There will be frequent challenges in life regardless of where we live, who we associate with or what we do. Every person encounters this fact. For those of us who were addicts and alcoholics, an additional layer of problems was often piled on as a result of our actions. Lacking the tools to deal with these roadblocks of life, we quickly turned to the one remedy we were familiar with; our substance of choice. Unfortunately, not only did it not solve our dilemma, it often exacerbated the situation.
Coming into the fellowship provided some immediate relief. When we put down the bottle, drug or food our life began to improve. However, we quickly saw that we still were encountering many challenges. At first we may have panicked because self medication was no longer an option. It was then that we began to explore a whole new world of choices which helped us to navigate life’s hardships.
Speaking to a sponsor every day provided us with an outlet for our feelings. We also often received excellent guidance on how to handle various situations. As we began to work the steps we began to turn more and more of our life over to a Power greater than ourselves. Ironically, we also found that by helping others we were able to escape much of the negativity which had been generated by an issue we had been facing.
Personal Reflection: When I’m jammed up, what do I run to?
A cornerstone of the program is service; which can come in many varieties. Sponsorship, chairing or making coffee at meetings and even speaking to another alcoholic or addict on the phone all fall under the umbrella of service.
Recently a newcomer heard an old timer speak at a meeting where he told his story. A few days later the same newcomer heard the same old timer qualify at another meeting and tell essentially the same story. After the meeting was over, the newcomer approached the old timer about this. The old timer told him that in reality he had shared the same story dozens of times. Yet, whenever he was asked to speak he did so without reservation. He explained that we tell our story with the hope that another alcoholic or addict will be able to identify with it and it will help contribute to his or her sobriety. But we also tell our story to remind ourselves of what it was like before we entered the program. As addicts and alcoholics we constantly need to be reminded of what our life was like without a program and without fellowship. In that way we will never romanticize what it was like prior to entering AA, NA, or OA.
Personal Reflection: What parts of my story are important for me to remember?
Many shifts occur when people finally get it and enter the program. Obviously the first major shift was the giving up of our drug of choice. As a result, our lives began to dramatically improve. We started to pay better attention to our health and our doctors were very pleased with the results they were seeing. Our work environment became much more pleasant. Suddenly we were getting along much better with our co-workers. Our home life was on a much more even keel. Many of these changes rapidly occurred once we gave up drugs, alcohol, food or any other substance of choice.
A different series of changes took place over a longer period of time. We began to learn about emotional sobriety. This caused a major shift in both our thinking and actions. In the past the focus had always been on ourselves. We really did believe that we were the center of the universe. We constantly clashed with others who had the same belief system. With sobriety we began to move away from a life of self centeredness to a life of service. The further away we were from being in the center the better our life became.
Personal Reflection: How far away from the center am I?
There are many reasons that people delay coming into the program. One of the most common is the feeling that “our” problems are unlike anyone else’s. How could a program which is so general in nature address our specific issues?
When we finally made it into the rooms we discovered two things. First, we were not terminally unique. We found we had a lot of identification with others in the program. For a long time we had walked around thinking we were the only one who had certain thoughts and feelings. As we immersed ourselves in the fellowship we found much commonality.
Second, it turned out that in some ways we were right in our belief about our individual uniqueness. At the same time we learned that the program was broad enough and robust enough to provide us with solutions to our individual needs. We chose to attend those meetings that best suited our makeup and temperament. We selected a sponsor who we were able to connect with on a deep level.
It was even ok to admit our wackier side and be able to laugh about it; and ultimately come to love ourselves for who we were.
Personal Reflection: How am I able to express my individuality in the program?
There are countless stories as to how people ended up on the doorstep of an AA meeting. Over and over again people have shared that they suddenly felt impelled to attend their first meeting. They might have gone years or even decades without nary a thought of AA. Even if the concept had entered their mind, it was quickly forgotten. Some of course had “tried” the program and had quickly dropped it. Yet here they were now sitting in a meeting and knowing in some deep way that the program was the solution to their problems.
Many of these people believe that their attending that particular meeting on that particular day was not a chance occurrence. Rather, it was a direct act of Divine Intervention.
This was all the more surprising because these same people had felt that G-d had given up on them a long time ago. In response, they had often also given up their belief in a Higher Power. Through the program of AA and it’s sister programs, they began to re establish a relationship with a Higher Power of their understanding. That relationship opened up many new vistas for their personal, emotional and spiritual growth.
Personal Reflection: How has My Higher Power been a part of my program of recovery?
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?