Module 4A

#4 WHAT MEANS WILL END IT? Does the Process outline, in clear and unambiguous language, a step-wise means to implement the solution to the Problem?

4A: Opposing Power or Surrendering to Power


Within the approach of Acquire & Apply we cannot bridge the gap between knowing what to do and being able to do it. We are faced with only two, ultimately unsuccessful choices: we continue to fight the addiction with will power; we surrender the fight and enlist the aid of a power greater than our own will-power—known in spiritual traditions as “Surrender to Win.” We can’t continue the fight because the addiction gains power as we oppose it. We also can’t surrender the fight because a part of us always reserves the right to fight again. In keeping with the theme that an examination of addiction exposes much of what it means to be human, an examination of the means to implement the solution to addiction exposes the limitations of one of the World’s omnipresent esoteric spiritual traditions—”Surrender to Win.”


4A Opposing Power or Surrendering to Power 4B Transmuting Emotions into Usable Power 4C Neutralizing the Power Source
We either attempt to dispel the mental obsession to drink with will power or try to enlist the aid of a power outside ourselves. Through a new understanding of power as self-existent in the situation—and not coming from within or without—access the power of perpetually occurring emotions. We no longer seek out more power to dispel the mental obsession to drink; we simply lower the energy required to dispel that mental obsession. We pull the plug on addiction rather than opposing it, tapping into a higher source of power, or transmute the power of perpetually occurring emotions.

IV. AA’s KNOWLEDGE OF THE MEANS TO IMPLEMENT THE SOLUTION: The Twelve Steps will create the spiritual experience that dispels the mental obsession for the first drink.

Step One: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Step Two: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Step Three: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
Step Four: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Step Five: “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
Step Six: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
Step Seven: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
Step Eight: “Made a list of all persons we have harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Step Nine: “Made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Step Ten: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
Step Eleven: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.”
Step Twelve: “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

When the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are applied fearlessly and thoroughly they are alleged to create the “deep and effective spiritual experience” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 25) that dispels the mental obsession for the first drink. Although Bill Wilson wrote the Twelve Steps, he did not simply conjure them up from his imagination. From his own account, Wilson gleaned the skeletal structure from his time in the evangelical Christian organization known as the Oxford Group, and supplemented their core values with a variety of ideas and sources that were in wide use by AA pioneers.

We also notice that Bill Wilson’s gained KNOWLEDGE OF THE SOLUTION—a spiritual experience that dispelled his mental obsession for the first drink—before he ever wrote the Steps. We are given no evidence that the Twelve Steps can actually cause a spiritual experience that will dispel the obsession to drink because no one prior to the publication of the Big Book in 1939 actually used the Twelve Steps as written—in spite of claims that “rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” Some may have used many of the principles inherent in the Steps, but in order to evaluate their effectiveness we must look to those people who have actually worked the Steps as a planned program of action since they were penned in the Big Book. Bill Wilson’s liberating spiritual experience did not result from practicing the Twelve Steps—although in a characteristic looseness with the truth he retrofitted the Steps into his story in Alcoholics Anonymous. His solution to the problem was an unanticipated Event and not necessarily the direct result of any prescient methodology. For a spontaneous liberation, any subsequent plans of action back to that liberation must arise from an elusive wellspring of creativity, given form and detail as a roadmap back to where they had already been—though others that followed them may be starting out from a different place and may need an entirely different route to get to the same destination.

Clarity of expression is a key criteria in the Acquire & Apply FORMULATION of our FOURTH BASIC QUESTION. We immediately notice that 6 of the Steps mention God in some form or another—the most notable being God as we understood Him.

Step Two: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Step Three: “Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
Step Five: “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
Step Seven: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
Step Eight: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
Step Eleven: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.

The “God thing” is a major reason the vast majority of people who go to an AA meeting eventually leave, never to return. Twelve Steppers assure the doubtful that they can choose anything for a “Higher Power”—as long it is not them. But as I was looking at the Steps one day it suddenly appeared to me, frightening in its simplicity:

  1. In order to “believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” that power must be capable of restoring us to sanity, or else Step 2 makes no sense.
  2. In order to “make a decision” to turn your will and your life over to the care of “God as we understood Him,” that “God” must be capable of caring for your will and your life—or else Step 3 makes no sense.
  3. In order to admit the exact nature of our wrongs to God, God must be listening or Step 5 makes no sense.”
  4. In order to “Humbly ask” for your shortcomings to be removed, “Him” must be capable of removing those shortcomings—or else Step 7 makes no sense.
  5. In order to “Seek through prayer and meditation” improved conscious contact with “God as we understood Him,” “God” must be capable of conscious contact—or else Step 11 makes no sense.
  6. In order to pray for knowledge of “His” will for us, “His” must have a will for us—or else Step 11 makes no sense.

So let us make this explicit and clear: “God” in the Twelve Steps is defined by the context in which the God-terms are used as:

  1. Can restore us to sanity
  2. Caring for your will and life
  3. Listens to us
  4. Removing human shortcomings
  5. Consciously contacting us
  6. Having a will for us

This is not a problem for people who accept these characteristics in God, but it contradicts a basic, fundamental tenet of the Twelve-Step Program: “God as we understood Him.” Historically supported understandings of God lacking these characteristics—for example, the Deist watchmaker God that creates a lawful universe, winds it up, lets it go, and does not intervene in the daily affairs of Man—are ruled out for the purposes of working the Steps. The trouble is amplified and aggravated by the Big Book exhortation, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 12) We cannot choose because the Steps do not allow us to: “God as we understood Him” is already partially defined by the context in which that phrase is used within the Steps. The disquieting result: you cannot practice the Twelve-Step Program—as written—unless you accept the minimal definition of God given implicitly and explicitly by the context in which the God-terms appear. The argument is decisive and incontrovertible:

The Twelve Steps are fundamentally flawed—
they are self-contradictory and unworkable as written

This embarrassingly simple observation is so obvious that many others must have noticed it before, although I had never heard it articulated in exactly this manner. It would be like baking a cake with a recipe that called for milk and changing it to “the liquid of your choice.” And just like a cake baked with gasoline would not work, the Twelve Steps worked with a non-Twelve Step God will not work either. The frequent complaints that one hears in AA—that “The Steps don’t make any sense,” or “It’s all about God,” or even “I can’t believe in that God,”—all point towards an intuitive understanding of the difficulty. But this provocative way of stating the problem—that the Twelve Steps are self-contradictory as written—has a logical forcefulness not captured by the more general objections. Many who aggressively proselytize for the flexible God of the Twelve Steps grow desperately quiet when you point out that the Steps do not make sense on their own terms. I began posing this logical snag to a few Twelve-Steppers and, not surprisingly, many reacted unkindly to my observation. You could watch their faces contort through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance as they watched their spiritual icon bite the dust.


In order to make some use of this mess, we look for a principle that will allow us to unify some of these disparate pieces:

“Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power? Well, that’s exactly what this book is about.”

Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 45.

Our FOURTH BASIC QUESTION addresses moving from knowing what the solution is to having the power to implement that solution. We conceded that knowing what addiction is, what causes it, and what the solution is does not guarantee that we will make an effort to implement that solution or even be able to should we try. What becomes obvious to any addict that tries to quit: any attempt to do battle with the unaided will not only does not work, but often makes the addiction worse. Recognizing this, the addict often just gives up and paradoxically senses some release from the surrender. Within the broader context of spiritual traditions, we call this “Surrender to Win.”

All authentic spiritual / religious traditions address / emphasize one core aspect of man’s existential challenge. For example: Christianity addresses sin; Buddhism addresses suffering. The amorphous, omnipresent spiritual tradition best described as “Surrender to Win” addresses this simple problem: why is it so often that the more you try to change a self-destructive behavior, the more resistant to change that behavior becomes? The more you diet, the fatter you get. Anger management classes only seem to fuel your rage. Try to cut back on those cigarettes, and you start to chain smoke. Of all of life’s battles it seems that the war that we wage against ourselves is the most deadly.

The solution the Surrender to Win teaching offer is equally simple, and it is based on an empirical reality—not a theory: faced with the possibility of a lifelong struggle against an enemy that only seems to get stronger in the fight, something inside of you stops fighting. One moment you are a slave to your own impulses; the next moment you are free. No revelation, no treatment, no conscious decision, no behavioral modification. Throughout history men and women have experienced this spontaneous letting go of that fight—a surrender event. Baffled by their sudden freedom, these men of conscience try to explain what has happened to them, and find themselves turning an extraordinary experience into an ordinary philosophy. One of the more intriguing historical attempts to apply the more general teaching of Surrender to Win Teaching to a specific problem: Alcoholics Anonymous. The Twelve Step Tradition is a unique, historical attempt to apply this general teaching to the specific problem of alcoholism—it is the foundation of the Twelve-Step Religion.

But there is more to “Surrender to Win” then just paradox and, ironically, more is revealed in a passage from a Buddhist meditation book that has found some traction with the more progressive wing of AA:

“There are two kinds of ‘giving up’ or ‘letting go.’ There is giving up attachments, and there is giving up because of difficulties and disappointments. The person who has inner strength and openness does not ‘give up’—but gives up grasping and attachment, and consequently gains freedom and confidence. Because he has no attachment to being a certain way, but simply follows the truth within his heart, no obstacle or disappointment can overcome him. The person who gives up because he cannot control his life or manage for himself does not fully give up; he maintains a certain determination to continue on, but does not have the strength or courage to follow his inclinations—he just gives in to whatever is happening.

–Tarthang Tulku, Gesture of Balance.

I have read this one single paragraph from Tarthang Tulku’s Gesture of Balance often, even shared its beauty and power with many of my friends over the years. Tulku was not talking about alcoholism in particular, he was talking about human suffering in general; however, the distinction between giving up after difficulties and disappointments and giving up because of internal strength and openness clearly characterizes the dilemma of the Surrender Event: being beaten into submission and walking away from a fight you know you cannot win are two completely different mindsets. When we give up anything because it is causing us problems a piece of us always remains convinced that we can try again someday. If someone gives up alcohol because their life has become unmanageable a part of them will always reserve the right to drink again. Given the freedom to tell the truth, most self-identified alcoholics that I have questioned will admit to this. Within these conditions, the “relapse syndrome” begins the moment you put down the drink. The First Step is the first step towards the next drink.

In order to understand the monumental significance of this idea, we must remind ourselves that the entire Twelve-Step program begins with a Surrender Event arising from the unmanageability of the alcoholic’s life. If, as Tulku maintains, “the person who gives up because he cannot control his life or manage for himself does not fully give up,” then a surrender based on the unmanageability of one’s life would by its very nature be a false surrender—a decision not a realization. (a decision can be reversed, a realization cannot) Are Steps 1-3 ultimately a bogus Surrender Event?—or at least incomplete. Spiritual gurus dance around this issue when they say that the ego never really gives up, that it must be coaxed into relinquishing control, that in spiritual matters people have to be tricked into learning, that ego-deflation is vulnerable to the relentless onslaught of change because it is tied to the concrete unmanageability of our lives, that in true spiritual experience the ego is not being pressured by external circumstances but freely relinquishes control. Now we must face the issue head on. We must acknowledge the possibility of a horrible stalemate: it seems that the alcoholic must see the unmanageability of their lives to have a reason to quit drinking, but the unmanageability of that life cannot be the Base of their Recovery. The alcoholic who quits drinking because it is causing them problems never really quits. They surrender psychologically (ego-deflation), not spiritually (Again, the Body-Mind-Spirit model!); unfortunately, both types of surrender feel exactly the same to the typical person experiencing them. They will never know the difference until the ego re-emerges with a drink in its hand.


Do the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous outline, in a clear and unambiguous language, a step-wise means to implement the solution to the Problem?

  • “God as you understand Him”: The Twelve Steps are fundamentally flawed—they are self-contradictory and unworkable as written.
  • In linking powerlessness and unmanageability, AA’s First Step becomes the first step towards relapse.



Confusion in causation about addiction also leads to confusion in causation about recovery, and we can postulate our four liberating questions as easily about recovery as we can addiction.

Is it just abstinence or something more? Is it a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of your spiritual condition or reclaiming your freedom to choose? Is it learning to drink moderately?

For the intrepid Twelve Stepper, is it the meetings, the steps, some of the steps, all of the steps, calling your sponsor, service work? Are all or some of these criteria needed. Do some help and others hurt the Liberation Process? Is “rarely have we seen a person fail” or “it works if you work it” serious testimony?

This may seem like a strange question: why would anyone want to end Recovery? As usual with our interlocking Basic Questions, it depends on how you have defined Recovery. If it is just trading one dependency for another than perhaps something better than Recovery exists. If Recovery is the best we can do then we are asking what causes relapse?

This question also has two meanings: why do people relapse if recovery is the best we can do; if recovery is just another unhealthy dependency—a spiritual kindergarten that we need to move on from—what more can we do to help the recovered addict who still struggles with life?

I encourage anyone, but particularly a Twelve Stepper of any persuasion, to run their RECOVERY through the cogniventive gauntlet of these First Four Basic Questions. It may be worth a bad case of doubt if you get a full knowledge of your recovery condition.

Congratulations! YOU ARE FINISHED STAGE I-IV, LEVEL A: Choosing an Authentic Transformational Process


START AT THE BEGINNING OF LEVEL B: Troubleshooting a Failing Transformational Process 1. Observe The Problem & Explain It

CONTINUE CURRENT STAGE TO LEVEL 4B: 4. Design, Develop, & Execute A Means To Implement The Solution

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