Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The solution to resentment

(1) No, being miserable about the past, however awful it was, is not ‘part of life’ and ‘something you just have to accept’.

(2) No, the solution does not consist solely of ‘write it down’, ‘write it out’, or even ‘share about it’.

(3) When your clothes are dirty, the solution is not (just) to write a shopping list for fabric detergent and conditioner (or to share about your dirty clothes) but to take the list you’ve written, go to the shop, buy the products, and wash the clothes.

(4) When your mind is dirty with resentment, the solution involves writing out inventory and maybe sharing it but then following this up with:

(5) Dropping wholly unreasonable demands and expectations entirely.

(6) Downgrading excessive demands and expectations to reasonable preferences.

(6) Negotiating or taking action on reasonable preferences where possible.

(7) Accepting everything else as being exactly the way it is without complaint.

(8) Praying for a new attitude and for forgiveness towards the person or situation (see page 67 of the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’).

(9) Making amends where necessary.

(10) Keeping the mind free of old narratives by watching out for, spotting, and eliminating them at sight, through substitution of positive, grateful, outward- and service-oriented thinking and action.



Saturday, 19 August 2017

There are many ways to get and stay sober

There are indeed many, many ways to get and stay sober, if you are an alcoholic. This is a very common assertion in discussions about how to stay sober permanently (and be content and productive, while you're at it). We all know people who are sober for years, if not decades, with no AA, or with no AA any more, who are content and productive. We also all know people who tried to go it alone or who stopped AA after a while and sooner or later wound up drunk or dead. In my experience, the latter vastly outnumber the former.

Whilst it's certainly true that there are many ways to stay sober permanently, other than AA, it's very hard to find such people. None of the people I know who are sober long-term and who are not in AA are organised into groups or organisations of such individuals (although such groups and organisations do exist, although none of the breadth and size of AA), none of them have codified their approach to staying sober into a programme, and there is therefore no programme for them to systematically convey to other people, should they even care to.

One approach one sometimes encounters in AA is the suggestion that we all need to find our own way, and that there are many, many ways of staying sober permanently. This will be shared at meetings and told to newcomers. However, I have yet to hear anyone present a systematic, comprehensive, codified alternative to the originally devised programme. The result of this is that the options are: (1) the AA programme as originally set down in 1939 (2) a plethora of other paths which must be self-devised or compiled from elements of any number of other people's experiences.

If a new person in recovery is presented with (1), what to do is clear: follow the programme.

If a new person in recovery is presented wth (2), the only system available is trial and error.

Now, if you're cooking a curry or painting a tree, trial and error is a great way to learn.

If you're trying to recover from alcoholism, trial and error is a terrible way to learn. Why? Because people don't always return from relapses, sometime dying on the relapse or going back into the unstoppable downward spiral of alcoholism, never again to emerge.

I welcome the presentation of any other systematic alternative approaches to recovery from alcoholism. AA has absolutely no view on such approaches, and if such approaches save lives, all the better.

Within AA, there are certainly many elaborations of the steps, which take the original programme, add some elements, remove some elements, and change some elements. There are also approaches within AA which pick just a very small number of elements of the programme, leaving out the lion's share (particularly steps and systematic message-carrying service), leaving a regimen consisting of not drinking, going to meetings, and talking about what is on your mind.

What is curious is that no comprehensive and coherent alternative to the programme as originally envisaged has coalesced and become established even within AA. Many other approaches come and go, but such approaches are invariably marginal or ephemeral.

With the beef that many people have against the notion of the Higher Power or God, which is central to the original programme, I have much sympathy. I've had my own fair share of theological struggles over the years. Why I still adhere to the notion of a Higher Power and actively practise to improve my conscious contact with that Higher Power is that, frankly, there are many situations where nothing else works.

To the Higher Power-naysayers: what is your sufficient substitute for a Higher Power in the face of the failure of all human resources, tricks, intellectual constructs, material plans, interpersonal reliances, and other mechanisms? It turns out that the best on offer is everything that the AA programme has to offer, just without the Higher Power. There is no alternative. There is no back-up plan. There is no emergency generator. There is nothing to take its place. There is just 'AA minus'. Non-Higher Power approaches may involve meditation, yoga, therapy, all sorts of things, but fully fledged AA (with the Higher Power) does not preclude these and actually actively embraces these.

There are, one assumes, many people who stay fit and well by using all elements of the AA programme except the Higher Power bit. The question is, for those for whom that is not sufficient, where else do you go, what else do you do, and how do you cope?

The last house on the block for alcoholics seems to be AA. The last, Upper Room in the last house on the block is holding a meeting right now. And in that meeting they're talking about God.

Playing the long game

When I got sober, there were around 550 meetings a week in London. Now there are over 900, I'm told. The average age of people in those meetings, 24 years ago, was probably somewhere in the early forties. Only a proportion of the people who were sober then will have died of natural causes since then. Life expectancy is up around the high seventies. Yet there are very few people in meetings who are 24 years sober, plus.

Of the remainder, a lot retired or moved to the country, and London's population is being replenished by youngsters, so one would not expect as many long-timers in AA as in rural areas. Still, I can go weeks without meeting someone sober longer than me.

Where are the others?

Countless people I know are dead or drunk. Whenever I go to a treatment centre or detox, there are people in there who were sober many years (including people who were sober back in 1993) but who relapsed, and a large proportion of the newcomers are actually people returning after a slip after a long period of sobriety, often over ten years or so.

There are certainly many people who are unaccounted for, but of those I have run into over the years who have left AA, whilst some are absolutely fine, many are not, and the range of ways in which people are not is alarming.

Very clearly, these anecodotal statistics are not promising.

However, there is something that is promising: my sponsor was at an AA conference a while ago, sitting at a banquet dinner with nine other long-timers. Someone asked if anyone at the table (and these were people averaging 30 to 40 years of sobriety in AA) knew of anyone who completed the steps, including all of their amends, and who then remained active in steps, service, and sponsorship but who drank again. They all thought for a while, but could not come up with anyone.

This is consistent with my experience.

I'm playing a long game, here. I got sober when I was 21, and my alcoholism is of the sort that kills ya as soon as look at ya. When I drink, catastrophic things happen, and I can't get off the merry-go-round because the fog comes down and I get stunned and desensitised by the whirling and the lights and the nausea. I cannot afford to have a drink again, yet that means, if I live a normal life span, I need to look at the people who are fifty or sixty years sober as an example.

I've known some people who are fifty or sixty years sober, and a smaller group of people with that length of sobriety who are content and well-balanced. What do they all have in common? Continued application of the steps, service, sponsorship, home group.

I'm admittedly hardline about how I 'do' AA, and this is accused of being 'harsh'. What's interesting, though, is that, whilst the accusations of extremity, harshness, and inflexibility remain the same, the people carrying these opinions come and go. By contrast, the friends of mine around the world in AA who are equally keen on the formula: steps, service, sponsorship, home group, years later, decades later, are all still sober, content, and useful.

Obviously lots of people stay sober without AA. Maybe some of them have a different type of alcoholism than mine or that of those many people who leave AA, relapse, and live miserably or see their lives curtailed.

I'm not a gambling man, and, since I've found a formula that works, I'm sticking to it.

Steps, service, sponsorship, home group. AA remains at the core of my life, every day, and my life is filled with AA people. Do I have time for other things? Yes. I have a career (two careers actually), I look after my family, I look after my home, I get to go on trips, I have hobbies and interests I have time to pursue, and I cannot see any deleterious effects of placing AA at the centre of my life, other than, in some people's eyes, being insufferably intransigent about my AA life.


To sum up: play the long game. Swiss government bonds may be duller investment choices than the latest tech start-up stocks. But I'll tell you one thing a professional wealth manager once told me: the Swiss have never once defaulted, in hundreds of years; and my Higher Power has not once let me down.

Friday, 18 August 2017

A helpful reminder from Chuck C.

What keeps you sober

A very good post by a friend

Al Kohallek's pay forward gifts: Al Duplex

Stop before it's too late

There is a terrible risk menacing pretty much everyone in AA. This (tongue-in-cheek) blog post is an open letter to anyone in AA concerned about the direction their recovery is taking.

There are a growing number of people in AA who seem to have crossed a line, and people who have crossed the line rarely seem to make it back. These people are very easy to spot:

  • They seem blithely indifferent to all sorts of things that used to be important to them and are still important to others (for instance, what is on television, what other people are saying about them, how their week pans out, in fact how their lives pan out).
  • They are so busy the whole time that they do not have time to listen to your grievances and recriminations. When they're not busy, they seem to be sitting very still somewhere.
  • When they do listen to your grievances, upsets, and recriminations, they have the temerity to suggest that you might be creating the world that you see around you and that you, rather than other people, are actively creating your emotions through your attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, demands, expectations, judgements, and condemnation. They seem completely unwilling to validate your experience. They are literally threatening the world you live in.
  • They propagate the nonsensical notion that your current experience of life is due to your current living of life, not the events of the past week, month, year, decade, or even remote past. It's as though they actually believe that what is going on in your mind now rather than what others did in the past is responsible for the emotions generated by your mind right now.
  • If business-people or academic folk, they waste a lot of time gaining impressive qualifications or soaring to dizzying heights in their careers but mention these things so rarely it's as though they don't care.
  • And here's the killer, the thing that proves they never did care about you: if you tell them they're no longer sponsoring you, they'll say, 'OK. See you around' and go back to what they were doing. No pleading. No hysterics. Nothing.
Fortunately, there are some simple remedies that can mitigate this risk, and this solution will be effective for the rest of your life as long as you maintain this fit spiritual condition.

The first important thing is to talk about 'balance' a lot. Except, as with everything else in AA, you need not just words but action. To achieve this, make sure your schedule has plenty of 'me time', and cut down on service, sponsoring, and especially 'spiritual' reading. Remember, other poor folks before you have fallen into the trap because they were not sufficiently aware of themselves and were so credulous when they were presented with new 'spiritual ideas' that, well, they fell for them hook, line, and sinker. Remember: with AA, a little goes a long way, and only a fraction of what is on offer is necessary to achieve what you want to achieve.

Secondly, remember that you are the centre of your universe, and unless you find out what your purpose in your life is, you can never feel that you have fully attained your life goals. Note the language of the previous sentence: there are eight 'yous' and 'yours'. Try to mimic this in your discourse about your own life to make sure you stay firmly anchored at the dead centre of things. Don't try to use the programme to change how you feel: sit with your feelings and honour them. Even though other people are responsible for them. Don't analyse that. But, when you feel at risk of forgetting about all of the bad things others have done to affect you, do find like-minded fellows to rake over the past with, and keep the focus on others' bad behaviour. If you don't do this, how will they ever change? Remember: you are responsible for ensuring that they change by concentrating hard on their faults. Just like they're responsible for your feelings. In spirituality, everything is connected. See?

Be very careful about what AA group to belong to and what sponsor to have. Avoid extreme groups and sponsors, and find someone whose life outside AA is what you aspire to. Wit, charm, panache, and allure are key. Obviously don't go to the other extreme and become all wishy-washy: again, balance is what is required. Good, solid AA, but none of the incessant banging on about God or the Steps. In fact, stop capitalising both: god and the steps. Aah! Feeling better already?

And the relevant slogan? Keep it simple!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Offence

Would I get offended if …?
I have more important things to do than be offended that other people don't think, act or speak how I would like them to.
Not only it is unpleasant (for me), it is pointless, embarrassing (because I'm letting someone else dictate my feelings), and ultimately one more pebble in the when-it's-full-I'll-relapse jar.
One is at perfectly liberty to be offended, it being a free world'n'all, but who would want to, and why? Maybe to enjoy the self-righteous satisfaction? That has always been a great appeal for me: look at me, Snow White, surrounded by at least seven malevolent and recalcitrant dwarves, not to mention the witch with her poisoned apple. And that’s the point: one’s offered poisoned apples the whole time. It’s no one’s choice but mine to eat one. Or a whole bowlful.
No, I enjoy my life much more not deliberating manufacturing my own misery by subconsciously laying behaviour traps for other people (technical term: expectations) and jumping up and down like Rumpelstiltskin whenever anyone puts a foot wrong.
If people are persistently unpleasant, my real question is, ‘why is this person in my life?’ or (if they’re necessarily there) ‘why am I having or perpetuating this interaction?’

Monday, 14 August 2017

In 1833, ...

In 1833, slavery was abolished. Do pass the word.

A little reminder: one does not need to remain in a relationship with someone who is malicious, menacing, unreasonably critical, or overly demanding. Even if they've been in your life for a long time. Even if they've been in your life forever.

It's tempting to try to remedy such situations with a judicious use of amends, boundaries, and general Good Deeds and Piety. That sometimes works. But sometimes you're playing chess with a pigeon. It ignores the rules, knocks over your king, poops on the board, then struts around like it won the game.


Leave the room. Put the phone down. Take the car keys and go. Maybe send a birthday and Christmas card, and an occasional bunch of flowers. But you do not have to keep trying to fix things, and their emotions in response to your decision to spend your life, instead, with people who are genial, affable, ask nothing of you, and laugh a lot, are not your responsibility either. They can find their own Higher Power, and it ain't you.

If ever you falter, read some Mary Oliver to remind yourself of some basic truths.

'You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles, repenting.'

'... though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, ...'

And when you stop trying to fix broken things and feeling guilty because you can't, all of the lights turn on, and you realise you already are wherever you thought you were headed.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Gossip

From the St Augustine Prayer Book list of undesirable character traits: ‘Malice. Ill-will, false accusations, slander, backbiting. Reading false motives into others’ behaviour. Initiation, collection or retailing gossip. Arousing, fostering, or organising antagonism against others. Unnecessary criticism, even when true.’

From the Big Book: ‘We families of Alcoholics Anonymous keep few skeletons in the closet. Everyone knows about the others’ alcoholic troubles. This is a condition which, in ordinary life, would produce untold grief; there might be scandalous gossip, laughter at the expense of other people, and a tendency to take advantage of intimate information. Among us, these are rare occurrences. We do talk about each other a great deal, but we almost invariably temper such talk by a spirit of love and tolerance.’

From Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: ’Self-righteous anger also can be very enjoyable. In a perverse way, we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticise; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness.’

From Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: ‘One unkind tirade or one wilful snap judgment can ruin our relation with another person for a whole day, or maybe a whole year. Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven argument.’

From Dr Bob’s Farewell Talk: ‘Let us also remember to guard that erring member the tongue, and if we must use it, let’s use it with kindness and consideration and tolerance.’

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Quarantine that thought!

Ask God: what mental topics are not fit for consumption (anything one is panicky, doom-laden, or contemptuously angry about). Make the list.

Then, whenever the temptation arises to think about these topics (which it will), quickly dismiss the thought and turn your mind to God, for instance by repeating a line or two from a favourite prayer.

Try this for 30 days.

Emmet Fox's original writing on the matter:
Stand By For Quarantine! (Emmet Fox)
When you are praying or treating about a particular thing, you should handle it, mentally, very carefully indeed. The ideal way is not to think about it at all except when you are actually praying about it. To think about it in between, especially to talk to other people about it, is exceedingly likely to invite failure.
When a new problem presents itself to you, you should immediately know the Truth[1] about it, and then decline to consider it except in the light of Truth. I call this ‘putting a subject in quarantine,’ and whenever I have been able to ‘quarantine’ a problem of my own I have always demonstrated very easily and very well.
Even and old, long-standing problem can be ‘put in quarantine’ today, if you mean business and will resolutely break the habit of constantly thinking over that problem.
Everyone knows that a photographer must not expose unfixed film to daylight if he wants to get results. Everyone knows how careful a chemist is to isolate (i.e., quarantine) his materials in the laboratory, since the slightest contamination of one chemical by another will probably ruin any experiment. What many Truth students do not seem to understand is that mental operations have to be just as carefully safeguarded if demonstrations are to be made.
Whenever you think about any subject, you are treating it with your thought—either for good or evil.

[1]  Sin [= "missing the mark"] is a sense of separateness from God, and is the major tragedy of human experience. It is, of course, rooted in selfishness. It is essentially an attempt to gain some supposed good to which we are not entitled in justice. It is a sense of isolated, self-regarding, personal existence, whereas the Truth of Being is that all is One. Our true selves are at one with God, undivided from Him, expressing His ideas, witnessing to His nature—the dynamic Thinking of that Mind. Because we are all one with the great Whole of which we are spiritually a part, it follows that we are one with all men. Just because in Him we live and move and have our being, we are, in the absolute sense, all essentially one.


Is it God's will? Resources

When asking God for God's will for us, answers may come through inspiration, an intuitive thought, or a decision.

To determine whether the answer is in fact the right answer, the following are useful questions:

  • What is for the good of all?
  • Is the motivation giving or getting?
  • Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said right now?
  • Is the proposed action the best use of my time and energy?
  • Is the proposed action in alignment with the principles of detachment in Al-Anon?

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What shape is my ego?

The ego is invisible.

In some films, there is an invisible entity. The invisible entity is shown by throwing dust over the whole scene, and the shape of the invisible entity shows up, in outline. If you like Star Trek, you'll discover that the tachyon detection grid works in a similar way to reveal cloaked Romulan warships (http://www.starshipexcelsior.com/union_rpg/unitsdefenses/system.html).

When I examine why I'm upset, I invariably find that I'm upset because I have a demand or an expectation. The sum total of the demands and the expectations is the plan for the universe devised by my ego. It is only by examining upset that the ego's global plan can be gradually revealed, and then dropped or redirected.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Endless inventory

Over time, further inventories will be needed, beyond the first Step Four. Whether these are cast as further Step Fours or Step Tens is a futile argument. Either way: they need to be done.

Nonetheless, it's possible to become fixated on inventory and thus avoid the solution.

Sometimes no new information is needed about resentments or fears and we need to flip straight to the solution:

Recognise the nothingness of self and the allness of God.
Remember that there is 'One Who Has All Power'.
Withdraw faith in one's own perception of 'reality'.
Mind one's own business.
Withdraw judgement.
Actively forgive.
Stay out of the past.
Stay out of the future.
Stop recreational speculation, interpretation, generalisation, and extrapolation.
Seek to understand in the place of judgment.
Seek to learn more about the object of the judgment.
Prohibit catastrophisation.
Actively foster gratitude.
Come back to the present.
Turn one's attention to a constructive activity.
Help others.
Gently and persistently turn the mind away promptly from negative thinking.
Downgrade demands into preferences.
Prayer and meditation.
Spiritual reading (I particularly recommend Emmet Fox).
Constructive activity.
Physical activity.
Creative activity.
Contact with others.
Contact with nature.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Ten tips I’ve been given:

  • Don't take what happens to you personally. If you did genuinely provoke, cause, or contribute to a negative situation, review your conduct, apologise, and amend your behaviour going forward. Then drop the matter.
  • Don't script your life: instead go with the flow, however unexpected.
  • Catastrophisation is irrational and habit-forming. Don't indulge it.
  • Don't have expectations. If you must have them, take responsibility for them by communicating them clearly and politely and accept being perceived as bossy.
  • When making decisions, stop waiting for superstitious signs or bizarre coincidences, and instead embrace prayer, evidence, reason, consultation, and detachment.
  • Don't avoid risk at all cost. Risks are sometimes reasonable to take. Be prepared for some things to go wrong. If they do, admit it promptly and recalibrate.
  • Don't compare your life to that of other people except, occasionally, to use others as a positive example and set a realistic objective. Then work for it.
  • Give your time only to those who deserve and respect it.
  • Forgive everyone for everything.
  • Give of yourself.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Thinking

My mind takes perceptions, interprets them based on beliefs, and causes unhappiness. It does this without me wanting it to. It seems to enjoy it.

I might have to share a body with my mind, but I needn't be upset by it, provided that I remember I do not need to believe what it yields. It's a wordbox, not the Oracle of Delphi.

The book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' suggests that one has to let go of all old ideas to recover from alcoholism and live fruitfully and happily.

Here's a simple method I use, namely a prayer:

'Higher Power, I hereby place in your hands my welfare in all areas, knowing that if you need me to take any action in my own interest you will tell me directly and clearly. I hereby surrender to you all perceptions, beliefs, and interpretations: please dissolve, revise, and replace them, where necessary, according to Your will. I hereby place under your direction the only two resources I have: my time and my innate talents moulded by experience, for deployment as You see fit, for the good of all.'

Repeat as necessary.