Thursday, 25 June 2015

'I've done all the Steps and I'm still self-centred and neurotic'

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.

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