Wherever you are in the world, there is almost always an AA meeting available. That being said, not being familiar with a particular locale, many of us have wandered around trying to find the meeting itself. Hopefully, they’ve put out a small AA sign by the door, but that is not always the case. What has saved us and often gotten us to the meeting is the ubiquitous butt can at the entrance. That butt can has served as a beacon to guide us down the steps to a meeting.
In the early days of AA those butt cans outside the meeting were unnecessary. When you entered any AA meeting you would have been greeted with clouds of cigarette smoke.
At a meeting recently a member was reminiscing about those days where the room was a cloudy haze. He observed that even though we no longer have clouds of cigarette smoke surrounding us, we still have clouds of smoke surrounding us. He went on to explain that it was in AA meetings that he felt the perceptible presence of God. For him, it was almost like a comforting ether of spirituality. He viewed the words spoken in the shares of others as messages from his Higher Power. In meetings, he often had insights that he attributed to the God of his understanding.
Aren’t we lucky in AA? We can experience those clouds of smoke without ever having to take a puff.
Personal Reflection: Do I connect with my Higher Power at meetings?
Have you ever gone hiking and suddenly realized that you’ve lost the trail. You try to retrace your steps and most of the time find the last trail marker on a tree that you somehow missed. No problem; you now make that left or right as required instead of walking straight ahead. Occasionally, you retrace your steps and realize that you have gotten yourself good and lost. You start to panic and then in the distance see the well worn path of the trail. Breathing a sigh of relief you head towards the path and resume your hike.
For many of us, drugs, alcohol or food was our map through the forest of life. Initially, it worked fairly well for us. It helped us buffer some of the pain, fear and loneliness that we often felt. At some point it stopped working. It was like straying from a path as we stumbled deeper and deeper into the forest.
When we had strayed very far from the path we suddenly came upon a trail marker. It had the letters AA, NA or OA on it. We began to follow that trail and a guide appeared who became our sponsor. He or she had also been lost in the forest but had found their way out. They acted as a compass for us on a daily basis.To make sure we didn’t stray far from the path they gave us a Big Book to study. It provided us with a set of directions for almost any path we choose to take. We also started to attend meetings where we met many other travelers who helped guide us as well. At some point we even began to guide others who had become lost.
Personal Reflection: Do I still stray off the path?
WAt the end of many meetings you will see people exchanging phone numbers. Often, one of them has said something that the other identified with and they decided to stay in contact. Most of us have collected a large list of phone numbers over time.
That little Rolodex of numbers is a valuable tool for the alcoholic, drug or food addict. We have our “regulars” whom we call on a weekly basis just to touch base and talk about how our Program is going. We can also use the phone when we need to make a decision about something and want to get some feedback or advice. Often, we make a call when something is bothering us and need to talk about it and ventilate some of our feelings.
Almost all of us have the luxury and immediate access of a cellphone. Before the era of cellphones, program members were advised to carry around a pocket of loose change. Back then, a phone booth was our cellphone.
Sometimes of course we do make that call and it immediately goes to voicemail. We try another number and it’s busy. We finally reach someone but they can’t talk with us. We really need to dump our feelings or seek advice and no one is picking up. At that point we make a virtual phone call to the One who is always available and who always answers our call.
That conversation often relieves our upset about something. Frequently we even come up with an answer to a problem that has been dogging us.
Remember, you never need to spend money to chat with your Higher Power.
Personal Reflection: When was the last time I called my Higher Power?
When we are graced with sobriety, we can take a look back and examine our actions. Recently at a meeting a fellow with one year of sobriety was talking about clearing up some of his past actions while under the influence. He “discovered” a pile of tickets from his township for red light camera violations. He had no remembrance of either going through the red lights or of having received the summonses. Part of his amends process was to pay the fines and penalties on the tickets which ran into the thousands of dollars.
Yes, it’s true that many of us blew through red lights and stop signs on the road. We also blew through stop signs that periodically appeared during our drinking and drugging careers. Signs that had we heeded them would have saved us a lot of pain. Perhaps a doctor spoke with us about the damage we were doing to our bodies through drinking, drugging or binging on food. Maybe a family member sat us down and had a heart to heart talk about our substance abuse. Of course there were the repercussions from our actions while we were in a blackout and of which we had no remembrance. At some point we might even had had a glimmer of awareness that the way we drank, drugged or used food was not within the realms of acceptable behavior.
Unfortunately, these moments of clarity were not lasting. We might have paused for a day a week or month but we eventually returned to our destructive behavior.
The blessing is that each of us eventually came to a stop sign and slowed down long enough to admit our powerlessness and unmanageability. That day was the beginning of our recovery.
Personal Reflection: How can I serve as a stop sign for someone who is still active?
AA (NA or OA) introduces you to a sponsor……
Many a beginner has protested against the idea of getting a sponsor. They think that once they have put down their drug of choice, everything else will fall into place. What that don’t understand is that it is precisely because of their thinking while active that they ended up in unhealthy and often dangerous situations. Once they humbled themselves and committed to speaking with a sponsor they discovered just how convoluted their thinking was.
The sponsor introduces you to the Steps……
As we began to speak with our sponsor, we realized that he or she was not giving us random advice or opinion. Almost immediately they began to take us through the Steps. We began to discover more and more about ourselves as part of the process. Our sponsor also reminded us that a personal inventory needed to assess our strengths as well as our character defects.
The Steps introduce you to God……
As we worked the Steps there was a recognition that we could not successfully navigate sobriety without assistance. In the past, we had relied on drugs, alcohol, food, people, places and things to assist us. In step 2 we finally surrendered and “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
God introduces you to yourself…..
Over time as we called our sponsor, worked the Steps and called upon our Higher Power something miraculous began to happen. We began to change. Long held resentments were dropped. Owed amends were made. We began to experience the hand of God more and more in our life. Our Higher Power began to reveal to us the possibility of the man or woman we were meant to be.
Personal Reflection: Is more work needed for me to come to know myself?
From an early age many of us discovered that this thing called life was painful. We endured many situations which we found to be very uncomfortable and challenging. Our inner world was often in turmoil. Then one day, we had our first drink, our first joint or our first drug of choice. Something magical happened. All of that pain and discomfort faded into the background. We thought to ourselves that we had discovered the elixir to a happy life. Sooner or later however, that elixir turned into a poison. Whenever we indulged in our drink or drug, the quality of our life deteriorated. Our health, careers and relationships began to suffer because of our addictive choices. Yet we seemed powerless over our ability to stop using.
When we joined AA or NA or OA we began to realize that our drug of choice was a false prophet. It would never deliver what we thought it had promised. In fact just the opposite was the case. Invariably we were worse off after using. We finally admitted that we could not drink or drug safely. This sentiment was summed by a member of AA who said, “I have an allergy to alcohol. Every time I drank, I broke out…….in handcuffs”.
Personal Reflection: What tools have I developed to cope with life’s adversities?
As time passed in sobriety, some of us began to romanticize about our old haunts. Regardless of the program we belonged to, returning to those places could definitely lead us towards a slip. This held true for whatever program we belonged to. For those of us in Alcoholics Anonymous hanging out in a bar would be a mistake. Similarly going to the track for a member in Gamblers Anonymous would be looking for trouble. For a member in Overeaters Anonymous going to a restaurant with an all you can eat smorgasbord would be a poor decision. Any place that might compromise our sobriety should be viewed as highly suspect. We need to let the “G-d of our gut” help us sort out appropriate places for us to go.
We believe that there are also “right” places for us to be. Any place which helps us to grow emotionally or intellectually is certainly appropriate. When a place helps us to deepen our connection to our Higher Power, chances are it’s a good choice. When we have the opportunity to do service, that’s a space worth occupying. When in doubt call your sponsor, though you probably know the answer already.
Personal Reflection: Have I visited any wrong places recently?
A young fellow had just attended his first AA meeting. He approached someone from the group who had spoken during the meeting. He said to him, “do you think this AA will work for me”? The group member responded with the following oft used statement:AA will work for people who believe in G-d.
AA will work for people who don’t believe in G-d.
AA will not work for people who believe they are G-d.
For those who believed in a Higher Power, 12 step program was a natural path. Left to our own devices, we had been unable to stop using our drug of choice. It was only when we admitted our powerlessness over alcohol and drugs that we could accept that a “power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”.
For those who didn’t believe in a Higher Power, we have found the program to be very helpful as well. By taking a fearless moral inventory of ourselves, we gained the ability to stay sober a day at a time. Some of us even found G-d along the way.
Unfortunately, program could not help those who maintained that they were G-d. Until a person could get humble and admit their shortcomings and make amends to others, they were missing the core of the program.
Personal Reflection: How has the program helped me today?