Saturday, 20 September 2014

Cross purposes

A conversation that sometimes happens:

Recovered alcoholic (RA): There is some really interesting material in The Language of the Heart about experiences Bill W. had in his later years of recovery, about emotional maturity and the mastery of fear.

Big Book Thumper (BBT): I don't hear of anyone getting sober through The Language of the Heart. Just saying.

RA: What do you mean?

BBT: I don't add anything to the programme. I do what's in the first 164 pages. I tried my programme for years, and I got drunk.

RA: I'm not talking about substituting other AA books for the Big Book or about disregarding the Big Book and doing whatever you want; I'm talking about growing and expanding my spiritual understanding and learning from the experience of other AAs.

BBT: People want to rewrite the Big Book. It says 'our path'. Singular. Not plural. There is only one path. I do what the first 100 did.

RA: You do know that the actions described in the first 164 pages are an amalgam of what the first 100 or so did, that they argued amongst themselves about this, and that Dr Bob's approach was actually substantially different than Bill W's?

BBT: I don't try and make up the programme, or add my opinions to it. Opinions are like a**holes. Everyone has one.

* * * * *

As you can see, these two fellows are talking at cross purposes.

There are, broadly, three approaches to recovery (although I concede many variations):

(1) There are many ways to remain sober; all are equally valid; no one way is superior; choose your own path.

(2) Follow the instructions in the Big Book, but supplement that with other spiritual material (from within and without AA), as you see fit.

(3) Follow the instructions in the Big Book. Do not read other books (except, perhaps, the Bible). Do not read other AA books. If you do read other books, don't mention them.

Perhaps needless to say, I follow (2). What I've learned is that there is a lot of room for dialogue between (1) and (2), but there is no room for dialogue between (2) and (3).

Approach (3) sometimes comes with other strange premises, namely that more has not been revealed (cf. page 164, 'God will constantly disclose more to you and to us'), that the words 'suggested' (page 59) and 'suggestive' (164) are misplaced, that the Big Book is the last word on everything (cf. page 164, 'We realize we know only a little'), that anything beyond page 164 is irrelevant, that we are not supposed to think or synthesise ideas (cf. page 86, 'God gave us brains to use', and page 53 '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'), amongst others.

The idea seems to be this: we are automata, parroting our own sponsors and the Book, and prohibited from thinking or letting God reveal more through others, through writings, through experience, through analytical thought, through synthetic thought, and through inspiration, intuitive thought, and decision (cf. page 86 of the Big Book).

Sometimes the idea gets extended: anyone who engages in these activities or is claiming that God works through them to expand and extend the process started in 1939 when the Big Book was written ('intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation') is adding to the Book, watering down the programme, inventing things, or—and people actually say this—'killing alcoholics'.

This would be a curious and largely innocuous phenomenon, were it not so widespread. The term Big Book Thumper (and its near-universal use to denote anyone who works out of the Big Book) attests to the parallels with Bible-thumping, parallels not conducive to our work, experienced in many parts of AA, with an unbridgeable gap between the Big Book-thumping groups and groups where the Big Book is largely ignored or even actively overlooked.

From my experience and observation, the approach outlined under (2) above is the most successful in terms of personal recovery, and in terms of reaching the largest number of people. I would not presume to stop anyone from holding the beliefs they wish to hold about the Big Book. What I would hope is that people who are investigating the possibility of using the Big Book in their recovery not be dissuaded by the narrower approach described and try out the instructions set out in the Big Book in the context of a broader spiritual awareness.

That, I believe, is the 'Broad Highway' described on page 55 of the Big Book.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Choosing someone to hear a Step Five

Whether one chooses one or more people (yes, you can share your Step Five with more than one person, and it is usually beneficial), there are certain criteria to follow in choosing (from pages 74 to 75 of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous):

(1) 'Close-mouthed ...', 'It is important he be able to keep a confidence ...'

Ask someone who can keep secrets.

(2) '... understanding ...', '... that he fully understand and approve what we are driving at ...'

Ask someone who is going to receive and understand, not condemn etc.

There is a caveat, however: the ego will perceive itself under attack due to this process, as it is, in fact, although the attack takes this form: the ego's goals are perceived as fruitless, its conceptual framework, insane, and its effects, null. Someone 'understanding', in this context, is someone who will help us laugh at the false conceptual structure we have used to 'understand' the world and run our lives.

Ask yourself: is it me that is under attack, or is it the ego, the mind-made false images of self and the world it has constructed?

Sometimes people say they feel 'vulnerable' after a Step Five. This may be due to choosing the wrong person (see below, particularly). Or it may be a good sign. If you want to be close to people, you have to make yourself vulnerable, in the sense of being candid. If you have spent years being cagey, out of fear, and you are suddenly candid, you will feel vulnerable. This may be a sign not that you are genuinely vulnerable to attack but that you have historically associated candour with fear. This is a reason not to withhold or cloak the truth but to challenge the belief system giving rise to the fear.

It is important also that the person be well-versed in the Big Book, have taken Step Five himself, and believe in this process.

Spiritual danger lies in taking Step Five with someone who himself is harbouring secrets, other agendas, or is not signed up to this process.

(3) '... friend ...'

Although a sponsor won't usually share the whole of his Step Five back, he may share excerpts. Sharing a Step Five also with friends can often best be done by swapping.

Also, test-drive your potential Step Five listener with various problems in your life. See how he responds. If, over time, his response gives rise to healing or is practically helpful, good: he will likely be helpful in hearing the whole Step Five. If he induces fear, he may be unhealed himself, or you may simply not be ready for what that particular person has to offer. Find someone else.

(4) '... it may be one of our own family, but we cannot disclose anything to our wives or our parents which will hurt them and make them unhappy ...'

This point speaks for itself.

(5) '... that he will not try to change our plan ...'

Sometimes a Step Five hearer, on hearing a Step Five, will suggest other or additional approaches to recovery.

This can be beneficial, e.g. the suggestion of Al-Anon if the person reveals an undealt-with family history of alcoholism and a childhood badly affected by the alcoholic drinking of a parent, but can sometimes create great confusion if what is suggested is not consistent with the programme the individual is currently in the middle of.

Spiritual consent is there with a sponsor, but may not be there (in terms of full-on suggestions and advice) with someone roped in merely to be the witness to the Step Five and to provide a human presence for the process.

* * * * *

If these suggestions are followed, this will maximise the chance of the Step Five being a positive, effective experience.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Q: what are the criteria for a higher power?

A: the question makes no sense. We do not place impose criteria on a higher power. It is largely agreed there is one, not many. It is not as though there are many distinct ineffable forces we must run through an interview process (involving an application form, an in-tray test, and an interview panel).

No, there is a power. Our job is to work out whether or not to seek it. If we don't, we will be on our own. If we do not like the results we have been getting on our own, we seek the power.

We do not need to have a concept of a higher power, any more than we need to have a concept of electricity to turn on a light. We just need to flick the switch.

Rather than considering criteria, take all of the twelve steps, including telling every secret, dropping all resentment, making every amend, making arrangements to pay back every penny, sponsoring a bunch of people, and making AA the centre of your life. Do this for five years. And then come back and tell us what your concept of a higher power is, and whether or not you could have conceived of said higher power in advance.

I know I couldn't have, and it wouldn't have helped me if I could.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

But people are not supporting me! They're just telling me I'm wrong!

When I'm having a horrible time, it is my attitudes, thinking, and behaviour that need to change. That means: yes, I'm wrong in my current attitudes, thinking, and behaviour.

I wanted, at one time, to keep my old attitudes, thinking, and behaviour, but get different results. 

You have to pick what results you want in AA. If you want the results of the programme, it's going to require admitting that you currently suck at life and need a different approach.

Today, when I'm suffering, the first thing I need to realise is that I'm creating it, so I had better hope I am indeed wrong.

AA is not there to reinforce my perceptions, particularly the victimhood that others are responsible for how I feel, but to empower me to see how I have been creating my own unhappiness in response to the actions or inaction of others.

Anyone who tries to support me by reinforcing my perception of reality and response to it looks like they're helping but they're not.

I had to choose: the relief of having others countersign my victimhood, or recovery, which involves getting to where I am at fault and how I need to change.

Some people want relief, not recovery. I invite anyone who wants to recover, for good and for all, to embrace the rejection of modes of thinking and behaviour that do not work and to remember that we are here to support each other in achieving freedom from the ego, not to support each other's egos. As my sponsor says: my ego is not my amigo.