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?
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?
We are often asked, “how do I know if I belong in AA, NA, OA or one of the other programs”? The answer that we give often surprises people. There is no yardstick used to determine if you belong in one of the programs. Now of course, there are people who obviously do belong in the program. They consume large amounts of alcohol, drugs or food and are totally addicted to them. We would immediately urge a person like that to enter the program.
We are talking about a different category of person. One whose behavior does not immediately identify them as an addict or alcoholic. For this group we ask them to take a closer look at the reasons they are using. Are they using for sociability or to escape responsibilities and feelings. They also need to honestly examine what happens to them after they use. Does their behavior dramatically shift? Are problems created in their life because of actions taken while under the influence? A simple question often suffices to determine the next course of action. “Do you have a desire to stop drinking, using or eating compulsively? If the answer to that question is yes, we bring them to their first meeting.
Personal Reflection: How did my drug of choice negatively impact my life?
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?
When we first entered the program we burned with a fire of commitment. We just loved going to meetings. It was so liberating being able to share our deepest feelings openly with the group. Learning that we were not unique was also very helpful. Listening to others and identifying deeply was validating for us. Physically we could feel our health improving on a daily basis. As we immersed ourselves in the program we created an expanding social network of friends. Our relationship with our sponsor evolved into something that we tapped into on a daily basis.
Over time, much of that initial pink cloud began to wear off. As we reintegrated ourselves back into our lives, more and more distractions arose. Obligations of work and family began to seep in. Meetings began to be skipped. Calls to our sponsor went unmade. Hopefully at this point our sponsor had a heart to heart with us. Basically he or she told us that our sobriety had to come first. Experience of countless others who came before us had shown this to be true. When people said they had a daily reprieve, this was only because they had worked their program that day. If we didn’t keep our sobriety our priority, it would in short order be lost.
Personal Reflection: Do I keep my sobriety first?