Step 3 -The Dance between “My will” and “God’s will” aka “Turning my will over”

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“Taking my will back” occurs so effortlessly with me and I do it without realising. Closed-mindedness engulfs me and I end up drowning in self-justifications, rationalisations and self-pity. Any shred of humility I once had dissolves in a puddle and I am left standing naked with only my arrogance for protection. My black and white thinking becomes circular and obsessive – I am right, you are wrong, and I get locked in my head. It feels like the water-tight doors on a sinking ship slamming shut, one after the other, until everything is dark and my twisted thinking is the only thing that breathes.

I defend my right to think like this by seeking corroboration from sympathy givers and claiming I am not a robot, merely human, therefore entitled to thoughts and feelings and emotions.

What remains the truth though is that I am an alcoholic and this type of thinking is dangerous. It must be smashed if I am to live happy, joyous and free. I cannot be of service to others if I sit in my isolated darkness.

And so I make a decision to think differently, surrender to another way, and take action to implement this. I read spiritual literature that revives me, reminds me of a different perspective and ignites my faith. I pray to be released from ‘self’ and the distortions of my ego, and for my thinking to be placed on healthier lines. I pray for opportunities to be of service,and for inspiration, direction and strength. I pray for my heart and mind to be open and to accept what is in front of me – to flow with the flow of events, not against the current. I try to trust, knowing that if my life has been steeped in synchronicity until now, it always will be.

“Turning my will over” doesn’t mean retreating like a turtle and relinquishing my responsibilities. It means choosing to make decisions out of love instead of out of fear, choosing to listen to that loving voice whispering inside of me, instead of my booming, vociferous ego.

How to deal with a problem person…

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when I am confused, overwhelmed and assuming responsibility for their feelings? By problem person I am referring to someone who uses bullying and manipulation when they are unhappy with me.

Until recently I have been a little confused by the concept of acceptance, misinterpreting it to mean passivity. Encouraged to see the problem is always with me and my reactions, I have allowed other people to treat me horribly in the name of acceptance. Finally I am learning not to be a doormat, not to endorse other peoples’ bullshit.

As a recipient of someone else’s bullying and manipulation I have a choice about how to deal with it. (If confused about what qualifies as such behaviours I check with my sponsor/ fellows.) My misguided instinct – directed by fear – is to self-justify, over-explain, reassure and metaphorically stroke their hair. I want to be liked. I think I need their approval. I am afraid of hurting them. In actual fact to respond this way simply encourages more of the same. To respond at all provides them with ammunition and invites another response/ attack.

I’ve been taught now that the best practise is to ignore, however, for me this feels alien, challenging, and like I am being ‘mean’. I end up consumed with guilt, erroneously taking responsibility for their emotional state. What I need to do is abandon the mean-nice sliding scale, as it not absolute, it is relative. The ‘right’ thing is not to be measured by the imagined reaction of the other person, as often the ‘right’ thing precipitates a ‘negative’ reaction eg. saying no to more candy invites tantrums and tears from a toddler.

What needs to be utilised is the ‘God’s will’ sliding scale: which of the options available gets the job done with minimum pain?

To respond with self-justification would be futile, as seen above. To cut them off with explanation, detailing their ‘faults’, would also be pointless and invariably lead to more resentment on their part. I have never ever welcomed home-truths coming from someones else so why would they? The third option is to ignore completely. Whilst this may of course insight anger on their part, I am effectively saying “This is not acceptable”, thus ending the contact. To engage at all would be to perpetuate the interaction.

In Al-anon, a slip can be preventing someone from seeing the consequences of their actions. By responding I would be tolerating bullying and manipulation, deepening their belief that they are in fact right to behave like that. To cut off without explanation is therefore ‘right’ in this situation.

 

Step 6: Entirely Ready? or Afraid of Change?

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Why is change so difficult? From the outside, a person consistently behaving ‘badly’ looks like they don’t want to change. Internally, a persistent struggle rages – the desire to change but an inability/ a seeming powerlessness to do so. What causes this blockage, this dissonance? Essentially I resist change because it’s more difficult to change than to stay the same, even if staying the same hurts. It’s easier to wallow in familiar pain than to step out into the unfamiliar light.

This fear of change has many forms. I am afraid of the unknown – what I know is predictable, even if it’s ‘bad’ it gives me a false illusion of security. It feels safer to stick with unpleasant certainty than to dip my toe into uncertainty.

I am afraid of facing what I’ve done, who I’ve been, who I am. To truly see me, to hold the mirror up and face the truth is pretty terrifying. Accompanying the truth is much guilt and shame as I recognise the discrepancy between who I am and who I want to be. This can be released with a dose of humility – the recognition of my humanity and inevitability of making mistakes, and the understanding that my mistakes don’t define my value.

I am afraid that if I change I won’t like the result. What if I turn into a worse version of me!? or if I do like the new me, what if I can’t sustain the change? Again, the uncertainty of change can paralyse me, scared to release the old without being able to guarantee what’s going to replace it.

I am afraid of chronic emptiness. I cannot conceive that which I have not experienced, so with the release of my shortcomings, I can only imagine a void in their place, an empty vacuum in my soul. What will replace my anger if I let it go? What will replace my procrastination, my daydreaming and wandering thoughts? What replaces drama and chaos? Thankfully, I am reminded that nature abhors a vacuum – releasing darkness only creates space for more light, more love and more power.

In order to become entirely ready I must acknowledge these fears and release them. I must make a conscious decision to live differently and take persistent steps to implement this decision, drawing strength from my higher power. This process isn’t about suppressing or controlling my defects, it is about the willingness to live without them and working to release them. My shortcomings are impediments to my growth and need to be cleared in order to make space for more useful ways of thinking and behaving.

Being entirely ready means I stop relying on my shortcomings to respond to life. Instead, I utilise my inner strength/ connection to a higher power to respond to fear and difficulty and ask for help.

 

Step 2 – Power, action and Ego

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Coming to believe is not enough, it’s just the beginning. Of more necessity is the continued conscious contact with that power, so it becomes a practical reality not just a theoretical notion in the mind. Lack of power is my problem, not lack of faith. I need to take actions to access that power – recovery actions and commitments that I do regardless of how I feel about them. For me, this is a daily morning step 11, speaking to other alcoholics regularly (including my sponsor), attending regular meetings, working with sponsees. I have to act my way into a new way of thinking/ a better life, I cannot think my way into new ways of acting. Recovery is for do-ers, not thinkers.

Neglecting these actions guarantees my ego resurgence. Hell, even doing these things my ego remains powerful and indestructible. Signposts of a triumphant ego are frequent worry, conversations in my head, other people always being wrong, extreme self-will run riot and accompanying obliviousness, seeing the whole world as unfriendly and hard-edged, and being asleep in my own life. The reason I need a sponsor is because wrapped up in self I am blind to all this. I need someone else to point out the insidiousness and deviousness of my ego, someone to whom I give spiritual consent, because the self is louder than god.

As I frequently document, my notion of a higher power is definitely fluid and sometimes flaky; sometimes some days my connection is scarily weak. But what definitely resonates with me is this idea that deep down within all of us is an indwelling divinity/ a voice of reason/ a conscience/ a higher self. It is essentially my responsibility to try and connect to this. What obscures me from this, however, is me! (Big book, p55)

  • Calamity – the chatter in my head, the voice of my ego. It tends to sound loving, seductive and therefore believable! But in truth it is a “problem-finding missile” – a broken record of excuses, justifications, attacking and criticism. By tearing everything and everyone else down, my ego is puffed up and enjoys the illusion of power. Fear, panic, worry, resentment all feed the beast.
  • Pomp – again, the ego itself. My self, my judgments, my perception. I am so full of me I am unteachable.
  • Worship of other things – the obsessive turning of my consciousness towards something that isn’t my higher power. This can end up feeling like someone has stepped on the oxygen pipe to my soul.

I have a disease of chronic discontent. I chase after external shiny things to fill up my internal squirmy spiritual hole. I look to outside things to fix my insides. I look for the transformative power of the booze in people, relationships, jobs, accolades, accomplishments etc etc but the euphoria is fleeting and the shine wears off. What I must realise, and be constantly reminded of, is AA’s transformative power. It may not always be immediate and it may be intermittent, but it is long term and guaranteed if I continue to take the next right action.

***Largely taken from a Bob D. workshop in Berlin, September 2015

A Remedy for Indecision

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Something I have consistently struggled with in sobriety is the ability to make a decision, particularly one which involves an inevitable change in life course. I have typically spent weeks, sometimes months, vacillating between two possible alternatives, constantly questioning and withdrawing, cemented in indecision and in excruciating pain.

What I have learned, in addition to prayer and meditation, is to use the evidence available. Weigh up the pros and cons and know that there are no 100% guarantees. Only experience will teach me whether in fact I have made a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision, not endless speculation. Spending hours and hours and hours in my head, mentally playing out worst case scenarios, is just futile and painful.

If I am scared of failure, which is nearly always the case, I must summon COURAGE and not allow that fear to keep me paralysed, cowering in the corner. Failure is part of the deal. Full stop. An inevitability as a human being, and I have to accept that and get on with it. To play the game I have to be prepared to take risks, otherwise I may as well opt out right now.

Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success. C.S. Lewis

I must realise that my fear is just a delusion, rooted in my identification with the material world. CHALLENGE that delusion. My material world can be threatened, I cannot.  I am not the characters I play. My value is infinite and changeless, not dependent on external things.

If I am concerned that a decision has been made out of ego – the desire for money, property, prestige etc – I need not be too concerned if the decision itself has intrinsic value. The true absence of ego is impossible. My ego may well piggyback on a ‘good’ decision, contaminating it to some extent, but it doesn’t turn a good decision into a bad one. For example, with amends, one might excuse doing it on the basis that it feels good – I feel self-satisfied, my ego gets a massage, therefore amends = ‘bad’/selfish. The whole process is polluted and I somehow become justified in my avoidance. What I must understand is that “it is possible for a good action to have a selfish aim, too. That does not invalidate the good action. The fact we will benefit is irrelevant.” first164.blogspot.co.uk http://ow.ly/RrXvq

Don’t just walk through fear. Eliminate it. “Fears are the termites that ceaselessly devour the foundations of whatever sort of life we try to build.” Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions. Pick a path using sound reasoning and stick to my decision. Take the next right action to implement my decision and let go of the results, knowing that any mistakes along the way are just signposts for limitless growth.

How to change

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“Grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

I cannot change other people, situations, or the fact that I am an alcoholic. But I can change the way in which I respond to these things. My attitudes. My behaviour. My decisions. My actions. I can choose to “employ common sense thinking instead of reacting emotionally” (Norman Vincent Peale), as my emotional response is simply my ego’s demands: what I want and how I think the world ‘should’ be. If I allow this kind of thinking to govern me I will be perpetually disgruntled.

Signposts for being a slave to my emotions can be indulging in resentments instead of recoiling from them, ditching my commitments because I become emotionally disturbed, or thinking about what I can get rather than what I can give. If I am to experience anything like long-term serenity I must abandon my old thinking that emotions are my guide and that the management of my emotional state is my primary purpose. This doesn’t work and I have several long, painful years of evidence for this.

What I have learned is that almost anything worthwhile will involve some degree of short-term discomfort. A life based on short-term comfort (immediate relief / self-indulgence) will invariably lead to long-term discomfort ( pain, regret, depression, guilt). Emotional comfort therefore cannot be by aim, as I will surely drink to achieve this.

Instead I allow my actions and decisions to be guided by a set of principles designed to look after my long-term emotional health far, far better than I can! (even if the application of them is difficult and feels counterintuitive). Essentially, I try to suit up and boot up, regardless of how I feel about it.

• Try to be of service always, even if it feels like an inconvenience
• Pause when agitated
• Shut my mouth when I want to argue
• Forgive instead of resent
• Ask for help, guidance and strength (from my sponsor, higher power and fellows) – remain teachable and know I don’t have all the answers

When I inevitably falter, I try to remind myself that no life run on self-will is going to be a success.

A divided self – The voices in my head

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I truly believe every single person possesses an indwelling divinity, regardless of whether or not they are conscious of it. My challenge is to access this power and utilise it both to improve myself and for the greater good.

Since being in AA I have frequently found passages in spiritual literature that resonate – that describe me as I was, as I am, or as I would like to be. Most recently I have found myself described, with frightening accuracy, by Normal Vincent Peale as a “half-a-minder” – a divided self. Part of my personality is outgoing and enterprising, ambitious, creative, and full of dynamic ideas, whilst the other part is fearful, timorous, negative. Paradoxically it is the temerity that dominates. My defeatist self repeatedly rationalises failure and finds convenient reasons for not acting on my ideas, thus overpowering my creative, real self and causing a perpetual inner conflict. I avoid taking risks and never get further than “having half a mind” to do anything.

In order to change this habit I must break the grip of endless hesitating. Ask God for inspiration, direction, and strength (Big book, p85). Adjust my attitude. Access that indwelling divinity and BELIEVE I can change, believe I am capable, believe my ideas can come to fruition. Acknowledge the voice of self-doubt but don’t listen to its whispers. It’s only fear talking and faith is stronger. Supplement “I can’t” with “I can” and believe it.

Corrective Measures – (two tiny words of immeasurable importance)

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I have been suffering this week from the resurgence of arrogance, one of my ugliest and most painful defects. Arrogance is defined as “having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities” (Oxford dictionaries online) and “insisting that others conform to our wishes, recognise our leadership….” (St. Augustine prayer book). It is essentially the magnification of my ego and the minimization of God. Lack of humility. I know it all and I don’t need your help. Disconnection and accepting this disconnection. Believing that I didn’t need to go to meetings this week because I was away from home and “I’m doing ok”. Wow! How did that happen?!

The antidote? As always, is action. Whilst I have been reminded of the necessity of continued inventory, my sponsor has also proposed “Don’t get lost in inventory.” Avoid morbid reflection. What is of vital importance is the corrective measures I take. Changing my actions and my attitudes is where my focus should be, not solely on what is “wrong” with me.

In this case, corrective measures involved the cessation of self-debate and getting to a meeting. End of. Voila. My head shut up and with my ears open I heard a beautiful variety of the human experience. For those minutes and thereafter my arrogance dissipated and peace returned.

…Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.

William James

Neuroplasticity: The Power of Prayer

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Since coming to AA almost 6 yrs ago I have prayed, to some extent, nearly every day. The serenity prayer was a revelation to me, an opportunity for me to exhale and stop trying to control the uncontrollable for the first time in my life. I refused to say the word God but I prayed regardless, often looking at the sky or the tree outside my window. The semantics of other set prayers made me cringe violently so I just reworded them.

Over the following years my relationship with prayer has been turbulent yet consistent. My ego does not like to be silenced and so periodically tries to convince me of the futility of prayer. Essentially, a voice inside me tells me I am an idiot for praying, it doesn’t work and I should give up trying.

What has helped me is persevering, regardless of how I feel about it, and reminding myself that when I do pray I have a better day. Further to this, a bit of clarification and scientific evidence usually quashes my rebellion.

Prayer is the setting of an intention, it is not a plea. It is a resolve to do things differently – to think differently and to behave differently. For me, it expresses a desire to live along spiritual lines, to be guided by love and compassion instead of hate and resentment, to pause when agitated and allow my responses to be kind and gentle rather than defensive and critical. Whether God is “out there” or an internal archetype somewhere within me is an arbitrary distinction where prayer is concerned.

Prayer influences our state of mind, which in turn influences our “state of body”. My inner petulant child, that frequently interjects dismissing prayer as useless bollocks, can be muted by the scientific evidence that it reduces anxiety, elevates a depressed mood, lowers blood pressure and stabilizes sleep patterns. Even more appealing is the proven power of prayer to influence our thinking.

This prompts a shift in the habits of the mind, and, subsequently, patterns of behavior. These changes, in turn and over time, induce changes in the brain, further influencing our subjective and objective experience of the world and how we participate in it.

The Science, Psychology and Metaphysics of Prayer – Michael J. Formica MS, MA in Psychology Today

In a nutshell, prayer works! This incredible capacity of prayer to literally transform our brains (neuroplasticity) absolutely fascinates me. Our thinking and behavioural habits CAN change and prayer facilitates these changes. Ever the stickler for evidence before I do something this definitely propels me to want to pray more.

Emotional Stability in a Transient World

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For the duration of my life the only thing I can guarantee will always be there is me. Every single thing outside of myself is governed by the law of impermanence, its continuity can never be predicted. Whilst I too am obviously impermanent, I am a permanent fixture in my own life.

This notion used to absolutely terrify me, the implication being that ultimately I am alone and have nothing or no one to rely on. I couldn’t accept the repeated uprooting of my home, the volatility of my parents relationship, changing schools, the boyfriends that came and went, the friends who disappeared – the transience of everything. Each new vacancy created a black hole. Emotional stability was a fantasy concept beyond my grasp because I depended on unstable external things for my internal balance – each time a prop was removed I came crashing down.

Today I must wholeheartedly accept the proposition that nothing is permanent, and to attain anything like emotional stability I must be guided by universal truths (the principles of the program). As laid out in the Big Book, giving rather than getting needs to be my guiding principle, and monitoring my emotional state should be done in order to optimise my ability to do this, not for its own sake. I frequently forget this though and can obsess about achieving emotional buoyancy, desperate to be free of the full range of human emotion. I want to be at peace ALL THE TIME and if I’m not I can find myself scrabbling around for the reasons why. This can quickly degenerate into an exercise of self-obsession and the erroneous assumption that my feelings are facts and should be used to navigate my life and my decisions. Relying on my emotional temperature however is an inaccurate, volatile gauge. I need to focus my attention on the AA program and helping others, instead of wallowing in self, and do the next right thing regardless of how I feel about it. My experience shows that when I do this, happiness, peace, power and a sense of direction are the inevitable result.

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