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?
People are perpetually making resolutions. Probably the most common are New Year resolutions. About a month before January 1st of any year, people commit to change their behavior with the new year. Some common resolutions are to stop smoking, to lose weight or to begin an exercise program. The new year is also used by alcoholics and drug and food addicts as a projected turning point for their behavior.
Unfortunately what often happens is quite different than the intent of the person who made the pledge to change their behavior. Some will begin their program of change and then within a day or a week throw in the towel and renew their old behavior. Others have a few months of success, but then think that because of it they can now engage in “controlled” use. In the majority of cases this does not turn out well. For many people the first day of the new year has no significance because they have already forgotten about their resolution.
In the program, we do not adhere to a timeline for the cessation of our drug of choice. It is not necessary to wait for a calendar date to change our actions. All we need is a desire to stop using alcohol, drugs or food. If we have such a desire, we are ready to embark on our journey of recovery. Putting it off to a certain date is just a symptom of our disease.
Personal Reflection: How can I help someone get off the elevator?
When we entered the fellowship many of us were in bad shape. Like many others we spoke about how our drug of choice had brought us to our knees. We vowed to ourselves that we would never resort to our substance again. At the time, we were 100% sincere in our sentiments. The memories of our experiences were still fresh in our minds, and still had great impact on our behavior.
However, human nature is a funny thing. As time passed our memories and thinking got a bit hazy. Suddenly, we started entertaining thoughts like, “I really wasn’t so bad” or I’m sure I could handle it now”. Perhaps we see other people eating and drinking and using drugs recreationally at a party. They seem to be having so much fun. We look longly at them and tell ourselves that we could be one of them as well.
When this type of event occurs we need to take a reality check. That voice inside of us telling us to have just one is our disease talking. We need to once again admit that we are addicts. We must admit that the romantic vision we have conjured up does not apply to us. The reality is that if we give in to our urges, we will fall down that slippery deep slope of addiction.
Personal Reflection: Have I been romanticizing my past?
At some point or other all of us walked thru the doors of the rooms for the first time. Each of us had our own experience with our substance of choice. Whether it was drugs, alcohol, food or some other addiction that brought us here; we had all reached our individual bottom.
The beauty of the program is that the doors of AA, NA, and OA are always open. To walk through those doors the only requirement is a desire to stop using. We are not required to put down our drug of choice to claim our seat. Many a member attended meetings in the beginning drunk, high or right after a binge. We still found ourselves welcomed by fellow members. For those of us who were chronic relapsers, the doors of the program remained open as well. No one ever told us we were not welcome because for the 8th. time we were once again counting days. As long as we had a desire not to use, we were welcome.
The reverse side of the coin was true as well. There were no guarantees in the program about our maintaining sobriety. If we became lax in the practice of our program, the possibilities of relapse always loomed over us. Nothing prevented us from walking out the door and never returning. Membership in the fellowship in and of itself was no guarantee of a lifetime of sobriety.
Personal Reflection: In what direction is the door swinging for me?
Most of us don’t walk around with a big sign hung around our neck announcing to the world that we are in a 12 step program. Sometimes we feel we should be wearing that sign. We all have encountered people that will attempt to convince us that one drink, one hit or one bite of a trigger food should not cause us any problem.
Part of the reason for this misconception is that they think that if we just exercised self control, and had just one, that would be the end of it. “Why can’t you be like me?” they say. “I have one or two drinks for the night and then call it quits”. They erroneously believe that an alcoholic or drug addict only has a problem when they drink or use to excess. What they fail to understand is that once we take that first drink, drug or bite a chain reaction is set in motion. As hard it is for them to understand; it is exactly that first drink, drug or bite that is going to get us into a pack of trouble.
In general don’t waste your breathe attempting to explain to them the realities of addiction. Just make sure you understand those realities, and say, “no thank you”.
Personal Reflection: How do I respond to people pushing my drug of choice on me?
People in Western society; and probably in most other societies are immersed in alcohol use. Billions of dollars are spent on encouraging the consumption of alcohol. Drink this beer if you want to attract the ladies, (or a man), be the most popular person at the party, or feel like you’re on vacation in a tropical isle. Just take a step back and one can see how ridiculous these claims are.
That being said, in almost every culture, life events including birth, marriage and death involve alcohol. When used responsibly there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. Most of us in the program are perfectly fine with other people drinking in a reasonable fashion. The problem is that we are not one of those people who can drink in a measured way. As soon as we have a drink, we are on our way to drinking to excess. Once that happens, we in quick order find ourselves right back where we were before we entered the program. We need to admit that we can never drink safely. The same concept applies to a food addict who can never eat in an undisciplined way. It also applies to drug addicts in the program who must on occasion take prescription medication. In all of these cases we need to remember our last drunk, run or binge.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to be reminded what my life was like before sobriety?
Imagine you found yourself in a deep dark hole. It was so deep in fact that there was absolutely no way that you could just jump out or pull yourself out of it. The only way you could get out of the hole was if there was a ladder you could use to climb out with.
Addiction is similar to that deep hole. Left to out own devices, we found it impossible to extricate ourselves from it. We tried many strategies but we always seemed to end up back in that hole once again. The programs of AA, NA and OA provided us with a ladder to help us depart from the hole of addiction. Each of the rungs of the ladder represented a different aspect of the program to help us climb out. Some of those rungs included going to meetings, getting a sponsor, working the steps, taking service commitments, practicing daily prayer and meditation and helping another member of the fellowship. By climbing the rungs we found that we could extricate ourselves from that dark pit. We also found that when we neglected various aspects of the program we began to slide back into the hole. It was not something we could say we were ever free and clear off.
Personal Reflection: Am I going up or sliding down the ladder?
For as long as we could remember, we were uncomfortable in this life. Though we might not have realized it at that time, we were racked with fear, resentments and feelings of low self esteem. This often led to undiagnosed bouts of depression. Then one day, something wondrous occurred. We discovered our drug of choice. Perhaps a group of our friends were passing around a bottle or someone offered us a hit off a joint. Whatever the event was, we partook and experienced an immediate and psychic change. It was as if we had been granted a pair of wings and as we soared skyward, all of our problems were left back on the earth. We couldn’t wait to get more of that magic elixir. Whenever we had the opportunity we indulged in our drug of choice. It didn’t matter to us that we seemed to use more than others or that we used more often. Over time something changed in us. We lost interest in the flight of life. All we cared about was getting high. As others progressed with their lives, we stayed stuck. Alcohol, drugs or food had ended up clipping our wings.
Personal Reflection: Where should I fly to today?
Initially in sobriety we were confused about some of you old timers. You had maybe 10, 20 or 30 or more years of sobriety. Yet there you were at the meeting every night. You still arrived early and stayed late. You made it a point to share what was happening with you at every meeting. We found out that you still had a sponsor and made outreach calls regularly. All of this was perplexing to us. After so many years why did you have to maintain such a degree of intensity of program.
Over time, we began to gain some understanding as to why you behaved as you did. Even in our own lives we began to experience the effects of not calling our sponsor or not making meetings. We came too realize that our addiction did not remain inactive even though we were refraining from our drug of choice. Just not using wouldn’t cut it. All of those “ism’s” were still on overdrive. It almost felt like that for each day that we neglected our program, it took us two days to just get back where we had left off. In order for us to get ahead of the curve, we had to bring a certain level of greater commitment to our recovery. So, we joined you all timers and arrived early and stayed late; for who wants to play catch up?
Personal Reflection: Am I doing enough to get ahead of the curve?
For years we danced around our addiction. “I’m really not an alcoholic, I’m just a heavy drinker”. “I’m really not a food addict, I’ve just always been a big eater”. “I’m really not a drug addict, because a doctor prescribed these meds for me”. We could have gone on for an entire lifetime just sitting on the fence about our addiction. The problem with not making a statement of admission is that as long as we failed to do so, we were able to remain in denial about our drug of choice. Even if we attended meetings and got a sponsor, little of the program stuck. It was like we were encased in a sheath of WD 40 oil of denial. Every time someone gave us a suggestion we nodded our head in agreement, but on some level it just slipped away because there was no surface for it to adhere to. We clung to that false hope that we weren’t that drug addict or alcoholic. We reasoned that as long as we denied it, then somehow our problems were less serious than they actually appeared. When we had the courage to admit that we were powerless over our drug of choice; we became like a magnet attracting the gift of sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Am I still in denial about some aspect of my addiction of choice?