In AA We Have Found (Step Eleven continued)

In A.A. we have found that the actual good results of prayer are beyond question.  They are matters of knowledge and experience.  All those who have persisted have found strength not ordinarily their own.  They have found wisdom beyond their usual capability.  And they have increasingly found a peace of mind which can stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances.

This is what I’ve been trying to increase and cultivate in preparation for flying, and really for everything that causes me fear, anxiety and stress.  For some time now I’ve been praying the prayers, writing them, thinking them and studying them in an organized and formal fashion, much more mindfully than I’ve ever done before.

I’ve gained knowledge of the prayer, prayers, and some sources including poets, authors and the Bible.  I can’t really see how this increases my wisdom, but I hope it does.  It does increase my peace of mind.  I really hope it can stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances.

I think that in the past, when I faced flight and fear, I was much more confident in the program and the words of the program, though I have less reason to doubt it now than in the past.  I think that might be part of getting older, with that increased sense of vulnerability, or it may be the fact that now I’ll be flying without children to care for.  Or both.  But that deserves its own post.

April 19, 2010 (this day)

Carole had surgery on her hand today, and last night I didn’t sleep for a minute.  I’ve now been awake for around 36 hours, and I’m not tired.  Not good.  Part of what kept me awake was bad, bad thoughts from the past.  One of those nights.  I’ll use it as an excuse though not to contemplate the 11th step just now.


I took a test:

Results of your Self-Esteem Test

Self-Esteem Index
Your score = 80 Your score

What does your score mean?

According to this test, you have high self-esteem. You recognize your inner value and it shows in your personal life, relationships and career/school success. You exude confidence, which is very attractive, and believe enough in yourself to pursue things whole-heartedly. Such a healthy self-esteem allows you to “be yourself”, handle stress effectively and maintain an overall sense of well-being. You should value and nurture this quality; it will get you far in life. Way to go!

I don’t know.  I wonder what someone with a score of 100 would look like.

Last night at my meeting, the topic was something like “living with yourself in sobriety.”  I said that living with myself in sobriety is often hard.  I’ve been schooled for many years in the ideal ways to be, and I fall short most of the time, I think.  Literally most of the time.

Maybe part of that is an oldtimer dilemma.  In the beginning, I changed so drastically it was like a baby going from newborn to toddler.  In a short time I changed so much, and it has slowed way way down.  I also understand more about the way I should be than I understood at that time.  I know so many more of the right answers so if I think about it, I can quickly realize I’m not living up to what I know I should be.

Still, with all that I score an 80.  For the questions, most people around me don’t seem to be better off than I am.  I don’t really like myself and accept myself the way I am.  I need to keep improving.  Being myself allows the people who only truly like the genuine me to like me – a lesson I am grateful to have learned.  Thank goodness there are a few of them out there.  I am a little bit afraid of rejection, and in some ways I am inferior.  Physically, for example, and I’m fine with that.  Having bright children and working with people with intellectual disabilities has taught me that some are quicker than others.  It’s not good or bad (though intelligence is a wonderful gift), it just is.  People would notice if I disappeared.  I’ve asked anyone who would care to please look for me.  I am not worthless, futile or insignificant.  Though ignoring problems might not make them go away, it is my preferred method of dealing with them.  And no, I will never be as capable as I should be due to character defects like laziness and fear.

So according to Discovery Health, this all results in high self-esteem.  OK then, just as long as it’s not too high.

April 15, 2010 (this day)

I had good news today about Christy, the woman I’ve been worried about.  Yesterday and this morning I was, for some reason, extra worried about her.  My mind kept rehearsing how it would be to hear she had passed away.  Part of it, I know, is that I was listening to one of her favorite singers in the car.  But I want to make sure I pay attention to this, because a frequent symptom of my fear of flying was (probably is) an overwhelming feeling like a premonition that this plane is going to crash.  The first time I was afraid, it was a fear that my cat would die on a very long flight while she rode in cargo.  After she made it through that, I kept getting the feeling that my flight was going down.  I always got on the plane anyway, thankfully letting my rational brain prevail.  But I had that sixth sense feeling and now, with Christy, I can remind myself that I don’t really have any ability to predict the future.  My “feelings” really aren’t anything even resembling a fact.

Christy’s not out of the woods yet but she’s doing better.  I’m continuing on my quest to fly without fear and without drugs.  I haven’t yet made a firm commitment to do it that way, but that’s what I’m working toward.  Honestly I don’t get a lot of support for my desire to do it drug free, in or out of the program.    I don’t know what the best thing to do is, but I do know I’m tired of giving so much of my time over to fear.

I’m busy at work, and I’m also able to take time off when it gets too busy.  That does leave me feeling like I’ve burdened my work partner, though, even though she could do the same thing, she just doesn’t.  Last night I actually dreamed that I need surgery on my ankle, and I was afraid to tell my work partner about it.  I told her about the dream today.

Carole needs what I guess will be outpatient surgery on her hand on Monday in order to get through with the splint before our vacation.  She asked to switch cars with me since hers in standard and mine is automatic, and I declined.  So she bought a new car.  Today.

I have a cat who may be sick and my first iPod.  I tried to name it Fernanda, “daring journey,” but I didn’t do the naming or much else correctly with it.  The technology amazes me.  It goes so quickly and I am at times so very old.

We Also Fall (Step Eleven continued)

We also fall into another similar temptation.  We form ideas as to what we think God’s will is for other people.  We say to ourselves, “This one ought to be cured of his fatal malady,” or “That one ought to be relieved of his emotional pain,” and we pray for these specific things.  Such prayers, of course, are fundamentally good acts, but often they are based upon a supposition that we know God’s will for the person for whom we pray.  This means that side by side with an earnest prayer there can be a certain amount of presumption and  conceit in us.  It is A.A.’s experience that particularly in these cases we ought to pray that God’s will, whatever it is, be done for others as well as for ourselves.

Again, why bad things happen to good people.  I don’t know and it often, often, seems very unfair.  The above concept explains to me that I’m not unique, and it tells me what to do.  I need to pray for God’s will, whatever it is.

I don’t know what it is.  I also add after that, if I’m actually praying this, “and the power to carry that out.”

I can see how a lifetime of asking for people to be cured of their fatal maladies could lead to big disillusionment and eventually turning away from a higher power and from prayer.  It’s a bit different to consider that it is presumption and conceit that would make me think this way.

Through the years I’ve had a few favorite clients (adults with multiple disabilities and mental retardation), and one of them is suffering right now.  To my eyes she has suffered her whole life, and now her life is in question as she struggles to get off of a ventilator.  Honestly this is one of the most difficult scenarios of my life, and it does get played out from time to time.    I just can’t fathom a “why” for these things.  There can’t be a reason that I can comprehend.  So yes, God’s will for Christy, that’s what is needed right now.  And the truth is, I may not really, truly want it.

Cultish Aspects, Part III

More from Antonahill:

>AA does not control the information that members receive from books or TV or the internet or from other people. It does not shun people who fall away. The fact that it actually welcomes such people back probably saved my life.

Not “shun”, no. But harsh judgement is lobbed at those who do not follow the culture that is preached.

Not really, not in my experience.  I relapsed chronically for six years.  I have had exposure over time to people who have relapsed.  I have known people who did “not follow the culture that is preached.”  I have not heard them subjected to harsh judgment.

When someone struggles, especially over time, in my experience, AA members become more heavy and adamant about the AA “suggestions.”  Mostly that’s because we hate to see people suffer, and know that in our individual and collective experience, the more of the “culture” we leave out, the less likely we are to achieve, maintain, and thrive in sobriety.

As for people who don’t seem to be struggling, but are not following the culture by maybe leaving out important aspects, I hear warnings sometimes directed toward them, but it is always couched in the terms of personal experience, and always  meant as a warning.  So for example someone who likes to hang out with old friends at bars may get told that this isn’t a good idea.  I hope they do get told that.  But harsh judgment?  No.  In my experience, AAs are the most gentle people I’ve known.

>AA does tell alcoholics that they have no personal power.

Which is absurd. And having such an absurd notion as a central tenet is at elast irresponsible.

Take it in context.  An alcoholic presenting herself at an AA meeting as such by definition cannot stop drinking.  Most people don’t show up at AA because they have one bad hangover.  It takes a lot of devastation usually for someone to take that step inside the rooms.  Usually this person has tried many many other ways first, and has failed, hence her presence at an AA meeting.

Now AA’s first step is to admit powerlessness.  This is the way sober people in AA have begun to live a life of sobriety. They don’t have list of ways for alcoholics to gain control of their drinking.  In fact, they have a list of ways that alcoholics have tried and failed to gain control of their drinking.

This concept is so central to the AA philosophy for me.  It’s what has enabled me to stay away from alcohol for 25 years after having nearly been killed by it.  The higher power, for me, at first, was the program of AA as practiced by the people I met there.  My will was to continue drinking, to not get so messed up that I couldn’t function, but I could not follow my own will.  I had no power to do that.  I had to follow the will of AA in order to begin to recover.  I had to.  For others, they don’t have to, and something else works for them.  When they show up at an AA meeting, though, I and millions of others will tell them what worked for us.  That we had no personal power.  That as long as we struggled to gain and exercise personal power, we were unable to stop drinking.  That if they are fortunate to grasp this concept as we have, they may begin to recover in the same way we advocate and love.

>Rather it has a systematic way of making sure, in as much as it is possible, that people apologize and make restitution for the past bad things they have done. It has a systematic way of encouraging us to review our conduct daily and several times a day, and to use our power to perform right actions.

As fine as that may be, the fact is that AA is not required for such principles to exist or be practiced.

And let’s be honest. One step instructs the member to hand all flaws over to God. That is not a system. That is religious tripe.

This is related to what I tried to express in the previous section.  The “handing over” is not a passive thing.  I may have struggled, for example, with dishonesty.  My presence in AA proves my inability to get very far on my own.  With the literature and people of AA, I have concrete directions and limitless counsel on how to actually do that by living a more honest life.  Once I have handed over the defect of dishonesty, for example, I can’t then to on to happily lie.

>Still, when I consider a newcomer, brand new to the rooms of AA, my best advice and my greatest hope for that person is that he or she jump in, stay close, and recover. I’ve seen it go the other way too many times. I couldn’t recover on my own, even after I had studied to some degree the principles of AA. So many others also cannot.

By your own admission, the principles of AA are not new to it. By what reasoning then is it a good idea to join and maintain fellowship in AA? The fact is that people can and do stop excessive drinking all the time without AA. There is, then, no reason for AA to exist if all it’s really going to do is rehash some tried and some absurd principles.

The fact that people can and do did not help me stop drinking one bit.  I don’t find any of the principles to be absurd, but then again, I wouldn’t.

>In speaking completely for myself, I can say with certainty that all the good I have done over the past 24 years is a direct result of AA. Had I lived without it, I would have been a pathetic taker, institutionalized and disabled in one way or another.

This begs the questions, were you unaware of the essentials of ethics before AA? Had it never crossed your mind to take responsibility for your actions? To apologize for the wrong you had done to others? If it had, then you had no need for AA. If it hadn’t, then you need much more than AA to become a productive member of society.

I had been exposed to those principles before AA.  It had crossed my mind to live an upright and ethical life.  However, as a compulsive drinker, I could not do it.

I needed AA to give me the people to support me in real time.  This may seem pathetic to a stronger person who could maybe study the Bible, or ethics, absorb the concepts and go on to be nearly perfect.  For me and most people I know, however, we fall far, far short of ideal.  For active alcoholics it is in my opinion impossible to drink and live an ethical life.

There are alcoholics who do it on their own but there are also many, many, who cannot.  I could not, and in desperation I turned to AA.  It gave me spiritual and ethical principles that I could live and apply, and an unlimited resource of people to help me do it.

The miracle of AA for me happened when I no longer had to attend in order to stay sober, but I wanted to attend in order to continue to grow spiritually and live better.

I am always sorry when I hear that someone will not give AA a try because the religious aspects turn them off, or because they think it is a cult.  I sincerely urge anyone who is struggling with alcohol to give it a try for 90 days.  You have everything to gain.

Cultish Aspects, Part II

More from Antonahill:

>Second, AA does NOT encourage members to leave society, but rather encourages them to become contributing members of it.

True (to some extent), but Scientology doesn’t encourage people to leave society completely either. This is a question of degrees. Is it possible to be in AA, be an active member, and have “normal” friends outside who engage in behavior that AA looks down on? Sure. But the fact of the matter is that the level of encouragement or discouragement that AA and its members levy upon certain behaviors is very much in a cult mindset.

“Normal” friends who engage in behavior that AA looks down on.  Well, being an active member, I would also then look down on those behaviors, wouldn’t I?  The truth is that many sober people, and speaking for myself, I find absolutely no fun or enjoyment in hanging out with people who are drinking or taking drugs.  Really it lost all its charm for me when I stopped.  At the beginning, I may have been vulnerable to relapse and so well-informed AAs would encourage me not to hang out with people who are doing the thing I seek to avoid.  This only makes sense.  Now, most days I am well beyond the danger of relapse and I have no desire to be around people who are engaging.  Once in a while, an occasion demands that I be around them, and this shows me again from time to time that this is not where I want to be.

At this stage of my life and my recovery, there really isn’t anyone who’s concerned about it if I should decide to go to happy hour with the people from work.  No one views this as dangerous for me and they neither encourage nor discourage me.  When someone is new in the program, it’s important that the newcomer experiences some sober time, to see if this will work for that person.  In that case, it’s very human to be tempted and to succumb, and so I, along with many other AAs, would discourage it and expose it as potentially dangerous.  We also suggest that the newcomer bring phone numbers and maybe another sober person along for support.  And you know what happens when someone doesn’t follow those suggestions?  Not a darn thing.  No cultlike behavior here.

>There are some lesser points that show to me that AA is not a cult in the negative sense. AA does not take financial control of a person, and is actually free to members, and discourages large donations made by individuals. There is not a charismatic leader.

I’ve already addressed this point, but yes, there are two. Any figure who is lifted onto a pedestal over the “regular” people can be considered a charismatic leader. In my experience, Dr. Bob and Bill W were treated as saints. Every word they had written was held aloft as divine wisdom. And so what of criticism? Plenty of cults, such as the Chabad movement, employ self-criticism.

OK so we’ll ignore the financial aspect, since AA is decidedly not cultlike in that way.  And that is not to be minimized.  Much of what we fear and dislike about cults, much of what is dangerous, is the way they take what ultimately matters, the money and property, of their adherents.  AA does not do this.

As for the sainthood of the founders, what they have written is certainly held aloft as wisdom, divinely inspired or simply divine.  Much more so Bill W than Dr. Bob, and personally I am always astonished and eternally grateful that the man had such a gift for writing.  I’ve heard plenty of criticism of Bill W and of some, admittedly few parts of what he has written, both in and out of AA.  It’s also been my experience that some AA members revere and try to interpret the AA literature literally, and try not to deviate from what they see as the exact written word.

I’m not like that, and I have had no problem getting on in AA with my liberal point of view.  To me, people who try to do this are like people who try to literally interpret the Bible, and I think both camps are missing the point.  Just as there can be fanatic and rigid Christians, there can be fanatic and rigid AAs.  In my experience, there are not many AAs like this.  But the fact that they exist does not negate the fact that there are many more moderate, thinking, questioning, practicing AAs than there are fanatics.  Extreme Christians would not make me suggest that Christianity is a cult.  Extreme AAs do not make me see the point that AA is a cult.

I thought I could wrap this up but there’s too much here.  More to follow.

Keep coming back!

The Cultish Aspects of AA

I’ve gotten some thoughtful responses to my post Is AA a Cult? and I’ve published them though I haven’t answered any.  It’s important to understand that I am a complete and total fan of AA.  I honestly feel like I would give my life to defend it.  Without it, I had no life.  I need it to be there for my future and for the future of my family and friends.  I don’t pretend to be objective.  I started AA young and I’ve stayed very long.  In that every other aspect of my life springs from this, it is the most important thing in my life.  Readers may take my experience and my viewpoint with an entire salt mine full of salt.  This is where I’m coming from.

Antonahill wrote a very thoughtful rebuttal of my opinions and I’d like to answer the points as much as I can.  This will take a few posts.  I asked my wife to do it for me, since my thoughts are already pretty much out there, but she said the comments made her think too hard.

>However, the common, popular first meaning of the word cult does not apply to AA. It is not a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader. Examples of these cults include The Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, Branch Davidian, and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple. These are extreme in their negativity.

You forgot Scientology (which has no sexual component and does not remove itself or its members from society) and The Family International (which does). Your opinion is a bit intellectually dishonest. No, AA has no specifically religious culture or rite, but it is actively theistic. Sure it hides that with phrasing such as “…as you understood Him”, but the implication is clear. To call it a religion is perhaps a misnomer, but to call it religious is accurate. And what’s this about charismatic leaders? How about the founders? Sure, they’re not around to deliver sermons, but neither is Jesus nor Buddha.

I’m not interested enough in Scientology or The Family International to look into them, but I’ll take your word for it.  I don’t think it’s accurate to call it religious.  It has no monastic or religious order, and the rites and observances are not sacred.  Sure, individual AA members or whole AA groups might get their knickers in a twist if someone suggests something out of the ordinary, but people are free to start a new meeting any time they want.  The Twelve Traditions are incredibly loose, and they define policies and procedures very broadly, and I have seen AA change and evolve with my own eyes.  As a society it flourishes, I believe, because the boundaries are so broad, the punishments for nonconformity nonexistent.

>Here’s the gist of my understanding of important ways in which AA differs from cults. I believe that Bill W and those who now follow him closely are very careful to say that AA is NOT the only way people find sobriety. The dire warning to follow or die comes when all else has failed.

This may be true to some degree, but in my experience, the assumption is that AA is the only way. And this is constantly preached. Not only does the internal culture reflect this, but our culture at large, which is my issue. AA automatically receives wholly undeserved merit and respect. Any criticism is at least frowned upon if not outright blasted.

I constantly preach this, but it is limited to my experience when I speak it at a meeting.  AA is hard, and most people I know who have been successful with it tried diligently to find something a bit less strenuous.  The internal culture of AA reflects this, well yes, you’ll mostly find people who found AA to be the only way populating AA meetings.  As for our culture at large, I find plenty of criticism of AA.  I’m here to say that the merit and respect are not undeserved.  I really think that our culture at large doesn’t know what else to do, just as people through the ages have struggled with this problem.  Alcohol plays a huge part in so many human tragedies.  Sure there are alternatives to AA, but none of these fill the need of the compulsive drinker so fully.  Therapy is once a week, and expensive.  Drugs require a doctor, and adherence to a regime.  Alternative programs have not had the (small) success AA has had because they aren’t as good.  If they are as good, they will flourish.  One may some day overtake AA in attendance and success stories.  Meanwhile our society has no better answer for the irresponsible drunk who is getting out of jail and may soon imperil you and me and our loved ones on the road.

More to follow.  Keep coming back!


It is bad, no doubt.  Is it better when my self-centeredness involves my own gratitude and contentment?  Is that better than when I think about how bad things are for me, how I’m put-upon, neglected, unappreciated or having bad luck?