Friday, 30 December 2016

Letting go absolutely

A rudder is a tiny piece of a ship, but its manipulation controls the direction of the ship. The person in charge of the rudder is therefore the person in charge of the direction of the ship.

My experience is that, when I am letting go 99%, I'm letting go of all of the ship except the rudder. I am apt to congratulate myself; however, the all-important last 1% is the precisely the element that must be let go off absolutely for me to be brought under God's sway.

Letting go is all or nothing: if I'm asking God's direction in all of the details but have not relinquished overall control of my life, the destination will be the wrong one, even if I approach the destination in a 'spiritual' way.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Is it wrong to say 'yes' when you mean 'no'?

I've heard it shared that one must be true to oneself. In fact, this sentiment is expressed on one side of many AA anniversary 'coins'. The questions is this, however: which self? The lower self or the higher Self?

I heard it asserted recently that saying 'yes' when you mean 'no' creates an unhealthy conflict because of lack of authenticity. This is predicated, however, on 'what one wants to do' being invariably aligned with God's will. The question for an alcoholic in recovery is not 'what do I want?' but 'what does God want?' If God's will is for me not to do something, then I must absolutely say 'no'. But if God's will is for me to do something, then I must absolutely say 'yes' even when I want to say 'no' and every cell of my being is crying out to say 'no'. This not martyrdom or self-sacrifice, because when self-will is out of alignment with God's will, it is because self-will wants what is not in my best interests. If I remember that God's will always represents what is in my best interests (ultimately and at the level that matters: the spiritual), there never need be conflict, even in the presence of illusions, provided I recall that illusions are what the potentially conflicting thoughts are.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The bridge passage

Instruction 4—Bridge passage

When we were finished, we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. (65–66)
‘Quite’ means ‘completely’, here.
This means that other people, on occasion, are indeed 100% wrong. That does not mean I am right. Both people can be entirely wrong. You may, on occasion, be entirely wrong for what you do to me. I am entirely wrong in holding onto it for twenty years and using it to beat you and other people over the head with.
This is not about dividing up blame between you and me; this is about separating responsibility and placing it where it belongs: you are fully responsible for your actions and reactions; I am fully responsible for mine. There are no ‘parts’. We are each 100% responsible for our actions and reactions; we are 0% responsible for other people’s actions and reactions. For example: we are responsible for our provocation, not for whether the other person responds to the provocation.
To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves. But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got. As in war, the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were short-lived. (66:0)
The problem lies in believing that our happiness and satisfaction require the arrangement and re-arrangement of the world around us (cf. p. 61:1). If you are in any way responsible for my happiness and satisfaction, I will remain forever trapped. Even when I get my own way, and am temporarily happy and satisfied, I am immediately faced with the problem of repeating the feat or preventing the world from slipping out of its contrived alignment. And even if I do get my own way, you are in charge of my happiness and satisfaction, as these are dependent on your compliance, and your compliance is not something I can force on a consistent basis. I look like I am in charge; in truth, I am in a prison of my own construction. I am my own jailer.
It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harbouring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die. (66:1)
I look back over the list: how much of my life have I spent aiming at happiness and satisfaction? How much of my life have I spent in futility and unhappiness? How well does my way of living work?
This is the first devastating insight: the delusion that we can wrest satisfaction and happiness from life if only we manage well (61:1) is starting to crumble.
The second devastating insight is this: when I am resentful, I am cut off from the sunlight of the Spirit. As we know from p. 55:2, ‘we found the Great Reality [God] deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found.’ When I am in resentment, I am locked in my own mind and emotions and in a body tense with frustration and suffering. Resentment takes me into the past and casts before me a future which is simply a reflection of this past. I am thus separated from my own spirit—and from God, as these can be found only in the present (‘May you find him now!’ (59:0)) To make matters worse, for us alcoholics, the mental defence against the first drink which comes from God can be found only in this elusive present: anything which takes me into the past or future takes me away from that which can provide a spiritual defence in those strange mental blank spots (42:0).
Note that the insanity of alcohol (the idea that a drink would be a good idea) returns when I am stone cold sober. Suddenly (36:2), at certain times (24:1), and I cannot tell when such times are going to occur.
And because of the physical craving, for us, to drink is to die, because, if I start drinking, I may never again be given a gift of sufficient desperation to create a space inside me for God to rush in and fill the void. I may never be able to get back to AA.
If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be dubious luxury of normal men, but for the alcoholics, these things are poison.
We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future. We were prepared to look at it from an entirely different angle. We began to see that the world and its people really dominated us. In that state, the wrongdoings of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill. How could we escape? We saw that these resentments must be mastered, but how? We could not wish them away any more than alcohol.
This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, ‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.’ (66:2–4)
The ‘entirely different angle’ in 66:3 will mean several different things. Largely, this will refer to the set of questions on p. 67:2, which will form the ‘fourth column’ of the resentment inventory, when we examine how we have affected other people in response to or in provocation of their (fancied or real) wrongs towards us.
See, also, the separate article: ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves: the victim and her trusty companions’ (
Before we arrive at this point, there is a necessary insight: I have spent a lot of my life concerned with what is right and wrong—how things should be versus how they are. The result? Futility and unhappiness. What is of more concern is whether I am free or imprisoned. The holding of resentment imprisons me. You slap me across the face, and it hurts. But I repeat the injury over and over and over in my mind and spend years being continually re-slapped. Do I want to be right or do I want to be free? If I want to be free, I do not need to say, ‘they were right all along’. As stated above, this is not about taking responsibility for the harm done to us; this is about taking responsibility for our reactions to the harm done to us (real or fancied). If I want to free, I must learn to keep my nose out of other people’s inventory. The accuracy of my inventory of other people’s conduct is neither here nor there. The fact that I am taking it indicates that I am playing a role not assigned to me. P. 68:2 indicates that ‘we are in the world to play the role He assigns’. Unless I am a prosecutor, a judge, a juryman, an executioner, a politician, a reformer, or a minister paid to sigh over the sins of the twenty-first century, other people’s inventory is simply none of my business.
Trouble is: my mind will keep taking me back to the wrongs (real or fancied) done to me. My powerlessness in Step One involves powerlessness over my own mind. I cannot bring about my own spiritual awakening; I cannot bring about my own psychic change. The result? The obsession and inner turmoil continue unabated, and my outer life becomes a manifestation of that inner obsession and turmoil. Inner powerlessness manifests as outer unmanageability.
It is rightly said that prayer is the only thing that brings about change (whether or not that prayer is consciously understood by the person praying to be, in fact, prayer: heartfelt petitions to the universe, wordless exclamations of the soul, can indeed be a form of prayer). Prayer changes us on the inside, inevitably. And, as our outward lives are merely manifestations of our inward reality, our outward lives change.
The solution to resentment involves two elements:
(1) Awareness
The awareness is that people who behave badly are likely cut off from their true spirits in precisely the way I am cut off from mine when I am behaving badly. Wildebeest cut off from the herd become frightened, aggressive, and erratic. People cut off from their true spirits, trapped in minds, emotions, and bodies, will become frightened, aggressive, and erratic.
To consider the futility and ultimately fatality of being trapped inside the mind, the emotions, and the body: my mind is a closed economic system, with one half manufacturing horse-crap and the other half buying it; my emotions have no judgement at all; and, whilst my body never lies, I, as an active alcoholic and addict, developed the routine ability to override its every signal in order to continue drinking or doing whatever else gave me temporary ease and comfort—at a terrible price. My mind would not let my feet rest. If I am operating merely out of body, mind, and emotion, I am liable to make some very bad decisions. I am liable to be in fear, and, like a frightened animal, I will be concerned only with my own protection.
The awareness that needs to be developed is that other people, when behaving badly, are as driven by fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity as am I when I am behaving badly (62:1). My pity, patience, and tolerance for them can and must flow from this realisation: they are as powerless, in the moment, over their behaviour as I am, in the moment, over mine. When I am being driven, I am not in the driving seat: I am like a horse-rider who has fallen from the saddle but has his foot caught in the stirrup and is being dragged for miles along the ground by a frightened, aggressive, and erratic stallion. I am not in control.
This is not an exercise in condescension: this is an exercise in seeing other people as I should be seeing myself—victims of their own egos, their own self-will run riot. Hence: pity, patience, and tolerance. They—like myself—are sick. Not bad. I am not on a spiritual hilltop; they are down here with me in the muck and the mire.
Ask yourself:
·         What might be motivating them
·         Have I ever had similar motivations?
·         Am I not like them?
(2) Prayer
The prayer will flow automatically from the awareness; awareness without power is torture, and I need power for change to take place. Awareness creates the conditions in which change can take place; I pray; and change is wrought within me.
Prayer № 1:
‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.’ (67:0)
Note that this is not about praying for the other person. Such prayers are fundamentally good acts and may well form a great part of Step Eleven work. However, at this point, I am the one who is in trouble, not necessarily the other man. I am the one who needs saving!
Note: in some cases, I realise or suspect that my offence at a person is unwarranted as the person is not actually sick but simply in the way of my ‘little plans and design’ (63:1)
I will revise the prayer as follows, for such instances:
‘This may be a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.’
‘This man is as he is. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.’
The next paragraph:
We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful. We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one. (67:1)
... can also be turned into a prayer.
Prayer № 2:
God, have me avoid retaliation or argument, including in my mind. Have me be helpful. If I cannot be helpful, show me how to take a kindly and tolerant view of this person.
This procedure—awareness and prayer—should be practised repeatedly on each of the resentments written about in the first three columns, in order to start the process of healing and detachment and in order to prepare us for the remaining part of the resentment inventory: the fourth column.

How do you know if you're close to a drink?

To drink, the mental obsession would need to return, i.e. the thought that a drink is a good idea even though my experience tells me it isn't. To give in to the mental obsession is to rate short-term gain more highly than the long-term pain it will invariably cause.

However, that's not enough: I would need to be disconnected from God. The lower authority, my mind, would need to make a decision without the higher authority, God, stepping in. The higher authority operates at a spiritual level not an intellectual level. We recoil as if from a hot flame; we do not think it through. Revulsion or walking away from a drinking situation is the sign that this higher authority is in charge.

How do you tell whether you're disconnected from God?

You can come at this from two angles:

How is my thinking or behaviour disconnecting me from God?

Death threats

What symptoms to do I have of being disconnected from God?

Discussion of the bedevilments

So, to test how close you are to a drink:

1. What action do I take, or am tempted to take, that gives me short-term gain but long-term pain.

2. What am I doing that separates me from God?

Am I resentful?
Is my behaviour harming others?
Am I keeping secrets?
Am I facing my creditors?
Have I done my utmost to straighten out the past?
Am I complacent about my alcoholism?
Have I abandoned myself to work and self-sacrifice to others?

3. Symptoms

Am I having trouble with personal relationships?
Am I being controlled by my emotional nature?
Am I a prey to misery and depression?
Am I able to make a living?
Do I feel useless?
Am I full of fear?
Am I unhappy?
Am I able to be of real help to anyone?

The answers to these questions should give you a pretty good idea of how close you are to a drink.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The failure of the material plane

Living life on the material plane generally fails. Look round a room in AA where most of the people are sober a while but not particularly working the steps and you'll usually discover a lot of complaining and unhappiness. This is the result of living life on the material plane. Now, there's nothing wrong with the material plane. It was just never designed to be lived on, if you're a human rather than a rabbit or an avocado, without the superstructure of the spiritual plane.

In those rare cases where it is a success, however, it still offers an inferior product. What are the two ways that living life on the spiritual plane beats life on the material plans hands down?

(Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 42 et seq.)

Fred talks about how his life is more satisfying and more useful.

Lack of satisfaction is also well described as the restlessness, irritability, and discontentment presented in the doctor's opinion as the precursor to a return to drinking.

A feeling of useless is one of the bedevilments that are the hallmarks of the untreated alcoholic, on page 52.

Unhappiness and low self-worth? If these are prevailing, we're on the wrong plane. The point about living life on a higher plan (but through the material plane, which is an inalienable element of this) is that we discover a solution both to the generalised disappointment of the material plane and to the sense of personal futility and pointlessness that living life on the material plane engenders. The reason a material life feels disappointing is because it is disappointing. You're not wrong or deluded. You're observing its true nature. The profound sense of futility many people spend their whole lives running away from (and I speak from experience here) is good. It is to be encouraged. Because it is only from the springboard of this futility that the energy can be concentrated to leap into the higher realm. It is only by finding our true role as servants of Gods, 24 hours a day, that satisfaction and a sense of usefulness can be achieved.

Why being ill is not a cop-out

I've often heard people say that saying we're 'ill' as alcoholics is a moral cop-out. Here's a good quotation illustrating the context of this idea.

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 7)

Clearly, therefore, we're not just ill: we're also selfish and foolish. We remain morally responsible and responsible for seeking a greater wisdom.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Wild self-abandonment

The AA pledge (above) suggests that AA should never say 'no' to a reasonable, relevant request. At the individual level, this looks like it means we say 'yes' to all AA requests. It does not. It means we're responsible for making sure AA says 'yes' to all AA requests, provided that they are reasonable and relevant. We're not, for instance, responsible when someone asks for money or lodging. With the reasonable, relevant requests, almost all of the time, I discharge the duty myself. Occasionally the duty is best served by being discharged by someone else, in which case I pass the job on to them. This is not because I don't want to do it but because, for instance, I have a sponsee who is fairly new and is desperate to find someone to work with, and has several hours a day free to give to that person, whereas I might be able to offer a couple of hours a week. I do this also so that I am free to handle requests that come in that I am specially positioned to meet. The trade-off is not between self and God but between intensive work and extensive work, the former being what God is commissioning me to do. But I temper this with the offer for the person to continue calling me. If God has placed someone in my life, there is a reason, and I never shut the door on anyone or say I won't talk to them. Phone calls are available to anyone, provided I can be useful, and missed phone calls get returned within 24 hours.

It is possible to swing so far the other way, i.e. making sure that every request is met but not, ourselves, pulling our weight. That's a very obvious way of not doing God's will, as we're simply leaving it to others and then acting only as the final safety net or fuse in the fuse box. This is less dangerous, as it's hard to conceal to ourselves for long that we're not stepping up to the plate.

The most insidious form of self-reliance is to do a lot of service or sponsorship but to set boundaries on the basis that we won't be able to cope with more. There is no trust that God will help us find a way. This means that we do not reach our potential, as it is only when the pressure is applied that we're forced to grow to a new level where our intensive (not extensive) work with other alcoholics (page 89 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous) forces us to work smarter and quicker, as we grow in understanding and effectiveness (page 84).

This is partial surrender, compliance in the place of surrender, following God's will provided it's not hard or inconvenient, provided there are no sacrifices. This is not following God's will. This is getting by on just enough, with our own ideas of what we think is enough. It blocks God from truly working through us, as it leaves Him with one hand tied behind His back. It also means that there are going to be other false Gods, other false idols, other false north stars guiding us, grabbing our attention, and zapping our energy.

What is the result? Service becomes tiring because we're doing it on our strength not God's; life becomes tiring because the ego's demands are never satisfied and the ego takes more than it yields. What happens next? We pull back further, we pull up the drawbridge earlier, and we retreat even further into self-reliance.

When I have fallen into this trap, I have believed I can get by with only partial relief of selfishness. I want to abandon the bits of self that get in my way, and get just enough benefits of the programme that I have some relief from running on self in other areas of my life. But it stops short of full abandonment:

(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 6)

There are several passages in the Big Book that suggest complete abandonment of self:

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 14 et seq.)

Note that this is not just serving when it suits us: 'self-sacrifice' is a grand term, and denotes less martyrdom and more the abandonment of selfish desires.

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 15)

Self-abandonment, again, is a strong term.

Exactly how 'abandoned' do we need to be?

Step Six is about the abandonment of limited objectives:

(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 6)

The limited objectives are where we take on just enough service to satisfy ourselves we are doing enough: but if the requests are still coming through, God's calling us. This is where we need to step out of our comfort zone into the danger of performing God's will when we are frightened it will be too much. We must never forget that it is God who provides the strength and direction. We are responsible not for the work but for entrusting the work to God to be performed through us. Then we're free, and the burden is light or non-existent. It becomes a joy; it is like flying.

(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 7)

What we're interested in is the 'true purpose' of our lives: not our purpose but God's purpose. In Step Three, it asks us to turn our lives, not part of our lives, over to God. God does not care one jot for our personal ambitions. He wants to use us. This is wild, dangerous self-abandonment. But don't forget: what we get out of this is a working faith, a faith that actually gives us access to strength and intelligence beyond our own.

(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 7)

This final passage from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions summarises the content of the previous passage: we do not get to live our own lives, we get to live the lives that God wants us to live, which may be radically different from what we have in mind.

Let's look at what this looks like practically:

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 20)

'Constant' is unambiguous in its scope.

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 97)

This passage too, is unambiguous. Step Twelve is inconvenient.

There is little more to say on this subject: we give ourselves absolutely to God and let God worry about how everything is going to get fitted into the schedule. We're relying on a force that is infinite in its power, wisdom, and resourcefulness:

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 68)

The results of living this way: apart from profound and wide-ranging usefulness, this affords me an invulnerability that can be achieved in no other way.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

How not to be a miserable s**t

Self-centredness does not always look like self-centredness. Concern over anything other than God’s will for me represents a usurpation of God’s role as general protector and guide of the world. If I am worried about something beyond my control, I am being hubristic. This is not to say that what goes on in the world is completely irrelevant to me; it is relevant to the extent that such information guides my action in the service of God. Given the extent of difficulties in the world, it would be impossible to be concerned with all legitimate causes; the question to God concerns which of the many causes I am enjoined to participate in the furthering of. In addition, if I’m a woe-laden misery, I’m of no use to anyone.

Here are the quotations:

Pages 61 to 62 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

 Page 132 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

To sum up, lighten up, then get busy.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

'Justified fear'

Sometimes fear seems justified because the event that might happen is horrible and the risk, credible. Setting aside all philosophical reasons for eliminating fear, here's the final reason:

We'll die of alcoholism if we don't have the fear removed. So, ask God to remove the fear and then get on with serving Him. It doesn't matter if you're right; the fear must go.


On occasion, I have presented my ego-based thinking to others, as if on a silver platter, for them to do something about. I will readily recognise that my thinking is the problem but want others to do something about it. This never works, because essentially I still believe in the ‘reality’ of my thinking. If I did not, what would I be offering up on the silver platter? The fact I believe in it is shown by the way I handle it. If you handle something as though it is real, you make it real to you. Others cannot do my thinking for me, and others cannot take responsibility for me on my behalf. It is I who determine what I deem to be real. Others cannot override this decision. The worst part of this is that, sometimes, others will then see what I’m serving up on the silver platter and treat it as though it is real, too. They’ll respond to it, argue with it, present counter-arguments, and so on. All of this appears to deny its content but actually reinforces the delusion of its substance. This makes the problem worse. If I think I see a ghost and you say you see it too, now there really are ghosts. I have now shared and doubled the problem.

Why is this relevant? If I believe that the ego-based thoughts—or self-destructive thoughts, or fear, or doubt, or suspicion, or whatever they are—have substance, I will one day obey them, because that is simply how my mind works. Whatever I believe is my god. There is nowhere to hide from this.

So, does that mean I am supposed to pretend such thoughts are not there? Absolutely not, because what grows in the dark grows rampant. The job is not to present the thoughts as substance, in the hope that you can present something more substantial, because logical argument is slippery in this domain, and the right answer does not always win against the ego (note, for instance, mass delusion and irrationality in society), at least not straight away (‘grace bats last’); the job, rather, is to recognise that there is nothing there. There are meaningless words, and the meaningless words running through my mind are creating a vision of a meaningless world. This does need to be shared with others, not by saying, ‘here’s the terrifying substance I’ve found’, but by saying ‘here’s the nothingness which has no meaning.’

I am the one that must take charge of my thinking about beliefs and must actively decide in favour of faith and God, regardless of what illusions I’m tempted to fall for.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Relapsing on other behaviour (food, sex, etc.)

One of the most common issues in recovery is the persistence of other addictive processes, despite the individual being clean and sober in AA, NA, or whichever fellowship. Sometimes people go to another fellowship to achieve abstinence in those areas. It's important to remember there's only one God, there's only one set of Twelve Steps, and there's only one brain and mind inside your head. The God Who heals, heals everything. The ways we approach God are techniques but they are not God Himself. I wish I could say that my sponsees who have gone to OA, SA, SLAA, etc. to acquire abstinence in those areas routinely report that those fellowships necessarily brought about abstinence more effectively or swiftly than simply working the Steps in the fellowship they are already in. In some cases they did; in some cases they didn't. Steps One and Twelve certainly must be worked explicitly with all addictive processes one has, and going to another fellowship to work on Step One with a skilled practitioner of the Steps to break one's ego in the area in question is certainly a great idea; if the addictive process is a rare one (like gambling), it will be hard to find people to work with in AA who have it, so the other fellowship provides a great pool of potential newcomers. There are half a dozen other reasons why one might, as have I, visit or become a member of a second or even third fellowship. As with anything in recovery: if a tool helps, use it. If not, don't worry about it.

There are many cases (my own included) where abstinence in a process addiction is extremely elusive for a while, despite apparently throwing everything at it.

Here are some observations of having process addictions myself and sponsoring or talking to literally countless people who also have them. I hope these help. They helped me.

(1) Some people come to SA, OA, etc. and are abstinent from day one. Others take years of patient work and improvement, with distressing setbacks, before abstinence or the maintenance of bottom lines is achieved. This does not mean the programme does not work or works only on some people. It means, rather, that some people are deeper into the addictive process than others and take longer to heal. The book Alcoholics Anonymous refers to the 'Step Nine promises' coming 'sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly'.

(2) It is not necessarily true that one must acquire full and permanent abstinence before one can even engage in the process of recovering. This defeats the point. In some parts of recovery world, newcomers who can't stay abstinent on their own power (which is the definition of powerlessness!) are told they cannot start the Steps until they have achieved abstinence. I have known many friends who find this both shaming and exasperating: they're required to admit powerlessness in the same breath they're required to exercise power they're blocked from. The experience of many is that it is precisely the engagement in the process that provides release from the behaviour, and that seeking abstinence (or the maintenance of bottom lines) must take place hand in hand with working the Steps.

So, how is abstinence achieved?

I don't have a definitive or comprehensive answer, but here are some suggestions from my own experience.

(1) To be free of an addictive process, I must be willing to feel whatever feelings come up. Sometimes the reservation consists in not being willing to experience certain feelings. Emotion must not be allowed to steer the ship.

(2) Addictive processes involve both a degree of automation (the same type of automation that enables you to drive a car or chop vegetables whilst talking to someone) and a disrupted relationship between the reward centre of the brain (the bit that likes the dopamine hit and issues instructions to repeat whatever behaviour produced it) and the decision-making bit of the brain. The brain literally needs rewiring. This is a formidable task and is not achieved instantly. Patience and persistence are required.

(3) Surrender of old attitudes, thoughts, and behaviour patterns and the adoption of new attitudes, thoughts, and behaviour patterns must be at the level of heart. This is not about external observance but a change at a profound level. This cannot be brought about as an act of the will but can be brought about by persistent work to undermine the attachment to the old attitudes, thoughts, and behaviour patterns, which is what the Steps are about.

(4) The set of actions suggested by a sponsor in all three areas, recovery, service, and fellowship, must be complete and not selective.

(5) It is the process of the Steps as a whole, incorporated into a system of fellowship and service, that brings about recovery: no particular element is the magic key. It's not as simple as that.

(6) Here are some quotations that are apropos:

From 'Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions'

Having been granted a perfect release from alcoholism, why then shouldn't we be able to achieve by the same means a perfect release from every other difficulty or defect? This is a riddle of our existence, the full answer to which may be only in the mind of God. ...

When men and women pour so much alcohol into themselves that they destroy their lives, they commit a most unnatural act. Defying their instinctive desire for self-preservation, they seem bent upon self-destruction. They work against their own deepest instinct. As they are humbled by the terrific beating administered by alcohol, the grace of God can enter them and expel their obsession. Here their powerful instinct to live can cooperate fully with their Creator's desire to give them new life. For nature and God alike abhor suicide.
But most of our other difficulties don't fall under such a category at all. Every normal person wants, for example, to eat, to reproduce, to be somebody in the society of his fellows. And he wishes to be reasonably safe and secure as he tries to attain these things. Indeed, God made him that way. He did not design man to destroy himself by alcohol, but He did give man instincts to help him to stay alive.

It is nowhere evident, at least in this life, that our Creator expects us fully to eliminate our instinctual drives. So far as we know, it is nowhere on the record that God has completely removed from any human being all his natural drives.

Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn't strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or we wilfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, of our sins.

If we ask, God will certainly forgive our derelictions. But in no case does He render us white as snow and keep us that way without our cooperation. That is something we are supposed to be willing to work toward ourselves. He asks only that we try as best we know how to make progress in the building of character.
Until now, our lives have been largely devoted to running from pain and problems. We fled from them as from a plague. We never wanted to deal with the fact of suffering. Escape via the bottle was always our solution. Character-building through suffering might be all right for saints, but it certainly didn’t appeal to us.

Then, in A.A., we looked and listened. Everywhere we saw failure and misery transformed by humility into priceless assets. We heard story after story of how humility had brought strength out of weakness. In every case, pain had been the price of admission into a new life. But this admission price had purchased more than we expected. It brought a measure of humility, which we soon discovered to be a healer of pain. We began to fear pain less, and desire humility more than ever.
We saw we needn’t always be bludgeoned and beaten into humility. It could come quite as much from our voluntary reaching for it as it could from unremitting suffering. A great turning point in our lives came when we sought for humility as something we really wanted, rather than as something we must have. It marked the time when we could commence to see the full implication of Step Seven: ‘Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.’

C. S. Lewis

We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

Practising the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

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.

Charlotte Joko Beck 

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this moment are the perfection. ‘What do you mean, they’re the perfection? I’m gonna practise and get rid of them’ No, we don’t have to get rid of them, but we must see their nature. The structure becomes thinner (or seems thinner); it gets lighter, and occasionally we may crack a hole right through it. Occasionally. So one thing I want you to do is to identify for yourself what it is in your life right now that you’re not willing to have be as it is. It could be troubles with your partner, it could be unemployment, it could be disappointment with some goal that has not been reached. Even if what is happening is fearful and distressing, it’s fine. It’s very difficult to get that. Strong practice is needed to make even a dent in our habitual way of viewing life. It’s hard to get that we don’t have to get rid of the calamity. The calamity is fine. You don’t have to like it, but it’s fine.

Emmet Fox

In prayer or treatment (as in most things), the less effort you make, the better. In fact, effort defeats itself. Pray gently, quietly, without strain. When a person tries for the first time to swim, he nearly always begins by beating the water violently in his efforts to keep afloat. Of course, this is quite wrong. All that happens is that he tires himself out, and never swims a stroke.
Later, when he has been shown how, by an efficient instructor, he enters the water, and, with a very few gentle, almost effortless movements, he is at the far end of the pool. After that, it is only a question of time and regular practice for him to become an expert swimmer.

So it is with treatment. Turn to God quietly, with confidence and faith, and affirm that He is opening your path in whatever is the best way, or solving that particular problem. Let your prayer be an unhurried visit with God. Remind yourself that He cares for you, and that to Him nothing is impossible; and then give thanks—and expect results.

‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Alan Watts

The final meaning of negative theology, of knowing God by unknowing, of the abandonment of idols both sensible and conceptual, is that ultimate faith is complete letting go. Not only is it beyond theology; it is also beyond atheism and nihilism. Such letting go cannot be attained. It cannot be acquired or developed through perseverance and exercises, except insofar as such efforts prove the impossibility of acquiring it.

Letting go comes only through desperation when you know that it is beyond you—beyond your powers of action as beyond your powers of relaxation. When you give up every last trick and device for getting it, including this “giving up” as something that one might do, say, at 10 o’clock tonight. That you cannot by any means do it—that is it! That is the mighty self-abandon which gives birth to the stars.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Admitted we were powerless ...

Sometimes it is asserted that the phrase we were powerless is written in the past tense, so it is no longer true. The reason the phrase is in the past tense is that the past tense is consistent with the verb in the main clause, namely admitted. 'We admit we are powerless' thus becomes 'We admitted we were powerless'. A statement in the past about a condition in the past cannot indicate whether that condition in the future will be persist or pass, however.

However, the question is relevant and interesting. To answer the question of whether we remain powerless, we have to understand what an admission of powerlessness means. If one examines closely the material on Step One in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, it is clear that being powerless means (a) not being able to stay away from the first drink through common sense prevailing over irrational impulses and (b) not being able to stop at a few drinks when we start.

Are these true even after one has recovered? The second element is still true: the experience of people who recover from alcoholism but later drift and lapse is that recovering through the steps does not alter the body such that drinking does not induce an insatiable craving for more.

The first element is more complex. If we successfully stay away from alcohol for years, it seems, on the face of it, that we are no longer powerless: if we were, why are we sober? It is true that power has been acquired, but there are two features of that power that are of note. Firstly, the power does not consist in common sense prevailing over irrational impulses. Although on occasion this is the form it will appear to take, my experience at least is not that reason is prevailing but that spirit is prevailing, in the same way that when I stand back from the edge of a tall building it is instinct that governs me, not an analysis of mechanics and anatomy suggesting that if I fall my internal organs will sustain irreparable damage. It is not intellect that prevails but instinct. The same is true when I 'recoil from [a drink] as from a hot flame'. Secondly, the power given is contingent (on the maintenance of a spiritual way of life) and does not become inherent. I, myself, am powerless, but I am not only myself any more: I am part of a greater whole, and it is that assimilation that confers power.

So, are we still powerless, years later? More yes than no.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A simple approach to public information in AA

There are lots of materials on public information in AA, and in other Twelve-Step fellowships. The volume of materials can be daunting. Here's a simple overview:

The aim of public information is to ensure that any still-suffering alcoholic and any professional or concerned other whose formal or informal role is to help the still-suffering alcoholic has an adequate basic understanding of alcoholism, how AA can help, and how an individual can contact or be directed towards AA.

In both cases, the vast majority of the work is directed at professionals, as it is only through professionals, typically, that we can gain access to alcoholics.

The simple approach is therefore this: make a list of the types of organisation that may encounter alcoholics, either through the nature of their work (e.g. medical establishments) or through the simple fact they encounter people and a lot of people are alcoholics (e.g. the police, the probation services, homeless charities, etc.). Then make a list of the examples of such organisations within the geographical area in question. This might be the area surrounding your home group, or it could be the Intergroup, Region, Area, or District (depending on the structure of AA in the territory in which you live). This is your master list.

You then contact these organisations, agencies, and institutions one by one. This might be in person, by letter, by telephone, by website contact form, or by email. The method is guided by what is most likely to be effective, which is more a matter of trial and error than of principle. Police stations are great to contact in person, as they have a reception desk for the public. With some organisations, you have to call first to find out who the most appropriate person to talk to is. With others, the contact page on the website lets you know who to contact. One advantage of email is that it is easier to forward and harder to lose; also, attachments or the email itself can easily be widely distributed.

The content of the communication: we tell the addressee or interlocutor that we are carrying out routine public information work to raise awareness of how AA can help alcoholics. We provide all of the basic information in the introductory communication but also offer follow-up in the form of off-the-shelf or tailored written materials, personal visits to individuals or groups, or more public presentations to larger numbers of people. We also offer Twelfth-Stepping, if relevant.

Only a small proportion or organisations thus approached will respond with a further request for information, a presentation, or help, but the ones that do not respond will often file or publicise the information internally in such a way that the message reaches further than you, as the PI officer, realise.

The exercise can be repeated with all organisations every two or three years, as a new person rotates into the role, the occasion of the further communication being the rotation, namely the necessity of communicating to the organisation the contact details of the new officer. This is a way of legitimately continuing to contact organisations without hounding.

Here is an example of a letter that I have sent out in my capacity as an Armed Services Liaison Officer:

Sample letter

My role as a volunteer within Alcoholics Anonymous is to reach out to the armed forces, public sector bodies, and charities in the services and ex-services sector.

The aim of reaching out is to ensure that anyone dealing in their professional capacity with people who may have a drinking problem is fully armed with the facts about Alcoholics Anonymous and how it can help problem drinkers.

Some general points about AA:
  • AA attendance and membership can complement other programmes of recovery or assistance accessed by problem drinkers. Meetings are generally held in the evenings, and there is typically no conflict between attending day programmes etc. and attending AA.
  • Access to and attendance of AA is very flexible; the problem drinker can investigate or join AA at any point in the process and is under no obligation at any point to continue if he or she does not wish to.
  • AA can provide a structured recovery programme—if the individual so wishes—or can simply be a place the individual sometimes attends for additional support. AA welcomes anyone provided he or she meets the only requirement for membership, which is a desire to stop drinking.
  • AA has no opinion on what other substances or addictive patterns or problems the individual has in the mix; if alcohol has been a problem and the individual seeks sobriety, he or she is welcome.
  • AA does not promise to solve anyone's drinking problem. What we do say is that, if 'drinking is costing you more than money, we may be able to help'. This modesty aside, AA does have more than 75 years of experience helping alcoholics of every imaginable description. There is surely no standard profile of an AA member. For this reason, we encourage the net to be cast wide and to suggest to anyone with a drinking problem—whatever the apparent cause—to consider AA.
  • One aim of the Armed Services Liaison discipline is to ensure that any professional helping or encountering problem drinkers and alcoholics in the course of his or her work is able adequately to explain what AA has to offer and facilitate the individual accessing AA.
  • AA cooperates and coordinates closely with outside agencies but does not formally affiliate with other programmes.
I'd like to set out specifically what the Armed Services Liaison discipline in AA can offer—essentially, written materials and people.

Written materials:
  • Existing AA pamphlets and fliers aimed (a) at professionals who encounter or help alcoholics and (b) at problem drinkers interested in the possibility AA may be able to help them. The latter category includes general materials aimed at any problem drinkers and materials tailored for problem drinkers with current or past armed services experience. These materials are available for distribution in hard copy. 
  • New materials in soft copy that are more easily distributable. These can be drawn up based on existing materials and can be tailored to the needs of the organisation through which they are being distributed or based on the specific target audience.

  • Armed Services Liaison Officers ('ASLOs') able to present to professionals to explain what AA can offer and how problem drinkers can access AA.
  • In areas where there are no local ASLOs in role, Public Information/Health Liaison Officers equally equipped to provide the above service.
  • Volunteers coordinated by ASLOs to hold informal AA meetings in facilities or settings where problem drinkers are seeking help (either on an inpatient or an outpatient/drop-in basis) or to hold brief, informal presentations or to talk one-to-one to problem drinkers.
  • 12th-steppers (experienced AA members practising the '12th step' of AA's 12-step programme, which is to attempt to carry AA's message of recovery to alcoholics), who can introduce problem drinkers to AA and ensure they are given a firm foundation.

Access pathways:
  • The AA website (see annex for a screenshot) provides instant access to details of AA meetings nationally (and English-speaking meetings in continental Europe). Anyone wishing to attend a meeting may simply look up a location and attend. Whilst this suits some people, we generally find it more effective for an individual's first encounter with AA to be a little more structured.
  • The individual can call the main telephone number (0800 9177 650) or email the main email address ( to discuss his or her problem with another alcoholic. Based on this conversation, the individual can be provided details of local AA meetings over the phone and/or by post. For many, this provides a sufficient introduction.
  • AA also offers a 12th-stepping service (see above). This can be accessed through the telephone number or email address above. Typically, this will be offered during the first contact. A '12th-step call' is where a couple of experienced AA members visit or meet the problem drinker and take him or her to the first AA meeting. 12th-steppers can introduce the individual to local AA members, explain how AA works, answer questions, address reservations or fears, and often provide longer-term experience and counsel.
  • AA has a relatively recently established 12th-stepping service specifically for the armed services. This service uses a database of experienced AA members who also have armed services experience. We have found that similar biographical experience can help to overcome apparent obstacles to joining AA. Many problem drinkers believe that some complicating aspect of their personal histories will mean AA will not work because, as they see it, they are 'different'. A talk with someone whose experiences closely mirror their own can reduce or overcome entirely this sense of difference.
  • This service can be accessed as follows: it can be requested directly from the telephone or email service by asking for a 12th-step call from someone on the 'armed services 12th-steppers list'; it can also be requested through the local armed services liaison officer, who will have a copy of the database, too. There is a good chance that the volunteer answering the phone will offer this spontaneously, but if the caller knows the service is available, this can help where the volunteer is not aware of this relatively new service.

To sum up, I would be happy to meet you or any of your colleagues to discuss further, or to answer any questions you may have.

Yours sincerely,


Annex: Alcoholics Anonymous website—finding AA meetings

The main page of the website shows the following:

By entering a location, e.g. ‘Whitechapel’, results are displayed as follows:
If an individual then clicks on the AA symbol, details of when and where specifically the AA group in question meets are displayed.

Annex 2. Contacting your local armed services liaison officer

If you go to, this will give you the numbers and email addresses of the various AA offices around the country (the numbers are not reproduced here, so that this information remains up-to-date even if the numbers change in the future). Simply call and ask for the name and number or email address of the armed services liaison officer ('ASLO') for the county, city, or region in question. All ASLOs are volunteers (and AA members themselves), and rotation takes place every two–three years, in a staggered fashion, so hard-copy lists of officers can rapidly become outdated. This is why we suggest this method of identifying your current local officer.

How well is that working for you?

Page 58 of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' suggests that a fundamental lack of honesty is pretty much the only surefire block to recovering. Sometimes this manifests as someone keeping some unsavoury secret to themselves. More often than not, however, the people that do not make it are the ones who cannot consistently follow the simple instructions of the programme, instead retaining their own attitudes and beliefs and following their own counsel. What is the dishonesty? It is the inability to admit that their way has failed and that their attitudes, beliefs, and plotted course of action are therefore to blame. Disconcertingly, such people are often partly compliant with the ideas and actions of the programme, but unfortunately the programme, to be successful, requires the jettisoning of all old ideas, not some. The question is this: how well is your way working? If the answer to this does not prompt an enthusiastic abandonment of self and a spirited uptake of this way of life, the problem is one of honesty. How do I know any of this? Because every time I have been failing, either to stay sober or abstinent from another destructive behaviour or to live fruitfully, the root cause is always the retention of an old idea, usually concerning what I think will make me happy. In other words, I am talking about myself.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A miniature guide to abstinence

Part of getting well from an addictive process is abstinence. With alcohol, it's easy to define. Don't drink. With other behaviours, particularly those that form part of everyday life, like sex, relationships, or food, it's hard to define, and still harder to practise. I use the concept of 'bottom lines'. This really means a list of prohibited behaviours (and, by extension, a list of permitted behaviours).

Making resolutions is easy but resolutions are hard to keep. To turn a resolution into a decision, we need firstly an alternative, which, if you're already practised in recovery, means turning your attention to how you can serve God, every minute of the day. There is also the question of why one has been acting out: there is always a feeling that is being avoided, and abstinence produces pain, because we're confronted with that feeling. The feeling comes from an old idea we're unwilling to let go of.

To decide to be abstinent therefore requires a couple of extra things: (a) praying to God for the strength to withstand the feelings that have been repressed (b) praying to God for insight as to the old idea that needs to be let go of. Once the old idea is let go of and replaced with a new one, the pain will go, and the fuel behind the addictive process will be removed. Consistent effort in both is required for ultimate success.

Here's how to handle repeated failure in the short and medium term, which is part of the process:

'We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.' (C. S. Lewis)

Friday, 11 November 2016

A few simple ideas

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity? (Page 61)

If I’m having a drama, I created it. I may not have created the situation, but I have created the drama surrounding it.

Nothing outside my action is my business except if it provides information required to transact my business (Tradition X).

Keep your sails out of other people’s wind.

Let it begin with me. (Al-Anon)

The devil resides in negative thinking: do not believe the negative thoughts; they are literally the devil’s work. If you hate evil, fine: but start by rooting out the evil within your own thinking.

‘Do not dread your whole life. Dread one day at a time.’ (Tom W)

‘Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?’ (Matthew 6:27)

‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ (Matthew 6: 34)

We try not to indulge in cynicism over the state of the nations, nor do we carry the world’s troubles on our shoulders. (Page 132)

You cannot prepare in advance for difficult times by preparing yourself for specific events, since God gives you direction and strength only when the event itself occurs. You can prepare only for stability regardless of what happens.

God is always active, so no evil can ever triumph permanently, because its power base is faulty: it must always, ultimately, fail.

There is enough goodness in everyone to solve all the world’s problems in an instant. It need only be activated.

What would God would have me? Useful cheerful, and kind, regardless of what anyone says or does.

Make yourself available to the material: this means you allow God to work through you in whatever circumstance you find yourself in.

God gives me courage a day at a time, not enough courage to last a lifetime.

Handling unacceptable behaviour within the rooms

'Try not to condemn your alcoholic husband no matter what he says or does. He is just another very sick, unreasonable person. Treat him, when you can, as though he had pneumonia. When he angers you, remember that he is very ill.
There is an important exception to the foregoing. We realise some men are thoroughly bad-intentioned, that no amount of patience will make any difference. An alcoholic of this temperament may be quick to use this chapter as a club over your head. Don’t let him get away with it. If you are positive he is one of this type you may feel you had better leave him. Is it right to let him ruin your life and the lives of your children? Especially when he has before him a way to stop his drinking and abuse if he really wants to pay the price.' (To Wives, Alcoholics Anonymous)

Just because we're in recovery does not mean we accept unacceptable behaviour. Love and tolerance of others is our code, sure, but that's not the whole story. It's our responsibility, if behaviour becomes abusive in any way, to set a boundary. That can mean telling someone to stop, leaving the situation in which the abuse is taking place, blocking telephonic and electronic communications, and even going to the police or seeking an injunction through the courts if the person does not desist. An artful malefactor will accuse us of being intolerant or impatient or otherwise 'not working our programmes'. At this point it is important to remember the advice of Al-Anon.

'IN AL-ANON WE LEARN: • Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of other people • Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of another’s recovery • Not to do for others what they can do for themselves • Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink, or behave as we see fit • Not to cover up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds • Not to create a crisis • Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of events' (Detachment, my highlighting)

Note, in particular, the underlined passages. Just because someone is a still-suffering alcoholic, drunk, in early recovery, or sober for a while, does not mean we have to put up with behaviour we would not put up with outside the world of recovery.

Examples within include:
  • A barrage of unwanted communication.
  • Aggressive, intimidating, accusatory, or condemnatory communication.
  • Covert or implied threats contained within confusing, incoherent, or ambiguous communication.
  • Circumventing blocking by using other means (different email accounts, profiles, or numbers).
  • Using other people's accounts or fake accounts on social media to track or follow you.
  • Going out of their way to go to the same meetings as you or threatening to do so.
  • Threatening to share publicly in a meeting about the situation.
When you set a boundary, the harassing individual is likely to retaliate with the accusation that your behaviour is unspiritual, intolerant, impatient or otherwise unhelpful to them as a recovering alcoholic. This is not the case. To turn to the second underlined passage, the natural course of events when someone is harrassing you is that you block communications and, if it escalates or becomes (even more) threatening, to go to the authorities. Allowing someone to face the consequences of their actions by not standing in the way of this is a deeply spiritual action, and to shield the alcoholic from the consequences of their conduct would be to act as a co-addict and to enable the alcoholic to embed the behaviour even further in their mode of living. The consequences of their actions, namely your boundary-setting and further action if necessary, are their consequences, not yours, since they are a natural and sane response to harassment. 

Do not engage substantively with the material contained within the harassing communications. Any attempt to set a boundary, halt communications, or terminate the relationship will typically be met by a barrage of self-justification ('you brought it on yourself'), denial ('you've misunderstood and overreacted'), and counter-accusation ('it's your boundary-setting that is abusive'). Any experienced harasser will guilefully exploit all of the facts at their disposal to present themselves as the victim and to present you as the aggressor by refusing to respond. You cannot negotiate with a harasser.

To quote ... In All Our Affairs, an Al-Anon publication:

'... accept the fact that you will not get healthy behaviour from a sick person or logical statements from an illogical person.'

Allowing yourself to be dragged into discussion of the harassment with the harasser is a doomed project and will only increase your upset. You will not be able to talk them into reasonableness.

To sum up: when faced with harassment or stalking, you are entitled to set a boundary at the point you feel uncomfortable. The boundary does not have to be negotiated  or agreed with the harasser or stalker. You decide when you want to set the boundary, even if others would tolerate more. It's your boundary, your recovery, your safety, and your peace of mind.

How do you handle apocalyptic fear?

Occasionally I suffer from the tiniest touch of apocalyptic fear. Occasionally others around me suffer from the same, tiniest touch of apocalyptic fear. It's just about possible that there might be a person or two suffering from just this fear right now. With that in mind, here is my fear inventory of the day, per page 68 of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous'.


I am frightened of

  • A gradual (or not so gradual) slide into global fascism
  • War
  • The gradual (or not so gradual) disintegration of Western civilisation
  • The dawning of an age of brutality and barbarism
  • The destruction of all good and beauty in the world
  • The destruction of humanity itself
  • The destruction of life on the planet
  • The extinction of many species
  • The destruction of natural habitats
  • The assets and achievements of mankind being wiped out and forgotten
  • Destruction on such a scale that material advancement can never again be achieved because surface minerals have largely been used

Why am I frightened of these things?

  • Physical, emotional, spiritual pain
  • Seeing the physical, emotional, or spiritual pain of others
  • Loss of hope for myself, humanity, and life on the planet
  • Sense of futility of myself and humanity

God, please remove the fear.

What would God have me be, think, and do?
  • Humble: I am not a soothsayer, fortune-teller, or prophet and cannot see the future.
  • Humble: I cannot fix the world but I can be a force in the lives of people around me.
  • Humble: existence and goodness represent purpose in themselves.
  • Remember that eternity lies in the moment.
  • Be grateful for what I currently have and for what the world has achieved in the past and in the present.
  • Remember the billions of good people on the planet.
  • Pray for the peace of others.
  • Pray that we can all play our role in God's plan for humanity.
  • Connect spiritually and in our hearts with all others, whether or not they are seeking God, whether or not they know they are seeking God.
  • Ask God for His will for me on all levels: practically, intellectually, spiritually.
  • Keep my eyes on the present and the work of the day OR keep my eyes on eternity.
  • Examine the past or the future only in order to devise the work of the day under the direction of God.
  • Be active and resourceful and, in between, rest in God.
  • Decorate my life with natural and man-made beauty in whatsoever form.
  • Do not engage in cynicism, doom-mongering, gloom, despondency, negativity, fear, reproach, grievance, or unnecessary criticism, even when true.
  • Remember that there are four hundred billion stars in the galaxy, and one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe: there is beauty and the potential for life in endless variation: even if the story on earth ends, the story is not over.
  • Human consciousness in its manifest form is not the alpha and omega: whatever we come from cannot be destroyed by us any more than the implosion of a snow globe destroys the Person holding it, Who created it.
  • Remember that God is constantly active in every human heart and that we can affect the hearts of those around us through our own good acts and silent peace.
  • Be comfortable in not knowing.
  • Instead: rest in the palm of God.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Stubborn resentment

Do you have a stubborn resentment? Write out the first three columns of a resentment inventory, and then ask these questions, which are derived from pages 66 to 67 of the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’.

Have I concluded that someone else is wrong or something is not the way it should be?
Have I become stuck on that conclusion and cannot get past it?
Have I fought to have my own way?
Did matters get worse?
Did seeming victories turn out to be defeats?
Were my moments of triumph short-lived?
Has this resentment led to futility and unhappiness?
Have I been squandering the hours that might have been worthwhile?
Is my hope the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience?
Can I see how this resentment could be fatal?
Have I been giving safe harbour to these feelings?
Is this resentment cutting me of from the sunlight of the spirit?
Is the insanity of alcohol returning?
Do I have to be free of anger?
Can I see how this person or situation is dominating me?
Do I want to escape?
Do I want to master this resentment?
Can I see that others are spiritually sick?


Ask God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend.
Say: ‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. They will be done.’
Avoid retaliation or argument.
Ask God to show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view.

Pray this consistently, then write the fourth column (based on the questions in the second full paragraph on page 67).

How many ways are there to work the steps? Are worksheets OK?

A friend of mine was talking to someone recently who claimed that unless one is working the steps precisely as they are laid out in the Big Book, one cannot get well.

Firstly, the AA Big Book itself does not say that we have a monopoly on recovery, merely that we have something that works for us.

Secondly, I would agree with the chap in question in that nothing worked for me but what is in the Big Book, and the closer my programme has come to what is in the Big Book, the better the results have been.

What is also true, however, is that the Big Book is, contrary to what Dr Bob supposedly said, open to interpretation. To take the simplest of examples: in the fear inventory, we are asked to ask ourselves the question of why we had our fears. Clearly, this could be answered in a multitude of ways: the actions we have taken in the past that have placed us in a vulnerable position, the consequences of the feared event, which are the real reason we are frightened, more abstractly the various ways we have relied on self rather than God, or the ideas and attitudes that were instilled in us as children and that have coloured our thinking ever since. This is just one of many points in the Book where the same instruction, in the absence of further clarification, could be taken in very different ways. If you ask a dozen people who claim to work the Steps exactly as they are laid out in the Big Book, you will discover a dozen different approaches, with quite major differences in interpretation all the way through, even without the individuals in question deviating from the plain meaning of the text itself.

It’s also sometimes asserted that worksheets should never be used, because the Book is enough. This view is usually peddled, however, by people who were taken through the Book by a sponsor who showed them exactly how to follow the instructions and gave them particular interpretations or understandings of particular passages. These instructions, interpretations, and understandings they themselves usually pass on to other people.

The Big Book was written in principle to enable people to take the Steps without instruction or assistance. I’ve never met anyone who took the Steps without instruction or assistance, however, nor anyone that suggests that instruction and assistance from a sponsor are not necessary.

What does a sponsor do? Say words. What do worksheets do? Say words. Worksheets are valid only to the extent that they set out what a sponsor sponsoring someone using the Big Book would say when taking someone through the Steps. If they are a facsimile of that instruction and understanding, great! If not, then they should perhaps be avoided.

The medium does not matter: what matters is that the instructions are followed from the Book with guidance in the form of the aggregate experience of a sponsorship lineage crystallised in the instruction of a particular sponsor. Whether the words are conveyed orally or both orally and with worksheets to take away is neither here nor there. However, there is one tiny advantage with worksheets for a sponsee to take away: they do not have to take copious notes whilst talking to their sponsor, if the worksheets match what the sponsor is saying, and there is no risk of ‘Chinese whispers’ or dilution as the instructions and understanding pass down the chain from sponsor to sponsee and onwards.

When the Big Book was written, one of the reasons it was written was to ensure that the message remained intact. The enormous experience gained over the decades in AA is also preserved, through the oral tradition passed down from sponsor to sponsee, but also through tapes of speakers and the writings of AA members.

Ultimately, if something works, great! If something does not work: disregard it.

A final point: money should not be made out of AA materials. If worksheets are provided for free, knock yourself out. If you are being asked to pay, be warned.