Thursday, 12 June 2014

Al-Anon craziness

Who would be crazier? The alcoholic? Or me, the person who picks one out, then complains they do alcoholic things, like drinking when they shouldn't and wreaking all kinds of havoc?

To be angry at an alcoholic for doing alcoholic things make no more sense than being angry at a dog for barking or a bee for stinging.

When I find myself complaining about the alcoholics in my life, I have to ask myself what I am protecting. Clearly, if I am not setting boundaries or getting the hell out of the situation, I must at some level be getting a kick out of it.

Sometimes I have stayed in deals with alcoholics because I am scared of being alone, scared of a boring life, scared I will have to admit I was wrong, or scared to admit I was powerless, preferring to flit between guilt and blame.

No, whenever I complain, I have to be honest with myself and say: what would the alternative be? And why have I chosen to remain exposed?

I started to get well when I realised that loving alcoholics gives the sober people around them a lot of power and the self-righteous kick of the victim and martyr. How important I was that this helpless loser would depend on me to clear up the mess! How brave, and strong, and wise, and competent I was, effective and efficient for the two of us, while he was passed out or drinking vodka mixed with fruit juice, because it's healthy, or snorting lines cut with a maxed-out card.

And all the while, I craved the excitement and sentiment that only alcoholics could provide.

The orphan with the big eyes and the broken wing; the promises and super-sized dreams; the fantasies of theirs that even I started to believe in.

As a friend of mine says, they are Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine's Day all rolled into one; turnip juice in a beautiful glass; their light shining just that little bit brighter than the boring, humdrum, 'normal' people that were the alternative.

I did not start to get well till I could start to admit I had as much of a problem as them: they need alcohol to feel alive; I needed an alcoholic. After all, why else would I invite them into my life, one after another?

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A selfish programme?

AA is sometimes called a selfish programme, and why this is incorrect is self-evident when one reads the Big Book.

Al-Anon is sometimes called a selfish programme too.

Is it?

Obsession with another's drinking or recovery is the real selfishness, because the concern is not about their welfare; the concern is about their impact on us, and how we blame them for how we feel.

Recovery, even from Al-Anon-ism, is about ditching self-centredness (including self-centredness manifesting as blame of and obsession with others) and fitting ourselves to be of maximum service to God and our fellows.

In Al-Anon that is going to require, first of all, taking care of ourselves (where that has been neglected) and building a life for ourselves (where we have been selfishly and insanely expecting the alcoholic to play a disproportionate role in furthering our welfare). That is not about selfishness (which could be defined as illegitimately putting our needs and wants ahead of others' needs and wants). It's about making the most of what opportunities God has given us and finding ways to operate in the world that actually benefit others as well as ourselves, rather than focusing our energies pointlessly on the alcoholic.

The obsession with the alcoholic often masks neglect of our real duties borne of the potential placed within us by God.

It is not selfish to say 'no' to an unreasonable demand from an alcoholic, because the 'yes' would be prompted by guilt and fear, not a desire to be genuinely useful. In fact, all of the 'putting ourselves first' in Al-Anon actually runs against the screaming desires of self to attempt to manage and manipulate the situations we find ourselves in. We put ourselves first, first of all, in order then to have a life we can share healthily with others.

Language matters, and self-care is not the same as selfishness.

The Al-Anon programme, like the AA programme, is one that involves death, not glorification, of self.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The status of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' in AA

There is one extreme, which I will deal with swiftly, that of dismissing the Big Book because it was written in 1939 and sounds funny in places. Both of those facts are true. I did a proportion of what was in the Book in my first fifteen years of recovery, and got measly results. I decided at fifteen years sober to do everything in the Book I could up to page 164. I was rewarded with all of the promises (and not just the Step Nine ones), a few falteringly but most in glorious Technicolor.

I can therefore discard the thesis that the Big Book can be disregarded.

There is another extreme, however, evident in 'Big Book World' (not a theme park in Akron, although perhaps it should be, but the parts of AA and other fellowships where the Big Book is used as the basic text).

The extreme can be summed up as this: no other AA literature is of any worth (including the 12 x 12); no other experience is of any value; no later experience of the people who wrote the Big Book is valid or relevant; no thinking is needed; no discussion is necessary or welcome: the only 'valid' response is to reiterate what is in the Big Book and state that it worked. Any discourse other than quotation is shut down as irrelevant, unnecessary, and actively unhelpful or even damaging ('you're killing newcomers!' they cry.)

When I was fifteen years sober (cf. above), the blocks were removed to spiritual growth. A chap called Bill from a place somewhere out west says that Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve are not the maintenance steps; there's nothing to maintain, as you've just razed your life to the ground; they're the growth steps.

What I was dismayed to discover was that there was still a lot to learn, and I had to take a lot of spiritual guidance from my sponsor, others in AA, and others outside AA (cf. the advice on pages 87 and 133 of the Big Book).

I've sponsored or worked with scores and scores of people over the last few years. I've discovered that my usefulness to them has growth exponentially as I have gone from forcing the Big Book on people like a straight-jacket to asking God to show me how to carry the message contained in the Book in such a way that it actually reaches people from all imaginable parts of society and with all imaginable experiences and types of damage.

The message was carried to me by a tradition in AA that comprised the Big Book plus the collective experiences of a large number of people over forty years or so in Denver who applied what was in the Book repeatedly, year after year, decade after decade.

You get to choose: the black bits of the page, or the black bits of the page plus the experience of those who have gone before you, not just the sponsor, but the Fellowship of the Spirit as a whole.

Page 164 suggests that 'God will constantly disclose more to you and to us'.

When you look at the spiritual journey of Bill W in the 32 years or so after he wrote the Big Book, you will discover that this is one of the biggest understatements in AA. His story needn't be reiterated here, but the book 'Language of the Heart' contains many excellent essays which deepen and broaden the experience started with what is set out in the Big Book.

What about Dr Bob. He was more orthodox, surely?

Well, if you want Dr Bob's spiritual reading list, check out pages 309 and 310 of 'Dr Bob and the Good Oldtimers'.

But didn't they keep all of that stuff separate from AA?

Actually, no. Early AA meetings involved the use of that non-Conference approved book, the Bible, amongst others.

It is amusing that the people who wrote the Big Book would likely be dismissed as cranks, renegades, and heretics by some Big Book Thumpers of today for not sticking to the black bits of the pages of the Book itself.

AA is also self-evidently built around the spiritual journeys of its individual members, and the sharing of the experiences and insights gained on those journeys is self-evidently a major channel for God's grace.

The one caveat: my sponsor's sponsor is keen to reiterate that everything one does, reads, learns, discusses, etc. in addition to the Big Book must not replace the instructions but must complement them.

The man whose tapes led me through the Steps (in the absence of anyone qualified where I lived) said: ask yourself not 'is this IN the Book?' but 'is this CONSISTENT WITH the Book?'

These two ideas provide the perfect setting for stable growth: I remain tethered to the basics but get to use everything God has provided through all of the people in AA (and many outside) to grow in understanding and effectiveness.

Having experienced both extremes (dismissing the meat and potatoes of the AA programme and coming horribly unstuck; dismissing everything but the meat and potatoes of the AA programme and coming horribly unstuck), I can cheerfully report that the middle ground is far more enriching and healthy.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Why is 'resentment the number one offender' (page 64, Alcoholics Anonymous)?

I cannot say for sure why the authors of the Big Book wrote that, but I can say why it is the number one offender, in my experience.

To be resentful is to look at reality and say: 'it should not be so'. The reason I feel it should not be so is that I have my own template for reality. Sometimes this is consciously formed; sometimes this is revealed for the first time by upset; but upset (whatever the form) always reflects the fact I have a plan.

In fact the more often I am upset, the more detailed the plan. If, wherever I go, whatever I do, I find myself upset, I might conclude that the plan seems to encompass every aspect of the universe.

Pride can be defined as 'putting self in the place of God as the centre and objective of our life, or of some department thereof. It is the refusal to recognize our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence, and placed by him in a specific relationship to the rest of his creation'.

There is no more egregious way to put self in the place of God than to cast ourselves as the creators of the universe, complaining that the actual universe ain't matching our blueprint.

This means that, to the extent that I am resentful (frightened, threatened, angry, sore, burned up, etc.), to that precise extent am I putting myself in God's seat, and, in my conception, where is God then? Does not exist. For I have taken His place. Pretty chilling thought.

With such a grotesque usurpation of God's position, it is not hard to see why precisely this is the 'number one offender': I cannot have a relationship with God and play God at the same time; I cannot live my true life if I am engrossed in acting out another role; I cannot have relationships with other people if they are simply characters in my play.

In addition: when I attack others (which is essentially what resentment is: an attempt to manipulate the world through sheer force of negative thought), I invariably feel under attack myself. Whatever I give out, I am giving back to me, because I am you and you are me.

Furthermore: when I attack, I believe I am betraying (perhaps not consciously, but it is there), and I feel guilt. Ever been out with friends, gossiping about someone, then a fellow says something kind about the person in question, and everyone falls silent and guiltily stares at the table? The guilt was there all along: the restoration of true sight triggered by the kind observation reveals the sense of betrayal hidden beneath the anger.

Anger is always, therefore, associated with fear and guilt, and the picture of isolation is complete.

Resentment cuts me off from God, from my true self, and from others—hence from the sunlight of the spirit, and the whole array of acting-out options (drinking, using, controlling, sex, spending …) start to entice, to apparently heal this apparent rift.

When I am connected with God, with my true self, and with others, I am bathed in the sunlight of the spirit, and there is nothing to fix.

Here's the great news: I am not disconnected—it is an illusion residing solely in my mind; it is my mind that needs changing, not the world. I have not really separated myself from others; I am merely blinded by my own thinking. No one has abandoned me in truth; I have abandoned no one.

The remainder of Step Four and the remaining eight steps beyond Step Four heal my vision. The healing happens from the inside out but is activated by action.

As 'Pookie' from Austin once said: you've gotta take action to activate your faith—God ain't gonna slide no hot dog under your door.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Getting rid of resentment

Five stages

(1) Get to the truth

Explain why you're so resentful to someone with considerable sobriety, a sense of humour, and their feet on the ground. Ask them to help you get to the truth of the situation in question. In particular follow two of the 'four agreements': take nothing personally and make no assumptions.

To what extent are you making assumptions, by speculating about what might have happened or be happening? For instance: do you know for sure 'they' are talking about you behind your back?

To what extent are you taking things personally that are nothing to do with you? For instance: how do you know the angry person is angry at you? Is it possible they're just angry generally, and it's not about you at all?

Consider generalisation, also:

Let's say you're angry because someone is selfish. What's the truth? Are they selfish 100% of the time, or are they selfish 3% of the time, but you're only looking at that 3%?

(2) Adjust your reality

Don't like the Wednesday meeting? Go to one on Thursday.
Don't like Jennifer, because she's rude and gossipy? Hang out with Susan.
Don't like the noisy neighbours? Buy earplugs.
Don't like being poor? Get a job.
Don't like your job? Get a new one.
Don't like being bored? Get a hobby.
Don't like yourself? Go and find someone else to help.
Don't like being single? Join a dating website.

A lot of resentments are invited by the decisions we make about how we spend our time and who we hang out with.

(3) Let go of egoic demands

If you're resentful because your image, reputation, and prestige are tarnished, because you're not getting enough respect, attention, validation, and approval, because you don't get enough sex, because you're short on money or power, you are on a hiding to nothing.

None of these things will make you consistently happy, and the price of such demands (fear, frustration, disappointment, and despair) is never worth paying, in the long run.

Trusting God and getting on with being useful, cheerful, and kind, whatever your circumstances, will make you far happier than filling your head with tinsel dreams and bauble ambitions and scowling grumpily at a world that never got the memo.

Don't believe it? Try it for a year, then decide.

(4) Forget comfort and thrills

Overrated. See above, re egoic demands.

(5) With the rest …

This is where you put on your big girl's panties: s**t ain't gonna stop happening just because you're in recovery and nominated for God's Little Ray of Sunshine 2014. Take your lumps as they come, and forgive everyone for everything (cf. page 67 of the Big Book), unless you particularly want to spend the rest of your life feeling guilty for everything you have done. Might as well forgive them—it's not as though their defects are going to go away any more briskly than yours.

Finally: ask God for courage; be grateful for what is good; stop fighting reality—it really is the easier, softer way.

Step four, resentments, third column: so what?

In 1993, I wrote my first Fourth Step inventory. I was instructed to use the Big Book as the guide. I had a wonderful experience, and it changed my life. I remained confused, however, about the purpose of the third column of the resentment inventory.

In this column, according to the Big Book, we are encouraged to write which area of 'self' is affected by a resentment. There are seven: pride, self-esteem, personal and sex relations, ambitions, security, and pocketbooks (= money). The Big Book then remains silent on the significance of the results—in other words what to 'do' with this information.

The Fourth Step inventory is certainly effective, even without further work on this third column, as the suggestions on forgiveness on page 67 will be largely effective in removing most resentments, at least for the time being.

I remained stuck, however, in double-digit sobriety, with resentments I could not get rid of and resentments that kept cropping up in different forms.

It was only when I got to grips with this third column and what it means that I learned how to adjust my attitudes such that these resentments would not crop up in the first place.

A friend of mine says: 'if I'm upset, it means I have not gotten my own way. If I do not want to be upset, I have to drop "my way".'

The third column can be used to discover what 'my way' is.

Basically, when I am upset, my demands have not been met. Those demands can be seen as a design for how the world should look. That design, in turn, can be analysed out into these seven areas.

  • What others think of me (pride)
  • Who I think I am (self-esteem)
  • Personal relationships (how others behave)
  • Sex relations (how others behave in a sexual arena)
  • Ambitions (what I want; my dreams)
  • Security (what I need)
  • Pocketbooks (financial security)

There isn't a demand that does not fit somewhere into this.

When I have a resentment, therefore, I can use it to find out what my design for the world is, in other words how I have been playing God. It is supposed to be God who designs how everything should be, not me.


  • If I'm judgemental about a client for exploding over a minor flaw in my work, my pride is affected: I want clients to think I'm perfect at my job, the best there is.
  • If I'm disappointed at a sponsee for not following suggestions, my self-esteem is affected: If I were a better sponsor, she would follow my instructions—I have failed.
  • If I'm resentful that a friend jabbers endlessly on the phone, my personal relations are affected: Don't waste my time on meaningless wittering.
  • If I'm gutted because someone I like won't sleep with me, my sex relations are affected: If I want you, you must want me back!
  • If I'm jealous because a friend of mine gets to fly around the world for work, my ambitions are affected: I want to be a jet-setter.
  • If my stomach is turning over because the neighbours are noisy again, my security is affected: I need somewhere quiet to live, so I can sleep well and function properly in my life.
  • If I'm furious because my computer has broken down after just a year and needs replacing, my pocketbook is affected: I work hard for my money and should not have to spend a penny more than absolutely necessary.

It's pretty clear from doing a few of these that I have a whole slew of demands, which are largely nonsensical. The more demands I have, the unhappier I will be. If I want to be happy, I have to drop the demands.

Furthermore, in teasing out the demands I am making, I often see that there is a good dose of speculation, interpretation, generalisation, and extrapolation in there. For instance, the sponsee is not failing to follow suggestions because I am a bad sponsor: the truth is that I am responsible only for carrying a message, not for how that message is received.

Once the underlying thinking is teased out, work with a good sponsor will often reveal that the resentments are flowing from a very distorted perception of reality.

But back to the demands. How can I get rid of them?

Each of these seven areas of self can be looked at differently:


  • Pride: what others think of me is of no great concern. If I behave well, and do my best to be useful, cheerful, and kind, others will generally think well of me anyway. The demand to be highly regarded is an empty demand: when the demand is met, I am 'fixed' momentarily, but even this is outweighed by the frustration, fear, disappointment, and despair that come with having these demands in the first place. Solution: focus on being cheerful, useful, and kind, and leave my reputation to look after itself.
  • Self-esteem: I am a perfect child of God, and so is everyone else. My defects are not who I am, they are attitudes plus thinking and behaviour patterns I have been taught. My virtues are not who I am: to the extent they are inherent, I cannot take the credit; to the extent they are taught, I owe a debt of gratitude. Most of my virtues belie enlightened self-interest, anyway. No, any sense of self-esteem that goes up and down in response to my performance in the world will be perpetually fragile. My sense of self must stem from being a child of God, borne of something greater and universal and made in its image. If that is the substance and everything else, a transient dream, self-esteem and my esteem of others cease to be problems.
  • Ambitions, security, and pocketbooks: these form the substance of my plan—e.g. If I am amazing at my job, earn lots of money, have a big house away from other people, get to go on lots of expensive holidays, have lots of free time, and am free of depending on others, I will be happy. Let's look at the results. How happy are you? If you're not, it's best to question the plan. The trouble with having a results-based plan is that I will be perpetually frustrated (that the plan is not coming off), frightened (that the plan will not come off), disappointed (that the plan, even when it succeeds, has not permanently 'fixed' me), and despairing (of ever 'making it'). The only solution is to have an attitude-and-action-based plan: my attitude is to rely for everything on God—God is the source, and He will decide on the channels (the concrete situations and people) to supply my needs; my action is to attempt to do God's will on a daily basis, which is to be useful, cheerful, and kind. Since all I have to do is try to make progress, if I try, I cannot fail. My experience suggests that when I live this way, the levels of frustration, fear, disappointment, and despair are massively reduced, and I achieve a lot more health, happiness, harmony, love, joy, peace, and connection than I ever could by following my own plans.
  • Personal and sex relations: remember the plans and designs we have? Well, these two areas of self consist in the scripts we have given other people in relation to these plans and designs. If, as we have discovered above, the plans are worthless, then so are the scripts. Without the plan, the scripts are unnecessary. Without the play, no actors are required.

A very large proportion of my inventory will boil down to the world (including me) not following the elaborate screenplay I have written. The truth is that, even if the world (including me) complied, I would not be happy.

The inventory usually contains more innocent elements, however: pain that has arisen not from my bloated ego but from very basic needs not being met. There will be instances of violence, death, abandonment, sickness, cruelty, reversals of fortune, and other attacks on the network of relations that sustain me at a very basic level.

With these, even the most evolved among us will be affected when the event in question takes place, and, the more significant the event, the longer adjustment will take. The adjustment in the case of death is said to run through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, before acceptance is achieved. I have found this to be true in my case also.

Most people find, however, that they make dramas out of crises and build a superstructure of interpretation on top of these events, which adds considerably to the pain and can solidify the suffering into a permafrost of bitterness.

The three character defects that operate within this superstructure might be these (although there are surely more):

  • Ingratitude—focusing solely on the one or two things that have gone horribly wrong and ignoring the ninety-eight or ninety-nine that are going perfectly well.
  • Cowardice—not trusting that God will give you the resources (both directly and through the people in your life you have sought out to help you) to cope in the moment with whatever happens in that moment.
  • Entitlement—the sense that bad things may happen to others, but not to me.

So, even with 'genuinely' bad events, the suffering can be reduced to its natural proportions by fostering gratitude for all of the things that are indeed going well, courage that God will look after me, and acceptance that pain is part of life, and that I am no more exempt than anyone else.

* * * * *

This is merely one brief exposition of what can be learned from the third column. There are surely other ways to look at this column, and many will suggest that all of the above is fruitless analysis. As ever in recovery: use what helps, and file away the rest for later consideration.