There are many people in Twelve Step programs with years and even decades of sobriety. These very same people often make many meetings every week. To a person outside of the Program this might seem strange. “Why do you need to continue going to meetings?”, they often ask. “You haven’t had a drink or a drug in years.”
The simple answer is yes, it’s true we haven’t used in many years, but that’s because we believe we get a daily reprieve. Just because we’re sober today, doesn’t mean we won’t face challenges to our sobriety tomorrow. Going to all of those meetings keeps us “on the beam” so to speak.
On a more profound level, sobriety means much more than not just taking a drink or a drug or going on a food binge. For us, sobriety is a life path. It includes how we treat our family and friends and coworkers. It puts the spotlight on how we conduct ourselves in traffic when someone wants to merge into our lane and at the local supermarket when the cashier is as slow as molasses. Perhaps most importantly, sobriety is about how we treat ourself when we make a mistake or get hurt by another.
True sobriety takes time. The only way to deepen our sobriety is to continue making meetings, reading the Big Book, calling our sponsor, and doing all of those things which help us grow individually and as a member of our the fellowship.
Personal Reflection: Have I deepened my sobriety lately?
Wherever you are in the world, there is almost always an AA meeting available. That being said, not being familiar with a particular locale, many of us have wandered around trying to find the meeting itself. Hopefully, they’ve put out a small AA sign by the door, but that is not always the case. What has saved us and often gotten us to the meeting is the ubiquitous butt can at the entrance. That butt can has served as a beacon to guide us down the steps to a meeting.
In the early days of AA those butt cans outside the meeting were unnecessary. When you entered any AA meeting you would have been greeted with clouds of cigarette smoke.
At a meeting recently a member was reminiscing about those days where the room was a cloudy haze. He observed that even though we no longer have clouds of cigarette smoke surrounding us, we still have clouds of smoke surrounding us. He went on to explain that it was in AA meetings that he felt the perceptible presence of God. For him, it was almost like a comforting ether of spirituality. He viewed the words spoken in the shares of others as messages from his Higher Power. In meetings, he often had insights that he attributed to the God of his understanding.
Aren’t we lucky in AA? We can experience those clouds of smoke without ever having to take a puff.
Personal Reflection: Do I connect with my Higher Power at meetings?
In 2003, after 3 years of sobriety, I discovered that I had a serious case of cancer. It wasn’t until 2005 that I was cancer free. Along the way, I had multiple surgeries, various Chemotherapy sessions and a treatment which resulted in me contracting a form of tuberculosis.
Although I remained sober over that time I was seething with resentment towards God. Every day while I was sick I repeatedly heard a voice shouting in my head saying things like, “How could you do this to me? After all the work I’ve done to become sober this is my reward? I’ve worked for over 30 years and as I approach retirement I won’t even be able to enjoy it! You’re supposed to take care of me and my family, not take my life away.”
Although I had healed by 2005, a year later I was still walking around with those resentments toward God. In the spring of 2006 my wife told me about a shaman from South America who healed people from both physical illness and emotional trauma. She didn’t even charge people money and just asked for a voluntary donation.
I knew that my resentments were destroying my serenity so my wife and I decided to visit this healer. When I met the shaman she asked how could she help me? I told her that I needed help in forgiving God for what he had done to me.
She looked at me and said, “I see that you are a religious man. Do you believe in God?” I replied yes. She then asked, “Do you believe that everything that happens in the universe comes from God?” I once again replied yes.
She then said to me, “My friend you are asking for the wrong thing. You said you wanted me to help you to forgive God for what he had done to you. You need to ask God to forgive you for not having faith and trust in Him.”
When she said those words I felt like an electric current had passed through my body. I realized that I had been walking around for years totally off point. I had turned my lack of faith in a Higher Power into a resentment of major proportions. That moment with the shaman was the beginning of my truly understanding the third step which says, “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”
Personal Reflection: Have I truly surrendered my life and will to a Higher Power?
It’s been said that “it takes five years to get your marbles back and ten years to learn how to use them.” So, some of you are feeling pretty good right now because you’re walking around with some pretty useful marbles. And, as you look around you see that there are a lot of people out there who could really use some sagely sober advice.
Before you begin tapping into those marbles, a major ground rule is in order. People do not want to hear unsolicited advice. Even though the “answer to a problem” is incredibly clear to you; the other person may not be ready to even talk about it. If a person tells you they are not open to your “take” on an issue, that should be the end of it.
On a deeper level, we in the Program believe that when you have a deep insight about a problem, the source of this insight comes from a Higher plane. Your Higher Power has placed a person with a challenge in your path and granted you a moment of clarity. If the other person is open to your advice, that’s both of your Higher Powers at work.
So you sit down after a meeting and have an incredible conversation with someone about your solution to their issue. They are very open to what you have to say and commit to change based on your advice.
The next week at the same meeting you run into the same person who has not budged from their old way of thinking or acting. It’s not your business to repeat the conversation. The first time you spoke God was in the room. If you bring it up again, it’s your ego that’s in the room.
This doesn’t mean that your initial advice was lost. Maybe a week or a month or a year later that person might approach you and say, “remember that conversation we had?”
Personal Reflection: When you speak with others, whose will is in the room?
Have you ever gone hiking and suddenly realized that you’ve lost the trail. You try to retrace your steps and most of the time find the last trail marker on a tree that you somehow missed. No problem; you now make that left or right as required instead of walking straight ahead. Occasionally, you retrace your steps and realize that you have gotten yourself good and lost. You start to panic and then in the distance see the well worn path of the trail. Breathing a sigh of relief you head towards the path and resume your hike.
For many of us, drugs, alcohol or food was our map through the forest of life. Initially, it worked fairly well for us. It helped us buffer some of the pain, fear and loneliness that we often felt. At some point it stopped working. It was like straying from a path as we stumbled deeper and deeper into the forest.
When we had strayed very far from the path we suddenly came upon a trail marker. It had the letters AA, NA or OA on it. We began to follow that trail and a guide appeared who became our sponsor. He or she had also been lost in the forest but had found their way out. They acted as a compass for us on a daily basis.To make sure we didn’t stray far from the path they gave us a Big Book to study. It provided us with a set of directions for almost any path we choose to take. We also started to attend meetings where we met many other travelers who helped guide us as well. At some point we even began to guide others who had become lost.
Personal Reflection: Do I still stray off the path?
How we wake up in the morning is a barometer of our Program.
Are you the kind of person who as soon as you open your eyes begins to obsess about the day ahead. For example, if you have a lunch date with someone later that day do you think about all the things that can go wrong. Maybe you won’t be able to find a parking space, or you will miss the bus, or you won’t like the restaurant, or you will be late for the appointment.
On the other hand, when you wake up in the morning are you the kind of person who takes life “one day at a time.” You will plan to do everything in your power to arrive at your lunch date without a hitch. Once you’ve done that, you can let go of any obsessive thinking. In the event something occurs beyond your control which causes a delay, you won’t beat yourself up about it. You accept that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in God’s world.
Sometimes we can’t seem to shake the fears we have about the future. When that happens you can reach out to someone in the Program and talk about your concerns. As part of the conversation they might ask you what Step you are working. They will probably remind you to focus on Step Two which says, “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Ultimately, we need to ask our Higher Power to remove our obsessive thinking and negativity.
Personal Reflection: How did I wake up this morning?
WAt the end of many meetings you will see people exchanging phone numbers. Often, one of them has said something that the other identified with and they decided to stay in contact. Most of us have collected a large list of phone numbers over time.
That little Rolodex of numbers is a valuable tool for the alcoholic, drug or food addict. We have our “regulars” whom we call on a weekly basis just to touch base and talk about how our Program is going. We can also use the phone when we need to make a decision about something and want to get some feedback or advice. Often, we make a call when something is bothering us and need to talk about it and ventilate some of our feelings.
Almost all of us have the luxury and immediate access of a cellphone. Before the era of cellphones, program members were advised to carry around a pocket of loose change. Back then, a phone booth was our cellphone.
Sometimes of course we do make that call and it immediately goes to voicemail. We try another number and it’s busy. We finally reach someone but they can’t talk with us. We really need to dump our feelings or seek advice and no one is picking up. At that point we make a virtual phone call to the One who is always available and who always answers our call.
That conversation often relieves our upset about something. Frequently we even come up with an answer to a problem that has been dogging us.
Remember, you never need to spend money to chat with your Higher Power.
Personal Reflection: When was the last time I called my Higher Power?
When we are graced with sobriety, we can take a look back and examine our actions. Recently at a meeting a fellow with one year of sobriety was talking about clearing up some of his past actions while under the influence. He “discovered” a pile of tickets from his township for red light camera violations. He had no remembrance of either going through the red lights or of having received the summonses. Part of his amends process was to pay the fines and penalties on the tickets which ran into the thousands of dollars.
Yes, it’s true that many of us blew through red lights and stop signs on the road. We also blew through stop signs that periodically appeared during our drinking and drugging careers. Signs that had we heeded them would have saved us a lot of pain. Perhaps a doctor spoke with us about the damage we were doing to our bodies through drinking, drugging or binging on food. Maybe a family member sat us down and had a heart to heart talk about our substance abuse. Of course there were the repercussions from our actions while we were in a blackout and of which we had no remembrance. At some point we might even had had a glimmer of awareness that the way we drank, drugged or used food was not within the realms of acceptable behavior.
Unfortunately, these moments of clarity were not lasting. We might have paused for a day a week or month but we eventually returned to our destructive behavior.
The blessing is that each of us eventually came to a stop sign and slowed down long enough to admit our powerlessness and unmanageability. That day was the beginning of our recovery.
Personal Reflection: How can I serve as a stop sign for someone who is still active?
AA (NA or OA) introduces you to a sponsor……
Many a beginner has protested against the idea of getting a sponsor. They think that once they have put down their drug of choice, everything else will fall into place. What that don’t understand is that it is precisely because of their thinking while active that they ended up in unhealthy and often dangerous situations. Once they humbled themselves and committed to speaking with a sponsor they discovered just how convoluted their thinking was.
The sponsor introduces you to the Steps……
As we began to speak with our sponsor, we realized that he or she was not giving us random advice or opinion. Almost immediately they began to take us through the Steps. We began to discover more and more about ourselves as part of the process. Our sponsor also reminded us that a personal inventory needed to assess our strengths as well as our character defects.
The Steps introduce you to God……
As we worked the Steps there was a recognition that we could not successfully navigate sobriety without assistance. In the past, we had relied on drugs, alcohol, food, people, places and things to assist us. In step 2 we finally surrendered and “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
God introduces you to yourself…..
Over time as we called our sponsor, worked the Steps and called upon our Higher Power something miraculous began to happen. We began to change. Long held resentments were dropped. Owed amends were made. We began to experience the hand of God more and more in our life. Our Higher Power began to reveal to us the possibility of the man or woman we were meant to be.
Personal Reflection: Is more work needed for me to come to know myself?
Early recovery for many of us was a bundle of confusion. We had been so full of denial and self loathing for so long that we didn’t have much of an idea of who we really were. To remedy this, we were urged by our sponsor and others to make a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Some of us wanted to avoid this process because we didn’t want to have to confront our character defects. We felt it would be too painful to face the truth about ourselves.
One member recently spoke about it this way. She described looking in a mirror that was so smudged that she could barely make out her reflection. That mirror was her life prior to entering the program. Every smudge represented a character defect.
So what do we do when our mirror is smudged? Why of course we clean it with some Windex. For her, every time she worked on a character defect, it was like a spray of Windex removing a smudge on her mirror. As she progressed in her Fourth Step work, the smudges on her mirror slowly began to disappear. For the first time in her life she began to have a clear view of who she was. For the first time in her life she began to like that reflection in the mirror.
Personal Reflection: What smudges on your mirror still need to be removed?