As long as we are in the throes of our addiction, surface level changes will have little or no effect. People in the program often talk about “doing a geographic”. We have the mistaken belief that by changing where we live, our lives will suddenly change for the better. What we discovered was that all the problems we had in our previous location, seem to miraculously follow us wherever we went. We still got into arguments at work and end up getting let go. Our relationships with our spouses, children and friends continue to deteriorate. Although we were in a new place, our friends and family continued to find fault with our behavior. We had hoped that the usage of our drug of choice would decline, and often found moving had exactly the opposite effect. We had never felt comfortable in our own skins, often feeling that we were like a square peg in a round hole. Being in a new location only made these feelings worse. In recovery we now understand that change needs to emanate from the inside out, and not the other way around.
Personal Reflection: Do I still make surface changes and hope for deep results?
We have found that sometimes it’s not easy giving up old behavior and patterns. On some level we know that we have to give up some of those old pathways; yet we desperately attempt to hold on to them. We so want to maintain our status quo, that in the face of all evidence to the contrary, we maintain that we are not following our old ways.
If it walks like a duck….Even when people point out to us that we are engaged in behavior that strongly resembles the path we used to “walk”, we vehemently deny that we are doing it. We’re walking like a duck and don’t know it.
If it talks like a duck….. In the past we had said things that were inappropriate and were offensive to others and non-productive to ourselves. We have the mistaken belief that we had somehow graduated from talking like a duck. Yet, there we were once again saying things that indicated we were still set in our old patterns.
When we went beyond our denial and finally got honest, we saw that we could finally step out of the duck suit.
Personal Reflection: Have you stepped out of your duck suit?
A healthy person takes joy in assisting others in their personal growth. As parents we swell with pride when our children surpass us. We do everything in our power to facilitate their success. In the program we often help others to grow thru sponsorship. We guide our sponsees through the steps or celebrate their anniversaries with them. We also need to exercise caution. It is all to easy to prevent growth by attempting to exercise too much control. When you begin to have a belief that says “I know better what’s good or right for you so you had better follow my advice”, a red flag should go up. You need to examine your motives. Is your advice coming from pride and ego, or do you really have the person’s best interests in mind.
The same holds true with our own personal growth. Because growth can produce fear and anxiety, sometimes we need to examine to see, if on some level we are sabotaging ourselves. Just like with others we need to see if we have our own best interests in mind.
Personal Reflection: To what degree do I help facilitate the growth of myself and others?
Service is definitely a cornerstone of the 12 step program. There are so many opportunities for service. You can be a greeter at meetings or take on a coffee commitment. Many of us have served as the chairperson for our home group. Part of our responsibility is also to carry the message to others. When called upon, we take outgoing speaker commitments. Sometimes we get sandbagged at a meeting and are asked to speak. Without any preparation we agree to do so. You never know how what you say can affect another member. Service often helps us to step outside of ourselves and our problems and help others. Sometimes though, the best service you can do; is to do nothing. There are some people that just want to take and take and take. In these cases, when you say “no” you are also doing service. You are serving yourself by respecting your personal barriers that you have established. You are saying, “My time is valuable and I need to allot it carefully”. You are also helping them. You are saying, “You are smart enough and strong enough to do it yourself”.
Personal Reflection: Am I more of a doorman or a doormat?
In the 1930’s there was a famous cartoonist named Rube Goldberg. He created a series of cartoons which involved complicated machinery that went thru many convoluted steps to achieve a simple result. Each section of the machine affected the next section further down the line. It is oft said that art imitates life. I can think of no better example of this than a Rube Goldberg cartoon. Life is certainly a complicated piece of machinery. All of us have experienced having to go thru many seemingly random complicated steps to achieve a simple result. Prior to joining the program, that is how we viewed our lives. We did not see how events were specifically sent for our benefit or growth. At best they were merely coincidence. Over time we have come to believe that there is an order to the universe and what happens to us is part of a larger plan. Life really is like a Rube Goldberg gadget. What appeared to be a random set of events is found upon contemplation to be a systematic series of steps to bring us to a desired result. Coincidence has been replaced by Divine intervention.
Personal Reflection: How has my Higher Power intervened in my life recently?
Sometimes we see a person at a meeting and how they look and what they have to say just blows us away. They appear to be really living a sober life. Listening to them you can hear that they are truly happy. Their lives are immersed in the program. A higher power is turned to during the day. A 10th step review is done before they go to bed. They do service both in and outside of the rooms. You say to yourself, “I want what they have”. That is certainly an admirable sentiment. To accomplish your wish you need to take a careful look at exactly what they do. More to the point, you need to be willing to drop some of your old habits which no longer serve you. Initially you might find this to be uncomfortable or even painful. You also might experience fear about taking on new and unfamiliar behaviors. Change is often very challenging. Realize that if you want what they have, “you have to do what you never done”. To do anything less is cheating yourself from growth.
Personal Reflection: What’s one thing I’ve never done which could enrich my life?
Many people walk around with the belief system that they are the expert on all matters intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. They have no problem telling us and others how we should be running our lives. Although they often end up putting their foot in their mouths, they are essentially clueless. After attempting to fix us, they move on to their next victim. We discovered in the program that to our chagrin we often initially belonged to this category of people. With some time under our belts, we learned that before we spoke it was often a good idea to pause for a moment and delay our pearls of wisdom. This was often difficult for us, though sometimes we were able to control ourselves for a minute or an hour or even a day. As the minutes ticked by we began to realize that maybe what we had to say really wasn’t important or appropriate. As more time passed we realized that even if what we wanted to say was true, perhaps it was not necessary for us to be the one to speak. Our restraint of tongue actually was quite empowering and liberating.
Personal Reflection: Do I practice restraint of tongue?
Writing can be an integral part of the program. Writing can also be a daily struggle for us. When we got to the 4th step, our sponsor told us to put pen to paper and make a fearless and searching moral inventory. This often turned out to be quite a struggle. Even people who wrote for a living wrestled with this particular homework assignment. When we finally were able to begin the process, we found that it was both revealing and cathartic. It allowed us to often speak about things that we had carried around for years and often decades.
Once we had gotten into the rhythm of writing, it was suggested that we also take on a daily journaling practice. There was often resistance to this as well. As we pushed through personal inertia we discovered that our writing began to reveal to us solutions to problems which had eluded us for a long time. It was almost as if our Higher Power began to speak to us thru our daily journal entries. The more often we wrote, the more often we received what we needed to hear.
Personal Reflection: Is writing an integral part of my recovery program?
In the 12 step rooms, one of the most oft repeated words is “acceptance”. In fact this word is a cornerstone of the program. For many a newcomer (and for some not so newcomers), this was a difficult concept to grasp. We felt that the only reason we had ended up in the rooms was because of the set of cards we had been dealt. “If I had grown up with a different set of parents, I wouldn’t be sitting here today”. “Had my friends been different when I was growing up I wouldn’t have started drinking as a teenager”. “If only my teachers had encouraged me more in school, I wouldn’t have made the choices I made”. As we gained some time in the program, we began to realize that we needed to accept our past choices. Bemoaning the past would not help us change the present or plan for the future. We couldn’t undo the past. What we could do was live our lives one day at a time; and sometimes one hour or one minute at a time. We certainly couldn’t change the past, but we could live fully in the present.
Personal Reflection: Have I fully accepted my past?