Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Caught, not taught"

I just found a piece at called "The God Concept in Alcoholics Anonymous"; the article was written in 1948 by Dr. George A. Little.  Dr. Little was a Minister of the United Church in Toronto. 

The website itself is dedicated to Dr. William Silkworth, a friend of Bill Wilson's, and an early supporter of A.A. Here's a little bit about him from Wikipedia:
William Duncan Silkworth, M.D., (1873-1951) was an American medical doctor and specialist in the treatment of alcoholism. He was Director of the Charles B. Towns Hospital for Drug and Alcohol Addictions in New York City in the 1930s, during which time Bill Wilson, a future co-founder of the mutual-help movement Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), was admitted on three separate occasions for alcoholism. Silkworth had a profound influence on Wilson and encouraged him to realize that alcoholism was more than just an issue of moral weakness. He introduced Wilson to the idea that alcoholism had a pathological, disease-like basis.

William Silkworth wrote the letters in the chapter titled "The Doctor's Opinion" in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
Here's an excerpt from the article; my bolding.  What's really interesting to me is the section that begins "The program of recovery is absorbed rather than learned, caught rather than taught."  The "private conversations" aspect is really, really important; newly-sober alcoholics who really want to stay sober spend lots of time with other recovering alcoholics, talking over what they're learning and asking questions of people more experienced.  I'm kind of thinking this peer-to-peer sort of exchange could be awfully helpful in the church, too; an hour on Sunday really just can't make much of a dent, as far as I can see.  (Of course, "peer-to-peer" is already helpful in some parts of the church, as I understand it; some Evangelicals go very much in for that kind of thing, I think.)
Experienced A.A. practitioners, while admitting that they are only amateur psychologists, are wise enough not to begin by demanding beliefs. They work on thoughts, desires, attitudes, relationships, purposes, and habits. They are agreed that the root trouble is in the thinking, not in the drinking. At one meeting of a rather intellectual group the drink problem was not directly mentioned. Half a dozen speakers rang the changes on freedom from fears, surrender of resentments, cultivation of good will, positive help to others, building up a sense of dependence upon the Higher Power. When the inner life is brought under discipline the outer conduct is largely self-regulated.

The program of recovery is absorbed rather than learned, caught rather than taught. Listening to speakers, private conversations with alcoholics who are now happily and contentedly sober, reading the book Alcoholics Anonymous and pamphlet literature, and picking up fragments of truth will produce a transforming change. This may be sudden or gradual, and there is little concern as to which. Often the slow recoveries prove to be very sure, but the ladder of rehabilitation has these rungs, not necessarily in this order: honesty, humility, tolerance, concern for others, inner contentment, radiant happiness, a new standard of values, faith. Religious people would describe this as conversion: A.A.'s are content to speak of a personality change.

No one is more surprised at the transformation than the alcoholic himself. Like the lady in the fairy tale he is inclined to say "This is none of I." An army man, a heavy drinker for thirty-five years, had the temperament of a sergeant-major even after he became a colonel. Now he is mellow, tender, as sacrificial as once severe. Before a group of medical men he said, "I have had a personality change." A psychiatrist checked him by saying, "My dear fellow, you can't have a personality change." "Well at least I'm under new management," replied the A.A.

Spiritual power is frequently found on the lower levels of mysticism. The inner voice is really a mentor. An inebriate who had panhandled all over North America had an obsession against religion, fearing that it meant letters of fire in the sky, voices from the clouds, or a dramatic emotional upheaval. It was suggested to him that he spend five minutes each morning planning his day with his conscience, how he would use his time and spend his money, the mood in which he would meet his family, the sense of responsibility he would have in his work. He discovered that as soon as he listened, the inner voice spoke. He found he could be spiritual in a very practical way without seeing visions or dreaming dreams.


It is this experimental, demonstration offer that is the key to A.A. Controversy, argument, and dogmatism are avoided. Everything is on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. "It worked for me, it might work for you." The goal is far greater than merely to stop drinking. In itself that may not be of very much help. To be conscious of not drinking and still wanting to drink is just about as distracting a state of mind as being under the influence of alcohol. The big positive goal is happy and contented sobriety, a rewarding and satisfying way of living. It is a distinct privilege to be an alcoholic if it leads to twenty-four hours at a time without fear and in good will toward people and in humble dependence upon God. Restoration to sanity is abundant proof of the working of a Higher Power.


The personality change can be sudden, unexpected, and involuntary. A well-seasoned drinker, after two months of sobriety, was asked to speak at a meeting. He answered that as yet he had nothing to say. "Then just say that you have nothing to say," he was told. When called to speak he announced that for the sake of politeness he could not refuse but "actually I have nothing to say, for nothing has happened to me." Then he paused. After a somewhat painful silence he said quietly, "Something has happened to me," and sat down. Two months later an old friend asked what did happen. He replied: "As I was saying I had nothing to say, suddenly I knew that at long last I had surrendered to goodness. All my life I had been debating and holding back. I have been different ever since and I have not the slightest desire for a drink." Without conscious effort his personality has been unified.

Rehabilitation may follow a Christian pattern. One man after thirty years of hard drinking made an inventory of what drink had cost him. He became convinced he was a fool, and he did not like being a fool. In his own words this is his story: "I decided to investigate religion. I read what the apostles had to say about Jesus Christ. Christ came into my life and liquor has stayed out. Nothing goes out until something else comes in."

The spiritual aspect of the program is by no means camouflaged but it is not made too obvious at first. The big book, Alcoholics Anonymous, sometimes described as the A.A. bible, has three hundred references to the Higher Power. One member spent a Christmas Day counting them. Six of the Twelve Steps refer to God. The official magazine, The Grapevine, unhesitatingly refers to the Higher Power as God. With increasing frequency at group meetings older members say quite openly that they are staying sober only with the help of God. Surprising coincidences happen and the explanation naively offered is "Somebody Upstairs." The intimacy does not come from irreverence but from trust. However slight and vague the faith at first, progress is steadily made toward a more mature and adult thought of God.


Do A.A.'s go back to church? Some do and some don't. Much depends upon early training. Some have a childhood belief to which they return with a deeper understanding. As a rule Roman Catholics resume their religious duties and observances - to them religion means their church. Some Protestants become active church workers, others go a time or two and report that "my minister doesn't know about God." Quite a few accept A.A. as their church. It gives faith and fellowship even though lacking much formal worship. Church relationships, like so much else in A.A., are left to individual preference and choice, without any overhead rulings. Those who do attend church find new meaning in Scripture and sermon, hymns and prayers. A.A.'s become spiritually sensitive and morally responsive.

The church will be wise not to try to control or guide this movement but to learn from it. Sympathetic co-operation is being shown by providing church halls as meeting places and by directing problem parishioners to A.A. The churches may learn something from the flexibility of A.A. organization, the power of fellowship, the possibility of lay evangelism, the transforming power of truth, the influence of common interest groups and the originality of non technical language and non dogmatic theology. This movement is of the people, by the people, for the people. But the new wine cannot be put into old bottles. It must find its own carriers.

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