Sunday, January 18, 2009

Attitude of Gratitude

"Drugs and alcohol made me fly but they took away the sky," the young man from AA told me. I saw a man with a head band advertising marijuania begging money on Davie street today. My friend said, " Now there's a poster child if ever I saw one."

The Big Book (main text) of Alcoholics Anonymous was originally called "A Way Out". It summed up the abstinence experience of the first members. Literally millions have since become members of AA finding relief from the negative consequences of drinking. Begun in 1935 by Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson as one alcoholic helping another, it began in the Oxford Movement, what founder Buchman, the YMCA Lutheran minister, called "first century christianity". The 4 rules of that program with it's absolutes and idealism however only became palatable to alcoholics when the 12 steps were developed with "Spiritual progress, not perfection" as a central AA slogan. Not affiliated with any religion, it subsequently spread the world over. Dr. Bob in his last words to Bill Wilson said "Keep it simple." The 24 hour a day provision was simply a way of focusing on the present and not letting the cares of the past and worries about the future overwhelm one. "One day at a time," the alcoholic did not drink and pretty soon days turned into months and months turned into years. Negativity was a feature of the alcoholic. Not surprising given that alcohol was a depressant. Drugs equally limitted the surprise and uniqueness of the natural "high", addicts controlling their perception of life, driven by the underlying anxiety that precedes addiction. Gratitude then was the key feature of the change of attitude implicit in recovery. Dr. Hal Marley was called an apostle for "An attitude of gratitude" telling AA members that Gratitude was the best way to dispell any darkness from their lives. It became a common practice to have people write out all the things they were grateful for as long as it took and day after day until they learned how to recognise that their thinking was so much the source of the negatives in their life. Joseph Alsop, American journalist, wrote "Gratitude, like love, is never a dependable international emotion." That probably could be explained as both require action, without which they remain hollow sentimentality. A man whose success today is readily apparent likes to say, "you don't have to take the elevator to the basement, you can get off at any floor." Success stories are told at annual AA birthdays, where a cake celebrates the continuous abstinence and sobriety. Members share 'what it was like, and what it is like now." Gratitude is the most common expression that comes from such comparisons. As one AA member said simply, "I was on the down elevator, and now I'm on the up elevator and I'm grateful to AA for helping me turn my life around." Now that's an attitude of gratitude.

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