Recovery comes in various gradations. The most fundamental one of course is that a person has stopped drinking or using his drug of choice. This in and of itself is extremely laudable. Having done so definitely changes a person’s life for the better. The reality though is that so much more is possible. Many a newcomer has said, “Ok, I have stopped using, what else is there to do”? That question will often be answered in a tongue and cheek way. Someone will probably respond and say, “I know a guy who turned his life around. He used to be depressed and miserable. Now he’s miserable and depressed”. The essence of recovery goes far beyond mere abstinence. If you are still plagued with anger, fear, resentment, shame, jealousy, procrastination et al.; can you really claim to be in a state of recovery. Yes, it’s wonderful that you are not using. But beyond that what types of changes have you witnessed in yourself. Are you just shuffling your character defects around, or have you really begun the work of recovery. If you are still full of negativity upon awakening and when you go to sleep, much more work needs to be done. Why not take the next step in your recovery voyage.
Personal Reflection: Are you still shuffling character defects?
Our fear of the future can dog us even in recovery. This was brought home recently at a meeting. A fellow with about a year of sobriety shared that he had been obsessing for about a week. He worked for a large company. He had been informed that he would need to report a week hence to explain a problem involving his personnel records. He immediately concluded that his past had come back to haunt him. Shortly before he entered the program, he had been given a DWI. He was now sure that the company had received a copy of the police report. On the day he was summoned to report, he entered the room to speak to the person in charge. He immediately began to plead his case; explaining that although he had received a DWI, he was now a changed person. His membership in AA had helped him turn his life around. When he finished speaking, the person at the desk looked up and said, “we called you in because you were missing a digit in your social security number on a recent form”.
As he finished telling the story at the meeting, the fellow pointed out how much time and energy he had wasted worrying about something that didn’t even exist. He had come to realize that part of his recovery involved letting go of fear of the future. It’s part of our recovery as well
Personal Reflection: Do I still obsess about the future?
The years of giving in to our drug of choice had taken its toll. Physically, we often faced many problems. This was often exacerbated by the fact that we refused to visit the doctor. Often, we were in fear about what the doctor would say. When we did visit we often lied about our “usage”; either minimizing or denying that we had a problem. Emotionally, we were often an empty shell. We had so buffered ourselves with our drug of choice, that our feelings were deeply buried. Were someone asked us how we felt, we were hard pressed to give an answer. Our finances were often in ruins, due to our irresponsibility around money. As far as spirituality went, we were an empty shell. Even if at one time we had believed in G-d we now feared that we would be punished for all of our actions. Others felt that G-d had abandoned them and that there was no hope for redemption.
As we immersed ourselves in the program, an inner spark within us was kindled. All the things we thought we had lost forever began to be reclaimed. Our health improved, our emotions were reawakened and we developed a relationship with our Higher Power. We literally had come back from the dead
Personal Reflection: What areas do I still need to breathe life into?
How many countless nights have we tossed in bed ruminating about our life? Sometimes we were stuck in reviewing our past behaviors. In most cases, we ended up berating ourselves for what we should or could have done. Other times, we focused on future events. These often loomed before us with fearful outcomes. From a rational place, we understood that the past was just that and there was nothing we could do about it. We also on some level knew that we could not control future outcomes, even with all of our obsessing. Yet, we used up an incredible amount of emotional and physical energy in thinking about the past and future.
What a relief it was to discover a new way of thinking. We could let go of these debilitating thoughts; because we saw they only caused us pain and confusion. Our experience had taught us that the problems were never solved by our ruminations. As our trust in a Higher Power deepened, we began to ask G-d for assistance in all aspects of life. We prayed for His help in dealing with that critical inner parent that would not let go of the past. We asked that fear of future outcome be transformed into focusing on the present. When we let go of the past and future, both our waking and sleeping hours became more serene.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to turn over something to my Higher Power?
A lot of excuses surround people when they come into the program. Of course the most common is that, “I will never be able to stop drinking or drugging”, along with “I’m too old to begin this program”. There is also a tremendous amount of shame around our past and fear of the future. We are constantly dogged by the inner voices which attempt to discourage us from sobriety. The flow of 12 step is in the opposite direction. Our attention is focused on the here and now. This is why during the first year of sobriety we place such emphasis on day count. At a meeting you will hear someone say, “I have 57 days”, or “4 months since I took my last drink”. Upon hearing this, people will often burst into spontaneous applause. We do so because we are celebrating where you are in this moment. It’s not about the past or future, but your recovery right here, right now. As we grow in our recovery, the same principle also applies. When a person says, “I never qualified before at a meeting”, they are still encouraged to share their experience, strength and hope. After doing so, they will often find that someone deeply identified with their story. Wherever you are along the road to recovery, you can always begin a new chapter of growth.
Personal Reflection: Where is my recovery at this moment?
From an early age many of us discovered that this thing called life was painful. We endured many situations which we found to be very uncomfortable and challenging. Our inner world was often in turmoil. Then one day, we had our first drink, our first joint or our first drug of choice. Something magical happened. All of that pain and discomfort faded into the background. We thought to ourselves that we had discovered the elixir to a happy life. Sooner or later however, that elixir turned into a poison. Whenever we indulged in our drink or drug, the quality of our life deteriorated. Our health, careers and relationships began to suffer because of our addictive choices. Yet we seemed powerless over our ability to stop using.
When we joined AA or NA or OA we began to realize that our drug of choice was a false prophet. It would never deliver what we thought it had promised. In fact just the opposite was the case. Invariably we were worse off after using. We finally admitted that we could not drink or drug safely. This sentiment was summed by a member of AA who said, “I have an allergy to alcohol. Every time I drank, I broke out…….in handcuffs”.
Personal Reflection: What tools have I developed to cope with life’s adversities?
In sobriety we needed to retrain many of aspects of ourselves. This even extended to our senses. Many of us really didn’t know how to listen. While someone was speaking, we were already formulating what we were going to say to either prove them wrong or one up man them. As we grew in the program we learn to pause and really listen deeply to what people had to say, and let their words penetrate us fully. As far as seeing was concerned, what we saw often only served to feed our judgements. “This person was too opinionated, that one was too needy”. We often misinterpreted visual clues from others; often resulting in self created problems. When we finally were able to see through sober eyes, our vision problems began to disappear.
We also neglected our sixth sense, the sense of intuition. We disregarded our “hunches” about the negative impact of certain actions or decisions, and then suffered the consequence of that choice. As sober individuals, we began to be guided by the G-d of our gut. We came to see that we needed to begin to learn to trust our intuition. That somewhere within us, was a higher aspect which tapped into an inner wisdom of what was really in our best interests.
Personal Reflection: Do I trust my intuition?
There are critics of twelve step programs that equate them with a cult. From the outside, perhaps it does appear that we are in lockstep around our actions.The reality is that regardless of our drug of choice, we are all in agreement about a number of tenets. As we say in AA; one is too many and ten are not enough. We can not drink or drug safely. We must practice total abstinence around alcohol,or drugs. We also agree about the importance of going to meetings and having a sponsor. It has been demonstrated time and again that these are important for the maintenance of sobriety. Beyond that, you will find a tremendous degree of variation in how people practice the program. There are people who meditate daily and others who almost never do. Some people have journaling as part of their program, while others have never utilized this technique. Some people go to a meeting once a day, while others go less frequently. There are members who fiercely protect their anonymity while others are very open about the program they attend. You will find certain members attending the same meetings for decades, while others like to experience new people at different meetings every week. Each of us has the flexibility to create the program of recovery which works for us.
Personal Reflection: How have I individualized my program of recovery?
It took courage for us to enter that AA or NA or OA meeting for the first time. Walking down the steps to the meeting we had the impulse to turn around, but we didn’t. Fighting that initial fear was the beginning of our recovery journey. As we went through the steps, we exhibited courage as well. Admitting to our character defects was a daunting process. Making amends to others tapped into inner strength.
With all that said, somewhere along the way, perhaps we became a little too complacent. We began to become very comfortable with the status quo. Our lives had certainly gotten better, yet on some level we had become stuck in a type of static limbo. Our lives had improved greatly but growth had ceased. It was only when we began to take risks again that our evolvement was refueled. We learned that there was a big difference between the “risky behavior” of our past vs taking risks that could provide movement forward in our journey of recovery. Though it might be a bit uncomfortable, pushing through fear of people, places or things could yield big dividends.
Personal Reflection: Have I become stuck in a comfortable place?
Many of us make daily lists of things we need to do. Upon examination, we often find an interesting phenomenon. There are some items on the list which by day’s end we have accomplished. No matter how busy we are, we seem to be able to pick up the dry cleaning, and pay the phone bill. There are other items which might appear repeatedly on the list for a few days or even a week before they are attended to. Finally, there is the third group. These are items which appear on our list which never seem to be able to be crossed off because we never reach them. Within this category, there are also items which never even make it to the list.
Before program we might have said we never reached these items because our lives were just too busy. When we examined the issue more deeply; we found that fear was at the bottom of our procrastination. Many of us had concerns that trying something new would end in failure. The thought of this was too painful. What would others think of us when they saw how we had screwed things up or were less than perfect. As we grew, we saw that we were missing out on some amazing activities and people. We could experience life full throttle and still make mistakes and be less than perfect.
Personal Reflection: Do I use busy work as a buffer to growth?