Have you ever gone hiking and suddenly realized that you’ve lost the trail. You try to retrace your steps and most of the time find the last trail marker on a tree that you somehow missed. No problem; you now make that left or right as required instead of walking straight ahead. Occasionally, you retrace your steps and realize that you have gotten yourself good and lost. You start to panic and then in the distance see the well worn path of the trail. Breathing a sigh of relief you head towards the path and resume your hike.
For many of us, drugs, alcohol or food was our map through the forest of life. Initially, it worked fairly well for us. It helped us buffer some of the pain, fear and loneliness that we often felt. At some point it stopped working. It was like straying from a path as we stumbled deeper and deeper into the forest.
When we had strayed very far from the path we suddenly came upon a trail marker. It had the letters AA, NA or OA on it. We began to follow that trail and a guide appeared who became our sponsor. He or she had also been lost in the forest but had found their way out. They acted as a compass for us on a daily basis.To make sure we didn’t stray far from the path they gave us a Big Book to study. It provided us with a set of directions for almost any path we choose to take. We also started to attend meetings where we met many other travelers who helped guide us as well. At some point we even began to guide others who had become lost.
Personal Reflection: Do I still stray off the path?
How we wake up in the morning is a barometer of our Program.
Are you the kind of person who as soon as you open your eyes begins to obsess about the day ahead. For example, if you have a lunch date with someone later that day do you think about all the things that can go wrong. Maybe you won’t be able to find a parking space, or you will miss the bus, or you won’t like the restaurant, or you will be late for the appointment.
On the other hand, when you wake up in the morning are you the kind of person who takes life “one day at a time.” You will plan to do everything in your power to arrive at your lunch date without a hitch. Once you’ve done that, you can let go of any obsessive thinking. In the event something occurs beyond your control which causes a delay, you won’t beat yourself up about it. You accept that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in God’s world.
Sometimes we can’t seem to shake the fears we have about the future. When that happens you can reach out to someone in the Program and talk about your concerns. As part of the conversation they might ask you what Step you are working. They will probably remind you to focus on Step Two which says, “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Ultimately, we need to ask our Higher Power to remove our obsessive thinking and negativity.
Personal Reflection: How did I wake up this morning?
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?
Many people are men and women of extremes. When things are going well we are the most agreeable of people. However, if we are having one of those days where everything just seems to go wrong, then you had best get out of our way. As the day unfolds we get more and more into our negativity. This state of mind can be found in individuals both in and outside the program. There are some differences however.
The average person will have a bad day and just chalk it up to a series of unfortunate circumstances. At day’s end they will look forward to a better day tomorrow. For someone in the fellowship, a bad day can be a trigger for a person to have a slip and return to their drug of choice. The reasons for this are more complicated than simple cause and effect. When an alcoholic or addict has a bad day, they can let their negative thoughts overrun them. Their cascading thoughts lead them to the conclusion that not only is this day a bad one, but their entire life is one long failure and disappointment. When this type of thinking predominates, it is easy to understand how a person could despair and revert to old behaviors. The founders of the program understood this when they advised us to remember, “one day at a time”.
Personal Reflection: Do I still jump from bad day thinking to bad life thinking?
Almost all of us at one time or another have been sandbagged at a meeting. Without any warning or preparation time, we are asked to qualify and share our experience, strength and hope. Our first impulse may be to say no. Many of us have a fear of public speaking. Then of course there is our old friend perfectionism who chimes in, “how can you speak without any lead time? Your qualification is going to be lacking in so many ways”. Once we push through these reservations, we arrive at the essence of our reticence. Deep down inside we don’t think that the story of our recovery will be of benefit to anyone. A lot of this is based on the fact that we have a lot of shame about our past. How can our journey to recovery be of value to anyone else; given that it is studded with self doubt, denial, and repeated failure.
The truth is that is probably exactly what someone needs to hear. So many of us believed that we were “the only one” who felt a certain way or behaved in a certain manner. When we hear someone else describing a struggle that we are currently going thru and coming out on the other side; it can be incredibly empowering. A share can literally open up a new pathway towards sobriety for another member
Personal Reflection: Do you avoid qualifying at meetings?
Fear is a constant companion for most of us. Sometimes of course, fear serves an important purpose. It can protect us when danger is imminent. We should certainly listen to that inner voice telling us to cross the street when we see a large stray dog approaching us. For our distant ancestors, fear probably saved them from many perils.
Today however, fear often plays a less than productive role. Perhaps you’ve gone to the doctor and he tells you he has seen something that he doesn’t like the looks of. He sends you for a battery of tests for which you need to wait a week for the results. That week of waiting becomes your worst nightmare. Literally every 5 minutes your mind races to the worst possible scenario. You tell yourself you are going to die from some rare incurable disease. You lie awake in bed at night full of worry. Your eating habits become disrupted. When you finally see the doctor at the end of the week he tells you it was nothing to worry about. It was just a false alarm. You spent a week worrying about something that never happened
In the program we understand how fear can totally take over our life. In the past it was so powerful we turned to alcohol, drugs, and food to cope. Today, we have truly begun to live one day at a time. We don’t allow fear of the future enter into our today.
Personal Reflection: Do I allow fear of the future to seep into my present?
Sometimes every fiber in your being is telling you to do something that is the wrong decision for you. Perhaps your emotions are in turmoil and are pointing you in the wrong direction. That can happen when anger takes over and the only response you see is to react and go on the offensive. Maybe you find yourself in a state of fear. Although you know you need to face a particular challenge, all you can do is avoid what must be done.
For the alcoholic, drug or food addict it gets even more complicated. When faced with emotional stress, we often react by wanting to return to our drug of choice to soothe ourselves. Or, we justify reacting in fear, anger or another emotion by saying, “well at least I’m not drinking or drugging”.
When these types of situations occur, we need to remember that we have sober feet. Even if every part of you wants to react improperly, just let your feet do the walking. Let them walk over to the phone to call another member from the fellowship. You might even walk a little bit further and make it to a meeting. Sometimes, you just need to walk away from a challenging life situation and then pray and meditate on what has occurred and how you should react.
Personal Reflection: How do I utilize my sober feet?
It has been said that underlying almost all problems is fear. We in the program can definitely identify with that concept. For as long as we can remember, fear permeated our life. For the most part, we weren’t even conscious that we had these feelings. We just knew that something wasn’t working for us. Along the way, we discovered alcohol, drugs or food. These substances didn’t remove the fears we felt. They just buried them down deeper.
When we finally made it into the rooms; we of course gave up our drug of choice. Within a short period of time, all of those old fears came rushing back into our lives. In listening to others in the fellowship we began to understand that many of those fears could be pushed through. All we often needed to do was to take that first step. What had appeared in our minds as an insurmountable and frightening task was frequently something that with effort could be handled. We also began to tap into our Higher Power. Whenever those feelings of fear kicked in, we prayed for the strength and courage to transcend those feelings. In asking for courage to move forward we found that we had inner resources which heretofore had lain dormant.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to pray for courage over a life challenge?
Many of us were comfort junkies. For much of our lives we had taken the path of least resistance. Rather than asking our boss for a raise, we avoided the anticipated confrontation. Perhaps we didn’t go to college because we thought it was going to be too much work. Maybe we remained in unhealthy relationships because the thought of breaking up was too painful for us to imagine. And so it went. To assist us in our search for comfort, we found our drug of choice. Whenever we felt distress over something, we immediately turned to alcohol, drugs or food to dampen its impact.
We had a bit of a shock when we entered the program. Other members were not the least bit concerned about their comfort or ours for that matter. We were quickly informed that if we wanted to become sober, we would have to go to any length to do so. That included doing some things that might make us extremely uncomfortable. We went to meetings even when we were dead tired. We called our sponsor even when the topic of conversation might be embarrassing for us. We took a coffee commitment even though it was far below our skill set. As time went on, life began to become a more comfortable experience for us.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to push through my discomfort?
There were many reasons why we continued to use our drug of choice. One of the most common, was that we could not envision going through our day without alcohol, food or drugs. Our drug of choice was our comfort. It soothed us when we were upset. It made us comfortable in social situations. It bolstered our courage when we were fearful. How could we give it up? It was integral to our being able to cope with life. This type of thinking is often reflected in the faces of newcomers sitting in meetings. Looking at them you would think they had been sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.
As time passes, these very same newcomers look very different. They appear to be far happier, more relaxed and healthier than when they were active. They have come to realize that giving up their drug of choice was not a sentence. Just the opposite. It was reprieve from the treadmill of addiction. Beyond that, sobriety provided an opportunity for growth in many areas. People’s lives greatly improved at work, at home, financially and in the community. Along the way they developed an entirely new network of people who they could call upon at any time.
Personal Reflection: How has my life improved since I entered the program?