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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Unlearning Old Ideas and Attitudes

One of the unique, paradoxical aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous (and its sister organizations) is "the reversal of form that A.A.'s educational process takes." As one wizened old-timer demonstrated to me - undoubtedly paraphrasing the "Member's Eye View" pamphlet - there is nothing to learn in A.A., it is a process of unlearning; particularly unlearning our old "ideas, emotions and attitudes" so that new "conceptions and motives" can arise to take their place.

The author of "A Member's Eye View," undoubtedly one of A.A's most helpful pamphlets, puts it this way:
"The newcomer to A.A. is asked, not so much to learn new values, as to unlearn those he comes in with; not so much to adopt new goals, as to abandon old ones."

"To my mind," he notes, "one of the most significant sentences in the entire book "Alcoholics Anonymous" is this: "Some of us tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely." The rigidity with which even some nondrinking alcoholics will cling to the opinions, beliefs, and convictions they had upon entering A.A. is well-nigh incredible."

"One of the major objectives of A.A. therapy," he points out, "is to help the alcoholic finally recognize these ideas and become willing to relinquish his death grip on them."
It was Albert Einstein who famously said that "we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them." The newcomer to A.A. is unlikely to stay clean and sober for long unless she is able to find some relief from the punishing self-centered, ego-centric thinking that is the root problem of her alcoholic addiction. It is therefore incumbent upon us to help him or her recognize egoic thinking by sharing our stories about what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now, emphasizing the changes we have experienced mentally and emotionally as we worked the Steps, and perhaps reserving how we have changed spiritually until he or she is convinced we know what we are talking about. Not all alcoholic addicts necessarily drink the same, but certainly they think the same.

The great psychologist, Carl Jung, in explaining to Rolland H. the nature of the spiritual awakening that had periodically worked to relieve the sufferer of his alcoholism, observed:
"Here and there once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 27.]
Now, however, we know that not all such awakenings need be sudden and overwhelming, that they can, in fact, be what William James called awakenings "of the educational variety." Therefore, first and foremost, it is necessary for us to allow the newcomer an opportunity to identify with us, to allow him or her to relate to the way in which we drank, thought and suffered, and then, and only then, to present him or her with the spiritual solution we have found to our drinking (and thinking) problem. After all, "As a man thinketh, so he is."

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to share what I witnessed during the Real Houswives of New York reunion show. Two of the women were having a disagreement and one decided to let the world know that the other, .....Jill Zarin was in AA! I was appalled that a memeber of an anonymous group was put out there without her consent. I wish you would put this in your blog because I don't think something this big of a deal should be overlooked, I think we have to speak up when things like this happen. I hope as a site concerned with awareness and recovery will be as sensitive as I am.