Sometimes we get taken hostage in a conversation. We ask a very innocuous question such as, “how are you”? After that, everything becomes a blur. As long as we are willing to sit there and listen, the person proceeds to tell us about how wonderful they are, how many things they have accomplished, and usually how much better they are than everyone else. Every time we attempt to interject a point about ourself, it is quickly disregarded and the conversation returns to the self absorbed individual. On some level they probably believe that the more they speak about themselves, the more you’ll come to appreciate just how special they are.
In program, we quickly recognize the character defects of arrogance and grandiosity. We are far more impressed by those who know how to engage in a true conversation. A true conversation includes a person talking openly and honestly not only about what is going right in their lives; but about their character defects and challenges. They know when to pause and give you an opportunity to speak. Most importantly, they know how to listen empathetically without being in judgement or giving advice. Those are the kinds of conversations we need to seek out.
Personal Reflection: Do I sometimes still take people hostage?
For the first 20 years of our lives, we spent much of our time sitting at desks in school. The learning experienced was a very formalized one. The teacher, who was the expert stood at the front of the room and passed on the information to us; the students. There were other experts in our lives who passed on information as well. Religious leaders were the experts who gave sermons which taught us how we should behave. Doctors were the experts we went to see when we were sick. Wherever we turned there was someone who was going to educate us. It seemed like we were always on the receiving end of information and wisdom.
Of course it’s important for us to listen to the advice of others who have knowledge. What we learned in the program was that everyone had wisdom. Sometime we would be sitting in a meeting and see someone who in a million years we wouldn’t think we could learn anything from. Then he or she opened their mouth and we were blown away by their story or by how they incorporated a Higher Power into their life or how they worked the steps on a daily basis. We also learned that we had important things to say as well.
Personal Reflection: How am I both a student and a teacher?
Before coming into the program, most of us really didn’t know how to deal with people who came to speak to us about their problems. Some of us thought they were coming to us in order for us to fix them. We often proceeded to give them an entire lecture on what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their lives. Others proceeded to just tear down the person and show them how weak, foolish or incompetent they were. Another approach was to minimize their problem and perhaps even make fun of them. And of course there was those who immediately started to talk about how their own problems far outweighed those of the person who came to seek their help.
Today, we have a different approach. We realize that most of the time people just want to be heard. It’s not our job to fix them or give unsolicited advice. There is power in just one person listening very deeply to another. As best we can, we need to drop whatever judgements we have towards the person speaking with us. We need to realize that often they haven’t had the benefit of the tools of the program in dealing with life’s challenges. Rather than viewing them as somehow defective, we need to pray that they have a spiritual awakening.
Personal Reflection: Do I give unsolicited advice?
Personal reflection is a big part of our program of recovery. Through self examination we have come to understand that we had many serious issues. These affected every area of our life. As part of our dysfunction we established many unhealthy relationships. Perhaps we associated with hypercritical or sarcastic people because of our feelings of inferiority. These people were just reaffirming what we knew about ourselves all along. We allowed them to demean us because on some level we believed we deserved it. Along the way we probably also picked up some rage-a-holics, victims of life and assorted others.
In recovery, we began the work of repairing ourselves. We also began to relate to people in a much healthier way. Changes really began to take root within us. What we discovered was that some of those “old friends” did not like these changes. They wanted us to return to our old ways. Often, when we responded to them in a sober manner, they escalated their unhealthy behavior. Over time, some of them changed because of the power of our example. Others however, remain entrenched in their behavior and deteriorated even more. Though it was painful, we needed to let go of that second group. Their dysfunction was a threat to our sobriety, which had to come first. We needed to detach with love, but we still needed to let go of them.
Personal Reflection: Am I holding on to someone I need to let go of?
A fundamental element of language are cause and effect phrases. When we choose A, then B results. There are literally thousands of these types of phrases. Many are of course relevant to people in program. One of the most common (though stated in the negative) is, “if you don’t take the first drink, (or drug or trigger food) then you won’t get drunk”. That is the most basic of cause and effect.
Then there is another category. We could call it, “if I had known that was going to happen, then I would have chosen differently. We call this type of thinking 20/20 hindsight. It can be of value when we examine the repercussions of our actions and learn from them. Hopefully we make better decisions the next time around.
Sometimes it’s best to refrain from 20/20 hindsight thinking. Instead of immediately concluding that we made the wrong decision, we begin to practice an oft neglected skill; that of patience. In the program we ultimately believe that G-d is running the show. Sometimes we need to exercise patience and see how things play out. In order to do this we need to push aside our initial rush to judgement; and trust that our Higher Power knows what He’s doing. More often than not, when patience is practiced, things somehow fall into place.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to exercise patience?
Why do people use alcohol, drugs or food? I’m sure that psychologists, psychiatrists and substance abuse counsellors have a boatload of answers. When you get down to it, people used because they were just to darned uncomfortable being who they were. Life went along with a lot of pain and suffering. To just get outside of themselves and experience a degree of comfort was the motivation of many. In fact, you will hear people say that in the beginning their drug of choice worked. What we found out out was that over time our miracle cure lost its potency. It no longer had the effect that we desired. In fact it caused even more pain, suffering and self loathing. It was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No real psychic or emotional change took place when we used. At best, it just deadened our feelings down to the core.
Sobriety has the potential to deliver that shift that we were so desperately seeking. There was finally a real possibility of accepting who we were and learning to love ourselves. Life still hit us with a daily barrage of challenges. Now, we were able to say, “bring it on”.
Personal Reflection: How have I changed in sobriety?
For years we danced around our addiction. “I’m really not an alcoholic, I’m just a heavy drinker”. “I’m really not a food addict, I’ve just always been a big eater”. “I’m really not a drug addict, because a doctor prescribed these meds for me”. We could have gone on for an entire lifetime just sitting on the fence about our addiction. The problem with not making a statement of admission is that as long as we failed to do so, we were able to remain in denial about our drug of choice. Even if we attended meetings and got a sponsor, little of the program stuck. It was like we were encased in a sheath of WD 40 oil of denial. Every time someone gave us a suggestion we nodded our head in agreement, but on some level it just slipped away because there was no surface for it to adhere to. We clung to that false hope that we weren’t that drug addict or alcoholic. We reasoned that as long as we denied it, then somehow our problems were less serious than they actually appeared. When we had the courage to admit that we were powerless over our drug of choice; we became like a magnet attracting the gift of sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Am I still in denial about some aspect of my addiction of choice?
Prayer and meditation are integral parts of our program. This was actually a turn-off for many of us in the beginning of sobriety. Prayer in particular was a sore point for us. Growing up, we had often had bad experiences with the religion of our youth. It was often shoved down our throats with no regard for what we wanted or needed. We also often experienced a G-d who was angry and punishing. There was enough self flagellation taking place without G-d jumping on the band wagon. The prayers that we mechanically muttered rarely resonated with us.
All that changed as we became immersed in the program. We learned that our Higher Power could be whatever we wanted It, He, or She to be. It was totally up to us. Most of us opted for a loving caring Higher Power that we could pour our hearts out to. We learned that prayer was an opportunity for us to have a personal conversation with the G-d of our understanding, whenever we needed to. Many of us also adopted a meditation practice. During those moments of silence, we found answers to questions which had dogged us or inspirational thoughts moving us in totally new directions. Not believing in coincidence we attributed this to our Higher Power as well.
Personal Reflection: How do I use prayer and meditation to maintain my sobriety?
The concept of sponsorship is actually quite amazing. He or she is a person who you can call on a daily basis. When we do so, we are free to tell them anything we want. We can be totally open and honest with them. Part of the conversation can include advice on some of our issues. Part of sponsorship is to share how we handled similar situations. Most amazingly, all this is done without paying the sponsor for any of his or her time.
Where some sponsees make a mistake is when they start thinking of their sponsor as a therapist. Sponsors are not trained mental health professionals. They don’t have advanced degrees in psychology or social work. What they do have is life experience in alcohol and drug addiction and more importantly in recovery. If you are looking for understanding how your family of origin contributed to your addiction or how your issues of self esteem can be addressed, it is more appropriate for you to talk to a therapist. They are trained to help you examine these areas. In the program, we encourage members to seek out professional help. As sponsors, we are more concerned with how you will live life in the future; as opposed to understanding your past. If your sponsor starts analyzing you, maybe you should think about getting a new sponsor.
Personal Reflection: Am I playing therapist or patient?
Perhaps the following has happened to you. You’re in the supermarket and see a beautiful bag of apples for sale. The skins are mottled with reds, greens and browns and they have a wonderful bouquet. You grab a bag of them and head for home. After lunch you cut one of the apples open and see that it is rotten to the core. What a drag. It was so beautiful on the outside and smelled so delightful, but it was essentially inedible.
Secrets are like that. Many of us look great from the outside. We might even be called a poster child for the program. We make meetings, call our sponsor and do service. But inside, all is not well. There are secrets which we have carried for years or even decades. We don’t talk about them. We are afraid that if you find out what we did in the past, you will stop being our friend, or have many judgements against us. Shame holds us back from sharing these secrets because we have some misguided idea about having to always be perfect.
When we finally take that step and begin to share those secrets, we usually experience a tremendous sense of relief. We have begun the process of separating ourselves from the secret and the person who created it. Each time we share, we help to create a new healthier persona.
Personal Reflection: Am I still carrying secrets?