Friday, 28 November 2014


Short form:

The Conference shall observe the spirit of AA tradition, taking care that it never becomes the seat of perilous wealth or power; that sufficient operating funds and reserve be its prudent financial principle; that it place none of its members in a position of unqualified authority over others; that it reach all important decisions by discussion, vote, and, whenever possible , by substantial unanimity; that its actions never be personally punitive nor an incitement to public controversy; that it never perform acts of government, and that, like the society it serves, it will always remain democratic in thought and action.

Long form:

General Warranties of the Conference: in all its proceedings, the General Service Conference shall observe the spirit of AA Tradition, taking great care that the conference never becomes the seat of perilous wealth or power; that sufficient operating funds, plus an ample reserve, be its prudent financial principle; that none of the Conference Members shall ever be placed in  a position of unqualified authority over any others; that all important decisions be reached by discussion, vote, and, whenever possible, by substantial unanimity; that no Conference action ever be personally punitive or an incitement to public controversy; that, though the Conference may act for the service of Alcoholics Anonymous, it shall never perform any acts of government; and that, like the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous which it serves, the Conference itself will always remain democratic in thought and action.


'in all its proceedings, the General Service Conference shall observe the spirit of AA Tradition, taking great care that the conference never becomes the seat of perilous wealth or power'
·         Do I pursue service to God and others as my primary goal?
·         If that is not my primary goal, what is?
·         Do I pursue wealth or power?
·         Do I pursue these to restore wounded self-esteem?
·         If so, what past, unresolved attack on my self-esteem have I not seen through and thus forgiven?
·         Do I recognise that wealth and power, in as far as they come to me, remains God's, on whose behalf they are to be used?
·         Can I instead manifest my self-esteem through service to God and others?

'that sufficient operating funds, plus an ample reserve, be its prudent financial principle'
·         Do I work to ensure I have enough funds to live?
·         Do I set aside sufficient funds for savings, a pension, etc.?
·         Do I have one year's operating expenses as a reserve, with two-thirds available 'without loss, thereby enabling us to meet hard times or even a calamity'?
·         Do I live sufficiently within my means to build up and maintain this reserve?
·         Do I have a budget?
·         Do I monitor adherence to this budget?
·         Do I work more/spend less when I discover I am over-spending?
·         Am I reckless?
·         Am I miserly?
·         Am I personally attached to my money (clue: do I feel fearful or personally threatened when something threatens my money, finances, or assets)?

'that none of the Conference Members shall ever be placed in a position of unqualified authority over any others'
·         Do I place myself in a position of unqualified authority over any others?
·         Do I place others in such a position over me?
·         Do I dictate to others in general?
·         Do I let others dictate to me?
·         Where God or the world does give me authority, do I behave like a dictator, or a coach who is leading by example?

'that all important decisions be reached by discussion, vote, and, whenever possible, by substantial unanimity'
·         Do I seek discussion and consensus with friends, with family, in the workplace, or in other settings?
·         When I hold a minority view, can I nonetheless bow to the majority?
·         Or do I block the majority view?

'that no Conference action ever be personally punitive or an incitement to public controversy'
·         Do I have punitive (punishing) feelings towards anyone?
·         How do those feelings manifest?
·         Do I exhibit anger, or punitive or aggressive intent?
·         If I want to punish, it means I feel attacked. Do I promptly work Steps Four–Nine to remove the sense of attack?
·         Do I forgive? Without exception? Straight away?
·         Do I cause or court public controversy to no good purpose?
·         Do I gossip or bitch? If so, why am I doing this?
·         Am I a creator of confusion or harmony?
·         When I am attacked, do I maintain a non-aggressive, pacific attitude—or am I prone to anger, hostility, rebellion, and aggression?
·         Do I realise that my best defence is usually no defence at all, namely complete silence at the public level?
·         Do I restrict myself, where the critic is misinformed, to communicating in a 'temperate and informative way', and privately?
·         When criticism is indeed justified, do I acknowledge this to the individual who has criticised me?
·         When the Traditions are being violated, do I inform the violator privately?
·         When one or more people want to break away or withdraw (from my home group, from my friendship circle, from my sponsorship of them, or from a closer relationship), do I respond with non-resistance and completely avoid anger and attack?

'that, though the Conference may act for the service of Alcoholics Anonymous, it shall never perform any acts of government and that, like the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous which it serves, the Conference itself will always remain democratic in thought and action.'
·         Do I feel threatened by people who disagree with me?
·         Do I respect the views of those who disagree with me, or do I attempt to override, punish, shame, demonise, or ostracise them?
·         Do I act in anger, haste, or recklessness, or instead do I make decisions thoughtfully and after due consideration?
·         Do I force the programme on anyone, in any way?
·         Do I restrict myself to offering my experience, for fun and for free, wanting nothing in return?


'Taken as a whole, our Conference Charter is the substance of an informal agreement which was made between the AA groups and their Trustees in 1955. It is the agreed basis upon which the General Service Conference operates. In part, the Charter is an elastic document; its first eleven Articles can be readily amended by the Conference itself at any time.

But Article 12 of the Charter stands in a class by itself. An amendment or a cancellation of any of its vital Warranties would require the written consent of three-quarters of all the directory-listed AA groups who would actually vote on any such proposals, and the considerable time of six months is allowed for careful deliberation.'

'We are guaranteed the freedom of selfless service by observing the six warranties.'

'For us, prudence is a workable middle ground, a channel of clear sailing between the obstacles of fear on the one side and of recklessness on the other.'

'Above all, we devote ourselves to the newcomer, and this is our principal Twelfth Step work. In this activity we often take large amounts of time from business hours. Considered in terms of money, these collective sacrifices add up to a huge sum. But we do not think that this is anything unusual. We remember that people once gave their time to us as we struggled for sobriety.'

'Therefore it is evident that the harmony, security, and future effectiveness of AA will depend largely upon our maintenance of a thoroughly non-aggressive and pacific attitude in all our public relations.'

'Almost without exception it can be confidently estimated that our best defence in these situations would be no defence whatever—namely, complete silence at the public level.'

'Unreasonable people are stimulated all the more by opposition. If in good humour we leave them strictly alone, they are apt to subside the more quickly. If their attacks persist and it is plain that they are misinformed, it may be wise to communicate with them in a temperate and informative way; also in such a manner that they cannot use our communication as a springboard for fresh assault.'

'There is, too, a grave problem that we have never yet had to face. This would be in the nature of a deep rift running clear across AA—a cleavage of opinion so serious that it might involve a withdrawal of some of our membership into a new society of their own, or in their making an alliance with an outside agency in contravention of the AA Tradition … Our considered opinion is this: that the best possible Conference attitude in such a circumstance would be that of almost complete non-resistance—certainly no anger and certainly no attack.'

'Indeed we have always practiced this principle on a lesser scale. When a drunk shows up among us and says that he doesn't like the AA principles, people, or service management; when he declares that he can do better elsewhere—we are not worried. We simply say, "Maybe your case is different. Why don't you try something else?" '

'In the light of all this experience, it becomes evident that in the event of a really extensive split we would not have to waste time persuading the dissenters to stay with us. In good confidence and cheer, we could actually invite them to secede and we would wish them well if they did so. Should they do better under their new auspices and changed conditions, we would ask ourselves if we could not learn from their fresh experience.'

'Freedom under God to grow in His likeness and image will ever be the quest of the Alcoholics Anonymous.'

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Logical fallacies and AA discourse

A lot of discourse in AA is riddled with logical fallacies. If one understands how these are used, one can counter them more effectively, and reach a true understanding of the object of discussion more effectively.

'This is all too clever for me. I'm going to stick to working with drunks.'

This method is used to dismiss an argument by attacking its 'cleverness'. The argument itself may not actually be particularly clever, but the attack is sufficient to discredit it.

Additionally, there is a false dichotomy: according to the speaker, one can (a) indulge in 'clever' arguments or (b) work with drunks, but one cannot do both. Since working with drunks is self-evidently good, indulging in 'clever' arguments is self-evidently bad.

'Keep it simple (stupid).'

This is an example of argument by cliché/slogan. The cliché/slogan in question, 'keep it simple', is at times appropriate. Clearly, it is not always apposite. Just because hammers are good for hitting nails into planks of wood does not mean that they are good for removing tyres from cars. This slogan is often used, however, as a method of wholesale dismissal, as though playing this particular card always 'trumps' any argument, as if 'keeping it simple' is always the right approach. Clearly 'keeping it simple' could go too far: some people claim that not drinking and going to meetings is sufficient for anyone to stay permanently sober. The difficulty with combating this argument is that any examination of whether or not the object of attack is excessively complex will itself attract the instruction 'Keep it simple (stupid)!' In practice, the phrase is often used to dismiss and shut down a line of argument that the speaker disagrees with but cannot counter substantively.

Similarly: 'utilise, don't analyse'; 'analysis, paralysis'. Self-evidently, there are situations in life and in recovery that require analysis, and the Steps encourage analysis (Steps Four, Eight, and Ten, in particular).

'I've been sober 20 years, and ...'

This is an appeal from (false) authority. If length of sobriety is used to support the size of the body of evidence the individual has gathered, length of sobriety may be cited validly. But an argument is not valid simply because the person using it is 20 years sober. A similar appeal from false authority is to say to someone, 'keep coming back', as a way of responding to a contribution to a discussion. This saying is often used to position the speaker as an 'old-timer' and the opponent as a 'newcomer'; rather than addressing the argument substantively, the opponent is belittled. This is a variation of the 'ad hominem' attack.

'All of the old-timers I know say that ...'

This is an appeal to anonymous authority: we do not know who these old-timers are; they may indeed be fools. Again, the assumption is that anyone sober a long time is automatically right.

'In early AA, they would ...'

This is an appeal to false authority: just because something was done in 1937 or 1941 does not mean it is automatically better or more effective than something done now. If there were to be a presumption, it would be fairer to presume that the greater knowledge and understanding acquired over time has led to greater effectiveness, as this is the principle that operates in most fields. This can go too far, also, as it is not necessarily true that things are better now because of the passage of time and greater knowledge and understanding acquired. Instead, each proposition must be examined on its own merits.

This is also a manifestation of the 'wisdom of the ancients' fallacy: the 'ancients' (aka old-timers or founders of AA) are automatically right.

'When I was new, I used to think that ..., but now ...'

This is a 'statement of conversion', and a weak way of asserting expertise. A conversion from one belief to another does not mean that the conversion is in the right direction. One might well have gone from believing something true to believing something false.

'You think too much. Thinking won't get you sober.'

This is the fallacy of the general rule. Experience may suggest that certain individuals cannot be induced to stay sober by application of logic and reason. To derive a general rule, that logic and reason should be shunned, is inappropriate, however.

'That's just treatment centre crap.'

This is an example of the 'poisoning-the-wells' fallacy: 'treatment centres' are often a dirty word in AA (a fallacious belief itself, because of false generalisation), so, to discredit an idea, all you have to do is attribute it to treatment centres. This is a variation of the 'ad hominem' argument (where one attacks the person rather than the argument).

'What you are shouts so loud no one hears a word you're saying.'

This quotation attributed to Emerson is used to discredit the opponent, as an ad hominem attack. Effectively: 'you, Sir, are an cad, so everything you say is false.'

'I'm only new in AA and I just need to be given a break ...'/'I've been through such a lot—give me a break.'

This is the card being played: 'take pity on me, so do not challenge what I am saying'.

'He stopped going to meetings, so he got drunk.'

This is the fallacy of false cause. Just because one thing follows another does not mean the latter caused the former. The individual may have decided he wanted to return to drinking, which is why he stopped going to meetings. In that case, the decision to return to drinking was therefore the reason he got drunk, not stopping going to meetings per se. In other cases, stopping going to meetings may be a factor, but implying it is the only factor is without basis.

'She was twenty-five years sober and working with lots of newcomers, and she got drunk. I'm going to be careful about how many sponsees I take on.'

This betrays a confusion of correlation and causation. Simply because a factor is present does not mean it was causal. The speaker could have chosen one hundred other factors ('She lives in Santa Monica; she watches daytime TV; she also goes to Al-Anon') ... This also betrays 'causal reductionism'—the truth is that there were likely many contributing factors.

'AA is a cult. I know someone who attended a group where you had to cut ties with all of your old friends and family and spend all of your time with group members.'

This is the fallacy of composition: just because one group behaves like a cult does not mean that AA itself is a cult.

'AA has worked for millions of people around the world. If you can't get sober at your home group, that's your fault, not AA's, because AA works.'

This is a combination of the fallacy of composition and the fallacy of division. Firstly, the speaker is concluding that AA, as a whole, 'works', on the basis that many groups are self-evidently effective. Secondly, the speaker is concluding that, because AA as a whole 'works', any individual group must be effective. The truth is, the individual's home group may be lousy, with no one carrying an effective message, which is why newcomers are not able to achieve sobriety there.

'I had a benzo problem for years. Now I won't even take an aspirin, in case I abuse that.'

This is an example of the slippery slope/camel's nose fallacy. In this fallacy, there is the assumption that something is wrong because it is has some resemblance to or is otherwise somehow close to something that is wrong. This is a very common fallacy when individuals are talking about medication in recovery. Clearly, some forms of medication, in some individuals, are conducive to relapse. The idea that an aspirin is the start of a slippery slope, however, is fallacious.

'I knew someone who drank in the middle of her Step Four. It was clearly bringing up too much emotion, so she drank. I don't advise taking Step Four.'

This is argument by half-truth. Very often, behind these stories, there are numerous other factors: e.g. the individual was barely going to any meetings, was not actually following the advice of her sponsor regarding fellowship and service, etc.

'AA has only a 5% success rate today. It used to have a success rate of 93%.'

A common problem in discussions is a gross misunderstanding of statistics, and innumeracy. Success rates, for example, are meaningful only if one knows what pool of individuals is being taken as the base. Is that 5% of people who attend at least one AA meeting? Or is that 5% of people who complete the twelve-step programme in full? Very often, AA's low success rates measure the proportion of people who stay sober, say, for one year, out of a population of people who are introduced at all to AA. Since participation and follow-through are voluntary, however, the rate measures not the success of the programme but a combination of the ability of AA to attract and keep problem drinkers and members AND the success of the programme, rolled up into a single figure. It should be recalled, also, that in early AA, membership was highly filtered, and the pool of individuals on which basis success rates were calculated did not include anyone who was not successfully twelfth-stepped.

To summarise: when using statistics, be sure you understand exactly how the statistic was calculated.

'I can't take Step Two. I simply can't believe in an old man in the sky with a beard.'
'I can't meditate, because I get restless leg syndrome.'

These are examples of the straw-man fallacy, where an exaggerated or caricatured version of a position is adopted and attacked. The counter-arguments: your higher power can be the spirit of the universe, your home group, or anything you like; you could try walking meditation.

'If you don't work the Steps, you will die of alcoholism.'

This is an appeal to force, effectively, a threat. It may or may not be true in the case of the individual in question. Many people do indeed die of alcoholism, and many people who work the Steps do indeed recover from alcoholism. One cannot fairly assert, however, that this will necessarily be the consequence if this individual does not work the Steps.


Arguing in capitals is argument by vehemence. Rather than letting the argument stand on its own, the speaker is using a tantrum to block opposition.

This one is also an example of the appeal to pity: if you position yourself as a victim and others as bullies, you do not have to substantiate your argument.

'AA operates like a cult. It has to be either their way or no way.'

This is a combination of the straw man argument, the fallacy of the excluded middle, and the fallacy of composition. Firstly, as indicated elsewhere, individual AAs proclaiming the 'my way or the highway' position does not mean that AA as a whole operates in that way (fallacy of composition); secondly, presenting this as AA's general approach is a straw man argument—this is a caricatured version of what generally happens in AA; the fallacy of the excluded middle is the fallacy that there are two extremes and nothing in between. This fallacy is being projected onto the opponent (AA!) to discredit it.

Another example of the excluded middle/false dichotomy:

'Personally I'd rather be insulted sober than coddled, drunk.'

This implies that these are the only two options (insulted/coddled), with no other options available (e.g. being respected, being told the truth kindly). This is also a good example of false correlation: sobriety is associated with truth, however unpleasant, and drunkenness is associated with being coddled.

A very common example of the false dichotomy/faulty dilemma is this: 'When I was new, I am glad people cared more about whether I lived or died than my feelings.' It is, in fact, possible, to care about whether someone lives or dies and act and speak accordingly, whilst taking care not to hurt someone unnecessarily.

'Just remember that opinions are like assholes; everyone has one.'

By generally dismissing all opinions, one does not need to engage substantively in any of them. In a debate setting, this is like sweeping all of the chess-pieces off the board.

'I don't make amends to ex-partners, because it says in Step Nine that we do not make amends to people if we are going to harm them.'

This is called 'begging the question', where the thing to be proved ('making amends to ex-partners is harmful') is actually the premise of the argument (as making amends to them and harming them are equated).

Lastly, my personal favourite, often seen on online discussions:

'In recovery, I only do what is in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Anything else ain't AA'.

This is an example of the stolen concept. This is where you use what you are attacking to support your argument. In this case, engaging in an online debate to attack recovery activities not set out in the Big Book is to engage in just such an activity. If one were genuinely to believe that principle, one would have to refrain from online debates, as these are not discussed in the 'main text' part of the Big Book.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Some truth

Here's the basic truth to meditate on. You are spirit. Therefore nothing has ever harmed and nothing can ever harm you. There is no basis, therefore, for consistent or recurrent shame, anger, or fear.

However, there is room for temporary guilt, to prompt amends, temporary anger, to prompt corrections to attitude and behaviour, and temporary fear, to prompt prudent measures, but once their directive force has been followed, they must be let go of.

Monday, 17 November 2014

A Ulysses pact

'The term refers to the pact that Ulysses made with his men as they approached the Sirens. Ulysses wanted to hear the Sirens' song, although he knew that doing so would render him incapable of rational thought. He put wax in his men's ears so that they could not hear and had them tie him to the mast so that he could not jump into the sea. He ordered them not to change course under any circumstances, and to keep their swords upon him to attack him if he should break free of his bonds.

Upon hearing the Sirens' song, Ulysses was driven temporarily insane and struggled with all of his might to break free so that he might join the Sirens, which would have meant his death.'

When an individual takes Step Three, it is wise to enter into such a pact. What this means is that you are committing in advance to continuing, in perpetuity, to take every action suggested in the Big Book ('Alcoholics Anonymous') and by your sponsor regardless of how may feel or what you may think about such actions in the future. You are also authorising sponsors and friends to pull rank on you if you stray, supplant your perception of your situation and best interests with theirs, and direct your actions.

If you are an alcoholic of the variety described in the Big Book, there will be times when the Sirens call. They will call in your voice, and you will think it is your heart or at least you yourself that is talking to you. They will convince you that they are speaking in your best interest. The voices will suggest that you don't really want to stop drinking, or you don't need to, or you can have a break, or it won't work anyway, or it's too much effort. You will be incapable of rational thought.

If you have tied yourself to the mast and committed to the actions regardless of how you feel or what you think, you will be saved. The temporary insanity will lift, and you will wake up the next day, week, or month wondering how you could have been so foolish.

If you have reserved the right to adjust course based on your own thinking, good luck, because you may follow the sirens to your death.

With any luck, sufficient prayer will block your ears with sufficient wax to drown out the Siren calls entirely. But the pact will save you even if the Sirens call.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Just because I'm sober, do I have to be dumb?

Evidence of cogent, elaborate, or extended thought is regularly criticised in AA, as expressed by slogans and sayings such as 'keep it simple, stupid!' and 'you can't be too stupid to get sober, but you can be too clever'. The suggestion is that the use of the intellect is inappropriate in AA and actively detrimental to sobriety. The fact that one cannot think oneself sober is taken by some to mean that thinking has no place in AA. It is also socially acceptable within AA to criticise people merely for expressing thoughts that extend beyond the most basic. The belief is this: the intellect is incompatible with recovery and AA, and if you have a mind, you had better keep it to yourself.

Let's see what the Big Book has to say on the matter.

The limits of intellect are clear:

'But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an expectation, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge.'

'If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried.'

'Yes, we had been faithful, abjectly faithful to the God of Reason. … Were nothing left but pure reason, it wouldn't be life. … Hence, we saw that reason isn't everything. Neither is reason, as most of us use it, entirely dependable, though it emanate from our best minds.'

On the other hand, the Big Book does not advocate the retirement of the intellect but a balance between intellect and reliance on God:

'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. That is one of man's magnificent attributes. We agnostically inclined would not feel satisfied with a proposal which does not lend itself to reasonable approach and interpretation.'

'Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness.'

'Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists choose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all.'

The balance is well summed-up in the Step Two chapter of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

'By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first.'


"Dr Bob led me through all of these steps. At the moral inventory, he brought up several of my bad personality traits or character defects, such as selfishness, conceit, jealousy, carelessness, intolerance, ill-temper, SARCASM, and resentments." (Page 263)

Interestingly, sarcasm is listed. The reason this strikes me is because sarcasm is used very frequently in online discussions. When people dislike something, rather than engaging with the question substantively, they dismiss what they disagree with, with sarcasm.

Sarcasm is a defensive form of attack and is typically used when one believes oneself to have been attacked in some way.

I've had to learn to stand back when I am tempted to be sarcastic, and to ask myself, 'why do I feel attacked?' This is a very useful line of inventory inquiry.

Do you view sarcasm as a character defect?

Do you watch for it in everyday life?

Do you watch for it in your postings online?

Do you do your best to eliminate it?

Use of language in the Big Book

Someone said: "There is nothing cunning, baffling, powerful about alcohol in its liquid form. What’s cunning, baffling, powerful is we drink despite knowing all the consequences involved."

Someone else said: "I hear many things at meetings: 'I have a disease; I have a disease that wants me dead; I have a disease that tells me I don't have it.' I happen to disagree with all three of those things; the Big Book only mentions disease one time, and it says it is a spiritual one, not a physical one."

I don't disagree with either of these statements, at all. Good points.

However, I would enter a plea for leniency on the following grounds.

Language is used in a multiplicity of ways. Many people are quite literal in how they express themselves. Others—and Bill Wilson is an excellent example—make use of all sorts of rhetorical devices. Now, in the 1930s, I suspect the deliberate command (and overt understanding) of rhetorical devices amongst the relatively well-educated was greater than it is now.

With regard to the line about alcohol being 'cunning, baffling, powerful', this is an example of the Greek rhetorical device of 'metonymy'. This is where you refer to something not by its name but by something associated with it. Thus 'the financial sector based in New York' is referred to as 'Wall Street', 'the film industry based in Los Angeles' is referred to as 'Hollywood', etc.

The adjectives 'cunning', 'baffling', and 'powerful' refer to the thinking patterns of the alcoholic. They are cunning in that their arguments in favour of drinking despite the consequences can be very seductive, baffling because they run so counter to reason, and powerful because, well, look at how easily many are indeed seduced by them. Moreover, alcohol is part of this, because of its physical, neurological effect on the brain. Rather than referring to this complex set of ideas, Bill simply says 'alcohol', which is just one element in the mix, not the whole mix. (By the way, this particular type of metonymy, where one refers to one part of a whole rather than the whole, is referred to as 'synecdoche'.)

So, to sum up provisionally, it's not quite fair to argue against a statement in the book not being 'literally' true, when the author is deliberately using linguistic devices that go beyond the literal, for instance, to the metaphorical, to make a point 'punchier'. The point in question was never meant to be literal in the first place.

This brings me onto a second point:

It's quite right to say that the Big Book is cagey on the subject of alcoholism being disease. The Big Book does, however, use its own metaphor to describe alcoholism: 'King Alcohol', with the phrase 'shivering denizens of his mad realm'. The metaphor is extended almost to being a parable.

Now, no one really believes that there is a 'mad realm' of which we are 'denizens'. This metaphor—in which this imagery is substituted for the reality—is simply a device for conveying the concept of being involuntarily subject to greater, destructive forces.

Similarly, when people talk about the 'disease wanting them dead', they are employing the concept of a disease personified as having a will, because it's a helpful device to convey a complex set of ideas.

Sometimes it's helpful to hold two ideas in one's mind at the same time: firstly, metaphors and other devices do not aim to represent reality literally, like a photograph or a patent for a machine, but to convey ideas. Secondly, those ideas, whilst formally at odds with reality, may actually convey that reality more accurately.

It's very difficult to convey to someone new that their 'desire to drink' is not really their 'true self' (as the true self will not want to destroy itself) but a substantially physical urge to satisfy a 'need' to change one's brain chemistry, despite the consequences, presented to the self as being in one's best interests.

By contrast, it's very easy to say, 'you have a disease that wants to kill you': the idea can be conveyed instantly—and instantly the individual recognises that their desire to drink is a cognitive distortion; it is not their true self talking.

In summary: rhetorical devices and imagery—used amply in the Big Book and in the fellowship as a whole—are helpful in carrying the message.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The requirements for success

A desire to stop drinking is the only requirement for AA membership.

However, for success in AA, certain personal characteristics are required, more often than not. If an individual does not display these, they can be learned, but they had better be learned fast.

(1) The ability to follow instructions regardless of what one thinks or feels about the instructions

As Clancy says, Step Three in practice means 'taking actions you do not believe in because people who are doing better than you are suggesting them'. It does not matter a jot whether you believe in the individual actions themselves; what matters is how well the people are following and suggesting these actions are doing. If they are doing better than you, do what they say.

(2) The willingness to be uncomfortable

Alcoholics who come into recovery are typically emotionally childish. They want lollipops and puppies and freedom from any pain or discomfort whatsoever. If this failing is not broken, and broken fast, recovery likely won't 'take'. The core of the alcoholic's (and addict's) pattern is this: short-term gain plus long-term pain over short-term pain plus long-term gain. To get and stay sober, one is simply going to have to put up with sometimes significant doses of feeling exceptionally uncomfortable. Accept that like a grown-up, and that's most of the battle. Recovery is not for cissies.

(3) Knowing what a decision is

There are elements of the recovery process where we have to examine crucial issues: do I want to stop drinking for ever? Am I convinced that I can never drink safely again? Am I convinced I cannot do this on my own? Do I believe AA works for others, and will therefore work for me? Am I willing to go to any length? However, once this sequence of considerations culminating in a decision is complete, it must not be revisited, except deliberately in consultation with a sponsor.

The Step Three decision—to continue promptly and resolutely with the rest of the programme—is a final decision. Endlessly revisiting the foundations—the above considerations—will cause confusion and weaken resolve and may lead to relapse. If in doubt, give recovery a year, or even five years, and resolve then to re-examine the foundations. Until then, get on with it.

(4) Exercising mental discipline

The spiritual programme of action includes mental actions. There are plenty of mental actions described on pages 84 to 88 of the Big Book. In practice, this means not permitting any resentment, fear, nostalgia, fantasy, doubt, or other negative or destructive thinking. In practice, we are tempted a thousand times a day. With practice, we can turn away from such thinking promptly, with God's help, and turn to how we can contribute usefully to the day and help others. Good sponsors and spiritual advisors will be pleased to help with prayers or other readings that can be instantly applied to block unwanted trains of thought.

Sobriety cannot withstand being deliberately undermined from within by self-indulgent thinking (and the self-indulgent action that flows from it). We are not responsible for temptation arising, but we are responsible for how we respond to it.

So you want to drink, do you?

Q: I am confused: I don't know whether I want to drink or not. What do I do?

A: If you have a drinking history bad enough to warrant considering stopping drinking for good and for all, then you're not experiencing confusion in the sense of not knowing which option is 'right'. This is clear because, when asked if any of your alcoholic friends would be better off drunk, the answer is almost invariably 'no'. So this is not a question of right or wrong.

You're experiencing a battle between the higher Self, which wants to live and live well, and a childish lower self that wants a little treat now, and to hell with the consequences.

Be aware that a person cannot win this one by argument, because the childish lower self is smart and deceitful, and the person (you and me!) is foolish, gullible, and driven by emotion, and this is a deadly combination.

This is more about choice and decision. Do I want to side with the higher Self or the lower self?

THAT answer, now, should be obvious. If the answer is the former, a decision must be made: to trust that right action suggested by those who are doing better than you will eventually resolve the tension, causing the lower childish self to fade away. The belief that it will work for you is a no-brainer: the fact it worked for them means it will work for you. That decision must then be followed by action.

The action is to follow a plan for the day agreed with a sponsor or other advisor, in which all of the time is somehow accounted for.

Meanwhile, mentally, pray to remain present in the scheduled activity and to refrain from examining bigger questions.

In particular, once you have chosen to live, to trust this will work, and to implement it, those three questions are now permanently closed. When a decision is made, a rational person does not revisit the decision every five minutes. He gives the plan a chance to work, and then reviews based on long-term results.

So give it a year, and THEN see if it was the right decision.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Going to unfamiliar meetings

A description of early meetings from the Big Book:

'Seeing much of each other, scarce an evening passed that someone's home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release, and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer. In addition to these casual get-togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be at tended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life. Aside from fellowship and sociability, the prime object was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems.'

My home group is actually pretty like that, fortunately. However, yesterday, I felt a l alienated at a meeting I went to (my closest one geographically but not one I have been to in years); lots of camaraderie, mutual appreciation, non-alcoholism-related identification, and funny stories; no clear teaching about alcoholism, barely any talk of sponsorship, God, Steps, or any recovery-related idea at all. Still, someone approached me and I gave her my card and told her about my (Big Book-based) home group and invited her to that and also spoke to the speaker, who was new in town, inviting her, too, to my home group, so not a wasted evening, all in all.

The main lesson is not to be disturbed about 'how most of AA is'—something I can forget—and not to see 'how most of AA is' to be a problem. I still have the opportunity to go wherever I am I led by God in AA and observe how God uses me once I am there.

As a 'Big Booker', what is your relationship like with the parts of AA where the solution to alcoholism is generally believed to consist in social get-togethers, telling stories about drinking, and recounting the general thoughts and emotions of the week to the group, rather than the programme of recovery outlined in the Big Book?

Can you find a purpose in (sometimes) attending such meetings?

Can you do so without contempt or rancour?

Can you remain useful even in groups that are quite different in their approach?