Sunday, 26 April 2015

Step Seven

Step Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

There is much writing in the world of recovery about ‘humility’, but there are few definitions. Unless a definition is presented, any discussion is worthless.

In British English, the definition (per the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary—the most reliable source, being the only comprehensive catalogue of all words in use from Shakespeare onwards, with definitions reflecting actual usage) is as follows (with parts that are irrelevant for our purposes removed): 
‘Having or showing a low estimate of one’s own importance; (of an action, thought, etc.) offered with or affected by such an estimate.’
It is often asserted that humility is not about ‘lowliness’. One is perfectly welcome to assert that a word has the meaning one wants it to have, but that does not make it so. I can assert that the word duck means the farmyard animal that moos and produces milk, but any self-respecting duck will continue to quack. There is no room for wishful thinking when discussing language.

Patently, humility is about recognising one’s relative insignificance. Relative to what or whom? God.

Why is this relevant?

I cannot click my fingers and change. Yet change is possible. God is the power that lies beyond my own conscious resources. In taking Step Seven, therefore, and asking for God to remove my defects, I am recognising my relative insignificance and the magnificent power of God.

There is a helpful motto, however, which is that ‘without, God I can’t; without me, he won’t’.

My character defects essentially are my attitudes, thinking, and behaviour that are not to the greater good.

As with everything in recovery, the only two commodities I need are direction and strength (satellite navigation system plus fuel). With the removal of defects, I need to ask God for revised attitudes, thinking, and behaviour, and then I need to ask God for the strength to put these into practice. It is Steps Eight–Twelve that provide the practical framework for this to happen.

The direction and strength thus come from God, although I must bring all of my resources to bear, also. If my defect is that I get up too late in the morning, I need to get up earlier; if my defect is that I am unpleasant towards others, I need to keep my mouth shut or pray for kind words and comportment.

The result is only ever progress, not perfection, and I am not responsible for God not yet removing a defect, although I am responsible for bringing all existing resources to bear to the problem by practising Steps Eight–Twelve as the basic structure of my life.

Lastly: the instruction is to ask God. Once God has been asked, Step Seven is complete. It is the remaining five Steps that represent the implementation.

One of course repeats the Steps as a cycle, which is implied in Step Twelve. The devisers of the Steps did not intend, however, for Step Seven to be taken daily (any more than they intended for Step Three to be taken daily). The words ‘daily’ and ‘repeatedly’ were available in 1939, and their omission is as much of an instruction as any explicit direction towards daily action on pages 85–88.

Step Seven—rather—is a simple commitment, like marriage vows of the signing of an employment contract. Take it, and move on.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Is there such a thing as a bad meeting?

"But the ex-problem drinker who has found this solution, who is properly armed with facts about himself, can generally win the entire confidence of another alcoholic in a few hours." (Alcoholics Anonymous)
Sometimes people say, 'there's no such thing as a bad meeting.' I understand what they mean. As a seasoned AA member, I can always learn something from a meeting (even if the lesson is what happens when one does not work the Steps), and I can always contribute (provided that the meeting format permits; sometimes groups are too large to allow everyone who wants to contribute to do so). From my point of view, therefore, there is no such thing as a bad meeting.

There is a danger of extending this, however, into mindless apathy, if one assesses off-topic rambling and ranting to be equivalent in value to a calm, engaging presentation of how the AA programme works.

In particular, as we know, opportunity is not a lengthy visitor when it comes to grabbing and keeping the attention of a newcomer to AA, in winning their confidence, and in paving the way for that individual to recover from alcoholism.

Recently, a friend attended a meeting where the chair talked not about alcoholism but crystal meth addiction, where many of those sharing talked about their food addiction rather than alcoholism (and not in the context of how to apply the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to deal with said problems), and where the sharing showed scant regard for the fact there was a newcomer present, in terms of adequately presenting, through experience, the nature of alcoholism and the Twelve Step solution offered by AA.

Now, I was not at the meeting, so I cannot judge whether this assessment is correct. I have been at many meetings, however, where newcomers seeking to learn what alcoholism is and how to recover from it would have been sorely disappointed, as the discourse touched only tangentially on these two major topics, focusing instead on general thoughts and feelings du jour.

Is it valid to apply this standard to a meeting: 'does it fulfil its primary purpose of carrying the AA message to others?' [the 'AA message' being the Twelve Step programme; there is no other 'message']?

Yes.

Can a meeting succeed or fail in this regard?

Absolutely.

I believe we in AA should focus on how we can maximise our usefulness when we share in AA, and refrain from justifying a failure to contribute to a group's fulfilment of its purpose under the pseudo-spiritual guise of 'all things are equally good; it's all a matter of perspective'.

Whether and how we reach those still suffering is the most important question we have.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Step Six: holding onto defects

If you have a defect of characteran attitude, thinking pattern, or behaviour pattern, you're holding ontoyou might ask yourself: why?

Well, the answer people give is often 'I'm selfish'.

Unfortunately, that does not really cut it.

What makes a defect a defect is the fact that it does not work, either for me or others, all things considered. There may be a brief short-term kick, but this is invariably outweighed considerably by the down-side.

Imagine a kid with a toy that does not work.

The parent cannot put the new toy that does work into the hands of the kid till the old toy is discarded.

The kid is not being selfish in holding onto the broken toy. If the kid were really operating out of selfishness or enlightened self-interest, it would immediately throw the broken toy away and hold its hand out for the new toy.

The problem, therefore, is not selfishness but a foolish fear of God: the idea that what God has in store is actually worse than the broken toy.

God is love. Full stop. That's what makes God God. If God contained fear, God would be something else. The fear is simply an error that has found its way into your consciousness. All that has happened is you have made a mistake. Unmake the mistake, discard the broken toy, and hold your hand out.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Step Six in Al-Anon

There is a lot of material on Step Six in the book Paths to Recovery, including twenty-three bullet points containing questions.

This aims to keep things simpler.

Step Five reveals that my attitudes, thinking, and behaviour at times suck.

Step Six in Paths to Recovery refers to these as 'survival skills that no longer serve me'. It does not give examples, however. There may be instances where this is the case, but, for instance, I have never experienced obsessive worry about other people's behaviour 'serving me'—or them—in any way at all; similarly, I have never experienced verbal punishment of other people serving me—or them—either. The list could go on.

There is, however, a 'payoff'. This 'payoff' never did help me survive then, and will not help me survive now.
                                               
For example, obsessive worry allowed me to preserve the illusion that I was in control because I was 'paying attention'. In truth, I was and am powerless over much. I was opting for the illusion of control because I was frightened of powerlessness.

A second example, verbal punishment gave me the temporary feeling I could actually change others' behaviour if I bullied enough. It never worked, but my ego told me, at some level, it eventually would. Again, I was opting for the illusion of control because I was frightened of powerlessness.

Here's the truth: all defects are destructive. That's why they're defects. If there were merit in them, they would not be defects.

The illusion that they're helping anyone must be systematically rooted out and eliminated, with the help of a sponsor if necessary. We prepare to have God remove our defects, but the preparation is a very human affair.

Footnote regarding guilt:

The Paths to Recovery solution to the guilt associated with character defects is to call them failed survival skills. I would counter: if you've behaved badly, you're supposed to feel guilt, at least until you've admitted the problem and are taking action to resolve it. This is the phenomenon of having a conscience, and it's an integral part of being human. I have felt entitled not to feel the full range of human emotions—or the full range of human defects. I have needed to get over that sense of entitlement: I am no more above these defects than anyone else, and guilt is supposed to persist until I submit to change. That is by design. The guilt is not the problem: the real problem is taking my own defects personally, as though they are who I am. That's a simple case of mistaken identity. The defects are not survival skills, but they do stem from bad wisdom that was taught to me as a child without my request or permission. To feel I am a bad person because I have defects is (a) not to give credit where credit is due for why I have them and (b) to mistake myself for what I have been taught: I am spirit, not the sum total of bad lessons learned and played out in spiritual blindness. I'm responsible for doing something about them, but I'm not them.

Once I've recognised (a) the defect is a defect and (b) there's no actual benefit at all, there is a third problem: the fear of what my life will look like if I am 're-landscaped' by God. Removal does not take place without substitution. As Paths to Recovery says, 'I learned to replace my defects with assets'. This is where I trust that, as Paths to Recovery indicates, 'God is a God of love, not a God of fear'. By definition, God's will—the re-landscaped version of my life—is 'the best of all possible worlds'. The fear of what will happen if I submit to God is actually fear of what God is. Either God is love or God is fear. If God is fear at all, the whole well is poisoned.

God is love. God's will for me is the expression of that love in all areas of my life.

Ultimately, I have to stand back and say: I am willing for every attitude, every thinking pattern, and every behaviour pattern to change. Not all of them will turn out to need amendment, but many will. I must hold none back on principle. Why? Because God is love, and fear of the outcome of any change in this regard is really an irrational fear of God.

Then I am ready to ask God in Step Seven to remove my defects, and to take the action in Steps Eight through Twelve.

Paths to Recovery uses the analogy of buying a new pair of slippers. In Steps Eight through Twelve we deliberately wear the new slippers, i.e. deliberately adopt the new attitudes, thinking patterns, and behaviour patterns, with God's help, but essentially applying our will along the line of God's will. In the meantime, the old slippers are quietly disposed of by God. That's entirely God's doing. We turn round some time later, and the old slippers—the old attitudes, thinking patterns, and behaviour patterns—are simply no longer available to us.





Thursday, 16 April 2015

Acting out, and Step Six

When I’m acting out (in other words behaving in ways that are damaging to me and/or others for some short-term benefit), and I’m aware of it, I must conclude that I have not taken Step Six.

That means I still believe that I’m the god in my own life, i.e. my own director, that I make great decisions, and if I did God’s will instead, I would be unhappier.

That is the mechanism behind the curtain.

The questions I ask myself are these: Am I done being the director? Who is God? Me or God? Am I willing to surrender to the programme of action absolutely, or am I going to remain the director of my life? How has being the director of my life worked out?

Simple question: my way or God’s way. And a simple choice: if not now, when?

Real surrender is when I say: 'I don't care how I feel in the short term or medium term, even: my last, best hope is to throw my lot in entirely with God. X [insert your own name]: you're fired!', and then turn to God, action by action, moment by moment, for direction and the strength to follow the instructions that come.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Twelve points for a Wednesday plus a reminder

(1) I am responsible for my attitudes, thinking, and conduct.

(2) I am not responsible for how others respond.

(3) I make amends where possible …

(4) … but recognise that the responsibility for undoing the harm within the other person is God’s, not mine.

(5) I go to God asking for improvement …

(6) … but do not expect myself to do what is God’s job …

(7) … or vice versa.

(8) I do not beat myself up for having a full range of human failings, as that would imply I’m not supposed to have them.

(9) I do not expect others not to have a full range of human failings, for the same reason.

(10) I do not see the presence of human failings in others as a problem that I caused.

(11) I do not see the presence of human failings in others as a problem that is mine to solve.

(12) Imperfection is perfectly in accordance with the design.

‘When an occasion of practising some virtue was offered, he addressed himself to God saying, "Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enable me". Then he received strength more than sufficient. When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, "I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss." Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.’

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Statistics: does the programme set out in the Big Book work?

People sometimes quote statistics about AA, for instance the success rates of fifty to seventy-five per cent cited in the Big Book, or the assertion that AA, statistically speaking, is no better than 'doing nothing' or is even harmful to people's chances of staying sober.

The problem with these statistics is that no one defines what 'AA' means.

Sometimes, the population includes anyone going to a meeting at any point. Of course, the proportion of these people who stay permanently sober is very low.

On the other hand, the proportion of people viewing holidays on Expedia who travel to the locations suggested is very low, too. AA is not attending the odd meeting or even attending regular meetings. Meetings are the shopfront of the programme: they are not the product on offer.

The success of a method should be assessed on the basis only of those who actually try and complete it, not those who are offered it but reject it or abort their participation. Why people reject the method is another question, but given the amount of support available to complete the process, inability is only exceptionally an issue: the only real stumbling-block is lack of willingness.

The best test is this: what proportion of the people who apply the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as set out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous stay sober (practically speaking: write a simple and concise inventory of past behaviour, admit the worst items to an AA friend, apologise to those harmed and set right the wrongs, try to establish a working relationship with God or (for humanists) a 'hitherto unsuspected inner resource', and spend time teaching this method to others and making AA visible to the outside world)?

A friend of mine has compiled statistics concerning the people he has sponsored [i.e. offered to guide through the AA programme] over the last few years.

These are illuminating.

He writes:

'I have sponsored 210 people over the last few years. All were offered the Twelve-Step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous and unlimited support from an unlimited number of people to complete the simple programme.

18 are currently in the process, and all are staying sober.

67 aborted the process. Of these, 21 are confirmed sober, 1 died drunk, 1 died sober, 1 is currently drinking, 2 turned out not to be alcoholics, and 41 are lost to follow-up.

62 reached Step Nine [i.e. started the process of making amends] but are not confirmed to have completed this process. Of these, 2 died drunk, 10 are lost to follow-up, and 50 are confirmed sober today.

63 completed the process [i.e. made all amends]. 1 is lost to follow-up. The remaining 62 are staying continuously sober.'

I think these results speak for themselves.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Step Nine avoidance

Here are a couple of ways major elements of Step Nine are avoided:

'I have not made amends for any shoplifting or theft, because if I were prosecuted, my family would suffer.'

On the face of it, this is fair enough. Triggering prosecutions by making verbal amends to the manager of a retail chain would often cost the chain time and money, would hit the public purse, could damage one's ability to be useful to society, and could cause the family financial and other hardship.

However: people sometimes return money or goods anonymously, or gross up the equivalent value for inflation and donate the money to a charity supported, say, by the retail chain in question, or find other ways of giving back. Just because one method is barred does not mean the matter is dropped. The question is: who has been harmed? Think about this one at depth with retail chains, and you'll discover that, to make direct amends to the people who have been harmed would involve something quite different than going to the manager of a local branch.

'I can't just "say sorry": I would say sorry a lot when I was drinking, so I'm going to make living amends. Words are cheap.'

Again, there is some truth here. The Big Book rightfully refers to a remorseful mumbling as inadequate and points to the years of reconstruction required as the follow-up.

However, just because a manipulative, terse, 'I'm sorry' is inadequate does not mean that no conversation at all is required. The follow-up with right action sometimes lasting decades is certainly required too, but an amend consisting not in a mumbled apology but an open-hearted admission of wrong and fault accompanied by a painstaking listing of precisely what we have done wrong, in a calm, reasoned, well-thought-through presentation, can lift a shroud of darkness that has hung over a relationship for years or decades.

To sum up: always beware of an interpretation of the Steps that results in action being sidestepped.

'Keep it simple' ... or not

'When, at AA's Service Headquarters, some of us began to apply this tested principle of "stop, look, and listen" to AA's world affairs, it was widely thought that we must be foolish worriers who lacked faith. Many said, "Why change? Things are going fine!" "Why call in delegates from all over the country? That means expense and politics, and we don't want either." And the clincher was always, "Let's keep it simple." ' (Bill Wilson, Concept I)

As we can see from this essay, which was written a very long time ago, the retort 'keep it simple' has a long history in AA. Sometimes there is unnecessary complexity, and a simple solution is best.

Sometimes, however, progress or effectiveness can be confounded by excessive simplicity. The Step Four in the Big Book is rather an involved affair, for instance. One could cry, 'keep it simple!' and avoid the whole matter. Similarly: the pains-taking of Step Nine, or the chapter after chapter on Step One in the Big Book. Surely those could be 'kept simple' too? 'Are we not frightening off newcomers and making a mountain out of a molehill?' Such arguments, experience suggests, are silly. If I had heeded such cries, I would likely not be sober today.

There are times when more simplicity is required; there are times when 'keep it simple' will obscure the truth and stifle good ideas.

I have caught myself using the phrase with others, when what I really mean is, 'I disagree with you', 'that's not interesting to me', 'I don't find that useful right now', or even 'I'm lost'. Like the proverbial dog in the manger, I have then sought to shut down the discourse, because it is not to my taste, citing this slogan: 'keep it simple', as my authority. Often, I have not even properly examined the subject matter in question. 'Keep it simple' can sometimes be the AA way of saying 'TLDR' ('too long; didn't read').

This slogan, like any other spiritual principle, is not a trump card. As has been wisely said, 'to a man with only a hammer, everything looks like a nail'. I'm cautious about using the phrase now: does it actually apply in this situation? Or am I simply being presented with a conversation or a proposition I do not personally care for? I've learned, in the case of the former, to argue my point coherently, rather than slapping down the slogan, as if I were ringing a time-out bell, and in the case of the latter, to keep my big, fat mouth shut.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Is discussion OK?

The man who was largely responsible for the writing of the Big Book, Bill W., went on to write other materials. From him, we have numerous Grapevine articles, the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, correspondence, and other items.

Apparently, therefore, the Big Book was not the last word, at least according to the person who wrote it (see also page 164: 'We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us.')

The experience of AA since 1939 has suggested the same. All over the world, people share their stories with each other, and share the experiences and insights they have gained. This benefits people. This was also the intention behind the Book: We hope no one will consider these self-revealing accounts in bad taste. Our hope is that many alcoholic men and women, desperately in need, will see these pages, and we believe that it is only by fully disclosing ourselves and our problems that they will be persuaded to say, 'Yes, I am one of them too; I must have this thing.'

A disturbing trend can sometimes be observed in AA, however, a culture which has a number of unwritten rules:

•    Quote only the Big Book (i.e. this is the only book you're allowed to quote).
•    Only quote the Big Book (i.e. do nothing but quote the Big Book).
•    Do not put things in your own language.
•    Do not share experience, other than a general indication that one has followed the instructions in the Book and that they worked.
•    Do not elaborate upon anything in the Big Book.
•    Do not analyse, explain, or try to understand anything.
•    Deny the utility of any AA materials other than the Big Book.
•    Deny the utility of any non-AA materials.
•    Do not imply or state that any experience or insight gained since 1939 is of value.
•    Disparage anyone breaking the above rules with quips such as: 'keep it simple', 'don't rewrite the Big Book', 'you're killing newcomers with that watered-down c**p', 'that's treatment centre b******t', 'that isn't in the Big Book', 'I don't know about yours, but my Big Book says ...', 'read the Book', etc.

Apart from the fact that this is tiresome, it is out of step with the Big Book itself, which encourages enquiry, discussion, disclosure, and joy at the ever-expanding universe of God's revelation.

AA was never meant to be a straitjacket, with the Big Book the set of buckles holding the inmate in confinement.


What is the difference between the 'self' and the 'ego'?

Self (with a capital 'S') is who I really am: pure spirit, a part of God (along with everyone else), harmless and unharmed, a healed healer healing, who has never been and can never be separated in truth.

(Lower-case 's') self is the perception I am separate, and need to maintain that separation to continue to exist. That is what the ego is. In an attempt to provide a substitute for the real connection craved by the Self with a capital 'S', the ego goes for sex, money, power, prestige, comfort, thrills, and appearance. Other people are threats or opportunities, it believes. The bloated nothingness of this ego is an illusion.

Defects and corrective measures in sponsorship

Chapters 7–9 of the Big Book offer lots of suggestions about what not to do. Some are overtly related to sponsorship. Most are not. All can have a habit of cropping up in sponsorship, which can be a petri dish for defects, both for sponsor and sponsee. Here are some groupings of such defects, followed by corrective measures specific to sponsoring others.

Criticising (89:3)
Lecturing (91:3)
Fault-finding (98:3)
Condemnation (108:1)
Reproach (123:3)
Standing in judgment (135:2)
Complaining (119:2)

Corrective measure:
Instead of talking about what they are doing wrong, tell a story about what you have done wrong and what you did about it.

Forcing yourself on people (90:4)
Putting pressure on people (91:2)
Nagging (91:1)
Prodding (95:3)
Pushing (95:3)
Hurry (113:1)
Crowding people (113:2)

Corrective measure:
Offer what you have to offer, and let it go at that.

Pleading hysterically (90:4)

Corrective measure:
Do not repeat yourself unless asked.

Being over-anxious (91:0)

Corrective measure:
Remember they are in God's hands, not yours and that God is available to them if they want Him.

Moralising (91:3)
Reminding others of spiritual deficiency (120:2)

Corrective measure:
Talk in terms of what works and what doesn't work, not right and wrong.

Taking offence (94:1)
Bitterness (103:2)
Rancour (134:3)
Having fixed ideas about others' attitudes towards you (122:1)

Corrective measure:
If they do not want what you have, do not take it personally; do not take even your own defects personally.

Being contradictory (94:2)
Arguing (98:3)
Fighting anything or anyone (103:3)
Resentful or critical disagreement (117:3)

Corrective measure:
State your position, but not in contradistinction to theirs. Let it go at that.

Wearing out your welcome (95:1)

Corrective measure:
By and large respond only to direct questions.

Exhibiting passion for crusade or reform (95:1)

Corrective measure:
Make it clear you're sharing because it is your role: have no personal agenda.

Talking down from a spiritual hilltop (95:1)

Corrective measure:
Make clear where you came from and how AA has helped you: the merit is not yours.

Discouragement (96:1)
Being a killjoy (111:2)
Dampening enthusiasm (119:1)

Corrective measure:
Encourage.

Avoiding responsibilities (97:1)
Withdrawing (102:1)

Corrective measure:
Promptly return phone calls and respond to other attempts to contact you; prioritise offering face-to-face meetings ahead of other activities.

Depending on people ahead of God (98:1)

Corrective measure:
Ask God's guidance continually when interacting with sponsees.

Participating in the quarrels of others (100:2)
Taking sides in arguments (115:3)

Corrective measure:
Do not take their side in arguments or side against them.

Thinking of what you can get out of a situation (102:0)

Corrective measure:
Drop your own plans for their recovery.

Intolerance (103:1)
Expecting too much (118:2)

Corrective measure:
Remember they're not very well, and will get sober and well on God's schedule, not yours.

Interest in having your wishes respected (122:1)
Anger (111:0)
Hatred (103:1)
Hostility (103:2)
Demanding that others concede (122:1)

Corrective measure:
Do not attempt to ram home suggestions that are unwelcome.

Urging attention for yourself (119:1)

Corrective measure:
If they do not contact you, do not run after them.

Playing the lead (122:2)
Arranging the show to your liking (122:2)
Arranging others' lives (120:3)
Guiding the appointments or affairs of others (120:3)

Corrective measure:
Don't give advice; share experience and make suggestions based on that experience.

Wrapping others in cotton wool (122:1)
Placing others on a pedestal (122:1)

Corrective measure:
Don't withhold useful truth just because they may not like it.

Measuring life against that of other years (123:1)

Corrective measure:
Do not compare sponsees with each other.

Digging up past misdeeds (124:3)

Corrective measure:
Do not use past misdeeds to punish or manipulate.

Gossip (125:2)

Corrective measure:
Preserve anonymity.

Making careless or inconsiderate remarks (125:2)
Ridicule (125:2)

Corrective measure:
Be kind at all times.

Placing money first (127:1)

Corrective measure:
Do not resent the time sponsorship takes away from earning time.

Self-pity (127:3)

Corrective measure:
Take the knocks of sponsorship as they come.

Self-justification (127:3)

Corrective measure:
When they disagree with you, let it go. If they don't like what you say, arguing won't help.

Bias (134:3)

Corrective measure:
Be impartial and detached.

Pettiness ('making a burning issue out of ...') (135:2)

Corrective measure:

Ask yourself: 'how important is it?'

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Don't start out as an evangelist or a reformer

'I went to a terrible meeting. What can I do about it?'

As you rove around AA, you will discover appalling phenomena. Meetings with nary a mention of alcohol but a cornucopia of detail about drug use; meetings with openly expressed hostility towards the steps, God, or doing anything to stay sober other than not drink; meetings where everyone's unhappy and sharing just to get a little bit of relief; meetings where the topic is how the only thing AA is good for is enabling you to get the real help elsewhere.

Your heart will sink. What do you do about it?

Well, first off, you can't change the whole of AA. Or even a group.

Don't go in with a bunch of people and try to mount a hostile takeover; don't go in undercover and try to change things via the group conscience; don't bombard them with cluster-bombs of BS-busting slogans and holier-than-thou 'I once thought that ... but now I've seen the light' articles of faith.

Why not? Well, I've tried it, and it doesn't help anyone, least of all me.

I do two things:

(1) I start a good home group myself. Solid structure; procedures to stop interlopers fooling with the structure; a strong focus on the Big Book and on welcoming and helping anyone who genuinely seeks help.

(2) I go periodically to all of the other meetings in my local area and quietly present what I was like, the actions I took, and what I am like now. Almost as though there is no one else there. No jargon. No angle. No preaching. No proselytising. No reform. No crusade. No one likes a know-it-all. Visibility to enable attraction; no promotion.

My job is not to disturb other people in their path, but to be visible as someone who has found 'a' (not 'the') solution, in case anyone on another path happens to be disillusioned and is looking, consciously or subconsciously, for something better.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

We agnostics?

If you can stay sober and transform your life on your own resources (intelligence + willpower), good luck to you!

If you can't, it's either curtains, or there's a solution.

If there's a solution, by definition that solution involves a power greater than your own resources (intelligence + willpower).

If you're sober a while in AA and your life is transforming, that higher power is, by definition, operative already. This isn't a matter of belief or faith; it's a matter of observation.

If it's not yet transforming, are you applying the Steps? This is a known method of invoking and activating that higher power. Complete that process, then revisit the considerations above.

Do I need to believe in God? No, because you're asked whether or not to believe in and try to seek a higher power (see above). That may or may not be God. Or it may be the transformative power of human goodness acting in concert. You get to pick.

Do I need to be bothered by other people talking about God? No, because other people get to pick, too, and they've picked God.

Are people ramming God down my throat in AA? Maybe. Or maybe they're just talking about God in their lives, and you're taking it personally. If it's the latter, get over it: they're just talking about themselves. It's not all about you.

If it's the former, well maybe they just haven't learned boundaries yet. Once they've gone to a few Al-Anon meetings, they'll stop assuming that their way is the only way.

Do I have to go to a separate group for agnostics and atheists, if I don't believe in God? No, no more than Buddhists, Christians, Jews, or Muslims need their own group to preserve them from people of other or no religion. Your higher power might be a hitherto unexpected inner resource, the strength of AA as a whole, the power of collective knowledge and experience, the comfort of the group, or something entirely undefinable.

But I find it so hard to listen to people talking about God! Then you have some great material for your Step Four, and some great opportunities to learn the very human virtues of patience, tolerance, kindness, and love. Religious people have to get over the fact that many atheists and agnostics can and do get well without a conception of or belief in a traditional god. The same applies in reverse.

That's exactly what AA is about: unity does not mean uniformity; tolerance means letting other people be different or wrong, and sometimes ultimately more right than we would have cared to admit, and that goes for everyone, believer or not.