Monday, January 12, 2015

Step 1-3 AA BB Quiz

In the process of sponsoring people in Overeaters Anonymous using the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I developed a step 1-3 quiz, with key concepts that I want them to understand.  The quiz consists of a list of words and phrases that I want them to be able to define.  I also prepared model answers, which reflect my definitions of these terms.  The following is a list of the terms on the quiz (in bold) followed by my model answers.  Page numbers are in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, unless otherwise indicated.

allergy [of the body] 

p. xxviii
One common saying in program is that this disease is a three legged stool, that this disease has physical, emotional, and spiritual components.  Different people react to the stress of life in different ways.  Some people get butterflies in their stomachs, some get migraines, others back spasms, still others bite their nails.  We eat.

When modern doctors refer to an allergy, they mean a histamine allergy.  This is the sort of allergy where a person may sneeze, cough, have watery eyes, hives, or asthma.  In fact, Dr. Silkworth, who wrote "The Doctor's Opinion" and who was the great addiction maven of his time, uses the term "allergy" in an older and more general way to mean any abnormal reaction of the body to  a substance.

In the case of addiction, the allergy is one where we break out, not in hives, but in cravings.  This allergic reaction is due to a physical abnormality of the body.  Not everyone becomes a compulsive overeater.  Just as with alcohol, where there are normal drinkers, who can drink alcohol without serious problems. there are also normal eaters, who can engage in foods or eating behaviors that trouble us, without suffering any adverse effects.

Please see also p. 30, first paragraph.

phenomenon of cravings

 p. xviii

The point that Dr. Silkworth makes abut these cravings in "The Doctor's Opinion" is that these cravings are sufficient that we cannot control our repetition of the addictive behavior.  They cannot be overcome by effort of will.    This is part of powerlessness. 

entire psychic change

p. xxix

Dr. Silkworth tells the story of a man who, having followed the recommendations of this book, was so changed as to not be recognizable.   In order to escape from our addictive behavior we have to become someone else -- be prepared to change virtually everything about ourselves.

entire abstinence 

p. xxx

This was the major contribution of Dr. Silkworth to the field of addiction, the idea that an alcoholic could not drink in moderation.  They were either going to drink themselves to death or they were going to abstain entirely. There was nothing in between.

When talking about alcohol, the concept of "entire abstinence" is much clearer than when talking about "entire abstinence" with respect to food.  Obviously, we can't stop eating, or we will die. I have written a document about food plans in which I discuss some of my thoughts about this topic, which I can send you.

hitting bottom

See esp. p. 8 of the BB, where Bill W describes his hitting bottom experience … bitter morass of self-pity -- quicksand stetting around in all directions ….  In order to be able and willing to work the steps a person has to have hit bottom -- gotten to a sufficient point of desperation that they are willing to throw away all their own conceptions of things, follow instructions, work the steps.  A person who has not reached this level of desperation will not be willing to go to sufficient lengths to overcome the disease.

higher power

We cannot recover from this disease without a higher power.  We are powerless over it.  The higher power must be "God as we understood him."  It's not a higher power as someone else told you to believe in, but what is meaningful to you.  The higher power has to be something powerful enough to take away the cravings, to create the entire psychic change, to make you see yourself more clearly so you can do an inventory, to take away your defects of character, and to make you willing to make amends

curious mental twist

 (p. 37, p. 92) (also obsession of the mind)

The allergy of the body means that we cannot stop eating once we have started.  The curious mental twist means that we cannot stop from starting.  This is the one-two punch of powerlessness.

Program does not seek to cure the allergy of the body.  Program seeks to remove the curious mental phenomenon/twist.

insanely trivial excuse

p. 37

The insanely trivial excuse is often the manifestation of the curious mental twist, see e.g. the story of "Jim" pp. 35-6 -- the man who drank the whiskey with the milk.  I find this story particularly instructive, because it illustrates the disease in microcosm. 

Jim has a resentment.  He stuffs it down into his subconscious, by minimizing it.  "It wasn't much," he says.  The subconscious responds to this stuffed down resentment with the insanely trivial excuse.   The idea that he could drink whiskey with milk was seriously delusional, dangerous to both him and others, since he was sufficiently dangerous when drunk that he ended up in an asylum. With the steps, we seek instead to inventory the resentment, bringing into the conscious brain where we can hold it up to HP to take it away, rather than stuffing it down.

My metaphor for this disease is the conditioned reflexes of learning how to drive.  When I first learned to drive, I had to think about everything I did: putting foot on brake, turning steering wheel, looking in mirror.  Later, when I had been driving for a long time, I no longer had to think about these things. They came reflexively -- a conditioned reflex.  The conditioned reflex mechanism is an efficient technique for the brain -- allowing us to react more quickly to situations that we are trained for.

I believe that the tendency to medicate myself with food also became a conditioned reflex, something that happened so quickly in my mind that I was not even able to notice the emotions that led me to medicate myself.  For me, the Big Book resentment and fear exercises are an effort to dig out these emotions, bring them into the front conscious part of my brain and hold them up for my higher power to help me with. 

The danger is in minimizing the emotions, not feeling them, stuffing them down -- because that will result in the insanely trivial excuse.

Hard drinker v. alcoholic 


The hard drinker can stop, even tho he may have damaged his body with drinking, but the alcoholic cannot.  When confronted with the danger, they can summon the motivation to stop.  Knowledge does avail them.  Hard drinkers may actually be drinking more than alcoholics and yet not be alcoholic.

vital spiritual experience


The vital spiritual experience is one that is sufficient to disrupt the conditioned reflex.  Our higher power needs to access the parts of our brain that are no longer under our conscious control.  See also pp.56-7; 567-8

One of the frustrating things about this program is trying to describe the spiritual experience that I find helpful.  There is a particular state of mind that brings abstinence, a particular kind of neutrality, presence, and peacefulness.  I believe that this state results from spiritual practices, specific mental exercises.  I don't know how to teach others to do what I do in my head.  It's frustrating.  Many other things that I do I could teach someone else.  I could show people things.  I cannot go inside someone else's head and adjust their mental attitude or teach them how to pray.

I once took a workshop in writing poetry.  In that course, I learned the concept that poetry is the art of rubbing words together to achieve a mental impression that might not be directly describable.  The following 3 program terms, when rubbed together, for me, describe the mental attitude I must have in order to be abstinent.


It was the OA 12&12 that actually gave me a useful definition of "humility,"  i.e. being no better and no worse than anyone else.  Most of us can easily identify an attitude of superiority and not being humble, but it is more complicated than that.  Please also see BB 4th ed. p318

Before program, I believed that I was uniquely unloveable.  That no one could love me.  One might not think that that was an arrogant perspective, but in fact it was.  There is no one so specially unique that they cannot be loved by anyone.  None of us is that special. 

Humility is then a neutral state.  


When I am surrendered, when I substitute HP's will for mine, then I cease to struggle.  I am present.  I am flexible.  I go with the flow.  I see a silver lining in every cloud.

infinite God 

Focus on infinity is a common meditation technique.  Most people find that looking at a distant horizon, for instance on a beach or from the top of a high point, can provoke a contemplative state.  This contemplative state is conducive to abstinence.  The term "infinite God" to me also helps provoke the contemplative state.

bondage of self

This phrase appears in the 3rd step prayer, p. 63.  I find this a surprisingly subtle and difficult concept -- when are we bonded to ourselves?  The common definition of self-will in program is "I want what I want when I want it." 

I am bonded to myself when I want something so much that I become sick if I don't get it.  I am bonded to myself when I am unable to see any point of view other than my own.  
HP is not bonded to my point of view.  HP sees things from all perspectives, something I am not capable of; however, in program, I believe I should attempt to imagine how things look to HP rather than how they look to me.

Bondage to self, or selfishness, in the BB is not necessarily the same as what a civilian means by "selfish."  When the civilian says "selfish" it is an insult.  Here, selfish is just anything we want. 
Sometimes what we want might seem very generous.  I have met several people who believed in very noble causes who ate when things did not go their way, even though their desires were generous.  One of them, for instance, desired very much to stop the genocide in Darfur.  This was a woman living in the USA.  Obviously, she was powerless to stop the genocide in Darfur.  Her frustration at her powerlessness made her eat, even though her fundamental impulse was generous.  As far as the BB is concerned, her desire to stop this genocide was selfish.  It was something she wanted to make herself feel better.  She was not surrendered to the will of HP.

This is not to say we should never want anything.  The Buddha said that desire was the root of all suffering.  Buddhists believed that the Buddha achieved complete detachment, that he came to the point where he did not desire anything -- and thus was happy.  Program does not promise us that we will become like the Buddha. 

The point is that we should know what we want; that we should inventory it; that we should ask HP to help us with it -- so that our desire will not become so painful that it causes us to relapse into our compulsive eating behavior.

I have found that the precept of program that I should list what I want has been very helpful to me.  I have come to know myself better.  I have come to be able to verbalize what I want better.  When I can calmly say what I want -- rather than withdrawing, becoming resentful, sullen or furious -- others are more likely to be able to listen and more likely to give me what I want.  Since doing the BB inventory process I have become a better self advocate, less of a doormat -- and also, therefore, less likely to explode in anger after having stuffed emotions for so long

theological arguments/questions

After giving this quiz to a number of people, I actually looked up this phrase and found, to my embarrassment that the quote I was thinking of  is not actually in the BB.  What I was actually thinking of is in the OA 12 & 12 p. 14.

"We were free to set aside theological arguments and examine the idea of spiritual power in light of our own desperate need for help with our lives."

There are many theological questions that people ask themselves when they are worried about whether and how to undertake these questions.  These questions include:
    ⁃    Is there a God?
    ⁃    Does God love me?
    ⁃    How can a loving God allow all these terrible things to happen in the world?
    ⁃    Does God care what I eat?
    ⁃    Is it bothering God or selfish to ask God for help with my eating?
    ⁃    Will God help me with this problem?
Putting aside theological questions or argument, means not worrying about these things.  You do not have to believe in God.  You do have to pray, but you do not have to believe in God, or that God will help you, or that God cares what you eat.  You just have to do the steps, whether you believe in them or not.


(This is actually the beginning of step 4)

The word resentment comes from the Latin word "resentire," meaning to feel over and over.  While the BB particularly talks about anger as an emotion that we could feel over and over and therefore get into an addictive cycle with, in fact any repeating emotion, such as grief or happiness, could also result in the insanely trivial excuse emerging.