At a meeting recently a person was having a good laugh with some of his friends. He said, “I guess if I walked around with my hands tied behind my back I wouldn’t have to worry about taking a drink”. The same principle could be applied to members in NA and OA as well. If only we had control over our hands we wouldn’t have a problem with alcohol, drugs or food. And therein lies the crux of the problem. Many of us had spent years attempting to control the use of our drug of choice. We had evolved countless strategies to deal with our addictive tendencies. Some of them were actually quite ingenious. Ultimately though all of them failed. We believe the reason behind this is actually quite profound. In our estimation, the ability to become truly sober goes beyond our own personal efforts. It was only with the help of our Higher Power that our obsession to use was lifted. This was the essence of step 2 where we “came to belief that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. This belief continues on a daily basis for our program of recovery. Without it, the only alternative would be to walk around with our hands tied behind our backs.
Personal Reflection: How do I apply Step 2 to my life?
During our lives we are going to interact with literally thousands of people. Our relationships with these people change over time. A prime example of this are High School and College reunions. While we were in school we established friendships with people that we felt would last forever. After graduation, it was not uncommon for us to drift apart from many of those people. When we attended a school reunion after 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years we frequently found ourselves disappointed. When we finally reconnected with people that at one time we had been very close to, we often found that we know longer had much in common. After shooting the breeze about our past escapades, we experienced those moments of uncomfortable silence.
In the program we recognize that friendships from our past may no longer resonate with us. We also encounter people that although they are not our friends, on some level we feel they have been sent to us by our Higher Power. They usually impart some lesson or knowledge that can help us move forward. Although we may never see them again, they help us in our recovery. Finally, many of us have established life long friendships through the fellowship of AA, NA, and OA. The very nature of the program helps to create life long bonds.
Personal Reflection: What kind of “friends” do I have?
All of us are familiar with the buttons on our clothes. When we were very young we lacked the manual dexterity to button clothes for ourselves. We were forced to turn to others to help us or to do it for us. That period of needing someone to help us open or close buttons was very short lived. For the vast majority of us it has been a very long time since someone touched our buttons. Well, that’s true at least on the physical level. Emotionally, many of us still allow people to “press our buttons”. There are just certain people that are able to really throw us off balance. They often have the ability to bring out negative attitudes and behaviors that we thought had been put to sleep a long time ago. Not only do they evoke a reaction from us; they seem to have the ability to cause us to enter into a state of rumination. Somehow, we can’t seem to get them out of our head. We find that we are repeatedly priming ourselves with resentments, fears, guilt and other characteristics that we really want to let go of.
Through the program we begin to cultivate acceptance of others. Over time we are not so easily hooked by people who press our buttons. When it does happen, we have a place to go to speak about it and let go of it.
Personal Reflection: Am I still renting space in my head?
Sobriety is a glorious thing. Whether alcohol, drugs, food or some other substance called you, letting go of them was truly a blessing. Initially some thought that refraining from their drug of choice would be the end of their journey. Once the obsession to use had lifted, they thought their work,was done. Unfortunately, many of them had to discover the hard way that this was not the case. In relatively short order they found that they were miserable and that they were making others miserable. Perhaps their defects of character were no longer fueled by drugs or alcohol; but many of those defects still rose to the surface. They had become classic dry drunks. All of that anger, rage, fear, jealousy, guilt, and shame just bubbled to the surface.
Hopefully after a particularly nasty meltdown, they realized that being part of the program was much more than just abstaining from their drug of choice. It involved daily work which included personal inventories, working the steps, attending meetings, frequent outreach and service. When those tools began to kick in, they finally began to taste true sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Is my behavior sometimes still that of a dry drunk?
These days when a certain level of proficiency is reached, society acknowledges that accomplishment. Given that you have “mastered” a certain body of knowledge, you are now designated a “master”. We have master chefs, master teachers, master coaches and master carpenters. Other terms like a diplomate in medicine are also used to to recognize a degree of expertise.
There are also negative attributes like a master jewel thief or master criminal that are part of our language. Twelve step program also has its collection of negative masters. One of the most common of these is the master of non acceptance. We see this especially early on in the program. People seem to have great difficulty in accepting life on life’s terms. They need to learn that even when we put in the efforts, results are in no way guaranteed. That means we may not get the promotion, the apartment we wanted, the college admission we expected or the inheritance that was anticipated. The true test of our growth in the program is accepting all of these disappointments without blaming ourselves or others. When that finally happens we move into a new category; the master of accepting the things we cannot change.
Personal Reflection: Do I still struggle with accepting the things I cannot change?
Members in the program often call themselves walking miracles. They have every right to do so. Prior to entering the program you probably would not have recognized them,,They were frequently in both poor physical and emotional health. Spiritually they were often just an empty shell. So yes, they are walking miracles. And they can continue to experience that miracle every day they are free of alcohol, drugs and compulsive use of food.
We in the fellowship believe that there is much more than the abstention from our drug of choice. The greater work involves our beginning the process of addressing all of our character defects and initiating change. The success of those changes can be seen in our interactions with others. In the same situation do we now behave differently? Our path also involves making amends to people we have harmed in the past. Part of our daily work is to take personal inventory of our actions and make amends there as well. Along the way there is often the development of a deeper personal relationship with a G-d of our understanding. When all the pieces come together and we are a changed man or woman; that my friends is magic.
Personal Reflection: What has been magical in my recovery?
There are all sorts of slips in life. We can have a slip of the tongue, or a slip in judgement. In the program, we too can have these types of slips. Of course we are also concerned with a very serious type of slip. The one where we return to our drug of choice.
In listening to people share their experience about this type of slip one thing is clear; that it didn’t just happen by accident. Perhaps an analogy is in order. Imagine two possible scenarios. In the first a man is walking down the street and he “slips” on a banana peel. In this case it was just some random act of the universe. In the second scenario a man decides he wants to miss work for a few weeks. He starts eating a bunch of bananas and drops the peels on the floor. When he goes for a walk he slips on the peel. He calls his employer and says “I slipped on a banana peel”. In the second case it is obvious the man set up the “slip”. In the program our experience has shown that when a person has a slip, it is usually not a random act of the universe. Rather, whether consciously or unconsciously the slip was planned in advance.
Personal Reflection: Am I guilty of premeditated carelessness in my life?
Over the last decade there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people interested in Buddhism. Many people from all walks of life now consider themselves Buddhists. They have discovered that one does not have to live in a mountain monastery to practice Buddhism. Many are attracted to the story of Buddha who sat under a Bodhi tree vowing that he would not move until he found enlightenment. The path to enlightenment thru meditation is now being followed by many in the West.
In the rooms of AA, NA and OA many of us also practice meditation. In fact, some of us are also practicing Buddhists. However, we believe that there are many pathways to spiritual enlightenment. Beyond meditation and mindfulness, a spiritual awakening can also come from a rude awakening. Perhaps we are doing our fourth step and we see a glaring character defect. We might have for years or even decades been in total denial about this shortcoming. We might have evolved a history of blaming others for something which was of our own making. When that awareness of personal responsibility comes rushing in to our consciousness, we have taken one step closer to being a more enlightened being.
Personal Reflection: How have my rude awakenings led to greater enlightenment?
At a meeting recently a member was sharing about his OK cup. This was an imaginary cup he carried around with him at all times. Over the years he had put different things into the cup to make himself feel better. In his case, he had put a lot of smoked cigarettes and a lot of alcohol and drugs into the cup. The problem was that the cup had no bottom. No matter how much he put into it, it never stayed filled; and he never had any type of serenity.
Each of us carries around our own OK cup. We each put our own combination of items into the cup. Besides drugs, alcohol and nicotine, many of us tried food, gambling and assorted other distractions. We all ended up with the same result, because that cup could never remained filled regardless of what we put in it. How can you expect to fill something that has no bottom?
Today, we no longer attempt to fill ourselves up with things. We realize that feeling good about ourselves involves internal work. On some level, all of the tools and fellowship of the program provide the bottom to that cup that could never be filled.
Personal Reflection: How has my self esteem improved through the program?
Recently at a meeting a member was sharing. Although he now had many years of sobriety, he still felt some anxiety about speaking at meetings. Thankfully, his level of anxiety had decreased over time. He attributed this to some advice that a fellow member had given him when he first came in. In his early days, he would just sit somewhere in the back of the room to avoid sharing. However, on a weekly basis he attended a small meeting that sat in a circle. It was impossible for him to escape speaking at that meeting. He confided his anxiety about sharing to one of the old timers in the circle. He told her he was worried what other people would think about his share. She smiled and said that the people who had already shared were going over in their mind what they had spoken about. Should they have deleted something, or added something in their share? The people who hadn’t shared yet were formulating in their minds what they were going to speak about. “So you see”, she said laughing, “you don’t need to worry about what you say at this meeting, because no one is paying attention anyway”. Although it was a bit of a joke, he realized that there was some truth to it. From that point on whenever he shared he just visualized everyone in the room being self absorbed; and his anxiety level decreased.
Personal Reflection: Am I sharing frequently enough at meetings?