Monday, 19 February 2018

It's not working!

If you're sober (or clean, or abstinent, or whatever) right now, it's working. You may feel awful, your life may be in tatters, and you may have lots of rubbish thoughts going on, but it's working.

To say that recovery does not work because you feel awful, your life is in tatters, and you have lots of rubbish thoughts going on is like saying the train does not work because you don't like the scenery that is coming past you at eighty miles per hour.

Even more insane is getting off the train, whilst it is moving, sustaining serious injuries in the process, and then telling anyone who will listen that you got off a moving train because it was not moving (as it disappears into the distance with everyone else still on it).

Then again, the hallmark of addiction is insanity, so insanity is to be expected.

Correction: insane thinking is to be expected. The smart people recognise that their thinking is screwy and don't make decisions based on it. Sanity is not sane thinking: sanity is letting someone else's common sense prevail over one's own best ideas.

Or even better: invoking God's strength and power to take the next indicated action regardless of how one feels or what one thinks.

Having your cake and eating it

If you want the cake to taste different, you’ll have to use different ingredients, assemble and cook them differently, and maybe get your taste buds seeing to.

If you want your life to taste different, you’ll have to use different perceptions, analyse and interpret them differently, and maybe get your values seeing to.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Step Eleven review: mixing it up

I find that mixing up the precise format of the Step Eleven nightly review helps to stop it going stale.

Here's a super simple format, which also produces the basis for a good discussion with a sponsor.

What three things disturbed me the most?
With each:
Where was my thinking wrong?
What should my attitude be instead?

What three things should I have done differently?

Tuesday, 13 February 2018


My sponsor suggests things. The suggestions fall into two categories: ones which match my own self-suggestions, and ones which don’t. The ones which don’t will typically be unappealing or downright objectionable. If they weren’t, I likely would have suggested them to myself long ago. If I substitute my own alternatives for the unappealing or objectionable suggestions, I am effectively sponsoring myself, as I end up doing precisely what I would have done if I didn’t have a sponsor in the first place. Often, the tasks I find unappealing or objectionable are precisely the most important ones, as they are the ones most likely to be challenging my ego, which is the source of the resistance and the source, not coincidentally, of all of my problems. 

Monday, 5 February 2018

Big Book vs old-fashioned AA

Sometimes the world of Big Book AA slams old-fashioned AA, because of its emphasis on willpower, slogans, and simplicity.

The entire AA programme per the Big Book actually takes a while to get through properly. Newcomers sometimes have a screaming head full of doubt during the process. How do you get through until the spiritual awakening promised by the Steps per the Big Book actually materialises in terms of serenity and peaceful, right thinking?

Well, this is where old-fashioned AA comes in.

One day at a time: don't try to solve your whole life problem all at once. Ignore the past or future unless the Steps require you to examine them, and then examine them only with your sponsor or other trusted souls.

Do the next right thing: stay out of your head and into action. What's the next right thing? Pray for answers. If you're unsure, ask your sponsor or other trusted souls.

Get to bed tonight without a drink or a drug: frankly that's sometimes the best you can do. Which leads me onto:

If you don't drink today, you're a success: this alleviates the pain stemming from a sense of failure if one's head is nuts.

Your head's like a bad neighbourhood: if you must go there, go accompanied (see above).

This too shall pass: if you can stand the pain and mental bombardment for five minutes, and keep doing five minutes, working up to an hour, and then up to a day, eventually, it will pass. The worst that can happen is being in a bad mood for a while.

Don't drink or drug no matter what: we know this is God's will, and we invoke God's will to do this. Don't wait to get your head sorted out first: don't drink or drug today, and gradually you will sort everything else out.

Do something for someone else: this will take your mind off yourself.

I know these aren't in the Big Book per se. So shoot me. They actually work, when applied in conjunction with the Steps, fellowship, and service.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Two pairs of glasses

Before the ego arose, the detour into fear, everything was fine. Everything still is fine, but ego creates an appearance of disorder, chaos, unhappiness, loneliness, fear, anger, guilt, and separation.
Ego is essentially a pair of distorting glasses.
Alcohol applies a second pair of distorting glasses, once which removes many of the symptoms of the first pair. A degree of peace and a certain sense of well-being is restored. In one regard, alcohol does restore the truth, or at least a facsimile of the truth: all is well.
There are several problems.
Firstly, the second pair of glasses actually separates the individual even further from the original reality, thus reinforcing the errors of the first pair: superficial reorientation actually belies greater disorientation.
Secondly, the individual has not withdrawn belief in the ego, merely suppressed conscious awareness of its effects, and the colour of the ego world eventually bleeds through.
Thirdly, being a material solution, alcohol wears out: over time, more and more is needed to achieve less and less of an effect.
Fourthly, the material consequences are grave, further reinforcing the fear produced by the ego and encouraging even greater self-reliance and thus separation from Source.
The only solution is to unwind the problem stage by stage: remove the alcohol (the second pair of glasses); remove the ego (the first pair of glasses), and voilà: restoration to Source.

Addiction to drama

Drama can be very addictive, I've found, for several reasons.

Firstly, drama is exciting, and excitement is itself addictive. Sometimes I have felt more alive when there is a drama and have feared boredom, banality, and the flat, unremarkable plains of ordinary life. Unless fun, joy, and satisfaction are found in those flat plains, excitement will start to seem attractive, whatever the cost.

Secondly, I would need more and more drama, higher and higher stakes, to get the same effect. Over the course of the first few years of my sobriety, two things happened: (1) I increasingly and deliberately manufactured scenarios designed to generate drama; (2) I became increasingly preoccupied with these scenarios and this drama. This one might call 'the drama about the drama'. I would find that, even in the absence of actual drama, I could take ordinary everyday events and create a dramatic narrative about them. No one else could see what the problem was, but I could.

Thirdly, addictive processes place me at the centre of my universe: 'king for a day' (to quote an article by Harry M. Tiebout). Drama acts similarly. Drama says: 'I am in danger, and I need to fix it'. I become preoccupied with the threat and my response. All other thoughts are blocked out. You see why this is addictive? The virtual reality of the widescreen drama allows me to escape from the subtlety, complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, and emotional kaleidoscope of actual life. A single, simple, albeit monstrous dose of fear is actually easier to process, because there is only one thing going on at a time.

Fourthly, playing a role in a drama elevates me as the star, thereby separating me from others. It is a protective mechanism. When I'm playing St. George fighting the dragon, I'm elevated above the rabble. No one remembers the names of the villagers the dragon was threatening. But everyone remembers St. George, or at least the mythical, heroic figure. Everyone knows the story, the drama, but no one knows what he liked for breakfast. You see the armour but not the man. And he's on a horse: on a higher level than all of the people around him.

Fifthly, in my case, drama and attention-seeking are linked. If there is no drama, I need not seek attention, and I might be ignored or disappear altogether. In my memory, being left alone and ignored were associated with danger. When I created a drama (either externally or in my perception) and got others to buy into it, I was no longer alone and no longer ignored. The pain of drama was actually less painful than the pain of solitude or isolation. If something was persisting, it was because I was getting a payoff at some level, and the payoff was the avoidance of a greater ill: invisibility, uncertainty, and the insecurity of being in the hands of a God I trusted less than my own neurotic control mechanism.

What's the solution?

Mistrusting my own perception, assessment, and judgement of situations and trusting more sensible people's perception, assessment, and judgement (both qualitatively and quantitatively); refraining from worry and obsessive thinking through three mechanisms: distracting myself with engaging activities, substituting meditative practices, applying calming, blocking mantras; placing every situation in God's hands: even if there is a genuine threat, even more good reason not to place the situation in the hands of a neurotic worrier (me) and to place it instead in God's hands, asking God only for the next right action; and (almost) lastly:

Being willing to experience whatever discomfort comes my way by following God's path instead of circulating endlessly on the Formula One loop of my own dopamine-driven drama circuit.

Plus not taking myself so seriously: 'Rule 62'.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Rules for decision

I make decisions either by referring to God or by referring to my ego. No decision can be made without a framework. There is always, therefore, a framework. The question is: which one?

To refer to God: I start with a blank piece of paper. I ask, 'what sort of day do I want?' The answer: I want a day of health, happiness, harmony, love, joy, peace, and connection. I then ask:
What would You have me do? Where would You have me go? What would You have me say, and to whom?
The answers will then come, and I follow through.

If I have already perceived, assessed, and judged, I will have asked my ego what to do and will have received its answer. If I then ask God the above questions, the answer will conflict with what my ego has told me, and I will feel under attack: if I do what my ego has said and ignore God, I will fear retribution; if I do what God has said and ignore my ego, I will fear deprivation.

When I experience this fear and conflict, I unwind it as follows:

I set aside the answer the ego has given me.
I withdraw the question I posed of my ego (namely 'What would You have me do? Where would You have me go? What would You have me say, and to whom?').
I retract the perception, assessment, and judgement of the situation, and replace my perception, assessment, and judgement with this:
My perception, assessment, and judgement are dreams: the world is neutral, neither good nor bad; none of my thoughts about the world mean anything.
I then go back to the start: what sort of day do I want to have? One of health, happiness, harmony, love, joy, peace, and connection. I then ask God the original question:
What would You have me do? Where would You have me go? What would You have me say, and to whom?
If I experience resistance, I adopt this procedure:

I can decide I do not like how I feel.
My feelings come from my perceptions, assessments, and judgements.
I therefore hope I have been wrong.
I want another way to look at this.
Perhaps there is another way to look at this.
What can I lose by asking?

I am then back at square one: what sort of day do I want to have? And I can proceed from there.

Some Al-Anon tips

Here are some tips from my morning Al-Anon reading, about relationships with people one is close to, although many are applicable more widely, too:
  • Do some things together. Express love verbally. Do some things separately.
  • Do not manipulate or instruct others to behave in a certain way just to play out your values, fulfil your unfulfilled desires, or allay your own fears by proxy.
  • Respect others as beautiful souls in their own right, not delivery systems for your own unmet needs.
  • Do not dictate who in your life will fulfil which need: trust God to give to you what you need through the people He chooses.
  • Accept and appreciate others: do not try to adjust them to your template for how they should be.
  • Others owe you nothing.
  • Others are not responsible for the quality of your life.
  • If I am disappointed with others, this is one hundred per cent the result of my perceptions and attitudes.

Friday, 2 February 2018

How do you stay sober forever?

If, with the guidance of a sponsor, prayer, meditation, and the application of spiritual principles, you have a sound plan for the day, all you need to do is follow the plan, not deviate, not think, and not interfere. 99% of the job is simply letting healing take place and letting life happen. All that is required from me is the next indicated action.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Page 86

... we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. Under these conditions we can employ our mental faculties with assurance, for after all God gave us brains to use. Our thought-life will be placed on a much higher plane when our thinking is cleared of wrong motives. (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 86)
The virtues to shoot for are (a) gratitude (the antidote to self-pity) (b) straightforwardness (the antidote to dishonesty: not being tricksy, manipulative, or deceitful) and (c) giving.

When my mindset combines these three, my thinking can be trusted. If not, it can't.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

The happy dream

The happy dream

Two exercises

1. Affirmation of God's power

Make a list of all of your problems.

For each one, write an affirmation about how God will help you master the problem:

'God will help me to handle [name of person] with peace, kindness, and effectiveness.'


'God will help me to complete [task] with a good result, on time, and with minimum fuss'


'God will help me face any unexpected difficulty arising at [event] with grace and dexterity by turning to Him.'

Then repeat throughout the day.

2. Affirmation of resources


5 character virtues you have (e.g. courage, persistence [= positive obstinacy], resilience, kindness, openness) that can help solve your problems.


All of the other resources in your favour (God and all of the resources God has provided: fellowship A, fellowship B, fellowship C, meeting A, meeting B, meeting C, friends [list them], sponsor(s) [list them!], books [list them], online resources, favourite recovery speakers [list them], favourite non-recovery speakers [list them], helpful family members, favourite places to walk, household pets, etc.)

Whenever lacking in confidence or feeling insecure, rehearse the lists.

Friday, 26 January 2018

A simple way to make a decision

(1) I pray for the right action.
(2) I listen to the answer.
(3) I test the answer against spiritual principles.
(4) If in doubt I check the answer with someone who is sane, boundaried, and not emotionally involved.

Still point

To stay recovered, I need a connection with God. To have a connection with God, I need to find and maintain the Still Point. When I was new in recovery, the Still Point was fleeting and unpredictable. Occasionally I would discover It at a meeting. More often, at fellowship afterwards. Sometimes on the phone. Sometimes in nature. Sometimes in direct prayer and meditation with God. The more time I can spend in the Still Point, the more energy is accessed from The Other World, to bring down the rains from Heaven to earth, where they are needed. The still point joins the two worlds and gives meaning and function to both.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
... Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving, ...
(Eliot, Four Quartets)

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Four types of Al-Anon insanity: solutions incorporated!

I have been each of these at various times:

The bulldozer (the lie: I am not responsible at all for others' lives and feelings)

The bulldozer is focused on his life and denies his effect on others. He builds what he wants and ignores the fact that others are hurt or inconvenienced.

The controller (the lie: I'm in charge of your life and feelings)

The controller tries to control the lives of those around him (whilst his needs attention). He believes others' feelings are entirely down to his action, so he needs to change, fix, and control them.

There are three sub-types:
1. The puppet-master just wants to pull others' strings.
2. The prime mover believes himself to be the cause of all that occurs in others' lives, especially what they feel.
3. The redeemer believes himself to have or be the solution to others' problems.

The victim (the lie: others are totally responsible for my life and feelings)

The victim blames others for how he feels (usually in an exaggerated or even delusional way).

The doormat (the lie: you're totally in charge of my life, and I don't have any feelings)

The doormat lets others control his life when he should be setting boundaries and asserting independence of thought, action, emotion, and internal world. The doormat feels awful but does not realise he is being affected by the unreasonable behaviour of others.

The solutions I apply:

The bulldozer

I try to see things from others' point of view. I aim for kindness, consideration, tact, and discretion, although directness is sometimes called for.

The controller

The puppet-master: 'Mind my own business.' I am responsible for my actions but not for others' reactions.
The prime mover: It's not all about me.
The redeemer: They have their own Higher Power, and it's not me.

The victim

'My beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, actions, feelings, and internal life are my responsibility; yours are yours.'

The doormat

I seek to do God's will. If that does not align with your will, I will inform you politely and then proceed with God's will. If you act unreasonably, I may make a request, set a boundary, enforce a boundary, or withdraw.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Relationship with God: a user’s manual

Imagine your mind as a large room, and in the corner there is a hatch at the bottom of a chute, next to a console. They’re both covered with a throw. Everyone has this assembly, but not everyone realises it, because of the throw. Take off the throw, and fire up the console. It takes just a couple of seconds to initialise. There is a keyboard, a send button, a screen to display what you’re typing, and a ‘booster’ button.

If you don’t know what to do in a situation, type your question using the keyboard, and it will appear on the screen. The question might be how to get undisturbed in a situation or what to do in a situation. Those, really, are the only two types of problem. Click ‘send’. Then, if you feel you need strength to do the right thing or refrain from the wrong thing, click ‘booster.’

A few seconds later, or sometimes longer (the lead times vary), there will be a clattering in the chute, followed by a loud ‘ding’, and if you open the hatch you will find instructions on what to think or what to do, and, if you’ve requested one, a booster pack. Follow the instructions, swallow the booster pack, and off you go. Sometimes the handwriting is hard to read, so check with an adult if you’re not sure what it says. Note it’s always handwritten, never typed. It’s personal.

If you really are getting nothing coming down the chute, it’s probably blocked at your end. Forgive everyone for everything, make all of your amends, help others, tell your secrets, engage in no deliberate harm, and you’ll discover the chute unblocked.

You have now learned to operate your factory-installed Relationship With God.


Friday, 12 January 2018

Nightly review: a fresh look

Here's a way of doing the page 86 review without it becoming morbid.

Who am I practising forgiveness towards by saying, 'I withdraw all judgement from this person/situation. He/she/it is exactly the way he/she/it is meant to be. I bless [name of the person] as I bless myself'?

Where will I prioritise other people's interests or do something for others in the next twenty-four hours?

What am I placing in God's hands by saying, 'God, I trust you will resolve this problem for me better than I can solve it myself. Please show me if any right action is needed from me'?

What do I need to come clean on?

Do I need to apologise to anyone?

Is there something that needs to be discussed with a sponsor or another long-term sober person (provide details)?

Who will I reach out to over the next twenty-four hours?

What constructive things can I do over the next twenty-four hours?

What topics am I banned from thinking about, and what will I focus my attention on instead?

What's my spiritual motto or quotation of the day?

Sunday, 7 January 2018


On page 67 of the Big Book, when we perform inventory, we are asked to identify our mistakes. This can include errors in the way we think and perceive. Set out below are useful lists to help in this regard: cognitive distortions, cognitive biases, and informal logical fallacies.

Cognitive distortions

Always being right
Starting from the premise that one is right then looking for evidence to justify it rather than examining the evidence to see if one is right.
Belief in fortune-telling
Believing one can read the future.
Belief in mind-reading
Believing one can intuit or work out what someone else is thinking.
Belief in signs
Belief that the universe provides signs to enable decision-making, e.g. seeing a poster for holidays in Thailand and believing this is a sign that God wants you to move to Thailand.
Exaggerating risk or other negative circumstances.
Emotional reasoning
Assuming that emotions are a faithful guide to objective reality.
Fallacy of fairness
Reacting to unfairness (typically negative) as though an instance of unfairness breaks a cosmic rule.
False generalisation
Generalising based on insufficient evidence.
Filtering out counter-evidence
Filtering out any evidence opposing one’s view to leave only evidence in support of one’s view.
Filtering out the positive
Filtering out any positive events to leave only a negative evaluation.
Inappropriate blame
Holding others entirely responsible when one has had a part to play in a situation, either practically or in terms of one’s emotional reaction.
Inferring the presence of a steady trait in someone’s character based on an individual action instead of evaluating the person as a whole.
Insisting on adherence to (often arbitrary) moral rules regardless of situational factors.
Believing one has a greater impact on others or is more of a causal factor in others’ behaviour or external events than is the case.
All-or-nothing, black-or-white, always-or-never thinking.

Cognitive biases

Confirmation bias
The gathering or interpreting of evidence that supports a conclusion already drawn.
Fundamental attribution error
People over-emphasize personality-based explanations for others’ behaviour and under-emphasize the role and power of situational influences.

Informal fallacies

Ad hominem attack
Attacking the arguer rather than the argument.
Appeal to authority
Deeming a statement true because of the position or authority of the person asserting it.
Appeal to fear or pity
Trying to strengthen an argument by stimulating fear or pity.
Appeal to motive
Dismissing an idea by questioning the motives of its proposer.
Appeal to novelty
Advocating the superiority of an idea merely because it is new or modern.
Appeal to ridicule
Discrediting an opponent’s argument by distorting it to make it appear ridiculous.
Appeal to the stone
Dismissing a claim as absurd without demonstrating why (kicking a stone fails to disprove the assertion that there are no material objects, only minds and ideas in those minds).
Appeal to tradition
Advocating the superiority of an idea merely because it is old.
Argument from fallacy
The belief that because one argument for a conclusion is fallacious, the conclusion is necessarily false.
Argument from incredulity
Asserting that something cannot be true because it is unimaginable.
Argument from repetition
Simply repeating your assertion until people stop arguing with you.
Argument to moderation
Assuming that the compromise between two positions is either correct or more correct than the original two starting points.
Argumentum ad populum
Claiming a proposition is true because most people believe it to be true (regardless of whether or not they are qualified to draw a conclusion).
Begging the question
Including a conclusion in the premise. (‘Why do you hate me so much?’)
Ecological fallacy
Attributing a feature to individuals in a group based on aggregate statistics for the group.
Fallacy of composition
Believing that what is true of a part is true of the whole.
Fallacy of division
Believing that what is true of the whole is true of a part.
Fallacy of the single cause
Believing that there is only one, simple cause of an outcome that could be complex.
False attribution
Appealing to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased, or fabricated source.
False authority
Using an expert of dubious credentials or an insufficient sample of sources.
False dichotomy
Two alternative statements are held to be the only possible ones, whereas there are actually more.
False equivalence
Arguing based on equivalence between two non-analogous situations.
Inflation of conflict
Dismissing the authority of a learned domain in general or on a specific matter because of relatively insignificant differences of opinion within that domain.
Nirvana fallacy
Rejecting a solution to a problem because it is not perfect.
No true Scotsman
Upholding a generalisation by excluding exceptions.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc
Believing that correlation entails causality.
Quoting out of context
Attributing a different meaning to a source than was intended at the time.
Slippery slope fallacy
Arguing incorrectly that one step down a path necessarily entails proceeding fully down a path.
Straw man fallacy
Arguing based on misrepresentation of the opponent’s position.
Survivorship bias
Excluding from the population of examination those who are invisible because they have left the process.
Thought-terminating cliché
Using a cliché to shut down substantive discussion.