One of the joys of being a member of a 12 step program is being able to share in the anniversary of a fellow member. There are different traditions surrounding this celebration. Sometimes the celebrant will share his experience strength and hope; sometimes he or she will get a speaker. There is almost always a cake to go along with our perennially present pot of coffee. There is also a coin ceremony where the celebrant receives his or her coin marking another year of sobriety.
These coins mean a lot to us. Many of us carry them wherever we go. They are a constant reminder of the recovery path we embarked upon when we entered the program. In some rooms, there is a tradition of passing around the coin just presented to every single person in the room. We are not doing this because we view the coin as some magic talisman that will prevent us from going out. Rather, by having all people present touch the coin we are affirming our deep connection to one another. It is oft repeated that this is a “we” program. Our sobriety only came about because we had the opportunity to share with one another our fears, problems, resentments, progress and insights. We are symbolically demonstrating that each of us has a role in the sobriety of his or her fellow, as do they in ours.
Personal Reflection: How have others helped me get my coins?
What is the price on an admission ticket to any AA, OA or NA meeting. Of course there is no monetary charge for attending a meeting. Although people throw a dollar or two into the collection basket as it is passed, we say in all sincerity, “we need you more than we need your money.” Rather the price of admission is desire. That is, do you have a desire to stop drinking, using drugs or eating compulsively? When you are able to answer yes to that question, you have gained entrance into the program
However, we are a demanding lot. Having a desire to stop using will only get you to the threshold of the program. The only way you can really become a member of the fellowship is to take that desire to the next level. Doing anything to the contrary will only result in relapse. It is only through total,abstinence that our desire is extinguished. To some of us this might appear counter-intuitive. We might think that going cold turkey so to speak is extreme and would only increase desire. We reason that just taking a “little bit or weaning ourselves off our substance would work better. As many an old timer has said, “how’s that working for you?” Then we drag ourselves back into the rooms and begin to work the program the right way.
Personal Reflection: How can I apply abstinence to other areas of my life?
We may not have been successful in many areas of our our lives, but as far as resentments were concerned, we were master craftsmen. We could create a resentment at the drop of a hat. The problem was that while we were active in our addiction; we didn’t even realize that we were in this negative state. In fact, we often puffed ourselves up in self righteousness; or fell into the despair of victimization.
When we finally entered the program we came to see how destructive our resentments had been. We had broken friendships and ruined relationships to show for them. As our minds began to clear it pained us greatly how much energy we had expended on often imagined wrongs against us. We really wanted to drop the resentments, but just didn’t know how. Then perhaps someone from a meeting suggested to us that resentments could only be sustained when we fed them. With diligence, as we felt a resentment building we could choose to not feed it. At first, we were only occasionally successful in this endeavor. However, over time, like any muscle, our ability to resist resentments got stronger thru practice. We even began to starve some of our long standing resentments as well.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to stop feeding my resentments?
We are unabashed defenders of a belief in our Higher Power. This belief for many of us did not come easy. We had tried to stop using our drug of choice without success. It was only when we had reached our bottom, that we surrendered and asked G-d to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Some of those bottoms were pretty severe. We only looked up for our Higher Power when their was no other direction to go.
Perhaps initially we thought that this turning to G-d was a one shot deal. OK, now that we were out of the woods, we could rely solely on ourselves again. What we found was that there were all other kinds of bottoms, that did not involve drugs or alcohol. We could be abstinent so to speak, and still walk around like we were intoxicated. This was the dilemma of the dry drunk. When we were in this state, we were hurtling ourselves like a runaway train towards all other kinds of emotional bottoms. The brakes were shot; and there was but one alternative; to turn to the G-d of our understanding. After repeated, brake failures, we began to turn to our Higher Power when the train had only begun to pick up speed.
Personal Reflection: Is my train picking up speed?
Every generation has had people that were considered spiritual. In the 19th century Henry David Thoreau left the hustle and bustle of the city behind and went to live on Walden Pond. More recently, in the 1960’s thousands of people flocked to Ashrams in India. Today, large numbers of people attend gatherings led by people like the the Dali Lama. If queried, almost all of these people would probably categorize themselves as spiritual.
We in AA, NA and OA identify our programs as spiritual as well. Yes, we also spend time in self examination, meditation and prayer. However, we define a large aspect of spirituality as something quite different. For us, spirituality, involves us stepping out of ourselves. For all to long we were obsessed with the world of I. We really did believe that the world should revolve around us. Now we see things very differently. A big part of our program is to extend ourselves and help others. When we do so, some of that arrogance of self is burned away and we begin to experience the joys of service. Helping others is a beautiful thing. When we do so, our minds quiet and we can forget about that world of I for a few hours. Those hours have become a precious commodity to us.
Personal Reflection: Do I exercise spirituality thru service?
In the old days we wore our resentments on our sleeves. There were so many people who we felt had wronged us in some way. We viewed life as hard and unforgiving so we decided to respond in kind. We were negative, bitter and unhappy people.Then we entered the program. We started to realize just how many resentments we were carrying around with us. It was almost like we were wearing a suit of negativity that weighed us down wherever we went. But that suit wasn’t permanent. We could shed layers of bitterness by beginning to forgive others for their perceived wrongs against us. Along the way we realized that we couldn’t even remember what some of those perceived wrongs had been. Then there were others which were actually minor in character but had been magnified by us while we were in our victim mode. Even where a real wrong had occurred; forgiveness was in order. The real breakthrough came as we began to forgive ourselves for all of our humanness and imperfection. This could only have taken place once when we became able to honestly look at ourselves and see our character defects; without buffering our weaknesses. Yet at the same time beginning to display a degree of compassion which had previously been unknown to us.
Personal Reflection: Where do I still need to practice forgiveness in my life?
When we we heard someone using words like “miracles” or “miraculous” many of us felt uncomfortable. We were of the school of thought that felt there was a logical explanation for almost everything that occurred in the universe. We had repeatedly heard about miracles which were later found to be explainable thru the laws of reason or science. Then perhaps one day while we were griping to someone about this miracle talk, an old timer interrupted our conversation and said, “how has your life changed since you entered the program”? Now that was something we could talk about. There had been so many changes for the better. Relationships had been reclaimed, finances had been restored, and health greatly improved. While we were active, in our wildest dreams we didn’t think that the type of life we were living was even in the realm of “possibility”. Yet now, thru the program we had fulfilled those supposedly unobtainable possibilities. We had even begun to look towards the future with an eye on uncovering a whole new set of possibilities. Upon consideration, our turning possibilities into reality really was miraculous.
Personal Reflection: How have my possibilities been miraculous?
There is a particular malady going around these days. Let’s call it the “I hope you don’t mind me telling you so disease”. These are the people who feel it is their duty to comment on every aspect of every person’s life. When you think about it, there is a certain arrogance to this syndrome. No one asked them for their advice. Deep down inside they really believe that they could run your life and everyone else’s better; if only their sagely advice was followed.
The members of 12 step program are not immune from this disease. In fact quite a few of them suffer from it. There is actually a simple solution to this malady. Every time a “hope you don’t minder” is about to speak, they need to pause and think very carefully and answer the following question. “Did the person I am about to speak to ask me for my advice or counsel”? If the answer is no, then they need to remain silent. To take it to the next level, even when we are asked for advice, we need to answer a second question. “Am I knowledgeable enough in this area to give good advice”? Once again, if the answer is no, we need to restrain our tongue. Most likely we will gain more from our silence than the other person will gain from our advice.
Personal Reflection: Do I know when to keep my mouth shut?
Walk into any 12 step room and you are almost guaranteed to see a collection of small signs. This is true for every single branch of the fellowship; AA to NA to OA to DA et. al. Go to a meeting anywhere in the world and you will see the same signs. They might be in French or Dutch or Hebrew or Japanese; but they all carry the same messages. Some of these include, One Day At A Time; Easy Does It and Think (upside down of course).
When we first came into the program these signs were a perfect prescription of information and wisdom. Quite frankly, for many of us, we had been talked to death by well intentioned friends and family members. At that point in our lives, we needed to keep it simple. Short aphorisms were easy to remember when we needed to draw upon them. As we gained some time; we noticed that the signs were still in the rooms, and that their messages had become part of our vocabulary. More importantly, they had become part of our belief systems. They were a compass which guided us through some of our more difficult days. They invariably helped us find true north and to find our correct path.
Personal Reflection: Which slogan gives me the most sustenance?
When it comes to all of the blessings we have, our minds are like a sieve. I mean really, how anyone can walk around bemoaning their fate is really quite puzzling. Each of us has so much to be thankful for. Yes, there are people that are facing a lot of adversity. That being said, they too have a bounty of blessings. The fact that we can breathe without having to think about it or walk without having to balance ourselves surely are gifts. If only we were able to have all of these gifts front and center in our minds; how much brighter each day would would be.
Paradoxically, when it comes to our troubles; are minds are more like a sponge. It is so easy for us to soak up negative energy and then hold onto to it for dear life. Some of us walk around with a troubling event long after it has past. So here is a modest proposal. Let’s attempt to reverse our brain patterns. Let’s remember our blessings like we remember our troubles; and forget our troubles like we forget our blessings. That my friends,is called recovery.
Personal Reflection: Am I able to forget my troubles and remember my blessings?