Friday, October 30, 2009

A mighty maple...

This maple tree in our front yard on the west side of our house is about 35 feet tall and has a canopy at least that broad.

We moved into this house about 23 years ago and, when we bought the house - and many times since - I've remarked that this tree was probably worth more than the house.  It has been a perfect shade tree.  It is the reason we need minimal air conditioning even with our blazing sun in the Colorado summers.  Most springs and falls are more pleasant because of it's colors and grandeur.

Maples don't fare well in our climate.  We're sem-arid here with legendary low humidity and most winters include at least a few days of gusts over 100 mph.  Some years, you can fairly hear the tree gasping for moisture and rest.  We laughingly refer to our  "breezes" of 40-50 mph.

Since the tree was not well cared for when it was younger (it probably dates back at least as old as the house, approximately 1950, but probably pre-dates that by some time), we've had tree surgeons out several times in the past 10 years (more than $5,000 work) and each time they've whacked and trimmed but, well, it's just not all that healthy.

We had record snowfall this week and, since the tree hadn't lost all its leaves, it's paid a high price.  Just guessing based on the branches that have already fallen or are probably dead from breaking, I think at least 1/8 of the tree has died off.

I find myself really identifying with this tree.

We could spend hours reflecting on the "pruning" I've been through since I got to AA.  More than once, I've hung onto on my old ideas that were clearly no longer of any use but that were so attached to my "self" that I feared if I let those ideas go, my very identity would be threatened.  It's a process I love to talk about since I think it demonstrates the great power for good that our program stands for.  I credit with the life and happiness that I have today.

But, it's never easy.  Ever.  I hang onto those old ideas until, when they crash, they come crashing down and sometimes damage others around me when they fall.

And, my life depends on whacking out those ideas.  If I don't get pruned, my whole life will be destroyed when the snows come.

I hope our tree survives.  I think it really is more valuable than the house we live in.

I hope I do too...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Any lengths...

We had our 1st major snow last night.  I was a little late this morning (~6am) getting my paper in the driveway and, as I was collecting the paper and taking my neighbor the one that is always delivered on the wrong side of the house, was musing about how I could have probably slept in as I figured my 6am sponsee wouldn't be showing up.

He usually does show up but, since it's a 30 minute drive for him and the roads were obviously sloppy, I just figured he wouldn't make it.  Made me think about how many people through the years I've known who really want to have a different life but, well, they just can't show up.

I was grousing in my head about how they told me when I got here that "...if I'd work just 1/2 as hard at staying sober as I did for a drink, that I'd surely succeed.

That's worked so far....

Anyway, before much of this revelry went on long, my sponsee pulled in less than 5 minutes late.

Turned out, "any lengths" was the theme of our time for the next hour or so.

He has a sponsee and a nephew - both of whom are early in sobriety and both of whom have seem to hit that wall of willingness that so many of us don't get through.  "It's just too hard to get to meetings without a car..."  "The people at that meeting are just a bunch of gossips|flirts|pious Patties|old cheapskates| ..." "I was going to write on my 4th step but decided I needed a night off..."

There is always a reason - a perfectly good reason - for not doing something around the program.

Sometimes, when I read chapter 5 at a meeting, I get a little cute when I read: "If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it..." (BB - p. 58) and put the emphasis on ANY.  Like, would you go to ANY length?  Even just one length?

Seems some people aren't willing (or able?) to get that motivation.  They need another round or 2 in the ring with the gorilla.  They need to learn something.  They need the gracious gift of desperation.

A former sponsor of mine used to say, " doesn't do anyone any good if I'm working harder on their sobriety than they are...".

Today, I think I've gone to enough lengths.

I hope so...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The icks...

A few of my friends in AA have been going through what I call "the icks" lately.  I had a sponsor I used to call up (often) and say: "...the sick is on me bad today..." and then I'd launch into the familiar diatribe about how bad my life was and how hopeless all appeared.

This sponsor's solution was largely centered around inventory and prayer and meditation.  I have nothing against those - they are cornerstones to our program of recovery.  I'm grateful for all he taught me about those tools that I still use today.

After he fired me, I got hooked up with my current sponsor and he's pretty much of another persuasion - when you're under the oppression of alcoholism (real alcoholics will probably understand this), when you're into what I've hear called at east coast meetings "stinkin' thinkin'", his solution is to look for an immediate opportunity to be of service.  The more consuming this is (sponsorship, chairing a committee, starting a group, jail/detox meetings, helping your kids or wife - doesn't have to be an alcoholic - etc.) the better.

While at face value this seems to just be a distraction, I can't tell you how many times this has worked wonders for me in terms of getting past my own head enmeshed in fear and darkness.  It is, after all, what our Big Book book recommends.  It's solution for my darkness and despair is not (only) changing sponsors, going to another dance, seeking a more intense 3rd step experience, changing churches or gurus, changing diet, getting more exercise, going to a therapist, changing medications, etc.  Some of these items (and others) might be the right thing to do sometimes.

But, what Bill discovered was: "...I soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day..." (BB p. 15).  This suggestion is repeated a number of times in our book.

The fact that today, most days, I can get one foot in front of another to make progress toward some sort of real solution is a miracle that is beyond my wildest imagination.  It is evidence of God's grace in my life.

Monday, October 26, 2009

About me - not...

I love that Step 10 has some of the most explicit instructions in the Big Book. It suggest that we continue to watch for "...selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear..." and "...when these crop up..." (it doesn't say "if" these crop up - they know those things will crop up for all of us), it gives us clear, direct instruction using completely unambiguous time frames (like "immediately", and "at once").

I once had a sponsor who had a very strictly proscribed method for doing the 10th step.  He nagged and cajoled me toward doing this step in his way for years until I'd reached the ultimate surrender - I decided I had to find a new sponsor.

I was "shopping" for who my next sponsor was to be for a number of weeks when, out of the blue, I had this incredible thought: "Why don't you try doing a 10th step in the way your sponsor suggests for a while?"  It was such an incredible revalation to me, I couldn't understand why when I presented it to others they laughed.  Probably like you are now...

Anyway, it started one of the most incredible experiences  I've had in recovery.  On a daily basis I did exactly what our Big Book suggests, exactly as my sponsor proscribed.  It was amazing.

Years later, when that sponsor fired me, I felt an amazing freedom and have never been without a sponsor who I am accountable to.  I am more accountable to a sponsor today than I was in my first years of sobriety.

And, on a good day, the several 10th steps I do keep me clear with God, also.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

About me...

The punch line of a number of setups runs something like: "...enough of me talking about me.  Please, let me shut up so you can talk about me..."

..or, something like that...

The "Internet and AA" workshop was yesterday.  I can't tell you how grateful I am for the preparation that I did for this workshop in this past week's blogs.  I got to hate writing about this stuff but it was because I needed to do my own work around this - I was not looking at some truth that I needed to get to for myself.

As far as the workshop, I was handed 2 topics: (1) the history of our Area's web site and (2) an explanation of my home group's web site.  I really wanted to talk more about other things I'd learned in the week about recovery social networks and the like - seemed much more important to PI and other topics around what one might do and not do as an AA member on the internet.  But, I was given instructions and that's the more important lesson for me in these gatherings.

Four of us were to briefly share on our appointed topics and then allow at least an hour and a half for questions from the audience.  Several times in my presentation, I related my experience and offered that I had some "...other recent experience in..." hoping to seed some questions where I could respond and talk about what I wanted to talk about.

We all covered our topics, we then spent about 45 minutes dealing with questions from an "ask-it basket" which was seeded with questions the organizers wanted responses to - most of which forced us to re-hash some of topics already covered.  As I answered these questions, I again hinted about what I saw as more important issues and concerns for AA on the internet today.

To make a long story slightly shorter, I left without talking about much the stuff I thought was important what I thought folks would really be much more interested in.

On the plus side, there were about 30 alleged drunks collected for over 3 hours on a gorgeous and not one of us seemed to be drinking.

Neither was I.

I think that was good enough...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Internet and AA - finishing thoughts

(Context: for a few days I'm thinking through some perspectives on AA and the internet in preparation for a workshop)

The internet has fundamentally changed "how I do" AA.  This is hard to over-state:
  1. Almost all of my AA service is coordinated and scheduled via email and common calendars.
  2. Most of what I write, report or, collaborate on is done online.
  3. When I need to look up a particular phrase or passage from our Big Book, I'll often start online even if the book is sitting right next to me.
  4. When I travel, I usually start looking for meetings that I might attend via internet searches (e.g. Google: AA Boulder CO, online Intergroup, etc.).
  5. When we do night-watch for our local central office (phones from AA central office are transferred to my home or cell phone overnight so that it appears I'm answering the call at the local AA office), we try to be close to a computer so that we can look up meeting times and addresses online if necessary.
  6. My home group keeps our speaker calendar online (privacy protected) so that more than one person can schedule speakers for the meeting.
  7. When I research a topic, idea or some part of AA history, I usually start online.
  8. When I refer a speaker tape to someone, I usually look for the speaker online before flipping through our badly maintained library.
  9. When I have a question about an event, I usually look for the flier online before sorting through my mountains of paper.
  10. I write blog articles frequently (almost daily). 
  11. I read 6-7 members' blog entries almost daily.
  12. I participate in (primarily watch) online social networks.
  13. I collaborate with other people about AA issues and concerns online.
  14. AA meets the rest of my life (travel, schedule, etc.) where the rest of my life happens online (e.g. web maps, travel sites, calendars, banking, etc.).
I suppose that's not unique to AA.  If I'd given my life to  a church 25 years ago, it would have probably evolved similarly.  We have a good friend in the fellowship who was recently ordained as a monk.  It's amusing to think how he's integrated that ancient calling and path to the world of Google and Twitter.

But, if AA is to remain relevant and available to the drunk of today and tomorrow, I think we must pay attention to and care about how and where AA, as an entity, is online.

In all of my reflections this week, I've found myself often thinking "how is this new?"  Quite often, my answer is "Not at all!!!".  The same traditions and principles that have caused us to recover and have protected our fellowship for 75 years need simply to be adapted and applied to the world and the AA work that includes the internet.

I've thought often about how Bill "sold" the idea of writing a book to the approximately 25-35 people that comprised our fellowship in 1937.  Many (some argue the majority) felt that the AA message of recovery could not be carried by a book.  That, writing a book would be a distraction to the fellowship and would dilute the AA message and limit it's effectiveness.  Bill persevered, our Big Book was published and AA was born anew.

Today, I think we need to look for the dozens of good AA members who will engender AA's presence online much as Bill's vision brought us a book.  The challenges will involve applying principles of anonymity, self-support, honesty, self-sacrifice - all of them will be discussed endlessly until the truth, for us, emerges.

With an appreciation of, perhaps even a reverence for, AA's guiding principles and traditions, we will make new mistakes, learn our lessons and carry our message as best we can wherever the hand reaches out for hope.

That can be our responsibility...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Internet and AA - group web stie

(Context: for a few days I'm thinking through some perspectives on AA and the internet in preparation for a workshop)

Probably one of the few really "controversial" things my home group has ever decided to do was to set up a web site for our group.  We've never been questioned more about "what is the purpose?" and "do you really think that is OK with our traditions?" for anything as much as this decision.

The decision to try out a web site happened at a group inventory discussion one time when one of our members mentioned that he had a hosting service that he wasn't using as it was originally intended (it was set up for a class reunion that had come and gone) and so there was about 9 months hosting service that was not being used.  So it was available to us for free and we just decided to set it up and use it.

Previously, the same member had set up a trial for us of a "discussion forum" in support of our group conscience.  We'd not used that much but we saw the value and thought if we went to a better forum software package, it might be more useful.

In our Area, one group had a party about nine years ago.  A member took pictures throughout the afternoon and, as a service to the group, registered and set up a group web site and posted all the pictures to the site.  I don't remember for sure if full names were included, but I think they were.  (makes a better story anyway)

Of course, there was much discussion at the ensuing emergency group conscience meeting.  The group then decided that they did want to have a web site but they took down the pictures and set up their site in accordance with agreed upon constraints.

My group's web site really has a fairly narrow scope and purpose.  We use it to:
  1. Communicate meeting times and places to new and visiting folks
  2. Offer directions and parking instructions
  3. Relate, if anyone would care, our group's history
  4. Communicate via a forum
  5. Share speaker audio (mp3's) among members
There is both a "public" and a  "private" forum.  Both the public and the private forum are probably going to die soon due to lack of use.  There are much better forums for their purposed discussions to the general public and our current members seem to not be able or willing to utilize this as a means of communication (it was thought that forum-style discussion would be easier and better than emails).

Even with this limited scope, our group has been accused of "promotion" and being more impersonal in AA.  I guess the thought is that, if someone wants to know something about our group, we should chase them down and tell them about it in person. (?)

Anyway, it's been up about a year now and the major accusations and discussion seems to have died down.  As with so much in my service experience as well as my own walk in this path, the whole hoopla (on a group web site) has been largely overblown (you would have thought we were actively working to kill AA by some peoples' positions).  I am amazed sometimes when it seems we want to leave no good deed unpunished...

It has been useful to a few people and that is probably a good thing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Internet and AA - recovery social networks

(Context: for a few days I'm thinking through some perspectives on AA and the internet in preparation for a workshop)

Yesterday, I wrote about AA members' participation in the current technology of online social networking.   I was tempted, in this article, to simply write "the same, only more so" and drop it at that.  That still may have been the best idea.

However, most of the people reading this are probably aware that, of the rapidly growing specialty networks and groups, "recovery networks" are among the largest and fastest growing of the social networks.  One "authority" has a guess of about 1,000 recovery social networks online today and several more popping up each week.  We drunks do like to meet.

Unfortunately (or, fortunately if you're in the business), addicts and every other variant of substance abuse or folks who use 12-step or other recovery programs also like to meet.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've decided to not mention any of these web sites or networks by name here.  They're easy to find and are referenced often in others' blogs and recovery articles.  One of them boasts over 140,000 members and includes tools like graphs that link your sponsorial lineage much the same as heritage sites link up family trees - sometimes all the way back to Bill and Bob, if all the links are in place.  Another of the sites has, I'm told, over 40,000 members - all with what purport to be actual picture of members in their profiles (it's strongly encouraged there).  In my AA community, it's probably unlikely that you'd find a meeting without at least one member advocating one of these online networks.

All of the sites/networks that I've investigated (probably about 15-20 total so far) have many of the items of concern that I raised in yesterday's article about AA in generic social networks/online communities.

That said, there are people who are getting and staying sober as a consequence of the generous participation of real drunks and addicts in these forums.  Thank you God.

However, the license that's presumed of talking only with "people in recovery" in a community or a partitioned part of a larger health or special interest community, I think, might leave us as AA members at less than our best.  Therefore, I'm only slightly reluctant to delineate some of the concerns I have about AA members' participation in these networks.  I know there are some networks that avoid some of these pitfalls and there may be some "perfect" sites out there that I'm not aware of yet.  I will keep looking.

In the mean time here are some gross generalities about what I think might be wrong with participation in these sites as an AA member (in no particular order):
  1. The presumed "closed-ness" of these sites seem to give some people the assumption that personal anonymity is not necessary or useful.  People use full names, pictures and, sometimes, location information that seems reckless even for privacy concerns, especially given some of the details that they reveal about themselves.  Clearly, for some, there are agendas well beyond "recovery" in the social interactions.  I can imagine there is some real connecting beyond the online social network - in the carnal sense.
  2. This open-ness can be good and harmless.  But, much as happens with 13th-stepping in face meetings, you can see people "hitting on" newcomers.  I've entertained the thought  of posing as a newcomer on some of these sites ("...anyone can be a Las Vegas showgirl on the internet...") and ensnaring some of these predators.  Question is, what would I do when I got them?
  3. All of these networks are paid for by something and the message gets muddled as a result:
    1. Some are clearly partitions/sub-groups of other social networks where the goals may or may not be well articulated (a church, a "health network", a treatment center, etc.).  The bias of the membership and leaders is clear in some ways and hidden in others so that I always expect someone is subtly trying to sell me something.  I've known people who have attempted to parlay their participation in a recovery social network into a career.
    2. Many of these networks are paid for by advertising.  I may be prudish but I find it disgusting to have adds for treatment centers, books, other online services or, electronic smokeless cigarettes on the page where I'm sharing my experience, strength and hope in AA.
    3. Some purport to be (at least partially) self-supporting but, in my limited investigation, I've not found any site with any current and credible disclosure of expenses and contributions.
  4. As of yet, I've not found any of these networks that support any sort of primary purpose or singleness of purpose in accordance with AA traditions.  Even those forums and sites where there is implied strong AA affiliation (e.g. guidelines posted of "please limit your sharing in this forum to alcoholism and the recovery from alcoholism only "), sharing is not effectively constrained.  It reminds me of a local group that had closed AA meeting that would, if a non-alcoholic showed up, take a quick vote and open the meeting to all.  Every time.
    One can clearly see the utility of this - you get more members in your network if you include everyone and some of these sites really encourage you to maximize your "identification" across all programs/fellowships they try to serve.
    If you're concerned about AA's singleness of purpose in the world of recovery (I am), you might be marginalized in these forums/networks.
  5. As far as I know, there is no common, open, technology today that will eliminate what you say in one forum being copied or placed in some other part of the web.  Even those proprietary systems which protect data and images can generally be thwarted by novices.  As recently as this morning, something I posted in one Yahoo! group was copied to another group that I'd deliberately not placed this information in.  It's just the nature of the beast that what you share online can and does take on a life of it's own.  This includes your pictures and your personal information as well.
As I stated yesterday, this technology is changing rapidly.  I've not even mentioned in these articles the huge number of "online meetings" based on email lists or other "bulletin board" platforms as I think the new social networking platforms have largely overtaken these in a very few years (at least in terms of numbers).  These current platforms are not static either and will more toward yet better ways of establishing and maintaining contacts.

Again, as I said yesterday, I don't think these negatives should keep us, as AA members, from participating in some of these forums.   I think we should, however, give the same prayerful consideration of how and where we apply all our principles in this arena - knowing full well that there is both a persistence (this information that I'm sharing might outlive me) and a scope (when I post this message, it will be available all over the world for anyone to use or misuse as they choose) that is new in this generation of AA to this type of sharing.

God's purposes in AA will surely be done in this arena at least as well as they've been accomplished until this time.

I hope so.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Internet and AA - social networking sites

(Context: for a few days I'm thinking through some perspectives on AA and the internet in preparation for a workshop)

I hope to split this part of the discussion between 2 articles.  Today, I'd like to express some observations about the "public" forums like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.  Tomorrow, I hope to share my observations about recovery-focused sites where the situation(s) may or may not be different.

I don't remember when I had a whole week go by that I didn't receive at least one "invitation" to join some networking site or another.  The overture is always the same: "so-and-so is inviting you to join them at..." and then (generally) there's a chance to view some portion of that person's postings along with the postings of that person's "friends" or "followers" or whatever jargon they use for connections.

In the interest of full disclosure of my direct experience, I am a member of only a few of these networks (I find it easier and easier to decline or not respond to requests to join - regardless my relationship to those who invite me) and I generally only lurk on a few friends' efforts - I seldom post "what I'm doing" updates.  For me, blogging is my current preferred mechanism of and focus for sharing my AA experience online.

However, my wife and several other AA members I'm close to have tight circles of "friends" who share many poignant moments of their lives through "writing on their walls", "tweeting" or, whatever it is they choose to do in those circles.

Before I launch into some serious opinion sharing here, please, please, please understand that some of these folks are AA members who I believe have been real drunks and have had the spiritual experience directed by and proscribed by our AA program.  Most I would be happy to share an AA meeting or coffee with any time.  They are delightful members who may be more right than I am about what is right or wrong in AA and the internet.

That said, I truly believe that many are misguided in their reckless abandon of anonymity and other principles in the use of these media for sharing their AA experience.

The strongest argument in defense of some of what is shared on these sites (full names, pictures, pictures and names of other friends, etc.) is that you have to have been invited and responded to form a "closed group" of people.  Some of the points they argue include:
  1. Since it's a closed group, it is no longer in the public and issues of anonymity (in terms of identity) can easily be set aside.  After all, you don't wear a bag over your head when you attend an AA meeting (although it may have been suggested to a few of us ;-) ).
  2. The efficiency of sharing intimate details of their life's experience ("OK - I'm heading into the doctor's office now and am really afraid!", "My girlfriend isn't answering the phone - I'm shook up!", "I just got a promotion and I just love my new office!", "Here's a picture of my cat's new play-toy!", ...) with many friends at once actually improves their effectiveness at life and working of their program.
  3. This type of sharing can lead to a transparency (honesty?) in their lives that is useful to them.  I no longer just "check in" with a sponsor - I have a broad range of folks who know all about me and what I'm up to.
  4. Similarly, you can watch people you really care about and suggest, for example, that they might choose to go to an AA meeting rather than rent another movie.
  5. They can more efficiently and effectively keep up with a wider circle of people in AA than they could only using personal contact or the phone.
  6. Part of that more effective sharing includes pictures.  Who hasn't gotten a wonderful message from someone with a picture attached that says so much and is really meaningful?
  7. It helps eliminate some of the problems with the classic AA rumor chain - everyone can know the same information from the same source rather than getting someone's spin on "news".   Most of us have been victimized by the AA fellowship's version of the game "telephone" at some time in our lives.
I'm sure they see many other benefits as well in that some of them spend hours out of nearly every day engaged in activities around these networks (posting messages, checking up, expanding networks, etc.). Again, it's really not my deal right now so I may not even be hitting really important benefits of this type of sharing.  If you know of some, please educate me.

On the other hand, I think there are some down sides to this as well:
  1. Anonymity (privacy, identity) is not assured.  While I may not be friends with John, even before I become John's friend (say, he invites me to friend or follow him), I can generally see who John's friends are before I enter this relationship.  Indeed, often I get friend/follow requests and don't recognize who the invitation is from.  I've browsed around for hours in this potential friend's  friends' spaces:
    1. Looking for clues as to who the request might be from (who John is)
    2. Being greatly entertained with some of the stupid (and vulgar and obscene and ...) stuff that some folks I may or may not know publish on these networks
  2. While an individual's information is generally protected (and I think the networks are getting better at this as time goes on), as recently as last week I stumbled across a link that plopped me in the middle of an individual's Facebook photos that I know he would not want as publicly available as it was.  At the very least, I think one should be very careful.
  3. I think the fact that thinking one may have their identity protected, they might miss several additional points related to the spiritual principle of anonymity.  Not the least of which this (your life, my life) might be much less about who I am and who you are and more what we can offer to be useful.  I am concerned that who I become when I think my identity is protected is not my best.  At least for the pages and sites I've seen, we become focused on the mundane and the sickness more than becoming the best we can be under spiritual guidance.  It seems these networks support me to lower my standards rather than seek progress.
  4. Quite often, connection requests devolve rapidly into other agendas.  Of the ~20-30 people I've "connected" with on one service, nearly all of them eventually came around to wanting to convert me to their religion, sell me a book, somehow get me to click through their marketing portal, whatever.  I've learned that, when someone has more than 5,000 "connections" (maybe even over more than 20 connections), there is generally some other factor at play.  Someone is selling something or has an program (other than AA) to push.
  5. While I may or may not be interested in some facets of your life, quite often as families/friends/AA friends/business associates all get involved in the same connection pool, someone is probably going to learn something they really didn't want to know.  I doubt seriously that any woman I know would march into an AA meeting and share her menstrual cycle but some in these forums seem to include that as important information to share.
    Maybe this could be dealt with by "grouping" friends into different sets of folks, and some of the networks allow for this now, but general sharing with all seems to be the norm.  It's easier and simpler and, frankly, I think people just forget who all might see what particular information.  And, again, friends who invite other friends into the network will probably also get to see that information.
  6. While I work pretty hard to keep my sharing on this blog and the blogs I follow and comment on to be primarily aligned with the program and principles of AA, in social network sites this becomes unwieldy and probably almost cross-purposes of what a social network is about.  Social networks seem to be first and foremost about encouraging individuals to share as individuals with great diversity.
    Not every conversation held at coffee or even with a sponsor is going to be aligned with an AA "party line".  It shouldn't be.  However, the sharing that happens in these social networks has a persistence and reach that spans well beyond our experience in the past.
    As I contemplate including my sponsor, people I sponsor, and other friends in the program into one of these networks, I'm concerned about what might be shared and how it could be received - especially once it's removed from the context in which it's shared (as often happens in these networks).
  7. While these networks are currently "free" to subscribers, all in the industry agree that, eventually, some financial model based on subscription fees, advertising, or some other financial component will be required to support the service.  One could easily foresee that "Joe's Treatment Center" would be happy to attach it's click-through logo to all my messages about recovery from boozing or communities where that is often discussed.  If one reads the fine print on these services, what you publish does belong to you but they have the rights to do anything with that data they chose to - including, in some cases, leaving your writings up after you close out your account.
All this said, I feel AA members need to have a presence in these networks.  I was discouraged at the recent SW Regional AA Forum when I learned that AA World Services intervened and had an account with the name of "alcoholicsanonymous" removed from Twitter.  I would have much rather that AAWS would have taken over that account and supported a message service that provided something that injected a conversation about recovery in AA into that network.

Finally, I don't think anyone really believes this generation is the final destination of this technology.  I would hazard a guess that the memory of MySpace, Twitter and, Facebook will in the future be much the same as the memory of CompuServe or AOL is to the internet of today - important milestones in history but the future social happenings on these networks will be much more natural and elegant - integrated into one's online experiences.  For that reason, I think we, as a fellowship and individuals (and maybe even groups) in AA, should experiment with what works and doesn't work in supporting our AA principles and program of recovery in this venue.

God willing, we will learn the lessons we need to be useful into the future.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Internet and AA - blogs...

(Context: for a few days I'm thinking through some perspectives on AA and the internet in preparation for a workshop)

I've been writing a blog/journal for about 7 months and following AA related blogs for about 10 months.  This all started as a part of my investigation of AA principles and to observe what others had written about AA on the internet.

Back then, Google and Yahoo returned, as a part of my search results, several different blogs in response to "AA" and "Alcoholics Anonymous" searches.  There are also lists of blogs around recovery themes on AA related sites.  I found a few folks who had regular blogs that I could relate to their experience and I liked their style, read some of the blogs linked to off their pages and started following several  regularly.

I selected Google as a blogging platform because it seemed to be the largest free blogging site that seemed, at that time, to minimize commercial crap linked off my blog (if I so chose).

One could probably write several books about why people blog and what drives people to post articles to the internet on a daily basis.  In fact, as I was writing this article, Mary L. posted an excellent article which is far more studied and academic than I could muster about this part of the communication revolution.   Some generalities I've drawn from observing others' blogging and sharing their AA experience are:
  1. People blog about their lives in and around AA for a number of different reasons. Those bloggers I follow who blog about their lives in AA regularly (daily or nearly every day) seem to track in some common themes:
    1. Some just review their daily lives in recovery and try to share "what's up in my day" - probably bad meeting topics (in my opinion) but it's nice to hear and encourage one another (via articles and comments) along the way.  Probably more analogous to the sharing at coffee or between meetings than meetings, per se.
    2. Some try to support AA and individuals in AA by encouraging folks toward working a program of recovery.
    3. Some use their blog as a part of or a replacement for their personal journals of recovery.  Articles including "gratitude lists" are common.
    4. Some try to entertain as well as (or sometimes instead of) intimate sharing of themselves.
  2. While many blogs generally follow one of the tracks above, most vary.  Some vary daily.
  3. It seems important for some to share intimately while others steer clear of honest intimacy - possibly due to privacy or anonymity concerns.  Of course, one of the truths about the interenet is that it's possible (probably likely, in AA circles) that some share dishonest intimacy ("Anyone can be a Las Vegas show girl on the internet...").
  4. It is really possible to "connect" with people through their writing.  In 9 months, I've grown to care deeply about several individuals through reading of and about their lives.
  5. I can see where some people, who probably are not able to get to meetings as easily as I, could substitute this sort of fellowship in their AA programs.
  6. Occasionally (~4 times in 9 months in my circles), someone new to AA or sobriety tries to reach out for new recovery in this community.  The process online is much the same as at my home group - a few folks try to reach out and make suggestions about where and how to start.
When I review the above, I think the same could be generally said as I look around the room at any AA meeting I go to.  More on this in a later article....

When I started this blog, it was to explore the application of AA's principles in my own life and in an AA life in general.

My own experience blogging has left me with the following thoughts/perspectives (in no particular order):
  1. It has been much more successful for me than keeping a "journal".  Even before my recovery started, I tried several times to keep a personal diary/journal and have failed miserably every time I've tried.  I just seem to have no discipline at keeping a journal but I have been able to write a blog article about 90% of the days for over 6 months.
  2. Most of what I write is of the "what's on my mind" variety but I've written things that were important for me to share.  Since my sponsor lives out of town, this has been useful and probably kept me more "current" and "accountable" than I have been the past few years.
  3. It is just damn hard for me to think of something worthwhile to share every day.
  4. It is also hard to find the time to write something that is not total garbage in the middle of a busy life.
  5. I often find it as important or more important to comment on others' articles than write one of my own.
  6. My understanding of the principles in our wonderful program has increased.  Interestingly, these principles inform and support my online life as much as other parts of my life.
  7. I've had an opportunity to "meet" some wonderful people I'd have never had the chance to connect with.
  8. I've grown toward and become open to what seems to be "next" in my life.
So, as a result, there are pluses and minuses  in this experience.  On the plus side:
  1. I've grown through both reading and writing in the blog community.
    1. I've become a better typist.
    2. I've learned some new words.
    3. I probably express myself in writing better now than I did 7 months ago.
    4. I've learned to not take myself too seriously in yet another venue.
  2. I've learned to appreciate that our traditions apply online as well as in person and, when applied, lead to a better blog and blogging community.
  3. I've "met" some new people I truly love.
  4. I've felt useful.
  5. It has contributed to my peace and serenity and hope.
There are also some negatives:
  1. Blogging is clearly (for me) somewhat self-indulgent.  For this alcoholic, anything this self-centered can be dangerous.
  2. It takes a lot of time.  On a good day, it can take about an hour to read the ~6-7 blogs I follow and generate an article.  On other days, it can take nearly a full day.
  3. I have, in fact, avoided some "face" time with drunks or family in favor of participating in my blogging community.  While I'm listing this here as a negative (because I think it probably is for me generally), I don't think this is always negative - for me or others.
  4. I really don't come here to get contrary views.  (e.g. I've deleted comments that were not in keeping with the spirit of what I'm about here.)  IF this were the only place I sought support in my AA program, I think I could get pretty sick.
  5. Few bloggers seem to support any sort of "singleness of purpose" regarding their AA message in their blogs.  While this may be no more of a problem with blogging than it is in AA meetings and conventions, I believe that some, deliberately or inadvertently, may dilute their effectiveness in sharing AA by sharing other items outside of AA.
  6. There are many, what I would call, "anonymity breaks" in the blog world.  I appreciate that not all would agree with my perspectives on either the definition of anonymity or the importance it has in the program of AA.
So, there are good and bad efforts in participation in AA, both in person and on the internet.  An AA General Service Trustee reported that one of the Area Delegates to the 59th General Service Conference in May was blogging about the proceedings as the conference was happening.  While I accept that this could have happened (in my opinion, some Delegates are less clued in than the average member about AA traditions and practices), I spent a good part of a day looking for such a blog and expect that, if it were true, it was in a blog that is not open to the public.

Tomorrow, I'll try to write an article on AA members' participation on social networking sites.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Internet and AA - general information

(Context: for a few days I'm thinking through some perspectives on AA and the internet in preparation for a workshop)

My review of AA and the internet all restarted for me in the fall of '08 with a general survey I did of what the current state of AA was on the internet.  It had been a number of years since I'd really looked around much about what was online about and regarding AA.  While I was generally aware (I'd been on the net usually at least a few hours each week and that was increasing), I'd not really given it much thought until I started looking for general information about AA and the principles of AA.

I was shocked.

What I found was a lot of "information" on the web that was VERY negative to this program that I love.  Try searching for some thing like "aa kills people" and you will get several pages of:
  1. Opinion pieces (sometimes not labeled as such) relating every negative experience people have had in and around AA
  2. People who've gone beyond systematic bashing and debunking of AA toward evangelical causes actively organizing for the demise of AA as an entity.
  3. Members who actually purport to "love AA" but who have an agenda to make us something they feel will be much more aligned with what they believe or want.
  4. News reports of AA groups and individuals off on every crime human activity has observed.
A more general search of AA will yield:
  1.  GSO and other AA service web sites (e.g. AA Area Sites, Intergroup sites, etc.) - many in various levels of either disrepair or neglect
  2. Sites having pieces of AA history (some with and without anonymity protection)
  3. Treatment centers, drunk junk vendors, others with "something to sell"
  4. Various and sundry sites with various and sundry agendas to motivate you to a point of view (e.g. AA + God + patriotism) or otherwise permute a clear and direct AA message
Don't get me wrong.  I don't personally believe that AA is a "perfect" organization or that there are not members who should be charged with the various crimes they've perpetrated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

My point here is that, if you were to look for an "AA message" on the internet, you would have to do a lot of filtering and navigating to get there.

My immediate response was (as it always is) "WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!!!"

After breathing a few days and attempting to practice some of these principles that I was learning about, I realized that there was nothing that could be done.  That, in fact, the internet really was just an amplification of the fringes of what the current world view of AA is today.

I didn't like that very much.  Not at all, in fact.

But, what I got to eventually was that, since God is in charge (I certainly hope so), he was the one who was going to have to "fix" anything wrong with how AA is perceived in the world at large.  Amazingly, drunks were still finding my home group and there they were finding experience, strength and hope that would allow them to recover from a hopeless state of mind and body.

Our past GSR in my home group actually found AA first by reading a copy of our Big Book online in that moment of despair.


So, where I am today with all that is:
  1. I started blogging and have upped my own participation in the internet in favor of promoting a positive message of recovery through the program and fellowship of AA.  Each comment I write and each article I post, I try to reflect: "Is this (post, comment, effort) helping or hurting AA?"  I'm not perfect, but that's the standard I'm starting from.
  2. I believe that AA, as a whole, is missing opportunities to help drunks by not more effectively in representing the AA message in the online world of today and tomorrow.  I'm trying to work through our processes and structures placed in front of me to improve the AA presence in the online world.
  3. Where I participate with AA on the internet (including choosing where I participate), I try to constrain that participation so that it's in accordance with the principles outlined in our steps, traditions, concepts and, warranties.
  4. I talk to folks that I sponsor and members I have coffee or fellowship with my experience with AA online.
These seem like really small steps in the over-all mountain of opportunities but, hey, it's what's next...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Something different...

In the past 177 posts on this blog, I've tried to do some general sharing of my experience in life in respect to AA's principles.

Now, I've agreed to participate on a panel hosted by our Area PI committee on "What does the Internet have to do with AA?"

The "issues" on the table are typical regarding anonymity, group use of the internet, practices on social networking sites, etc.

I've been spending the past several weeks thinking about it but it finally dawned on me today that I don't have to do this thing alone.

The setup for this meeting is that this PI committee is very conservative about things internet. There's no small irony that I've raised many of the issues and perspectives that are now being used for support of non-participation in AA internet stuff.

I did an article on my own part of this process (figuring out anonymity and the internet) earlier.

So, what I'm will be doing this week is thinking (here) some about blogging, internet stuff and AA.

I would look forward to comments, private mail other information or other perspectives.

I'm clear that I'm not about changing anyone else' mind.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fixing things...

I was reminded of something in Pam's Blog today that I'd not thought of for a while.  I left her a comment but thought I might better explain it further in an article...

Sometimes I try to shake the guys I sponsor up a little and tell them, especially when they're whining of dealing with "feelings" or when the drama of life doesn't suit them.  I like to get their full attention (sometimes hard to do) and carefully explain that, with nearly 26 years of experience in AA, "I still have not found anything that can 'fix' my feelings or the problems in front of me as quickly and as reliably as a 5th of Wild Turkey.  I'm over 25 years sober today but I'll bet anything that it would work again today."

My several points are:
  1. That, though temporary, alcohol was (and is) a relief from emotional pains
  2. The program of AA does not promise any equiavlent instant relief
  3. If the only reason I'm in AA is to avoid emotional pain and drama, it's likely, at some time, I might find sufficient reason to drink
  4. If you're willing to deal with the consequences, drinking still will always appear to be an option, given sufficient pain
  5. This whole conversation needs to move from "working the program to avoid pain" to "working the program because my life depends on it"
  6. My sobriety today and in the future is a consequence of God's grace (I'm a big fan of grace)
Several other points may be relevant but they (we)  usually get the idea...

I hope so...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Going slow...

The body and mind are amazing.  It looks like Mike is going to live and recover.

Thank you God...

He has come from a mumbling mass of confusion last week back to where he's walking around the halls and trying to fight his way back to enough health to get out of the hospital.

As I was talking to him on the phone yesterday, I had my first moment of clarity as to how I might help him.  He was explaining in his confused ramble (he's never been the gifted communicator he might fancy that he is, but the drug-addled consciousness doesn't help) about the nuance of working his 10th step with a friend in Alanon and how he's fixing this and changing that, it was clear to me that this is a person who's not really surrendered.  A week ago I visited him in ICU and he couldn't string two sentences together that anyone else could recognize as coherent.  Now he was looking for the bank shot of how he could "fix" his spiritual needs by ...  well, I guess it just doesn't matter what he was thinking - he was simply thinking too much.

So, that's my clarity for how to be of assistance to him.  My suggestion (it's just that) is that we talk long and hard about surrender.  About being really licked.  About being done.  For a long time.  A really long time.  Perhaps for the duration.

Bill W. talks in the movie "Bill Wilson Discusses the 12 Traditions" about how, in the course of developing the wording for AA's 5th Tradition, there were long and argumentative discussions.  Clearly, our real purpose is to lead folks toward a spiritual awakening sufficient to recover from alcoholism.  That's the deal.

But, the only thing that seemed to consistently work with those groups and members who were successful is that they'd learned their lesson from John Barleycorn.  If booze hasn't taught you all the lessons you need, you may not be ready for the solution we have to offer. 

I think that might be a clue with Mike.

Best I've got for now...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Philip 7 ...

Last Wednesday was a hellacious day.  I was pretty discouraged - ready one more time to quit AA and just crawl into the mountains for the duration.

Then, on my way home, I got a call from Phillip.

He read me from an email. You could hear the shaking in his voice.

He had just received a grant for $27k to go to school at our local college.  He'd applied for it while he was still "in the system" and had never expected much, if anything, to come from it.  It covers his tuition, books, and helps with meals, transportation and living expenses for 1 year.

Philip and I reviewed that his primary qualifications for this particular program were:
  1. He was a felon
  2. He is a drunk
You don't have to ask him to stretch far to see the hand of God in his life.

Then, I was meeting with another sponsee this morning who teaches at the local college.  Between the two of us, we figured out that they may have just given Philip this money because it's cheaper to put him in school than jail (current cost for incarceration in our state runs about $50k/year/prisoner).

While I work hard to stay out of political arguments in AA, I think we may have stumbled onto a reform effort that I can get behind - take all the people out of jails and put them in college.

...oh, yeah...

Anyway, I can't tell you how happy for and proud of Philip I am.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Leadership in AA...

Over the weekend, I attended the Southwest Regional Forum in Dallas, TX.

I had a conversations with my sponsor last Wednesday about AA leadership.  He reminded me about when I came into the program, I was bouncing off all the walls, spouting off psycho-babble, arrogance and  everything except AA or our program of recovery.

Over time, the quiet, consistent, leadership of those who loved and supported this fellowship eventually won me over to where I am now.  It wasn't much more than the casual comment here or there which directed my thinking and actions.  Perhaps, not even that - just the fact that they had a spiritual presence and commitment  that was infectious and clearly better than what I had to offer.

I now have a lot of concerns about our fellowship and our ability to survive the current seeming attacks on AA from all fronts.  I went to the Forum ready to "do battle" and find fault with those who I blame, in part, for the woes that befall my home group and AA as a whole.

What I found instead of a battle was a sincere appreciation and agreement by those at the bottom of our service triangle. They agree with me about the challenges that confront us in carrying a pure AA message of experience, strength and hope in the AA program of recovery.  The agree as well about some of the challenges that face the fellowship and service structure which supports that message and purpose.

They encouraged me to take action where I saw that action was required, tell the truth where I saw danger and need for change, and to look for those who would support the future we desired to build for our fellowship.

I think AA leadership is still working...


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Feels like...

Recently, I was at a workshop on the Traditions and Concepts of AA.  It was an odd format in that 6 presenters each had about 10 minutes to cover some portion of all the material so that all 24 concepts and traditions were covered,  lightly at best.

One of the most "masterful" presenters did a great job explaining the several traditions he was given but then, wrapped it up by saying "...all this is to say that there are definitely things that AA 'is' and AA 'is not' - but, over time in our fellowship you begin to learn that some things clearly 'feel like AA' and other things 'feel like they're not AA'".  I think he then went on to say that we don't use our traditions as some sort of legal test as to whether things are appropriate or not but instead as a guideline to the general principles we conduct ourselves by.

I've spent some time since thinking about this.

On the one hand, I hate this.  I am, by nature and training, a programmer, an engineer and, a scientist.  If it can't be measured, to me it generally doesn't exist or it isn't important.  If I can't prove me right and you wrong by our traditions, I see much less value in them.

On the other hand, what he said rang true and I think, largely, is  true for us in our fellowship.  I've been to dances that were clearly "AA" and I've been to weekend-long conferences with AA in the title that were clearly not "AA".  In some instances, it is clear to understand why that was the case - e.g. support of our primary purpose, opportunities of one alcoholic talking to another, being self supporting, telling the truth, etc.  In other cases, it was not so clear as to why they were or weren't - but, what was undeniable was there was either a spirit present or there wasn't.

I have found several of us have adopted a thread on this in the blogosphere in this that the consciousness of this discussion has started to evolve.  I think it's important.  I must, because I'm on the threshold of devoting a significant part of my time and treasure toward supporting that conversation (more on that possibly in a few weeks).  But, that's just me.

More importantly, as I've discussed this with my sponsor and other members, I've also spent some time reviewing AA history and realize that this is not a new conversation or quandary.  From the very start (in 1935), we were having similar discussions about what "it is" and what "it isn't" - long before it was named "AA".  There have been deep and harmful schisms in our fellowship.  Peoples' feelings have been hurt and there have been accusations and recriminations in public and in private.  AA itself has seemed on the very brink of extinction multiple times.

So, today, even with our beloved traditions, concepts and 75 years experience, we may not have any better tools than they did in 1935 to guide us. Hopefully, at it's core, we will be a fellowship of folks who've recovered from a fatal malady through a spiritual awakening to be able to discern in our individual lives and fellowship the hand of God.

And then, following the direction of that hand, participate in what "feels like AA" and refrain from participating where it "doesn't feel like AA".

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

More Mike...

I got a call from Mike's sister last Thursday.

Mike had called me on Monday and asked my opinion about 2 different detoxes. I told him I had no recent direct experience with either place - he could flip a coin.

I asked after his welfare and he said he'd been basically just struggling to the liquor store every day or 2 but, apart from that, hadn't been out of the house for about 3 weeks. He had someone who was willing to drive him to detox (but nowhere else). I wished him well and went on about the rest of my day.

The previous few weeks, he'd stopped taking my calls but I would text him when I would think of him and he'd text back something to the effect of "I'm ok but still not sober". Last March, I had hauled him home and had him spend a week with us (it was the right thing to do then...) to detox him but, the whole time he was at my house, he was using drugs...

So, I was very grateful when his sister charged his cell phone and texted me on Thursday - asking me to call. I did and she said he'd checked himself into the hospital on Monday. Seems to have been God's will in that they immediately put him into a "drug induced coma" (her words - I have no experience or opinion) and that they'd been trying to bring him out but he would get violent and dangerous when they tried to detox him. I can only imagine.

I heard from her again on Sunday that they were planning to put him into the regular ward but when I called her yesterday (via Mike's phone), the latest was that he was still in ICU as a consequence of other medical complications. According to her, they are bending the ICU rules to allow him some visitors so I plan to drop by this afternoon. She has warned me that it's not a pretty sight. I can imagine...

Mike is one of those folks who everybody assumes is just going to get this deal and stay with us for the duration. He has good looks (or did - age and dissipation take their toll) and a winning, puppy-dog personality. He was a few weeks away from having a knee replacement surgery that will improve his quality of life. The only thing he had to do to be able to qualify for this surgery was to stay clean and sober for 6 months. (Someone in medicine finally figured out that joint replacements don't work as well on drunks who stay drunk.)

Yet, he drank. He burned it all down, again...

I love our Big Book where, on page 20, it talks about how others can't understand us:
..."He could stop if he wanted to." "She's such a sweet girl, I should think he'd stop for her sake." "The doctor told him that if he ever drank again it would kill him, but there he is all lit up again."...
That's Mike if I've ever seen one...

Yet, I'm always surprised at how we react inside AA when one of us does what we do. We have all the same propensity with comments like: "...well, he just wasn't working his program..." or maybe "...he just couldn't follow direction..."

Well, maybe it's none of those judgments that would make me more comfortable. Maybe he, like I, just drank because he was an alcoholic? Maybe?

I get that the only difference between Mike and me today (or any day) is God's grace. I'm a big fan of grace. It's the only thing that I've found that can explain both my precious sobriety and Mike's inability to "get" this deal.

And, increasingly, I realize there's no percentage or purpose in trying to figure out why I got something that Mike clearly needs and deserves every bit as much as I do.

Instead , the only reasonable response that I can see for me today is gratitude. For my sobriety.

...and, for Mike...

It's the only basis for hope that I have for either one of us...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Doing right...

I've read Mary's and Pam's articles today on the 12th step and written another article on the 9th step. Caused me to think more than was good for me...

I love all our program. All of it.

I personally think that the 9th step in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is our most "spiritual" step.

Sounds sort of funny since the whole program is spiritual and step nine is, by most, either the most dreaded or the one sort of ignored in our recovery process.

For me, it was the step that afforded me the freedom to walk down the street without fear or dread. It gave me the freedom to look someone, anyone, in the eye and be at peace and ease.

It offered me the skills and the willingness to become a man among men - a station in life that I'd never even aspired to since I was absolutely sure I could never measure up to that lofty goal.

It's what truly gave me something of value that I could share with the newcomer today...

No, I don't believe that you don't have to complete your 9th step to start doing the 12th step (if you have a day's sobriety, you have some experience to share with some of the folks still struggling in some of my meetings).

On the other hand, if you've not experienced the joy of crossing the last name off your 8th step list having completed all your direct amends, then you're missing something that I would wish for you while you're on this planet...

...if, you're an alcoholic like me...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

October moon...

I don't know exactly what I'm posting as I've only seen it on my bberry.

T'was lovely to see here (SW Colorado) though.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

October madness...

I've not written a blog article for the past couple of days because, well, I haven't.

I really appreciate my time and place on the web and I particularly appreciate that folks do read what I put out there. Your participation in my life has come to mean a lot to me. Really.

However, I also know that no one on the web has suffered greatly from my absence of a few days. And, I've learned from my and others' experience that, for me, it's better to not post an article than to either attempt to write some thing when I'm particularly negative (and in the disease rather than in the solution) or force something that isn't honest and relevant.

October is generally a great month for me. I enjoy winter and I'm generally ready to let go of the suffering of the summer heat. I also really appreciate the wild swings in temperature and weather we experience. I love pumpkin pie.

But, this October, in particular, has been one long dread in coming. I have some "stuff" to take care of in the middle of the month that I have no clue how I can possibly deal with it. Frankly, my best strategy so far has been to hope for a wholesale miracle. It can happen. It has happened in the past.

But, it hasn't happened yet.

Of course, it's not October 15, yet, either...

We all know that time and seasons are these arbitrary things we make up. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this the past few days. Last October, we were given a trip to Hawaii in October and I missed the transition into winter here. I realize from her blog that ML is leaving spring and heading into summer in Southern Africa now. What a strange deal this time thing is...

I have no problems that are beyond God's grace, now.

I hope we all have a lovely October weekend...