Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Guilt and shame

Three possible reasons for guilt and shame:
  • We haven't made amends for something. In this case, we're supposed to feel guilt and shame.
  • We feel sorrow for ourselves because our faults make us less respectable than we like to think we are, or because we fear punishment or injury to our reputation, rather than sorrow for the harm done.
  • We feel inadequate because we have failed to achieve our egos' demands that we beat everyone else at the game of life.


People-pleaser or intelligent agent?

'... I know that I am a people-pleaser, so anxious to do anything to feel loved that I don't always take very good care of myself.' (In All Our Affairs, pages 81)

Superficially, people-pleasing looks like doing what is right for others rather than what is right for oneself. 'Recovery' would therefore be moving from selflessness to self-care, or even outright selfishness.

If you look carefully at this quite perfect summation, however, you'll see that people-pleasers are not remotely selfless: pleasing other people is merely a vehicle for satisfying oneself, in this case, 'feeling loved'. As Otto Fenichel says about love addicts, 'They need the supplies, and it does not matter who provides them': people-pleasers are really users.

Chuck Chamberlain points out that it is helpful to know what the problem is: the problem, then, with people-pleasing is not that one is being selfless in the place of self-caring or selfish but that one's self-centredness is irrational. We're putting ourselves first—let's make no mistake about that—but are going about getting our needs met in a manner that does not work.

Recovery involves two stages: firstly going about getting our needs met in a manner that does work, which will involve learning how to take basic actions, both practically and spiritually, to ensure our well-being; secondly, moving from a self-centred approach to life to one in which we invoke God's power to fulfil our potential as 'intelligent agents, spearheads of God’s ever advancing Creation'.

What often happens in recovery is that the first stage is accomplished very well, and the individual starts to look after himself, but that the second stage never gets gotten round to: the individual ceases taking actions on other people's behalves and becomes no less self-centred, but more overtly and effectively so than before.

The Step Twelve chapter of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions sums up this trap and also this transition extremely well.

'Our desires for emotional security and wealth, for personal prestige and power, for romance, and for family satisfactions—all these have to be tempered and redirected. We have learned that the satisfaction of instincts cannot be the sole end and aim of our lives. ... It became clear that if we ever were to feel emotionally secure among grown-up people, we would have to put our lives on a give-and-take basis; we would have to develop the sense of being in partnership or brotherhood with all those around us. We saw that we would need to give constantly of ourselves without demands for repayment. When we persistently did this we gradually found that people were attracted to us as never before.'

The people-pleaser is like a delivery man who never services his van and is concerned not with what he is delivering but just with the paltry tips he is getting. Meanwhile, the van is virtually a wreck. Recovery consists not in keeping the delivery van in its garage and polishing and admiring it but in firstly getting the van in a fit state and then doing a damn good job of making deliveries regardless of whether or not tips are forthcoming: giving for the sake of giving.


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Victimhood and responsibility

I've heard an assertion several times recently. If I had heard it only once, I would pass it over as a particular individual's quirky interpretation of the programme. Clearly, however, it's more widespread than that and echoes a delusion I, too, was under when I was new. It also resurfaces periodically over time in AA, as a recurring meme.

The assertion goes like this: 'AA tells you to take responsibility for everything, but that's wrong. Bad things happened to me as a child, and I'm not responsible for that. I can't just forgive people. My sponsor told me I need to get angry over what happened and sit with that, and somehow I'll get over it.' (Pretty much verbatim.)

This is sometimes accompanied by objection to the assertion that we are selfish and self-centred. Perhaps, also, this is viewed as encouraging shame.

Let's look at where this might come from:

'Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.
So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making.'

To be fair, it is easy to see how this can be misunderstood. The problem, as ever, is weak sponsorship, i.e. the lack of anyone to explain properly what this material signifies.

Let's first of all look at the truth of the statement:

Have I been selfish and self-centred throughout my life? The question is not a moral one but a factual one. Do I spend more than 50% of the time thinking about me? How you treat me? What you think of me? What I think of me? What I want? What I need? All the ways things are not going my way? If you're anything like me, the answer, certainly prior to treatment with the Steps, was somewhere up around 90%. My thinking was centred on me. That was a fact. I'm not a bad person because of that. But the fact was undeniable.

Secondly, if one understands 'troubles' to denote our troubled experience of life (as opposed to external circumstances over which we have only partial control, as the Book indicates on page 67: 'Though a situation had not been entirely our fault'), it is clear that very many situations, once one is adult, are entirely self-constructed: who said 'yes' to the job you are in? Who chose that particular person to enter a long-term relationship with? Who chooses what you believe, think, and do, the decisions you make, if not you? Are these things not ultimately the chief drivers of the course of your life?

Clearly, by contrast, the events of one's childhood are ones over which one had extremely limited control. The Book nowhere suggests that children are responsible for ills that befall them, and I've honestly never heard anyone in AA suggest that this is the case. This is the 'message' 'heard' by many people, however; the Book, on the contrary, is clear that 'the world and its people are often quite wrong'. There is no suggestion that others have not had a role to play. There is no suggestion that we are all bad and others are all good.

To summarise: as children, we were not in control. What is within the scope of our responsibility, however, is whether or not we retaliated against people for what happened to us (which is what I did), committed the same actions against others, and continued to ruminate on such ills for the decades that followed. As the Book indicates, however, our job is not to feel guilty about having gotten ourselves into such an emotional predicament but now to take responsibility for doing something about it.

Regarding the shame and guilt that people (wrongly) associate with taking responsibility, there are plenty of quotations that could be used to put this into further context, but here is a particular good one:

'If what we have learned and felt and seen means anything at all, it means that all of us, whatever our race, creed, or color are the children of a living Creator with whom we may form a relationship upon simple and understandable terms as soon as we are willing and honest enough to try.'

As children of God, we are of infinite value. A good sponsor will point out that we are wonderful people who have been 'driven' (as the Book says) by forces greater than us, deep down within us, which we are as powerless to do anything about on our own as we were over alcohol.

The greatest antidote to false guilt and shame about being in this predicament is found immediately below the main quotation above about selfishness:

'And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.'

All of this may seem academic, but it is not. If responsibility in general is rejected on the grounds that (a) we are not responsible for everything and (b) responsibility is associated with guilt and shame, the danger is finding oneself five, ten, fifteen years sober still full of bitterness and erroneously believing that one's beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour are so hard-wired from childhood by the bad behaviour of those who influenced us that we are doomed ever to dance around the totem pole of our own distress. Essentially, these small misperceptions of the AA programme will condemn the individual to perpetual unhappiness. The only relief that can be provided is the temporary assuagement of guilt by propagating blame. And I should add at this point that this was a phase I myself went through between ten and fifteen years sober: the more I joined the dots regarding how those around me during my childhood affected me, the less guilty and ashamed I felt.

I'm very grateful I've been shown a different way: one in which responsibility is duly allocated, without guilt and shame, and without blame, but in recognition of the fact that, without God, there is little I can do to change (which goes for others, too).

My circumstances are not 100% my responsibility, but my beliefs, thinking, and behaviour are, and it is the ability to pull these three levers under God's guidance that provides full emotional freedom from the world, fate, and the actions of others.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The good old days

'At that time the group in New York was composed of about twelve men who were working on the principle of every drunk for himself; we had no real formula and no name. We would follow one man's ideas for a while, decide he was wrong and switch to another's method.'
Alcoholics Anonymous, page 227

Sometimes it is asserted that AA is all but washed up, because of a watered-down programme, confused ideas, and deviation from the ways of the past, when things were clear and simple, and everyone got and stayed sober.

There is some truth to this assertion: there is certainly a lot of confusion in AA and a plethora of ideas, some of which, when implemented, are effective, and some of which are not.

The myth, however, is that there was every a single 'good old days'. The genesis of the AA programme is a lot more chaotic than many believe, and the original consensus, far more tenuous.

Certainly there were pockets that were very effective, if at least their own statistics are to be believed, and pockets that were much weaker, and where AA took a lot longer to get off the ground and become firmly established.

What seems truer, however, is that AA then was actually much more like AA now: different groups, each following its own current set of ideas, and different outcomes flowing from those differing ideas.

My responsibility is not to try to bring AA in line with some legendary past but to establish what has been most effective for me and to carry that message to others through a home group.

That method happens to have as its core the programme set out in the Big Book but certainly includes large chunks of the Al-Anon programme and seasoning from all sorts of primarily spiritual sources.

There is, however, no orthodoxy, except the false orthodoxy of some contemporary 'Big Bookers' who harken back to a non-existent golden age.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Have I outgrown the nightly review?

People often think they have outgrown the nightly review.

The problem almost always is a tendency to view the questions too narrowly. Of course, they really cover all attitudes, thinking, and behaviour of which one is capable, and there is no fault or corrective measure that does not find its way under one or other heading.

Here's a slightly expanded set of questions that can help those who have hit a brick wall and apparently can find nothing to investigate.

Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid?

Resentful and afraid cover all forms of emotional disturbance. Unless one responds placidly to everything, these questions, one way or another, will always command a response. Resentment can be read as emotional disturbance at what is or was; afraid as emotional disturbance at what might be.

Dishonest covers self-deception, inappropriate concealment, and inappropriate lying, manipulation, hiding a bad motive under a good one, self-justification, blame, exaggeration, embellishment, misrepresentation, and malingering.

Selfish, Were we kind and loving toward all? and What could we have done better? concern our actions.

I have often congratulated myself at a day without selfish action. It is as well to pull myself up short and examine this list, which covers a good deal of selfish actions:

arguing / attention-seeking / avoiding amends / avoiding intimacy / bad-temperedness / being different to gain an identity / bitching / boasting / brusqueness / bullying / choosing chaos / choosing short-term gain over long-term pain / coldness / complaining / complying just to gain approval / compulsive busyness / concealing the truth / controlling / criticising / defensiveness / deliberate charm / dismissing people / distortion / dominating conversations / duvet-diving / exhibitionism / fire-fighting (only dealing with the urgent) / fishing for compliments / fitting in to gain an identity / fixing / flattery / focusing on people who do not like you / giving people attention only when they ignore you / giving to get / gossiping / graciousness with an agenda / ignoring people / imbalance between different areas of life / impatience / impoliteness / inaction / inappropriate self-expression / inconsistency / indifference/apathy in dealings with others / indiscretion / inflexibility / ingratiation / interfering / isolating / lack of discipline / lying / making excessive demands / making others' crises your own / malice / managing situations that are not my business / manipulation / martyrdom / mothering / neglect / not asking for help / not listening / not playing enough / not resting / not setting boundaries / not spending enough / not working enough / over-dependence / overeating / overspending / overworking / patronisation / physical violence / procrastination / provocation / pulling rank / punishing / rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic / recklessness / repeating mistakes and expecting different results / retaliation / sarcasm / saying 'no' too often / saying 'yes' too often / scaring people / secretiveness / self-justification / self-neglect / shaming people / showing off / sloth / stealing / stewing / sticking your head in the sand / taking people for granted / verbal abuse / withdrawing / withholding yourself

It may be that some have successfully eliminated all of these. I have not.

Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life?

These questions are pretty straightforward; there may not be an apology, and there may not be anything that needs to be discussed with others at once. The question about thought, however, is always a good one. There is never a day that goes by when one is entirely in the present, mentally engaged only in planning or accomplishing good acts.

Here is a list of bad mental habits:

anxiety / arrogance / beating yourself up / believing feelings / bitterness / black-and-white thinking / blame / contempt / criticising / defensiveness / denial / despair / distorting / embellishment / envy / exaggeration / expectation / fantasy / generalisation / greed/gluttony / guilt / gullibility / hatred / hypersensitivity / hypocrisy / impatience / indecision / indifference / inflexibility / intolerance / irrationality / jealousy / judging / lack of perspective / lack of proportion / lack of self-evaluation / lying / mercilessness / mistrust / negativity / nostalgia / obsessing / over-ambition / over-analysing / perfectionism / pessimism / projection / resistance to change / rigidity / scorn / self-centredness / self-consciousness / self-doubt / self-importance / selfishness / self-justification / self-obsession / self-pity / self-righteousness / self-satisfaction / sense of fraudulence / shame / suspicion / thinking oneself special & different  / tunnel-vision / withholding the truth  / worry / zero–sum thinking

It may be that some have successfully eliminated all of these. I have not.

But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others.

Obviously this need not—and should not—take more than a few minutes. A balance must be struck between avoiding inventory altogether and becoming excessively absorbed in it.

After making our review we ask God's forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.

If short of corrective measures, I read spiritual literature. My deficiencies and what I could believe, think, or do instead invariably become immediately apparent.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Authenticity and kindness

At a meeting recently, it was suggested that people-pleasers (those who act kindly and courteously towards others in order to curry favour) necessarily must stop being kind and courteous and go through a phase of being angry and unpleasant, in order to learn authenticity, ultimately to resume being kind and courteous, but this time authentically.

It was asserted that the programme is not about becoming a better person but becoming authentic.

Now, that is a view, but it not the view of the Big Book, which is clear that we perform inventory and ask God to remove defects not so we can indulge in a glorious process of self-discovery and reached a hallowed place of authenticity but so we can stop being rebarbative and objectionable and start being patient, tolerant, kind, and loving.

I've met a quite a few people-pleasers in my time. I have to say, they have never particularly pleased me. I'm a little hesitant about anyone who comes into recovery claiming to have behaved in a saintly manner, just with the wrong motives.

It was said of someone, 'she helps many people. You can tell who they are by the haunted look on their faces.'

The premise of this suggested journey is likely flawed, therefore.

But the real problem is the suggestion that, if we are indeed kind and courteous to others, but for self-serving reasons, we need to stop acting kindly and courteously and start acting unkindly and rudely, in order to make spiritual progress.

I am most thankful this is not the case. One can continue behaving well but work on surrendering internally to God to ensure that the spirit in which one does such things is amended. The result will indeed be more authentic and more genuinely helpful, therefore, without the silent but oh-so-well-understood expectations hitherto served up as a parsley garnish with every boeuf-en-croute of kindness.

To test this, ask those surrounding the recovering or recovered alcoholic who behaves well but is sickeningly dependent on the approval of others: what would you prefer? That he find his true self and in the course of doing so cease to be any use to others, perhaps taking himself on dates with himself, or running luxurious baths, or that he carry on behaving well but grow up and stop being so needy? I think the answer is clear.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Step Eleven Review: bringing it into focus

A nightly Step Eleven review can easily degenerate into unfocused discourse about one's day.

Here's a slightly tighter format:

What was I resentful about?
Where was my attitude wrong?
What should my attitude be?

What was I frightened of?
Where was my attitude wrong?
What should my attitude be?

Where was I selfish?
What should I have done instead?
What can I do to make it right?

Where was I dishonest?
What should I have done instead?
What can I do to make it right?

List of apologies to make:

List of things to discuss with a sponsor or spiritual advisor:

Where was I unkind or unloving?
What should I have done instead?
What can I do to make it right?

Throughout the day, was I thinking about getting or giving?
What should the focus of my thoughts be tomorrow?

List of corrective measures (attitudes and behaviour):

(If you are short of ideas for corrective measures, pick a spiritual book off your shelf, ask God to show you specific corrective measures, and make a list of ten.)

Al-Anon: Paths to Recovery: the Step Four virtues and flaws

Al-Anon does not prescribe how to do Step Four but offers a range of suggestions. Whatever route is followed, lists can help clarify thinking. The Step Four questions in Paths to Recovery essentially describe a range of virtues and a number of flaws. One way of inventorying is to examine whether or not we are displaying the virtues, and then to zone in on the flaws.

For those who struggle because inventory, in picking out flaws, can threaten already fragile self-worth, looking at the assets first can help. Of course, when looking at assets, one discovers, straight away, one's own shortcomings in relation to these assets, so examining assets is far from being a way of avoiding inventory, instead leading us directly, albeit gently, to the truth. 

Here are the virtues and flaws, distilled. 

Virtues 

Acceptance of what cannot be changed 
Acceptance that others are different 
Acceptance that others' needs are different than mine 
Acting responsibly 
Admitting mistakes 
Agreeability 
Being clear and concise in expression 
Being dependable 
Being organised 
Consideration 
Courtesy 
Creating a pleasant environment 
Doing what I promised when I promised it 
Eating healthily 
Empathy with others 
Financial prudence and budgeting 
Financial responsibility (paying bills on time) 
Following a Higher Power's guidance 
Fostering artistic or other talents 
Fulfilment of commitments 
Generosity (including in Al-Anon) 
Gratitude 
Helpfulness 
Honesty 
Humility 
Kind thoughts towards others 
Kind thoughts towards myself 
Listening 
Mentally turning things over to a Higher Power 
Obeying the law 
Offering help when it is asked for 
Openness to others' views 
Optimism 
Patience with myself 
Pointing out the good in others 
Prayer and meditation 
Seeing the good in others 
Seeking a Higher Power's guidance 
Seeking guidance from others 
Spotting opportunities for service 
Taking all of the actions of the programme to remain well 
Taking care of medical problems 
Taking care of physical appearance 
Taking care of physical things (one's own and others) 
Taking each action to the best of my ability 
Taking exercise 
Tolerance 
Trustworthiness 
Volunteering for service in Al-Anon 

Flaws 

Doing for others what they can and should do for themselves 
Feeling responsible for what is beyond my control 
Getting upset when I don't get my own way 
Holding others to excessively high standards 
Holding ourselves to excessively high standards 
Inappropriate secrecy 
Lying to avoid tension or conflict 
Manipulation (using covert means to get my own way) 
Martyrdom 
Mental judgement of others 
Not removing myself from dangerous or otherwise harmful situations 
Self-pity 
Taking on responsibilities that are not mine 
Try to fix things that are none of my business 
Trying to be in charge when it is not appropriate 
Voiced criticism

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Al-Anon—Step Three

Step Three in Al-Anon

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

... God as we understood Him
  • This is not (necessarily) the God of one's childhood or religion.
  • The premise of this is that God is caring ('over to the care of God').
  • This means that God has our best interests at heart.
Optional question: other than 'caring', are there any other qualities you might usefully ascribe to God? Are there any qualities you might usefully detach from God (e.g. judgement, condemnation)?

... our will ....

Definition (Oxford Online Dictionary): A deliberate or fixed desire or intention / the thing that one desires or ordains.

Put simply: what we want.

[Footnote: 'our will' (versus 'God's will'), in the programme, really means self-will, i.e. the will borne of ego. Our 'true will' is buried inside us and is aligned with God's will. The programme is about trying to move away from self-will and towards God's will, which is our true will. To make this distinction clear, let's use the term self-will to describe what we are trying to move away from.]

... our lives ...

This means the sum total of our experience.

... turn something over ...

Definition (Oxford Online Dictionary): transfer control or management of something to someone else.

... turning our will and lives over to the care of God as we understand Him ...

This means:
  • We disregard self-will.
  • We relinquish the desire to direct the course of our (and others') lives.
  • Instead we ask God what attitudes to adopt, what to think, and what to do and follow through with constructive action.
  • We trust that our experience will be improved as a result and that our lives will take care of themselves.
Made a decision ...

This means that we set this as an objective and, through our actions, move towards it. It will never be achieved as a permanent state, however.

Why do we do this?
  • Following self-will and attempting to direct the course of our (and others') lives has produced terrible results; that is why we are in Al-Anon.
  • Following the programme might produce better results ('satisfying' and 'serene' [PTR {Paths to Recovery} 28]), so it is worth trying.
How do we do this practically?
  • Remember God's permanent presence.
  • Pray (set or ad lib) prayers or just talk to God and listen.
  • Meditate (in whatever fashion suits you).
  • Ask for God's direction.
  • Ask for strength to follow God's direction.
  • Do not ask for specific results (this is playing God).
  • Situation by situation:
    • Adopt this position: self-will must be disregarded, because it does not bring good results.
    • Ask: God, what attitude should do I adopt? What should I think and do?
    • Take the required action and let go of (= stop thinking about) the results.
    • Trust: my experience will be improved as a result.
    • This is calling 'letting go and letting God'.
    • Watch for 'taking your will back' (= thinking about selfish ends, planning and plotting, and thinking about results).
    • When this is spotted, immediately turn the situation over again, e.g. by saying to God, 'Over to you. I'm not going to think about this or interfere unless I am so instructed by you.'
  • Stop obsessing about problems.
  • Stop obsessing about other people's actions, thoughts, feelings, and internal lives.
  • Stop obsessing about the past and the future.
  • Instead: think about God and His will for you, and come back to the moment and your own constructive contribution.
  • Seek validation from God, not from others, about yourself and your attitudes, thinking, and behaviour.
  • Write troublesome situations on slips of paper and 'post' them into a God box; then refuse to think about them.
  • Recall personal powerlessness to solve your own problems without God's help, or to solve others' problems at all.
  • When others make decisions you do not like: leave them to the consequences of their own actions.
  • Recognise that all our paths are different and we do not know what is right for others.
Benefits
  • Relief from a sense of responsibility for our (and others') lives.
  • More reliable guidance and therefore better results in our lives.
  • Independence from the opinions, needs, and demands of others (PTR 29).
Questions
  • Do I have a concept of a Higher Power?
  • Is it a helpful concept?
  • If not: do I even need a concept?
  • Do I have any reservations about making this decision?
  • What will happen if I do not make this decision?

Self-forgetting

I heard someone say, once, 'recovery is personal journey of the discovery of self,' or something to that effect. Often one hears very impassioned talks in AA about the emotional and intellectual twists and turns of the journey from the head to the heart. The observations may be accurate, and the emotions, heartfelt.

However, the point, paradoxically, of all of the self-searching and self-awareness is self-forgetting. Without that, the rocket never reaches orbit, and all you have is a lot of showy fire and smoke. More worryingly, without reaching orbit, the rocket will crash back to earth, at ten, fifteen, twenty years sober. Forget yourself or die, one might sternly admonish, but without excessive drama, because sticky ends are not exactly a rarity amongst people who have been in the world of recovery for a long time.

To some extent this is fuelled by the 'always recovering' principle. If you're 'always recovering', you're never quite up to the challenges of the world, so are exempted. A world which, if one pays attention at all, needs far more work on it than you do. There's nothing wrong with working on oneself, per se, but when there is a world that is desperately in need of practical help, once one has cleared away the basic blocks to usefulness (alcoholic drinking, neuroticism stemming from resentment and secrecy, and a lifetime of amends that have never been made), that is where one's main obligations lie. If one were actually to recover, one would be forced to forget the residual emotional discomfort, for a great deal of the time, take up the hammer, sickle, and spade, and work. You see, there is a selfish advantage in never fully recovering.

'The work' is not the work on oneself: that is preparation for 'the work'. The work is really the living sacrifice of oneself (meaning one's own desires and ambitions) through effort to contribute to the world around one. This does not mean that one does not continue to perform a little inventory, say a little prayer, confess wrongs, and quietly apologise for misdemeanours. It does mean, however, that this is relegated to a support function and is no longer the main business of one's life.

Here are some quotations:

For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he did not work, he would surely drink again, and if he drank, he would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that. My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems.
Alcoholics Anonymous

If sex is very troublesome, we throw ourselves the harder into helping others. We think of their needs and work for them. This takes us out of ourselves.
Alcoholics Anonymous

THE RELIGIOUS VIEW ON AA 'The basis of the technique of Alcoholics Anonymous is the truly Christian principle that a man cannot help himself except by helping others. The AA plan is described by the members themselves as "self-insurance". This self-insurance has resulted in the restoration of physical, mental and spiritual health and self-respect to hundreds of men and women who would be hopelessly down and out without its unique but effective therapy.'
Alcoholics Anonymous

THE MEDICAL VIEW ON AA 'In this atmosphere the alcoholic often overcomes his excessive concentration upon himself. Learning to depend upon a higher power and absorb himself in his work with other alcoholics, he remains sober day by day. The days add up into weeks, the weeks into months and years.'
Alcoholics Anonymous

A salt doll journeyed for thousands of miles and stopped on the edge of the sea.
It was fascinated by this moving liquid mass, so unlike anything it had seen before.
'What are you?' said the salt doll to the sea.
'Come in and see,' said the sea with a smile.
So the doll waded in. The further it went the more it dissolved till there was only a pinch left. Before that last bit dissolved, the doll exclaimed in wonder, 'Now I know what I am!'
The Song of the Bird, Anthony de Mello

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
...
In the morning we think of the hours to come. Perhaps we think of our day's work and the chances it may afford us to be useful and helpful, or of some special problem that it may bring.
...
the surest help of all—our search for God's will, not our own
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

WORKSHOP PACK 01 USING THE PROGRAMME TO HANDLE HARD TIMES

'We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free. We cannot subscribe to the belief that this life is a vale of tears, though it once was just that for many of us. But it is clear that we made our own misery. God didn't do it. Avoid then, the deliberate manufacture of misery, but if trouble comes, cheerfully capitalise it as an opportunity to demonstrate His omnipotence.'
Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 133

'When World War II broke out, this spiritual principle had its first major test. AAs entered the services and were scattered all over the world. Would they be able to take discipline, stand up under fire, and endure the monotony and misery of war? Would the kind of dependence they had learned in AA carry them through? Well, it did. They had even fewer alcoholic lapses or emotional binges than AAs safe at home did. They were just as capable of endurance and valour as any other soldiers. Whether in Alaska or on the Salerno beachhead, their dependence upon a Higher Power worked. And far from being a weakness, this dependence was their chief source of strength.'
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step Three

'And as we grow spiritually, we find that our old attitudes toward our instincts need to undergo drastic revisions. Our desires for emotional security and wealth, for personal prestige and power, for romance, and for family satisfactions—all these have to be tempered and redirected. We have learned that the satisfaction of instincts cannot be the sole end and aim of our lives. If we place instincts first, we have got the cart before the horse; we shall be pulled backward into disillusionment. But when we are willing to place spiritual growth first—then and only then do we have a real chance.'
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step Twelve

'After we come into AA, if we go on growing, our attitudes and actions toward security—emotional security and financial security—commence to change profoundly. Our demand for emotional security, for our own way, had constantly thrown us into unworkable relations with other people. Though we were sometimes quite unconscious of this, the result always had been the same. Either we had tried to play God and dominate those about us, or we had insisted on being over-dependent upon them. Where people had temporarily let us run their lives as though they were still children, we had felt very happy and secure ourselves. But when they finally resisted or ran away, we were bitterly hurt and disappointed. We blamed them, being quite unable to see that our unreasonable demands had been the cause.
When we had taken the opposite tack and had insisted, like infants ourselves, that people protect and take care of us or that the world owed us a living, then the result had been equally unfortunate. This often caused the people we had loved most to push us aside or perhaps desert us entirely. Our disillusionment had been hard to bear. We couldn't imagine people acting that way toward us. We had failed to see that though adult in years we were still behaving childishly, trying to turn everybody—friends, wives, husbands, even the world itself—into protective parents. We had refused to learn the very hard lesson that overdependence upon people is unsuccessful because all people are fallible, and even the best of them will sometimes let us down, especially when our demands for attention become unreasonable.
As we made spiritual progress, we saw through these fallacies. It became clear that if we ever were to feel emotionally secure among grown-up people, we would have to put our lives on a give-and-take basis; we would have to develop the sense of being in partnership or brotherhood with all those around us. We saw that we would need to give constantly of ourselves without demands for repayment. When we persistently did this we gradually found that people were attracted to us as never before. And even if they failed us, we could be understanding and not too seriously affected.
When we developed still more, we discovered the best possible source of emotional stability to be God Himself. We found that dependence upon His perfect justice, forgiveness, and love was healthy, and that it would work where nothing else would. If we really depended upon God, we couldn't very well play God to our fellows nor would we feel the urge wholly to rely on human protection and care. These were the new attitudes that finally brought many of us an inner strength and peace that could not be deeply shaken by the shortcomings of others or by any calamity not of our own making.'
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step Twelve

'[It was in the AA fellowship that we had] our first glimpse of its quite new world of understanding and loving concern. Soon we took a look at AA's Twelve Steps for recovery, but many of us promptly forgot ten of them, as perhaps not needed. We bought only the concept that we were alcoholics; that attendance at meetings and a helping hand to the newcomers would be sufficient to solve the booze problem, and probably all problems. We looked with approval on that dear old cliché that says that "drinking is but a good man's fault." Once off the grog, life would be as pleasant as eating cherries. By happily warming our hands at the AA fire, all seemed well.
But by degrees certain dissatisfactions set in, even with our own group: it was not as wonderful as we had first supposed. There was, perhaps, some rock-throwing at a scandal, or a distressing row over who would become the group's next chairman. There were people we simply did not like, and the ones we did admire failed to give us the attention we thought we deserved. At home we were also shocked. After the pink cloud had departed from the household, things seemed as bad as ever. The old wounds weren't healing at all. Though impressed with our sobriety, the bank nevertheless asked when were we going to pay up. Our boss likewise demanded in firm tones that we "get with it."
So each of us looked up his sponsor and regaled him with these woes. Our resentments, anxieties and depressions were definitely caused, we claimed, by our unfortunate circumstances and by the inconsiderate behaviour of other people. To our consternation, our sponsors didn't seem impressed either. They had just grinned and said, "Why don't we sit down and take a hard look at all of AA's Twelve Steps? Maybe you have been missing a lot—in fact, nearly everything."
Then we began to take our own inventories, rather than the other fellow's. Getting into the swing of self-examination, we finally began to discover our real responsibilities toward ourselves and toward those around us. Though a tough assignment, it did by degrees get easier. We began to make restitution to those we had harmed, grudgingly at first, and then more willingly. Little by little, we found that all progress, material or spiritual, consisted of finding out what our responsibilities actually were and then proceeding to do something about them. These activities began to pay off. We found that we didn't always have to be driven by our own discomforts as, more willingly, we picked up the burdens of living and growing.
Then, most surprisingly, we discovered that full acceptance and action upon any clear-cut responsibility almost invariably made for true happiness and peace of mind. Moreover these durable satisfactions were redoubled when we realised that our now better quality of willingness made it possible in meditation to find God's will. At last we discovered that we joyfully wanted to live responsibly.'
Language of the Heart, p. 328

'Last autumn, depression, having no really rational cause at all, almost took me to the cleaners. I began to be scared that I was in for another long, chronic spell. Considering the grief I've had with depressions, it wasn't a bright prospect.
I kept asking myself, "Why can't the Twelve Steps work to release depression?" By the hour I stared at the St Francis prayer—"It is better to comfort than be comforted." Here was the formula all right, but why didn't it work?
Suddenly I realised what the matter was. My basic flaw had always been dependence—almost absolute dependence—on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and the like. Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them, and when defeat came, so did my depression.
There wasn't a chance of making the outgoing love of St Francis a workable and joyous way of life until these fatal and almost absolute dependencies were cut away. Because I had over the years undergone a little spiritual development, the absolute quality of these frightful dependencies had never before been so starkly revealed. Reinforced by what grace I could secure in prayer, I found I had to exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these faulty emotional dependencies upon people, upon AA (indeed!) and upon any set of circumstances whatsoever.
Then only could I be free to love as St Francis had. Emotional and instinctual satisfactions, I saw, were really the extra dividends of having love, offering love and expressing a love appropriate to each relation to life.
Plainly, I could not avail myself of God's love until I was able to offer it back to Him by loving others as He would have me, and I couldn't possibly do that so long as I was victimised by false dependencies.
For my dependency meant demand—for the possession and control of the people and conditions surrounding me.'
Language of the Heart, p. 237

'Twelfth-stepping, talking at meetings, recitals of drinking histories, confessions of our defects and what progress we have made with them no longer provide us with the released and the abundant life. Our lack of growth is often revealed by an unexpected calamity or a big emotional upset. Perhaps we hit the financial jackpot and are surprised that this solves almost nothing; that we are still bored and miserable, notwithstanding.
As we usually don't get drunk on these occasions, our bright-eyed friends tell us how well we are doing.
But inside, we know better. We know we aren't doing well enough. We still can't handle life, as life is. There must be a serious flaw somewhere in our spiritual practice and development.
What, then, is it?
The chances are better than even that we shall locate our trouble in our misunderstanding or neglect of AA's Step Eleven—prayer, meditation, and the guidance of God. The other steps can keep most of us sober and somehow functioning. But step eleven can keep us growing, if we try hard and work at it continually. If we even expend five percent of the time on Step Eleven that we habitually (and rightly) lavish on Step Twelve, the result can be wonderfully far-reaching. That is an almost uniform experience of those who constantly practice Step Eleven.'
Language of the Heart, p. 240

'these … miseries, all of them generated by fear, became so unbearable that I turned highly aggressive. Thinking I never could belong, and vowing I'd never settle for any second-rate status, I felt I simply had to dominate in everything I chose to do, work or play. As this attractive formula for the good life began to succeed, according to my then specifications of success, I became deliriously happy. But when an undertaking occasionally did fail, I was filled with a resentment and depression that could be cured only by the next triumph. Very early, therefore, I came to value everything in terms of victory or defeat—all or nothing. The only satisfaction I knew was to win.
This was my false antidote for fear …
… we of AA place … emphasis on the need for faith in a "Higher Power", define that as we may. We have to find a life in the world of grace and spirit, and this is certainly a new dimension for most of us. Surprisingly, our quest for this realm of being is not too difficult. Our conscious entry into it usually begins as soon as we have deeply confessed our personal powerlessness to go on alone, and have made our appeal to whatever God we think there is—or may be. The gift of faith and the consciousness of a Higher Power is the outcome. As faith grows, so does inner security. The vast underlying fear of nothingness commences to subside. Therefore we of AA find that our basic antidote for fear is a spiritual awakening.'
Language of the Heart, p. 267

'… our very first problem is to accept our present circumstances as they are, ourselves as we are, and the people about us as they are. This is to adopt a realistic humility without which no genuine advance can even begin. … Provided we strenuously avoid turning these realistic surveys of the facts of life into unrealistic alibis for apathy or defeatism, they can be the sure foundation upon which increased emotional health and therefore spiritual progress can be built. At least this seems to be my own experience.
Another exercise that I practice is to try for a full inventory of my blessings and then for a right acceptance of the many gifts that are mine—both temporal and spiritual. Here I try to achieve a state of joyful gratitude. … I try hard to hold fast to the truth that a full and thankful heart cannot entertain great conceits. …
In times of very rough going, the grateful acceptance of my blessings, oft repeated, can also bring me some of the serenity of which our prayer speaks. Whenever I fall under acute pressures I lengthen my daily walks and slowly repeat our Serenity Prayer in rhythm to my steps and breathing. If I feel that my pain has in part been occasioned by others, I try to repeat, "God grant me the serenity to love their best, and never fear their worst." …
These fragments of prayer bring far more than mere comfort. They keep me on the track of right acceptance; they break up my compulsive themes of guilt, depression, rebellion, and pride; and sometimes they endow me with the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.'
Language of the Heart, p. 269

'Bill W said, "Trouble is not what it seems. At least, not when you have been in AA for a while. You somehow begin to see that life is just a short day in a great school. In the longer perspective, it matters not much whether the lessons are easy or difficult. The point is, do we learn, and do we transmit to others what we have found?
The only people that I can be genuinely sorry for are those who have no idea of why they are alive or where, if any place, they are going. They cannot possibly have the longer perspective which would so greatly comfort them in times of adversity. They spend their whole lives long avoiding trouble or complaining about it when they get it.
When you stop to think about it, Alcoholics Anonymous is a society which is founded, not so much upon success, as upon failure. The only reason I know is that I once failed myself—I drank so much bathtub gin, I nearly died. The capitalisation of that failure, and of many others, is the foundation upon which Alcoholics Anonymous is built." '
Grapevine, March 1971

'Just for today I will not be afraid of anything. If my mind is clouded with nameless dreads, I will track them down and expose their unreality. I will remind myself that God is in charge of me and mine and that I have only to accept His protection and guidance. What happened yesterday need not trouble me today.'
One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, p. 328

'Sometimes it seems to us we have more than a fair share of problems. We're so submerged in them that we can't imagine any way out. It's like trying to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to raise our thoughts out of this frantic state.
We can do it, though, if we learn to use the leverage of God's help. It is always with us, ready to give us the lift we need. What happens then is that we are enabled to see beyond what seems to be. In Al-Anon, we call this getting a perspective on our troubles, instead of pinpointing our thoughts on the trouble.'
 One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, p. 148

'Forgiveness can sometimes make the difference. Unfortunately, forgiveness is often confused with judgement: I will examine the ways in which I feel you have injured me and find you guilty. Then, out of my generous, spiritual heart, I will condescend to absolve you of guilt. This is not forgiveness, but arrogance. If we have judged, forgiveness can be the means by which our minds are returned to humility—and thereby to real freedom: we can remember that we are in no position to rule on the worthiness of another. Every person, simply by being a child of God, is worthy of love and respect. By shifting the focus from the other person's "wrongs" to our own, we can take responsibility for having expressed condemnation. Then we can forgive ourselves. We are human. We sometimes make mistakes and may have to make amends for you behaviour. Nevertheless, we have no more right to condemn ourselves than to condemn others. We deserve to treat ourselves with honesty and love.'
… In All Our Affairs (Al-Anon), p. 210

'There is no better way to keep our spiritual benefits than by giving them away with love, free of expectations, and with no strings attached. Giving away our material goods depletes our supply (if I give you half my lunch, I will have less than before). When we give away what we have received in Al-Anon, most of us get back far more than we give.'
… In All Our Affairs (Al-Anon), p. 209

'Some decisions are not simply choices between something good and something not-good, but more like: "Which kind of pain can I live with most readily?" I have found that this applies to every area of my life, including my marriage to a recovering alcoholic. There are times when I have to hurt through a situation. When this happens, the choice is not whether to hurt or not to hurt, but what to do while I am hurting. I can function productively while I heal or I can turn my face to the wall and hide a while. I have done some of both, but at least I know now that I have the choice.'
… In All Our Affairs (Al-Anon), p. 172

'I was first reminded that for the alcoholic, drinking is not the problem—it's the solution. Alcohol had served as the source of his security, courage, and serenity. Today he is often in a state of panic because he has not yet found other sources for these very real needs.
Al-Anon does not promise to save marriages, but it does offer sanity. If you do want the marriage, they told me, then accept the fact that you will not get healthy behaviour from a sick person or logical statements from an illogical person. This includes me, too. I expected myself to be well immediately. Now I know that I may never be, but that I can be increasingly better, and I can be gentler with both of us.
I was also reminded that we do not accept the unacceptable, and what is unacceptable varies from person to person. What I could not live with for five minutes, others could perhaps tolerate with good grace, and vice versa.'
… In All Our Affairs (Al-Anon), p. 78

'… specific, concrete, how-to-do-it suggestions …:
1. Build an invisible shield between you and him, a shield of love. Use it when the abuse begins, and the words will hit it and roll off without touching you. Visualise it keenly; make it vividly real in your mind.
2. Remember that he is only one or two years old in AA, that he is much like a real baby of that age who slaps out at people who are holding him. We don't slap back. We just hold the baby off far enough that he can't hit us.
3. When he is holding forth with these torrents of vicious words, they told me, picture him saying these things out the window of a mental hospital. Would they hurt then? No, I thought, because I would know he was sick and that they weren't aimed at me personally. They suggested that I mentally draw a window around him whenever this started and detach myself as if he were really hospitalised. It worked amazingly! I can't tell you how many hundreds of times I drew the window around him and felt the release that came as a result.'
… In All Our Affairs (Al-Anon), p. 79

'I once read an anecdote of the Far West that carries a wonderful metaphysical lesson. It appears that a party of hunters, being called away from their camp by a sudden alarm, left the camp fire unattended, with a kettle of water boiling on it.
Presently an old bear crept out of the woods, attracted by the fire, and, seeing the kettle with its lid dancing about on top, promptly seized it. Naturally, it burnt and scalded him badly; but instead of dropping it instantly he proceeded to hug it tightly—this being Mr Bruin's only idea of defence. Of course, the tighter he hugged it the more it burnt him, and of course the more it burnt him the tighter he hugged it, and so on in a vicious circle, to the undoing of the bear.
This illustrates perfectly the way in which so many people amplify their difficulties. They hug them to their bosoms by constantly rehearsing them to themselves and others, and by continually dwelling upon them in every possible manner, instead of dropping them once and for all so the wound would have a chance to heal.
Whenever you catch yourself thinking about your grievances, say to yourself: "Bear hugs kettle," and think about God instead. You will be surprised how quickly some long-standing wounds will disappear under this treatment.'
Find And Use Your Inner Power, Emmet Fox, p. 28

'T-2.VII.1. You may still complain about fear, but you nevertheless persist in making yourself fearful. 2 I have already indicated that you cannot ask me to release you from fear. 3 I know it does not exist, but you do not. 4 If I intervened between your thoughts and their results, I would be tampering with a basic law of cause and effect; the most fundamental law there is. 5 I would hardly help you if I depreciated the power of your own thinking. 6 This would be in direct opposition to the purpose of this course. 7 It is much more helpful to remind you that you do not guard your thoughts carefully enough. 8 You may feel that at this point it would take a miracle to enable you to do this, which is perfectly true. 9 You are not used to miracle-minded thinking, but you can be trained to think that way. 10 All miracle workers need that kind of training.'
A Course in Miracles

'W-pI.190.5. It is your thoughts alone that cause you pain. 2 Nothing external to your mind can hurt or injure you in anyway. 3 There is no cause beyond yourself that can reach down and bring oppression. 4 No one but yourself affects you. 5 There is nothing in the world that has the power to make you ill or sad, or weak or frail. 6 But it is you who have the power to dominate all things you see by merely recognizing what you are. 7 As you perceive the harmlessness in them, they will accept your holy will as theirs. 8 And what was seen as fearful now becomes a source of innocence and holiness.'
A Course in Miracles

'If you want to know what it means to be happy, look at a flower, a bird, a child; they are perfect images of the kingdom. For they live from moment to moment in the eternal now with no past and no future. So they are spared the guilt and the anxiety that so torment human beings and they are full of the sheer joy of living, taking delight not so much in persons or things as in life itself. As long as your happiness is caused or sustained by something or someone outside of you, you are still in the land of the dead. The day you are happy for no reason whatsoever, the day you find yourself taking delight in everything and in nothing, you will know that you have found the land of unending joy called the kingdom.
To find the kingdom is the easiest thing in the world but also the most difficult. Easy because it is all around you and within you, and all you have to do is reach out and take possession of it. Difficult because if you wish to possess the kingdom you may possess nothing else. That is, you must drop all inward leaning on any person or thing, withdrawing from them forever the power to thrill you, or excite you, or to give you a feeling of security or well-being. For this you first need to see with unflinching clarity this simple and shattering truth: Contrary to what your culture and religion have taught you, nothing, but absolutely nothing can make you happy. The moment you see that, you will stop moving from one job to another, one friend to another, one place, one spiritual technique, one guru to another. None of these things can give you a single minute of happiness. They can only offer you a temporary thrill, a pleasure that initially grows in intensity, then turns into pain if you lose them and into boredom if you keep them. …
The day you are discontented not because you want more of something but without knowing what it is you want; when you are sick at heart of everything that you have been pursuing so far and you are sick of the pursuit itself, then your heart will attain a great clarity, an insight that will cause you mysteriously to delight in everything and in nothing.'
The Way To Love (Fire On The Earth), Anthony De Mello


WORKSHOP PACK 02 BUILDING A FELLOWSHIP THROUGH THE HOME GROUP

'… 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 attended 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. …
Many a man, yet dazed from his hospital experience, has stepped over the threshold of that home into freedom. Many an alcoholic who entered there came away with an answer. He succumbed to that gay crowd inside, who laughed at their own misfortunes and understood his. Impressed by those who visited him at the hospital, he capitulated entirely when, later, in an upper room of this house, he heard the story of some man whose experience closely tallied with his own. …
The very practical approach to his problems, the absence of intolerance of any kind, the informality, the genuine democracy, the uncanny understanding which these people had were irresistible. He and his wife would leave elated by the thought of what they could now do for some stricken acquaintance and his family. They knew they had a host of new friends; it seemed they had known these strangers always. …
No one is too discredited or has sunk too low to be welcomed cordially—if he means business. Social distinctions, petty rivalries and jealousies—these are laughed out of countenance. Being wrecked in the same vessel, being restored and united under one God, with hearts and minds attuned to the welfare of others, the things which matter so much to some people no longer signify much to them. How could they?'
Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 159

'Little clusters of twos and threes and fives of us have sprung up in other communities, through contact with our two larger centres. Those of us who travel drop in as often as we can. This practice enables us to lend a hand, …
Thus we grow. And so can you, though you be but one man with this book in your hand. We believe and hope it contains all you will need to begin.
We know what you are thinking. You are saying to yourself: 'I'm jittery and alone. I couldn't do that.' But you can. You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself. To duplicate, with such backing, what we have accomplished is only a matter of willingness, patience and labour.'
Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 162

'Still you may say: "But I will not have the benefit of contact with you who wrote this book." We cannot be sure. God will determine that, so you must remember that your real reliance is always upon Him. He will show you how to create the fellowship you crave.
Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven't got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others.'
Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 164

'It is an historical fact that practically all groupings of men and women tend to become more dogmatic; their beliefs and practices harden and sometimes freeze. This is a natural and almost inevitable process. All people must, of course, rally to the call of their convictions, and we of AA are no exception. Moreover, all people should have the right to voice their convictions. This is good principle and good dogma. But dogma also has its liabilities. Simply because we have convictions that work well for us, it becomes very easy to assume that we have all the truth. Whenever this brand of arrogance develops, we are certain to become aggressive; we demand agreement with us; we play God. This isn't good dogma; it's very bad dogma. It could be especially destructive for us of AA to indulge in this sort of thing.
Newcomers are approaching AA at the rate of tens of thousands yearly. They represent almost every belief and attitude imaginable. We have atheists and agnostics. We have people of nearly every race, culture and religion. In AA we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a common suffering. Consequently, the full individual liberty to practise any creed or principle or therapy whatever should be a first consideration for us all. Let us not, therefore, pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views. Let us instead accord each other the respect and love that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way toward the light. Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive; let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of AA, so long as he or she so declares.'
Language of the Heart, p. 333

'Let's look for a moment at a single AA member. Faith alone does not save him. He has to act, do something. He must carry his message to others, practise AA principles in all his affairs. Else he slips, he withers, and he dies. Look now at an AA group. Can pure faith, mere belief in right principle and sound tradition, make the group a going concern? Not in the least. Each AA group, as such, must also function, do something. It must serve its appointed purpose, or it, too, withers and falls apart.'
Language of the Heart, p. 129

'During nine years in AA I have observed that those who follow the Alcoholics Anonymous programme with the greatest earnestness and zeal not only maintain sobriety, but often acquire finer characteristics and attitudes as well. One of these is tolerance. Tolerance expresses itself in a variety of ways: in kindness and consideration toward the man or woman who is just beginning the march along the spiritual path; in the understanding of those who perhaps have been less fortunate in educational advantages, and in sympathy toward those whose religious ideas may seem to be at great variance with our own. I am reminded in this connection of the picture of a hub with its radiating spokes. We all start at the outer circumference and approach our destination by one of many routes. To say that one spoke is much better than all the other spokes is true only in the sense of its being best suited to you as an individual. Human nature is such that without some degree of tolerance, each one of us might be inclined to believe that we have found the best or perhaps the shortest spoke. Without some tolerance we might tend to become a bit smug or superior—which of course is not helpful to the person we are trying to help, and may be quite painful or obnoxious to others. No one of us wishes to do anything which might act as a deterrent to the advancement of another—and a patronising attitude can readily slow up this process. Tolerance furnishes, as a by-product, a greater freedom from the tendency to cling to preconceived ideas and stubbornly adhered-to opinions. In other words it often promotes an open-mindedness which is vastly important—in fact a prerequisite to the successful termination of any line of search, whether it be scientific or spiritual. These, then, are a few of the reasons why an attempt to acquire tolerance should be made by each one of us.'
Dr Robert Smith, co-founder of AA

 'The meeting was dying. But the two people decided they would fight to keep it alive, that they would show up every week no matter what, and that they would study the Big Book. The format was simple: read a couple of paragraphs, then comment on what was read.
A strange thing happened. The few people who did show up started to come back—every week. Within a few months, attendance was close to a dozen. After the first year the group had grown to over twenty regular attendees.
The group became a magnet for 'Big Book thumpers'. We call ourselves 'Fifth Traditionists' and constantly remind ourselves and each other than the reason we are here is to help the new person find what we have discovered through the Steps—not to glorify ourselves, not to discuss at nauseating length our own opinions or feelings, but to give to others what has been given to us.
Chairpersons rotate so that no one person influences a meeting for too long. Anniversaries are regular and much celebrated occurrences. There is a great sense of purpose and satisfaction among us. If we could say one thing above all else, it would be that, when we followed the directions given in the book exactly, the newcomer recovered; when we followed the Traditions exactly, the group flourished.'
The Home Group: Heartbeat of AA, p. 66

'A fairly usual idea in some Al-Anon groups is that we attend meetings only to hear other people's tragic stories—blow-by-blow descriptions that we can perhaps identify with. This is one—but only one—of Al-Anon's functions. But when the stories are a continual rehash of the alcoholic's misdeeds, nobody learns anything except that we all go through pretty much the same experiences. Where is the growth in that?
If I want to determine how much help a meeting can give, I should ask myself: "How many of the people here tonight have learned something new about applying Al-Anon principles? How many have given me a constructive idea to take away with me and use?' That is the only measure of a truly valuable meeting.'
One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, p. 329

'There was once an Al-Anon group that never had more than nine members, although there were four AA groups within a couple of miles!
All but three of the nine—the three who had started the group—changed very often. When they dropped out, the old-timers would shrug and say: "What can you do? They just don't realise how Al-Anon could help them."
At meetings there were usually plenty of horror stories about what the alcoholics said and did, and detailed descriptions of sufferings. It was all quite exciting, but nothing much happened to make the newcomers aware of the Al-Anon programme and how they could apply it. Nobody kept in touch between meetings, excepting, of course, the three old-timers.
Al-Anon is a programme of self-improvement. It is nourished by the friendship and concern of all the members for each other and from discussion, in depth, of Al-Anon principles in the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, and the slogans.

"If my life is in chaos, I will look into myself for the cause and cure and use the Twelve Steps to improve my shortcomings. If our group is not a living, functioning unit, we will look for the cause and cure in our Twelve Traditions." '
One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, p. 77

'Today I know that, for unity to exist in my family or in my group, all of us must have a voice. No one voice is more or less important than anyone else's. I have a responsibility to listen, to share, and to accept. Tradition One lifted the burden of control off my shoulders. I no longer had the right to make decisions for everyone. The people in my home deserved to make their own decisions and to be given the same respect that I desired for myself, whether they were in recovery or not.'
Pathways to Recovery (Al-Anon), p. 139

'Tradition One meant the group could set aside time to discuss the issues, and then we could vote. That way, no one forced the rest of us to do anything. During our group conscience meetings, I actually saw people disagree without getting angry. After we voted and made a decision, we held hands and said The Serenity Prayer. Even the people in the minority were pleasant, because they had had their say. In the end, everyone accepted the group's decisions …
I began to understand that … I didn't need to take it personally when we had different opinions. I could state my opinion and let go of the results … I began to detach and not force solutions … Al-Anon taught me that I don't always have to win or lose. Sometimes I can just participate …
Tradition One has taught me that unity does not mean uniformity.'
Pathways to Recovery (Al-Anon), p. 140

'I do not take up too much time sharing, because Tradition One tells me that everyone has the right to share. When I share I try to stick to the topic, because that is how the greatest number will benefit. It is better for me to apply a topic to my life than to dwell on my problems. I try to share my experience, strength, and hope for the good of the group. Even if I am in pain, I can share what I am learning from that pain, because it is part of my experience.
I take responsibility in the group and do various jobs. I find speakers, set up the room, chair meetings. I do not take up too much responsibility, because it is our group, not my group. "Our common welfare" means that everyone needs to pitch in and do their share.'
Pathways to Recovery (Al-Anon), p. 141

'Over the years, I used this story to illustrate how to make an informed group conscience. I discovered from experience that there are at least six possible answers to a question when it is first placed before a group. I knew about "yes" and "no". I also recognised a couple of other possible answers—"I don't know" and "I don't care." It was later that I also found two further answers—"I don't want to discuss it" and "I don't want you to discuss it." I was able to identify several feelings around these six answers—agreement, disagreement, ignorance, apathy, resentment, and anger…
Today, I believe the process of discussion, a review of our literature, and a vote is a good way for our group to make decisions that just about everyone can accept.'
Pathways to Recovery (Al-Anon), p. 149


A New Pair Of Glasses, p. 109