Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Get a homegroup, get a sponsor, get a job, get a career

When you don't drink, the day is long and the week is long. Some people do spend their AA lives lumbering from meeting to meeting and never engaging with the world again. There are certainly those with physical or mental problems standing in the way of full reintegration with society. But Step Twelve suggests we practise these principles in all our affairs, and one such affair is work.

I believe that there is little that is more damaging or inhibiting to recovery than idleness. Amongst those whom I have sponsored over the years, I have never seen someone who is deliberately idle get well. Plagued with obsessions and other 'addictions', they lurch from crisis to crisis in a defended state: unhelpable. I had two periods of not working, the first around one year of sobriety, in between college and a job, and the second after a breakdown at around ten years. In both cases, I did actually occupy myself somewhat, particularly the second time, with some constructive activities. But in both cases my life became about me, and time moved differently for me than for those around me. I became intensely self-absorbed, and I felt sickened from the inside. I was prey, in both cases, to all sorts of delusions I found it difficult to shake.

The solution in both cases was reengaging in constructive activity, in both cases with a job.

Not everyone can get a job. But volunteer work, studying, training, and the 'prodigies of service' described in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are always options. I have a sister with a mental age of six who also has various physical and mental problems, and she volunteers at a local charity shop every week. Active engagement is available to anyone in our society.

The Book Alcoholics Anonymous encourages us to seek a vision of God's will for us (page 85) and a sane and sound ideal for our conduct (pages 69 to 70). To act my part in Step Three, I need to be engaged and productive. That connects me, makes me part of the wheel of life, and gives me dignity. I am then giving as much as I am receiving (see page 128).

So that the work remains God's not mine, I leave the long-term and short-term plans to God, and ask for guidance; I am to take the action and leave God to take care of the results; it is easy to become identified with the work (or study), and, according to Tradition Six, this is disastrous—I must identify myself only as a child of God and leave the actions I take as just that—the actions I take ... I do not become them; I must avoid thinking about outcome, output, productivity, efficiency, money, etc. any more than necessary to actually conduct my business—these are firmly in God's hands.

There is a bigger question, however, which arises often a little later in sobriety.

I have experienced (and seen in many others) the deleterious effects of being in a job or career that does not fulfil my potential and/or benefit the world maximally (see the concept of 'maximum service' on page 77).

Whilst I have been on a path towards maximising my usefulness and fulfilling my potential (or, rather, the potential God has placed within me: that, after all, is the point, here), I have felt happy and calm performing work that, itself, does not fulfil these criteria. The damage has flowed instead from remaining deliberately stuck on a path that is going nowhere out of fear, pride, greed, vanity, or stubbornness. Given how many hours a week are taken up by work, the effects of such a position cannot be ring-fenced and spread to all other areas.

Instead, my mission must lie at the intersection between what I have to offer and what the world needs. That is the vision of God's will for me.

I have then needed to ask people who do have successful careers how they acquired them. In my case, I have had to this twice. All sorts of books, advisors, careers libraries and services, etc. plus other local public and private resources are available to help people start at the top and work down, by first examining what careers are available throughout society in general, following up instinctive tugs towards particular fields, hunches, and tip-offs or connections, and then examining what concrete paths would actually lead to these careers.

Throughout this process it is vital to trust God and insist on not stamping on the green shoots of hope with the hobnail boots of defeatism. To develop a first career or change careers will challenge every lingering spot of fear and pride and will require faith, being the courage to take action you do not believe in because people ahead of you suggest it, until the experience is gained of God performing miracles.

I have a career that appears tailor-made to my assets and my liabilities (the latter, interestingly: various facets of my personality, temperament, physical constitution, and circumstances do not lend themselves to me working in teams, in office environments, or fixed hours ... yet I have a fully fledged, successful career that actually plays to what would be deficits on other paths). I could not have planned in detail and in full how I have arrived at this point; what I did do was pray for guidance, show up, keep my nose clean, keep my eyes peeled, insist on being sober, considerate, and helpful regardless of what anyone said or did (page 99), and essentially place myself at God's disposal to be of maximum service.

God draws straight lines with broken pencils, and the Book's 'age of miracles' (page 153) is upon us in AA. My experience is not unique here—I have seen it replicated countless times.

Take heart from this:

'We know what you are thinking. You are saying to yourself: "I’m jittery and alone. I couldn't do that." But you can. You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself. To duplicate, with such backing, what we have accomplished is only a matter of willingness, patience and labor'

Monday, 24 March 2014

Finding speakers for meetings

The primary purpose of each group is to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers. Leaving aside the fraught question of what 'its' message is, as even asking this can split the group down the middle, let's assume that the group's message is the AA message. What is the AA message?

According to the third edition of the Big Book, it is the basic text (the first 164 pages).

(NB the fourth edition omits this reference, but that's another discussion.)

The purpose of the main speaker of any AA meeting is therefore to carry the message contained in the first 164 pages, and the only way to do that is to have had the experience of taking the steps as outlined there.

Taking the steps in other ways may be very good, may have brought about recovery from alcoholism, may have done all sorts of good things, but this is not the AA message; it is another message. The instructions on how to work the steps, as a single, coherent package, are contained in the Big Book and nowhere else. The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions provide a commentary and additional tips on the main instructions but do not replace them.

It should be clear, therefore, that to qualify to pitch as the main speaker at an AA meeting one must have experience of all twelve steps through the Big Book, and be prepared to have this as the main focus of one's talk.

Good speakers will help newcomers or others to identify as alcoholics, using the two main features described up to page 44 (craving triggered by the first drink; inability to stay stopped), and then will discuss the solution: the steps, fellowship, service to others, God; and will go on to describe the results and benefits. There is no other suitable topic.

An effective secretary, chair-finder, etc. (the terminology changes around the world) will therefore listen out for individuals who are already speaking along these lines, and pick only those individuals to speak.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Reservations and responses

Here are some common fears, reservations, and forms of resistance to the programme ... and some responses:

"The programme will not work for me. I will stay miserable and/or drink."


It has worked for hundreds of thousands of people. Why do you think you are so different?

"I will have to force myself to believe in a God I do not believe in or trust."


You do not have to force yourself to believe anything. The only 'forcing' is the willpower required to take the actions indicated, on the basis that the people who are suggesting them are doing better than you, precisely because they took said actions themselves. You do not need to believe in an entity. You need only believe this programme has worked for others.

"I can only believe in a punishing God."


If you were taught that, treat it as an error, like being told that Helsinki is the capital of Peru.
If you believe this because you see bad things happening in the world, consider the idea of God as a power that transforms you from the inside to be able to handle any adversity with cheerfulness, courage, and grace. That's even before the internal transformation transforms your external life.
Like creates like. You know this below the level of consciousness. If you are vengeful (which will be if you believe the insane system of your ego), you will believe, in turn, that God is vengeful.
If you attack others mentally (or in other ways), you will feel guilty and feel you deserve punishment, and the logical inference is that that punishment will come from God.
The belief in a punishing God might just be the projection outwards of your own vengefulness.

"I am scared, if I lose my attachments to things of the world, I will no longer enjoy anything."

Consider what happens when a best friend says he is moving to another country. If you are attached, you can no longer enjoy his company, because you're frightened of what will happen when he leaves. The truth is the reverse of the objection: enjoyment is the result when the attachment is dropped. The fewer attachments you have, the greater your ability to enjoy everything.

"I will become irritating and sanctimonious and superior."

Just because some people on a spiritual path become like this does not mean you have to. Find people on a spiritual path who have fun, enjoy life, and laugh at themselves. Do what they do. Stay away from the irritating, sanctimonious, and superior ones.

"I will have to take the blame for the actions of others."

No. You are responsible only for your actions. They are responsible for theirs. If they acted in retaliation, they're responsible for the retaliation, not you, but you remain responsible for your contribution to the situation.
Even for our own actions, we're responsible for recognising what needs to change and going to God for the strength to change. If we feel guilt, we're denying the powerlessness at the time to do anything other than what we did. The very fact we feel guilty shows we knew it was wrong, which prompts the question, 'why did you do it, then'? Paul would say the sin that lives within you. We might say the ego was responsible. But we still get to clean up the mess.

"I will have to make amends to people who have harmed me."

Only if you have harmed them too.

"I will be forced to sponsor people I do not know how to help."

It is not us getting them well. We share our experience, and God uses that as a channel to get them well. God draws straight lines with broken pencils. The more solutions you learn and apply yourself, the more you will have to offer.

"There will not be enough time for everything the programme requires."

The programme is more a method of living than something separate and additional. However you live, you need a method. Might as well have one that works. If you do not make time for the programme, you will spent far more time clearing up the emotional and material train-wrecks stemming from living based on self-will, which is the only other semi-viable alternative.

Monday, 17 March 2014

You want to drink? Well drink, then!

I remember calling up Sue, saying I wanted to drink. She said, 'AA is for people who don't want to drink,' and put the phone down.

I called her up again and said that I did not to want to drink but was scared I was going to. She said we were now in business, and we had a good conversation.

The same principle applies around Steps Six and Seven. If I get to Steps Six and Seven and discover there are aspects of my life I find objectionable, because they are causing myself or others suffering, but am unwilling to have God transform my life to have the problems transcended, I do, as the Book suggests, need to pray for willingness, but behind the prayer is a more fundamental problem.

Being unwilling to grow towards the ideal of Step Three, namely to have God be in charge of my life, with me as the servant, doing the grunt work, and getting a place in the Kingdom of the Here and Now in return, means I no longer believe I need an ongoing spiritual experience to maintain the recovered state. It means I believe that half measures will actually work, that there is a middle of the road solution.

When I believe I can hold an area of my life back from spiritual growth, I am heading for a drink. The Big Book suggests this, as does the Twelve and Twelve, repeatedly, in different ways.

The question concerns not the merits of giving up a particular defect or undergoing change in a particular area; the question is always universal and holistic; you cannot piss in one side of the glass and hope to drink out of the other.

It no longer amazes me how, when I am experiencing problems in one area, there is another area I am withholding from God in case my toys are taken away.

This is all or nothing; this is about having a perfect ideal to grow towards. It is also about knowing I can do nothing to grow towards that without God and that even then the externally manifest results will be quite imperfect, but within that imperfection I will be at peace.

As someone once said to me when I was fussing over unwillingness on an individual issue: so, how long before you drink?

I do not want to sound excessively dramatic. However, the crises do occur: once sound AA members do drink again. I cannot afford to hold anything back from God.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Effective and ineffective meetings

The chief purpose of meetings is to provide a venue for newcomers to identify whether they are in the right place and for those with a solution to convey that solution adequately to those without.

Many meetings do not fulfil this function.

Most meetings here in London are chair and discussion meetings. A speaker speaks for a period of time; then the meeting is thrown open to the floor.

I recently visited a meeting with this format. The people were nice, and some literature was read. The open sharing session, however, was catastrophic. A very small number of people in a room of 25 or more had the opportunity to share, because there was no control over the length of sharing. Some individuals shared for over ten minutes.

Typically, those with the most burning desire to share are those who are not applying AA's solution and are consequently extremely disturbed and seeking relief. The only relief available seems to be to convey the details of their emotional disturbance to the room.

During the sharing time, with the exception of one person, no one shared effectively about the nature of alcoholism or the solution. This is in large part due to the format with uncontrolled, unrestricted sharing.

There are several options available. Firstly, the chair or secretary can handpick sharers. Secondly, a chair or secretary can handpick volunteer sharers. Thirdly, a strict time limit of two to three minutes can be applied with some acoustic marker. The waving of a card can be ignored, but everyone knows if a bell has been rung.

My experience is that most meetings without controlled sharing are dominated by those without a solution, and the primary purpose of the group is not achieved. If a large number of individual groups are failing in this purpose, so is the fellowship as a whole.

It is wise, periodically, for a group to ask itself if it is effectively achieving its primary purpose or whether it has become a dumping ground for toxic outpourings and irrelevant ramblings.

Those who need to share to gain emotional relief can likewise do so in many ways before and after the meeting. The unique function of an effective AA meeting can be achieved only in an AA meeting, however. That must take precedence.