Monday, 27 July 2015

When did the loneliness go?

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

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

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

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

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

What if I don't want to stop?

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

What can help is this:

The two features of alcoholism are these:

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

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

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

I could no longer kid myself I was not dying.

Does an amend have to be face to face?

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

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

Cf. Webster's (1913):

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

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

3. Immediate; express; plain; unambiguous.

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

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

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

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



Saturday, 25 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 19 July 2015

How do you get rid of ego?

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


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

The simplest understanding of unmanageability

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

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

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

Attraction not promotion

Four tips for public information work:

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

Monday, 6 July 2015

AA doesn't work

... So say some people.

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

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

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

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

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

Delivery van

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

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

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

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

Seven forms of service

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

There are seven ways of doing this in my life:

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

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

However, service is the point.

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

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

Friday, 3 July 2015

Opinions are like ...

I won't complete the phrase.

'Opinions' have a bad reputation in AA. The word is used to discount what other people say, for instance, 'I'm not interested in opinions; I'm interested in facts,' etc. I've even heard the assertion that 'opinions' (along with all sorts of other supposedly awful things, like treatment centres, slogans, pieces of AA literature without a blue cover, take your pick) are 'killing newcomers'. (This assertion, it should be noted, is itself an opinion.)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (Shorter), the primary meaning is this: 'a view held about a particular subject or point; a judgement formed; a belief'.

There is nothing innately suspect about opinions, therefore. The question is not whether the utterance in question is an opinion, but whether the opinion, the view, the judgement, or the belief is based on experience, solid principle, and sound reasoning.

If a person does not have sound reason, it's quite reasonable for that person to refrain from forming their own opinions, in the light of their own incapacity. It is unwise to assume that others are equally hamstrung by misfiring synapses, however. After all, if Doctors Silkworth, Jung, and Tiebout hadn't shared their opinions, we would all be the poorer for it.

The Big Book, fortunately, praises reason and the use of the mind, provided that humility is placed first.

My opinion, therefore, is that opinions are perfectly legitimate tools of discourse, although, as the title of this little article implies, few bear close scrutiny.

Does 'God' exist?

Let's define some terms.

'God' is a short-hand word for the 'Higher Power'. Discard all religious definitions and past conceptions. For AA's purposes, 'God' and 'Higher Power' are synonymous.

What is a 'Higher Power'?

Well, firstly, 'higher' than what?

Alcoholics, within AA's definition, are people who cannot refrain from destructive drinking when applying the full force of their intellect and willpower. They lack the ability, i.e. power, to do so.

If such people are now sober, consistently, and often permanently, they have acquired power they previously lacked. That power is 'higher' in the sense that it is 'greater' than the full force of their intellect and willpower.

A 'Higher Power' therefore exists. To deny that a 'Higher Power' exists (in the meaning indicated above) is to assert (a) that these people are not in fact sober or (b) that these people, previously, were simply not trying hard enough or were not thinking it through properly. Neither assertion holds consistently true.

Since 'God', within AA's terms, is synonymous with 'Higher Power', 'God' certainly exists.

To be atheist or agnostic, within the terms defined above, is to be confused or in denial about the evidence before your eyes:

There have been millions of people who lacked the power to stay sober and live to good account ... but these have now accessed that power.


Thursday, 2 July 2015

Unmanageability: the change from past to present, page 60, and the 12 x 12

(1) The change from past to present

Page 59 states: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

It is important to remember that any understanding of unmanageability, as it was actually meant by the authors, must take into consideration this: ~our lives were once manageable but are no longer~.

Therefore, any interpretation which is existential (i.e. the idea that we are not able to control life in general because there are factors that affect us that are beyond our control) simply will not wash.

Many people say that to recognise unmanageability is to recognise one cannot live effectively without God, because a life run on self-will can hardly be a success. This idea is universal to humans, however, not limited to alcoholics, and is certainly not brought on by alcoholism. This cannot be the unmanageability referred to, or else we're implying, before we became alcoholics, we were indeed able to make a 'go of it' based on self-will but have lost that ability due to our alcoholism. That is clearly nonsense. Remember: whatever manageability is, we used to have it but have it no longer.

Before I drank, I was emotionally volatile, and a little bit incompetent (hell, I was sixteen or seventeen, what do you expect!) But I was able to make a decision to turn up somewhere and by and large could indeed turn up. By the time I was powerless over alcohol, I was no longer able to follow through. If the desire to drink popped up inside me, it was ~that desire~ that was now acting as the 'manager' of my life.

No, unmanageability must be understood as the consequence of powerlessness.

(2) The reference to page 60

Page 60 states: That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.

If this is taken together with Step One, as presented on page 59, the juxtaposition reinforces the idea that manageability is an innate ability that has been lost.

The only innate ability that is lost in alcoholics (given that quite a few people come into AA with well-ordered lives and a pretty normal emotional make-up) is the ability to direct the course of one's day without an overwhelming desire to drink mucking things up.

(3) Step One in 'The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions'

The man who wrote the Steps took the opportunity a couple of decades later to clarify and expound on what he originally wrote, in the aforementioned volume.

This is fascinating, because there is no reference to 'restless, irritable, and discontent'; there is no reference to bedevilments; there is no reference to the innate unmanageability of life in the broader sense, applicable to all humanity; there is no reference to how much better life is when one seeks God than when one runs it on self-will.

No, unmanageability is not covered as a separate topic. Step One in the '12 x 12' covers the mental obsession plus the physical craving, and that is it. It draws attention away from the consequences with reference to which many people 'get' their Step One and asks us to look more deeply at the underlying pattern controlling our life:

'The tyrant alcohol wielded a double-edged sword over us: first we were smitten by an insane urge that condemned us to go on drinking, and then by an allergy of the body that insured we would ultimately destroy ourselves in the process.'

The 12 x 12 recognised that taking Step One by examining one's emotions or the chaos of one's life actually acts as a block to many people, and suggests disregarding those features:

'Alcoholics who still had their health, their families, their jobs, and even two cars in the garage, began to recognize their alcoholism. ... Since Step One requires an admission that our lives have become unmanageable, how could people such as these take this Step? ... By going back in our own drinking histories, we could show that years before we realized it we were out of control, that our drinking even then was no mere habit, that it was indeed the beginning of a fatal progression.'

It is absolutely patent that unmanageability, as presented here, is the inability to manage one's life because, and only because, one is unable to refrain from destructive drinking.

One might well be making an absolute hash of it because one is selfish and immature, but these features are not universal to alcoholics, and act as further incentives, not the basic reason, for taking the rest of the Steps.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Does life ever become 'manageable'?

Debates are pointless unless terms are defined.

'Our lives had become unmanageable' is understood in different ways because people define the term 'unmanageable' in different ways.

1. Unmanageability as a corollary of powerlessness

If I cannot choose whether or not I drink and, if I drink, I cannot choose how much I will drink and therefore what I will do, I cannot manage my life. Unmanageability in this sense is the corollary of powerlessness; each implies the other.

I have been given the power to stay sober, so I am no longer subject to this form of unmanageability.

2. Unmanageability as an existential statement of the nature of human existence

Clearly, our 'lives', the array of facts, circumstances, and experiences, cannot be directed wholly by us; there are many factors that affect our lives over which we have no control.

Sometimes people deem this insight part of Step One. Maybe that was the intention, but I have never seen this spelled out in the literature as the definition of unmanageability, although the idea is indeed present in other material.

Clearly, this is a statement that applies to all people, alcoholic or not, and is not subject to alteration just because we get sober.

Unmanageability in this sense is eternal (but not actually a problem unless we fail to recognise it) and has nothing to do with alcoholism.

3. Unmanageability as the consequence of a life lived based on self-will

When I base my life around the desire for sex, money, power, prestige, comfort, thrills, and looks, (a) I am very uncomfortable emotionally (restless, irritable, discontent + page 52 bedevilments) and (b) my life is a mess practically (again, page 52 bedevilments).

This is a common definition of unmanageability. (It should be noted, however, that Fred, towards the end of Chapter 3, does not overtly fit this description so would struggle to take Step One if this were the form of unmanageability meant. He is indeed alcoholic, however, so this makes definition 1. above the most likely candidate for what the authors meant, as he does fit that description quite well.)

When I base my life around doing God's will, in return I am graced health, happiness, harmony, love, joy, peace, and connection, and my affairs become remarkably well ordered.

Do we become manageable in the sense of being relieved of restlessness, irritability, discontentment, the page 52 bedevilments, and the practical chaos of the self-centred life?

Absolutely.

Does the Big Book promise this?

Absolutely:

"From a trembling, despairing, nervous wreck, had emerged a man brimming over with self-reliance and contentment."

"There are two alcoholic employees, who produce as much as five normal salesmen. But why not? They have a new attitude."

"He now means a great deal to his community, and the major liabilities of thirty years of hard drinking have been repaired in four."

There are many other examples, too.

It is clear, therefore, that unmanageability, in this sense, is part of the problem, not a permanent state that must be contended with.

Controversially, perhaps, there is indeed a solution.