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 (help@alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk) 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 http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/Contact, 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.