Saturday, 28 December 2013

The first three Steps on problems other than alcohol

Step One
What negative thinking and behaviour am I stuck in? (Powerlessness)
What are the negative consequences for me and others? (Unmanageability)

Step Two
Have I seen others restored to sanity in this area?
Have I been restored to sanity in other areas?
Is there any reason why the remaining Steps will not restore me to sanity in this area?

Step Three
What will happen if I do not turn my will and life over completely?
What might happen if I do?
Am I willing to question every belief and attitude that lie at the root of my defective thinking and behaviour?
Am I willing to take Steps Four through Twelve in this area?

Orders or suggestions?

Tradition Nine suggests that leaders are servants. That means we suggest rather than ordering, although there are occasions when a bit of firmness is required, for instance when one is chairing intergroup.

What is the difference, though, between suggesting and ordering?

From the point of view, say, of the sponsor, the words may sound the same. A suggestion using the imperative will sound the same as an order using the imperative. "Go to a meeting. Get a job. Stop whining and start taking action," and other good-natured barkings. With the sensitive sponsee, one might bookend the suggestion with "I suggest" and "although it is ultimately up to you," but the meaning is clear: this is what you are going to do.

From the point of view of the sponsee, there is little practical difference between an order and a suggestion. They both consist in an instruction one is going to carry out. If one is not going to carry out a suggestion, that does beg the question of why one is asking for the suggestion in the first place if one retains the ability to override one's sponsor on matters concerning the AA programme.

Is there a difference, then? Most definitely: a person giving an order is responsible for those who are carrying out the order and is responsible for imposing the sanction for failure to carry that order out. This is not true of a suggestion.

As a sponsor, I am not responsible for the actions of my sponsees. I can tell when I have attitudinally taken responsibility, because I become disturbed if they do not follow a suggestion. I also can impose no sanction. If the sponsee wants to walk, he may. 

There is another set of laws in operation, however, namely the laws of cause and effect, and these operate ipso jure, as lawyers would say; in other words, they need no court or judge to deliberate in them; their operation is automatic.

If someone fails to take the steps, one day the tension will become so great that a drink will seem like a good idea. The sponsor is not imposing the sanction for failing to work the steps; the sanction imposes itself.

There are consequences for the relationship if suggestions are not followed. Officers can be removed from their posts; the sponsor may decide that there is no purpose in providing further instructions until existing instructions have been followed. This is not the imposition of a sanction, however, but the fulfilment of the terms of the relationship, which the sponsee has signed up to. The love is unconditional but the sponsor/sponsee relationship is not.

In this way, the sponsee remains fully responsible for his or her recovery, and the sponsor avoids the traps of codependency.

Monday, 25 November 2013

5-minute blog: finding God

God is what is revealed when everything that is not God is removed.

The removal process follows certain rules.

Playing God has to stop; playing God involves scripting the universe and monitoring it for compliance; to stop playing God, we have to stop scripting and monitoring, and concern ourselves instead with this: asking God (as director) for our lines (as actors) and getting on with looking for our cues and delivering our lines.

We're on his business, not ours, as our real lives are not buried in the lines we are delivering but extend in all directions even beyond the theatre itself.

The Steps are the fail-safe mechanism that brings this to pass.

Remove the blocks to sight and what is real shows up.

What does not work, however, is insisting that the maintenance of a connection with God and the communication with God that occurs after the connection has been made follow a strict path.

Some see God in religion. Some see God in ritual. Some see God in spiritual readings.

Some see God in trees. Some see God in late Brahms piano music. Some see God in dogs.

Here's the test: if something gives you peace and detachment from the rubbish of the world, and enables you to see clearly your role with no distortion of personal involvement, you've found God.

No need to feel guilty that how you found it is not prescribed by others.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Hurts, the making of troubles, and the manufacture of misery

No one has ever hurt me. Sure, people have done things in the material world, but the world, as the world understands the world, is a construct. Money, power, prestige, all constructs. Matter exists, but what it means is imposed, not inherent. The hurt I have felt, with the partial exception of physical pain, is always with my consent and approval. I may not have realised for years that this was the case, but this was the truth.

If you tell me I am a fraud, a hypocrite, a douche, a cad, or a heartless monster, it affects me only if I agree with you at some level, my protests notwithstanding. It is never you who determine how I feel but me. My troubles are of my own making, as the book Alcoholics Anonymous indicates.

If I truly believe I am a child of God, I will look with bemusement on such an utterance as the dream of a sleeper or a fool. And to the extent that I have said or done things to support such an accusation, I myself was asleep and in error, not sinful, not bad.

Where is this sin? Where is this badness? It does not exist. It is a bad dream I have taken to be reality. It is no more real than the fearful visions that can crowd my mind in the night before I awaken to shake them off and get in with the day, unaffected by monstrous 'thoughts' projected onto the internal screen just a few minutes earlier.

I am not a bad person trying to be good. I am not a sick person trying to get well. This latter idea is often carried around by people in recovery for years or sometimes forever as a great chain of quasi-sin, changed in name but not in substance and reflecting on its bearer a dark stain of not-quite-rightness, the hideous wealth preventing us from entering through the eye of the needle into the kingdom.

No. Not bad. Not sick (although in early recovery this may more closely reflect reality). But deluded and asleep.

Behind the dreams that we and others are bad is an arrogance of such staggering proportions that it is almost impossible to perceive, like the fish in the ocean looking for the ocean.

To tackle this simply: have you ever been disturbed and wrong? You may have changed your mind afterwards, but were you ever wrong in the moment of disturbance? Axiomatically, no, even if intellectually you suspected that some irrationality was at play.

What if everything you had been taught were wrong? The whole basis on which you judge good and bad, right and wrong, harm and harmlessness, defence and attack, safety and vulnerability, death and eternal life?

What is happening to you right now, as you read this? Any harm? Any injury? Or is the pain stemming from pictures in your mind you are painting but feel are reflections of an external reality? Can the hydrogen atoms within you that are several billion years old be harmed? Are the electrons orbiting "my" atoms different from the electrons orbiting "yours"?

Behind the world of constructs there is another world. Its contours start to glow when you look hard enough with a open mind at the insanity of what people call the world. And the day to begin is today.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous suggests God may be found now, and it is in that holy moment that release from the world may achieved.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Resentment and fear

A lot of people in AA, years sober, still spend a lot of time in resentment and fear.

The Step Eleven review can sometimes foster this, as it encourages us to talk about both. Meetings can do the same. There can also be a collective counter-signing of this in AA. Because the phenomena are widespread, they are accepted.

However, there has got to be a point where we grow up and stop blaming people and circumstances for our emotional woes.

We've been given a solution. There is no justification for resentment or fear.

There is justification for observing what is wrong in the world, and taking reasonable and appropriate action to fix it, but not for resentment, which is a childish refusal to accept that reality is reality.

There is justification for prudence, caution, and evasive or sometimes defensive measures, but not for fear, which is a refusal to accept that certain things in life are just going to hurt.

Resentment is essentially obstinacy; fear is essentially cowardice.

I have had to stop resisting reality, and I have had to embrace pain as an unavoidable component of life.

Then, there is the rest of the world to attend to. There is to much too do to sit around complaining about my feelings and thwarted egotistical desires.

Watch the news. See how much suffering there is. Make a resolution to fill your days with activities to try and alleviate that suffering, whether close to home or on a larger scale.

God has no hands but ours.

Thank God for growing up!

Friday, 27 September 2013

What it's all about

This programme is about getting out of self, not getting into self.

Page 63 makes it pretty clear that my focus needs to be on performing God's work well and staying close to Him.

Nothing else is my business.

My identity is irrelevant. What you think about me is irrelevant. Your faults are irrelevant. My so-called personal wants and needs are irrelevant.

The precise twists and turns of my mind when I am locked in self are irrelevant.

When I say 'irrelevant', I mean irrelevant to my daily business; my trust is that God will handle those and give me a role to play where necessary.

The AA programme is not pseudo-psychotherapy, group therapy, or pop psychology. It's about abandonment of self and rejoicing in the universe God has given us.

But the programme can easily be misused as a way of becoming involved in self in a socially acceptable form, and in the way we conduct AA meetings and in the way we respond to each other, we can be aiding and abetting this process.

I'm done. I'm interested in serving God, and I'm praying to God on a daily basis to strip all selfish motives from me.

Page 86 says it best when we start off the day asking God to eliminate all self-pity, self-seeking, and dishonest motives, and to direct our thinking.

Towards what? Towards what we can do for God.

I'm not there yet obviously, and there is obviously further growth necessary, quite a lot in my case.

But that is the direction I'm pointed in.

Today's message, briefly, is this: get out of self and make yourself useful.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The thing about fear

Here's the thing about fear.

It is thinking about future bad scenarios. If I think about future bad scenarios, I will experience them as though they are actually happening. Consequently I will feel bad now, as though the thing in the future is already occurring now.

There is a purpose to thinking about future bad scenarios, namely, planning whether I am going to take any defensive, preventative, or evasive action.

Once I have analysed the future scenario sufficiently in order to be able to devise my defensive, preventative, or evasive action, there is no further purpose in living in the future.

If I say I have lots of fear, that means I have been deliberately living in the future. There is not a lot of point in complaining about something I'm doing to myself. My question, therefore, is why, when temptation to fear arises, I do not turn to God and deliberately think positive thoughts and consider constructive action.

I must be getting something out of it, and enjoying it in some way.

I have had to learn not to be a victim of fear and to take responsibility for my own thoughts and therefore my own emotional life.

In a bad situation, my job is to invoke the power of God, by visualising future scenarios and affirming that God will help me through them.

An example is this: sometimes I get a little worried about the future, and specifically my finances. What I can do is say this: 'I trust that, whatever happens, God will look after me. I trust that God will always find ways of making me useful and that, if I stay useful, the world will give me enough for me to survive and have a decent life. I believe this because I have seen this occur universally around me in AA. God, let me dispel these irrational fears and remember that I can always be OK holding Your hand in the moment'.

I have to make sure that no negative word passes my mouth and that I'm relentlessly cheerful and positive with everyone I meet. I don't always manage, but that is the ideal.

A question to someone who's had a bad day is this, 'have you let negative thoughts rest in your mind, and have you said anything negative or done anything that is not constructive?'

It is no good running to God saying 'help me, help me, help me', when I am running around expressing negative sentiments and doing unhelpful things.

God will do for me what I cannot do for myself, but he will not sew up my mouth or bind my hands to prevent me from saying or doing things I shouldn't say or do.

God will also not say my prayers for me. A childish prayer is one in which I ask God to save me and wait like a bird straining its neck for the worm. An adult prayer is one in which I affirm, over and over, that I have already been saved by God, and that the illusions in my head do not reflect reality.

There are surely difficult situations and there is surely pain in life. All of what I have said above is not to dismiss either of those two facts.

The question when things are difficult is how I am responding to them and whether I am using the tools that have been given to me.

Last year, a very close relative suffered a stroke. Naturally, there was some fear and trepidation. But I refused to dwell on either and focused instead on how I was going to invoke God's power to concentrate on what I could do practically about the difficult situation. I endeavoured to remain cheerful, useful, and kind whatever happened, and thereby was able to contribute to the person's recovery. God surely helped me, but I had to start by helping myself.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The failure of self-knowledge

Often an alcoholic will say, "I don't drink, because I know I am an alcoholic and the first drink does the damage."

This is what the Big Book has to say on the subject:

"Above all, he believed he had acquired such a profound knowledge of the inner workings of his mind and its hidden springs that relapse was unthinkable. Nevertheless, he was drunk in a short time. More baffling still, he could give himself no satisfactory explanation for his fall." (Page 26)

"He had much knowledge about himself as an alcoholic. Yet all reasons for not drinking were
easily pushed aside in favor of the foolish idea that he could take whiskey if only he mixed it with milk!" (Page 36)

"But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly any exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience." (Page 39)

"He was positive that this humiliating experience, plus the knowledge he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self-knowledge would fix it. We heard no more of Fred for a while. One day we were told that he was back in the hospital. This time he was quite shaky. He soon indicated he was anxious to see us. The story he told is most instructive, for here was a chap absolutely convinced he had to stop drinking, who had no excuse for drinking, who exhibited splendid judgment and determination in all his other concerns, yet was flat on his back nevertheless." (Page 40)

"I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots." (Page 42)

Friday, 13 September 2013

What we learn from Jim's story

Having favourable circumstances will not stop you from relapsing.
Having a commendable past will not stop you from relapsing.
Being good at what you do will not stop you from relapsing.
Being intelligent will not stop you from relapsing.
Knowing you're an alcoholic will not stop you from relapsing.
Knowing you're in serious trouble will not stop you from relapsing.
Knowing the solution will not stop you from relapsing.
Wanting a solution will not stop you from relapsing.
Not wanting to drink will not stop you from relapsing.
Starting the programme will not stop you from relapsing.
Everything going well will not stop you from relapsing.
Getting your life together will not stop you from relapsing.
Being in an established routine will not stop you from relapsing.
Being in circumstances in which you previously stayed sober will not stop you from relapsing.
Having valid grounds for being where you are, doing what you are doing will not stop you from relapsing.
Being in a normal emotional state will not stop you from relapsing.
Being perfectly sane right now will not stop you from relapsing.
Being perfectly sane for a period of weeks or months (or years) will not stop you from relapsing.

When you relapse, there will be no warning.
You will move from sanity to insanity without realising you are doing it.
By the time the insane thinking has started, it is too late, and nothing you or anyone else can do, say, or think can stop it.
You might relapse today. You might relapse in a few months' time. There is no knowing when.

The only thing Jim did wrong was not enlarge his spiritual life through self-sacrifice and work for others. That's the Twelfth Step.

If you do not want to relapse, you had better start working the Twelfth Step.

If you're not on the Twelfth Step, you had better get cracking on the first eleven, as that is the only way to get to the Twelfth Step.

Sunday, 11 August 2013


When I think angry, jealous, resentful thoughts, I feel bad. I am presented with many opportunities to think angry, jealous, resentful thoughts—as I go through the day, I notice things around me; if I then judge those things (by comparing them to how I want things to be), I will become angry.

When I am going through the day, I can tell when I am judging, or being angry, jealous, or resentful. I have a choice. I can continue to think about those things, or I can think about something else.

I have a plan for the day. At any point during the day I know what I am supposed to be doing. When I spot that I am angry, jealous, or resentful, this means I have left the moment. I am not concentrating on what I am supposed to be focusing on. I ask God to bring me back to the moment, and I drop my vision of how I think everything ought to be. I concentrate on where I am and what I am doing.

I sometimes find it helpful to write a list of what is my business and what is not my business.

In my recovery, I have learned I have to stop moaning about how bad I feel when I am the one punishing myself by letting myself get carried away with negative thinking. To feel better, I have to decide I want peace above all else and that there are certain things I cannot think about without consequences. My number one priority then becomes to turn my thoughts to the present, to how I can be useful, and to consider things like gratitude, trust, and faith. I read spiritual books to fill my head with positive ideas.

I have had to stop complaining and start changing, and the hard work had to be done by me. I had to stop doing obsessive inventory when what was needed was change. I was drawn to inventory, because it meant I could continue to focus on me. That has never worked. Step Four is not the only Step. There are also Steps Six and Seven.

I now know what my character defects are: I think negative things then want to avoid the emotional consequences. I then act on those consequences and on selfish desires, which are designed to alleviate them. Instead, I need to think about God, and gratitude, and deliberately fill my heart with love; then, I need to absorb myself in action.

I have had to be absolutely brutal about not permitting negative thinking. I have had to take responsibility. I have had to develop sometimes blind trust in God, regardless of whether I believe in God in that moment. The only reason to be resentful is because I think I need to have my own way as I do not trust God. Full stop. That is it. End of inventory. Then I have to change.

Friday, 2 August 2013

A few things that have helped me

(1) Prudence and caution are fine but fear, particularly of what others think, is an irrational waste of time. Saying that won't get rid of it but overriding fear and acting right will, if done consistently enough. Contact with reality (as opposed to mental speculation) will ultimately dispel it.

(2) Find things I'm interested in and do them regardless of what others think, regardless of long-term outcome, regardless of my own facility or ability, just for the sake of it. Getting lost in the world and all it has to offer is the surest way out of self-obsession.

(3) Find some kind of spiritual path. There are lots of available, from the intellectually rigorous through to the numpty, with everything in between. This is probably the best way to end up with a quiet, highly functional mind, as opposed to one that is eating itself alive. Therapy's unlikely to bring peace although it may bring understanding, adjust the cognitive response to past events in line with reality, and produce a touch more functionality.

(4) Take an interest in other people, particularly helping them. There're a lot of people who need helping and who are in a lot more trouble than me, however bad things might seem at times.

(5) Contact with nature. Lots of it.

(6) Exercise 5 to 6 times a week, just as an experiment. This is good on every level: mood; health; sleep; looks; having something fun/distracting/difficult to do.

(7) Get lost in cooking, particularly for others. It's endlessly diverting.

The best way to become a happy person is to live like happy people live: productive; useful to others; engaged. The mind will tend to follow, eventually. The other motto is to avoid contempt prior to investigation. Everything that has ever driven my life forward when I have been stuck looked like a terrible idea at the time. I’ve learned to follow the suggestions of people who are happier than me on the basis that they seem to have found something I had not. Change happens when I fear stasis more than the unknown.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Dealing with problem situations

When a situation presents a difficulty, here are the four questions to ask:
(1)        How can I forgive more effectively in this situation?
(2)        How can I better trust God in this situation?
(3)        How can I make amends in this situation?

(4)        How can I best serve others in this situation?

A simple review

What did I do today that I should not have done?

What should I have done instead?

What did I not do today that I should have done?

What worked?

What did not work?

Is there anything in my relations with other people today which I feel guilty about?

Where has my thought life been today?

What am I going to try to focus my attention on tomorrow?

What am I going to do differently tomorrow?

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The answer's in the Book

I have been thinking recently about the meetings I used to go when I was new, 20 years ago. At the time, there were 550 groups in London. Now there are around 800. The meetings are packed now. The meetings were packed then. Yet there are not many people with 20 years' sobriety attending meetings in AA. Why?

Over the last 20 years, I have attended AA generally in central London or the innermost suburbs. A lot of people living in these areas will be here only for a few years before moving on, and this transient population is also relatively young; a lot of people move to outer suburbs or out of London altogether in their 40s and 50s. I know a fair number of people who attended AA in 1993 who now live in other countries or outside London. Also, quite a number of people have died sober. This leaves a large number of people unaccounted for, however.

Another cohort comprises people who were sober around the early nineties but drank again and are back in AA. A very small number had a brief encounter with alcohol; all the rest went to the gates of hell before returning to AA.

Obviously, tracing the fate of those who are now entirely absent from AA is hard by dint of the fact they remain largely out of sight. The only basis on which to proceed is to examine the cases of those one has encountered or whom close friends have encountered over the years.

I have been to thousands of meetings and known large numbers of people in AA. Of all those whom I have encountered who stopped going to AA, I know for sure of only one who is still sober (and, interestingly, he is in a relationship with someone in AA and has a life profoundly devoted to service to others). All the rest are dead, drinking alcoholically, or very unwell psychologically and highly medicated.

What makes this chilling is looking at the current cohort in AA and extrapolating into the future: where will these people be in 20 years' time? The question is rhetorical, and the answer need not be made explicit.

Save to say this: I was given an orthodox start in AA, and encountered hostility and no small degree of unpopularity because of it. The bottom line, however, is that it worked. I'm now probably even more orthodox in my approach to AA than ever, and I might say this: it is lucky that staying sober is not the outcome of a popularity contest.

On the upside, there are indeed people sober long term in AA in London who were sober when I had my last drink in 1993. The majority of those are enviable in the quality of their lives and 'spiritual conditions', and they have a great many features in common in terms of their approach to AA.

Here is the boiled-down version of what I consider to be what has kept me and will continue to keep me sober:

(1) Be absolutely, unquestionably committed to all three sides of the AA triangle: recovery, service, fellowship. (28:2, 59:1)
(2) Rely on God, not on individuals, but recognise that God also works through individuals. (98:1, 68:2)
(3) Have a sponsor and continue to sponsor whomever asks. (63:3, 80:1, Chapter 7)
(4) Seek outside practical, psychological, and spiritual help where necessary but 'in addition to', not 'instead of' AA. (133:2)
(5) Beware tricks, fads, quick fixes, special paths, or any other form of bypass or separateness. (25:3)
(6) Do not despair of AA because God has not yet solved a particular problem. He will. Just not on your schedule. (15:2, 123:2, 84:0, 104:4, 153:1)

So, the answer was in the Book all along.

Thursday, 20 June 2013


'To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore.' (Pages 66)

If people do certain things and I become and remain sore, I have a problem. Or if people repeatedly do certain things and I repeatedly become sore, I really have a problem. That would mean I haven't recovered from the condition described in the Big Book—I haven't recovered past the top of page 66.

The Book will later talk about a new freedom (page 83).

Do I have this freedom?

'We began to see that the world and its people really dominated us.' (Page 66)

If I am upset by people being offensive, rude, or disrespectful, I'm a puppet. You pull my strings, and I dance like a fool.

If you upset me or cause me to be agitated, I have relinquished the reins of my life and put them in your hands. If, furthermore, I'm upset or agitated on account of the foolish or malevolent, these are precisely the people I'm the emotional slave to. In this case, I'm the real fool.

If I want to be free, I need to rely on God, speaking through my conscience; if I do wrong and feel bad, that is an appropriate response requiring remedial action. Whether or not I get respect, validation, admiration, agreement, or civility from others, whilst sometimes useful as a sign, cannot be taken as a consistently reliable barometer of anything.

Next time someone upsets me, I hope I ask, 'what do I want—freedom or slavery?'

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Other people's faults

"Though his family be at fault in many respects, he should not be concerned about that. He should concentrate on his own spiritual demonstration. Argument and fault-finding are to be avoided like the plague."

Here is a list of people whose faults are my business:


Let's avoid the deliberate manufacture of misery (page 133)

'I'm upset because she doesn't respect me anymore.'

'Do others respect you?'

'Oh, yes.'

'Where is the respect that they give you? Can you show it to me?'

'What do you mean?'

'I mean, someone gives you a slice of cake, and you can show me the cake. Someone gives you respect, and you can't show it to me? Is it even there?'

'Well, I guess it's not actually there physically, but earlier today she criticised me in front of the boss. That was real. She actually did that.'

'Did the sound waves from her voice hurt your ears?

'Well, obviously not.'

'So, what was it that actually upset you?'

'It was the thought that after all the hard work I have put in, she picks up on one tiny flaw and makes a big deal of it. I'm upset at the thought that, in her mind, she thinks I am worthless.'

' "… the thought …", you say? So, you're upset because of your thought about what someone else is thinking. You take two people: one respects you and the other does not, but, right now, neither are thinking about you. And you're still upset about what someone thinks of you, and they're not even thinking it anymore. Or you're pleased about what someone thinks of you, and they're not even thinking it anymore, either. Where does this 'respect' go, when the person stops thinking about you? Or the lack of respect, respectively?'

'Damn you'.

'Was anyone else bothered by this thought?'

'Only once I shared it.'

'How generous of you to share this thought and infect someone else with it. If only one person sees a ghost, is it there? If only two people see it, is it any more real than if only one person sees it? Does the sharing of a delusion make the delusion real? What if everyone shared the delusion? Is it more real, then? And if there were not one delusion but billions? We're already in the era of the Zombie Apocalypse, and the war has been lost. Almost. There might be hope for you, at least.

So, back to reality. What is happening right now? Are you being harmed right now?'

'Right now, no. In fact, most of the time, no; actually almost never. But when I am physically in pain, that's real, right?'

'If your leg hurts, nerve signals are conveying the information that tissue has been damaged in your leg. Not very pleasant, to be sure, but there's a difference between pain and disturbance. Where is the disturbance coming from? The thing itself or your thought about it?'

'Damn. You can't take that pain away from me. It's all I have left!'


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Good to myself

Today I’m going to be good to myself.

I’m going to do that by fitting myself to be of maximum service to others (page 77), placing other people’s welfare ahead of my own (page 96), and constantly thinking of others and how I may help meet their needs (page 20).

In my experience, this will be far better for my welfare than doing what I want to do, when I want to do it.

I spent years effectively neglecting myself by putting myself first. That will always be to my ultimate detriment.


A good relationship is where you spend time with someone being cheerful (113, 132, 133), useful (13, 43, 49, 76, 77, 86), and kind (83). You reduce expectations as far as possible (118, 127)). You correct your faults, not theirs (98, 118). You do not monitor their conduct (135). You are grateful for everything (119) and overlook anything that is not to your taste (67, 98). Build for the long term (83, 123), whilst keeping the mind present in the now. That’s where you’ll find the other person, and that’s where you’ll find God (59).

Abandon ship!

'My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm …' (Page 15)

We do not spruce up a sinking ship. We abandon it. We abandon self. We do not spruce it up.

How to succeed in any endeavour


Step Six fears

Sometimes people are scared of giving themselves entirely to the programme, in case the change that is required also necessitates giving up good things; people are scared of not having enough sex, money, power, prestige, comfort, thrills, or appearance.

The truth is this: whatever God has in store for me is better than anything I could have planned (page 100).

That has been true in every department of my life.

To be scared of God's will is insane. It is like fearing the loss of ladders when you're being offered the chance to fly.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Pot-ay-to or pot-ah-to?

Is there a difference between defects and shortcomings?

We know that Bill W., who originally wrote the words, was avoiding repetition, which actually settles the matter, but even if Bill W. had not said that, we have (a) some evidence and (b) our critical faculties.

Let's look at what the Big Book says.

Steps Six and Seven (short form, page 58) read:

'6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.'

Steps Six and Seven (long form, page 76) read:

'If we can answer to our satisfaction, we then look at Step Six. We have emphasized willingness as being indispensable. Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all—every one? If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us be willing.
When ready, we say something like this: "My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen." We have then completed Step Seven.'

The terms available are (a) defects of character and (b) shortcomings. There are also two descriptions: 'all the things which we have admitted are objectionable' (Step Six) and ' every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows' (Step Seven).

We have to assume, also, that the summary of the Steps on page 58 is an adequate and correct summation of the long form version of the Step on page 76, where the ideas summarised in the Steps are expanded upon.

Either these terms are meant to denote different things, or they all denote the same thing.

Which is more logical?

If 'shortcomings' are different than 'defects of character', what we ask God to remove in Step Seven is different than what we prepare to have God remove in Step Six. That makes no sense.

If Step Six is concerned with 'defects of character' ('the things we have admitted are objectionable'), and Step Seven is concerned with 'shortcomings', and these are supposed to be different, Step Seven on the scrolls (which refers to the removal of shortcomings) is actually inconsistent with how to work Step Seven, described on page 76 (which refers to the removal of defects of character). That makes no sense either.

One would have to disregard page 58 and go with page 76 or disregard page 76 and go with page 58.

Furthermore, if we are to hold that they are different, we might expect this problem to have been foreseen and forfended, and the difference would have been explained.

A good rule is the application of Occam's razor—basically, when you have a conundrum, you take the simplest solution.

If they mean different things, one would have to assume that the writers thought it wise to keep this distinction secret and let people guess, because they do not distinguish the terms.

It is simpler to assume that the writers meant what they said in the foreword: 'To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.' Holding secret information key to the understanding or working of a Step would be inconsistent with this stated purpose.

No: defects and shortcomings are the same, both denoting what is objectionable and what stands in the way of our usefulness, as described on page 76. Basta!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Trémaux's algorithm and a few simple rules

'Let families realise, as they start their journey, that all will not be fair weather. Each in his turn may be footsore and may straggle. There will be alluring shortcuts and by-paths down which they may wander and lose their way.' (Alcoholics Anonymous pages 122–123)

If you are in a maze, you will struggle to find your way out through intuition or common sense. What look like promising avenues turn out to be dead ends or to lead you back to where you started. Mazes cannot be thought through.

There are various methods of escaping mazes, each method suited to the design of maze in question. There is one method, however, which works on all mazes:

'Trémaux's algorithm, invented by Charles Trémaux, is an efficient method to find the way out of a maze that requires drawing lines on the floor to mark a path, and is guaranteed to work for all mazes that have well-defined passages. A path is either unvisited, marked once or marked twice. Every time a direction is chosen it is marked by drawing a line on the floor (from junction to junction). In the beginning a random direction is chosen (if there is more than one). On arriving at a junction that has not been visited before (no other marks), pick a random direction (and mark the path). When arriving at a marked junction and if your current path is marked only once then turn around and walk back (and mark the path a second time). If this is not the case, pick the direction with the fewest marks (and mark it, as always). When you finally reach the solution, paths marked exactly once will indicate a direct way back to the start. If there is no exit, this method will take you back to the start where all paths are marked twice.'

Make sense? Probably not, but this does work universally. One simply has to follow the instructions, even if they appear, in the moment, to be laborious or counter-intuitive. Each instruction, however, is indeed simple, in and of itself. Why this works as a method may not be self-evident, but work it does.

I have often tried to operate on emotional instinct in the moment, or on the basis of attempting to gain intellectual oversight of my situation.

As with mazes, emotional instinct can be very misleading; as with mazes, intellectual oversight can be gained only with full information. When you are in a maze, you have only what you can see in front of you plus memory. Even if you think you have generated rules for how the maze is laid out, the maze is at liberty to break its own rules. In any case, whatever you see and intuit falls far short of the overview required to plot the most effective and efficient course.

As with mazes, we may or may not be provided with a map, after the event, that plots the course we have taken. Future disclosure will not help us in the moment, however. I have sometimes understood only years later exactly how I navigated a particularly thorny period—only years later will the path typically make sense (page 100).

Mazes cannot be thought through; they can, however, be acted out of, on the basis of principle.

In AA, the principles can be boiled down in many ways, but what works for me is this:

Have a plan for the day—ask God for it (page 86); base my actions on giving, rather than getting (page 128); consult with others (page 80); do as I think God would have me and humbly rely on Him (page 68).

Make sense? Maybe not, but this does work universally. One simply has to follow the instructions, even if they appear, in the moment, to be laborious or counter-intuitive. Each instruction, however, is indeed simple, in and of itself. Why this works as a method may not be self-evident, but work it does.

The instructions are not the Higher Power but the method by why the Higher Power is accessed; they work not because the universe is a cold, dead, mechanism but because there is a higher order and design.

These are the principles I follow and which have solved every problem I have ever had ('Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual principles would solve all my problems'—page 42).

I do not need to think everything through obsessively; I do not need to navigate by emotions; I do not need to try to gain an overview of my entire life—for this is impossible and fruitless; all I need to do is follow these simple rules.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Self-esteem and integrity

Page 28 of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' states:

'If what we have learned and felt and seen means anything at all, it means that all of us, whatever our race, creed, or colour, are the children of a living Creator with whom we may form a relationship upon simple and understandable terms as soon as we are willing and honest enough to try.'

Herein lies the answer to what I would in the past have termed 'low self-worth'. I was crippled by this condition, and it was the chief symptom of a spiritual malady to which alcohol was an adequate solution at least for some time. For me to stay sober, the spiritual malady must be resolved, and to achieve this, this line from the Book must be implemented in my life.

The first noteworthy idea is that we are the children of a living Creator. To me, this idea suggests that, as any child of a parent, I am of infinite worth to that parent. Only in sick families are there favourites; in healthy families, there are none. I am totally loved by God, but so is everyone else. This understanding is the basis of healthy self-esteem.

For this self-esteem to be manifest in my life, however, I need to pay attention to the second part: I need a relationship with God formed upon simple and understandable terms.

It may appear, therefore, that the spiritual path will involve absolute devotion to creating and maintaining a relationship with God. The method of achieving this is not so self-evident, however; at several points in the Book, it suggests that this relationship is created in practice chiefly by forming relationships with others, on a particular footing:

'Faith without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the alcoholic! 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. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that.' (Pages 14–15)

'Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.' (Page 77)

'Both of you will awaken to a new sense of responsibility for others. You, as well as your husband, ought to think of what you can put into life instead of how much you can take out. Inevitably your lives will be fuller for doing so. You will lose the old life to find one much better.' (Pages 119–120)

So, service to others appears to be the method by which this relationship is achieved, and the truth of our infinite worth as part of a greater family becomes manifest.

I would suggest, however, that a further element lies here: 'Now we try to put spiritual principles to work in every department of our lives.' (Page 116)

To me, this boils down to integrity:

In addition to the question of whether I am putting others first, I need to ask the following questions:

Do I place character-building first?
Do I take on levels of service (inside and outside AA) commensurate with my ability, energy, and true availability?
Do I do what I said I was going to do, when I said I was going to do it?
Do I ever try to get something for nothing?
Am I living up to my responsibilities to the wider community and society?
Am I self-supporting?
Am I loyal, where loyalty is due?
Am I generous without being reckless?
Am I candid when necessary?
Am I discreet when necessary?
Am I wasteful of anything (time, money, opportunity)?
Am I doing anything to harm others or cause suffering—in word or in deed?

If I can answer these questions satisfactorily, I have integrity.

Without the understanding that I am of fundamental, unchanging value, my sense of self will fluctuate like a stock-market index, reflecting the sentiment and transient ups and downs of each day.

Without integrity, the sense of eternal value will remain an abstraction, a taunt, or a joke.

With understanding and integrity, every block to a relationship with God is removed.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Sponsorship—do I just listen to my sponsor, or can I listen to other people too? What does the Big Book say?

Sometimes, in recovery, people suggest that one listen only to one's sponsor, and ignore everything everyone else says, unless it's identical to what one's sponsor says, in case this causes confusion.

Fortunately, the Big Book does not state anywhere that one should listen to one person and one person only (save for those who are totally ad idem with that person!) It does not even talk about sponsors, although in Chapter Seven it does talk about the tone of the relationship between you and the man you are trying to show this programme:

'Having had the experience yourself, you can give him much practical advice. Let him know you are available if he wishes to make a decision and tell his story, but do not insist upon it if he prefers to consult someone else.' (Page 96)

There is no sense of exclusivity here.

If one examines the early days of AA, one does not find this 'single-source' sponsorship. Page 263 of the Big Book says that, in Cleveland in 1941, the twelfth-stepping process required the individual to be talked to 'by at least five members'.

What the Big Book does talk about is meetings. '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.' (Page 160)

I would propose that the reason we have meetings, rather than AA consisting solely of one-to-one relationships, is that the experience of a group is more valuable than the experience of one person. It would not make much sense to have a group but then to have to fill one's ears with wax to prevent the experience of anyone but one's sponsor penetrating one's intracranial gloom lest irretrievable muddle be the result.

Even in very strong, rigorous parts of AA where there is real singleness of purpose and agreement about method, what is shared at meetings typically makes clear sometimes significant interindividual differences. All sorts of people who use the Big Book as the basic text and follow its instructions will follow those instructions in slightly different ways. For instance, some people see eight questions to answer on page 67; others see four. Some people see the reference at the top of page 74 to 'person or persons' with whom to take Step Five as indication that one may or even should take Step Five with more than one person; others are appalled at this. Listen to the 'Primary Purpose' crowd, then compare this to the 'Big Book Step Study' crowd. Boy, is there variation amongst the true believers!

Over the last 20 years in AA, I am glad I have listened to more than one person, and learned from the experience of many people rather than the experience of just one. I suspect, although I cannot prove it, that God saw fit to create a fellowship so that we would learn from the many, not the one.

There is obviously a risk of sponsor-shopping or advice-shopping, but self-honesty will reveal whether one is shopping around to avoid painful truths or actions or whether listening widely has as its purpose the enrichment of one's recovery.

The real question to ask when listening to advice or experience of people other than one's sponsor is this: is what this person is saying consistent with the principles set out in the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous'? Is this coming from experience or is this opinion? How is this working for the person in question?

If I can answer these questions satisfactorily and the advice or experience is not inconsistent with my sponsor's approach, then full steam ahead to its application. If there is inconsistency, a chat with my sponsor is worthwhile.

Sometimes there is a terror that, if the instructions are not followed in a particular, very narrowly defined way, one will drink, even though whole swathes of the AA world are staying sober permanently and living happy, productive lives by approaching the Twelve Steps in a slightly or even radically different way.

But surely our founders would disagree with variation between how different people apply the principles? Actually, the truth is this: the man who wrote most of the Book did not himself originally take Twelve Steps, certainly not precisely as he later outlined in 1939, back in 1934/1935, although the substance is very similar. He was most definitely following the Oxford Group approach, and an examination of the first draft of Bill's Story indicates that what is described on pages 63 to 88 is sometimes quite different to what his initial experience was in 1934/1935.

Page 263 indicates how Dr Bob took someone through the Steps:

'The day before I was due to go back to Chicago, a Wednesday and Dr Bob's afternoon off, he had me down to the office and we spent three or four hours formally going through the Six-Step program as it was at that time. The six steps were:
      1. Complete deflation.
      2. Dependence and guidance from a Higher Power.
      3. Moral inventory.
      4. Confession.
      5. Restitution.
      6. Continued work with other alcoholics.
      Dr Bob led me through all of these steps. At the moral inventory, he brought up some of my bad personality traits or character defects, such as selfishness, conceit, jealousy, carelessness, intolerance, ill-temper, sarcasm and resentments. We went over these at great length and then he finally asked me if I wanted these defects of character removed. When I said yes, we both knelt at his desk and prayed, each of us asking to have these defects taken away.'

And yet … Bill was the man who took Dr Bob through the Steps. Sounds like both men applied a degree of adaptation in how they then sought to carry the message and then how the fellowship wrote about this.

It is clear from these three sources: the first draft of Bill's Story, the programme 'as set out', and Dr Bob's method, that the authors of the Book themselves did not subscribe to the belief that there is only one way to work this programme, with all other methods being heretical or inviting immediate doom.

What I see in the Big Book is a programme that is organic, not set in stone for evermore. Having said that, I do personally try to stick as close as possible to the basic text, but it is not so much a straight-jacket as a torch-lit path through the dark woods.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Big Book—literally and liberally

A number of years ago, some people changed my life.

They suggested that, instead of reading the Big Book, I use it.

They suggested I do this by applying two approaches.

Firstly, whenever the Book is describing what an alcoholic is like, I ask myself if I identify.

Secondly, whenever the Book suggests an action, I take the action, where possible and applicable.

I was encouraged to note words like 'every' in Step Five (page 75) and 'utmost' in Step Nine (page 77) and not skimp in any way. I noted the line 'all of us spend much of our spare time in the sort of effort which we are going to describe', when the Book is describing Step Twelve (page 19).

I was encouraged to take this literally, and do precisely what was suggested.

I have tried this. It worked—and continues to work—wonders.


The same people also suggested an approach to take which would then solve all of the problems in my life as a whole, by practising these principles in all my affairs.

They suggested I look in the Book for principles. The principles may be described with reference to a particular scenario, but such principles could have general application, they thought.

For instance, at one point it describes how it is useless to argue and merely makes the impasse worse (pages 126 to 127). The context is that the newly sober alcoholic husband is neglecting his family by concentrating on work.

Obviously, the avoidance of argument, on the grounds that it makes impasses worse, is a principle that can be applied generally, and almost universally.

Only a fool would suggest the principle apply only in that specific context.

In the light of this, the Book contains literally hundreds of principles.

The Book, when taken in this way, plus Bill's essays on the Traditions and the Concepts, provide a composite, coherent, consistent solution that has solved every problem in my life for the last twenty years.

As my friend Saskia says, 'I'm glad they wrote this down'.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Seven simple ways to meditate

(1) Either sitting or walking: take a word or phrase and repeat, concentrating on the phrase (either the sound or the meaning). Whenever you get distracted, notice it, then draw yourself back, gently and persistently.

(2) Either sitting or walking: with your eyes open or closed, concentrate on all physical sensations (what you can hear, see, feel physically, or even smell or taste). Whenever you get distracted, notice it, then draw yourself back, gently and persistently.

(3) Either sitting or walking: be silent, listen to the silence, and stay in the moment. You will be constantly distracted by your mind. Observe what distracts you, and what that teaches you, then draw yourself back, gently and persistently, to the silence. Whatever difficult feelings arise, observe them, and know they will pass.

(4) Either sitting or walking: concentrate on breathing. Whenever you get distracted, notice it, then draw yourself back, gently and persistently.

(5) Sitting: read some spiritual literature, line by line. Read one line. Let the idea resonate; let new ideas come to mind; let thoughts associate; ask yourself how the line applies to your life or some aspect of it. When you drift or exhaust the line of thinking, or if nothing comes, read the next line.

(6) Take a problem or difficulty. Remind yourself you are no longer running the show, ask for God's will to be done, then ask for the right thought or action. Let God show you the answer, if any. There may be no answer right now. If the thoughts that come are angry, frightened, or guilty, they are not from God.

(7) Run, cycle or swim. Talk and listen to God as you do so.

See if you can exhaust these seven techniques.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Some experience on sponsorship: bakers, trees, and hunger

'If he is to find God, the desire must come from within.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 95:3)

A tree provides shade. The tree does not go to the person; the person goes to the tree, although the tree is rightly in full sight. The tree does not mind who sits under it. It provides shade anyway.

When people come to me, I'll tell a story, if I have my wits about me. Or I'll say, 'I did this,' or 'this is how I did this.' They then do the 'this'. Or not. I cannot get involved in whether or not they do it. The tree doesn't care. The shade is for everyone, whether they want it or not. And if they do not want it for now, they can always come back for it later.

If someone comes to me and says, 'I'm feeling terrible because …' and I say, 'when I feel terrible, I do this,' we have a good conversation. If they come back and have not done the 'this', I will tell them a story about a man who went to a baker's to buy some bread. He did not eat the bread, because he tried a little bit and it was not to his taste. But he went back to the same baker. Why?

If I appear to be bothered whether they eat the bread … or do the work … they'll end up doing it for me not for them. If the desire does not come from within, it certainly won't come from me. I may get results with bullying, cajoling, persuasion, flattery, or any manner of other techniques. These will just be distractions, however, from the fact that that desire is not coming from within.

Not working the Steps is a pure motivational issue. The only response can be this: when I eat a meal, it is because I am hungry. If I am not eating the meal, it is because I am not hungry. There's no point in focusing on the eating/the not eating. The only question is why a famished person would not be hungry. That's a useful conversation that can be had. 'You're famished. But you're not hungry. Why would that be?'

Friday, 17 May 2013

Preparing to hear a Step Five

The instructions for the actual Step Five in the Big Book are sparse, and there is little advice on what form it takes or how long it lasts:

'… until they told someone else all their life story.' (73:0)

'… a long talk' (75:1)

'We pocket our pride and go to it, illuminating every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past.' (75:2)

In AA in general, the instructions for Step Five are taken to be, 'read out your Step Four'.

A good Step Four takes ten to twenty hours to write, and a good Step Five takes perhaps one or two hours of revelation and discussion. However, in most cases, sponsees, especially on their first Step Four, are unable not to tell long-winded stories or regurgitate endlessly repetitive resentments that differ from each other only in name and time. The Step Five can then drag on for up to a year in some cases, with a couple of hours every Sunday, perhaps. Some Step Fives take all weekend.

What's wrong with a Step Five that lasts 20 or 100 hours?

Firstly, I'm an AA sponsor, not a therapist paid by the hour or a friend. I can spend a couple of hours helping a sponsee understand the exact nature of their wrongs. An additional 18 or 98 hours spent hearing someone repeat the same resentments and character defects over and over provides no marginal benefit to them or me. It is not the most useful way for me to spend my time, nor the most useful way for the sponsee to spend his time.

The purpose of Step Five is to reveal the exact nature of our wrongs and to share them with another person and thereby to admit them to ourselves and to God. The Book does not say, 'share with another person everything that has ever happened to you, everything you have ever thought and felt, and everything you have ever done, right or wrong.' Two hours is enough 'exact nature'. The reference to the whole of one's life story is clearly meant to prompt a summing up of one's life in a 'long talk' of a couple or a few hours, not a months of Sundays—that is certainly not what happened in the early days of AA, when these suggestions were written. The flaw in no one's approach to life (in thought and deed) is so involved that it takes more than two hours or so to isolate. In fact, the exact nature of someone's wrongs can often be nailed in about half an hour.

What would the exact nature of someone's wrongs be? Well, in my case, it would be spending my life running after money, sex, power, and prestige, comfort, thrills, and looks, admiration, validation, and approval, getting frustrated and vindictive when I do not get them, and dropping into disillusionment and disappointment when I do. I have a history of being arrogant, hostile, distrustful, vain, judgemental, critical, cruel, and indifferent to the suffering of others. In short, I trusted self, not God.

Are there exceptions?

Yes. I have engaged in Step Fives that extend over multiple sessions, usually where the individual is several years sober and there is not much of a pre-existing relationship. Then, the Step Five is used as a springboard to talk mostly about corrective measures and how to approach the area of life in question in a spiritual way. In such cases, there're perhaps ten minutes' revelation per session plus fifty minutes' discussion. This is certainly valuable.

What sometimes fails are multiple-session Step Five where the individual simply talks, talks, and talks, and the listener just listens, listens, listens. I've seen individuals merely burrow themselves further into their self-obsessed, warped narratives and fail to achieve that moment when the penny drops and perspective is regained or gained for the first time.

The danger in these instances is that the individual will not see that there are common threads and really quite simple causes behind the plethora of awful situations and decades of distorted and painful thinking. Unless the root causes are found, the individual will continue in delusion in perpetuity. Complexity or long-windedness in a Step Five usually suggests the root cause has not been found.

So, does the detail ever get discussed?

If the sponsee would like to 'share with another person everything that has ever happened to him, everything he has ever thought and felt, and everything he has ever done, right or wrong,' a therapist can be hired or friends can be found. There likely is a need to talk, talk, and talk, but that's what fellowship and the rest of one's life are for. Also, every story will ultimately get retold when the individual acquires sponsees. That is a very good time for telling all the stories, because then the stories, combined with some insight, can prove useful to others.

The detail of what went wrong in past and present relationships will get discussed in detail in a targeted way in Steps Eight and Nine, to work out whether and how to make amends and what the vision of God's will and the sane and sound ideal for such relationship will be in the future.

So, how do you keep Step Five to one–two hours?

When the sponsee is doing Step Four, monitor closely when each column or section is started, to ensure that the responses are concise and to the point. Help the person boil down to the absolute nub of the matter. Look at page 65: there are just a few words on each item. No more than ten–twenty resentments really need examination. Any further resentments will be variations on a theme. A doctor takes a tiny amount of blood to test it, not pints and pints. We're aiming to get to the core reasons why we resent: we have a plan in the seven areas of self (pride, self-esteem, personal and sex relationships, ambitions, security, and pocketbooks), and the world, of course, is not under our control. If you can't see that with twenty, the penny won't drop with fifty. So twenty resentments will do.

When it comes to the fourth column, the questions can also be answered succinctly in relation to the major resentments.

The final inventory, the list of remaining harms not otherwise covered (cf. page 76), can mop up any other harms scratching away at the back of the sponsee's mind.

The fear and sex inventories (if the latter involves grouping relationships into category or type) are pattern-finding inventories anyway, so produce little material.

If the Step Four is kept concise, the Step Five will be short.

Finally: I suggest that the individual pick the top ten most illustrative or exemplary relationships they have had. Perhaps some family, some childhood relationship, a work relationship or two, etc. It is likely that these relationships will be the templates for every other relationship in their life.

And just in case there is anything else, I ask the individual to pray at the end of the Step Five to be shown anything else they need to get off their chest. Usually one or two things come. The rest—the hand baggage as opposed to the heavy luggage—will be revealed later.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Teenagers and grown-ups

When I was a teenager, I was interested above all in two things. What I felt and who I was.

In AA, I have been taught to concentrate on what I am doing and what I am thinking, and to ensure that these are directed along sound lines.

If I concern myself with my action and my thinking, what I feel and who I am take care of themselves.

To quote Chuck C.

'I think losing yourself in life guarantees finding yourself in God. Guarantees it, because all you've got to do is to get rid of the roadblocks. You lose yourself in life and find yourself in God. And so I wouldn't, if I were you, spend another five seconds trying to find self-worth or anything else. To find yourself, yes. To realise that whatever it is you're looking for is right here inside you—what you're looking for you're looking with; what you came here to get came with you. Everything you've ever wanted to know you've always known, and everything you've wanted to be you've always been, but it's covered up. It's covered up, so we uncover and discover. Forget about you—to hell with you. Maybe you've got a little better break on that than I have. Maybe you have, and maybe you haven't. Let the chips fall where they may. The beautiful thing about this deal is not to get serious about yourself, to make the whole deal a game. A play of life upon itself. And to have fun at it.' (NPOG 126:1)

Sunday, 5 May 2013


All I have to want is peace above all else. How is that achieved? By recognising that all I want is peace. That can be achieved only if I am in harmony with others, in harmony with my purpose, and in harmony with reality. What is required, therefore, is kindness, usefulness, and cheerfulness.

Why do we want things other than peace? Because we think they will give us peace. Best to just go for peace first off rather than aim to seek it via something that in any case fails to deliver it.

The only reason I am not in harmony is if I believe a plan must be fulfilled for peace to be achieved, and that plan is not being fulfilled. Once I drop the plan, and seek the place I am allotted (page 68: the role God has assigned), the next action is self-evident. But only if I drop the plan.

What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!

May you find Him now (page 59)!

'Live And Let Live', 'Big Book World', and the straw-man argument

There is a fashion in the parts of AA where the Big Book is used extensively as the basis for the programme of recovery to deride so-called 'middle of the road AA'. This creates division and a sense of superiority amongst a self-appointed elite. This is not healthy.

One of the ways this is done is the straw-man argument: to attack a straw man is to present your opponent's position in a caricatured way, refute the caricatured position, and believe you have refuted your opponent's position.

A good example can be found in the lists that are drawn up of standard 'AA sayings', followed by quotations from the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' (the 'Big Book') that purport to contradict said saying.

Here are some examples:


The saying: 'I don't have an alcohol problem, I have a living problem.'

The retort: 'Page xxiv, paragraph 2: 'In our belief, any picture of the alcoholic which leaves out this physical factor is incomplete.''

What the retort implies about the saying: that this is a denial that alcoholism has a physical element.

How the saying is really used and what it really means: this saying is used to convey the idea that, if you are an alcoholic, your problem is not alcohol per se but how you are living your life, the selfishness and self-centredness that are described as the root of the problem, on page 62 of the Big Book. After all, you cannot take a drink and trigger the physical craving unless you 'decide' to, stone cold sober. The problem therefore resides in the sober mind (page 23 of the Big Book). The message of the Big Book is clear: if we do not throw ourselves into this programme to create our lives ('Doctor's Opinion') with the power and guidance of God ('We Agnostics'), we will drink again. We cannot tackle the alcohol problem head on; we must tackle the living problem, and that in turn will tackle the alcohol problem.

The saying in fact seems perfectly consistent with the totality of the message of the Big Book.


The saying: 'I'm powerless over people, places and things.'

Page 132, paragraph 3: 'We have recovered, and have been given the power to help others.'

Page 122, paragraph 3: 'Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child neurotic.'

What the retort implies about the saying: that this denies our harm of others or our ability to help them.

How the saying is really used and what it really means: the saying is really suggesting that we cannot consistently and successfully induce others or the world to change or act as we see fit through sheer force of will. The failure of this approach is described on page 122: 'Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness' (page 122). The approach is further described on page 66: 'The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. … But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got. As in war, the victor only seemed to win.'

This saying seeks to provide a solution: rather than trying to change the world by force, we accept reality head-on and our inability to change it by a headlong assault of the will. Only then can we seek to contribute to positive change in a harmonious and constructive way.


Saying: 'alcohol was my drug of choice.'

Page 24, paragraph 2: 'The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink.'

What the retort implies about the saying: that this is a denial of powerlessness.

How the saying is really used and what it really means: when people are talking about drug of choice, they are not indicating that they are not powerless but that, when they were using and several different drugs were available, there was one they would typically 'go to'. I identify with this. I had available to me all sorts of drugs, but I drank alcohol. The use of the term 'choice' is perhaps unfortunate as it could cause confusion, but the intent is clear, namely to indicate where one's substance problem chiefly lies.

* * * * *

Now, there are certainly AA sayings that I do disagree with and which I do not believe help. For instance, people are sometimes encouraged to work a step a year or not to worry about the steps at all. But the honest effort to present a solution and counter certain unhelpful ideas can sometimes go too far, tipping over into actively scouring AA sayings for possible contradictions with the Big Book based on a deliberate misreading of the slogan or saying.

I have been guilty of this in the past, but I can now see the foolishness of it.

Firstly, this approach creates division and is unnecessarily antagonistic and vexatious.

Secondly, it blocks me from a lot of the wisdom inherent in these sayings.

To wit (and this may annoy some!):

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems—unless I can accept I have a problem, I will never change; unless I accept you as you are, I will illegitimately try to change you.

First things first

I came to AA with many problems other than alcohol. Most people do.

The ‘Just For Today’ card suggests I not try to solve all my life problem at once.

I have found that by applying the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, and the Twelve Concepts, most other problems have automatically dropped away. What then remains can be dealt with much more effectively.

Just as some cancer drugs reduce the size of the tumour before excision, the Twelve Steps, Traditions, and Concepts provide a stable structure for my life, an enormous amount of symptomatic relief, and clarity regarding what problems remain. These remaining problems can then be much more effectively excised, with a specific spiritual exercise, visiting another specific fellowship for a while, a specific type of external talking therapy, etc.

When I was six weeks sober in 1993, I was told that, unless I dealt with my ‘family-of-origin issues’, I would drink. I heeded this advice, went into therapy with a very skilled therapist, and soon started contemplating suicide or drinking. I could not cope with the magnitude of what was ‘coming up inside me’. I fortunately encountered Maureen, who suggested I get a sponsor, work the Steps, get a home group, do service, etc. I did this, and dropped the therapy. I am very glad I did. I cheered up immensely and felt great relief. I did indeed have some therapy many years later on my relationship with my father, which was very targeted. That helped a little. A few years after that, I did some specific Step work on my relationship with my mother. That helped hugely.

There is a time and a place for everything.

Sure: there is much that is wrong when one washes up in AA, but solving the biggest question first—the alcoholism—surely lays a solid foundation and provides sufficient resilience, stability, and courage for other issues to be faced in good time.

We do not need to get well overnight; but we do need to find a way to live sober today—literally today, because the only day I could slip and drink is today, and that is where the genius of the AA programme lies: it solves today’s problems today, by encouraging us to take today’s actions today and to leave our cares and our care to God.

The motto, here, is very simple: first things first.

Do I need multiple fellowships?

I only have one problem: trying to solve my disconnection by means other than absolute surrender to God. All of the obsessions of my mind; all of the plans and designs that distort my behaviour and relationships with others; all of the other ways in which I act out to fix myself: all of these are avoidances of God, who is present in my life, right here, right now.

God is available now through love and service; I consider love to be a combination of cheerfulness and kindness; I consider service to be usefulness. If my life is dedicated to love and service, expressed in these ways, all other problems simply drop away. When the problem is solved, I no longer need my ‘solutions’, which are actually what are creating the problem in the first place.

There is only one set of Steps; there is only one God.

In my primary fellowship, I find people with all of the problems I have in all areas of my life.

Sometimes other fellowships are good places to meet and share with people with problems in particular areas; sometimes these fellowships' written materials flesh out the application of certain twelve-step principles or practical ways of handling tricky situations.

I am in trouble, however, when I shield certain problems from the God and programme I have found in AA, because ‘only the people in Al-Anon understand’, for instance. I can use multiple fellowship attendance to carve up my life and protect my sensitivities or bad behaviour. I cease viewing the single problem as a single problem with a single solution and start trying to deal with the problem at the level of its individual manifestations rather than rising above the problem and letting God simply take it away from me, trusting that whatever I experience in the process is a necessary part of healing.

I have suffered in the past by approaching recovery like a jigsaw or a supermarket with multiple counters. Treated in this way, I focus on multiple problems rather than the single solution, and the major questions never get faced:

What is so wrong with right now?
What is so wrong with this very moment?
What is so wrong with my constructive plan for the day?
How about I face this moment and the work of the day and really live Step Three, deciding to stay close to God and perform His work well, regardless of the emotional or other consequences?

Surrender to the moment heals, and I can surrender anytime, anywhere, with enough willingness. God is ubiquitous and eternal—God is everywhere, has always been, and will always be. If I cannot find God ‘here’, I will not find God ‘there’ either.

‘God-geographicals’ come in many forms: switching religions, switching sponsors, switching meetings, switching fellowships.

Ultimately, as the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ suggests, it is only deep down within that He may be found (page 55).

May you find Him now (page 59)!

‘Be still and know that I am God.’

Concept XI

Short form:

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.

Long form:

While the trustees hold final responsibility for AA's world service administration, they should always have the assistance of the best possible standing committees, corporate service directors, executives, staffs and consultants. Therefore, the composition of these underlying committees and service boards, the personal qualifications of their members, the manner of their induction into service, the systems of their rotation, the way in which they are related to each other, the special rights and duties of our executives, staffs and consultants, together with a proper basis for the financial compensation of these special workers, will always be matters for serious care and concern.

Questions in service

·         When committees or individual officers are being appointed, do we pay due consideration to (1) personal qualifications (2) induction into service?
·         At group level, at Intergroup level, at Region level, etc. is the relationship between different officers and/or committees clear?
·         Are officers', committees', staffs', and consultants' rights and duties clear?
·         Are staff or other people hired being duly remunerated?

Questions in service and life

In service, I apply these questions to any board or committee I am on, at group level, at Intergroup level, at Region level, etc.

·         When people are being appointed, are these principles being followed (to the extent proportionate to the role)? (1) Careful deliberation (2) painstaking investigation and interviewing (3) refusal to accept casual recommendations (4) preparation well in advance of lists of suitable candidates (5) avoidance of all temptation to haste or snap judgment.
·         When recruiting, do I avoid hiring people more able or accomplished than me, because I am threatened?
·         In life, do I avoid people more able or accomplished than me, because I am threatened?
[Finance and budgeting]
·         Do I spend money I do not have?
·         Do I make every effort to stay solvent in good times and bad?
·         Do I budget annually?
·         Do I keep a cold and watchful eye on needless cost, waste, and duplication?
·         Do I monitor budgets mid-year and revise if estimates have been wrong?
·         Do I scrutinize every new and considerable expenditure, asking 'Is this necessary or desirable now? Can I afford it, all considered?'
·         Do I set aside substantial sums for the future and for emergencies?
·         Do I, by contrast, hoard and avoid necessary expenditure out of fear?
[Public information]
·         Are my relations with the outside world sober and quiet, emphasizing attraction nor promotion, or am I sensationalist or self-promoting?
·         In my relations with the outside world, do I display these skills: 'diplomacy, a sense of what is dangerous and what is not, the courage to take calculated risks, and a readiness to make wise but tradition-abiding compromises'?
[Status of executives]
·         Do I discriminate well when I should act on my own and when limited or wide consultation is proper, and when I should ask for specific direction?
·         Do I inspire by energy and example, thereby securing willing cooperation?
·         Do I know when firmness is in order?
·         Do I act without favour or partiality?
·         Do I step up to the plate to handle 'large affairs'?
·         Do I neglect 'small affairs'?
·         Do I take the initiative in plan-making?
[Regarding paid workers]
·         When I set what others are paid, am I fair or cheap?


From Bill W.'s essays on the Twelve Concepts:

'[Regarding the 'nominating committee'] Careful deliberation, painstaking investigation and interviewing, refusal to accept casual recommendations, preparation well in advance of lists of suitable candidates—these will need to be the principal attitudes and activities of this committee. All temptation to haste or snap judgment will need to be faithfully and constantly resisted.'

'Another problem that future committees may have to face is the subtle tendency toward deterioration in the calibre of personnel due to the very natural and usually unconscious tendency of those who suggest nominees to select individuals of somewhat less ability than themselves.'

'[Regarding the 'finance and budgetary committee] The whole temper of today's world is to spend more than it has, or may ever have. Many of us consequently are infected with this rosy philosophy … The primary function of this committee, therefore, is to see that our Headquarters operation is always solvent and that it stays that way, in good times and bad.'

'This committee must conservatively estimate each year's income. It needs to develop plans for increasing our revenues. It will keep a cold and watchful eye on needless cost, waste, and duplication. … At mid-year it will ask for budget revisions if earlier estimates have gone too much wrong. It will scrutinize every new and considerable expenditure, asking "Is this necessary or desirable now? Can we afford it, all considered?"'

'This committee, in good times, will insist that we continue to set aside substantial sums to our Reserve Fund. It will pursue an investment policy in that fund which will guarantee the immediate availability of at least two-thirds of it at any time, without loss, thereby enabling us to meet hard times or even a calamity.'

'Future committees, therefore, will ponder the difference between real prudence (which is neither fear nor hoarding and which may indeed require us sometimes to run temporary deficits) and that kind of persistent recklessness which could someday result in the severe contraction or collapse of our vital services. … The safe course will usually lie midway between reckless budget-slashing and imprudent spending.'

'[Regarding the 'public information committee'] Skill in this area implies much technical experience, diplomacy, a sense of what is dangerous and what is not, the courage to take calculated risks, and a readiness to make wise but tradition-abiding compromises. … For instance, the techniques used to sell a big time personality or a new hair lotion would not be for AA.'

'[Regarding paid workers] We believe that each paid executive, staff member, or consultant should be recompensed in reasonable relation to the value of his or her similar services or abilities in the commercial world.'

Status of executives

'No active service can function well unless it has sustained and competent executive direction. This must always head up in one person, supported by such assistants as he needs. A board or a committee can never actively manage anything, in the continuous executive sense. This function has to be delegated to a single person. That person has to have ample freedom and authority to do his job, and he should not be interfered with so long as his work is done well.'

'Real executive ability cannot be plucked from any bush; it is rare and hard to come by. A special combination of qualities is required. The executive must inspire by energy and example, thereby securing willing cooperation. If that cooperation is not forthcoming, he must know when real firmness is in order. He must act without favour or partiality. He must comprehend and execute large affairs, while not neglecting the smaller. He often must take the initiative in plan making.'

'It is the duty of the good executive, therefore, to learn discrimination of when he should act on his own and when limited or wide consultation is proper, and when he should ask for specific definitions and directions.'