Sunday, 28 December 2014

Al-Anon—Step Two—came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

Selected definitions (Oxford online dictionary):

: Accept that (something) is true, especially without proof.

sanity: The ability to think and behave in a normal and rational manner.

The practical aspect of Step Two

1. What would sanity 'look like' in your life? Specifically: in your relations with other people?

2. Have you ever experienced this form of sanity? If not: change restore us to sanity to introduce us to sanity.

3. Can you restore (or introduce) yourself to this sanity? Have you tried? How have you tried? What were the results?

4. Have you seen this sanity in others in Al-Anon?

5. How did they get 'from A to B' (how they were when they came to Al-Anon vs how they are now)?

6. Can you do what they did?

7. Is there any reason to believe that you will not be successful as they have been?

The spiritual aspect of Step Two

1. Do you currently or could you believe that there is a Higher Power in the universe that can bring about the change described above?

2. Are any negative characteristics associated with this Higher Power? Can you drop these negative characteristics? What positive characteristics can you substitute in your concept of this Power?

3. Have you ever received direction or strength from a Higher Power? What forms has this taken? What forms could this take (based on what others describe)?

4. Have you experienced 'faith' (= belief without proof) in other areas? Can you have faith that what has worked for others will work for you—and follow through with action?

5. What are the limitations to faith—what should we not trust that the Higher Power will do?

6. What would 'letting go and letting God' (or a Higher Power) mean in your life?

7. If you do not make a decision in Step Three to turn your will and life over to this Higher Power, what will be the result?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

What is the purpose of prayer and meditation?

As Step Eleven indicates, the sole purpose of prayer and meditation is to seek knowledge of God's will and the power to carry that out.

The key word: sole. One might become enlightened or experience altered states as a result, but this is a by-product, not the purpose. A lot of meditation, as discussed in AA, is about learning breathing or other techniques adopted from Eastern religions. The local Buddhist centre is usually teeming with AAs learning how to meditate.

This is, of course, meditation, according to the modern dictionary definition of it. It is not strictly Step Eleven, however, although it may support it immensely, in the same way that making tea at a meeting is the practice of Step Twelve per se but does help make Step Twelve work possible.

Here's Dr Bob's take:

'Prayer, of course, was an important part of Dr Bob's faith. According to Paul S., "Dr Bob's morning devotion consisted of a short prayer, a 20-minute study of a familiar verse from the Bible, and a quiet period of waiting for directions as to where he, that day, should find use for his talent. Having heard, he would religiously go about his Father's business, as he put it." ' (Dr Bob and the Good Oldtimers, p. 314)

I try to follow something resembling this, although it is rarely a familiar verse from the Bible that I use for study.

My purpose: what am I going to do with my day? And sometimes, standing back, what am I going to do with my week, my month, my year, my life?

I then get on with it. My day, from 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. (or so) during the week and from 8.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. (or so) at weekends, is given over to fulfilling what duties in my life I'm called upon to fulfil. The remainder of the time is given over to whatever else takes my fancy. 

The test of the efficacy of my Step Eleven is not whether I achieve an emotional connection with the universe but whether I return phone calls promptly (and kindly), whether I do what I said I was going to do when I said I was going to do it, whether I find myself spotting all sorts of ways to be of service that come to me as 'inspiration', and whether I can learn to say 'no' where necessary in order that I do not overcommit, underperform, and burn out because I'm not actually taking the time to enjoy and appreciate my life or the space to let my soul catch up.

God's role in the removal of defects

'Without God, you can't; without you, he won't.'

The removal of defects means that my attitudes, thinking, and behaviour must change.


As with everything, I need two commodities: knowledge of God's will for me and the power to carry that out.

Applied to Step Seven, this means knowledge of what the new attitudes, thinking, and behaviour should be, and the strength to implement them.

Why is strength needed?

The old attitudes, thinking, and behaviour are deeply ingrained habits that are designed, like a thermostat, to keep my emotional temperature just right by adjusting my environment. Now, the thermostat may be broken, and these old attitudes plus thinking and behaviour patterns may ultimately have a disastrous effect on my emotional temperature (anyone else discover that years of crappy thinking and behaviour result in grinding misery?); yet when they are threatened and I am called upon to believe, think, and act differently, all hell breaks loose, alarms go off, and I feel immense discomfort, as my programming informs me I'm 'getting it all wrong'.

This is why change is hard: it needs strength to override the faulty thermostat, which is convinced that the old attitudes, thinking and behaviour spell comfort and the new ones, danger. The reverse, in truth, is true.

For my defects to be removed, I'm going to need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

Eventually, the new attitudes, thinking, and behaviour become as ingrained as the old. Until then, I need God to bridge the gap.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Step Seven: whose job is it to remove our defects?

In Step Seven, we ask God to remove our defects.

Is it all up to Him?

The summary of the Step on page 59 is necessary simplistic and misses some of the fine print.

If it were all down to God, there would be no further Steps.

God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves but will not do for us what is our responsibility, and the remaining five Steps are our responsibility.

Apart from the amends, which are discreet acts (albeit often with follow-up trains of activity), the remaining five Steps comprise altered attitudes, thinking patterns, and behaviour patterns.

We devise this with God's help; we implement them with God's help: in these regards, we are in cooperation with God. Without God, they will not be removed, but with God alone, and no resolute, concerted effort from us, they will not be removed either.

There is one thing which is 100% down to God, however.

The new attitudes, thinking patterns, and behaviour patterns will run deeply against old programming. Change is painful because it produces conflict between what we are moving from and what we are moving towards. This pain can sometimes outweigh, in our minds, the (longer-term) benefit of change.

If we persist, however, the final piece falls in place, and the new attitudes, thinking patterns, and behaviour patterns become second nature, as the Big Book says, the God-consciousness that becomes a working part of the mind. The conflict is removed, and we are at peace. That last piece in the jigsaw is the ultimate manifestation of grace: when we do God's will because it is our only wish.


Here are some basic tips for dealing with grief:

You will be hit by waves of emotion. Let the emotion happen, and if necessary name the feeling in order to be 'present' for it. Avoid constructing a mental narrative about the feeling, which produces an entirely fabricated layer of secondary feelings, as a way of avoiding the actual feelings themselves. 

For instance, one is sad because someone died, so one starts to construct angry narratives about the situation, in order to feel anger rather than sadness.

When emotion becomes too much, allow it to overwhelm you. If you suppress it, it will cause far more damage in the long run. But resume normal activities once the feeling has passed. Do not indulge yourself excessively and put everyday life completely on hold, or you will be acting against your own interests.

Have a plan for the day but do not beat yourself up for days when you accomplish only 20% of the plan because of overwhelming emotion (or exhaustion, as emotion is tiring).

Concentrate on the three things that can be changed: attitude, thinking patterns, and behaviour patterns. Isolate the ideal for each, and be willing to work towards it with God's help.

With everything else, i.e. everything external, keep it simple: change what you can and (ought) and accept what you cannot (and ought not). Very little externally can be changed, and only then with its complicity or if one is acting in accordance with its nature.
At such times, keep things very simple.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Some tips I was given on how to share at meetings

Say what you are moved to say, but make sure you include the following elements:
  • How you know you are an alcoholic—then everyone knows where you have come from, and you are less at risk of coming across as a Baptist preacher or Jehovah's Witness
  • A problem you have had—then you are at less risk of coming across as Pollyanna, Mother Theresa, or the personification of The Little Book of Calm
  • How you used the actual twelve-step programme to solve the problem—then people know that you are in the right room and have not wandered in from the church upstairs or the psychotherapy offices next door
  • What results you actually got from following the programme—miss this, and you are missing the punchline of the whole story.

What are meetings for?

Sometimes, in the world of Big Book AA, there is an insistence that the meeting discuss the Steps and the Big Book and only the Steps and the Big Book.

I have discerned three other chief purposes in meetings.

(1) To provide a fellowship

This is intangible but real. My home group is strong, discussing the Big Book and the Steps closely and faithfully every week. However, there have been occasions when I have been drowsy and barely able to follow. I still feel strengthened throughout the week by the experience of the hour in that room, and it's not because of the odd bits of wisdom or instruction that come my way. My 'second home group' (not really my home group but a group I attend weekly and perform service at) is much less focused, but oddly I feel just as at home, 'part of', and inspired about the programme. There is much that is conveyed in AA under the radar; the spirit and principles of AA can be reinforced as much by behaviour, deportment, aura, etc. as by actual words. Sometimes it is in the silence when we are asked to remember the 'still-suffering alcoholic' that major communication can take place; equally, a meeting I once attended that included a 20-minute silence often produced the same shift in my consciousness as my current home group with its almost incessant discourse.

The feeling of being subsumed into a whole that has a single purpose and sharing the strength of others (with giving and receiving indistinguishable) is at the heart of how AA works and goes far beyond the issuing of concrete instructions to newcomers.

(2) Acting as a collective twelfth-step call

Ideally, individuals are twelfth-stepped into AA and launched into their first AA meeting, sold on their own alcoholism and the solution contained in AA's twelve-step programme and eager to absorb every tidbit they can about the programme they are already so heartily engaged in following.

How often is this actually the reality? In truth, the vast majority of newcomers in AA (and a large proportion of people who drift, sometimes for decades, with a half-hearted, double-minded, cafeteria-style hodgepodge of half-misunderstood scraps of programme) are not at all sold on their alcoholism or on the solution.

The twelfth-step call function, whilst still discharged in part through the telephone service, other official access routes to AA, and individual ad hoc, opportunistic twelfth-stepping of friends and acquaintances, is in great part left to meetings. Groups that focus solely on the dry conveying of instructions (and there are such meetings) are often quite ineffective in their 'attraction' function, and the groups I know in London that have tried this approach, although technically kosher, can be spiritually deadly—as an old sponsor of mine described it, 'heavy pudding'. Newcomers I have taken are rarely keen to return.

Before we get down to conveying instructions, we need to demonstrate why we are here and that we have something to offer in terms of a solution that has transformed our lives.

A lot of apparently pointless recounting of details of life, past and present, is actually serving to fulfil this twelfth-stepping function of attracting people into the actual twelve-step programme.

(3) Acting as a holding pen

As an extension of the above ideas, most people grab the twelve-step programme with both hands only after a substantial delay. This period of delay may or may not involving slipping repeatedly.

If the only option were full-throttle AA, individuals would be faced with the choice of this or nothing, and would have to make the choice right now, and who knows how many people would be lost forever who actually do, eventually, recover, driven by the lash of alcoholism and their own egos.

The huge number of meetings that are relatively weak as far as the programme is concerned are, however, hugely effective in temporarily sobering people up, or even sobering them up reasonably long term, allowing them to be held safe until they are actually ready to work the programme.

I was one such person, and I'm glad I was not presented with 'work the programme now or leave' on arrival and could find my faltering way to a full-throttle form of AA by about six months in.

To conclude: AA meetings perform several functions, and not all are immediately evident. One might be so rash as to conclude that AA as it has developed, far from being a deviation from 'true AA' of 'the olden days', is actually precisely as God intended it, almost as if by design.

Saturday, 13 December 2014


This week I attended a memorial service for a friend in recovery, J, who died of cancer at a tragically young age.

Although a member of a different twelve-step fellowship, J epitomised the spirit of AA. In his contact with me, whom he consulted for some years as a sponsor, his primary concern was the welfare of others, as illustrated by these three quotations:

'scarce an evening passed that someone’s home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release, and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer.'

'Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.'

'Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. "How can I best serve Thee—Thy will (not mine) be done." These are thoughts which must go with us constantly.'

(All quotations from Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book)

His concern certainly operated at an individual level; he was keen to maximise his usefulness to the individuals that he himself sponsored. His concern, however, was also for the fellowship as a whole of which he has been a central figure for a number of years. He wanted to ensure the growth of this fellowship, harmony and fruitful cooperation amongst its diverse parts, and the establishment of a structure that would ensure its survival and flourishing as time passed, even should its primary founders in the UK themselves pass off the scene. This has been achieved, and the fellowship he helped kick-start is indeed thriving, and I hope that those left behind will take up the gauntlet and allow God to inspire them with the vision with which J was so richly supplied.

He has also been a key figure in arranging 'Big Book Days', which bring together people from multiple fellowships, and indeed around the world, who are united in their conviction of the efficacy of the programme of action laid out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It is hoped also that the momentum generated by these highly successful events will continue through the efforts of those left behind, not just in J's memory, but fuelled by the greater purpose that drove him.

On a personal level, J was huge fun, and it was this irrepressible enthusiasm that was key to his ability to attract others not just into the world of recovery but into the closer-knit community of those who have adopted the twelve-step programme as a way of life, not out of dogma but out of recognition that, for alcoholics and addicts like ourselves, it is the last, best hope not just for escape from active addiction but for maximising the potential placed within us to contribute to the world around us.

Another point: J was flawed. No one who knows him will deny this, but, then again, he was no more flawed than me, or anyone else I know, and these flaws were more than counterbalanced and offset by manifold virtues: active kindness, forgiveness, and industry being chief amongst them.

An interesting point is this: anyone who gains prominence within a twelve-step fellowship (not necessary welcoming it but recognising it at an inevitable consequence of sticking one's head above the parapet, daring to push boundaries and think outside existing paradigms, taking risks, and, most simply, helping large numbers of people) is going to attract some negative attention. AAs (and this is surely true of members of all twelve-step fellowships) can have a tiny habit of looking for the negative. The more one stands for ideals, the greater the scrutiny one is placed under. The question: is the individual living up to the ideals he or she espouses?

This question is rarely fair. The book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and the Big Book itself make clear that we never achieve the ideals we set but are willing to work towards them.

Furthermore, it is this spirit that we must judge ourselves against: not 'am I perfect?' but 'am I willing to grow along spiritual lines?' Moreover, one might note, it should only be ourselves that we judge coldly against this criterion.

J, for the few but rewarding years I knew him, amply and consistently demonstrated this desire for growth.

J's last year presented challenges that mercifully few of us will have to face, and it is rightly said that no one should ever judge a person unless he has walked in that person's shoes. To expand that idea, one never walks in anyone's shoes but one's own; therefore, one can never judge. One never knows for sure 'how someone feels' or 'what someone is going through'.

What matters, ultimately, is the love that an individual leaves behind, in the hearts, minds, and vision of those whose lives he has touched.

Alone the number of people at J's memorial service is testament to J's phenomenal achievement, and many people owe their lives to him, directly or indirectly. What is marvellous and heartening in this otherwise bleak situation is that the fire that was started by J's individual flame will continue burning through the darkness and devastation of lives wrecked by addiction, and people who will never know his name or that he even existed will be touched by the power he accessed and channelled into other people's lives.

Greatness is often measured not by big-ticket, one-off events or achievements but by the thousand small tasks powered by the life and light within a person's soul.

As George Eliot said: 'The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.'

And it is this that provides some degree of comfort and hope. J will be sorely missed.

Friday, 28 November 2014


Short form:

The Conference shall observe the spirit of AA tradition, taking care that it never becomes the seat of perilous wealth or power; that sufficient operating funds and reserve be its prudent financial principle; that it place none of its members in a position of unqualified authority over others; that it reach all important decisions by discussion, vote, and, whenever possible , by substantial unanimity; that its actions never be personally punitive nor an incitement to public controversy; that it never perform acts of government, and that, like the society it serves, it will always remain democratic in thought and action.

Long form:

General Warranties of the Conference: in all its proceedings, the General Service Conference shall observe the spirit of AA Tradition, taking great care that the conference never becomes the seat of perilous wealth or power; that sufficient operating funds, plus an ample reserve, be its prudent financial principle; that none of the Conference Members shall ever be placed in  a position of unqualified authority over any others; that all important decisions be reached by discussion, vote, and, whenever possible, by substantial unanimity; that no Conference action ever be personally punitive or an incitement to public controversy; that, though the Conference may act for the service of Alcoholics Anonymous, it shall never perform any acts of government; and that, like the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous which it serves, the Conference itself will always remain democratic in thought and action.


'in all its proceedings, the General Service Conference shall observe the spirit of AA Tradition, taking great care that the conference never becomes the seat of perilous wealth or power'
·         Do I pursue service to God and others as my primary goal?
·         If that is not my primary goal, what is?
·         Do I pursue wealth or power?
·         Do I pursue these to restore wounded self-esteem?
·         If so, what past, unresolved attack on my self-esteem have I not seen through and thus forgiven?
·         Do I recognise that wealth and power, in as far as they come to me, remains God's, on whose behalf they are to be used?
·         Can I instead manifest my self-esteem through service to God and others?

'that sufficient operating funds, plus an ample reserve, be its prudent financial principle'
·         Do I work to ensure I have enough funds to live?
·         Do I set aside sufficient funds for savings, a pension, etc.?
·         Do I have one year's operating expenses as a reserve, with two-thirds available 'without loss, thereby enabling us to meet hard times or even a calamity'?
·         Do I live sufficiently within my means to build up and maintain this reserve?
·         Do I have a budget?
·         Do I monitor adherence to this budget?
·         Do I work more/spend less when I discover I am over-spending?
·         Am I reckless?
·         Am I miserly?
·         Am I personally attached to my money (clue: do I feel fearful or personally threatened when something threatens my money, finances, or assets)?

'that none of the Conference Members shall ever be placed in a position of unqualified authority over any others'
·         Do I place myself in a position of unqualified authority over any others?
·         Do I place others in such a position over me?
·         Do I dictate to others in general?
·         Do I let others dictate to me?
·         Where God or the world does give me authority, do I behave like a dictator, or a coach who is leading by example?

'that all important decisions be reached by discussion, vote, and, whenever possible, by substantial unanimity'
·         Do I seek discussion and consensus with friends, with family, in the workplace, or in other settings?
·         When I hold a minority view, can I nonetheless bow to the majority?
·         Or do I block the majority view?

'that no Conference action ever be personally punitive or an incitement to public controversy'
·         Do I have punitive (punishing) feelings towards anyone?
·         How do those feelings manifest?
·         Do I exhibit anger, or punitive or aggressive intent?
·         If I want to punish, it means I feel attacked. Do I promptly work Steps Four–Nine to remove the sense of attack?
·         Do I forgive? Without exception? Straight away?
·         Do I cause or court public controversy to no good purpose?
·         Do I gossip or bitch? If so, why am I doing this?
·         Am I a creator of confusion or harmony?
·         When I am attacked, do I maintain a non-aggressive, pacific attitude—or am I prone to anger, hostility, rebellion, and aggression?
·         Do I realise that my best defence is usually no defence at all, namely complete silence at the public level?
·         Do I restrict myself, where the critic is misinformed, to communicating in a 'temperate and informative way', and privately?
·         When criticism is indeed justified, do I acknowledge this to the individual who has criticised me?
·         When the Traditions are being violated, do I inform the violator privately?
·         When one or more people want to break away or withdraw (from my home group, from my friendship circle, from my sponsorship of them, or from a closer relationship), do I respond with non-resistance and completely avoid anger and attack?

'that, though the Conference may act for the service of Alcoholics Anonymous, it shall never perform any acts of government and that, like the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous which it serves, the Conference itself will always remain democratic in thought and action.'
·         Do I feel threatened by people who disagree with me?
·         Do I respect the views of those who disagree with me, or do I attempt to override, punish, shame, demonise, or ostracise them?
·         Do I act in anger, haste, or recklessness, or instead do I make decisions thoughtfully and after due consideration?
·         Do I force the programme on anyone, in any way?
·         Do I restrict myself to offering my experience, for fun and for free, wanting nothing in return?


'Taken as a whole, our Conference Charter is the substance of an informal agreement which was made between the AA groups and their Trustees in 1955. It is the agreed basis upon which the General Service Conference operates. In part, the Charter is an elastic document; its first eleven Articles can be readily amended by the Conference itself at any time.

But Article 12 of the Charter stands in a class by itself. An amendment or a cancellation of any of its vital Warranties would require the written consent of three-quarters of all the directory-listed AA groups who would actually vote on any such proposals, and the considerable time of six months is allowed for careful deliberation.'

'We are guaranteed the freedom of selfless service by observing the six warranties.'

'For us, prudence is a workable middle ground, a channel of clear sailing between the obstacles of fear on the one side and of recklessness on the other.'

'Above all, we devote ourselves to the newcomer, and this is our principal Twelfth Step work. In this activity we often take large amounts of time from business hours. Considered in terms of money, these collective sacrifices add up to a huge sum. But we do not think that this is anything unusual. We remember that people once gave their time to us as we struggled for sobriety.'

'Therefore it is evident that the harmony, security, and future effectiveness of AA will depend largely upon our maintenance of a thoroughly non-aggressive and pacific attitude in all our public relations.'

'Almost without exception it can be confidently estimated that our best defence in these situations would be no defence whatever—namely, complete silence at the public level.'

'Unreasonable people are stimulated all the more by opposition. If in good humour we leave them strictly alone, they are apt to subside the more quickly. If their attacks persist and it is plain that they are misinformed, it may be wise to communicate with them in a temperate and informative way; also in such a manner that they cannot use our communication as a springboard for fresh assault.'

'There is, too, a grave problem that we have never yet had to face. This would be in the nature of a deep rift running clear across AA—a cleavage of opinion so serious that it might involve a withdrawal of some of our membership into a new society of their own, or in their making an alliance with an outside agency in contravention of the AA Tradition … Our considered opinion is this: that the best possible Conference attitude in such a circumstance would be that of almost complete non-resistance—certainly no anger and certainly no attack.'

'Indeed we have always practiced this principle on a lesser scale. When a drunk shows up among us and says that he doesn't like the AA principles, people, or service management; when he declares that he can do better elsewhere—we are not worried. We simply say, "Maybe your case is different. Why don't you try something else?" '

'In the light of all this experience, it becomes evident that in the event of a really extensive split we would not have to waste time persuading the dissenters to stay with us. In good confidence and cheer, we could actually invite them to secede and we would wish them well if they did so. Should they do better under their new auspices and changed conditions, we would ask ourselves if we could not learn from their fresh experience.'

'Freedom under God to grow in His likeness and image will ever be the quest of the Alcoholics Anonymous.'

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Logical fallacies and AA discourse

A lot of discourse in AA is riddled with logical fallacies. If one understands how these are used, one can counter them more effectively, and reach a true understanding of the object of discussion more effectively.

'This is all too clever for me. I'm going to stick to working with drunks.'

This method is used to dismiss an argument by attacking its 'cleverness'. The argument itself may not actually be particularly clever, but the attack is sufficient to discredit it.

Additionally, there is a false dichotomy: according to the speaker, one can (a) indulge in 'clever' arguments or (b) work with drunks, but one cannot do both. Since working with drunks is self-evidently good, indulging in 'clever' arguments is self-evidently bad.

'Keep it simple (stupid).'

This is an example of argument by cliché/slogan. The cliché/slogan in question, 'keep it simple', is at times appropriate. Clearly, it is not always apposite. Just because hammers are good for hitting nails into planks of wood does not mean that they are good for removing tyres from cars. This slogan is often used, however, as a method of wholesale dismissal, as though playing this particular card always 'trumps' any argument, as if 'keeping it simple' is always the right approach. Clearly 'keeping it simple' could go too far: some people claim that not drinking and going to meetings is sufficient for anyone to stay permanently sober. The difficulty with combating this argument is that any examination of whether or not the object of attack is excessively complex will itself attract the instruction 'Keep it simple (stupid)!' In practice, the phrase is often used to dismiss and shut down a line of argument that the speaker disagrees with but cannot counter substantively.

Similarly: 'utilise, don't analyse'; 'analysis, paralysis'. Self-evidently, there are situations in life and in recovery that require analysis, and the Steps encourage analysis (Steps Four, Eight, and Ten, in particular).

'I've been sober 20 years, and ...'

This is an appeal from (false) authority. If length of sobriety is used to support the size of the body of evidence the individual has gathered, length of sobriety may be cited validly. But an argument is not valid simply because the person using it is 20 years sober. A similar appeal from false authority is to say to someone, 'keep coming back', as a way of responding to a contribution to a discussion. This saying is often used to position the speaker as an 'old-timer' and the opponent as a 'newcomer'; rather than addressing the argument substantively, the opponent is belittled. This is a variation of the 'ad hominem' attack.

'All of the old-timers I know say that ...'

This is an appeal to anonymous authority: we do not know who these old-timers are; they may indeed be fools. Again, the assumption is that anyone sober a long time is automatically right.

'In early AA, they would ...'

This is an appeal to false authority: just because something was done in 1937 or 1941 does not mean it is automatically better or more effective than something done now. If there were to be a presumption, it would be fairer to presume that the greater knowledge and understanding acquired over time has led to greater effectiveness, as this is the principle that operates in most fields. This can go too far, also, as it is not necessarily true that things are better now because of the passage of time and greater knowledge and understanding acquired. Instead, each proposition must be examined on its own merits.

This is also a manifestation of the 'wisdom of the ancients' fallacy: the 'ancients' (aka old-timers or founders of AA) are automatically right.

'When I was new, I used to think that ..., but now ...'

This is a 'statement of conversion', and a weak way of asserting expertise. A conversion from one belief to another does not mean that the conversion is in the right direction. One might well have gone from believing something true to believing something false.

'You think too much. Thinking won't get you sober.'

This is the fallacy of the general rule. Experience may suggest that certain individuals cannot be induced to stay sober by application of logic and reason. To derive a general rule, that logic and reason should be shunned, is inappropriate, however.

'That's just treatment centre crap.'

This is an example of the 'poisoning-the-wells' fallacy: 'treatment centres' are often a dirty word in AA (a fallacious belief itself, because of false generalisation), so, to discredit an idea, all you have to do is attribute it to treatment centres. This is a variation of the 'ad hominem' argument (where one attacks the person rather than the argument).

'What you are shouts so loud no one hears a word you're saying.'

This quotation attributed to Emerson is used to discredit the opponent, as an ad hominem attack. Effectively: 'you, Sir, are an cad, so everything you say is false.'

'I'm only new in AA and I just need to be given a break ...'/'I've been through such a lot—give me a break.'

This is the card being played: 'take pity on me, so do not challenge what I am saying'.

'He stopped going to meetings, so he got drunk.'

This is the fallacy of false cause. Just because one thing follows another does not mean the latter caused the former. The individual may have decided he wanted to return to drinking, which is why he stopped going to meetings. In that case, the decision to return to drinking was therefore the reason he got drunk, not stopping going to meetings per se. In other cases, stopping going to meetings may be a factor, but implying it is the only factor is without basis.

'She was twenty-five years sober and working with lots of newcomers, and she got drunk. I'm going to be careful about how many sponsees I take on.'

This betrays a confusion of correlation and causation. Simply because a factor is present does not mean it was causal. The speaker could have chosen one hundred other factors ('She lives in Santa Monica; she watches daytime TV; she also goes to Al-Anon') ... This also betrays 'causal reductionism'—the truth is that there were likely many contributing factors.

'AA is a cult. I know someone who attended a group where you had to cut ties with all of your old friends and family and spend all of your time with group members.'

This is the fallacy of composition: just because one group behaves like a cult does not mean that AA itself is a cult.

'AA has worked for millions of people around the world. If you can't get sober at your home group, that's your fault, not AA's, because AA works.'

This is a combination of the fallacy of composition and the fallacy of division. Firstly, the speaker is concluding that AA, as a whole, 'works', on the basis that many groups are self-evidently effective. Secondly, the speaker is concluding that, because AA as a whole 'works', any individual group must be effective. The truth is, the individual's home group may be lousy, with no one carrying an effective message, which is why newcomers are not able to achieve sobriety there.

'I had a benzo problem for years. Now I won't even take an aspirin, in case I abuse that.'

This is an example of the slippery slope/camel's nose fallacy. In this fallacy, there is the assumption that something is wrong because it is has some resemblance to or is otherwise somehow close to something that is wrong. This is a very common fallacy when individuals are talking about medication in recovery. Clearly, some forms of medication, in some individuals, are conducive to relapse. The idea that an aspirin is the start of a slippery slope, however, is fallacious.

'I knew someone who drank in the middle of her Step Four. It was clearly bringing up too much emotion, so she drank. I don't advise taking Step Four.'

This is argument by half-truth. Very often, behind these stories, there are numerous other factors: e.g. the individual was barely going to any meetings, was not actually following the advice of her sponsor regarding fellowship and service, etc.

'AA has only a 5% success rate today. It used to have a success rate of 93%.'

A common problem in discussions is a gross misunderstanding of statistics, and innumeracy. Success rates, for example, are meaningful only if one knows what pool of individuals is being taken as the base. Is that 5% of people who attend at least one AA meeting? Or is that 5% of people who complete the twelve-step programme in full? Very often, AA's low success rates measure the proportion of people who stay sober, say, for one year, out of a population of people who are introduced at all to AA. Since participation and follow-through are voluntary, however, the rate measures not the success of the programme but a combination of the ability of AA to attract and keep problem drinkers and members AND the success of the programme, rolled up into a single figure. It should be recalled, also, that in early AA, membership was highly filtered, and the pool of individuals on which basis success rates were calculated did not include anyone who was not successfully twelfth-stepped.

To summarise: when using statistics, be sure you understand exactly how the statistic was calculated.

'I can't take Step Two. I simply can't believe in an old man in the sky with a beard.'
'I can't meditate, because I get restless leg syndrome.'

These are examples of the straw-man fallacy, where an exaggerated or caricatured version of a position is adopted and attacked. The counter-arguments: your higher power can be the spirit of the universe, your home group, or anything you like; you could try walking meditation.

'If you don't work the Steps, you will die of alcoholism.'

This is an appeal to force, effectively, a threat. It may or may not be true in the case of the individual in question. Many people do indeed die of alcoholism, and many people who work the Steps do indeed recover from alcoholism. One cannot fairly assert, however, that this will necessarily be the consequence if this individual does not work the Steps.


Arguing in capitals is argument by vehemence. Rather than letting the argument stand on its own, the speaker is using a tantrum to block opposition.

This one is also an example of the appeal to pity: if you position yourself as a victim and others as bullies, you do not have to substantiate your argument.

'AA operates like a cult. It has to be either their way or no way.'

This is a combination of the straw man argument, the fallacy of the excluded middle, and the fallacy of composition. Firstly, as indicated elsewhere, individual AAs proclaiming the 'my way or the highway' position does not mean that AA as a whole operates in that way (fallacy of composition); secondly, presenting this as AA's general approach is a straw man argument—this is a caricatured version of what generally happens in AA; the fallacy of the excluded middle is the fallacy that there are two extremes and nothing in between. This fallacy is being projected onto the opponent (AA!) to discredit it.

Another example of the excluded middle/false dichotomy:

'Personally I'd rather be insulted sober than coddled, drunk.'

This implies that these are the only two options (insulted/coddled), with no other options available (e.g. being respected, being told the truth kindly). This is also a good example of false correlation: sobriety is associated with truth, however unpleasant, and drunkenness is associated with being coddled.

A very common example of the false dichotomy/faulty dilemma is this: 'When I was new, I am glad people cared more about whether I lived or died than my feelings.' It is, in fact, possible, to care about whether someone lives or dies and act and speak accordingly, whilst taking care not to hurt someone unnecessarily.

'Just remember that opinions are like assholes; everyone has one.'

By generally dismissing all opinions, one does not need to engage substantively in any of them. In a debate setting, this is like sweeping all of the chess-pieces off the board.

'I don't make amends to ex-partners, because it says in Step Nine that we do not make amends to people if we are going to harm them.'

This is called 'begging the question', where the thing to be proved ('making amends to ex-partners is harmful') is actually the premise of the argument (as making amends to them and harming them are equated).

Lastly, my personal favourite, often seen on online discussions:

'In recovery, I only do what is in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Anything else ain't AA'.

This is an example of the stolen concept. This is where you use what you are attacking to support your argument. In this case, engaging in an online debate to attack recovery activities not set out in the Big Book is to engage in just such an activity. If one were genuinely to believe that principle, one would have to refrain from online debates, as these are not discussed in the 'main text' part of the Big Book.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Some truth

Here's the basic truth to meditate on. You are spirit. Therefore nothing has ever harmed and nothing can ever harm you. There is no basis, therefore, for consistent or recurrent shame, anger, or fear.

However, there is room for temporary guilt, to prompt amends, temporary anger, to prompt corrections to attitude and behaviour, and temporary fear, to prompt prudent measures, but once their directive force has been followed, they must be let go of.

Monday, 17 November 2014

A Ulysses pact

'The term refers to the pact that Ulysses made with his men as they approached the Sirens. Ulysses wanted to hear the Sirens' song, although he knew that doing so would render him incapable of rational thought. He put wax in his men's ears so that they could not hear and had them tie him to the mast so that he could not jump into the sea. He ordered them not to change course under any circumstances, and to keep their swords upon him to attack him if he should break free of his bonds.

Upon hearing the Sirens' song, Ulysses was driven temporarily insane and struggled with all of his might to break free so that he might join the Sirens, which would have meant his death.'

When an individual takes Step Three, it is wise to enter into such a pact. What this means is that you are committing in advance to continuing, in perpetuity, to take every action suggested in the Big Book ('Alcoholics Anonymous') and by your sponsor regardless of how may feel or what you may think about such actions in the future. You are also authorising sponsors and friends to pull rank on you if you stray, supplant your perception of your situation and best interests with theirs, and direct your actions.

If you are an alcoholic of the variety described in the Big Book, there will be times when the Sirens call. They will call in your voice, and you will think it is your heart or at least you yourself that is talking to you. They will convince you that they are speaking in your best interest. The voices will suggest that you don't really want to stop drinking, or you don't need to, or you can have a break, or it won't work anyway, or it's too much effort. You will be incapable of rational thought.

If you have tied yourself to the mast and committed to the actions regardless of how you feel or what you think, you will be saved. The temporary insanity will lift, and you will wake up the next day, week, or month wondering how you could have been so foolish.

If you have reserved the right to adjust course based on your own thinking, good luck, because you may follow the sirens to your death.

With any luck, sufficient prayer will block your ears with sufficient wax to drown out the Siren calls entirely. But the pact will save you even if the Sirens call.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Just because I'm sober, do I have to be dumb?

Evidence of cogent, elaborate, or extended thought is regularly criticised in AA, as expressed by slogans and sayings such as 'keep it simple, stupid!' and 'you can't be too stupid to get sober, but you can be too clever'. The suggestion is that the use of the intellect is inappropriate in AA and actively detrimental to sobriety. The fact that one cannot think oneself sober is taken by some to mean that thinking has no place in AA. It is also socially acceptable within AA to criticise people merely for expressing thoughts that extend beyond the most basic. The belief is this: the intellect is incompatible with recovery and AA, and if you have a mind, you had better keep it to yourself.

Let's see what the Big Book has to say on the matter.

The limits of intellect are clear:

'But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an expectation, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge.'

'If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried.'

'Yes, we had been faithful, abjectly faithful to the God of Reason. … Were nothing left but pure reason, it wouldn't be life. … Hence, we saw that reason isn't everything. Neither is reason, as most of us use it, entirely dependable, though it emanate from our best minds.'

On the other hand, the Big Book does not advocate the retirement of the intellect but a balance between intellect and reliance on God:

'Logic is great stuff. We liked it. We still like it. It is not by chance we were given the power to reason, to examine the evidence of our senses, and to draw conclusions. That is one of man's magnificent attributes. We agnostically inclined would not feel satisfied with a proposal which does not lend itself to reasonable approach and interpretation.'

'Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness.'

'Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists choose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all.'

The balance is well summed-up in the Step Two chapter of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

'By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first.'


"Dr Bob led me through all of these steps. At the moral inventory, he brought up several of my bad personality traits or character defects, such as selfishness, conceit, jealousy, carelessness, intolerance, ill-temper, SARCASM, and resentments." (Page 263)

Interestingly, sarcasm is listed. The reason this strikes me is because sarcasm is used very frequently in online discussions. When people dislike something, rather than engaging with the question substantively, they dismiss what they disagree with, with sarcasm.

Sarcasm is a defensive form of attack and is typically used when one believes oneself to have been attacked in some way.

I've had to learn to stand back when I am tempted to be sarcastic, and to ask myself, 'why do I feel attacked?' This is a very useful line of inventory inquiry.

Do you view sarcasm as a character defect?

Do you watch for it in everyday life?

Do you watch for it in your postings online?

Do you do your best to eliminate it?

Use of language in the Big Book

Someone said: "There is nothing cunning, baffling, powerful about alcohol in its liquid form. What’s cunning, baffling, powerful is we drink despite knowing all the consequences involved."

Someone else said: "I hear many things at meetings: 'I have a disease; I have a disease that wants me dead; I have a disease that tells me I don't have it.' I happen to disagree with all three of those things; the Big Book only mentions disease one time, and it says it is a spiritual one, not a physical one."

I don't disagree with either of these statements, at all. Good points.

However, I would enter a plea for leniency on the following grounds.

Language is used in a multiplicity of ways. Many people are quite literal in how they express themselves. Others—and Bill Wilson is an excellent example—make use of all sorts of rhetorical devices. Now, in the 1930s, I suspect the deliberate command (and overt understanding) of rhetorical devices amongst the relatively well-educated was greater than it is now.

With regard to the line about alcohol being 'cunning, baffling, powerful', this is an example of the Greek rhetorical device of 'metonymy'. This is where you refer to something not by its name but by something associated with it. Thus 'the financial sector based in New York' is referred to as 'Wall Street', 'the film industry based in Los Angeles' is referred to as 'Hollywood', etc.

The adjectives 'cunning', 'baffling', and 'powerful' refer to the thinking patterns of the alcoholic. They are cunning in that their arguments in favour of drinking despite the consequences can be very seductive, baffling because they run so counter to reason, and powerful because, well, look at how easily many are indeed seduced by them. Moreover, alcohol is part of this, because of its physical, neurological effect on the brain. Rather than referring to this complex set of ideas, Bill simply says 'alcohol', which is just one element in the mix, not the whole mix. (By the way, this particular type of metonymy, where one refers to one part of a whole rather than the whole, is referred to as 'synecdoche'.)

So, to sum up provisionally, it's not quite fair to argue against a statement in the book not being 'literally' true, when the author is deliberately using linguistic devices that go beyond the literal, for instance, to the metaphorical, to make a point 'punchier'. The point in question was never meant to be literal in the first place.

This brings me onto a second point:

It's quite right to say that the Big Book is cagey on the subject of alcoholism being disease. The Big Book does, however, use its own metaphor to describe alcoholism: 'King Alcohol', with the phrase 'shivering denizens of his mad realm'. The metaphor is extended almost to being a parable.

Now, no one really believes that there is a 'mad realm' of which we are 'denizens'. This metaphor—in which this imagery is substituted for the reality—is simply a device for conveying the concept of being involuntarily subject to greater, destructive forces.

Similarly, when people talk about the 'disease wanting them dead', they are employing the concept of a disease personified as having a will, because it's a helpful device to convey a complex set of ideas.

Sometimes it's helpful to hold two ideas in one's mind at the same time: firstly, metaphors and other devices do not aim to represent reality literally, like a photograph or a patent for a machine, but to convey ideas. Secondly, those ideas, whilst formally at odds with reality, may actually convey that reality more accurately.

It's very difficult to convey to someone new that their 'desire to drink' is not really their 'true self' (as the true self will not want to destroy itself) but a substantially physical urge to satisfy a 'need' to change one's brain chemistry, despite the consequences, presented to the self as being in one's best interests.

By contrast, it's very easy to say, 'you have a disease that wants to kill you': the idea can be conveyed instantly—and instantly the individual recognises that their desire to drink is a cognitive distortion; it is not their true self talking.

In summary: rhetorical devices and imagery—used amply in the Big Book and in the fellowship as a whole—are helpful in carrying the message.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The requirements for success

A desire to stop drinking is the only requirement for AA membership.

However, for success in AA, certain personal characteristics are required, more often than not. If an individual does not display these, they can be learned, but they had better be learned fast.

(1) The ability to follow instructions regardless of what one thinks or feels about the instructions

As Clancy says, Step Three in practice means 'taking actions you do not believe in because people who are doing better than you are suggesting them'. It does not matter a jot whether you believe in the individual actions themselves; what matters is how well the people are following and suggesting these actions are doing. If they are doing better than you, do what they say.

(2) The willingness to be uncomfortable

Alcoholics who come into recovery are typically emotionally childish. They want lollipops and puppies and freedom from any pain or discomfort whatsoever. If this failing is not broken, and broken fast, recovery likely won't 'take'. The core of the alcoholic's (and addict's) pattern is this: short-term gain plus long-term pain over short-term pain plus long-term gain. To get and stay sober, one is simply going to have to put up with sometimes significant doses of feeling exceptionally uncomfortable. Accept that like a grown-up, and that's most of the battle. Recovery is not for cissies.

(3) Knowing what a decision is

There are elements of the recovery process where we have to examine crucial issues: do I want to stop drinking for ever? Am I convinced that I can never drink safely again? Am I convinced I cannot do this on my own? Do I believe AA works for others, and will therefore work for me? Am I willing to go to any length? However, once this sequence of considerations culminating in a decision is complete, it must not be revisited, except deliberately in consultation with a sponsor.

The Step Three decision—to continue promptly and resolutely with the rest of the programme—is a final decision. Endlessly revisiting the foundations—the above considerations—will cause confusion and weaken resolve and may lead to relapse. If in doubt, give recovery a year, or even five years, and resolve then to re-examine the foundations. Until then, get on with it.

(4) Exercising mental discipline

The spiritual programme of action includes mental actions. There are plenty of mental actions described on pages 84 to 88 of the Big Book. In practice, this means not permitting any resentment, fear, nostalgia, fantasy, doubt, or other negative or destructive thinking. In practice, we are tempted a thousand times a day. With practice, we can turn away from such thinking promptly, with God's help, and turn to how we can contribute usefully to the day and help others. Good sponsors and spiritual advisors will be pleased to help with prayers or other readings that can be instantly applied to block unwanted trains of thought.

Sobriety cannot withstand being deliberately undermined from within by self-indulgent thinking (and the self-indulgent action that flows from it). We are not responsible for temptation arising, but we are responsible for how we respond to it.

So you want to drink, do you?

Q: I am confused: I don't know whether I want to drink or not. What do I do?

A: If you have a drinking history bad enough to warrant considering stopping drinking for good and for all, then you're not experiencing confusion in the sense of not knowing which option is 'right'. This is clear because, when asked if any of your alcoholic friends would be better off drunk, the answer is almost invariably 'no'. So this is not a question of right or wrong.

You're experiencing a battle between the higher Self, which wants to live and live well, and a childish lower self that wants a little treat now, and to hell with the consequences.

Be aware that a person cannot win this one by argument, because the childish lower self is smart and deceitful, and the person (you and me!) is foolish, gullible, and driven by emotion, and this is a deadly combination.

This is more about choice and decision. Do I want to side with the higher Self or the lower self?

THAT answer, now, should be obvious. If the answer is the former, a decision must be made: to trust that right action suggested by those who are doing better than you will eventually resolve the tension, causing the lower childish self to fade away. The belief that it will work for you is a no-brainer: the fact it worked for them means it will work for you. That decision must then be followed by action.

The action is to follow a plan for the day agreed with a sponsor or other advisor, in which all of the time is somehow accounted for.

Meanwhile, mentally, pray to remain present in the scheduled activity and to refrain from examining bigger questions.

In particular, once you have chosen to live, to trust this will work, and to implement it, those three questions are now permanently closed. When a decision is made, a rational person does not revisit the decision every five minutes. He gives the plan a chance to work, and then reviews based on long-term results.

So give it a year, and THEN see if it was the right decision.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Going to unfamiliar meetings

A description of early meetings from the Big Book:

'Seeing much of each other, scarce an evening passed that someone's home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release, and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer. In addition to these casual get-togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be at tended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life. Aside from fellowship and sociability, the prime object was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems.'

My home group is actually pretty like that, fortunately. However, yesterday, I felt a l alienated at a meeting I went to (my closest one geographically but not one I have been to in years); lots of camaraderie, mutual appreciation, non-alcoholism-related identification, and funny stories; no clear teaching about alcoholism, barely any talk of sponsorship, God, Steps, or any recovery-related idea at all. Still, someone approached me and I gave her my card and told her about my (Big Book-based) home group and invited her to that and also spoke to the speaker, who was new in town, inviting her, too, to my home group, so not a wasted evening, all in all.

The main lesson is not to be disturbed about 'how most of AA is'—something I can forget—and not to see 'how most of AA is' to be a problem. I still have the opportunity to go wherever I am I led by God in AA and observe how God uses me once I am there.

As a 'Big Booker', what is your relationship like with the parts of AA where the solution to alcoholism is generally believed to consist in social get-togethers, telling stories about drinking, and recounting the general thoughts and emotions of the week to the group, rather than the programme of recovery outlined in the Big Book?

Can you find a purpose in (sometimes) attending such meetings?

Can you do so without contempt or rancour?

Can you remain useful even in groups that are quite different in their approach?

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Resentment and values

"If the owner of the business is to be successful, he cannot fool himself about values." (Page 64, Alcoholics Anonymous)

If resentment is persisting, it is valued. One may not enjoy it, but that is a different matter.

The way to discover its value is to imagine being free of it. If there is any resistance (and there will be resistance to being free of resentment, if it is being held onto), the fear is likely to be this: 'if I stop resenting, I'll be defenceless, and the world will be able to do what it wants to me'.

It is in this that the fallacy lies: that to resent is to defend, and to forgive (which is the withdrawal of judgement) is to leave one defenceless.

The truth is the reverse: when I attack, mentally (which is what resentment is), I feel under attack; when I forgive (as defined above), I feel invulnerable (which I indeed am, being, as I am, spirit, not a body).

If resentment is persisting, that is the question: what value do I still see in it? I cannot fool myself about values.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Is praying for others part of the programme?

Today I read on an online Big Book forum:

"Praying for others, forgiveness and others are great spiritual sentiments but they keep us from the directions in the Steps rather than help us live these principles."

If you read page 87 (which forms part of the Steps), you will discover that seeing where religious people are right IS part of the Steps, and IS one of the principles we are supposed to apply. Praying for others, forgiveness, etc. are suggested by religious people, and, if you try them out as an experiment, you will discover that, in these two regards, religious people are right.

Page 87 also says we are never to pray for ourselves, except as those requests bear on our usefulness to others. This rather suggests one does pray for others.

Page 87 suggests we use set prayers, and one of the main set prayers is the Lord's Prayer. If you read about early AA, you will encounter references to the Lord's Prayer being used in meetings. The Lord's Prayer embodies the principle of forgiveness. Pages 356 and 406 also recall the Lord's Prayer.

Page 82 suggests forgiveness (or, as it is put, letting by-gones be by-gones), suggesting we pray having the other's happiness uppermost in mind.

The key point is this, however: there is a logical, fear-based fallacy evident amongst many peddlers of the idea that all answers to everything lie inside the first 164 pages and nothing of value lies outside it. The fallacy is the zero-sum fallacy. According to this logic, encouraging people to go to meetings takes the focus off the steps, suggesting forgiveness distracts from the steps, etc.

It is a fallacy because these activities do not detract from each other or cancel each other out.

If that were true, if every activity that is not strictly suggested in the first 164 detracted from the Steps, I do hope the person suggesting this does not go to work, eat, or sleep. These after all, must be an awful distraction, and water down the programme frightfully.

The truth is this: when I was new, I was able to work the Steps as indicated by a good sponsor, go to lots of meetings, apply AA slogans and tidbits from meetings, and do lots of things for my programme that were not strictly in the first 164 (e.g. 'push' my Higher Power out of the front door before I left for work in the morning, to 'sort everyone out so I didn't have to'. Of course one's energies should not be excessively dissipated, but attitudes and activities that actively support what are in the first 164 do not detract from or weaken them, either logically or empirically.

No, it's perfectly possible to be a good 164-er and discover that life is much richer and one's programme is much more fruitful following ALL of the instructions in the first 164 pages, which include learning from what has been taught by God through AA since 1939 and seeking the various additional sources of help (religious, psychological, etc.)

Friday, 17 October 2014

Recovered or recovering? In a nutshell.

Recovered but not cured; the maintenance of the state is contingent on action to maintain my spiritual condition today.

I don't suffer from the symptoms of alcoholism any more.

I have a full range of human emotions and difficulties. These are features of the human condition. They are not alcoholism. Alcoholism is an obsession with drinking and a peculiar physical reaction that compels me to continue despite the deleterious consequences.

I have not recovered from the human condition, only alcoholism.

Is it OK to sell or use non-AA material at AA meetings?

In the UK, we only sell AA literature at AA meetings. Bookshops and online stores are aplenty, enabling people to buy other material. AA sticks to its purpose.

One of the reasons we do this is so that prospective or new AA members experience actual AA rather than AA with sundry other admixtures. Sometimes groups have introduced other materials, sometimes quite questionable, shocking materials, with prejudiced, bigoted content. This is why we keep it very simple in the UK: if you want to read other materials or recommend other materials, do that in your own time and not in the name of AA.

Is there such a thing as healthy fear?

You need to define fear, here.

Foresight, which comes with a little emotional punch in response to what is foreseen, is obviously necessary for good decision-making.

Prudence, caution, and preparation flowing from such foresight are therefore desirable, too.

Fear, which might be defined for these purposes as the emotional state arising from dwelling to no purpose on prospective negative events or situations, is essentially delusional. One is constructing mental scenarios that are not (yet) real, then feeling emotions associated with events that have not happened.

This need not be.

Part of my story?

Lots of things are part of my story that are not relevant to carrying the message of AA to alcoholics. The question is: what is my purpose in sharing about other addictions?

The Big Book had it right. Keep the focus on the alcohol. Mention drugs. But do not get distracted. I mention Al-Anon matters in AA occasionally, but I do not keep it the focus even of any one share (except when we're on the chapters To Wives or The Family Afterward in the Big Book).

There is nothing to stop people going to more than one fellowship; in fact, many people do.

Many sponsees of mine also go to OA or Al-Anon. No one really wants to bring either of those topic areas into AA, and both of those fellowships stick very closely to their primary purposes too.

Whichever fellowship you are in for that hour, stick to its subject area. If you particularly want to talk about a particular substance or using pattern more appropriate to another fellowship, go to that fellowship that day. If you are having a particular obsession with crystal meth, and you go to an AA meeting that day rather than CMA, CA, or NA, why did you make that decision? That is the real question.

At a broader level, if you consistently want to talk about your using and you did not drunk so much, why did you pick AA as your primary fellowship? Why not pick a fellowship more obviously suited to your problem?

Sometimes the argument is made that the recovery is better in AA. Well, fine; that may be true in some areas. However, many OAs visit AA for that reason but then take what they have learned and start up strong OA meetings. I have sponsored OAs in this way, who have set up the first strong, Big Book-focused meetings in their respective home areas. But they don't share in AA meetings except in relation to their alcoholism.

There is no natural entitlement to public confession in AA on all matters that come to mind. AA has a specific purpose, to recover from and help others recover from alcohol. Treating the room as an alternative to therapy with the room acting as the therapist while you say whatever is on your mind is not what AA is about.

Since my last drink, I have never treated AA as a place that I can hijack for my own purposes (e.g. to gain the questionable therapeutic benefit of talking about problems publicly); I treat it as a place where I am invited to fulfil a particular role: to share about how I have used the twelve-step programme to recover from alcoholism.

There is nothing to stop someone in AA who wants to talk about their using from asking one of the millions of members of AA if they could sit down for a coffee and talk. At such talks, anything goes. You may talk all day, all week about anything. Complete freedom!

The question, therefore, is not whether one 'may' talk about drugs in passing (which one obviously may, in the spirit of the Big Book—although some hardliners disagree). The question is really where the sense of entitlement to talk primarily, consistently, or continually, or at length about drugs—as opposed to alcohol, drinking, alcoholism, or recovery from alcoholism using the Twelve Steps—is coming from. That is about putting one's own needs or desires first, ahead of group and fellowship welfare. Recovery is supposed to be about putting the group and the fellowship first, with personal recovery taking a close but second place. The question is not what is best for you but what is best for the group and the fellowship as a whole.

The drugs-in-AA issue is therefore a Tradition One issue, not a Tradition Five issue, which is why the discussion gets side-tracked and lost down a dead-end.

The most compelling reason why drug talk—or Al-Anon talk, or OA talk—should not become the focus in AA:

In parts of the country where most people in recovery are basically druggy, but the meetings are mostly AA, there is nowhere for alcoholics to go to get identification. I've been to meetings in New York where no one mentions alcohol. Fine, talk about drugs, but if that takes over, a new fellowship would need to be founded for alcoholics to talk about alcohol. It could be called Alcoholics Anonymous.