One might gamble on being able to find a way to drink moderately or stay sober on the mere knowledge one should … the cost is the risk that this might seal one’s downfall, because the alcoholic process, once re-triggered, can be unstoppable (cf. pages 32–33).
One might gamble, instead, on AA, to stay sober … the cost is the time and effort expended in vain, since one would have stayed sober anyway.
Sometimes, there is so much material on Step One in the Big Book that you can't see the wood for the trees. It is also difficult to sum up Step One by posing negative questions, e.g. 'are you certain you can never drink safely again' or 'are you certain you could not stay sober without AA'.
It is more helpful to pose the questions positively.
'Are you certain that you could drink moderately for the rest of your life?'
If you are not certain, you had better stay sober.
'Are you certain you can stay sober for the rest of your life without any help?'
If you are not certain, you had better seek help.
One cannot prove that one could not stay sober without AA; after all, there are cases of people who go to AA for a while and then do indeed stay sober in perpetuity.
The question is rather: are you confident enough in your ability to moderate or stop on your resources that you're willing to take the risk?
The above is a line you'll hear in one form or another from sponsees who are five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years sober.
You'll also hear:
'I feel disconnected'
'I need a new experience'
'I need to go through the work again'
To be honest, the gentleman or lady alcoholic in question may indeed need to go through the work and have a new experience, but only to facilitate what I'm going to write about below, not as an end in itself.
I have trawled around AA for a long time now, in fact over half of my life. I've seen a lot of different ways of doing things. This guru. That guru. This workbook. That workbook. This special way of doing inventory. That special old-timer with the esoteric knowledge about how to become more vulnerable in your experience of God. You know. Blah, blah, blah.
You know whom I admire more than anyone in AA? I'm not going to name names, but there is a gentleman who, many years ago, started an AA group in a distant city that has grown to become what may be the biggest AA group in the world. Now, that group is not hugely to my taste (I prefer smaller gatherings), and not everything that group propounds do I necessarily agree with, but there is a basic principle that flows through the pitches of all speakers I have heard from that group:
Go and help other people.
Yes, you'll need to do decent inventory, share that with someone (actually, preferably, a bunch of people), make amends to everyone, forgive everyone, and spend a bit of time in Step Eleven working out what went wrong in the last 24 hours and working out what to do differently in the next. But sometimes people get lost in Step Four or in a search for God in Step Eleven and miss the point of getting free of self and searching for God in the first place.
If you have a 'perfect' first eleven steps, you'll still be crazy unless you take Step Twelve (in which case your first eleven steps ain't so perfect as you think).
Step Twelve involves three things:
(1) Squarely meeting all of your obligations in life. Ask God in the morning: to whom do I owe my time and energies, in my family, at work, with friends, in AA, in the wider community?
(2) Treating everything as service, which means love, i.e. giving of yourself for fun and for free expecting nothing in return. Cf. page 85: the vision of God's will we must carry into all our activities.
(3) Spending ~much~ of your free time engaged in Step Twelve work (sponsoring, making others' twelfth-step work possible, work in the service structure of AA, and work to carry AA's message to the outside world).
Now, I will grant you, people are generally not bad at the first of these three. The second, with a bit of Step Eleven, is achievable. It's the third, however, where people largely fall down.
The line on page 19 of the Big Book includes this idea: ~much~ of your free time. That's daunting. If you don't want to give up ~much~ of your free time (and think, for a moment, what that actually means), then stop reading now and stop with the other steps, because this is the pinnacle, this is the point of those other steps: to prepare you for giving up ~much~ of your free time to serve God through serving others. If you're not done pursuing your own ambitions, go pursue those until you're satisfied you cannot make yourself happy by winning at the game of life.
If you are ready, if you're truly sick of your own sick thinking filling 99 per cent of your head space, you may be ready.
Now, of those who are ready, many will dive back into a Step Four that lasts for years, avoiding the real question:
If we, as it says on pages 62 to 63, have a new Employer, what does that mean?
It means we have to show up for work for that Employer.
It would be no good signing a contract with a new employer, then failing to show up at his premises, but expecting wages at the end of the week (wages, in this case, being freedom from the bondage of self).
You have to show up.
How do you show up?
In the morning, according to page 86, we consider our plans for the day.
When considering these plans, we have to look at the obligations that must be fulfilled, then we look at the free time, then we ~sacrifice~ a good proportion of that free time to service.
If you have twenty sponsees, that may take care of itself. You may automatically, provided you say 'yes' to helping people when they ask, be consigned to two or three hours a day of phone calls, Skype calls, and face-to-face meetings focused on helping others be free of self. You may have to become expert in squeezing this in between other activities, taking and making calls between other appointments, getting people to ride with you as you travel between other appointments, sponsoring people over breakfast, lunch, or dinner ... or over housework. As I said, if you don't like the prospect of this, stop reading now and go and get 'done' with the alternative.
There isn't a moment to lose. My friend Paul has quotations from the Bible on post-it notes arranged in a grid on the bathroom wall. Why? Because there isn't a moment to lose.
Why does sponsorship work to relieve the bondage of self? In showing them how you've done it, you're showing yourself how to do it. It's often only when I'm sponsoring that I'm relocated back (like a dislocated limb) into the socket of my place in God's universe, as a faithful servant with no existence separate from God.
If you don't have lots of sponsees:
(1) Go to a meeting every day. Get there early. Leave late. Volunteer for service. Share ~only~ to help others. Ask God to help you keep on the lookout for people to whom you could be a channel for God's grace. In particular, ask God whom you should make a beeline for after the meeting to ask how their day was. You would be amazed how many opportunities for service, kindness, and love arise out of that prayer.
(2) If you're more than a couple of years sober, a good fifteen hours a week of service at Intergroup, Region, or nationally (say on a sub-committee or performing one of the service assignments farmed out by the general service office, say to do with AA publications or responding to email enquiries to AA) will solve your problem. I've never met anyone heavily engaged in service who is neurotic, provided that they remember whom they're serving in the role (i.e. God) and have good sponsorship to use the other eleven steps to perform the service without the ego engaging and making the service its own.
So, to sum up, if you want God, rather than self, to be your Employer, you have to make God the Employer in all your normal everyday activities, then actively schedule in a massive chunk of your time to serving God in what would otherwise be television, golf, or staring-out-of-the-window-at-your-own-reflection time.
It's not attractive from the outside, I'll grant you that, but, on the inside, it beats being a neurotic wreck.
When I follow this formula, I am, to borrow the cliché, happy, joyous, and free.
One feature that makes AA so attractive is that the primary means by which information is conveyed is this: you see someone who has what you want, you ask them what they believed, thought, and did, and you imitate them, to see if you get the same results. And you by and large do.
There is no debate about what the 'right' way is, about what the 'right' interpretation or understanding of the AA programme is, although there ~is~ controversy.
There is certainly discussion, the purpose of which is to ask questions and have them answered.
In AA meetings, we do not debate, and we do not even discuss, in the sense of 'back-and-forth' discourse: we merely present. If there are fundamental disagreements about approach, people usually, and rightly, go and set up a new group.
In sponsorship, the approach is offered and explained, but not debated. Anyone who wants a debate can joint a debating society or find a sponsor whose views they largely agree with.
In AA publications, the scope for response or comment is either limited or non-existent.
This does not mean that dissent or disagreement is not itself encouraged: quite the reverse; the autonomy of groups and the lack of central organisation or control mechanism ensure that variety flourishes.
The one exception to this, in the world of AA, is the Internet forum.
Such forums can be used helpfully to present ideas or for questions to be answered and then responded to.
Largely, however, presentations or Q&A sessions descend (or rather plummet) into quarrels of negligible utility. The electronic medium is also ill-suited to a genuine exchange of ideas, as the human element is stripped out, most people do not have the time to expound ideas fully, and it is largely impossible to detect tone.
I'm not longer interested in debate: I do what works for me, and share that, in case it works for someone else too. If it doesn't, that's fine.
I've stopped trawling AA forums for things I disagree with just so I can express my disagreement. A while ago I stopped even looking at comments on what I myself post in the spirit of sharing. As page 67 of the Big Book says: 'We avoid retaliation or argument'.
I have sometimes heard very elaborate interpretations of the programme.
People scour the book for definitions of 'unmanageability', for instance, as though the Big Book is like the da Vinci Code, and secret meanings are hidden for us to find.
'Unmanageability' is not defined, because its meaning is plain: if you're powerless over alcohol, in that you cannot consistently stay sober and when you get drunk you get really drunk and do terrible things, you're not in charge of your life, you cannot 'manage' it effectively.
It has nothing to do with emotions or the bedevilments or restlessness, irritability, and discontentment. If it did, the Book would say so. The authors weren't being cryptic, elusive, or evasive.
Similarly, 'meditation', in the sense it is used in the AA programme, has nothing to do with postures, breathing techniques, Buddhism, mindfulness, or other activities associated in the 21st century with the word 'meditation'.
The Step Eleven section of the Big Book describes simply and carefully how to practise Step Eleven, and it is self-evident that 'meditation', in line with the dictionary meaning of the word from 1939, is not Buddhism but concentrated, deliberate thinking about how we have failed to follow God's will and how we can better do God's will in the future (specifically: today).
I recently went to a meditation meeting where pages 86 to 88 (the Step Eleven section) were read out, and then it was suggested that anyone who wanted to know how to meditate read one of a number of laminated flyers that were scattered around the room, which set out pocket versions of Buddhist meditation techniques.
Here's the simplicity: follow pages 86 to 88 to the word, and you ARE praying and meditating. There's no secret; there's no gimmick; they didn't hide the instructions or expect you to make them up; you don't need to acquire a book on 'real meditation' for 'real alcoholics': what they did in 1939 worked; they wrote it down; let's do what they did.
And here's the crux: my job in Step Eleven is only to seek God's will for me and the power to carry that out. My meditation therefore consists chiefly of asking God: 'what shall I do?' and of writing down what then comes to me ... and doing it; provided, of course, it is in accordance with spiritual principles. That simple prayer can never be exhausted.
This programme really is as simple as people say it is.
When I'm frightened, I think a 'bad' thing is going to happen in the future.
By 'bad', I mean an event that I believe will cause me unacceptable negative emotion.
99% of the negative emotion I have ever felt has been entirely self-generated by comparing my perception of reality to how I think it should be and finding it wanting.
When I let go of the plan and cheerfully and courageously accept reality as it is, 99% of the negative emotion goes, and I discover I no longer object to the remaining 1%, seeing it, as I do, as just one colour in the pallet of emotional colours available.
To fear therefore means to conceive of a future I shall judge as unacceptable in the light of my plan for the future and to anticipate how much I will suffer because the universe will not comply.
To fear is therefore to envision a future without God, but with me attempting (and failing) to usurp God.
This is why self-reliance has failed me.
God-reliance is the only alternative: the wholehearted, cheerful, courageous acceptance of the future and the seeking only of my place within that picture, as an intelligent agent of the creative force behind the universe.