Given that summer is upon us, many people turn to gardening. There is actually an amazing phenomenon that occurs when we plant flowers and vegetables. We plant a seed in the ground and give it a little water. If you were to dig up that seed after a few days, you would see that it was actually beginning to deteriorate and rot. Then right before there was total deterioration, a new sprout suddenly appears. Life emerges from something which appeared to be rotting away.
Our lives are sometimes like that little seed. We get covered over with the problems of life to the point that we actually feel like we’ve been buried. While we were active and without the tools of the program, we often did become buried by life. We remained so for years and sometimes decades. When we finally got sober that seed began to sprout. Of course we continued to face many problems. However, now, we came up with solutions to these challenges. In fact it was only because of these trials and tribulations that we were able to create solutions. So many seeds sprouted as a result that our life became a veritable garden.
Personal Reflection: How does your garden grow?
Isn’t it interesting that body language often transcends geographic, ethnic or religious lines. Although we may be separated by language, we can often understand one another through body language. Of course the simplest examples of this are a smile or a nod of affirmation or a nod of negation. Beyond these there are many non verbal clues which are clearly understood across cultures. You could be walking almost any where in the world and see one person emphatically pointing and wagging his finger at another person. Even if you didn’t understand the language or hear the conversation, you would probably be correct in assuming that this finger pointing was related to one person blaming another. Almost all of us are familiar with this non verbal clue. Perhaps this is the case because blaming others is such a universal trait.
As members of 12 step programs we are quite familiar with blaming others for our own shortcomings. By committing to the precepts and tools of the program our tendency to blame others when we our responsible begins to diminish. However, we advocate replacing that “blaming finger” with an outstretched hand; which is also a universal non verbal clue. When we extend our hand, we are being open and extending ourselves in fellowship.
Personal Reflection: How can I transform blame to fellowship?
People are perpetually making resolutions. Probably the most common are New Year resolutions. About a month before January 1st of any year, people commit to change their behavior with the new year. Some common resolutions are to stop smoking, to lose weight or to begin an exercise program. The new year is also used by alcoholics and drug and food addicts as a projected turning point for their behavior.
Unfortunately what often happens is quite different than the intent of the person who made the pledge to change their behavior. Some will begin their program of change and then within a day or a week throw in the towel and renew their old behavior. Others have a few months of success, but then think that because of it they can now engage in “controlled” use. In the majority of cases this does not turn out well. For many people the first day of the new year has no significance because they have already forgotten about their resolution.
In the program, we do not adhere to a timeline for the cessation of our drug of choice. It is not necessary to wait for a calendar date to change our actions. All we need is a desire to stop using alcohol, drugs or food. If we have such a desire, we are ready to embark on our journey of recovery. Putting it off to a certain date is just a symptom of our disease.
Personal Reflection: How can I help someone get off the elevator?
Fear is a constant companion for most of us. Sometimes of course, fear serves an important purpose. It can protect us when danger is imminent. We should certainly listen to that inner voice telling us to cross the street when we see a large stray dog approaching us. For our distant ancestors, fear probably saved them from many perils.
Today however, fear often plays a less than productive role. Perhaps you’ve gone to the doctor and he tells you he has seen something that he doesn’t like the looks of. He sends you for a battery of tests for which you need to wait a week for the results. That week of waiting becomes your worst nightmare. Literally every 5 minutes your mind races to the worst possible scenario. You tell yourself you are going to die from some rare incurable disease. You lie awake in bed at night full of worry. Your eating habits become disrupted. When you finally see the doctor at the end of the week he tells you it was nothing to worry about. It was just a false alarm. You spent a week worrying about something that never happened
In the program we understand how fear can totally take over our life. In the past it was so powerful we turned to alcohol, drugs, and food to cope. Today, we have truly begun to live one day at a time. We don’t allow fear of the future enter into our today.
Personal Reflection: Do I allow fear of the future to seep into my present?
Many of us enjoy doing puzzles. It’s a pleasant way to pass away some time while exercising our minds. There is one type of puzzle which is highly instructive for personal transformation. The object of this puzzle is for the player to find objects that have been cleverly hidden within it. The creator of the puzzle has constructed it so that the sought after objects often blend in with the rest of the puzzle. A player will often repeatedly search for the object without success. Yet when they are shown where the item has been hidden, they exclaim, “I can’t believe I didn’t find it; it’s so obvious”.
Yes, it’s true, it is obvious, but not to them. The same concept applies to transformational work. Perhaps we have a defect of character which keeps causing us problems. Yet, when queried as to our part in the causation of the challenge, we really are unable to identify it. Then one day, we finally get it. That’s when we are able to say, “that happened because of my impatience, my pride, my feelings of guilt”; or whatever other shortcoming is responsible. In that moment when we clearly see what was there all along, we have been graced with wisdom.
Personal Reflection: What shortcomings do I think I’m still failing to see?
For a long time family members live with an active addict or alcoholic. Of course this is often an extremely painful experience. It is very difficult to see a loved one under the influence of their drug of choice. It is clear to the family member that their son, daughter, father, mother or spouse is slowly killing themselves. Along the way, there is often also a lot of collateral damage.
So, one day when they finally agree to enter a rehab the rest of the family is totally overjoyed. “Finally they will get the help the need and we will all be done with this painful chapter in our lives”. Sometimes, that is exactly what happens. A person goes thru rehab, enters a 12 step program and stays sober. Many times however this is not the case. To the dismay of family members, the addict or alcoholic relapses. Sometimes this even happens on the way home from the rehab itself. Of course the family members are stunned. “How could this possibly happen? This was supposed to be one of the best rehabs in the country”, they say.
The problem is that drinking, drugging or binging on food is only the symptom of much deeper problems within. A big part of 12 step program is progressively uncovering the deeper issues which led us to turn to substances in the first place. Only when these are addressed does true sobriety take hold.
Personal Reflection: What issues do I still need to address?
Sometimes every fiber in your being is telling you to do something that is the wrong decision for you. Perhaps your emotions are in turmoil and are pointing you in the wrong direction. That can happen when anger takes over and the only response you see is to react and go on the offensive. Maybe you find yourself in a state of fear. Although you know you need to face a particular challenge, all you can do is avoid what must be done.
For the alcoholic, drug or food addict it gets even more complicated. When faced with emotional stress, we often react by wanting to return to our drug of choice to soothe ourselves. Or, we justify reacting in fear, anger or another emotion by saying, “well at least I’m not drinking or drugging”.
When these types of situations occur, we need to remember that we have sober feet. Even if every part of you wants to react improperly, just let your feet do the walking. Let them walk over to the phone to call another member from the fellowship. You might even walk a little bit further and make it to a meeting. Sometimes, you just need to walk away from a challenging life situation and then pray and meditate on what has occurred and how you should react.
Personal Reflection: How do I utilize my sober feet?
There were many who entered the program with the goal of controlling their drinking, drugging or binge eating. They had no intention of practicing any type of abstinence. After a while, they realized that “controlled” using was antithetical to the program. Accepting this fact, they embarked on their journey towards sobriety. Shortly thereafter, another question was raised in their minds. They queried, “if the only reason you entered the program was to stop your drinking and drugging, why do you continue to attend meetings year after year”? As they gained a little more sobriety they soon were able to answer their own question. Listening carefully at meetings, they realized that the majority of shares had nothing to do with alcohol, drugs or food. Rather, people spoke about many other areas. There was a lot of discussion about personal defects of character and what people were doing to correct them. People also shared about life situations where they needed advice as to how to proceed. Sometimes members just reviewed their gratitudes or accomplishments from the day. It emerged that meetings provided a daily dose of guidance on how to navigate life. They also found that after sharing, they inevitably felt better.
Personal Reflection: What have I gained from the program beyond abstinence?
Given that this is election season, you will see many people advertising their favorite candidate on the bumpers of their cars. In fact, there are many other bumper sticker categories. Some advertise a particular point of view on a controversial political position. Others through pictorial representation show how many family members and pets are in the family of the car being viewed. Then of course we have humorous bumper stickers about family and life situations. Cars even get their own category with a bumper sticker announcing that the car has climbed a particular mountain road.
On occasion you will also see a 12 step bumper sticker like, “easy does it” or “let go and let G-d”. The driver wants you to know that they are a member of a 12 step program, or perhaps just likes the sentiment of the slogan. For those of us in the program, we think it would be wiser to place the sticker on the dashboard as well. Because we are never cured of our addictive tendencies, it would serve us well to have a constant reminder of a piece of wisdom from the program. Spreading the word about the fellowship is a wonderful sentiment. However, we must always remember that we have a daily reprieve and must do everything in our power to maintain our sobriety.
Personal Reflection: What do I do to keep it green?
There are many people who failed to come into the program because of their total denial of their challenge of addiction. They minimized or lied about the frequency and amount of their usage. We can easily understand how this delayed their seeking help in their program.
However there is a second group which is a bit more perplexing. At some point in time they realized they had a problem with alcohol, drugs or food. Yet although they had self knowledge, they continued to use as well. Much of this can be explained by the character defect of arrogance. These people felt they could solve their drug and alcohol problem by themselves. In some perverted way they believed that asking for help was a sign of weakness.
When they finally surrendered and entered the program they began to see the error in their thinking. Part of the disease of addiction is to isolate and not ask others for help. By not sharing honestly with others they were not exhibiting strength but were just manifesting another attribute of addiction. It was only when we had the courage to share and also ask others for help that we began to heal. Sometimes we needed to be reminded of this even when we had accumulated some time in the program. Whenever we felt like isolating, it was a signal for us to get to a meeting or pick up the phone.
Personal Reflection: How do I deal with isolation?