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.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Are the first 164 pages sufficient unto themselves?

Sometimes it is asserted that the Big Book, and the first 164 pages in particular, are all that is necessary for recovery. I largely agree. The stories are of occasional interest and usefulness, but with the preponderance of meetings today, their original purpose, to speak personally to those who otherwise would have no contact with the fledgling organisation, is largely met (and perhaps overly met) by the endless exposure to stories in meetings. The trailer for AA (the stories) has in many places become the show itself, and the show—the Steps—are seen widely as an honours programme for adepts rather than the bread and butter of recovery.

But this aside, back to the main topic: are the first 164 pages sufficient as well as necessary?

This is not an academic question. There is much heated debate, and material outside those first 164 pages is sometimes dismissed, with the ominous accusation that to advocate an idea or practice not clearly delineated in the Book is to 'water down the programme', to 'rewrite the Book', or even to 'kill newcomers'.

It is also asserted that the Book's contents are so plain that explanation, interpretation, and guidance are not required, that one should concentrate on the 'black bits of the page'. Attempts to explain, interpret, and guide can be similarly dismissed, on the same grounds, and with the same accusations.

These views are quite understandable, and anyone is at liberty to hold them. In fact, a recovery based on such ideas can be extremely effective and fruitful. But the authority with which such views are propagated often rests not just on personal experience but also on the presumption that the authors of the Book themselves held these views.

To test any presumption, one adduces evidence. Good evidence can be found in the 1940 pamphlet called 'A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous', which was written and published by AA Group No. 1, Akron, Ohio, in other words a group containing many of the first one hundred or so members. Note the date: just one year after the Big Book was published.

The authors clearly saw a need for supplementation, or they would not have written it. (There is also a pamphlet dating from the same period concerning how to work the Twelve Steps, which supplemented the Big Book. It is sometimes asserted today that worksheets, for instance, are not in the spirit with which the Big Book was written. The truth is this: those who wrote the Big Book produced worksheets. One may argue convincingly that worksheets etc. are not necessary, but one cannot cite the authority of AA's founders or the authors of the Big Book to do so. But back to the matter at hand …)

Here are some quotations from the pamphlet.

'The booklet should be read in conjunction with the large book, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Bible, the daily lesson, any other pamphlets that are published by the group, and other constructive literature. A list of suggestions will be found in the back pages of this pamphlet.'

Thus, a range of materials are suggested—the idea that the first 164 pages were sufficient unto themselves was not a view held or propagated by the authors themselves.

'The editors, too, were pretty bewildered by the program at first. They realize that very likely you are groping for answers and offer this pamphlet in order that it may make a little straighter and less confusing the highway you are about to travel. … The editors do not pretend any explanation of the spiritual or religious aspects of A.A. It is assumed that this phase of the work will be explained by sponsors.'

Thus, it is conceded that personal explanation and guidance is certainly necessary, that the programme (in a larger sense) is perhaps not so plain and clear-cut as sometimes asserted, now.

There are other fascinating elements that run counter to current views concerning the original, orthodox approach. The slogan 'one day at a time', and the implied use of willpower in staying sober is sometimes dismissed and attributed to the pernicious influence of treatment centres.

The authors of the Big Book wrote this, in 1940:

'You know that it is possible to stay sober for 24 hours. You have done it many times. All right. Stay sober for one day at a time. When you get up in the morning make up your mind that you will not take a drink for the entire day. Ask the Greater Power for a little help in this. If anyone asks you to have a drink, take a rain check. Say you will have it tomorrow. Then when you go to bed at night, finding yourself sober, say a little word of thanks to the Greater Power for having helped you.'

Thus, the view that staying sober is 100% down to a relationship with God, with no willpower or cooperation required whatsoever, is not a return to the AA of the Big Book but a novel invention of the last couple of decades. Note the phrase: 'make up your mind'.

We are also sometimes told not to think, because it is bad for us and does not work.

The following quotation, also from this pamphlet by the authors of the Big Book, contains this gem:

'Medical Men will tell you that alcoholics are all alike in at least one respect: they are emotionally immature. In other words, alcoholics have not learned to think like adults. The child, lying in bed at night, becomes frightened by a shadow on the wall, and hides his head under the covers. The adult, seeing the same shadow, knows there is a logical reason for it. He sees the streetlight, then the bedpost, and he knows what causes the shadow. He has simply done what the child is incapable of doing—THOUGHT. And through thinking he has avoided fear. Learn to think things out. Take a thought and follow it through to its conclusion. If you are tempted to take a drink, reason out for yourself what will happen. Because if you will give serious consideration to the consequences you will have the battle won.'

There is also a wonderful dose of tolerance contained in the pamphlet, which is a welcome antidote to the assertion that there is only one path:

'DON'T criticize the methods of others. Strangely enough, you may change your own ideas as you become older in sobriety. Remember there are a dozen roads from New York to Chicago, but they all land in Chicago.'

Now, there are many other gems in this text, but I'll let you find those for yourselves.