Recently, a woman was qualifying at a meeting. Her drinking had caused her many problems in her life. She had received a number of DWI’s and ended up in the county jail. As a result she became estranged from her family. She lost her job and also faced foreclosure on her house.
When she finally came into the program, she often shared that she had lost almost everything due to her drinking and drugging. In fact, it almost became a mantra for her.
Early in her sobriety an old timer approached her after a meeting had concluded. He told her that he too used to say that he had lost almost everything due to his actions. Then one day, upon closer examination he realized that telling people he had lost everything transferred much of the responsibility away from himself. When we lose something, we are often describing a situation that was beyond our control. On the contrary, what had happened to this fellow was directly related to his actions. From that day forward, instead of saying that “he lost everything”‘ he began to say “that he gave everything away”. For when he took a drink, it was almost like he was giving away his life. Upon hearing the story, the woman who had shared changed her mantra as well. She took responsibility for “giving away” much of her life before she came into the program
Personal Reflection: Do I still give away aspects of my life?
12 Step program runs the entire gamut of members. You will find people who have 50 or more years of sobriety from their drug of choice. On the other end of the spectrum are people who repeatedly have difficulty putting 30 days together. They have been bouncing in and out of the rooms for years. Many of this repeat group will often blame the program itself for their failure to stay sober. “AA, NA or OA is not for me”, they say. Yet, they see people who have remained sober for decades using exactly the same program which has “failed” them.
In fact, many of these repeaters finally do get it and begin to put together some time. It’s obvious,that their success involved some type of change. Under closer examination we see that the program itself remained the same. It was the attitude and actions of the alcoholic, drug or food addict which had altered. When they began to let go of doing it “their way” and listened to the advice of “The Big Book”, their sponsor and other members; the program started to pay big dividends. Suddenly, some of the very things they rebelled against doing started to make a lot of sense.
Personal Reflection: How do I make the program work for me?
We all have challenges and problems. Many of us seek out various solutions to these issues. Often we stumble around a bit until we arrive at the appropriate answer to our particular problem. When we do, we almost automatically realize that we have found the solution we have been looking for. The other pathways we experimented with pale in comparison with our current solution. It’s almost like we finally find the correct key we have been fumbling around looking for to open up a lock.
This concept is particularly true in the 12 step world. Many of us had floundered around for a long time looking for the solution to our drinking, drugging or binging over food. We had tried controlled usage, hypnosis, special diets, periodic abstinence, therapy and a myriad number of other strategies. For the vast majority of us, these were only a stop gap measure at best. Most of the time we returned to our drug of choice. It was only when we entered into the rooms of AA, NA and OA that we finally found a lasting solution. As we got up at the end of our first meeting we knew we were in the right place.
Personal Reflection: How do I live in the solution using my program?
Each of us could probably create a list of people that for some reason or other presses our buttons. Some people on our list would be obvious choices like our spouses, parents or our siblings. Then of course there are co-workers and acquaintances that also rub us the wrong way. All of these people do have one thing in common. They seem to say or take actions that get us involved in resentments, drama, and behaviors which are inappropriate. For many of us these transactions have been taking place for years and sometimes decades. We often angrily blamed these people for “what they did to us”.
Many of these same people took up ample space in our fourth step. As part of that process we have come to realize that we are not victims in this life. When a person makes an inflammatory statement or does something which is inappropriate, in that moment we have the power to make a choice. How we respond will determine how the rest of the transaction will go. If we don’t go after the bait, they may still escalate depending on how heavy a player they are. However at some point, if we continue to not buy in, they will change their behavior or go and look for someone else to “play” with. When that happens we have tasted emotional sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Do I still go after the bait?
12 step programs involve internal and external work. Both are necessary components. Obviously, we need to work on our internal world. When we work the steps we begin to experience real change. The fourth step in particular is the gateway to personal transformation. After we have examined our character defects we are able to let go of them by humbling asking G-d to remove them. Once that happens, we are on our road to emotional sobriety. Rather than leaking our negative energy through resentments and anger, we begin to build a core of serenity. That energy becomes a repository for us to take sustenance from as well as to share.
Sharing is part of our external work. Taking service commitments, having sponsees and picking up the phone when another member of program calls is a big part of the fellowship. On a daily basis we give of our time and energy. There can however be a danger in this. If we ourselves are depleted, there is danger in continuing to to expend energy for others. We can avoid this situation by nurturing our inner life and recognizing when we need to let someone else in program take up the mantle.
Personal Reflection: Do I give from my overflow,or from my reserve?
Dear readers and followers of Wisdom from the Rooms:
Over the past 14 months I have posted over 400 blog posts. I have found your warm response to my writing to be extremely gratifying. Many people from all over the world have told me they deeply resonated with my blog.
At this point in time I want to begin collecting and editing my writings with the goal of turning them into a book of daily reflections. In order to do this I need to carve out time each day to work on that goal. As such, I will need to cut back on my posting to the blog. Instead of posting almost daily, I will make 2-3 entries a week.
I will keep you informed over time of my progress
Many of us grew up in homes that were full of turmoil. We experienced a lot of anger and shouting on an almost daily basis. Or perhaps we were witness to one parent giving the other “the cold treatment”. Because we were young we attempted to create meaning to these types of experiences. Unfortunately, we often misinterpreted all of the commotion in our homes by taking responsibility for it. We thought that mommy or daddy were upset because of something we had said or done. This often followed us into adulthood. If someone was angry, resentful or upset, we immediately began to examine our actions to see how we had caused that reaction.
The reality is that just because someone is upset does not mean that we have done something wrong. Quite often people’s negative states have nothing to do with us. Even if we have done something that has upset someone we need to remember that people have choices as to how to react. If we have made our amends and they want to hold onto their feelings, that is their decision. We are no longer the cause of their upset. We just need to keep our side of the street clean.
Personal Reflection: Do I take undue responsibility for the feelings of others?
Recently at a meeting an old timer was talking to a newcomer. The old timer said to the newcomer, “do you know what the difference is between us”? The newcomer seemed a little perplexed by the question. As far as he was concerned there were many differences between the two. The old timer quickly followed up his question with the following response. “The only difference between you and me is that you believe that your thoughts are true”.
This is actually a profound insight on the part of the old timer. When people first come into the program their minds are in a state of confusion. They have lived in denial for years about their dependence on their drug of choice. This denial also extends to how it has affected them personally as well as it’s effect on family, friends and co-workers.
Newcomers also find that they are often in a constant state of fear. On a daily basis they ruminate about the future. These future projections rarely have a positive ending in their rumination process.,The doctor needs to send them for more tests, so they think they are dying. The boss asks to see them, so they will walk round for days thinking they are going to be fired.
In the program we make efforts to be in the here and now. If we start to obsess about the future, we stop because we know that we have allowed fear to kidnap our serenity.
Personal Reflection: Do I believe my fearful thoughts?
Sometimes you walk out of a meeting in total amazement. When people tell their stories it is almost impossible to believe that the person sitting in front of you sharing a cup of coffee is the same one whose actions were just described. How could a person who had been sleeping on subway grates now be seated before you in a business suit? How could a person who had served time for armed robbery be the same one who is talking about emotional sobriety. Something must have occurred in the lives of these people to profoundly alter the course of their lives. Given their described history, willpower alone could not be the sole explanation.
In the cases mentioned above and in countless others the turning point was the discovery of a G-d of their understanding. When these people developed a conscious contact with a Higher Power their lives began to change. In addition, experience has shown that this conscious contact needs to be ongoing. As soon as we believe that we can go it alone so to speak, we are opening up a door to trouble. Before we know it, we will revert to our old ways of thinking and acting.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to revitalize my conscious contact?
When we first entered the program many of us felt like our eyes had opened for the first time in a long time. We began to see how so many of our past behaviors had been wrong or harmful. We also began to be honest about our own character defects. These facts were very helpful in our recovery. As our minds cleared we began to see some glaring defects of character in people both within and outside the program. This one was too prideful, that one was in denial and a third was totally lost in being a victim. These facts were so obvious to us that we immediately wanted to share our insights with these and other people.
Experience has shown us that to do so would be a mistake. One of the major tenets of 12 step program is one of personal reflection and self discovery. Most people will not be open to those insights that we wanted to share. There is a good chance that they will immediately become defensive and even angry about our so called insights. If we have to the ability to think back to when we were in denial about our drug and alcohol usage or about our character defects; we will immediately comprehend why we should remain quiet. What we can do now is pray for them.
Personal Reflection: Do I give people the space to recover at their own pace?