Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Spectacle of Release (fixed the spelling)

There’s a lot to be said regarding the nature of the spiritual experience, but for now I just want to focus on Dr. Silkworth’s perception, that of an outside observer of men who experienced this dramatic change.

On page xxxi, he relates a couple of cases in which men who were beyond human aid were dramatically transformed after undergoing this psychic change. The important point is that there was something remarkably different about these men, something that could be observed directly.

We’ve all experienced it. The hopeless newcomer who keeps trudging back to meetings, drinking sporadically, never seeming to “get it.” And then, one day, there is this noticeable transformation. We’ve all seen it and we all recognize it. But what exactly is it that we see, that Dr. Silkworth saw?

In Bill’s talk at Guest House, he makes this observation:

And this was the awful dilemma into which I was cast by my friend Ebby, bringing, on the one side, all of this bad news, but on the other side, the spectacle of his own release, and that was the word to use. He didn’t say he was on the water-wagon; the obsession had just left him as soon as he became willing to try on the basis of these principles, and, indeed, as he became willing to appeal to whatever God there might be. And this was reducing the theological requirements an awful lot.

Well, I went on drinking about three weeks, and in no waking hour could I forget the face of my friend, a spectacle of release as I looked out through a haze of gin into his face, as he pitched this “synthesis” at me.

Bill saw in Ebby an inescapable “spectacle of release.”  And at no time could he get it out of his head. The “attraction” of AA is in the faces of those who have been released. Bill likens it to the joy of the survivors of a shipwreck.He observes later in the book “that cheerfulness and laughter makes for usefulness,” and that newcomers would not be attracted if they saw no joy in our lives.

So I guess I can sum it up like this: that “something” we see when someone undergoes that psychic change is nothing more nor less than the face of a prisoner released from bondage. My first impression of AA was that these people smoked a lot, drank a lot of coffee, and were just too damned happy. And that was what I couldn’t get out of my head.

The real lesson and challenge for us who have been at this thing for a while is to remember that we’re being watched. We’re being watched by people who want a way out but aren’t sure they want our way. So smile, laugh and spread that joy around. When I hear a room full of AAs laughing, I think I hear a hint of God’s laughter as He welcomes his lost children home.     

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Everyone’s got an opinion

I started to write a commentary on The Doctor’s Opinion and soon discovered that I am lousy at writing commentary. It was easy for me risk being a little pedantic as I sat in a room with lots of friends because I could always tell when I was over the line. The yawning was usually a good tip-off, as was the rolling of the eyes.

But trying to write this without the benefit of direct feedback turns out to be a bigger challenge than I expected. I was constantly re-reading what I had written and was trying to put myself in your (y’all’s) heads. The same words that looked inspired on the one hand would seem glaringly pompous at the same time. I gave up.

So instead of trying to re-create something that was at the time spontaneous, I’ll just try to write something spontaneously.  Keep it simple.

Dr. Silkworth wrote a paragraph that has held great meaning for me.

Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery. 

           – Alcoholics Anonymous, page xxviii

I drank because I liked the effect “produced” by alcohol. That word is important because it says a great deal about how I approached that elusive thing called happiness. I was in no sense interested in an effect that was “achieved” through effort on my part. I just wanted to switch on the feeling whenever I wanted it, which was all the time. Before I took my first drink I didn’t know you could do that. So I commenced to become a daily drinker because I could not for the life of me think of a situation where I did not want the switch on.

And so, for me, my alcoholic life seemed to be the only normal one. I knew I had a right to be happy, and alcohol “made” me happy. It pissed me off to be denied that opportunity: restless, irritable and discontented. And even when my drinking progressed to the point where I wanted to be happy without alcohol, I could not get past the fact that other people could drink and get away with it. And in that condition, which Joe and Charlie call “the hot stove” condition (if you sit on a hot stove long enough eventually you will do something), I inevitably succumbed and the same hideous cycle would begin again.

(By the way, the Joe and Charlie studies are freely available on line. I would recommend them to anyone who wants to read the black lines in he Big Book. They have no opinion on the things people read between the lines. I have attended several of their sessions and consider them my mentors.)

But, in spite of this gloomy diagnosis, he does introduce a glimmer of hope: “an entire psychic change.” Right. No big deal. A complete displacement of one’s beliefs and personality. How this occurred in Bill’s case, and how I think it happened in mine, will be the subject of my next posting.


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Some introductory bloviation

For several years, I had the privilege of leading a discussion of the AA Big Book and other literature at the Happy Hour Group in Troy, Michigan which met at 6:00 PM Fridays (hence the name).

Several people have prevailed upon me to write down the things we discussed, but up until now I have resisted that for a couple of reasons. The first is that I don’t remember what I said. To try to re-create that would be futile. And the medium is not the same. Having a lively face-to-face discussion can’t be replicated in this format.

The second is that I have always sought the spotlight and have to discipline myself not to seek adulation. This is not humility. I am quite proud of my ability to convey my message in an enjoyable and thoughtful way. So this undertaking is a fertile ground for my grandiosity and thus a spiritually risky endeavor.


It was pointed out to me that what I have is a talent. The term refers to the parable of the talents, whose lesson is that when the master gives you something, he expects you to use it for his benefit. And to keep it hidden is an offense against the grace of God. (BTW, if you see something highlighted when you roll over it, it is a link to another page that relates to the subject). So in that spirit I offer to you that which God has graced me with.

SO, about the Big Book. As we discuss the basic text of AA, we should always be aware that it was a book written for a specific purpose at a certain time by men who were just beginning to grasp what was happening. If every one of its authors (and there about 50) were to show up at an AA meeting today, most of the people in the room would have considerably more sobriety than they did at the time. They wrote the book in response to the tremendous demands for information about how they got sober. And, when the Rockefellers turned down Bill W.’s request for money to pay for AA “missionaries” to spread the message, they came up with alternate plan, namely publishing a book.  The fellowship would derive its name from the book.

So to study it as if it where some inerrant text would be a bit laughable to its all-too-human authors. I’ve seen AA’s squabbling with each other over the meaning of some lines or even a word. Lighten up. It’s not the Bible.

And yet, as we read it more closely and discover the depths of its insights, we begin to wonder if there was a divine hand at work. How could such a hastily written group effort survive intact to this day and be revered by so many? It’s my opinion that both are valid. I read the book in its historical context, but I also read it more deeply because people often reveal more of their inner selves when they write than they are aware of.

Oops. I guess that applies to me too. Hope I put on clean underwear this morning.

So I will discuss “The Doctor’s Opinion” in my next posting.

In the meantime, please take the time to comment. One of the reasons I decided to do this was to keep the dialogue alive and without your feedback I’m just fartin’ in the breeze.

And pass the link along to anyone you feel would benefit from it. As this blog gets a bigger following it will begin to approach what we had back then.

God bless.  

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