There are many people in Twelve Step programs with years and even decades of sobriety. These very same people often make many meetings every week. To a person outside of the Program this might seem strange. “Why do you need to continue going to meetings?”, they often ask. “You haven’t had a drink or a drug in years.”
The simple answer is yes, it’s true we haven’t used in many years, but that’s because we believe we get a daily reprieve. Just because we’re sober today, doesn’t mean we won’t face challenges to our sobriety tomorrow. Going to all of those meetings keeps us “on the beam” so to speak.
On a more profound level, sobriety means much more than not just taking a drink or a drug or going on a food binge. For us, sobriety is a life path. It includes how we treat our family and friends and coworkers. It puts the spotlight on how we conduct ourselves in traffic when someone wants to merge into our lane and at the local supermarket when the cashier is as slow as molasses. Perhaps most importantly, sobriety is about how we treat ourself when we make a mistake or get hurt by another.
True sobriety takes time. The only way to deepen our sobriety is to continue making meetings, reading the Big Book, calling our sponsor, and doing all of those things which help us grow individually and as a member of our the fellowship.
Personal Reflection: Have I deepened my sobriety lately?
Sometimes we discover a 12 step room that could be from a movie set. All of the chairs are comfortable. The room is well lit and airy. We can see trees and sky through the picture windows. There is the wonderful strong aroma of fresh brewed high quality coffee. Some delicious treats have been laid out buffet style for all to enjoy. The space is wonderfully cool during the warm weather months and nice and toasty in the winter.
Yes, sometimes we find a room like that, but much of the time that’s not the case. Often the chairs are rickety, the lighting is poor, it’s hot in the summer and chilly in the winter and the coffee looks and tastes like mud.
But the truth is that none of that matters. We could be sitting on pogo sticks and still need to be full of gratitude. We are part of a fellowship which has changed our lives. Apart from freeing us from of our drug of choice, we have experienced a psychic change. We are no longer the same person who walked through the door of AA, NA or OA the first time. Emotional sobriety has been encountered and has begun to be absorbed. That rickety chair you’ve been sitting on is worth more than a truckload of massage chairs and recliners.
Personal Reflection: Why is my home group seat so valuable?
Many shifts occur when people finally get it and enter the program. Obviously the first major shift was the giving up of our drug of choice. As a result, our lives began to dramatically improve. We started to pay better attention to our health and our doctors were very pleased with the results they were seeing. Our work environment became much more pleasant. Suddenly we were getting along much better with our co-workers. Our home life was on a much more even keel. Many of these changes rapidly occurred once we gave up drugs, alcohol, food or any other substance of choice.
A different series of changes took place over a longer period of time. We began to learn about emotional sobriety. This caused a major shift in both our thinking and actions. In the past the focus had always been on ourselves. We really did believe that we were the center of the universe. We constantly clashed with others who had the same belief system. With sobriety we began to move away from a life of self centeredness to a life of service. The further away we were from being in the center the better our life became.
Personal Reflection: How far away from the center am I?
Just because you have a pain doesn’t mean you have to be one.
One of the powers of the program is that we are not alone. If you are going through a rough patch you can certainly call your sponsor about it. Not only will you have an opportunity to vent, you can also seek out solutions. The same holds true for meetings. The more meetings you attend the more opportunities you will have to share what is happening in your life. There is also the meeting after the meeting where you can get advice as well. All of these actions are encouraged in the program.
That being said we do not endorse unacceptable behavior just because a person is feeling angry, fearful, resentful, guilty or victimized. When we are being self reflective and share at a meeting the emphasis needs to be on ourself and not others. Just because we are full of emotion doesn’t give us the right to take someone else’s inventory. It certainly doesn’t give us the right to lash out or to act in an inappropriate way. Our goal is to practice emotional sobriety. This is especially true when we’re encountering difficulties during our day.
Personal Reflection: How do I maintain emotional sobriety?
When we get up in the morning, many of us take our vitamins. Some take only a multi, and some of us take an alphabet laden hand full. Regardless of how many we take; once we’ve chewed or swallowed them, we go on about our business for the day. If vitamins are on our check list, we can dutifully check them off. We probably won’t think about them until the next morning.
Recovery is not like a multi vitamin. We don’t take our daily dose in the morning and declare. “I’m finished for the day”. Yes it’s wonderful to read the Big Book in the morning or to call our sponsor early on in the day or even to make an early riser meeting. These are all wonderful steps we can take. However, some time during the day something is likely to happen which will press our buttons or really challenge us. We can almost see ourselves descending back into old patterns of response which are harmful to both ourselves and others. When we see that happen, we need to immediately take a sober action to get us back on the beam. The reality is that we may have to do this a number of times each day until our head hits that pillow.
Personal Reflection: How do I recalibrate during the day?
Those of us who have been around awhile still make a lot of meetings. The reasons why we go today are different from when we first came in. Back then, it was all about putting down our drug of choice. We had the support of the fellowship to help us get through a day without picking up. Gratefully, that obsessive urge to use has lifted. Even so we don’t delude ourselves. We know that the meetings help us maintain our sobriety.
These days we go to to meetings for other reasons as well. We very much enjoy the camaraderie of the membership. Where else can you go and get to share your innermost feelings without fear of being judged. We also enjoy helping newcomers and others In the program who are still struggling. We have come to understand the value of service. Perhaps the most important reason for attending meetings has to do with emotional sobriety. All of those character defects which we possessed still raise their heads in one manner or another on a daily basis. New layers of emotional sobriety get laid down every time we go to a meeting. When we don’t make meetings, those same layers get ripped up. To build or sober emotional core, we need to commit to regular attendance at meetings.
Personal Reflection: Am I making enough meetings?
Every year thousands of students look forward to the month of June. That is when they graduate from high school or college. Especially in the case of college, there is often a collective sigh of relief. By that point, many of the students have reached their quota of exam taking and term papers. They want to graduate, begin paying off their student loans and hopefully enter the work force. Many of them never want to open a text book again. They certainly never want to enter a lecture hall again. For them, they have closed the chapter on their education career.
We in the program probably had similar feelings about our formal education. However, when it came to our recovery we felt vey differently. As we began to embark upon our pathway of self discovery, we quickly realized that there was no graduation date. Each day we saw that we needed to go deeper and deeper into our healing. In particular, we found that as we pursued emotional sobriety, it gave us unlimited opportunities for daily work. We also found that when we failed to work on ourselves on a daily basis, we definitely observed slippage. Some of those old character defects came roaring back.
Personal Reflection: What aspect of my recovery am I currently working on?
One could say that our program has two stages. The first stage is a well known one. We reached a point where we had to give up our drug of choice. Our drinking, drug usage or eating habits were creating havoc in our lives. We admitted our powerlessness and entered the fellowship. We had entered the world of sobriety. Once we made that decision, many if not all of the problems caused by our drinking and drugging disappeared. As long as we maintained sobriety, these types of problems no longer dogged us.
However, there was a second stage to the program. We quickly encountered many other life challenges totally unconnected to our abuse of substances. This was a bit of a surprise to us. We had thought that putting down the alcohol, drugs or food would mean smooth sailing from then on. It was a rude awakening to encounter a whole new set of problems. At first we blamed everyone else about our life situation. Then gradually, we began to learn about emotional sobriety. We learned that it wasn’t so much about people places and things as much as about our attitudes. We needed to retrain our minds to begin to take personal responsibility for what happened to us in life. Even when there was enough blame to go around to include others, our task was to focus on our part.
Personal Reflection: Do I still play the blame game?
While we were using we had all kinds of preconceptions about what the program was like. When we finally walked down those steps into a meeting, we were a bit startled. Many of us were expecting to see a group of old and bitter men who were bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t drink or drug. Instead, we encountered men and women of all ages. More to the point, there was often a lot of laughter and good feelings in the rooms. In particular we sensed that there was a strong bond and sense of camaraderie amount the members. We also noticed that unlike when we were active, people paid attention to their health. In the past many of us had been afraid to go to the doctor because we had great fear about what he would say. We feared being we would be to stop using or that we had already done serious physical damage to ourselves. What really gained our attention was that we were exposed to a group of people in recovery who could live a happy productive life without drugs and alcohol. As we listened to their voices we also came to understand what emotional sobriety meant as well.
Personal Reflection: What do I find attractive about the program?
A women was sharing about an incident from her early days of sobriety. She was a few minutes late for work. When the timekeeper from the firm saw her, she was informed that she would be docked for her tardiness. The program member exploded in anger. She got into a full blown screaming match, first with the timekeeper, then with the manager and finally with the owner. She was lucky she didn’t get fired. Later in the day she relayed the incident over to her sponsor. The then newcomer said, “How dare they dock me. I was only a few minutes late. I give so much to that firm. I got caught in traffic and that was why I was late”. When she finished her tirade, her sponsor responded and said, “that wasn’t very sober behavior was it? The sponsee sheepishly admitted that indeed her behavior had not been sober. She might not have been drinking or drugging, but all her actions belied that fact.
It is so easy to fall into the “how dare theys”.
How dare they double park.
How dare they go before me.
How dare they speak to me like that.
You can fill in the blank for your own personal “how dare they”. It’s important to remember that how dare they thinking is the antithesis of emotional sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Do I still engage in “how dare they” thinking?