Saturday, 31 May 2014

The four 'Ms'

Mothering, martyrdom, management, and manipulation are the four 'Ms', the four behaviour patterns characterising an Al-Anon (me!) when I am out of control.

I find it helpful to look at my behaviour and determine where these are showing up in my dealings with alcoholics.

The two biggest patterns are these:

(1) Giving advice that has not been asked for.
(2) Offering comment, insight, or criticism that has not been asked for.

A further danger comes when these are indeed actively asked for. Usually, it's still inappropriate, and I fall into this trap a lot. It's inappropriate because most of the time the person is unable or unwilling to follow the advice, and all that happens is that guilt is induced, which actually exacerbates the problem. Even if the discourse superficially concerns asking for and offering help, underneath there can be an animus of wanting to change, silence, banish, or shame (which are the four basic objectives of control), because the other person's sickness is be seen as a threat, and therefore, somehow, my problem.

When I want to control, I want the person to change, shut up, go away, or at least look ashamed.

As Annie L says, 'help is the sunny side of control'.

The corrective measure is this:

Do not use the word 'you'.

Ask God to give you a story to tell, about yourself, and tell the story that then comes, even if it seems irrelevant. Odd, wonderful things then happen, and no one gets hurt.

I heard someone say that, when he was in treatment, or a nut ward, or somewhere, they made him walk around with a sign round his neck reading 'I am not a therapist'. I think I need one of those signs.

Hard drinker or real alcoholic?

The book Alcoholics Anonymous helps to distinguish. Around the bottom of page 20, top of page 21 is a section that distinguishes between the moderate drinker, the certain type of hard drinker, and the real alcoholic.

It should be noted that the hard drinker and the real alcoholic look pretty similar when they are drinking (messy, sloppy, a little bit out of control!), drink far too much, and cause major consequences, which could kill them.

There are two differences, however. Your two diagnostic criteria are:

(1) When they have a sufficiently strong reason (impending or actual destruction of career, marriage, etc.), do they stop (albeit requiring help), or do they invariably start again, to the bafflement of everyone around them and despite their previous good resolve?

(2) When they have the first drink, do they trigger a personality change, and an unstoppable juggernaut of out-of-control drinking, pretty much every time they drink?

I have met many people who have stopped drinking for good or cut down, because they decided to. If you can stop altogether, a peculiar reaction when you drink becomes irrelevant, because drinking ain't gonna happen.

I have also met people who cannot stop but do not get the peculiar reaction when they drink. They are a bit of a nuisance and always a bit merry or a bit morose when you meet them in the evening, three sheets to the wind, but essentially everyone else can work around it, as they can CHOOSE when they are going to go on a real bender and when they are going to keep a lid on it.

No, the real alcoholic has to have both components to qualify.

Cf. page 44 of the Big Book ('Alcoholics Anonymous'):

'We hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic. If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.'

The interesting feature is that when the alcoholic is of the 'start-again-no-matter-what' type, this is because the drinking is not the problem—it is the solution to the underlying profound separation from the true self, from others, and from God. Until this is sorted out, they WILL drink again.


'Whether such a person can quit upon a non-spiritual basis depends upon the extent to which he has already lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not.' (Page 34.)

Footnote: in certain parts of the world, everyone who suffers consequences from drinking or drinks even a little too much is herded into AA. Many such people are perfectly capable of staying sober without having a spiritual awakening. A bit of re-education and re-socialisation is perfectly sufficient. They do about 10% of what AA has to offer but stay bafflingly sober.

The problem comes when such people are confronted with an alcoholic of the 'start-again-no-matter-what' type: they just cannot understand why their 10% does not work with this baffling newcomer.

They say 'do not drink, not matter what', believing that the instructions of other people and willpower are sufficient to stay sober. They do believe this, as such instructions and such willpower were sufficient for them. They can then get angry with people who drink again, saying, 'he obviously does not want it enough'.

No, it is important to find someone in AA, therefore, who qualifies for AA the way you do, or you may get advice which works for them but will not work for you.

Friday, 30 May 2014


There is a strong anti-intellectual streak in certain parts of AA and a suggestion that rational thought and critical thinking are somehow incompatible with right and productive action and progress in the programme.

A slogan I have heard is, 'no one is too stupid to "get" the programme, but there are those who are too clever'. Poppycock.

A very large proportion of AA podium pitches essentially consist in self-mockery, along the lines of 'what an idiot I was when I came to AA!' replete with examples of how the individual was humiliated into submission by a patronising sponsor or group, pulling rank on the evidently retarded newcomer, who had no idea (what an irony!) of what a fool he was. The newcomer is then caricatured.

This cultural aspect of AA is distasteful, and quite opposite to anything described from early AA, which emphasizes respect, and AAs being peers.

I believe AA, as a fellowship, fails to reach a lot of people who come to AA with their critical faculties intact, because genuine questions and enquiries are batted off with a patronising 'stick the cotton wool in your mouth' response, typically because the potential respondent does not actually know how to answer the question succinctly, coherently, or at all.

I will explain this programme to anyone interested as best I can, and also suggest prompt action, and sometimes I will defer a full answer until some practical experience has been gained, but I never dismiss intellectual enquiry and regularly suggest that this be treated as a scientific experiment conducted with an open mind: take the actions, analyse the results, and compare them to the actions and the results you were getting in the past.

I will not be shut down by slogans such as 'KISS: keep it simple stupid', and I would encourage others to maintain the function of their enquiring minds, as long as the action suggested by AA is also taken promptly and enthusiastically.


What I have found works. That means that I need not be concerned with what others do, what others think, what works for others, or what does not work for others.

I need not criticise any belief, attitude, idea, or action espoused or practised by anyone else in AA.

I need only be the channel. And the channel has no business having opinions on others. I tell my story, explain the actions I took, and show others how they worked.

If people want to feed at other troughs in AA, that is great. Tradition Three tells me that they are welcome, and the Big Book suggests that I am most useful when I respect those people and their opinions and experiences.

Inventory questions: do I ever criticise anyone, any idea, any belief, any action, any movement in AA, any group, any meeting, any practice, any aspect of AA?

Or do I trust that God working through my experience of what is good, what is sound, what is effective, and what is borne only of love with courage instead of fear will change the world, without any attack against the darkness on my part being required?

Do I trust that God draws straight lines with broken pencils?

Do I trust that God works through people in all sorts of different ways and that others have become more well than me using methods I might otherwise scorn?

In short: do I trust that light is sufficient to dispel darkness, or do I try to attack darkness in its own terms?

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

One Step Four or many?

To anyone who believes in the single fourth step, let's look at this:

"Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory. This was Step Four. A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke."

I do hope none of you run businesses. Perhaps you might take over a business and do a full inventory of the stock when you acquire the business. Great!

But do you never do a full stock take again?

Would you trust a business that hadn't done a full stock take since 1983 or 1994 but had simple done the daily rounds of the stock room, looking for the most obviously obsolescent stock, as it appears on the surface?

Just like a business needs to periodically stand back and do a full inventory, not just of its stock, but of every aspect of the business, most people in recovery will need to do the same.

I have sponsored a LOT of people who believed, before they asked me to sponsor them, they would never need to do another fourth step, yet who discover their lives absolute train wrecks after 5, 10, or 15 years of sobriety, just trying to muddle through with the last three steps, without having a deep and comprehensive look at their lives.

Interestingly, a disturbing proportion of the first 100 died drunk, I am reliably informed, so perhaps we might want to avoid mimicking their experience with LONG-TERM sobriety, as effective as their initial experience was. Bill W.'s own experience is ample testament to this: it took a long time before he relented and reworked the steps with Father Dowling, again as I am reliably informed.

A few people do succeed without ever systematically reviewing their entire life as a coherent, comprehensive exercise. These are a minority, in my experience.

One of the major reasons that, when you look round an AA room, there are few people over 20 years sober, yet that same room was full of enthusiastic, grateful, sober alcoholics 20 years ago (I've observed this first hand!) is the phenomenon of the ego regrowing. Without periodic major soul surgery ... good luck, frankly.

I have experienced doing the semi-annual or annual housecleanings described in the 12 x 12, which are effectively a rerun of Step Four, in contrast to the daily or spot-check inventories also described in the same work. I have also experienced not doing them. The difference is like day and night.

What is interesting also is that the proponents of the 'one Step Four-only' approach have usually never experienced rerunning the exercise on a periodic basis.

It's best to ask people who have experienced both approaches to AA which one is more effective.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Step One in Al-Anon

Do I try to control whether someone drinks or uses or how much they drink or use?
Do I have plans for those around me?
Do I take actions to try to realise those plans?
Does this work?
When people comply/do not comply, how does this affect them? Me? The relationship?
Do I inappropriately use explicit or implicit threats to get my own way?
Do I inappropriately use force to get my own way?
Do I inappropriately punish to get my own way?
Do I nag?
Do I engage in management, mothering, martyrdom, and manipulation?
Do I feel responsibility, guilt, shame, or embarrassment on behalf of other people?
Do I enter or remain in situations which are not in my best interests (materially, physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, sexually) because of fear or guilt?
Do I think about someone else's behaviour, thinking, and emotional life longer than necessary to plan my own actions?
Do I resent, criticise, shame, gossip about, or try to change people merely because they are different?
Do I opt for guilt and blame over the recognition that I am or others are powerless?
Do I try to eliminate or mask others' or my own problems with quick fixes?
Do my emotions depend on the words, actions, silence, or inaction of others?
Do I use others' words, actions, silence, or inaction as a measure of my worth?
Do I overcommit and underperform?
Do I overreact to minor setbacks?
Do I manufacture or exaggerate perceived threats or risks?
When someone asks for help, do I feel a mixture of excitement and dread?
Do I override instincts of self-preservation?

Wrap-up questions:

Do I recognise that I am powerless over whether someone drinks, how much they drink, and what they do, sober or drunk?
Do I recognise that, even when others are complying, I am still not in control, as I cannot control whether and when they comply?
Do I recognise that, when my actions, thoughts, and emotions depend on the actions, words, silence, and inaction of others, I am not managing my life; they are?
Is my life a mess, materially, physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, sexually?

What is meditation in AA?

Step Eleven calls for 'prayer and meditation'. The books Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions provide plenty of guidance on the matter; in fact, some people successfully rely on just these two sources.

It is helpful to remember that the Steps were written in the 1930s.

The term 'meditation' (according to Webster's dictionary of 1913) is defined chiefly as follows:

'The act of meditating; close or continued thought; the turning or revolving of a subject in the mind; serious contemplation; reflection; musing.'

The current Merriam-Webster definition of 'meditate' adds a new meaning:

'to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness'

The authors of the AA programme did not, when they wrote the programme, have the 21st-century definition in mind. They had the early 20th-century definition in mind.

There is much advice, also, throughout AA about meditation. Many AAs will insist that, unless one is engaging in some form of mindfulness, breathing exercise, or quasi-Buddhist meditation, one is not actually meditating, and one is certainly not following Step Eleven properly. This is factually untrue. Any practice consistent with the guidance in the AA literature can be considered 'following Step Eleven properly'. Anything else, whilst of merit, falls into the category of 'optional extras', which are indeed suggested on page 88 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which suggests looking outside AA for guidance on further spiritual development.

There is a current fad of 'real meditation for real alcoholics'. The content, I am told, is excellent. I'm hesitant about the description: presumably all other forms of meditation are counterfeit, according to the author.

There are many roads to the top of Mount Fuji, it is said, and there are many ways to meditate, both within what is described in the AA literature and in the various religious and spiritual traditions that incorporate some form of meditation into their practices.

An alarming trend is AA is the constant scouting around for the one true path, the one true method of taking step four, the one true approach to prayer or meditation. There are indeed whole schools of AA bent on insisting that the rest of AA is going to hell in a hand-basket because they are doing it 'wrong'.

Cf. Step Three in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: 'Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, soci­ety breaking up into warring fragments. Each fragment says to the others, "We are right and you are wrong." '

Let no one tell you that one form is either the only form or the best form. All we can ever say is what did and what did not work for us. The only 'rightness' is the insistence that there is no rightness, only cause and effect: we are sticklers for facts and results—what are you doing? What are the results?

Home group inventory

To establish a firm home in AA, a home group is necessary.

Home group inventory:

Do I have a home group I always go to unless I am ill or out of town?
Do I always get there half an hour early and talk to people?
Do I take up a service assignment there?
Do I turn up to all business meetings and group conscience meetings?
Do I go for fellowship with the rest of the group afterwards, without fail?
Do I share at my home group meetings?
Do I make an effort to welcome visitors or newcomers to my home group?
Do I add to a spirit of patience, tolerance, kindliness, and love in my home group?
Do I do these things even when I have a 'better offer'?

This is vital to create a safe haven for people who are new or struggling. That in turns provides a safe haven for us.

Do my actions show I am putting the welfare of the group first? Or do I do as I please?

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The failure of self-reliance

"We asked ourselves why we had [these fears]. Wasn't it because self-reliance failed us? Self-reliance was good as far as it went, but it didn't go far enough. Some of us once had great self-confidence, but it didn't fully solve the fear problem, or any other. When it made us cocky, it was worse." (p. 68)

"Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?" (p. 61)

Before we can turn our lives over to God, we need to be convinced that the alternative, which is running our own lives, is a poor alternative.

To achieve this, here is a useful exercise:

Why can I not be trusted with my own life? What results have I been getting from running my own life?