Monday, 31 August 2015

Character-building before comfort

"Guthlac sought to imitate the virtues of the brethren at Repton: obedience, humility, patience, longsuffering, abstinence, sincerity, temperance, agreeableness."
This is a good list.

If you aim for heaven, you will get the earth thrown in. If you aim for the earth, you will get nothing. The way to aim for heaven is to place character-building first, and these are pretty good characteristics to aim to build. The choice to place character-building first stems from the requirement in Step Three that we be convinced that we have been victims of the delusion that the material world or success in the world's terms will bring about happiness. In recognition of this failure, as demonstrated by the material contained in Steps Four through Six, another path opens up: that of becoming a servant of God, holding nothing back, caring for nothing but serving Him and becoming what He wants us to be.

There are greater things than happiness, and if one seeks those, one finds a happiness greater than what one would previously have defined as such.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Is my ego resurgent?

The ego edges God out. The bigger the ego, the more likely a relapse.

How do you know, as an AA member, that your ego is resurgent? There are surely a thousand ways, but here are twelve, to get you going.

(1) A noisy head.
(2) Saying: 'A little AA goes a long way.'
(3) Saying: 'Everyone else in AA is getting it wrong.'
(4) Saying: 'I'm a grown-up; I'm not harming anyone; I can do what I want.'
(5) Saying: 'Someone else can talk to that newcomer over there.'
(6) Resigning AA service assignments mid term.
(7) Courteously letting others volunteer for service first.
(8) Talking about 'balance' or 'a bridge to normal living'.
(9) Making decisions based on emotion.
(10) Rule-based living.
(11) A mental list of things that are 'not allowed to happen'.
(12) The image of God becoming a cardboard cut-out.


Why do I want to do this (the whatever it is before me)?

Is it useful to others?

Does the world need it?

It is useful to God?

Does it make adequate use of my skills and experience?

Does it foster my potential?

Does it contain opportunities for spiritual growth?

Or is it a vanity project, the purpose of which is to establish for myself a self-image?

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Do I have choices now?

Sometimes people say, thanks to AA, they can now 'choose' not to drink.

A choice is a situation where one is presented with two or more options, and one must weigh up which to select.

Such options, however, must be reasonable, for the word 'choice' to be validly applied.

For instance, if you are weighing up whether to buy semi-skilled or skimmed milk at the supermarket, and you are largely content with both options, albeit preferring one over the other on this occasion, you can legitimately call this a choice.

If, however, you are asked to choose between confessing to a minor misdemeanour you did not commit and being shot, you technically have a choice, but pragmatically do you do not: the option you favour is actually a third one, namely not confessing and not being shot, but that option is not available to you. Any reasonable analysis of this situation would conclude you are being forced to confess. Your exercise of 'choice' is merely the recognition of a single viable (but unpalatable) option.

Another example: if one is given the 'choice' of reading a book or turning into a lobster, one must by necessity read the book, as turning into a lobster is not physically possible. Simply presenting multiple options and saying one has a choice does not mean one does. The options must be possible and reasonable for one to speak legitimately of choice.

If you are an untreated alcoholic, 'not drinking' or 'stopping at one' are, for you (unlike for normal people) like turning into a lobster: downright impossible. There is only one option (drink to excess), and thus there is no choice.

If you are sober, and your experience suggests that taking even one drink could trigger an unstoppable process that could lead to your death, having a single drink is not a genuine option, any more than hacking off your big toe with a butter knife or setting fire to your hair. The action could physically be taken and is thus more 'possible' than turning into a lobster, but it furthers no purpose, causes harm, and runs so counter to one's being that, pragmatically speaking, it is not in reality any more viable than turning into a lobster.

The transition is this: having one viable option, namely to drink, to having one viable option, namely to stay sober.

On those rare occasions when one has to 'think it through' or genuinely weigh up the pros and cons, and 'chooses' sobriety over drunkenness, the truth is this: you are partly insane, but fortunately more sane than insane, so the sane thought wins. This is not the exercise of choice; this is winning on a balance of probabilities.

What if I haven't harmed anyone?

Some people examine Step Eight and come to the conclusion that the only harm they have ever done someone is to drink, that, otherwise, they have never done anything wrong.

Unless one is the Second Coming, this is simply not true.

For a basic understanding of harm, see this article:

To identify more substantively whether one has harmed someone, one can use a good list of character defects, pausing to consider whether, during the course of one's life, one has ever taken the action described; if so, there is harm.

(If one objects to the overtly Christian 'sins', one can skip over those. I'm sure sufficient others will apply for the exercise not to be wasted).

Lastly, one can go through the chapter on Step Eight in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pausing to reflect on each type of harm described, and asking oneself, again, if one has ever taken the action described; if so, there is harm.

What is harm?

When writing Step Eight, the question arises of what is harm.

Here is a simple guide.

Harm is when, without justification or overriding cause, I give rise to:

(1) Physical suffering
(2) Emotional suffering
(3) Loss of money
(4) Loss of or damage to property
(5) Inconvenience or other 'stealing' of time

The sixth form of harm is harder to understand: it is where I get in the way of another's spiritual growth.

This takes many forms, but here are some examples:

(1) Preventing a crisis when it is in the natural course of things (for instance, letting unacceptable behaviour persist instead of confronting it)

(2) Doing something for someone they should do for themselves (for instance, fostering dependency)

(3) Shielding someone from the consequences of their actions (for instance, preventing someone from hitting a rock bottom).

This should provide a sufficient start.

Friday, 14 August 2015

May one profess religious belief in AA?

Sometimes people get very upset if someone talks about God or Jesus in AA, saying that religion has nothing to do with AA.

Fair enough, but the difficulty is this: if one bars discussion of what one believes in a theological or metaphysical sense, one must bar all such discussions, not just those one disagrees with or finds distasteful or rebarbative.

Professions of atheism, agnosticism, humanism, materialism, hedonism, in whatsoever form, and certainly expressions of anti-clericalism, would also have to be silenced.

It makes no more sense to ban the word 'Jesus' or reference to the Bible if one is permitted still to drone on about doubting the existence of God or the latest koan practised at the local Buddhist centre. Either the domain is out of bounds or it is not. One cannot legislate that this topic from the domain is fair game, but the other is not.

One caveat: discussion of religion (or lack of) should really be limited to one's own belief and experience and not be extended to generalities about the topics of religion or lack thereof.

It is not religion per se that is an outside issue but the discussion thereof in a universal sense. One's own personal beliefs can and must be valid topics for discussion in AA: these are without a doubt 'inside' (not outside) issues.

Should AA use The Lord's Prayer?

Periodically, like summer flu, someone brings up the fact that The Lord's Prayer is a Christian prayer and so should not be used in AA, and a lot of other people become infected by it. The most terrible argument ensues, and nothing is resolved.

The complainants are maybe right to cite the Preamble (lack of alliance with any sect or denomination), and perhaps, by extension, Tradition Six.

Even here, however, the argument starts to fall down. Firstly, The Lord's Prayer is not particular to any sect or denomination. It is not Methodist or Presbyterian. It is Christian. The use is not about allying; it is about borrowing. A cursory glance at AA's history reveals all sorts of borrowing, from medicine, psychiatry, religion, and common sense. To suggest that the use of external material represents alliance with the source of that material is quite obviously nonsense. The reprinting of the Doctor's Opinion is not an alliance with the American Medical Association. The quotation of Dr Carl Jung is not an endorsement of psychiatry. And the use of The Lord's Prayer does not force religion down anyone's gullet.

To force religion down someone's throat is to expose him at length or depth to religion and to insist that it be taken up. It is hard to assert that the saying of a prayer lasting a few seconds amounts to this. The prayer is not long. There is no exegesis. No one insists you say it or believe the doctrines it suggests. It is no more forcing religion down anyone's throat than displaying broccoli in a supermarket you patronise forces greens down your throat.

In AA, one is presented constantly with ideas or practices one does not much care for. I personally do not care for the chanting of 'keep coming back; it works if you work it!' after the closing prayer; for extensive accounts of drinking without any ostensible point; for self-pity; for complaining; for digression; for the insistence on reading 'How It Works' in every meeting (which will make no sense to newcomers). In fact, there are many things I do not care for. If others do, however, and see worth in them, that must be respected. The simple fact I do not care for something is not in itself reason for its eschewal.

Worse: the sentiment behind the desire to eliminate The Lord's Prayer is not simple disinterest but open hostility. People are 'offended', they say. Unfortunately, this is what betrays the real reason for the objection: the prayer is associated in people's minds, it seems, with manifold past or present wrongs by this religion or that religion, this monk or that priest, this Sunday School, or that sect, and, like a child who was once bitten by a particular dog, all dogs are now perceived as inherently dangerous.

Although offence can reflect a general sense of morality of propriety (so the causing of actual harm or engagement in sexual activity would be deemed inappropriate in AA on the basis of these two criteria), in most cases its thesis is this: 'This makes me feel bad: stop it.' General principles (e.g. those enshrined in Tradition Six) are harnessed but are not the origin of the injunction: it reflects, rather, the egoic desire to bully or manipulate others to change their behaviour so one does not have to grow past one's past resentments and hurts, stuck like prehistoric insects in amber.

The other Traditions also come into play:

(1) Tradition Two suggests that God speaks through the group conscience. If a majority of members of the group do not care for The Lord's Prayer, they're quite entitled to replace it with The Serenity Prayer, a moment of silence, or the recital of some other text. There is no place for lone crusaders or crusading gangs to overturn this. If the group likes it, it likes it.

(2) Tradition Four suggests each group is autonomous. If it would like to say a Christian prayer, it may, provided the group conscience is in favour.

(3) Similarly, groups are at liberty to teach and practise Buddhist techniques. Some do this by suggesting particular forms of meditation. It's fascinating that the anti-Lord's Prayer crowd do not turn their attention even-handedly to all manifestations of religion.

(4) Tradition One suggests unity, and, whilst the underlying issue is perhaps a valid one, the disunity within a group the argument can generate typically does more genuine harm than the original crime.

(5) It is hard to argue effectively against the use of The Lord's Prayer (which is pretty innocuous, frankly; it's not exactly the Creed, is it?) without bringing in outside issues (the role of religion in society, religion throughout the ages) and thus without breaching Tradition Ten. It is not the substance of the prayer that people object to (i.e. one rarely hears genuine theological arguments about it); it is the association with facets of religion in a wider sense that causes the problem.

One last point: were it not already in use, The Lord's Prayer would not be introduced now, I suspect, for the reason that it is indeed religious. It is used widely, however, as an artefact of AA's origins. Similarly, alcohol itself would likely not be licensed as an intoxicant were it to be discovered only now; its use is an artefact of history, not a product of sense.

In brief, whilst my home group does not use this prayer, my message to groups whose group conscience is that it be used: good luck to you!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Why doesn't living in Steps Ten through Twelve work in perpetuity?

Of course, once one has completed Steps One through Nine (and I mean completed: doing one's utmost to make every last amend), living in Steps Ten through Twelve is initially plain sailing.

I've sponsored hundreds of people, and a very small number manage to stay consistent and persistent in Steps Ten through Twelve, myself included, over recent years at any rate. Although I shall return to them (and myself) in a moment.

What about the others? Most will do well for a while but run out of power. Working Steps Ten through Twelve gets harder, drift occurs, and sometimes people konk out altogether. Why? The resurgence of ego. Like a weed, even vigorous pruning will not eliminate the roots, and spiritual surgery will occasionally be required.

What about those who do indeed work Steps Ten through Twelve consistently and persistently?

Well, very occasionally one area of one's life will rapidly veer so spectacularly out of control that spiritual surgery is required; the sticking-plaster approach simply will not work on gun-shot wounds. Such situations arise typically because (a) an entirely new area of life presents challenges one has never before encountered (b) some hidden area of dysfunction, long dormant, reawakens, for internal or external reasons. In both cases, invisible egoic structures are activated and wreak havoc.

Again, spiritual surgery is required.

Occasionally, one reapproaches Steps One through Nine from a position of power, having effectively been working Ten through Twelve consistently and persistently. What is the point then? Well, that is a question that can seriously be asked only by the skeptic who has never tried it. If people put as much time into revisiting the first nine Steps as they do into arguing against it, imagine the progress that could be made ...

My experience is invariably this: there is limitless room for growth, and a God-powered saunter through One through Nine will invariably open up new mansions within the house, always unsuspected, always shocking, and always awesome, in the original and in the modern senses.

Sometimes people say, 'that's not in the first 164'. Sadly, folks, it is. More will be revealed, the Book suggests. Guess what? It has.

Daily tips for newcomers

These are not taken from the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous) but are perfectly consistent with it:

  1. Go to a meeting every day. Get there early. Leave late. Go for 'fellowship' (coffee or dinner). Talk to people. Be honest. Listen. Help out.
  2. Read a story at the back of the Big Book and highlight anything you identify with.
  3. Grass up delinquent, dark, or troubling thoughts to an AA confidante or two.
  4. Read pages 86 to 88 of the Big Book every day and do exactly what it says. If you don't believe in God, try a higher power instead. If you can't conceive of one, try this: 'a hitherto unsuspected inner resource'.
  5. Make yourself useful both at AA meetings and in the outside world
  6. Phone three solid AA members every day in addition to your sponsor (which means you need to get a sponsor) and be honest and open with them.
  7. Prioritise time spent on the latest exercise your sponsor has given you on the Steps. If your sponsor hasn't given you one, you probably need a different sponsor.

The phenomenon of craving

I was in a meeting yesterday in which the chapter The Doctor's Opinion (from the book Alcoholics Anonymous) was being discussed. There was reference to the 'phenomenon of craving', namely the observation that alcoholics, once they have the first drink, have more and more, beyond the bounds of reason, and despite the consequences.

Now, it is extremely common for speakers (and writers) within AA to cite this example: whilst others stop after a glass or two, 'because they're beginning to feel it', 'feeling it' is precisely the point, which is why they continue.

There are several problems with this. Firstly, there are very few drinkers who do not drink in order to feel it. In fact, most moderate drinkers and certainly all heavy drinkers do, like us alcoholics, want an effect. To compare alcoholics with those who drink grudgingly, out of compliance with perceived obligation, habit, or social convention, teaches us nothing. They are effectively non-drinkers who happen to be drinking alcohol.

There is another problem with this, but I shall have to return to that once a fresh comparison is drawn.

The difference between the moderate drinker and the heavy drinker is not one of category but one of degree. Both enjoy the effect. The moderate drinker enjoys the effect to some extent, but his cut-off point is earlier during the progression into drunkenness. The heavy drinker enjoys the effect considerably more, and the cut-off point is later or may even coincide with oblivion or physical incapacity to continue.

A further point to observe with moderate and heavy drinkers is that the risk/benefit calculation is operative. Whilst outsiders or others they affect may disagree with their decisions, their drinking is kept within bounds they have set, in terms both of quantity and frequency, by a desire to avoid certain undesirable effects (hangovers, inability to get up for work, etc.) Moderate and heavy drinkers are thus both moderated drinkers. One might assert their drinking foolish, but they are subject to no internal tension, because they drink, as a rule, what they want to drink and when they want to drink it.

To explain this feature of alcoholism—the phenomenon of craving—by talking about how much we enjoy (aspects of) drinking teaches us nothing because in this regard we are not greatly dissimilar to moderate or heavy drinkers. The precise psychological effect of alcohol (and thus its idolisation whilst we are between drinking bouts) does differ and goes a long way to explain the return to harmful drinking after periods of abstinence. It does not adequately explain the dogged compulsion once we start. Heavy drinkers love the effect and thus drink. So do we.

The point of deviation in the comparison between (moderate and) heavy drinkers, on one hand, and alcoholics, on the other, is the fact we continue drinking even when we are not enjoying it.

I don't know about you, but once I'd had three-quarters of a bottle of gin, or two bottles of red wine, I was not 'appreciating' the effect of the next gin or the next glass of wine. It could have been water or Paraquat for all I knew. There was no marginal effect (or marginal utility as economists would call it). I did not enjoy it greatly (at least not like the first dozen or so drinks). To the extent I had been transported into a glittering and insulated world free of concern and liberated from time, another half-dozen drinks were going to achieve nothing. Sure, to remain there for another few hours, I might have to top up a little, to prevent slipping back into dreaded sobriety. But by no means did I need to continue drinking 'full steam ahead'.

Two analogies:

Imagine two people who sunbathe whilst on holiday. Both acquire a wonderful tan. But one stays far longer than necessary to acquire a tan and burns himself scarlet, on top of the tan. All he would need to do to keep the tan would be to top up under the sun for a few minutes here or there. The hours required to acquire the tan in the first place are not needed to remain tanned.

Imagine a space rocket expending huge amounts of  energy to get into orbit. Once in orbit, a small amount of energy only is needed to remain in orbit. If the same amount of energy were expended again, the rocket would leave orbit and fling itself out into deepest space.

These are far more appropriate images for alcoholic drinking: the pleasure of drinking or the attractiveness of moderate drunkenness explain why we get as drunk as 'normal' heavy drinkers. They do not explain why we drink past the heavenly zone of relief and joy into realms of darkness, violence, hatred, and sick oblivion, not through occasional miscalculation (a good man's fault) but apparently deliberately (if one judges by the quantities drunk and the speed at which they are drunk).

One example, and I shall wrap up. I recall a Saturday evening in my drinking when I decided I wanted to watch a favourite Ibsen play on the television, featuring a favourite actress. Of course I would drink, and I aimed to drink steadily through the play, then let the hounds loose once it was done, in the ample portion of the evening that would then remain.

What happened was this; I drank myself into a near stupor in about 45 minutes, and went 'hunting', as it might be called, out and about, drinking and looking for heaven-knows-what. As I left the house to begin my joyless rampage, it was with incredibly heavy heart. I wanted to stay at home and drink quietly and reasonably slowly, enjoying what I had looked forward to all week. The drinking and the associated activities had nothing to do with enjoyment or effect; they were despite the lack of enjoyment; they were despite my own horror at the effect.

No, I was obeying an order from deep within me, one I could not countermand: continue drinking, rapidly, come what may. No risk/benefit calculation is operative, and it is this that separates us from moderate and heavy drinkers.

When I look honestly at my drinking, it was this order that was issued every time I drank, regardless of emotion, regardless of circumstance, and no exertion of the will could resist it.

The phenomenon of craving is just this: a blind obligation to continue drinking—fast and hard—triggered by the first drink.

Leave the 'pleasure' for another discussion: that of the 'great obsession of every abnormal drinker'. That is for another day.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Sponsor-jumping and method-jumping

The stated aim of the programme is to enable us to find a power greater than ourselves that can solve our problem.

In practice, this means dying to self and surrendering to God. Once that process is well underway, work is required in the moment (the steering of the car), daily (filling the vehicle with petrol, refilling other reservoirs, and giving the thing a good old clean, in and out), and periodically (taking the vehicle in for a service). Some people believe, foolishly, that good daily maintenance will mean that nothing ever goes wrong in the engine. No; as with a car, measures are required at all three levels. All other areas of human endeavour reflect this three-pronged approach, not least any spiritual tradition worth its salt.

The question when regarding the periodic servicing is this: what method do we use? Some people say they want a new experience. That is all very well. But how is that new experience to be achieved?

One belief is that using the same old method is a bad idea, because if it worked so well, why does it need to be tried again? And furthermore, won't it ultimately fail, in the same way that a joke retold endlessly will fail to cheer, or a pair of jeans will ultimately fall apart if worn for too long?

The result of this thinking is usually one of two decisions: the hunt for a new sponsor (with 'new information') or the hunt for a new method (a new approach to the Steps; a new way of using the Big Book, which is what contains the basic instructions).

There are certainly situations in which one's current spiritual advisor or sponsor proves inadequate and in which a new one is required. Inadequacy, however, is a function not of the length of time one has had them as a sponsor, as though one somehow wears them out, but of whether they themselves are making spiritual progress and are a better example of surrender to God than you. All other things being equal, the main valid reasons for switching sponsors are (a) they lack (and therefore have always lacked) a solid understanding of the process of the Twelve Steps, (b) you have overtaken them spiritually or what they have, spiritually, you do not want, (c) they have backslid or drifted and are no longer fit to sponsor, (d) you substantially fail to identify with their human failings, or vice versa (or simply no longer much care for them). A good deal of thought must go into the process, because much self-centred rationalisation can underpin what appears to be a sound decision under (a) to (d) above. Counsel might well be sought, also.

The danger of switching sponsor, or indeed method of going through the Big Book (there's always a new method popping up here and there, which gradually comes into vogue, and then drifts back into obscurity), is that it is missing the point: you cannot wear out the instructions and you cannot wear out a sponsor in the way that a joke wears thin, jeans wear out, or, to bring in an image from another book, the salt loses its savour.

The last image is an interesting one, because salt cannot lose its savour: its savour is inherent in its essence. Salt can lose its savour only by ceasing to be salt, which cannot happen. Salt cannot become potash, mercury, or lye. Humans can indeed obscure their divine essence but they cannot eliminate it, because it is inherent. We cannot become un-human.

The subject matter of the Steps is that which obscures the divine in us and which is causing us practically to proceed in a direction other than the magnetic north of our moral compass. The subject matter is not the Big Book. The subject matter is not what is coming down the tubes from our sponsors (although that will indeed be superior if they are further ahead on the spiritual path). The subject matter is us. What we need is a mirror. If the mirror is a good one (and the Twelve Steps set out in the Big Book are a perfectly good mirror), then the mirror will do its job. The purpose of the sponsor is to help us understand what we see in the mirror, to remind us of how we should be (which itself is a simple proposition: dead to self and surrendered to God), and to be the human companion with whom we have united purpose. We cannot easily approach God without others. It is the divine present in another person whose humanity simultaneously we identify with that provides the bridge.

The hunt for the latest special method is the hunt, essentially, for a new frame for the mirror. The mirror is not the point. You are the point. And the same mirror, used a thousand times, will never wear out.

I reuse the same Twelve Steps from the same Book; I have had the same sponsor for years, now, and, in opposition to the rules of the material world (which often are opposite to those of the world of the spirit), I have worn neither out.

When I believe I have, I am always mistaken.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

How does one respond to fear?

With fear, these are the questions I ask:

What am I frightened of?
Where is my attitude wrong?
What should my attitude be?

Regarding the first question: it helps to be specific, and to trace it all the way through, exactly as one would in a Step Four.

Here is an extract from something else on Step Four:

‘Next, reduce your fear list to the underlying fears, i.e. the fears that seem to be the source of all of the other fears, as follows:

Ask “why” in each case: if you are scared of losing your job, ask “why is that a bad thing?” or “what is it about losing my job that makes me scared of it?” If this domino (losing your job) topples, what other dominos will topple (having no money, having nowhere to go during the day, not being respected by other people, being seen as a failure, not achieving my ambitions)? By the time you have asked “why” 5 times, you have usually found the core fear(s) and can go no further.
Separate out the list of core fears, i.e. the fears underlying all of the other ones.

I am scared of annual appraisals at work ← I am scared of being judged a failure ← I am scared of losing my job ← I am scared of having no money ← I am scared of being poor when I am old ← I am scared of being alone. Core fear: being alone.’

So much for the first question.

The second and third questions are tougher.

They are linked, however.

The key thing to remember is this: when I am frightened, I am temporarily blinded to some greater truth. I need to connect to that greater truth to have my eyes opened. However, the point about being temporarily blinded to the truth is you are unable to look and see where that truth is. Help is needed.

This is where spiritual reading (or listening) comes in. You read, or listen, to whichever writer or speaker you are currently drawn to, whether in AA or outside of AA, preferably having a selection of both at your disposal, and present the particular fear problem to God, asking God to speak through whatever you are reading or listening to.

As you are reading or listening, you will suddenly start hearing things that ‘work’, in that they address various aspects of the problem you are experiencing. Emotionally, the relief is much like the relief of finally threading a needle with an impossibly small eye or buttoning a refractory button after much apparently pointless effort. Ideas start to connect up, and your eyes start to open. From that perspective, you start to see where the attitude and thinking were wrong.

No one can do this for you: this is where growing-up in the programme takes place; the unthreadable needle and unbuttonable button are inside us, and you have to let God’s hand guide your own, by opening your eyes.

So, once you’ve traced out the fear, get reading and listening, and, if you are seeking God through those means, the altered perspective can and must come, at least in principle, although you may not be able to ‘realise’ the altered perspective, in the sense of being able to inhabit it fully and thus be at peace. That is going to require action.

Once the altered perspective has been granted (and it will), you only remaining job is this:

Ask: What would God have me be? What would God have me do?

Adopt the position of foot-soldier in God’s army in this apparently hostile world where everything appears a little bit off (to say the least) and fight to act right. You’ll then discover, remarkably, that not a hair on your head will be harmed.

‘At once, we commence to outgrow fear.’

Monday, 3 August 2015

Sticky ends and roulette

Sadly, a lot of people in AA who have strong recoveries come to sticky ends (drink, drugs, recluses who have left AA ... 'anyone can increase the list').

No one who is currently strong but who is going to come to a sticky end deliberately embarks on the path towards their own destruction, yet embark on a path some do, and most people believe, as they walk step by step through their lives, that each step they're taking is the right one.

Perdition is unintentional yet common. How can it be avoided?

On the roulette table of recovery, there are many numbers, and many paths to choose from. You have to pick a number. One might ask, 'but should you avoid putting all your eggs in one basket?' In recovery, however, you only have one egg: your sobriety. The egg cannot be split.

How do you pick? I have met or observed some people who are between 50 and 60 years sober. All of them have made it by having serving God through AA as the centre of their lives, and surrounding themselves by people on the same path, so we can wake each other up.

It is this that makes the difference: to embark on the wrong path, the path to perdition, one has to be asleep, dreaming one is awake. It is only by consorting with those that are themselves awake that remaining awake can be guaranteed.

Your job in AA is not just to have a spiritual awakening, but then to remain in orbit.

What's the formula these people have in common? Applying the Twelve Steps continually in their lives, not just the last three; service; fellowship. All in spades.

Having placed all my chips on the same number, I need do only one thing: relinquish the right to reverse the decision. And this I have done.

Whom are the people you're talking to talking to?

My sponsor speaks to an awful lot of people in AA, many of whom have been sober for decades. The same can be true of his sponsor, and his sponsor in turn.

Whenever I speak to my sponsor, I'm getting the distillation of interaction, directly and indirectly, with hundreds of long-time sober members of AA who are heavily active in sponsorship and service, all under the aegis and guidance of God.

What comes down the tubes is high-octane, let me tell you.

Whom are the people you're talking to talking to?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Do I need to revisit the Steps?

Over the last 22 years, I have revisited the first nine Steps a number of times. On occasion, it has been because the rivets were popping, and I was aware of serious disturbance or bad behaviour that seemed impervious to even a concerted attempt to apply Steps Ten through Twelve.

On occasion, I have revisited the first nine Steps, as a formal exercise, simply because it had been a year since I had done so previously, without recognising an obvious need.

I have also suggested to many sponsees over the years, sponsees who had been diligent in working Steps Ten through Twelve, that they revisit the first nine Steps. Again, on occasion they immediately recognised the need; on occasion, they did not.

Invariably, revisiting the first nine Steps draws out of the woodwork reservations and faulty attitudes, thinking, and behaviour that were either invisible even on thorough application of Steps Ten through Twelve or were refractory to these three Steps.

The conclusion? My judgement as to whether or not I need to revisit Steps One through Nine does not correlate with actual need. If I think I need to revisit them, I certainly do. If I think I don't (and it has been a while since I have), I still do.

Why would this be the case?

We don't know what we don't know; the point about God is we get led into realms we did not dream existed.