Ray A.'s Blog

May 13, 2018

A few days ago I called my dentist’s office to confirm an appointment. Can I put you on hold? inquired the receptionist. Sure, I replied. On goes the elevator music. I waited. And waited. And waited.

Normally, I don’t make calls before or after I sit down to write. In fact, I avoid all contact with the outside world, lest I get distracted or sidetracked altogether. I wait till my workday is over. First things first.

But it was well into April and I hadn’t received the usual call asking me to confirm the appointment customarily scheduled at the conclusion of the last visit. Besides, I had never encountered a problem when calling the office before. So I took a chance and broke my regular discipline. Not surprisingly, it was a mistake. After about ten minutes, I hung up and went on with my work.

A couple of hours later, I called again, thinking they might not be as busy. Same voice. Same question. Ok, I said. Same mindless music. I suspected I was in for a repeat performance. I’ll give her 12 minutes, I thought. This time, however, I didn’t wait with my cell to my ear. Instead, I put it on speaker phone and continued to work.

Just about the time the 12 minutes were up, the receptionist came back on the line. She offered no apology for the unusually long wait. Nor did I try to elicit one. It turns out I didn’t have an appointment. She scheduled one, I thanked her, and that was that. Back to work.

Reflecting on the experience later, I tried to understand what had happened. I took inventory. Now, the idea of continuing to take inventory in Step 10 is generally thought to apply to situations where we don’t handle things well. And that is correct. In such situations, we want to examine where we’ve gone wrong so that we can improve and do better next time, and so that we can make amends where appropriate.

But the larger principle involved is that we need to continue to monitor ourselves and learn from our experience so that we can continue to grow. This is typically done with negative experiences, but it can also be done with positive ones. I can be done with those we don’t do well in, and with those we do. Some of us make it a habit to take stock in both. We find out what doesn’t work and try to stop doing it; we find what works and try to do more of that.

Poor service is a fact of life. So is having to wait. Being put on hold for an unreasonable length of time is not pleasant. When it happens twice in a row it can be trying. When waiting or any sort of delay threatens to interfere with our work or something else we may consider important, it can be very trying. We can get impatient, frustrated, angry. A little thing can become a big thing. For some of us, that’s how it was when we drank. Patience was not one of our strong points.

It probably isn’t with most people. That’s why when we’re put on hold we’ll often get a canned message like: “We apologize for the delay. We appreciate your patience. The next available representative will answer your call as soon as possible. Thank you for waiting.”

The first line of defense against impatience (and its emotional corollaries) is to exercise some prudence and avoid exposing ourselves to situations that might arouse it. That’s why I don’t make calls when I’m working. Misled by an unfounded sense of urgency, I made an exception. I was wrong.

But something interesting happened. The experience didn’t bother me in the least. That may be unremarkable for normal people. It isn’t for this alcoholic. Moreover, except for the time I wasted on the first call, it didn’t interfere with my work at all. I was able to pick up the thread of my thought and continue writing.

How come? What was different from previous such experiences? Looking back, I realized I had completely accepted the situation. I had seen it for what it was. One of those things. Par for the course. What surprised me, however, was that I had been able to do it twice. Normally, the burden of time involved in waiting weighs more heavily the second time around. Repeat offenses shorten one’s fuse. It makes acceptance harder.

That’s where the speaker phone comes in. For all I know, everyone uses that feature of their cell when they’re put on hold. They probably don’t do it out of any philosophical understanding or to practice any principle. They just want to go on doing whatever it is they’re doing. And that’s precisely what I wanted to do. I wanted to go on writing. So I did something I had never done before. I used the speaker phone.

And it worked. The second wait seemed shorter than the first. I was almost unaware of it. By taking my attention away from the fact of waiting, the speaker phone had effectively reduced the sense of waiting. While I was in fact waiting objectively speaking, I wasn’t waiting psychologically. There was no mental involvement. Hence the absence of a disruptive effect, materially or emotionally. I didn’t get impatient. I was able to maintain my serenity and remain productive. I was able to wait well, with equanimity and detachment.

By accident, I had come upon another tool to help me practice patience. Thus the benefit of continuing to take personal inventory, with regards to negative as well as to positive situations, in matters big and small. It can help us find ways to “practice these principles.”

For more on PTP's view of emotions as regards the practice of patience, see “The Virtue of Patience,” in “Practice These,” following which a link is given to “In All Our Affairs: Practicing Patience.” For another reflection on emotion and perception, see “One Pedal at a Time,” in Reflections.

Posted 04/26/18 in “Reflections in Recovery” at http://PracticeThesePrinciplesTheBook.... For full text, please click on the link.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on May 13, 2018 11:50 • 38 views • Tags: 12-steps, aa, patience, perception, principles, virtue

April 1, 2018

The term “virtue” is not an important part of the vocabulary of AA. The word and its cognates appear in our two basic texts only twelve times: eleven in the 12&12 and once in the Big Book. As Bill Sees It employs it seven times. Only on two occasions is “virtue” coupled with specific instances of what the word traditionally designates, as in “prudence” and “humility,” quoted below.

Instead, the concept of virtue and particular instances of it are referenced in the Big Book and the 12&12 using a variety of other terms. These include assets, attributes, concepts, keynotes, practices, precepts, qualities, standards, strengths, tenets, themes, tools, traits, and values.

Obviously, these words are very general and can apply to a broad range of things which have nothing to do with recovery. This overgeneralization and imprecision, which is also shown in the use of the word “principles,” is one of the reasons why many of us might find it hard to get a handle on what “these principles” refers to in Step 12 and how we are to practice them.

How we arrived at identifying one set of those principles as virtues—and what this means for the way we work the Steps—is discussed at length in PTP. Here we are interested in summing up a number of basic points from that discussion and supplementing it with a variety of quotes reflecting what has been thought and said about the concept of virtue over the ages in different fields, traditions, and cultures. This will hopefully help us to improve our understanding and practice of the specific virtues in each of the Steps. . . .

Excerpt from 03/29/18 post in “Practice These” at http://PracticeThesePrinciplesTheBook.... For full text and related quotes, please click on link.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on April 01, 2018 11:06 • 43 views • Tags: 12-steps, aa, principles, virtue

March 11, 2018

For the first 12 years of my sobriety I attended meetings in the Gramercy Park section of New York, near the headquarters of the Oxford Group at Calvary Episcopal Church and their 23rd Street mission, where Bill W. first got sober. AA meetings were still held in the adjacent church building, where Bill, Ebby T., Hank P., Fitz M. and other future AAs first met.

It was at one of those meetings that I first admitted my life had become unmanageable, after hearing a woman named Irene share about the unmanageability of her own life when she drank. Yet I had no idea of the history that surrounded me. Apparently, neither were apparently my fellow alcoholics. I never even heard the name Oxford Group mentioned.

That changed many years later when I moved to a rural area upstate. At Big Book meetings in particular, the subject of AA’s origins in the Group would sometimes come up. Invariably, this would arouse controversy. People either liked the Group, or intensely disliked it. The reasons were never clear. No one actually seemed to know much about the matter. Still, it was obvious that the divide had to do with religion.

That, as I eventually learned, had divided AAs from the very start. That’s why the Big Book insists ours is a spiritual, not a religious program. That’s also why it insists on open-mindedness as one of the key principles that will enable us to work it. Any alcoholic can recover, it asserts, “provided he does not close his mind to all spiritual principles.”

That assertion would seem to lay the need for open-mindedness more heavily on those who have a problem with the spiritual angle of the program than on those who don’t. And that is correct, for as the book emphasizes, the alcoholic “can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial” with regards to things spiritual.

Yet the Big Book doesn’t mean to suggest that close-mindedness is required only of the agnostic, the atheist, or the secularist in general. Believers too may need to practice this principle, and with regards to the same issue. Both groups tend to conflate spirituality and religion, only from different directions. One is disposed to reject things because of their association with religion while the other is disposed to accept them for exactly the same reason, particularly if it is their religion.

Something of this sort appears to be at work in the division evident in the rooms regarding the Oxford Group and its influence on AA. Some seem to oppose the Group simply because of its evangelical affiliation, while others seem to support it precisely because of that affiliation. In neither case does the conflict seem to have anything to do with the facts. Minds have been already made up, and closed.

Our two texts’ silence on the matter has not helped. Fearing to stoke the flames of controversy, Bill made a decision not to make any direct reference to the OG in the Big Book or the 12&12. Indeed, for a long time he sought to distance AA from the Group in the public eye. Nevertheless, Bill had always kept an open mid. When he finally acknowledged the Group’s contributions, he was even-handed and balanced. The Oxford Group, he said, had taught AA both what to do and what not to do.

Borrowing from the literature on the subject, we will try to summarize that these positive and negative lessons are, making available the basic information that can help us to come to a reasonable and fair-minded understanding of the issue. For those who may wish to explore the topic further, sources are footnoted. . . .

Excerpts from 02/28/18 post in “Reflections,” at http://PracticeThesePrinciplesTheBook...
For full post, including references and resources, please click on link.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on March 11, 2018 11:52 • 34 views • Tags: aa-history, oxford-group

February 11, 2018

In our introduction to “Character Defects” in the portal page of this section, we gave a summary of the understanding of character defects which PTP has drawn from the Big Book and the 12&12. We placed this understanding in its historical context, outlining the classical view of what constitutes character, how it goes bad and becomes defective, and how this relates to defective emotion and harmful action, concluding with the process of spiritual growth and character building—represented by the 12 Steps—by which we change, replacing our defects with the spiritual virtues which enable us to live as it is the will of a loving God for us to live, best exemplified perhaps by the St. Francis Prayer in Step 11 of the 12&12.

Here we supplement this summary with a selection of quotes, spanning over two millennia, which may add to our reflection on the subject. A review of these quotes will reveal a number of consistent themes. Character defines who we really are as people (King, Wooden); differs from personality (Maugham, Letterman); is the product of habit (Plutarch, Ovid, Covey), not of fate or circumstance (Democritus, Dyer); reflects as well as shapes our perceptions (Lewis, Emerson) and our hearts (Augustine); largely determines the course of our lives (Democritus, Beckwith); should consequently be our highest concern (Euripides, Socrates, Goethe, de Montaigne, Spurgeon); and can be transformed (Confucius, Dewey, Frank, Nin) gradually (Heraclitus) through a process of pain and effort (Seneca, Paul, Keller) which replaces its defects with their virtuous counterparts (courage and honesty for Roosevelt, perseverance for Michener and Vonnegut, self-control and forgiveness for Carnegie).

These are of course only quotes, and to get at the substance which, in the case of some of the great thinkers, may lie behind them, we would have to read their works. But even after we do we’ll find that no one even comes close to offering the kind of extensive, systematic, and practical program of action for the transformation of character that is available through the 12 Steps of AA. Nor is there a program of action that has been tested more or yielded better results, in ours an in other 12-Step fellowships. The program works in this very specific and all-important way of making better men and women of us who once were given up for—and thought ourselves—hopeless. We only need to work it.

Posted 01/30/18 at http://PracticeThesePrinciplesTheBook... in “Character Defects.” For related quotes, images, and postings on specific defects of character, please click on link.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on February 11, 2018 09:50 • 19 views • Tags: 12-steps, aa, character, moral-inventory, steps-4-10

November 19, 2017

Character defects are described in the Big Book as “flaws in our make-up which caused our failure” and as manifestations of “self,” expressions of our spiritual disease of selfishness and self-centeredness. Reaffirming that they are “the primary cause of [our] drinking and [our] failure in life,” the 12&12 describes them further as “representing instincts gone astray,” and as being “based upon shortsighted and unworthy desires” connected with those distorted drives.

Character defects are the primary subject of our inventory and the activities connected with it in Steps 4 through 10. Unless we are “willing to work hard at the elimination of the worst of these defects,” the 12&12 continues, “both sobriety and peace of mind will still” elude us.

“Flaws in our make-up” is perhaps the simplest definition of character defects in the Big Book. “Flaws” and “make-up” reference the moral life. Our character is the sum total of moral traits, attributes, or qualities that make up our moral selves. They “characterize” us, governing the way we conduct ourselves and live out our lives.

These traits can be of two kinds. They can be positive, typical or “characteristic” of the best human qualities and thus conducive to wellbeing and flourishing; or they can be negative, representative of the worst human qualities and thus conducive to injury and failure.

Negative traits of character cause our failure by causing us to do wrong. They do this by distorting our perception of reality so that we come to value the wrong things in life, or to value the right things but in the wrong ways. This distortion in turn distorts our emotions, which are the drivers of wrong action.

Negative character traits are flaws or defects, or, as a tradition going back to ancient Greece calls them, vices. Positive traits, according to the same tradition, are virtues. Among the positive traits, AA highlights such virtues as acceptance, compassion, courage, faith, forgiveness, gratitude, honesty, hope, humility, kindness, love, patience, open-mindedness, serenity, simplicity, tolerance, willingness, and wisdom. Among the negative traits, it stresses such defects as dishonesty, envy, greed, intolerance, jealousy, lust, pride, resentment, self-centeredness, selfishness, self-pity, and sloth.

A defect is so called because it reflects a defective quality, one that is deficient or lacking in the attributes which make for a perfect trait, i.e., for a virtue. A defect is therefore the absence of that which is good, excellent, or perfect. A dishonest person is most obviously lacking in honesty. But the person can also be lacking in courage, for instance, for telling the truth sometimes calls for that virtue. An envious or a greedy person may be lacking in gratitude, the virtue which helps us to appreciate and be content with what we have, rather than wanting more or desiring what others have.

Both types of character traits are acquired. We are born with built-in capacities to develop them, but we are not born with them. We develop and acquire them in the process of living our lives. It is in his process that they become specifically “character” traits, rather than some other type of trait. They “characterize” us because they have become engraved in us as “characters,” literally marks that have been inscribed or engraved in the self and which govern the way we see, the things we care about, our feelings, and our consequent actions.

Having become ingrained in us through experience, character traits are in the nature of moral habits. The marks are like encoded instructions to repeat behavior X in situation Y. This works the same way for defects and for virtues, except that defects develop more or less naturally over the course of our lives, while virtues require intentional effort. We start lying and cheating at an early age and over time we become dishonest people. We lie and cheat as a matter of course, automatically, instinctively, and even unconsciously sometimes. In this way, habit renders us powerless over ourselves.

Becoming honest requires a reversal of the previous process of habituation. Thus getting rid of our defects of character is a process of undoing the old habits which have become rooted in us and developing the opposing habits represented by the virtues. The virtues are what will gradually displace and replace our defects. They are their antidotes. They are corrective not only of our defects of character, but of the other defects which these generate in our concerns, construals, and emotions.

Acquiring them requires work, which is why AA places so much emphasis on working the Steps and practicing the principles embedded in them. Steps 4 through 10 are central to the process. We take inventory of our defects of character and of the defective emotions these generate, admit them, become ready to surrender them, ask God for their removal, make amends for the harm they caused, and practice the corrective traits in the virtues.

As this process of “housecleaning” itself becomes habitual—we do it regularly and consistently, day in and day out—it becomes a new way of life. It's part and parcel of our spiritual awakening as we seek to do God’s will for us. As we do, our defects of character weaken and decrease, while our strengths of character grow.

For a discussion of character defects in Practice These Principles book 1, please see chapter A. These Principles, “Virtue and Character Development,” pp. 31-36, and chapter B. In All Our Affairs: Emotional Sobriety, “Character and Emotions,” pp. 52-55. The discussion will continue in Step 4 of Practice These Principles book 2.

Posted 11/07/17 at http://PracticeThesePrinciplesTheBook... in “Character Defects.” For postings on specific defects of character, please click on link.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on November 19, 2017 11:39 • 31 views • Tags: 12-steps, aa, character-defects

October 22, 2017

If open-mindedness is one of the essentials of recovery, as we read in the Big Book, then it follows that narrow-mindedness is one of its chief stumbling blocks. Yet few of us would see it that way. As it applies to us, that it. We are more than ready to identify the defect in others—to take their inventory rather than ours. How many of us have given any serious thought to the possibility we might be affected by the same ailment? How many of us have included it in the list of defects to examine in ourselves?

Like pride, narrow-mindedness seems to be intrinsic to the self. It is, we might say, a built-in form of self-centeredness. Narrow-mindedness disposes me to see the world in terms of the constituent elements of my self, the conglomeration of factors that define me and make me who I am: my sex, race, nationality, ethnicity, class, culture, language, religion and politics, to name the most significant.

These color my experience and go to make up the mode through which I receive the world. They become the filters—the necessarily narrow filters—through which I view and value things. With time, I develop a natural, unconscious resistance to ideas, views, beliefs, or ways of life which are new, different, or unfamiliar, or which challenge or conflict with those to which I am already accustomed. This makes of narrow-mindedness an intellectually or cognitively limiting defect: it restricts my ability to learn, acquire knowledge, and gain understanding. In short, it keeps me from growing.

It is for this reason that narrow-mindedness is a stumbling block to recovery. AA is about growth, and especially about spiritual growth. “When the spiritual malady is overcome,” says the Big Book, “we straighten out mentally and physically.” Yet it is precisely the spiritual “angle” of the program to which narrow-mindedness makes us resistant.

This is true of all of us. Believer, ex-believer, unbeliever, we all come to AA with our set ideas about God and religion, ideas which not infrequently clash with 12-Step spirituality. AA asks us to set those ideas aside and to open ourselves to a message we have never heard before, to an experience we have never had. The goal is a spiritual awakening which can deliver us from the obsession to drink and bring about a complete transformation in us.

Narrow-mindedness stands in the way of this process. It affects the way we work all of the Steps, but it becomes a major problem with the more obviously God Steps: Steps 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 11. How open are we really to the idea that God can restore us to sanity, that he really cares about us, that he can remove our defects of character? How receptive are we to the proposition that we can make conscious contact with him, that he has a will for us, and that he can give us the knowledge and the power to carry it out?

These are of course questions of faith. But AA tells us that faith is a gift, and that our job is to open up and make ourselves ready to receive it. Yet the faith AA proposes is a faith that works. It involves effort, and narrow-mindedness is averse to effort. It fosters and is fostered by related work-aversive defects such as apathy, complacency, self-satisfaction, and sloth, all of which conspire to keep us in a state of blissful ignorance.

Blissful because, as a product of narrow-mindedness, ignorance simplifies everything—whether about God, the world, or other people. It allows us to be happily insular, provincial, and parochial. It makes it easy for us to deal in stereotypes and indulge biases and prejudices. We can be self-righteous, doctrinaire, dogmatic, sectarian, petty, partisan or one-sided and be totally oblivious to the fact.

Indeed, narrow-mindedness is one of the hardest defects to detect in ourselves. By its very nature, it impairs our ability to conduct an objective self-appraisal. The necessary degree of detachment, of self-distancing, is lacking. Moreover, in causing moral harm, narrow-mindedness works behind the scenes. It functions as a contributing factor in situations involving other, more specific defects, such as resentment, impatience and intolerance. We may be able to see these particular defects and not see the larger defect underlying them—in which case the defects will continue to crop up.

Narrow-mindedness is the problem to which open-mindedness is the solution. As a virtue, open-mindedness requires practice. An enquiring mind and a passion for truth are necessary, but we all carry the seeds of such qualities in us, and they will grow if we cultivate them. An honest admission of our fundamental ignorance, a humble recognition of how little we know, of how little we really understand about things, will also help. So will a willingness to listen, to give a fair hearing where we would rather turn a deaf ear, to withhold judgment, to reach conclusions slowly and tentatively, our minds always open to the possibility that, as “A Vision for You” tells us, more will be disclosed.

Posted 10/09/17 at http://PracticeThesePrinciplesTheBook...
in “Character Defects.” For full text and accompanying image, as well as quotes and additional resources, please click on link.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on October 22, 2017 11:38 • 23 views • Tags: 12-steps, aa, character-defects, narrow-mindedness

August 19, 2017

Dishonesty is probably the single biggest obstacle to recovery. The Big Book suggests as much when it says that “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.” Such people “are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living with demands rigorous honesty.”

Understood as a defect of character, dishonesty is an ingrained, habitual disposition to misrepresent the truth. This affects not only what we say and do, but also what we think and feel, and not only with respect to others, but also with respect to ourselves. Indeed, as Bill W. tells us, being dishonest with others almost always requires that we be dishonest with ourselves. We will always try to hide a bad motive underneath a good one, find a good reason to explain the wrong we do so that it doesn’t seem to be wrong.

In the form of self-deception, dishonesty is probably also the single biggest obstacle to making a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. We’re told that taking inventory is “a fact-finding and fact-facing process,” that “It is an effort to discover the truth” about ourselves. But, if we are self-deceived, we don’t want to find or face the facts; we don’t want to discover the truth. We want to mask, hide, conceal, distort and otherwise manage and manipulate reality. We will only see what we want to see.

Of course, we won’t admit that’s what we’re doing. Often we won’t even know that’s what we are doing. Such is the power of self-deception to render us totally opaque to ourselves. Hence the need to do our major inventories with a sponsor who can help us to spot the instances [expressions?] of dishonesty in the situations and relationships we examine. The sponsor will help us see through the deceptive ploys we utilize to hide the truth from ourselves: denial, rationalization, exaggeration, minimization, suppression, self-justification, and blame-shifting.

In the process of doing so, we will become increasingly good at recognizing the many manifestations of dishonesty in us. For dishonesty takes many forms, some quite blatant, others very subtle. Lying, cheating, and stealing are the most obvious. But even within these categories there are many shades of dishonesty, some harder to detect and admit to than others.

Take lying. There are lies of commission, as when we actually tell a falsehood, and lies of omission, as when we simply refrain from telling the truth. We may make a patently false statement, or we may deliberately provide inaccurate, partial, or misleading information; we may withhold the truth altogether, remain silent, be ambiguous, evasive, or vague, or we may fudge, waffle, or prevaricate; we may exaggerate, stretch, or play down the facts; we may say what a person wants to hear though we may not really believe it ourselves; we may make a promise we don’t intend to keep or, more often, just fail to keep our word; we may pretend to be something we are not or to know something we don’t; we may hypocritically claim to believe one thing while actually practicing another; we may abstain from looking deeper into an issue because we are not really interested in knowing the truth about it, or because what we find may contradict what we believe or force us to make choices we don’t want to make; and so on ad infinitum. The possibilities are endless. They are equally manifold for cheating and stealing, as well as for the many other forms dishonesty takes, such as unfaithfulness, disloyalty, and betrayal.

Becoming good at taking inventory of the dishonesty in us requires therefore that we become acquainted with its multiple expressions. For some of us, this may also involve expanding our vocabulary a bit: we cannot identify a form of dishonesty we cannot name.

It also requires that we become familiar with the various drivers of dishonesty in us. These are always other defects of character or emotion. Pride, jealousy, envy, greed, sloth, and lust, for instance, can drive us to lie, cheat, and steal, or to harm people in ways which we must then try to cover up and hide from ourselves as well as from others. The same with anger, fear, guilt, and shame, among other emotions.

Thus, if we are doing an inventory of anger, resentment, and fear, as in the Big Book sample, we need to look into the ways those emotions and dishonesty interact with each other. In that sample it is evident that the alcoholic’s problems stem from two blatant acts of dishonesty: cheating on his wife and stealing from his employer. His anger and resentment is a response to his being exposed for these acts; his fear a response to the consequent threats to his marriage, his home, and his job. At the same time, his anger enables him to shift blame and deny the real cause of his problems. It’s all their fault. His dishonesty causes him both to do wrong, and to hide the wrong from himself.

Whatever the wrong we may have committed, and whatever the defects of character or emotion driving them, dishonesty will almost always be present. Our job as we take inventory is to detect it and understand its function. As we see and admit it, dishonesty diminishes and honesty grows. But because of their motivating role, it follows that dishonesty will also diminish to the extent that these other defects do. We grow in honesty then by admitting, not only the specific manifestations of dishonesty in us, but the specific manifestations of the other defects that tend to generate it.

Posted 08/14/17 at http://PracticeThesePrinciplesTheBook... in "Character Defects," together with a variety of related quotes and other resources.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on August 19, 2017 10:42 • 11 views • Tags: 12-steps, aa, character-defects, dishonesty

May 7, 2017

We read in the 12&12 that the practice of admitting one’s defects to another person is very ancient. And indeed it is. So is the practice of admitting one’s defects to God. The traditional name for these practices is, of course, confession.

AA doesn’t stress the use of the term “confession” for the same reason it doesn’t stress the use of the term “sin,” which it replaces with “defects.” Both have negative religious connotations. They can not only put off, but confuse the alcoholic as to what the nature and the purpose of the practice actually is in our program. Yet, AA doesn’t avoid either term; each appears 8 times in the Big Book and the 12&12.

Still, our goal is not to confess our sins but to admit our defects. In effect, while acknowledging it borrowed the concept from religion (via the Oxford Group), AA redefines confession for the alcoholic.
We want to admit “the exact nature of our wrongs.” That is, we want to admit not only our wrongful deeds (typically the goal in religious confession), but the wrongs in us which caused our doing them.

Having examined them thoroughly during our inventory, we want to admit to the distorted emotions which drove us to harm others and which are harming us as well, e.g., anger, resentment, fear, guilt, remorse, shame, regret, depression, self-pity. We want to acknowledge the defects of character in us which are fueling these emotions, e.g., dishonesty, envy, greed, impatience, ingratitude, injustice, intolerance, jealousy, lust, narrow-mindedness, pride.

Thus it follows that our admission of defects—of character and of emotion—is only as good as the self-examination on which it is based. If our inventory is mostly a summary of misdeeds, all we are going to admit to is what we did wrong. Our inventory will have been mostly an account of what we remember and our admission a recount of the same. We will not have examined the deeds for what they say about us and we will therefore have very little to say as to their exact nature. We will not have done the necessary groundwork for Steps 6 and 7, where we become ready to surrender our defects and ask God to remove them from us.

As presented in our two texts, confession—or the admission of defects—is a spiritual discipline. Spiritual because it most centrally concerns God. We admit our defects to God, not just to ourselves and another human being. Spiritual too because our disease is fundamentally spiritual and not only physical and mental. It requires a spiritual solution. Our admission, we are told, allows the grace of God to enter and “expel our destructive obsessions.” Yet many of us leave God out of our confession. We make our admission to another person without having any sense of its spiritual dimensions.

Confession is a discipline because it is designed to be practiced regularly and consistently over an extended period of time. It is not a random or an occasional act but a daily endeavor. The idea is to make the practice a habit and thereby become very good at it, just like through protracted practice we can excel at playing the violin or basketball.

Unlike these two other activities, however, confession encompasses all areas of life. In AA, it is a comprehensive practice, one of the spiritual principles we practice in all our affairs. The principle is operative in Steps 5, 9, and 10. It is also operational in our sharing at meetings.

In Step 5 it is the pivotal discipline. In Step 9, it works in conjunction with the discipline of restitution. We admit our wrongs to those we have harmed and make amends for them. In Step 10, a condensation of Steps 4 through 9, it is one of the main disciplines, together with self-examination, surrender, prayer, and restitution. We take inventory, admit our wrongs to ourselves and to God, ready ourselves to surrender the defects in question, pray for their removal, make the admission to those we have harmed, and make amends to them. If the situation is serious enough, we may have to take inventory with the help of another person (usually our sponsor) and make our admission to that person before we proceed.

How we order these disciplines and how much time we spend on them depends on the kind of Step-10 inventory we are doing, whether spot-check, end-of-day, or extended (covering a substantial period of time). In some spot checks we may go very quickly from inventory to admission to amendment, practicing the other disciplines perhaps in our nightly review. In that review Step 10 combines with Step 11, and we bring in the discipline of meditation as well as of prayer. An extended review is very much like a Step 4, and thus we may work more completely thorough all the disciplines making up the process.

Besides working in conjunction with these other disciplines, confession works together with a variety of virtues, the second major set of spiritual principles in the Steps. Most obviously, confession calls for humility and for honesty. When we confess we humble ourselves. We admit there’s something wrong with us; we tell the truth about ourselves and what we’ve done or left undone. We not only tell the truth, but we are totally frank with the person hearing our admission, and completely sincere with the person to whom we are making amends.

Disclosing ourselves to another and admitting our wrongs to those we have hurt may make us feel anxious, fearful, and embarrassed. Thus we may need to practice courage and therefore faith—faith that this is God’s will for us and that he will see us through. We may also need to practice discretion in what we disclose to whom, and prudence in whom we choose to hear our confession. And if we are going to practice confession as a discipline, we need perseverance. We need to continue to admit whenever and wherever we are wrong, regardless of the obstacles we may face.

Finally, an admission of wrongs is something we do all the time in the rooms. While discretion calls for a lot of prudent editing in such an open setting, we are always disclosing ourselves to our fellow alcoholics. To share is to unveil and to reveal, knowing that we are all fellow sufferers and that others will not judge but identify with us. When we share we share not only our faults, but the solutions which by the grace of God we have found in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Posted 05/04/17 in “Practice These” at http://practicetheseprinciplesthebook.... For full text, as well as quotes and additional resources, please click on link
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on May 07, 2017 12:12 • 9 views • Tags: aa, alcoholics-anonymous, confession, discipline, spiritual-principles

March 12, 2017

The sign is about 5” x 8.” It’s displayed prominently at the front edge of the table where the chairperson sits. “Watch Your Mouth,” it says. Some people seem totally oblivious to it. They curse right and left as if they were sitting at a bar watching a football game. We’re at an AA meeting. Supposedly we’ve come to share our experience, strength, and hope; to tell the story of what we were like, what happened, and what we are like now; of how we have changed and become new, sober men and women; to carry the message of our spiritual awakening.

Why then all the cursing? What is the message that carries? How does it fit in with our primary purpose? What does it contribute to our recovery and spiritual growth? How is it compatible with our admission of powerlessness, with being restored to sanity, with surrender, acceptance, serenity, and all the other principles we are called upon to practice?

Being at that meeting reminded me of my early days in AA. I first went to meetings in my old neighborhood. This was a bohemian section of a major city where cursing was a way of life. Everybody seemed to do it. It was part of the mystique, chic and fashionable. The same obtained in the rooms. Swearing in them was a form of art. Profanity, obscenity, four-letter words and expletives of all sorts punctuated every other sentence.

This neither surprised nor offended me. I didn’t have any moral or religious objections. I had come in as a libertine and an atheist. Moreover, I had had as filthy a mouth as they come. I had been a 60’s radical and f-bombs were among the most lethal weapons in my arsenal. A union organizer, my speeches at meetings and rallies were laced with every form of profanity. Cursing stirred people up. It mobilized them into action. They would demonstrate, march, go on strike.

But that was then, and this is now. So here I am at an AA meeting in the mid 80’s and it’s like a time warp. Everybody is still raising hell. The problem is that, with the alcohol out of my system, I now feel everything. Every raging f-word is like a blow to my nervous system. I feel riled up, agitated, ready to fight. But I don’t want to fight. I already did that. And I lost. That’s why I’m here. I found cursing was having the same effect on me as caffeine and sugar did, both of which I had consumed in abundance during the day, the wine then bringing me down at night. I had consciously given up the sugar-laden expressos when I stopped drinking. My body was telling me that cursing was just as bad for me, even if it was second-hand cursing.

After a few weeks, I gravitated toward meetings in a less contentious, more straight (more “bourgeois,” I would have said before) neighborhood. Unconsciously, I had started to change. I couldn’t go on doing sober what I had always done drunk.

When I did my first Step 4 inventory, cursing didn’t come up at all. What came up was a lot of anger. It took me many years to begin to see the connection between the two. I was a very angry man, and angry men curse. The review of secular opinion I did for this piece confirms what self-examination taught me. Cursing is a way of expressing emotion, and the main emotion it expresses is anger. The level of cursing varies with the level of anger. This can run the gamut from murderous rage to just plain frustration, like when we accidentally drop something and an obscenity automatically spills out of our mouth.

The general consensus is also that anger is the most power-driven emotion. Energy surges through the body as the emotion is aroused and we are primed to attack. And so because it is the verbal expression of anger, cursing has a lot to do with power. As a raging rabble-rouser, cursing and stirring up the crowds made me feel powerful. It made them feel powerful. Anger and cursing also made me feel powerful in another way: it enabled me to intimidate and thus to control my opponents.

It took me many inventories to connect my cursing with my anger, and both with my drive for power—and my drive for power with my main defect of character, which was pride. Apparently everybody had seen this all along. I had always come across as angry and arrogant. I wanted to play God, as the Big Book says, and when people didn’t play along I would explode in a barrage of power-driven arguments and expletives.

Secular psychologists give all kinds of reasons why people curse. Almost never do they attribute the problem to pride. If pride comes into the picture at all, it is as a virtue rather than a vice. In their view, cursing is actually something to be proud of. They cite research showing that people who curse are more intelligent and have a larger vocabulary than those who don’t. They also argue that cursing is “cathartic” and therefore healthy. Wouldn’t you rather be cursed at than punched, they rhetorically ask. Such is the power of self-deception, the 12&12 says in Step 10, “the perverse wish to hide a bad motive underneath a good one, which permeates human affairs from top to bottom.”

For “people who are driven by pride of self unconsciously blind themselves to their liabilities,” says the same book in Step 4, and thus “pride, leading to self-justification . . . is the basic breeder of most human difficulties, the chief block to true progress.” It is what stands in the way of exercising “restraint of tongue and pen” and curbing the habitual cursing that mars some people's sharing.

Looking through an AA lens, it’s not hard to see pride lurking behind the reasons most often given for cursing. Some men curse because, in their view, that’s what men do. It makes them feel virile. It’s a macho-sort of pride. Closely related to this is the desire to belong. They want to be one of the boys, part of the “in” crowd. Some people curse because they take pride in being irreverent and defying convention and breaking taboos. They want to shock. They also think it makes them look hip, or smart, or funny. They want to stand out. They want to be noticed. Yes, people routinely curse as a way of signaling how strongly they feel about something, but what that often signals is how right they think they are, and how wrong everybody else is. Sometimes curse words function as fillers, as a substitute for substance. We’re too proud to admit that we really have nothing to say. Finally, we curse because we curse. It’s become a habit, like saying “you know” every other sentence. We don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Our words reveal our character. Vulgarity, obscenity, and profanity betray the vulgar, the obscene, and the profane in us. The crass, the crude, and the coarse reflect who we are. A rude and disrespectful tongue shows us to be rude and disrespectful people. Other defects may be at work: cynicism and sarcasm, for instance, both rooted in resentment and pride.

The way we talk is one of those “affairs” or areas of our lives in which we want to practice the principles of recovery. Cleaning house is also cleaning up our language and getting rid of the filth in our mouths. If as the Big Book says resentment is the number one offender and we must be rid of habitual anger, then it would follow that we would want to be rid of cursing, inasmuch as anger and cursing are so often two sides of the same coin. Cursing both reflects and indulges anger, and, in indulging it, fosters it. And to the extent that pride is at the root of most of our problems and cursing is a manifestation of pride, to that extent also we want get rid of cursing, for the act reinforces and ingrains the defect. 

If we curse at meetings we probably curse outside. A sponsee recounts how the AAs he hangs out with are constantly cursing. Not just newcomers, mind you. Oldtimers with double-digit sobriety. Should he say something, he asks? But what could he possibly say that would change what years of going to meetings hasn’t changed? If the way they talk is out of control, that’s their business. It's a matter between them and their sponsor. If they don’t have a sponsor, well, that’s their business too.

What if we attend a meeting where cursing is so prevalent that it creates a problem for us? Well, there are a number of things we can do. The first is not to contribute to the problem by cursing ourselves. For some of us that might not be as easy as it sounds. The reason is that cursing is infectious. That is easily observable at meetings. One f-word often starts a chain reaction. People who don’t ordinarily curse but who are not yet free of the habit automatically follow suit. This encourages others to do the same.

Another way not to contribute to the problem is not to laugh when people curse as a way to be funny and ingratiate themselves with the audience. Laughing rewards the behavior; it confirms that cursing works and encourages the person to keep doing it. This is particularly important in the rooms, where laughter is part of our healing and recovery. We want to laugh and be lighthearted, and so we tend to play along.

By not cursing and not laughing, we are changing the things we can change, which is our own actions and reactions. Another thing we can change is what meetings we go to. If a meeting we attend is not helping our recovery, wisdom says we need to stop attending that meeting. That’s of course what I had to do, and it served me well.

However, that may not be our first option. If the meeting is very important to us (it is our home group, or we have many friends in it, or there are a couple of people in it whose sharing we find particularly helpful), we may try to change the situation. If there’s general agreement that the problem is sufficiently serious for the group to try to alleviate it, we could call for a business meeting.

That’s presumably what the group in our introductory story did. The sign on the table was an expression of the group conscience. Not everyone may agree with such a decision, but according to our traditions we all are called to respect it. Out of respect for the group conscience and in the interest of group unity, those who are given to curse in the meeting have a responsibility to make a serious effort to exercise self-restraint and moderate their language.

In the same spirit, if the group conscience is to take no action, then those who disagree with that decision are called to respect it, accept it, and turn the matter over. Evidently, we could not change the situation. At that point we may want to exercise the option to leave. We may need to conscientiously examine our motives, though. It would be wrong for us to leave because we didn’t get our way and have a resentment. It would be right to do so because we have honestly determined that the atmosphere created by the constant swearing is not conducive to our growth and recovery.

Whatever we do, we need to do in a spirit of love and tolerance. A review of Grapevine articles and letters on the subject of cursing at meetings dating back to the 1950’s shows that the problem has been around for a long time. It also shows that AAs can get pretty defensive about the issue. Hence the need to deal with it in the proper spirit. 

That spirit is shown by the writer of AA’s Daily Meditation for January 21: "I frequently ask God to help me watch over my thoughts and my words, that they may be the true and proper reflections of our program . . . Today I may very well have to deal with disagreeable attitudes or utterances—the typical stock-in-trade attitude of the still–suffering alcoholic. If this should happen, I will take a moment to center myself in God, so that I will be able to respond from a perspective of composure, strength and sensibility."

The cursing alcoholic is a sick and suffering alcoholic—like us. Our job is to focus on ourselves and clean up our own language. By doing that we become part of the solution. In the long run—and it’s always a long run— that’s the best way we can help.

Posted 02/01/17 at http://PracticeThesePrinciplesTheBook... in "Reflections." For details of post, please click on link.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on March 12, 2017 12:58 • 21 views • Tags: aa-meetings, cursing

February 26, 2017

The books listed here are all “official” AA books, that is, they are approved by AA’s General Service Conference. They are published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (AAWS).

The Book That Started It All: The Original Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous
Hardcover, September 1, 2010, 248 pages.

For those of us who love the Big Book and are intimately familiar with it, the Original Manuscript is a treasure-trove of information and insight. The best way to read it is in tandem with our Big Book, annotating our copy for the changes made or rejected in the Original. Doing this will change the way we look at the book that saved our lives, giving us an inside view of the process through which it became, not a book of religion or self-help, but something different and unique: a manual of practical spirituality that works in real life. See “A Tale of Two Cities: Akron, NY, and ‘The Book That Started It All,’ in Ray’s Book Reviews.

Alcoholics Anonymous, 75th Anniversary Edition, by AAWS, Hardcover, April 10, 2014, 400 pages (Available only at aa.org)

This is a facsimile of the first printing of the first edition of the Big Book, published in [April] 1939. As with the original, the pages are unusually thick. The idea was to make the book look “big” and therefore worth the price ($3.50)—hence the name by which it became popularly known. The book is fragile and needs to be treated as a collector’s item and handled with care, otherwise it will fall apart. A close comparison with the current 4th Edition will reveal many interesting differences, the biggest involving the Personal Stories Section. Reading these stories, we get an idea of what early AA was like and how much it has changed.

Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition
Hardcover, October 2001, 576 pages

For the recovering alcoholic, the Big Book is not optional reading. It is the quintessential “must read.” The reason is simple: that’s where the program of recovery is laid out. Many of us have learned the hard way that trying to work the program without the book that explains the program is a recipe for failure. Its first 164 pages need to be studied and thoroughly mastered if we are to work the AA program and not somebody else’s program. Regular attendance at Big Book study meetings can help. So can listening to Big Book Study tapes (e.g., “Joe & Charlie”) and using a reference tool like 164and more.com. See “Big Book Q&A.”

Experience, Strength and Hope
Hardcover, April 2003, 435 pages

Experience, Strength and Hope is a collection of the personal stories left out of the first three editions of the Big Book. It is divided in three parts. Part One presents 23 stories from the 1st Edition left out of the 2nd; Part Two seven stories from the 2nd left out of the 3rd; and Part Three 26 stories from the 3rd left out of the current, 4th Edition, which reflects the dawn of the 21st century. The changes reflect the changing composition of the fellowship. By making available these stories, ES&H enables us to get an idea of the scope of that change. It is a necessary companion to the serious study of the BB. See “Big Book Q&A.”

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
Hardcover, June 1953, 192 pages

Twelve Steps and 12 Traditions is the second basic text of AA’s recovery program. It complements and expands on the Big Book, written when Bill and Dr. Bob had only around 4 years sober. The 12&12 reflects an additional 12 years of experience. This led not only to the development of the 12 Traditions, but to the re-examination of each of the 12 Steps of the program. The Big Book had focused primarily on physical sobriety. Further experience showed that wasn’t enough. The 12&12 focuses on continuing growth. It deepens our understanding of each Step, shows how their principles can be practiced in all our affairs, and extends [the goal of recovery beyond physical to emotional sobriety.]

As Bill Sees It
Hardcover, 1967, 345 pages

As Bill Sees It is a collection of brief excerpts taken mostly from the Big Book, the 12&12, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, Bill’s letters, and articles he published in the Grapevine. Excerpts are organized by topic: Acceptance, Guilt, Humility, Surrender, Tolerance, and so on. The book is a tool for individual meditation and group discussion. We can zero in on a particular issue we are having trouble with (e.g., fear or anger) or a particular principle we want to reflect on (e.g., gratitude or willingness). We can also date the pages starting with January 1 on page 1 and use it as a book of daily meditations. At meetings, a volunteer usually chooses a reading and that becomes the topic for discussion.

Daily Reflections
Paperback, 1990, 384 pages

Daily Reflections is AA’s “official” book of meditation, “A book of reflections by A.A. members for A.A. members,” as its subtitle indicates. Each dated page starts with a quote from the Big Book, the 12&12, As Bill Sees It, A.A. Comes of Age, Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, and other approved works. This is followed by a reflection by an AA member. Generally, each month's quotes and reflections revolve around the Step and Tradition which coincide numerically with that month (e.g., April is Step and Tradition 4). The book can also be used for concentrated reflection on a given topic (e.g., prayer), using the table of contents. It is also used for topic meetings, with the discussion based on the day's reading.

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
Hardcover, 1957, 333 pages

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age is chronologically the third major work published by the Fellowship (following the Big Book and the 12&12). Its first history book, it revolves around the 20th Anniversary Convention in St. Louis, where AA “came of age” and was handed over to its members by Bill W. The book is divided in three parts. The first part consists of an overview of AA history given by Bill at the Convention. The second part includes three talks given by Bill on the three Legacies of AA: Recovery, Unity, and Service. And the third part is made up of addresses by friends of AA in medicine, religion, and elsewhere. A chart of historic dates makes for a handy reference tool.

Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers
Hardcover, 1980, 373 pages

Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers is a biography of the co-founder of AA, together with personal recollections of the early days of AA in the Midwest. We AAs typically know more about Bill W. and the New York side of AA than we do about Dr. Bob and its Akron side. This much needed biography helps to correct that imbalance. It shows the genesis and evolution of AA in the Midwest and the central role Dr. Bob and the “Oldtimers” played in the development of the fellowship and the program. The personal, informal, and anecdotal nature of the narrative is in keeping with the personality and the character of the old doctor. A descriptive table of contents and ample illustrations add to the book’s value.

Pass It On
Hardcover, 1984, 429 pages

Pass It On is an apt title for this, the official biography of Bill W. For, from the beginning of his sobriety, Bill was driven by the goal of passing on what had been freely given him—passed on, in fact, by a drunk from his and Dr. Bob’s native state of Vermont. For the AA member, this is the most reliable of Bill’s biographies, carefully documented and written from a decidedly AA perspective. It gives us the full story of the man and of the fellowship he helped to found, complete with footnotes and sources, and using plain and unpretentious language in the AA tradition. Other helpful features include a detailed table of contents, a list of significant dates, and many memorable photos.

The Language of the Heart
Hardcover, 1988, 410 pages

The Language of the Heart is a collection of Bill W.’s Grapevine writings. Covering the period from 1944 to the late 1960’s, they show Bill’s reflections on AA history as it was happening and his deepening understanding of the Steps, the Traditions, and their underlying principles. The book is divided into three time periods, with each further divided into topical segments. Part One (1944-1950) is concerned primarily with the traditions. Part Two (1950-1958) centers on the Fellowship’s growing maturity. Part Three (1958-1970) focuses on the practice of AA principles in all our affairs and the goal of emotional sobriety. Memorial articles and pieces about the Grapevine complete this very unique work.

Posted 12/23/16 in “Best Recovery Books” at http://practicetheseprinciplesthebook...

Goodreads readers may be interested in “Best AA and Related Recovery Books,” posted by Ray under “Lists” on this Goodreads page, which includes 15 books recommended by him. You may also be interested in Ray’s reviews of the following books, posted here and in the PTP website:

The Book That Started It All: The Original Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous, by Anonymous
Twenty-four Hours a Day, by Anonymous
The Recovery Bible, by Anonymous
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life, by Charles Duhigg
The Emotional Life of Your Brain, by Richard J. Davidson, with Sharon Begley
Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett, editors
Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice, by Kent Dunnington
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on February 26, 2017 12:48 • 18 views