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?
In the program we recognize that we are dealing with addiction. In an ideal world, once a person enters the program it would be wonderful if they put down their drug of choice forever. Unfortunately, sometimes that is not the case. Periodically, at a meeting someone will raise their hand and say they have a day or a week back. In response people at the meeting will say, “keep coming back”. We understand how powerful addiction is. Rather than judging the person who had a slip, we individually and collectively encourage them to rejoin the program. When this happens it demonstrates the power of the program. It’s not easy to admit to your peers that you had a slip. Yet is is important to do so. We begin by being honest with ourselves. We could have so to speak “put one over on the fellowship” by not admitting our slip. Yet by admitting our slip publicly, we strengthen the concept of being honest in our dealings. If we can’t be honest to ourselves and others about our drug of choice, we have little chance of being successful with long term sobriety. Denial grows where personal honesty is lacking.
Personal Reflection: How can I help someone who is just coming back?
There is an old proverb that says, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. No matter what you do with it, it will always be the ear of a pig. We can also apply this quote to members of the program in regards to their past. When we first came in, we probably had lots of war stories about our past behavior. As time passed perhaps some of those stories got a little fuzzy. Perhaps we began to tell ourselves that things weren’t really as bad as we had remembered. For an alcoholic or drug addict, this is like skating on thin ice. If we keep it up, we’ll eventually fall through and slip back into our drug of choice.
We need to be very clear with ourselves. It is extremely important for us to have an accurate memory of our past behaviors. Most likely we will find this to be uncomfortable. We probably feel deep shame and regret over some of the things we have done. Though we need not dwell on the past, it shouldn’t be denied or romanticized. To do so would be endanger our present and future.
Personal Reflection: Do I sometimes romanticize the past?
Many of us felt overwhelmed when we entered our 12 step program. We were bombarded with a tremendous amount of information. Much of it was spoken in a jargon we couldn’t quite understood. At meetings people were hitting us with slogans we found a bit confusing. Then we were told that we needed to get a sponsor and call him or her every night. On top of all this we were informed that we needed to make ninety meetings in ninety days.
Before we knew it, we felt like back sliding. Maybe this program wasn’t for us. Or, if it was for us we could do part of it our way. Perhaps we reviewed our past and decided that things hadn’t been that bad after all. Maybe we weren’t really an alcoholic, drug or food addict.
If we continued with that line of thinking, we probably would end up back where we had started before we entered the program.
There is a reason we ask people to follow the advice of others who came before them. When they practice the program diligently and completely their chances of success are greatly improved. As we say in the program, “half measures avail us nothing”. There is no such thing as being half sober. To achieve full sobriety we need to engage in the program 100%.
Personal Reflection: Have I placed any conditions on my sobriety?
Put down the weapons, pick up the tools
Many people walk around in defense mode. It’s almost as if they are in a constant combat stance. All suggestions about change are rejected outright. To do otherwise would show signs of weakness on their part, or so they believe. Denial is also another big part of their arsenal. Even when confronted with the absolute truth about themselves, they will continue to be in that denial. Their persona also has a lot of bluster. They paint a picture that they’re experts in everything. When questioned about it, they either turn up the bluster volume or come up with a litany of excuses.
Upon entering the rooms of AA, NA or OA, these same people begin to learn that they have been carrying around the wrong objects. They understand that it’s time to put down the weapons and pick up the tools. Denial needs to be dropped and replaced with honesty. When they finally do this they begin to to be able to assess exactly what is working for them and what is not. Looking at their character defects for the first time is truly the beginning of their recovery. That bluster also needs to be dropped. Adopting humility will signify that they are truly teachable and open to change. Along the way they also pick up many other tools including, sponsors, meetings, and working the steps.
Personal Reflection: What tools do you carry into the world?
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?
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?