Sunday, 21 October 2012

Stream of life

Recovery is about building a life about serving God as an alternative to drinking ourselves to death. In less theological terms, it is about discovering that the universe is more interesting than our so-called needs and wants and engaging in it fully as an artless, contributing active participator.

We’re individually neither terribly interesting nor important. All Steps from Three onwards are built around the idea that we have to be free of self. This is no loss, as there is the rest of the universe to concern ourselves with.

We can get involved in the universe politically, or take an interest in charities, or learn a language, or develop an interest in a particular subject matter, or engage in a sport, or learn a musical instrument, but we need a life. The Steps will prepare us for this by stripping us of self. The last Step—showing others how this is done and then engaging in life fully—is the fruition and automatic fulfilment of the first eleven Steps.

The dark side of this is that, if Step Twelve is not brought to fruition, alcoholics will tend to drift back into self and then into drink.

The positive side of this is that the Steps, if approached with the deliberate attitude of wanting God to free us from self, will propel us into a life far bigger than we could have imagined.

God is everything, page 53 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous perhaps suggests. If that is the case, a life spent inside a half of mirrors would be a wasted life and a denial of God.

The last lines of the Step Eleven review suggest we examine whether we were thinking about what we could pack into the stream of life.

It is not asking whether we were packing a lot into the stream of life—we are asked to examine what the focus of our thought life is.

It is the nature of our thought life that is the wellspring from which our life flows. If that thought life is turned inwards, no amount of willpower will turn our lives outwards consistently. If that thought life is turned outwards, no vicissitude will pull us back into self.

Page 15 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous implies that the solution lies in the abandonment of self by losing oneself in our role in the world.

In my experience it is that that is the solution to all of the low self-worth, depression, anxiety, and loneliness that was ultimately the source of my alcoholic drinking.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Do alcoholics choose to drink?

If a person "chooses" to drink at deliberate odds with the facts of his circumstances and his established history, one has to question his sanity.

An insane person, e.g. someone who believes that, when he jumps off a roof, he can fly, indeed believes in his own power of choice in the moment of decision.

A dispassionate, third-party appraisal of the situation, however, would reveal that a major distortion of reality has fatally impaired the individual's decision-making faculty.

Whether the individual, in the moment the decision is made, perceives himself to be choosing freely is irrelevant.

The truth is that there is a drive within him ("I want to drink") plus a distortion of reality (the "peculiar mental twist") that makes fulfilment of the drive possible.

It can be rightly said that the drive is prompting the decision, the mental twist is enabling it, and there is no GENUINE choice in the sense of the selection of the best option on the basis of a rational appraisal of the facts.

True "choice" is predicated on the application of reason. Without reason, there is no genuine choice; one is at the mercy of drives whose genesis one cannot control.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Step Ten, line by line

What the Book says

What I do

This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along.
I don't have to wait till night-time. I can correct what goes wrong as I go through the day. I don't want to build up material for a review, and I don't want to build up material for another Step Four, although I will undoubtedly do both.
To do this I will need to learn awareness and learn to respond rapidly when I realise I am off beam.
We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past.
We clean up the past in Step Four, so we start Step Ten when we start Step Four.
We have entered the world of the Spirit.
Whenever I am disturbed, my mind and heart are buried in the world of the material. I must step back, mentally, into the World of the Spirit, where I am safe, where who I am, as a child of God, can never be harmed, where I receive comfort, guidance, and strength from God.
From this place, I can see you too as a child of God, and in my mind communicate with that child of God in you, whatever I may superficially see on the surface.
I can pray to God from this place, but also know I am connected to everyone who has ever touched my life, living and dead.
Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness.
This means I need to observe what I am doing, what is working and what isn't, and ask God to help me achieve what needs to be achieved as simply and effectively as possibly.
This is not an overnight matter.
This means I need to be patient.
It should continue for our lifetime.
But today is the day I must practise.
Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.
These are the four things I must watch for and observe in my mind. Fantasy and nostalgia (fear and resentment in the making) are also useful targets for this observation.
When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them.
We do not analyse. Quick! Ask! Now! The quicker you ask and say the Step Seven prayer, or serenity prayer, or other helpful prayer, the quicker you can return to your day. No delay is necessary, and delay can result in the thoughts in question becoming entrenched.
We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone.
I stop the day and contact others if I am seriously disturbed or am confused as to what to do. But only then. Otherwise, my attention should go straight back onto the business of the day.
Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help.
And whatever task we are doing, even if we cannot see who can benefit, even in the long run or at a distance from us, we can do for God and others rather than for ourselves.
Love and tolerance of others is our code.
This means I must look at others as children of God, and recognise that 'faults' are only what I am observing and any genuine 'wrong' on their part comes from darkness and ignorance not malice.
If I do not want to feel attacked, I must stop attacking.
And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone—even alcohol.
I must put down my weapons and defences and await instructions from God.
I must fight no one. But I can stand firm at times, and stand strongly for something.
If I am disturbed, I should ideally not speak but wait till I am at peace and then let God speak through me.
For by this time sanity will have returned.
When I am angry I am conflicted—I am not one with God or you. Sanity is wholeness. I need wholeness to return before I can act well or kindly.
We will seldom be interested in liquor.
But we sometimes will!
If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame.
If I do not recoil but find myself bewitched, I should discuss this with others immediately …
We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically.
… for there may be something wrong with my spiritual status.
We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation.
Change happens to me; it does not come from me. I create the conditions (that is the thought and effort required by the Steps) in which change takes place, but the change itself requires no thought or effort.
We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality—safe and protected.
We can also actively imagine this: envision God looking after you, safe and protected, with nothing able to harm you.
As Emmet Fox says:
"We know that God is spirit, but what does that mean? Spirit is that which cannot be destroyed or damaged. It is the opposite of matter. Matter wears out, but Spirit does not because Spirit is substance. You are spirit. Spirit cannot die and was never born. Your true self was never born and will never die. You are eternal, divine, un-changing spirit, in your true nature. The whole universe is a spiritual creation. Reality is an independent spiritual world, unconditioned by the apparent world of sense—and this is substance."
We have not even sworn off.
As Emmet Fox says:
"When you fight a thing you antagonise it and it hits back. The harder you fight it, the harder it hits.
What you neglect, or, still better, ignore, begins to fade away or die by starvation.
When you give your attention to anything, you are building that thing into your consciousness, for good or evil.
When you are faced with some negative condition in your own life, the scientific way to handle it is to withdraw your attention from it by building the opposite into your subconscious, and when you have done this the undesirable thing falls away like an overripe fruit."
Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid.
Not by us—through us, for us.
That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.
This means that my primary purpose is not to stay away from alcohol but to tend to my spiritual condition by living in all three sides of the triangle and practising steps Ten through Twelve on a daily basis.
It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels.
If we are acting based on emotion or reward, as soon as we do not feel like doing something, as soon as we lose hope in the reward, or as soon as we receive the reward, we will stop acting well.
We need a new basis for living: aiming for enthusiastically doing God's will, but falling back to cheerful, unquestioning obedience to the simple spiritual principles of love and service when we get the rewards, when we lose hope, or when the enthusiasm wanes or disappears.
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.
The nature of spiritual backsliding is that it covers its own tracks—we do not realise how far off beam we are until, in some cases, it is too late. That is why the spiritual programme of action must be committed to as a daily programme, with a periodic run through the first nine steps, to ensure that backsliding does not take place.
Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities.
The key word here is "all". It matters less what we do with our lives and more how we do it, whether we are bringing love and service into all of our activities.
"How can I best serve Thee—Thy will (not mine) be done." These are thoughts which must go with us constantly.
This is a pair of prayers that can be used throughout the day.
We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish.
We are not victims. If our thinking is off-beam, we must sometimes exercise a lot of willpower to bring our attention back to the business at hand to avoid getting lost in the substance-less miasma self.
It is the proper use of the will.
Again, the problem is not lack of will but the direction of it: our job is to direct our will at being present and helping others.
Much has already been said about receiving strength, inspiration, and direction from Him who has all knowledge and power.
This can be turned into a prayer—conceive first of the Higher Power having all knowledge and power (it helps to know whom you are talking to), then ask for strength, inspiration, and direction. These are the only commodities we really need, and, if we seek these, everything else we need will come to us automatically.
If we have carefully followed directions, we have begun to sense the flow of His Spirit into us.
Alcoholics are rebellious. Much like children. We must make a decision that we wish to outgrow this handicap. If we do, the dividends are endless. There is no value in self-aggrandising independence from God's will.
To some extent we have become God-conscious. We have begun to develop this vital sixth sense.
We may not realise we have become God-conscious—typically, if we are sensing strength, inspiration, and direction that was not ours a moment, a minute, an hour, a day, a month, or a year ago, we have become conscious of God. We cannot see God directly, but we can become aware of the presence of God, just as we cannot see wind, but we can see its presence manifest in the fluttering of leaves.
But we must go further and that means more action.
On to Step Eleven!

Tradition 1

There are lots of things I cannot do on my own. When I was new in AA, I was inconsistent with meeting attendance and found myself inexplicably drunk. I could stay sober when I wanted to stay sober; however, as soon as I did not want to stay sober, I got drunk, and my mind would flip unpredictably back and forth between wanting to stay sober and not wanting to stay sober, even though the evidence base for the decision remained the same (the consistent experience of alcohol affording pockets of relief but expanses of catastrophe). I could not bring sense to bear on my problem. However, when I stayed close to the group, I stayed sober, at least for a while.

Staying close to the group does not just mean placing myself physically in AA meetings, though. Sitting in a church would not make a Christian; taping sausages to my legs would not satisfy hunger. Over time, my mere physical presence in AA did not guarantee consistent sobriety, and even going to lots of meetings was failing to prevent the return of a desire to drink.

I needed to join AA and become part of a group. To do this, physical presence was necessary but not sufficient. I needed unity with my AA group and with AA as a whole. Unity is attained when the blocks to unity are removed. The chief block, from which all others flow, is self.

Part of my mind is a wanting machine. Its job is to create wants. It does not matter how much I have or do not have. It creates wants nonetheless. It wants sex, money, power, prestige, comfort, thrills, and appearance; it wants respect, admiration, and validation. Whatever you give it, it wants more—nothing is ever enough. Wants generate resentment, because even the most perfectly constructed and controlled life would not be able to satisfy every want, and, as with the princess and the pea, even the most trifling frustration can fill my consciousness with gloom. Wants also generate fear: the experience of wants not being satisfied in the past becomes the fear of such wants not being satisfied in the future. Furthermore, when I live on this basis, I will harm others—I will control, disregard, and punish, and ride roughshod over your needs to satisfy my wants. This produces guilt and shame.

Live a few years—or decades—in this manner and I become utterly blocked to everyone and everything, including in the AA meetings that are saving my life. In short, to survive, I need unity with my AA group, for the spiritual life-blood that keeps me sane enough to want to stay sober under all conditions and circumstances to flow through me. It is the three sides of the AA triangle that achieve this unity. The Steps remove the blocks and establish clear channels between me and others; the fellowship of AA places me in contact with others; and service provides the life-blood of God's love to flow through those channels, back and forth, between me and others. Sanity—wholeness, within myself, and with you—is thus restored, and drinking alcohol would no more occur to me than would drinking bleach.

If I need AA to survive, I need to be particularly alert to my own thinking and actions as they foster or impair unity.

To foster unity, I must be turned outwards to serve the needs of everyone in the room and I must contribute practically to the running of the group.

To preserve unity—where I might otherwise damage it—I must avoid the following: hogging sharing during meetings; dominating business or group conscience meetings; divisiveness in how I talk to or about others; attack of any sort; intolerance of any sort (as unity does not require uniformity).

In short I need to listen to and identify with others far more than I myself share or compare, for when I look for the similarities rather than the differences I realise that, appearances notwithstanding, I am you and you are me. And therein lies the unity of AA.