About Me

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I have recovered from the disease of Alcoholism. I believe there is only one person really,.. everybody. And that peace of mind is everything. -So treat your neighbor as you would treat yourself, because your neighbor IS yourself. I think most of recovery is what I would call common sense, but that learning to be ordinary is a true gift very few people acquire. My ambition is to accept everything unflinchingly, with compassion, and therefore be intrinsically comfortable in my own skin, no matter what. I am comfortable being uncomfortable and am willing to go to any lengths to improve my life. I believe the Big Book was divinely inspired, and is extraordinarily powerful. Unfortunately AA's best kept secret a lot of the time. (In my opinion). I just try to do what works, no matter what it is.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Avoiding relapse: Here's some stuff that you can't really afford not to do

Here's some stuff that you can't really afford not to do.
There are some really basic things that seem like common sense to me now, but didn't always seem like that. So if you're a new person, or you're fairly new to AA generally, or you're somebody who finds themselves relapsing constantly, these are some things which as far as I'm concerned are the most basic elements of the programme and I don't think I've actually ? seen anybody get and stay sober who hasn't done these things. Sometimes people get sober without doing these things, but they cannot STAY sober unless these habits have become a way of life basically. Many balk at these, thinking they are impractical or just not necessary. But to me they are absolutely !! fundamental aspects of the programme. Totally non-negotiable. As mandatory as it can possibly be. If you're planning on staying sober anyway.
If you're thinking of staying sober for six months or a year and then relapsing again then it won't matter if you do these or not, but if you seriously want to get sober and STAY sober then I don't think you stand much of a chance of staying sober unless these habits become a way of life. Here they are:

1. Service. Constant thought of others as opposed to being self obsessed.
2. Ask for help. You are as sick as your secrets so broadcast your dilemmas, and ask for help.
3. Higher power. Get a concept of one, then ask it for help.
4. Just for today card. Ie AA books of some sort. But JFT card will do.
5. Meetings. Go to them and try to take part in them. Go for coffee after. It’s the pub with no beer.
6. Last but not least - Pick up the phone BEFORE you pick up a drink.

One. Do something for somebody else every day. (Ideally a newcomer.) Think of others. Help a newcomer. "Constant thought of others and how we can help meet their needs" basically. The big Book states very explicitly that 'Helping others is the foundation of your recovery', so make it the foundation of YOUR recovery.
The more self obsessed you are, the more !!! incredibly !!! painful your life becomes. It's excruciating. So save yourself the mental and emotional agony of a contracted and self-obsessed relationship with the world, and instead look at reality from a broader perspective. One that includes the welfare of others as well as your own. As many others as possible. The more you can help the better. (This is NOT an instruction to be a doormat btw, as doormats cause far more problems than they solve. Well that's what I find.) Develop what I call the 'Service mindset' and look upon all life situations as nothing more than an opportunity to be of help. Yes. Especially the really sucky life situations. 'Everything is teaching us' as Ajahn Chah used to say. Aim to best serve the needs of the MOMENT, as opposed to the person. This will make you egoless and selfless. Remember, think 'How can I best serve what appears to be the needs of this moment? Is there ? anything I can do here that might help the people or situation I find myself in?'. Kindness costs nothing. Ajahn Chah used to say "The nicest thing you can do for another person is to be calm and still'. I just look for ways in which I can be helpful to the person in front of me. Even if they look like a psychopath. Especially if they look like a psychopath. Thats been my experience. Either I wish them well or I think to see if there is a way that I can help them. Each situation is different. Btw this does not mean tolerate domestic violence, it means defend your life in order to survive and be useful to others. My experience is that I am in much less danger from hostile forces if I maintain a steady will to assist as many as I can, in whatever way I can, including the most unconscious and disturbing people. My desire to be of help is unconditional, meaning I really believe that the smelly aggressive drunks are no less deserving of my goodwill than the seemingly lily-white spiritual person. Love ought to be unconditional. I just do my lousy best in this regard.

Two. Talk to somebody else very honestly. Ask for help. Stop trying to do it all on your own. Stop being afraid of looking like you don't have all the answers. Take a risk and show your vulnerability. Confess your neuroses. Broadcast your neuroses. You are as sick as your secrets. Ideally you would have this conversation with somebody such as a sponsor, but this can also work if it is a spiritual friend, or somebody else who can be relied upon to tell the truth and be kind, as opposed to trying to dominate and control you, or get you to agree to their philosophy, whatever it happens to be.

Three. Ask a power greater than yourself for help. What would be perfect would be as if you had a very honest conversation with a power greater than you. Make a cup of tea sit down and have a chat. It has to be a loving power greater than you. If it is judgemental then it's no good. If you don't have time for a conversation then reserve it to simply asking for a sober day in the morning and saying thank you at night. By the way if you can't sleep just lie in bed and have a chat to your higher power.

What is a higher power? Well firstly it is loving not judgemental. Secondly it is just something slightly more powerful than you. The world is full of examples of powers greater than you. Somebody said if you can't think of a power greater than new, jump in the air and see how long you can stay there". It can be the power that makes the earth turn, it can be the power of AA as a whole, it can be the collective wisdom and experience of AA members, it can be the collective wisdom available throughout the world, it can be the combined wisdom and experience of a group of people in a meeting relative to your own singular perspective of life. Personally, I find I can learn something from almost anyone. I feel a bit like a magpie, looking for little nuggets of wisdom with whomever I happened to meet. But ultimately I also know, that it's easier for other people to view my behaviour objectively, than it is for me to view my own behaviour because it's always easier to see things in other people than it is to see it in oneself. So I find there are ample examples of areas of wisdom and expertise far beyond my individual capacity wherever I look. I see collective wisdom greater than mine in meetings and in the objective responses reflected back to me from other people every day. So that's why we say that 'God' can mean group of drunks.

The main thing is to understand that our perspective is limited, and that there are vast resources of wisdom and experience beyond our individual perception, and that therefore we would be very wise to make use of those resources, instead of relying entirely upon our own limited pool of information.

If tomorrow you were to decide to become a plumber, and you have two choices, you could either try and figure out how to create plumbing entirely from your own head, or alternatively you could attend a college with Master craftsman plumbers and observe how they have constructed plumbing in the past, which would you choose? Personally I would choose to observe the master craftsman in order to learn this new skill. In selecting people I feel can shed some light on the path I am trying to embark upon, I am in effect identifying a power greater than myself in respect of plumbing, and I am accessing the resource, and asking for help from it.
A higher power works exactly the same way. The only difference is that the College of Master craftsman plumbers, is a physical obvious object that I can see, whereas the power greater than myself which might be the power of AA as a whole, is something I cannot see as tangibly as the College of plumbers. But in order to make use of my higher power I am required to dialogue with it and ask it to for help even though it doesn't appear like a solid object in the same way a plumbing college would. So that's the difference. I ask it for help and I say thank you at night, and I can converse with it particularly in regard to things that I am having difficulty with or do not understand, or feel I need help with. Well that's how I understand how using a higher power works. You are entirely free to choose which ever concept makes sense to you. The only requirement is that it is a power greater than you, and that it is a loving higher power. I find the simpler you keep this the better.

And I have not found it necessary for people to choose a religious concept of a higher power. You can remain atheist for as long as you want and this will not cause you any problems whatsoever in staying sober. In the beginning my concept of a loving power greater than me was blurry and vague and confusing, so the first thing I asked for was "please would you grant me the most loving and most powerful concept of a power greater than me, that I can have". I think I asked this for about a week and very soon after I felt as though I did have a much clearer and accessible concept of a loving power greater than me. And this made progress in recovery a lot easier. The book tells us that it is all right to ask for oneself, if the things you ask for assist your recovery. I felt there was no problem in asking for a clearer concept of a power greater than me because it would assist my recovery. I didn't like asking for this concept because I was very defiant and very resistant. As far as I remember I asked this through gritted teeth. So don't concern yourself if you feel like you are full of defiance and anger and resistance, because I have found that not to be a problem. Once you have a concept of a power greater than yourself you can then ask that power greater than yourself for help with your defiance and help with your resistance.

Four. Try to do something off the just for today card. It doesn't have to be the most difficult thing, it can be any thing you want. If you're going through a difficult time, carry the just for today card with you in your back pocket, and when you get stuck or overwhelmed about something, try to do one of those things on the just for today card, and it can be the easiest thing on card.

Five. Go to AA meetings, and try to be helpful when you get there. Don't isolate in the meeting, do service, talk to people, talk to newcomers. Be part of the meeting. Do not just show up and disappear at the end without talking to people. This is a recipe for disaster. It is a pub with no beer. It's a free social and community resource, and you would be very foolish to pass up the opportunity to be part of it. The alternative is social isolation. If you attend meetings you will automatically come into contact with a vast range of amenable and accessible friendly people. Yes of course some of them are slightly unhinged, but the trick is to gravitate toward the people who you feel you have something in common with, or who you feel are mutually supportive and constructive and positive. There is no hard and fast rules but generally it would be considered unwise to gravitate toward people who act unpredictably and irrationally, and it would be considered helpful to gravitate towards people that make you feel better after you have spoken to them. Obviously men stick with men and women stick with women to avoid thirteen stepping.

Btw I've seen people stay sober who didn't go to meetings but had access to a very real network of AA friends so basically had the benefits of a meeting without having access t one. ie were helping newcomers and talking regularly to others and confiding in them, despite being away from physical meetings. You can help newcomers online nowadays by saying nice things to them on their blogs. The blogsphere has opened up a whole network of fellowship and service. I knew someone (before the days of internet) who lived on an Island with no meetings but stayed sober by setting up their own meeting and trying to help local alcoholics. So if there are no meetings near you this need not be the end of the world. What matters is whether you are helping newcomers and confiding honestly in others.

Six. Last but not least, pick up the phone BEFORE you pick up a drink. This is the case whether you are one-week sober, one-year sober, 10 years sober, or 20 years sober. It doesn't matter. The rule stays the same. If for any reason you think you might want to pick up a drink, you need to pick up the phone first and talk to someone about it. You need to be completely honest about what's going on in your head. Tell the truth basically instead of trying to struggle through life on your own. Once there is a real danger that you might drink, then all bets are off and you need to get the phone ASAP. Nothing takes greater precedence than this instruction. Even if you are in the middle of a marriage ceremony you need to leave the room, find the nearest phone, and call someone in AA. This is not negotiable. You pick up the phone no matter what. This is what is called going to any lengths. If you are on holiday you pick up the phone, if you are in the middle of an important board meeting you leave and you pick up the phone. If you are in the middle of explaining some complex technical theory to a conference, you excuse yourself for five minutes and you pick up the phone. No exceptions. If you are in the middle of planning a strategic military attack on a bunker, you excuse yourself from the control room and you pick up the phone. First things first. If you relapse then the problem you are dealing with will deteriorate rapidly due to your inability to manage it because you are drinking. So if you care about the life situation you are dealing with, you will have no choice but to leave it and pick up the phone. Alcoholics cannot stay sober on their own. The days of soldiering on through life alone and "independent" are over. You need people whether you like it or not, and you need to start being honest with them about how you're REALLY feeling. Not how you would like them to THINK you are feeling. This can be very ego puncturing, but it's actually a nice thing to do. It only takes five minutes to pick up the phone and speak to somebody in AA so it's no great loss. It's five minutes of your life for God sakes so it's no big deal. So pick up the phone.

* I used dictation software so there might be some ? funny words here I havent spotted yet. I'll fix them eventually ! Its alovely day here so great for a run in the park.. Have a great Tuesday :)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Emanate goodwill instead of emanating ill will

I always think motive is far more important than the words themselves. I feel my way rather than thinking my way. If when I look inside I can see condemning, presupposed judgements or accusatory tendencies, I know through previous experience that I am starting on the wrong foot, and that I should withdraw from expressing myself at that time until I feel as though I am coming from a more neutral place.
Basically if my attitude is negative I am not likely to have much success. I will probably wind them up. The only way I know how to speak in a way which doesn't cause more problems is to be genuinely goodhearted. I don't always start out that way but that doesn't matter. In other words it's not what comes into your head that matters, it's what you do with it that counts. So a lily-white psyche is not required to say the right thing. All that's really needed is a desire to do the right thing no matter what your head or emotions tell you.
I try as hard as I can to give other people the benefit of the doubt, especially when I have become convinced that they are a bit rubbish or irritating. If I am having a particularly negative perception of them, then chances are I have completely lost all objectivity and I am just stewing on some deluded resentment or other. I suppose what I'm saying is that if there is some unconscious reactivity bubbling around under the surface, that very little can be achieved by windowdressing, i.e. faking pleasantries when there is some internal tension going on. My experience is that it's much better to confront the negative attitude head on and make a sincere effort to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. This is much easier if you have learned that your head very rarely tells you the truth, and emotions lie. I have reached a point where I don't trust my thoughts or my feelings, so this makes being open-minded in such situations much easier.
By the way this doesn't mean that I deliberately hang around in abusive conversations, it just means that when I sense negativity internally, I would rather address my judgement and accusatory tendencies than try to be pleasant through gritted teeth and fail miserably. I'm also surprised at how quickly one can genuinely alter one's internal landscape if you're used to questioning your thoughts and feelings instead of accepting them on face value. Many years of practising restraint of tongue and pen mean that I'm able to keep my mouth shut, and make a conscious effort to become open-minded about that person, instead of deciding in advance that they must be irritating or wrong in some way before I clarify the issue that I am concerned about.
I just thought I'd mention that because it came up in conversation recently.

I suppose what I'm saying is that your private thoughts and emotions about other people aren't really as private as you think. People actually know you much better than you realise. If you have a negative attitude towards them, even if you don't say anything explicit or express to that effect, they will know on some level. If you get used to the idea that everybody can see through you then there is a much stronger motivation to clean up your internal, privately held attitudes and beliefs about people places and things. I am much more motivated to be pure hearted towards other people because I know how easy it is to see through people, and I also know that people react extremely badly to negative attitudes when they are slightly disturbed to begin with. So it makes sense to clean up one's internal environment, rather than paper over the cracks with phoney pleasantries that actually don't fool anyone.

In AA we call this having a good bullshit detector, but really on some level children, pets, your co-workers and everyone really are able to pick up on your negative attitude and will react accordingly because most people are highly reactive. So you save yourself a lot of grief if you make a real effort to come from a goodhearted place, (despite habitual negativity) and emanate goodwill towards them instead of emanating ill-will towards them.

Anyway it's a rather uninspired grey lifeless and rather cold day over here. I'm going to have some tea and get to the gym and that might get the blood circulating. I hope your Tuesday is a little bit more interesting than this one is looking so far :)