The role of the sponsor -- perhaps, more cautiously -- the theme of sponsorship changes as step work progresses. One aspect of this may be considered how much an individual step appears "on the table" at this moment. Although it may be a common trend to incorporate "writing" into even those steps where "pencil and paper" are not particularly mentioned in our Big Book, this division tends to place specific steps into different categories corresponding to different sponsorship approaches.
In this series of discussions Steps 2 and 3, although certainly emphasizing major changes in outlook, make no mention of "pencil and paper." Steps 4 and 5, on the other hand, deal with a written inventory, a definite "pencil and paper" matter along with a very personal and frank discussion with a sponsor. Steps 6 and 7 return to the first category where the progress sought is one based on a changed outlook. Steps 8 and 9 are characterized by definite "pencil and paper" aspects followed by the material action of amends making. Step 10 is a matter initiated by visible life challenges resulting in direct actions.
To recap this idea, Steps 4 and 5, Steps 8 and 9, and Step 10 all present active, tangible sponsorship challenges. The new man must do certain things, and at some point, his efforts will be joined by those of his sponsor. One way to consider this process is that the new man will be learning -- from his own step experience -- the AA program's approach to inventory, amends and successful day to day living.
However, the other steps have also engaged the sponsor in each case. Steps 2 and 3, along with Steps 6 and 7, don't really have much "pencil and paper" work so much as equally vital "new idea" work. With these, although there is no visible inventory or amends making, there is significant sponsorship required to make certain that the new member thoroughly understands both their full implications and what is expected of him. More frank discussions with his sponsor will illuminate his progress toward a successful completion of what is necessary for these steps.
All this "talking" part of step work reveals the importance of the "language of the heart" idea.
This brings us to Step 11. At first, we might add it to the list of "new idea" work, that is, we might consider it similar in form to Steps 2 and 3, and Steps 6 and 7. However, that decision might be a bit off target. There are some structural differences between the nature of Step 11 and these previous "new idea" steps which reflect strongly on the role of the sponsor.
Perhaps most importantly different is the time line of Step 11's required work and the evidence -- as seen by the sponsor -- of Step 11's successful impact on the new man's continuing sobriety. Of course, in the case of Step 11, when we note "continuing sobriety," we inevitably will include his "continued spiritual progress." That will be the mark of successfully "working" Step 11.
Step 2 was successfully completed when the new, hope driven idea that "sanity might be restored" became material in the mind of the new member. When he saw that prospect as a concrete fact, his recovery could proceed, but until he had such a new understanding, his Step 2 work remained incomplete. In the case of Step 2, the sponsor was watching -- and waiting -- for this important transformation to become evident. When the new man could confidently say that he "had come to believe" it was time to move ahead.
Step 3's "decision" was also to be made with sufficient evidence -- not just to the new member, but also to his sponsor -- that all aspects of what was implied had become tangible before inventory was undertaken. When the new man "had made a decision" it was time to move ahead to inventory. Likewise, Steps 6 and 7 defined specific "work" which the sincere sponsor would have to "see" prior to launching the new man into the amends steps. the completion of Step 6 required the new man to "be ready," and the completion of Step 7 required the new man to sincerely leave his infatuations with defects behind.
However, Step 11 can hardly be defined in a similar "event" oriented manner. The wording of the step itself implies very strongly that the results of Step 11 will continue to be a constant spiritual influence from then onward. There will be no repetition of the "evidence" stages of the previous steps. Instead, that "evidence" will continue to be manifest over and over as a constant "companion" in the new man's future.
For this reason, sponsorship during the working of Step 11 will differ from what has been required in previous step work leading up to this point. In those previous steps, the new man needed to advance to a well defined position of spiritual progress. In Step 11, he must become prepared to adopt a consistent spiritual approach. When step work has advanced to Step 11, it will be more and more clear that the new member's spiritual state will be the source of new, central energy which can make his sobriety comfortable and satisfying.
Consequently, sponsorship here will be directed at assisting the new man in all necessary ways as he prepares himself to take such a step. Performing the actual work of Step 11 will not be an effort which can be completed so much as it will be a thorough preparation to be "constantly spiritual" no matter what in his bright future.
There will be some aspects of sponsorship which must be accomplished immediately during formal Step 11 work, but in this case, the sponsor's goal will be new man's readiness to constantly live in an active spiritual frame of mind in his sobriety. Both the new man and the sponsor must agree that although Step 11 begins here and now, its process will continue and its value will increase for the "long run" to become an enduring foundation for every challenge sobriety might present.
For any new member who might either balk at the enduring necessity of Step 11's work or dismiss it too lightly -- considering it a challenge which can be passively agreed to, then disregarded -- the sponsor might find it useful to propose the following question. "What could replace Step 11's direction? What other approach might we propose which could answer the on-going need for having a constant spiritual outlook during our sobriety?"
It is not too difficult to see that a major element of Step 11's vital importance is to simply realize that we have no alternative! Because we plan to have a successful sobriety, and, since we know that such success depends very greatly on maintaining a constant and enduring spiritual outlook, Step 11 describes precisely how we must approach that.
Step 11 describes yet another essential, effective path forward in terms of typical -- and unsettling -- AA simplicity.
Our earlier discussion of Step 2 used this same approach. By closely examining the fundamental parts of Step 11 separately, perhaps we can emphasize important features of the step which might otherwise be overlooked. It can be divided in the following manner:
Step 11: "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." (BB p59)
We may conclude that the general parts of Step 11 might be:
a. Prayer and meditation
b. Conscious contact with God
c. Knowledge of His will for us, and,
d. Power to carry out His will
Admittedly, these topics derive significantly from the mythological traditions of the Christian religion, and, because of this may present difficulties for the new man who has come to AA without such a specific religious experience. As we have mentioned before, his conversion to a hybrid form of that belief structure can hardly be the wage to be exacted as a payment for the help he seeks for his alcoholism.
The division of Step 11 into the components noted above provides an excellent opportunity to consider just what these highly religious phrases and concepts will mean to the man unaccustomed to such ideas. At this point, the sponsor must make a point of remembering that the new man has asked for his assistance in getting and staying sober, not for his assistance in religious conversion, piety, righteousness or entrance into heaven.
If it should arise during sponsorship of this step, the new member may need to be reassured that Step 11 -- and all the other steps -- will provide a spiritual future entirely adequate for recovery whether or not he relates them to Biblical or religious references. His new spiritual state will be of his own design, not borrowed from bits and pieces of something else.1 Step 11, and in fact, all the AA program was "born" into a culture almost entirely saturated with the various forms of the Christian religion. But anyone who has sponsored actively in this century is hardly surprised to find that this is no longer at all the case. Further, although it might be comforting to think that other, alternate religions have grown up around this nation, and that those other faith traditions might be the "root cause" of a new member's difficulties, even this is probably not the case.
Many new AA's -- especially younger members -- have never been exposed to any particular religious training at all, and, as mentioned before, they have not sought out AA or their sponsor with the goal of significantly changing that situation. What sponsors discover instead of alternate religious ideas which contradict those in our Big Book is often a well developed distaste for any concepts extracted from the Christian Bible whatsoever. It is not the religion which seeks to be rehabilitated in these cases, it is the alcoholic!
If the sincere sponsor encounters these conditions in a new AA, he will be obliged to address them, even if doing so "stretches" his religious tolerance. So, we can consider the parts noted above both with respect for their non-religious, spiritual meaning and with respect to the type of sponsorship which may be required to assist the new member working Step 11 as he encounters them.
Once more, not a single alcoholic who seeks out AA must be driven away to an alcoholic doom simply because he is not conversant with the Christian Bible or willing to convert to a hybrid AA form of that religion. Sincere AA sponsors determined to assist the new man's search for a spirituality which can save him will not be distracted from our important Tradition 5 and its statement of our Primary Purpose.2
Step 11 presents these two activities as responsibilities the new man will adopt in his new sober spirituality. However, in the same manner that AA itself originated in a culture saturated with Christian religions, the working meaning of these two ideas did not escape that same source of redefinition. Can they mean something to the new man who is not equipped with that specific religious experience?
They had better!
By the time Step 11 confronts him he has been thoroughly convinced of the essential necessity of spiritual progress as a foundation for his sobriety, but now he finds that the "tools" suggested in Step 11, "prayer and meditation," are widely considered to be the sole property of a religion to which he is not a member! Will he need to use these "tools" as they are defined by someone else?
Worse, the new man may have had run-in's with the Christians before -- many of us have. If that is the case, he may have determined that he could simply masquerade some uninterested concession based on which he could later simply "outlast" them.3 Alcoholics, even when they are in dire straits, are well equipped with our famous "alcoholic runaround" which turns out to be the perfect cover for stunts such as these.
However, in the case of Step 11, such a grumbling "put off" will become a dangerous problem which can threaten sobriety later. If the prevailing Christian definitions of "prayer and meditation" inspire such a lack luster response in his Step 11 work, it falls to the sponsor to forcefully "clean house" on the situation. The new man cannot be allowed to simply nod in agreement, then march off to Step 12, incompletely prepared by Step 11 to sustain the spiritual necessities of his recovery.
The meaning of the idea of prayer arose from a much more distant past than that of the prevailing religion. Ideas about consolidating religious practices in more recent times have led to a system of "rules" concerning the practice -- some of which are expressed very openly in our Big Book. (BB p85, 86) However, AA's program of recovery offers its benefits to all who seek them, not excluding any alcoholic in need based on his previous religious beliefs or the lack of them. This "open handed" offer could hardly justify the imposition of any particular religious definitions or other requirements, no matter how innocently they may have been imposed.
So where will this leave the sponsorship of a new member who would have to submit himself to these religious ideas as a condition of working Step 11? Or worse, submit as a condition of his recovery from the lethal disease? That demand cannot be made in a manner consistent with our Traditions (T5, BB p561), and for the sponsor, the authority of our Traditions "trumps" our attraction to "outside interests" every time. We have settled on this system after making far too many grave mistakes in our history with the definition of our program -- mistakes which threatened the very survival of fellow alcoholics who had sought our help.
To some extent the same confusion seems to impose itself on ideas about meditation. The mythological influence of religion has sought to loosely redefine meditation as another mechanism of religious worship. As such, all sorts of specifically religious presumptions have been "packed" into the practice, largely eliminating its more traditional -- and quite secular -- benefits.
However, given the importance of calm and honest self-observation as a foundation of the new member's future success in sobriety, neither prayer nor meditation can simply be "thrown under the bus" as practices made unavailable based on exclusive religious definitions. Both must be not only comfortable possibilities, accessible for the new man, but become common, daily practices!
So, what form can prayer take which will redirect the practice toward a spiritual sobriety instead of mythological religious goals? The answer to such a question is not hard to find. We can consider the long history of the "prayer habit" as it has been pursued through the centuries. Remarkably, the essential differences are much less striking than we might have first imagined, although the traditional idea varies significantly from the highly religious theme presented in our Big Book.
Prayer has, until recently (that is, all through the 50 centuries of human history before biblical writings began...), been defined as consciously listening4 to one's own ideas about the best or most correct decision when faced with life's challenges. When approached this way, prayer can reveal solutions to contradictions which must be resolved in ways which are consistent with one's conscience. It is conscience which is emphasized here as an alternative to what might otherwise amount to an outwardly derived morality. There is, it turns out, an important, inextricable link between conscience and consciousness which will form the foundation of the on-going spiritual stability which is the goal of Step 11.
To pray in this more traditional fashion, one must stop -- especially with respect to the rattling alcoholic cycle we habitually seem to encounter when we face conflicts. Once some measure of calm thought has returned, this style of prayer requires the clear statement of "the best, right outcome" to the challenge. Then the man making the prayer can "hear" himself express the solution he has proposed.
After hearing his own words on the subject, he can return to his inner self, asking, "Is this really the outcome sought by the person I want to be?" If his first attempt at solving his dilemma doesn't measure up to his own expectations of himself, the opportunity for an even stronger commitment to aligning himself with his own spiritual principles emerges. Our sobriety medallions admonish us to be "To Thine Own Self Be True," and these encounters with spiritually driven, frank self-honesty seem to be a good way to pursue that ideal.
It's what we call spiritual progress. Happily, it probably doesn't necessarily include as much unthinking intolerance as the new man might first conclude. Not surprisingly, the importance of thoughtful, determined sponsorship both before Step 11, at Step 11 and beyond Step 11 becomes even more clear.
Further, although our Big Book seems to instruct alcoholics not to direct their prayers to themselves or to their own interests,5 we may have to consider such an idea a little more carefully. If an alcoholic, thanks to his Step 11 work, seeks through prayer to resolve the questions confronting him, isn't it really rather likely that he might wish that he, himself, were changed in the way which made his spiritual commitment more workable?
In such a case, his prayer will confront him with the necessity of still more spiritual progress and development which might provide a means for him to "rise to the occasion," meeting his own measure of what he considers to his part in the right outcome of such matters. Conflicted decisions become contradictions with himself founded on his inability to actually do what he thinks is the right thing to do. Moving beyond such an unsettling state will, again, mark his spiritual progress, not to mention being a great down payment on some serious serenity!
Sobriety and recovery are all about successful living, and part of that will be using prayer -- Step 11's suggestion as the source his new spiritual direction -- to make better decisions. When he acts in accord with his own conscience, he may still make mistakes, but they will not be the old alcoholic calamities which resulted from his not doing what he thought was right. Spiritual progress promises us that our decisions, based on our newly revealed conscience, will, in fact, be "true to ourselves." As "our inner selves" continue to recover from the spiritual maladies which savaged us before, our conscience and our spiritual behavior will, likewise, also improve in remarkable ways.6
When considered from a point of view detached from the artificially imposed mechanisms of religious mythology, prayer of this sort is not really so far removed with respect to either its practice or its results. AA's spiritual advantages are open to all alcoholics who sincerely seek them.
Now, to the matter of meditation. We have all heard our fellow members share ideas such as "Prayer is listening to God," or "Prayer is speaking to God and meditation is listening to God." For those AA's comfortable with the mythological basis of such practices, these ideas are apparently entirely satisfying. Further, such ideas, although this author finds them far too derived from "outside interests" to be legitimately presented in meetings where new members are present, have complete validity as personal practices for AA's who choose to adopt them.
However, when such highly specific mythological constructs are represented as necessary concessions to accomplish the spiritual transformation which our program of recovery requires, our AA Traditions are left smoldering in the corner. Yes, these practices are entirely acceptable approaches. No, they are not essential AA ideas which can be imposed on new members. This same measure can be applied to ideas about meditation.
If a more traditional meaning of the idea of prayer can be revealed by a journey back through human history, a similar journey to places where meditation is practiced successfully might reveal something of its traditional nature. It has one. The practice began at roughly the same time as the prayer idea did, only in an even more remote, ancient place on our Earth.7
However, aside from a brief account of meditation's historical beginnings, there remains the question for the sponsor concerning its purpose. Many new members of AA seem quite prepared to quietly nod when its unavoidable appearance in Step 11 confronts their continuing step work. At this point, the sponsor might remind his charge that we don't approach AA's steps on a "buffet basis." Meditation is an integral part of Step 11. It does not appear there as nothing more than a mere oversight or easily neglected addition. The authors of our Big Book -- as is the case with all the steps we work -- placed the challenge of meditation before us for a reason.
For the purpose of this discussion, a simplified description of meditative goals can be offered -- however unsettling, a description most commonly encountered in social cultures where the practice is most commonly followed. Let's examine some general propositions about the nature of meditation.
As alcoholics, we -- including the man in your sponsorship -- can benefit greatly from an increased awareness of ourselves. After all, our AA steps emphasize over and over the serious advantage we gain from honest and frank self-observation. Step 11 is a direct suggestion that the benefits of such practices do not cease as one advances toward Step 12. Instead, it is clearly intended that -- in recovery from our disease -- that prayer and meditation be incorporated into our daily practices of self-maintenance and healthy thinking.
The goal of Step 11's inclusion of prayer and meditation is the addition of a healthy outlook to all the other improvements in our health. What the new member will encounter as he makes his personal journey to meditative stability will be an exciting detachment, in many cases an unanticipated new perspective of his alcoholic thought processes. Meditation will provide an opportunity to reframe what the new member might have previously considered to be the frightening, unavoidable rush of alcoholic thinking to a far more manageable idea which can support a stable -- and successful -- future in recovery. After all, didn't we begin AA step work with a new discussion of the benefits of a more manageable outlook?
So, as a sponsor, how can the new member be assisted as he enters into Step 11's suggestion to meditate? Although Redux is reluctant to include references to non-AA literature in this discussion, there is a certain book which has proved useful in sponsorship for this stage of step work. It is based on a thoroughly non-religious idea with respect to a.) the meaning of meditation, b.) precise directions for the practice, and c.) a good explanation of its benefits. If your new man is inclined to reading and study, it may provide some valuable insight into what the authors of our Big Book might have been thinking when they included meditation in Step 11.
Easwaran, Eknath. Meditation. Nilgiri Press (USA), The Blue Mountain Center for Meditation. ISBN 0-915132-66-4
However, what if this is not the case, that is, how can a sincere sponsor assist the new member who tends to be more "boots on the ground" -- and less academic? Remember, an alcoholic need not redefine himself into an "AA graduate student" to enjoy the immense benefits of our program. For a sincere sponsor, making such demands can hardly be considered good sponsorship or even good Step 12 work.
So, absent the more studied approach, how might a sponsor introduce traditional meditation practices to the new member? Extracting an abbreviated description from the book cited above provides a far simpler approach than one might first imagine. As is the case with many of AA's wonderfully straightforward ideas about things, perhaps the greatest obstacle will be overcoming "mistaken certainties" about what is involved.
Try the following, highly direct steps to create results right away. Emphasize to the new man the importance of "paying attention" to the sensations which the new practice will produce, and encourage him to accept all parts of his meditation -- from the very beginning -- as precisely what it is. If he expects to encounter synthetic, religious "add ons" from his efforts, it will probably lead him to both frustration and confusion.
Meditation in Week One:
Select a mantra, a short phrase with emotional meaning to the sponsee. In many cases, the Serenity Prayer is an excellent choice. Once this is in hand, meditation "on training wheels" can begin.
The "training wheels" aspect is just that, an opportunity for him to become more comfortable with the basic ideas of the meditation, and, probably, to experience his first sensations of achieving a "meditative state." The next action is chanting, that is, not "enchanting," but chanting! The sponsor and the new member chant the mantra, out loud, for a predetermined amount of time. Twelve minutes -- perhaps in honor of our twelve steps -- is usually about right.
This is a great way to start off a weekly sponsorship meeting! For the other six days of week one, the new man is strongly suggested to follow this introductory practice on his own. Emphasize to him that this approach will produce a settled, sober mind in difficult moments while building an on-going foundation of inner quiet which will be useful all the time, difficulties or not.
Of course, the new member may wish to perform this initial action by himself in private. There are many reports of conscious mantra-style relaxation which was done with a low voice in rest rooms with the door locked. Such a practice may appear awkward to him, so make certain that he understands it is not nearly as awkward as "losing it" and taking a drink!
Meditation in Week Two:
A week of chanting out loud will move the new member a long way beyond the confusion or phobias he may have encountered when he began the practice. Now it is time to "go inside" with the effort. This means that, from this point on, he will be "chanting" his mantra to himself.
In a way similar to the difference between using a machine or free lifting weights, the range of discipline required for inner meditation increases to become a much more robust exercise. Once the speaking stops, all the inclinations of the alcoholic mind to "bolt" away from the task at hand begin to emerge. Far from being a new, troubling dilemma, this new difficulty provides the new man a chance to even more strongly target the "chattering, scatter brain" problem. It also provides him the opportunity to realize even greater benefits than those which resulted from the previous "chanting" phase.
This is a good time for the sponsor to remind the new man that this "inner form" of meditation will, almost inevitably, encounter a mind which seems suddenly entirely comfortable with simply ignoring the meditation idea and, at some point, just wandering off to the first new idea which might arise to replace it.
Now, if we were simply discussing meditation, this development might amount to nothing more than a slight irritation. However, we are discussing the vital, life saving AA steps, in particular, Step 11, and even more specifically, its inclusion of meditation! Is this really something we should simply "slide by" on our way to somewhere else in the steps? Hardly.
The new man's "inner meditation" will centrally include his responses to these "thought drifts." When they occur, his response will be, "No. That's not what I'm thinking about right now. I can think about all those sorts of things later if I please, but right now I am thinking about repeating my mantra. The more experience he gains at deciding what his thoughts will be at a given moment, the closer the new man will come to realizing Step 11's transformational promise.
After all, weren't we all plagued by high speed, seemingly irresistible encounters with alcoholic thoughts? Alcoholic thinking has been repeatedly mentioned in this discussion on sponsorship, and the fruits of fully engaging in Step 11's suggestion about meditation offer a direct course of action which will usually provide relief to AA's who pursue it. No longer falling prey to those old alcoholic thoughts -- and the unsuccessful actions which usually followed them -- is included in Step 9's Promises.
Meditation beyond the second week:
Another part of those Promises can be added to the new man's meditation efforts. That is the "... sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly" idea. From the very first discussion of this part of Step 11, the sincere sponsor will make certain that the new man understands that reaching a meditative state will not occur overnight. On the other hand, that success will not remain perpetually "out of reach," either.
Experience suggests a usual time frame of something along the lines of three months. The new man's commitment is to "find the time" for twelve minutes of meditation every morning. Easrawan's idea is "No meditation, no breakfast!" The new member must make whatever personal schedule changes are needed to assure his "meditative window" every morning.
It is not unusual for the new member's alcoholic impatience to rise up, providing its predictable frustration and alcoholic hopelessness as daily meditation continues to be littered with the stray thoughts and not too many noticeable results. However much his interest may falter, his determination to continue the practice will pay concrete results. When one experiences a meditative state for the first time, his frustration and doubt will be swept away at once.
One important lesson to be learned from Step 11's meditation is an even clearer familiarity with just how alcoholic thinking has been able to intrude with such calamitous results. In this sense, successful meditation goes far to provide "a line in the sand" where unsolicited or incompletely considered alcoholic thoughts, when they arise, will be correctly identified and can remain no more than thoughts which can then be rejected and sent aside.
The untreated disease of alcoholism has -- usually for far too long -- been the "bully on the block" which seemed able to insert very bad ideas at will, flooding the sufferer's mind to the exclusion of even a modicum of common sense. Reassure the new man that the days of his recovery which follow a good morning's meditation will enjoy a much more even "playing field" after this part of Step 11 has "changed the rules."
Step 11's suggestion that the recovering alcoholic "... improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him," (BB p59) represents another of those exclusively Christian religious ideas which falls beyond the grasp of alcoholics devoid of the significant propositions which might serve the more religious in their efforts to make sense of it. The concept has a lot of moving parts! This discussion of sponsorship has repeatedly emphasized the point that an adoption of these fundamentally religious ideas will not be the price extracted for recovery.
When an "improved conscious contact with God" must be interpreted in its traditional religious sense, questions presenting all sorts of paradoxes and contradictions arise. How will the new AA confronted with this know whether or not the improvements have occurred? What was his contact with God like before the improvements? The religious approach is to isolate the rather organic possibility of reconciliation in the object of the divinity. That approach leads to a blanket assignment of all progress encountered through step work to extensions of "grace" by an involved deity.
This idea can provide a very uncertain foundation for the life saving goals of step work for the new man. What if "grace" is not extended? If it is always extended, why is it "grace?" Responsible sponsorship is committed to providing every possible assistance to an alcoholic who has asked for help. Conversion to yet another hybrid form of the prevailing religion is hardly a part of that. Happily, such an "outside issue" is neither particularly necessary nor beneficial to the new man's recovery. The essential ideas of Step 11 are.
So, if we intend to enjoy the full benefit of Step 11, it may be necessary to present its critically important theme another way. "Throwing the baby out with the bath water" is -- as always -- a terrible sponsorship idea.8 An unthinking insertion of religious ideas into Step 11's process of transformation, implying that a tacit acceptance of them is, somehow, the foundation of the step's successful completion, contradicts our Fifth Tradition. Introducing conflicts between AA's steps and AA's Traditions can hardly be a sponsorship goal.
However, once the mythological form of Step 11's ideas are set aside, what will remain? Happily, a great deal!
One way to word it is to describe a journey from "the old Law of Accidents to the new Law of Responsibility." A more effective spiritual approach suggests that what is sought through Step 11's "prayer and meditation" is a not simply a new state of improved behavior or a better, more successful state of psychology, but instead, a new state of spiritual being.
The work shop where such advances can occur is not necessarily the constant, distant uncertainty of supernatural mythology, but instead, may be an inner development with concrete, spiritual progress for the alcoholic. The only "solution" which will probably not work is one where the old alcoholic "run-around" has delivered yet another encounter with a passive, shoulder shrugging "Who cares?"
The perplexing question which may arise in sponsorship concerned with this phrase of Step 11 seems plain enough. "To what end?" The reason it may become perplexing is equally straightforward. There are apparently three rather widely different, common answers, all of which easily meet the "smell test" of being effective, personal ideas about AA spirituality. The sponsor's role at Step 11 is to make certain that the new man winds up with his own answer.
Because the "improving conscious contact" idea is a central part of Step 11, there must be some definite objectives for such an effort. How, precisely, will an improved contact assist the AA in his efforts for a successful, spiritual sobriety? AA's reading this only to conclude that it represents an over-complicated, academic exercise are probably not active sponsors. This discussion deals with sponsorship challenges frequently encountered by active AA sponsors. Conjectures by others along such lines suggest a lack of recent experience in the sponsorship "business." Theoretical "counter models" proposed from the sidelines have little relevance.
Some common responses to the question: "Conscious Contact -- To What End?"
The first answer: Divine Cosmology
This idea suggests that an "improved conscious contact" will enhance one's prospects for salvation through a more pious spiritual state during life. This is the openly cosmological model which has been integrated into traditional religious mythology. The results of this approach are based on unalterable "grace." All "good" outcomes of AA progress are explained exclusively as gifts in a system where one is powerless to influence whether or not they will be granted. All responsibility for personal action -- good or bad -- resides in the deity.
The second answer: Divine Contracting
This idea implies that efforts to more constantly consider God as a partner in all one's affairs amounts to paying the bill for sobriety. It reduces the spiritual advantage of AA's idea to a sort of "service agreement" one arranges for with a Higher Power to be paid for at a specified (or unspecified) price which amounts to "living up" to one's commitment to act in a certain way. When "good" outcomes result, they are the product of a successfully executed contract, that is, acceptable behavior. One can influence the likelihood that his sobriety will be sustained by pursuing externally defined virtue, i.e. "acting in God's will." In this case, some responsibility rests with the AA, but sobriety often remains the product of unalterable "grace."
The more secular approach: Spiritual Maturity
A more secular approach implies that concrete spiritual progress does not necessarily need to become an appendage to some feature of religious mythology at all. Doe this mean "power greater than themselves"9 -- yes, of course. However, once all sorts of remarkable, direct information, allegedly derived from a mythological side of that kind of understanding, is introduced and accepted, the new man has substantially placed the framework of his Step 11 work back into one of the two other alternatives mentioned above.
The secular approach has everything to do with personal responsibility, that is, responsibility for both the new man and his sponsor. If sobriety and recovery are to be exclusively passive positions where one is destined to simply wait for divine grace, hoping for the best, why has the new member delved so deeply into step work in the first place?
If such a choice doesn't make sense to the new member, his sponsor is responsible to make certain that there will be no passive, grudging, alcoholic default. If such a choice won't work, the sponsor will need to find something that will. Again, it is never the case that when the supernatural approach "won't work," it may be interpreted by a sincere sponsor as defiance.
The often repeated message here is that it will be the sponsor's responsibility to provide the new member a concrete choice for the style of his Step 11 work. As is the case with all of AA's steps, Step 11 is expected to yield material and transformational results. The "improved conscious contact" cannot be an exception to that universal theme.
What exactly are we after?
A frequent comment in AA's sharing at our meetings is a redefinition of the word God as an acronym for "Good Orderly Direction." We can add to this great AA saying an estimate of the broader goal sought by those inclined to the mythological theme. Clearly, religious mythology been a result of historically imponderable questions as to the nature and meaning of the reality we all face as humans. After all, humanity has endured a very longer period of development where science and knowledge had not yet advanced sufficiently to offer much of an alternative.
All this might at first appear to be overly academic and abstract, but both the central idea of Step 11 and the other discussions in this series have left us with the inescapable conclusion that our disease's spiritual malady deals precisely with this challenge. The most grievous and destructive symptoms of our untreated disease dealt exactly with serious errors in our perception of the "nature and meaning of the reality we faced."
It seems that, as untreated alcoholics, we were able to quite dependably arrive at extremely unsuccessful outlooks of other people and the world around us in general. As an additional complication to that state of "pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization," (BB p30) the on-going tantrum of our drinking history led us to insist that any workable alternative would have to be unrealistically effortless. Prior to the new promise of AA's step work, such a conclusion usually led us to the predictable, inescapable "pit" of alcoholic hopelessness with which we are familiar.
It seemed to us that even our best efforts at "getting along" with the rest of the world were subject to a cruel "roulette wheel" type of continuous uncertainty -- one where the odds of success were somehow already stacked against us from the very beginning. Our old alcoholic ideas about how everything actually worked were riddled with every kind of alcoholic mischief, fear, frustration and failure.
However, even though we seemed to assume that there was something fundamentally unfair about the world, we proceeded to endure the torturous life of our untreated disease comfortably excluding the possibility that the basic problem was with us -- not the world.10 It seems that we had almost entirely missed the possibility that there was something such as "Good Orderly Direction" all around us.11 Further, once we were willing to open our eyes and look for it, that Good Orderly Direction was completely available to us in an astonishingly great measure!
Gravely handicapped by every disadvantage of our disease, we had been wandering around in the wilderness, voluntarily blinded by out own spiritual "outlook problem." Somewhere around Step 11, new new member realizes that during all those hardships, the comfort of a far more successful spiritual solution was always "just over the hill." We were too busy complaining about how often we were running into the trees to go look for it.
Our "conscious contact" with any sort of beneficial "Good Orderly Direction" during those dark days, frankly, sucked. It needed improvement, and not just a momentary improvement, a permanent, on-going improvement if we were determined to have better outcomes.
To "change the game," the new man will have to a.) "notice" that there is, indeed, a great abundance of "Good Orderly Direction" all around him, and b.) take full advantage of the obvious benefits it offers. Step 11 is all about addressing how that can be done and what those benefits actually are. Its suggestion that "contact" with all those newly revealed possibilities must be "improved" shouldn't be much of a riddle at all by this time. The material role of sponsorship begins to emerge from any previous -- and passively accepted -- confusion based on uncertain supernatural constructs.
AA's continuing message is repeated once again. "Time to go to work and make some important spiritual changes!"
Our Big Book addresses this idea in no uncertain terms, even when the mythological application is set aside. "Good Orderly Direction?" "All around us in great abundance?" What exactly are we talking about here? After all, sponsorship deals with "on the ground" specifics, not troubling "keep away" games.
A good beginning will be to pose the question to the new man: "Can you recall an instance where gravity failed to perform as expected?" Of course, the answer will be "No." However, right here, the sponsor can continue to expand the idea. "So, we can agree that gravity is a well defined, operational system which provides quite dependable and constant results. In one sense, gravity exists subject to certain rules of physics, and it follows those rules."
Naturally, there are all sorts of other examples embedded in other aspects of non-controversial physics. However, the point has less to do with gravity and more to do with the idea of "rules." There are, inescapably, all manner of rules having to do with the behavior of physical forces. It hardly requires a daunting leap of faith to include an alcoholic's new ability to meet life's challenges in the list of the forces subject to such "rules."
The "Good Orderly Direction" idea derives from the same general concept. It will fall to the the sincere sponsor in this instance to assist the new man in the conceptual journey from the reassuring constancy of the "rules of gravity" to an expanded view of "rules for human life and behavior." It can be emphasized that these "rules" are nothing particularly personal. Further, these "rules" are not in any way specifically limited to humans either. "Good Orderly Direction" provides similar rules for all successful life, palm trees, bacteria and wombats, not just for physics or homo sapiens psychology.12
The good news? Sober alcoholics are also included in the list! This is the promise of Step 11.
So, "improving our conscious contact" is not an imponderable mystery. Even in the worst days of our alcoholic drinking, we always had a pretty good idea of what the right ideas were. Our problem, handicapped by our spiritual malady, was that we lacked the power to employ these good ideas to eventually come up with successful behavior. Once we begin to "pull the fangs" out of this rolling nightmare, it turns out that we really can heal from the crazy alcoholic fear it always incited in us through all those dark days.
The sponsor must make certain these ideas are available to the new member. Remember, he is building the foundation of an on-going spiritual approach which can provide the "orderly direction" needed for a new life -- one where he will be "constantly spiritual."
The tracks are laid, and we have the map. Now we need an engine -- a spiritual one.
Although our Big Book implies that "there's not much we can do without God's help,"13 we may be underestimating the rather organic human trait of self-preservation. In fact, suffering under exclusive mythological ideas about what might be spiritual and what might not, a new member might miss the "spiritual" nature of self-preservation. Could mankind have been created to destroy itself? Of course, we have all seen exceptions to this general idea, but mankind, considered as a whole, seems to have been well equipped to avoid extinction.
Further, that idea may mean one thing when considered in a pleasantly detached scholastic frame, but it seems to mean something even more important -- and immediate -- for the alcoholic suffering from his untreated disease.
Part of our disastrous alcoholic history was centered on our seemingly relentless failure to act in our own interests. We constantly wanted to do better, but the outcomes remained less than satisfying. We really did become our "own worst enemy." Although we had little interest in assuming much responsibility for our own failures, we were always eager to blame everyone else or the cruel destiny which we insisted was the lot of all people.
Reviewing this calamity in the frame of Step 11, we can now see that we were locked into an alcoholic tantrum -- part of which involved utterly ignoring the presence of any benefits from "good orderly direction" including our normal commitment to ideas such as self-preservation. What form will the new member's outlook take when this is corrected?
This long term outcome, originating from work in Step 11, may well prove to be one of the most "sobering" changes the new man will encounter. Step 12 suggests changes which will extend out from the new member into the world around him. Step 11 deals with the "inner sensation" of many of the same changes.
After the harsh lash of what had previously been out-of-control alcoholic thinking, Step 11's prayer and meditation and its brave theme of an improving conscious contact with reality transform the new man's inner thought life from a threatening source of unsuccessful ideas to its proper place as a refuge. We all have heard AA's share in meetings saying "my mind is a dangerous place." Step 11 heralds a lasting change arising from the equally lasting practice of seeking a durable comfort with one's own alcoholic nature.
The instructions are actually quite simple. The responsibility of explaining the full impact of accomplishing Step 11 is one that no sincere sponsor will neglect. The new member, once he understands that Step 11 presents the prospect of an entirely new "life process" in his recovery, will be attracted to such a change. Happily, good results seem to unfold almost automatically from that point. Spiritual maturity, just as described all through Step 9's Promises, becomes an everyday fact in recovery.
The supernatural implications of Step 11's suggestion that the new man should pray for knowledge of God's will with respect to his life in recovery can lead to a troubling array of confused ideas for the sponsee unaccustomed to the religious approach to such matters. We have seen, in our fellow AA's, that such an uncertain structure can also invite a new form of religious "self-will" where "knowledge" of God's will develops into Step 11 ideas quite far afield from the essence of Step 11's central focus.
In fact, it is not an infrequent comment in our meetings that, somehow, one's will can be diverted from God's will concerning decisions made by an alcoholic -- even decisions made in sobriety. Although the conflict implied by such ideas originates in the Biblical "struggle" between "good" and "evil," "right" and "wrong," "sin" and virtue," and so on, is there an interpretation of the same idea which is accessible to the non-Biblical AA?
Once again, conversion to a hybrid form of charismatic Christianity can never be the price imposed to realize the benefits of AA's life-saving program. If the new man is more concerned with leading a sober, spiritual life in recovery than pursuing externally imposed maxims of personal beliefs, the sponsor's presentation of Step 11 must meet the challenge. Fortunately, Step 11 seems to be much more reassuringly concrete than the uncertainties of religious mythology. Still, there remains the sponsor's task of getting the job done.
What, exactly, might "knowledge of His will for us" (BB p59) mean absent all the "moving parts" of conventional religious thoughts? Let's consider some very specific examples.
Of course, by the time Step 11 is reached in sponsorship the central ideas of the spiritual malady and the dark, unsuccessful alcoholic outlook on everything it precipitates have already become clear to the new member. If AA step work failed to offer a replacement for those old ideas, the prospects for a robust recovery would be limited indeed. They aren't.
So, for the more secular AA in sponsorship, Step 11's "knowledge of His will for us" must translate into some concrete alternatives from the new member's old approach to finding direction for his life. Here, the sponsor can explain that a new, improved model of the "big picture" of the life of a sober alcoholic is in the works, but first, perhaps, the sponsor and the sponsored can review what the "old picture" looked like and what consequences resulted from it.
A typical "view of the world" as seen by an alcoholic in the depths of his disease focused mainly on only its most immediate, close by features. Being crazily "self-absorbed" as a result of the spiritual malady, the most obvious part of the world seemed to center on the most recent threat. From that point of view, successful living seemed to have everything to do with surviving the latest "attack" and very little to do with a more reasoned idea about living successfully on a planet with another six or seven billion people, the majority of whom had no interest in "attacking" us at all.
Looking back at it, even what seemed to be successes were actually failures.14 Worse, the failures didn't even necessarily require a frightening challenge or threat to launch themselves into reality. Our dark, steady state outlook was usually more than enough to create plenty of failures, even without any help from anyone else. For the new man's recovery to be complete, that outlook had to change and stay changed.
Step 11 maps out the way forward in the new man's recovery. It offers a concrete path to "knowledge of His will for us" through unrelenting effort at "understanding His will for us." The non-supernatural (i.e. "natural") approach to such an invitation means that the recovering alcoholic will begin to place himself and his life into the context where almost all the the affairs of the world are fair, dependable and non-threatening.
In the "spiritual" sense, he once again begins to breathe .
Actually, all sorts of things are working quite well all around him all the time. He had created his own terror based on his constant, hopeless expectation that he would be treated hurtfully or unfairly and that there was nothing he could do to make it better. Such a hopeless outlook, most likely, really was hopeless -- until he came to AA . After some serious step work, the rules changed . His odds got much better.
Further, if the old view of the world was a central symptom of his spiritual malady, walking away from that constant handicap amounted to spiritual progress. For an alcoholic, the simple idea of "getting with the program" is irrefutable spiritual progress. In this case, a renewed image of himself as a successful human being, functioning successfully amid all the affairs other humans encounter and, most importantly, seeing far more clearly the "rules" which were in place -- especially with respect to his relations with others -- easily accounts for the "knowledge of His will for us."
Now, to the question of power. Step 11 suggests that we pray for "the power to carry out God's will for us." The dilemma is straightforward enough.15 Regardless of the source of an alcoholic's ideal concerning his behavior and ideas, the disease's spiritual malady always seemed to be able to undercut even his best ambitions to do better.
The clear objective of "knowledge of His will for us" is to consciously establish a source for the ideas which will direct successful -- and comfortable -- living in sobriety. The clear objective of "the power to carry that out" is to harness the very real, material strength based on an AA's spiritual progress to actually make good decisions, take better action and pursue a successful life in recovery. These changes must occur in the new member's future whether they originate from someone else's ideas about a supernatural source or not.
Step 11 firmly "draws a line in the sand" which will divide the spiritual and thought life of sobriety and recovery from the disasters of his past. It marks a conscious commitment to move beyond the tangled uncertainties of dwelling in the realm of accident and into the bright "sunlight" of spiritual responsibility. Step 11, when undertaken with the full energy and potential of an alcoholic who finally sees the bright prospects for his future, becomes the foundation for a durable, unconditional, continuing spirituality.
Our Big Book describes the unconditional decision an alcoholic will make concerning his drinking,16 and it turns out to be a decision which reaches far beyond the bottle. We drank unconditionally whether times were good or bad, and we will be sober -- and spiritual -- just as unconditionally and just as continuously. Step 11 spells out very specifically how AA's will make that change.
Here, just a few words must be directed at frequently encountered comments we hear during the sharing of other members at our meetings. The message in these comments, although its origin is quite understandable, may be gravely contradictory to AA's idea of complete recovery.17 This discussion is included here primarily because the sponsorship of new members may very well include the responsibility of making sense out of such comments before they can have a negative influence on a sober life in the future.
The comments? First, let's consider the "origin" aspect of the matter. In the prevailing religion's mythology, a "fall from grace," a "crisis of faith" or a variety of other descriptions of temporary departures from the relationship with a deity or Higher Power can be rectified through specific religious efforts. Sins can be forgiven. Areas of human weakness can be rebuilt or restrengthened. In general, transgressions are depicted as essentially temporary, and the liturgical elements of the religion will, predictably, describe what actions must be taken for the fallen to be rehabilitated.
However, here we must recall that Step 11's work was directed at becoming and remaining constantly spiritual as a basis for a complete and on-going recovery. The religious idea, on the other hand, suggests that temporary departures from the state of being "constantly spiritual" can not only be tolerated but corrected afterwards. Remember, the "forgiveness"18 based on grace resides entirely in the realm of the Law of Accidents. In the religious sense, there are no possibilities to influence the actions of the deity, no transactional agreement which will guarantee restoration.
In essence, the responsibility of entering a state where being constantly spiritual declines to a less effective condition is removed, and the outcome of such a lapse is transferred to become the uncertain response of an entirely independent external system. One may be restored (by grace) to a state of piety or not. If the question is entering paradise at a later date, there is, indeed, time to rectify matters, but we in AA are not targeting a heavenly ascension after our death. We are entirely interested in continuing sobriety and recovery from the lethal disease we carry for a lifetime.
Further, the idea of continuing sobriety means exactly what it says. The most grievous breach would be drinking again, but the idea of a half-relapse where one once again begins to indulge in the old alcoholic approach to everything but still does not drink (yet), incorrectly implies that such a state is only a temporary problem. Recovered alcoholics should not experience such a conceptual or symbolic relapse at all, certainly not one which is excused by having encountered difficult circumstances.
AA's promise of recovery from alcoholism is a promise of complete recovery, not a patchwork of "good days" and "bad days." It is a promise of a stable, durable new life, not one littered with "near misses" and threatening personal failures and discouragement. When the new AA member approaches Step 12's suggestions, it falls to his sponsor to make certain that the idea is his complete, durable, unconditional recovery from all aspects of the disease. Why would anyone settle for less?
Now, to the type of comments mentioned above.
"I have been acting in my own will and not in God's will. That is why things haven't been working out so well."
We must consider this line of thinking in two different contexts. In one case, we see a contradiction arising between "assuming that one knows God's will but did something else," and "assuming that what one thought was God's will turned out not to be." In the other case, we see an unpleasant re-emergence of the third leg of the disease's favorite "tool kit," perfectionism.
Should the reader of this discussion conclude that Redux has suddenly become St. Thomas Aquinas, relax. This matter is brought up here because it is so often encountered in active sponsorship. Newer members hear this line of reasoning from more experienced AA's so frequently as they attend our meetings that they may begin to assign to it more of a logical challenge than it deserves. Remember, the sponsor does not have the option of choosing which "mistaken certainties" or misconceptions the new man will bring to him. He will address all of them.
The "God's Will" idea has been in full play from ancient times far before any part of the prevailing religion had even begun. It was artfully employed in every ancient culture from Mesopotamia to Egypt to Greece to Rome and further. When things "worked out" they were presented as proof of following God's will. When they didn't, they were presented as proof of not following God's Will. In other matters, the words of the priests or the content of religious literature were considered the best authority available, especially when they were enforced by the King's army.
Why would anyone want to inject such a confusing and uncertain "wild card" into something as important as recovery from alcoholism? The precise answer is surprisingly simple. The old alcoholic appetite for control turns out to be involved at "full steam."
Such presumptions are the result of a desire for "controlling" or limiting the amount of responsibility one must accept for the outcomes of his life in recovery. It is an attractive temptation for the AA, but it leads to a spiritual cul-de-sac of constant uncertainty where one finds himself pondering unknowables instead of facing facts and seeking continuing improvement.19 None of this represents a practice which might benefit our new member. He will need to stand on his own two feet and accept responsibility for his sobriety. There aren't really any safe short cuts.
A further complication appears when we consider the idea of "knowing God's will and then not doing it." The work he has already accomplished in the first eleven steps has gone to great lengths to straighten out a certain idea concerning this. The disasters in his alcoholic history, although perhaps incomprehensible at the time, have been explained.20 His dilemma was not precipitated by his misconception of what good choices might have been at those moments but his inability or unwillingness to take action based on those good choices.
He was not prey to simply not knowing what to do at those times so much as not doing what he knew was a good choice. Alcoholic thinking and everything that seemed to be made necessary by his alcoholic fear, that is, the products of his spiritual malady, led him into one disaster after another. As to "who caused all this misery," we can return to the Big Book's insistence that God is omnipotent21 and the rather perturbing question which will unavoidably follow. If God is everything which is, does such a proposition imply also that God has done everything which has been done? The answer to such a riddle may interest Biblical scholars, but does it have much of a place in our efforts to get and stay sober? Will such ideas be a useful addition to sponsorship or an unnecessary complication arising from an "outside issue?"
Still, our alcoholic desire for control continues to suggest that both our failures and our success in sobriety will depend on divine grace and submission to "God's Will," even when we acknowledge an abiding uncertainty as to what that might be in any sense beyond the "concept of others." Some AA's find that approach more comfortable as a continuing basis for sobriety, while others, especially those for whom these discussions are specifically directed, find such an arrangement awkward.
Further, although the religious idea provides any supplicant who feels that he has "strayed" from the orthodoxy of "God's will" an immediate process for redemption, in many cases our adversary, the disease of alcoholism, is not so tolerant. In fact, as experienced AA's we have probably all seen the dismal wreckage of a return to drinking -- or, in some cases, no more than a return to alcoholic thinking (of the spiritual malady variety...) -- after which those who had previously enjoyed all of AA's benefits find themselves "stuck," unable to once again reach the relief of the sobriety they had known before.
The "redemption by grace" idea may best be left to the religious arena. The grave consequences which one must accept when such an idea is applied to the lethal disease of alcoholism are simply too high.
There must be no lingering vagaries about the nature or the process of the spiritual life described in Step 11. In a sense, Step 11's spirituality is similar to a cardiac pacemaker, once it is installed it will be measured by how dependable and durable it turns out to be all through the life of its recipient. It would hardly be good medicine to install a pacemaker which ran fairly well most of the time, and for the alcoholic the new state of being "constantly spiritual" requires an equally durable and dependable foundation.
We are talking "spiritual awakening" here, so it's time to consider Step 12.
1 "Much to our relief, we discovered that we did not need to consider another's conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him." (BB p46) Quite aside from the first impression of such a statement, substantial religious over tones are concealed in what appear to be "innocent" presumptions that everyone is supposed to agree are reasonable. For example, "however inadequate" implies that no one can "adequately" comprehend the supernatural nature of the deity. If one has previously agreed that such an idea is, indeed, to be reasonable, that is, if one has taken the oaths and confirmations of a religion which holds such an idea will be the basis of its faith, so be it. If one has confirmed himself in a religion which requires the deity to be a supernatural man which must be "contacted" under certain specific conditions, it is also not a problem. However, if the new man has not confirmed himself in such a religion and is not interested in doing so, will AA exclude him from our program of recovery until he rectifies his situation?
2 Yes, here we can compare the bombast of Dr. Bob's "intellectual pride" with this more effective approach. (BB p181)
3 "He looked straight at me. Simply, but smilingly, he said 'I've got religion.' "
"I was aghast. So that was it -- last summer an alcoholic crackpot; now, I suspected, a little cracked about religion. He had that starry-eyed look. Yes, the old boy was on fire all right. But bless his heart, let him rant! Besides, my gin would last longer than his preaching." (BB p9)
4 Remember, Step 11 suggests that we improve our conscious contact with "God as we understood him." (BB p59)
5 "We ask especially for freedom from self-will, and are careful to make no requests for ourselves only. We may ask for ourselves, however, if others will be helped. We are careful to never pray for our own selfish ends." (BB p87)
6 "The principles set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection." (BB p 60)
7 Prayer developed in cultures originating in the Mesopotamian region. Meditation originated in cultures around the Indus region. The traditions of both remained generally concentrated in the respective areas of their origin for hundreds of centuries. Modern religions -- both Christian and otherwise -- have laid exclusive claim to such ideas in modern times, sometimes even implying that they originated within these modern religions. Although such a genesis might be commendable for an adopted child, the ideas of meditation suffered a redefinition into religious/mythological forms significantly removed from their original ideas, practice and purpose.
8 The religious exclusivity of AA's original form slips away with remarkable grace. In many Islamic countries, drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden, a law commonly enforced by some agency such as "religious purity authorities." AA meetings are assiduously divided by gender and rigidly anonymous. The strictly Christian references in our Big Book emerge in a comfortable Muslim context, and plenty of alcoholics still get sober!
9 "In nearly all cases, their ideals must be grounded in a power greater than themselves, if they are to re-create their lives." (BB p xxviii) The Doctor's opinion continues, "On the other hand -- and strange as it may seem to those who do not understand -- once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who once seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules." (BB p xxix) Our literature shows a rapid journey from the Doctor's "power greater than ourselves" and a "psychic change" to "When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn't. What was our choice to be?" (BB p53) The rather tenuous transformation of the ideas in the Doctor's Opinion to the outrightly religious concept might, at least, benefit from some explanation. "Will this be the only bus out of town?" Further, does such a demand really have much to do with sponsorship? Remember, the new man asked for our help in overcoming his alcoholism.
10 "So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme case of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so." (BB p62)
11 "At long last I saw, I felt, I believed. Scales of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view." (BB p12)
12 "The prosaic steel girder is a mass of electrons whirling around each other at incredible speed. These tiny bodies are governed by precise laws, and these laws hold true throughout the material world. We have no reason to doubt it. When, however, the perfectly logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince ourselves it isn't so." (BB p49) It turns out (given the advantages of several decades which have passed since our book was published in the 1940's) that gravity may be a better example of the constancy and dependability of physical laws than the behavior of electrons, but the central idea remains extremely useful. All aspects of the physical universe work quite well! Once we alcoholics are able to dislodge the screwy consequences of the spiritual malady, that is, once we are able to begin to "get with the program" already in place in the rest of the universe, we also begin to "work" much better. We suspect that we already know the alternative -- again, nothing personal, but -- it is extinction! Ground squirrels don't try to live by eating pebbles. They "know" the importance of following the rules for squirrels. It's not such a big step for us alcoholics to follow their example.
13 "God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral abd philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have like to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God's help." (BB p62)
14 "But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got. As in war, the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were short lived." (BB p66) "Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened?" (BB p67) In fact, Step 11's "refinement" of that last question might be "Why had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened?" Further, we -- finally -- had to ask, "Why would we want to continue with such an outlook?"
15 "If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could wish for these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn't there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly."
"Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously." (BB p45) In any event, it would have to be a power greater than our alcoholism, and our experiences with our alcoholism had provided a compelling understanding of the power of our disease. However, could there be any alternative to a desperate, wholesale submission to an externally defined mythology? After all, our book also says "When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions you find in this book." (BB p47) and "I'm sure it would work if I could only believe as he believes. But I cannot accept as surely true the many articles of faith which are so plain to him." (BB p47)
The unavoidable question is clear enough. How, exactly, do AA's, as they develop their own conception of God, wind up with 20 or 30 centuries worth of Christian religion? Do all AA's have to adopt "someone else's concept of God" in order to survive their alcoholism?
16 "If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it -- then you are ready to take certain steps." (BB p58) "Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol." (BB 76) "Any length" clearly includes a correction of the spiritual malady and all other dilemmas imposed as a result of alcoholic thinking and alcoholic behavior. The AA program suggests that the sole solution is a spiritual one -- a durable and unconditional spiritual one.
17 The title page of the Fourth edition of the Big Book, in fact, the title page of all editions of the Big Book, contains this introduction: "How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered From Alcoholism." That phrase represents the entire description of what lies beyond in the pages of our basic text. There are no caveats, conditions, limits or any other implied suggestions that the program only partially relieves the suffering of an alcoholic under the ravages of the untreated disease. The promise of the program is that recovery is just that, recovery.
18 "After making our review we ask God's forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken." (BB p86)
19 "Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God, it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times. We might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd actions and ideas." (BB p87)
20 "We cannot subscribe to the belief that this life is a veil of tears, though it once was for many of us. But it is clear that we made our own misery. God didn't do it." (BB p133)
21 "When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn't." (BB p53)