This week’s “Did You Know,” was written by a prominent professor with long term membership in Alcoholics Anonymous: Among the ancient Greeks, courage (andreia) originally meant the ability to make ourselves keep on going, and keep doing the things that had to be done, in order to maximize our chances of survival on the battlefield. It meant the continued intelligent functioning of our survival instincts in situations which were full of enormous danger, even when fear and the wild thoughts running through our minds were threatening to unhinge us.
What Bill Wilson did was to use the same kind of Aristotelian approach in dealing with all the natural human instincts in all the possible kinds of situations in which alcoholics might be placed. We might take the instinct for material security as an example. At the one extreme, some of the alcoholics who came into A.A. were very well-to-do people (or at least once had been). They had not been content however with decent food, clothes and adequate houses, but had been driven to seek money, money and more money, in order to have fancier and more extravagant things to eat, wear and live in. A relentless pressure drove them into becoming more and more frantic and anxious, and any obstacles they encountered began producing more and more rage and resentment. They started drinking alcohol in order to self-medicate all of this anxiety and resentment. They drank to calm down, they would say, or to unwind after a hard days work, or to console themselves over financial loss.
At the other extreme, some of the alcoholics who came into A.A. had never shown any responsibility in their lives. They always had excuses for not working, and had never had an honest job during their lifetimes. Yet they somehow expected other people (or society), to supply them with food, clothes and a place to live without them working for it. They refused to work and be responsible, but were nevertheless consumed with jealousy towards the people who were better off materially than they were. They too were filled with fear and resentment towards bosses who had fired them for laziness and not showing up. In addition, they always ended up living with constant worry and anxiety over having the water or the electricity turned off because they had not paid the bill, and other problems of that sort. They also drank more and more in an attempt to self-medicate the ever-increasing resentment and fear.
When doing a fourth step inventory list, how do we deal with these issues revolving around our insatiable desire for material security? We need to see what kind of resentments and fears have dogged all our thoughts for years, and why we continually ended up feeling resentment and fear over certain things that kept on happening in our lives, over and over again. We are looking for repeating patterns of behavior, using resentment and fear as red warning flags telling us where to look at our attitudes and behavior. On the one hand, we may have driven ourselves crazy by an excessive desire for more and more material things or on the other hand, we may have plunged our lives into continual resentment, fear and anxiety because we refused to work, or handle our paychecks responsibly. The natural instinct for material security can get us into trouble if we fall into excessive behavior in either direction; either too much, or too little will not do. We must find a balance point in material security, or suffer from extremes.
The same principle applies to analyzing our other natural instincts as well; good balance and avoiding extremes is the key. To be continued…