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.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Step Four instructions (complete)

This entry has been discontinued, because the contents are being updated here, along with all other programme-related documents:

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Concept I

Short form:

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

Long form:

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

What problems does Concept I solve?

·         Certain services (writing literature, public relations, handling enquiries) cannot easily or effectively be carried out by individual groups—officers and boards acting on behalf of groups are necessary. At local level these are the officers of Intergroups, Areas, Districts, Regions, etc. At national level, this is the General Service Board.
·         A link is needed between the AA membership and those performing this service—the Intergroups, Areas, etc. and the General Service Conference.
·         Those officers and boards, if not properly linked to AA's membership, would have to rely on themselves for guidance in matters of policy.
·         Whilst AA members approve of those policies, all is well; if AA members lost confidence in these officers or boards, the funds required for their work could be withheld, and the services would collapse.
·         Concept I provides a way for servants to be guided by and accountable to AA as a whole, thus closing the circle and ensuring unity.

Concept I ideas

·         If individual alcoholics rely on self, they perish; if groups rely on the personalities of their individuals, they too perish; if AA's services were to rely on the unqualified authority of individuals, AA would perish, by polarising into disgruntled, disempowered members and fearful, defensive dictators.
·         Under Tradition Two, God expresses himself in our group conscience. Step Eleven is to the individual as Tradition Two is to the group—and Concept I is to the fellowship. Just as Step Eleven involves both envisioning God's will and accountability to God for the results, so Concept I provides a channel to AA's leaders for vision and accountability.
·         We follow the guidance of God at the level of recovery (Step Eleven), unity (Tradition Two), and service (Concept I).
·         Our leaders do lead by example but they do not govern—their authority is merely delegated. If the leaders do not govern, who will? Concept I provides the answer.
·         Concept I is about abandoning self-reliance and self-serving and embracing reliance upon and service to the group or AA as a whole.
·         Concept I is practised by AA members and groups by being duly informed about the business of AA as a whole, holding group conscience meetings to discuss important matters, wisely electing a representative to carry the group conscience through the AA structure, and trusting that representative to do their job and pass information from the AA structure back to groups and members.

Concept I questions

·         Am I aware that recovery and unity without service is insufficient to maintain happy, useful sobriety?
·         Am I aware that I need to serve to be at peace?
·         Am I willing to abandon self to serve the greater good?
·         Am I willing to trust that those I serve, collectively, are a better channel for God's will for the group than my own, individual relationship with God?
·         Am I willing to give up independence, dependence, and co-dependence for interdependence?

Quotations (from Bill W's essay)

"we have always had to choose between the authoritarian setup, whereby one group or one person is set in unqualified authority over another, and the democratic concept which calls for "checks and balances" that would prevent unqualified authority from running unrestrained. … We have had to face the fact that we usually try to enlarge our own authority and prestige when we are in the saddle. But when we are not, we strenuously resist a heavy-handed management wherein someone else holds the reins."

"many AAs thought that our future was completely guaranteed. Nothing, they believed, could possibly happen to our Society as a whole, because God was protecting AA. This attitude was in strange contrast to the extreme vigilance with which our members and groups had been looking after themselves. They had quite prudently declined to charge Providence with the entire responsibility for their own effectiveness, happiness, and sobriety."

"But in many self-governing countries we are now seeing the inroads of ignorance, apathy, and power-seeking upon democratic systems. Their spiritual resources of right purpose and collective intelligence are waning. Consequently many a land has become so helpless that the only answer is dictatorship. … We very well know that the penalty for extensive disobedience to these principles is death for the individual and dissolution for the group."