The Alcoholics Anonymous preamble is read virtually at every 12 step meeting. It says in part that “AA is not allied with any sect, denomination……or institution”. As such, it is clear that the program is non religious in nature. You don’t have to be of a member of a particular religion to gain entry. You are not required to read the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Koran or the Torah. Members of the fellowship, have discovered the program to be of a spiritual rather than of a religious nature.
As addicts and alcoholics we had found that our lives had become unmanageable. Left to our own devices we had been unable to deal with our addictive actions. It was clear that we needed help from outside of ourselves. We needed a blueprint for living. Not only a plan to help us stop using, but a plan to help us start living. For millions of members in the program that plan was disclosed in The Big Book. Somewhere in its stories we uncovered areas of identification and instruction. The entire twelve step program was contained in its pages. Whether members were believers, agnostics or atheists they all utilize the Big Book. Without religious connotation, it has become the bible of recovery for millions of people.
Personal Reflection: How do I utilize The Big Book?
It took a long time for many of us to admit that we were an addict or an alcoholic. Part of the reason for this was that we had a preconceived notion of what an alcoholic or an addict was. For example, we couldn’t be an alcoholic. They were those unkempt, unwashed bums down on the Bowery begging for some spare change. We had families and important jobs, so it was impossible for us to be an alcoholic. Others claimed it was impossible that they were an addict or alcoholic because no one in their family had ever indulged to excess. In fact their parents were teetotalers. There was the argument that it was an historical fact that no one from their particular ethnic group were drinkers or drug users. For food addicts they might have used the argument that since they weren’t obese it was impossible for them to be labeled an addict. Some women argued that only men were alcoholics or addicts.
In our program we learned that addiction and alcoholism was an equal opportunity destroyer. Man or woman, rich or poor, Catholic, Jew or Buddhist, we all shared one common problem. We were unable to stop using our substance of choice, and that our lives had become unmanageable. Once we admitted this we began the journey of recovery.
Personal Reflection: When did I let go of my denial?
We are all going to have one of those days. From the moment we get up, nothing seems to go our way. We spill the coffee, are late for the bus, and late for a big meeting at work. And, it’s not even 10am in the morning yet. Later in the day, one too many things happen to us and we lose it. All our emotional sobriety gets thrown out the window. Right after that we toss out the Big Book. Forget about “let go and let G-d. We find ourselves right back to the way we used to be before we entered the program. However, there is a difference. We do have the capacity to catch ourselves. It make take 5 to 10 minutes or even half an hour, but we can return to our sober equilibrium. Once we do, we immediately make amends to whoever we might have hurt with our outburst. We also do a quick self inventory and see which defect of character emerged earlier. It would probably be a good idea to call our sponsor and talk about what happened. Many of us find journaling, prayer and meditation beneficial as well after such an event. We take comfort in knowing that we can reclaim our emotional sobriety whenever we are ready.
Personal Reflection: How do I reclaim my emotional sobriety after one of those days?
For many reasons many of us had difficulty simply admitting that we were wrong. For some of us it was based on a streak of perfectionism. Were we to admit to being wrong, we would be conceding that we were no longer perfect, something we could not do. There were others who suffered from low,self esteem. They were afraid to publicly show how they really felt about themselves. They would wear the mask of perfection; for to admit to being wrong would just confirm their negative feelings towards themselves.
Over time we learned in the program that admitting we were wrong did not reflect negatively upon us. In fact it was a sign of personal growth. It demonstrated a level of self examination which was praiseworthy. After personal reflection, to admit to an error in judgement was highly laudable. It also demonstrated a,level of courage to be able to admit tor our mistakes. In addition, it showed a degree of personal honesty which did not exist before our sobriety. Over time, it got easier and easier to admit to our mistakes. We took to heart the 12 step statement, “when we were wrong we promptly admitted it”. Paradoxically, as we grew in wisdom, it became easier for us to admit our lack of knowledge and our fallibility.
Personal Reflection: Do I promptly admit it when l’m wrong?
At a thousand meetings, from a thousand qualifications, the same thing was said over and over again. It sounded something like the following. “Growing up, I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I felt like a square peg in a round hole. I was the one who was afraid to get on the dance floor, ask someone for a date or try out for the team”.Then I took my first drink or drug. Everything changed. Suddenly I had the courage to do almost anything. For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in my own skin”.
Initially, our attempts at self-medication worked. Over time, we discovered that we had to increase our intake of our drug of choice to achieve the same results. At some point, all of the old feelings returned and our usage kept increasing with serious life consequences.
In sobriety we are learning to accept life on life’s terms. We are becoming more comfortable in our own skins. Not through self-medication but through engaging in 12 step work, sharing at meetings and doing service. We have discovered that there are no quick fixes; but sobriety creates changes which become a fabric of our very being.
Personal Reflection: What benefits have I reaped from sobriety?
As we grew in sobriety, we underwent many changes. One of those changes involved a shift in how we viewed our place in the world. In the past, we might have taken credit for work that really wasn’t our own to impress the boss or our co workers. We found it difficult to share the spotlight with others. Probably our favorite word in the English language was “I”. We certainly used it a lot. This trait was just a reflection of our grandiosity. Our inflated egos didn’t allow for the acknowledgement of the role of others. We couldn’t understand why people became annoyed with us when we claimed all the credit. Hadn’t we done the lions share?
As we grew in humility, we used the “I” word far less frequently. We developed the capacity to share our success with others. As we grew even more, our world view changed. Beyond acknowledging others, we began to see the hand of G-d in any success which we achieved. It was only thru His grace that we moved forward in life. Nothing was truly ours. Even our possessions were merely a gift from our Higher Power. Our usage of the word “I” was replaced with a frequent “thank G-d” in our conversations.
Personal Reflection: Do I really believe that everything is on loan?
Many people when they enter the program have a laundry list of complaints against others. They are full of reasons and justifications as to why they have these grievances. Part of their work in the program is to admit to their part in the creation of this antipathy. Many a newcomer has struggled with admitting their role in the creation of bad feelings with another. What really blows their mind is when their sponsor asks them to forgive not only those who were only partially at fault; but even those people who were fully responsible for perceived mistreatment. For those newcomers who were able to take this leap of faith regarding forgiveness; something quite amazing occurred. First they found that they had the capacity to engage in forgiveness. More importantly, when they let go of that laundry list, they discovered how much psychic energy was being burnt up by resentments. As they let go of their grievances they begin to develop a new found positivity and lightness of spirit. Upon the suggestion of others from the rooms, they even began a program of forgiveness for someone who they never thought forgiveness would be possible. They began to forgive themselves for past as well as present grievances they were still holding onto.
Personal Reflection: Where in my life is forgiveness called for?
While we were active, we often became upset about how little respect we received from others. Wherever we turned , it seemed that people were trying to take advantage of us or disrespect us. This often ended for us badly. We would get into disputes about perceived injustices. What we failed to understand was that we created our own reality. The persona we presented to the world unfortunately attracted criticism and often argument. We engaged in actions which often triggered negative responses from others. Being loud, abusive sarcastic or argumentative led to a response in kind. People did not take us seriously when we showed up drunk or high or both. In fact, our actions acted like a magnet for certain types of people; who were just looking for someone to engage in drama with due to their own defects of character.
In sobriety, we found that as our persona changed, people’s response to us changed as well. When we acted in an adult gracious manner others often responded in kind. When people acted inappropriately towards us, we developed tools which helped us to either disengage or reframe the situation. We also began to attract people into our lives who were healthier on many levels.
Personal Reflection: How can I improve how I treat myself?
There is an interesting aspect regarding people in 12 step programs. It seems that many of them are astute observers. You would think that this would be a blessing. Indeed it is, but not in the way you might think. Often what they observe are the failings of others. This one’s a chatterbox, that one is lazy and so on and so forth. Upon deeper analysis we often find an interesting phenomena. Frequently, they are correct in their observation of shortcoming in another. When they look a little deeper at themselves they often find that they exhibit the same weakness of character. Yes it’s true that she is a chatter box, but so is the person who made the observation. It’s almost as if they are impelled to judge those who exhibit the same weaknesses that they possess. This really can be a wonderful tool for self growth. If we do start judging others, we can use this as a signal for self introspection. For example, when I judge someone as a gossip, I can immediately examine myself to see if I possess this characteristic. Hopefully we can be as a good an observer of ourselves as we are of others. As we work this aspect of our program we can also expect a reduction in judgements in general.
Personal Reflection: What shortcomings do I frequently spot in others?