The Danger of Drift (by Tom P. Jr)
October 11, 2008, 9:32 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

An excerpt from the latest issue of the 24 Newsletter.

Many people who start out with a full dose of the strong-program approach for their primary addiction quickly find that they are unwilling to give up other things that are incompatible with their new life on the Program. This failure at the level of rigorous honesty has clear consequences resulting in a life that drifts off the Program, whether you ever drink again or not.

And it is at this point in a recovery that the Four Absolutes become indispensable as “yardsticks” (Dr. Bob’s term) in conducting our daily affairs. And if you want to just back up to the utter baseline, it’s the First and Second Absolutes: honesty — beginning with self-honesty — and then purity.

It’s gagging on the Second Absolute that drives many people out of the Program. Maybe not violently by running out to get drunk, but more subtly, where you just want to relax and enjoy yourself — find the famous “easier, softer way.” Whether it’s a forty-five year old alcoholic in a mid-life crisis or an eighteen year old with a desire to sow some wild oats, or a guy or gal who’s been around in recovery anywhere from three to thirty years and is finding the Program increasingly boring, the problem is a difficulty with the first two Absolutes, especially the Second.

From early on, my Dad had a message for those of us in this bind that was as big as anything I have ever run across in AA. He saw from the beginning that the Twelve Steps are too good to be just for alcoholics only, or to apply to the single symptom of addictive drinking only. He was powerfully moved in passing on the good news of the Program to “carry the message” to anyone he knew who was suffering from spiritual starvation, regardless of whether they qualified for full citizenship in AA as a for-drunks-only club. And he spent his whole life trying to practice the Steps across the board in all areas of his life. The very first thing that he did after he recovered from alcoholism and drug addiction was to take the Twelve Steps and start practicing them for his food addiction and for his nicotine addiction.

He joked in his AA lead about his food addiction. It is a stage in recovery for many alcoholics. You get your appetite back and you get your mind back, and you get what they called the chuck wagon horrors — an appetite that is literally insatiable. He went from 128 to 178 lbs. and mother was referring to him as “moon.” He also had a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit, and he started to drop the chain of addictions successively — first the alcohol and drugs, then the nicotine, then the addictive eating. Surprisingly, this approach of dropping the whole chain of addictions does not turn out to be the joyless trip of self-denial that you might think. Quite the contrary. This, in many cases is in fact the easiest, softest way.

Believe me, as a person who tried very hard for his first seven years in the Program to do it the other way, this proved for me to be the only way. And over the years I have seen many, many similar histories. Whatever your remaining problem areas are, you can’t fail if you just don’t quit and run away from the challenge that the phrase in Step Twelve “in all our affairs” presents. Rate of progress isn’t even that important in itself. Just don’t give up, don’t cop out, and don’t run away from the Steps. That’s all it takes. All the difficulty and arguing and self justifying is over when we give our selves entirely to this simple Program. Find out what you need for an honest practice and get it. Get that or you’ll never maintain a long-term recovery. You will never recover from the low-level depression, or anxiety, or the resentment that’s driving you while “abstinent” to a life of quiet desperation. It’s not about being a saint and not about being a star performer it is about becoming, “entirely ready” and “willing”— just as it says in Step Six.

Foreword to Philip Leon’s Philosophy of Courage (by Glenn F. Chesnut)
September 23, 2008, 3:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Philip Leon finished writing The Philosophy of Courage in December 1938, with a publication date in 1939.1 So it was not a direct influence on the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was completed (basically anyway) slightly before that point, a bit earlier in 1938. But Leon puts down in print some of the most important of the Oxford Group ideas which had so greatly influenced the early A.A. people, and he also gives an illuminating philosophical discussion of a number of the basic ideas and principles which A.A. learned from the Oxford Group. As a consequence, people in the twelve step movement will find a good deal of interesting and very useful material in Leon’s book.

Leon was associated with one of the new British universities—University College, Leicester—which had been founded right after the First World War. The city of Leicester is located right in the center of England, only sixty miles or so from Oxford. Three years earlier, he had written a very successful philosophical work called The Ethics of Power or The Problem of Evil (London : George Allen & Unwin, 1935).2


The title of the work we are looking at here—The Philosophy of Courage—is significant in itself. It places Philip Leon, in his own way, in the context of the famous existentialist philosophers and theologians of that period. Most of those figures were, like Leon, reacting to the ideas of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and his nineteenth century followers. Kantianism proclaimed that our human minds were imprisoned in a box of space and time, where we had no access to the eternal, absolute, unlimited, and unconditional divine realm which lay outside the box.

The atheistic existentialists said that all that lay outside that box of space and time was an infinite abyss of Nothingness, and that even within the world which our human minds could grasp, human existence was absurd, and the only certainty we could state was that our lives were inexorably lived towards death. The closest human beings could come to living with dignity was to face the absurdity and death with resolution and courage. Philosophers and writers like Nietzsche (1844-1900), Sartre (1905-1980), and Camus (1913-1960), along with existentialist psychiatrists like Fritz Perls (1893-1970), all saw our basic human problem as one of fear: the fear of emptiness and death, but also the fear of change and novelty, and above all the fear of being creative and being ourselves instead of trying to be what other people wanted us to be. In Fritz Perls’ metaphor, we needed to develop the courage either to spit out what we detested about our lives, or to chew it up and swallow it and digest it and make it our own.

Among the Christian existentialists of that same period, one of the most important figures was Paul Tillich, who taught with Reinhold Niebuhr (the author of the Serenity Prayer) at Union Theological Seminary in New York City from 1933 to 1955, that is, during the formative period when A.A. was born. One of Tillich’s most important books had the simple title the Courage to Be (1952). Existential anxiety (what Philip Leon called “the great Terror”) was what destroyed our souls, and courage was the remedy which would heal our disease.
Continue reading