Big Book Recovery

Working the 12 Step Programme

Appendix 3 - Dealing with unwanted or bad behavior, bad habits or obsessions

Behavior driven by our self-centered impulses - our defects of character (e.g. lust, greed, gluttony)

Many of us, even after being sober some time and having been through the steps, find that we are indulging in bad behavior. For some the extent of this is such that it becomes a source of distress. Even though we know it is wrong or bad, we find it difficult to stop. It feels as though we are in the grip of an obsession. When that behavior is not linked to a mood-altering drug (alcohol, tranquillisers, cocaine... etc) it is driven by our defects of character. For example, if this behavior is of a sexual nature (eg visiting prostitutes, looking at pornography), it is driven by lust. If it is about food and our appearance it is driven by a combination of defects including pride, lust, gluttony. We can even feel as though we are liable to lose our temper very easily and say we suffer from "road rage". This is defect-driven behavior. In the context of alcoholism, behavior driven by defects character is not another form of alcoholic insanity (which is simply the action of taking that first drink). Therefore, we are not powerless over defects of character in the way that we are powerless over alcohol. We are responsible for our actions, or at the very least, partly responsible. We do need grace -- help from our Higher Power -- to be able to overcome it and that will be given if we ask for it. But we have to take responsibility as well. Deeply ingrained bad habits could be considered the repeated avoidance of taking proper responsibility for our actions. The task then, is to learn how to take responsibility for our actions again. We develop good habits to replace bad ones. Normally, this is a gradual process.

These are the areas in which the Big Book assures us that nobody has lived up to their ideals perfectly - we look for progress, not perfection. So, if we fall short, it is not the end of the world - we draw a line under it and move forward with renewed resolve to keep trying to live up to our ideal of behavior. To do something that is wrong a few times is better than to do it often; never to do it is best of all. We set our ideal at the best standard of behavior. That is what we are aiming for, the best. It may be the task of lifetime but as long as we are trying to achieve our ideal, all the joys of the programme are on offer to us each day no matter how many times we fall short.

Usually, when we indulge in obsessive behavior we are occupying an unreal world of the imagination - one that promises a result that it can never deliver in reality. Because our destructive behavior gives us a partial and temporary respite we are driven to repeat it over and over again. But it can never give us fully what we really desire (usually love). This is because all genuine love derives from the love we receive from our Higher Power through trying to live a life based in reality - one that is lived in accordance with spiritual principles. Unlike the world of the imagination, the spiritual world is genuine.

 Guidance for changing behavior

The example used in each case is for bad sexual conduct, although in each case the principle can be applied to any form of self-centred habit. This is not a daily routine necessarily. It is done as required.

The assumption, before we go further, is that you have done the AA programme and are up to date with all step-10 inventory. If you are not, then the Steps, including a fully up-to-date inventory of all your resentments, fears and an account of your sexual conduct, must be done first.

Develop an ideal for right behavior. The Big Book describes how we can do this in the context of sexual conduct. The same principles can be used for developing an ideal for any sort of behavior. We aim to work out how we should behave in any given situation. To help us to form this ideal we can be guided by our conscience, and then we go further. We subject our ideal to the scrutiny that the Big Book suggests: it must not allow for selfish or inconsiderate behavior; it must be consistent with "spiritual principles". The principles referred to are those that are common to most religious denominations (see page 94). So for example we can ask ourselves: "Is my ideal for sex conduct consistent with what most great religions have set out for sex conduct?"

Write down the consequences of indulging in your activity Eg: hurting your spouse, guilt, shame, remorse, sense of failure, adding to your (or another's) spiritual detriment, risk of disease, supporting an industry that exploits others and maintains them in a state of degradation, spending a lot money.

Write down the benefits of resisting temptation and living up to our ideal - a gratitude list. Eg: increasing our chances of experiencing the love of God, saving money, being able to look my spouse in the eye, avoiding terrible remorse as a result of self-pity, guilt, shame, increase in self-esteem etc. This will help to develop a conviction that the real world (which is part material and part spiritual) is where we find love and hence will lead to fulfilling, satisfying relationships.

Examine the train of thought that leads us, ultimately, to this unwanted behavior. For example, in the case of sex, the first cause can be flicking through the channels of the television and dwelling too long on any sexually provocative programmes. When we recognise this train of thought beginning, we try to stop it, to nip it in the bud. We can do this by trying to replace it with something else: a different thought, a prayer (perhaps repetitions of the Serenity Prayer), a visual image consistent with our understanding of God (say religious devotional imagery) - anything that is good and real. The most powerful way of diverting our attention from these things, is, of course, working with another alcoholic. So if there is an opportunity to do so, phone a newcomer, it "quiets the imperious urge."

Write in a journal all the occasions when you fall short of your ideal. This will demonstrate to you the progress you are making. Sometimes, if we mistakenly apply an all-or-nothing approach, we can become despondent each time we fall short. If we keep a journal, it helps us to avoid this despondency because we can see the evidence that tells us, however much we might feel to the contrary, that we are making progress because we are indulging less often than before. So we can claim progress.

Again: the way to find a truly satisfying and loving relationships it is through God and by living in His world, the world of the Spirit and the material, both of which are real. When we indulge in these obsessions, we are occupying a world of fantasy, which does not exist, and go down a blind alley of short-term gratification that never leads to fulfillment. We regularly remind ourselves of this fact.

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