Saturday, 27 April 2013

Is it AA?


I have often heard it remarked that, wherever you go in the world, you can walk into a meeting and be at home. This is very valuable for the individual, and what underlies this is what assures the unity of AA as a whole.

Sometimes people vociferously defend the use of non-Conference-Approved Literature at meetings, citing the wide range of literature read at early AA meetings, the lack of explicit prohibition in the Traditions, etc. These arguments are legalistically sound but miss the point.

The reference to early AA meetings is to a fellowship that was a long way from growing from what it was to what it is today. The Traditions and the Concepts both have played a major role in ensuring sufficient unity that AA has grown into a single worldwide fellowship. Both sets of principles are built on what went wrong in the first twenty or thirty years. Citing a phenomenon as dating from the early days of the late 1930s does not necessarily legitimise it as part of AA in the 2013. There are plenty of things that went on in early AA that it was realised were mistakes and were discarded, e.g. membership rules. The appeal to the false authority of early AA is misplaced.

People cite the autonomy of groups to do what they want. Absolutely: except where it affects other groups as a whole. If a group gives an impression to newcomers that it is Christian, or even a particular brand of Christian, this affects AA as a whole as it feeds into public opinion and distorts the public perception of AA. AA groups must therefore, under Tradition Four, be very careful in what they present AA as being.

It is really clear at an AA meeting that individuals sharing are sharing their own experience. The wide range of views and experiences heard at a single meeting would strike most visitors as being just that: the expression of an almost alarming diversity. As soon as the group itself reads from a piece of literature, the impression is very different, as the activity is shared, and the literature effectively appears sanctioned by the group, just as a reading in a church or a school will appear to be sanctioned by those institutions.

The beauty of the concept of Conference-Approved Literature is that the fellowship as a whole has expressed its view that the material in question is kosher AA. Whilst we sell AA magazines on literature table whose contents have not been approved, the distinction to the onlooker is clear: the AA books set out as spiritual texts or guides are clearly setting out AA's message, whilst the magazines are clearly AA members' experiences, and would not necessarily seek to appear to represent AA as a whole.

Consequently, AA need never have an argument about whether a particular piece of literature is acceptable at an AA meeting, and a huge amount of controversy is avoided: either it's Conference-approved, or it is not. It would not do to allow all sorts of, I'm sure, worthy Christian or Buddhist spiritual literature but then for Intergroup to have to intervene when a group starts reading racist, xenophobic, or morally censorious literature (e.g. about single mothers, sex before marriage, or minority sexual persuasions). AA would be in a constant state of alert, and there would be no court of appeal to resolve such matters.

Very often, when people argue in favour of other materials being used, they are approaching the matter from the viewpoint of the particular, not the general: they want their favourite book, or material they themselves have written, to be used as part of the format. Sometimes people feel slighted that AA is telling them what to do. What AA is certainly doing is suggesting that we consider the common good and the good of AA as a whole.

This is where the freedom comes in: there is a wide range of AA literature, most of it never touched in AA meetings as part of the meeting format. The full range of topics and experience in relation to alcoholism and recovery therefrom in AA is broad enough to provide any group with sufficient material in perpetuity. There is no paucity of material, both Conference-approved and in terms of members' experience. There is simply no need for other materials.

Other materials are certainly quite valuable. I use other materials with sponsees and on my own. I have been tempted in the past to want to introduce such materials into meetings. I have held workshops for AA members on The Sermon On The Mount and on other materials, and wanted to advertise these in AA meetings. Really, I wanted to do this, as the network of AA meetings seemed the perfect marketing structure for my endeavour. And that is the issue: the endeavour was mine, not AA's; no one in AA had mandated me as its servant to undertake these workshops or to produce these materials. As such, I was acting on my own account, not AA's.

I did not advertise such workshops, however, and I did not introduce such materials. I have no right to bring other materials into AA (for reasons explained above) but AA also does not prevent me from holding such workshops or producing such materials, provided that I do not pass them off as official AA events or materials.

Just because something (a piece of written material or an event) is by AA members, for AA members, and about AA matters does not make it AA. AA, to preserve itself, has the principle, in Concept I, of accountability to the group through the service structure. This, ultimately, serves as the mechanism of checks and balances to ensure that whatever purports to be AA (whether a piece of written material or an event) is accountable to AA, so that, if the material or the event is likely to bring AA in disrepute or divert us in some way from our primary purpose (see Traditions Six and Ten), the fellowship of AA as a whole can do something about it.

Again, this simple principle—that AA events are events sponsored by an Intergroup, or Region, or GSO, with the attendant financial and operational accountability to AA as a whole on the part of its servants—saves endless arguments about what is and what is not AA. No AA entity need therefore express an opinion on other events; all we need to do is determine whether or not we are sponsoring the event, which is a point of fact, not a point of opinion. This produces clarity and simplicity.

So, I am a fan of the principle that only Conference-Approved Literature be used in meetings and only events sponsored by an entity in the structure be announced at meetings or advertised through the structure. Here, the vision is for the AA of the future. I would like anyone transported forward in time, in one hundred, two hundred years, to recognise the AA they find.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Moral or psychological?


A friend of mine got drunk last weekend. He has been in AA for a bit, was doing well, took the foot off the gas, and, with no warning, drank. He was not greatly upset or anything. He just drank.

If you take an action (taking one drink) that inevitably triggers a chain reaction with devastating consequences, the problem is the lack of feedback mechanism to stop you. That is the powerlessness. Unmanageability could be said to extend naturally from this: if one is powerless over whether or not one drinks, and then how much, and therefore the consequences, one is not in any sense managing one's life—the course of one's life is essentially dictated in large part by whether the switch flicks in one's head.

One may or may not be messed up. In fact most people in AA are, at the beginning. But the danger of presenting the symptoms of being messed up (restless, irritable, discontent; or the page 52 'bedevilments'; or any number of other symptoms) as themselves being the trigger for drinking again means that, if one is free of such symptoms, one might think oneself safe. Probably one is, but not necessarily. One unmade amend, one dirty secret, one unpaid bill could be the invisible stone in the shoe.

Most people in AA seem to have both psychological problems and moral problems. The inventory in Step Four, after all, is called a 'moral inventory', not a 'psychological inventory'. The questions in the Step Four aim more squarely at moral deficits (selfishness and self-centredness) than at discovering the aetiology of cognitive quirks, say.

The seven 'death threats' (those problems that, if left unaddressed, according to the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous', will result in drinking) are more moral than psychological (though they have psychological elements): resentment, secrecy, harm to others, unmade amends, unpaid creditors, complacency, failure to place oneself in service to others.

It is likely that psychological problems will also have to be dealt with; the AA programme itself, the folk wisdom of AA, the examples of psychological wellness in our peers and elders, etc. certainly work many of the psychological quirks out over the years with no additional work necessary. Sometimes a bit of external help seems to help; sometimes not.

But it is the moral aspects that need to be dealt with (cf. the 'death threats' above) for power to be accessed to avoid the first drink. When the problem is seen chiefly as a psychological one, psychological measures may seem most appropriate, and the mental garbage is quite likely to take all of the attention. This is quite dangerous: trying to solve the psychological problems without the moral problems being addressed is largely futile, but it is also potentially deadly.

Moral soundness (in today's actions, at least) is an achievable target for any newcomer, regardless of the messed-up 'head'. Sorting the 'head' out will surely take a long time. It is in this understanding that hope lies: if the 'head' needs to be sorted out to stay sober, then good luck! If sobriety rests on the right actions today, morally, then there's hope for all of us, whatever else is going on, inside and outside our heads.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Are we sheep?

I have been approached for sponsorship by a large number of people over the years.

Some have aborted the process prematurely. Some have followed the process in full.

Every single person who has followed the process in full has stayed sober and had a spiritual awakening, experiencing a liberation of thought. Many of the people who have aborted the process prematurely have ended up with other sponsors and eventually 'got the programme' (as they say), one way or another. A number have aborted the process and are elsewhere or nowhere.

Here is a question: why do people abort the process?

The mind that comes to AA is usually functioning only in part. Some critical faculties are intact, but the reality perceived is not the whole of reality but a fragment, due to rotten cherry-picking of the negative, and the world is always seen from the point of view of self; this fragment of reality is then distorted by a lot of speculation, interpretation, generalisation, and extrapolation.

Frankly, the theological conclusions that are going to be reached any time before the end of Step Nine are highly likely to be warped by unresolved 'issues' (as they are called).

I would not give tuppence for any theological conclusions I came to early in AA, or before the end of Step Nine, even.

The people I have seen be successful are the ones who can muster logic-based faith, not in a God they do not believe in but a sponsor or others they do. That is what 'We Agnostics' in the book Alcoholics Anonymous is all about. It does not seek to convince anyone about a particular brand of God. Its logic essentially relies on this: 'We're doing better than you, aren't we? If you believe that, you are in, and all you have to do is copy us.'

The ones who fail are not the ones who simply copy and complete the first nine Steps and then live in the last three, as instructed.

In fact, the ones who succeed are often the ones who do precisely that, gradually developing spirit-based critical faculties as they go, wake up, and then draw their own theological conclusions with a clear mind, without being warped by cognitive distortions and the emotions that flow from them. Anyone who does that cannot be swayed intellectually if they are truly awake, because their spirit is too strongly in charge. No sheepishness now, in any sense.

The ones who do not succeed typically find some objection to the actions of the programme based not on the experience of having taken said actions but on some speciously concocted world view borne of long-standing misery. The reasons for 'no!' or 'not yet!' are like the reasons for the free-thinking rebel baby not wanting to leave the womb—how could they believe in a world outside they have never seen? Ridiculous!

What unites those who do not take the actions can be boiled down to this: 'you say these actions will get me well. I do not believe you. You have taken them; I have not, but I am right and you are wrong. I have better things to do. Goodbye'.

So, it is not for a surfeit of logic that people typically abandon the programme and take the consequences thereof; it is for an absence of it.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Concept X

Short form:

Every service responsibility should be matched by an equal service authority, with the scope of such authority well defined.

Long form:

Every service responsibility should be matched by an equal service authority—the scope of such authority to be always well defined whether by tradition, by resolution, by specific job description or by appropriate charters and bylaws.

Questions in service

·         In each service role, is the scope of my authority well defined?
·         Do I have any authority in excess of my responsibility?
·         Do I have any responsibility in excess of my authority?
·         Where there is an imbalance, what can I do to rectify the situation?

Questions in service and life

·         Where have I been given authority and responsibility in my life?
·         Are there any areas where I am consistently failing in my responsibilities?
·         Do I focus in my nightly review on how well I am discharging those responsibilities, or do I get distracted by the mental garbage of the day?
·         In my nightly review, do I measure myself against my own vision of myself or against God's vision, expressed through the authority and responsibility delegated to me in my life?
·         When I delegate, do I trust?
·         When I delegate, do I dictate?
·         When I delegate, do I interfere?
·         Do I exercise ultimate authority sparingly or excessively?
·         When I have to exercise ultimate authority, do I do so kindly and without hostility?
·         When I am delegated to, do I serve cheerfully and helpfully, or am I defiant, defensive, and fearful?
·         Do I surrender to the group conscience when there is conflict?
·         Do I say 'yes' when I should say 'no' to authority and responsibility, when it is offered?
·         Do I say 'no' when I should say 'yes' to authority and responsibility, when it is offered?
·         If God has given me a talent, that talent is a form of authority, with which comes responsibility: am I living up to my talents, however small?
·         How well do I exercise the choice about what to refer back to the 'ultimate authority' and what to handle myself?
·         When I am given responsibility for something, do I trust God to manage my timetable, or do I betray mistrust through hurry?
·         Do I put others on pedestals, mistakenly viewing their delegated authority as absolute authority?
·         Do I see that everything that comes to me comes through others, not from others?
·         Do I recognise God as the ultimate authority behind every legitimate authority over me?
·         Do I stand up to illegitimate authority, following the ultimate authority of God speaking through my conscience?

Additional questions in the home

·         In the family home, is the principle of 'senior jurisdiction' and 'junior jurisdiction' applied in each area?
·         Where I have 'junior jurisdiction', do I avoid poking my nose into others' 'senior jurisdiction'?
·         Where others have 'senior jurisdiction', do I exercise 'right of appeal' and 'right of petition' where necessary?
·         Where I have 'senior jurisdiction', do I listen others' 'right of appeal' and 'right of petition'?

Ideas

·         The AA service structure consists in a chain of delegated authority: the Conference Delegates have ultimate authority over the Trustees; the Groups have ultimate authority over the Delegates.
·         Each body of servants (in the UK, whether Intergroup, Region, sub-committees, officers) needs to know whom it is serving—those it serves have ultimate authority.
·         Without delegated authority, you end up with direction on every minute issue, and dictatorship: those who actual do the work then have responsibility but no authority. This is dictatorship.
·         To avoid this, ultimate authority must be used sparingly—effectively, only in an emergency.
·         An 'emergency', for these purposes, is where the delegated authority 'has gone wrong, when it must be reorganised because it is ineffective, or because it constantly exceeds its defined scope and purpose'.
·         Ultimate authority is exercised in four ways: censure, reorganisation, dismissal, and withholding of funds.
·         Delegated authority, operating well, should not be interfered with.
·         Where there is joint or conflicting authority, 'senior jurisdiction' must be established.
·         'Split authority' or 'double-headed management' must be avoided.

Specific safeguards to ensure authority matches responsibility

·         Under the Conference Charter, some ultimate authority is delegated to Conference, which may decide which matters it resolves itself and which it refers back to groups, and whose delegates vote in accordance with their conscience.
·         Trustees vote at Conference and have legal rights of veto over Conference where, rarely, this is necessary; Conference could subsequently censure, reorganise, or repopulate the Board, however.

Quotations

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

'An outstanding characteristic of every good operational structure is that it guarantees harmonious and effective function by relating its several parts and people in such a way that none can doubt what their respective responsibilities and corresponding authorities actually are. Unless these attributes are well defined; unless those holding the final authority are able and willing properly to delegate and maintain a suitable operational authority; unless those holding such delegated authority feel able and willing to use their delegated authority freely as trusted servants; and unless there exists some definite means of interpreting and deciding doubtful situations-then personal clashes, confusion, and ineffectiveness will be inevitable.'

From Dennis F.:

'The Tenth Concept tells me that I also need to accept and exercise the authority for my talents that God gives me in order to keep growing in my capacity to serve.'

Saying no

'When I say "no", I listen to the voice of alcoholism which seeks to paralyse me from taking action out of fear. I become fearful that I won't succeed. My disease knows that the only way I can go back to drinking now is to be paralyzed out of fear so that I will stop working a program and go back to drinking. This is one reason we don't say "no" to a [legitimate] AA request. I need the same attitude to the rest of my live in using my talents to serve.'

'When I say "no" to a challenge God sends me, I am telling God that I don't think I am ready for it. God respects my "Right of Decision" (see Concept Three) and is patient with me. God gave me many opportunities at sobriety in the ten years that I drank, but I was not ready. I said "no". What did He do? He saw that I learned the lessons that I had to learn in those ten years of drinking without killing myself or anyone else. He was patient, and He waited for me until I was ready because He loves me. I am to respect the "Right of Decision" in other people the same way. I am to respect your pace and your "no". As Bill points out in the reading, I need to respect your "Right of Decision" to choose which matters you can handle and to refer back other matters for future guidance. The "Right of Decision" helps to keep authority and responsibility in proper balance.'

'If I say "no" long enough, my responsibilities will be given to someone else, and my authority will be removed. Talent improves when it is used, and it dies when it is not used. This is also true in regard to the gift of sobriety. If I make Twelfth Step calls when I am asked, my sobriety prospers. If I say "no" to Twelfth Step work, it will not be very long before I am back to drinking. When I am tempted to say "no", I want to remember that God would not permit a responsibility to be asked of me unless He was also going to give me the authority to carry it out. I need to risk faith, say "yes", and take the plunge. God would not ask me to do something unless He was also going to give me the answers I need, at the time that I need them, to accomplish the job.
I have to surrender my alcoholic insecurity of thinking that I won't commit myself to a project until I have all the answers ahead of time. I can plunge in and handle any project God gives me because I believe He will give me the authority to handle it. I pray for an attitude of fearlessness in accepting the challenges God presents to me. I believe that we were made to be fearless. I have the confidence of seeing the daily miracle of sobriety in my life to know that I can rely on God to accomplish anything else through me the He cares to accomplish. This is the basis of my attitude of fearlessness toward life's challenges.'

The divine timetable

'One of my fears that I have had to overcome in dealing with my talents is the fear that "there is not enough time to handle everything I have to do with this added burden." When I discovered that I could turn my time schedule over to the love of God and operate on a divine timetable instead, this fear was removed. I discovered that God does not add new challenges to my life without also balancing my timetable. I find that I am relieved of some old responsibilities or that I am not to do certain tasks anymore, but to delegate them to others. I then learn that I must delegate authority equal to the responsibility I delegate to others, just as God does to me in this Tenth Concept. When I rush or hurry because I don't think there is enough time to accomplish everything, I am really saying that I don't think God has a divine timetable for my life. I am saying that I am in charge because only I know the timetable, and time is running out. I don't believe that anymore. There is a divine timetable for everything that I am to do, for every responsibility I have been given, and for everything that has to be accomplished in my life. It is to be accomplished in a spirit of having fun, being loving, and not being rushed. He did not put me here to knock myself out running around. He put me here to do His will and have some fun while I do it. Whenever I rush, I am not a loving person. I lose my spirit of love as soon as I hurry. When I start rushing to drive somewhere, I begin to curse the slowness of other drivers. Only when I am not in a hurry, do I have the courtesy to let other cars into my lane. I can practice our saying, "Easy Does It", if I also believe in God's divine timetable, especially when I am late. I might be late by human time, but right on time by divine time! God has ultimate authority and delegates His authority to me through the group conscience.'

Putting people on pedestals

'When I drank, I would put those who had authority on pedestals because I didn't see that they only had delegated authority from God. I treated such people as false gods. All other authority is delegated. I no longer need to fawn over those in authority or be fearful or jealous of them. I take the attitude of a servant and assist those in authority over me because God has placed them there and given them his authority to administer. Your authority is no longer a threat to me, but an opportunity for me to be of service to you in any way you call upon me. Helping you do God's will is a whole new view of authority I never had before.'

The nightly review

'The … final lesson of this Concept in my life is that it tells me what the subject of my nightly written inventory is supposed to be. Instead of nitpicking at my faults, this Concept has me examine how I am being of service with my sobriety and my other talents. Am I giving responsible service or not? Do I have a vision of myself that God does about my capabilities in handling the responsibilities he has given me? The Tenth Concept teaches me not to take inventory on how I shape up according to my vision of myself but to take inventory on God's vision of me: am I of service by accepting the responsibilities to carry the message that God gives me?'

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Concept IX


Short form:

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.

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 I start a service assignment, do I seek guidance from the previous incumbent?
·         When I complete a service assignment, do I do a full handover to the next incumbent, where relevant with a full write-up of my experience?
·         Do I make myself available to others who come after me in service to answer questions and provide sponsorship?
·         Does my group, Intergroup, etc. take care due care in how representatives and officers are selected?
·         Within the service structure, I do take responsibility for encouraging representation where there is none?
·         Do I exercise leadership by originating plans, policies, and ideas for the improvement of our Fellowship and its services?
·         Do I exercise leadership by consulting widely before taking decisions and actions?
·         Do I look past the manner in which ideas are presented to their substance?

Questions in service and life

·         Do I seek leadership out of personal ambition?
·         Do I lead to be served or to serve?
·         In each area of service and life, do I act with care and selfless good spirit?
·         Do I seek advice when necessary?
·         Do I listen for God's will from unexpected sources?
·         Do I stand on principle where necessary, even when it is unpopular?
·         Do I ever block progress or a good idea because of pride or resentment?
·         Do I suffer from black-and-white thinking?
·         Do I compromise cheerfully if it brings a little progress?
·         Do I listen to constructive and destructive criticism with an equally open mind, admit where I am wrong, and adjust where necessary?
·         Am I defensive—what does that defensiveness teach me?
·         Do I detach from (i.e. stop identifying with) my thoughts and actions so I can hear criticism without taking it personally?
·         Do I forgive and ignore unwarranted criticism with good nature?
·         Do I disagree without being disagreeable?
·         Do I actively seek a vision of God's will for the future?
·         Do I avoid my responsibility for seeking a vision of God's will by citing 'one day at a time'?
·         Do I consider the effects of my decisions on the medium- and long-term as well as the short-term?
·         Do I consider the effects of my decisions on those distant from me as well as on those close to me?
·         Do I get lost in vision and fail, consequently, to deliver?

Ideas

Five aspects of leadership:
·         Seeking advice
·         Accepting criticism and disagreement
·         Compromising
·         Taking tough stands
·         Developing vision

Quotations

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

'With leadership we shall have a continuous problem. Good leadership can be here today and gone tomorrow.'

'When making their choices of GSRs, the AA groups should therefore have such facts well in mind. It ought to be remembered that it is only the GSRs who, in Group Assembly meetings (or in caucus), can name Committee Members and finally name the Delegates. Hence great care needs to be taken by the groups as they choose these Representatives. Hit-or-miss methods should be avoided. Groups who name no GSRs should be encouraged to do so. In this area a degree of weakness tends to persist. The needed improvement seems to be a matter of increased care, responsibility, and education.'

'Our Area Assemblies need only to continue to act with care and in selfless good spirit.'

'We are apt to warp the traditional idea of "principles before personalities" around to such a point that there would be no "personality" in leadership whatever. This would imply rather faceless automatons trying to please everybody, regardless. … At other times we are quite apt to demand that AA's leaders must necessarily be people of the most sterling judgement, morals, and inspiration—big doers, prime examples to all, and practically infallible. … Real leadership, of course, has to function in between these entirely imaginary poles of hoped-for excellence. In AA, certainly, no leader is faceless and neither is any leader perfect.'

'Our leaders do not drive by mandate, they lead by example.'

'A leader in AA service is therefore a man (or a woman) who can personally put principles, plans, and policies into such dedicated and effective action that the rest of us want to back him up and help him with his job.'

'Good leadership originates plans, policies, and ideas for the improvement of our Fellowship and its services. But in new and important matters, it will nevertheless consult widely before taking decisions and actions.'

'Good leadership will also remember that a fine plan or idea can come from anybody, anywhere. Consequently, good leadership will often discard its own cherished plans for others that are better, and it will give credit to the source.'

'A "politico" is an individual who is forever trying to "get the people what they want." A statesman is an individual who can carefully discriminate when and when not to do this. He recognises that even large majorities, when badly disturbed or uninformed, can, once in a while, be dead wrong. When such an occasional situation arises, and something very vital is at stake, it is always the duty of leadership, even when in a small minority, to take a stand against the storm—using its every ability of authority and persuasion to effect a change.'

'Nothing, however, can be more fatal to leadership than opposition for opposition's sake. It never can be, "Let's have it our way or no way at all." This sort of opposition is often powered by a visionless pride or a gripe that makes us want to block something or somebody. Then there is the opposition that casts its vote saying "No, we don't like it." No real reasons are ever given. This won't do. When called upon, leadership must always give its reasons, and good ones.'

'Then too a leader must realize that even very prideful or angry people can sometimes be dead right, when the calm and more humble are quite mistaken.'

'Another qualification for leadership is "give and take"—the ability to compromise cheerfully whenever a proper compromise can cause a situation to progress in what appears to be the right direction. Compromise comes hard to us "all-or-nothing drunks." Nevertheless, we must never lose sight of the fact that progress is nearly always characterized by a series of improving compromises. We cannot, however, compromise always. Now and then it is truly necessary to stick flatfooted to one's conviction about an issue until it is settled.'

'Leadership is often called upon to face heavy and sometimes long-continued criticism. This is an acid test. There are always the constructive critics, our friends indeed. We ought never fail to give them a careful hearing. We should be willing to let them modify our opinions or change them completely. Often, too, we shall have to disagree and then stand fast without losing their friendship.'

'To begin with, we ought to listen very carefully to what [destructive criticism] say. Sometimes they are telling the whole truth; at other times, a little truth. More often, though, they are just rationalizing themselves into nonsense. If we are within range, the whole truth, the half truth, or even no truth at all, can equally hurt us. That is why we have to listen so carefully. If they've got the whole truth, or even a little truth, then we'd better thank them and get on with our respective inventories, admitting we were wrong, regardless. If it's nonsense, we can ignore them. Or we can lay all the cards on the table and try to persuade them. Failing this, we can be sorry they are too sick to listen and we can try to forget the whole business. We can think of few better means of self-survey, of developing genuine patience, than these usually well-meaning but erratic brother members can afford us. This is always a large order, and we shall sometimes fail to make good on it ourselves. But we must keep trying.'

'Now comes that all-important attribute of vision. Vision is, I think, the ability to make good estimates, both for the immediate and for the more distant future. Some might feel this sort of striving to be a sort of heresy because we AAs are constantly telling ourselves, "One day at a time." But that valued maxim really refers to our emotional lives and means only those we are not to repine over the past nor wishfully fantasise or day-dream about our future. As individuals and as a Fellowship, we shall surely suffer if we cast the whole job of planning for tomorrow onto a kind of Providence. God has endowed us human beings with considerable capability for foresight and he evidently expects us to use it. Therefore, we must distinguish between wishful dreaming for a happy tomorrow and today's use of our powers of thoughtful estimate—estimate of the kind which we trust will bring future progress rather than unforeseen woe.'

What on earth are meetings for?


According to Bill W, writing in the AA Grapevine in February 1958:

Sobriety—freedom from alcohol— through the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps is the sole purpose of an AA group. Groups have repeatedly tried other activities, and they have always failed. … If we don't stick to these principles, we shall almost surely collapse.  And if we collapse, we cannot help anyone.

How the Steps are conveyed is verbally. We tell stories that illustrate the Twelve Steps in practice. We relate such biographical information as provides a context for the real substance: how we know we are alcoholics, what we have done about it, and what the results have been. The result is two-fold. Firstly, we help ourselves by being of service to others and reinforcing the spiritual framework of our lives. Secondly, people are helped by identification, so they can determine they are in the right place, and by the adequate presentation of a solution, to encourage the solution to be grasped and to provide practical detail about how the solution can be applied.

As a by-product, certain other things happen. When I share a difficulty, I gain temporary relief. Relief is necessary but does not itself constitute recovery. The pleasurable sensation of relief can be so exhilarating that one can go through the whole of sobriety believing that this relief will somehow add up to recovery. It will not. If the sharing is not backed up by concerted action, the result will be drinking or madness. The central purpose of meetings is not to give people a modicum of relief from the pain of untreated alcoholism. In fact, to do so may in fact be harming them by reinforcing the belief that relief is recovery.

The other danger is that a collection of miserable people can reinforce in each other the belief that their misery is a necessary corollary of sobriety, that their suffering is inevitable as recovery is so terribly slow one must learn to endure the hard world outside and the brokenness within. The relief that discovering one is not the only person plagued with irrational fear and unreasoning resentment is inimical to recovery if it serves to make one comfortable in one's unhappiness. Recovery is indeed possible, however: from alcoholism and from the emotional and psychological twists that accompanying the underlying spiritual problem—separation from God and others chiefly due to resentment, unfinished amends, and a failure to find our purpose in serving God.

To sum up: AA meetings are most effective when they focus not on recounting the events of the week, emotional twists and turns, and excessive biographical detail but on sharing a solution to alcoholism.

An Anthony de Mello story:

When the neurotic comes for help, he rarely wants to be healed, for healing is a painful thing. What he really wants is to be made comfortable in his neurosis. Often he is looking for a miracle—a painless cure.

The old man dearly loved his after-dinner pipe. One night his wife smelled something burning and shouted, "For heaven's sake, Pa! You've set your whiskers on fire."

"I know," answered the old man, angrily. "Can't you see I'm praying for rain?"