One of the main tools of the program is meditation. As we began to meditate many of us were quite taken aback at just how challenging it was. We had been told to focus our attention solely on our breath. This seemed simple enough. What we discovered was that our mind was everywhere except on focusing on our breath. Our thoughts cascaded from one topic to another that were often only loosely associated. A lot of the time we would end up dwelling on thoughts from the past. These often caused us much distress. We had frequently behaved quite inappropriately due to our alcohol or drug addiction. Sometimes we thought about the future. These thoughts were just as disturbing. We discovered that without our drug of choice to soothe us, fear had often kicked in. This could often verge on feelings of panic as some upcoming event or commitment loomed on the horizon. We were advised to as best as possible “stay in the moment”. This worked some of the time, but often our thoughts turned to past transgressions or fears of the future. In those moments we turned to another cornerstone of the program. We turned to our Higher Power to help us to stay in the present and practice the principles of acceptance.
Personal Reflection: Do I look up often enough?
In this society we place a big premium on getting things done as quickly as possible. Efficiency and speed are some of the holy grails of modern western civilization. People want there Big Macs and Whoppers ready before they receive their change for their order. Drinking drip coffee or using a French press is so passé because it is just too slow. These days we all have little machines that we put in a pre measured cup of coffee and 30 seconds later we have our brew.
Though it might work for coffee, speed does not work for recovery. If we find ourselves rushing through the 12 steps, we are probably not doing them correctly. Experience has shown us that almost anything that has value in our recovery comes along with associated challenges. As we dig deep into our past, and examine our character defects, there will be times that we become stuck in the process. Rather than being concerned about this, we should acknowledge that if we are feeling resistance, we are probably doing something right. Many of us even feel that obstacles are often placed in our path by our Higher Power to test our mettle. We have also discovered that things we once viewed as being impossible to deal with, our now in our rear view mirror.
Personal Reflection: How has adversity helped me to grow?
It’s taken a long time for some of us to learn one of life’s basic principles; that we have the right to change our mind. There are very few things in this life for which we are unable to reverse ourselves. We can change our career, end or begin a relationship or take up water polo. So if this is a truism of life, why are there so many people stuck in decisions that are no longer working for them, and perhaps never worked for them. The main reason people do this is because of fear. We are often afraid to make that change because we fear that we will fail in that new endeavor. Many of us reason that although I’m unhappy with this situation, at least it’s one I know. There is comfort in the familiar; even when it’s no longer working for us. Then there are those who fail to make changes because they fear the disapproval of others. “What will my friends, wife, husband, parents, siblings or co-workers think”? For many, concern over what other’s thinks can squash our aspirations for change.
With all that, each time we shift or even reverse course we make a deposit in our emotional and spiritual bank accounts. The more resistance we encounter, the greater the deposit.
Personal Reflection: Is there a decision I’ve made which needs to be reviewed?
Relapse is a very enigmatic topic. We are often stunned when someone with long term sobriety goes out. When they finally make it back into the rooms, they often speak honestly about what happened. How did they end up in that bar ordering drinks, or on that corner buying drugs, or in that bakery buying a sheet cake? There seems to be a common denominator with all of them. None of them will say that they got up that morning and just decided to go to the bar, the street corner or the bakery. That was actually the last stop before they picked up. There was a progression of thoughts and actions which led them to that point. Perhaps a month before; they had needed to buy a birthday present for someone and went into a liquor store to buy a gift. Perhaps a sibling had asked for help in baking a chocolate cake for an upcoming wedding anniversary. A small action can cause a chain of events with serious consequences. The same applies to our emotional sobriety as well. We can not allow something like a “small” resentment to linger. Before we know it, it could snowball into something far more serious and destructive.
Personal Reflection: Have I stumbled over any pebbles lately?
Two members of the fellowship were walking down a busy street together talking to one another. Coming from the other direction walking towards them was a blind man with a cane. He tapped his stick on the ground slowly as he weaved around people and obstacles. “Look at that poor fellow” said one of the two people. “He must have a horrible life. He was really dealt a terrible hand by G-d. He can’t drive a car or view a sunset.I’m sure not a day goes by without him being angry and depressed about his life”. The other person said, “of course I don’t know him but I have a totally different take. I see a very independent man who is totally integrated in life. He’s out there walking by himself. I sense his courage, determination and strength. I even caught a glimpse of a smile on his face”.
Of course, without talking to the blind man we have no idea what the reality of his life really is. What does matter is that how we see things often has more to do with our attitudes than with our occipital lobe. That being the case, when we cultivate a more open and expansive attitude, then what we see will also be more positive in nature; as will our experiences.
Personal Reflection: How would I have viewed this blind man?
One could say that our program has two stages. The first stage is a well known one. We reached a point where we had to give up our drug of choice. Our drinking, drug usage or eating habits were creating havoc in our lives. We admitted our powerlessness and entered the fellowship. We had entered the world of sobriety. Once we made that decision, many if not all of the problems caused by our drinking and drugging disappeared. As long as we maintained sobriety, these types of problems no longer dogged us.
However, there was a second stage to the program. We quickly encountered many other life challenges totally unconnected to our abuse of substances. This was a bit of a surprise to us. We had thought that putting down the alcohol, drugs or food would mean smooth sailing from then on. It was a rude awakening to encounter a whole new set of problems. At first we blamed everyone else about our life situation. Then gradually, we began to learn about emotional sobriety. We learned that it wasn’t so much about people places and things as much as about our attitudes. We needed to retrain our minds to begin to take personal responsibility for what happened to us in life. Even when there was enough blame to go around to include others, our task was to focus on our part.
Personal Reflection: Do I still play the blame game?
Sometimes we will see someone behaving in an immature way and jokingly say, “ah, another case of arrested development”. Most of the people in this category just have a temporary lapse of mature judgement. They usually return to their normal state by the next day. We members of AA, NA and OA are in a somewhat different category. It has often been said, that the day that we picked up our substance of choice, was the day we stopped growing emotionally, psychically and spiritually. That is why, when we put down our drug of choice, we are in a state of great confusion. Many of us started using in our late teens or early twenties. Then came decades of drinking or drugging. Upon stopping we suddenly realized that chronologically we might be middle aged, but emotionally and spiritually we were still in our formative years. It was as if we had put our lives on hold for a very, very long time. We lacked many life skills. We really didn’t know who we were or how to fulfill our potential. By going to meetings, getting and speaking with a sponsor and doing step work, life began to change. We started to development spiritual and emotional awareness and began to become the man or woman we were meant to be.
Personal Reflection: Who were you meant to be?
There was a time that we had many dreams. As we imbibed on our drug of choice, we waxed poetic on all of the things we were going to do, all of the places we were going visit, and all of the things were were going to acquire. Our hopes and dreams were never dashed, because we never even made the effort to take the first step towards their actualization. In a perverse sort of way, this behavior insured that our dreams would forever remain just that, dreams. Everything stayed in a state of potentiality.
In sobriety, we also have dreams. The difference is that we take actions to begin in their fulfillment. Sometimes we have the pleasure of having a dream come true. We save up for that special vacation or finally ask out that co-worker. It feels wonderful knowing that we made the effort to turn our dream into reality. Sometimes though, we take the steps to fulfill a dream, and it evaporates right before our eyes. Had that happened while we were drinking or drugging, we probably would have gone into a tailspin. Now, we know better. If a dream falls through, just create another one.
Personal Reflection: How do I cope with broken dreams?
Every decade scientists have made progress in finding cures and treatments for various diseases. A generation ago, the epidemics of polio were eliminated with the Salk vaccine. More recently, great strides have been made in the areas of cancer and cardiovascular research. With all that, one of the most prevalent diseases of the millennia has remained largely untreated. In fact, one could argue that there has been an epidemic of the disease. Almost everyone you meet is suffering it to some degree. We are of course referring to the condition of “negativity”. The symptoms are easy enough to identify. They include irritability, feelings of resentment, self belittlement and personal doubt. This disease is found in the workplace as well as in people’s homes, and especially on highways and other modes of public transportation. Unfortunately, the researchers have not come up with a vaccine to prevent this malady. What has been discovered is that individuals actually do have some tools to help alleviate some of the symptoms of negativity. One that has been shown to be remarkably effective is the expression of gratitude throughout of day. The latest research seems to indicate that when we not only have thoughts of gratitude, but actually verbally express it, their is an immediate relief of the symptoms of negativity. Sharing our feelings with others and and doing service also seem to have promise in treating the negativity disease.
Personal Reflection: What home remedies do I use for negativity?
While we were using we had all kinds of preconceptions about what the program was like. When we finally walked down those steps into a meeting, we were a bit startled. Many of us were expecting to see a group of old and bitter men who were bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t drink or drug. Instead, we encountered men and women of all ages. More to the point, there was often a lot of laughter and good feelings in the rooms. In particular we sensed that there was a strong bond and sense of camaraderie amount the members. We also noticed that unlike when we were active, people paid attention to their health. In the past many of us had been afraid to go to the doctor because we had great fear about what he would say. We feared being we would be to stop using or that we had already done serious physical damage to ourselves. What really gained our attention was that we were exposed to a group of people in recovery who could live a happy productive life without drugs and alcohol. As we listened to their voices we also came to understand what emotional sobriety meant as well.
Personal Reflection: What do I find attractive about the program?