Alcoholics and addicts are not a happy lot. Perhaps while they were using they had the appearance of happiness. Beneath the smiles and frivolity many of them were using to escape their dissatisfaction with their portion. As their disease progressed there were fewer and fewer instances of merriment. At some point, they used just to fill up that empty hole which had been gnawing away at their insides for the longest time.
They also complained that their unhappiness was circumstantial. If they had a different boss they would have felt more relaxed at work. If they lived in a different apartment or home they would have been more comfortable. If their spouses and children had acted more nicely towards them they would finally have felt some joy in their life. And on and on it went.
In sobriety we learned that our happiness was not dependent on people, places or things. It truly was an inside job. All of the speed bumps life had thrown us in the past continued to be on our daily path; and usually were unavoidable. How we chose to respond to them was very much in our power. We learned about “pausing” when agitated so we would not have a knee jerk reaction to challenges. As we strengthened our connection to a Higher Power we began to accept life from a deeper state of equanimity
Personal Reflection: Do I feel happy, joyous and free today?
Many of the joys of living in modern society are simple in nature. For example, in most cites, suburbs and even rural areas there are wonderful libraries. Even the smallest towns often have fairly extensive book collections. Beyond that there are DVD’s, digital books and periodicals. Sometimes, it’s fun to just visit the library and just browse. Given that there are thousands of books, how can we randomly choose a “good” book off the shelves? One trick is to select a book that is worn and dog eared. This indicates that many people have borrowed the book and it is probably a good one.
For those of us in the program, the same principal holds true for one book in particular in our homes. If our copy of the Big Book looks well worn, that’s a good sign. It indicates that we reference it frequently and have made it a part of our lives. Many of us have even committed to reading two pages of the Big Book every day.
On the other hand, if our copy of the Big Book looks untouched, that’s probably a bad sign. Chances are we are not working our program to the extent we should. There is good news however. We can take our copy of the Big Book off our shelves any time we want. When we do so we have a blueprint for living a sober life.
Personal Reflection: Has my Big Book been gathering dust?
Not everyone is the 12 step world is an immediate success. Some people do get the program on the first go around. Unfortunately, many other do not. Some have short term sobriety and then go out. Others can have years of immersion in the program and then slip as well.
Almost all of them have some familiarity with the program. Many of them can quote the Big Book chapter and verse. Yet, they failed to remain sober. They often “sound” like they are the picture postcard for an AA, NA or OA member. When we dig a little bit deeper we discover that talking about the program is not the same as practicing the program. AA and it’s sister fellowships are not theoretical organizations. They are based on action. When people give mere lip service to their recovery, regardless of how good it sounds, they are not in recovery.
Those who have slipped and return to the program are the first to admit this. Over and over again you will hear them say how they finally realized that in the past they were not committed to their recovery. Only through daily practice will recovery be achieved and maintained.
Personal Reflection: Do I practice the answers to my recovery on a daily basis?
Life was very hard for us. We were often flooded with a myriad of feelings. Anger, fear, jealousy, resentment and pride often overwhelmed us. We frequently felt that there was no pathway of relief from all of these emotions. Everything became bottled up inside. Then, at some point in our lives we discovered a safety valve. We began to use drugs, alcohol, food and other substances to dampen those feelings. Initially we experienced some degree of relief. Over time we discovered that using a substance was not a solution and just added a new layer of problems to our lives.
In sobriety we still feel all of those feelings. Sometimes we need to go to meetings and just “dump” out all of those feelings we are going through. Often once is not enough. That is why you who hear people sharing on the same issue over and over again in meetings. Each time they share, the issue or feeling loses a little bit more of its power.
Meetings however are not just about us sharing. When we deeply listen to others share we can find a solution to something which has been bothering us. The collective wisdom of members of our fellowship is a power which can heal.
Personal Reflection: How do I handle my feelings in sobriety?
Some people regularly buy lottery tickets. Every week they check their ticket against the winning numbers. A person could do this for years and never even get close to winning. The fact of the matter is that the odds of winning the lottery are infinitesimally small. That’s why weeks can go by with millions of players and no winners.
No need to be discouraged. You actually having a winning lottery ticket in your pocket. Well, not exactly a ticket that will give you millions in winnings. But, a winning ticket nonetheless. When we enter the program we have a new shot at life. We can come back from financial ruin. Relationships that we thought were over can be revived. We can regain the trust of friends and family. Even our health can dramatically improve. These and many other gifts are within our reach if we maintain our sobriety and work our program. Sometimes we tend to forget what an incredible gift sobriety has been. You really can’t even put a price on it. One thing we know for certain. It is not even necessary to buy a lottery ticket to win big time in this life.
Personal Reflection: Have I checked my pockets for my lottery ticket lately?
When we came into the program many of us thought our life was over. How were we going to interact with people without our social lubricant? How would we be able to reward ourselves without a drink or a drug? Where else could we find solace when no one else could understand how tough a life we had?
So we were pretty glum when we walked into our first meeting. Then it hit us. Nobody else in the room seemed to share our despair. Sure, some people were sharing about some serious problems but they seemed to relax a little bit after they had finished.
After the meeting there was no shortage of social interchange taking place and it was not fueled by alcohol and drugs. In fact there was a lot of laughter, smiles and good fellowship taking place.
As we immersed ourselves in the program we realized that in a way we had been right. Our old life was no more. In a manner of speaking, part of us had died and we had indeed been reborn. The new life we had entered held so much more possibility than the one we had left behind.
Personal Reflection: In what ways have I been given another life?
There are many practices in the program which initially seem to be counter intuitive. Recently at a meeting a fellow was complaining about his life. He was having trouble with his wife and kids, had issues at work and was struggling financially. At the meeting after the meeting an old timer approached this fellow. Sure enough he was still complaining about his lot in life. The old timer joined the conversation and asked him, “do you have any sponsees?”
Some might find this question to be a surprising one. Rather than follow up on this fellow’s complaints, the old timer shifted the conversation. The truth is that a sponsee is a wonderful gift of recovery. It forces us to work our program more diligently. How can we give advice to a sponsee if we ourselves are not engaged in that practice? Perhaps as importantly, a sponsee helps us get out of ourselves. When we are busy helping others, we tend to think less about ourselves. Some of that internal chatter dies down as we focus on another. In some small measure we are giving back for the recovery which we have so freely received.
Personal Reflection: Do you have a sponsee?
Pushing off till another day had become a mantra for many of us. We were true procrastinators. Why should we do it today when we could always do it tomorrow or next week, month or year. We stayed in jobs we hated and told ourselves we would look for another one some other time. Unhealthy relationships were prolonged because we weren’t quite ready to pull the plug. Perhaps what we procrastinated most about was changing our addictive use of alcohol, drugs, food or other substances. We promised to put it down after the holidays, next month, in the spring or however far we could push it back. As a result we remained stuck for years and often decades.
Entering the program, one of the first slogans we encountered was “one day at a time.” We learned to keep the focus on the 24 hours ahead. We had absolutely no power over the future. Our efforts were best concentrated on the present. Given that this was the case, we decided to live our lives as fully as possible each day. We focused on making every day, hour and minute count. When our heads hit the pillow at night we were able to examine how fully we had lived our day. Even though tomorrow was not guaranteed, we resolved to live the next day as consciously as possible.
Personal Reflection: How can I make today count?
Most of look in the mirror at least once a day. Because we do so, we are not really aware of the subtle changes of aging. Perhaps we notice that we are getting grey or that we are putting on a little weight around the middle. Other than that we probably don’t see any recognizable difference as compared to how we looked 10 or 20 years ago. That is until we find an old photograph of ourselves and see how much we have aged. Growing old is one of the basic inevitabilities of life.
While we were drinking and drugging many of us attempted to escape the reality of adulthood. We might have looked like adults, but our actions belied that fact. We often shrugged off any type of personal responsibility for our actions. If we felt like staying out all night and leaving our family alone we did so. If we didn’t like how our boss spoke to us, we quit, regardless of how that would affect other people in our lives.
It was only when we entered the program that we began to grow up. For perhaps the first time in many years we got honest and admitted to ourselves and others just how childlike and self centered our actions had been. Only then did our emotional age begin to catch up to our chronological one.
Personal Reflection: In what aspect my life do I still need to grow up?
Repeatedly in the rooms one hears people saying that one day they suddenly had this overwhelming feeling that they had had enough of their drinking, drugging or binging on food. For many of them this became their sober date. What they failed to mention is that in the past they had made similar declarations. Yet the next day they returned to their addictive behavior. Why did this last statement of contrition work?
Perhaps it can be likened to a combination lock. It can only work when all of the cylinders are aligned and click into place. The same is true of sobriety. Only when the right combination of circumstances falls into place does our proclamation of our last drink or drug hold true. Why did all of those circumstances align so that we finally, finally had the resolve to put down our drug of choice. Prior to that, left to our own devices we repeatedly had failed. We believe that it was only through the intercession of a power greater than ourselves that we we were able to say for the very last time that we were sick and tired of being sick and tired. The last cylinder clicked into place and we were finally on the road to recovery.
Personal Reflection: What locks continue to be opened for me through my Higher Power?