Friday, 30 December 2016

Letting go absolutely

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

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

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

Monday, 26 December 2016

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

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

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

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The bridge passage

Instruction 4—Bridge passage

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

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

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

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

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

You can come at this from two angles:

How is my thinking or behaviour disconnecting me from God?

Death threats

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

Discussion of the bedevilments

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

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

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

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

3. Symptoms

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

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

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The failure of the material plane

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

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

(Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 42 et seq.)

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

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

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

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

Why being ill is not a cop-out

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

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 7)

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

Monday, 19 December 2016

Wild self-abandonment

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 6)

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

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 14 et seq.)

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

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 15)

Self-abandonment, again, is a strong term.

Exactly how 'abandoned' do we need to be?

Step Six is about the abandonment of limited objectives:

(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 6)

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

(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 7)

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

(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 7)

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

Let's look at what this looks like practically:

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 20)

'Constant' is unambiguous in its scope.

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 97)

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

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

(Alcoholics Anonymous, page 68)

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

Saturday, 17 December 2016

How not to be a miserable s**t

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

Here are the quotations:

Pages 61 to 62 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

 Page 132 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

To sum up, lighten up, then get busy.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

'Justified fear'

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

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


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

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

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

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