There are a lot of people walking around with feelings of anger and resentment. They have a myriad number of complaints about how the rest of the world is treating them. As long as they maintain this attitude, they unfortunately will continue to carry a lot of negativity towards the world.
In the program, many of us entered with multiple feelings of anger and resentment towards others. Part of the work we engaged in was to identify our part in transactions that had ended badly. Then an amazing thing began to happen. As we began to change our behavior, some of the behavior of others that had irked us began to disappear. Because we acted differently, others responded differently as well. Sometime of course people still said and did things which upset us. Now, however we realized that we had a choice in how to respond. Our attitude greatly helped to determine the outcome of many transactions. Of course this involved a major shift in our thinking. To aid us in this many of us called upon our Higher Power on a daily basis. We needed assistance in replacing old neural pathways of behavior with new ones.
Personal Reflection: What still needs changing in me?
Everything in this world is in a state of change. Millions of cells in your body are being replaced as you read this. The weather of course varies from day to day and even from moment to moment. Aging is perhaps one of the greatest signposts of change.
Yet, as human beings we often grapple with change. This is particularly evident within our emotional world. Many of us struggle with negative emotions which have dogged us since we were children. That temper tantrum of yesteryear, manifests as road rage today. Perhaps the average person can get away without making changes to some of those negative attributes. Those of us who are addicts or alcoholics can not afford the luxury of complacency. We need to be diligent in identifying our character defects. These very same defects of character, if left unattended will eventually cause us to go out. That is why we make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, to help identify where work needs to take place.. There is also a recognition that left to our own devices; changing or removing our shortcomings is practically impossible. It is for this reason that we call upon our Higher Power on a constant basis to remove those defects of character.
Personal Reflection: How have I changed in recovery?
Upon entering the program we felt as if we have been given a second chance in life. Up until we entered the doors of AA, NA or OA our lives had been lived under the cloud of our drug of choice. Many of us had been this way for years and even decades. Over that time we had developed a certain persona. To tell you the truth it wasn’t a very pleasant one. Our lives were often filled with dishonesty, resentment, fear, negativity and guilt. We had lived with these feelings for so long that we came to believe that no other choices were available.
Sobriety opened up an entirely new pathway for us. It was actually a very broad pathway. At first, once we put down our drug of choice, we got ours toes wet and changed a few aspects of our behavior. Over time, we began to see that this road of sobriety was wide and long enough for us to change as much as we were willing to commit to. As we did so, we began to create a life for ourselves that we could never have imagined. We were able to shed many of those character defects and live a much happier and more positive life.
Personal Reflection: What changes still lie ahead for me?
Many people in this world complain of being stuck. They are in relationships studded with problems, at jobs which they hate or feel are dead ends and they are often facing chronic health issues. When you examine all of these challenges, it quickly becomes clear that many of their issues are reversible. Relationships can be worked on through therapy and programs including 12 step. When these strategies fail, it might be time for them to move on. Work dissatisfaction can often be remedied by switching jobs. Many have also taken courses and training which have yielded professional advancement. Some of us have have embarked on totally new careers based on personal interest. Varied health issues began to clear when we gave up our drug of choice or initiated an exercise regimen or a new food plan.
All of these reversible strategies have one thing in common. They are all based on a program of action. Some of those people who complain of being stuck, will reach a “bottom” and hopefully through a spiritual awakening begin a lifelong journey of change brought about by action. Unfortunately, there are also those who remain deeply unhappy and unhealthy. At the merest suggestion of the necessity of engaging in spiritual and emotional work, the conversation gets changed by them. For this group,we need to pray that they have a spiritual awakening.
Personal Reflection: What areas of my life require taking an action right now?
It’s taken a long time for some of us to learn one of life’s basic principles; that we have the right to change our mind. There are very few things in this life for which we are unable to reverse ourselves. We can change our career, end or begin a relationship or take up water polo. So if this is a truism of life, why are there so many people stuck in decisions that are no longer working for them, and perhaps never worked for them. The main reason people do this is because of fear. We are often afraid to make that change because we fear that we will fail in that new endeavor. Many of us reason that although I’m unhappy with this situation, at least it’s one I know. There is comfort in the familiar; even when it’s no longer working for us. Then there are those who fail to make changes because they fear the disapproval of others. “What will my friends, wife, husband, parents, siblings or co-workers think”? For many, concern over what other’s thinks can squash our aspirations for change.
With all that, each time we shift or even reverse course we make a deposit in our emotional and spiritual bank accounts. The more resistance we encounter, the greater the deposit.
Personal Reflection: Is there a decision I’ve made which needs to be reviewed?
A newcomer was considering someone from his home group as a sponsor. He had some trepidation about choosing the “right” sponsor. He said to the potential sponsor, “but what if we don’t get along or what if there are problems”? The sponsor chuckled and replied, “we ain’t married”. When you choose a sponsor it needs to work for both parties involved. If it’s not working either one can end the relationship. What this newcomer was going through is very typical behavior for the drug addict or alcoholic.
We were often afraid to make decisions because we believed that they were irreversible. This often resulted in one of two scenarios. Some of us would never make a decision for fear of making a mistake. If we made a mistake, it would just verify just how defective we really were. Others of us would make a decision and upon discovering we had made a mistake, we would just tough it out. Even when all information pointed to us to make a change, we stubbornly stuck it out. We believed it was our duty to do so. In sobriety we have found life to be much more fluid. We have faith in ourselves and in our Higher Power and that few decisions are irreversible. In order to grow we need to decide on the direction our life will take.
Personal Reflection: Have I been delaying making a decision?
One of the most common scenarios in life revolves around car repairs. A person brings their car into a service station. Like many us they brought their car in for a minor issue like an inspection or a tune up. After the mechanic examines the car he walks out and begins to list all of the items that need to be attended to. Some can wait, and others must be dealt with immediately for the car to operate efficiently and safely. If we believe the mechanic, we make the necessary repairs.
The same thing happened to many of us when we first entered the rooms of AA or NA or OA. We believed we might have had a small problem around alcohol, drugs or food. We were looking for a stop gap measure to help us learn how to better use our drug of choice. Perhaps we wanted to become a social drinker or eat without going on binges. What we discovered was that there were no quick fixes or stop gap measures. Once we admitted our powerlessness over drugs and alcohol, then the real work began. When we got honest with ourselves, we began to take a look at all of the other aspects of our life. Just like with our car, many repairs were in order to get us back on the road.
Personal Reflection: What do I still need to repair to have my life run more smoothly?
In the beginning, many of us entered AA or NA or AA with the desire to stop using our drug of choice. That in and of itself was a tall order. We were suddenly committing to putting down a substance that we had often used for years or even decades. Initially, we faced the trials of physical withdrawal. Once our cravings had dissipated, we still had to deal with our emotional addiction to our substance. Over time, the emotional obsession to use declined as well. At that point, we found that we were really only at the beginning of our journey. All of our character defects now found space to inhabit our lives. In the past many of them had been crowded out by the more immediate issue of drugs, alcohol or food. Once we became physically sober, issues like resentment, fear, anger, jealousy, shame and lust confronted us head on. It’s not that these were new problems. They had preceded our drinking or drugging. We just had never had a way to effectively deal with any of them. In the program, we began to learn about a system of living that would help us address all of these human frailties. That system was known as the twelve steps. As we practiced those principles, even our neural pathways began to change.
Personal Reflection: What parts of my brain still need recalibration?
When we compare our lives today against from before we entered the program, we often notice a vast difference. Some of us have been reunited with family members after years of separation and bad feelings. Others have excelled in the work environment after years of dead end and non challenging jobs. There are those who verbalized dreams which never actualized until they put down their drug of choice. Some of these changes have been almost miraculous in nature. Over time you will encounter well dressed, well spoken members who tell stories of sleeping on top of subway gratings or of stints in prisons and mental institutions. The contrast of their lives from before and after program is most marked. Today, the lives of almost every person in program is better than it was before they entered the program. It’s not that life has gotten any easier. They still have rent or mortgages to pay, jobs to go to and families to interact with. Every day they are still tested with challenging people and situations. What has changed is their ability to cope with adversity. Through the program, thy have developed tools to face and surmount the varied challenges in life. Though they might say that life seems to have gotten easier, the change resides within each of them.
Personal Reflection: How have I gotten better?
I was recently on the subway in NYC. While waiting for a train, I saw a sign which said, “if you see something, say something”. The purpose of the sign was to counteract the tendency to assume that someone else will report a problem.
We in program apply this principle to our daily lives as well. There are so many life situations where people just sit back and assume the other person will take care of it. When there are no seats left on the train or bus and an elderly person gets on, be the person to give up their seat. If a newcomer is looking around the room feeling uncomfortable, be the first to go over and give them a hearty welcome. The possibilities are endless and the good feelings you create are endless as well.
Quite often we are at an impasse with another person. Many of us think that if only “they changed” the blockage would be removed. The reality is that very deep spiritual and emotional work takes place when we practice, “let it begin with me”. Rather than focusing on what another person needs to change to make the relationship work, we need to focus on what changes we need to make.
Personal Reflection: Does it begin with me?