It’s been said that “it takes five years to get your marbles back and ten years to learn how to use them.” So, some of you are feeling pretty good right now because you’re walking around with some pretty useful marbles. And, as you look around you see that there are a lot of people out there who could really use some sagely sober advice.
Before you begin tapping into those marbles, a major ground rule is in order. People do not want to hear unsolicited advice. Even though the “answer to a problem” is incredibly clear to you; the other person may not be ready to even talk about it. If a person tells you they are not open to your “take” on an issue, that should be the end of it.
On a deeper level, we in the Program believe that when you have a deep insight about a problem, the source of this insight comes from a Higher plane. Your Higher Power has placed a person with a challenge in your path and granted you a moment of clarity. If the other person is open to your advice, that’s both of your Higher Powers at work.
So you sit down after a meeting and have an incredible conversation with someone about your solution to their issue. They are very open to what you have to say and commit to change based on your advice.
The next week at the same meeting you run into the same person who has not budged from their old way of thinking or acting. It’s not your business to repeat the conversation. The first time you spoke God was in the room. If you bring it up again, it’s your ego that’s in the room.
This doesn’t mean that your initial advice was lost. Maybe a week or a month or a year later that person might approach you and say, “remember that conversation we had?”
Personal Reflection: When you speak with others, whose will is in the room?
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?
WAt the end of many meetings you will see people exchanging phone numbers. Often, one of them has said something that the other identified with and they decided to stay in contact. Most of us have collected a large list of phone numbers over time.
That little Rolodex of numbers is a valuable tool for the alcoholic, drug or food addict. We have our “regulars” whom we call on a weekly basis just to touch base and talk about how our Program is going. We can also use the phone when we need to make a decision about something and want to get some feedback or advice. Often, we make a call when something is bothering us and need to talk about it and ventilate some of our feelings.
Almost all of us have the luxury and immediate access of a cellphone. Before the era of cellphones, program members were advised to carry around a pocket of loose change. Back then, a phone booth was our cellphone.
Sometimes of course we do make that call and it immediately goes to voicemail. We try another number and it’s busy. We finally reach someone but they can’t talk with us. We really need to dump our feelings or seek advice and no one is picking up. At that point we make a virtual phone call to the One who is always available and who always answers our call.
That conversation often relieves our upset about something. Frequently we even come up with an answer to a problem that has been dogging us.
Remember, you never need to spend money to chat with your Higher Power.
Personal Reflection: When was the last time I called my Higher Power?
During our lives we are going to interact with literally thousands of people. Our relationships with these people change over time. A prime example of this are High School and College reunions. While we were in school we established friendships with people that we felt would last forever. After graduation, it was not uncommon for us to drift apart from many of those people. When we attended a school reunion after 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years we frequently found ourselves disappointed. When we finally reconnected with people that at one time we had been very close to, we often found that we know longer had much in common. After shooting the breeze about our past escapades, we experienced those moments of uncomfortable silence.
In the program we recognize that friendships from our past may no longer resonate with us. We also encounter people that although they are not our friends, on some level we feel they have been sent to us by our Higher Power. They usually impart some lesson or knowledge that can help us move forward. Although we may never see them again, they help us in our recovery. Finally, many of us have established life long friendships through the fellowship of AA, NA, and OA. The very nature of the program helps to create life long bonds.
Personal Reflection: What kind of “friends” do I have?
Many newcomers feel very uncomfortable about sharing at meetings. They sit there very stoically with a grim look on their face. Their minds are racing with all of their regrets, fears, resentments, anger and shame. Yes, it’s true they are no long using, but they feel pretty miserable about their life.
Then one day, perhaps thru another member’s encouragement they finally share. When they are finished, they realize that they feel a little bit better; and sometimes a whole lot better. It seems almost counter-intuitive. Although everyone was listening, no one gave them advice or tried to solve their problems for them. Yet, thru the process of personal reflection thru sharing, something changed within them. Over time we have come to realize that having the opportunity to share with others is extremely therapeutic.
The flip side of the coin is also true. By listening to others share and identifying, we see that our feelings of isolation and negative uniqueness are lies we tell ourselves. The shares of others verify that our feelings are just part of being human.
After the meeting we can seize the opportunity to speak to others and get advice if that is what we want. There is great collective wisdom within the walls of the fellowship.
Personal Reflection: Am I sharing enough at meetings?
A big part of the fellowship is service. One alcoholic or addict helping another. Sometimes we get immediate verification that something we said or did had an impact on another person. Someone comes up to us after a meeting and tells us that they had a lot of identification with something we said. Getting a smile out of someone as we hand them a cup of coffee. Calling someone and have them tell us they are so grateful because they were feeling a bit lonely and sad. These are times that we immediately know that we’ve touched someone
Then of course there are actions we take which affect others in ways we are totally unaware of. Maybe that ride we gave to someone to get to a meeting helped keep them from going out that day. Perhaps that heartfelt welcome we gave to a newcomer helped them to decide to come back to another meeting. Maybe we encountered someone at a party who was drinking, using or eating compulsively. During the conversation we broke our anonymity and informed them there was a better way of living. Even if they continued to use after our conversation, we never know what seeds were planted. Many of us have seen those very people walk into a 12 step room months or years later.
Personal Reflection: How have you impacted others?
So many times in the past we found ourselves in untenable situations. At some point we probably asked ourselves, “How could I have ended up here?” In the majority of cases we initially had no intention of once again following a path which was harmful to us. This of course happens to everyone on occasion. For the alcoholic or addict it happens far more frequently and often involves alcohol, drugs or food.
Once we entered the program, many of the problems directly caused by our drug of choice were eliminated. However, we still found ourselves in many situations which indicated that we had made some wrong choices. It might have taken a bit of work, but we finally realized that the majority or our problems were self inflicted. Had we only run it by another member in the fellowship, we might have been offered other options to consider. It was a big mistake to attempt to go it alone. It was that very thinking that got us into trouble in the first place. As they say in the program, “it takes five years to get our marbles back; and another five to know what to do with them”. Ask anyone with more than ten years of sobriety and they will tell you that they still run things by others in the fellowship. We are humble enough to know that individually we do not have all the answers.
Personal Reflection: Do I reach out to others for counsel?
Sometimes people will complain during their share that people were not friendly to them at a particular meeting. Now, there are many meetings where there are greeters at the door to make you feel welcome. At other places, people new to the meeting or just visiting are given an opportunity to introduce themselves. This breaks the ice so to speak and can be a platform for conversation after the meeting. These are wonderful examples of efforts made to make us feel welcome and wanted.
The reality is however, that for many of us, part of our disease includes feelings of isolation and being a victim. We can take those feelings and have a field day with them at a meeting where people in our opinion are not friendly. We could immediately go to our default victim position and hop on top of that pity pot.
In program we learn that we are not victims. If we are isolators, we need to admit to that fact. Once we do so, the next step is to to take an action. This could be as simple as positioning ourselves by the coffee pot where people tend to congregate before and after the meeting. Just introducing ourselves as we’re sipping our coffee can open up conversations and lead to friendships. At our home group we can also reach out to someone new or visiting as well. This helps to break through our isolation on our home turf.
Personal Reflection: How do I make myself and others feel connected?
Therapy is an excellent option for many people. It has provided a window for self discovery to countless individuals. Interestingly, quite a few of us ended up in the program because of therapy. As we sat there sharing with our therapist, he or she at the end of the session recommended that we go to a meeting of one of the fellowships. We were often told that we needed to join a 12 step program to address our issues of addiction.
When we arrived at our first meeting, we looked around to see who was the expert in charge. After a few minutes we deduced that the person leading the meeting was in charge. We were taken aback when we found out that there were no real leaders and no so called “professionals” running the meetings. Everyone had an equal voice and just needed to raise their hand to share. Rather than rely on professionals, we learned that the program was essentially one of self regulation. Ultimately we decided how many meetings to go to a week and how quickly to work the steps. Although we were the ones who would do the work, we needed the power of the group to help us maintain our sobriety. We began to understand the phrase that “this is a we program”.
Personal Reflection: How have others helped me to maintain sobriety?
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?