Stand on any check out line in any supermarket in the United States and you will pass through a gauntlet of celebrity gossip magazines. One of the prices of being a celebrity is losing the right to privacy. Famous people are photographed and gossiped about wherever thy go. Even when they are attempting to have a private moment, it rarely takes place because of their celebrity.
There is one place in the world where a movie star or famous comedienne or well known singer will have there anonymity respected. That place is in the rooms of AA, NA and OA. Many of us in the program have encountered a famous person attending a meeting. Although they might be a leading man or woman in a hit film with millions of adoring fans; in the rooms of the fellowship they are just another alcoholic or addict attempting to live one day at a time. The reason they feel comfortable enough to come to a meeting is because they know we will respect their anonymity. When we say, ” who you see here, what you hear here, let in stay here”, we are very serious about this sentiment. When we leave a meeting even if we saw our favorite actor or sports figure we keep it to ourselves.
Personal Reflection: Am I careful about protecting the anonymity of others?
In the rooms of AA, NA and OA there are many opportunities for us to take a commitment. Doing service is one of the cornerstones of the program. Somehow however some of us always seem to avoid taking a turn as chairperson of a meeting. We are willing to make the coffee, be a greeter or even be a treasurer. When it comes to chairing the meeting we end up sitting on our hands when they are looking for volunteers for this position. This is especially true where the chairperson needs to speak about a topic or a reading each week during their term.
And that is exactly why people should volunteer for this position. By doing so it allows the person to be self reflective on a weekly basis. It builds strength of commitment because we know we need to show up every week without fail. For those who have difficulty speaking in front of groups it forces us to confront those fears. It also allows other members of the fellowship to get to know us on a deeper basis. When we take on the commitment of leadership it helps build our self esteem. After our tenure is over we often feel much more comfortable about sharing.
Personal Reflection: How could volunteering to lead a meeting be helpful to us?
Just because you have a pain doesn’t mean you have to be one.
One of the powers of the program is that we are not alone. If you are going through a rough patch you can certainly call your sponsor about it. Not only will you have an opportunity to vent, you can also seek out solutions. The same holds true for meetings. The more meetings you attend the more opportunities you will have to share what is happening in your life. There is also the meeting after the meeting where you can get advice as well. All of these actions are encouraged in the program.
That being said we do not endorse unacceptable behavior just because a person is feeling angry, fearful, resentful, guilty or victimized. When we are being self reflective and share at a meeting the emphasis needs to be on ourself and not others. Just because we are full of emotion doesn’t give us the right to take someone else’s inventory. It certainly doesn’t give us the right to lash out or to act in an inappropriate way. Our goal is to practice emotional sobriety. This is especially true when we’re encountering difficulties during our day.
Personal Reflection: How do I maintain emotional sobriety?
Alcoholics and addicts seem to have a number of characteristics in common. One of them is what we can call the procrastination syndrome. For example walk into any bar and you will overhear conversations about future plans. One person is talking about the business he plans to to open up soon. Another is speaking about the cruise she and her husband will be taking in the near future. A third is is anticipating the promotion he will receive at work any day. Now fast forward a year or two. Walk into the same bar and you probably encounter the same cast of characters. Eavesdrop again on their conversations and chances are they will still be talking about the same thing. The business venture, the cruise and the promotion are still just hopeful dreaming.
That’s the way it is with alcoholics and addicts. Somehow all of those plans and aspirations never seem to actualize. The good news is that change is possible. Once we put down the drink or the drug and begin to work our program, we start to initially notice small changes. We make commitments to ourselves and others and begin to honor them. It could be as simple as a chair or coffee commitment at a meeting. The important thing is that we show up. Over time some of those big dreams and plans begin to come true as well.
Personal Reflection: What dream do I still need to actualize?
No one on the planet is perfect. Throughout the ages spiritual masters have admitted to their imperfections. That being the case, we can certainly benefit from the advice of others. In the program we place some boundaries around this. The first is that we do not give unsolicited advice. If a person comes to us and asks for our input we are more than glad to share it. If we see a person can benefit from our help, we might even go over to them and ask them if they would like some feedback or advice. If they say no, then we need to practice restraint and keep our mouths shut. Even if we think that what we have to say will solve their issue, we need to remain quiet.
The area we need to be most careful about is offering advice in the form of criticism. This is especially true when we insult someone’s intelligence or abilities. Most of us believe that we are careful about criticizing others. Sometimes however we think we are giving good sound advice when in reality we are criticizing our fellow. Generally speaking if we are not 100% clear about what we are saying and how it will affect the listener we are better off remaining quiet.
Personal Reflection: Do I carefully monitor how I speak to others?
There are literally hundreds and probably thousands of restaurants found in major cities in every corner of the world. Every type of ethnic cooking is represented. People love to eat out and are especially open to trying new types of cuisine. There are countless food blogs, cooking shows and new cook books coming out every year. It is extremely evident that we pay a tremendous amount of energy and attention as to what goes in our mouths.
We in the program also enjoy dining in new restaurants and trying new cuisines. Like everyone else we enjoy the taste, textures and aromas of food. Beyond that, we are also concerned about what comes out of our mouths. Our words are also a type of food. They can be provide emotional, spiritual, psychological and psychic nourishment to the recipient. Just like we avoid overly bitter or excessively spicy foods, we want to avoid the same types of words. If the words we are contemplating using are full of anger and hurt, the best course of action is to close our mouth. We need to pay as much attention to the words that come out of our mouths as we do to the food that we put in.
Personal Reflection: Am I careful with the words I choose?
There are a number of rituals in the rooms of AA, NA and OA. One of the most widely practiced is the coin ceremony. Whether you’re getting a coin after 30 days or 30 years there is cause for celebration. You have proven that one day at a time you can keep sober.
In the world outside of the program, an anniversary celebrating an important event is usually an opportunity to drink and drug or to overeat. Obviously we do not subscribe to these practices as we are of a different mindset. An anniversary is a celebration of abstinence from our substance of choice.
Sometimes we encounter people who are not in the program who don’t understand this. They will often ask us, “can’t you have just one? What could the harm be in having just one”? Experience has shown us that no, we cannot have just one. That “just one” sooner or later will result in total relapse. That’s why we advice people in the fellowship to see if their anniversary coin will dissolve in their mouth. That should be the only time they consider going out and using.
Personal Reflection: How do I maintain my sobriety?
Many people are men and women of extremes. When things are going well we are the most agreeable of people. However, if we are having one of those days where everything just seems to go wrong, then you had best get out of our way. As the day unfolds we get more and more into our negativity. This state of mind can be found in individuals both in and outside the program. There are some differences however.
The average person will have a bad day and just chalk it up to a series of unfortunate circumstances. At day’s end they will look forward to a better day tomorrow. For someone in the fellowship, a bad day can be a trigger for a person to have a slip and return to their drug of choice. The reasons for this are more complicated than simple cause and effect. When an alcoholic or addict has a bad day, they can let their negative thoughts overrun them. Their cascading thoughts lead them to the conclusion that not only is this day a bad one, but their entire life is one long failure and disappointment. When this type of thinking predominates, it is easy to understand how a person could despair and revert to old behaviors. The founders of the program understood this when they advised us to remember, “one day at a time”.
Personal Reflection: Do I still jump from bad day thinking to bad life thinking?
When we get up in the morning, many of us take our vitamins. Some take only a multi, and some of us take an alphabet laden hand full. Regardless of how many we take; once we’ve chewed or swallowed them, we go on about our business for the day. If vitamins are on our check list, we can dutifully check them off. We probably won’t think about them until the next morning.
Recovery is not like a multi vitamin. We don’t take our daily dose in the morning and declare. “I’m finished for the day”. Yes it’s wonderful to read the Big Book in the morning or to call our sponsor early on in the day or even to make an early riser meeting. These are all wonderful steps we can take. However, some time during the day something is likely to happen which will press our buttons or really challenge us. We can almost see ourselves descending back into old patterns of response which are harmful to both ourselves and others. When we see that happen, we need to immediately take a sober action to get us back on the beam. The reality is that we may have to do this a number of times each day until our head hits that pillow.
Personal Reflection: How do I recalibrate during the day?
When a person is finally willing to give the program a chance they are certainly to be commended. Many of those people spent years floating along in life. It seems as if they never could admit that they had a problem. When they became willing to give the program a chance, it was an encouraging sign. Family members were excited that their loved one was on the road to recovery.
We in the program also share in some of that new found optimism. However, our experience has shown that much more is needed after the initial excitement of commitment has been made. That is when the real work of the program actually begins. After patting the newcomer on the back, we strongly advice him that he make ninety meetings in ninety days. We push him to get a sponsor and to begin working the steps. When a newcomer hears these suggestions and immediately puts them into practice, there is a good chance that he or she has a good shot at sobriety. However, if the newcomer isn’t willing to do the work, then all the good intentions in the world will not keep them sober; and recovery will continue to elude them.
Personal Reflection: How is my program one of action?