Many philosophers say that we are born with a blank slate. By this they mean that our lives are not pre-determined. This gives us the opportunity to craft the life that we want. What a fantastic notion. We can live a life that allows us to fulfill a destiny unlike any other. There is also a down side to being born with that blank slate. Our lives do not come with an instruction manual. Those pages were left out of the birth and growth process. Without that manual, some of us turned to alcohol, drugs or food to solve the daily challenges of life. When we final gave up on that solution, we turned to the fellowship. Luckily for us, we now do have an instruction manual. It is called “The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous”. Within its pages are guidelines for living a sober, productive and happy life. As many of us have discovered, reading the book is not enough. It’s critical that we put into practice all of it’s instructions and principles. When we find that our life is not working for us, we need to go back to that manual for direction. A good starting point is to find a step or a slogan that we can utilize to deal with our current problem.
Personal Reflection: what step or slogan do I turn to most often?
It’s pretty easy to spot the newcomer. They are often the ones who are sitting in the back of the room trying to melt into the furniture. The ones who when the person leading the meeting looks around to call on someone will immediately avert their eyes. The ones who run out as soon as the meeting is over. Perhaps they will talk to their sponsor about their discomfort at being at meetings. “What shall I talk about? I have nothing to speak about”, they will say. The reality is that each of us really has a lot to say. While we were active, we had so tamped down our feelings with our drug of choice that we hadn’t the foggiest idea of what we felt. As we began to accept life on life’s terms, we discovered that we had a lot of fear, resentment, anger, jealousy, et al arising every day. As an addict, it was critically important for us to be able to unload those feelings either with our sponsor or at a meeting. When we kept those negative thoughts bottled up they continued to build up in us. Unfortunately, when we did so, the chances of us pursuing our drug of choice to soothe ourselves greatly increased. Sharing at meetings was a much healthier, more intelligent and far safer alternative.
Personal Reflection: What do I need to share today?
Impulsivity has been a common defect of character for many of us. Sometimes it involved a trivial decision like subscribing to a newspaper or a magazine that we really didn’t want. At other times our impulsive nature resulted in us making important life decisions that weren’t in our best interests. Some of us ended up in places that were unsafe, or engaging in dangerous behavior or even marrying a person that we had just met and hardly knew. We then learned that although decisions could be made quickly and impulsively, reversing them wasn’t always easy. When we finally entered the program, our tendency to make impulsive decisions did not just melt away. We really needed to begin a program of retraining. Although we intellectually now understood the dangers of making snap decisions, new neural pathways needed to replace those impulsive ones. We learned that if we took a breath and paused before we committed to something, it rarely caused the loss of the opportunity. In fact, in most situations people were perfectly willing to give us time to ponder a decision before giving them an answer. For those decisions that had to be made on the spot; better that we lose out than commit to something that would cause us pain down the road.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to work on being impulsive?
Early on in sobriety we began to work the steps. Often our sponsors had us read from The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. It didn’t matter if another substance was our drug of choice. The wisdom of the Twelve and Twelve was universal. Most of us went through the steps in the first year or two. Sometimes however a person would spend years on a particular step and be unable to move forward. When questioned, they would often claim that they were stuck because “it wasn’t good enough” or “not complete”. Part of the problem was that their perfectionism and fear of failure had carried over from their days when they were active in their addiction. In the past, they had exhibited the same type of behavior. They had often avoided challenges because of their fear of failure. If they did finally push themselves to take a risk, and they failed, they would fall into depression or turn to their drug of choice. In sobriety, we have learned that we can drop our perfectionism. That when we do take a risk and fail, there are many other options open to us. And as far as the steps are concerned; they need not be perfect. We will make the necessary changes the next time around when we do them again.
Personal Reflection: How do I react to failure?
These days there is much greater awareness about heart health. People are altering their diets and eating cleaner and healthier food. There is far more awareness about issues like stress and obesity. The American Medical Association recommends aerobic exercise and walking 10,000 steps a day. All of these will definitely aid in the improvement of cardiovascular health.
There is another type of heart health, that is often neglected as well. We are talking about emotional heart health. What is the prescription for those suffering from a heart that is pained by guilt or loss. Or even a heart that is so covered over that almost nothing can penetrate it’s hard lacquered veneer. Of course talking to a friend or a therapist can be helpful. Beyond that, we have found that helping another person who is suffering is often the best course of action. This might seem counter-intuitive. When we are immersed in our own problems, the last thing we want to do is go help someone else. We would rather stay in bed watching television and nursing our wounds. That is exactly the time we need to reach out and help another member whose heart is also emotionally under attack. When we are able to get outside of ourselves and help another, a little bit of sunlight can pierce the hearts of our fellow. We have also found that some of the veils covering our own heart are lifted in the process as well.
Personal Reflection: How do I exercise my heart?
We encounter all different kinds of people in the rooms. What we have in common is that all us have stopped using our drug of choice. Beyond that we are like a wildflower garden with a thousand varieties. There are of course the external differences. We come in different genders, ages and hues. Probably we are the only institution in the world that has so many varied religious beliefs sitting under one roof at the same time. But, there is another aspect to our differences. Some people in the program are truly “happy, joyous and free”. Initially, one might chalk us this up them being born that way. “They’re one of the lucky ones like the Hollywood stars who were blessed with great looks and perfect teeth”.
The reality is that our fellow members would be the first to say that they used to be negative, bitter, unhappy and ungrateful people. Their journey of personal transformation did not happen overnight. They have spent years on working the program. Every day they allot serious time for the maintenance of their sobriety. They speak with their sponsor, go to meetings, and take service commitments. Perhaps most importantly they integrate the steps into their lives. So, if they have a resentment they do a tenth step and when they are wrong admit it and make amends. Every time they let go of a resentment, their happiness quotient rises.
Personal Reflection: Am I happy, joyous and free?
We believe that there is a certain order to the universe. Take humility for example. It is one of the cornerstones to our program. A big part of our work is to do a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves. It definitely takes humility to admit to our defects of character. Perhaps in the past we had consistently placed blame on others to explain away our failures or problems. Now for the first time we were able to admit to the role we had played in these life events. In fact, when appropriate, we were able to claim the lion’s share of responsibility.
Once we had admitted “our part”, we sought out people we had harmed and made our amends. This often took courage and quite frequently caused quite a bit of discomfort for us as well.
Some of us however refused to admit our wrongs and our defects of character. We then discovered that if we weren’t going to admit to our pride and arrogance, then life itself would somehow force us to do so. When that happened it was a lot more painful than if we had come to that conclusion on our own.
Personal Reflection: Did I have to be made humble?
Driving a car is a wonderful analogy to reference the past and the present. As any good driver knows we need to constantly look out the windshield to see where we are going.
We also periodically glance into our rear view mirror to see what is behind us. That mirror is small and we should only reference it occasionally and it also provides a wonderful guideline for looking at the past. It should make up a small percentage of our focus and only be done periodically. Yes, we do need to reference the past. The question is how much energy to devote to it. Returning to the analogy of the car, if we largely focus on the rear view mirror, sooner or later we are going to crash. We would have become so enmeshed looking backwards that our present course would have become neglected. The same thing can happen when we obsess about the past and ignore the present.
As far as the windshield is concerned, it’s size represents its importance. Our focus as we drive is to look at what is directly in front of us. However, we only have limited visibility to see further down the road. In life the same is true. Our task is to stay as much in the moment as possible. We can attempt to look towards the future, but must acknowledge that we have limited visibility at best.
Personal Reflection: Do I look through my rear view mirror too often?
Recently, two people who had just come out of their yoga class had a small fender bender in the parking lot. Right after the accident they began to yell at each other at the top of their lungs. Both had spent an hour doing deep stretches in class and ended their session in deep meditation. Yet now, just a few minutes later, they had left the serenity of the class far behind. So, the question is where did a spiritual experience take place that morning? Many would say that their hour long session of yoga and meditation qualified as spiritual. We in the program look at life a little differently. We believe the true spiritual experience took place when they lost it with one another in the parking lot. Yes, the yoga class was very nice and relaxing. But, it was when they were yelling at each other that they had the greater opportunity for spiritual growth. If they had chosen to examine their actions, they would have discovered opportunities to work on anger, pride, self righteousness, arrogance and a host of other defects of character. The real spiritual “work” takes place when we see those darker parts of ourselves and have the capacity to own up to them. If one of them had stopped yelling and said “forgive me for hitting your car”, that would have been a spiritual home run.
Personal Reflection: What was my last rude awakening?
Many people prior to entering the program thought they were terminally unique. Their view of the world was often skewed. For instance, because they were often isolators or self absorbed, they really had no idea what was happening with other people. Thus, they often had the attitude that their life was somehow more challenging and difficult than that of the majority of other people. Because of this, they justified their drug of choice as a type of self medication administered because life had dealt them the worst possible hand. They reasoned that if they had been dealt a better hand they wouldn’t have turned to drugs and alcohol.
Upon entering the rooms, they learned some valuable life lessons. They encountered people in the program who had were facing major life crises. These included serious illness, bankruptcy, loss of loved ones and problems with relationships. To the newcomer’s amazement, problems were faced by these people without a drink or a drug or a substance. What really astonished them was that these same people at meetings were able to express gratitude for their lives. Upon seeing and hearing this, the newcomer began to reassess his or her own life. Perhaps their problems weren’t as insurmountable as they had once thought. Given that this was the case, perhaps they could obtain sobriety one day at a time.
Personal Reflection: Do I have enough gratitude?