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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Problems of "Fancied Self-Sufficency"

I'm seldom short of astonished when reading the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous or the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (or, indeed, any of the vast collection of AA material) at just how deeply significant and meaningful the material there is  - particularly the material which I just skimmed over, or just plain missed. in my early sobriety. And to make matters worse, for the first five years of my sobriety I belonged to a group where each week we studied the Twleve Steps and Twelve Traditions. It is truly remarkable how effective the "roadblocks of indifference, fancied self-sufficiency and prejudice" were in my case.
[Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p 28]

I had been rewarded throughout life for my intellect and, indeed punished (or so I perceived I it)  when my intellect failed me  - by dint not just of my alcoholic addiction, but moreso because of my other glaring character defects, in sobriety, chief amongst them being myself-centered fear about how I was going to get on in this life). Therefore, for many years I was loathe to truly turn my will and life over to the care of a God I did not know, didn't understand and, further, didn't believe in, even though I thought I had.

I was the man whose "instinct still cried out, 'Yes, respecting alcohol, I guess I have to be dependent upon A.A., but in all other matters I must retain my independence.'" After all, who else would be concerned with getting my outside to feel like I supposed the insides of others felt? I was the man dominated by "fancied self-sufficiency," yet wholly oblivious to it.
[Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp  35-36.]

In other words, for many years I remained "the actor" carrying on as best I could, but still suffering "from the delusion that (I) could wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this life if (I) only manag(ed) well." I could accept that when I was drinking and drugging life was unmanageable, but I could not understand and accept that life remains "unmanageable" once I put down the bottle and the bag. Wasn't it my job as a newly sober and responsible" alcoholic to manage my life that was formerly unmanageable?
[Alcoholics Anonymouis, page 61.]

In the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the discussion of Step Three asks the self-sufficient alcoholic in my situation to look at the so-called "normal' people" and to consider how well they seem to be doing 'managing' a life based entirely on the exercise of their self-will and their own egoic internal direction.
Should his own image in the mirror be too awful to contemplate (and it usually is), "he might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from self-sufficiency. Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking up into warring factions. Each saying to the others, "We are right and you are wrong. Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough, self righteously imposes its will upon the rest. And everywhere the same is being done on an individual basis. The sum of all this mighty effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before. The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off. Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin.
[Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 37.]
First published in 1952, seven years after World War II and at the height of the ensuing Korean War, is this description not just as valid today? Tuning in to the nightly news, reading the newspaper or watching the behaviour of other drivers in ordinary traffic ought to be enough to convince anyone that it is just a valid description of so-called "normal prople' today, if not more so.

So what is the alcoholic addict to do? We can't drink or drug and we can't just act like other people? How then do we act, ans what do we rely on when figuring out how to act? The answer, as so often is the case in this 'simple program for complicated people' may be found in our very basic principles. "Let Go and Let God" is one of the slogans we may use to great effect. Admit that one is not only "powerless over alcohol," but admit also that one's life has, in fact become unmanageable," and was all along.

Perhaps the best illustration of this idea of 'letting go' and ceasing to struggle to control one's life and the lives of others - even with the best of intentions - is found in the point form summary of our  entire program of "self-examination:, meditation and prayer." At the end of the "How It Works reading, the "three pertinent ideas" speak directly to the truth that life is inherently unmanageable, both before and after we quit drinking.
Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our stories before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:
(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.
 We then read, that "being convinced we were at Step Three, which is that we made a decsion to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him,"  we are now required to understand that "any life run on self-will can hardly be a success." Therefore, for success in attaining and maintaining sobriety, and for living a contented and purposeful life, we need to have or develop a faith (even on a trial basis) that life is already being managed quite well, and that our trying to take over management of it is, at best, superfluous and at worst dangerous .

Take it from this member who came to AA for help with his drinking problem; today, 22 years into my sobriety, the things I have lost in sobriety were the things that I tried to manage the most; while the gifts that surprised me the most, and that I cherish the most, came unexpectedly out of left field.

So when I have a problem today, it is at root a Step One problem. I have moved in to manage some aspect of my life that I have no business running. My stubborn intellectual self-sufficiency has cropped up again, and damn it, this time I'm right!

That's why, no matter how long I'm sober it pays to have a sponsor. He can usually see right through me to the root of the problem - self sufficiency - while I remain opaque.

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