Early recovery for many of us was a bundle of confusion. We had been so full of denial and self loathing for so long that we didn’t have much of an idea of who we really were. To remedy this, we were urged by our sponsor and others to make a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Some of us wanted to avoid this process because we didn’t want to have to confront our character defects. We felt it would be too painful to face the truth about ourselves.
One member recently spoke about it this way. She described looking in a mirror that was so smudged that she could barely make out her reflection. That mirror was her life prior to entering the program. Every smudge represented a character defect.
So what do we do when our mirror is smudged? Why of course we clean it with some Windex. For her, every time she worked on a character defect, it was like a spray of Windex removing a smudge on her mirror. As she progressed in her Fourth Step work, the smudges on her mirror slowly began to disappear. For the first time in her life she began to have a clear view of who she was. For the first time in her life she began to like that reflection in the mirror.
Personal Reflection: What smudges on your mirror still need to be removed?
Recently at a meeting an old timer was talking to a newcomer. The old timer said to the newcomer, “do you know what the difference is between us”? The newcomer seemed a little perplexed by the question. As far as he was concerned there were many differences between the two. The old timer quickly followed up his question with the following response. “The only difference between you and me is that you believe that your thoughts are true”.
This is actually a profound insight on the part of the old timer. When people first come into the program their minds are in a state of confusion. They have lived in denial for years about their dependence on their drug of choice. This denial also extends to how it has affected them personally as well as it’s effect on family, friends and co-workers.
Newcomers also find that they are often in a constant state of fear. On a daily basis they ruminate about the future. These future projections rarely have a positive ending in their rumination process.,The doctor needs to send them for more tests, so they think they are dying. The boss asks to see them, so they will walk round for days thinking they are going to be fired.
In the program we make efforts to be in the here and now. If we start to obsess about the future, we stop because we know that we have allowed fear to kidnap our serenity.
Personal Reflection: Do I believe my fearful thoughts?
When we first entered the program many of us felt like our eyes had opened for the first time in a long time. We began to see how so many of our past behaviors had been wrong or harmful. We also began to be honest about our own character defects. These facts were very helpful in our recovery. As our minds cleared we began to see some glaring defects of character in people both within and outside the program. This one was too prideful, that one was in denial and a third was totally lost in being a victim. These facts were so obvious to us that we immediately wanted to share our insights with these and other people.
Experience has shown us that to do so would be a mistake. One of the major tenets of 12 step program is one of personal reflection and self discovery. Most people will not be open to those insights that we wanted to share. There is a good chance that they will immediately become defensive and even angry about our so called insights. If we have to the ability to think back to when we were in denial about our drug and alcohol usage or about our character defects; we will immediately comprehend why we should remain quiet. What we can do now is pray for them.
Personal Reflection: Do I give people the space to recover at their own pace?
Alcoholics and addicts seem to have a number of characteristics in common. One of them is what we can call the procrastination syndrome. For example walk into any bar and you will overhear conversations about future plans. One person is talking about the business he plans to to open up soon. Another is speaking about the cruise she and her husband will be taking in the near future. A third is is anticipating the promotion he will receive at work any day. Now fast forward a year or two. Walk into the same bar and you probably encounter the same cast of characters. Eavesdrop again on their conversations and chances are they will still be talking about the same thing. The business venture, the cruise and the promotion are still just hopeful dreaming.
That’s the way it is with alcoholics and addicts. Somehow all of those plans and aspirations never seem to actualize. The good news is that change is possible. Once we put down the drink or the drug and begin to work our program, we start to initially notice small changes. We make commitments to ourselves and others and begin to honor them. It could be as simple as a chair or coffee commitment at a meeting. The important thing is that we show up. Over time some of those big dreams and plans begin to come true as well.
Personal Reflection: What dream do I still need to actualize?
There are all sorts of slips in life. We can have a slip of the tongue, or a slip in judgement. In the program, we too can have these types of slips. Of course we are also concerned with a very serious type of slip. The one where we return to our drug of choice.
In listening to people share their experience about this type of slip one thing is clear; that it didn’t just happen by accident. Perhaps an analogy is in order. Imagine two possible scenarios. In the first a man is walking down the street and he “slips” on a banana peel. In this case it was just some random act of the universe. In the second scenario a man decides he wants to miss work for a few weeks. He starts eating a bunch of bananas and drops the peels on the floor. When he goes for a walk he slips on the peel. He calls his employer and says “I slipped on a banana peel”. In the second case it is obvious the man set up the “slip”. In the program our experience has shown that when a person has a slip, it is usually not a random act of the universe. Rather, whether consciously or unconsciously the slip was planned in advance.
Personal Reflection: Am I guilty of premeditated carelessness in my life?
Over the last decade there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people interested in Buddhism. Many people from all walks of life now consider themselves Buddhists. They have discovered that one does not have to live in a mountain monastery to practice Buddhism. Many are attracted to the story of Buddha who sat under a Bodhi tree vowing that he would not move until he found enlightenment. The path to enlightenment thru meditation is now being followed by many in the West.
In the rooms of AA, NA and OA many of us also practice meditation. In fact, some of us are also practicing Buddhists. However, we believe that there are many pathways to spiritual enlightenment. Beyond meditation and mindfulness, a spiritual awakening can also come from a rude awakening. Perhaps we are doing our fourth step and we see a glaring character defect. We might have for years or even decades been in total denial about this shortcoming. We might have evolved a history of blaming others for something which was of our own making. When that awareness of personal responsibility comes rushing in to our consciousness, we have taken one step closer to being a more enlightened being.
Personal Reflection: How have my rude awakenings led to greater enlightenment?
There are literally thousands of organizations that individuals can join in this country. Some are organizations like the Red Cross which provide many services like aid relief and blood drives. Others are political organizations where people work to help elect their favorite candidate. There is probably an organization for every social, economic or political cause in this country. Many people are very enthusiastic when they first join their club or organization. Over time however there are a fairly large number of people who end up leaving. Usually this is because other obligations like work and family need to take precedence.
There is one club in the world where this is definitely not the case. That club is the fellowship of AA, NA, OA and other 12 step programs. Our involvement in the fellowship is of necessity a lifelong commitment. We realize that we cannot rest on the laurels of a particular day. Each day presents new challenges which need to be addressed using the tools of the program. When we distance ourselves for any length of time from the program, our old way of thinking begins to creep back in. We start telling ourselves that we no longer need the program. The truth is that we only have a daily reprieve. Much of that reprieve is dependent on our commitment to the our particular fellowship.
Personal Reflection: How is my program a way of life for me?
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?
Many of us enjoy doing puzzles. It’s a pleasant way to pass away some time while exercising our minds. There is one type of puzzle which is highly instructive for personal transformation. The object of this puzzle is for the player to find objects that have been cleverly hidden within it. The creator of the puzzle has constructed it so that the sought after objects often blend in with the rest of the puzzle. A player will often repeatedly search for the object without success. Yet when they are shown where the item has been hidden, they exclaim, “I can’t believe I didn’t find it; it’s so obvious”.
Yes, it’s true, it is obvious, but not to them. The same concept applies to transformational work. Perhaps we have a defect of character which keeps causing us problems. Yet, when queried as to our part in the causation of the challenge, we really are unable to identify it. Then one day, we finally get it. That’s when we are able to say, “that happened because of my impatience, my pride, my feelings of guilt”; or whatever other shortcoming is responsible. In that moment when we clearly see what was there all along, we have been graced with wisdom.
Personal Reflection: What shortcomings do I think I’m still failing to see?
For a long time family members live with an active addict or alcoholic. Of course this is often an extremely painful experience. It is very difficult to see a loved one under the influence of their drug of choice. It is clear to the family member that their son, daughter, father, mother or spouse is slowly killing themselves. Along the way, there is often also a lot of collateral damage.
So, one day when they finally agree to enter a rehab the rest of the family is totally overjoyed. “Finally they will get the help the need and we will all be done with this painful chapter in our lives”. Sometimes, that is exactly what happens. A person goes thru rehab, enters a 12 step program and stays sober. Many times however this is not the case. To the dismay of family members, the addict or alcoholic relapses. Sometimes this even happens on the way home from the rehab itself. Of course the family members are stunned. “How could this possibly happen? This was supposed to be one of the best rehabs in the country”, they say.
The problem is that drinking, drugging or binging on food is only the symptom of much deeper problems within. A big part of 12 step program is progressively uncovering the deeper issues which led us to turn to substances in the first place. Only when these are addressed does true sobriety take hold.
Personal Reflection: What issues do I still need to address?