Posted in Sharing

12 Steps in 30 Minutes

AAs are always asking: “Where did the Twelve Steps come from?” In the last analysis, perhaps nobody knows. Yet some of the events which led to their formulation are as clear to me as though they took place yesterday.

So far as people were concerned, the main channels of inspiration for our Steps were three in number–the Oxford Groups, Dr. William D. Silkworth of Towns Hospital and the famed psychologist, William James, called by some the father of modern psychology. The story of how these streams of influence were brought together and how they led to the writing of our Twelve Steps is exciting and in spots downright incredible.

Many of us will remember the Oxford Groups as a modern evangelical movement which flourished in the 1920’s and early 30’s, led by a one-time Lutheran minister, Dr. Frank Buchman. The Oxford Groups of that day threw heavy emphasis on personal work, one member with another. AA’s Twelfth Step had its origin in that vital practice. The moral backbone of the “O.G.” was absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love. They also practiced a type of confession, which they called “sharing”; the making of amends for harms done they called “restitution.” They believed deeply in their “quiet time,” a meditation practiced by groups and individuals alike, in which the guidance of God was sought for every detail of living, great or small.

These basic ideas were not new; they could have been found elsewhere. But the saving thing for us first alcoholics who contacted the Oxford Groupers was that they laid great stress on these particular principles. And fortunate for us was the fact that the Groupers took special pains not to interfere with one’s personal religious views. Their society, like ours later on, saw the need to be strictly non-denominational.

In the late summer of 1934, my well-loved alcoholic friend and schoolmate “Ebbie” had fallen in with these good folks and had promptly sobered up. Being an alcoholic, and rather on the obstinate side, he hadn’t been able to “buy” all the Oxford Group ideas and attitudes. Nevertheless, he was moved by their deep sincerity and felt mighty grateful for the fact that their ministrations had, for the time being, lifted his obsession to drink.

When he arrived in New York in the late fall of 1934, Ebbie thought at once of me. On a bleak November day he rang up. Soon he was looking at me across our kitchen table at 182 Clinton Street, Brooklyn, New York. As I remember that conversation, he constantly used phrases like these: “I found I couldn’t run my own life;” “I had to get honest with myself and somebody else;” “I had to make restitution for the damage I had done;” “I had to pray to God for guidance and strength, even though I wasn’t sure there was any God;” “And after I’d tried hard to do these things I found that my craving for alcohol left.” Then over and over Ebbie would say something like this: “Bill, it isn’t a bit like being on the water-wagon. You don’t fight the desire to drink–you get released from it. I never had such a feeling before.”

Such was the sum of what Ebbie had extracted from his Oxford Group friends and had transmitted to me that day. While these simple ideas were not new, they certainly hit me like tons of brick. Today we understand just why that was. . .one alcoholic was talking to another as no one else can.

Two or three weeks later, December 11th to be exact, I staggered into the Charles B. Towns Hospital, that famous drying-out emporium on Central Park West, New York City. I’d been there before, so I knew and already loved the doctor in charge–Dr. Silkworth. It was he who was soon to contribute a very great idea without which AA could never have succeeded. For years he had been proclaiming alcoholism an illness, an obsession of the mind coupled with an allergy of the body. By now I knew this meant me. I also understood what a fatal combination these twin ogres could be. Of course, I’d once hoped to be among the small percentage of victims who now and then escape their vengeance. But this outside hope was now gone. I was about to hit bottom. That verdict of science–the obsession that condemned me to drink and the allergy that condemned me to die–was about to do the trick. That’s where medical science, personified by this benign little doctor, began to fit in. Held in the hands of one alcoholic talking to the next, this double-edged truth was a sledgehammer which could shatter the tough alcoholic’s ego at depth and lay him wide open to the grace of God.

In my case it was of course Dr. Silkworth who swung the sledge while my friend Ebbie carried to me the spiritual principles and the grace which brought on my sudden spiritual awakening at the hospital three days later. I immediately knew that I was a free man. And with this astonishing experience came a feeling of wonderful certainty that great numbers of alcoholics might one day enjoy the priceless gift which had been bestowed upon me.

THIRD INFLUENCE
At this point a third stream of influence entered my life through the pages of William James’ book, “Varieties of Religious Experience.” Somebody had brought it to my hospital room. Following my sudden experience, Dr. Silkworth had taken great pains to convince me that I was not hallucinated. But William James did even more. Not only, he said, could spiritual experiences make people saner, they could transform men and women so that they could do, feel and believe what had hitherto been impossible to them. It mattered little whether these awakenings were sudden or gradual, their variety could be almost infinite. But the biggest payoff of that noted book was this: in most of the cases described, those who had been transformed were hopeless people. In some controlling area of their lives they bad met absolute defeat. Well, that was me all right. In complete defeat, with no hope or faith whatever, I had made an appeal to a higher Power. I had taken Step One of today’s AA program–“admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable,” I’d also taken Step Three–“made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to God as we understood him.” Thus was I set free. It was just as simple, yet just is mysterious, as that.

These realizations were so exciting that I instantly joined up with the Oxford Groups. But to their consternation I insisted on devoting myself exclusively to drunks. This was disturbing to the O.G.’s on two counts. Firstly, they wanted to help save the whole world. Secondly, their luck with drunks had been poor. Just as I joined they had been working over a batch of alcoholics who had proved disappointing indeed. One of them, it was rumored, had flippantly cast his shoe through a valuable stained glass window of an Episcopal church across the alley from O.G. headquarters. Neither did they take kindly to my repeated declaration that it shouldn’t; take long to sober up all the drunks in the world. They rightly declared that my conceit was still immense.

SOMETHING MISSING
After some six months of violent exertion with scores of alcoholics which I found at a nearby mission and Towns Hospital, it began to look like the Groupers were right. I hadn’t sobered up anybody. In Brooklyn we always had a houseful of drinkers living with us, sometimes as many as five. My valiant wife, Lois, once arrived home from work to find three of them fairly tight. The remaining two were worse. They were whaling each other with two-by-fours. Though events like these slowed me down somewhat, the persistent conviction that a way to sobriety could be found never seemed to leave me. There was, though, one bright spot. My sponsor, Ebbie, still clung precariously to his new-found sobriety.

What was the reason for all these fiascoes? If Ebbie and I could achieve sobriety, why couldn’t all the rest find it too? Some of those we’d worked on certainly wanted to get well. We speculated day and night why nothing much had happened to them. Maybe they couldn’t stand the spiritual pace of the Oxford Group’s four absolutes of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. In fact some of the alcoholics declared that this was the trouble. The aggressive pressure upon them to get good overnight would make them fly high as geese for a, few weeks and then flop dismally. They complained, too, about another form of coercion–something the Oxford Groupers called “guidance for others.” A “team” composed of non-alcoholic Groupers would sit down with an alcoholic and after a “quiet time” would come up with precise instructions as to how the alcoholic should run his own life. As grateful as we were to our O.G. friends, this was sometimes tough to take. It obviously had something to do with the wholesale skidding that went on.

But this wasn’t the entire reason for failure. After months I saw the trouble was mainly in me. I had become very aggressive, very cocksure. I talked a lot about my sudden spiritual experience, as though it was something very special. I had been playing the double role of teacher and preacher. In my exhortations I’d forgotten all about the medical side of our malady, and that need for deflation at depth so emphasized by William James had been neglected. We weren’t using that medical sledgehammer that Dr. Silkworth had so providentially given us.

Finally, one day, Dr. Silkworth took me back down to my right size. Said he, “Bill, why don’t you quit talking so much about that bright light experience of yours, it sounds too crazy. Though I’m convinced that nothing but better morals will make alcoholics really well, I do think you have got the cart before the horse. The point is that alcoholics won’t buy all this moral exhortation until they convince themselves that they must. If I were you I’d go after them on the medical basis first. While it has never done any good for me to tell them how fatal their malady is, it might be a very different story if you, a formerly hopeless alcoholic, gave them the bad news. Because of the identification you naturally have with alcoholics, you might be able to penetrate where I can’t. Give them the medical business first, and give it to them hard. This might soften them up so they will accept the principles that will really get them well.”

THEN CAME AKRON
Shortly after this history-making conversation, I found myself in Akron, Ohio, on a business venture which promptly collapsed. Alone in the town, I was scared to death of getting drunk. I was no longer a teacher or a preacher, I was an alcoholic who knew that he needed another alcoholic, as much as that one could possibly need me. Driven by that urge, I was soon face to face with Dr. Bob. It was at once evident that Dr. Bob knew more of spiritual things than I did. He also had been in touch with the Oxford Groupers at Akron, But somehow he simply couldn’t get sober. Following Dr. Silkworth’s advice, I used the medical sledgehammer. I told him what alcoholism was and just how fatal it could be. Apparently this did something to Dr. Bob, On June 10, 1935, he sobered up, never to drink again. When, in 1939, Dr. Bob’s story first appeared in the book, Alcoholic Anonymous, he put one paragraph of it in italics. Speaking of me, he said: “Of far more importance was the fact that he was the first living human with whom I had ever talked, who knew what be was talking about in regard to alcoholism from actual experience”.

THE MISSING LINK
Dr. Silkworth had indeed supplied us the missing link without which the chain of principles now forged into our Twelve Steps could never have been complete. Then and there, the spark that was to become Alcoholics Anonymous had been struck.

During the next three years after Dr. Bob’s recovery our growing groups at Akron, New York and Cleveland evolved the so-called word-of-mouth program of our pioneering time. As we commenced to form a society separate from the Oxford Group, we began to state our principles something like this:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol
  2. We got honest with ourselves
  3. We got honest with another person, in confidence
  4. We made amends for harms done others
  5. We worked with other alcoholics without demand for prestige or money
  6. We prayed to God to help us to do these things as best we could

Though these principles were advocated according to the whim or liking of each of us, and though in Akron and Cleveland they still stuck by the O.G. absolutes of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, this was the gist of our message to incoming alcoholics up to 1939, when our present Twelve Steps were put to paper.

I well remember the evening on which the Twelve Steps were written. I was lying in bed quite dejected and suffering from one of my imaginary ulcer attacks. Four chapters of the book. Alcoholics Anonymous, had been roughed out and read in meetings at Akron and New York. We quickly found that everybody wanted to be an author. The hassles as to what should go into our new book were terrific. For example, some wanted a purely psychological book which would draw in alcoholics without scaring them. We could tell them about the “God business” afterwards. A few, led by our wonderful southern friend, Fitz M., wanted a fairly religious book infused with some of the dogma we had picked up from the churches and missions which had tried to help us. The louder these arguments, the more I felt in the middle. It appeared that I wasn’t going to be the author at all. I was only going to be an umpire who would decide the contents of the book. This didn’t mean, though, that there wasn’t terrific enthusiasm for the undertaking. Every one of us was wildly excited at the possibility of getting our message before all those countless alcoholics who still didn’t know.

Having arrived at Chapter Five, it seemed high time to state what our program really was I remember running over in my mind the word-of-mouth phrases then in current use. Jotting these down, they added up to the six named above. Then came the idea that our program ought to be more accurately and clearly stated. Distant readers would have to have a precise set of principles. Knowing the alcoholic’s ability to rationalize, something airtight would have to be written. We couldn’t let the reader wiggle our anywhere. Besides, a more complete statement would help in the chapters to come where we would need to show exactly how the recovery program ought to be worked.

12 STEPS IN 30 MINUTES
At length I began to write on a cheap yellow tablet. I split the word-of-mouth program up into smaller pieces, meanwhile enlarging its scope considerably. Uninspired as I felt, I was surprised that in a short time, perhaps half an hour, I had set down certain principles which, on being counted, turned out to be twelve in number. And for some unaccountable reason, I had moved the idea of God into the Second Step, right up front. Besides, I had named God very liberally throughout the other steps. In one of the steps I had even suggested that the newcomer get down on his knees

When this document was shown to our New York meeting the protests were many and loud. Our agnostic friends didn’t go at all for the idea of kneeling. Others said we were talking altogether too much about God. And anyhow, why should there be twelve steps when we had done fine on six? Let’s keep it simple, they said.

This sort of heated discussion went on for days and nights. But out of it all there came a ten-strike for Alcoholics Anonymous. Our agnostic contingent, speared by Hank P. and Jim B., finally convinced us that we must make it easier for people like themselves by using such terms as “a Higher Power” or “God as we understand Him!” Those expressions, as we so well know today, have proved lifesavers for many an alcoholic. They have enabled thousands of us to make a beginning where none could have been made had we left the steps just as I originally wrote them. Happily for us there were no other changes in the original draft and the number of steps still stood at twelve. Little did we then guess that our Twelve Steps would soon be widely approved by clergymen of all denominations and even by our latter-day friends, the psychiatrists.

This little fragment of history ought to convince the most skeptical that nobody invented Alcoholics Anonymous.

It just grew. . .by the grace of God.

Bill W.
The Grapevine July 1953
Vol. 10 No. 2

Posted in Events

The deal that God makes with us Alcoholics

A drunk is walking home, feeling sick and hurt. He is at that magic moment of surrender.

On his way he sees God and notices He has something in his hand. The drunk asks “What’s that?” God responds “This is sobriety”. The drunk said “Oh man, I need that! Geez, I need sobriety. How much does that cost?” as he only understands buying things. God returns with “How much do you have?” The drunk says “I have about 20 dollars.” God responds “All right, for you, sobriety costs 20 dollars.” The man, trying to back out of says, “If I give you all twenty dollars, I won’t be able to buy any gas for my car.”

God responds “Oh! so you have a car? I’m sorry, but sobriety is going to cost you your car.”
“Whoa, whoa!” Says the man. “If I give you my car, how am I going to get to my job?”

“You have a job?!” Exclaims God. “No, no, no. Sobriety is going to cost you your job.”
The drunk responds “But, if I give you my job, how am I to pay for my house?” House!!

You have a house!?” God says with surprise. “I thought you lived in a cardboard box under the bridge! Your file is completely out of date! Sobriety is going to cost you your house.”

The man responds “If I give you my house what about my wife and kids?”

“A family! That’s right, you have a family! Yes, yes. Sobriety is going to cost you your family.

The drunk responds “But if I give you all that, what good is my life?”

God states “That’s right. Sobriety costs you your life.”

The alcoholic, because he is at that magic moment of surrender is willing to give his God his money, and his car, and his job, and his house, and his wife and his kids, and his life and for that God gives him sobriety.

Then God looks him deep in the eyes and says:

“All right. I’m going to give you your money back but, it’s not your money anymore, it’s my money. I’m going to let you spend it for me.”

“I’m going to give your car back but, it’s not your car anymore, it’s my car. You get to drive it for me.”

“I’m going to give you your job back but, it’s not your job anymore, it’s my job. You get to work at it for me.”

“I give your house back but, it’s not your house anymore, it’s my home. But, you get to live in it for me.”

“I give your family back to you but, it’s not your family anymore, it’s my family. You get to take care of them for me.”

“I give your life back but, it’s not your life ever again. But, you get to live it for me.”

That’s the deal a loving God makes with us in the 3rd step.

Posted in Sharing

Remember The Good

We hear it all the time about the ways to stop a slip
Call your sponsor, go to meetings, don’t take that first sip
Bring to mind your last adventure, how it ended up
They all help you stop from picking up that fatal cup

But remembering how bad things were is not the only way
To strengthen your resolve to make it through another day
There is another path you can consider, and you should
It helps you face temptation by remembering the good

The good we’ve gained through AA living comes in many forms
The first is when we wake without a headache every morn
And not having to apologize for what you did last night
Or not worry that you didn’t keep your bottles out of sight

Those things are fine reminders, how you’ve freed yourself of pains
But even better are the thoughts, reminders what you’ve gained
You’ve mended your relations with you family and your friends
Forgiven for wrongs you’ve done from making your amends

You’re driving in your car and then a cop pulls in behind
But you’ve no need to worry, does not even cross your mind
Respect you’ve gained from colleagues and from members of AA
And most of all the self-respect you’d lost along the way

These benefits seemed out of reach as you approached your bottom
Yet they had all come true, be ever grateful that you got’em
Hold on to them, keep doing all those things you know you should
And when temptation comes begin remembering the good

Larry R.

Posted in Sharing

The Ten Practical Points Of Recovery found in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th. Edition, Pages 58-60

1)”…thoroughly followed our path.” p.58 line 2

2)”…completely give themselves…” p.58 line 3

3)”…developing…rigorous honesty.” p.58 line 9

4)”…willing to go to any length…” p.58 line 18

5)”…fearless and thorough…” p.58 line 23

6)”…let go absolutely.” p.58 line 25

7)”…asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” p.59 line 5

8)”…the steps we took…” p.59 line 7

9)”…Do not be discouraged.” p.60 line 7

10)”…willing to grow along spiritual lines.” p.60 line 10

Posted in Sharing

Spirituality in Recovery

Chemical dependency has long been a misunderstood and harshly judged condition. Alcoholics have been stereotyped as down in the gutter, wino’s who have nothing, nobody and no place to go. They are thought to be the homeless and seedy of our society. Recovering alcoholics know these accusations to be untrue. Walk into any Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and you will find doctors, lawyers, accountants, mechanics, housewives, students, or any number of career paths and personalities. These are not the rooms of the degenerate. In the Dr’s opinion, (AA Big Book, 2001): “Then there are types entirely normal in every respect except in the effect alcohol has upon them. They are often able, intelligent, friendly people.” (pg. xxx). These are the rooms of the individuals, who, like Bill, (AA Big Book, 2001) thought they were destined for death or insanity. There was no hope. They had a moral disease that consumed them. They had not the willpower to beat it. It couldn’t be done. Then, they discovered the AA way. They worked the twelve steps after finding a Power greater than themselves. The AA Big Book (2001) recounts several stories of how this God of their own understanding could restore them to sanity. Bill, one of the co-founders of AA states (AA Big Book, 2001), “…I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch. I have not had a drink since.” (pg. 13). Steps one through three of the program tell you God can if you let Him, then the rest of the steps help you “clean house” in order to serve others with God’s help. Serving others is what most people feel keeps them sober (Larsen, 2007). Faith put into action. Essence first, action follows (Larsen, 2007). Thousands of individuals who have found their Higher Power are the testament to the Power of spirituality in recovery (AA Big Book, 2001). This report will show that people are more likely to maintain sobriety when spirituality is the foundation of their program of recovery.

Weil (2004) defines alcoholism as a person’s habitual and excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages, involving many unsuccessful attempts to stop. It describes their continued drinking despite adverse consequences to health, responsibilities, and personal values.He sums it up by saying it is not a psychological or pharmacological problem. He believes it cannot be solved with psychology or the use of pharmaceuticals. Its root is a spiritual concern. It is the misdirected attempt to achieve wholeness, inner completeness and personal satisfaction.

Alcoholics Anonymous (2001) states:
“But what about the real alcoholic? He may start off as a moderate drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard drinker; but at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink. Here is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control.” (pg. 21).

AA is founded on spirituality. Spirituality is different from religion. Religion is based on a specific organized faith. Brown, et al, (2006), Collins (2006), Okundaye, et al (2001), Larsen (2007), and Kurtz & Ketcham (2002) all agree that spirituality has a broader belief base pertaining to higher purpose, meaning and value. Trustful prayer and meditation to a guiding higher power plus connection to others who have the same beliefs is fundamental to twelve step programs. Most individuals need help developing these behaviors to participate fully in the program. Okendaye, et al (2001) liken the “coming to believe” to a journey. Not all those in recovery come by it quickly. “Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly”, the alcoholic forms this spirituality (AA, 2001). Covington (1994) and Collins (2006) state that religion, without true spirituality, is about beliefs, structure and rules. It often involves adopting someone else’s idea of spirituality. Covington (1994) states that many women have said they would not know spirituality if it weren’t for their addictions.
The AA big book (2001), states the twelve step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is necessary, in fact, vital, to recovery from alcoholism. They go on to say that they found they could not manage their own lives; no human power could relieve their alcoholism. “God could, and would if He were sought” (pg. 60). That takes you through step 3. The following nine steps lead the alcoholic through “cleaning house” with identifying character defects, humbly asking God to remove them, making amends to those offended by the alcoholic, and asking God to continue working in our lives. Then, the alcoholic seeks to maintain sobriety by passing these messages onto others in need of sobriety. The program’s components of fellowship and storytelling, with guidance from the 12 step process and the key element of spirituality are the key ingredients that make the program a success. (Green, et al, 1998)

Brown, et al (2007) conducted a study of using spiritual intervention in a seven week project titled “Knowing Your Higher Power.” They found that the individuals who were part of the program had a much higher incidence of maintaining sobriety than those who were not included. This behavioral study was applied along with the twelve step program and then followed up after 12-weeks to assess the longevity. It led the authors to believe clinicians should apply these behavioral concepts in treatment.

Green, et al (1998) observed AA and NA groups during fellowship and also in the halls and interactions at the clinic. Spirituality was a primary focus of the witnessing that occurred with AA/NA participants. It was noted that those who had not come to believe in a power greater than themselves did not have as much success with sobriety. Group members pointed out to these individuals that incidents were not co-incidences. More often than not, they were God’s way of sending a message. Some new-comers to the program could not relinquish his or her own will and accept that a spiritual being was more powerful. Fellow AA’ers saw the reluctance toward spiritual principals as a block to recovery success. The AA Big Book (2001) refers to “stinkin’ thinkin’”; this terminology is known in the rooms of AA as what led to the members’ issues with chemical use and what kept them from being freed from its power. This, in turn, kept the addict apart from God and others, including the addict him/herself (DiLorenzo, et al, 2001). Non-recovering alcoholics or active addicts are said to have negative spirituality and strive for the positive through chemical use (Warfield and Goldstein, 1996).

When we look at controlled vs. uncontrolled drinking, we can go to the AA Big Book (2001) which states, “We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking.” “All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals—usually brief—were inevitably followed by still less control.” (pg. 30).

Most alcoholics felt they were the exception to the rule; they could control this and they denied the disease had taken that control from them. Inevitably, the chemical use got worse and worse. One drink and they were sunk. Stopping after one as many people are able to do was not within the grasp of the alcoholic, as hard as he tried.

Instead of quitting, the addict starts to bargain. As the Big Book (2001) states, he tries switching to beer or wine, only drinks on the weekend or at special occasions. He deludes himself into thinking he can manage. It’s the fault of others that his life is in shambles. He is not the reason things have gotten so out of control.

Eventually, the disease proves too powerful to ignore. Addicts say the moment they realized their lives had become unmanageable was when they “hit bottom” (Kurtz & Ketcham,1992). Everyone’s bottom is different but what is similar is it is a turning point. The admission is made of being powerless over alcohol or drugs or whatever the source of their addiction is; at that point, a willingness to accept the need for a power greater than oneself is needed to overcome what seems hopeless. The AA Big Book (2001), outlines the steps in which this acceptance takes place. “I can’t”, “God can”, “if I let Him” sum up steps one through three and often the new comer to recovery is told to come back to these three steps often throughout recovery. They truly form the base of recovery.

A surrender of one’s will to the God of their understanding is sometimes a long process. Okundaye, et al, (2001), state that many treatment programs don’t emphasize the spiritual side of recovery enough. They outline the strength’s perspective and how enabling the recovering alcoholic should include helping them gain spirituality. As outlined earlier, many individuals early in the recovery process struggle with “letting go” and “letting God” (AA, 2001). Okundaye, et al (2001) discuss six strengths concepts including empowerment, suspension of disbelief, dialogue and collaboration; membership; synergy, and regeneration. They state that the spiritual disease of addiction has led to separateness, emptiness, meaninglessness, and a lack of purpose in one’s life. The result is moral compromise leading to decreased self-esteem and a lack of self-worth. They propose that using a holistic approach, the addict can address coping patterns, interpersonal perceptions, and social environments. Painful experiences have led to growth and the desire to change. By empowering and stressing a client’s potential, clinicians can help clients overcome stigmas and break patterns learned in dysfunctional atmospheres. By walking with the client through the process of learning spirituality, we are able to help them steer an otherwise rudderless ship. Ethically, helping professionals can, and should, encourage spirituality. Especially since spirituality is a personal understanding, clinicians can help individuals find their own perception of a Higher Power.

Larsen (2007), Dayton (2007), and Kurtz & Ketchum (1992), all point to the brain’s role in chemical dependency, a disease of mind, body and spirit. Many individuals with chemical dependency “come by it honestly”. Growing up in families with generations of addiction has caused the “tree to become bent” (Larsen, 2007). Larsen (2007) also points out that we all have a core need for love. We strive for that fulfillment. We grow in the direction we are nurtured. We begin our using habits based on what we’ve learned or by what we feel we need to put a band aide on our emotions and the quest for love. Our limbic brains control our emotions and survival mechanisms. These are the primitive parts of our neurological system (Dayton, 2007). Just as the body needs food and water to sustain itself, the body that uses chemicals begins to think that’s what it needs to survive. The dependence occurs when the brain starts to crave the substance more than the food and water. Support of the habit is what drives the dependent individual. Even when the addict/alcoholic quits drinking, the need continues. Abstinence is the key to keeping the lion asleep; that lion continues to grow even though the person in recovery does not feed it. Awaken it, and it is mightier than ever (personal communication with AA groups).

The AA Big Book (2001) tells us that when the addict is successfully in recovery, he learns what is needed to reconcile the emotions that once pushed him to put the band aide on. Through the twelve step process, he recognizes his character defects with the help of his Higher Power who is then humbly asked to remove them. This healing occurs through a process of self-forgiveness and seeking forgiveness from those harmed through the addiction’s downward spiral.

Once the “junk” is removed, the individual has room to be filled with the spirit. It is a “hoop” (Larsen, 2007) in that it comes full circle: By asking a God of our understanding to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, achieve abstinence, we are able to use that power to make more room for Him to be part of our lives. By reconciling our conflicting emotions, we are able to return to functionality.

Participation in AA is part of the reconciliation process. A unique combination of storytelling, group support, responsibility to a membership and one another sets the healing in motion (AA Big Book, 2001). Green, et al, (1998) speak of the stories of humiliation, loss and abuse shared at meetings and between recovering chemically dependents. Although they have histories that would make the strongest weak, they express a depth of gratitude for the changes in their lives. They acknowledge how this Power outside of themselves has restored them to sanity and provided them with the resources they needed to become sober. The addicts may have been loners in the past, preferring solitude to the company of others. They may have spent time as children buried in books instead of outside playing with other children. They may have endured high school without lots of dates. They may now feel more comfortable with people in one on one rather than in large groups. A meeting is an ideal place to learn how to interact with others. They don’t have to act a certain way or hide feelings because the group will understand them no matter what. They can give as much as they choose and trust that the group will neither harm nor ask for more.

Warfield and Goldstein (1996), explain that groups exist because people are working together in unison. Someone “opens up,” others make coffee, one chairs and another speaks; some will clean up at the end. The strength of the group lies in the ability of each member to do what is comfortable for him or her. Such coexistence helps one learn that strength is gathered from numbers. The sharing of strength, hope and gratitude reinforces that strength.

Warfield and Goldstein (1996) go on to say that sponsorship is a key ingredient in the process, another support gathered for the sponsor as well as the sponsee. Mutual responsibility supports the relationship; learning to have strong relationships is the benefit to all. An addict’s ability to form and keep relationships has been damaged through his addiction. These helping bonds form out of a sense of “we’re in this together”, “been there, done that”, “ I have walked a mile in your shoes and know where you’re coming from.” Because a person has filled him/herself with the spirit, he/she is not doing this on his/her own. Group members tend to believe that God puts people in their lives to send His message. Circumstances have a purpose and how the recovering addict responds is a gift and comes from learning humility from the God of their understanding. These individuals come to have a spiritual desire to be in touch, to be involved with what is good. Perfection is not the goal; a healthy individual comes of a program that facilitates personality growth and separation of oneself from a narcissistic ego. Through these healing encounters with a Power greater than oneself and the other members of AA/NA, and new community supports, the person in recovery learns to love themselves. They realize that they are lovable and deserve the unconditional love of another. These things no longer are withheld from them. This in itself is empowering, fosters belief, promotes self-worth and creates a sense of well being.

“One day at a time” is a slogan well used in AA circles (AA Big Book, 2001) The Big Book (2001) recounts the stories of several founders of the program and the acceptance of a God of one’s understanding has helped millions of people. By taking life on life’s terms, knowing that all you have to do is “show up” (Larsen, 2007), and God will take care of the rest if you let Him, many recovering addict/alcoholics have found the ability to maintain abstinence. Through personal communication with this author, one AA member, Jim, states he partakes of daily inspirational readings to help him on his journey. He goes on to say:
We are in a simple program described in thousands of ways. Sadly, or fortunately, what we describe cannot be explained. An emotion is not a thought. Emotions are our internal compass. The gift of our addiction is that it brings us to a simple instructional outline to follow which changes our self-made “hell on earth” [into] a virtual heaven on earth. The simple instructional program, when followed as a way of life, yields a solid connection between our emotional self and our thinking self. The result is euphoric if the connection is perfect. Morning meditations serve as anchors to our emotional reality as our thinking self has been running loose during our sleep. Simple. Each of us emotionally interprets words differently at various times. Therefore, it is helpful to have the simplicity communicated to us in thousands of ways. One of the ways will be more easily understood at a moment in time than another.

Jim’s eloquent statements echo the thoughts of many in the rooms of AA. They speak of the strength found in the spirituality of the program. Daily meetings with the God of their understanding, keeps them on the path to recovery. Attendance at meetings reinforces this relationship, and the stories of their fellows reinforces that they are indeed commencing on the journey of a healthy lifetime.

Serenity is the ultimate reward for following the road to recovery. Many new members of AA have been heard saying, “I want what they have.” The truly recovering person with chemical dependency has an air of peace about them. They have made peace with themselves, their God, and their fellows. They use the serenity prayer as a guide:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (Covington, 1994, pg. 114).

Relapse happens to the best of those in recovery. When a person has truly found the God of their understanding, they know the way back. The unconditional love of that God and their friends in the program are a beacon that leads them back into the light. If the program is followed to the best of their ability, the promises will come true (AA Big Book, 2001):
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will chang. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them (pg. 83 – 84).

Kathy M.

Posted in Sharing

There’s No Double Standard in Alcoholism or A.A.

I sat jittering in Bill’s office. My psychiatrist had sent me to see Bill.
I had said to her: “Good. I’d like to meet him. Wouldn’t it be fun to get him to take a drink?”

She laughed a nice easy laugh. She said, “You couldn’t get him to take a drink.”
I heard that. It stayed with me. You couldn’t get him to take a drink.

So I, the girl who was going to get Bill to take a drink, now sat here, talking to Bill.
He told me a few things, the fundamentals. I heard all of those things, too. Then he made a phone call. He wrote a name and an address on a slip of paper.

“Here is an alcoholic girl,” he said. “Why don’t you go and see her? Now?”
I fell for that. I said, “Is she still drinking?”

“No,” he said, “but she will always be an alcoholic just the same. Just as I am; just as you say you are.”

I didn’t know where I was going, or what to expect. I didn’t expect an attractive apartment. I didn’t expect the girl who answered the door –Helen, a friend of Marty’s –to be like that. I was a sight and a mess. She didn’t notice it. She talked to me as though I were an acquaintance who had dropped in. Time passed. Marty came in.

“I spent six months in Bellevue and a year in Blythewood,” she announced. “I used to go to cheap bars on Third Avenue, when my money ran out. If I had no money, I could always ‘borrow’ drinks from men.”

Marty had sized me up. To another newcomer, she might have talked gently, asking questions. She knew that for me this would be wrong. She talked and talked. She didn’t stop. I, who had feared to speak, couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I tried a couple of times. No soap. She was a girl with my sort of background. She and Helen both had my tastes and interests (that is, what I still fondly considered my tastes and interests. I really had none but liquor and self abasement).

I sat there and listened. Two women like myself. They were like me. They drank the way I did. Especially Marty. Marty, who like me, had gone to cheap bars. At last, someone else who was as “horrible” as I was. And she was horrible no longer.
I heard every word Marty and Helen said. In that short hour something was lifted from my heart, never to return. Three psychiatrists had failed to do it over a long period of years.

“You are sick,” Marty and Helen said. “You are sick, not wicked. See, it is a pattern. You have followed this pattern. We, too, behaved in just this way. It is a pattern and you are not alone. You are not the only woman who has been like this. Thousands and thousands of men and women have been like this. And now they are sober. See, it is an illness, a disease with symptoms that we all have. Not a private sin that you alone have invented.”

And so this is the end of my story and the beginning of it.

For years I thought I was the only one. The only “nice” woman who behaved this way. The worse I felt, the worse I got. One doctor said to me: “Remorse has contained within it the intention to do it again.” This was a brilliant and wise saying. But I could not quit being remorseful. I could not stop doing it again, getting drunk again and again. It’s a progressive disease. But I didn’t know that. I just thought I was becoming a worse and worse person. I avoided my “respectable” friends more and more. My “unrespectable” friends, with whom I had cast my lot (in order to drink all I wanted to in company) –even these friends criticized me more and more. They, who had thought at first that I was such fun, now avoided me. They told me not to come around when I was drinking. And I was always drinking.

I, who, like most neurotics, had a high white ideal, an unattainable ideal of the person I should be, now found myself unwanted everywhere. I, who had meant to be the wittiest, the prettiest, the most desirable of women. The woman whom everybody would be just crazy to have around. (You note here that I wanted to be liked and loved, but didn’t want to like or love anybody in return.)

I was now reduced to going to a cheap bar for my social life. I happen to have a small income. I never cadged drinks from strangers because I didn’t have to. I never was robbed, assaulted, beaten up. But I might have been. The difference between the “protected” woman alcoholic (even the woman who drinks secretly in her room and never goes out) and the panhandler on the Bowery is economic. Are you shocked? But this is so. A drunk, man or woman, will do anything to get a drink. Anything –eventually. Perhaps the men, more than the women, know that this is true.

I didn’t hit the gutter economically, but in spirit I was there. I spent every night in that cheap bar. I was able to drink there “safely,” but I was despised by everyone.
Lots of people think that anything goes in a ginmill, that you can get as drunk as you like and behave any way you like. Not so. Women, especially, are expected to behave. A lady lush creates disturbances. Men are bound to want to pick her up. If she doesn’t want to be annoyed, as the saying goes, the bartender has to protect her. If, on the other hand, she encourages advances from men, there may be trouble with the police.

The little bar I frequented was what is known as a family bar. There was a little group that dropped in regularly. They were as gossipy and moralistic as a country club set. They were not alcoholics.

So I, who planned to be the most beautiful, witty, charming and sought-after woman in all New York, was spending my evenings annoying the customers in a ginmill. The customers moved their barstools when they saw me coming.
But this place was my last refuge. Here was the last spot on earth to search for “It.” The joy of living. Fulfillment. I called it pleasure. I went there every night looking for pleasure, the pink balloon. Something sick and hungry in me set up an inquiry for this elusive thing. “I will drink, and it will come,” I said. “This thing I have never had, and never found anywhere in all my life. A few drinks, and I’ll get it.” But during the disappointment of those first drinks, I knew I didn’t have it. This was a boring ginmill. Sordid. What could I find here? And I would drink more to overcome this terrible emptiness. I did not know that the lack was in myself. That joy, fulfillment, pleasure and love were chronically absent from me; that all the pleasure I had from my drinking was anticipatory.

I was so sick mentally, now, that I was afraid to drink alone. I was going toward my death, and somehow I knew this. I stayed in that bar till it closed.

“Remorse has contained within it the intention to do it again.”

Yes. Every morning (or afternoon) I’d swear never to do it again. I must stop, I’d say. I must taper off. I must swear off. It was not only the hangovers that bothered me. I did not have the ordinary remorse of someone who has merely gotten drunk. It was as though I had some inner skin disease, something awful and sore, eating away at the fabric of myself. And then, at night, this fabric would reverse itself into the bright, joyful excitement, the anticipation. I would think, I’m going to the bar tonight. I’m going to get drunk. Not too drunk. Just enough.

This is a common experience. In A.A. you hear this story told over and over. But I know how all the women in the world feel who have had, and are having this grief and misery; and shame and guilt. More and more women are coming into A.A. But there are still countless women who are afraid to come. They are afraid to admit they need help. Sometimes they won’t admit it to themselves. They have applied the double standard to themselves. They think that they are worse than men.
And they do not know that they are just sick people who need help. A woman who has TB doesn’t think she is worse than a man who has TB. It’s the same thing.
Many people all over this country, indeed all over the world, still think the same way. They think all drunks are a disgrace. They think women are doubly disgraceful. But now, at last, through the press, through the more widespread knowledge of A.A. and of alcoholism generally, these old witcheries and taboos are breaking down.

More and more people are understanding that alcoholism is a disease; that the alcoholic, whether man or woman, can be helped and is worth helping.
And as for me, who felt so terrible, I now feel wonderful. I am getting well as a person. I, who did not believe in anything except myself, and who cared for no one but myself–I think that a Higher Power must have sent my psychiatrist to hear Bill talk just at that time. It was around the time that my last chance was at hand. I was very near death. And I, who was going to get Bill to take a drink, I have learned what the word humility means. I have learned what the words love and understanding mean. I have a long way to go, but A.A. is like that. You keep going. You never stop. A.A. is a constant restatement of a few simple things that we must all have if we are to keep sober, to be happy or to live at all.

Felicia G.
Manhattan
(Grapevine December 1945)

Posted in Sharing

Which Wolf Do You Feed?

An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life.
He said to them, A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves.

One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride, and superiority.

The other wolf stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

This same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too.
The children thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, Which wolf will win?

The old Cherokee simply replied: The one I feed.

THE SAME CAN BE SAID FOR SOBRIETY AND RELAPSE. WHICH ONE DO YOU THINK ABOUT MORE?

Posted in Sharing

For Those Who Say “A.A. Doesn’t Work”

One of the saddest statements I have ever heard is, “I’ve been to A.A. and it doesn’t work.” There is no way I can count the number of times over the past couple of decades I have found an alcoholic coming off a drunk who made that statement. Just today, one of my protégés called to tell me of a man, holed up in a cheap motel room, he was asked to locate and see if he could help him.

My protégé was successful in locating the suffering alcoholic and did what he had been instructed to do on a Twelve Step call. He told him some of the story of his drinking and how he had come to know it to be an illness over which he had no control nor did the medical profession have a solution.

The suffering alcoholic finally said, “You’re going to try to tell me about A.A. aren’t you?” Jake said, “That is where I found my solution. “The sick one said, “I have gone to A.A. meetings for the last eight 8 months and did what they told me to do. It doesn’t work for me.”

Jake asked, “Did you take the Steps with a sponsor who had been blessed with a spiritual experience as the result of having taken the Steps?” The sick one said, “I think I did but the main thing they told me was just keep coming back and you’ll be OK. When I asked what else I should do, I was told, Don’t drink and keep on going to more meetings. I did what they told me to do and A.A. just doesn’t work.”

A member of Alcoholics Anonymous found me near death in 1964 and told me he could help me. He said to me, “I understand. I have been where you are and I want to help you if you will let me.” I was willing to do anything. He took me to his A.A. club and began sobering me up on orange juice with some honey mixed in it. When I began having delirium tremens, they added some Bay Rum to the mixture. There were no treatment centers in our area at that time and hospitals would not admit us for alcoholism. We either shook and sweat it out in jail or at an A.A. club. By far, most of them made it to the end sober or they still are. I wasn’t one of them. I saw an opportunity to return my ego to its earlier level by getting involved in a new and exciting profession and so I went for it. Sixteen years after my last drink; 11 years after my last meeting, on a day without a cloud in the sky, I thought having a beer would be a good idea, so being in a very dry county, I drove 70 miles for a six-pack. It took me 2 years to make it back to Alcoholics Anonymous very, very drunk.

But what a difference 13 years can make! There were no alcoholics laying around the club with dry heaves. There were no blood shot eyes, sweating faces, no vibrating bodies, the aroma of alcoholism was missing. There was no orange juice in the refrigerator nor honey near the coffee pot. There was no Bay Rum in the file cabinet. It was no longer needed because almost everyone had gone to treatment and been medicated through the process of what is termed de-tox. They had missed those wonderful golden moments of the misery, suffering and pain of sobering up. At first, I thought the new approach was good but then I began to see the results. There was less and less commitment to the group and the action necessary for long term emotional sobriety was being ignored.

There were very few Big Book study or speaker meetings but a large number of discussion/participation meetings where everyone was given an opportunity to talk about whatever was on their mind whether on not they knew anything about alcoholism or recovery from alcoholism. There were even non-alcoholics participating in these meetings. This newer approach of learning to live with alcoholism was beginning to prove to be a dismal failure.

I heard a tape of Joe McQ. and later attended a weekend of Joe McQ. and Charlie P. presenting their Big Book Comes Alive program. It then became very clear why so many were returning to the bottle. Not only were we without sick alcoholics laying around the meeting places, there was so little program in our meetings, it was almost hidden from the newcomers. No wonder so few were finding more than a few months of physical sobriety. They were denied what is required for long term emotional sobriety.

Without the sick alcoholics laying round the meeting place, I had to find a place where I could again see and smell alcoholism. I needed a frequent reminder of where I came from and what was waiting for me if I didn‘t continue to pay the price for emotional sobriety. Over the years since I have been blessed to have been given another opportunity to survive the deadliest disease known to mankind, I have volunteered in many wind-up places where those coming off a drunk are present and available to talk with. Again and again, I heard that sickening, statement”I went to A.A. and it doesn’t work.”

Of course, they are right. Alcoholics Anonymous does not work! We must work it! But they were not told the truth. My basic text reads, “Rarely, have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path” The path being the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as outlined in a book titled Alcoholics Anonymous. My basic text does not read, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of don’t drink and go to meetings.” It reads, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Our real problem is ego driven sponsorship with very little if any real concern for the welfare of the newcomer. Proclaimed members of our fellowship who have never taken the Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous will assume the responsibility for the life of a newcomer and will proudly announce the number of sponsees they have. As one of my dear friends said, “The manner in which we now fail our responsibility to the newcomer borders on slaughter.” The demise of our sense of responsibility to those seeking help for alcoholism is one of the greatest tragedies of our time in history. It works only if we work it (working all 12 Steps, meetings/fellowship, and being of service expecting nothing in return)!

Cliff B.

Posted in Sharing

It’s Not About Me

All of the years I’ve suffered from fears and said what in the hell did I do?

The train in my brain spins circles, insane and wonders Hey what’s wrong with you?

Numbing the real, not wanting to feel, the emotions that seeth in my gut

Then alcohol came, turned into my game and helped me get out of my rut.

The demon brew, well, it turned on me too and wanted to take me away.

Tried putting it down, the whirlwind I’d found but no matter how wrong it would stay.

Then came the day when battered and frayed the misery had taken its toll.

The demon had won and it was no longer fun and I found I was losing my soul.

It was time to get real, no matter the feel and surrender to that which I knew.

Too admit to myself it had always been me, all those years that I believed it was you.

Self seeking fears, drowning in tears of selfish and ego, I know.

The will, I thought mine had grown selfish with time and I knew that I had to let go.

Surrendering myself, to get something else to comfort and lead me along.

The peace that I get, at times, I don’t fret and try to stay honest and strong.

Rigorous honesty I’m told, that it takes and sadly sometimes only few.

Listening to truth that it’s not about me, that I need make it all about you.

Ginny A.

Posted in Sharing

One Step Back

Progress, not perfection as is stated in our Book
Is what we must pursue; therefore, we need to take a look
At how we are progressing, use the 10th Step as our guide
Evaluate our actions to insure we don’t backslide

To backslide does not only mean we took another drink
More times than not it happens by the way we sometimes think
Our defects or our shortcomings we prayed to take away
Keep coming back when we relent, our old ways on display

When we attend a meeting, for that hour we’re secure
Surrounded by our fellowship, no hardships to endure
It’s when we travel out that door the challenge will begin
It may be from some stranger or perhaps our next of kin

We go to an appointment that was set to start at nine
It’s nearly 10 and we still sit, we feel we’ve been maligned
Our thoughts become unsettled; agitation now increased
We produce a verbal insult, old behavior’s been released

We’re asked to just be patient since the doctor we’re to see
Was tending to a patient with a real emergency
So, we sit down and start to think about the way we acted
And how we let the teachings from our Program get distracted

We took a small step backwards, did not think or did not care
To use a thing that we’d been taught, the first part of a prayer
To accept this thing we could not change, ‘twas out of our control
So, say the prayer and reconnect with patience as our goal

It matters not how long it’s been since last we had a drink
Impatience, aggravation still can change the way we think
It’s what we do when this occurs, a choice we have to make
One leads back to serenity, the other to mistakes

The one step back can not be change so what we need to do
To compensate for what we’ve done, we need not one but two
Two steps forward to get us back to where we need to be
Back on the journey we began towards our serenity

The first step is to recognize our part in what we did
Discard the though that we’d been wronged, stop acting like a kid
And once we’ve understood our part, our conscience to inspect
We need to take some action for this issue to correct

To promptly say that we were wrong is difficult to do
Ego tells us, “Don’t go there”, a childish point of view
Our program tells us that we must amend for our misdeeds
Acknowledge our misconduct and be willing to proceed

Apologize to those we have offended or aggrieved
Clear the air of tension that our actions had conceived
It takes both steps to rectify the prudence that we lack
Each time we let resentment let us take that one step back

Larry R.