Put down the weapons, pick up the tools
Many people walk around in defense mode. It’s almost as if they are in a constant combat stance. All suggestions about change are rejected outright. To do otherwise would show signs of weakness on their part, or so they believe. Denial is also another big part of their arsenal. Even when confronted with the absolute truth about themselves, they will continue to be in that denial. Their persona also has a lot of bluster. They paint a picture that they’re experts in everything. When questioned about it, they either turn up the bluster volume or come up with a litany of excuses.
Upon entering the rooms of AA, NA or OA, these same people begin to learn that they have been carrying around the wrong objects. They understand that it’s time to put down the weapons and pick up the tools. Denial needs to be dropped and replaced with honesty. When they finally do this they begin to to be able to assess exactly what is working for them and what is not. Looking at their character defects for the first time is truly the beginning of their recovery. That bluster also needs to be dropped. Adopting humility will signify that they are truly teachable and open to change. Along the way they also pick up many other tools including, sponsors, meetings, and working the steps.
Personal Reflection: What tools do you carry into the world?
Many of us had made a mess out of our lives. Problems with work, family, marriages and health. We honestly couldn’t understand why all of this had happened to us. Then we hit our first meeting. We were a bit taken aback by what we heard. In a nutshell, we heard that everything had happened to us because of us. While we were running the show, our lives resembled one long protracted traffic accident. Probably some old timer told us it was time for us to get out of the driver’s seat. In that moment we really didn’t get what he was talking about. Over time, his words began to percolate within us. On the most basic level, it meant that we needed to follow the directions of others who had come before us. These included people with time, our sponsor and some of the readings from the Big Book. Beyond that, we needed to create a connection between ourselves and a Higher Power. Twelve step program is rooted in that connection. We began to understand that our Higher Power could “do for us what we could not do for ourselves”. We just needed to get out of the way and believe we could let go.
Personal Reflection: Am I still trying to drive the bus?
Upon entering the program we felt as if we have been given a second chance in life. Up until we entered the doors of AA, NA or OA our lives had been lived under the cloud of our drug of choice. Many of us had been this way for years and even decades. Over that time we had developed a certain persona. To tell you the truth it wasn’t a very pleasant one. Our lives were often filled with dishonesty, resentment, fear, negativity and guilt. We had lived with these feelings for so long that we came to believe that no other choices were available.
Sobriety opened up an entirely new pathway for us. It was actually a very broad pathway. At first, once we put down our drug of choice, we got ours toes wet and changed a few aspects of our behavior. Over time, we began to see that this road of sobriety was wide and long enough for us to change as much as we were willing to commit to. As we did so, we began to create a life for ourselves that we could never have imagined. We were able to shed many of those character defects and live a much happier and more positive life.
Personal Reflection: What changes still lie ahead for me?
Before we came into the program we were very defensive people. We had to be. If we were to internalize what you said about us, we would have had to admit to all of our character defects and failings. We had spent a lifetime running away from those defects. Our drinking, drugging or eating had been utilized to bury all of those negative feelings. We were hardly going to acknowledge them just because your assessment was largely correct. As our lives became more complicated by our drug of choice, our wall of defense grew and thickened.
By the time we entered the program, we had created quite an armor of distrust around us. At first, we thought we had to maintain that protective shield at all times. As we gained more time, we saw that your suggestions were not to knock us down or find fault with us, but to help us grow in sobriety. Yes, sometimes you were tough on us. Over time we came to understand that it came from a place of love and not of judgement. As we began to let our guard down, we began to hear the message of the program more clearly. We became hopeful that we could finally begin to break through that wall we had been carrying around for so long.
Personal Reflection: Do I still have walls that need to be broken through?
There is a story told of a sage who was asked by his students to explain the concept of being grateful with your portion. He told them they should go see a certain man in a nearby village for the answer. The students traveled to the village and asked the residents where the local sage was. When they went to his house however they discovered that he was not the man their teacher had been referring to. He directed them to a poor fellow who had a broken down shack in the woods. He was barely literate so at first the students were reticent about asking him their question. However since their teacher had sent them, they went and asked him about being satisfied with your portion. He replied to them, “I really don’t understand why your teacher sent you to me. I’ve never had a day in my life when I wasn’t grateful for what I had”.
We can learn a lot from that fellow in the woods. The very fact that we are here alive in this moment is a great place to start with in acknowledging our gratitude. Much of life is not situational. Rather it can be referenced by our attitudes. Of course there will be times of difficulty; and when that happens we need to make gratitude our fallback position
Personal Reflection: What am I grateful for today?
We say that we practice life one day at a time. Part of the reason for this is that new issues are going to arise every single day. Yes it’s true that yesterday we worked our program diligently and that work helped keep us physically and emotionally sober. The problem is that we need to have our batteries recharged every day. The work we did yesterday helps, but within a short period of time, it’s benefits dissipate. The only way we can jump start our program is to do work on a daily basis. Probably one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to make as many meetings as possible each week. Every time we go to a meeting, that program voltage meter gets activated. If we are having a particularly challenging day, all of the inspiration and wisdom from those meetings can be drawn upon. However, when we have neglected going to meetings, our program battery has been drained. When that happens, we begin to make decisions that are impulsive, reckless and sometimes even dangerous. Before we know it, we are acting like a dry drunk. The path to picking up suddenly seems a lot closer than we thought. When that happens, get back to your meetings.
Personal Reflection: Am I making enough meetings?
People in the program are like anyone else. We too on a daily basis must face life’s problems. Once we have established our goals; we also expend great effort to achieve them. This is usually the point where we part company with those who are not in the program. As long as we’ve done our part to our best effort; we let go of expectations.
At its core, twelve step program is spiritual in nature. We place our trust in our Higher Power to determine the results. In the past we spent a lot of time worrying and fearful about the outcome of our efforts. By doing so we burnt up a lot of emotional energy. Today, we are able to experience serenity. Since we know that our Higher Power is in charge, much of our fear has been lifted. The more we accept that G-d is running the show, the less concern we have for the ultimate outcome of events. Since we have put in effort and right work, we are confident in the outcome, no matter what it might be. The only time we end emotionally stressed is when we forget who is truly in charge.
Personal Reflection: Have I remembered to turn it over today?
As we were growing up, we were not issued a manual on how to navigate this life. Many feelings arose for us on a daily basis. Although some were positive, many were not. All those feelings of fear, anger, shame, jealousy, envy and pride hobbled our ability to function on a daily basis. We suffered greatly because of it. Then one day, we discovered alcohol, drugs or food. As soon as we ingested our drug of choice, all of the pain we suffered from lifted. At least for a short while we had a respite. The problem was that a short respite was not enough and we increased our usage. Before we knew it, we couldn’t even identify what a feeling was. We walked around in a coma like state; one day aimlessly following another.
At some point we were able to put down our substance. Within a short period of time, we began to truly feel alive once again. Shortly thereafter all of those old troubling feelings came flooding back as well. This time we didn’t run away from all of those feelings. With tools garnered from our 12 step program we were able to deal with life issues without turning to substances. We had learned the meaning of living life on life’s terms.
Personal Reflection: How do I deal with feelings today?
Sometimes you will meet someone at a meeting who truly inspires you. They seem to be an embodiment of all the principles of the program. After listening to them, you decide to boot up your own program. You start to make more meetings because of what you heard. You also journal, pray, meditate and call your sponsor more because you want to follow that great advice given to you earlier.
A few months pass and you see that person who inspired you once again. This time however they don’t look so good. In fact, they look pretty bad. When they share; you find out that they went out shortly after you spoke last and are just coming back. How did that happen? They had such good advice; yet here they are again counting days.
Perhaps a big part of the problem was that “inspiring person” had forgotten one of the principles of the program; to be honest in all of our dealings. Apart from the fact that they weren’t honest with you, more importantly they weren’t honest with themselves. They painted a picture of themselves which was completely false. At one time it had been true, but those days had faded. Pride had replaced truth and the results were a descent back into their disease.
Personal Reflection: Does my advice mirror my own actions?
There is a reality to sobriety that is irrefutable. We cannot and should not attempt to do this program by ourselves. That was our modus operandi while we were active. Although we had many feelings of anger, fear and shame we chose to not share those feelings with anyone else. We walked around in a state of upset. As a result,when the opportunity appeared for us to relieve ourselves of all of that upset through our drug of choice, we were more than willing participants. Then of course we felt remorse for using; or for actions while we were under the influence. Since we didn’t share this with anyone else, it was just piled on along with all of the other buried feelings. The cycle of upset, drug of choice and remorse had begun once again.
When we finally put down the alcohol, drugs or food, the cycle was temporarily broken. However if we failed to change our behavior, we would quickly end up back on the despair treadmill. A big part of that change was the acknowledgement that this is a “we” program. The failure to recognize this usually lead to relapse. Utilizing the wisdom and support of other members of the fellowship was critical to recovery. Once we got beyond our pride or shame and opened ourselves to the help and concern of others; we had a much greater chance of success.
Personal Reflection: Am I practicing a “we” program?