Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Fellowship as a way of accessing power

'We commenced to make many fast friends and a fellowship has grown up among us of which it is a wonderful thing to feel a part.' ('Alcoholics Anonymous')

Running out of power is a common phenomenon in AA. You know precisely what to do to get and stay well but the required power isn't there.

There are two ways of moving the car forward. One way is to push it. Occasionally, that is enough to get the car started, but it's hard to push a car to Edinburgh when you're in Chipping Norton.

The other option is to connect your battery to that of another car. This is much more effective. In AA, this means hanging out with people who are operating an effective programme. You will find these people at step meetings and Big Book meetings. If you want what they have, and connect with them, you'll soon find power flowing through you.

God is the source of the power, but, as with a flat battery, sometimes one cannot activate that power on one's own and one needs to temporarily borrow that power from another.

Step Four resentment inventory: how much do I write?

'So we had to get down to causes and conditions.'
'In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper.'
'Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty.'
'If you have already made a decision, and an inventory of your grosser handicaps, you have made a good beginning.'
'it was Dr. Bob’s afternoon off—he had me to the office and we spent three or four hours formally going through the Six-Step program as it was at that time.' ('Alcoholics Anonymous')

It is clear from reports of the early days of AA that what was to become the fourth step inventory was a swift and targeted affair. That is how I do inventory. There is no indication that the resentment inventory be exhaustive, only that it be thorough. The word 'all' does not start to crop up until steps six and eight. What I have discovered in my own inventories is that I do not have 1000 resentments; I have between 5 and 20 that repeat over and over, a theme with many variations.

To recover swiftly from alcoholism, a fourth step that takes a year or a fifth step that takes a month of Sundays is counter-productive and misses the point, which is to find the causes and conditions. My inventories have shown me that I have a small and in fact finite number of causes and conditions. Having discovered those, I needn't repeat myself endlessly. Similar, the fifth step is interested in the exact nature of my wrongs, not every wrong I have ever committed. Sure, I might want to share some of the juicier examples of my theft, verbal viciousness, and cowardice, but recounting the gory details of every one advances me spiritually not one jot.

Excessively long step fours are usually tied up in describing other people's wrongs, and the fact that one's own expectations, demands, fears, judgements, and selfish behaviour are identical from situation to situation is entirely missed. Far from elucidating the problem, overlong confessions tend to obscure the wood for the trees.

Here's an analogy: if you have something stuck to your spectacles, everything will look blurred. It takes just a few examples of items that look blurred to identify the cause: the much glued to the lens. Once the cause has been identified, a thousand more examples reveal no new information.

Similarly, a doctor does not test all of your blood, because a sample is sufficient to find the cause.

The only caveat is that secrets are more like cancerous growths: all must be removed for the cancer not to grow further and metastasize, so anything weighing on my mind must be conveyed, albeit swiftly, in a fifth step.

To sum up, my fourth steps have been honest and thorough, and I have not found it necessary to write hundreds of thousands of words or take more than a couple of hours for a step five. The underlying truth has invariably turned out to be very simple.

Revisiting the Steps

'During my fifth year, as a part of my annual personal inventory, I realized that I had not succeeded in developing a spiritual depth in my program.' ('Alcoholics Anonymous', Page 542)

There are alcoholics, whose stories are in the Big Book, who revisit the earlier steps periodically.

My experience is that doing so 'keeps the pipes clear'. Rather than waiting for my life, spiritually, to collapse around me before revisiting the steps, as I see happen to so many people, I take pre-emptive action. In principle, daily inventory and so on should be sufficient. In practice, my annual revisiting of the first nine steps invariably reveals drift that was not picked up in daily inventory, and opens up new avenues of growth spiritually, and in other regards, growth which I had not suspected was available. Having tried persisting in just the last three steps, I now interpret the line 'to practice these principles in all our affairs' to mean practising ALL the steps in all my affairs, not just the principles contained in the last three steps. The last eight years of my recovery have been far richer and far more stable and useful than the previous fifteen, as a result.

Physics, light-bulbs, and God

'And who could comprehend a Supreme Being anyhow?' ('Alcoholics Anonymous')

A block I once experienced in the programme was thinking that I needed to understand God before I could make a decision to turn my will and life over to God. The truth has been simpler. I have taken the Steps, and the Steps revealed God to me, albeit in tiny fragments: I would not claim to understand God to any great extent—how could I?—but I understand more than I did before.

Insisting on understanding God before taking the Steps is like sitting in the dark insisting on understanding physics before switching the light on. It's much easier to understand the physics textbook when the light has been turned on.

Action first; insight second.

Tradition Seven

'Tradition Seven—Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.'

It has been important in my recovery to ensure:

(i) I am fully self-supporting through my own contributions, financially, and that I do not depend on others. There have been times where I have needed help, but the ideal has been to be a net contributor to society rather than a net taker. Not everyone is able to achieve this, I acknowledge, for a host of reasons, but contribution need not always be financial; I know people who are supported financially but give their entire lives to help others. That's also in the true spirit of Tradition Seven.

(ii) I am honest financially, with regard to accessing benefits and assistance and with regard to paying tax.

Specialist groups

'If what we have learned and felt and seen means anything at all, it means that all of us, whatever our race, creed, or color are the children of a living Creator with whom we may form a relationship upon simple and understandable terms as soon as we are willing and honest enough to try.' ('Alcoholics Anonymous')

When I first went to AA, I thought my sexuality made me different, so I went to AA groups which (although they were technically non-restrictive) were advertised as suitable for people of that sexuality. That was great on one level, because I identified a lot with the people there. However, my blind spot, namely my belief that my sexuality made me fundamentally different, was not challenged at those groups. What AA has taught me is that my true identity is that of a child of God; background, sexuality, gender, and other factors are entirely incidental. I needed to learn to be with all types of people, eliminate the fear of what other people thought of me, and eliminate my own judgement of people who were different. What I most appreciate about AA now is that anyone can go and anyone is welcome. I tend not to belong to groups where, although everyone is technically welcome, frankly some people are a tiny bit more welcome than others. After all, the whole purpose of, say, a young person's group is to hold meetings where the average age is younger than in other meetings. That being the case, the presence of some people (namely young people) is more conducive to this implicit purpose, and the presence of others (older people) is not. My experience of specialist groups is that the rallying point of the 'special interest' constitutes a distraction. The LGBT meetings I attended for years were often focused on sex and sexuality and not on alcoholism, recovery, or God. I've experienced distortions of focus also in young persons' groups or events, and in men's groups, too. AA is most successful when it is about one thing and one thing only: recovery from alcoholism.

AA commitments

'Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.'

'To be vital, faith must be accompanied by self sacrifice and unselfish, constructive action.'

'For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead.' ('Alcoholics Anonymous')

When I take up an AA commitment, for instance service at an AA group, I show up for it unless I am out of town or really sick. Occasionally there are overriding circumstances (e.g. an elderly relative being in need), but these are rare. I do not duck out because I have a better offer or a social engagement. The effect of this is that the group become the rock in my life. The ultimate reliance is on God, sure, but my feet are grounded in my home group.

Rules and principles

'It is of little use to argue and only makes the impasse worse.' (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Tradition 11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.

A while ago, I was engaged in a discussion. I quoted the first of the two passages set out above. My interlocutor suggested that there was no general principle involved and that the suggestion not to argue applied only to the specific situation under discussion in the relevant chapter of the Big Book.

Today, I spoke to a friend who is starting a new group, and she suggested to her friends that in naming the group they should try to find an attractive name, not one that promotes the group as somehow superior to the other groups in her city. She was told that Tradition 11 applies only at the level of press, radio, and films and that there was no general principle involved.

To my mind, these two anecdotes are connected. My response to rules, in the past, has been to grudgingly comply and to frame the rule as narrowly as possible so as to continue to do precisely what I want without the rule getting in the way.

Principles, by contrast, are universal. You have a rule? Fine. Construe it in a limited way and it needn't get in your way. You have a principle? Boy, are you in trouble. You now have to consider it in all domains of your life.

Rules also require no consideration. Principles often conflict, and wisdom is required to determine which principle is to be accorded more weight in a particular situation. For instance, sometimes honesty outweighs discretion; sometimes the reverse is true; sometimes a good-natured but robust discussion is necessary because a point needs to be pressed home, whereas sometimes it's best to keep your mouth shut. Should you argue? Probably not: but occasionally there will be an overriding reason. How do you know? Well, this is the second reason you're in trouble if you apply principles: you're going to have to rely on God.

Unity and uniformity

Tradition 1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.

Tradition 4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.

Unity of purpose is required for any endeavour to be successful. Four pallbearers will be unsuccessful in carrying the coffin to the grave if they all start walking in a different direction. They do not, however, have to wear the same tie. Unity and uniformity are therefore different questions, and unity permits lack of uniformity, provided that the common goals can nonetheless be met. The group can do what it wishes provided it does not affect other groups or AA as a whole; all AA groups do not need to be the same. The preservation of AA's overall goal, to recover and help others recover, is actually promoted by the lack of uniformity, because the variety amongst AA groups enables more people to find their home in AA.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Sponsor-reliance or God reliance?

‘Both you and the new man must walk day by day in the path of spiritual progress.’

‘Counsel with persons is often desirable, but we let God be the final judge.’

‘This is perhaps difficult—especially discussing our defects with another person.’ 

‘Notwithstanding the great necessity for discussing ourselves with someone ...’

‘When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately ...’ (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Sometimes, criticism is voiced of sponsors who set themselves up as ‘gods’ in people’s lives. An alternative is presented: total reliance on God. The appropriateness of God-reliance (as opposed to sponsor-reliance) is consistent with my experience. God-reliance is what the programme is all about. My sponsor does not tell me what to do; I do not tell sponsees what to do.

Now, let’s look more deeply at what God-reliance means, and let’s look more deeply at what sponsorship means.

Sponsorship is not just about saying: ‘Do this next!’; ‘Now do this!’ Sponsors are not merely the AA equivalent of the voice on the GPS system that verbalises the map. Sponsorship is about far more than voicing the instructions set out in the Big Book.

Firstly, as a sponsor, I explain what may not be clear to a sponsee from just reading the Big Book. Much needed to be explained to me, and I have rarely encountered a sponsee that does not need at least some parts of the Big Book explaining. People frequently get the wrong end of the stick.

Secondly, I share experience with sponsees, and my sponsor shares experience with me. That experience can then be used as a general template for or guide to right thinking and conduct.

Thirdly, as a sponsor, I can help a sponsee work through how to apply spiritual principles, including God-reliance, to a particular situation.

To me, this is what the first of the above quotations means: we are in this together.

What are the boundaries of this?

As a sponsor, I don’t tell people what to do about any specific matter, because the consequences of the actions must be the sponsee’s not mine (amongst other reasons). I point sponsees towards God and to the principles of the programme.

What does God-reliance mean?

To me, it means that I go to God on any questionable matter and ask for direction. How does that direction get given? It gets given directly through inspiration, an intuitive thought, or a decision; it comes through spiritual reading I engage in; it comes through listening at meetings; it comes through sudden observation in the course of life outside AA; it comes through consultation with others.

God-reliance does not mean that I shut down all other relationships and refrain from discussing anything with anyone else, trusting instead that now that I have a hotline to God, such that God and I can now handle everything without any interference from other people, thank you very much.

A further point: I was 21 when I got sober, and clueless. I cannot count the times over the last 23 years when I was convinced through prayer and meditation that a particular course of action was right, only to mention it to a sponsor or friend in AA and watch their face fall. Is this consistent with early AA? The Tradition Two essay in ‘Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions’ provides a perfect example of this, where Bill comes up with what he thinks is a splendid idea, only to have the group point out that it is anything but.

God-reliance does indeed mean that I place God first; it does not mean that I blithely disregard others’ views or experience.

To act out or not to act out.

Sometimes I want to act out. The precise nature of the behaviour is irrelevant. Most people in recovery act out in some way or other. We can define acting out as engaging in behaviour that shuts down our other feelings through numbing or excitement, but with consequences that ultimately make the feelings worse.

When presented with the choice of acting out or not acting out, it can seem that the choice is between being trapped in an airless room (not acting out) or wandering in a largely barren landscape (acting out). The former is more frightening, because there is (apparently) no freedom and no hope—at least the barren landscape seems to offer choice and possibility.

I have learned that if I can ask God’s strength to remain in the airless room, the walls actually dissolve, and rich reality floods in. Over time and with work on the Steps, I stop finding myself trapped in the airless room.

By contrast, the barren landscape can go on forever, and the longer I spend there, the harder it is to leave and the greater the temptation to return.

Chapter 3—Considerations—SA-adjusted version

Say this prayer (or something that expresses the same idea, if you don’t believe in God—perhaps resolve to be open-minded):

‘God, I hereby renounce all preconceived opinions; please set aside for me my present habits of thought and my present views and prejudices; please jettison anything and everything that can stand in the way of my finding the truth; remove my fear of public opinion and of the disapproval of relatives or friends; help me see that my most cherished beliefs may be mistaken and that my ideas and views of life may be false and in need of recasting. Let me start again at the very beginning and learn life anew.’

Before you begin, make a list of the types of sexual behaviour that are causing a problem because you are engaging in them excessively or at all, despite negative consequences:
  • Fantasy
  • Flirting or hunting for sex
  • Use of dating/hook-up apps
  • Masturbation
  • Porn
  • Fetishes
  • Predatory or pressurising behaviour
  • Sex with negative consequences
  • Other: ___________
We’re going to call this ‘acting out’.
You will have to substitute ‘acting out’ for drinking when reading the passages in the Big Book.

Opening paragraphs—the definition of alcoholism

‘The idea that somehow, someday he would control and enjoy his drinking is the greatest obsession of every abnormal drinker.’ (30:1)
When you controlled your acting out, did you enjoy yourself? When you enjoyed it, could you control it?
‘We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control. All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals—usually brief—were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable period we get worse, never better.’ (30:3)
Have you thought you were getting better, only to get worse again?
‘Here are some of the methods we have tried: Drinking beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going to health farms and sanatoriums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums—we could increase the list infinitum.’ (31:2)
Is this you?
‘We do not like to pronounce any individual as alcoholic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself. Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it more than once. It will not take long for you to decide, if you are honest with yourself about it. It may be worth a bad case of jitters if you get full knowledge of your condition.’ (31:3)
Could you do this, consistently?

The Man of Thirty

Read the story about the ‘man of thirty’ (32:2–33:1).

Have you stopped for a while but started again?

Was the physical craving still there when you started again?

If you slipped today, do you believe you could come back into recovery?

Jim’s Story—the ‘peculiar mental twist’

Read Jim’s story (35:2–37:2).

Jim was doing OK on the outside but drank anyway. Do you believe you’ll stay clean because you’re doing OK on the outside?

Bill, on pages 14/15 enlarges his spiritual life by work and self-sacrifice for others, whilst Jim, on pages 35 and 36, make some progress but does not enlarge his spiritual life.

Are you making every effort to live inside the three sides of the recovery triangle—recovery, fellowship, and service?

Jim’s insane thought—that the milk with the whiskey will keep him safe from a binge—comes suddenly, with no warning.

Has your mind ever given you a crazy excuse for acting out? Has that ever happened suddenly?

The Parallel-Thinker—’the curious mental phenomenon’

‘But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitable ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink.’ (37:2)
Have you ever argued in your head about whether or not to act out?

Can you consistently win those arguments?

The Jaywalker

Read the jaywalker story (37:3–38:3).

Do you have a history of acting out for thrills or kicks, despite the consequences?

Fred’s Story—the ‘strange mental blank spot’

Read Fred’s story (39:2–43:1).

Fred thought he’d stay sober now he knew he was an alcoholic.

When did you realise you were in trouble with your acting out? Did that knowledge stop you and keep you stopped?

Fred imagined he’d have two nice cocktails with dinner, and he does exactly that. But his mind does not tell him what will happen after that.

What he thinks is true but incomplete—this is the strange mental blank spot.

Have you ever experienced this?

Wrap-up questions

‘then asked me if I thought myself alcoholic and if I were really licked this time. I had to concede both propositions.’ (42:1)
‘there is no doubt in my mind that you were 100% hopeless, apart from divine help.’ (43:2)
‘The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defence against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defence. His defence much come from a Higher Power.’ (43:3)
Are you an addict?

Are you defeated?

Do you need a Higher Power?

Chapter 2—Considerations—SA-adjusted version

Say this prayer (or something that expresses the same idea, if you don't believe in God—perhaps resolve to be open-minded):

"God, I hereby renounce all preconceived opinions; please set aside for me my present habits of thought and my present views and prejudices; please jettison anything and everything that can stand in the way of my finding the truth; remove my fear of public opinion and of the disapproval of relatives or friends; help me see that my most cherished beliefs may be mistaken and that my ideas and views of life may be false and in need of recasting. Let me start again at the very beginning and learn life anew."

Before you begin, make a list of the types of sexual behaviour that are causing a problem because you are engaging in them excessively or at all, despite negative consequences:
  • Fantasy
  • Flirting or hunting for sex
  • Use of dating/hook-up apps
  • Masturbation
  • Porn
  • Fetishes
  • Predatory or pressurising behaviour
  • Sex with negative consequences
  • Other: ___________
We’re going to call this ‘acting out’.
You will have to substitute ‘acting out’ for drinking when reading the passages in the Big Book.


An illness of this sort—and we have come to believe it an illness—involves those around us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer's. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents any one can increase the list. (18:1)

What worthwhile things did acting out annihilate (= reduce to nothing)?
What calamities did it bring?
This is your good/strong reason for stopping.

Moderate drinkers have little trouble in giving up liquor entirely if they have good reason for it. They can take it or leave it alone. (20:5)
Then we have a certain type of hard drinker. He may have the habit badly enough to gradually impair him physically and mentally. It may cause him to die a few years before his time. If a sufficiently strong reason—ill health, falling in love, change of environment, or the warning of a doctor—becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate, although he may find it difficult and troublesome and may even need medical attention. (20:6)

Has your good/strong reason enabled you to stop or moderate?

If not, you're not a moderate/hard ‘actor out’.

But what about the real alcoholic? He may start off as a moderate drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard drinker; but at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink. (21:1)

Have you begun to lose all control of your behaviour once you start to act out?
How many years ago was that?
This is how long you have been a real addict.

Now, 21:2–22:0—the Twelve Features of the real alcoholic:

(1) Here is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control.
(2) He does absurd, incredible, tragic things while drinking.
(3) He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. [Is it like you have two personalities: the acting-out personality and the healthy personality?]
(4) He is seldom mildly intoxicated. He is always more or less insanely drunk. [This means that when you are acting out you are fully engaged in acting out and all other thoughts are driven from your mind.]
(5) His disposition while drinking resembles his normal nature but little. He may be one of the finest fellows in the world. Yet let him drink for a day, and he frequently becomes disgustingly, and even dangerously anti-social.
(6) He has a positive genius for getting tight at exactly the wrong moment, particularly when some important decision must be made or engagement kept.
(7) He is often perfectly sensible and well balanced concerning everything except liquor, but in that respect he is incredibly dishonest and selfish.
(8) He often possesses special abilities, skills, and aptitudes, and has a promising career ahead of him. He uses his gifts to build up a bright outlook for his family and himself, and then pulls the structure down on his head by a senseless series of sprees.
(9) He is the fellow who goes to bed so intoxicated he ought to sleep the clock around. Yet early next morning he searches madly for the bottle he misplaced the night before. [Do you resume acting out even after a terrible day or night of acting out, when you really ought to rest or attend to the rest of your life?]
(10) If he can afford it, he may have liquor concealed all over his house to be certain no one gets his entire supply away from him to throw down the wastepipe. [Do you make efforts to ensure that you have opportunity to act out?]
(11) As matters grow worse, he begins to use a combination of high powered sedative and liquor to quiet his nerves so he can go to work. Then comes the day when he simply cannot make it and gets drunk all over again. [Do you try to cope by limiting yourself just to certain forms of acting out, only then to give in and return to full-blown acting out?]
(12) Perhaps he goes to a doctor who gives him morphine or some sedative with which to taper off. Then he begins to appear at hospitals and sanatoriums. [Do you ever use chemicals to stop yourself acting out? Have you ever been in treatment?]

How many of these do you identify with? How?

NB if you identify with any of these twelve on any level, you are probably a real addict. Non-addicts identify with none of these.

We are equally positive that once he takes any alcohol whatever into his system, something happens, both in the bodily and mental sense, which makes it virtually impossible for him to stop. The experience of any alcoholic will abundantly confirm this. (22:4)

In your experience, when you start, can you stop?

These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centres in his mind, rather than in his body. If you ask him why he started on that last bender, the chances are he will offer you any one of a hundred alibis. Sometimes these excuses have a certain plausibility, but none of them really make sense in light of the havoc an alcoholic's drinking bout creates. They sound like the philosophy of the man who, having a headache, beats himself with a hammer so that he can't feel the ache. If you draw this fallacious reasoning to the attention of an alcoholic, he will laugh it off, or become irritated and refuse to talk. (23:1)
Once in a while he may tell the truth. And the truth, strange to say, is usually that he has no more idea why he took that first drink than you have. Some drinkers have excuses with which they are satisfied part of the time. But in their hearts they really do not know why they do it. Once this malady has a real hold, they are a baffled lot. There is the obsession that somehow, someday, they will beat the game. But they often suspect they are down for the count. (23:2)

Make a list of feelings you acted out to escape (e.g. loneliness, depression, anxiety).

Did acting out, over time, make these better or worse?
Did you act out when you weren't lonely, depressed, or anxious, etc.?
Does your acting out—in the light of this—really make sense?

The tragic truth is that if the man be a real alcoholic, the happy day may not arrive. He has lost control. At a certain point in the drinking of every alcoholic, he passes into a state where the most powerful desire to stop drinking is absolutely of no avail. This tragic situation has already arrived in practically every case long before it is suspected. (23:4)

When you really want to stop, do you stay stopped? Do you realise that 'wanting' is not enough?

The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defence against the first drink. (24:1)

Is this you?

The almost certain consequences that follow taking even a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind to deter us. If these thoughts occur, they are hazy and readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that this time we shall handle ourselves like other people. There is a complete failure of the kind of defence that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot stove. (24:2)

Is this you?

The alcoholic may say to himself in the most casual way, "It won't burn me this time, so here's how!" Or perhaps he doesn't think at all. How often have some of us begun to drink in this nonchalant way, and after the third or fourth, pounded on the bar and said to ourselves, "For God's sake, how did I ever get started again?" Only to have that thought supplanted by "Well, I'll stop with the sixth drink." Or "What's the use anyway?" (24:3)

Is this you?

When this sort of thinking is fully established in an individual with alcoholic tendencies, he has probably placed himself beyond human aid, and unless locked up, may die or go permanently insane. These stark and ugly facts have been confirmed by legions of alcoholics throughout history. But for the grace of God, there would have been thousands more convincing demonstrations. So many want to stop but cannot. (24:3)

If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return from human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help. This we did because we honestly wanted to, and were willing to make the effort. (25:3)

Do you want to accept spiritual help?

Read Rowland Hazard's story on 26:1–28:1.

Psychotherapy plus religion failed for this addict, in the opinion of Dr Carl Jung. Has either of these failed for you, separately or in combination?

Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me, these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. (27:4)

Can you make this happen yourself, or do you need to be shown how to bring this about?

Our hope is that many alcoholic men and women, desperately in need, will see these pages, and we believe that it is only by fully disclosing ourselves and our problems that they will be persuaded to say, "Yes, I am one of them too; I must have this thing." (29:3)

Are you one of us?
Must you have this thing?

The Doctor's Opinion—Considerations—SA-adjusted version

The page number is that in the Big Book, fourth edition. The number after the colon is the paragraph number. 0 denotes the run-on of a paragraph starting on the previous page at the top of the page in question.

Read through the Doctor's Opinion to get an overview.

Say this prayer (or something that expresses the same idea, if you don't believe in God—perhaps resolve to be open-minded):

"God, I hereby renounce all preconceived opinions; please set aside for me my present habits of thought and my present views and prejudices; please jettison anything and everything that can stand in the way of my finding the truth; remove my fear of public opinion and of the disapproval of relatives or friends; help me see that my most cherished beliefs may be mistaken and that my ideas and views of life may be false and in need of recasting. Let me start again at the very beginning and learn life anew."

Before you begin, make a list of the types of sexual behaviour that are causing a problem because you are engaging in them excessively or at all, despite negative consequences:
  • Fantasy
  • Flirting or hunting for sex
  • Use of dating/hook-up apps
  • Masturbation
  • Porn
  • Fetishes
  • Predatory or pressurising behaviour
  • Sex with negative consequences
  • Other: ___________
We’re going to call this ‘acting out’.

Now consider these:

xxv:6 "I personally know scores of cases who were of the type with whom other methods had failed completely."

What else have you tried to stop acting out? What else have you tried to sort out your life?

xxvi:5 "It did not satisfy us to be told that we could not control our drinking just because we were maladjusted to life, that we were in full flight from reality, or were outright mental defectives. These things were true to some extent, in fact, to a considerable extent with some of us. But we are sure that our bodies were sickened as well. In our belief, any picture of the alcoholic which leaves out this physical factor is incomplete."

xxx:5 "All these, and many more, have one symptom in common: They cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon of craving. This phenomenon, as we have suggested, may be the manifestation of an allergy which differentiates these people, and sets them apart as a distinct entity. It has never been, by any treatment with which we are familiar, permanently eradicated. The only relief we have to suggest is entire abstinence."

The 'allergy' is the abnormal reaction—one not shared by healthy people—of habitually acting out more than you intend once you start.
When you start acting out, do you act out more than you intended?
Could this be because you were unhappy, deluded, or couldn't think straight?
Did you also act out when you weren't unhappy or deluded and could indeed think straight?
I continued acting out, regardless. What about you?

xxvii:6 "We doctors have realized for a long time that some form of moral psychology was of urgent importance to alcoholics, but its application presented difficulties beyond our conception. What with our ultramodern standards, our scientific approach to everything, we are perhaps not well equipped to apply the powers of good that lie outside our synthetic knowledge."

Can you think your way out of your acting out and / or problems?
Do you need a power of good / God in your life?

xxvii:8 ". . . the Power which pulls chronic alcoholics back from the gates of death."

Can you see how your acting out might kill you?

xxviii:1 ". . . We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve."

NB if the craving ever occurs, you're probably an addict.

Have you lost self-confidence? When?
Have you lost your reliance upon things human? When?
Have your problems piled up on you? When?
Have they become astonishing difficult to solve? When?

xxviii:4 "Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks - drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery."

What did acting out do for you?
Did you repeatedly return to the acting out even when acting out didn’t work or caused terrible consequences?
Are you restless, irritable, and discontented?
Can you see you need a solution to these if you are going to stay clean?

xxix:3 "Many types do not respond to the ordinary psychological approach."

Have an intellectual understanding of your problem plus common-sense tips kept you clean?

Wrap-up questions

44:1 "If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, . . .

When you honestly want to, can you quit entirely?
When you act out, do you have little control over how long you act out for or what you do?

44:1 . . . you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer."

That is the bad news. This is the good news:

xxix:1 "On the other hand—and strange as this may seem to those who do not understand—once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules."

The simple rules are getting a sponsor, working the steps, and having fellowship with other addicts and service in your life.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Clear-cut directions

'Further on, clear-cut directions are given showing how we recovered.'

'In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry.'

'Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead? We got this all down on paper and looked at it.' ('Alcoholics Anonymous')

The directions for how to recover are set out clearly in the Book. What constitutes fulfilment of these? Sometimes, people add their own clear-cut directions on top of the clear-cut directions in the Book, then say that this is the only way. For instance, that the fourth step must be written long-hand on paper not typed, or that there are nine, not four or five, sex inventory questions, and that if one answers them as four or five questions, one is not following the instructions correctly. (Note that the Book says nothing about the inventories being written long-hand, referring only to setting them 'on paper'; it also presents the sex inventory in the form of five questions, two of which have three parts, and two of which are 'comma-spliced' into a single question).

To take these two particular examples, I have taken various tacks at various times (handwritten versus typed; nine questions versus four or five). There are many other examples of clear-cut directions that can actually be fulfilled in more than one way. I have not in my case noticed any difference in terms of honesty, depth of insight, or quality of outcome based on these minor variants, either in myself or in the hundreds of people I have attempted to show this programme to.

What matters, when it comes to inventory, is that I am honest and thorough. If I can be honest and thorough only when writing my inventory long-hand but tend to lie, obfuscate, gloss, or omit when typing, that problem is not going to get solved by writing an inventory long-hand but should instead be met head on. The same applies with all of the other instructions: what matters is the substance, not the form.

Later on, the Book specifically stops short of legislating for every situation, specifically in relation to Step Nine, saying, 'Although these reparations take innumerable forms, there are some general principles which we find guiding.'

In short, within the scope of the clear-cut directions, there is latitude and there is often more than one way to skin the cat in question. I certainly do pick particular ways of doing things, and recommend that to my sponsees. I also respect other ways of following the clear-cut directions.


Intrusive thinking

‘Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.’
‘There are many helpful books also. Suggestions about these may be obtained from one’s priest, minister, or rabbi.’
‘We earnestly pray for the right ideal, for guidance in each questionable situation, for sanity, and for the strength to do the right thing.’
‘If sex is very troublesome, we throw ourselves the harder into helping others.’
‘… a prayer that we be shown all through the day what our next step is to be, that we be given whatever we need to take care of such problems.’
‘Having had the experience yourself, you can give him much practical advice.’
‘Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help.’
(All quotations from ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’)

An expanded list of things I find helpful when I am bothered by intrusive, negative thinking:

1. Do some step work (either my own or working with others).
2. Read a basic text chapter of the Big Book looking for identification, inspiration, and instruction. If there is relevant instruction, follow through.
3. Do the same with one of the stories at the back of the Big Book.
4. Listen to a spiritual speaker over the Internet.
5. Read prayers or passages of spiritual literature out loud.
6. Listen to an AA speaker tape (preferably from a step or Big Book workshop or weekend).
7. Find someone to read the Big Book together with and take turns sharing how we identify.
8. Find a newcomer or someone else in trouble and see what experience I have that may be able to help them.
9. Phone a sane and experienced friend who trusts in God and ask them to supply a more healthy view of my situation than I have and make the decision that I will believe them not me because they are doing better than me in that moment.
10. Go to a meeting and pray to God to show me how I can share a solution and help out practically.
11. Pray the Step Three prayer and ask God to guide me in constructive action for the benefit of others for the rest of the day.
12. Pray the Step Seven prayer and ask God to bring me back to my constructive plan every time I am tempted to think unhelpful thoughts.

Entitlement to anger

‘If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.’ (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Someone asked me, ‘when something bad happens, are we entitled to be livid?’ The thing about being livid: we’re entitled to be livid, just as we’re entitled to kick a dog when it’s down, or to command the tide to turn back. The question is not one of entitlement but one of morality and utility. Being livid when something does not go to plan does not further a solution; it does not promote our mental health; in fact, it is often deleterious to both. There is the question of kindness, too. We may act poorly, but there are consequences; we have freedom of choice (that’s the entitlement bit) but the choice is tied to outcome and the response of the world to our choice. If we are cruel, or unfair, or punitive, the world will likely respond in kind. Regarding the source of the anger, it is impossible to go through life without expectations of some sort. When I hire people to do a job, I anticipate the person will do the job; the more spectacularly they fail, the greater the anger. However, just as when I’m driving and there is a sudden obstruction in the road necessitating a swerve to the left, when I encounter something that is not in accordance with what I anticipated, I respond: either by changing the situation (if I have agency) or accepting it (if I don’t). What helps this is by approaching any situation with a ‘plan B’, in other words knowing what I will do if things do not proceed as anticipated. When something fails, I switch to plan B. To develop the driving analogy: if you’re not going too fast, there is time to swerve if there is a sudden obstruction. Ultimately, however, there is always God. By that I mean that I switch my allegiance to God and away from material circumstances. I trust that God will provide me with everything I need spiritually to be at peace whatever happens, rather than relying on getting my own way in a volatile, mercurial, and sometimes treacherous world for me to be at peace.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Cannot or will not

Quotations from the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’:

‘Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple programme, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.’

‘We find it a waste of time to keep chasing a man who cannot or will not work with you.’

‘Some men cannot or will not get over alcoholism.’

‘But if you cannot or will not stop drinking, I think you ought to resign.’

‘If he cannot or does not want to stop, he should be discharged.’

‘At the same time you will feel no reluctance to rid yourself of those who cannot or will not stop.’

It is interesting that the book seems repeatedly to conflate those who ‘cannot’ and those who ‘will not’ get over drinking. It could be because they keep relapsing; it could be because they steadfastly refuse to follow instructions given to them. Either way, it’s impossible to tell from the outside whether the person lacks the capacity or willingness, and maybe the person himself does not know. What is clear is that AA works for those who take the actions indicated.

I didn’t need faith in God to take the actions, or faith in myself. I needed to be willing to take actions I did not believe in because the people who suggested them were doing better than me. On 24 July 1993, I fired myself from the board of directors of my life. What I thought and felt no longer mattered; what mattered was following the instructions my sponsor gave me, namely to work the steps and engage in fellowship and service in the spirit outlined in the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’. My doubts and fears were irrelevant. They were a nuisance but nothing more; they no longer advised the board of directors of my life. From that point on, I started to recover. I have spent over half my life sober in AA. The actions did not care why I took them but worked anyway to put me in touch with a power greater than myself, which solved my alcohol problem, and all my other ones, too.