You said, "In 21 years I have never witnessed anyone relapse who is actively working the steps from the big book." My response is, "Great, and I would also add that in 31 years, I have seen people who have never read the big book or work the steps and stay sober. I'm one of them." That's the beauty about the Fellowship of AA. Some people like the suggested path and others like to find paths that better suit their recovery needs. Some people find it not necessary to be spiritual in AA and that doesn't mean they are evil-doers. Neither paths are better or worse. They are equal in value with equal results. I was never told there was only one way of getting sober and if I didn't follow that one way then I would drink again. Are people that closed in now? A mind that adheres to that kind of rationale obviously has missed the beauty and joy of sobriety because being sober is one of the greatest pleasures in an alcoholics life.
I will preface my comments by noting that I am a militant agnostic. Thus, step 3 took some consideration, as did step seven. But I ultimately concluded that my prayers at step three, as well as after step six, were basically my resolution not to act as I had for some long, impulsively and out of a warped sense of my own importance and entitlement. Thich Nhat Hanh writes that all of those traits we in AA refer to as character defects are always there as part of our store consciousness. My anger, for example, often emerges from where it has been resting. Rather than cursing some god for not taking away my anger, I recognize and embrace it as an old but often wayward friend, try to remember that "this too shall pass," and in the meantime try not to act out on that anger. I try to go through the same process when driving a car and in the check-out line at the grocery store. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But what the discussions in the rooms of AA provide is the help I need to identify the errant manifestations of my character defects.
Thanks you so much for you wisdom. People in my group attack agnostics but, your truth today saved my life. I was thinking about going back out until I read your post. Now I feel like I belong. I can go on another day because of you and will always be grateful for your anonymous post. I also believe we should treat every alcoholic equally and not discriminate over if they believe or do not believe in a higher power or what they work or do not work. I can see the real power in AA is when we share our personal experience.
"I was thinking about going back out until I read your post."
Let me see if I have this right? You were thinking about risking great harm to yourself (by drinking again) because some people in AA won't do what you want them to.
And this makes sense to you but asking a power great enough to create the entire universe and every atom in it to improve your ability to get along with others doesn't?
I am so sorry to hear that there are people in your group who attack agnostics. I agree with you that every alcoholic should be treated equally and no one should be discriminated against if they are an agnostic. I am fortunate to have found a group that treats everyone equally. No one in my group imposes having a Higher Power on other members of the group or enforces working the Steps. It is unfortunate that you ended up in a group that discriminates. The only requirement for membership in the group that I attend is the desire to stop drinking.
If you’re located in a larger city, you could look for another group that does not have members who attack agnostics. If you’re located in a small community, it might be more difficult to find another group. As was mentioned in another recent post, there are online resources for agnostics who are being attacked and discriminated against These resources can at least help to cope with the feelings that arise from being attacked and can provide suggestions on how to survive the vigorous evangelizing you are being subjected to. One of these resources is the AA online Intergroup. It lists on-line groups. Some of these AA on-line groups are accepting of agnostics.
how does a group "attack" an agnostic? how does a group "impose" a higher power or "enforce" working the steps? sounds like strong language. I have been attending meetings across the US and Canada for 20+ years. I have yet to see a group attack, impose, or enforce anything! It's alcohol's job to beat us up, not the group.
I have witnessed individual members acting up. I've seen fist fights after jail meetings, police called to meetings, even one member throwing another member into the christmas tree! But never, never a group, just some members who were simply being alcoholic like me.
The anonymous writer said “People in my group attack agnostics but, your truth today saved my life.”
“people in my group” = individuals
“attack” = verbal argument i.e. attack and defend verbally
The responding anonymous said “I am so sorry to hear that there are people in your group who attack agnostics.”
“people in your group” = individuals
“attack” = verbal argument i.e. attack and defend verbally
Neither of the anonymous writers said that “the group” did anything. Individuals in the group are not the same as the entire group.
You must attend some very rough meetings.
There are more non-believers out there than you think, and doing a web search for "aa agnostics" will get you to several sites, including one I found recently from an organization out of Toronto, which has extensive resources listed. Wish I had found it earlier. With apologies to R. Crumb, "Keep on trudging."
Do you want to be sober, happy, joyous, and free? If not go ahead and skip 6 & 7. I usually see a step 4 and 5 problem when sponsees have 6 &7 problems. Without a thorough inventory, we don’t know what our character defects or shortcomings are. Read your big book, it says selfishness is the root of our trouble. In step 6 I became willing to have God remove my selfishness and in step 7 I humbly asked Him to.
All of my shortcomings are related to my selfishness. When I drank I was thinking of me, me, and me. I never thought, hey I’m gonna be a better husband, father, employee, ect by drinking. I was only thinking of myself. My selfishness came out in other ways too. When I didn’t get my way in the past, I was resentful. When I didn’t get my way right now, I was angry. When I didn’t think I was going to get my way in the future, I had fear. When God removes or at least lessens my selfishness, my life gets better.
Now after asking God to remove my shortcomings and praying that He does in 6 & 7, I need to make my 8th step list (from my 4th step inventory column “my part”) and begin to make amends while working 10,11, & 12. The directions are simple and laid out in detail in our textbook “Alcoholics Anonymous”. The steps I referred to are in chapters 5 “how it works”, 6 “into action”, and 7 “working with others”.
Of course this is my experience with step 6 and 7. Feel free to agree or disagree as much as you like. I would simply like to end with I am sober, happy, joyous, and free. My life today is better than anything I could have ever imagined or planned.
Good luck to you and God bless you!
In reply "Do you want to be sober, happy, joyous, and free? If not go ahead and skip 6 & 7" Can I see your evidence-based study on that? Just passing on clichés is not helpful. What is helpful is when we share what works for us individually. I know members who don't work those steps and are happy joyous and free. And I'm one of them. The steps are suggestions. For some members just Step One alone will change their lives. Its not necessary for some people to become great sages or gurus in AA. In my experience, I became a loving husband and father. That alone will keep me at peace until the long journey across the dark waters. I am grateful to the Fellowship because in the rooms there is enough wisdom for anyone. I don't sit around and worry about if I'm getting sober by the book. I do what I feel is the next right thing.
If you have so much wisdom, why do you participate on the "step " forum and post about not working the steps? What can be more unhelpful than to suggest not working the steps of AA as a program of recovery?
How many suffering alcoholics have died following your advise to use half measures? If alcoholics could recover by your method we wouldn't need. AA.
Hi, you said, "How many suffering alcoholics have died following your advice to use half measures? If alcoholics could recover by your method we wouldn't need." To answer your question, I don't have a method or do I ever suggest to any alcoholic to not work the steps. I always suggest them. I encourage step meetings if they are interested. Please don't jump to conclusions. Just because I haven't formally worked the steps doesn't mean I am against the steps. Throughout the years I have always left that choice up to each person I sponsor. Over the years, many people I've sponsored have worked the steps while others declined. Should I them tell the decliners to drink and leave AA? No and you wouldn't either. I encourage everyone I sponsor to be tolerant and open-minded. And for the record, zero have died or relapsed and of the current three people I sponsor, all three are sober over five years. Half-measures to you might be full measures for someone else. We aren't in the business to decides who stays or who dies.
What happened to the others you sponsored? I hope your experience throughout the "years " is based on more than 3 sponsees!
My evidence is my 20+years of happily applying the 12 steps as a way of life while watching countless numbers of dry alcoholics die working your program of suggesting step none. I've experienced it over and over, work the steps as best you can and become sober and happy or try the easier softer way you suggest and die. My experience abundenlty conferms my statement, my sponsors 40+ years confermed it, old pat who died 11 years ago with 54 years had the same experience.
I am glad you are happy and sober. I am not theorizing. I've been to too many funerals of AA members who were told " don't drink Ans go to meetings ".
My message is this, if you have as yet not found a happy sobriety, try our 12 steps as away to
As we work the steps in order 1 We have a problem alcohol and we can't solve it. 2 Find a power greater than yourself that you can turn to for strength and good orderly direction.3 agree that you will seek and commit yourself to that HP. 4 List your character liabilities. 5 Confess 6.Choose what liabilities you want resolved in your life. 7 Ask your HP for strength and guidance while you work on changing your liabilities into assets. 8 list your liabilities and the harms they have created. 9 Do your best to fix them (amends)10 continue to check any new liabilities 11 Work on your relationship with your HP 12 Help others.
So you can see where 6 & 7 come into play. If you want a successful life you have to change those liabilities and we need extra help from a faith in a HP that we believe in to change what is necessary, otherwise we stay the same with the same liabilities that caused us to drink. Our problems stem from the mind, thoughts to feelings to urges to actions so we must change our thinking which changes our behavior. So I believe 6 & 7 are vital to recovery
If you really believe that there is enough wisdom in the rooms then listen to it. I have heard dozens and dozens of times "I grew up in an alcoholic home or my dad was alcoholic or similar and I would never be that way around my kids but I failed".
Step one - powerless when drinking it and powerless to stay away from it. Until I finish the second part I'm not finished with the step or not finished drinking.
"Can I see your evidence-based study on that?"
No there is never an evidence-based study re spiritual matters. By definition they are ideas based on faith in unknown forces. As soon as forces become known they are moved into the sciences. Chemistry, physics, thermodynamics. Is that news?
If you put any stock in the experiences of others who have experienced profound changes, it's documented many times in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, its been working for me for years and I've seen in work in others in AA for years.
Best example I ever saw, a really big, really bad biker, recently discharged from prison. Some drunk in Key West(that the police were fond of) hit the guy's Harley. Any one thing in his normal bag of tricks would be an instant ticket back to prison. He said the rage was simply removed, he wasn't happy about it. He didn't like being not him any more. He was afraid of what he might turn into. (Believe me this guy was not going to turn into Mr Wimpy any time soon)I knew what he was feeling, I've had it too. The feelings level out but guess what, he was still a free man when the sun came up the next morning. That's the kind of results that many of us need.
I'm always curious about people who don't have faith in God but can't be driven away from people who do.
It's not an issue to me if the person on my left believes in God or the person on my right believes in nothing. Any alcoholic can help another alcoholic stay sober. Recovery is not what I believe or not believe, it is what I do. Can we become that rigid in our programs that we close ourselves up to anyone who is different? Believers, non-believers and the "not-sure for now people" are all equally accepted in AA. We all can be there for the new person. Love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and unselfishness are not religious specific characteristics. The key is to not discriminate but to co-exist. Let's not bring the "King of the Hill pecking order" mentality into AA. Think horizontally for a change.
In our group we have the same problem. I asked my sponsor about it and she because the old-timers are still human and have character defects that remain.
This morning 3 different ol-timers were calling out someone on cross talking, when they cross talk themselves.
I think if you look at the seventh step prayer it speaks about God using our defect to help others. I believe God will remove those defects standing between ourselves and our best selves if we earnestly pray that he relieve us of those defects. I also believe that we are human and as such are imperfect, we have to do the best that we can and God will not take away our defects forever but he/she will help us work through them so that we may help both others and ourselves.
I usually share in Step Six and Seven meetings that they do work. I'm far from the person I was before AA. The AAs I know are for the most part wonderful people. Sure, I still have bothersome defects (sloth being foremost) and we are not rendered saints, but we've made progress.
Steps are for people who can THINK - and it takes PERSONAL WILLINGNESS to make it to happen unless of course you need an institution then find something else.
'Most of our experiences are what the psychologist William James call the "educational variety".- This line confused me in the past, leading me to believe that spiritual awakenings were more intellectual rather than experiential. Of course some manner of intellect is required to achieve a spiritual awakening, but not the degree that I applied.
Not to throw blame at the fellowship, but when you guys referred to the Big Book as a "text book" you reinforced my understanding(misunderstanding) of the educational variety. And even though my initial sponsor was not an "AA Teacher" I began to develop some of those very traits as an AA sponsor myself. I was proud of my ability to cite chapter and verse, backed up by minimal experience and loads of rhetoric. I even insisted on sponsee's taking an hour (BB page 75), even though I took a whole night. I replaced my experience for the black and white of the book.
Somewhere along the line ( an epiphany?) I was shown the error of my ways by a sponsee. I witnessed him have a vast spiritual awakening in the form of a third step prayer that was not the direct recitation from the Big Book ( he used his own words).
As the light of God entered his heart and he changed, his experience became infectious. It bled over to me ( in a small part) and his experience became mine. Through him I learned a valuable lesson. The teacher was the student...
The lesson here is to have your awakening, not your sponsor's. God speaks to us all in our own personal way. The Big Book tells us that "that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him" (BB page 46). Too hard terms? During our quest to seek His will we need to be careful we do not pray to the finger that points to God.
I've worked step six and step seven over and over and I haven't seen a miracle yet. I still have the same defects of character as I did nine years ago. I pray and pray and ask my higher power to remove them but, they are still there. Do these steps only work for some people? I changed my sponsor and he said I may be praying to the wrong God. Now I'm thinking this is as good as it gets. Recovery is a mediocre experience. I have dreams of heaven but, will never make it there. I'm an imperfect alcohol who yells at people at work and would rather spend time fishing then going to a museum with my wife in the city. Imperfect Joe the Fisherman, Jersey Shore.
As per my understanding of these steps is that I am ready and asking God to remove them.This simply means that I stop practising these defects one day at a time.If my defect is anger I stop being angry for today by seeking God's help.I cannot expect God to remove them if I continue to practice them.If my defect is Lust I cannot expect God to remove it if I keep going to call girls.
In effect I have to be willing and God will help me in staying away from that defect provided I let him.
Namaste-Your post was so helpful to me today. Its just what I needed to hear. Very wise. Thank you. Off to work now.
So you said a prayer in step 7, now what? The Big Book tell us:Now we need more action, without which we find that ”Faith without works is dead.“ Let’s look at Steps Eight and Nine.(BB page 76)
But what if you have made your amends and have moved on to 10,11,12 yet still find yourself wallowing in defects like self pity ( or victimization if you prefer) what then? Is step 7 of no value?
In his essay on step 7, Bill spent alot of time discussing what humility is and describes me perfectly:
Until now, our lives have been largely devoted to running from pain and problems. We fled from them as from a plague. We never wanted to deal with the fact of suffering. Escape via the bottle was always our solution. Character-building through suffering might be all right for saints, but it certainly didn’t appeal to us. (12&12 page 74)
What didn't appeal to me was making amends. After I got though that fear, a different manifestation of my defects is something that I need to continue to watch for ( step 10) My successes in sobriety brought about a degree of arrogance. My loyalty to the fellowship that saved my life fostered an attitude of defiance to any change in the fellowship ( I hear alkies don't like change). If I am feeling a need to defend my meeting, my trusted servants, my fellowship I am playing God. If I am playing God, how can I humbly ask him for anything?
“God helps those who help themselves.” This is a proverb familiar to many. But it didn’t originate in the Bible. The English political theorist Algernon Sidney developed the modern version and Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States used it in his almanac in 1736. Since then it has been widely quoted in the USA. But the same concept was found in ancient Greece and other cultures. For instance the Greek proverb, “Along with Athena, move also your hand" is similar. There’s an old Arab proverb, “Trust in Allah But Tie Your Camel” with a similar meaning and this proverb is one of the reported sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
This non-Biblical proverb is sometimes criticized as actually conflicting with the Bible's view of God's kindness towards people, none of whom deserve it. In other words, more often God helps those who cannot help themselves, which is what grace is about.
If you are one of the types of alcoholics described in the Big Book, the ones who cannot help themselves, then perhaps you do need to pray harder. But if you are an alcoholic like me, then perhaps you might like to do what I do and take initiative to change your own life. I have found that waiting around for God to do the heavy lifting, while I do nothing, is ineffective.
You say that recovery is a mediocre experience. That you’re an imperfect alcoholic who yells at people at work and would rather spend your time fishing than going to a museum with your wife. Why can’t you stop yelling at people at work? Do you feel the people at work are “making” you yell? And going to a museum with your wife instead of going fishing? Did she force you to choose the museum? I have discovered that I am free to make choices. I can choose one alternative over another, knowing that each alternative has benefits and drawbacks. I don’t blame other people for making those choices for me. I have found that taking responsibility for my choices is empowering, and thus leads to a better quality of recovery.
why do you think i put fish in the sea?
Seventh step prayer P76
“My Creator I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows…”
“…good and BAD…”
“…WHICH STANDS IN THE WAY OF MY USEFULNESS…”
Does it say “change me completely into some televangelist’s vision of the perfect man or women? Not to me. I’ve never met one in AA or anyplace else so either the prayer never works or that’s not what God wants. I’m betting on the latter.
God use whatever is good in me and whatever is bad in me and make it useful to my fellows. Throw the rest away. Tomorrow will be a new day and we may need to adjust it a little. That we will do tomorrow.
That’s what it says to me. Had I walked into my first AA meeting and was greeted by a room full of that TV preacher’s perfect people the door wouldn’t have had time to close behind me before I was back out. Over and over in our literature it repeats how it takes one to know one. Someone who has been down that path and has the scars to prove it can reach an alcoholic that no one else can.
Now that I know what it means and have had some of the guilt and shame and other crap removed, it works. I absolutely feel it work – often. All my life I had lived in a would’a, should’a, could’a world. Never commit. “Maybe later”, “I don’t have time now”, “maybe”, “I’ll try”. When that thinking enters my mind now it is almost instantly replaced with a better idea that achieves results. Results that I am pleased with. Results that benefit others. Non-alcoholic thinking results. You can have them too.
I've done a lot on step two after years of good sobriety. God, religion, spirituality come in a tremendous variety. First I read Religions of the World by Huston Smith. A common textbook which seems unbiased to me. Then Conversations With God by Neil Donald Walsh. Can't believe enough people were interested to keep it on a best seller list but it did. New age, completely different take on God. Heaven is exercising free will hell, if there were one, is deciding not to. Struck a chord with me. I'm not going to bash any religion but I looked at one of the major one's history over the years. It has been absolutely anything anybody could dream up under one banner. It has changed a great deal during my short life. I think people simply make up religion, sin and God's will. Was reading about Deism last night. Anyone using reason and observing nature is empowered by his Creator to understand what he needs to know about God. Nobody gets a burning bush or everyone gets his own depending on how you look at it. Something to think about.
One might think, as I do, that if I am sincere in doing 6 and 7 that they work perfectly and immediately. I am exactly what my creator wants me to be RIGHT NOW. Tomorrow the bar may be higher, or maybe not. I COUNT. I can go fish. I can bend and go to the museum once in awhile. She COUNTS TOO. If I curtail my freedom too much I resent her for my mistake. I would like to have better tools than yelling at people sometimes but I don't sometimes. I'm not their god, their owner, their dictator. It's up to them what they do with my yelling. (They probably think I'm nuts). They have choices.
Lastly, I try to differentiate between what I think making me bad and what I do making me bad. I can plan to rob all the banks in the world if I choose to waste the time but as long as I don't do it, who's hurt?
Are the fish biting?
Your post reminds me why earlier in sobriety I found some Buddhist materials more helpful in sobriety than those of western Judeo-Christian origin, because they reminded that the excesses to which I am prone (anger, pride, jealousy, ad infinitum) can be managed with practice, just as my insatiable thirst for alcohol has been. Of late I have found similar readings from the Judeo-Christian, both ancient and modern. The Sufis have a phrase for the spiritual pilgrim who is so obsessed with his/her quest for the divine that he/she ignores life (can't recall what it was). The point for me is to be reminded always to "chop wood, carry water," that is to "walk with muddy feet," to imitate Christ as humble servant rather than the one steeped in esoteria.
I’m the person who wrote about Dr. Vaillant. Thank you for all the feedback. I’ll take it in the spirit of positive criticism. I did get kind of interested in Dr. Vaillant over the long memorial weekend and so did some reading up on him. I’ve noticed that in his books and professional articles he states that there are four ingredients of recovery, rather than three: 1) External Supervision 2) New Love Relationships 3) Substitute Dependency 4) Spirituality. Perhaps he omitted “new love relationships” from the Grapevine interview simply because it might be misconstrued as the 13th step. At least two of these ingredients should be present for relapse prevention, according to Dr. Vaillant.
In the positive criticism I received, I was challenged to share my own experiences, “instead of giving a lecture on Dr. Valiant.” Here’s how I think Dr. Vaillant’s ingredients apply to my own recovery:
External Supervision: Dr. Vaillant defines this as a voluntary relationship where a coach or personal trainer can provide expertise and help motivate someone to achieve their goal through supervision of their progress.
When I joined AA I found a sponsor to be my coach and help me work the 12 Steps. She was in many respects an expert on the 12 Steps and she was a wonderful person to boot. Eventually, she retired (professionally, not from AA) and moved to Florida, and thus was no longer available. I didn’t replace her with a different coach, because the expert advice and supervision I received from her was no longer so important, and I had other strong relationships in AA (see below).
New Love Relationships: Dr. Vaillant defines love as having three different types: Attachment love (personal, long-term, with friends & family), Agape love (Good Samaritan), and Eros love (romantic).
When I was younger and in my early days of drinking, I had friends who I was attached to, cared about and spent much time with. Eventually, as my drinking got worst and became all consuming, I gave up most of my friendships and focused on the bottle as my best friend.
When I got to AA I was offered new friendships. Being newly sober, it was important to me to have an opportunity to bond with others with whom I didn’t have baggage. I do think there’s some merit to Dr. Vaillant’s idea that new relationships are beneficial when first getting sober. He says relationships should be new because it’s important for the alcoholic to bond with someone who they haven’t hurt in the past or who they are not already deeply emotionally in debt to. I’ve gradually repaired relationships with old friends and family, but when I first got sober, they were not the people I felt I could rely on to be “understanding.” For me, AA was the only game in town that provided an opportunity to easily find sober alcoholics who were “understanding.”
Some of these new relationships developed into long-term attachments. Currently, there are several AA women who I talk to frequently (one-on-one) outside of meetings and share what’s going on in my life. We also go on walks or go shopping or do other fun things together. Without AA I would never have met these women. An extra bonus I get from having these women as friends is that I know that when I talk about my alcoholism, they “get it” and if they talk about theirs, I “get it.” Some would say we “sponsor” each other, but we don’t call it that, since there’s no formal supervision involved.
I have realized the benefit of Agape (Good Samaritan) love too. For me, this is broader than doing the 12th Step. It’s the good feeling I get when I help anyone in any way. Being an active alcoholic makes it almost impossible to be a Good Samaritan. Heck, when I was drinking I could barely boil an egg for myself, much less help other people. Drinking is an inherently selfish activity. If I were sitting in the living room, drunk, would I be of any help to the neighbor who knocks on the door, looking for help to watch their kids while they rush their youngest child to the hospital after a bad fall? Drunks are of little use to anyone else. Feeling useless is a bad feeling. It was only after I stopped drinking that I could find the time and capability to be available to others. I started feeling better about myself.
Substitute Dependency: This is defined by Dr. Vaillant as having something else to do - a competing behavior for the addiction.
When I first got into AA I heavily used AA meetings as a substitute dependency. By that time in my drinking career, I was drinking every night after work and all day on weekends. I needed something to do that did not involve drinking, and would reinforce my commitment to not drink. I was afraid that coming home each night to an empty house with nothing to do but think about drinking would lead me back into it. I still had a few nondrinking friends, but there weren't enough of them where I could hang out with them every night and weekends. There were various other alternatives – health club, church, shopping mall – where I could hang out and fill time. AA offered one thing these didn’t have. At AA I could talk about my drinking and listen to others talk about how crappy it was to drink and how great it was to not drink.
For me, it was fortunate that the first AA meeting I went to was at an Alano club. Before the meetings there were AAs who would hang out, sitting around talking. On many days I’d come early and hang out with them. Sometimes they’d talk to me; lots of times they ignored me. Sometimes I’d get there after work and attend the first meeting (6:30pm) and then the 8 pm meeting. If there was a group going over to Perkins after the 8pm meeting, I tagged along. I feel it was helpful to have these “social activities” that were built in before and after the meetings.
Other social activities appeared. On Saturday nights, there was a group of about eight people (men and women) who went over to “Fran’s” house after the last meeting to watch movies together. After a while of faithfully attending this meeting, I was invited. There were all kinds of other social activities, for instance a bowling event or an amusement park trip or an impromptu game of baseball on a Sunday, that I’d be invited to and take part in. A lot of these activities were with just a few people and not official club events. Like me, most of them didn’t have much else to do with their time. All of these activities helped me gradually get the hang of having a social life again.
The club had some built in “service activities” available. One weekend the club asked for volunteers to clean up the grounds. What better thing for a lonely alcoholic to do on a Saturday? They organized holiday marathons where the club was open 24 hours a day and people like me could volunteer to bring pot luck or set up the club. Once a month, a small group from the club answered the phones at intergroup and I did that too. It was fun – we answered calls, but spent most of the time telling stories and jokes to each other. After a year of sobriety, I volunteered to chair the club’s big Sunday morning speaker meeting and did it for about a year and a half. Chairing this meeting was very important to me because it entailed a regular weekly commitment where others were depending on me.
In retrospect, I think that my daily attendance at meetings, combined with all of my other AA social and service activities was a satisfying substitute addiction. I think this was just what I needed at the time, given I didn’t have the wherewithal to pull myself up by my own bootstraps.
Spirituality: This is defined by Dr. Vaillant as consisting of eight positive emotions: awe, love, trust, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, joy and hope.
I think that if I didn’t have some degree of awe, love, trust, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, joy and hope in my life, I might go out behind the barn and shoot myself, or more likely, kill myself the slow way and pick up a drink.
It doesn’t seem like there would be much meaning in life without these positive emotions. When I think about the empty places inside when I was drinking and the lack of these emotions, Dr. Vaillant’s definition does resonate with me. Drinking ripped out my positive emotions and left a big hole. Quitting drinking enabled me to have these emotions again, and getting these emotions back has been a transformative experience for me – what some might call a psychic change. The transformation did not happen in an instance. If spirituality is about having these eight emotions on a regular basis, then I’m one of the ones who had a gradual “spiritual experience.” And I’m not completely transformed yet, I’m still working on it.
As I ponder Dr. Vaillant’s four ingredients for relapse prevention, it seems like something is missing. Unless an alcoholic accepts their alcoholism, it seems like a good coach (external supervision), solid friendships (new love relationships), satisfying activities (substitute dependency), and positive emotions (spirituality) aren’t enough. Accepting our alcoholism is crucial. Dr. Silkworth got this right. An alcoholic has to accept that their condition is unchangeable – the physical craving and mental obsession will always come back if they drink. My experience tells me that acceptance of this unalterable reality is the main ingredient for recovery.
“some think it’s a rigorous practice of the 12 Steps, some think its sober alcoholics sharing their experience, strength and hope……”
I don’t see where anyone get the idea that it’s an either/or proposition.
I share my experience of what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now.
What it was like is simple enough. I drank too much. I throw in some details for the newcomer in case it might strike a chord that someone else’s story might not.
What happened was a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps.
My strength? It took some intestinal fortitude to give up the only way of life I knew, to trust an unknown Higher Power and face my shortcomings and their results. Sometimes it was hard, but I did it. I think if I did you can too.
And hope - What it’s like now?
I personalize how the promises have come true in my life.
Junk vehicles to nice ones.
Replacing what to do for money to what to do with money.
Run down house in a slum to watching the sun rise and set over our land.
One night stands to 12 wonderful years of mirage and growing.
Comfortable around strangers and everyone else.
Still having feelings that jump all over the Richter scale but no longer control my life.
Assertive when I need to be and accepting when I need to.
Happy to live and unafraid to die.
God doing for me what I could not do for myself.
It’s interesting to read what other AAs think makes AA effective – some think it’s a rigorous practice of the 12 Steps, some think it’s sober alcoholics sharing their experience, strength and hope……
I think it’s also interesting to read what the top leadership for AA thinks about AA’s effectiveness. There was an interview of George E. Valiiant, M.D. that appeared in the AA Grapevine Magazine on May, 2001. Dr. Valiant joined AA's General Service Board as a Class A (nonalcoholic) trustee in 1998. In the interview, this top leader for AA reveals some of his thinking about recovery from alcoholism. Here’s a short excerpt from the interview:
Grapevine: You said about 40 percent of the people who remain abstinent do it through AA. What about the other 60 percent? Could we in AA be more open, more supportive of these?
George Vaillant: Yes. You know, if you're batting 400, it's all right to miss a few. I think the fact that AA knows the answer to an extremely complicated problem is probably all right. But it doesn't hurt at the level of GSO for AA to have humility and understand that 60 percent do it without AA. It's also true that most of those 60 percent do it with the AA toolbox: their spirituality doesn't come from AA; their support group doesn't come from AA; and what I call "substitute dependency" doesn't come from AA. But they still use the same ingredients that AA uses.
Wow. Finally, at least one of the top leaders guiding AA is acknowledging that 60% of alcoholics recover without AA. He even knows HOW they do it without AA. He says these recovered alcoholics have a toolbox that includes three things:
• Support Group
• Substitute Dependency
Notice that Dr. Valiant does NOT include the 12 Steps as a vital ingredient to recovery. He also doesn’t seem to give a higher weight of importance to any of the three ingredients – they all seem to be equally important.
And notice that Dr. Valiant doesn’t give a recipe for recovery - he simply gives the ingredients. Perhaps recovery is not so much like following a recipe in a cookbook, but is more like finding the ingredients to live life on life’s terms.
First, a class A trustee or any other trustee is not a “top leader”. The AA group is at the top of the organizational pyramid and the general service board (trustees) are at the bottom. Their authority is “custodial” in nature and derives what “authority” they have from the General Service Conference. It’s all spelled in the AA Service Manual if you are interested.
There is nothing in what you wrote that indicates Dr Vaillant gives the same weight of importance to three aspects of recovery. It could be 98%-1%-1%.
I see the steps as a structured way to find spirituality. Trust God, Turn our will over to God, ask God to remove our character defects, try to improve our conscience with God, receive a spiritual awakening from God. I put in two hours a week for the first 16 years of my life in a mainstream protestant Church with very kind, caring people trying to provide me a path to spirituality. As soon as I could I ran from it and to alcohol as fast as I could. AA packaged a spiritual path in 12 steps that worked for me and millions of others. I’m perfectly happy that many others are successful on a different path but for those who choose AA, I am obligated to give them AA’s message straight out of the manual just as it was given to me.
The 21 trustees have absolute ownership and control of
Alcoholics Anonymous in its entirety. They may consider
items of interest from the General Service Conference.
But the General Service Board of Trustees, 14 alcoholic
and 7 non-alcoholic have the final say in everything.
All A.A. members need to know that the GSB has that
power. They derive that authority from a legal
document. I believe that document is the Conference
Charter. The only control our fellowship has is control of
the purse, Concept VII. The GSB has negated that power
by making profits from the sale of books and literature
acceptable as income. They deleted the warning, left
to us "in 1986" by outgoing leader Bob P. In a few more
years we will be accepting support from any source. Then
our GSB could become a position of wealth. Of course all
in the cause of "reaching out to the poor suffering
alcoholic who has never heard of A.A. Crap! Nearly
everyone in the world today has heard of A.A. What they
have heard keeps many alcoholics from even approaching us.
Sadly what they have heard is true. ANONYMOUS
Sounds like you and George should start your own stepless recovery group. Wait, there already was one. The Washingtonian movement. They made it for about five years, one drunk talking to another. They. Would bring newcomers to meetings each week. Some say they had from 100,000-500,000 members. Like I said, within 5 years they imploded.
There was another movement in the 1920s called the Oxford groups. At one time they had enough members to fill Madison square garden. The Oxford groups basically gave us steps 2-12. They had no traditions. By 1939 (I think) they changed names to moral rearmament. Today we don't hear much from them.
In my opinion, if we don't practice the 12 steps as a society, we definately wont practice the 12 traditions. Therefore AA will have the same fate as the Washingtonians and Oxford groups.
What you and George V fail to recognize is that AA is for the 40% who tried what the other 60% did but to no avail. Alcohol beat us into a position so that we were willing to practice AA's 12 steps. We don't need anyone. To convince us to work the steps, that's. Alcohol's job.
What are your ingredients exactly? It would be helpful if you shared your experiences in recovery instead of giving us a lecture on Dr. Valiant who is just a hack self-help addiction guru trying to make a buck off addicts.
If this is your path fine. But how about embroidering your recovery a bit with some meat. When we rely on quoting people, pages, and pamphlets we know longer our focused on our own recovery. Sounding knowledgeable in recovery does not equate to a sober recovery. What did you do today to stay sober? That would certainly help someone.
I can't believe that so many of our original contributors
to the Big Book went on to write their own books, Some
became real celebrities in A.A. Full of pride, arrogance,
without a glimpse of humility. The result of all this was
a near collapse in 1992. There must have been a great
division when the decision was made to move into a
Rockefeller subsidized building. We have made so many
blunders, it is a wonder that A.A. is alive at all.
In answer to your question, I went to an early birds
meeting this morning. did some paperwork as the groups
treasurer, and read and posted messages on the Forum.
I received this wonderful gift of sobriety and a
new life in 1970. When I found out, in 2007, that A.A
had almost collapsed in the early 1990's, I began the
obsession which continues today. I am still convinced
that we can return Alcoholics Anonymous to an acceptable
degree of acceptance. A zero growth rate for twenty years is just not in any way acceptable. ANONYMOUS
You shared, "I am still convinced that we can return Alcoholics Anonymous to an acceptable degree of acceptance." What does that mean? I didn't think anything was wrong with AA. Can you be more specific? I don't think it’s fair to label every AA member as arrogant or lacking in humility because of a few members who made a buck. Lack of growth does not indicate failure. The collapses you talk about I don't see in AA at all. Looking at the same numbers as you, I do not arrive at a similar conclusion. There are so many factors involved to explain a lower membership rate and this does not mean AA is imploding because of some defect of character. For instance, I see a fellowship that once swelled considerably when the boomer generation flooded the rooms after the excesses of the sixties and seventies. AA had a considerable population increase with the court-sent people who may not be alcoholic at all and then some people used the rooms to seek companionship and not necessary to seek sobriety. AA also became fashionable in the early nineties making its way into television sit-coms and “the place to make all the best deals in town.” To me, the declining numbers are due to say, the boomers are either dying out or have long time sobriety and find it not necessary to attend meetings. Long time sobriety indicates success of AA to me. AA is also not fashionable anymore with the hip-slick and cool crowd. People who are not interested in religious or spiritual ideas have other options. There are other reasons such as the increased public health awareness of alcoholism in the public sector. MADD has been extremely helpful too. There are other modalities of addiction treatment today not available in the past as an option. You believe AA is in a crisis at the crossroads and I think AA is doing quite fine. AA doesn’t have the corner of the market anymore which does not mean we are crumbling. Things have changed. The declining numbers you claim are not because of a malfunction of room full of narcissistic holy-rollers but by some of the factors I mentioned and some I have not. Let’s not jump to conclusions without all the facts and variables. It makes better science.
An acceptable degree of effectiveness is what we have
to return to. You are quick!
Most A.A. members and our leaders continue to believe
that Alcoholics Anonymous is "alive and well". It may
look that way from the inside. But stand back and take
a good look. Everyone seems to see our failure, except
our prideful members. Did you ever get that membership
head count from GSO? That one page changed my lifelong
belief that A.A. was just doing great. Today I can
see that we have been a dismal failure for the past
twenty years. We have fewer members in A.A. today than
we had twenty years ago.
It is easier to blame forces over which we have no
control or responsibility. The alcoholic EGO has
reared its ugly head. I will have to spend a little
more time in "Preview". ANONYMOUS
You can forget about the membership list. It has vanished, along with the "in 1986" paragraph on page S72
of our service manual. Now you will have no way of knowing
that we had almost two million, five hundred thousand members in 1992.
Compare that with the two million, one hundred thousand
members today, twenty one years later.
You will not be able to see that our membership in
2007 is about the same as ten years earlier. We gained
very few members in that ten year period, a time when
alcoholism is rampant. We have made many serious blunders
in the past thirty years. All together, they have
brought Alcoholics Anonymous to a standstill. ANONYMOUS
You shared, "Today I can see that we have been a dismal failure for the past twenty years. We have fewer members in A.A today than we had twenty years ago." I just don't see the science or logic in connecting fewer members with dismal failure. You would get an “F” in my class. I love the meetings I attend from the newcomer onward. AA is not trying to take over the world or compete with organized religion where larger numbers would be important. Looking at the big picture is always beneficial. To suggest someone is playing a “blame game” by examining an entire perspective of recovery to me is bit off-the-cuff. Do you feel quantity outweighs quality? I should think the ego does. It is helpful to use the scientific method when constructing accurate representations of the AA world; the one you feel is in collapse. Did you also mention members are in denial? Is this based on differences? To take this position is not a very helpful winning strategy, “If someone doesn’t agree with me they must be in denial.” Let’s cherish what we have today and keep the hand of AA ready for anyone who reaches out for it.
When I think of AA, I think of the 12 steps. When I came to AA, I was told that the meetings and sponsorship were simply the atmosphere around the 12 steps. They said the 12 steps are what individual members of AA do to stay sober and happy. They said you have to be sober and happy because if you are sober and unhappy you will not be sober long.
After doing my best to work the steps with my sponsor out of the big book, I heard that the only step you have to do 100% is step one. That if you don’t get step one right you will have trouble with the remaining 11 steps. I know I somehow got step one right. I know because I have had the willingness to continue to try to apply the remaining 11 steps to my daily life. I have heard steps 2-12 are ideals that we work towards and are never complete.
I also remember a lot of talk about not having to rewrite the big book. Today I think they were talking to me. At 3 months sober I was telling everyone in the meetings what was wrong with AA and how I thought it should be done. Pretty typical alcoholic. Barely sober 90 days and telling AA, the society that found the first real applicable solution to alcoholism how it should be done.
You said, “When I think of AA, I think of the 12 steps.” To me, when I think of AA, I think of one drunk talking to another. I think of people from all walks of life sharing their experiences, strengths and hopes. I’ve taken a more mature view on AA and it is this, “although we do have a common problem, we do not have a common solution.” Unfortunately, today, there are members who would like to force a common solution on others and this distorts and harms our philosophy tremendously.
When you say “our philosophy”, I think the more “mature and correct” thing to say is YOUR philosophy. Don’t get me wrong, I really do appreciate your point of view. It’s just not AA’s point of view. AA’s point of view is in direct conflict with your point of view.
Our book “Alcoholics Anonymous” page 17 states the exact opposite of your comment. It says, “The feeling of having shared a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined.
The tremendous fact for every one of us is that we have discovered a common solution. We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action. This is the great news this book carries to those who suffer from alcoholism.” Big book page 50 might shed more light on this topic.
Lots of people may think the big book is old and outdated. That may be, but alcoholism hasn’t changed, I don’t think alcoholics have changed, and from what I’ve seen, the solution hasn’t changed. That being said, we are on our 4th edition of the big book which came out in 2001, 3rd edition 1976, 2nd edition 1955, and 1st edition 1939. The first 164 pages have been left mostly unchanged with the exception of changes of numbers and so forth. So again, In AA we do have a common problem and a common solution. If we had a different solution, I would hope we would have removed page 17 from AA’s basic text.
I think page xxi also fits here, “Upon therapy for the alcoholic himself, we surely have no monopoly. Yet it is our great hope that all those who have as yet found no answer may begin to find one in the pages of this book and will presently join us on the high road to a new freedom.”
I feel the common solution AA offers, is for alcoholics who have tried those other methods of recovery from alcoholism with no lasting effect. It was only after I surrendered that I was willing to try AA’s common solution. It was only then that I have found permanent, contented sobriety. One day at a time of course.
There are members who have a need to be correct. This path will never lead to a new freedom and a new happiness. Desires such as this can awaken a whole gambit of character challenges in us or to use an archaic association, awaken, “The Seven Deadly Sins” I would rather feel a need to be honest and true, which is a sign of maturity. Having the understanding and open-mindedness to allow the hoop Bill talked about to remain large enough for everyone is a sign of maturity. After many years in AA one will witness and hear all kinds of recovery stories, not just one. Yes, there is a wonderful “suggested” path. But, to force this “suggested” path on anyone is not a sign of maturity. I’ve noticed that one’s ability to rehash clichés and impress people with knowledge of pages numbers and archival history facts has never brought about much to that individual but status, which is false because we are all equals in AA and a need to be greater than, reflects an immature element in that person. I feel members who need to threaten and control others are not demonstrating much sober maturity. My recovery does not depend on which book I read cover to cover, or which page number I can throw in someone's face. Having the humility to understand that another person’s recovery is not depended on what we might tell them is mature. To me, recovery is an individual experience. For example, if we pass a piece of paper and a number two pencil to a room full of people and ask them to draw a picture of what recovery looks like, I guarantee every piece of paper in that room will look completely different. There is enough wisdom in the rooms for everyone to be able to stay sober for one day. Some of it is at the podium, some of it is on the walls, some of it is in a book but, most of it to me is when one drunk is talking to another sharing their experience strength and hope. Sobriety to some is in their heads, others their hearts. To which is greater I cannot say.
It’s great to read that you have recognized your need to be correct! Anyway, now about the big book and page numbers. It’s this simple. If I go into my garage to work on my car, it all works better if I have a service manual, tools, and access to parts. It’s even better if I know a mechanic that has made the same repairs that I can call for advice.
In AA I have a sponsor, meetings, and a big book for direction in working the steps. At any time I can look in my manual ( big book) for direction with step 12 ( page 89-103), step 11 ( page 85-88) step 10 ( page 84-85) step 9 ( page 76-84) steps 6-8 (page 76) steps 5 ( page 72-76) step 4 ( page 64-71) step 3 ( page 63) step 2 ( chapter 4, especially page 47) and step 1 ( xxv-43 especially page 30). Call my sponsor, or attend a meeting that has a sole purpose of teaching and practicing AA's 12 steps.
Your are also correct that recovery is an individual experience. I simply recovered the way my sponsor, his, sponsor, and my sponsees have recovered. I found no reason to reinvent the wheel when there is a perfectly good, tried and true wheel in the first 164 pages of our book “Alcoholics Anonymous”. If you gave us a pencil and paper you would get the same answer ( see above).
In conclusion, take a good look at the heading of this forum. It says STEPS. So don’t be surprised if we talk about how we work those steps on this page. I’m sure you could find a “suggested path” web page with some like minded recovering people. Then again, maybe not.
Thanks for sharing. AA has changed so much since the early eighties when I had my last drink. I attended AA in the 70’s but, felt I was different. Some members today have gone away from the true essence of what it means to be part of a Fellowship and what our primary purpose is even though I know in their hearts they mean well. One change I notice is we tend to promote rather than attract. The majority of members understand we do a disservice to AA when we come across as close-minded bullies who force ideas on others. We do better when we “suggest” things or show others by our actions. To me, if all there was to getting sober was reading the big book, we could buy it and never return to AA. The key ingredient in AA is what Dr. Bob says it is in his story talking about his meeting with Bill W. “Of far more importance was the fact that he was the first living human with whom I had ever talked, who knew what he was talking about in regard to alcoholism from actual experience. In other words, he talked my language.” This is the true magic in AA, “One drunk talking to another.” When we share our experience strength and hope and not threaten members with page numbers and rules, we are mirroring the first AA interaction. What were they talking about? The Big Book and Twelve Steps weren’t written yet. They were talking about alcoholism, blackouts, the DT’s, cheap booze, god, bar fights, lying, quilt, shame, cheating, stealing, money problems, infidelities, jumping off bridges and etc. It’s very common to attend meetings today and never hear any of these things. To me, if or primary purpose is to help the newcomer, than these are the things the newcomer needs to identify with first. As far as I’m concerned, if a newcomer truly understands the first step and what powerless means they will never drink again. The rest of the steps are basically a moralistic approach which is not necessary for everyone. If I was to add two “musts” in AA it would be this. We “must” not force ideas on anyone and we “must” remain open-minded. These two “musts” reflect the meaning of our code, “Love and Tolerance” Thanks