We turned to drugs and alcohol because many of us suffered from low self esteem. We,thought that by taking a substance, our feelings of being less than would go away. Perhaps it initially worked. Over time however, we found that using substances actually had the opposite effect. They only magnified our feelings of not belonging and of inferiority.
In early sobriety these feelings still dogged us. Upon reflection, we realized that these feelings of inferiority pre dated our substance use. Just giving up our drug of choice was not enough. We needed to become comfortable in our own skins. This meant accepting ourselves with all of our defects of character. For those of us who were perfectionist, this was often a bit of a challenge. In the past, we bent over backwards to get the approval of certain people because we believed that their approval would validate us. As we grew emotionally and spiritually we came to see that validation could only come from within. How we felt about ourselves really wasn’t dependent on anyone save ourselves. Over time we began to let go of our desire to gain the approval of others. We “were enough”, and at the same time we strove to improve ourselves.
Personal Reflection: Do I still seek the approval of others?
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?
Recently, the following observation was heard at a meeting.
I was driving in the city with another person from program. I was trying to get crosstown and was encountering a lot of traffic. There were a lot of double parked vehicles. Many of the cars and trucks at intersections suddenly stopped to make turns without signaling. My passenger, turned to me and said, “you know, driving with you is not a very pleasant experience”. “Why”?, I asked in surprise. To which my passenger replied, “you’re muttering under you breathe about the traffic, periodically complaining and making judgmental statements about other drivers”. At first I attempted to defend myself. “Well, I’m much better than I used to be”. Then I realized that they were right. Although I had “worked” on judgement and anger, they were still very much present. I felt very much humbled by my experience that day. If I can get bent out of shape by a double parked car, then perhaps I’m not as evolved as I thought. I need to remember that it’s not about people, places and things, but about my attitude.
Personal Refection: What “small” things hook my anger and judgement?
Anyone looking for perfect solutions to all of their problems is going to be disappointed by 12 steppers. None of us is perfect. To varying degrees we are working on ourselves. What we have found is that our collective wisdom is quite amazing. The only thing is that it is not deposited within one place or within one person. This is often a disappointment to both the newcomer and even to those with time. Yes, it is difficult to see old timers, sponsors and fellowship friends saying and doing things that are less than sterling.
What is of greater importance is that those same old timers, sponsors and fellowship friends can often be of great help to us. We just need to lower our expectations a bit. Almost everyone from program has something of benefit to offer. Our task is to separate the wheat from the chaff. As we sift through the words and actions of others, our own program can be greatly strengthened. Given our own perfectionism, this is sometimes a challenge. We can smile at the fact that someone else in program is probably applying the rule of “take the best and leave the rest” to us right now.
Personal Reflection: Am I able to separate the wheat from the chaff?
There is no doubt that life can be very hard. On an almost daily basis we have to face many challenges. Some of them we know will arise and to some extent be planned for. For many of life’s other challenges, their occurrence is largely out of our hands. Self-pity has often been our immediate response to these travails of daily life.
In the program, we are often advised to “get off the pity pot”. When things “happened to us” our default response was self-pity. Initially we might have justified this reaction with a statement like, “if you had my life, you’d feel bad for yourself too”. The problem with self-pity is that it ultimately works against us. It creates inertia to change. When we are on that pity pot, it becomes doubly hard to move out of our feelings of despair and attend to whatever the challenge is. In self-pity, we kick the can further down the road and ultimately only exacerbate the problem; still needing to deal with it at a later date. There is tremendous power in not buying into self-pity. Instead of going there, we need to take an action instead.
Personal Reflection: How does self-pity work against me in my life?
There is a story told where a Rabbi asked one of his congregants to lead the prayer service on the High Holy Days. When the congregant had finished, the Rabbi came up to him and said, “welcome back”. The congregant said to to him, ” but Rabbi, you just asked me to pray, and I didn’t go anywhere”. To which the Rabbi replied, “while you were praying you were thinking about problems at work, problems with your wife and kids and problems with your friends. You certainly weren’t focusing on the prayers, so when you finished I welcomed you back”.
Many of us in program can really relate to this story. We may be present physically, but our minds our often racing at a million miles a minute. Being perfectionists, we are constantly reviewing events that have taken place in both the recent and distant past. Part of our growth is to begin to let go of the past. While not denying our past choices, we realize that usually we are not able to reverse our decisions or their results. Spending time on the past uses up precious time that could far be better spent in the present.
Personal Reflection: How much of your yesterday seeps into your today?
You often encounter people that are not happy with their lot. Upon questioning, you find that their perennial dissatisfaction is totally focused on the behavior of others. They are wont to say, “if only that person had behaved differently then I would be so much happier”. These people are under the mistaken belief that their happiness is dependent on the actions of others. As a result they spend a lot of time attempting to control others. To their dismay they find that most people do not like to be controlled. Even when they find a compliant person, they discover that happiness is not found.
Our happiness and satisfaction in life is not dependent on others. We have learned this thru practicing the principles of the program. There is little value in expending our energy attempting to mold another’s behavior with the expectation that this will make us happy. Our time is far better spent on learning to detach from our expectations and desire for control. When we let go of our desire for control, we begin to find that things that upset us in the past now just roll off our backs. Through detachment we approach the serenity of acceptance
Personal Reflection: What area in my life do I need to practice detachment?
In the 12 step rooms, one of the most oft repeated words is “acceptance”. In fact this word is a cornerstone of the program. For many a newcomer (and for some not so newcomers), this was a difficult concept to grasp. We felt that the only reason we had ended up in the rooms was because of the set of cards we had been dealt. “If I had grown up with a different set of parents, I wouldn’t be sitting here today”. “Had my friends been different when I was growing up I wouldn’t have started drinking as a teenager”. “If only my teachers had encouraged me more in school, I wouldn’t have made the choices I made”. As we gained some time in the program, we began to realize that we needed to accept our past choices. Bemoaning the past would not help us change the present or plan for the future. We couldn’t undo the past. What we could do was live our lives one day at a time; and sometimes one hour or one minute at a time. We certainly couldn’t change the past, but we could live fully in the present.
Personal Reflection: Have I fully accepted my past?