

"We have no monopoly on God; we merely have an approach that worked with us."

"If not members of religious bodies, we sometimes select and memorize a few set prayers which emphasize the principles we have been discussing. There are many helpful books also. Suggestions about these may be obtained from one’s priest, minister, or rabbi. Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they offer."

"We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us."

(3) The suggestion that material that comes from elsewhere in the Big Book itself, written by a recovered alcoholic, to boot, is bogus, merely on the basis of not being in the first 164 pages, is both preposterous and inconsistent with the letter and spirit of those 164 pages.

(4) Acceptance, as a principle, is patently integral to the Steps—the surrenders to the truth in Step One, to the existence of a God beyond our intellect, in Step Two, and to the programme of action itself from Step Three onwards—involve a great deal of cessation of fighting and acceptance of reality.

(5) The forgiveness urged on pages 66 and 67 requires a great deal of acceptance. Resentment could otherwise be described as non-acceptance, and acceptance is clearly a facet of forgiveness. If I am non-accepting, I am resentful; if I am resentful, I am non-accepting. Forgiveness brings the peace of acceptance.

(6) Most people who have peace of mind will display an ability to accept circumstances with grace, courage, cheerfulness, and equanimity, without shirking the responsibility to change and mould those circumstances where that is God's will. Right acceptance—without descending into apathy—is one of the true fruits of the Steps and a guiding principle of the second half of Step Twelve.

(7) Those two aspects of acceptance—accepting what we cannot change and taking up the challenge of what we must accept is our duty to change—are the core of the Serenity Prayer, perhaps the best conceivable summing up of the programme in a few words.

(8) The man that penned the first 164 pages wrote extensively about acceptance, both in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and in Language of the Heart (via the Grapevine). Check out page 269 et sqq. of the latter—this is an excellent essay on acceptance!

To paraphrase Bill W. talking about prayer, "the only ones who scoff at acceptance are the ones who haven't tried it enough."

Sunday, 18 November 2012


Despair: five points to remember when it strikes:

(1) How I feel never lasts.
(2) How I feel is not an accurate reflection of reality.
(3) How I feel tends to be magnified and disproportionate.
(4) I never have a problem. God has the problem. Or, rather, the opportunity. I have a role: a job to do today. And business to keep my nose out of, namely outcomes and external circumstances.
(5) If I'm attached to outcomes I am going to be unhappy, as I cannot control outcomes. Best, therefore, to deem all possibilities acceptable, on the basis that what happens is far less important than my response, and, with God, anything can be responded to with courage and cheerfulness. Provided I'm not telling God how I think the world should look.


"Does he want to get well? You ask, because many alcoholics, being warped and drugged, do not want to quit. But does he? Will he take every necessary step, submit to anything to get well, to stop drinking forever?" (Alcoholics Anonymous, 142:1)

'The AA who "slips" has not accepted the AA program in its entirety. He has a reservation, or reservations. He’s tried to make a compromise. Frequently, of course, he will say he doesn’t know why he reverted to a drink. He means that sincerely and, as a matter of fact, he may not be aware of any reason. But if his thoughts can be probed deeply enough a reason can usually be found in the form of a reservation.' (Dr William Silkworth)

I've sponsored a lot of people who were relapsers. It is in this context I am examining these statements.

It looks, here, as though there are two questions. I believe there is one.

To stop drinking forever, an alcoholic has to want to, but one hundred per cent. I did not stop relapsing until I no longer saw any outlet or release in alcohol, just a brick wall. It was only then that I submitted, not just in terms of action, but in terms of ideas to what AA had to offer.

In my first couple of years in AA in particular, my mind was unsafe territory. Fortunately, I was encouraged to study and work and fill my time with productive activities. The proportion of the day for which I was left, mentally, to my own devices was mercifully brief, and during those times, I was furnished with a cassette recorder and tapes of AA speakers a kindly old-timer would make for me, one a week. I could not think my way out of the innumerable mental sinkholes of fear and fretting I tumbled into every day. Sometimes the only relief I could find when on my own was listening to a comforting voice speaking confident truth.

So, when I wanted to quit—for good and for all—I submitted to anything; the fact I submitted to anything indicated that I wanted to quit. The other sign that I had submitted was initially intermittent periods of relaxation. The fight (with alcohol) had gone out of me.

'When … the ability to accept reality functions on the unconscious level, there is no residual battle, and relaxation ensues with freedom from strain and conflict. In fact, it is perfectly possible to ascertain to what extent the acceptance of reality is on the unconscious level by the degree of relaxation which develops. The greater the relaxation, the greater is the inner acceptance of reality.' (Harry M. Tiebout)

A tragic phenomenon is the alcoholic who wants to quit—but not entirely. Perhaps 85%. Perhaps 93%. But not 100%. The residual 15%, 7%, or even 1% is sufficient to provide the escape-hatch back to alcohol, which will appear unpredictably.

There is little that I can do as a sponsor regarding another person's 15%, 7%, or 1% reservations. I can point out that compliance with the programme does not equal surrender and that a failure to surrender at gut level will sooner or later manifest as a return to drinking. I can probe and try to help the individual find what the reservation is. But, even if that reservation is found, I cannot prise it from his mind.

It is at that point that I typically suggest an individual try someone else, if he still relapses after we have been working together for some time. Perhaps another can reach him where I cannot. What is certain is that I am not the human power that can arrest another's alcoholism.


"Next he can be assured that you do not intend to lecture, moralize, or condemn; that if this was done formerly, it was because of misunderstanding." (Alcoholics Anonymous, 142:1)

Lecture: to address with some severity, or at some length, on the subject of conduct, behaviour, or the like; to admonish, rebuke, reprimand. (OED)
Moralise: to reflect on or express opinions about something in terms of right and wrong, especially in a self-righteous or tiresome way. (
Condemn: To pronounce an adverse judgement on; to express strong disapproval of, censure, blame. (OED)

"He should concentrate on his own spiritual demonstration. Argument and fault-finding are to be avoided like the plague." (Alcoholics Anonymous, 48:3)

The Big Book sets out a programme that is a package deal. When I first started to adopt the Big Book as the package-deal design for living it was written to present, I found it to work magically in a way that no other combination of AA suggestions had ever achieved before. It was like finally locating the instruction manual for a device I had only ever operated using titbits of good advice and a great deal of common sense and intuition.

Suddenly discovering how to take the hand-brake off my own spiritual development came with an unexpected sting in the tail, however. I became acutely aware of how everyone else, so I thought, was getting it wrong. And now, so I thought, I had God on my side. Others, with their second-rate programme, were killing newcomers, and had damn-near killed me, with their watered-down rubbish, so I said. I had the sense, most of the time, to convey these ideas subtly or covertly, but convey them I did.

One way or another, I lectured, moralised, and condemned. Naturally, I was attacked back (you can't fool alcoholics), and I developed a tiny but perfectly formed martyr complex, replete with justifications for my self-righteousness, defensiveness, and counter-attack.

As with every other problem I have ever had, I reached a point at which I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Spiritually sick. And tired of my own resentment. Sick and tired of using the Big Book to separate myself from the herd, to mark myself apart as being superior, the kid with the good gear, the purveyor of the true message, sorrowfully shaking my head at the hordes going straight to hell unless they get my 'brand of spirituality while there is yet time' (128:1).

I had been granted entry to the realm of the spirit but I had not begun to understand what that realm was all about. George Carlin said, 'Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.' I was trying to be spiritual by peppering my thoughts and words with quotations from the Big Book without having fully absorbed or implemented its real substance and spirit:

Love and tolerance of all.

The Big Book does indeed contain all the answers I need, or at least points in the direction thereof. But I do need all of it, especially the uncomfortable, inconvenient parts.

What the above quotations mean for me is that:
·         I need to talk about me, not you.
·         When I'm talking about me, I need to make sure I really am talking about me, not talking about me as a covert way of talking about you.
·         I must examine my motives for saying what I am saying—Step Ten in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (paragraph 21) talks of 'this perverse wish to hide a bad motive underneath a good one'.

This is hard. My ego is constantly trying to find ways of separating me and setting me apart as superior in some way. The simplicity of telling my story just to be helpful is an ideal, not something I have already fully attained. The irony is, it seems impossible to even talk about this subject without, oneself, moralising. Fortunately, all we are doing is trying to grow along spiritual lines. We are not saints, the Big Book reminds us, in a moment of spectacular understatement.

The reason I need and want to apply all of the programme as it is set out in the Big Book is two-fold. If I am going to be helpful to people, I need to demonstrate a life that people might like for themselves. And, delicious as being right can be from the inside, it is perfectly objectionable from the outside.

The other reason is quite selfish. Today, I like being at peace more than I like the buzz of whatever my ego has to offer. This means I have to live and let live, or perhaps let live and then live: first of all detach from all of my opinions and judgements, and then get on with my life.