Sunday, 30 April 2017

Opportunities for service

Here is a list of opportunities for service in London:

  • Sponsor people
  • Perform service at group level
  • Visit other groups to carry the message
  • Become a GSR
  • Attend Intergroup/Region, either as a visitor, a GSR, or an officer
  • Take up an officer role at Intergroup or Region
  • Find opportunities to speak at treatment centres or rehabs, through Intergroup
  • Volunteer for telephone service (attend the monthly workshop at the Southern Service Office (SSO) for details, sso@btconnect.com, relevant files here)
  • Volunteer for prison postal sponsorship (relevant files here: here)
  • Through your Intergroup, get on the twelfth-steppers list for your local postcode
  • Through the SSO, get on the relevant specialist twelfth-steppers lists: young people, speakers of foreign languages, people with armed services experience, and users of British sign language
  • If you speak Polish, Spanish, Russian, Farsi, Lithuanian, or Portuguese, attend meetings in those languages in London to help provide a bridge between those groups and the rest of AA
  • Volunteer for AA's annual contribution to Crisis at Christmas, through the SSO
  • Volunteer for prison service, through your local Intergroup Prison Liaison Officer
  • Engage in the 'though the gate' AA prison service: details
  • Volunteer for schools talks, though your local Intergroup Public Information Officer
  • Become an online responder: details
  • Volunteer for the online 'chat now' service: details
  • Scan this part of the website for further opportunities and vacancies: details 
  • Take up a role for Share magazine
  • Write for Share magazine: details
  • Become a member of a convention committee
  • Engage in online AA forums and carry the message there
  • Become a conference delegate or alternate conference delegate
  • Take up a role on one of the national sub-committees If you've been a conference delegate, become a board member.

Friday, 28 April 2017

90 in 90

Sometimes the idea of attending 90 meetings in 90 days is disparaged as a treatment centre invention or somehow incompatible with Big Book-based recovery. The Big Book does actually suggest daily meetings:

'A year and six months later these three had succeeded with seven more. Seeing much of each other, scarce an evening passed that someone’s home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release, and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer. In addition to these casual get-togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be attended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life. Aside from fellowship and sociability, the prime object was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems.' (Page 159)

My experience is that people who are interested in the Steps and Service sometimes neglect fellowship. They stall in their programmes and wonder why. If the problem is not lack of information it is lack of power. Meetings are an amazing source of power, as God works through people.

Other reasons for going to 90 in 90:

  • You meet lots of new people.
  • You make new friends.
  • You learn new things.
  • You can share widely with a large number of people.
  • You see how AA is done differently at different groups.
  • You see the benefits and drawbacks to a wide variety of approaches.
  • You realise you are a small part of a greater whole.
  • You realise that people can have successful recoveries doing things completely differently than you.
  • You realise that there is a still a lot of suffering out there and that there is much work to do.
  • You place yourself in God's hands by placing yourself in a position to be of maximum service to others.
  • You build your life around AA not the other way round, and everything becomes easier and simpler as sure power flows through you.
  • You are forced to be ingenious about how to fulfil all of your non-AA obligations and your AA obligations.
  • If you're anything like me, you become a lot happier!

Step Eight, harm or upset?

When writing out the list of harms in Step Eight, it can be difficult to work out whether something is severe enough to warrant a verbal amend instead of a mere correction of behaviour going forward.

When you manipulate water, it changes shape, but then it finds its own level again. When you manipulate clay, it changes shape, and stays that way.

If there is no lasting effect, in the sense of continued upset, a material change (for instance in someone's finances), or an alteration in how that person perceives himself or others or how he relates to you or others, then an amend is unlikely to be necessary.

If, like clay that has been manipulated, there is a lasting change, restoration is likely to be required.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

It's not about the past

It is impossible to be affected by the past. If I was hungry in 1984, I'm not currently affected by that hunger. I might be affected by current anger because of that hunger, or because of the current beliefs I have about that hunger and what it means about what the world then thought of me or what that tells me about what I am worth, but my problem is my current belief, my current thinking, or my current anger, not the past.

A good example is if I believed that something happened when it did not. The feelings are identical regardless of whether or not the event occurred. It is clear, therefore, that what affects me is not what happens to me but what I think about it. If some past events do not appear to affect me but others do, it is clearly not the past event, or even what I thought about it at the time which affects me, but what I think now.

Katie P once said, 'You want to talk about feelings? Your feelings come from a delusional mindset. Let's talk about delusion!'

When I'm resentful, or upset, or frightened, I am literally delusional: I think that I can be harmed or have been harmed, or will be harmed. I cannot. I am spirit. There is nothing wrong, there never has been, and there never will be, because I am not my body, my material circumstances, my external life, or anything that happens around me. WAKEY WAKEY! God is here, God is now, and all is well.

God provides what I need if I stay close to Him and perform His work well. That is what I need to keep my mind on: not delusions about the past, present, or future.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Treasury

AA groups have a treasurer to look after the money. Sometimes problems arise. These procedures minimise the risk to the individual and to the group.
  • Records should be kept in a book or folder.
  • This book or folder should be displayed prominently during group meetings and be available for inspection by group members at any time.
  • An oral report should be given every month.
  • The treasurer should be open to reasonable questions and not be defensive or secretive.
  • The records should be kept up to date.
  • The records should clearly show Tradition 7 receipts (the amount collected from the pot), expenditure on refreshments and literature, payments of rent, and contributions to Intergroup.
  • All entries should be initialled.
  • Documentary evidence of all expenditure and payments is required.
  • Tradition 7 receipts in particular should be signed for.
  • If a bank account is maintained, payments from the account must require two signatures, and receipts should be obtained for deposits into the account.
  • A prudent reserve of one month's expenses must be maintained, but no more.

If these procedures are adhered to, this minimises the possibility of the group being defrauded and protects the treasurer against unreasonable accusations of impropriety. These procedures also dissuade fraudulent individuals from taking up the role in the first place and deter fraud or 'borrowing' on the part of a normally honest treasurer.


Banks accounts tend to be time-consuming to set up and manage, because banks have complex administrative procedures that can be completed only during normal working hours and because the procedures often break down. The experience of most groups is that high street banks tend to lose documentation submitted, mis-key information, fail to implement requests for changes in correspondence address and authorised signatories, etc. Unless the group is taking a relatively large amount of money every week, it can be best to keep everything cash-based and keep the prudent reserve to an absolute minimum (maybe a couple of weeks of expenses).

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Is the Big Book sexist and does it matter?

The chapters 'To Wives' and 'The Family Afterward' presume that the alcoholic is male and the head of the family. The presentation of ideas and language used (specifically 'he' etc.) reflects this.

This was an accurate reflection of the membership of AA in 1939 and an accurate reflection of the structure of American society in 1939.

Is AA different and is society different now? Yes. Is it better that women are in AA? Obviously. It is better that women are emancipated and that there is greater equality between the sexes? I think so, and most would agree in western society. There are many cultures round the world where society does not reflect the current western model, however.

Is there a problem with the Big Book? I don't think so.

Firstly, part of the virtue of tolerance is to accept that different ages and different cultures have different sets of values. I cannot presume to impose my culture and values on others. It is particularly unfair to retrospectively condemn a prior culture and to dismiss what it has to say in general because one particular set of values or norms inherent in that culture differs from mine.

Secondly, I have intelligence and imagination. When I am reading the Big Book, I can be tolerant of the fact that the culture and values were different, and take any description of the alcoholic husband and alanonic wife and children to represent any constellation of individuals where one is alcoholic and the rest are not, regardless of sex, gender, age, or orientation. With the use of intelligence and imagination, I can extract the principles underlying the material and not get floored by the fact that I hold different values.

Sometimes people want to rewrite the Big Book to reflect modern, western, liberal values.

Firstly, this is not necessary, if tolerance, intelligence, and imagination are exercised, as above.

Secondly, this is presumptuous, because, whilst a revised Big Book might stop alienating some cultures, a politically correct version might equally alienate others. Who am I to say that my modern, western, liberal values trump all others? Do we need a different Big Book for every single culture, for every single set of values? A modern, western, liberal Big Book would be great. But we'd also need to rewrite it for orthodox or ultra-orthodox Jews, for ultra-orthodox Christian Russian nationalists, for tribes in South America with barely any contact with modern civilisation, and for Islamic societies where women are indeed treated very differently: in fact, the Big Book would probably be viewed in places as far too liberal by many cultures around the world.

Rather than rewriting the Big Book for every possible culture and set of values, and having to rewrite it every time the culture changes or values are updated, we could just adjust ourselves to what is: the document is a document of its time and place, and it takes little skill to overlook the differences between that culture and this, their values and ours, and to see that 99.9% of the material is universal to all cultures and applicable under any circumstances.

In fact, the call for a rewrite has already been answered in the form of the plethora of AA literature that has been published over the last few decades, and in particular the avowed aim of the stories which are reselected and rewritten with every new addition, to reflect changes in society and broadening of our membership.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Craving, obsession, and preoccupation

To be clear:

Physical craving: this is the powerful urge to continue drinking after the first drink, regardless of whether or not I am having a nice time, enjoying the drinking, feeling ill, acting anti-socially, or the threat of consequences. The physical craving refers to the effect of having the first drink and therefore to the effect of alcohol on the body and mind. It is physical not in the sense of being perceived physically but in the sense of being triggered by a physical change, namely the introduction of alcohol into the body. Wanting the first drink, even badly, or being preoccupied with the first drink is not an example of the physical craving.

Mental obsession: this is the thought that prompts the first drink, namely the idea that a drink would be a good idea (and the absence of effective counterargument). This is separate from a desire to drink and certainly distinct from the physical craving. It is termed an obsession because it persistently recurs, not because it is necessarily associated with powerful emotion, preoccupation, etc. It can be merely a passing thought that allows a person to take a proffered glass of champagne, 'accidentally' order a pint rather than an orange juice, or unexpectedly put a bottle of wine in a shopping trolley. It need not occur often to be fatal.

Preoccupation: this is sometimes referred to as 'craving' or 'obsession', but this causes confusion, as these two terms, in the Big Book, are reserved for other phenomena. Preoccupation is continually or continuously thinking about drinking or wanting to drink. It will not necessarily lead to a drink, unless accompanied by the mental obsession. If the person is sane, preoccupation will simply be a painful irritation, and can persist to some extent for years after a person joins AA and stops drinking. See the last page of Dr Bob's Nightmare for an example of this, or page 15 of the Big Book (Bill's Story).

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Early days

I struggled to get and remain sober in AA for a few months. There are some key elements in what ultimately succeeded:

I got a job. It was not a skilled job, an interesting job, or a job that contributed in any way to the development of a career. But it kept me out of trouble during the day, gave me something to think about other than myself, gave me an opportunity to practise the principle of service, put money in my pocket, secured the necessities of life, gave me a place in society, and positioned me as a giver not a taker. For seven hours a day, I was too busy to think about my emotional dramas, and I had respite from myself.

I placed action above emotion. I felt truly awful a lot of the time but made the decision under the guidance of the people around me to stick to my job, my other obligations, the daily actions of the programme, the process of the steps, attendance at meetings, fellowship with others, and service in AA, regardless of how I felt or what my opinion was on whether any of these particular actions were good for me: the examples around me in AA established that these were right, and I wasn't going to question them. I was told that if my arse fell off, I should pick it up and take it to an AA meeting. This is great advice: feeling bloody awful is not a sign to stop taking the right action but a sign to step up the right action. The best self-care was not to run away and lick my wounds but to go to an AA meeting and put out chairs.

My modus operandi throughout my life before AA was as follows: I was the centre of my own dramatic narrative, in which I played the leading role of hero and victim, misunderstood, out of place, and irreparably damaged by, yes, a cruel, cruel world. Now, the world was indeed unpleasant in certain ways, but on top of actual suffering I built a fantasy world of character, plot, and even theme music. I was most comfortable when I was lost inside my dramatic narrative, and when I was placed in a situation where I was not the centre of attention, I would act out: tears, hysterical outbursts, attention-seeking, vocalised suicidal ideation, self-harm, placing myself in dangerous situations, deliberate damage to physical objects, overt or covert accusations, theatrical gloom, emotional vomiting, endless talking about the dramatic narrative, and a complete resistance to any suggestion that there was another way to look at things. I was expert at recruiting people into my narrative, first as heroes but ultimately as villains, as no one was able to rescue me in the manner that I saw fit, and anyone who sought to dismantle my fantasy world became the enemy and, in my perception, a contributor to the growing evil of my life. Here is an illustration of how and why this began to change: in my first few weeks and months in AA, I would have panic attacks and run out of AA meetings. For a while, people would follow me to see if I was OK. Eventually, they gave up and left me to it. Once I had demonstrated to myself a few times that this was no longer going to work, the panic attacks, which had previously seemed involuntary, stopped spontaneously. Behind the apparent automatic behaviour was subconscious calculation. This was how AA helped me: genuine assistance was provided at the same time that people around me refused to indulge my unhelpful behaviour.

To become sponsorable, the following were necessary:

(1) I had to be willing to supplant my sponsor's perception of my situation for my own, without resistance.

(2) I had to be willing to take actions my sponsor suggested, without resistance.

Another issue I had in early recovery was mixed messages and mixed approaches. I was extremely unwell, mentally ill in fact, when I got sober. Many very well-meaning people suggested therapy. I followed their advice, and within a few sessions became persistently preoccupied with the sorry events of my childhood, convinced I could not start to have a positive experience of my life until these sorry events had been processed, believing that my modes of thinking and behaviour were so intrinsic to who I was that I could not be expected to change, and hyperaware of the tangled ball of painful perceptions and memories in my mind, which I believed meant that I could not be happy today or indeed ever until this was resolved, but unclear if, when, and how the therapeutic process I was engaged in could ever achieve this. I quickly acquired the perception of myself as so utterly damaged and broken that I would never be happy, and even more angry at my childhood and the figures that populated my narrative about it. As if this wasn't bad enough, the ideas in the therapy directly contradicted what was being taught to me in AA about how to live cheerfully, usefully, and kindly in the here and now. You cannot live in the day and talk about your past at the same time. The AA steps do look at the past, but only briefly and in a controlled way, to examine where my moral failings lay, and to provide the basis for forgiveness of others for their wrongs towards me. This is quite different from the therapy I was the subject of, which was psychotherapy largely consisting in me telling the therapist my thoughts about my feelings without any critical distance being introduced or without my beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes being challenged. When I stopped the therapy and started applying AA's approach of learning to live cheerfully, usefully, and kindly in the day, hope returned, and I started to get well. Over the 12 years that followed, I tried a couple of times to resume therapy to handle the residue left over from my childhood, but my experience in each case was that, although the therapy provided some temporary emotional relief, it did not contribute at all to the changes in perception of my past and myself that ultimately proved the road to wellness. The tools of the programme that did resolve these problems were as follows:

(1) Recognising that others are unwell

(2) Recognising that that everyone is dealt some good cards and some bad cards

(3) Recognising that what is past is literally no longer there

(4) Recognising my own infinite worth as a human being and that this applies equally to others

(5) Recognising that inferring who I am from what happens to me is flawed thinking

(6) Dropping the whole value system underpinning my interpretation of and interaction with the world

(7) Forgiving

(8) Making amends

(9) Guarding my thoughts and preventing negativity from gaining a foothold

(10) Actively seeking and developing a relationship with God

(11) Seeking to implement that relationship by working for God by serving others

(12) Remaining in the now

A key principle of the programme is letting go of old ideas. The Big Book suggests that we have to be willing to let go of our old ideas, and that the result is nil until we let go absolutely. I have learned to beware also of new old ideas. When I was new in AA, I went to too many different types of meeting and spoke at depth with too many people. The result was a soup of inconsistent ideas and belief systems, and my attempts to reconcile these ideas produced half-hearted action in all directions, dissipating my efforts, and putting the brakes on all lines of attack, as I was not fully committed to any particular approach. Once I adopted one particular approach to AA and decided to disregard the rest, the task was simpler, my mind was clearer, and I started to make very rapid progress. What this did mean, though, was that, to make progress, I had to be willing to have my sponsor challenge any idea I presented without resistance from me. The ideas I presented were old ideas from before AA but also new ideas from other people in AA or other domains (religion, spirituality, self-help, therapy, etc.) which were incompatible with what my sponsor was suggesting. For a while, until I was trained out of it, I would play my sponsor off against these other ideas and challenge what my sponsor was saying. Fortunately, I was trained out of this swiftly, as he said that he was merely offering me a package deal. I could take the package deal or leave it but he was not going to justify the package deal: he was simply offering me what he had been shown and what had worked for him. There was also no point in me trying to follow another spiritual or therapeutic process whilst trying to learn and adopt the programme, because it's impossible to create the space required by letting go of old ideas if, as I'm pouring out bad old ideas from one side of the jug, someone else is pouring bad or at least incompatible new ideas into the other.


To sum up, I had to let go of old, bad ideas, be wary of new and bad or incompatible ideas, adopt the programme of action wholeheartedly, and adopt a very simple approach to life: get on with what is in front of me, trust God, and disregard my own perceptions, beliefs, and thinking.

But you don't understand!

A common occurrence between a sponsor and a sponsee is this: the sponsee wants to talk about an emotional difficulty, namely circumstances that are causing pain or discomfort, and what the sponsee might change externally to remove the pain or discomfort. The sponsee asks the sponsor what to do about this, and the sponsor replies with something along the lines of letting go, relying on God for identity, purpose, direction, and supply, and maybe lots of meetings and service. The sponsee then complains of being misunderstood, and reiterates either the content or the asserted significance of the question, like the sponsor is a little deaf and of below average intelligence.

I have been on both sides of this conversation, many times.

Let me share three stories I have heard.

Bill talks about going to his sponsor with a complex problem, and the sponsor saying, ‘You need to go to God on this one’. Bill says, ‘You need to give me something more concrete, more specific. You need to give me something else.’ The sponsor says, ‘There is nothing else.’ Bill is sober a very long time.

Marilyn talks about trailing around after her sponsor at meetings trying to get her to stop for a moment so she could talk about her depression. The sponsor was always busily and cheerfully engaged in helping or organising or suchlike, and just when Marilyn thought she had her chance, in the parking lot, the sponsor got in the car and said, ‘See you tomorrow at the meeting!’ Marilyn is now over forty years sober, I think, or not far off.

Paul talks about going to his sponsor, complaining about his wife. His sponsor said, ‘Why don’t you stop thinking about it for a couple of days?’ He remonstrated, ‘Not think about it?! But then I’ll forget all about it!’ Paul died sober after several decades of happy sobriety.

Here are some ideas from AA literature:

The Twelve and Twelve talks about self-forgetting, in the St Francis prayer. That’s how we ultimately find ourselves, God, others, and the truth.

Bill’s Story talks about work and self-sacrifice for others and abandonment of self in the task of helping others as the way to survive the certain trials and low spots ahead.

Chapter Five talks about trying to arrange the rest of the world to suit oneself, and how selfishness and self-centredness is the problem. (This is why, aside from the Step Three decision itself, it’s a good idea not to make big decisions until Step Nine is completed, one is sponsoring a few people, and one is a good few months clear into really living the last three Steps and basing life on serving God by serving others: only once self is destroyed will we see whether the sought-after change in job, marriage, address, friends, physical gender, or religion is intended to enable us to serve God better or whether the change is to alleviate emotional discomfort stemming from wrong perception.)

Chapter Five goes on to say that we get everything we need if we stay close to God and perform His work well.

Once Step Three is taken, these are the only two questions that are worth discussing: how to stay close to God, and how to perform His work well.


This is all there is to discuss.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Working Tradition Twelve

Areas I endeavour not to convey specifics of, overtly or covertly, when I am sharing in meetings:

  • Current or past jobs or careers;
  • Current or past possessions;
  • Money, my own or my family's, past or present;
  • Achievements of my own or of people in my family, past or present;
  • Anything that could be construed as extravagant or exclusive;
  • Anything that would be valued by the worldly.

Essentially, anything to do with money, property, power, or prestige.

The twelve-step programme is based on anonymity; anything of worldly value in my life is an unmerited gift; these things come and go and are not a measure of absolute, permanent, or intrinsic worth or value; my value is eternal and infinite, as I am a child of God, and this goes for everyone else as well.


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

How I handle a crisis

Firstly, I turn the whole situation over to God (Concept I).

I then have a little Conference with God (Concept II), and we exhaustively list all tasks I can and should perform immediately and in the short, medium, and long term to address the situation. Each should be broken down into its constituent parts, so I can have a plan for each one. They are then sorted into dates of performance and into an order.

I then turn the list of tasks (and sub-tasks) over to God, and ask God to retain ultimate authority over them (Concept I).

I then ask God to delegate back down to me the batch of tasks for the day, which it is my responsibility to take care of (Concept III).

Since everything is written down and being taken care of, I can legitimately set aside any temptation to dwell on the problem, situation, circumstance, drama, or crisis and deliberately turn my thoughts to God when tempted: God has this covered (Tradition X).

Periodically I report back in with God (Concept II) and we reassess the tasks. How often depends on how quickly things are changing: this might be monthly, weekly, or daily.

I find this method works well.


'Strong sponsorship'

An old-timer once said that there is no problem in AA that cannot be solved through 'strong sponsorship'.

One problem groups encounter is low attendance, with the accompanying difficulties of finding people to do service and collecting enough voluntary contributions to pay the group's expenses.

This is simply solved by group members holding the sponsoring of others to be their primary objective, and requiring sponsees to attend their home group as a condition of sponsorship, which has many advantages in any case.

This promptly solves the numbers, financial, and service problems.

The presence of sponsees (who will range from the newest members through to people with a few months or years) provides energy and impetus. Newer people are either in trouble or enthusiastic, as a rule, sometimes both, and this manifest need tends to galvanise members of longer standing and wrest the best from them. The primary purpose becomes clear, and the group tends to regain its focus.

Tradition III



Short form: 'The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.'

Long form: 'Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that, as a group, they have no other

affiliation.'

Thoughts:

  • There's a requirement at all, because commonality of purpose gives focus to meetings and identification is the key to the success of AA and in fact the only unique element to the programme.
  • There's only one requirement because the addition of other requirements would exclude people and thus defeat the purpose: that our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism.
  • Although there is only one overt requirement, this requirement is implicitly being an alcoholic who has a desire to stop drinking. People who have a desire to stop drinking who can stop or moderate on their own have nothing to offer AA in terms of its primary purpose as they do not have the problem AA seeks to solve.
  • One does not need to attain sobriety to join AA.
  • The implicit requirement being an alcoholic who has a desire to stop drinking is further extended by the long form: being an alcoholic who has a desire to stop drinking and recover; it is legitimate to ask people in AA if they wish to recover and to politely move on if they do not.
  • Expenses incurred in performing service should always be claimed so that the tradition is not established of particular service roles requiring solvency on the part of the individual to fund them.
  • Fellowship gatherings outside meetings should be at economical locations (or at locations where a person need not buy any food or beverage) to enable everyone to participate.
  • Meetings that require particular dress codes, sponsorship within the group to claim membership, the avoidance of swearing, or other behavioural norms are in overt breach of Tradition III.
  • Groups that overtly attempt to skew membership towards particular groups (groups based on gender, age, sexuality, profession, etc.) or invitation-only groups are in overt breach of Tradition III.
  • A further problem with special interest groups is that the siphoning off of, say, gay and lesbian members into gay and lesbian groups strips mainstream groups of gay and lesbian attendance, thus making it less likely that gay and lesbian newcomers attending a mainstream meeting will find other gays and lesbians there. Such groups therefore skew the demographics across the fellowship as a whole.
  • There are legitimate reasons for special interest groups, however, which I will not go into here; it can be justified to hold and list them in breach of Tradition III in favour of the overall purpose of AA, which is to achieve sobriety. The point is not that they are not a breach of Tradition III: the point is that breaches are sometimes warranted.
  • Using non-AA literature at AA meetings overtly breaches Tradition III as it tacitly endorses outside publications or approaches to recovery or spirituality.

Specific

When I was new, I found AA infuriating, because I heard a lot of platitudes about drinking and recovery but not a lot in the way of specifics about exactly what alcoholism consisted of, exactly why I was so unhappy in every other regard, exactly what my attitude and behaviour should be instead, and exactly how I should get from A to B.

At eight years sober, or so, I left AA for a while because I was up against a wall of despair at my failure to wrest happiness and satisfaction from my life and in AA was met, once again, with general platitudes in AA about how one should not take things so seriously and how one should just trust or take things a day at a time. I didn't drink, eventually returned to AA, and gradually found the solutions I was looking for.

I went to a meeting yesterday which was absolutely delightful, with wonderful people who clearly had relationships with God and were substantially at peace. If I hadn't had a spiritual awakening myself, however, I would have had trouble connecting because there was little in the way of specifics: problem, solution, and how to get from A to B.

I always endeavour to share on these three areas, to try and help anyone who is as frustrated as I was, both new and sober a while.

What is the problem?

A body that craves more alcohol when it drinks.
A mind that thinks alcohol is a solution despite negative consequences.
A spirit that seeks salvation in sex, money, power, prestige, comfort, thrills and appearance (the seven false gods).

What is the solution?

Never drinking again.
Establishing a relationship with God in recognition of the fact that the seven false gods referred to above are decorations of life, not its substance, and that the real substance lies in becoming a channel for God's grace to transform the lives of the people around me.

How do you get from A to B?

Take the Steps.

In particular:

Recognise the truth in Step One
Stop seeing myself as being so different in Step Two
Recognise the failure of the material life and the life of the ego in Step Three
Realise in Step Four I've been on a wild goose chase my whole life and forgive everyone for everything on the basis that their obedience to my wishes would not have yielded happiness anyway
Get rid of the sense of separateness in Step Five
Admit universal failure in Step Six
Humbly commit to a solution in Step Seven
See myself from other people's point of view in Step Eight
Build bridges in Step Nine
Become a guardian of my own thinking in Step Ten
Create a spiritual superhighway in Step Eleven
Bring heaven down to earth through sponsorship and service in Step Twelve.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Now

God is in the now. Guilt/shame, resentment, and fear, in all their forms, are departures from the now.

What I do:

I come back to the now, gently but persistently, and turn my attention to the task at hand.

If necessary, I ask myself, 'is anything bad happening right now?' It almost never is.

I can ask myself what my physical senses are telling me right now.

I can distance myself from my thinking by prefacing any thought I'm in the middle of having with 'My mind is having the thought that ...', so that I realise that the junk-spewer is simply spewing junk, nothing more.

This works, and that's how God is found, in my experience.

Responsibility

I heard someone who was sober very many years say on a tape recently that one of the reasons he stays in close routine contact with his sponsor is that when things get emotionally difficult he will call friends who will countersign his selfish view of a situation and he will not automatically seek help from a higher authority or other source of help.

I identify with this, and there have been times in the past (one particularly notable example was around seven years ago) when I delayed before telling my sponsor the whole truth about a situation and found other people to countersign what I was 'up to'. Things have changed for me since then. I have learned I am responsible for my recovery and that it is childish of me to rely on my sponsor to pull rank to make up for my failure to take responsibility. I have learned that if I am disturbed or someone else reacts negatively to me I go voluntarily, willingly, and at my own initiative to God in prayer and my sponsor in consultation. This has now become automatic, and I believe this is a major part of growing up: intellect over emotion and decision over impulse. In Step Three, I committed to serving God not self, and the aim over time is for that surrender to become more and more complete. I am no longer a surly, petulant teenager who stomps off to his room or otherwise acts against his own best interests on a regular basis. I also have chosen friends who will not countersign selfishness: anyone who did countersign it would not be a friend. I need not just a sponsor but friends who are on this path of self-abandonment.

I am accountable to God and my Spirit, and I trust that God and my Spirit speak in part through others: I'm not accountable to or reliant on others. I trust my sponsor implicitly (because I have chosen a good sponsor) and have on occasion had to side with him against my own character defects, but I don't rely on him to quell my rebellion. My own rebellion is a private matter and it is because that rebellion has largely been overcome that I go willingly to God and to my sponsor.

We do recover, and that recovery takes the form of being given strength to outgrow certain gross character defects through the cheerful application of willingness.


A socially acceptable form of self-obsession

It has been vital for me to revisit the first Nine Steps, particularly when I have a hard time. I have observed, however, a gradual improvement over time and I find that the extent of the difficulties I uncover tends to reduce from year to year, although as with any other progression in nature the graph looks wonkier close-up than from a distance, with particular low spots and trials.


I have become wary, however, of the spiritual hygiene of revisiting the first nine steps on a regular basis becoming a form of self-obsession where the drama of one's own personal journey eclipses the real job, which is usefulness to others. There have of course been times in my second decade in AA and now in my third where there is something in the way of 'spiritual heart surgery', but mercifully this is not a permanent state. One serious impediment to my usefulness in the past has been my spiritual Munchausen's syndrome, where I would indulge emotional difficulties to the point that spiritual surgery was required, because I would find that more flattering than simply having to grow past the fear and get on with service. Anonymity is the real spiritual principle underlying AA: the aim is to become no one, a no one dissolved into the world as a channel for God, instead, to act.