Thursday, 17 December 2015

What would you be?

What would you be if you lost your job?
What would you be if you lost your stuff?
What would you be if everyone left?
What would be left?

Imagine losing all of these things, and everything else, right now.

Now, as you're sitting there, ask yourself: are you still breathing? Are your senses still active? Are your faculties still intact? Are you still there? Is God still there?

Of course: nothing has changed, except you've been skinned of your identities.

This is the only freedom available, the freedom from the terrible burden of mistaking oneself for the countless fragile roles that can be stripped from one at any moment.

We're actors, not parts. No part, yet the actor is still an actor, and we can trust God that parts will continue to be forthcoming until we are called home to be dissolved forever into a soft and yielding eternity.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Just sleeping

I'm an alcoholic. But I also know alcoholics. Sometimes they drink, and you ask yourself questions like, 'do they not care about me any more?' The personality has changed, and the love, affection, attention, or other good characteristics have disappeared. One is left only with the alcoholic's lizard brain: bring me flies; give me warmth. The alcoholic appears to be himself, in one way, but the 'self' is being used by the disease. The same applies to the anger, the withdrawal, the reproach, the insinuation, the prevarication, the inconsistency, the confusion, and other characteristics that arise and flower in the shadow of the terrible, vengeful God of the ego.

The body is moving, the lips are moving, the eyes are glinting, but the alcoholic is asleep. One would not attempt to make sense of the verbal ramblings of a sleepwalker; one would not take anything he says personally. The same is true of the drinking alcoholic: what they say is emanating from sleep, albeit, but perhaps most pertinently, spiritual sleep.

You know what? The same applies to alcoholics who are sober but are on an emotional jag. The body is moving, the lips are moving, the eyes are glinting, but the sober alcoholic is asleep. What they say out of fear, masking anger, or out of anger, masking fear, is but an emanation of someone sleep-talking.

Do not try to awake him; he will appear to awaken but still be asleep; the process cannot be forced. Do not take anything he says personally. Do not wonder where the person you remember has gone. Do not wonder if the love previously expressed was a lie. The person is merely asleep. Let him sleep. Do not hover over the bed, keeping a vigil; go and find others who are also awake and hang out there. Let him sleep in peace for as long as he needs.

Friday, 4 December 2015

How does the ego work?

If I believe I can be happy only if material circumstances arrange themselves in a particular way, my ego will turn those conditions for happiness into demands.

The universe then fails to comply with the demands.

The ego cries: the universe has disobeyed me!

This is playing God.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

What matters?

You can do all the inventories you like. You can go around making amends dramatically to everyone you have ever harmed. You can sponsor scores of people. You can go to a thousand AA meetings. You can pray and meditate for hours a week and go on fancy retreats. You can do important service in all sorts of ways.

None of this matters, however, if you're not treating the people around you kindly and if you're placing your own wishes ahead of their welfare.

Let's not louse this up.

Progress not perfection

People often say they are striving for progress not perfection.

This represents a misunderstanding of the AA programme.

We aim for perfection. This is our ideal. This idea is echoed throughout the Big Book and throughout Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. There is a sense of absolute letting go and envisioning how God would have us be. This does not include envisioning the character defects God would like us to have, or the thousand ways we will fall short. No, the ideal towards which we are working is perfection.

However, if you aim for perfection all you will get is progress. The notion of 'progress not perfection' suggests acceptance of partial results based on wholehearted action and dissuades the individual from becoming disheartened or from chiding himself for his continued shortcomings.

It is vital that this line not be used, as it almost invariably is, to justify laziness, ineptitude, selfishness, or apathy about one's half-hearted implementation of the AA programme.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Which fellowship?

‘Do I belong in AA or Al-Anon?’ is a vexed question that troubles many people. With the use of this simple diagnostic tool (courtesy of Stephen Sondheim), a solution is at hand.

Ask yourself, which of these two do I identify with?


The sun comes up
I think about you
The coffee cup
I think about you
The morning ends
I think about you
I talk to friends
I think about you
And do they know
It's like I'm losing my mind
All afternoon doing every little chore 
The thought of you stays bright
Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor
Not going left 
Not going right
I dim the lights
And think about you
Spend sleepless nights 
To think about you


The sun comes up
I think about me
The coffee cup
I think about me
The morning ends
I think about me
I talk to friends
I think about me
And do they know
It's like I'm losing my mind
All afternoon doing every little chore 
The thought of me stays bright
Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor
Not going left 
Not going right
I dim the lights
And think about me
Spend sleepless nights 
To think about me

* * * * * 

If you identify with (a), go to Al-Anon. If you identify with (b), go to AA. If you identify with both, go to both.

Having a bad day? Do something about it.

If you're having a bad day, don't be a whiny victim. The AA programme offers some solutions:

  • Once you've had a good cry(!), do an inventory, specifically to identify where you have gone wrong.
  • Produce a list of corrective measures, the attitudes and behaviour you are going to foster as the antidote. Mine AA and spiritual literature for guidance.
  • Once an hour or more often if necessary spend time with God, asking for your thinking to be redirected and rewired.
  • Once an hour or more often if necessary take a helpful piece of spiritual literature that envisions a relationship with God that places you in safety, and the ego as the source of all of your suffering.
  • Share the inventory with three people and ask for guidance. Add that guidance to your corrective measures.
  • Go to a meeting. That does not mean go and moan about how hard things are. It means getting there a little early and speaking to some people. Find out who is there. Find out who needs help.
  • Try to share at the meeting, and, when you do, present adequately and succinctly your understanding of what alcoholism is and joyfully present the solution, perhaps citing the tools you have applied today.
  • Ask God to give you people to help afterwards. Make sure your number is given to newcomers or other people struggling or in need and arrange with them when you will speak to them or see them.
Try this consistently. Try this for a decade or so. Then see if you still have a problem.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Augen zu und durch

Part of Step One is the recognition that one’s mind does not work properly. It leads one to drinking; it sabotages other good things with its relentless, specious negativity.

The structure of Step Two is this: ‘The way I think and therefore live does not work; here are some people who have found a better way; I’ll do what they did; no reason why it won’t work for me as some were even worse than me.’

Step Three—and the follow-through in which the subsequent Steps consist—is then automatic: following precisely in their footsteps.

Along the journey, the sabotaging mind—which is why we’re in recovery at all—starts to adopt an advisory capacity, and we have a tendency to listen to it.

‘This’ll never work. I’m not able to do this. It’s all too much. What’s the point? I hate everything’. (That sort of thing.) So we stall, delay, or give up altogether.

The Germans have a phrase: Augen zu und durch. ‘Eyes shut and [bash on] through.’ That should be an AA slogan.

Anyone can get well. Really the only thing that can stop us is putting our trust back in the part of the mind that is the problem in the first place.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes Of Age: When AA Comes of Age

I have just reread the first chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of AgeWhen AA Comes of Age. The chapter itself is a raggle-taggle collection of reminiscences, narratives, and Bill W.’s familiar ‘imaginings’ of what others might be thinking, brought together on the occasion of the moment in 1955 when the founders of AA formally handed over guardianship of the organisation to the Conference. What I have presented below is not a systematic review but a collection of ideas generated from the reading.

(1) The spirit

The period of American history framing the narrative includes the impoverished late 1930s. Bill describes the way AAs pitched in to help each other. More important than that, however, is the spirit in which this was done:
besides sharing all they had with us, Bob and Mag were expansively cheerful (12)
This should surely serve as an excellent spiritual principle: whatever adversities are faced, it is my duty to be expansively cheerful, which carries a greater value than owning my truthsitting with my feelings, or other more modern injunctions one sometimes hears in AA today as the suggested response to vicissitude.
The same spirit is echoed on page 16:
I recall with deep gratitude how often her wise advice and her good humor and patience helped to settle the endless squabbles about the book’s content.

(2) Service

The strongest impression conveyed by this opening chapter is the tireless work performed by outward-looking AAs: to carry the message within and without the fellowship. There is a strong sense of almost military devotion to duty, and a God-trusting disregard for apparent impediments (e.g. brevity of sobriety):
Brand new AAs, sober only a month or even a week, had to sponsor alcoholics still drying up in the hospitals.
I was speaking to a friend yesterday about her attempts to help someone who is sober many, many years, attends several Twelve-Step fellowships, claims to have ‘done the Twelve Steps many times’, yet remains full of resentment and distress, and still believes her emotional problem to stem from how other people are behaving. I asked whether the individual in question performed much work within the AA structure or to carry AA’s message to the outside world. My friend said that she thought not. It also became apparent that the individual is ‘patchy’ or ‘sketchy’ on ‘God’.
One key turning point in the Twelve Steps is the realisation that the problem resides in me, not others. Until this foundation stone is laid, Step Three cannot truly be taken. Any work on later Steps is thus built on a faulty foundation. It can rightly be said that someone who has not fully conceded that they are the problem, despite ‘doing the Twelve Steps many times’, has never actually taken Step Three.
Concomitant with this realisation is the surrender to God both for the purposes of transformation and for the purposes of being set to work, for God. The first principle is that the Steps, if taken solidly and with a genuine surrender, will work to release the individual rapidly and soundly from the merciless trap of self-obsession. I have observed this rapid transformation occurring in my own case and in the most troubled of individuals in my acquaintance. This is echoed by Bill W.’s own presentation of the psychiatric view of AA in the 1950s:
In AA, we see an unusual number of social and psychological forces working together on the alcoholic problem. Yet fully allowing for this new advantage, we still cannot explain the speed of the results. AA does in weeks or months what should take years. Not only does drinking stop abruptly, but great changes in the alcoholic’s motivation follow in a few weeks or months.
Secondly, being freed of self, we wake up to a sense of responsibility for others. With the right guidance, this can then be channelled into service that brings about recovery for other members and attracts yet new members to AA.
There is talk, page after page, of the tireless work of individuals who saw it as their mission to carry AA’s message into terra incognita, and it is conceded that it is only through the work of such individuals that AA took root in many parts of the world.
One striking example is the story about the individual in question in Norway. By 1955 there were 16 groups in the city of Bergen, the book boasts; today, in 2015, there are 8 in the whole region of Bergen, and only a couple of groups in a city with a metropolitan population of over 400,000.
The truth is that AA, in many parts of the world, is not taking up the legacy handed to it by its founders in 1955 and has become indolent and solipsistic. In the city in which I live, many meetings consist largely in inchoate presentations of the speaker’s thoughts and feelings du jour, with only a passing mention of alcoholism and recovery; many service positions within the AA structure (e.g. public information and health liaison positions) are vacant, and many of those that are occupied are occupied by individuals who do next to nothing in their roles. There are indeed excellent individuals and excellent groups; my group, for instance, performs public information work locally (one of only a handful of the 900 groups in London to do so) and over the last few weeks has contacted a score or more local organisations to provide information about AA, in an attempt to reach local sufferers; our list is expanding and we aim over the next few weeks to contact every organisation within walking distance that could conceivably benefit from information about AA, and then to repeat the exercise yearly, reviewing the list of external agencies to ensure completeness.
These gloomy facts must be faced, and it would be a wrong-headed form of optimism to disregard them; there is, as we say, a solution, and the actual mechanisms by which AA could resume growth are already in place: we have a service structure and posts that are well-described in terms of scope, brief, and modus operandi; we have the more informal opportunities offered to every member and every group of AA; prodigious expansion in the manner of our earlier years—not for its own sake but to help those dying of alcoholism—is still possible (albeit in attenuated form since our starting point is further along the growth curve); what is lacking is neither the structure nor the mechanism but the will.
We are falling grossly short as a fellowship, and it is my belief that this failure can be traced to a failure to take heed of the following simple trio of points:

(3) Effective recovery

It is noted on pages 21 to 22 that, whereas New York and Akron AA fellowships were growing slowly, Cleveland’s AA fellowship rapidly burgeoned into thirty groups and hundreds of members. The following was concluded:
The Cleveland pioneers had proved three essential things: the value of personal sponsorship; the worth of the AA book in indoctrinating newcomers, and finally the tremendous fact that AA, when the word really got around, could now soundly grow to great size.
The third point is a realisation of the phenomenon of what AA might be capable of (but is not necessarily capable of—in the absence of the first two points). It is these that are key: strong sponsorship and the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Interesting, too, is the use of the word indoctrinating. Much is made by prideful alcoholics, even today, of how the programme is only suggested, implying they may deign to pick up the tools as long as their personal integrity is not somehow impaired. This is in stark contrast to this concept of indoctrination: we do indeed need a new doctrine for living, because the existing doctrine or doctrines do not work. I swallowed the programme hook, line, and sinker because my score cards read zero, as Bill W. writes in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. It is from this personal defeat that all good has since flowed, but only through the two guiding forces of the book Alcoholics Anonymous and a sponsor to channel—safely and soundly—the power unleashed by personal defeat and subsequent surrender.

(4) The organisation of public information work

One often hears voices of caution in AA about performing public information work, on the basis that we should employ the principle of ‘attraction not promotion’ in such a way that we sit passively waiting for public information to radiate from us, as though we are a celestial body. This is a gross misunderstanding of the principle and betrays ignorance of AA’s history. Page 30:
It was the opinion of the meeting that oversimplification, which might lead us to muff our Twelve Step work, area-wide and world-wide, could not be called either really simple or really spiritual.
Page 34 continues:
When they saw the Convention’s pressroom, many visitors realised for the first time that good communications, within and without, were the actual arteries in which AA’s life-giving blood circulates among us and thence out to brother and sister sufferers everywhere. Something more than slow word-of-mouth message-carrying obviously has been required. ... Years ago we found that accurate and effective publicity about AA simply does not manufacture itself. Our overall public relations couldn’t be left entirely to chance encounters between reporters and AA members who might or might not be well informed about our fellowship as a whole.
To be effective, our public information work must be proactive, not merely reactive, and to be attractive we must be visible. This visibility is down to us. To avoid promotion means to avoid presenting ourselves in contradistinction to other offerings or organisations and to avoid sensational advertising, not advertising per se. We make no extravagant promises; we merely inform; but we must take the lead in informing.

(5) The role of religion

Religion is often condemned in AA. It is axiomatic in some quarters that religion is bad and spirituality is good (as though the two domains are mutually exclusive). We are told firmly that AA is not religious. This is true in that no particular theological belief is taught or required and that no denomination-specific practices are engaged in (besides the saying of certain Christian prayers).
This chapter makes clear, however, that it is to religion and religion chiefly that we owe the solution. Pages 38 and 39:
It was from [the Episcopal clergyman Sam Shoemaker] that Dr Bob and I in the beginning had absorbed most of the principles that were afterward embodied in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Steps that express the heart of AA’s way of life. Dr Silkworth gave us the needed knowledge of our illness, but Sam Shoemaker had given us the concrete knowledge of what we could do about it. ... The basic principles which the Oxford Groupers had taught were ancient and universal ones, the common property of mankind. ... the important thing is this: the early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else. [My emphasis]
Like it or lump it, AA’s programme is religious (even if the fellowship is not). Many people have a wholesale resentment against religion or Christianity, as if one can lump together the Westboro Baptist Church, the Vatican, a rural parish priest in Devon, and Swiss Jesuits engaged in social work; as if one can lump together beheadings by extremists and pastoral counselling in Leamington Spa; as if one can lump together the disparate ideas, doctrines, and teachings of all of the world religions, compacting them into a single point of infinite density before tossing them into a black hole of oblivion, to be disregarded from henceforth as an objectionable archaism.
No, such resentments, whilst surely heartfelt, are almost invariably ciphers for specific grievances against specific ideas or acts of specific people at specific points in space and time. The conflation and generalisation of such grievances is both inaccurate and unproductive and must be reversed.
As Bill W. imagines the composite voice of the attendees in St Louis:
... most of AA’s spiritual principles had come to us through clergyman. Without clergymen, AA could never have started in the first place. While I had been nursing my grudges against religion, Father Ed and Dr Sam [who both spoke at St Louis before the assembled alcoholics] had been going all out for us. This was a brand-new revelation. Suddenly I realised that it was high time I began to love them, even as they had loved me and the rest of my kind.
This is not to say that AA should somehow be reinvigorated with religious fervour, for instance, or that religious practices should be adopted within AA; rather, I believe we should give credit where credit is due and continue, as members of AA, to learn what we can from the religions of the world about how to practise the programme we espouse and not limit ourselves only to those new-age writers who channel religious ideas stripped of their formal and historic garb, lest the aggrieved be offended.

(6) Who is in charge?

There are a number of new Twelve-Step fellowships in existence. Some of these are encountering the problems alluded to in this opening chapter. The solution surely lies in following the example of AA in 1955:
[Bill W.] No more would I act for, decide for, or protect Alcoholics Anonymous. I saw that well-meaning parents who cling to their authority and overstay their time can do much damage. We old-timers must never do this to the AA family. When in the future they might ask us, we would gladly help them in the pinches. But that would be all. This new relationship was indeed the central meaning of what had just taken place. ... Clearly my job henceforth was to let go and let God. Alcoholics Anonymous was at last safe—even from me.
Over to you. Over and out.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Questions and answers on Tradition X

Short form: 'Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.'

Long form: 'No AA group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate AA, express any opinion on outside controversial issues—particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever.’

What is an opinion? A view or a judgement formed about something.
What is not an opinion? Fact, principle, and experience.
Are opinions bad? No, because if they were, Tradition X would read AA has no opinion on issues or no AA member should express any opinion.
Give me an example of an 'inside issue'! What works and does not work in the treatment of alcoholism.
Are there dangers of avoiding opinions on inside issues? Yes: (a) excessive open-mindedness and the presentation of all paths through AA as equally likely to bring about permanent, contented sobriety (b) being so enigmatic and cautious with newcomers that they have no clue what to do to stay sober.
What outside issues should be left at the door?
(a) Membership and jargon of other twelve-steps fellowships.
(b) Negative views of particular religions (never say, ‘I’m a recovering Catholic’. You’re insulting newcomer Catholics).
(c) Positive views of particular religions (don’t advertise Jesus; don’t vaunt Buddhism).
(d) Religious practices (don’t cross yourself; don’t introduce Buddhist meditation into your AA group).
(e) Any view on politics whatsoever.
(f) Negative views of treatment centres (do not say, ‘that idea is just treatment centre rubbish’; don’t dismiss psychotherapy).
(g) Positive views of other methods of recovering (don’t advertise treatment centres, psychotherapy, other support groups, or particular writers on recovery, religion, or spirituality).
Why? Because it affects unity (Tradition I) and primary purpose (Tradition V), and because newcomers in particular will mistake your view for that of AA and may be put off AA.
Give an example of a breach! A member of a twelve-step fellowship wrote to a website devoted to criticising AA in general and certain groups in particular, and the website published his views of that group and of one of its more prominent members. There was a furore. That was the first breach of Tradition X. The second breach was the group’s very public upset and personal hostility towards the other twelve-step fellowship and individuals and groups within it.
What should they have done instead? Everyone should have kept their big, fat mouths shut at the public level.
What if people are spreading misinformation? Concept XII answers that: stay silent publicly but write to them correcting the misinformation privately.
How does Tradition X apply within sponsorship? Convey only what is in or consistent with the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
Are relationships and medication outside issues? They are partly inside and partly outside. Both affect the individual’s spiritual welfare, but both have aspects clearly outside the scope of AA.
What is the sponsor’s role, then? Share knowledge and experience and ask pertinent questions; do not tell anyone what to do.
Are there exceptions? Absolutely: as with any set of principles, sometimes they conflict with one another. If someone is in danger of harming himself or others, there is a moral obligation to share one’s opinion.
Does this not breach Tradition X? If there is a risk of the opinion being mistaken for that of AA, take your AA hat off and preface the opinion with: ‘I’m saying this to you not as your sponsor or as an AA member but as a friend who is concerned about your welfare.’ If in doubt, add, ‘this is just my opinion, and sometimes my opinions are 100% wrong.’
Is this the last word on Tradition X? No.

Monday, 5 October 2015


Today, I was briefly party to a discussion in which person A was upset because person B had become upset and accusatory over a trifle.

I remarked (now unwisely I see) that one must always take responsibility for one's reactions: if my reaction is unpleasant or objectionable to me, I am responsible for that reaction, and it is no good saying that the other person is immoral, unkind, tactless, undignified, or whatever else.

The reason I say unwisely is that this proposition, namely that I am responsible, is unpopular and, to most, literally frightful. Naturally, someone interjected how person B was quite wrong to get upset and accusatory, therefore person A was quite entitled to be upset himself, and there was a chorus of general agreement.

I stayed silent at this point.

There is a curious phenomenon in the world: the choice in favour of suffering. When a philosophy or approach to life is offered that itself offers a solution to suffering, it is typically rejected by the majority, who are offended and threatened by the proposition that their suffering may be self-created.

They would prefer to continue suffering than to admit that their worldview is wrong.

I surmise this to be the case, as I was once like that, and I have seen it in countless people I have attempted to help out of this predicament.

The truth, therefore, is this: in many cases, the suffering that people complain of is not really suffering. It is a cherished mode of being, a shield against what is perceived as a far greater threat: that of moral obligation, responsibility, and a complete shattering of the egoic glass menagerie of hurt feelings on which identity is based.

Next time you are suffering, ask yourself, do you really want the suffering to end? Are you really willing to change your perception and, in the process, lose all of your identity as a victim, and with it your main purchase on the material world?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

We had to let go absolutely

If you're swimming in a swimming pool, it's no good holding onto the side; you won't then gain the full experience of swimming, or indeed an experience that even remotely resembles swimming. Splashing about is not the sleek darting of porpoises.

Pray for weariness, the weariness of holding on. Whatever the dubious benefits of attachment, it's ultimately tiresome and tiring.

Join the French Foreign Legion. Abandon yourself utterly. Drop your identity. It is not yours anyway. You got it from somewhere and mistook it for you. It was an (undivine) thrusting-on. Run away and join the circus. Let go of the kite. Let it fly. You're the kite and you think you're the hand and the kite belongs to you and you're scared of losing it. So lose it and discover you're not what you thought you were, and, most importantly: the wind is not your foe.

The voices in your head

The voices in your head. They're not your voice. They're sounds you've borrowed that are doing an impression of you. They're bad wisdom. They're the voices of others shouting their bad advice, with their machinations, hollowness, treachery. They're no more you than the advertising jingles for waffles or chewing gum that recur unbidden and bewitch like sirens. In the silence is a voice that is yours, but all others must be silenced first. Drop the foppery once and for all.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Taking Step Three

Taking Step Three is like dropping your cards, face up, on the table for all to see, and, although still present at the game, playing the role of servant to the House.

Taking your will back, as people put it, is starting once more to lift cards and conceal them from others ... and the House.

There is nothing to play for. The House always wins.

Pick your side.

The real cost of resentment

Sometimes, resentments are permitted, on the basis that one is 'only' resenting, say, Sally, June, or Gerald.

Resentment casts longer shadows. Anyone who resembles Sally, June, or Gerald, in relation either to the feature in question or merely coincidentally, will be tarred with the same feeling. What is worse, though, is that resentment sets up a shield that blocks others from your humanity, and you realise you have immured yourself in your own turret.

It must be rooted out with identification and thence compassion and charity. That is all.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A checklist for oneself and one's sponsees

What is your homegroup?
Is it the best AA group in London, in your opinion? ('Best' = most programme-focused; most helpful in carrying the AA message)
If not, why is it your homegroup?
At your homegroup and other groups you attend, are you sharing the solution?
Do you do service at your homegroup?
Setting aside long-distance travel and illness, do you ever miss your home group because you schedule some other activity in its stead?
If you are currently in the process of taking Steps One through Nine, are you scheduling time to work on these Steps before you schedule other moveable activities?
How many people are you sponsoring?
Do you return phone calls/texts within 24 hours?
Do you offer face-to-face meetings with sponsees promptly?
If you have fewer than one sponsee for every year of sobriety, are you actively seeking new sponsees?
How many times a week do you have face-to-face fellowship with other people in AA?
Are you doing a Step Eleven review in the morning?
Are you discussing recurrent or problematic issues with a sponsor or equivalent, promptly?
Are you implementing corrective measures? What spiritual reading are you doing?
Are you keeping secrets?
Are you harming anyone?
Are you harbouring resentment?
Are you permitting fearful attitudes and thoughts?
How are you implementing new (or old) spiritual ideas in your life?

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Being wrong

If I'm judging you, I'm wrong. If I'm condemning you, I'm wrong. If I'm criticising you, I'm wrong. Even when I'm right, I'm wrong: even when the fragments of reality I perceive are actually there and are correctly perceived, the picture I construe is wrong.

Here's the corrective measure: always view the other in an optimally charitable light: everyone in innocent; there is blindness, and flawed thoughts and behaviour flows therefrom; but guilt is unreal. When I hold you guilty, I set myself apart: any unkind thought I allow diverts me into a dark nothingness, separate and crowned.

I do not think it is possible me to perfect my generosity of spirit. In a sense it is the only virtue, and its perfection the only task, as it is the calibre—in both senses—of the channel God uses to reach others through me.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Clearing up loose ends

Once the first nine steps have been completed and all of the amends have been made, there can be loose ends.

The following questions are helpful in identifying and tying up these loose ends:
  • What in my life have I left undone?
  • What obligations have I not been meeting?
  • Where have I betrayed my higher self?
  • What is missing in my life?

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Is a sponsor a friend?

My role as a sponsor is this:

(1) To guide individuals through the Steps.
(2) To share what I have learned about how to apply the Steps to everyday life.
(3) To answer questions about fellowship and service.

Occasionally, there is a little chitchat, but only if the Stepwork is being completed. If I chitchat with drowning men who refuse to grab the life-preserver, I'm aiding their destruction. I won't do it.

Write it down

If you have a conversation with a sponsor, write down everything they say. You won't remember it otherwise. Make the most out of the relationship; make sure nothing is wasted.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Character-building before comfort

"Guthlac sought to imitate the virtues of the brethren at Repton: obedience, humility, patience, longsuffering, abstinence, sincerity, temperance, agreeableness."
This is a good list.

If you aim for heaven, you will get the earth thrown in. If you aim for the earth, you will get nothing. The way to aim for heaven is to place character-building first, and these are pretty good characteristics to aim to build. The choice to place character-building first stems from the requirement in Step Three that we be convinced that we have been victims of the delusion that the material world or success in the world's terms will bring about happiness. In recognition of this failure, as demonstrated by the material contained in Steps Four through Six, another path opens up: that of becoming a servant of God, holding nothing back, caring for nothing but serving Him and becoming what He wants us to be.

There are greater things than happiness, and if one seeks those, one finds a happiness greater than what one would previously have defined as such.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Is my ego resurgent?

The ego edges God out. The bigger the ego, the more likely a relapse.

How do you know, as an AA member, that your ego is resurgent? There are surely a thousand ways, but here are twelve, to get you going.

(1) A noisy head.
(2) Saying: 'A little AA goes a long way.'
(3) Saying: 'Everyone else in AA is getting it wrong.'
(4) Saying: 'I'm a grown-up; I'm not harming anyone; I can do what I want.'
(5) Saying: 'Someone else can talk to that newcomer over there.'
(6) Resigning AA service assignments mid term.
(7) Courteously letting others volunteer for service first.
(8) Talking about 'balance' or 'a bridge to normal living'.
(9) Making decisions based on emotion.
(10) Rule-based living.
(11) A mental list of things that are 'not allowed to happen'.
(12) The image of God becoming a cardboard cut-out.


Why do I want to do this (the whatever it is before me)?

Is it useful to others?

Does the world need it?

It is useful to God?

Does it make adequate use of my skills and experience?

Does it foster my potential?

Does it contain opportunities for spiritual growth?

Or is it a vanity project, the purpose of which is to establish for myself a self-image?

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Do I have choices now?

Sometimes people say, thanks to AA, they can now 'choose' not to drink.

A choice is a situation where one is presented with two or more options, and one must weigh up which to select.

Such options, however, must be reasonable, for the word 'choice' to be validly applied.

For instance, if you are weighing up whether to buy semi-skilled or skimmed milk at the supermarket, and you are largely content with both options, albeit preferring one over the other on this occasion, you can legitimately call this a choice.

If, however, you are asked to choose between confessing to a minor misdemeanour you did not commit and being shot, you technically have a choice, but pragmatically do you do not: the option you favour is actually a third one, namely not confessing and not being shot, but that option is not available to you. Any reasonable analysis of this situation would conclude you are being forced to confess. Your exercise of 'choice' is merely the recognition of a single viable (but unpalatable) option.

Another example: if one is given the 'choice' of reading a book or turning into a lobster, one must by necessity read the book, as turning into a lobster is not physically possible. Simply presenting multiple options and saying one has a choice does not mean one does. The options must be possible and reasonable for one to speak legitimately of choice.

If you are an untreated alcoholic, 'not drinking' or 'stopping at one' are, for you (unlike for normal people) like turning into a lobster: downright impossible. There is only one option (drink to excess), and thus there is no choice.

If you are sober, and your experience suggests that taking even one drink could trigger an unstoppable process that could lead to your death, having a single drink is not a genuine option, any more than hacking off your big toe with a butter knife or setting fire to your hair. The action could physically be taken and is thus more 'possible' than turning into a lobster, but it furthers no purpose, causes harm, and runs so counter to one's being that, pragmatically speaking, it is not in reality any more viable than turning into a lobster.

The transition is this: having one viable option, namely to drink, to having one viable option, namely to stay sober.

On those rare occasions when one has to 'think it through' or genuinely weigh up the pros and cons, and 'chooses' sobriety over drunkenness, the truth is this: you are partly insane, but fortunately more sane than insane, so the sane thought wins. This is not the exercise of choice; this is winning on a balance of probabilities.

What if I haven't harmed anyone?

Some people examine Step Eight and come to the conclusion that the only harm they have ever done someone is to drink, that, otherwise, they have never done anything wrong.

Unless one is the Second Coming, this is simply not true.

For a basic understanding of harm, see this article:

To identify more substantively whether one has harmed someone, one can use a good list of character defects, pausing to consider whether, during the course of one's life, one has ever taken the action described; if so, there is harm.

(If one objects to the overtly Christian 'sins', one can skip over those. I'm sure sufficient others will apply for the exercise not to be wasted).

Lastly, one can go through the chapter on Step Eight in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pausing to reflect on each type of harm described, and asking oneself, again, if one has ever taken the action described; if so, there is harm.

What is harm?

When writing Step Eight, the question arises of what is harm.

Here is a simple guide.

Harm is when, without justification or overriding cause, I give rise to:

(1) Physical suffering
(2) Emotional suffering
(3) Loss of money
(4) Loss of or damage to property
(5) Inconvenience or other 'stealing' of time

The sixth form of harm is harder to understand: it is where I get in the way of another's spiritual growth.

This takes many forms, but here are some examples:

(1) Preventing a crisis when it is in the natural course of things (for instance, letting unacceptable behaviour persist instead of confronting it)

(2) Doing something for someone they should do for themselves (for instance, fostering dependency)

(3) Shielding someone from the consequences of their actions (for instance, preventing someone from hitting a rock bottom).

This should provide a sufficient start.

Friday, 14 August 2015

May one profess religious belief in AA?

Sometimes people get very upset if someone talks about God or Jesus in AA, saying that religion has nothing to do with AA.

Fair enough, but the difficulty is this: if one bars discussion of what one believes in a theological or metaphysical sense, one must bar all such discussions, not just those one disagrees with or finds distasteful or rebarbative.

Professions of atheism, agnosticism, humanism, materialism, hedonism, in whatsoever form, and certainly expressions of anti-clericalism, would also have to be silenced.

It makes no more sense to ban the word 'Jesus' or reference to the Bible if one is permitted still to drone on about doubting the existence of God or the latest koan practised at the local Buddhist centre. Either the domain is out of bounds or it is not. One cannot legislate that this topic from the domain is fair game, but the other is not.

One caveat: discussion of religion (or lack of) should really be limited to one's own belief and experience and not be extended to generalities about the topics of religion or lack thereof.

It is not religion per se that is an outside issue but the discussion thereof in a universal sense. One's own personal beliefs can and must be valid topics for discussion in AA: these are without a doubt 'inside' (not outside) issues.

Should AA use The Lord's Prayer?

Periodically, like summer flu, someone brings up the fact that The Lord's Prayer is a Christian prayer and so should not be used in AA, and a lot of other people become infected by it. The most terrible argument ensues, and nothing is resolved.

The complainants are maybe right to cite the Preamble (lack of alliance with any sect or denomination), and perhaps, by extension, Tradition Six.

Even here, however, the argument starts to fall down. Firstly, The Lord's Prayer is not particular to any sect or denomination. It is not Methodist or Presbyterian. It is Christian. The use is not about allying; it is about borrowing. A cursory glance at AA's history reveals all sorts of borrowing, from medicine, psychiatry, religion, and common sense. To suggest that the use of external material represents alliance with the source of that material is quite obviously nonsense. The reprinting of the Doctor's Opinion is not an alliance with the American Medical Association. The quotation of Dr Carl Jung is not an endorsement of psychiatry. And the use of The Lord's Prayer does not force religion down anyone's gullet.

To force religion down someone's throat is to expose him at length or depth to religion and to insist that it be taken up. It is hard to assert that the saying of a prayer lasting a few seconds amounts to this. The prayer is not long. There is no exegesis. No one insists you say it or believe the doctrines it suggests. It is no more forcing religion down anyone's throat than displaying broccoli in a supermarket you patronise forces greens down your throat.

In AA, one is presented constantly with ideas or practices one does not much care for. I personally do not care for the chanting of 'keep coming back; it works if you work it!' after the closing prayer; for extensive accounts of drinking without any ostensible point; for self-pity; for complaining; for digression; for the insistence on reading 'How It Works' in every meeting (which will make no sense to newcomers). In fact, there are many things I do not care for. If others do, however, and see worth in them, that must be respected. The simple fact I do not care for something is not in itself reason for its eschewal.

Worse: the sentiment behind the desire to eliminate The Lord's Prayer is not simple disinterest but open hostility. People are 'offended', they say. Unfortunately, this is what betrays the real reason for the objection: the prayer is associated in people's minds, it seems, with manifold past or present wrongs by this religion or that religion, this monk or that priest, this Sunday School, or that sect, and, like a child who was once bitten by a particular dog, all dogs are now perceived as inherently dangerous.

Although offence can reflect a general sense of morality of propriety (so the causing of actual harm or engagement in sexual activity would be deemed inappropriate in AA on the basis of these two criteria), in most cases its thesis is this: 'This makes me feel bad: stop it.' General principles (e.g. those enshrined in Tradition Six) are harnessed but are not the origin of the injunction: it reflects, rather, the egoic desire to bully or manipulate others to change their behaviour so one does not have to grow past one's past resentments and hurts, stuck like prehistoric insects in amber.

The other Traditions also come into play:

(1) Tradition Two suggests that God speaks through the group conscience. If a majority of members of the group do not care for The Lord's Prayer, they're quite entitled to replace it with The Serenity Prayer, a moment of silence, or the recital of some other text. There is no place for lone crusaders or crusading gangs to overturn this. If the group likes it, it likes it.

(2) Tradition Four suggests each group is autonomous. If it would like to say a Christian prayer, it may, provided the group conscience is in favour.

(3) Similarly, groups are at liberty to teach and practise Buddhist techniques. Some do this by suggesting particular forms of meditation. It's fascinating that the anti-Lord's Prayer crowd do not turn their attention even-handedly to all manifestations of religion.

(4) Tradition One suggests unity, and, whilst the underlying issue is perhaps a valid one, the disunity within a group the argument can generate typically does more genuine harm than the original crime.

(5) It is hard to argue effectively against the use of The Lord's Prayer (which is pretty innocuous, frankly; it's not exactly the Creed, is it?) without bringing in outside issues (the role of religion in society, religion throughout the ages) and thus without breaching Tradition Ten. It is not the substance of the prayer that people object to (i.e. one rarely hears genuine theological arguments about it); it is the association with facets of religion in a wider sense that causes the problem.

One last point: were it not already in use, The Lord's Prayer would not be introduced now, I suspect, for the reason that it is indeed religious. It is used widely, however, as an artefact of AA's origins. Similarly, alcohol itself would likely not be licensed as an intoxicant were it to be discovered only now; its use is an artefact of history, not a product of sense.

In brief, whilst my home group does not use this prayer, my message to groups whose group conscience is that it be used: good luck to you!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Why doesn't living in Steps Ten through Twelve work in perpetuity?

Of course, once one has completed Steps One through Nine (and I mean completed: doing one's utmost to make every last amend), living in Steps Ten through Twelve is initially plain sailing.

I've sponsored hundreds of people, and a very small number manage to stay consistent and persistent in Steps Ten through Twelve, myself included, over recent years at any rate. Although I shall return to them (and myself) in a moment.

What about the others? Most will do well for a while but run out of power. Working Steps Ten through Twelve gets harder, drift occurs, and sometimes people konk out altogether. Why? The resurgence of ego. Like a weed, even vigorous pruning will not eliminate the roots, and spiritual surgery will occasionally be required.

What about those who do indeed work Steps Ten through Twelve consistently and persistently?

Well, very occasionally one area of one's life will rapidly veer so spectacularly out of control that spiritual surgery is required; the sticking-plaster approach simply will not work on gun-shot wounds. Such situations arise typically because (a) an entirely new area of life presents challenges one has never before encountered (b) some hidden area of dysfunction, long dormant, reawakens, for internal or external reasons. In both cases, invisible egoic structures are activated and wreak havoc.

Again, spiritual surgery is required.

Occasionally, one reapproaches Steps One through Nine from a position of power, having effectively been working Ten through Twelve consistently and persistently. What is the point then? Well, that is a question that can seriously be asked only by the skeptic who has never tried it. If people put as much time into revisiting the first nine Steps as they do into arguing against it, imagine the progress that could be made ...

My experience is invariably this: there is limitless room for growth, and a God-powered saunter through One through Nine will invariably open up new mansions within the house, always unsuspected, always shocking, and always awesome, in the original and in the modern senses.

Sometimes people say, 'that's not in the first 164'. Sadly, folks, it is. More will be revealed, the Book suggests. Guess what? It has.

Daily tips for newcomers

These are not taken from the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous) but are perfectly consistent with it:

  1. Go to a meeting every day. Get there early. Leave late. Go for 'fellowship' (coffee or dinner). Talk to people. Be honest. Listen. Help out.
  2. Read a story at the back of the Big Book and highlight anything you identify with.
  3. Grass up delinquent, dark, or troubling thoughts to an AA confidante or two.
  4. Read pages 86 to 88 of the Big Book every day and do exactly what it says. If you don't believe in God, try a higher power instead. If you can't conceive of one, try this: 'a hitherto unsuspected inner resource'.
  5. Make yourself useful both at AA meetings and in the outside world
  6. Phone three solid AA members every day in addition to your sponsor (which means you need to get a sponsor) and be honest and open with them.
  7. Prioritise time spent on the latest exercise your sponsor has given you on the Steps. If your sponsor hasn't given you one, you probably need a different sponsor.

The phenomenon of craving

I was in a meeting yesterday in which the chapter The Doctor's Opinion (from the book Alcoholics Anonymous) was being discussed. There was reference to the 'phenomenon of craving', namely the observation that alcoholics, once they have the first drink, have more and more, beyond the bounds of reason, and despite the consequences.

Now, it is extremely common for speakers (and writers) within AA to cite this example: whilst others stop after a glass or two, 'because they're beginning to feel it', 'feeling it' is precisely the point, which is why they continue.

There are several problems with this. Firstly, there are very few drinkers who do not drink in order to feel it. In fact, most moderate drinkers and certainly all heavy drinkers do, like us alcoholics, want an effect. To compare alcoholics with those who drink grudgingly, out of compliance with perceived obligation, habit, or social convention, teaches us nothing. They are effectively non-drinkers who happen to be drinking alcohol.

There is another problem with this, but I shall have to return to that once a fresh comparison is drawn.

The difference between the moderate drinker and the heavy drinker is not one of category but one of degree. Both enjoy the effect. The moderate drinker enjoys the effect to some extent, but his cut-off point is earlier during the progression into drunkenness. The heavy drinker enjoys the effect considerably more, and the cut-off point is later or may even coincide with oblivion or physical incapacity to continue.

A further point to observe with moderate and heavy drinkers is that the risk/benefit calculation is operative. Whilst outsiders or others they affect may disagree with their decisions, their drinking is kept within bounds they have set, in terms both of quantity and frequency, by a desire to avoid certain undesirable effects (hangovers, inability to get up for work, etc.) Moderate and heavy drinkers are thus both moderated drinkers. One might assert their drinking foolish, but they are subject to no internal tension, because they drink, as a rule, what they want to drink and when they want to drink it.

To explain this feature of alcoholism—the phenomenon of craving—by talking about how much we enjoy (aspects of) drinking teaches us nothing because in this regard we are not greatly dissimilar to moderate or heavy drinkers. The precise psychological effect of alcohol (and thus its idolisation whilst we are between drinking bouts) does differ and goes a long way to explain the return to harmful drinking after periods of abstinence. It does not adequately explain the dogged compulsion once we start. Heavy drinkers love the effect and thus drink. So do we.

The point of deviation in the comparison between (moderate and) heavy drinkers, on one hand, and alcoholics, on the other, is the fact we continue drinking even when we are not enjoying it.

I don't know about you, but once I'd had three-quarters of a bottle of gin, or two bottles of red wine, I was not 'appreciating' the effect of the next gin or the next glass of wine. It could have been water or Paraquat for all I knew. There was no marginal effect (or marginal utility as economists would call it). I did not enjoy it greatly (at least not like the first dozen or so drinks). To the extent I had been transported into a glittering and insulated world free of concern and liberated from time, another half-dozen drinks were going to achieve nothing. Sure, to remain there for another few hours, I might have to top up a little, to prevent slipping back into dreaded sobriety. But by no means did I need to continue drinking 'full steam ahead'.

Two analogies:

Imagine two people who sunbathe whilst on holiday. Both acquire a wonderful tan. But one stays far longer than necessary to acquire a tan and burns himself scarlet, on top of the tan. All he would need to do to keep the tan would be to top up under the sun for a few minutes here or there. The hours required to acquire the tan in the first place are not needed to remain tanned.

Imagine a space rocket expending huge amounts of  energy to get into orbit. Once in orbit, a small amount of energy only is needed to remain in orbit. If the same amount of energy were expended again, the rocket would leave orbit and fling itself out into deepest space.

These are far more appropriate images for alcoholic drinking: the pleasure of drinking or the attractiveness of moderate drunkenness explain why we get as drunk as 'normal' heavy drinkers. They do not explain why we drink past the heavenly zone of relief and joy into realms of darkness, violence, hatred, and sick oblivion, not through occasional miscalculation (a good man's fault) but apparently deliberately (if one judges by the quantities drunk and the speed at which they are drunk).

One example, and I shall wrap up. I recall a Saturday evening in my drinking when I decided I wanted to watch a favourite Ibsen play on the television, featuring a favourite actress. Of course I would drink, and I aimed to drink steadily through the play, then let the hounds loose once it was done, in the ample portion of the evening that would then remain.

What happened was this; I drank myself into a near stupor in about 45 minutes, and went 'hunting', as it might be called, out and about, drinking and looking for heaven-knows-what. As I left the house to begin my joyless rampage, it was with incredibly heavy heart. I wanted to stay at home and drink quietly and reasonably slowly, enjoying what I had looked forward to all week. The drinking and the associated activities had nothing to do with enjoyment or effect; they were despite the lack of enjoyment; they were despite my own horror at the effect.

No, I was obeying an order from deep within me, one I could not countermand: continue drinking, rapidly, come what may. No risk/benefit calculation is operative, and it is this that separates us from moderate and heavy drinkers.

When I look honestly at my drinking, it was this order that was issued every time I drank, regardless of emotion, regardless of circumstance, and no exertion of the will could resist it.

The phenomenon of craving is just this: a blind obligation to continue drinking—fast and hard—triggered by the first drink.

Leave the 'pleasure' for another discussion: that of the 'great obsession of every abnormal drinker'. That is for another day.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Sponsor-jumping and method-jumping

The stated aim of the programme is to enable us to find a power greater than ourselves that can solve our problem.

In practice, this means dying to self and surrendering to God. Once that process is well underway, work is required in the moment (the steering of the car), daily (filling the vehicle with petrol, refilling other reservoirs, and giving the thing a good old clean, in and out), and periodically (taking the vehicle in for a service). Some people believe, foolishly, that good daily maintenance will mean that nothing ever goes wrong in the engine. No; as with a car, measures are required at all three levels. All other areas of human endeavour reflect this three-pronged approach, not least any spiritual tradition worth its salt.

The question when regarding the periodic servicing is this: what method do we use? Some people say they want a new experience. That is all very well. But how is that new experience to be achieved?

One belief is that using the same old method is a bad idea, because if it worked so well, why does it need to be tried again? And furthermore, won't it ultimately fail, in the same way that a joke retold endlessly will fail to cheer, or a pair of jeans will ultimately fall apart if worn for too long?

The result of this thinking is usually one of two decisions: the hunt for a new sponsor (with 'new information') or the hunt for a new method (a new approach to the Steps; a new way of using the Big Book, which is what contains the basic instructions).

There are certainly situations in which one's current spiritual advisor or sponsor proves inadequate and in which a new one is required. Inadequacy, however, is a function not of the length of time one has had them as a sponsor, as though one somehow wears them out, but of whether they themselves are making spiritual progress and are a better example of surrender to God than you. All other things being equal, the main valid reasons for switching sponsors are (a) they lack (and therefore have always lacked) a solid understanding of the process of the Twelve Steps, (b) you have overtaken them spiritually or what they have, spiritually, you do not want, (c) they have backslid or drifted and are no longer fit to sponsor, (d) you substantially fail to identify with their human failings, or vice versa (or simply no longer much care for them). A good deal of thought must go into the process, because much self-centred rationalisation can underpin what appears to be a sound decision under (a) to (d) above. Counsel might well be sought, also.

The danger of switching sponsor, or indeed method of going through the Big Book (there's always a new method popping up here and there, which gradually comes into vogue, and then drifts back into obscurity), is that it is missing the point: you cannot wear out the instructions and you cannot wear out a sponsor in the way that a joke wears thin, jeans wear out, or, to bring in an image from another book, the salt loses its savour.

The last image is an interesting one, because salt cannot lose its savour: its savour is inherent in its essence. Salt can lose its savour only by ceasing to be salt, which cannot happen. Salt cannot become potash, mercury, or lye. Humans can indeed obscure their divine essence but they cannot eliminate it, because it is inherent. We cannot become un-human.

The subject matter of the Steps is that which obscures the divine in us and which is causing us practically to proceed in a direction other than the magnetic north of our moral compass. The subject matter is not the Big Book. The subject matter is not what is coming down the tubes from our sponsors (although that will indeed be superior if they are further ahead on the spiritual path). The subject matter is us. What we need is a mirror. If the mirror is a good one (and the Twelve Steps set out in the Big Book are a perfectly good mirror), then the mirror will do its job. The purpose of the sponsor is to help us understand what we see in the mirror, to remind us of how we should be (which itself is a simple proposition: dead to self and surrendered to God), and to be the human companion with whom we have united purpose. We cannot easily approach God without others. It is the divine present in another person whose humanity simultaneously we identify with that provides the bridge.

The hunt for the latest special method is the hunt, essentially, for a new frame for the mirror. The mirror is not the point. You are the point. And the same mirror, used a thousand times, will never wear out.

I reuse the same Twelve Steps from the same Book; I have had the same sponsor for years, now, and, in opposition to the rules of the material world (which often are opposite to those of the world of the spirit), I have worn neither out.

When I believe I have, I am always mistaken.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

How does one respond to fear?

With fear, these are the questions I ask:

What am I frightened of?
Where is my attitude wrong?
What should my attitude be?

Regarding the first question: it helps to be specific, and to trace it all the way through, exactly as one would in a Step Four.

Here is an extract from something else on Step Four:

‘Next, reduce your fear list to the underlying fears, i.e. the fears that seem to be the source of all of the other fears, as follows:

Ask “why” in each case: if you are scared of losing your job, ask “why is that a bad thing?” or “what is it about losing my job that makes me scared of it?” If this domino (losing your job) topples, what other dominos will topple (having no money, having nowhere to go during the day, not being respected by other people, being seen as a failure, not achieving my ambitions)? By the time you have asked “why” 5 times, you have usually found the core fear(s) and can go no further.
Separate out the list of core fears, i.e. the fears underlying all of the other ones.

I am scared of annual appraisals at work ← I am scared of being judged a failure ← I am scared of losing my job ← I am scared of having no money ← I am scared of being poor when I am old ← I am scared of being alone. Core fear: being alone.’

So much for the first question.

The second and third questions are tougher.

They are linked, however.

The key thing to remember is this: when I am frightened, I am temporarily blinded to some greater truth. I need to connect to that greater truth to have my eyes opened. However, the point about being temporarily blinded to the truth is you are unable to look and see where that truth is. Help is needed.

This is where spiritual reading (or listening) comes in. You read, or listen, to whichever writer or speaker you are currently drawn to, whether in AA or outside of AA, preferably having a selection of both at your disposal, and present the particular fear problem to God, asking God to speak through whatever you are reading or listening to.

As you are reading or listening, you will suddenly start hearing things that ‘work’, in that they address various aspects of the problem you are experiencing. Emotionally, the relief is much like the relief of finally threading a needle with an impossibly small eye or buttoning a refractory button after much apparently pointless effort. Ideas start to connect up, and your eyes start to open. From that perspective, you start to see where the attitude and thinking were wrong.

No one can do this for you: this is where growing-up in the programme takes place; the unthreadable needle and unbuttonable button are inside us, and you have to let God’s hand guide your own, by opening your eyes.

So, once you’ve traced out the fear, get reading and listening, and, if you are seeking God through those means, the altered perspective can and must come, at least in principle, although you may not be able to ‘realise’ the altered perspective, in the sense of being able to inhabit it fully and thus be at peace. That is going to require action.

Once the altered perspective has been granted (and it will), you only remaining job is this:

Ask: What would God have me be? What would God have me do?

Adopt the position of foot-soldier in God’s army in this apparently hostile world where everything appears a little bit off (to say the least) and fight to act right. You’ll then discover, remarkably, that not a hair on your head will be harmed.

‘At once, we commence to outgrow fear.’

Monday, 3 August 2015

Sticky ends and roulette

Sadly, a lot of people in AA who have strong recoveries come to sticky ends (drink, drugs, recluses who have left AA ... 'anyone can increase the list').

No one who is currently strong but who is going to come to a sticky end deliberately embarks on the path towards their own destruction, yet embark on a path some do, and most people believe, as they walk step by step through their lives, that each step they're taking is the right one.

Perdition is unintentional yet common. How can it be avoided?

On the roulette table of recovery, there are many numbers, and many paths to choose from. You have to pick a number. One might ask, 'but should you avoid putting all your eggs in one basket?' In recovery, however, you only have one egg: your sobriety. The egg cannot be split.

How do you pick? I have met or observed some people who are between 50 and 60 years sober. All of them have made it by having serving God through AA as the centre of their lives, and surrounding themselves by people on the same path, so we can wake each other up.

It is this that makes the difference: to embark on the wrong path, the path to perdition, one has to be asleep, dreaming one is awake. It is only by consorting with those that are themselves awake that remaining awake can be guaranteed.

Your job in AA is not just to have a spiritual awakening, but then to remain in orbit.

What's the formula these people have in common? Applying the Twelve Steps continually in their lives, not just the last three; service; fellowship. All in spades.

Having placed all my chips on the same number, I need do only one thing: relinquish the right to reverse the decision. And this I have done.

Whom are the people you're talking to talking to?

My sponsor speaks to an awful lot of people in AA, many of whom have been sober for decades. The same can be true of his sponsor, and his sponsor in turn.

Whenever I speak to my sponsor, I'm getting the distillation of interaction, directly and indirectly, with hundreds of long-time sober members of AA who are heavily active in sponsorship and service, all under the aegis and guidance of God.

What comes down the tubes is high-octane, let me tell you.

Whom are the people you're talking to talking to?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Do I need to revisit the Steps?

Over the last 22 years, I have revisited the first nine Steps a number of times. On occasion, it has been because the rivets were popping, and I was aware of serious disturbance or bad behaviour that seemed impervious to even a concerted attempt to apply Steps Ten through Twelve.

On occasion, I have revisited the first nine Steps, as a formal exercise, simply because it had been a year since I had done so previously, without recognising an obvious need.

I have also suggested to many sponsees over the years, sponsees who had been diligent in working Steps Ten through Twelve, that they revisit the first nine Steps. Again, on occasion they immediately recognised the need; on occasion, they did not.

Invariably, revisiting the first nine Steps draws out of the woodwork reservations and faulty attitudes, thinking, and behaviour that were either invisible even on thorough application of Steps Ten through Twelve or were refractory to these three Steps.

The conclusion? My judgement as to whether or not I need to revisit Steps One through Nine does not correlate with actual need. If I think I need to revisit them, I certainly do. If I think I don't (and it has been a while since I have), I still do.

Why would this be the case?

We don't know what we don't know; the point about God is we get led into realms we did not dream existed.

Monday, 27 July 2015

When did the loneliness go?

For me, the loneliness went by working the steps to re-humanise me again and remove the many blocks to me forming decent relationships with other people; by engaging fully in work and other useful activities; by engaging fully in fellowship and service in AA; and by making myself available to sponsor anyone who asked, regardless of the inconvenience.

I've heard several hundred Step Fives over the years. Each one has played its part in removing my loneliness and the loneliness of the other person.

I always wanted one person to fix me. That was the mistake. I needed to take up my role in the lives of many other people and to be a channel for my Higher Power. THAT got rid of the loneliness.

A one-on-one relationship may or may not be part of the solution; in practice, it simply gave me another person to forgive and another person to serve; it does not solve the form of loneliness that is essentially anxious apartness stemming from a life of self-centredness and self-absorbed thinking. It was that that needed to be stripped from me.

Fortunately, in engaging in the activities outlined in the first paragraph above, there have been no end of people willing to be part of the journey. Since making the decision to engage fully in the transformative process of the Steps, which took place around 22 years ago, I have never been lonely in the way I was before I came to AA, except when I drifted from the tried-and-tested path.

What if I don't want to stop?

My drinking had three phases. Fun; fun plus problems; problems. I did not stop until I was in the problems phase.

What can help is this:

The two features of alcoholism are these:

(1) when I start drinking, I cannot predict how much I will drink, what I will do whilst drink, and when (if ever) I will return to a sober life;

(2) bad experiences are insufficient alone to prevent me from taking the first drink.

These two make me an alcoholic; this insight plus the knowledge that alcoholism is fatal and progressive were sufficient to induce the 'wanting to stop' that had previously been absent; basically, knowing the truth took the last remnant of fun out of drinking.

I could no longer kid myself I was not dying.

Does an amend have to be face to face?

Step Nine calls for 'direct' amends. Sometimes people say this is necessarily face to face and imply cowardice or stupidity if one fails to see this. However, in 1939, the phrase 'face to face' was available (cf. Webster's, 1913!) but was not used or referred to on pages 76 to 83 (the pages of the Big Book covering Step Nine). No, the word used was 'direct'. Some of the examples given involve face-to-face meetings. Another involves a public disclosure (so not a face-to-face amend to the person harmed); letters are also mentioned.

It is quite plain that 'direct', in this context, means addressing the harm head on.

Cf. Webster's (1913):

1. Straight; not crooked, oblique, or circuitous; leading by the short or shortest way to a point or end; as, a direct line; direct means.

2. Straightforward; not of crooked ways, or swerving from truth and openness; sincere; outspoken.

3. Immediate; express; plain; unambiguous.

Obviously, this will entail a face-to-face meeting on many occasions.

However, there are other principles involves in Step Nine, namely tact and consideration.

Not everyone appreciates being tackled face to face. Not everyone can be seen face to face. Not everyone has the time to see us face to face. It is not necessarily tactful or considerate to make an amend face to face and effectively force a response on the spot: people often feel compelled to respond verbally then and there and sometimes say either rash or insincere things. Some recipients are so irascible and reactive that any attempt to have a rational, reasonable conversation will immediately descend into something quite different, and it can be impossible to get the message across in person. Not every burgled person particularly relishes the prospect of the 6'3" brick-out-house burgler darkening their doorstep with a mawkish apology. Sometimes a physical reappearance can reignite old romantic wounds in a way that a letter would not, and the amend can be eclipsed by the resuscitation of old emotions that are best left undisturbed.

In short, there are many circumstances in which a phone call or a letter, either by way of first approach or as the mode of the amend itself, is more appropriate and in keeping with the principles of the book.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Why do I rework the first nine Steps once a year?

People regularly fall asleep. People usually fall asleep slowly. They gradually drift, reducing the number of sponsees, the regularity of meetings and daily inventory, the conscious contact with God ... until they discover they're effectively no longer in AA.

That's fine. Many people are subsequently sober in perpetuity. But so many of the drifters eventually drink again. You can find out which category you will fall into only by testing it out. The ones who drink do not necessarily receive any warning, for instance their lives do not necessarily fall apart first, so it's a gamble.

So, do you fancy taking the risk? 50% (say) chance of staying sober forever, and having a good life, and a 50% (say) chance of accidentally drinking, just once, and triggering a process that cannot be stopped and that, before destroying you outright, destroys everything worthwhile?

No one in their right mind would take risk. One has to conclude either that the people who take the risk believe that they will stay sober forever (with the same certainty as those who ultimately drink), or that they're already too asleep to think it through.

The problem with falling asleep is that, if you're very awake, you can catch yourself and wake yourself up fully, but that, once you've really started to fall asleep, you've also started losing the faculty that can wake you up. This is how self-justification and delusory thinking work in practice. The more self-justification and delusory thinking go unchecked, the more you're compromising your critical faculties, and the lower your chances of finding your way back to sanity and clear vision.

Essentially, the more the ego grows back, the more you're simultaneously impairing your tools to combat the ego.

One of the points of reworking the Steps regularly, therefore, is to stay awake, as near as possible to 100%.

Another of the points stems from the observation of the lives of the people who do, and the people who don't.

The Twelfth Step suggests we practise these principles in all our affairs. The term 'these principles' self-evidently refers to the principles contained within the Steps. Amazingly, there are people who construe this to mean working the last three Steps only and never reworking the first nine. There is no linguistic basis for this; there is no spiritual basis for this; and there is no experiential basis for this.

Of course there are people who rework the first nine, following the instructions for the first nine steps, but call it working Step Ten, but that is by the by: substantially, the first nine are being reworked, just under a different heading.

Incidentally, this is not a prescription for staying stuck in the past or morbidly delving into the recesses of one's mind, to no good purpose. The process of revisiting One through Nine once a year takes a dozen hours or so (not including the time actually spent on amends), and, after 22 years, that's sufficient to scour the dark corners for egoic residue that has built up.

To sum up: an an alcoholic, I'm never cured (as evidenced by people with comparable histories who drink again after two decades and come to a sticky end); I have to choose a path most likely to guarantee sobriety in perpetuity. The path I've chosen is the one that I've concluded, based on observation, is most likely to keep me awake.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

How do you get rid of ego?

Once one has seen the worthlessness of it, there are three stages to the removal of ego:

  • Confession (Step Five)
  • Restitution (Step Nine)
  • Service (Step Twelve)
... coincidentally the three Steps involving interaction with others.

The simplest understanding of unmanageability

A GB-produced AA public information video produced for the prison service contains this line:

'This man has lost control of his drinking and thus has lost control of his life.'

Could there be a simpler, more convincing explanation of what 'unmanageability' in Step One means?

Attraction not promotion

Four tips for public information work:

  • Offer information and attendance but do not push if there is indifference or resistance
  • Do not press home a point if you encounter opposition
  • Make no sensational promises about AA
  • Do not recommend AA above any other programme or approach.

Monday, 6 July 2015

AA doesn't work

... So say some people.

Browsing a travel catalogue does not get you a suntan.
Browsing for coats in a department store does not keep you warm in the winter cold.
Going to meetings and talking about yourself does not connect you to God.

Here's the deal. What most people think of as AA is the shopfront, not the goods.

To test whether AA works:
Having completed the first three Steps, expose every twist of character and dark cranny of the past, make amends to everyone, forgive everyone, pay all the money back with interest, stick with Steps Ten and Eleven per the Big Book, and then:

Sponsor for at least an hour a day.
Be an integral part of your home group and work to keep it running optimally.
Carry out service in the AA structure.
Spend at least three hours a week on work to carry the AA message to the outside world.
Do this for one year post-completion of the last amend, and report back.

To judge AA without doing this is judge it without actually trying it, because this is what AA really is.

Delivery van

The point of the first eleven steps is to prepare one for the twelfth. A lot of people get disillusioned in recovery because they work hard at the steps but are still crazy. Almost invariably, there is an absence or deficit of service.

Imagine you have a delivery van. The first eleven steps repair and spruce up the delivery van. But you sit in the garage, in the driver's seat, depressed and paralysed, because you are aware there is nothing in the back. There are no goods to deliver. And no one to deliver them to. So you ask and wait, praying that God remove your boredom and paralysis.

God is waiting for a different question: who should I be delivering to? This seems like an insane question when the van is empty. However, if you ask, God will give you a name. And you go and deliver the nothing that you have. Embarrassed, you open the back of the van, and the recipient gasps in delight. It turns out you have in the back of your van exactly what your recipient wants. Sometimes, but not always, although increasingly over time, the invisible goods your van is groaning with become visible to you, as they always have been to others and to God.

Therefore, stop thinking about yourself and get out there and deliver. There is no time to waste on self-pity; pity was meant for the world, not for you. Go!

Seven forms of service

The solution to alcoholism lies in being of service to God. The question is not what God can do for me but what I can do for God.

There are seven ways of doing this in my life:

Sponsoring others.
Performing group level service.
Performing service in the service structure of the fellowship.
Carrying AA's message to the wider world.
Service to family and friends.
Work as service.
Service to the community and society as a whole.

If you are unhappy, a little work on yourself in inventory, confession, and some amends, prayer, and meditation will be necessary to prepare you for this.

However, service is the point.

I spent too many years in recovery moaning and complaining about my feelings and endlessly dignifying my emotional immaturity and teenage neuroses with hip terminology and complex analysis. That is all very well, but I was missing the prize. Service purifies the soul by fire and burns away all unnecessary self-centredness, leaving only the form God intends.

Happiness does flow from service, but it is not the point. I would rather have a life that is worthwhile because I have made the contribution I was meant to make. This produces a much more sustainable and satisfying happiness. Mahogany, not pine.