The Five A's of Adjustment

Version A 7/25/2000

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Taking the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous brings about change in the person taking the steps.  Changing ourselves (more correctly, seeking to be changed by the Spirit) is precisely what is required. After all, we were the problem, and the defects in our character which cause our problem plagued existence need to be removed.

No matter what the defect requiring removal is, there is a pattern in the corrective process.  We observed this pattern, or process, or formula as an adaptation of a selection of Steps four through twelve. Before we delve into these, however, it will be useful to examine the causes of our getting all messed up.

We are going to discuss seven layers of our behavioral makeup. We are not psychiatrists, and there may be far superior ways to describe all this.  However, these 7 can still be a useful framework for analysis until you help us with a better route.

  1. Our wretched state of being brings us to Alcoholics Anonymous.  We come to A.A. in a wretched state. The conditions or description of our pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization are physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  We don't usually think of ourselves in those terms, however.  We just know we have horrible problems in the world, we cannot stand it any more and we are desperate for a way out.  We are transfixed on the consequences or results of our lives. We want our state of being to be changed.  We came into A.A. thinking that when the courts, our families, our bosses, our doctors, and the crooks in Washington, D.C. get changed by A.A., we will be OK again.

  2. Our own actions created our wretched state.  Where we are when we get to A.A. is the result of actions we have taken. Sure, the courts might be terrorizing us, but who committed the crime?  Our spouse and family might have left or kicked us out, but who made them feel that way? Our doctor may have dire predictions about our health, but who did the drinking in the first place? We could continue this into our possessions, the workplace, our friends, and just about everything else.  Therefore, instead of focusing on the results, we need to discover and change our actions which caused those results.

  3. Our actions came from our decisions.  Actions are the result of decisions we make. It is chic to think that we manage our lives, that we consciously choose based upon some kind of rational cost-benefit analysis. Sure, there is some of this. However, our  decisions come from conscious, unconscious or habitual sources. As is turns out, very few decisions that we make are conscious.  

  4. Our decisions come primarily from our habits. Most of our lives are driven by habits and associated impulse.   Habits, of course, are simply the actions we take when we don't  think about what we are doing. Good habits can be very useful. They can execute skillful tasks skillfully and without occupying the mind with repetitive material.  They make sure our teeth get brushed every night before we retire, and they bring unconscious smiles to our faces when we see acquaintances. We are simply following the engrained mind-patterns that come from repeated reinforcement.  Bad or harmful habits, though, can cause us to spiral downward into destitution or destruction. Any attempt to retrain the mind requires conscious intervention into our habit patterns until old habits begin to atrophy through disuse as they are overlaid with new ones. This is the difficult task of the alcoholic recovering from habitual drinking. 

  5. Habits originated in beliefs.  Conscious actions come from conscious beliefs that an action is desirable.  As the action is repeated it might become habitual. Even though the original belief is displaced with a different belief, our actions are usually still driven by the old habit.  So, we jump to the conclusion that we can prevent the beginning of bad habits by having only valid belief systems. But, there is more.

  6. Beliefs come from teaching, experience and motivation. When we were younger, much of what we believed came from what we were taught. For example, about 85% of all persons who go to church in the U.S. attend the same church that their parents attended. Religious beliefs can be very profound, and teachings about them can be intensive. In addition, as we grow, we have experiences that mold our thinking. If we are attacked by Mr. Smith's dog every time we go down Elm Street, we probably come to think that Elm street is dangerous. In addition, we might be suspicious of persons named Smith. Obviously, some of our beliefs are incorrect or delusional. But, our old teachings and experiences are still in our heads, even if they are in hiding. They might still try to manage our lives unless they are contradicted by new teaching and experience. Sometimes psychotherapy is needed to help us migrate into adjusted beliefs.

  7. Motivations underlie our beliefs. At the origin of our behavioral trail are motivations.  These are the drivers of what we retain as beliefs and the perpetuation of actions that gratify our desires. We know a fellow who ran away from home at the age of 13 to join the carnival. There were times when he just didn't have enough to eat. This experience, coupled perhaps by a high metabolism or hypoglycemia, leads him to feel panic when he hasn't eaten recently. He is never without snacks at home, in his car,  at work or at social functions. His motive is to avoid even the slightest hint of hunger. Some other motives one can have are a need for constant social approval, saving everything for a future need, having sex all the time, getting obliterated on booze, etc.

So, why not just deal with motivational adjustment to bring about constructive actions? This just does not seem to work with alcoholics. We seem to need to change the last of the seven links in the chain of behavioral events until we hurt.  Then, we find out what hurts, and we fix that until the prior link acts up, and so it goes until we can eventually work on our motives.

You have probably heard in a meeting:

We don't think our way into right actions, 
we act our way into right thinking. 

Why did we lay our the seven layers of behavior above?  Because they provide a framework to understand the nature of defects in character better and to grasp the role of the 12 steps in bringing about change in us.

But, there is another reason for all this wonderful psychobabel. You might now appreciate a wiser and more lucid statement about cause and effect:

 From an Older and Wiser Source.

You are what your deep, driving desire is. 
As your desire is, so is your will. 
As your will is, so is your deed. 
As your deed is, so is your destiny.

  _Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV.4.5

Character Defects. This term is used frequently in A.A. Character is the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person from another, especially a distinguishing feature or attribute. In A.A., however, character usually refers to one's moral or ethical strength. It describes a person's attributes, traits, or abilities.

In terms of our behavioral chain, defects of character can appear in wrong motives (get rich quick), experience (rich people don't deserve what they have), beliefs (I deserve it more than you do), bad habits (thievery at the drop of a hat), decisions (setting up the heist), or actions (taking the property of another).  The end results of these defects, of course, can lead to getting caught, or, even if we don't, not being able to hang onto ill-gotten goods.

The format of Step four in the Big Book offers a useful opportunity to explore several links in the behavioral chain. Who or what do we resent, and what did they do? [Link 6, teaching and experience show up here.] Why did you react the way you did and what did you to cause them to do what they did? [This spans all the way from link 7, motivation, to 4, habits.]  Fears stem from motivation through experience in being thwarted or harms received. Harms to others can come from [7, motivation through 3, decisions.]

Step five provides us with the insight of God and another human being to bring truth into our understanding the real underlying factors, links, in our feelings and actions. When we leave our Step five we have a list of our defects of character.

Finally, we can talk about our subject:

 the five A's of Adjustment.
Awareness.  Until we admit awareness of a problem or a character defect, we cannot possibly let it go.  Steps 4 and 5 apply here. 
Attitude This is the willingness A.  Do we justify our thoughts or actions?  Do we want to keep doing what we are doing and get different results? We must not only be willing to let it go, we must stop hanging onto it.  This is Step 6.
Alternatives.  What are the various actions or inactions that we might employ to have our defect removed?  One of these, certainly, is Step 7!  Talk around among trusted folks.  What have they done that worked?  Do some more research (not the experience of repeating the defect, but the learning variety).
Attunement.  This the first action.  Because it is so vital, it has its own "A". Take Step 7, and ask God to relieve you from your defects of character, habits that are incompatible with His path for you, wrong thoughts and actions.  Take Steps 2, 3, and 11 every day as often as you can.  The payoffs in A.A. are wondrous, but they come in phases: (a) we are no longer drunk, and we are delighted, (b) we discover a magnificent fellowship to which we can belong in acceptance and grace, (c) we are reconciled with our families, our work, and our neighbors, and we are grateful, (d) we come to know who we are and  we become whole, and (e) we know and love the perfection of the Spirit within us and we are awakened to the truth of the universe, 
Action.  In Steps 8 and 9 make a plan for amending the past, and do it.  Implicit in this is your discontinuing to reinforce the defect by not practicing it. Privately forgive all those whom you still resent. As a result, guilt, shame, remorse and self-loathing will be removed.  Select a promising alternative, and put it to work.  Keep at it. If appropriate, keep a notebook in your pocket to record relapses (of the character defect, not the drinking, we hope) and retries until you see real progress.  Associate with persons, places and things that will reinforce your growth. In Step 10 revisit all five A's. Through Step 11, follow the direction of God in your life, and be a changed person as you get into service to your fellows, especially suffering alcoholics.

So, there you have it.  The Five A's will work to correct any problem. Without them, we are shooting from the hip in trying to turn our lives around.

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