How Do You Let Go of The Need to Control …..

The need to feel that you are in control of other people, and their actions, can be one of the most debilitating and draining processes in your life.

Often people have no conscious since that they are trying to control what is going on around them, but the underlying need is often the most central one in their lives.

Let Go and let God

This is one of the many phrases that abound in AA and 12th recovery, and in one sense at least gives the message about trying to let go of the need to control life.

Unfortunately, many people often also read into it an implication that God is in control.

This, really, is just a form of transference, of saying I will give up my belief that I am in control of what is going on around me, if something or someone else will take charge of it.

This idea may seem familiar to some people, mainly because it is an idea that normally is rooted in childhood,

Children have a basic need for security and safety, a basic need to feel that someone is in charge of their life.

The Illusion of Control

People can often realise that they do not have control around a lot of what is going on in the life, but this does not necessarily stop them trying to exert such control.

In fact, in many cases, it leads to try even harder to force their life to work.

Perhaps the first step in terms of letting go of the need to control, is a recognition that most people the sense of being in control of what is going on around them is an illusion.

That can be a hard lesson to learn, not because of the truth of it, but because of the implications of it.

Forcing Solutions

The Al-Anon Preamble has a phrase in it to the effect that ‘our thinking became distorted by trying to force solutions’.

This really goes to the heart of the issue, and contains both the problem and solution within its simple sentence.

People often have quite a strong felt sense that they are trying to push their life uphill, that they are somehow trying to force their life to work.

This is normally a feeling that has been with them for a large part of their life.

At its core, wherever it comes from, is an issue about an inverted sense of control, a paradox that is in many people’s lives.

It is often most clearly seen in the lives of families and friends of alcoholics, who are either trying to get them to stop drinking, or still feel the need to try and control the life once sober.

Adult Children of Alcoholics

Whilst there are many numerous and varied effects of growing up in an alcoholic home, one of the most common ones is the sense a child will have a feeling overly responsible, if not totally responsible, for the well-being or even the very life itself of one or both of their parents or caregivers.

Taking on this type of responsibility at any age is a heavy duty demand, for children of any age it is almost an impossible burden for many to bear.

The practical reality is that anyone in this type of situation normally focuses then tar spirit and energy  on the belief that they are holding the other person together.

This is really at the heart of feeling you’re in control of someone else, not necessarily as a control freak, but as a sense of feeling you have the power to determine someone else’s mental state, or even their very life itself.

Safety

For many children in alcoholic homes, there is very little if any safety, either internally or externally.

What the majority of children/adults do is to create a sense of feeling safe by feeling they are in control of what is going on around them.

This is an illusion of control, as mentioned above, but for children in this environment it is the only solution they have.

What tends to happen is that a child faced with no safety cannot emotionally afford to own that reality.

They will invent a sense of feeling safe, based on the belief that they have this power or control over the adult or adults in their lives, in the sense of being able to affect or change control them lose or emotional stability.

As the child/children grow older, this belief or need to feel in control of what is going on around them normally deepens, and for many people becomes the dominant emotional drive in their life.

It is also probably the most destructive source of emotional turmoil in their lives because it totally reverses the very nature of our psychological make-up as human beings.

People believe that they have control over things that they do not have control over, and do not believe they have any control or power over the thing that they can control, which is predominantly their own lives and emotional make up.

Step Three in Alcoholics Anonymous

When most people talk about Step Three, they enter a world of debate about God, turning over ones will and what it means.

What many people often don’t talk about, is that the majority of the passage on Step Three in the book Alcoholics Anonymous is actually about control.

It uses the analogy of an actor on the stage, trying to control the environment around him, and the calamitous effects that it has.

It goes on to ask people to realise that this is really the source of the problem, that emotionally and often practically, their lives are totally out of control because they are trying to control life around them.

What Step Three really does is to identify the problem, in terms of control, and without offering a simplistic solution, offers people a way out through working the rest of the 12 step program.

The Serenity Prayer – Problem and Solution

Whilst any prayer can have a number of different meanings, the serenity prayer does tend to bring together both the solution and the problem in terms of the nature of control.

It identifies a sense of knowing what you cannot change, i.e. things that you have no control over, and things that you can change, mainly yourself and your inner world.

In essence, people normally feel a need to try and control what is going on around them, because they feel out of control themselves internally.

This normally results from childhood trauma, but not always as there may be other causes as well.

The solution, albeit a long-term one, is to take back a sense of control internally, and as you do so the need to try and control what is going on around you will drop off.

This is because it is about safety, and the need to feel safe.

The internal sense of safety, that is primarily about your inner world and your inner sense of God, will diminish.

In the end it should pretty much eradicate this need to feel in control of other people as a way of keeping yourself together, and giving yourself some internal sense of stability.

This is the ultimate freedom that Alcoholics Anonymous and all 12 Step Programs can really offer.


What is Manipulative Behaviour ?

There are in fact two questions really, what is manipulative behaviour and why is it so damaging.

Manipulation is often thought of as being something that most people do in  varying degrees in order to get their own way, and quite often more of a game rather than something that actually harms people.

There are also people who would argue that manipulation of other people is a legitimate way to further their own careers, and that self-interest is a valid reason or excuse for pursuing it.

Abuse

These arguments tend to be rationalisations, really, for an excuse to use other people to get what you want. That by any standard is a form of abuse, the very definition of abuse being the use of another human being to further your own ends in some way or other.

When someone manipulates you, what they are really doing is either making a decision on your behalf, or tricking you into believing that you are making the decision yourself, when in fact they have coerced you into the position they want you to be in.

The reason manipulative behaviour is so damaging is twofold. Firstly the person being manipulated feels  tricked by the other person involved, and yet they often do not realise it. They are left in a sense of limbo that they have made a decision, but, actually, the decision-making process was not  theirs.

Choice

The freedom to choose is probably the greatest freedom that any human being has. It represents a freedom within us to decide for ourselves what are actions or thoughts will be. It goes to the core of our humanity, and is a real sense of an expression of our inner world, our spirit.

When someone manipulates you it is a form of abuse. It not only takes away your freedom to make your own choices and decisions, but tricks you into believing that you have actually made them for yourself, when in fact you have not.

In alcoholism and 12 step recovery, manipulation and other forms of emotional abuse can be rife.

12 Step Recovery

People often like to look at examples of this in terms of active alcoholism or addiction, but the reality is that this type of abuse can occur just as much in people who are sober,  as in people who are still drinking. This is a truth that people often feel uncomfortable with.

The idea of manipulating people is often linked to a rationalisation that it is for their own good. This is rarely true. This is not to say that the motives of the person doing  the manipulation are inherently bad, they may not be. People’s motives for trying to coerce or manipulate other people often stem from a sense of feeling a need to be in control.

Control

This need to be in control of someone else’s thought process is ultimately what  manipulation is really about, and normally stems from an individual’s sense that they are out of control of their own life themselves.

There is a basic psychological premise that most people who try and control other people, in terms of thought control, do so because they feel out of control themselves internally.

This belief that they are in control of someone else, which is really an illusion, gives them a sense of internal stability and safety.

This internal sense of stability can only be sustained by a permanent and determined increase in trying to control other people. This is why it is so damaging.

Normally any attempt to highlight this to someone results in a really defensive attitude, and often has the opposite effect of that which is intended. However, in 12 step recovery, there is a strong emphasis on awareness, and taking one’s own inventory.

This can ultimately be a space where someone can recognise these traits around control, and through a process of long-term change can achieve a level of internal stability and peace that is based on their own identity, not that of controlling another individual and their mind.


AA Quote of the Day

‘I used to judge myself by my intentions while the world was judging me by my actions’

Quote from Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous


Why Secrets Are So Dangerous

There are a number of slogans and sayings that get chucked around in health circles, which some people find really helpful, and other people find both helpful and irritating, depending upon their mood.

One of the most common sayings, although not an actual slogan, is telling people directly or indirectly that they are as sick as their secrets.

The message behind the saying is that people need to open up, tell either an individual or a group what is going on in their life, or what it is from their past what is troubling them.

People will rarely question this message, in part because the process of 12 step recovery does involve an individual realistically assessing the past, sharing it with someone on a one-to-one basis and making amends harm done as a basis for moving forward and staying sober.

A degree of defensiveness can often mask a sense of underlying anger, which in reality is often protective rather than confrontational.

As Sick As Your Secrets ?

The problem with telling people that they are as sick as their secrets is that it often moves away from what is suggested in the book Alcoholics Anonymous to a different level.

This either puts significant pressure on people to share at meetings, and pressure on people that they should be telling everyone everything about their lives.

This is a hugely important issue,  and unsurprisingly is really to do with boundaries.

When anyone starts the process of getting sober and staying sober they are quite likely to have experienced a significant degree of isolation, often both physical and emotional, often for a significant period of time.

Any emotional isolation is likely to have had a fairly devastating affect on the individual, often making them highly inward looking and secretive about their lives.

Telling individuals like this that they are as sick as a secrets can seem to make sense,  as they will often think that they have to force their way out of that isolation in order to share and get better, otherwise they will drink again.

The process or an individual frame themselves in this type of isolation is as detailed in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It is not a forced process and never should be.

A sense of moving out of this type of emotional isolation can only come from the individual feeling safe enough to let go of the various emotional  coping mechanisms that they have set up within themselves.

Coping Mechanisms

These coping mechanisms are essentially what the isolation involves, and need to come down so that the individual can have a healthy sense of understanding what their own issues are.

What is key is that they come down from within, not as a result of being pressured from  outside.

Whenever an individual is starting a process of getting or staying sober, either in a rehab or in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is a fair bet to say that the last thing in the world they need is any more external pressure.

Whilst every individual’s life is different, and their circumstances different, it’s a fair bet to say that they are already experiencing a high degree of internal pressure, as well as probably external pressure as well.

Telling people that they are as sick as their secrets invariably puts pressure on them. They either feel that they have to share at meetings, or that they need to share things that they are not ready to yet own themselves emotionally.

Pressure

This type of pressure and the ensuing belief that people have to tell everyone everything about their lives often replicates the type of enmeshment found in alcoholic homes.

This is not surprising given number of AA  members who grew up having been affected by someone else’s alcoholism.

It is important to realise the distinction between privacy and secrecy, and to realise that this is fundamentally a boundary issue, and one that can be hugely important in people’s recovery.

Bottom line is that putting pressure on people who are vulnerable is always a no no, especially when it potentially takes away from them one of the main things that they need in order to get well, a sense of safety at meetings where they can simply learn to be themselves.


Quotes

“Follow the voice that speaks within. Go forward unafraid in strength of your own conviction, never being swayed by this or that opinion. On your own set course proceed, knowing that within yourself you have the power that you need. If you pray for guidance there is nothing to fear. Doors will open as if by magic, obstacles cleared and a way prepared. Have faith and go ahead never doubting, knowing that your steps are being led. Do not halt or hesitate between two points of view or lean too much on other people for advising you. Even if at times you are wrong, it’s all experience. Listen to the voice within and trust in Providence.” – Unknown


Pray as you can, not as you can’t …….

Dom John Chapman OSB, Downside


‘Before AA, I judged myself by my intentions, while the world was judging me by my actions’

Alcoholics Anonymous, p418, 4ed.


‘The crucial lesson throughout my work is how to hold, contain and sustain people who have suffered immense atrocity and loss. Our society will be judged by how we respond to those to whom we owe nothing.’ – Helen Bamber


‘Run while you have the light of life ….. nobody who walks in the dark knows where he is going ……’

Prologue to Rule of St Benedict, John 12, 34


‘Spirituality, for me, means listening to the deeper levels of our experience with a sense that there is something completely trustworthy and good to be found there. In this listening, many recognise the life-giving presence of God in us, challenging and surprising us with new understanding and insight.’

Tom McGuinness SJ


‘We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves. We are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.’

Thomas Merton


“To be nobody but
yourself in a world
which is doing its best day and night to make you like
everybody else means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
E.E. Cummings


“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster” – Nietzsche


‘God I give to You all that I am and all that I will be for your healing and direction. Make new this day as I release all my worries and fears, knowing that you are by my side. Please help me to open myself to Your love, to allow Your love to heal my wounds, and to allow Your love to flow through me and from me to those around me. May your will be done this day and always. Amen’

Co-Dependents Anonymous, p37


‘When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away.’

Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, p419 4ed.


“We found the Great Reality deep down within us.

In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found”

Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book p55


” Our book is meant to be suggestive only . We realize we know only a little.”

Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, p164


Quotes are a very personal indicator of motivation and inspiration, hopefully you will find at least one of these helpful


What is a 12 Step Program?

A 12 step program normally refers to the recovery process outlined in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, that has been subsequently adopted by a number of other organisations that help people with various addictions and problems.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous was written by the early members of AA, and was intended to be a record of their experience of how they got sober.

Up until the time the book was written, the members who were sober had used a number of different principles in their recovery, most of which were shared by word of mouth.

Part of the intent in the book was to codify these principles into a more formal set of specific ideas and actions that people could take, which was generally agreed to form the basis of most people’s sobriety.

The Value of Experience

As AA grew in size and more people got sober, people who had other addictions and problems began to realise that they were able to use the same principles that were used in Alcoholics Anonymous as a way of freeing themselves from whatever it was they were trying to deal with.

In effect, all they had to do was to swap the word alcohol with something else, such as drugs, gambling, food etc.

New fellowships  grew up such as Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. All these organisations used the basic principles of the AA 12 step program, but adapted it to their own needs.

12-Step Principles

There are a number of basic principles behind  all 12 step programs, that form the basis of most people’s recovery.

These in essence include the acceptance of being powerless over the addiction, a moral inventory, becoming willing to make restitution for harm done and developing a sense of God in their life, however they may come to understand that.

Powerless Not Helpless

Some people criticise 12-step programs because they see the idea of powerlessness almost as a form of weakness.

This actually misses the point that people who admit they are powerless to the addiction do so because they actually are, not out of any issue related to their self-esteem or identity.

Acknowledging powerlessness over something is simply an acknowledgement of reality. If someone is not powerless over alcohol or drugs or anything else then they are not powerless over  it, period.

If they are powerless over alcohol or anything else than they are powerless over it, period

In fact acknowledging that one is powerless over something is a source of strength not weakness.

It means that one can focus one’s energies on things that you do have control over, rather than focusing them on things that you do not have control over, and draining your whole sense of spirit as a result.

A Moral Inventory

Whilst this is a somewhat awkward phrase, it is really about developing a sense of self awareness, and being willing to look at oneself through the eyes of various emotional drives, such as resentment or anger, fear, anxiety etc.

This can sometimes seem a bit negative, and people often talk about developing both positive and negative traits in terms of inventory.

In fact thinking about both positive and negative aspects of emotions tend to blur the reality of anyone’s emotional life.

Emotions are of themselves neutral in that sense, seeing them as either positive or negative is in fact a judgement.

Any type of moral inventory, or developing of self-awareness can only be really effective when there is no judgement itself, which can take a significant amount of time for most of us, but does fit to the cycle of an inventory being a process.

As with any process, like learning to ride a bike or drive a car, we learn by doing, and in doing we develop a degree of inner stability that we quickly build on each time we repeat the process.

Developing self awareness can be done in many different ways, but the emphasis on it in 12 step programs tends to suggest that it is both a historical and current need. This is why it can sometimes seem a bit overwhelming to people, as it seems to suggest an almost relentless focus on oneself.

Whilst there is some truth in this, it is also true to say that without self-awareness it is almost impossible to really move forward, and the real sense of freedom that 12 step programs bring is inherently linked to an internal sense of being at peace with yourself, which is to a large part conditional on self acceptance and self-awareness.

Making Restitution

For many people this is often the most difficult part of any 12-step program. It often means going back to people who you would rather forget, and would often rather forget you as well !

This is also an unconditional acceptance of one’s own reality, and can certainly seem fairly daunting.

The key to making restitution for harms done, is in many ways to keep the focus on harm.

This process is not meant to be a way by which someone auto corrects their whole life as if it hadn’t happened, or had happened in a different way.

It is about trying to make right harm you have done to other people. Focusing on the harm actually makes the whole process possible, although it can obviously take time for this to materialise.

Once it does, there is a quite natural and obvious sense of need to try and put it right, however daunting this may seem.

There comes a sense of naturalness about wanting to make peace both internally and externally, and a realisation that trying to put right whatever harm was done is an integral part of that process.

The God Question

Perhaps more than any other, the God Question has been at the heart of AA since it started, and is often seen as both the solution and the problem as to why people struggle with sobriety, and the 12-step program as a whole.

The God question tends to attract fundamentalists on both sides, and any fundamentalism turns to distort the reality of any issue.

This is certainly true both in the reality of  AA meetings, and the level of defensiveness that tends to come up in individuals whenever this issue is raised.

This is really sad in many ways, largely because it eats away at the real freedom people can experience, which is the freedom to be themselves, and to interpret the whole God question in whatever way they feel most appropriate to their lives.

The essence of AA, and the reason the book was written, was  and is about experience. The book was intended as a body of experience that people could use in anyway that they found helpful or not.

This is inherently true of all 12 step programs, whatever the problem or addiction. 12 step programs have never been about ideologies or belief systems, although individuals and groups will sometimes make them so.

Whilst there are many sides to the discussion about 12 step programs, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the ultimate goal is freedom, both internal and external, and anything that leads to that should be encouraged, and anything that takes away from that should be discouraged.


What Is So Scary About Step Four?

Step Four is often thought of as the bogeyman and is portrayed as a turning point for people once they have initially got sober.

It is sometimes seen as almost a litmus test as to whether people are really willing to begin the process of facing themselves and their demons.

In reality, there are really several different things going on behind all these issues that are probably worth looking at and unpicking.

The phrase, a moral inventory, is used in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, specifically in step four of the AA 12 step program.

Many people find this phrase a bit baffling or a bit scary, and people in recovery often find the whole idea of doing a step four one of the biggest blocks or obstacles they face in staying sober.

Some of the confusion around  the word inventory is because it is normally used in a business or commercial sense, and refers to a stocktaking or assessment of assets and liabilities in a company.

Fear in Recovery

Many people are pretty terrified when they get sober, normally for a number of different reasons.

Often it is about a fear of what it means to be sober, often it is a fear about losing alcohol even when it has stopped working, and often a fear about the possibility of change and what it might mean.

All these fears can combine and at times be quite debilitating, but it is worth unpacking them all and dealing with each as a separate issue in order to fully understand what someone is saying to themselves.

This can be true about a number of issues in recovery. It is often the overall effect of a number of  fears or issues that can be quite traumatic, and it is really important to break them down into specifics.

These specifics can normally be isolated and looked at, and whilst they may be daunting in their own right, they are at least focused and tangible and In some measure can be dealt with.

When fears or issues come together as one, they not only can produce a chilling effect, but can also be seen unsolvable because of the emotional fog they generate, almost as one big glob of terror.

Fear of Step Four

There can be many reasons people have a fear of doing a step four, but there are probably two or three main ones.

Firstly is the fear of specific things they have done in the past, and the possibility of having to own that reality and share it with someone else can be very daunting.

Secondly is a more general fear about the fact that doing a step four is moving in a different direction to where they have previously been travelling, and the prospect of change, or the unsettling nature of change can be fairly daunting.

The other fear can be simply what if it does not work. This is a fear that can be quite common in the context of seeing the steps as an event, rather a process, seeing them in a very black and white context.

This is normally part of a broader thought process, where everything is seen in very stark terms.

Whilst this hopefully changes in long-term recovery, part of the nature of change is going through the steps as a process, which does become a bit of a catch 24 problem.

Whilst any fear can be powerful in its own right, often in recovery it is a bigger fear that can move a person through it.

Sometimes the bigger fear around an inventory is either fear of going back drinking, or the fear of what it means to live effectively as a dry drunk.

Fear can often push people to do things that they don’t want to do.

Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes not a good thing. Perhaps the important thing to add in terms of recovery is that this fear should generate itself from within people, and not from other people trying to bully them.

A Moral Inventory

In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, a moral inventory initially is used to describe the process of a person looking at three areas of their life, those of resentments, fears and their sex conduct.

Other literature broadens this process to an extent, but the main focus is still on an individual looking at a number of areas of their life, and trying to gain some level of self-awareness about who they are and how they function in the world.

Other 12-step fellowships use the idea of a moral inventory in slightly different ways, each of which will have a somewhat unique take on what it means to begin the process of becoming self-aware. However the principle of self-awareness and ownership of one’s own emotional well-being is the same throughout.

An inventory is normally used in a business or commercial context. The fact that it is used in 12 step recovery should in fact be an asset not a liability.

People often get very bogged down in judgements about how they feel, and whether or not their feelings are okay, whether or not their feelings are good or bad, whether or not they should feel grateful or angry etc.

Pretty much the only way to really get a true and real assessment of yourself is to be able to look at yourself without judgement, to look at yourself in the context of unconditional love.

Whilst for many people this can take a long time to get to, it is a crucial element in any roadmap of recovery. Judgement of self kills any ability to be objective, and any ability to free yourself of judging other people as well.

The term inventory is very non-judgement of itself, whether or not that was the original intent when it was used in the forming of the 12 step program.

When any store owner or business is doing an inventory of their business, they will tend to do it in a fairly objective manner.

They simply want to know what are their assets and liabilities. They normally do not get bogged down in any type of emotional baggage around what they are doing.

This normally frees them to look at things objectively.

This should absolutely be the endgame and objective of a moral inventory in the context of 12 step recovery,  the ability to analyse oneself without judgement.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous refers to an inventory as a fact-finding process. Facts are of themselves not normally that emotional, it is normally their interpretation that is.

Emotional Sobriety

It is really both a strength and a weakness of the approach to a personal inventory that it is meant to be a fact-finding process, not an in-depth emotional rebirth.

What this means is that the initial inventory should be fairly objective and analytical.

For a lot of people in early recovery this is all they can deal with.

It does also mean that the really powerful emotional drives behind a lot of this understanding do come later on in people’s recovery, either through other inventories, therapy or inner child work.

This process is probably what most people would mean by emotional sobriety.


What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Most people have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, and know that it has something to do with people stopping drinking.

People also have very different and often conflicting views of what an alcoholic is, and also the difference between someone who is an alcoholic and a heavy or problem drinker.

Some people are also wary of Alcoholics Anonymous because they have heard that it is a religious or spiritual organisation, and do not want any involvement with something akin to this.

For anyone really wanting to understand how Alcoholics Anonymous works, there are two important things.

Firstly is to understand the context of Alcoholics Anonymous in today’s world, and do that it is really important to have some sense of the history of AA and how it has developed.

Describing Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous describes itself as a fellowship of men and women who share their experience strength and hope with each other, in order to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.

Whilst this is quite a broad generalisation, there is a good deal of truth in this very simple premise, that AA is about individuals sharing their experiences in the hope of helping others.

History of Alcoholics Anonymous

AA is fairly unique as such, apart from other 12-step organisations, and does not have a traditional form of structure. Understanding the history of AA is a big part of being able to see how the reality of AA functions.

There are a number of history books, some written by AA itself, others written by independent journalists and authors. All will give slightly differing viewpoints as to how AA developed, and what its strengths and weaknesses are.

The books written by AA itself are slightly sanitised, but do also carry much if not all of the historical information that is relevant and pertinent to how AA developed.

AA, both in print and in reality, can have a slight gloss to it that is part protective, and in part slightly focused on not wanting to appear divisive or confrontational.

Independent books on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous are quite often written either why people who are members of AA themselves, although not always, and people who are quite unashamedly opposed to AA and everything about it.

The fact there are differing viewpoints about AA is not surprising, and should not of itself be a problem or an issue.

It can become an issue because people tend to become either very hostile or a protective about AA, both approaches tend to blur the reality.

Reality of Alcoholics Anonymous

Anyone wanting to understand the reality of Alcoholics Anonymous should really go to one or more meetings and experience it for themselves.

Whatever meeting they go to, they are likely to experience a different reality to other meetings, and other people’s experiences of them.

This is simply because anyone’s reality is different to someone else’s.

However there is a general shape and form to AA meetings, which largely focus around the definition given at the beginning of this post.

Individuals who have had serious problems and have been able to get sober, meeting together and sharing their experience in the hope of helping others who have had similar problems.

This has always been at the heart of AA, and continues to be in most of the meetings that anyone is likely to attend.

This will vary to an extent, simply because there are literally hundreds of thousands of meetings all around the world, all of which will have a slightly different structure and format.

The other thing that is worth saying about AA is that at most meetings, if not all, there is a mix of both practical and spirit. The practical tends to be the physical reality of individuals meeting and talking and sharing with each other.

The spirit tends to be an underlying energy which pervades the nature and process of the meeting, and for many people is the most powerful element of what happens to them, both in terms of getting sober and staying sober.

This mix of practical and spirit is perhaps the unique element of AA that makes it so difficult to describe. The good news is that people do not have to understand it in order to experience it.

Pretty much anyone can attend an AA meeting, as all are open to anyone thinks they may have a drink problem, and a good number of what are known as open meetings, where anyone who is interested in AA can attend and listen to what is being said.

Potted history of AA

There are a few basic points of history that should probably be flagged up, although none are a substitute to really understanding the full time line of AA.

AA was started in America in the mid 1930s, largely as a result of a chain of individual experiences of people who had a drink problem, and who got sober using a number of spiritual principles.

The best-known of these individuals were the two co-founders of AA, who stayed anonymous during their own lifetimes, but became quite well known afterwards.

Their individual experiences formed the basis of how AA developed, both in terms of individual groups in certain cities, through to the enormous growth of meetings and groups throughout the world today.

These and other individual spiritual experiences were collated into a book, which was entitled Alcoholics Anonymous, which became the name and basis of the whole organisation itself.

Perhaps the most important thing to take from the history of AA is that it has always been a collection of experience.

It has no ideology or belief system or any agenda other than an openness to share its experience in the hope that it can help others.

This sharing of experience is done primarily through the AA literature, which is open for anyone to buy or download on-line, as well as through AA meetings and individuals sharing their experience on a one-to-one basis.


What Happens at an AA Meeting?

What should in fact be a relatively simple question, is often quite difficult to answer, simply because there is normally another issue underlying it.

For many people, going to an AA meeting itself is an acknowledgement or a recognition of the fact that they may have a drink problem, and this is often a huge deal for them and other people.

Most people who have a serious drink problem are in denial about it, often for a large part of their life.

It often takes something seismic for them to recognise that they have a problem, let alone become willing to do something about it.

AA has become almost synonymous with the idea of getting sober and staying sober.

Whilst people may have very differing interpretations of what alcoholism is and means, the reality is often that going to AA is the first or the most focused thing people will do.

People may go on to other types of treatment, or simply get sober and stay sober on their own, but at some point there is a strong likelihood they will go to an AA meeting.

Denial

The nature of denial is often misunderstood, especially in the context of alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Anyone who is an active alcoholic is likely at some point to become protective about their drinking, and depending upon the extent of that alcoholism, that defensiveness will increase as the drinking progresses.

Denial in this sense is protective, and someone who is an alcoholic is likely to get to a point where they see alcohol is being only thing that matters to them.

At this point, the worse things get both internally and externally, the more the alcoholic will turn to alcohol as being the only thing that matters, the only thing it is important for them to hold onto.

This is often why it is so baffling for someone who is not an alcoholic to understand try and make sense of why an alcoholic will carry on drinking in the face of almost relentless pressures to stop, both internal and external.

There has to come a point, where the internal pressure is so great that the alternative of going to AA as opposed to carry on drinking becomes a reality.

It is at this moment that someone might attend an AA meeting. Timing is crucial, as this may be the only time the alcoholic is exposed to the reality of what can happen to help them get and stay sober.

AA Meetings

This is really about the reality of what happens at an AA meeting. There may be many different formats, readings talks etc, but there is one central element which should run through all and any meeting.

What is at the heart of all AA meetings is a mix of people from all walks of life, some of whom will be new, some will have been sober a long time and some have been sober for differing lengths of time. there may also be some people whoa are still actively drinking, although not usually at the meeting.

All are there on an equal basis, and will share with each other what helped and did not help them get sober, and what they find helpful in their day-to-day life regarding sobriety.

It is this sharing of experience, both at a group level and on a one-to-one basis that really is the heart of Alcoholics Anonymous, and should be at the heart of most meetings.

There is also often continual sharing between people before and after meetings, and often on the telephone during the day or at night when there are no meetings taking place.

The Spirit of AA

The practicality of describing an AA meeting can give it a sense of normality that in fact it does not have.

In addition to individuals sharing with each other about their alcoholism and recovery, there is an energy to the meeting that transcends the actual event itself.

This energy is hard to define, but most people seem to experience it, albeit in different ways.

This energy goes a long way to explaining the reality of Alcoholics Anonymous, but is also as one of the undefinable elements that makes it so hard to give a concrete picture of what Alcoholics Anonymous is, and how AA meetings work.


Willing To Go To Any Lengths……

Anyone familiar with this phrase will recognise it from the early part of chapter five of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which sets out the 12 step program which is at the cornerstone of AA’s recovery process.

As with many things in life, context is crucial.

This phrase is used in a very specific context in the book, which really needs to be looked at and read to be properly understood.

The intent behind this phrase, and the whole tone of the book Alcoholics Anonymous is really one of urgency, rather than fundamentalism.

The book was written by the early members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Many of them were what would be referred to today as street drunks, even though some owned their own homes or had somewhere to live.

It is certainly true that most of them had reached a stage of their lives where they were completely desperate about drinking, and knew they had something that worked.

Chapter Five

Chapter five of the book Alcoholics Anonymous is often referred to by its title, How it Works.

This is because this specific chapter begins to spell out in great detail the experience of these early AA members as to what they collectively did in order to get sober and stay sober.

The principles of the 12 step program can seem fairly daunting to many people, and certainly were to the early members of AA.

Most of them found however that they came to apply them to their lives when they had little or no option in terms of doing anything else.

They felt they were completely beaten in many ways, often referred to in AA as reaching a rock bottom.

The phrase ‘willing to go to any lengths’  should always really be understood not only in the context of how it was written, but in the fact that it applies to the principles of the 12 step program.

The reason this matters and is important, is because the phrase is often used in the reality of daily AA, and AA meetings, almost as a litmus test for peoples approach or commitment to their own recovery.

This type of fundamentalism is actually about forcing people into a position that they may not yet be ready to be in, and distorts the very freedom that AA actually offers.

Process and Experience

The nature of AA is really about experience. The real DNA of Alcoholics Anonymous lies in the value of its experience, collectively written in the book Alcoholics Anonymous and other literature.

This literature gives people the opportunity to access and utilise the whole experience of AA as it is understood today, from when it first started.

The other aspect to this is that people have the individual freedom to use that experience in any way that they feel appropriate or not.

This is an absolute freedom that sadly it’s not always recognised or acknowledged within the reality of daily AA.

Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism may seem a slightly strong way of describing the pressure that is often put on people who are new to AA, as well as some have been sober for a while, to embrace the AA program in a particular way or manner.

However, the pressure can be very real and is often exerted on people who are in many ways quite vulnerable, by people who have been sober for a while and should know what they are doing.

The nature of fundamentalism is closely linked that of sponsorship within AA.

Sponsorship should be a type of buddy system to help people who are new, or are generally in need of help. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, it is much more hierarchical in nature than a one-on-one buddy system should be, and develops a level of status that distorts the relationship.

This issue of status can often lead to a degree of fundamentalism, sometimes based on good motives, other times motives more to do with power and control than anyone else’s well-being.

It is often in the context of sponsorship that this phrase, willing to go to any lengths is used. A potential sponsor will sometimes ask an individual who has asked them to sponsor them, if they are willing to go to any lengths.

Invariably the individual will say yes, not knowing really what it means. This is then used as a general big stick approach to how the sponsor controls the individual they are sponsoring.

The issue of sponsorship and control is a huge one, and one that needs much thought and correction within AA generally.

It is important however, to make a distinction between the urgency of the message carried in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and an individual’s use of that message to try and control someone else.


Can an Atheist Get Sober in AA?

Apologies at the outset if this seems a slightly patronising question (which it is) but it is one that a number of people do ask, and is generally around the so called issue of the God question in AA.

The history of AA largely revolves around the experience of people’s understanding and interpretation of God, and at the same time the freedom to experience this in anyway they do.

Part of this experience has always been a thread of underlying pressure for people to at some point come round to a belief in God in some way, shape or form.

People who would consider themselves atheists often feel they are being sort of being tolerated, with an expectation that at some point they will come round to the God view.

Right to Believe

Society as a whole has in many ways had the same problem for decades and centuries, reinforced by the institutional nature of organised religion.

Whilst AA doesn’t have any organised religious involvement, it does have a degree of being institutionalised, which can manifest itself in a degree of rigidity, both structurally and individually.

This often leads to people being referred to either as believers or non-believers, or believers or atheists.

Labels

It is almost a bit too obvious, but it does need saying, that labels of all sorts carry an inherent risk. They run the risk of putting people in a box, and categorising them from the outside in.

People sometimes like labels because it gives them a sense of external identity, something to hang onto, something to belong to, a sort of tribalism.

Understandable though this is, it also means that labels in effect carry very little meaning. Describing someone as a believer or an atheist in reality means very little if anything.

Arguments

There are so many different arguments that people seem to want to go with about whether or not God exists as to drown out the real issue.

Most of the arguments seem to centre around a theoretical idea, and people’s ability to prove it or not. This is certainly the case with a lot of organised religion, and one of the reasons it is so divisive in its nature,

Theoretical Beliefs

Theoretical beliefs are in effect a form of ideology, and wherever they have come from, they tend to become very tribal in nature, and normally end up being a rallying point for most types of fundamentalism.

Religion has probably been saved, not by its ideology, but by the fact that there are numerous people who have had some type of spiritual experience that manifests itself in Christianity and other religions.

Experience

Going back to labels, and why they are potentially very dangerous. People may come to a label, whether it is that of believer or atheist, because it seems to give them cover for where they are coming from.

This quickly can become something of a trap, as changing your ideas or beliefs then removes you from that label, and the sense of safety that may go with it.

On the whole, labels should really be avoided, and in effect replaced by the individual’s sense of self, and their ability to trust in their own experience.

AA as a Body of Experience

People sometimes forget that the book Alcoholics Anonymous was written to preserve the body of experience of the early members of AA, and to share that experience with anyone who wanted to read the book.

At the time the book was written, AA had two groups, one in Akron and one in New York.

Part of the purpose of the book was to share this experience with the whole world, and allow anyone who wanted to, to use the experience in the book to get sober and stay sober.

This principle was quickly established as the root of AA. That AA was essentially a body of experience, that anyone could use in any way they wanted to in order to get sober and stay sober.

This dual thread of AA was and is still core to its very existence. The structure of AA has continually reaffirmed the literature of AA as being deemed to be the experience of AA from its start to the present day, worldwide.

This experience is open to anyone who wants to use it. This gives people a freedom to interpret the experience of AA in any way they choose. Period.

Experience and Belief Systems

It is likely that now always been to be people who belief systems about God, whether for or against believing. What AA can offer is a way through this.

AA gives people the benefit of its experience, and at the same time freedom to use that experience, or any part of it as they see fit.

Whilst in theory this is the best of both worlds, in reality this freedom is often hugely abused. People often see other people’s freedom as a threat to their own identity or belief system.

This sense of a threat often leads people to try and curtail other people’s freedom, either through some type of bullying, or through the well practised fear factor.

AA, and the 12 step movement generally, should have nothing to do with either. Bullying and fear factors have no place in the world of recovery.

Happy Joyous and Free

This phrase of  happy joyous and free from the book Alcoholics Anonymous is often one of the most quoted. It is often used as a sort of symbolic embrace of the AA 12 step program, and what it can offer.

The bit that is perhaps most important is the word free. In large part this because this freedom, the sense of being free is a precondition of the other two.

The reality is that many people in AA do not experience this freedom, not because they cannot, but because it is often curtailed by other people, intentionally or not.

This curtailment of freedom can take many forms, but is perhaps most common around the issue of the God question.

The issue is not really that belief or unbelief, God or atheist, but around people’s ultimate freedom to be themselves, and the right to have their own experience whatever that may be.

This right is paramount and absolute.

Depriving people of this right may ultimately deprive them of the freedom to attend AA or use its literature, which ultimately is about that right to recover from alcoholism, and potentially about their right to life itself.


Why is Meditation So Difficult ?

There is a paradox about meditation, in that most types of meditation of themselves are fairly simple to do, but many people find meditation as a practice, or a process, incredibly difficult.

Sometimes people put this down to a lack of discipline, or more commonly people simply say that they find meditation so difficult that they cannot do it.

Meditation as a practice has become hugely popular in the west in the last few years.

People used to think of meditation as a slightly mysterious ” eastern” process, akin to the spiritual world, but which you had to travel to India to learn how to do.

People in 12 step recovery are invited to look at the practice of both prayer and meditation as a way of deepening their sense or understanding of God, or their spiritual world.

In many ways this is a unique opportunity for people to really explore what both these words really mean to them, and experience a level of freedom that very few other practices can really give.

Dogma and Discipline

One of the reasons people are attracted to meditation is because it is an experiential process. It is something you do, and receive the benefits or insights of as a result of doing.

Whilst this is actually true of most types of prayer as well, most people see prayer in a much more disjointed form.

Disjointed in the sense that they see prayer as somehow trying to connect to a being that is outside of them, that in some way they have to ask help from, or pay homage to.

Whilst this presents a very stereotypical type of God, it is nevertheless the basis upon which many people in society pray, and many people in AA and 12 step recovery use as the basis for their prayer as well.

Meditation on the other hand, has always been seen as a much freer process, with no belief system attached to it, as something you can simply do or not and receive the experience of it as a result.

Prayer and Meditation

The reality is that both of these terms are really interchangeable, and can to an extent mean what you want them to mean.

What is important, is the sense of where the individual is coming from, in terms of their understanding of their sense of God, and their sense of self, and their sense of the connection between the two.

This is not to advocate any one type of belief system or other.

The real freedom of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step organisations is the freedom to discover for yourself what these ideas mean to you.

Often the difficulty around meditation is this freedom itself. Often in AA there is a sense that prayer should be carried out in a particular manner, often on your knees asking for a sober day etc.

Whilst this is of course something anyone can do or not, there is often a real pressure that this is the right and only way to pray.

What of course this does is to block off people’s freedom to experience the reality of prayer, which is asking themselves what prayer means to them, what God means to them and what meditation means to them.

The Discipline of Meditation

Many people believe they have difficulty with meditation because of the issue of discipline. They see discipline as some sort of mysterious internal force which allows them to do things or not.

Many people in AA see discipline is something they lack, and as such associate it with a lack of power or lack of willpower.

Whilst people can debate the issue of discipline, in reality it probably has little to do with why people find it difficult to meditate or not.

The reason is much more likely to be associated with people’s own sense of freedom to own their own recovery, or not, and to discover for themselves what these words really mean.

There is a real danger of generalising a lot about these things. In fairness though, there is probably quite a lot of truth in saying people like to be told what certain things mean and certain things don’t mean.

People often like a degree of certainty about these matters.

The Illusion of Certainty

Most people in life prefer certainty to uncertainty.

People in AA and 12-step recovery often crave certainty more than others, and this is most likely an effect of growing up in an alcoholic home, which anecdotally, most people in AA do.

The uncertainty and chaos of an alcoholic home not only leads to an overbearing sense of responsibility at an inappropriate age, but also a craving for the certainty that a stable home should bring.

This craving for certainty is normally at an inner child level, and is often at odds with wanting the freedom that uncertainty normally brings with it.

This conflict of wanting to explore and experience life itself, with a craving for certainty,  is in effect a conflict of differing energies within an individual.

Normally the individual will be unaware of these differing sources of energy, but nevertheless they often generate a sense of conflict or in many cases a sense off being frozen internally.

Why Meditation can be Difficult

It is important to understand that meditation can take many forms. For some it is about following patterns of breathing, for others using a mantra.

For others it can be more akin to to contemplation, others seek meditation by way of visualisation and affirmations.

Whatever type of meditation one chooses to follow, the sense of it being difficult can crop up at any time. Some of it is undoubtedly going to issues around commitment and so called discipline.

It is important to realise that, when meditating, it is a process that you come back to when you need to and when you can do it. Much talk of meditation is about developing a regular pattern, and a regular practice.

Whilst there is no doubt this can be beneficial, it can also have the drawback of making people believe that if they do not do it on a regular basis, as part of a daily ritual, there is no point in doing it at all.

People who find meditation difficult  for whatever reason should simply see it as something that can be hugely beneficial in the life, and simply come to it when they are able to and not worry too much and they are not able to for any reason.


Why do People find it Hard to Believe in God?

Most people have normally been asked at some point in their life if they believe in God or not.

In AA and in 12 step recovery generally, people are likely to be asked this question more than once, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly and quite often in fairly intense and overbearing circumstances.

Whilst people in life can often walk away from those who they feel put pressure on them as to what they should or should not believe in, this is much harder in AA.

People come to AA effectively to get sober, whether they realise it or not at the time !  Once in AA, they enter a different world that can seem very intense and quite surreal in many ways.

People are invariably quite vulnerable, and are susceptible to being given lots of advice about all things to do with being and getting sober.

The God Question

AA in many ways reflects normal society, but often in more intense and intrusive ways. One of these is about the overbearing question of what other people do or do not believe in.

The nature of AA, and of the 12 step program itself, is rooted in the world of God and of the spirit, as any cursory look at the literature, or attendance at any AA meeting will quickly verify.

This by its very self often presents real problems for a lot of people, which are often compounded by the attitude of some sober members, who can appear very evangelical about the need to believe in God.

This attitude that some AA members have is often reinforced by their own experience of sobriety, and their own experience of using the 12 step program in their life.

These act as a sort of rationalisation for their actions and behaviours, whatever their motives, in trying to force people to have their sense of what they should or should not believe in.

The sense of trying to convince people about a belief in God is not necessarily about specific belief systems.

It is normally much more about a general sense that they need to have God in their lives, and if they don’t they won’t get or stay sober.

Sobriety and Beyond

There are so many potential dangers around this forcing of belief systems that it is difficult to pick any one in particular out.

Whilst there is obviously an issue about the motives of the people being quite evangelical, the reality is that it can exploit the vulnerability of people who are new.

Someone getting sober is faced with a whole range of issues, both internal and external, that at some point they will begin to own and realise that they need dealing with.

Some of these problems are likely to be fairly major, others less so. However, the pressure that someone getting sober feels is normally fairly intense, whatever the source.

The last thing they need, quite literally, is the pressure of someone in AA else telling them what they should or should not believe in ‘as a matter of saving their life’.

A Life Saver

It is quite common in AA for people to talk in quite melodramatic ways about life and death.

What is often forgotten or not fully realised, is the enormity of someone coming to their first AA meeting, and the potential implications for them if they do not come back.

This is not meant as a do or die fear, simply an acknowledgement that if someone is exposed to AA, they are exposed to a potential way of reconciling and healing their alcoholism.

If that same person feels overly pressured by anyone, about anything, there is a fair chance they will either leave or certainly not return in the near future.

This does potentially deprive them of the opportunity of using the experience of AA as a way of getting and staying sober, and potentially saving their life.

Belief Systems

It is worth making the point, over and over again, that AA does not have any belief systems about anything.

Individual members have the freedom to believe anything they want, and unfortunately often cross that line of representing their own belief systems as being those of AA.

AA is a body of experience that is primarily expressed through its literature at a global level. The literature of AA  represents its experience from  the time it started through to present day.

This is of paramount importance to how AA functions, and people’s freedom to use that experience in any way that they find helpful or not.

This sense of balancing a body of experience, and an individual’s freedom to use that experience in anyway they find helpful is the linchpin of Alcoholics Anonymous, and all 12 step fellowships.

It has what has held AA together for most of its existence, and allowed it to grow on a worldwide scale.

Unfortunately, the reality of many AA meetings do not live up to this ideal.

Many meetings will contain individuals who, for whatever reason, feel the need to try and impress on other people how they should or should not think.

Whilst this often focuses on the God question, it shows up a deeper symbolic problem in AA around the whole issue of boundaries, and of giving people the freedom to be themselves

The freedom to discover for themselves what the world of the spirit really means, or not, to them


What is an Inner Voice?

When people talk about an inner voice in the context of spirituality, they are normally referring to an inner intuitive sense of direction in their life.

This sense of there being an inner world, and it somehow helping to direct our life is for most people a hugely attractive idea, and for a great number of people a hugely attractive reality.

In the same way that the idea of an external control freakery God puts numerous people off the whole idea of God and/or any religion, the idea of an inner sense of the spirit can attract people in large numbers.

In many ways, people in 12 step recovery often mirror people not in recovery, but in a much more intense and often urgent sense.

This is probably true in the whole area of spirituality, and the idea of listening to an intuitive sense of self.

Healing the Pain

When someone gets sober, it is probably fair to say that most of their life, both internally and externally, is somewhat of a blur. This is true whether or not they get sober in a rehab, or on their own through AA meetings.

Once sober, it will become apparent at some point that the real issue they have to deal with is what is going on inside their head.

The emotional turmoil that underlies most alcoholics drinking does not go away when someone gets sober, on the contrary for most people it begins to get more intense.

The search or journey to reconcile this emotional turmoil is in reality the purpose of going through the 12 step program, as a way of trying to bring some sort of internal stability to their life.

This necessity to reconcile their emotional life at some point leads to a degree of stability and internal peace that is normally the first time an alcoholic is likely to have experienced it.

This sense of peace and stability is in some ways both a precursor and an experience of listening to the inner voice, even if the person is not at all aware of it.

It is really the expression of turning inwards, in a healthy sense, and letting the world of the spirit work in its own unique fashion.

Looking for Meaning

Once there is a degree of emotional stability internally, people’s lives can take very different directions. There are likely to be a significant number whose lives will have been touched by the reality of this sense of the spirit.

This can of course mean different things to different people, but in general people will have some sort of sense of their inner world moving them in a different direction to where they were going before.

This sense of there being an inner world, and a felt sense of it guiding them comes to feel a very natural and healthy place to want to be.

It is rather like a sense of feeling truly connected to their life, in the context of its real meaning. It is not necessarily about understanding or even becoming aware of the nature of God.

It is really about feeling connected to the inner reality of one’s life, which in a more traditional sense used to be referred to as balancing the light and dark of the soul, of the spirit.

The inner world is not necessarily a land of milk and honey. It is more of a journey, a process, a sense of connecting to our real sense of authenticity, and a sense of where the spirit works with us.

Authenticity not Sainthood

Whilst there is nothing wrong at all with sainthood, there is sometimes a belief that people who really connect to their inner world, who really do get a sense of God in their life, necessarily become better people, become good people, and do good works.

There is obviously some truth in this, but there is something more important, the value of connecting to ones inner life, the value of authenticity.

The phrase to thine own self be true has always resonated with people, even if it has become a bit of a cliche. It’s truth however remains a constant.

The importance and value of having the freedom to be authentic cannot be overstated.

This is true in life generally, and especially true in 12 step recovery. The value of authenticity more than anything else is an inner freedom, and a real awareness of one’s own truth.

The idea of an inner voice is really an expression of a calling for people to turn inwards rather than outwards in their search for meaning.

The search for meaning is really about an inner journey, and importantly a freedom to pursue the journey however the individual feels the need to process it.

Looking outside of yourself invariably takes you away from the real you, and will take you in the wrong direction.

An inner voice is for most people a really comforting notion. It is an invitation for most to really begin the process of coming home to their true world, the world of the spirit.


Pray As You Can, Not As You Can’t

The phrase ‘pray as you can not as you can’t’  isn’t terribly well known to a lot of people, but to those who do know it and use it as a literal guide to prayer, it can be an absolute lifesaver.

The phrase originated from a monk at Downside, John Chapman, Abbott in the 1930s, and is as relevant and pertinent today as it was then.

As with many words and phrases that seem almost overly simplistic, the real strength in many ways lies behind the words, both in terms of intent and freedom.

The Need for Prayer

For many people, understanding that the need to pray, let alone having the freedom to really explore what prayer means to them, can be a lifelong process in its own right.

For people in 12 step recovery, this process or journey can be complicated further by a degree of pressure to pray in particular ways, not always overtly religious, but nevertheless carrying quite fundamentalist overtones.

These overtones are not always only about prayer, but also about God or the nature of God as well. This pressure can come from other people in AA, from sponsors, from groups or society at large.

However, the flip side of this, is that people in recovery normally reach a point when they start to really search for something.

This searching may not always be obvious or conscious, but does at some stage become apparent as a real quest.

Hopefully, this searching is eventually recognised not so much in terms of what someone is looking for, but as a real need to connect to ones inner world in some sense.

Like all needs, the recognition that it comes from within is of paramount value, and often needs to be fostered and nurtured in different ways.

Quite often the biggest threat to this need is other people’s insistence on how an individual should pray, or what they should or should not believe in.

This problem is of course not unique to AA or 12 step recovery, but does carry an extra dimension.

People in AA are conscious about their need to get sober and stay sober, and their awareness of the nature of their own spirit or soul will grow stronger in time, as part of their need to stay sober.

The World of the Spirit

Giving people the freedom to be themselves, and to discover for themselves the reality of their own life is perhaps the ultimate freedom that is.

It is also a freedom that needs to be fought and won for in many areas of life, especially in AA and 12 step recovery.

People in AA get very excited about how other people should live their lives, and are often very quick to give advice both asked for and un-asked for.

Sometimes this advice is good, sometimes not so good and sometimes disastrous.

When it comes to prayer and the nature of God, giving advice or trying to direct another person carries much more dangerous long-term consequences.

The main consequence is that it erodes the freedom people need to be able to explore for themselves what their inner world means, and more importantly what it does not mean to them.

Whilst the world of the spirit may seem a bit of a vague term, it really applies to that inner world or inner voice that people have inside them, that transcends their emotional, mental, sexual, physical realms that make up a human being’s life.

Many people try and define the nature of such a spirit or inner world. Sadly, most people who need to try and define it have little or no real experience of it in their own lives.

These people who have experienced a connection to that inner world in a real and meaningful way do understand the need to give other people that same freedom.

Why Prayer Matters

If anyone is to have the freedom to explore what their inner world, or the world of the spirit really means to them, then they have to have the freedom to explore what the term prayer means to them as well.

Without wanting to get into definitions of what prayer and meditation mean, the important point is that they are both means of communicating with ones inner world.

It is this freedom to explore how to communicate that is at the heart of this phrase, and of the necessity to have the freedom to explore it.

The nature of prayer is of course an immense and in many ways complex subject.

Complex because so much of it is either ritualised, comes from other people or comes from books etc.

It is also complicated by a belief system in many people and religions that there is somehow a right way to pray and somehow a wrong way to pray.

This idea of a right or wrong way to pray or meditate, of course pretty much sets up everyone who tries it to fail, not least of all because it simply is not true.

What it does do is set up an external validator of what is going on internally within someone, which inevitably leads to a breakdown of the truth, the whole process.

Learning to Trust Yourself

The reality of having the freedom to discover what prayer means to oneself is both a practical and a spiritual necessity.

Practical in the sense that there are literally hundreds of different ways to pray and meditate, and any individual is going to feel more comfortable with some with others.

Comfortability with a process is more likely to lead someone to trust the process.

A lot of the truth about having the freedom to discover how to pray and meditate for oneself is really about having the freedom to be oneself.

Many people who have really developed some type of real connection with their inner world, realise that this spiritual direction of themselves is in fact their true self, a true nature.

It is not at odds with any other part of their identity or self, in fact it unifies their entire being.

This sense of internal unity can only really come to having the freedom to be open to this reality, where ever it comes from and whatever it may mean.

Whilst this is a different journey for everyone, what can unite people, especially in 12 step recovery, is the recognition that this is perhaps a core need for people, and that it is about freedom.

Perhaps today’s world teaches us that the need to preserve freedom, both internally and externally, is as acute as it has ever been.

When it pertains to one’s inner world, one’s spirit or soul, then the freedom to pray as you can, not as you can’t is perhaps one of the few absolutes that should be really etched into people’s consciousness.

 

 

 

 

Resources

Alcoholics Anonymous  Al-Anon  Coda  Cult Recovery  Depression  Jesuit Spirituality  Narcotics Anonymous Sexual Abuse  12 Step Fellowships

 

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

Listed below are the main GSO websites for AA in the Major English Speaking Countries. Beneath them are a collection of assorted websites, listed by country, that contain links to groups / individuals connected to english speaking AA

GSO SITES

AUSTRALIA

INDIA

IRELAND

NEW ZEALAND

SINGAPORE

SOUTH AFRICA

UK / ENGLISH SPEAKING EUROPE

USA / CANADA

 

OTHER COUNTRIES


What Does Rigorous Honesty Really Mean ?

The term rigorous honesty is used a lot in Alcoholics Anonymous, and in the 12 step recovery world generally.

Its original intent was to make clear the need for people to really own and take responsibility for the reality of their lives, both internally and externally.

Like a lot of phrases and concepts in recovery, its usage tends to depend largely on the motives of the person saying it.

That is why it can often be used in a slightly overbearing way, making people feel they are either being bullied, or pressured into a degree of accountability that they are not yet ready for.

The 12 step world generally has a number of degrees of vulnerability, and a number of people who seek vulnerability in different ways.

Some can seem quite harsh, others quite gentle and a fair number somewhere in between the two.

Why this phrase rigorous honesty matters so much is really because of what lies behind it in terms of its original intent.

This raises the issue of the reality of an active alcoholics life, and their denial of the fact that alcohol is causing a problem in it.

This covers both the inner and outer world of the alcoholic, as well as their potentially more deep seated emotional and mental issues.

Moral Inventory

AA uses the phrase moral inventory when effectively referring to the need for self-analysis.

There is often a strong sense of urgency about the need for people who are recovering alcoholics to begin the process of becoming self-aware, and it is in this context that the term rigorous honesty is meant to apply.

Implying that an individual has to be honest with themselves can also imply that they had been lying to themselves beforehand. Not always the case, but in recovery is often taken as the norm rather than the exception.

This raises all sorts of questions about motives and denial, and why an alcoholic is so reluctant or unable to accept the reality of their own life.

These questions are quite complex, and will be different as are the answers for a wide variety of different people.  There are however a number of important factors which do sit with these questions.

Denial

Whatever the form denial takes, it is worth remembering that denial is a form of protection.

It can sometimes be quite delusional, but for a significant number of alcoholics denial is about protecting their need to drink. This may seem ludicrous in the light of the havoc that alcohol is causing them, but is normally part of the alcoholic mindset.

It is probably fair to say that most alcoholics believe that alcohol is the solution to the problems rather than the problem itself, even if they are not consciously aware of this belief.

As such, the worse their life gets, both internally and externally, the more they turn to alcohol as being the thing that is holding them together.

Denial of the reality of the life is often their way of protecting alcohol, which they believe they need to do at any cost.

It is important to realise that denial is usually a defence mechanism, trying to protect something the person believes is of utmost importance to them.

The depth of the denial can often make this difficult for someone who is not an alcoholic or addict to understand.

Safety

The need to feel safe or secure is a core element of most human beings identity, and for an alcoholic it can achieve enormous proportions.

Their sense of safety is often disfigured by growing up in an alcoholic home, or other childhood dysfunction.

Many people in recovery link a lot of their emotional dysfunction, both whilst drinking and recovery, to the issue of safety and security.

The denial mentioned above is a core part of helping someone feel safe, however irrational it may seem to anyone else.

Safety is primarily an emotional issue, and is also the key element in allowing people to change their inner world. A real sense of safety allows people the freedom to change – threatening them and making them feel cornered does the exact opposite.

This is why the issue of how people approach their moral inventory, and the whole process of developing a level of self-awareness in recovery is so important.

Self-awareness, without judgement, is the cornerstone of real freedom in recovery.

Freedom

Although it has become a bit of a cliche, the phrase”know the truth and the truth will set you free” is perhaps the most important element of a person’s recovery.

Developing a degree of self-awareness allows an individual to question themselves without judgement, allows them to question their motives and allows them to develop a real relationship with themselves, with others and with God.

This self-awareness, which is often associated with the phrase rigorous honesty, is about feeling safe enough to begin and continue the process of self searching. Of understanding the nature of one’s own alcoholism, as far as possible, and of putting the nature of denial into its proper context.

Whilst it may take a while to really develop, the willingness to really look at oneself  and genuinely reflect on behaviours and motives is not something that people normally want to do. For alcoholics in recovery there is often a sense of urgency, as this need to self-awareness is usually a key element in staying sober.

It is in this context that the phrase rigorous honesty should really be understood, almost as a plea for urgency rather than a call to fundamentalism.


How Do You Choose A Rehab or Treatment Center?

With quite literally thousands of rehabs to choose from, deciding which one to choose can be quite a daunting process.

The majority of rehabs in the US will offer quite similar addiction treatment programs, the majority of which will be rooted in the 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Some people will want to go into a rehab close to where they live, others will want to go to a rehab as far away as possible, either in another state or in another country completely.

Some people believe that a complete change of scenery and location can help someone in their early days of recovery, others believe they should confront their issues in a more known and local environment.

This means that the choice of rehab can literally be a worldwide one for everyone.

Very few rehabs will advertise any type of success rate, although some will talk of a percentage rate of completion. These are two very different things.

A rate of completion is simply the number of people who complete their course of treatment, which is normally 28/30 days, although in some cases this can be longer.

The reality of recovery from alcoholism and addiction is that it is a tricky road for most people, and no one really knows how many people make it in the long run.

Some rehabs will keep in touch with as many of their ‘alumni’ as possible, but very few if any will talk of a success rate. Recovery is a long-term process, often taking many years to embed in the individual.

A stay in rehab is relatively short, and is seen by most people as initially breaking the cycle of alcoholism and addiction, and laying the foundations for long-term recovery.

There are however a number of factors can that be used to determine how effective a rehab treatment center is likely to be, and all the information required should be available via the rehab’s website.

State Regulation

Wherever you are looking in terms of location, there are likely to be a number of legal requirements for any type of clinical facility that is offering addiction treatment programs.

It is well worth checking what these are, and making sure that the rehab adheres to them. If in doubt ask the rehab itself.

If they are at all reluctant to help, it may be an indication to move on and find somewhere else.

Location

As already stated, for many people location is an important issue. Within the geographical area make sure that the facility itself is an attractive and comfortable place for a short-term stay.

Some rehabs will offer single accommodation, others will insist on sharing a room and facilities as part of the recovery process.

Also make sure there is plenty of outdoor space, ideally near water, as this can be very therapeutic for a number of people who need time to have a break from the intensity of the rehab itself.

Staff

All rehabs will employ a wide variety of staff, both clinical and administrative.

Clinical/ therapeutic staff can/should include a medical doctor, nurses, psychiatrists / psychologists, therapists, yoga teachers, tai chi teachers, reflexology practitioners, acupuncture practitioners, art therapy practitioners, meditation practitioners, politicians, nutritionists, social workers, transitional living workers, and priests/rabbis.

Obviously this is a wide range of differing staff, but should give a fairly good indication of the facilities that the rehab offers as well. In addition to the numbers and types of staff, it is worth checking the qualifications and experience of the most senior staff available and their experience of addiction and alcoholism.

Detox

All rehabs should have their own clinical facilities and staff that allow them to assess at the outset of treatment whether a medical detox is needed or not for any individual entering the treatment center.

If they do not have such facilities, then they should have access to a local clinical facility such as a hospital, who can make this assessment for them.

This is a crucial element of any rehab or treatment center, because of the necessity to assess the need for a detox for anyone coming off alcoholism/drug addiction.

Cost

Most rehabs do not advertise how much they charge, but it is probably fair to estimate a charge of between US$ 28,000 / $35000 for a 28 day stay in most treatment centres in the USA.

It should be noted that there are a number that describe themselves as luxury rehabs that can easily charge three or four times this amount.

Most of this cost is normally covered by insurance, but there are one or two things to be aware of.

Many insurance companies will agree to cover the cost of rehab, but will sometimes review this on a weekly basis while the individual is in treatment.

This means that they could withdraw cover at any point during the individuals stay in rehab if they deem it not necessary any longer.

Also be aware that some rehabs offer loans to help pay for the cost of their treatment, especially if the individual does not have insurance, or their insurance plan does not cover rehab treatment.

This can end up being very expensive indeed, and is an option that should probably be avoided if at all possible.

Addiction Treatment Programs

Most treatment programs should begin with an assessment of need for a medical detox as referred to above.

Most rehabs will base their addiction treatment programs around the first five steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program.

Some will be slightly more specialised, and based around certain steps such as step one, or steps three and 11.

There is also likely to be a significant amount of personal therapy/counselling done, either on a one-to-one basis  or in group. Some rehabs also offer specialised therapy such as CBT/EMDRA

Most treatment centers will also encourage, sometimes insist, that individuals attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous whilst in treatment.

These may sometimes be held on site, by local groups or in the locality where the treatment center is based.

A number of rehabs will also offer so-called alternative therapies, which are recognised by the therapists listed above.

They may also include things such as adventure programs which can be things such as white water rafting, hill or rock climbing or equine therapy.

Aftercare

A rehab’s approach to what happens when someone leaves rehab is almost as important as what happens to them when they are in treatment.

It is generally recognised that a rehab is something of a bubble, almost intentionally, that takes the individual out of their normal environment to provide a safe place allowing them to lay the foundations for their recovery.

Like all bubbles, a return to normality has to be thought through and carefully planned.

Thus a rehab should from day one lay the foundations for being able to integrate what happens in rehab back into the individuals normal life once they have returned to their home and family.

Most rehabs will encourage continued attendance at meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, and in addition could have their own regular meetings, normally monthly, that are open to any residents or former residents to attend if they so wish.

Former residents are normally referred to as alumni and are encouraged to return to the treatment center, both for their own good and as examples to current residents.

Sober Living / Transitional Living

Some rehabs will have links  to what are referred to as sober living or transitional living houses.

These are normally long-term shared houses, normally under some type of supervision, where people in early recovery can live together, and stabilise their own lives once sober.

This is an option foro some people who need an additional degree of stability around where to live and what do for work once they have finished treatment.


What is an Alcohol and Drug Rehab ?

Many people have heard the phrase ” going into rehab”  or simply the phrase ‘rehab’ itself, but are unclear about what it means or what is really involved with it.

A rehab is essentially a clinical institution, in the same way that a hospital is a clinical institution, but one that deals purely with different types of addiction.

There are other significant differences between hospitals and rehabs  which are explained further on.

Traditionally, a rehab would deal with people who were alcoholics, or who had a serious drink problem, even if they were unaware of what alcoholism was or whether or not they were alcoholics.

As time went on, rehabs realised that they could treat people who had other addictions as well, namely addictions relation to drug abuse, gambling, food, sex etc.

Rehabs and treatment centers realised that their approach to recovery meant they focused mainly on the individual and their internal triggers, and as such could apply the process to anyone who had any type of addiction at all.

With this overall approach to addiction, some people and some rehabs felt their message was a bit blurred, and started describing themselves as alcohol rehabs or drug rehabs or alcohol and drug rehabs.

Other treatment centers found this approach unnecessary, but it has meant that sometimes there has to be a distinction as to what an alcohol and drug rehab is.

The reality is that the majority of rehabs will focus on alcohol and drug addiction, and the majority of people entering a rehab will be doing so for the same reasons.

There is one proviso relating to rehabs offer treatment programs for drug addiction specifically. They will often enlist the specific types of drug addiction they have expertise in, and this may be of some value to people.

Not necessarily in terms of the addiction treatment programs that they offer, but much more in that knowledge of and treatment facilities they have for any detox or withdrawal program that may be necessary at the start of their recovery.

Rehabs and Hospitals

Describing a rehab as a clinical environment is an important element of its institutional nature, but it is also important  to clarify what that means.

It simply means that the rehab will have clinical staff as part of its overall recovery team.

They will have specific clinical functions within the team. It normally applies to doctors, nurses, psychologists, therapists etc.

These clinical staff will have very specific roles in a professional capacity, relating either to any detox program in place at the beginning of the treatment program, or a role in the addiction treatment program itself.

In most other respects, a rehab is very unlike a hospital. Most rehabs are more like country clubs, and make a serious effort to provide a gentle and soothing environment within which an individual can begin the process of recovery.

Depending upon the rehab, the country club type approach will vary considerably in terms of its rules and regulations.

Some rehabs make a big point of incredibly rigid regulations about every aspect of the individual’s life whilst there, largely as a way of providing structure, which they believe helps aid recovery.

Other rehabs take a very different approach, believing that giving an individual freedom to be themselves as part of their recovery process is an integral part of them being able to find recovery in the first place.

What Is A Christian Rehab ?

Most rehabs will offer some part of their treatment program or focus on the spiritual aspects of recovery.

Some will be more forthcoming than others, emphasising that the spiritual element of a 12 step program is an important one in any recovery.

Others will play the spiritual element down a bit, realising that the overall God question is perhaps the biggest bloc for many people in the recovery.

The above descriptions applies to what could be referred to as mainstream rehabs.

These are very different to what is commonly referred to as a Christian rehab, although there are some who would dispute this term.

One has to be very careful when using the term Christian, as there are many people who will use the term very differently, and have very different meanings for it.

Christian Rehab

With relation to a Christian rehab, there are many of these treatment centers who advertise themselves as Christian rehabs with a particular emphasis on certain areas of recovery.

Generally speaking they promote themselves as being long-term recovery projects, where the emphasis is mainly on a purely religious understanding of alcoholism and subsequent recovery.

Most of these rehabs will avoid totally the 12 step process, and focus instead on an extensive program of prayer sessions, Bible readings, so-called faith initiations etc.

A lot of these rehabs will offer long-term programs, sometimes in the region of 6 to 9 months.

They will also offer low-cost accommodation, and promote the so-called Christian activities as free, meaning that someone can enter this program with relatively little money for a long period of time.

Needless to say these so-called Christian rehabs attract a lot of criticism, in two distinct areas.

Mainstream Christianity often takes the view that this type of religious activity is an extreme form of religious doctrine and indoctrination.

It takes people who are extremely vulnerable and in need of help, and uses that vulnerability as a way of recruiting them into a much more fringe view of religious activity.

The other criticism that these rehabs attract is not quite so generous in terms of its interpretation of religion.

These rehabs are seen as recruiting grounds for a number of the major churches in America, a number of which are regarded as very cult like or having a very cultic dynamic.

Cults

It is certainly true that a number of these so-called Christian rehabs are attached to or part of much larger Congregational churches, many of which are regarded as evangelical, but also regarded as quite cult-ish.

Given the nature of these types of churches, who unashamedly believe in recruiting members as part of their evangelical approach to ministry, it is quite natural that most people who understand the nature of alcoholism and recovery are fairly wary of that approach.

This is a quite different issue to the perfectly valid one of whether this type of religious indoctrination is essentially abusive, but raises an equally valid issue of abuse in its own right.

Whilst much of the work itself, or the motives of people who work there may have some genuine love and compassion in it, the reality is that these types of rehab do offer the potential  for a significant amount of abuse.

This is because the people they are offering help to are extremely vulnerable and in need of low cost effective treatment.

A regimen is offered that not only has no clinical basis for its program, but also potentially acts as a recruiting ground for many much larger organisations.

People who work in the mental health field have serious reservations and concerns about this tupe of rehab and its treatment programs.

Anyone who would describe themselves as a Christian, or is looking for some element of religious or spiritual input into their recovery, and is looking to enter a rehab, would do well to firstly avoid these so-called Christian rehabs.

It is a perfectly valid question to ask more normal mainstream rehabs, as to what their approach to religious and spiritual activities is, and what extent these are built into their addiction treatment programs.

Rehabs will vary widely, and it should become fairly apparent which ones are more suited to the needs of someone with a particular religious inclination than others.