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?
Alcohol, drugs and food were like a light switch for us. As long as we stayed away from our drug of choice, we often appeared to be quite well adjusted to those around us. Once we took that first drink or drug, then all bets were off. That switch was turned on, and everything changed. Perhaps initially we became the life of the party or felt at ease in social situations. For many of us, that light switch also unleashed a lot of pent up feelings we had been carrying around. In particular, we tapped into a mother lode of anger and resentment. These were feelings that we had often carried for a long time without having addressed them.
Perhaps abstaining from our drug of choice removed the trigger for our anger. It didn’t take long however for us to discover that all of those feelings of anger and resentment were only just below the surface. Now almost any life situation could trigger us into some kind of emotional tirade. Left unaddressed, these feelings would eventually lead us to taking that first drink or drug. That’s why it was imperative for us to begin to address all of those feelings of rage and anger. We made it our business to tap into the fellowship for assistance. We also asked our Higher Power to remove our reactivity to the vicissitudes of life.
Personal Reflection: Is anger still my master?
Imagine you found yourself in a deep dark hole. It was so deep in fact that there was absolutely no way that you could just jump out or pull yourself out of it. The only way you could get out of the hole was if there was a ladder you could use to climb out with.
Addiction is similar to that deep hole. Left to out own devices, we found it impossible to extricate ourselves from it. We tried many strategies but we always seemed to end up back in that hole once again. The programs of AA, NA and OA provided us with a ladder to help us depart from the hole of addiction. Each of the rungs of the ladder represented a different aspect of the program to help us climb out. Some of those rungs included going to meetings, getting a sponsor, working the steps, taking service commitments, practicing daily prayer and meditation and helping another member of the fellowship. By climbing the rungs we found that we could extricate ourselves from that dark pit. We also found that when we neglected various aspects of the program we began to slide back into the hole. It was not something we could say we were ever free and clear off.
Personal Reflection: Am I going up or sliding down the ladder?
At a meeting you will invariably hear someone speak about their bottom. This was the point where they were most active in their addiction just prior to coming into the program. Those bottoms had many levels. Some people had reached low bottoms which included serious health issues, problems with the law and broken relationships. Then there were those with high bottoms. These were people who were still able to maintain some degree of functionality. They entered the program as well because they realized that alcohol, drugs and food would ultimately result in a continued downward spiral.
There is another kind of bottom which can be found in the rooms of AA, NA and OA. In it, are people who have given up their drug of choice; so as far as substances go, they are technically sober. Yet the reality is that they are far from it. They are the ones who refuse to work their program. They rarely call their sponsor. Long periods go by without their attending a meeting. The steps are something they take to go up a flight of stairs as opposed to 12 guidelines for emotional sobriety. Once you become a dry drunk, having a slip becomes a much greater possibility. We need to be truly sober in all of our affairs.
Personal Reflection: Do some of my behaviors fit that of a dry drunk?
We had prided ourselves on our gift of gab. This was especially true after we had had a few. The next day we couldn’t understand why people were upset or angry with us. The fact is we couldn’t quite remember what we had said. It must have been brilliant though, given our ability to wax poetic on all things. They must be sensitive sorts we mused to ourselves; and started the next conversation with whoever was near us.
In sobriety our sponsor really let us have it. At first he told us if we had a thought we should keep it to ourselves. Then he relented and told us we could resume conversations with people, but with three provisos. First, we could only speak the truth. No more of that grandiosity or arrogance of ours that often leaked through. Then he told us that before we told anyone anything we needed to check if it would hurt them in any way. If so, we were to keep our mouths shut. Finally, after passing those first two hurdles, we needed to examine if what was being said was really necessary. Following these guidelines we discovered that we had a lot less to say to people. On the positive side, when we did speak to people they no longer were angry or upset with us. In fact sometimes, they wanted to hear more.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to monitor my words more carefully?