Friday, 29 July 2016


The Big Book contains many principles, which are conveyed by describing how we should act in certain situations. These can be generalised as principles to be applied in analogous situations. Thus, the Big Book can set out a design for living for all situations without detailing every imaginable scenario.

Recently, I posted this:

‘To be a Big Book person means to present one's views quietly, calmly, sanely, without argument, rancour, exaggeration, cynicism, sarcasm, or the slightest criticism of others. We are taught to offer to others what we have been given, in good humour.’

Someone suggested that these principles might not necessarily be in the book.

Here are the quotations from which these principles can be derived:

Page 78: ‘His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own. If our manner is calm, frank, and open, we will be gratified with the result.’ Set out originally to discuss how to make amends, this set of principles holds true for all manner of human interactions.

Page 80: ‘After the sermon, he quietly got up and made an explanation.’ Again, the manner in which we make amends is ‘quiet’ as opposed, perhaps, to self-aggrandising or ostentatious. And again, a great principle for presenting any sensitive material to other people.

The same injunction to be ‘quiet’ can be found on page 115 concerning how the wife conveys her alcoholic husband’s problems to her friends: ‘While you need not discuss your husband at length, you can quietly let your friends know the nature of his illness.’

Page 94: ‘If your talk has been sane, quiet and full of human understanding, you have perhaps made a friend.’ This is a wonderful example of how we should carry the message to others.

Lack of exaggeration—sober presentation—is addressed in Tradition 11: ‘Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising.’

Regarding argument and tolerance on controversial matters:

‘Nothing would please us so much as to write a book which would contain no basis for contention or argument. We shall do our utmost to achieve that ideal. Most of us sense that real tolerance of other people’s shortcomings and viewpoints and a respect for their opinions are attitudes which make us more useful to others.’ (Pages 19–20)

‘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.’ (Page 67)

‘Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue.’ (Page 77)

‘He should concentrate on his own spiritual demonstration. Argument and fault-finding are to be avoided like the plague.’ (Page 98)

‘It is of little use to argue and only makes the impasse worse.’ (Pages 126–127)

‘These family talks will be constructive if they can be carried on without heated argument, self-pity, self-justification or resentful criticism.’ (Page 127)

‘If he does not argue about religion, he will make new friends and is sure to find new avenues of usefulness and pleasure.’ (Page 132)

More regarding criticism:

‘The story of how you and your wife settled your difficulties is worth any amount of criticism.’ (Page 100)

‘A man may criticize or laugh at himself and it will affect others favourably, but criticism or ridicule coming from another often produces the contrary effect.’ (Interestingly this also covers the alternative: good humour.) (Page 125)

‘The opposite may happen should the family condemn and criticize. Dad may feel that for years his drinking has placed him on the wrong side of every argument, but that now he has become a superior person with God on his side. If the family persists in criticism, this fallacy may take a still greater hold on father.’ (Page 129)

Cynicism is regarded as an undesirable quality on pages 49, 132, 134, 204, and 351; rancour, on page 111 and 134; sarcasm (viewed as a character defect by Dr Bob), on page 263

This pretty much addresses all of the points contained in the original posting.

Friday, 22 July 2016

How to be a GSR

‘It was in this period that I started to turn to service beyond the group level. I had helped in founding the first gay A.A. group in my part of town and was elected general service representative after having served in other group offices. I knew nothing of general service at that time, and I decided to learn what it was all about so I could do a decent job and be able to pass it on to a successor as quickly as possible. After two years I went on to do a number of other service jobs for A.A.’ (Page 367 of the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’)

This AA member needed to ‘learn what it was all about’, and here is my experience of what that means.

To be a GSR is to be the link between your group and AA as a whole.

You should have a thorough knowledge of the AA literature, in particular AA history and the service manuals for your country.

Your job is also to act as custodian of the Traditions and the Concepts within the group and to ensure that the group is run in accordance with the detailed instructions contained in the pamphlet ‘The AA Group’, which involves separate business meetings, separate group conscience meetings, and in particular the link between service and decision-making being maintained. Group members perform service; that is the definition of a group member. Groups should not have dead wood. We are individually self-supporting through own contributions, and we are each responsible for contributing to our own groups by taking up service assignments. That is what promotes unity. There is no unity when there are two classes of member: the people who do the work and the people who propose how the group should function without lifting a finger themselves.

More importantly, however, there is the relationship between the group and AA as a whole.

Firstly, service meetings must be attended. In London Region (North) this means the four to six Intergroup meetings per year plus the three Region meetings to which GSRs are invited. Once a GSR role is taken up, these dates must be entered into the diary, and any other activities in the way must be moved if possible. Once the dates are in the diary, nothing is allowed to ‘bounce’ these dates out of the diary, except for incapacitating illness or exceptional work or personal circumstances.

[NB some countries have districts, areas, and intergroups instead of intergroups and regions; amend your reading of this accordingly, if this is the case for your country.]

Group news and questions are to be reported to Intergroup and Region. Group views on matters presented to groups for deliberation, including the annual questions for conference, are to be conveyed to the Intergroup, the Region, or to the Delegates, including in a written executive summary.

The GSR must report back to the group all proceedings at Intergroup and Region in summary, orally and in a written report.

Additionally, the annual reports of AA as a whole must be read, and key points brought out in a summary to be delivered back to the group orally and in a written report.

The GSR is responsible for ensuring that copies of ‘AA Service News’ are received and promoted to the group for perusal.

The GRS is responsible for ensuring that the General Service Office has correct details of the group for publication in meetings listings and on the website and that the General Service Office has the correct postal address for correspondence and the issue of reports.

Finally, the GSR is responsible for keeping abreast of all service opportunities within AA for group members, including at Intergroup, Region, and nationally, and including both ad hoc posts that are vacant and ongoing opportunities for service (telephone service, the role of home responder, the role of electronic responder, the role of prison sponsor, listing on 12th-stepper lists including specialist lists of young persons, foreign language speakers, and armed services personnel or veterans, the possibility of writing articles for AA publications, such as ‘Share’, ‘Roundabout’, or ‘Grapevine’, the availability of online groups of AA and service therein, and opportunities locally and more widely to speak at treatment centres, hospitals, detoxes, and other facilities). These opportunities should be presented to group members monthly.

A fully functioning network of GSRs is the most important factor in promoting the unity and growth of AA to reach as many still-suffering alcoholics as possible.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Washed out to sea

‘Then he fell victim to a belief which practically every alcoholic has—that his long period of sobriety and self-discipline had qualified him to drink as other men. Out came his carpet slippers and a bottle. In two months he was in a hospital, puzzled and humiliated. He tried to regulate his drinking for a little while, making several trips to the hospital meantime. Then, gathering all his forces, he attempted to stop altogether and found he could not. Every means of solving his problem which money could buy was at his disposal. Every attempt failed. Though a robust man at retirement, he went to pieces quickly and was dead within four years.’ (Page 32 et seq.)

Every so often during my drinking I was washed up by the sea of alcoholism onto the shore of sobriety. I didn’t choose to get washed up; the currents are more powerful than me. After three years of being washed up but then succumbing to the first drink, I started, in 1993, to take every action suggested to me in AA, and I haven’t had a drink since then. Once you get washed up on the beach, the job is to get off the beach and head inland, before the next big wave takes you out again. If the sea takes you out again, the currents can be so strong that you never get washed up on the shore again and drown.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A simple view of Step Eleven

Step Eleven essentially involves two aspects: firstly, establishing our correct relationship with God; secondly, having established that correct relationship, determining what God's will is for us today.

The correct relationship is this: God is in charge; we are but agents; our lives are no longer our lives; our bodies are no longer our bodies; our fates are no longer our fates. God may indeed delegate us tasks that we are to perform for our own benefit, but only in as far as we are acting as God's agents. We are never to act on our own account. We go to God in humility in this connection on the basis that prior attempts at living have failed, to some extent or other. To the end of achieving or adopting once more this position, whatever resources are helpful must be used, whether direct self-examination, prayer, and mediation, or combinations of reading, listening, and talking.

Having arrived at this position, the remainder of the Step Eleven time must be spent determining what God's will for us is today, which boils down to the list of things God would have us do, and the spirit in which we should do them.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

No, it's not a bridge to normal living

A piece of Al-Anon literature once described AA as a bridge to normal living. That is certainly how it may look from the outside, and Al-Anon is indeed looking at AA from the outside. One minute we're drunk and tottering down the street. The next we're turning up at work, feeding the canary, and taking granny out for dinner.

The reason this idea is pernicious, however, is two-fold. Firstly, it implies AA provides temporary assistance, and once we have reached 'normal living' we are supposed to discard AA as the bridge we cross to reach normal living. This is clearly dangerous as experience suggests that the spiritual way of life must be maintained in perpetuity in order to avoid relapse into alcoholic drinking. Secondly, it implies that there is somehow something normal about renouncing selfish values and devoting our lives to serving God. This is not remotely normal, in a statistical sense. Conduct a poll amongst your friends outside AA. Question 1: have you renounced selfishness, self-seeking, fear, and resentment? It won't take long to establish that normality is not what we are seeking.

We may indeed look normal, when we're turning up for the everyday business of life, but the everyday business of life is not the substance of life. What is the substance of life, you may ask? Well, being spearheads of God's ever-advancing creation, from now until we drop off our perches.

Not a bridge. Not normal. Instead: a new kingdom where we are to reside permanently, ever-protected servants of a loving God.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Head full of bees

People in AA are sometimes full of doubt, negativity, suspicion, paranoia, all whirling around in a kaleidoscope of doom. What's the answer? Well, if you don't like the results you've been getting from your life, distrust the person whose ideas you have been concentrating hardest on, namely your own. Fire yourself as your chief advisor! How do you implement this? Construct a day's worth of worthy activities that God would have you carry out, and get on with it. Whenever your mind starts thinking about unhelpful things, pull it back to the task at hand. In those free moments when the task at hand does not require attention, memorise a longish prayer and say it over and over again. There is no need to indulge bad thinking.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

What to do about certain types of guilt

Sometimes people feel guilty because they're frightened of whether or not they are doing God's will.

When you are new in a business as an ignorant junior, the boss says, 'do whatever I say and I'll be pleased with you'. You do what he says without a thought: you are pleased; he is pleased. Give it a few years, and you think you know better than the boss. If you do what the boss says, you're conflicted because you don't entirely trust his direction. If you do what you want instead, you're conflicted because you're frightened the boss will find out, or maybe that the boss is right.

How do you have a life? You live one day at a time. How do you know that is right? Well, try living two days at once. You can't. So you have to live one day at a time. The same goes for moments. You can't live two moments at once. So the only job is to go to God and ask what to do in the next moment. Then you do what comes to you instinctively as the best, having tested the insight if necessary against spiritual principles (giving not getting, love, fearlessness, prudence, tact, consideration, etc.), and checking it out with your favoured advisor. And then you get on with it, trusting that it is likely right, that God will let you know in due course if it is wrong, so there is no point in fussing over it, and admitting it promptly if it is revealed to be an error.

Be the ignorant junior, not the usurping middle manager. There are no grown-ups in God's kingdom. And even if you're mishearing God, the desire to please God, it is said, itself pleases God.


'I would like to trust God, but I'm scared of the uncertainty.'

This betrays a misunderstanding: the material world is indeed uncertain. People, circumstances, even whole nations and empires come and go. It is not surprising that people assume that the spiritual realm is subject to the same uncertainty. However: it is only because the 'world' is an illusion that it is so unstable. Spiritual reality is unchanging. Opting to live a spiritual life is opting for the certainty that your spirit is safe forever and that God will never abandon you and loves you and everyone else without exception or condition. Opt for God; opt for certainty!

Doing God's will

If you drink again, you have not given yourself over to God. What that means is simple: for me to drink, I have to be in charge. If I'm in the employment and care of God, the question is this: what would God have me do? God simply would never have me drink. Whether I am enjoying myself or not is neither here nor there. I have resigned; I have fired myself as the manager of my life. A Step Three solidly taken based on giving up the right to make any decisions except as the junior partner of God will guarantee permanent sobriety provided that other actions are taken to cement this new attitude in place. This never fails. If a sponsee drinks, they are doing their will, not God's. God is the only answer.

Materialism and depression

Materialism is thinking that something outside of me will fix me. Job. Wealth. Circumstances. Social circle. Appearance. Even living in a society constructed according to the model I think best. Self-reliance is reliance on my own design for the universe to supply me with happiness from the outside in.

This naturally brings depression. When you play God, you are full of plans. When you are full of plans, the world will constantly fail to fulfil those plans. This gives rise to resentment when the plans do not come off and its corollary, fear, which is anticipation that the plans will not come off. There may be occasional successes, tantalising in their ability to fuel continued loyalty to this approach to life. More often than not, though, frustration of plans results, emotionally, in denial (a refusal to accept the failure of the plan), anger, bargaining ('If only X, Y, and Z would ...' plus manipulation), and finally depression. Depression is where you are facing, head-on, the failure of the planning, and you're on the cusp of acceptance, but somehow you just can't swallow the lump.

Depression is great! It is the realisation that the whole structure of one's life is wrong. If you can stare the truth down for long enough, the depression turns into acceptance and peace, provided that an alternative to the failed plan is provided.

What really helps is having that alternative, namely God, to rely on. What does that even mean? Well, it certainly does not mean that God will help you get your way. It does mean a recognition that, as spirit, you cannot be harmed. Take a walnut of dough from a rising loaf and the walnut of dough has all of the same characteristics as the loaf. What do you think you even are? A ten-dollar bag of chemicals? Rubbish. You're the very substance of the live and constantly changing universe. You were never born and you can never die. Right now you're living inside a body, but that's no more you than the shirt the body is wearing. The only job is to wake up to this and to wake others up to this.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Myth-buster: 'All I have is my story'

I'm extremely grateful that the people I met when I first came to AA and the people I have met since know an awful lot more than just their stories. They knew and know about alcoholism, what the solution is, how to work the Steps, how to establish and improve a relationship with God, what spiritual principles are, how to apply them within and outside AA, how to have harmonious and productive relations in all areas of their lives, and much more to boot. Clearly, our stories are an important vehicle for communicating knowledge, but they are not the knowledge itself; they are the worked example. A virtue is sometimes made out of 'knowing less than I did when I came here'. There is perhaps some truth to and utility in the realisation that, in contrast to the certainties of which I was convinced when I was drinking, there will always be much I will never even begin to grasp. However, I think it is vital for us to convey to newcomers and others who are struggling that we have a solution that works and can talk intelligently, convincingly, and persuasively about how that solution can be applied.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The three stages to getting over resentment

The cognitive stage:

Did the thing you are bothered by actually happen as you thought it did? Sometimes you are basing resentment on speculation, interpretation, extrapolation, or generalisation. Find someone cool-headed, bright, and analytical to take you down from the heady mountaintop of judgement to the flat plains of reason.

All resentments come from demands that have not been met. What is the demand? Why do you want the demand met?

Is the demand ego-based, i.e. a desire for some material or superficial and ultimately vain and unsatisfying commodity of the world? If so: recognise that you are angry because you have been deprived of something that is essentially of negligible worth.

If the demand is ordinary, e.g. for friendship, companionship, an occupation, etc., ask if you already have enough to be getting by with. Sometimes we have plenty of friends but get inordinately upset because one person goes off us. This is more about pride than need.

If we are genuinely being deprived of something, the job is to go to God and ask for God to find a way for the need to be fulfilled. Add this prayer: 'if there is anything I need to do, to bring Your plan to fruition, let me know.' Then let it go.

Regarding the behaviour of others: sometimes the behaviour is reasonable but is simply getting in your way. The solution here is to recognise that you are only one of many people on the planet and you are not entitled to have your way the whole time. This is entitlement.

Sometimes the behaviour of others is plain wrong: selfish, inconsiderate, thoughtless, wilfully destructive, negligent, reckless, etc. Even in those cases, all we have identified is that the individuals in question—like ourselves—have character defects. We have not identified an error on the part of creation, merely something that is getting in our way. The way to deal with reasonable or unreasonable behaviour on the part of others, therefore, is identical: we are not entitled to have the world refrain from interfering with our plans and designs, the world being an infinitely complex mechanism of interactions. We are not the centre of the world, and the rest of the world has no obligation to anticipate and work around our demands.

A further thought on the character defects of others: there is no reason on earth why others should be more virtuous than we are. I am not entitled to demand that others have character defects removed, even if a particular defect has been resolved in me; there are surely defects I still have that have been stripped from others, and it would be no more fair for others to demand that I be further along the path of spiritual development.

To sum up on others' defects: we accept them and their defects as they are. We do not perhaps care for the night as much as for the day; it gets in the way of our plans because we cannot see our way. We do not perhaps care for others' defects as much as for their virtues, but the principle is the same: they merely get in our way. They are no less natural and part of the truth of the world as night is part of the twenty-four hour cycle. The problem is not their existence; the problem is my demand that they not be there.

To sum up on my demands: almost everything I demand would not itself engender happiness in me were it to be delivered. If spiritually misaligned I would merely develop a new set of demands. Of this I have endless experience. Of those few demands whose non-fulfilment is a genuine bane, I can go to God and ask for any unmet needs to be met—in order that I can be useful to others—and in the meantime degrade the demand to a simple request, recognising that I can be happy under any circumstances provided that I ask God for courage to supplant fear, gratitude to supplant ingratitude, and humility to supplant entitlement.

The prayer stage:

Once I have adopted the proper mental attitude towards the situation, the emotion is likely still lingering. Prayer is required to cement the new attitude in place and to launch me forward onto a path of giving rather than concern about getting. The prayers are set out on the top of page 67 of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous'. I will not reiterate them here; they are plain and not subject to interpretation. Note only that one prayer, with four elements, is set out explicitly; a couple of other prayers are implied by the results that we are told will flow from this prayer.

The action stage:

The action is two-fold: firstly, if I owe amends, I must make them. Often resentment lingers because it is the ego's way of displacing guilt: if I demonise you, it justifies retrospectively my bad behaviour towards you, because somehow you had it coming; secondly, I need to adopt the right role, under the guidance of God, in terms of my conduct towards you. Once I am acting right, it matters little whether you are. My side of the street is clean.

The above principles brook no exceptions. The practical application of them may require some ingenuity on occasion but the principles are universal.

There is no such thing as a justified resentment, because observation of even the most appalling behaviour does not necessitate or automatically give rise to a sustained emotional response. We are not puppets on strings; we choose our emotions by choosing our attitudes. We may observe that something is regrettable and feel the associated passing emotion on discovery of the regrettable fact, situation, event, or behaviour; but to linger on what is regrettable, pondering it, fulminating about it, contemplating it, and even meditating on it is both unnecessary and unwise. See, accept, respond if it is my duty or role to respond, and move on.

Any lengths?

The book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' asks if we are willing to go to any lengths. What does that mean? The good news is that this is not a blank cheque: it can be defined. The bad news is that it may mean a lot of work. There are several approaches: (1) 'Do what I do': under this approach, anything the sponsor does, the sponsee gets to do; (2) 'Anything in the first 164 pages': under this approach, if it's in the first 164 pages, the sponsee gets to do it; (3) 'Anything consistent with the first 164 pages': under this approach if it is in or is consistent with the contents of the first 164 pages, the sponsee gets to do it.

I was a hard nut to crack: I needed not only the precise contents of the first 164 pages, but also a lot of actions consistent therewith: there were no national sub-committees for public information in 1939, so there is no instruction 'serve on a national sub-committee for public information', yet serve I do; there was no national network of meetings, so there was no instruction 'go to 90 meetings in 90 days', yet that was precisely what I needed to do on more than one occasion; the term 'sponsor' was not used in 1939, so there is no reference in the book, yet there are plenty of suggestions about helping others, so I sponsor pretty much anyone who asks, provided they are willing to follow suggestions.

The book also suggests, for instance on page 87, that we consult useful books etc., and I make no apology for suggesting all sorts of spiritual readings and exercises not in the Big Book, in accordance with this instruction. The founders of AA, incidentally, did precisely that. The idea that anything not literally written in the Big Book is unnecessary and heretical is relatively new and wrong-headed (and probably stems from a certain US American tradition of literalism in relation to the Bible). The main reason why I, as a sponsor, reserve the right to 'prescribe' spiritual readings, exercises, or practices not contained in the Big Book is because I have been asked by someone to sponsor them on the basis that they want what I have. To get what I have they may have to do what I did. It would be dishonest to suggest someone will get the results I have got by following only part of the prescription. Furthermore, no one is being forced. If you don't want what I have or don't want to do what I do or have done, I won't bother you, and you are free to ask any of the many thousands of other people in AA to help you. Go in peace!