Getting Sober / Staying Sober

Emotional Sobriety

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.







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



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













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.


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.


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.


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.


Emotional Sobriety – What Does It Really Mean ?

Everyone’s journey from active alcoholism into sobriety is both unique and complex.

One thing that is fairly common however, is that when people do sober up, they have to start living with themselves without alcohol.

This means beginning to live with the reality of what they were trying to escape from when drinking, both internally and externally.

For many people, this can be a pretty daunting process, can take a long time and is a lot of work to really heal. It is probably fair to describe this process as emotional sobriety.

The phrase emotional sobriety was first used by Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, in an article he wrote for the AA Grapevine in January 1958.

The article was entitled The Next Frontier : Emotional Sobriety.

In the article, Bill Wilson outlined his thoughts on the emotional struggles he had had, largely during the time of his depression, and how he had come through them with a much stronger sense of his inner world and what it meant to him.

Many people seek to interpret this phrase, and how Bill Wilson wrote about it, in a number of different ways.

The reality is, as with everything that he wrote, and all AA literature, that people have an absolute freedom to interpret in anyway they find helpful or not.

Trying to interpret his writings in ways that mean people have to fit their own experience into the context of what he was saying, is in many ways an emotional death wish, and something he most likely would never have intended or wanted.

It is clear from pretty much all of his writings that he intended to share his experience, both at a personal and an AA level, in the hope that it could be helpful to people, and that they could use his experience as part of the process of rebuilding their own life once they got sober.

Getting Sober

It is probably a fair assumption to say that the emotional drives that fuel people’s alcoholism are for most people fairly deep-rooted, and quite often go back to childhood.

When someone gets sober, they start to live with the legacy of these emotional drives as they affect them on a day-to-day basis. The depth of this emotional trauma can often seem too overwhelming to go near for many people.

Most people soon begin to realise that their emotional lives are out of control at some level, and that in some way this either contributed to their drinking, or was the cause of the dread/terror inside them that alcohol seemed to be the solution to.

People’s understanding of their own alcoholism comes in time, and this sense that alcohol was the solution, not the problem, is pretty common and pretty core to this understanding.

It is also completely at odds with the understanding that someone who is not an alcoholic is likely to have of alcoholism generally.

Emotional Turmoil

There is a saying in AA, that when you get sober you begin to realise why you drank.

This is not normally intended to be taken literally, as in finding the reasons people drink alcoholically.

It is meant to refer to the fact that when people get sober, they begin to live with themselves without alcohol, and as such soon begin to realise at some level this emotional turmoil that fuelled their drinking.

At some point in their recovery, people are likely to realise that they need to in some way process this emotional turmoil or they are likely to start drinking again.

This is normally around the fact that most alcoholics see / saw alcohol as the solution to their problems, not the problem itself.

Once sober, the alcohol is gone, and people have to start living with themselves without it.

This can be a fairly tough thing to accept, and people’s ways of dealing with it differ significantly.

It is very likely however that it will take a significant degree of emotional pain before people become willing to really own and address their underlying emotional issues, although there are obviously many different reasons for this.

The phrase emotional sobriety really covers this entire process, pretty much from day one through till whenever it stops !

It is probably a mistake to think that the phrase only deals with issues of later recovery, or with issues of depression.

The nature of staying sober for many people is around finding ways of healing the internal emotional turmoil that alcohol helped to give some relief from, and this is normally a lifelong process.

Alcoholic Homes

Although anecdotal, it is fairly clear that a significant number of alcoholics in recovery grew up in what are normally referred to as alcoholic homes.

This normally refers to homes where either one or both parents were active alcoholics, or where there was a significant number of alcoholics in the extended family.

The effects of growing up in an alcoholic home can be varied, but there are a number of common traits.

The most common one is an absence of safety.

This can either be an emotional absence, or an actual absence or both.

People growing up in alcoholic homes describe a total lack of stability or safety, the lack of feeling anyone is in control, and the need to take responsibility for their own lives at an early age.

Growing up in an alcoholic home has a significant impact on someone’s development and sense of self.

It can distort ancestry damage how someone  relates to themselves and other people.

Someone who is also an alcoholic themselves and grows up in an alcoholic home will find that the emotional chaos of their childhood is likely to have played a significant part in their own emotional development, and how they tried to force their life to work in some way.

Emotional sobriety is about finding ways of healing this emotional turmoil, and getting a real sense of peace and stability internally that can enable someone to really live at peace with themselves, possibly for the first time ever.


What Does it Mean to Respect Boundaries?

Quite a simple question in many ways, but one that many people struggle with, both in terms of trying to set boundaries of their own, and dealing with other people who don’t respect, or don’t seem able  to respect anyone else’s boundaries at all.

The issue of boundaries is not unique to people in 12-step recovery, but is perhaps more acute because so many  of them have grown up either in alcoholic homes or enmeshed  homes of one type or another.

Anyone who has grown up in such a home would to some degree have felt that they did not have their own sense of space,  or their own sense of privacy, or simply their own right to be themselves.

It is sometimes described as not knowing where your life ends and the other person begins.

This is really about someone having the space to be themselves.

Personal Space

This sense of not having your own personal space becomes more apparent as you get older, and becomes more important as you try to reconcile the responsibilities of your own life, with the responsibilities of other people’s lives around you.

Trying to define boundaries is quite difficult in one sense, but is normally much more obvious when there are really being blurred. When people do not respect other people’s boundaries, they do not respect the person themselves.

Respecting someone as an individual, is in large part about giving them the freedom to be themselves, and giving them the space to process their own needs, and also to have the space where they come to the realisation of what their own needs are themselves first.

Respecting the Individual

Respecting boundaries is about respecting an individual.

Where someone does not respect boundaries, they do not respect the individual’s right to be themselves and make decisions for themselves.

Inevitably they try and manipulate the other person into doing what they want them to do, whilst trying to make them think that it is their decision in the first place.

Boundaries are often talked about in terms of childhood development, because they are about setting a safe place for a child to learn what is and is not acceptable. Boundaries are about creating a real sense of freedom within the confines and context of your life.

In adulthood this is a very different process to how a child will learn how boundaries affect a sense of space.

Enmeshed Homes

The problem in many ways for people in 12 step recovery is that they are playing catch up. Many who have grown up in alcoholic or enmeshed homes will have experienced acute levels of a lack of boundaries.

This will have manifested itself in a lot of complications and problems in the individual, often leading to a real sense of emotional limbo, feeling they have no responsibility or power over their own life, but feeling responsible for the lives of other people that they have no control over.

This is normally a direct reflection of the home they grew up in, and becomes a pattern of behaviour and thought throughout the life.

Learning to set boundaries as an adult is not an easy thing, Especially if other people in your life used to getting their own way and being able to use you as they want to.

Learning to say no, and to own your own right to make your own decisions is really what setting boundaries is about.

At first it may feel a bit awkward, or even a bit controlling. As time goes on learning to set boundaries will become a very real and natural part of your life, and ultimately will give you the safety of being able to own your own emotional space, and really feel you have your life back.


Why People Struggle with Being Vulnerable

People quite often like to categorise emotions as being good or bad, with emotions such as anger and self-pity been thought of as bad or weak .

Emotions such as gratitude and a positive outlook are thought of as good healthy emotional states.

Truth is that judgement of any emotional state is of itself counter productive.

Emotions are neither good nor bad of themselves, neither strong no weak, they simply are.

This may sound a bit trite, but is really important because of what ones emotional state can tell us about ourselves.

Many people in 12 step recovery struggle with emotional drives once they get sober.

Often the alcohol has been used as a way of quite simply blotting out the emotional pain someone has lived in, and has been used to simply avoid reality.

Getting Sober

When someone gets sober, one of the first lessons that they learn is that this is, how do they live with themselves sober.

This may not be immediately obvious at a conscious level, but they soon into realise that the emotional unmanageability of their lives is often as strong as the practical unmanageability of their drinking which caused them to seek help.

One of the important part of the process of 12 step is recovery is to be able to consciously look at and evaluate how our emotions work at a normal instinctive level, simply because on a daily basis people just act or react to what goes on around them.

This can be particularly true when someone has a high level of anger or resentment that determines their attitudes and their reactions to much of what happens in their life.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous describes resentment as the number one offender, and says it destroys more alcoholics than anything else.

Anyone who has lived with their own anger, or with an angry alcoholic, drunk or sober, knows the power of resentment, and how overwhelming it can be.


Perhaps the most important thing to realise about our emotional states is that they give us information about ourselves.

The process of the 12 step program allows us to consciously evaluate this information at both a head and a heart level.

Being able to develop a degree of self awareness is a huge freedom, even if it does not seem so at the beginning throughout the process.

Knowing what one’s own emotional baggage and drives are, does give you the freedom to be able to process them, even if it is painful or takes you to dark places.

Thinking of people as being emotionally weak or emotionally strong is a fundamental misconception.

The real problem behind this attitude is one of judgement. If someone is judging themselves or other people for how they are feeling, they will be completely unable to accept it as a real state.

If they cannot accept that, in reality they will never be able to change it.

The term emotional  sobriety is often used to describe the process of people coming to terms with their more complex and serious emotional drives that may only begin to become apparent after someone has been sober for a while.

This journey can be a tough one, but ultimately is the only real root to any lasting happiness or internal sense of stability and peace.


Why Tough Love isn’t Really About Love

Tough love is one of those expressions that has crept into the vocabulary of mental health and 12 step recovery in recent years.

It sort of implies that an action or directive is being given or taken which may on the surface seem a bit tough, but is being done from a place of love, for the benefit of the individual concerned even if they are unable to see it.

A couple of examples.


A family intervention to get someone into rehab is often talked about as being an act of tough love. In recovery, a sponsor will  sack a sponsor  and tell them it is for their own benefit.

In truth it is normally because they are not doing something the sponsor explained to get them to do.

Both the above examples have actually very little to do with love.

In many ways they are simply about an act of bullying, using the guise  of people’s vulnerability as a way of exploiting that in ability to fight back.

Trying to define what love is  obviously a very difficult if not impossible thing to do.

It is easier in a way to show what love is not. Any type of loving and individual must at its core have a sense of respect for the integrity and life of the other person. When people are in any way exploited, such respect is non-existent.

Last Resort

Looking at the case of an intervention in more detail, an intervention is often talked about as being something that is used as a last resort and is often done because people say ” that things simply cannot go on the way they are”.

Looking at it logically,  an intervention is a getting together of people who care about the individual, who try to shut that individual into agreeing to go into rehab seeking treatment in order to deal with  their alcoholism or addiction.

The mindset behind an intervention is often that the sense of pressure from the family will make the individual see sense and do what he should have done some time ago.

What it fails to take into account is the mindset of the person who is the alcoholic or addict.

Although there is a slight risk of generalising, it is probably fair to say that an alcoholic will turn to alcohol at some point in their drinking as being one and only thing that is holding them together.


What an intervention does is  pressure them into a situation that they possibly cannot handle, it presents them with a false choice about their future.

Whilst many will go into rehab following an intervention,  some may get sober, some may not.

What people never really see is the emotional damage that may be done to an alcoholic by way of the intervention making them feel trapped, and forced to do something against their will.

The reason this matter so much is because an alcoholic will see his relationship with alcohol differently to people who are not an alcoholic.

The external chaos is real for everyone to see. But other people cannot see inside the mind of the alcoholic.

An alcoholic needs to drink until they get to a place where they are willing to let go of it. That willingness has to come from within, and is a fairly complicated process.

Tough but not Love

In the context of tough love, an intervention as understood in 12 step recovery is not really an act of love at all.

Normally a much better act of love would be to advise the family to go to  Al-Anon and begin their own recovery in the context of the other person’s drinking.

Tough love is a phrase that seems quite active because it can provide a degree of certainty and harshness, under the  impression that it is actually the  loving thing that has been done.

Great care should be taken when anyone talks about tough love, as it normally relates to an action that actually is not particularly loving, even if the motives of the person doing it are coming from the right place.


Why It’s Important to Question Gratitude

Quite often in an AA meeting or similar, you will hear someone announce themselves as my name is so-and-so and I’m grateful alcoholic/ addict, or I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic/addict.

Equally, you are quite likely to hear someone say at a meeting something along the lines of a grateful alcoholic will never drink.

There is a sense that being grateful is not only a good and worthwhile things, it is an important part of recovery, and to some people it is a vital part of staying sober.

It is also often thought of as a way of preventing the build up of anger. The word gratitude can mean different things to different people, and it is worth being aware there are a couple of areas to it that are both really important.

There is no doubt that having some type of perspective about either what you have in life, or what is going for you in life can be helpful in terms of giving you a more balanced outlook on who you are and where your life is going.

Dark Thoughts

This can be especially true for people who are alcoholics, especially those who are recently sober or trying to get sober.

There is a general sense that people in recovery to have a high degree of negativity about their thought and feelings, and as such being grateful or doing a crescent list hopes to counterbalance that sense of negativity.

This can certainly be true. The depressive effects of alcohol can induce a wide range of dark thoughts and feelings within an individual, often compounding an already distorted outlook on themselves and their life, and deepening a sense of dread about their future.

The process of  12-step recovery involves many stages, one of which is laying the foundations for a stable period of  sobriety. Part of the process of laying the foundations is to give the individual hope, and let them discover for themselves the reality of their inner world, and what it means to them.

Developing a perspective that looks at their reality is hugely important to most people.

Often writing out a gratitude list helps people focus on the good in the life, and move away from an underlying sense of dread about the past and their alcoholism generally. Here comes the but – there are two other important things that need to be considered.

Gratitude is often touted as a good emotion or good feeling, as opposed to various other not so good feelings, and therefore one that should be encouraged. The danger with this idiot sometimes people will feel that they should be feeling a particular way when they aren’t.


This feeds into the whole issue of authenticity, and the need for people to have a genuine sense of being able to be they are.

It may be that in early recovery people are not able to face that in reality because of the dread attached to it. A focus on what is going well for them can help move them forward.

There does come a point however when that person needs to have space to own their own feelings, whatever those feelings are, and use those feelings as a guide to what is going on in there in their inner world.

This does not mean that they have to let go of looking for the good in their life, but it does mean that they need to be aware of what the so-called negative feelings are and where they are coming from.

There is a sense in recovery that there are two ongoing parts to it. One is dealing with the day-to-day stuff which most people should get better until sober, and dealing with the underlying stuff which for many people can be fairly traumatic, especially if there is a history of abuse or trauma, especially in childhood.

For many sober alcoholics, the process of dealing with the underlying issues becomes more important as time goes on, and also leads to a more healthy resolution of the effects of trauma and abuse which give rise to much of the so-called negativity or dread that helped fuel their drinking.


Accepting the Unacceptable

It has become almost something of a cliche in society nowadays to use the adage that you cannot cope with a problem unless you first admit it.

Not that this is a new or a novel idea, but it is probably true that this sentiment has become much more powerful and widespread owing to the nature of the growth of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 step recovery movement generally.

The first step of the AA 12 step program refers to an admission of being powerless over alcohol, and is generally taken to mean that the person has to accept or acknowledge their reality of powerlessness in order to move forward.

This can often involve fairly mixed emotions, ranging from a deep sense of anger to a feeling of being in complete limbo.

There is often much debate about the intricacies of what various words and phrases mean in all of the 12 step programs, and unfortunately this often misses the real point.

12 Step Programs

The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the book itself Alcoholics Anonymous, were written as a statement of experience. This means simply that the words and phrases were designed to reflect the broad understanding and experience of the original members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

This experience was codified and written down in order that anyone who was interested, either for themselves or for other people, would be able to access this experience, and use it in whatever way they found helpful.

It is worth realising that the word acceptance, and the more broad notion of accepting one’s own alcoholism, has a particular slant in Alcoholics Anonymous that differs from other 12 step fellowships.

It is probably fair to say that Alcoholics Anonymous has in some ways a slightly more to do or die approach, a more black-and-white perhaps rigid sense of  12 step recovery, and this is reflected in its attitude to getting and staying sober.

Acceptance in AA has quite an all or nothing feel about it.

The term surrender is quite often used in the same context as acceptance, and there is what is often a general sense that someone needs to surrender to the program, surrender to God, surrender to the 12 step fellowship, and sometimes even surrender to a sponsor in order to get sober and stay sober.

Dangers of Surrender

The package of surrender and acceptance in this approach to recovery is very much the do or die attitude mentioned previously.

It is a sense of  almost having to accept the entire premise of what alcoholism and recovery are about, almost without any sense of the understanding of process. It is a very black-and-white attitude, and can come over as being quite fundamentalist, quite rigid.

The very word surrender implies some level of defeat, often worded as the defeat of the individuals own ego, or the defeat of their self-will run riot life and their journey with alcohol.

For some people this probably works, but equally it is probably fair to say that a significant number of people get put off by such a hard line point of view.

Interestingly, in other 12 step fellowships, the notion of acceptance is a much more gentle one. It is really about an acknowledgement of one’s own reality, not such a strong sense of fundamentalism, more such a strong sense of the implications of what it means.


At any level, step one in the AA program is about an individual who is an alcoholic accepting that this is their reality. Whilst that is very easy to say, for many alcoholics it is an extraordinary difficult concept to grasp, be they drinking or newly sober.

One of the main reasons for this, is that acceptance of the fact that an alcoholics cannot drink any more is often a pretty terrifying experience.

To really understand this, it is necessary to understand the mind of an alcoholic, which is hard at the best of times, but to understand that for many the idea of losing alcohol is a prospect too  scary to countenance.

This may be completely at odds with the reality of alcohol has taken them, and often the need to drink, and the illusion of safety that it gives them is too strong for this reality to be allowed a place in their lives.

This is why an understanding of the term acceptance matters.

It is about giving people who are looking at AA a sense that the 12 step program is actually a very gentle one, albeit one that is quite demanding in many ways.

It is also one that is about helping people to acknowledge that in reality and move forward with it in a way that is non-threatening and healing.


What is Emotional Sobriety ?

Emotional Sobriety is the title of an article written in the journal of Alcoholics Anonymous, known as the AA Grapevine, by one of its co-founders Bill W.

In the article, he writes at length about the need to address many of the underlying emotional drives that fuelled his alcoholism, and implied that this was in effect a stage that follows the initial phase of getting sober and staying sober.

Many people have interpreted this as meaning different things. Emotional sobriety is often used as a form of judgement as to how ‘well’ people are in sobriety, irrespective of how long they have been sober.

Other people will often compare what they call physical sobriety with emotional sobriety, implying that once physically sober the level with which people are able to adapt and integrate their lives into sobriety indicates a degree of wellness.

It is really important, to understand the thinking behind the term emotional sobriety, irrespective of how long anyone has been sober or not.

Firstly sobriety is about being sober, pure and simple. There are no degrees of it, there is no judgement about it in terms of wellness or not, or how well people cope with it or do not manage to.

Emotional Sobriety

Emotional sobriety should be thought of much more in terms of the underlying emotional drives that play a part in most people’s alcoholism.

Anyone getting sober, whether in a rehab or through a 12 step program or some other way, will soon begin to realise that once sober the real issue becomes how do people stay sober, whilst living with the emotional turmoil that most people feel is inside them.

The process of people understanding and making sense of their alcoholism is a really important one.

What is equally important is that they have the freedom to discover for themselves what this understanding and connection is between alcohol and their emotional states.

Most people would recognise that their alcoholism is a mix of an instinctive or instinctual need to drink, and the sense of relief or freedom that alcohol gives them once they have taken a drink or several.

Often this connection between the effect of alcohol and what it is affecting you within is only clear at a felt level. Once sober, it becomes clearer that the emotional states such as anger, fear, loneliness etc that are a common part of alcoholism play a major role as a trigger for the compulsion or obsession to drink.

Emotional Sobriety and AA

However people come to understand their emotional states, it is normally clear from early on either in rehab or in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous that the main type of therapeutic/spiritual work that needs to be done, is on helping the individual stabilise their inner world, and as such prevent the reflex action of picking up a drink or feeling the need to have a drink.

This work on one’s inner world, on helping to stabilise one’s emotions and begin the process of feeling relatively at peace with oneself at some level begins the moment an individual gets sober, either in a rehab or in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is the real focus of emotional sobriety, the understanding and need to be at peace with yourself.


How to change attitudes

Altered Attitudes is one of the many sayings that are used in meetings and in rehabs that is adapted from the letters of Alcoholics Anonymous into another word or phrase.

AA meetings and the recovery process generally are full of sayings and phrases that for some people are quite catchy, and for other people can be a bit irritating.

What is often important, is to look behind the saying or the phrase, and see what it is really saying to you. Continue reading


Changing the things I can

Many people will be familiar with the wording of the Serenity Prayer, often heard at meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step fellowships, and often use das almost a type of mantra by many people in recovery.

Indeed many people say that the wording of the serenity prayer in effect sums up many of the principles of the AA 12-step program, especially perhaps the most important principle about that of control.

The wording of the serenity prayer reads “courage to change the things I can” and many people will focus on the word courage.

In fact, whatever one’s understanding of courage, the most important thing is to recognise the sense that there are things you can change, and there are things that you cannot change, and know the difference between the two.

This is more than an issue about semantics. It is a fundamental sense about knowing what you are in control of and what you are not in control of.

Psychologists refer to this process as a ‘locus of control’ which really goes to the heart of the whole recovery process.

In the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the section on Step Three refers to a scenario of an actor on a stage trying to control the environment around him.

The real value of this analogy, may take a while for many individuals to really understand, as it goes to the core of an individual trying to control the life.

Many people in AA and in recovery generally understand this message to mean that they are not in control of their alcoholism, and more widely not really in control of anything that happens to them.

This can lead to real problems, and an inverted sense that if they are not in control of their life, someone or something else must be.

This can have huge implications for an individual’s sense of self, their understanding and their sense of God, and their sense of power or control over their own life.

This understanding of themselves as people, what their sense of God is or isn’t and how it impacts on their lives is hugely important in a recovery context.

Any rational human being looking at their life, what ever the context, would readily understand that at some level they have control or power over some things, and there are other things that do not have control of power over.

Being able to consciously understand this, and make adjustments where necessary is an absolute key to any peace of mind and inner stability. For many alcoholics and people heavily affected by alcoholism it is a lifesaver, often quite literally.

The alternative is that your feel you have no control over anything your life, in which case you are likely to feel that you’re simply drifting through and reacting to life, or that something or someone else is in control of your life.

That scenario is more akin to a cult setting, than the reality of a free human being.