Wednesday, 13 December 2017

There are no character defects

All actions are neutral. Whether an action is a virtue or a defect depends on the scenario. All bad behaviour is a neutral tool that has been misused. Criticism, attack, and other apparently wholly negative phenomenon have their place: with the faculty of fault-finding, no change for the good would ever take place; without attack, no fire would ever be put out.

A character defect is therefore a path that is walked down, not an entity within you or me.

Others' character defects are therefore wrong pathways chosen, out of ignorance or powerlesness, for neither of which can anyone be blamed spiritually.

This is the essence of forgiveness.

Holiday parties

Sometimes holiday parties can't be avoided.

If you're in early days or otherwise shaky:

  • Line up a couple of people to talk to immediately after the event so you have that to look forward to
  • Remain in contact with sane people, by text
  • Imagine yourself encased in a soft, squidgy, see-through God-bubble that will keep you protected at all times
  • Try to engage positively and constructively in the party: increase the pleasure of those around you
  • Plan an escape route if you really can't cope, and make sure you're not dependent on anyone to leave
  • If you have to leave early, say you're unwell, which will be true
  • If it doesn't belong to you, don't even sniff it
  • If it does belong to you, definitely sniff it.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017


Who do we invite along to meetings with us, and to fellowship afterwards?
The broken people, the crazy people, and the people who need and want help, in other words the people like us.
What if they're awkward, badly behaved, indecorous, socially inept, dull, cantankerous, obstreperous and enervating?
Bring them anyway and remove your judgement whilst you're doing it.

What do I have to do?

What do I have to do?
God's will!
What's that?
Look after yourself, be useful, have some fun.
What if I don't achieve what I think God's will is?
Either it wasn't God's will, or you didn't have the power to do it.
What do I do then?
If you definitely didn't manage to do God's will, ask God for the power to do it at the next available opportunity, since the power has to come from Him.
Is that it?
No fretting?
None at all.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Consciousness and purpose

The function of the ocean is apparent only at the level of the ocean and cannot be discerned from examining its constituent parts. Take a cubic meter of sea water and you will not see a microcosm of the ocean in a dynamic sense, only some salty water.

Human purpose can be determined only from the perspective of humanity as a whole. Individual consciousness cannot intellectually or even intuitively access that purpose, necessarily carved out, as it is, from the whole in order to enable limited personal consciousness.

It is this that makes the personal search for concretely defined meaning futile. Consciousness operates at a different level than purpose, and the latter cannot be accessed by the former.

The only solution is surrender to the greater purpose, personalised elements of which—God’s will for us—can indeed be accessed. The overall function cannot be discerned from this allocated purpose, however, just as the purpose of a human life cannot be discerned from examination of the function of a pancreatic or blood cell. 

Well, what do you know?

What other people think of you is none of your business

Saturday, 2 December 2017

'I don't have any conscious contact with God'

'I don't have any conscious contact with God'

This is something I regularly hear, and I identify. I identify, at least, with the feeling of having no conscious contact with God. However, that does not mean I do not have conscious contact.

In Step Eleven, I seek knowledge of God's will and the power to carry that out. If I look back at the day and discover it filled with good, productive, and others-centred activites, I have indeed successfully discerned God's will and accessed the power to carry that out. If that be true, I do have conscious contact with God.

Whether I 'feel' that God is in the room with me is as much a matter of sentiment and speculation as anything. One regularly encounters people demonstrably living what one would aspire to as a God-based life, in the form of others-centred action, with cheer, flexibility, and equanimity. What matters is not whether I feel saved or enlightened but whether or not I am discharging my service obligations within and outside AA, and indeed going beyond the call of duty in both domains.

Today, I measure conscious contact with God by examining whether I am actively seeking God's will in terms of my attitudes, thinking, and actions today and whether I am successfully implementing what I discern. If so, I am in conscious contact, regardless of the more abstract sense of God's presence or absence.

The only step you can complete perfectly ...

The only step you can complete perfectly, is it said, is Step One.

I would question this statement.

Step One is an admission. What is a perfect admission? Presumably an admission without any caveat, proviso, or reservation. Certainly, the Big Book says that there must be no reservation whatsoever. So far, so good.

However, what we’re dealing with in Step One is an alcoholic mind. An idea that can be clear, and wholeheartedly accepted, at ten past eleven in the morning can be joined by other, conflicting ideas by four-thirty in the afternoon, and completely displaced by seven in the evening.

The perfect execution of Step One would be such an admission which, 24 hours a day, for the rest of one’s life, remains perfectly untainted by any contradictory or conflicting thought. Frankly, I seriously doubt that anyone in AA has managed to keep their minds clear of any thoughts that contradict or conflict with Step One, for the rest of their lives.

In fact, it’s axiomatic that AAs, even those who are well recovered and decades sober, will exhibit moments (at the very least), if not hours, days, weeks, months, or years, of self-will, thus back-tracking brazenly on the second part of Step One, the admission that ‘we’ (the ‘small s’ self) cannot (successfully) manage our own lives.

Pretty much everyone I have sponsored, when completing Step One, whilst confident to proceed on the basis that its two propositions are true, concedes the presence and allure of stray thoughts. In fact, the presence and allure of such thoughts is precisely the insanity that the remainder of the steps is designed to combat, so one could expect the elimination of such thoughts only in tandem with the completion of the remainder of the Steps. If their permanent and perfect elimination were secured by the mere taking of Step One, the remainder of the steps would not be necessary.

So, my view is that taking Step One perfectly is an ideal, not an attained state.

Can other steps be taken perfectly? Steps Two, Three, and Six are unmeasurable, and Steps Four, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve are open-ended, with almost unlimited possibilities for expansion in time and scope. Let’s cross those off the list of steps that might be taken perfectly.

That leaves us with Five, Seven, Eight, and Nine.

Seven is a good candidate for perfect step-working. It’s a pivot point in the Steps, a one-off moment, and either one has said the prayer sincerely or one has not. So, Step Seven can be worked perfectly (although one might rightly argue that ‘humbly’ has degrees, and that no one is perfectly humble).

Steps Five, Eight, and Nine, provided that we use what in auditing would be called a ‘materiality threshold’, can be completely perfectly, and a failure to do so will likely result in relapse.

When auditors audit a firm’s accounts, they are not looking for every single error; they are looking for errors that result in material misstatement of the accounts. A threshhold is applied, below which errors are ignored as immaterial.

Similarly, in Step Five, every single manifestation of every character defect (in thought, word, and deed) is not trotted out. To do so would be impossible (for reasons of memory alone) and counterproductive: the purpose of the steps is not to stay locked in self-examination but to clear a path to allow God’s power to flow through us into right action on His behalf for our fellows.

A perfect Step Five is one in which the individual conveys all of the character defects she or he has, and character defects, in enumeration, are finite. The St Augustine Prayer Book contains a great listing, and that’s comprehensive but reassuringly finite. Apart from ‘twists of character’, we are to convey ‘dark crannies’ of the past. I take this to be the shameful and difficult secrets. Again, these are finite. If one works down from the worst, one fairly soon arrives at a point where the remaining secrets are merely minor indiscretions, and there is essentially nothing left hiding in the closet that has not in substance been conveyed already.

In practice, therefore, it’s perfectly possible to effect a perfect Step Five.

Similarly, with the judicious application of a materiality threshold, Step Eight is finite, and that sets the bounds of Step Nine: either one has done one’s utmost to set right these wrongs or one has not. The result is measurable, and perfection is thus attainable. The perfection is not one of outcome but effort.

In my case, the threat of relapse did not subside until I had done a reasonably good job on Steps Five, Eight, and Nine, and in particular the entry into the world of the spirit did not occur until, some years later, I completed Steps Five, Eight, and Nine much more satisfactorily, in each case leaving nothing significant inside that was not conveyed and, where applicable, amended.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Step Three and the bus-driver

In a healthy person, emotional impulses are not followed simply because they are there. A bus-driver does not suddenly change route because one of the passengers so requests. In an active addict, it is as though the bus-driver, on hearing one of the bus's passengers request a route change, immediately changes route, regardless of whether the proposed change makes sense.

In recovery, the addict voice will still be there for a while. The addict voice is essentially a wanting machine. It wants drink and drugs and to act out. It wants all sorts of other things too. We do not have to do what a particular voice in our head tells us. Surrender means dropping the behaviour pattern of simply obeying every emotional impulse that passes through one's mind as though it is the great, wise God we have pledged allegiance to. Surrender to impulse is essentially obedience to ourselves. Surrender to God means saying to ourselves, 'it does not matter what I want. I have decided to surrender to God's will instead (on the basis that this is in my best interests)'.

On our own we are powerless, but with God, the transformative process of the Steps, and the fellowship, we are not powerless. Power is available.

The first time we resist an internal impulse, there will be enormous pain. It will take a while to practise resisting the impulse and actively seeking God's protection and guidance sufficiently for the mechanism to work 100% of the time. One might fail for a while, but one must persist.

What is interesting in the stories in the Big Book is that there are several examples amongst the founders of admitting the paradox that, whilst we are powerless on our own, we have power if we stick together. Anyone can stay sober for a day, and anyone can stay abstinent from acting out for a day, provided that obedience to self is withdrawn and replaced with obedience to God and sound principle, with the support of people around us in recovery.

The only thing standing in our way is an unwillingness to feel bad when we resist. Oh well! We'll just have to put on our big girl's panties and withstand the emotion. It is, after all, just emotion, and will pass.

When do you call your sponsor?

Some people don't call their sponsor enough. Others call a sponsor or someone else when they could actually be developing the skill of solving problems themselves.

Here's a guideline I find helpful:

When I have a question, I examine my existing knowledge and experience and the range of materials I have available (books, documents, and other resources out there in the world) to find the answer. If these prove insufficient, I contact my sponsor presenting how far I managed to get, why this is insufficient, and what the remaining question is.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Is it appropriate for me to continue to go to AA?

My attitude: there are people that need help in AA, and we have but a daily reprieve. I have never found maintaining my sobriety inappropriate, and I have never found helping others to a resolution of their problems inappropriate.

I never question my continued extremely active engagement in AA because I don’t have the right to leave new suffering alcoholics to fend for themselves and I don’t have the right to expect others to do the job for me.

I fit myself to AA. It is not a garment I discard because it no longer suits me. I have never prayed to God and been given the answer, ‘stop serving Me; stop helping others.’

I love AA, but even when I don’t I continue taking indicated action and soon enough I love it again.

This approach has solved every single mental, emotional, psychological, material, and social problem I have ever had.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

When making amends would injure them or others

Here's a checklist of situations where contacting someone to apologise and offer appropriate action to set right the wrong (e.g. paying what you owe) would injure them or others:
  • Where criminal or administrative proceedings would likely be triggered that have further ramifications, involve others, cost others time and money, and impair one's ability to be maximally useful to God in the future (e.g. due to a criminal record).
  • The apology would necessitate the disclosure of new information. This might:
    • Concern third parties;
    • Entail criminal or administrative proceedings (see above);
    • Be hurtful in itself.
  • Discussion of the original harmful event would trigger associations with another harmful event that is entirely separate.
Generally, the fact that being reminded of a harmful event could bring out buried emotion concerning the event is not a reason not to make amends. The emotion has not been created but has simply been brought to the surface. This does not cause injury. In fact, bringing the emotion to the surface may be the only way healing can be achieved through the amends process.

If injury is equated with experiencing negative emotion, then the exercise of making amends could not exist but for the most trivial of harms.

In addition, there is an example in the book Alcoholics Anonymous of someone who is enraged by the attempt to make amends. Now, the book does not then suggest that one's decision to make amends was wrong on the basis that it brought out emotion. It in fact praises the individual for trying.

It is clear, therefore, that bringing out emotion is not itself an injury. An example of injury would be the creation of new negative emotion on the basis of altered circumstances or new information.

Exceptionally, an individual is emotionally labile, and resurfaced emotion could take on a life of its own and convert into action that harms the individual or others. In such circumstances, the direct amend may have to be made at some distance (e.g. in writing) or even, occasionally, not at all.

Finally, there are a few unusual situations where it could be unwise to make a direct approach without certain precautions being in place.
  • Where it would break a restraining or other court order.
  • Where the person is a stalker and contacting them could trigger a relapse into stalking behaviour.
  • Where romantic interest could be reignited.
  • Where you stalked them.

Solving problems

All problems consist in either being upset or not knowing what to do.


Make a list of the things you are upset about and the situations where you do not know what to do.
For the first, pray, and then write out a list of corrective measures taken from the AA programme or other compatible resources.

For the second, pray, and then set out the available courses of action and the pros and cons of each and then select the solution that best promotes the good of all, based on AA’s spiritual principles.

If you have a remaining question, call a sponsor with the results of the work you have done.

Set out the material in numbered points rather than as a stream of consciousness, for the sake of clarity of thought and communication. Keep each point clear, simple, and succinct.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

A new Employer

If you want money, you can work for it. All you have to do is get a job, show up, do as you're told, and not make a complete fool of yourself, for instance by interfering with other people's work or arguing. Magically, at the end of the month, money shows up in your bank account.

You do not need to put money into your own bank account. It's an automatic consequence of the above actions. The task is to perform the above actions, which are one stage removed from the money. Your money problem is solved.

Note that the money does not appear immediately but at the end of the month. That means it has to be earned, and whilst it's being earned, it's not yet visible to you, but it is accruing.

With Step Three, the commodity is happiness not money. God is offering us a job. All we have to do is show up, do as we're told, and not make a complete fool of ourselves, for instance by interfering with other people's lives or arguing. Magically, at the end of the month, happiness shows up. Not instantly. But it's on its way. Your happiness problem is solved and is no longer of any concern: the only thing that is of concern is the job.

When you go into work, you ask your line manager what to do.

With Step Three, it's as though you won't yet have a direct line to your line manager. Your security pass does not yet allow you onto the floor where your line manager works. However, your colleagues do have a security pass for the management floor (because they have completed Step Nine, the reward for which is the security pass for the management floor, where they have direct access to all of the line managers). Until then, therefore, you have to rely on a few, carefully selected colleagues for advice on what your line manager wants you to do. The line manager has indeed sent you a few memos and emails, so you're not completely clueless, but you do need others to provide their experience to fill in the gaps.

To be safe between taking Step Three and completing Step Nine, it's a good idea to have a bunch of people around you who have plenty of experience communicating with the line manager, or Higher Power, to help formulate safe and sound plans for the day and make any ad hoc big decisions until the relationship with the line manager, or Higher Power, is fully established.

Friday, 17 November 2017

An idea for a workshop

Suggest your home group hold a one-hour workshop on anonymity. Assemble all of the materials, which is all of the passages of the Big Book which talk either directly or indirectly about anonymity, plus all of the materials in the Twelve and Twelve, the various pamphlets published by AA and other fellowships, and the contents of Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age and Language of the Heart, and then prepare a pack with all of the information for people to read in advance. Then each person can take turns presenting to the group what each book says about anonymity, following which a discussion takes place.

Chapter Five 'honesty' and emergency procedures for newcomers and people in trouble

According to Chapter Five, the people who do not get well are those that cannot be honest with themselves.

At the start of recovery, the honesty required is the honest recognition that one cannot successfully manage one’s own life, in terms both of the addictive process and also in terms of the rest of one’s activities: even if one is superficially successful, the emotional strain and other collateral damage may be great. One cannot serve two masters, so the answer is binary: either one can successfully, consistently, and reliably follow the instructions of one’s own mind or one cannot, and intellect must be placed within the context of a higher power. This is the fundamental honesty that is required. If the conclusion is that one cannot trust oneself, one must place one’s life in the hands of God working through AA. At this point one locks oneself out of the room of active addiction, other insane behaviour, and self-will, and pushes the key under the door. In practice this means that one should initially turn the basic decision-making about the structure of the day over to the wisdom of sound, emotionally healthy, and intelligent friends in AA, who should suggest constructing each day to perform tasks of daily maintenance, to fulfil obligations, and to decorate one’s sober life with pleasant things. All one need do then is follow the actions, waiving the right to deviate from the plan without consultation, to which we defer, and deciding to turn any major ad hoc decisions about one’s life to the process of consultation with others. Of course, with time, this temporary measure will be replaced in full with God-reliance and relegation of consultation largely to a secondary position. Until then, this acts as the line of lights followed along the floor of a smoke-filled aeroplane cabin.

If this course is humbly followed, drinking becomes impossible as one has waived the right to seize the tiller, on the basis of the fundamental act of honesty about who or what is best placed to be in charge of one’s life: one’s own mind or the combination of principle, God, and wise others.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Doing God's will

Doing God's will involves two stages: (1) discerning God's will (2) following through.

If I draw up a good plan for the day, which involves taking the actions that maintain my life, discharging my obligations, and decorating the remainder with pleasant activities, I can treat that as God's will.

The question is then whether I will do it. If I do not, and instead follow an instruction that has occurred to me as a thought in my mind (without there being overriding circumstances and without revisiting the process of actively seeking God's will), I am substituting the latest thought that has come into my mind for God's will.

This means that, in that moment, I think that, of all of the ideas available in the universe, of all of the available sources of wisdom, of all of the things I have ever learned, it is the latest thought that has come into my mind that is the wisest. I am essentially saying that my new god is the latest thought that has come into my mind.

This is insanely arrogant. It's good to know the real source of the problem!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

'I can't seem to do what AA is asking'

The AA programme asks simple things: go here, talk to him, talk to her, write that down, read it out, pray, think about this, don't think about that, go to work, clean your home, help out.

Either the action is being taken or it is not.

If it is not (barring physical infirmity or psychosis), the reason is simple: the individual in question is doing what they want to do instead of what is being instructed or suggested.

The technical term for this is self-will.

Often, an individual, when questioned, will come up with a thousand reasons why they have not taken the action, but nine hundred and ninety-nine boil down to this: they had the thought, 'I will not do this', and they followed it.

How do I know this? Self-examination! This is exactly what is happening when I do not take an action: I have decided that my own thoughts are the god I will obey, so if I have a thought, I obey it, in breach of whatever instructions I have been given.

Someone might ask, 'but what can I do to break this cycle?' Unfortunately, I don't know. If a person wants to do whatever their mind tells them, that is up to them. When they're done and are willing to follow instructions regardless of what their mind tells them, then we're in business. When I was done following my own instructions, I became willing, and the rest is history.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Willing and wanting

The AA programme requires willingness. That means being prepared to take action. If action is not taken, that means there is no willingness. It is impossible to be willing and yet take no action.

Willing is different than wanting.

Most people equate the two, and will do something only if they want to. The AA programme is asking us to get past that equation and take indicated action whether we want to or not.

When one is employed, one takes the actions one is instructed to take, and our boss is not interested in whether we want to take the action or approve of it: the question is only whether we are willing to take the action. In AA it is much the same.

The 'right thing' could be an action of the programme (e.g. going to a meeting, doing stepwork, doing service) or it could be the right moral choice when we are faced with a choice between right and wrong elsewhere in life; the choice always boils down to this: am I willing to do what is good and right, regardless of feeling, impulse, or desire, or am I willing to do only what I want to do?

One might ask, 'but doesn't God remove our defects of character?' That's absolutely true. God will gradually remove the impulses, the false perceptions, the bad motivations, etc., but only if we lead with right action.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

But I haven't got the grit, wit, or wherewithal to stay sober!

Of course you haven't. That's the point. That's why we say we're powerless.

The only problem is failing to recognise this and trying to stay sober as someone without the grit, wit, wherewithal. We're inadequate. That's why we need God, and God fills in the gaps.

There's no point in thinking you can't go to God until you've untied the knot. God is there specifically to untie the knot. That's God's job. So embrace your inadequacy, go to God, and serve him by filling each day with a list of wholesome indicated activites, and in return find your entire life taken care of.

But I won't have fun sober!

There are lots of activities in the world. Two of them are drinking and taking drugs. That leaves all of the activities in the world except drinking and taking drugs. This is not really limiting.

Someone was asked what she does now she does not drink. She said, 'everything'.

If a person is struggling to find pleasure or joy sober, either (a) there is an emotional block to joy because of self-obsession (so work the Steps and get super involved in fellowship and service) or (b) an effort is not being made to find those activities that are joyful, fulfilling, and life affirming.

Some people find pleasure, fun, and joy in work, others in service, others in family, but here's a list of things that people (and now we're sober we're people too) do for fun. If you try all of this and discover none of them are fun, send me a postcard.

Air sports
Aircraft spotting
Amateur astronomy
Amateur geology
Amateur radio
American football
Art collecting
Association football
Auto audiophilia
Auto racing
Baton twirling
Beach/sun tanning
Becoming a child advocate
Bell ringing
Belly dancing
Bird watching
Board sports
Board games
Bridge building
Bringing food to the disabled
Building dollhouses
Butterfly watching
Button collecting
Cake decorating
Candle making
Car racing
Cave diving
Church/church activities
Cigar smoking
Cloud watching
Coin collecting
College football
Compose music
Computer programming
Creative writing
Crossword puzzles
Die cast collectibles
Digital photography
Disc golf
Eating out
Educational courses
Element collecting
Exercise (aerobics, weights)
Fast cars
Figure skating
Fossil hunting
Four wheeling
Freshwater aquariums
Garage saleing
Ghost hunting
Going to movies
Grip strength
Handwriting analysis
Hang gliding
Home automation
Home movies
Home repair
Home theatre
Horse riding
Hot air ballooning
Hula hooping
Ice hockey
Insect collecting
Jet engines
Jewellery making
Jigsaw puzzles
Kart racing
Keep a journal
Kitchen chemistry
Kite boarding
Lawn darts
Leaf collecting and pressing
Listening to music
Making model cars
Martial arts
Matchstick modelling
Metal detecting
Mineral collecting
Model building
Model rocketry
Model rockets
Modelling ships
Motor sports
Mountain biking
Mountain climbing
Mushroom hunting
Musical instruments
Owning an antique car
Pegging (cribbage)
Petal collecting and pressing
Playing an instrument
Playing music
Playing team sports
R/c boats
R/c cars
R/c helicopters
R/c planes
Radio-controlled modelling
Renting movies
Rescuing abused or abandoned animals
Restoring classic vehicles
Rock climbing
Rock collecting
Rugby league football
Saltwater aquariums
Sand castle building
Scale modelling
Scuba diving
Sculling or rowing
Seaglass collecting
Seashell collecting
Shark fishing
Shooting sport
Shortwave listening
Singing in choir
Skeet shooting
Sky diving
Smoking pipes
Soap making
Spending time with family/kids
Stamp collecting
String figures
Surf fishing
Table football
Table tennis
Tea tasting
Tesla coils
Tombstone rubbing
Tool collecting
Toy collecting
Train collecting
Train spotting
Treasure hunting
Trout tickling
TV watching
Ultimate frisbee
Urban exploration
Vintage books
Vintage car
Vintage clothing
Watching sporting events
Water sports
Working on cars
Writing music
Writing songs

But I only lose control sometimes!

Diseases have symptoms. Those symptoms are not permanently, universally present. Some people have back problems. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it does not. Just because, on a particular day, it does not hurt, does not mean that the problem has gone away. If you have a chest infection, you will cough. But not constantly. Just because you go one hour without coughing does not mean you have no chest infection.

But if your back regularly hurts; if you are coughing a fair amount, there is definitely something wrong.

So, if you ever lose control when you drink, you have a problem, even if it's only some of the time. All of the times you didn't lose control are irrelevant.

What does it mean if you have this problem (in conjunction with the propensity to return to the first drink despite the consequences)?

It means you have alcoholism, which is a disease that is progressive, fatal, and incurable, and, what's more, has an invisible line marking the point of no return, and that line can occur at any point during the course of a person's alcoholic career. Ever seen someone in AA slip in their 20s and then fail to make it back into AA, for decades, as they slip further and further into alcoholism? I have.

This means that, if you've stopped, you had better stay stopped.

So enough already with the it didn't happen every time!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Permitting resentment

Step Four teaches us some lessons about resentment, namely that it is futile (i.e. achieves nothing), fatal (i.e. promotes a return to drinking or other active addiction), and embarrassing (i.e. it puts others in control of our emotions). Pages 66 to 67 establish these incontrovertibly and then provide a solution.

After taking Step Four, however, I continued for a long time to permit high levels of resentment, believing that if I periodically practised Steps Ten and Eleven, both of which touch on resentment, and even Step Four, which focuses significantly on resentment, I could feel myself to be an excellent step-worker, morally upright, and executing the AA programme effectively. I mistook my crocodile tears of remorse for genuine contrition and used my copious AA activity to mask the lack of AA action.

I was dead wrong. If our problem is that we punch people in the face, and we discover in Step Four that this is immoral, harmful, and unconstructive, we would not permit ourselves to continue punching people in the face on the basis that to write about punching people in the face and to show remorse about it on a daily basis is just as good as stopping it altogether. The same would go for shouting at people, stealing their money, or other immoral behaviour.

The same principle applies to resentment. It was completely hypocritcal of me to nod faithfully during Step Four at the insights about resentment then merrily permit myself to continue to resent widely and deeply.

Page 66 makes really clear that resentment does not happen to me any more than any other bad behaviour: we permit it. Obviously we are not in control of the temptation to resent arising but we are in control of whether it is indulged.

Far too late I learned I had to stop indulging it. As with anything else, what I claim is progress not perfection. Permitting resentment then writing about it every evening is not progress, however; it is stasis. I suspect that what is needed amongst AA members, and I include myself in this, is not more inventory but more change.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

'He doesn't like me'

Most people find when they do a Step Four that they are worried what people think about them. Now, occasionally what someone else thinks does matter. For example, your sponsor's view on whether you are doing enough service matters, because you might want to adjust how much service you're doing in line with it. Or what your boss thinks about how you talk to customers on the phone; that, too, might be worth listening to, in order to adjust your working practices.

Most people are interested in what other people think not because access to that information will provide useful tips on how to maximise one's service to God but because of the interpretation that is given to other people's views.

I've looked at this habit in myself, and the insane conceptual system is this:

  • My worth as a human being is variable and fluctuates over time.
  • I need to find out what my worth is.
  • I must scan my world for other people who I will choose to be barometers of my worth.
  • I must analyse what they say and do to infer what their assessment of my worth is.
  • This is because other people do actually assess my worth, and what they say and do is only ever to express to me what their assessment of my worth is.
  • It is therefore reasonable and valid to make these inferences.
  • Even the slightest hint, such as tone of voice, a failure to return a phone call, or slight ill temper are deliberate attempts by the other person to convey my worth.
  • I must gather these data, make these inferences, and in the absence of evidence speculate to produce a composite assessment of my worth based on what I believe other people think I'm worth.
  • If people do say they think well of me, their assessment should be discounted.
  • It is clearly wiser to assume that Susan hates me, because of the way her face twitched when I was talking to her, than to believe Peter when he says I'm a jolly good chap.
  • I then take time out of my day to think about these assessments, and feel very bad indeed.
  • I then adjust my behaviour to try to manipulate other people into assessing me more highly.
  • If this does not work, I complain to third parties about my low self-esteem, particularly those who will nod with sympathy and suggest I sit with my feelings, in order to honour them.
  • I then hire a therapist, and pay several thousand pounds to try to work out why I do all of the above.
This was my pattern. People's precise pattern varies, but you get the general idea.

Here's the truth:

  • I am of infinite worth because I exist.
  • My worth cannot fluctuate over time.
  • It is established for eternity.
  • It need never be assesed.
  • Other people are not in a position to assess my worth subjectively.
  • Even if they were so positioned, people generally do not formally assess each other's worth, except fleetingly in the form of an angry mental inburst (the internal version of an outburst).
  • In such cases, it's not really an assessment; it's an attack, and there's a difference.
  • Even if they do perform an assessment, it's insane to infer what that assessment is based on what someone happens to be saying or doing right now, as though what they are saying and doing is informed only by their assessment of me rather than being a function of all sorts of other things.
In other words, what other people say and do, and behind that what they think, is of zero relevance in determining what my worth as a human being. If the two are connected in my mind, something has short-circuited, and I'm simply mistaken, the same way as I would be mistaken if I think that the moon changes shape and shrinks because a moon cow is eating it.

The antidote is to spot and correct the faulty thinking whenever it occurs, and the best way to embed that is to teach it to others.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Speaking at non-AA meetings

... (for armed services liaison officers; principles apply also to other disciplines)

  • To be 'friendly with our friends'
  • To inform the public concerning the role of AA in the community
  • To carry the message of recovery to alcoholics through a third person

Introducing yourself:
  • Introduce yourself as an AA member, who is a volunteer Armed Services Liaison Officer (ASLO), elected to the role for a set period and area, and accountable to those he or she services.
  • We do not speak for the organisation as a whole.

Bring along literature, e.g. newcomers' literature, public information literature (either general or aimed at a particular discipline), or 'outreach' literature, e.g. the armed services pamphlet.

What to talk about:
  • Maybe a minute or two on your story (including armed services experience, past or current).
  • What AA is (use the official preamble).
  • What actually goes on in AA (so recovery, not just abstinence; steps, fellowship, and service: avoid jargon!)
  • How AA can be accessed (telephone helpline, website, chat now service on the website, email address on the website, finding a meeting on the website and going along).
  • Particular opportunities for contact with an ASLO or an armed services twelfth stepper (via an ASLO or the telephone service, the former being preferable).
  • Illustrate particular points with stories or experiences but structure the talk around the information content you want to present.

Specific application of Traditions:
  • Tradition V: our purpose is to ensure that any professional helping a problem drinker can accurately explain AA and signpost the individual.
  • Tradition VI: we don't enter into affiliation with outside organisations, e.g. joint initiatives, but we do cooperate, under our own name.
  • Tradition VII: we do not want any money.
  • Tradition VIII: we are volunteers, not professionals.
  • Tradition X: we remain silent on the condition of alcoholism or alcohol dependence as a medical topic, on other treatment approaches or programmes (other than to say we oppose none of them and individuals tend to find that AA dovetails well with other programmes), or on how the armed services, charities, or public bodies approach problem drinkers (or indeed any other matter). Keep away from questions of medicine, psychiatry, psychology, religion, social services, etc.
  • Tradition XI: we avoid making sensational promises; we aim to present and explain, not convince or persuade; we do not position ourselves as better than or in competition with anyone. 

Dress smartly: lounge suit or smart casual.

Tricky questions:
  • What are the success rates? I tend to avoid answering this directly, because the statistics are unreliable. My experience is that it works for anyone who puts their back into it, although some people have initial 'hiccoughs' (i.e. relapses). Also quote number of meetings in GB (around 4500 I think) and the fact there are a couple of million people in AA worldwide, with a significant proportion with multiple years of sobriety, and many people who did get sober in AA and who later left but without a return to drinking.
  • Is it religious? No: present the range of successful experiences of AA, all the way through from religious people to out-and-out atheists.
  • Who exactly it is for? I present the type of problem drinker AA typically helps as people who, when they start drinking, drink far too much and who, when they have sufficient reason to moderate or stop, find they cannot. This is regardless of whether or not they are diagnosable medically. Maybe quote pages 20 to 21 or page 44 of the Big Book.
Further reading:
(Go to the AA in GB website, click 'Members', click 'Document library', click 'Literature downloads':

Twelve Traditions Checklist
Speaking at non-AA meetings

Tips on using the Traditions in family finances

How to make financial decisions in a couple:

(1) Agree that finances are to be managed prudently, without unnecessary debt or borrowing (Tradition VII) and with the generation of a prudent reserve (one year's operating expenses and provision for old age) (Concept XII).
(2) Agree that prudent financial management involves jointly agreeing budgets and sticking to them, rather than dealing with each cost or spending opportunity as it arises (Tradition II; proper business/group conscience meetings rather than deciding on important matters 'on the go'); each individual should pray that their thinking, words, and actions be guided by common welfare (Tradition I), not personal agenda.
(3) Agree what the 'common pot' of finances is: how much does each contribute to it? What does the 'common pot' cover? (Tradition VII)
(4) Agree any 'private' income of the individual over and above their contribution to the common pot is the business of that individual and no one else, as long as it does not affect another member of the family or the family as a whole (Tradition IV).
(5) Draw up a budget covering: fixed bills, variable bills, ongoing necessities, luxuries, savings, and pensions (Step XI: what is God's will for us?)
(6) Establish the spending threshold above which each person needs to agree the item with the other person (Concept III: each person can exercise discretion up to a certain level, but beyond that joint decisions are necessary).
(7) Establish a system for recording and monitoring costs so that they can be tracked against the budget, and establish that any costs above the budget must be agreed (Steps IV, V, VI, and VII: inventory, disclosure, examination of conscience, and change).

(8) Establish a schedule of meetings for when spending is analysed and budgets reset (Tradition II: like establishing a regular business meeting in a group).

Some other principles:
  • Unity comes above everything, so both must be willing to compromise without using this as a mechanism to force the other person to concede: this principle must be applied in good faith.
  • Reach all important decisions by discussion and (where there are only two people) unanimity; the matter is not settled until unanimity is achieved; neither has 'unqualified authority' over the other, so no pulling rank by spending without agreement.
  • 'Sufficient operating funds, plus an ample reserve, be its prudent financial principle.'

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Anonymity in the digital age

1. Anonymity as a spiritual principle

1.1. Principles before personalities

1.1.1. We are interested in the substance of an idea not who is presenting it.

1.1.2. We therefore examine ideas objectively.

1.1.3. We do not become reliant on any particular individual.

1.1.4. We recognise that God can speak through anyone in AA.

1.2. Humility, modesty, renunciation of personal glorification

1.2.1. If we achieve anything, we are the channel not source and can take no personal credit.

1.2.2. We keep our feet on the ground and avoid fantasy.

1.2.3. We deflect attention rather than seeking or revelling in it.

1.2.4. We do not become attached to the fruit of our labours.

1.2.5. ‘The spiritual substance of anonymity is sacrifice’ (of the pursuit of money, power and prestige, amongst other things).

1.3. The principle has always been interpreted widely and differently, at group level and at individual level. This element is what distinguishes a principle from a rule.

1.4. The ultimate purpose of all the Traditions is common welfare and anonymity with its spiritual substance of sacrifice is the seal that preserves them all.

2. The practical side of anonymity

2.1. Stigma (‘Without [anonymity], many would never attend their first meeting.’)

2.2. Professional status

2.3. Personal privacy

2.4. Maintaining equality of membership

2.5. Concern about AA’s reputation if an individual AA publicly relapses

2.6. Individuals acting without being accountable to AA but in AA’s name:

2.6.1. Misusing AA’s name to lend weight to other activities

2.6.2. Presenting (e.g. religious) views that are not those of AA

2.6.3. Projects that link AA to other organisations or movements (Tradition VI)

2.6.4. Opinions on outside issues that become associated in the public mind with AA (Tradition X)

3. Bill W’s principles (from Language of the Heart)

3.1. In your personal circles, pick your own level of anonymity.

3.2. In public meetings of AA, attended by local people and/or professionals, anonymity may likewise be broken.

3.3. Guard other people’s anonymity at the level they decide.

3.4. Do not have your name and picture placed in any ‘medium of public circulation’ in connection with AA.

3.5. Any deliberate breach should be agreed with ‘the older members of the group’ at local level or with the General Service Office at national level.

3.6. These Bill presents as suggestions not rules.

4. Dr Bob on anonymity

4.1. ‘Since our tradition of anonymity designates the exact level where the line should be held, it must be obvious to everyone who can read and understand the English language that to maintain anonymity at any other level is definitely a violation of this tradition. The AA who hides his identity from his fellow AAs by using only a given name violates the tradition just as much as the AA who permits his name to appear in the press in connection with matter pertaining to AA. The former is maintaining his anonymity above the level of press, radio and films, and the latter is maintaining his anonymity below the level of press, radio and films—whereas the tradition states that we should maintain our anonymity ‘AT’ the level of press, radio and films.’

5. ‘Ernie G. of Toledo’

5.1. … commenting on what he saw to be an increase of anonymity within AA today as compared with the old days, said:

5.2. ‘I made a lead [trip to bring message] over to Jackson [Michigan] one night, and everybody’s coming up to me and saying, “I’m Joe; “I’m Pete.” Then one of the guys said, “Safe journey home. If you get into any trouble, give me a buzz.” Later, I said to the fellow who was with me, “You now, suppose we did get into trouble on the way home. How would we tell anyone in AA? We don’t know anyone’s last name.” They get so doggone carried away with this anonymity that it gets to be a joke.’

6. How anonymity applies in principle in digital media—a personal view

6.1. The online world mirrors the pre-online world: there are public domains and private domains.

6.2. The public domain of the online world holds the same status as ‘press, radio, TV, and film’.

6.3. No linking of AA (through disclosure of membership) to an individual who is named and photographed.

6.4. There are private domains online:

6.4.1. Limited access domains (e.g. subscription-only or member-only services) which do not concern AA, e.g. online journals or social forums. Since these are semi-public, i.e. there are few or no controls over access, or access can easily be circumvented, exercise extreme caution.

6.4.2. Limited access domains that do concern recovery or AA, e.g. Facebook groups whose published content is available only to group members. The individual member has no control over who is a member of this group, however. These are almost entirely private, so disclosing membership of AA is no more public than disclosing AA membership at a meeting in the local community involving AA members, members of other twelfth-step fellowships, and others active in the world of recovery. However, these are ‘leaky’—i.e. they can theoretically be infiltrated by investigative or snooping members of the public or professionals—but barely more than AA groups.

6.4.3. Entirely private-access domains (e.g. Facebook friends, with content blocked to anyone not selected). The individual does have control over who is a member of this group and sees content. Although hacking is technically possible, this is probably less common than an individual being spotted by community members entering the premises of an AA meeting. This domain is private, so the level of anonymity can be freely selected by the individual.

6.5. Membership of AA vs recovery: it is not a strict breach of anonymity to declare that one has recovered from alcoholism—linking this to AA would be.

6.6. Practical measures and examples

6.6.1. Use an open-access Facebook profile that has a pseudonym and no personal photographs if you want to write about recovery.

6.6.2. Use privacy settings to limit access to your content only to chosen individuals.

6.6.3. An anonymous blog or similar with no private information.

6.6.4. A contact email address for AA purposes that contains no element of the individual’s name.

6.6.5. Do not tag or implicate others without their permission in an online post.

6.6.6. Do not take photos at AA events where the name, the picture, and the AA event are linked.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Upset about what others think?

When I’m upset about what other people think about me, and feel ‘less than’, here are what my mistakes are:

1. People have varied worth. (Truth: all people are of infinitive and indivisible worth).
2. My personal worth is (a) finite and (b) fluctuating (this flows from 1.)
3. I need to work out what my worth is. (Truth: once the truth in 1. is established, that holds forever and does not need to be checked or re-established).
4. My worth is based on how well I score against certain criteria. (Truth: see 1.)
5. Appearance, achievement, popularity, sex, money, etc. are good criteria. (Truth: these are superficial values and, being mutable, are terrible criteria for judging worth. The only valid parameter to measure is performance, not worth, and the criteria for ‘have I performed well?’ are (a) Am I using my time well? (b) Am I fully engaged in my activities? These are the only criteria over which we have control: disposition of time and presence).
6. To measure my score against certain criteria I should reference other people’s response to me. (Truth: other people are no more qualified to judge worth than me.)
7. Other people have validly measured my worth. (Truth: people rarely systematically establish others’ worth and if they do their assessment is valueless.)

8. I can infer what worth they have ascribed to me by interpreting their facial expressions, tone of voice, other gestures, and behaviour in general as these are the sole indicator of my worth and indicate nothing but my worth. (Truth: these external observations are a sign of many things, the very least of which is what worth others fleetingly ascribe to me; furthermore, unless I’m a trained behavioural analysist and psychologist, this is a perilously dilettante exercise).

Monday, 25 September 2017

'Clear-cut directions' and Step Nine

The Big Book states that it contains clear-cut directions. This is often quoted to suggest that these directions tell us exactly how to take each step, leaving no room for discussion, interpretation, or personal twist, and sometimes people are criticised for filling in the detail or describing Step Nine actions or content that are not set out verbatim in the Book, on the basis that they are somehow deviating from what the Big Book stipulates. Set out below is a worked example, which shows that although there are indeed clear-cut directions, these are not exhaustive and that a certain amount of the content needs to be devised by the person taking the step (presumably based on spiritual principles, prayer/meditation, and consultation with others), in order to take the step in question fully. To take a perhaps ridiculous but illustrative example, imagine a child's colouring-in book, with the designs all laid out, and some of the colours already filled in. The child must fill in the rest of the colours in a manner consist with what has already been done.

What are the clear-cut directions on Step Nine? To arrive at these, let's strip away anything which is not a clear-cut direction, and see what we're left with. This means that general commentary and explanation is disregarded.

From page 76 onwards, the directions are these (paraphrased for brevity); I have limited myself to extracting only that which directs us what to actually say and do:

Maybe mention the spiritual feature of the exercise.
Communicate a sincere desire to set right a wrong.
Demonstrate good will.
Refer to God if relevant.
Confess former ill-feeling to someone we dislike and express regret.
Do not criticise.
Do not argue.
Tell him: we will never get over our drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.
Never tell him what to do.
Do not discuss his faults.
Stick to our own.
Approach creditors and arrange a good deal.
Tell creditors we are sorry.
If others would be implicated: obtain consent and consult with others before taking action.

Examples from specific amends stories:
Write admitting faults and asking for forgiveness.
Send what money one has, even if it only a fraction of the debt.
Explain intention to continue to repay money owed.
Express willingness to do whatever is required.
Make public disclosure of wrong.
If the aggrieved party does not know of the wrong, do not necessarily disclose.
Do not implicate a third party.
Pray, having the other's happiness uppermost in mind.
In some cases, exhibit 'utmost frankness'.
With family: frankly analyse the past.
Ask God in meditation for the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness, and love.

What is interesting is that the Book tells us a lot about what not to say or do, where to keep our mouths, shut, and where to exercise tact and discretion.

However, it specifically avoids dictating precisely what we say. It is clear we come clean on our faults and express a willingness to set things right, but the content is otherwise left largely open-ended. There is nothing in the way of a script. There is nothing to suggest exactly what we can do to amend the past (beyond paying back the money we owe and beyond admitting harm and apologising). We are to set things right, but we are not told specifically how.

It is important to remember that, as the Book says, 'these reparations take innumerable forms'. The Book specifically refrains from comprehensively cataloguing these, instead setting out general principles, with the authors keen not to lay out any specific rule (see page 81). It is clear, therefore, that we must exercise discretion, and there is indeed ample room for discussion and interpretation of how general principles will be applied in a specific situation. Exactly what we say will have to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Interestingly, we are sometimes told that Step Nine is not about apologising. Although the word 'apology' is absent, we are indeed told to admit our faults, express regret, say we are sorry, and ask for forgiveness. It is hard to imagine what definition of apology would not include at least one or more of these four elements. There is indeed an admonition against a mere 'remorseful mumbling' we are sorry specifically with the family, since action needs to back up the words (see page 83), and the style needs to be frank and open. There is nothing to suggest that we refrain from apologising at all, however.

To sum up, the 'clear-cut directions' are clear cut in as far as they lay out general principles, but this should not be understood to mean that they are comprehensive, leaving no room for discretion in application, rendering us mindless automata who are committing spiritual heresy by introducing other ideas or discussing specific application. The clear-cut directions deliberately and expressly fall short of dictating exactly what to do in each situation, and instead we have to rely on prayer, meditation, discussion, and careful consideration.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

What are the principles we practise in all our affairs?

The Big Book, right up to page 164 (and also beyond) frequently sets out principles and how to apply them. For instance, page 117 talks about not disagreeing in a resentful or critical spirit, page 96 talks about not flogging a dead horse in a sponsorship setting, etc. The contents of the Big Book up to page 164 are the AA programme, and the Twelve Steps as set out on page 59 summarise this programme. The principles themselves are scattered throughout.

A good way to establish whether something is a principle is to ask yourself whether any particular line or instruction contains an idea that could be fruitfully used more broadly in one's life.

A certain attitude toward that Power

‘They flatly declare that since they have come to believe in a Power greater than themselves, to take a certain attitude toward that Power, and to do certain simple things, there has been a revolutionary change in their way of living and thinking.’

What is that attitude?

I am the servant of that power. I am not in charge of the world. I do not therefore need to keep tabs on everything going on in the world or in the lives of the people around me, gathering data, assessing, criticising, condemning, and instructing.
As a servant of that power, there is work to do, however, and most of that work involves discharging my immediate obligations, within AA, in my family and social life, and at work.
There is a question of looking more broadly into the community and society, but not in the position of the ‘judge, jury, and executioner’ of all I survey but, in line with the attitude outlined above, as a servant, so my job is to ask God in relation to the community and society: (1) Is there a role, and if so, what is it? (2) What do I need to do to discharge my duties within that role?

Since what goes on in the community and in society more broadly can be catnip to an alcoholic with delusions of grandeur and a touch of megalomania, if I engage in broader affairs in the world around me I have to stay detached from the subject matter and close to God and to a revealed and tailored purpose, rather than flailing round in a sea of information which, on a bad day, I can react to like a chunk of sodium thrown into water.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Tolerance in AA

What does tolerance mean in AA?

Here's a good starting point:

'Most of us sense that real tolerance of other people’s shortcomings and viewpoints and a respect for their opinions are attitudes which make us more useful to others.' ('Alcoholics Anonymous')

This means that I can explain how I do things and let others explain how they do things without telling them they're wrong. Good-natured discussion is one thing and obviously to be encouraged. High-handed and peremptory condemnation, ridicule, or denigration is another.

The purpose of discussion should be for me to understand others and where possible help through example not to ride roughshod over them.

Tradition Four, in the extreme, does mean letting other people and other groups be wrong. But in the vast majority of circumstances it is letting them be different without judgement, and refraining from interfering.

There is a tendency in AA to think that the way one has been shown is correct merely because it is the way one has been shown, and because it is reasoned. There are often multiple solutions, and multiple ways of doing things, all of which work, all of which have their pros and cons, and all of which are reasoned and reasonable.

Unity in Tradition One means not that we are uniform but that we are unified despite difference, and tolerance of difference means listening to differences without trying to change them.

In life, not everyone is supposed to be like me and think the same as me and act the same as me. That could be called narcissim: wanting to build the world in my own image.

There is a danger in AA of doing the same thing: the rest of AA must be like us and think the same as us and act the same as us. That's still narcissim, just at a higher level.

Humility appears to be a hard-one virtue, as pride wears all sorts of plausible hats.


Is there room for the use of intellect in recovery?

The limits of intellect are clear:

'But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an expectation, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge.'

'If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried.'

'Yes, we had been faithful, abjectly faithful to the God of Reason. … Were nothing left but pure reason, it wouldn't be life. … Hence, we saw that reason isn't everything. Neither is reason, as most of us use it, entirely dependable, though it emanate from our best minds.'

On the other hand, the Big Book does not advocate the retirement of the intellect but a balance between intellect and reliance on God:

'Logic is great stuff. We liked it. We still like it. It is not by chance we were given the power to reason, to examine the evidence of our senses, and to draw conclusions. That is one of man's magnificent attributes. We agnostically inclined would not feel satisfied with a proposal which does not lend itself to reasonable approach and interpretation.'

'Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness.'

'Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists choose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all.'

The balance is well summed-up in the Step Two chapter of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

'By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first.'

Keep it simple. But not stupid.

Are you on the pill?

Periodically there are reports in the media about pills that cure alcoholism.

Maybe a pill could stop me from drinking or cause me to drink moderately. Who knows? I'm certainly not going to investigate.

However, this is missing the point. The reason why I never took medication from my alcoholism and don't take medication for my emotions (NB I have no opinion on others' conduct in this area) is that the returns to drinking and the rotten emotions, sober, were not a cause but an effect. Sure, maybe a pill could take away the effect, but that would not take away the cause.

What was the cause? A moral problem: thinking I was the centre of the universe and acting like it. Compounded by all sorts of distortions in my thinking, which were quite distinct from the moral problem but also had to get sorted out using the Steps and sponsorship.

Life seems to involve lots of challenges, namely how to find a way to live to maximum benefit for all, how to live at peace when surrounded by suffering and injustice, and how to see what is really there rather than a distorted picture of reality.

Take away the emotion, and I take away the motivation to challenge my behaviour, thinking, attitudes, perceptions, judgements, and whole mode of thinking.

It would miss the point of life. I am so grateful I have been given the strength and resources through AA to learn to rise to these challenges, which have resulted in a complete psychic change and as a result a complete change in the way I live.

I am equally grateful that I am not living the way I used to live, with the thinking, attitudes, perceptions, judgements, and whole mode of thinking intact and unchallenged, with the negative emotions stemming from those categorical mistakes dulled or distorted to the point I have no motivation to challenge them.

Steps Four and Eight in particular, and the 'watch' part of Step Ten have been instrumental, particularly bolstered by the additional reading suggested on page 87 in Step Eleven, in challenging and redirecting my thinking, on an entirely new moral basis, that of serving God not self.

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!