Oldtime thinking and the 12 steps

12 Steps: Discussions related to the 12 Steps and using them as a treatment to recover from alcohol and drug addiction.
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Postby Zanthos » Wed Mar 21, 2007 10:11 am

Well this was an interesting thread to read through, ruffled feathers and all!

And it brought up a few thoughts I've had along the way in my not even 2 1/2 years of immersing myself in the program.

To my mind, Dale's original post brought up four things:

(1) the AA program of recovery and singleness of purpose: alcoholics only or a more inclusive program that embraces other forms of addiction.

(2) old timers and how rigid and crotchety they can be.

(3) service work at the GSO level.

(4) "modernizing" the way we talk about and teach the AA principles.

Now mind you, what I'm about to write are just some of the thoughts that have stuck in my head along the way. I don't present these thoughts in opposition to anything anyone else thinks or believes. Just me making noise in the middle of the night. :)

(1) Singleness of purpose.
I happen to be a child of rehab. And in rehab, we were all one: alcoholics, addicts....no distinction was made. The in-house meetings alternated between AA and NA.

Since rehab, I've been to all sorts of AA groups and meetings. Some of them were "alcoholics only" in that it was made very clear that sharing only about experiences with alcohol was appropriate. Others were more relaxed and sharing on any disease of addiction wasn't a problem.

Before moving to Arizona, a lot of us in my home group in CT got involved in a "new" program called Drugs Anonymous. An AA member got permission (the way NA and all the other _As did) to adapt some of the AA literature to "mind altering drugs" in general. She organized a couple of meeting in the local hospital. A lot of us AA's went because we all knew each other, so it was an opportunity to have another meeting together, but also because we were carrying the message of hope and recovery into a hospital environment in which people with all manner of drug additions were being treated.

I am first and foremost an alcoholic, but I was shocked and moved at the first "DA" meeting I went to because the speaker shared about bottoming out on pot! I smoked pot nearly everyday of my life for 25 years, yet in my first four months of recovery I hadn't thought about my marijuana substance abuse once. For me, at least, that meeting was a chance to increase my awareness of another way I ran from life and to acknowledge and accept a part of me that I hadn't gotten around to facing yet. No more, no less. Most of us at that meeting were AAers who recognized the commonality of the struggle for recovery. But we also respected the sensibilities of other AAers and so took this "more than alcohol" type meeting outside of AA.

In terms of personal preference, I go back and forth. At one of the AA meetings I attend regularly, there are sometimes more "addicts" than "alcoholics". But they talk the Steps, and they talk they same recovery that I pursue, and I identify with them greatly. At other AA meetings I go to, it's almost all alcoholics, but they are preachy or superficial or just plain boring (not that I'm judgmental or anything!). I don't hear the on-going desire to learn and grow and change that continues to animate my recovery. So those meeting don't interest me that much.

At the same time, if I had to choose, I'd choose straight up, alcoholics only AA. Maybe it's shared brain chemistry or plain commonality of experience, but in the end I am more comfortable with and identify more closely to other alcoholics. Speaking very broadly, I sense there is something in the thinking and emotional patterns of crack/coke heads and heroin addicts that is fundamentally different than what I've learned about myself and can share with other alcoholics.

BUT, the beauty and wisdom of AA is that I don't have to choose. After ignoring the Traditions for several months, when I finally got around to reading the second half of the 12 & 12, I was deeply impressed by lessons AA learned that led to those Traditions. And at the highest level, AA learned not to tell groups and meetings how to conduct group business or how to hold meetings. So some meetings are more welcoming to addicts than others. And not only do I not have a say in that, but it suits me just fine.

(2) Old timers.
A lot of them scare me. A lot of them have the strangest take on "happy, joyous, and free". It took me a while to understand that just because you get "sober", just because you say or believe or in some way have in fact worked the Steps, just because you've been around forever doesn't mean you're working a program that works for me.

A lot of these old timers are the most vocal proponents of "old school" AA. In terms of the particulars of what they advocate, I can't find anything to disagree with. However, the way they advocate their views makes me very uncomfortable. It was a truly challenging part of my recovery to learn to accept those AAers who choose to act and sound like they know it all, who feel the need to set themselves up as personal repositories of AA authority, who come across as cranky and judgmental with every word they utter. There was one old timer when I first started going to AA whose dog had recently died. For months and months, he talked about the dog. But if a human being who was suffering from a life threatening disease spoke of an addiction other than alcoholism, he got very bent out of shape. That raised my eyebrows.

I had to learn that what bothered me the most about that type of "old timer" (and there are a lot of AAers who haven't been around that long that fit that bill) was that they reminded me very strongly of my own unhealthy self-centeredness, need for certainty, for knowing it all, for being right, for feeling in control, and the many ways in which I was extremely rigid and judgmental. Once I saw my reaction to those types of people as a reaction to my own character defects, I was able to begin to have a greater acceptance of them and of myself.

(3) GSO.
Every story I hear about the personalities at organizational meetings at the GSO level leaves me with one thought: it's a wonder AA survives. Can you say "self-will run riot?"

(4) Changing AA?
I think there's an irony to pointing to the Big Book and saying "that's the way the first AAers got sober, so that's what works and that's what we are sticking with! Well, before Bill W. sat in bed one night and wrote How It Works, not one soul got sober working the Twelve Steps of AA because there were no 12 Steps. As I'm sure you know, there were 6 somewhat formal steps or principles those first alcoholics passed on to one another. And, of course, when Bill and Bob found their path to recovery from alcoholism, nothing formal existed at all.

Personally, I found and continue to find the Steps as written less than revealing. But that's more a measure of my initial unwillingness and inability to seek answers and solutions outside myself, what more have any understanding of the concepts and practice of honesty, hope, faith, self-examination, humility, prayer and service to others. For me, patience, tolerance, humility and seeking guidance are absolutely critical practices in my recovery. But as a newcomer, and to some extent even today, those concepts don't leap out at me when reading the Steps. I needed a sponsor who could show me how to learn and work the Steps in my everyday life, and I needed the Steps to point me towards attitudes and practices that create the basis for an on-going process of change and growth.

I, too, have felt uncomfortable with the seemingly dated language of the Big Book. For many years, I tried to read the Big Book and just couldn't relate. In particular, I found disturbing the class consciousness and social hierarchy of the time as reflected in the writing. In fact, it was only early last summer when I was in terrible emotional pain over something and truly desperate for some guidance that I picked up the Big Book and, reading it for the 100th time, read it for the first time. Prior to that, I had read the BB because that's what we're supposed to do. But that day, I turned to it as a form of surrender. I was reaching out and asking for help when I opened the Book that day, and what a different experience that was!

In retrospect, when I was reading the Book like I would read anything else, when my self-centeredness and ego were very much to the fore, when I was interjecting my own thoughts and opinions and indulging in whatever reactions I might have to what I was reading, I had a lot of difficulty relating and had all sorts of opinions on what I didn't like about the Big Book. But when I recognized that I needed guidance from outside myself, when I lay my ego aside, when I took up the Book in a spirit of open-minded surrender, it spoke to me in a way that answered my most fundamental needs as a human being and alcoholic. My previous reactions, in comparison, were petty and trite, and reflected my own fears and insecurities. The same is true of my whole experience with the Program.

Could the Steps be made somehow more explicit? Sure. Why not? Am I going to do it? No. Are you?

Back to the what goes on at the GSO level: if AAers get bogged down in passionate disagreements over relatively mundane administrative matters that have little consequence, I'd hate to be within a hundred miles of the convention that seeks to change the way the Steps or Big Book are written.

I believe that if and when a person is ready, when someone truly wants to and is capable of changing who and what they are--no sooner and no later--AA and the Big Book and the 12 & 12 and the 24 Hours A Day book and all the other existing literature, and the fellowship (warts and roses and all) has everything anyone needs to find their way to a life beyond active alcoholism.

If I had a say, which I don't, I'd say leave things as they are. If something "better" comes along, it will do so through a process that no one of us controls, unfolding in a time not of our own choosing. All I do know is that when I finally, finally was ready, my fellow alcoholics in AA were there for me.

john boy
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Postby john boy » Mon Feb 04, 2008 2:12 pm

Dale, et al,

When the subject of "changing" A.A. comes up one thing comes to mind....where would it end?... Ask yourself that question and give it your best honest reply....I dont think it would, and eventually we would screw this up....

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Postby Tim » Tue Feb 05, 2008 4:27 pm

I just read this discussion thread for the first time. Some interesting stuff. For what it's worth, the same kinds of heated discussions have been happening ever since AA began.

It may be of interest to know that the Big Book was edited--basically gutted--by a non-alcoholic editor, Tom Uzell, who singlehandedly reduced it between a third and a half (Pass It On--Bill Wilson and the AA Message p. 204, AA World Services, Inc)

There are those in AA, like Dick B., who strongly believe that AA abandoned its roots (Christian) long ago. He's written 20 books supporting this.I think that AA is an organization in progress. It has to change--not in its core principles but in the other aspects (updated language for starters)--or it may wither and fade like the Washingtonian temperance organization did in the 1800s.

"Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do for the man who is still sick. The answers will come if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven't got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us.

"Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us." (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 164)

Keeping my own house in order and my relationship with Him right is my task each day. Make of this what you will.

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Postby Dallas » Wed Feb 06, 2008 12:43 am

There are those in AA, like Dick B., who strongly believe that AA abandoned its roots (Christian) long ago. He's written 20 books supporting this.I think that AA is an organization in progress. It has to change--not in its core principles but in the other aspects (updated language for starters)--or it may wither and fade like the Washingtonian temperance organization did in the 1800s.

From a historical perspective:

1. AA never had Christian roots. :wink: It was the alcoholic members in the Oxford Groups, who later formed A.A., that had Christian roots. Those who would, in the future, go on to found A.A., abandoned those Oxford Group and Christian ideas -- before they founded A.A., because they learned... that those ideas wouldn't work... for alcoholics of our type. The alcoholics who were in the Oxford Groups -- and kept their Christian roots -- stayed in the Oxford Groups. A few, continued with the Oxfor Groups and A.A.

The Oxford Groups, with their Christian roots (and branches and leaves)... were interested in saving souls and getting people to heaven. A.A. was interested in saving alcoholics... and delivering them from alcoholic-hell. A.A.'s primary purpose -- was to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. The Oxford Groups primary purpose was to make it to heaven and to enjoy a wonderful after-life! :lol:

To claim that A.A. abandoned it's Christian roots, as some well-meaning individuals and authors might want to claim -- is no different than saying that A.A. abandoned it's Psychiatric roots. "If" A.A. had Christian roots -- A.A. had Psychiatic roots prior to those Christian roots. Bill W. often said that A.A. got it's start with Dr. Carl Jung, a world famous Psychiatrist, who was treating Roland H. And, Roland H., by the way... never actually became a member of A.A. -- he remained with the Oxford Groups "after" A.A. was founded. I think it's unfortunate that Dick B., isn't willing to examine "all of the historical facts" for his research and his books. He appears to be a very talented writer.... but, the facts do not support his views. (Nothing personal! Just historic facts). :lol:

2. The Washingtonian's disappeared "because" they abanded their core principle -- and they also got involved with the temperance movement, which took them even further away from their core principle. They did not wither and disappear because of grammatical or language problems. They withered... as a result of trying to modernize. :lol:

So, if we are going to think about modernizing and changing A.A. -- let's reflect and see what happened to the Washingtonians.... when some of their more intellectual and well-meaning members -- decided to "change it." :lol:

3. To change the language of the Big Book, or the fundamental and core principles of A.A. -- so that it won't "wither and die" -- would be the same as telling religions that they should give up their unique conceptions of God and their religious books -- or... something like telling the United States that their Constitution is out-dated and not grammatically correct, and it doesn't meet modern-day political correctness -- so, it should be changed so that America will not wither and die because it will lose it's popularity among both, it's citizens and immigrants.

The ideas that seems best -- to me, because it has worked for over 70 years of A.A. success... is "if you have better ideas, and if you have better principles, and if you can write a better book -- our hat's are off to you! Please take what we have that might interest you and go write your own books, start your own fellowships and give birth to new organizations -- to reach the needs of people that you feel who do not fit in with us... and rather than try to change what works so well for so many of us -- go with our blessings and encouragement, to start your own new things." :wink:

There have been well over 360 different organizations that have started as a result A.A.'s successful ideas. For those who do not feel that A.A. is good enough like it is and have this over-whelming need to change it -- why not become Anonymous Organization #361, and call yourselves "The New and Modern Version of A.A." and leave the rest of us alone. :wink: (By the way... none of those "new organizations"... have come even close ... to becoming as successful and stable, with continued growth... as A.A. has experienced over time).

I would guess, based on my own experiences and observations -- that the majority of those who fail in A.A. -- are those who have "better ideas of how A.A. should work -- rather than how it does work."

A.A. seems to work best for those who can temporarily set aside "their own better judgement and their own best ideas" ... and follow a simple, out-dated, un-modern, possibly politically incorrect instructions -- that have shown to be a proven path to successful living with sobriety that A.A. has offered to alcoholics for many decades.

I would suggest another good name for the New and Improved A.A. -- could be "A.A. #2 -- the modern alternative to A.A.".

And, hey... who knows... maybe after you've been successful with your new ways for 70 years... if we are still alive and sober... we may be encouraged to come and check you out! :lol: :lol:

Dallas B.

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Postby Tim » Wed Feb 06, 2008 11:04 am

Thanks for taking the time to write out your well-reasoned response to my message, Dallas. Case closed....Tim

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Postby garden variety » Fri Feb 08, 2008 10:10 am

Case closed? Now wait a minute. That sounds way too easy :!: :!: :!:

Now I didn't go back and read the whole thing over again, but if I recall correctly I might have had my panties in a knot somewhere down the line. I heard this from a guy in my home group and I agree 100%.

"Time is the worst enemy of an active alcoholic. Time is the best friend of a recovering alcoholic."

There are things that could change and should change - but those are inside me more than in the book.

Here's what's changed about me today which is different from the Paul M. from a few 24 hours ago that had some ruffled feathers. A simple thing I just picked up along the way.

"Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater."

Do I like "To Wives" today? Hell no.

Does it matter? Hell no.

But someone up here mentioned another point. If you start changing one thing to make someone happy, then it sets a snowball going downhill. Pretty soon all kinds of things get changed that should not get changed.

"That which isn't broken, does not need repairs."

Count me in with my "older brother" on this one today :shock: :roll: :P :D . No changes needed.

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Postby dahlgren » Fri Feb 08, 2008 4:39 pm

Ok I'll chime in with my two cents worth on this. I have to side with Dallas and Paul that it's inherent change creates more change.

I've sat in meetings, more than I could count, with men that outwardly showed their distaste for the chapter "To Wives". And I've sat in meetings with women that just had and I mean strongly, had to refer to God or their Higher Power as, She!

Any of us that have been attending meetings for any length of time know what I'm talking about, it's the whole principles before personalities thing in my opinion. If I want what AA has to offer, truly want it then I can certainly look past some of the outdated language and generalities to get to the meat of the program. I personally don't have any trouble with the language of the 12 Steps or 12 Traditions and the beauty of those two instruments, when worked with rigorous honesty lead me to the most beautiful language I've ever experienced. The Twelve Promises.

A person of any age should be able to truly apreciate that language if it's happening in their life, especially considering where most of us found ourselves just prior to walking through those doors.

There is nothing I've ever come across in this life that I could say is perfect and exactly the way I think it should be. If that day ever comes then it will probably be something that I wrote or created and all I can tell you if you come across it, turn and run as fast as you can because knowing myself if that ever happens it will probably damage you beyond repair. In the meantime I'll stick with what I know works, warts and all and just keep telling anyone that will listen. Keep coming back, it works if you work it.

In love and recovery,

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Postby Dallas » Fri Feb 08, 2008 5:07 pm

Hey Guys, thank you for your messages.

As I was reading them -- my head suddenly said "A.A. is about the language of the heart." Ahhh!!!! The Language of the Heart!

We come in to A.A., and for some people, like me, it was the language of the heart that began to move me into a direction of a new awareness -- that eventually gave me hope, that perhaps my heart and mind could experience a change, too!

When I read the Big Book, I guess I'm so engrossed into it, that I'm "listening" to what I'm reading... and it's reading the language of the heart of the Pioneers of A.A., that were passing on their experience, strength and hope to me.

It's as though, when I'm reading the Big Book, that I'm reading personal letters that were written by sober alcoholics, that would hopefully reach a suffering alcoholic like me. They found a way out of the suffering. They found a way to a new life. And, they were sharing their experience of what they discovered.

Just as I wouldn't dare to correct someone's language or grammer, or try to set them straight on political-correctness -- as they were sharing in an A.A. meeting -- I don't think I could muster up the courage to be willing to change what was written in those personal letters of experience, that make up the Big Book.

When I was nearly a year sober -- I enrolled in some college classes that had been organized for doctors for continuing education, and the classes were the State of California's ideas in regards to providing a fully-accredited course of training to license Chemical Dependency Counselors.
(I had no desire to become a doctor or counselor -- I was curious as to whether A.A. was going to be a viable solution for an alcoholic of my type! And, whether or not I needed to find something that would offer a higher-success rate -- in helping alcoholics to stay sober.)

In those classes we used text-books that were written by scientists, doctors, researchers... and real smart people... who used great grammer, etcetera. They updated and revised those types of books often. Probably because they were getting "new information about the problem."

In A.A. -- I was taught that we deal with the solution, rather than stay in the problem.

BTW: At the end of the classes (yep, I finished and got my little pieces of papers!) the message that was most emphasised by academia was: "Get your patients and clients involved with A.A. It's the only thing that has proven successful for long-term sobriety and as the most effective treatment for their alcoholic conditions!"

In other words -- do what you can to help them, and then send them to A.A. because that's where their long-term recovery will be found.

And, again -- in A.A., even though we have a text-book... our text-book was written with the language of the heart -- based upon tried and tested experience, strength and hope -- that focuses on the solution that they discovered.

Thanks for letting me share.


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