From the BlogMeet Ron

September 1977 AA and the Religion Turnoff

September 1977  AA and the Religion Turnoff

Does our image of religiosity scare off too many suffering alcoholics?
A FRIEND OF MINE, a fellow alcoholic, died last month. He needn’t have. He could have joined AA. The reason he didn’t is the reason I nearly didn’t, many years ago, and his death recalls the feelings I had then toward the program.

My friend, Tom, and I worked for the same newspaper. In our youth, we contributed heavily to the fortune of a greasy tavern owner in an alley behind the press room. Tom and I were lean and cocky in those years. The thought of a drinking problem for either of us would have been ridiculous. Tom went on to become a well-known correspondent and editor. After we left the paper, we kept in touch, and whenever our paths crossed, the encounter would occasion a glorious and usually prolonged drunk.

Eventually, though, we knew we had a problem. Not knowing how to “frame” it, see it in its true perspective, we called it booze, and let it go at that. We thought it went with the territory. Tom had remarried several times, his wives leaving him because of his drinking. I’d been in and out of several hospitals. Tom and I would lament the passing of the good old days and mark our observance by getting drunk.

Once, over a couple of prairie oysters to aid us through a horrendous hangover, I remember suggesting, half seriously, that we try AA.

“Not those Holy Rollers,” he replied.

Several of our acquaintances had joined the program by then, but we saw little of them. On getting sober, they had a habit of avoiding the watering holes they’d helped make famous. Tom would bomb in from some far-flung war and call my place, and we’d hold a wake for those poor lost souls.

“Whatever happened to Ted?”

“Ah, the silly man got religion and joined AA.”

“Is that a fact? The saints preserve us. Timothy, give us two more of the same. Drink up, me boyo. Our work’s cut out for us.”

As I recall, drinking was becoming work. An uphill fight all the way. All at once, it seemed, we had grown too old for chasing down Third Avenue in pursuit of rheumatic ghosts and the faltering legends of youth. Marathon drinking, to catch the blood-red sun over the East River, was no longer the lyrical experience it had been. Nor even running plays with a professional quarterback, or composing dirty limericks with a famous poet among the pillars of the El, some silver dawn.

But Tom and I had a grudging–perhaps the word is sneaking–respect for AA. Ironically, it was through Tom that I’d first become aware of the Fellowship. He’d written an article on alcoholism, mentioning the successful “cure” found by so many in AA.

Tom’s and my attitude at that point could be summed up by saying we thought the program was okay for the people in it, but for ourselves we couldn’t buy the God bit. The program, in our view, smacked of Christian fundamentalism, even evangelism. Then, too, while we were admitted drunks–defiantly so–we didn’t admit to having the problem of definitive “alcoholics,” as AA members labeled themselves.

For my last birthday, my wife gave me the latest–the fourth–edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia, hailed as the best one-volume encyclopedia in the language. I looked up AA, and there it was–Tom’s mistake, repeated for the nth time. The program was described as a means for “curing” alcoholism. My old copy, the second edition, doesn’t even have an entry for AA, and I’m not sure which is worse–misinformation or no information.

It seems to me that we editorial types share with other professionals what is so frequently a fatal misconception about the program. A misconception going beyond the careless reporting and editing that allow “cure” instead of “recovery.” It goes to the heart of the matter, explaining why so many of us, like my late friend Tom, fail to make it into AA.
Our liverish, bloated egos feel insulted by what we don’t even intellectually understand. We think the program is reserved for the poor, the ignorant, the uninformed. (G. K. Chesterton was fond of saying that intellectuals were seldom intelligent.) We think–even by the time we’re driven to the desperate realization that something is the matter, something is killing us–that AA may be okay for the next guy, but we’re too sophisticated for anything like that to work for us. We need something more complicated, more subtle, more suited to our peculiar genius, the exquisite refinements of our pain. Something, let us say, that sounds more medically or scientifically impressive.

And so, like Tom, we elect to die.

My recovery began with a fantastic awakening. I realized that it is possible to believe in a Higher Power, in the efficacy of prayer and meditation, in making a conscious contact with a Higher Power as those concepts, privately understood–or not understood–are suggested in AA, without the loss of one iota of my precious identity.

Instead of loss, the dread void of what to do in place of drinking, there is gain. A spiritual redeepening of the self, through the affirmation of AA principles that stem, not merely from Christianity, but from all the great faiths and philosophies. A sense of humility, the reapportioning of what is really important for the remainder of my life. Best of all, a new understanding of simplicity, of keeping things simple, of knowing truth, the truth that works for me. It could never have been found through the complicated search that always ended in despair when I drank.

I’d been looking for a reality that doesn’t exist outside today!

Tom never knew this. He never really knew what time it was. Never, that is, knew that the time is always and forever Now.

I attended his funeral and looked on the stranger in the casket. Yet not entirely a stranger. Assuredly, it was not the Tom of old, with whom I’d run and drunk and sung. It could have been, incredibly, myself lying there, except for a grace and power beyond my telling here. He died for both of us (and all those that read this now).

As I left the funeral home on Madison Avenue, I was joined by another battered survivor, whom I hadn’t seen in years. There was little left to see. He looked almost as bad as the one we’d come to mourn. We chatted on the corner. His watery eyes searched out a bar half a block up.

“C’mon, let’s hoist a few.”

I hesitated, not because I was tempted but because, after all this time in the program, that’s still my reaction to friends and acquaintances who might also have a problem–and don’t know how I’ve solved mine. One day at a time.

“I don’t drink any more, Charlie. I’m in AA.”

I saw the familiar start, the gleam of fright that crossed his face. We talked for a minute or two longer, then said goodbye. Charlie wanted to be rid of me, and how could I blame him, knowing so well what he was feeling? He didn’t look back. Braving crowds and traffic with unswerving accuracy (he could have been crossing a minefield and it wouldn’t have mattered), he disappeared under the neon sign of El Dorado, dreams, music, and that old black magic called oblivion. He left his life waiting in the street outside, like a dog tied to a lamppost.

I said a prayer for Charlie–for all of us, for Tom lately departed, for the living trapped in their denial and loneliness, in their embittered, cynical selves. I prayed that Charlie might get it. And suddenly the city blazed with a great beauty that throbbed and thrilled through me–that thing, that high I’d sought and never found in the bottom of a bottle. I felt the fierce, sweet joy of gratitude, standing there in the sunlit afternoon.

Maybe, I thought, maybe he’ll come out before it’s too late. God’s will, chance, and change bear wondrous fruit. Just maybe what I said to him, the seed, will take hold and sprout. I recalled Tom’s old tale of a miracle “cure” for what had ailed us both.
Now he was free of it. And dead.

I still had it, but was alive and well.

You never know.

J. W.
Manhattan, New York

Open Letter To: AA GSO Leadership and AA Board of Trustees

Open Letter To:
AA GSO Leadership and AA Board of Trustees
How Does the Program Really Work?
 
My previous letters topic was When Did Meetings Become the Program? This letter addresses my understanding and experience of how the program of recovery works. 
 
Based on my 31 years of experience, there are many wonderful and helpful components to support the initial approach to recovery in AA:
–     Attending and participating in a variety of Twelve Step meetings;
–     Taking and performing commitments at those meetings;
–     Having and regularly attending a home group;
–     Getting and fostering an effective relationship with an experienced sponsor;
–     Obtaining and reading the literature, especially the books Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions;
–     Knowing and understanding the Twelve Steps.
 
But these, singularly or cumulatively, are NOT the program of recovery outlined in the Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous! The program of recovery is the actual application of the suggested Twelve Steps to our personal life.
 
Thinking that one can achieve the Step Twelve promise of a Spiritual Awakening by reading the Twelve Step literature, sitting in meetings, and discussing it with our sponsor, is like sitting in our garage, reading the auto manual with our mechanic, and expecting the car to be fixed.
 
Change is not going to happen until there is the application of the information in the manual!
 
My understanding of the AA program of recovery is a series of suggested personal actions described precisely in the Big Book: 
 
1.     We establish a personal relationship with:
Power:      Steps 1-3 = our experience of no choice & a decision about and for Power
Self:      Steps 4-7 = our identification & removal of the obstacles in us to Power 
Others:      Steps 8-9 =our willingness to change & to repair the damage we caused others.
 
It is a process based on a sequence of rigorous actions
Prayer
Reading
Reflection
Writing
Discussion
leading to the experience of the promised Spiritual Awakening. We are changed!
 
2.     We continue to foster these relationships through a consistent daily practice of:
     
Step 10: Inventory = Examining our disturbances and resulting behavior on the spot
          Step 11: Prayer & Meditation = Improving consciousness twice a day = a.m. and p.m.
      Step 12: Principles and Service = Enlarging compassion as an organic 24/7 attitude
 
In Step Ten the Big Book confirms that We have entered the world of the Spirit. This is Our Way of Life, which we commence at the same time we start making our Step Nine amends: a commitment to continue the personal changes of ones self and the repair of historical damage to others.
 
Although the program of recovery is not meetings or sponsorship, it is greatly facilitated and supported by both. However, going to meetings and talking to a sponsor will not produce or sustain the necessary personal Spiritual Awakening. This experience is the single promise of reaching Step Twelve. The program of recovery is a process of establishing and then maintaining an effective personal relationship with Power, our self, and with others.
 
The litmus test and sure evidence of an individual having experienced this Spiritual Awakening is a personality transformation – a measurable, visible change in thinking, feeling, and especially behavior. This conversion experience is positively disproportionate to the amount of work done by that individual – bigger than that persons contribution warrants by itself. It is done TO us not BY us.
     
Step Twelve suggests we carry this message . Chapter 7 contains the practical suggestions for Working with Others. It promises that this work will provide immunity from the spiritual malady. The consistent message throughout the text book is the need for and benefits of helping others. How then do we explain the lack of growth in AA membership and the deplorable rate of individual relapse?
 
Contrast AAs slow growth in the last 40 years with the experience of modern multi-level marketing schemes. Those with financial incentives and a properly structured organization have outcomes showing exponential contact growth. At the same time, the recent development of social media and its successful use in advertising, also demonstrates geometric contact outreach.
 
What is AAs growth problem? Has there developed a dis-connect from the original message and the tools that fostered it? AA was originally designed to produce freedom from alcohol through a spiritual incentive and to replicate that freedom for others through a personal outreach structure. 
 
Could it be the classic human problem: loss of focus and the complacency of an easier, softer way? Has there been a gradual growth of an AA culture that perpetuates the misunderstanding of what is the program of recovery? Does most of the AA membership believe that meetings are the program? How relevant to the majority of AAs membership is the application of ALL the Steps as contained in the book Alcoholics Anonymous? Has the spirit of fellowship replaced the Fellowship of the Spirit?
 
These challenging questions raise even more questions. Has this unhealthy change in focus permeated the AA culture for so long that even the AA GSO Leadership and AA Board of Trustees, coming out of that culture, are shaped by it without being conscious of it? Perhaps their vision has been blurred by cultural cataracts.
 
Is it time for a thorough and rigorous inventory of the current understanding and integrity of AAs 1st Legacy? Taking this inventory may allow AA to step out of the current culture to examine and evaluate the structure and outcome of events like the recent International Conference in Atlanta. This inventory may allow AA to pause and examine our current alignment with the original AA intent and mission. This process may help AA GSO Leadership and the AA Board of Trustees develop themes and topics for future International Conferences which will foster a re-vitalization throughout the worldwide AA Fellowship with respect to AAs 1st Legacy.
 
The actual intended program of recovery is a personal transformation through following the precise suggestions for each of the 12 Steps as described in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. The writers tell us, if we want what they have, we DO what they DID!
 
What did they do? Perhaps we need to revisit the ingredients and actions of the original founders and inventory our current ingredients and actions. Has there been a loss of focus through culture creep and distortion?
 
We cant give away what we dont have. But we will give away what we do have. If a person has an untreated spiritual malady, that is what they will transmit. If a sponsor doesnt understand the program of recovery and has not experienced a personal spiritual awakening, then that sponsor will perpetuate and aggravate this culture of ignorance and slogans. They dont know what they dont know; they cant see what they cant see! They are passing on what was passed on to them. Activity is believed to be effective and meaningful action. In reality.
 
Perhaps the solution is to get back to basics. What did the first 100 do? They submitted to a process of ego deflation and personal transformation which freed them from alcohol by giving them a relationship with Power. They fostered their new power by helping others experience a Spiritual Awakening through this same conversion process – giving them a daily reprieve; helping them maintain and improve their personal spiritual condition.
 
Lets use our vital current spirit of fellowship to return to our roots: 
 
1.     Accessing Power through the Big Books program of recovery experienced in the Steps! 
 
2.     Helping others find Power through the vital current of the Fellowship of the Spirit!
 
We need both meetings and Steps to survive and flourish. 
 
The spirit of fellowship acknowledges our humanity. Without it, we become disconnected and heartless! With it, we have a forum for freedom.
 
The Fellowship of the Spirit recognizes our divinity. Without it, we become impotent and soulless! With it, we have a formula for freedom.
 
Are we human beings trying to have a spiritual experience? Or, are we spiritual beings trying to have a human experience?
 
YES! Both are true!
 
Is it time for the AA Fellowship to pause, take a breath, pray a prayer, and ask for guidance?
 
Is it time to set aside our slogans, our beliefs, our understanding of recovery?
 
Is it time to revisit our textbook, the Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous?
 
Is it time to reexamine our personal experience of each of the Twelve Steps?
 
Is it time for a new experience of awakening?
 
Is it time for an Alcoholics Anonymous renaissance?
 
IF NOT NOW – WHEN?
 
THANKS for listening.
 
My prayer and hope is that these thoughts are given serious consideration, are discussed openly and results in specific actions!

POTPOURRI

POTPOURRI

Bill Sees It
Light From A Prayer, p. 20
   “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
   We treasure our “Serenity Prayer” because it brings a new light to us that can dissipate our oldtime and nearly fatal habit of fooling ourselves.
  In the radiance of this prayer we see that defeat, rightly accepted, need be no disaster. We now know that we do not have to run away, nor ought we again try to overcome adversity by still another bulldozing drive that can only push up obstacles before us faster than they can be taken down.
Grapevine, March 1962

As Bill Sees It
Anger–Personal and Group Enemy, p. 98
  “As the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ puts it, ‘Resentment is the Number One offender.’ It is a primary cause of relapses into drinking. How well we of A.A. know that for us ‘To drink is eventually to go mad or die.’
  “Much the same penalty overhangs every A.A. group. Given enough anger, both unity and purpose are lost. Given still more ‘righteous’ indignation, the group can disintegrate; it can actually die. This is why we avoid controversy. This is why we prescribe no punishments for any misbehavior, no matter how grievous. Indeed, no alcoholic can be deprived of his membership for any reason whatever.
“Punishment never heals. Only love can heal.”
Letter, 1966

More will be revealed= Spiritual Growth

There’s an old saying, “To him that hath, more shall be given.” That saying applies to our growth in AA. If we dedicate ourselves to the program, new information and understanding will continue to flow in our direction.

This is not because God is singling us out for special favors. It’s simply a law of life. When we are interested in a subject, we find more knowledge coming to us almost “Out of the blue” as we continue to seek it. It’s almost as if hidden forces were gathering up ideas and pushing them in our direction.

What’s happened is that we have put ourselves in line for such growth. We have our antennae out, and we become conditioned to recognize useful ideas as they come to us. We are Open-Minded to our good.

This same process has also led to more general knowledge about alcoholism. When the early AA’s attained sobriety, most of the information about alcoholism was summed up in a handful of books. Now there are hundreds of books, symposia, and speeches dealing with the subject. More was revealed, and we can hope that even more will be revealed as we continue to focus on recovery.

I can expect useful information to come to me from a number of sources. My interest in my recovery and self-improvement helps attract the information and understanding I need.

Parable by a Sponsor 
A member of the program of recovery, who previously had been attending 
meetings regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, her sponsor decided 
to visit her. It was a chilly evening and the sponsor found the sponsee at 
home alone, sitting before a blazing fire.
Guessing the reason for her sponsor’s visit, the sponsee welcomed her, 
led her to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. Her sponsor made 
herself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, she 
contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs. After some 
minutes, the sponsor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly 
burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone.
  Then she sat back in her chair, still silent. The sponsee watched all 
this in quiet fascination. As the one lone ember’s flame diminished, there 
was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and 
“dead as a doornail.”
  Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. Just before the 
 sponsor was ready to leave, she picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it 
 back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with 
the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.
As the sponsor reached the door to leave, the sponsee said, “Thank you so 
much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I’ll see you at 
the meeting in the morning.”
 — Author Unknown
Man derives all the joy and peace that he needs
 from within himself and not from sources outside himself. 
So the best spiritual discipline is: strengthen the inward vision.
“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
Anoonymous
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

I don’t precisely know what you need to do to take care of yourself. But I know you can figure it out.
Rest when you’re tired.
Take a drink of cold water when you’re thirsty.
Call a friend when you’re lonely.
Ask God to help when you feel overwhelmed.
Many of us have learned how to deprive and neglect ourselves. Many of us have learned to push ourselves hard, when the problem is that we already pushed too hard.
Many of us are afraid the work won’t get done if we rest when were tired. The work will get done; it will be done better than work that emerges from tiredness of soul and spirit. Nurtured, nourished people, who love themselves and care for themselves, are the delight of the Universe.
They are well timed, efficient, and Divinely led.
Today, I will practice loving self-care.
Today I can make peace within myself without needing the approval and agreement of others. Today I can love and respect people who do not always share my view of the world. 
Anon

There are those who study only words and speech, who may seem to be enlightened when they open their mouths to speak.In reality, however, when faced with everyday situations, they become so flustered that they do not know what to do. This shows the difference between the nature of words and the nature of actions.

Anon

First things first

Order
Busy people often declare, with some exasperation, that they cannot do everything at once. People with emotional problems, a group that includes many alcoholics, often feel that they are trying to do everything at once. Quite often, this pressure means that we waste our time fretting about all the things facing us, becoming totally ineffective as a result.

The simple slogan “First things First” shows us how to set priorities in an orderly way. In every situation or problem, there is always one step we can take that is more important than the others. Following that, we find a step of second importance, another of third importance, and so on. Sometimes, a certain action comes first simply because other things depend on it.

By using “First things first” as a guiding principle in our lives, we can live in an orderly, disciplined manner. If we have to reduce our activities, we can decide which few ought to retain. Having made these decisions, we can be at peace about our choices. We cannot do everything at once and we need not feel guilty about it.
Knowing that order is Heaven’s first law, I’ll do things today in an orderly manner.
Anon

After difficult or challenging times we often say, “I never would have chosen to go through that, but I learned a lot from it.” It could be a job situation, a failed relationship, or trouble with the law. When we bump up against something hard something that pushes back at us, our strength is tested, forcing us to draw on unknown reserves. A mountain climber standing on a safe ledge finds it difficult to move forward onto a more frightening spot. After he has completed the route, he looks back and feels good about himself because he met a challenge. We meet these challenges in many ways in our lives, and they help us build our self-respect.

Whatever difficulty is facing us today, we may have to deal with it ourselves, but we do not have to be alone while we do it. We can reach out for support while we do what we must. This difficulty is part of being human and can help us see more fully who we are.

I pray for the courage to face my adversity when I must and the ability to learn from it.
Anon

Centenary of Bill Wilson’s Visit to Winchester Cathedral

How one Soldier’s Battle Brought Peace to Millions

2018 marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, and also of the visit of a certain Bill Wilson to Winchester Cathedral.  A young officer sent from America to fight in the trenches, Bill survived the war and went on to write one of the world’s best-selling books – the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous.  And on the first page he recounted the story of his wartime visit to the cathedral.  Today people from all over the world make the trip to see the grave of Thomas Thetcher which so inspired him.

Bill Wilson cadet c.1917
Bill Wilson as a cadet c.1917

August 1918 – Bill Wilson’s Visit to Winchester Cathedral

During the final months of World War One a young American soldier named Bill Wilson visited the cathedral at Winchester.  He was in England with a US army unit en route for France and was temporarily quartered in an enormous army camp at Morn Hill just outside the city.  Perhaps his visit was in part prompted by understandable apprehension as to what would happen to him once he reached the front.

Strolling through the churchyard afterwards his eye was caught by the wording on a gravestone.  It had been erected in 1764 in memory of a young grenadier of the Hampshire Militia.  He had died ‘of a violent fever contracted from drinking small beer when hot… in grateful remembrance of whose universal goodwill towards his Comrades, this stone is placed here at their expence’ explained the inscription.

Bill Wilson may have had a wry smile on his face as he perused it.  The soldier’s name, Thetcher, wasn’t too different from that of his great friend back home Ebby Thacher.  And Bill would have remembered that he and Ebby had certainly put away more than a few small beers in their time…

Bill’s unit went to France to join in the fighting, but a few months later the war was over.  Despite his fears Bill had survived, and he was anxious to take up life in America again – he’d married just before leaving for England.  Sadly his initially successful career as a businessman gradually began to disintegrate as a result of his heavy drinking, until he was told that he would either have to be permanently locked up or would die as a result of his alcoholism.  But unlikely as it might seem, Bill and a handful of fellow alcoholics finally found a way in which sobriety could be achieved and maintained.

Bill Wilson became one of the founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous and, writing of his many experiences in the hope of inspiring others, chose the story of his visit to the cathedral at Winchester as a young soldier in search of reassurance to begin what would become AA’s famous ‘Big Book’:

We landed in England.  I visited Winchester cathedral.  Much moved, I wandered outside.  My attention was caught by a doggerel on an old tombstone: ‘Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier / Who caught his death / Drinking cold small beer /  A good soldier is ne’er forgot / Whether he dieth by musket / Or by pot’.

 Alcoholics Anonymous’ ‘Big Book’ became one of the all-time best-sellers. The 25 millionth copy rolled off the presses as far back as 2005.  And around a million are still sold each year, despite it being available free online in English, Spanish and French.  In 2011 Time Magazine placed it on its list of 100 best and most influential books written since 1923 (the start of the magazine).  And a year later the Library of Congress designated it as one of the 88 ‘Books That Shaped America’.

The ‘Big Book’ is still very much in active use.  It is read and discussed at most AA meetings, and is available in more than sixty languages since nowadays AA holds thousands of meetings all over the world.  There are probably very few members of the fellowship who don’t have their own much cherished copy. The story of Thomas Thetcher’s gravestone is still on the first page.

Thomas Thetcher’s gravestone still stands in the churchyard at Winchester cathedral, although it’s a careful copy of the one that Bill Wilson saw on that warm August day back in 1918.  That stone was becoming badly weathered, and in 1966 was taken to the Regimental Museum in Winchester for safe keeping.

AA’s and their families from across the world often make a point of visiting Winchester.  They search the graveyard for the stone, for they like to read the familiar inscription for themselves and perhaps take a photograph or two.  And many like to sit in the quiet of the churchyard and take a little time to reflect on the gift of sobriety, on universal goodwill towards comrades, and on the strange twist of fate which joined the stories of two young soldiers – Bill Wilson of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Thomas Thetcher, the Hampshire Grenadier.

Thomas Thetcher Gravestone
Click here for source image.

Centenary Events

This August there will be a ‘Celebration of Recovery’ in the Cathedral Close attended by many local organisations concerned with various aspects of recovery.  Throughout August there will be a display in the Winchester Discovery Centre illustrating the world of AA – with thousands of meetings held internationally every day, and over 200 self-help groups using the 12 Step Programme developed by Bill Wilson and his friends.

A play about Bill’s visit is currently being written.

For further information please contact Chrissie B, AA’s Public information Liaison Officer for the Winchester Area at pi.northdown@aamail.org.

The present gravestone may be seen at any time in the cathedral churchyard – filming permission by arrangement with the Dean and Chapter.  The ‘Bill Wilson’ stone may be viewed by arrangement with the curator of the Hampshire Regimental Museum in Winchester.

Reproduced from PI Service News (Feb 2018) with permission of the author.

BEWARE: HARD DRINKERS INSIDE

BEWARE: HARD DRINKERS INSIDE
 
 We in AA have signs posted everywhere, each with slogans, such as: “Think Think Think” (as if my thinking didn’t get me here and still can’t kill me, even to this day); or “One Day At A Time” (like I can make it without total commitment allowing for some future “reservation”); and “Easy Does It,” (which is advice offered in the Book to wife/husband whose spouse is beginning recovery, not to the alcoholic). None of those pieces of advice are in theoriginal program of recovery. Yet we do not post the signs we should, such as (“The eye of the adulterer…disguises his face”); or (Beware: Hard Drinkers Inside”). Indeed, if you are a real alcoholic, the hard drinker may be a greater danger to you than alcohol itself. 
 
 I base that thesis on two comments from Bill Wilson himself. First, Bill said, in response to the rising rate of recovery failures that he began to see as a result of the message in the Book being warped through poor oralcommunication: “We cannot well content ourselves with the view that all these recovery failures were entirely the fault of the newcomer. Perhaps a great many did not receive the kind and amount of sponsorship that they sosorely needed. We did not communicate when we might have done so. So we AA’s failed them.” He also said that we must be ever vigilant to maintain the purity of our message, noting that “if AA is ever destroyed, it will be from within.” Bill also warned us that the Washingtonian recovery program, which was quite successful long before AA ever existed, was ultimately destroyed from within because they had neither rules (Traditions) nor a basic text(“The Big Book”) that could prevent the message from being twisted through oral communication.
 
So what problem can the hard drinkers cause us real alcoholics? Why can the killing things that are happening in AA be traced either to them or to alcoholics suffering from untreated alcoholism? First, early AA’s, like Earl T. and Paul M., report that the 75% success rate reported in the Big Book continues throughout their early years as well. So why do fewer than 6% of real alcoholics stay around long enough to get a 10 year chip nowadays?Research shows that 20% of the American population suffers from serious drinking problems, but only about half of those problem drinkers are real alcoholics. That means that we in America have as many hard drinkers as we have real alcoholics, and since it is easier for them to “stop or moderate”, we may well have more of them surviving in the fellowship than we have real alcoholics in recovery (program). And they offer opinions (instead of Book-based facts) and their opinions will kill us if we listen to them andfollow their advice instead of the Book’s. They do not have to adhere to the “rules” (as we must) in order to live a contented life. Their strain of the disease is not necessarily fatal–as is ours–if we do not follow the rules precisely. With our fellows dying at such high rates and with the fellowship suffering such a low rate of success, isn’t it time we pay attention to our Traditions and the teachings of our program so that hard drinkers and alcoholics suffering the spiritual malady do not dominate our meetings with their lies? 
 
 Some drinkers can stay sober by choice (pages 20-21 for the “moderate drinker” and the “hard drinker”). Furthermore, the Book says that a moderate or hard drinker “can quit upon a non-spiritual basis”, depending upon “theextent to which he has lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not”. So I ask: if they can do it on their own; and if they are not here to work the steps; and if they are not helping guide others to a spiritual experience, what the heck are they doing hanging around us? I don’t have cancer, so I don’t hang out on a cancer ward. If I did, I might be sicker, in fact, than the people there with cancer who don’t have a choice.
 
 
Why would I want to associate with sick people in a cancer recovery
program if I don’t have a fatal form of cancer? 
 
 Several possibilities exist to explain why I’m on that ward if I’m not dying of cancer. Maybe I overcame a mild form of cancer and now I want to tell them how they should treat their severe, fatal form –maybe I like the “expert” role that I think that allows me. Maybe my social skills have been so poorly developed that I am not welcome among the well people in our society–I need a captive audience of sick people who won’t walk out on me, no matter how obnoxious I might be. Maybe I sincerely think I can do them some good, though my mild form of the disease gives me no real understanding of their illness and what they really need to get well. Maybe I’m hanging out on the cancer ward because I just can’t handle life’s daily issues and I need someone to talk to. Maybe they even have free therapy sessions that I like to sit in on rather than pay a therapist myself. Maybe I’m even looking for someone to get into a relationship with, and it seems like a good placeto look (now that is really a strange belief system, isn’t it? I’m going to go where people are dying to find me a life-long relationship! Man–I’m sicker than I thought, if I’m doing that.) 
 
 The danger in my roaming the cancer ward rests in the false information I might spread. I might say, since I had a mild form of cancer, “Hey—you really don’t have to do everything the doctor says. And you don’t have to doeverything precisely or specifically the way he tells you to do it. In fact, let me share with you my opinions about treatment because this is all I had to do to get well, and it’s an easier, softer way than the way the doctors are telling you”. I might even tell them: “And forget this holistic approach to recovery–I did not have to pray. I did not have to turn to God. That part of their recovery program is really not needed–I’m living proof of that. Just treat the physical aspect of the disease.” My gosh. Simply by what I’m saying, simply by virtue of the words coming out of my mouth, I would be doing killing things on that ward, wouldn’t I? And don’t you think the people in charge would run my butt out of there in seconds? They would not sit by idly and let me spread information that will kill the people who are there seeking recovery. 
 
 The fact is that our hard drinkers (and some of our alcoholics suffering from untreated alcoholism) do all of that–they often use AA for social or self-serving purposes rather than for the purpose of working steps to “continued spiritual growth”. Like us real alcoholics, they, too, were told in their old drinking days to “Get out!”. Then they find AA (by some route) and we say, “Come back”. Wow–that’s new…that’s neat. So they also use AA as a Lonely Hearts Club, or for $1/hour therapy instead of $150/hour therapy, or for a place “to vent–to share–to air their issues”. They can live without evidencing a spiritual experience (they do not have to—they are not real alcoholics) and they do not extend true compassion for the struggle to do what they were able to do in a much easier fashion. Their attitude: “Hey, it was easy for me–so the heck with you. But keep coming back, O sick alky. It’ll get better”. (So what is the sign to those judgmental, pompous people when I get better? Do I become like them? Are they the model? The prototype? I’m starting to feel the need for a new
 
Fourth Step just thinking about them!). 
 
 Though we real alcoholics at first glance might look just like the hard drinkers, we are, in truth, very different. We must meet “requirements”–hard drinkers do not have to. We real alcoholics must do the work “precisely” and “specifically” and “Thoroughly”–hard drinkers do not have to. We must have an “entire psychic change”–they do not. We must undergo a “revolutionary change”–they do not have to. We are told that we have a “necessary element; namely, we are “required” to follow a “few simple rules”–they don’t have to. We are on a “life and death errand”—they aren’t. We must seek it “with the desperation of a drowning man”–they do not have to. Thus comes the danger of being in a meeting with them: we hear from them the exact opposite of what we need to hear, the opposite of what our Book tells us. We hear statements and opinions that may be the truth for them but are fatal lies for us. 
 
Who, therefore, needs to be wary of the hard drinkers, the “adulterers of AA?” Anyone who is a real alcoholic, for these wolves in sheep’s clothing are indeed the ones telling real alcoholics the lies, the myths, the fiction, the “middle-of-the-road-solutions” that we hear around the tables.
 
And too often, we real alcoholics who (when sober) were withdrawn, were loners, were not comfortable speaking before crowds, find ourselves taking a back seat in AA to those more vocal, more self-assured, more authoritative hard drinkers who, though they may mean well, are really a danger to your chances at recovery and the very existence of our fellowship, too. If hard drinkers are not a part of the “common welfare”, carrying the common message–the “common solution”, then they have not met the requirements for AA membership. How long shall we sit by and forfeit ownership of our program through inaction? 
  So if we need to be wary of them, how do we identify the hard drinkers?
Actually, they can help us identify them, if we are observant. First, the hard drinker often presents himself as the “Model AA”. (In reality, he is, because a “model” is defined as “an imitation of the real thing”.) He will say to the newcomer, “I feel your pain”, but he will not roll up his sleeves and offer the many hours of service called for to sit-one-on-one with that newcomer and take him through the Book page by page. He is the guy in his second decade of sobriety who recently scoffed at those of us who get upearlier than usual each day for prayer and meditation. He is the one who I heard say recently to a real alcoholic: “I’m sick of your relapsing, and I’m sick of hearing you say you need more help than you’re getting. I don’t even want to be around you”. He is the one who I heard say recently: “I have double-digit sobriety, I worked the steps once when I came in 17 years ago, and my sponsor had me take it slow and easy, working the steps when I was comfortable”. (The hard drinker can do that–we real alcoholics, on the other hand, will die if we wait until we get comfortable before taking action). The hard drinker is the one with advanced years in the fellowship who says he “chose not to drink this morning”. He may be telling the truth. We, on the other hand, don’t have that privilege.
 
Additionally, he is the one who stays sober even as he contradicts the information in the Book. He says the Book is subject to “interpretation”\ (what he really means is “misinterpretation”). He may be the one who has ordained himself the group’s elder statesman. He is the one who does not take his protégés from the cover to page 164, explaining every sentence and doing everything that the Book says exactly as prescribed in the Book’s “precise, specific, clear-cut directions”. He is the one who said recently, “That is not the way I work my program”. Interesting…since when did he create a program? Can his program guarantee fulfillment of promises to us real alcoholics as the program of AA can?) Note: if any who are making those statements above happen to be real alcoholics, they are suffering untreated alcoholism again and need to get back to working the Steps so that God’slove can be seen through their service and through their comments. So if we hear those same comments from a real alcoholic, he is back to suffering from untreated alcoholism, from the spiritual malady, from allowingunmanageability to creep back into his life because he stopped working the steps in a circular fashion, as was intended originally. 
 
How, then, can we tell the two groups apart? Know that we need to, because if the real alcoholic is suffering from untreated alcoholism, we can help him. The hard drinker, on the other hand, can hurt us. We need to tell them apart. The alcoholic not working the Steps will eventually separate himself from the hard drinker in several ways: (1) he will meet the description of the untreated alcoholic in the middle paragraph of page 52; (2) he will eventual go out and drink; or (3) he will commit suicide, that eventoccurring at a rate among us that is times higher than among the general population. Remember: the hard drinker is the one who can stay sober while contradicting (through thought, word and deed) the instructions presented in the Book.
 
 Why do I think I know so much about them? Because their advice dang near killed me. I listened to them long enough that I got “comfortable” at 7-1/2 years. In truth, I was the most uncomfortable since coming in, because I let them convince me to let up on the work. I heard so many of thempontificating about how they were doing it in their double-digit years (without having to do the work continuously) that I fell for it. Heck, if they can do it that way, I can too. They appealed to my “softer-easier-way-mentality”. I no longer worried about those contingencies required for my daily reprieve. They helped reconstruct my ego (“We can do it on our own”) and I stopped looking at them honestly and failed to realize that I don’t want what they have, even if it is easier. I was at fault for I allowed them to influence me, and I DAMN NEAR DIED!!! 
 
Today, I know that because I am a real alcoholic, the continuous working of the steps is “vital” (that is, “necessary for life”)–not for them, but definitely for me. And since that is my experience, please let me share: please stay vigilant, for I have learned the hard way that the enemy who 
 


Sincerely,
Ron Richey
808-734-5732
545 Queen St. # 701
Honolulu, Hi 96813
iamronrichey@gmail.com
www.melloron.com

Twelve Qualities of Sponsorship 

Twelve Qualities of Sponsorship 
 
1. I will not help you to stay and wallow in limbo.
2. I will help you to grow, to become more productive, by your definition.
3. I will help you become more autonomous, more loving of yourself, more excited, less sensitive, more free to become the authority for your own living.
4. I can not give you dreams or “fix you up” simply because I can not.
5. I can not give you growth, or grow for you. You must grow for yourself by facing reality, grim as it may be at times.
6. I can not take away your loneliness or your pain.
7. I can not sense your world for you, evaluate your goals for you, tell you what is best for your world; because you have your own world in which you must live.
8. I can not convince you of the necessity to make the vital decision of choosing the frightening uncertainty of growing over the safe misery of remaining static.
9. I want to be with you and know you as a rich and growing friend; yet I can not get close to you when you choose not to grow.
10, When I begin to care for you out of pity or when I begin to lose faith in you, then I am inhibiting both for you and for me.
11. You must know and understand my help is conditional. I will be with you and “hang in there” with you so long as I continue to get even the slightest hint that you are still trying to grow.
12. If you can accept this, then perhaps we can help each other to become what God meant us to be, mature adults, leaving childishness forever to the little children of the world.
 


Sincerely,
Ron Richey
808-734-5732
545 Queen St. # 701
Honolulu, Hi 96813
iamronrichey@gmail.com
www.melloron.com

Emotional Sobriety in Addiction Recovery Dr. Allen Berger

Emotional Sobriety in Addiction Recovery
Dr. Allen Berger’s insights into learning and growing from our past
 
Emotional Sobriety: What is it and Why is it Important to Recovery from Addiction?
Emotional sobriety is finally taking its rightful place in addiction recovery. Reaching this stage pushes sobriety from simply abstaining from an addictive behavior to creating a lifestyle that reaches deeper emotional balance. We have been seeing more and more folks like you and me begin to discover this dimension to their recovery that they never knew existed. This is very exciting. I love it when I see that light bulb get turned on.
 
I’ve often referred to emotional sobriety as the missing link in achieving full addiction recovery—or what I like to call optimal recovery. It helps us reach a place in our lives where we truly feel emotionally whole. In previous writings I’ve explored various aspects of emotional sobriety like:
 
keeping our emotional center of gravity within, learning to hold on to ourselves without letting other people’s limited perceptions of us or our addiction define us or impact our behavior,
pressuring ourselves to change, and seeing struggle as beneficial and grief as necessary.
In this article I will explore how completing unfinished business helps us achieve emotional sobriety on top of our existing addiction recovery.
 
How Does Sober Suffering Keep Us from Emotional Sobriety?
So many of us struggling with alcoholism are plagued by painful past experiences from before we became sober. Regardless of what happened, we can find ourselves stuck in the past or tied to a negative feeling. This creates what Fred H., author of Drop the Rock: The Ripple Effect, coined as sober suffering. Unfinished business has a way of making us react to the present as though it were our past. Even though we are sober, this creates trouble because it interferes with our ability to cope with what is, which increases the risk of relapse. When we are stuck in the past we can’t deal well with what is going on now. We can’t achieve emotional sobriety.
 
It is easy to conclude that sober suffering means that something is wrong with our recovery. But this is a mistake. What will determine if something is wrong with our recovery is how we respond to what is happening. If we know how to respond to our external circumstances with productive behaviors and emotions, we can avoid becoming emotionally stunted on sobriety journey. I’ve said this many times in my writings, but it is worth repeating, “The problem is not the problem, the problem is how we cope with the problem.”
 
Recovery doesn’t mean we will be free of problems and intense feelings. It means that we will discover new and better ways of dealing with them instead of turning to alcohol or other drugs. We can further avoid relapse when we learn how to live life on life’s terms, rather than continue to think that life should conform to our expectations.
 
Achieve True Emotional Sobriety: Claim Your Experience
The good news is that regardless of what caused so much pain or emotional stress in our lives—whether it be a significant loss, physical or verbal abuse, neglect, abandonment, adult-child sexual molestation, rape, hardships related to alcoholism, or some other unspeakable traumas—we can always grow from the experience.
 
In order to grow from these experiences, we need to learn how to claim our experience instead of letting our experience claim us. Thom Rutledge, a brilliant author and therapist, put it this way, “Learn from the past, and then get the hell out of there!” Many of us are stuck in the past and don’t know how to get the hell out of there. For addicts and alcoholics, that can be a dangerous place to be stuck. I hope to give you a few tips on how to release the past so you can get on with living a life free from addiction here and now.
 
If we are going to grow as healthy, sober individuals after a traumatic experience, we need to learn how to digest the experiences and feelings we had in the past. Today there is much talk about a phenomenon that we have called Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). PTG is defined as the growth that can take place when we properly digest a traumatic experience and the emotions that accompany it.
 
Let’s talk about what we need to do to properly digest a trauma or any other painful or disturbing experience in order to maintain our sobriety
 
When We Digest Trauma to Survive and Grow, We Reach Emotional Sobriety
The biological imperative, those things we need to ensure survival, involves a process that operates outside of our awareness—subconsciously.
 
Let’s focus on the digestive process. When we are hungry we make contact with our environment to satisfy this need. We ingest food to satisfy our hunger.
 
What happens next is quite fascinating. Our body takes what was not us (food), and makes it us (this is called assimilation). It separates what is nurturing from what is not. It does this by breaking down the food so we can digest it.
 
We start by biting and chewing our food, which is then moved into our digestive tract to be broken down for further digestion. Our bodies are able to separate what we need from what is unnecessary to us in the food. The food then moves into our intestines where the nutrients are absorbed, and finally the leftover waste is eliminated.
 
It seems strange to say it this way, but it fits: We take what we need and discard the rest.
 
When we absorb nutrients from the food we eat it, is no longer alien to us. It becomes us, and we are indistinguishable from the nutrient that has been absorbed into our bodies. If we eat something that is toxic, our bodies will forego the entire process and eject the toxins by inducing either vomiting or diarrhea—or both.
 
Our psychological imperative operates along the same parameters. We digest our experiences: we chew them up, digest them, and separate psychologically what can nurture us and then eliminate the rest.
 
When we work toward emotional sobriety, we begin to allow ourselves to re-experience the traumas, and we can begin to digest and resolve them. We will take what can help us grow from the experience and eliminate the rest. There is no easier, softer way. To reach optimal recovery, we have to re-experience the emotional situation and the feelings associated with it. It’s worth noting, this practice isn’t just beneficial to those of us that may identify as an addict or an alcoholic – everyone can benefit from processing trauma this way. With the guidance of a professional counselor or therapist, we can resolve our past trauma and emotionally straining experiences and ultimately learn to grow from them.
 
In order to grow from a traumatic experience, we need to go back and relive those situations; feel those emotions. But this time, we take care of the unfinished business. We say what we didn’t dare say. We stand for ourselves as we wish we could have. If we need to, we shout, scream, cry, rage, and declare we will never forgive the person who violated us.
 
When an experience is really toxic, we may even need to vomit to rid of selves of the toxins. This is the process that will help us digest a traumatic experience. This is the process that will help us separate what will help us grow from what won’t. We strive to find the words that will best reflect what we needed to say but didn’t because we were frozen with fear and flooded with feelings.
 
The bottom line is that throughout our sobriety we need to trust ourselves—our organismic wisdom—that will move us toward resolutions and emotional sobriety. We are wired to complete unfinished business, to move toward wholeness.
 
We need to get out of our own way: to let go and let God. Doing this alone is not recommended. We need a guide. Many of us suffering from addiction or alcoholism can often start this process when attending rehab with a reputable treatment provider. After rehab, when we are desperately trying to avoid relapse, a good therapist can help us process our experiences and grow from them in our newly sober state.
 
Remember that addiction recovery is not just about sobriety, it is the discovery of new possibilities and a new identity beyond “alcoholic or addict”. This is what I try to facilitate in my clinical work and in my retreats. I hope you will join me.
 
The good news is that regardless of what caused so much pain in our lives prior to our sobriety—we can always grow from the experience.
 
Join us for an upcoming recovery retreat entitled Emotional Sobriety in Addiction Recovery, April 13-15, at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center in Center City, MN.

Who Is A Member Of Alcoholics Anonymous?  The origins of our Third Tradition By Bill W.

AA Grapevine 

November 2007

Who Is A Member Of Alcoholics Anonymous?
The origins of our Third Tradition By Bill W.

The first edition of the book Alcoholics Anonymous makes this brief statement about membership: “The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking. We are not allied with any particular faith, sect or denomination, nor do we oppose anyone. We simply wish to be helpful to those who are afflicted.” This expressed our feeling as of 1939, the year our book was published.

Since that day all kinds of experiments with membership have been tried. The number of membership rules which have been made (and mostly broken!) are legion. Two or three years ago the Central Office asked the groups to list their membership rules and send them in. After they arrived we set them all down. They took a great many sheets of paper. A little reflection upon these many rules brought us to an astonishing conclusion. If all of these edicts had been in force everywhere at once it would have been practically impossible for any alcoholic to have ever joined Alcoholics Anonymous. About nine-tenths of our oldest and best members could never have got by!

Who’d Have Lasted?

In some cases we would have been too discouraged by the demands made upon us. Most of the early members of AA would have been thrown out because they slipped too much, because their morals were too bad, because they had mental as well as alcoholic difficulties. Or, believe it or not, because they did not come from the so-called better classes of society. We oldsters could have been excluded for our failure to read the book Alcoholics Anonymous or the refusal of our sponsor to vouch for us as a candidate. And so on, ad infinitum. The way our “worthy” alcoholics have sometimes tried to judge the “less worthy” is, as we look back on it, rather comical. Imagine, if you can, one alcoholic judging another!

At one time or another most AA groups go on rule-making benders. Naturally enough, too, as a group commences to grow rapidly it is confronted with many alarming problems. Panhandlers begin to pan-handle. Members get drunk and sometimes get others drunk with them. Those with mental difficulties throw depressions or break out into paranoid denunciations of fellow members. Gossips gossip, and righteously denounce the local Wolves and Red Riding Hoods. Newcomers argue that they aren’t alcoholics at all, but keep coming around anyway. “Slippees” trade on the fair name of AA, in order to get themselves jobs. Others refuse to accept all the Twelve Steps of the recovery program. Some go still further, saying that the “God business” is bunk and quite unnecessary. Under these conditions our conservative program-abiding members get scared. These appalling conditions must be controlled, they think. Else AA will surely go to rack and ruin. They view with alarm for the good of the movement!

At this point the group enters the rule and regulation phase. Charters, by-laws, and membership rules are excitedly passed and authority is granted committees to filter out undesirables and discipline the evil doers. Then the group elders, now clothed with authority, commence to get busy. Recalcitrants are cast into the outer darkness, respectable busybodies throw stones at the sinners. As for the so-called sinners, they either insist on staying around, or else they form a new group of their own. Or maybe they join a more congenial and less intolerant crowd in their neighborhood. The elders soon discover that the rules and regulations aren’t working very well. Most attempts at enforcement generate such waves of dissension and intolerance in the group that this condition is presently recognized to be worse for the group life than the very worst that the worst ever did.

After a time fear and intolerance subside. The group survives unscathed. Everybody has learned a great deal. So it is, that few of us are any longer afraid of what any newcomer can do to our AA reputation or effectiveness. Those who slip, those who pan-handle, those who scandalize, those with mental twists, those who rebel at the program, those who trade on the AA reputation–all such persons seldom harm an AA group for long. Some of these have become our most respected and best loved. Some have remained to try our patience, sober nevertheless. Others have drifted away. We have begun to regard these ones not as menaces, but rather as our teachers. They oblige us to cultivate patience, tolerance and humility. We finally see that they are only people sicker than the rest of us, that we who condemn them are the Pharisees whose false righteousness does our group the deeper spiritual damage.

Ours Not to Judge

Every older AA shudders when he remembers the names of persons he once condemned; people he confidently predicted would never sober up; persons he was sure ought to be thrown out of AA for the good of the movement. Now that some of these very persons have been sober for years, and may be numbered among his best friends, the old-timer thinks to himself “What if everybody had judged these people as I once did? What if AA had slammed its door in their faces? Where would they be now?”

That is why we all judge the newcomer less and less. If alcohol is an uncontrollable problem to him and he wishes to do something about it, that is enough for us. We care not whether his case is severe or light, whether his morals are good or bad, whether he has other complications or not. Our AA door stands wide open, and if he passes through it and commences to do anything at all about his problem, he is considered a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He signs nothing, agrees to nothing, promises nothing. We demand nothing. He joins us on his own say so. Nowadays, in most groups, he doesn’t even have to admit he is an alcoholic. He can join AA on the mere suspicion that he may be one, that he may already show the fatal symptoms of our malady.

Of course this is not the universal state of affairs throughout AA. Membership rules still exist. If a member persists in coming to meetings drunk he may be led outside; we may ask someone to take him away. But in most groups he can come back next day, if sober. Though he may be thrown out of a club, nobody thinks of throwing him out of AA. He is a member as long as he says he is. While this broad concept of AA membership is not yet unanimous, it does represent the main current of AA thought today. We do not wish to deny anyone his chance to recover from alcoholism. We wish to be just as inclusive as we can, never exclusive.

Perhaps this trend signifies something much deeper than a mere change of attitude on the question of membership. Perhaps it means that we are losing all fear of those violent emotional storms which sometimes cross our alcoholic world; perhaps it bespeaks our confidence that every storm will be followed by a calm; a calm which is more understanding, more compassionate, more tolerant than any we ever knew before.

Bill W.

Four Men

Four Men

(The following is reprinted from the well known Southern newspaper column, Everyday Counselor, with the permission of the author, The Rev. Herbert Spaugh, D.D.)

A thumb-nail sketch of the program of the Alcoholics Anonymous is given for the benefit of many readers who have inquired about it. The picture presented is general, and will be seen to be a fine program for the church or any organization designed to help others.

In the first place, the patient must be willing to be helped, must admit his need of help. He is then urged to make the acquaintance and face squarely four men.
THE FIRST MAN. This man is yourself. Stand in front of a mirror and honestly look at yourself alone. This is difficult, as it is the last thing which many want to do, but it is the necessary first thing. Look beyond your face and down into your heart. You may fool the world, your family, your friends, but you can never fool yourself. A guilty conscience is poor company. It is responsible for more sickness, misery and suffering than anything else in the world. You may try to run away from it in work, in play; but it is always within you; you can’t escape it.

THE SECOND MAN. This man is your God. To the Christian, He is The Man, Christ Jesus. He who rules all creation, guides the heavenly bodies in their courses, plans and directs the workings of nature, is ready to help you, if you will let Him. He stands ready to help you with every problem. You will never know how to live happily, successfully, victoriously with yourself until you learn to live with your God. Only in Him can you find a clean and pure conscience.

THE THIRD MAN, for the one who would take the program of the Alcoholics Anonymous, is your fellow-member of the local A.A. club. These clubs meet every week, report on themselves and on each other. If a member has been unfortunate enough to have slipped and fallen, the other members go after him and bring him back.

THE FOURTH MAN WITHOUT WHOM YOUR LIFE WILL NOT BE COMPLETE is the man with whom you must share your new experience. One requirement in an A.A. club is that each member must share his new strength with other alcoholics; this is their strongest aid to sobriety.

Four is the world-number of completion. To live successfully in this world you must meet and know these four men.

How we let the Therapeutic/Treatment Industry WATER-DOWN the 12 Step Recovery Program

How we let the Therapeutic/Treatment Industry WATER-DOWN the 12 Step Recovery Program

Editor’s Note: For the past several years, Wally P. has been conducting seminars on the success of the Beginners’ Meetings during the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous. He has used a series of schematics to emphasize his findings and conclusions. Now, he has made these pictorial representations available for anyone in the fellowship to view and comment on.

addiction treatment centers

A Spiritual Program of Action

Treatment for alcohol addiction in the 1940’s consisted of a three to five day withdrawal process in a sanitarium, hospital or “jitter joint” where the patient was safely detoxed from the bodily effects of alcohol. The process of withdrawal management was conducted by health professionals and semi-professionals. Moreover, these facilities were receptive and worked with recovered members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

After detox, the “dry” alcoholic would be directed to Alcoholics Anonymous where the “dry drunk” would be directed to a “Beginners’ Meeting”. There the recovering alcoholic would take the A.A. 12 Step Program and learn how to help others through the 12 Steps and help lead meetings taking approximately three to six months lay treatment (alcoholics helping alcoholics) for alcoholism.

On-going mutual aid support was provided by the A.A. fellowship through meetings that were either, big book study, big book discussion, or Open Speaker meetings base on the 10 minutes of “What we were like”, 10 minutes on “What happened”, and 40 minutes on “What we are like today”. It worked! Recovery rates were 50 to 75 percent successful, in fact, in Cleveland they were as high as 75 to 93 percent successful. These statistics were written in 1955 in the Forward to the Second Edition of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A. showed improvement. Other thousands came to a few A.A. meetings and at first decided they didn’t want the program. But great numbers of these–about two out of three–began to return as time passed. (p. xx, A.A. 4th Edition)

Furthermore, membership in A.A. meant complete abstinence from alcohol. If you couldn’t stay sober, you were no long a member! Thus the A.A. rooms of the 1940’s were full of recovered alcoholics sharing experience, strength and hope to newly indoctrinated members. (Unlike today where the 12 Step rooms are filled with chronic relapsing alcoholics and addicts who have a revolving door membership with the local withdrawal management centers.)

In the September 1945 issue of the Grapevine…
The Genesee Group in Rochester, NY explained their format for taking newcomers through the Steps. The title of the article was “Rochester Prepares Novices for Group Participation”. This is how they perceived the recovery process to operate most efficiently: “It has been our observation that bringing men [and woman] into the group indiscriminately and without adequate preliminary training and information can be a source of considerable grief and a cause of great harm to the general moral of the group itself. We feel that unless a man, after a course of instruction and an intelligent presentation of the case for the A.A. life, has accepted it without any reservation he should not be included in group membership. When the sponsors feel that a novice has a fair working knowledge of A.A.’s objectives and sufficient grasp of it’s fundamentals then he is brought to his first group meeting.

In the A.A. Washington, Pa., Bulletin, April 1949, it stated…

“When Bill W. got the ‘jitters’ out in Akron (back in 1935), he couldn’t call another A.A. to furnish cry-on-my-shoulder service. There weren’t any other AAs. So he called — and called — until he found a drunk who needed help.

“He finally found ‘Doc,’ and in helping ‘Doc’ he forgot his own troubles and stayed sober. If that prescription worked for the founder of our fellowship, and it did, then it will work for us today. So, instead of always looking up an AA who is staying sober to give us a lift in spirit, it might help all of us to use Bill’s ‘prescription’ once in a while and find a drunk who needs help. Let us not lose sight of one of the cardinal principles of A.A. — ‘To help ourselves, we help others.'”

addiction treatment centers
From “Into Action” to “Open Discussion” — The birth of the “Open Disgusting Meeting”

In the 1970’s, the A.A. program underwent a major change and recovery rates plummeted. Why? The proliferation of alcohol and drug treatment facilities throughout the 70’s and 80’s, financed by insurance company plans whose medical and psychological approaches pushed out the more traditional A.A. tenets that called for total surrender to a higher power, coupled with service to others, changed our message from a spiritual program of action to a self-help program of discussion.”

The 12 Step Program as described in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous changed from a simple spiritual program of action and was replaced by the treatment center industry with a long drawn out process of endless sharing and discussion in group therapy coupled, cognitive behaviour education, relapse prevention theory — all of which is facilitated by paid professional therapists and drug addiction counsellors, many of whom were not even alcoholics or addicts! Moreover, the therapeutic/treatment community separated itself from the lay recovered alcoholics/addicts, making treatment a separate program that in many respects was contrary and even antagonistic towards the 12 Step Spiritual program of action.

 

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says…

As we discovered the principles by which the individual alcoholic could live, so we had to evolve principles by which the A.A. groups and A.A. as a whole could survive and function effectively…there was to be no professional class of therapy. (p. xix, A.A. 4th Edition)

The therapeutic/treatment community is responsible for many of the subtle but damaging changes to the 12 Step fellowship such as:

Changing the declaration of “I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous” (which meant you practiced continuous abstinence from alcohol) to the utterance of “I am a recovering alcoholic”, perpetuating and reinforcing the alcoholic/addict disease.

In the 1940’s, meetings would close with a solemn Lord’s prayer. There was no hand-holding or chanting with all that “granola” pap uttered in the rooms today.

God was replaced by the term “higher power”. This was necessary in order to get money from government programs which mandated a NO God message. This has contributed greatly to the secularization of many of the 12 Step programs.

There were also no readings in the early days. The fellowship got down to business right away with either a speaker (10/10/40 format) or Big Book discussion and there was certainly no poetry such as “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” or the “The Man in the Glass”, which were, once again introduced by the Treatment Center industry.

The attitude of entitlement to “share” on ones feelings and issues in the 12 Step rooms today. In the 1940’s if an alcoholic/addict had not worked the 12 Steps, they were told to “shut up” because they had nothing to share expect their drunk-a-logs. The meetings were solution oriented NOT “war-story” meetings.

Furthermore, many of those mandated into treatment by their employers were not even real alcoholics or addicts! Just because an employee wore a lamp shade on their head at the office Christmas party and acted like an “ass” and leading the boss to think they may have a drinking problem does NOT make them an alcoholic! The ensuing result — A.A. grew in numbers in the 1970’s and our fellowship became inundated with hard-drinkers and users sharing their treatment center rhetoric. You can easily identify these types in our fellowship — they are the ones that never had to work the 12 Steps — their mantra is “Meeting Makers Make It!” The “real” alcoholics and addicts, who have ventured to the realm of being beyond human aid failed to find the necessary power with the psychological approach or behavioural modification as a treatment strategy. The record shows that chronic relapsers have continuously shown they cannot stay sober on alcohol and drug treatment programs alone. And, to add insult to injury chronic relapsers are often told by these treatment center program graduates that they (the “real” alcoholics and addicts) obviously do not want sobriety bad enough!

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says…
A certain American business man had ability, good sense, and high character…he had floundered from one sanitarium to another. He had consulted the best known American psychiatrists. Then he had gone to Europe, placing himself in the care of a celebrated physician (the psychiatrist, Dr. Jung) who prescribed for him…he finished his treatment with unusual confidence. His physical and mental condition were unusually good. Above all, he believed he had acquired such a profound knowledge of the inner workings of his mind and its hidden springs that relapse was unthinkable. Nevertheless, he was drunk in a short time. More baffling still, he could give himself no satisfactory explanation for his fall. So he returned to this doctor, whom he admired, and asked him point-blank why he could not recover. He wished above all things to regain self-control. He seemed quite rational and well- balanced with respect to other problems. Yet he had no control whatever over alcohol. Why was this? He begged the doctor to tell him the whole truth, and he got it. In the doctor’s judgment he was utterly hopeless; he could never regain his position in society and he would have to place himself under lock and key or hire a bodyguard if he expected to live long. That was a great physician’s opinion. (p. 26, A.A. 4th Edition)

But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink (or drug). Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out. Next day we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could have happened. (p. 37, A.A. 4th Edition)

That may be true of certain nonalcoholic people who, though drinking foolishly and heavily at the present time, are able to stop or moderate, because their brains and bodies have not been damaged as ours were. But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly any exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. (p. 39, A.A. 4th Edition)

Thanks to the “good intentioned” treatment industry, our 12 Step rooms today are full of the “blind leading the blind”. Residential treatment and aftercare, which could take upwards to a year to complete replaced the three to five day detox program of the 1940’s. Indoctrinated by the professional therapeutic/treatment community, large numbers of potential alcoholics/addicts infiltrated the A.A. fellowship changing our Big Book/Speaker meeting format to “Open Discussion” meetings better known as “group therapy without a therapist”. The result? Our recovery rates went down the toilet to less than 5% success rates — so much so that a real alcoholic/addict was better off trying to sober up on his own accord rather than attend an A.A. or N.A. program.

addiction treatment centers

Ironically, insurance company cutbacks in the early ’90s that reduced treatment center stays to less than a week may have led to the resurrection of Beginners’ Classes. “There have been 500 to 700 primary treatment center closures in the last five or ten years,” says John Curtiss, executive director of the Hazelden Renewal Center in the Center City, Minn.

However, Treatment Centers (a.k.a. “Puzzle-Factories”) continue to flourish under government sponsored programs with mandated “Drug Court” (“Get Out of Jail Free” strategy), Anger Management Classes, Aftercare Programs, Mental Health Programs, Life-skills Programs and countless other government financed social programs. Ineffective strategies and attitudes still prevail in the 12 Step rooms such as:

“You only work one step a year” “Take your time to work the steps”,

“Keep coming back, eventually it will rub off on you”,

“This program is caught not taught”,

“Play the tape all the way through”,

“Think through the drink” — “Remember When” — “Remember your last drunk”

“I choose not to drink today”,

“I will always be recovering, never recovered”,

“I’m feeling pretty crappy. I need a meeting”,

“Don’t drink and go to meetings”,

“I’m powerless over people, places and things”,

“We must change playmates, playgrounds, and playthings” — “Avoid people, places and things that you associate with alcohol or drugs”,

“I have a choice to not drink today”,

“Your Higher Power can be whatever you want It to be; a door knob, a Dr. Pepper can, a light bulb, just any old thing”,

“Don’t make any major decisions for the first year”,

“Stay out of relationships for the first year”,

“We learn to live life on life’s terms”,

“There are no musts in this program” — “Take what you need and leave the rest”,

Cliff B., Dallas, TX, a recovered alcoholic explains what we need to do…

There is a tendency to want to place the blame for our predicament on the treatment industry and professionals. They do what they do and it has nothing to do with what we do in Alcoholics Anonymous. What they do is their business. That is not where to place the blame and also to do so is in violation of our Tenth Tradition. The real problem is that the members of Alcoholics Anonymous, who were here when the “clients” began coming to our Fellowship did not help the “clients” understand that our Program had been firmly established since April 1939, and that the guidelines for the preservation and growth of our Fellowship were adopted in 1950. They weren’t told that they must get rid of their new “old ideas” and start practicing the Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous as it was given to us. They weren’t informed that until they had taken the Steps and recovered, they had nothing to say that needed to be heard except by their sponsor. But that didn’t happen. To the contrary, the old-timers failed in their responsibility to the newcomer to remind them of a vital truth, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program.” “Rarely have we seen a person fail” to “Seldom do we see a person recover.”

We have permitted untreated alcoholics and non-alcoholics to sit in our meetings and lay out their problems, ideas and opinions. We have gone from, “Rarely have we seen a person fail” to “Seldom do we see a person recover.” So there we have it. We have had 30 years of unbelievable success by following the directions in the Big Book. We have had 30 years of disappointing failure by wanting to hear from everyone. We now have something to compare. We now know what the problem is and we now know what the solution is.

Unfortunately, we have not been prompt to correct the faults and mistakes, which have been created by what would appear to be large doses of apathy and complacency. The problem we are trying to live with is needlessly killing alcoholics. The Solution? The Power greater than ourselves, that we find through our Twelve Steps, promises recovery for those who are willing to follow the clear cut directions found in the Big Book.

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From a friend in Toronto at www.bigbooksponsorship.org