There are many people who failed to come into the program because of their total denial of their challenge of addiction. They minimized or lied about the frequency and amount of their usage. We can easily understand how this delayed their seeking help in their program.
However there is a second group which is a bit more perplexing. At some point in time they realized they had a problem with alcohol, drugs or food. Yet although they had self knowledge, they continued to use as well. Much of this can be explained by the character defect of arrogance. These people felt they could solve their drug and alcohol problem by themselves. In some perverted way they believed that asking for help was a sign of weakness.
When they finally surrendered and entered the program they began to see the error in their thinking. Part of the disease of addiction is to isolate and not ask others for help. By not sharing honestly with others they were not exhibiting strength but were just manifesting another attribute of addiction. It was only when we had the courage to share and also ask others for help that we began to heal. Sometimes we needed to be reminded of this even when we had accumulated some time in the program. Whenever we felt like isolating, it was a signal for us to get to a meeting or pick up the phone.
Personal Reflection: How do I deal with isolation?
People in the fellowship come in all religious and spiritual persuasions. There are many of us who identify with a particular religious group. Perhaps on the world stage there is conflict between different religions. In AA, NA and OA that is not the case. We couldn’t care less if you are Catholic, Jewish, Anglican or Sufi. What matters is that you have a desire to stop using your drug of choice. For those of us aligned to a particular theology, having a belief in a Higher Power is just an extension of our religious practice.
There are those in the program, who although not connected to a particular religion per se, are spiritual in nature. Their concept of G-d often does not fit into any particular religious ideology. They take comfort in having a G-d of their understanding in their lives. This freedom of choice allows them to have a connection to a power greater than themselves.
Even those who have no belief in G-d feel at home in the rooms. For them, it is often the power of fellowship which is considered a Higher Power.
The only person who will have difficulty with the program is the one who thinks they are G-d. Arrogance will feed many of our character defects and hold us back from true sobriety.
Personal Reflection: What is my relationship with my Higher Power?
Low self esteem was an issue for many of us before we came into the program. Its roots often predated our drinking and drugging. These feelings of being less than caused us to make many life decisions that were not in our best interest. We ended up in relationships that were unhealthy and career choices which were often below our actual abilities. We turned to alcohol, drugs, food and other unhealthy activities to buffer all of those negative self images.
By immersing ourselves in the program, we began to peel away many of those negative feelings we had towards ourselves. In fact, in doing our 4th step we listed low self esteem as one of our character defects and asked G-d to remove this from us. Over time, as we grew in sobriety, many of those feelings of self loathing actually began to disappear. In fact, we really began to feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments in sobriety. Sometimes, we began to feel too good about ourselves. That’s when our sponsor had a conversation with us about being “right sized”. Healthy self esteem is all well and good. However, as soon as we started becoming arrogant, our spiritual and emotional growth declined. Continued progress would only take place when accompanied by humility.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to work on my humility?
A healthy individual needs to have a positive sense of self. We are comfortable in our own shoes and need not seek the approval of others. We get into trouble when our egos get in the way. If we attribute too great a sense of importance to ourselves, it drives a wedge between us and others. We quickly find that people don’t want to be around us because we radiate the feeling that we are better than them. This often manifests in the way we speak and act towards others. The more egotistical we become, the more people tend to avoid us. We are often confused by this. We think that given how wonderful we are, how brilliant is our advice, that people would flock to us. Yet the opposite is just the case. We discover that people are much more interested in being around someone whose interest extends beyond them self.
Excessive ego also drives a wedge between people and their Higher Power. The more ego we have, the less space we are allowing for G-d to enter our lives. As our humility increases, more space becomes available for G-d to fill. Over time our relationship and connection to G-d deepens as a result.
Personal Refection: Do I need to deepen my connection with G-d and with others?
At a meeting you will invariably hear someone speak about their bottom. This was the point where they were most active in their addiction just prior to coming into the program. Those bottoms had many levels. Some people had reached low bottoms which included serious health issues, problems with the law and broken relationships. Then there were those with high bottoms. These were people who were still able to maintain some degree of functionality. They entered the program as well because they realized that alcohol, drugs and food would ultimately result in a continued downward spiral.
There is another kind of bottom which can be found in the rooms of AA, NA and OA. In it, are people who have given up their drug of choice; so as far as substances go, they are technically sober. Yet the reality is that they are far from it. They are the ones who refuse to work their program. They rarely call their sponsor. Long periods go by without their attending a meeting. The steps are something they take to go up a flight of stairs as opposed to 12 guidelines for emotional sobriety. Once you become a dry drunk, having a slip becomes a much greater possibility. We need to be truly sober in all of our affairs.
Personal Reflection: Do some of my behaviors fit that of a dry drunk?
We had prided ourselves on our gift of gab. This was especially true after we had had a few. The next day we couldn’t understand why people were upset or angry with us. The fact is we couldn’t quite remember what we had said. It must have been brilliant though, given our ability to wax poetic on all things. They must be sensitive sorts we mused to ourselves; and started the next conversation with whoever was near us.
In sobriety our sponsor really let us have it. At first he told us if we had a thought we should keep it to ourselves. Then he relented and told us we could resume conversations with people, but with three provisos. First, we could only speak the truth. No more of that grandiosity or arrogance of ours that often leaked through. Then he told us that before we told anyone anything we needed to check if it would hurt them in any way. If so, we were to keep our mouths shut. Finally, after passing those first two hurdles, we needed to examine if what was being said was really necessary. Following these guidelines we discovered that we had a lot less to say to people. On the positive side, when we did speak to people they no longer were angry or upset with us. In fact sometimes, they wanted to hear more.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to monitor my words more carefully?
Sometimes we get taken hostage in a conversation. We ask a very innocuous question such as, “how are you”? After that, everything becomes a blur. As long as we are willing to sit there and listen, the person proceeds to tell us about how wonderful they are, how many things they have accomplished, and usually how much better they are than everyone else. Every time we attempt to interject a point about ourself, it is quickly disregarded and the conversation returns to the self absorbed individual. On some level they probably believe that the more they speak about themselves, the more you’ll come to appreciate just how special they are.
In program, we quickly recognize the character defects of arrogance and grandiosity. We are far more impressed by those who know how to engage in a true conversation. A true conversation includes a person talking openly and honestly not only about what is going right in their lives; but about their character defects and challenges. They know when to pause and give you an opportunity to speak. Most importantly, they know how to listen empathetically without being in judgement or giving advice. Those are the kinds of conversations we need to seek out.
Personal Reflection: Do I sometimes still take people hostage?
There is a pathology about arrogance. Rather than admit that we don’t know something, we will place ourselves in all kinds of situations which are to our detriment. Of course the classic example of this, is the refusal of car drivers (and without being sexist they were usually men) who refused to ask directions when lost. Multiple gas stations where the answer was at hand were passed because the driver stubbornly refused to ask directions. On some deep level asking directions was an admission of our ignorance and lack of perfection. Pride caused many a family to endure a half hour delay while dad tried to tough it out on his own. Thank G-d for the invention of the GPS.
The same pathology can occur in recovery. That’s why we have sponsors and friends in the program. Life is really not designed for us to fly solo. We are a fellowship because Bill W. and Dr. Bob understood the power of one alcoholic (or drug or food addict) helping another. The only thing is that we are not mind readers. When someone from the program needs advice, it’s their responsibility to ask for help. We encourage them to get beyond the shame of admitting their ignorance. Once they do, we are more than happy to share our experience, strength and hope. Asking directions also includes turning to our Higher Power for council as well.
Personal Reflection: Have I been holding back from asking directions about something?
Occasionally in the news we hear of a case of extreme sleep walking. A person might have taken the bus to work or driven their car to a take out restaurant all while asleep. When we hear of cases like this, we are grateful that we do not suffer from this condition. The reality is that there is another kind of sleep walking. It’s not of the variety of clinically diagnosed sleep walking. In fact we are fully up and fully conscious. Yet we are still asleep. How is that possible? Because we are asleep to who we really are.
Many of us in the program fell into this category. While we were active, we had a vision of ourselves that was totally distorted. Some of us were full of pride, arrogance and grandiosity. We smugly felt superior to everyone. Then there were those of us who felt we were hopeless cases. We frequently berated ourselves for our inadequacies.
When we finally joined the fellowship, much of that bravado or shame was shed and we were able to take an honest look to discover who we really were. For most of us, this has been an ongoing process. The more we work the program, the more we are able to see who we really are; and to accept and love that person.
Personal Reflection: In what area of my life am I still asleep?
We believe that there is a certain order to the universe. Take humility for example. It is one of the cornerstones to our program. A big part of our work is to do a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves. It definitely takes humility to admit to our defects of character. Perhaps in the past we had consistently placed blame on others to explain away our failures or problems. Now for the first time we were able to admit to the role we had played in these life events. In fact, when appropriate, we were able to claim the lion’s share of responsibility.
Once we had admitted “our part”, we sought out people we had harmed and made our amends. This often took courage and quite frequently caused quite a bit of discomfort for us as well.
Some of us however refused to admit our wrongs and our defects of character. We then discovered that if we weren’t going to admit to our pride and arrogance, then life itself would somehow force us to do so. When that happened it was a lot more painful than if we had come to that conclusion on our own.
Personal Reflection: Did I have to be made humble?