Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Instinct, Logic and the Frustration of Spiritual Development

In his Step Three essay in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill W. directly addresses a major stumbling block - perhaps the major stumbling block - which can hamper and stall a newcomer's recovery for months, or even years. At least this was so in my case. The result need not necessarily mean that the forestalled alcoholic addict lapses back into his or her active addiction, however. Just as easily he or she may enter into the netherland of dry sobriety, with cravings gone but with the obsession for alcohol more or less sublimated by all the looming obsessions about how his or her life, as well as how the lives of others should be led.

"Yes, respecting alcohol," Bill has our potential white-knuckler saying, "I guess I have to be dependent upon A.A., but in all other matters I must still maintain my independence." This way of thnking, Bill points out "is the process by which instinct and logic always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development."

"(T)he moment our mental or emotional dependence is in question," Bill notes, "we (persistently) claim the right to decide all by ourselves just what we shall think and how we shall act. . . . We are certain that our intelligence, backed by will power, can rightly control our inner lives and guarantee us success in the world we live in."

It is, of course, unsurprising that our white-knuckling alcoholic should think in such terms. After all, is this not how virtually all of us are trained and schooled to think? Recall the children's story, "The Little Engine That Could." In the story, the narrator has the Little Engine chugging up a seemingly insurmountable hill. "I think I can. I think I can," says the Little Engine to himself. Yet in real life, one knows that he would probably be filled with fear and saying to himself, the exact opposite.

We are all taught that intelligence and will-power will prevail if rightly applied. "Be an army of one!," the commercials exhort. "Take a licking and keep on ticking." Be the Energizer Bunny. "Grit your teeth, Charlie Brown! You can do anything if you just grit your teeth!"

Step Three, however, calls for us to take the exact opposite approach. It urges us to become at one with the Tao, so to speak, instead of raging against It.
"So how, exactly," we read, "can the willing person continue to turn his will and his life over to the Higher Power? He made a beginning we have seen, when he commenced to rely upon A.A. for the solution of his alcohol problem. By now, though, the chances are that he has become convinced that he has more problems than alcohol, and that some of these refuse to be solved by all the sheer personal determination and courage he can muster. They simply will not budge; they make him desperately unhappy and threaten his newfound sobriety. . . . Surely he must now depend upon Somebody or Something else."
This, is the exact point at which our white-knuckler might venture to try true reliance upon a Power that is greater than him of herself, taking action based not on is or her own egoic, self-centered consciousness as expressed through instinct and logic - which is the way we are conditioned to make our decisions - but rather to act from a more truly centered and passive God-consciousness that is available to each of us.

"(I)t is really easy to begin the practice of Step Three," we read. "In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision, we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness simply say: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.""

This Serenity Prayer has been used effectively by millions to generate an appropriate response to seemingly impossible situations. Its effectiveness, however, will increase exponentially, as we pursue a practice of meditation and quiet contemplation, so that even in the most pressing of circumstances we can find a higher, inner God-consciousness in which we can "pause," seek the "quiet" and find the "stillness" necessary to make this prayer truly effective in all circumstances.

Fortunately, we will later read in Step Seven of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions that we need not always be bludgeoned by painful circumstances into seeking this state of effective humility. Rather, we will find, that we can access this new-to-us state of consciousness and being by seeking it voluntarily. And, like all skills, the more we endeavour to "seek . . . first the Kingdom of God" the easier we find that it becomes to enter into it.

WIth time, we find that we no longer need stand waist deep in the stream of life, furiously trying to get the water to flow in the other direction. Rather, we find that we can just "go with the flow" with an assurance that whatever the results are we will be able to access our newfound Higher Power in order to help us deal with them, and to deal with them sanely and effectively. For the new-comer and white-knuckler alike, this is the beginning of true recovery.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Trust God, Clean House, Help Others

"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." (James 1:8)

"Draw near to God and God will draw near to you. Wash clean your hands, ye sinners. Purify your hearts ye double-minded." (James 4:8)

Dr. Bob, in the "Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous" pamphlet, notes that in the earliest days of A.A. he and Bill found the Book of James (together with the Beatitudes and 1 Corinthians: 13) to be "absolutely essential." "Absolutely essential," no doubt, as all these passages speak to the spiritual malady that is at the root of the alcoholic addict's suffering. This is particularly so of the Book of James, where one finds such maxims as "Faith without works is dead."

Keeping in mind the description of  "the actor" on pages 60-62 of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the ultimate conclusion that "the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run wild," the above -quoted passages from the Book of James seem to me to be particularly relevant. They recognize that the vast, vast majority of us - alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike - are "double minded." And, I would put it to you, that such double-mindedness consist of the small ego-self and one's authentic Being. Such an observation accounts for Bill's observation that "our actor is self-centered - ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays." The self-reliant "actor" erratically tries to manage everything, not realizing that no one person can manage life; not realizing, indeed, that life is inherently unmanageable.

And what was Dr. Bob's famed summary of the A.A. program and way of life? "Trust God. Clean house. Help others." Notice how closely this mirrors the above passage from James 4:8. ("Draw near to God and God will draw near to you. Wash clean your hands, ye sinners. Purify your hearts ye double minded.")

This is not to suggest that Alcoholics Anonymous (or any of its sister organizations) is anything but a spiritual program, or that it is exclusively Christian-based  - a fact recognized in our Traditions and experience from the beginning of A.A. - but, rather, it is a recognition of how A.A.'s spiritual principles accord with spiritual principles recognized elsewhere. (Personally, I do not care whether "truth" comes from the Buddha, the Bible or Bambi's mother in the Walt Disney film - the truth is the truth, is the truth.)

The truths reflected in the above-passages form the Book of James reflect what we learn in A.A. That there is within each of us an at-first predominant ego (or small "self") and a higher, God-consciousness which is the essence of all spiritual experience. The point of the Twelve Steps is not so much to arrest one's drinking (which is more of a prerequisite), but to enable one to effect an ever clearer and more consistent conscious contact with this highest portion of one's being.

To the extent that one wavers between self-consciousness and God-consciousness, one's thoughts, words, and actions are bound to fluctuate, waver, and to become "unstable in every way." To the extent that one draws near to God, clears away the wreckage of one's past, and purifies one's heart in order that he or she may help others, however, one becomes increasingly single-minded, and fixed ever more steadily in a conscious contact with one's Higher Power.

The goal of A.A. is thus "ego deflation at depth" so that altruistic and compassionate action based on God-consciousness may increasingly predominate in our lives.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Humility, Suffering and Peace of Mind

"(W)e are building an arch through which we can walk a free man at last. Is our work solid so far? Are the stones properly in place? Have we skimped on the cement put into the foundation? Have we tried to make mortar without sand?"

"If we can answer to our satisfaction, we then look at Step Six. We have emphasized willingness as being indispensable. Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all - every one? If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us to be willing."

"When ready, we say something like this: "My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellow. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen." We have now completed Step Seven."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 75-76.]
In a mere three paragraphs, the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous thus takes the reader through Steps Six and Seven. In part the brevity of discussion on these steps may reflect the inexperience that the original nucleus of A.A. had in working these two steps on a protracted basis. In part the brevity may be due to the disability that the individual who has not completed Step Nine is still under. Until one goes through the amends process in Step Nine the resentments, regrets and remorse that fill the mind of the newly sober alcoholic addict until amends are made tend to obscure all else.

Conversely, in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Steps Six and Seven are two of the most in-depth and nuanced essays that Bill W. wrote. In them, Bill squarely looks at the instincts, desires and fears which feed the ego-self and thus forestalls one's ability to effect a conscious contact with God.
"Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires," Bill observes (at page 65), "it isn't strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or we wilfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due to us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, of our sins."
The question thus becomes: Are we ready to have God remove our blind desires and obsessive ambitions, be they for sex, security, social prestige or what have you? Just to the extent that we continue to feel we must "wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world by managing well" ('Big Book,' pg. 61), it is clear that we do not, with the result that we inevitably continue to suffer from these instincts run wild.

Indeed in the Step Seven essay Bill acknowledges that the ego-shredding process of freeing the mind from overblown fears and desires can generate an astounding level of suffering as we wean ourselves from the way that we were taught to deal with the world.  "For us," he observes, "this process of gaining a new perspective is unbelievably painful."

It need not be that way however. "(W)hen we have taken a square look at some of these defects, have discussed them with another, and have become willing to have them removed," he notes, "our thinking about humility commences to have a wider meaning. By this time in all probability we have gained some measure of release from our more devastating handicaps. We enjoy moments in which there is something like real peace of mind. . . (T)his newfound peace is a priceless gift. Something new indeed has been added. Where humility had formerly stood for a forced feeding on humble pie, it now begins to mean the nourishing ingredient which can give us serenity."

"We saw we needn't always be bludgeoned and beaten into humility," Bill points out. "It could come quite as much from our voluntary reaching for it as it could from unremitting suffering."

"A great turning point," he observes, "came when we sought for humility as something we really wanted, rather than as something we must have. It marked the time when we could commence to see the full implications of Step Seven: "Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.""

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Our Delusions and Obsessions

"Most of us have been unwilling to admit that we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could not drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death."

"We learned that we had to fully concede to our inner most selves that we were alcoholic. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we were like other people, or presently may be has to be smashed. (Emphasis added.)

-- Alcoholics Anonymous, page 30 --
These opening paragraphs are amongst the most important paragraphs in the entire 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. They identify (a) how we set about taking Step One, and (b) the delusionary and obsessive nature of the disease of alcoholism.

The first two chapters are concerned primarily in painting an identifiable picture of the alcoholic and in broadly outlining the fact that within Alcoholics Anonymous we have found a common solution to the problem of our alcoholic addiction. In fact, the second paragraph tells us just how we begin this process of recovery from our addiction: i.e., by "fully conceding to our innermost selves that we were alcoholic." This speaks to the first half of Step One, but it is a beginning point, or, better yet a "rallying point" upon which we can all agree.

The first paragraph speaks, more than anything else, to the craving for alcohol that arises each and every time that the alcoholic addict drinks. Once our system gets its hit of alcohol, the phenomenon of craving arises and we have little or no control over how much we will then drink. Our brain and therefore our whole body crave more. Thus, despite earnestly wanting to control and enjoy our dirinking like other non-alcoholics appear to do, we lose all control. And despite our best efforts and intentions we will crave more and, in nearly all instances, we will drink more. The illusion (or delusion) that we will one day again control and enjoy our drinking has to be smashed. Alcohol addiction is a progressive and fatal disease.

The second paragraph, above, is even more subtle. Having fully conceded to our innermost selves that we are alcoholic, it begins to speak about the obsessive nature of the alcoholic addict. At first, when not drinking, the alcoholic addict obsesses over booze. Even in sobriety, instead of obsessing over wehn and where he or she is going to drink, the alcoholic obsesses over the fact that he or she is not drinking.  This becomes crucially important, because it is far too easy to substitute another obsessioin  - for work, sex, gambling, exercise, you fill-in-the-blank - to replace the obsession over booze (and in many instances, drugs) once that obsession lifts.

Quite clearly, we are told that we are not like other people, nor will we be. Not only does the phenomenon of craving arise once we begin to drink, but over the years of drinking addictively, we have developed a mind that has become obsessive by nature. Even when not drinking, and even more in the beginning of our recovery from alcoholic addiction, our minds are all too easily preoccupied with obsession, mainly an obsession over how we are going to run our lives in a way that is satisfactory to us. (Later, at page 61 of the 'Big Book,' we will read how the alcoholic addict is "a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of life if he only manages well.")

Putting all this together, and facing these illusions and/or delusions, we are enabled to admit "to our innermost selves" that we are alcoholic and cannot manage our own lives - i.e., the First Step in our recovery from an otherwise progressive and fatal disease of the mind and body. "We are convinced to a man," we read at the bottom of page 30, "that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable time we get worse, never better."

Even with this said however, we are told that "(d)espite all we can say, many who are real alcoholics are not going to believe they are in that class," and that "(b)y every form of self-deception and experimentation, they will try to prove themselves exceptions to this rule, (and) therefore non-alcoholic."

Our hats are off to such people. "Best of luck," we say. But most of us will simply save them a chair in their home group, trusting that once exposed to A.A. they will of themselves become desperate enough to return and hopefully find the common solution we have found for all.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Discerning God's Will For Us

Having made the decision to turn one's will and one's life over to the care of the God of one's understanding, how then does one make decisions and act in accordance with such a seemingly inscrutable will? How does one distinguish, in short, one's own will from God's will? And just how does one become able to bring his or actions into conformity with what God would have for us?

As a starting point, consider the probability that it is only in establishing a "conscious contact" - that is, in establishing a connection with a deeper part of one's consciousness, i.e., the higher consciousness of God, or simply, God-consciousness - that one will be able to act in accordance with God's will. In doing so, one embodies the sage advice to "hesitate and meditate" before acting, remembering that we remain alcoholic, that our lives are unmanageable, but that God can and will relieve us from our alcoholism if He is sought.

("The disciplining of the will must have as its accompaniment a no less thorough disciplining of the consciousness," observed Aldous Huxley, a non-alcoholic friend of Bill Wilson's. "There has to be a conversion, sudden or otherwise, not merely of the heart, but also of the senses and of the perceiving mind." -- "The Perennial Philosophy," p. 72)

Thus, above all, one needs to quiet the raucous consciousness of the ego-self in order that one may attain to the state of God-consciousness described by many of the initial old-timers. In the Spiritual Experience appendix, we read that such "God-consciousness" was seen as "the essence of spiritual experience." It is, thus, only in the quietude of our higher consciousness that we may experience the grace of God and the silence of our own humility. It is there that we can come to the silent acceptance of life as it has unfolded, and it is there where we can intuit what, if anything, God would have us do in any particular instance.

There is, however, a considerable danger, rooted in the persistence of self and in the subtlety of the ego, that we may be all too readily fooled by what we think we should do under the circumstances and that our thinking is a product of God-consciousness rather than the mundane self-consciousness of our ordinary waking life.

Recognizing this danger, Dr. Bob, Bill W., and many of "the good old-timers" relied heavily on the Four Absolutes that were developed and utlized by the Oxford Group; a set of useful metaphysical tools that were never formally adopted by A.A. as their then-notoriety would have publicly identified the then-fledgling A.A. movement with the Oxford Group.

To apply the Four Absoutes - honesty, purity, unselfishness and love - it is necessary only to gain the quietude of our own innate God-consciousness, and then to contemplate the four following questions about our proposed response to circumstances:
  1. Absolute Honesty - Is it true or false?
  2. Absolute Purity - Is it good or bad?
  3. Absolute Unselfishness - Disregarding ourselves entirely, how will this affect others?
  4. Absolute Love - Is it beautiful or ugly?
In the "Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous" pamphlet, Dr. Bob notes: "Almost always, if I measure my decision carefully by the yardsticks of absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, absolute purity, and absolute love, and it checks up pretty well with those four, then my answer can't be very far out of the way. If, however, I do that and I'm still not satisfied with the answer, I usually consult with some friend whose judgment, in this particular case, would be very much better than mine. But," he notes, "usually the absolutes can help you to reach your own personal decision without bothering your friends."

Thus, persistence in meditation and prayer, quietude, and clarity of mind - together with the absolutes of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love - can allow us to discern God's will for us and to align our actions with both the totality of life and the will of our Higher Power, if He is sought.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"In Denial" or Victims of Our "Delusions"?

There is a fundamental difference between the meaning of "denial" and "delusion." Often used interchangeably in discussions, they are not used interchangably in A.A. literature. In fact, "denial," which appears to be oft-discussed in treatment centers (for example, in the sense of denying the effect that one's alcoholic addiction has on others), is not even discussed in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. On the other hand, three particular delusions are discussed at some length in A.A.'s basic text.

Denial, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is merely "a statement that something is not true," although in its psychological sense, it can mean the usually subconscious "suppression of an unacceptable truth or emotion." Thus, being unable to accept the truth of the harm one has done to others over the course of active addiction, for example, one may deny (consciously or subconsiously) the truth that any harm has been done. In this instance, one is either lying to others (if the denial is conscious), or lying to one's self (if it is subconscious).

Delusion, on the other hand, is defined as "a false belief or impression," while, in its psychological sense it is viewed as "a symptom or form of mental disorder." Irrespective of whether something is true, such as the reality of one's addiction, there is a delusionary but honestly-held belief that it is not true. One is not, in such instance, lying to oneself. Rather in this instance, the alcoholic addict is mentally delusional.

Recalling that the 'Big Book' is explicit in pointing out that "the problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind," and that both alcoholism and addiction are classified as mental illnesses by the medical profession, what is likely to be the reality of the crap floating around in our psyche? Are we simply "in denial," as some like to think; or, are we, in fact, "delusional"?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

There are three specific delusions - each dealing with aspects of the First Step - that are discussed in the 'Big Book.' Two of these instances are discussed on page 30, while the remaining is discussed on page 61.

In the first paragraph of page 30, we read: "The ideas that somehow, someday he will be able to control and enjoy his drinking again is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death." Although he or she may honestly believe that it is not true at the time, in recovery we come to see that, in fact - despite our knowing or believing it at the time - we were obsessed with controlling and enjoying our drinking, just as much as we physically craved alcohol itself once we started drinking.

In the following paragraph - new idea, new paragraph, new meaning - we read that "(t)he delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed." This, of course, can have two meanings. First, it can mean that because of our physical "allergy" to alcohol we will never be able to drink normally. But, second, and more importantly, it also means that as a result of years of addiction, we are quite literally "not like other people." Other people, we will read later, are also like actors who want to run the show (see pages 60-62), but whereas other people may also be selfish and self-centered, the alcoholic addict (thanks to years of practice honing these traits and way of thinking) "is an extreme example of self-will run riot." Others are self-centered, we are extremely so. That is our natural propensity, and it is not going to be overcome without a struggle.

Yet, while the selfishness and self-centeredness of the alcoholic addict may differ in degree from the so-called "normal" person, we share a common delusion: "What is (the actor's) basic trouble?" we are asked. "Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?"

Life is inherently unmanageable. We admit this in the second-half of Step One. Problems arise because we get sucked into the delusion that we both have to, and have the ability to, manage life - all of it - even with other self-managing "normal" people pushing back against our arrogant and desperate efforts to manage the whole affair with all their might.
"The description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our stories before and after," we read at page 60 of the 'Big Book', "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." (Emphasis added.)
Just to the extent that we entertain the illusion that we will "control and enjoy our drinking," we will continue to drink. Just to the extent that we entertain the delusion that "we are like other people, or one day will be," we will continue to suffer. Just to the extent that we entertain the delusion that we can "wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world" if we manage well, we will become insufferable - both to others, and to ourselves.

With true recovery we overcome all these delusions. We realize that we could not and cannot control and enjoy drinking; that we were not and are not like other people; and, we did not and do not need to control and manage life. On these terms, life becomes acceptable to us on its terms - no matter the circumstances - and we find that we can respond to life's circumstances and people instead of blindly reacting to them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The 'Actor' and the New 'Director'

"If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits."
-- Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 60-61 --
The description of the individual as an actor is apt. Each of us has an array of characters that we play, all designed to get us what we want or think we need in a given situation, be it security, companionship, mental or emotional gratification, etc. Each of us is readily able to adopt the persona we think we need to project in order to get what we want in any given instance. And the more intense the situation, the more readily a person will adopt the seemingly required persona.

Indeed, the words "person"  and "persona" themselves are derived from the Greek word used for the masks worn by actors in the ancient ampitheatres. In this sense, as the author of the 'Big Book' notes, we are each like actors in a play - alcoholic, addict, and so-called 'normal' person alike. And each of us, as an "actor" is also a "hypocrite," as that is what the Greek word for an actor was.

Having made the admission of our "personal" powerlessness, the question then becomes: How do we get out of this all-too-human dilemma of being an ill-prepared actor who is compelled to try running the entire show?

The answer is once again humility. Just as being honest and telling the truth means that we do not have to remember what we say; so, too, being humble means we do not have to think about what persona we need to adopt in a given situation. Humility, thus gives us the ability to be who we are in our essence; not our smaller "self" or "ego," but our true Self, just one of the infinitely individualized aspects of God.
"This is the how and the why of it," we read at page 62 in Alcoholics Anonymous. "First of all we had to quit playing God. It didn't work. Next we decided that in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom."

"When we sincerely took such a position, all sorts of remarkable things followed. We had a new Employer. Being all powerful He provided what we needed if we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow, or the hereafter. We were reborn."
Powerful words. Yet, the idea of giving up the roles we have played to get what we want in order, in humility, to get what we need is a novel yet powerful idea. It is in surrendering - our personas, our directorship, and our lives as mere actors - that we win. And this is yet another of the great paradoxes of recovery that fly in the face of our old ideas and attitudes.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Lesson in "Self-Will Run Riot"

"Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased."

-- Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 60-61 --

Interestingly, in this description of the self-centered "actor" (at pp. 60-62), the writer of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous does not distinguish between alcoholic addicts and 'so-called' normal people. Quite the contrary. "(O)ur troubles," he notes generically, "are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme case of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so." (Emphasis added.)

The realization that the vast, vast majority of all people are self-centered is a most useful tool in our recovery. It is not that the typical self-centeredness of others justifies our self-centered behaviour, but rather, knowing this (and always keeping in mind that we are an "extreme case of self-will run riot"), it (a) helps explain why we so often find ourselves "in collision" with others, and (b) points to the dangers that our obsessive self-centeredness poses.

While others may argue in grocery store check-outs, lie to their boss, or act aggressively while driving in heavy traffic, etc., as non-alcoholic addicts they are not prone to go home and drink or drug themselves to death. Rather they will cope with their obsessive self-centeredness in any myriad of ways - watching television, going to the gym and working out excessively, chain-smoking, gambling or perhaps just consoling themselves in the love they have for their family and relaxing in their pool. The point is, that unchecked, the self-centeredness of the alcoholic addict, will always (or so it seems) lead back in one way or another to addiction.

I remember being warned in the earliest weeks of my sobriety not to let any other obsession - for women, for work, or for whatever - seep into my life. I also remember being told that anything I put in fromt of my sobriety I would lose. It was easy to follow this advice at first, or so it seemed. I was married with a good union job, a home and a year-old baby. And as I immersed myself in A.A., working the steps, working with my sponsor and helping others, I never thought that all I was warned against would happen to me.

With four years of sobriety under my belt, I was persuaded to go back to finish the university degree I had abandoned when I was out there "performing." Unknowingly, I had channelled my obsessive nature into something that conventional wisdom says is beneficial. My wife, my parents, my friends and family, even my employer were solidly behind me, and I excelled. Success bred more success, or so I thought. But, as the renowned economist, J. K. Galbratih famously observed, "the trouble with conventional wisdom is that it is usually wrong," and it would take another 10 years before I began to understand this bit of wisdom.

Just shy of ten years sober, having gone back and got not one but two college degrees, and having traded in my coveralls for a three-piece suit, I was working 12 to 14 hours on a typical day as I forged a new career in the law. Moving to a new town, it was all too easy to let what was left of my membership in A.A. lapse. Knowingly, I made the decision that I did not have the time to go to A.A., that spending what little time I had with my wife and two young daughters was far more important, and that - after all - I wasn't going to drink or drug again, etc. Little did I remember the advice that wiser old-timers had given me early in sobriety: don't swap one obsession for another, and never put anything ahead of your sobriety.

Five years later, with a failed marriage, a decimated career, and a botched suicide under my belt, I was brought back to A.A. by one of those old-timers, craving a drink or drug for release but too frightened to try.

With the help of a new sponsor who had drank after fifteen years sobriety, and was once again fifteen years sober, I went back through the Steps and became an active member of A.A. Another wizened old-timers took me back through my story (and his) and convincingly demonstrated to me how the problem of the alcoholic - at least this alcoholic - does, indeed, center in the mind, while another deeply spiritual old-timer taught me to meditate.

In time, and not without setbacks, I regained all that really mattered to me and more. Through the application of the Steps and daily work (not without backsliding) on the maintenance of my spiritual condition I have attained - however falteringly - to what Bill W. rightly called "a new state of consciousness and being."

Of course, there were amends to make, character defects to work on and many, many meetings to make. And, of course,  I regret that I put a lot of people through needless suffering. Yet, I cannot help but think that without the suffering I endured by turning my back on A.A., I likely would not have learned much about my nature or the nature of my fellow man. And I would certainly not have found the conscious contact I now have with a Higher Power that is far greater than my limited "self."

(One of my favourite speakers says that alcoholics in recovery are the luckiest people in the world; that most people go through life wondering simply if there is a God, while we in A.A. get to experience the effect that God has in our lives and the lives of others.)

Thankfully, I survived the ultimate lesson in how dangerous "self-will run riot" can be; and, if I can draw any lessons to pass on to others to save them from relapse back into addiction or worse it is this: (a) the problem of not only the alcoholic, but each of us, centers in the mind, and (b) that the alcoholic addict is extremely self-centered, and thus, if unchecked, is very dangerous to himself and others. For that reason, please - I beg you - don't let any other obsession seep into your life, and never, ever, put anyone or anything else before your sobriety.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Examining the "Harms" Caused to Others

"We might next ask ourselves what we mean when we say that we have "harmed" other people. What kinds of "harm" do people do to one another, anyway? To define the word "harm" in a practical way, we might call it the result of instincts in collision, which cause physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual damage to people. If our tempers are consistently bad, we arouse anger in others. If we lie or cheat, we deprive others not only of their worldly goods, but of their emotional security and peace of mind. We really issue them an invitation to become contemptuous and vengeful. If our sex conduct is selfish, we may excite jealousy, misery, and a strong desire to retaliate in kind."

"Such gross misbehavior is not by any means a full catalogue of the harms we do. Let us think of some of the subtler ones which can sometimes be quite as damaging. Suppose that in our family we happen to be miserly, irresponsible, callous, or cold. Suppose that we are irritable, critical, impatient and humorless. Suppose we lavish attention upon one member of the family and neglect the others. What happens when we try to dominate the whole family by a rule of iron or by a constant outpouring of minute directions for just how their lives should be lived from hour to hour? Such a roster of harms done others - the kind that make daily living with us as practicing alcoholics difficult and often unbearable - could be extended almost indefinitely. When we take such personality traits as these into the shop, office, and the society of our fellows, they can do damage almost as extensive as that we have caused at home."

-- The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pages 80-81 --
 In Step Four (in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions) Bill W. notes that our "desires" or "instincts" - for sex, for material and emotional security, and for companionship - may "far exceed their proper functions." Again, in Step Six he observes that, "(n)o matter how far we have progressed, desires will always be found which oppose the grace of God." Then, in Step Eight, he observes that the "harms" we have caused others are the product of "instincts in collision." For recovery and true emotional sobriety, it is thus necessary for us to examine such instincts - irrespective of how gross or subtle they may be - and make our amends for the instances and circumstances in which our instincts have driven us blindly, resulting in the "harms" we have caused to others.

It is relatively easy to examine our grosser instinctual missteps, the remembrance of which gives us the moral shudders. "How could I have done that?" we wonder, as we recall such instances with a mixture of regret, embarrassment and remorse. It is these instances that, perhaps, formed the bulk of our initial Fourth Step inventory. Examination of the subtler harms we have caused - at least for this alcoholic addict - prove the harder to recognize, face and amend. The fine line between the legitimate protection of those we love and care for and the selfish instinct to control and manage our lives by controlling the actions of those closest to us is indeed subtle. ("Mastery of life," one spiritual teacher observed, "is the opposite of control.")

For example, controlling others through an outburst of anger is both memorable for its intensity and eminently regrettable, while controlling others through our over-weaning anxieties is much more easily overlooked. Yet both these instinctual drives must be overcome if we are to effectively turn our will and our lives over to the care of our Higher Power and, more particularly, if we are to leave it there! And just as it seems that our coarser defects of character are easier to spot and overcome, so our subtler defects seem to be all the more difficult to weed out.

Thus, even when we have made our initial amends, we must take a daily look at our character defects, paying careful attention to subtler manifestations of our self-centered instincts. These subtle shortcomings may seem to be dangerously innocuous when compared, to say, an ugly outburst of anger or a brooding resentment over the actions of others.

"Our basic troubles are the same as everyone else's," Bill points out, "but when an honest effort is made "to practice these principles in all our affairs," well-grounded A.A.'s seem to have the ability by God's grace, to take these troubles in stride and turn them into demonstrations of faith."

"Like most people," he observes, "we have found that we can take our big lumps as they come. But also like others, we often discover a greater challenge in the lesser and more continuous problems of life. Our answer," he notes, "is still more spiritual development."

"Only by this means," he points out, "can we improve our chances for really happy and useful living. And as we grow spiritually, we find that our old attitudes toward our instincts need to undergo drastic revisions."
[The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 114.]

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Great Paradox: Lack of Power, Ego and the Depth of Our Being

"Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But how and where were we to find this Power?" 
-- Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 45 --
Here we have the first and the greatest paradox in recovery. Elsewhere, we read that the alcoholic addict is "selfish" and "self-centered," an acute example of "self-will run riot," and that our difficulties are "self-inflicted." Therefore, we are in need of "a Power greater than ourselves." The paradoxical irony, however is that we find this Higher Power "deep down within us."

Reading page 55 of the Big Book, the author makes clear that this is indeed the case.
". . . (D)eep down in every man, woman, and child," we read, "is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself."

"We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, jsut as much as the feeling we have for a friend. Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that he may be found." (Emphasis added.)
Thus, the paradox. We are told that we must find this "Power greater than ourselves," then we are told that we find that Power "deep down within us." In fact, we are told, that is the only place where such a Power may be found. Is this a fatal paradox? I think not. In fact, I know that it is not. The key to unraveling this paradox - paradoxically - is not to try to understand what is meant by a Higher Power, by God, by the Great Reality etc., but rather to understand what is meant by "self."

"Our actor is self-centered - ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays," the author of the Big Book writes at page 61. And there's the rub. To the Big Book author, "self" is synonymous with "ego" -  not "ego" as in "pride," but "ego" in its psychological meaning, as "the part of the mind that reacts to reality and has a sense of individuality." Beneath our sense of a separate self, there is the underlying unity of a "Power greater than our selves."

Indeed, the entire Twelve Step program is designed to uncover this hidden, unacknowledged Power that exists within each of us, and it does so by getting rid of the mental calamities, grandiosity and desires which obscure such Power. "The problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind," we read on page 23 of the Big Book; and, paradoxically, so does the solution - only it lies in a far deeper part of our mind and being, in that part of our mind and being accessible initially only by deep meditation and prayer.

In a classic series of sermons, the great 20th-century theologian, Paul Tillich, a close friend and colleague of Reinhold Niebuhr, the author of the Serenity Prayer, observed that there is a fathomless depth to our being, a depth so great and infinite that it is the ultimate Ground of Being.
"The wisdom of all ages and of all continents speaks about the road to our depth," Tillich notes.  "It has been described in innumerably different ways. But all those who have been concerned - mystics and priests, poets and philosophers, simple people and educated - with that road through confession, lonely self-scrutiny, internal or external catastrophes, prayer, contemplation, have witnessed to the same experience. They have found they are not what what they  believed themselves to be, even after a deeper level had appeared to them below the vanishing surface. That deeper level itself became surface, when a still deeper level was discovered, this happening again and again, as long as their lives, as long as they kept on the road to their depth." 
"The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being," he continues, "is God. That depth is what the word God means. . . . For if you know that God means depth, you know much about him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or an unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God."
[Paul Tillich, "The Shaking of the Foundations," Scribners, pp. 56-57.]

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Alcoholics Anonymous and Psychology: Looking Back at A.A. History

"You see, Alcohol in Latin is "spiritus" and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum."

-- Dr. Carl Jung to Bill Wilson --
(Correspondence dated January 30, 1961)
Although it opens by misclassifying Rolland H. as a "founder" of A.A. - Rolland H. maintained lifetime sobriety in the Oxford Group, but never joined A.A. - the attached video is a worthwhile reminder of the initial impetus that Carl Jung gave to the chain of events that would lead to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (and, through it, the entire 12 Step movement) in 1935.

Those with a deeper interest in the Jung-Wilson may wish to read further (here). Suffice to say, however, that it was Jung who saw that the craving of the alcoholic addict was, in fact, a spiritual thirst; in his words, "the search of our being for wholeness." It was Bill W., Doctor Bob and the original old-timers, however, who would meld medical, religious, and psychiatric insights into the program that would become A.A.

Dr. Jung's correspondence with Bill W. is published in the Grapevine Publication, "Language of the Heart," or may be viewed (together with a multitude of other helpful and historical articles about A.A.) online at

Monday, August 8, 2011

Expectations, Anger and Resentments

Anger and fear - in fact all my character defects - seem to be inversely proportional to the expectations I have for myself, for others, and for life in general. In this, I do not think I am alone.

My egoic thinking has constant expectations about how circumstances should and will unfold, despite a lifetime of experience to the contrary; and my self-centered, egoic thoughts about what I am convinced is happening, or is about to happen, give rise to the emotional upheavals characteristic of my defects of character. Thus it is the thoughts of the ego that lead to the feelings of restlessness, irritability and discontent that characterize the alcoholic addict in the throes of his or her disease.

It is precisely to the extent that I continue to identify with my ego, or smaller "self," and thereby continue to harbour such expectations, that I suffer. And if such thinking persists over time, fears grow into phobias, desires grow into entitlements, and anger turns into seething resentments. If I am to be free, I must be free of this selfish, self-centered egoic thinking that is the root of all my problems.

But how is such a shift in the focus of my thinking to come about? First, by truly admitting that life is unmanagable by any individual. Second, by truly turning my will and life over to the care of God, and leaving it there. And, third, by accepting that life is unfolding exactly the way in which it is. For, as the emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius observed: "To argue with what is is insanity; and yet, the thoughtless can seldom refrain from doing so."

It is precisely at this point that the well-known passage on "acceptance" is invaluable.
"(A)cceptance," we read, "is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 417.]
Acceptance of life on life's terms is thus directly proportional to my serenity and peace of mind, just as my expectations are inversely proportional to my egoic, self-centered malaise. Therefore, the old question arises: "Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?" What will I strive for acceptance, or the fulfillment of my expectations?

The answer should be clear to anyone who has long suffered the unchecked turmoil of his or her character defects. Acceptance, brings the freedom, hope and love which is the grace of God; expectations breed the anger and despair which is "the bondage of self."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Journey to Stillness: A Story of Deep Awakening and Self-Realization

The attached video, focused more on the spiritual quest, rather than recovery from drugs and/or alcohol per se, is a must-see for both newcomers, but more particularly for old-timers. The interview of Chris Hebard tells the story of the alcoholic addict from the initial feelings of separation and insufficiency as a child, through the hedonism of addiction, the overwhelming material success that often comes with recovery, and of the ultimate crisis in consciousness after years of sobriety that resulted in the epiphany of a profound and deep spiritual awakening.

As Hebard's story shows - and as many old-timers with years in recovery will attest - there are profound levels of depth in spirit that exist, levels of spiritual experience that may not (and, in most instances, probably do not) manifest immediately. For many and perhaps most, it seems, 'hitting a bottom" in sobriety propels the alcoholic addict to further and deeper levels of spiritual being, levels that always have a deeper level beneath them until the ultimate non-duality of enlightenment is reached.

There is, Hebard notes, a significant difference between mere awakening and the deeper Self-realization that leads to ultimate freedom from the bondage of the small "self," or ego - a difference that has been long experienced by spiritual aspirants of all stripes, and in all ages and cultures, and not just solely by alcoholic addicts in recovery.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ego, Humility and Grace

"By this time in all probability we have gained some measure of release from our more devastating handicaps. We enjoy moments in which there is something like real peace of mind. . . .Where humility had formerly stood for a forced feeding on humble pie, it now begins to mean the nourishing ingredient which can give us serenity."

"This improved perception of humility starts another revolutionary change in our outlook. Our eyes begin to open to the immense values which have come straight out of painful ego-puncturing."
-- The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 74 --

In a very real sense, Step Seven is the completion of the second half of Step One: Having admitted we could not manage our own lives - let alone life itself - and having determined to turn our will and our lives "over to the care of God as we understood him," we now confirm our decision to leave the management of life at that level, rather than vainly resuming the practice of managing life ourselves. This is ego-deflation at depth, and "painful ego-puncturing" at that, as we have been trained all of our lives that we must manage everything - or else!

At first the practice of humility is frightening. "What will become of me if such-and-such happens?" we ask ourselves, only to see in time that things never happen in precisely the way we imagine them and that, in most instances, our fears never materialize. We experience great pain, however, because we - or rather our egoic inner dialogue - assume that they will.

This, process of fear, desire and suffering continues just so long as we identify with the ego and believe whatever it thinks. The moment we realize that we are not the ego - that we are not whatever thought pops into our heads - the suffering stops. Yet it resumes immediately once we lose that awareness. Thus, the practice of Step Seven is repeatedly turning our will and lives over to the care of our Higher Power, and not just in making a decision to do so. In time we will become evermore humble in the truest sense of the word, in that we will be increasingly free of our egoic "self," and each time we experience suffering it will become a sign that we once more need to center ourselves in order to "Let Go, and Let God."

"For us," we read in Step Seven, "this process of gaining a new perspective was unbelievably painful. . . . It was only at the end of a long road, marked by successive defeats and humiliations, and the final crushing of our self-sufficiency, that we began to feel humility as something more than a condition of groveling despair." (Emphasis added.) Fortunately, however, we eventually learn that the requisite degree of humility needed to overcome the ego may "come quite as much from our voluntary reaching for it as it could from unremitting suffering."

"A great turning point in our lives," we read, "came when we sought for humility as something we really wanted, rather than as something we must have. It marked the time when we could commence to see the full implication of Step Seven: "Humbly asked Him to remove our our shortcomings."" For, in the end, we can only find grace within God, and it is in practicing Step Seven that we are freed from the egoic self and obtain to that level of grace with its ensuing peace of mind.
[The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pages 72 and 74]

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Addiction, Freedom and Power

"Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. But where and how were we to find this Power?"

"Well, that's exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem."

-- Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 45 --
Couched in a Catholic theological perspective, the attached videos of controversial, ex-Catholic priest, Fr. John Corapi may not be for everyone. (Corapi recently resigned from the ministry, amid unproven allegations of sexual impropriety, as well as drug and alcohol addiction.) Yet, his message on addictions still delivers a poignant warning about the power of drugs, alcohol, gambling and other vices, particularly if there is any truth to the allegations made against him.

Pointing out that freedom, to be true freedom, must operate within the parameters of God, Fr. Corapi observes:
"Freedom is power. Freedom is the power to do not whatever I want to do, but to do what I ought to do. And what should I do? I ought to love God with my whole heart, mind, and strength. But you (have) to be a free person to do that."

"It takes a free man," Corapi observes, "a liberated person, to do what is right and just. You have to be free to love God. . . .You have to be free in order to act in accordance with right reason."
But, he adds, to earn this freedom, the addict must ask for help.

In this experientially-based talk on addiction, Fr. Corapi concludes by telling his audience: "I hope you never read in the newspapers that I ended up dead in a crack house. But," he adds, "don't you ever think that it can't happen."

As one of the many thousands who has been moved by Fr. Corapi's gritty and realistic sermons and lectures about the challenges to faith in our modern age, and the perils of the pleasures that seemed at first to be pearls, I sincerely hope that the allegations made against him are false. All too often, though, I know that a relapse back into addictive behavior is part of an individual's life journey, even after many, many years clean and sober. If this be the case, this does not diminish Fr. Corapi's message on addiction, but rather makes it the more poignant.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Alcohol, Transformation and Spiritual Intoxication

The word "alcohol" is derived from the Arabic alkoh'l, meaning collyrium, a metallic powder obtained from distilling the bark of the kohl tree that was used as a glittering eye-makeup in the mid-East. Small wonder, then, that mystic Sufis (an esoteric branch of Islam) used alcohol, particularly wine, as a metaphor for higher spiritual experience and consciousness. The product of distillation (including the distillation of their greatest spiritual wisdom) made everything seem more beautiful, it seems.

This explains, at several levels, the oftentimes startling use of drunkenness as a metaphor for spiritual intoxication and higher consciousness by some of Islam's greatest poets - Rumi, Khabir and Omar Khayam, for example - a daring and meaningful metaphor considering, particularly, that there is a strict proscription against drinking alcohol and taking intoxicants in Islam. The great Sufi teachers seem to have intuitively known the truth realized centuries later by the great psychologist, Carl Jung: that the drunkard's thirst for alcohol is "on a low level the thirst of our being for wholeness, in medieval terms: union with God."

Consider the following description of "the tavern" by renowned poet and best-selling translator of Rumi's poetry, Coleman Barks:
"In the tavern are many wines - the wine of delight in color and form and taste, the wine of the intellect's agility, the fine port of stories, and the cabernet of soul singing. Being human means entering this place where entrancing varieties of desire are served. The grapeskin of ego breaks and a pouring begins. Fermentation is one of the oldest symbols for human transformation. When grapes combine their juice and are closed up together for a time in a dark place, the results are spectacular. This is what lets two drunks meet so that they don't know who is who. Pronouns no longer apply in the tavern's mud-world of excited confusions and half-articulated wantings."

"But after some time in the tavern, a point comes, a memory of elsewhere, a longing for the source, and the drunks must set off from the tavern and begin the return. The Qur'an says, "We are all returning" The tavern is a kind of glorious hell that human beings enjoy and suffer and then push off from in their search for truth. The tavern is a dangerous region where sometimes disguises are necessary, but never hide your heart, Rumi urges. Keep open there. A breaking apart, a crying out in the street, begins in the tavern, and the human soul turns to find its way home."

"It's 4 a.m. Nasruddin leaves the tavern and walks the town aimlessly. A policeman stops him. "Why are you out wandering the streets in the middle of the night?" "Sir," replies Nasruddin, "if I knew the answer to that question, I would have been home hours ago."

[Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi," p.1.]
Welcome home, my friends in recovery! Let the grapeskin of ego break and the pouring begin! Let the fermentation lead to human transformation!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Spiritual Pride and the Quality, Rather than Quantity, of Faith

"Now let's take the guy full of faith, but still reeking of alcohol. He believes he is devout. His spiritual observance is scrupulous. He's sure that he still believes in God, but suspects that God doesn't believe in him. He takes pledges and more pledges. Following each he not only drinks again, but acts worse than the last time. Valiantly he tries to fight alcohol, imploring God's help, but help doesn't come. What, then, can be the matter?"

"To clergymen, doctors, friends, and families, the alcoholic who means well and tries hard is a heartbreaking riddle. To most A.A.'s he is not. There are too many of us who have been just like him, and have found the answer. This answer has to do with the quality of faith rather than its quantity."
[The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 31-32.]
There are, in fact, many different levels of faith. For simplicity's sake let's look at three different levels or qualities of faith: intellectual faith, emotional faith, and experiential faith. The first, intellectual faith, comes with mere belief. We are raised into a faith and accept it's beliefs as reasonable and perhaps necessary. Or, perhaps, we adopt a faith, unquestioningly and as is. This is a form of blind faith, founded on nothing more than mere intellectual belief and compliance, and it is too easily shaken.

The second, higher level or quality of faith, is that based in the emotions. A devout and deep faith is inspired, and a great emotional impulse is felt as a result. Still, this higher level of faith is also partially blind, albeit blinded by the emotions rather than a merely intellectual belief system.

One can easily have either of these levels of faith and still not have the suffering of alcoholic addiction removed. One can too easily, as noted in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, be "full of faith but still reeking of alcohol." A.A.'s program of recovery, on the other hand, is intended not to invoke merely intellectual faith, inspiration and/or great emotional devotion. Rather, the Twelve Steps are intended to trigger the third, highest level of faith, a faith based on spiritual experience - a faith that is described as "a new state of consciousness and being."

Consider, if you will, the following passage taken from Appendix II of the 'Big Book' (i.e., the Spiritual Experience appendix):
"With few exceptions our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves. Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it "God-consciousness."" (Emphasis added.)
From the above, it should be clear that the curative we seek is not an internal or external belief system, or an elevated emotional state, but rather a broad yet heretofore hidden aspect of our very being, an experience in consciousness that takes us beyond the limited and limiting egoic self to "a new state of consciousness and being" that is co-extensive with God.*

It is far too easy to be fooled by the quantity of our faith rather than its quality, and the danger is that we can too easily be fooled by an egoic sense of spiritual pride, particularly if we come to A.A. (or any of its sister 12 Step organizations) with preformed religious or spiritual beliefs. And just as easily, we can adopt certain religious or spiritual beliefs which are good, in and of themselves, but which fall short of the requisite spiritual experience. The ego is a crafty and challenging foe. Religious prejudice and spiritual pride are often the last, yet highly effective, weapon that the ego wields against us.

Writing about the perils of the spiritual pride which can act as a block to the spiritual aspirant, philosopher Paul Brunton observed that:
"If the ego cannot trap him through his vices it will try to do so through his virtues. When he has made enough progress to warrant it, he will be led cunningly and insensibly into spiritual pride. Too quickly and too mistakenly he will believe himself to be set apart from other men by his attainments. When this belief is strong and sustained, that is, when his malady of conceit calls for a necessary cure, a pit will be dug for him by other men and his own ego will lead him straight into it."
[Psul Brunton, "The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," Vol. I, p. 138.]
All need not be for naught, however. For, as Brunton notes: "Out of the suffering which will follow this downfall, he will have a chance to grow humbler." And, with humility, comes the opportunity for true spiritual experience.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pages 106-107:
"When a man or woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being."