Alcohol, drugs and food were like a light switch for us. As long as we stayed away from our drug of choice, we often appeared to be quite well adjusted to those around us. Once we took that first drink or drug, then all bets were off. That switch was turned on, and everything changed. Perhaps initially we became the life of the party or felt at ease in social situations. For many of us, that light switch also unleashed a lot of pent up feelings we had been carrying around. In particular, we tapped into a mother lode of anger and resentment. These were feelings that we had often carried for a long time without having addressed them.
Perhaps abstaining from our drug of choice removed the trigger for our anger. It didn’t take long however for us to discover that all of those feelings of anger and resentment were only just below the surface. Now almost any life situation could trigger us into some kind of emotional tirade. Left unaddressed, these feelings would eventually lead us to taking that first drink or drug. That’s why it was imperative for us to begin to address all of those feelings of rage and anger. We made it our business to tap into the fellowship for assistance. We also asked our Higher Power to remove our reactivity to the vicissitudes of life.
Personal Reflection: Is anger still my master?
There is a pathology about arrogance. Rather than admit that we don’t know something, we will place ourselves in all kinds of situations which are to our detriment. Of course the classic example of this, is the refusal of car drivers (and without being sexist they were usually men) who refused to ask directions when lost. Multiple gas stations where the answer was at hand were passed because the driver stubbornly refused to ask directions. On some deep level asking directions was an admission of our ignorance and lack of perfection. Pride caused many a family to endure a half hour delay while dad tried to tough it out on his own. Thank G-d for the invention of the GPS.
The same pathology can occur in recovery. That’s why we have sponsors and friends in the program. Life is really not designed for us to fly solo. We are a fellowship because Bill W. and Dr. Bob understood the power of one alcoholic (or drug or food addict) helping another. The only thing is that we are not mind readers. When someone from the program needs advice, it’s their responsibility to ask for help. We encourage them to get beyond the shame of admitting their ignorance. Once they do, we are more than happy to share our experience, strength and hope. Asking directions also includes turning to our Higher Power for council as well.
Personal Reflection: Have I been holding back from asking directions about something?
It took a lot of courage for us to enter the rooms of AA, NA or OA. Most of us walked through those doors for the first time alone. It was a daunting experience. We had no idea what to expect. At first some of what we heard sounded pretty darn strange. What exactly did you mean by “take it easy” and what was with that “think” sign hung upside down? We had also never heard people talk with such honesty about themselves and their challenges.
At the end of our first meeting, someone usually came over with a meeting book. What really impressed us was that the last page of the book was filled with the names and numbers of people from the meeting. People also came over to us and asked for our number as well. Before that meeting we thought we would have travel the road to sobriety alone. After that first meeting we realized that we would never be alone on that journey. Members of the fellowship would be there for us anytime we called upon them. We chose one member to become our sponsor and developed a relationship with him or her unlike any we had ever had before. We felt safe speaking about anything and were never judged for it. We also began to develop a relationship with a Higher Power who would never leave us.
Personal Reflection: How do I utilize the fellowship for support?
There are many ways to categorize people in this world. There are a entire class of people who will discourage you from moving forward with your life. These are the people who find what appear to be strong arguments against whatever it is you are attempting to accomplish. It makes no difference what it is you want to do. If you want to buy a house, they will tell you all of the reasons you should stay in your apartment. If you want to return to college, they will tell you about how many people who have graduated from college and are looking for jobs. In fact, celebrated author Wayne Dyer came up with 18 things people will say to you to discourage you from personal growth. Of particular note for people in recovery are the statements, “I’m not strong enough”; “I don’t deserve it” and “no one will help me”. The best thing you can do when they attempt to squash your aspirations is to tell them to not disturb you as you leave them in the dust. Our fellowship helps us tap into strength from our higher power; have an awesome life and know we can call upon our brothers and sisters for help as needed.
Personal Reflection: Do I believe the discouragers?
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 member recently shared one of her initial experiences in the program. She had walked into a meeting in very early sobriety and someone had turned to her and said, “we’ve been waiting for you”. She looked at the speaker in puzzlement. She had never seen or spoken to the gentlemen in her life. She thought that quite frankly it was a strange thing to say, or maybe it was just a case of mistaken identity. Years later, whenever she sees a newcomer, she also says, “we’ve been waiting for you”. Now she understands the deeper meaning beyond that simple phrase. We in the program, truly understand what the newcomer has gone thru with their drug of choice. We understand, because we had to walk through those doors once too. We know how difficult it was to admit utter and total defeat. We want you to know that we are here for you. We will pick up that phone when you call us in the middle of the night. If you don’t have a car, we will make sure that you get a ride to a meeting. It will be with great joy that we share in sobriety celebrations and anniversaries. We were waiting for you because someone was waiting for us.
Personal Reflection: Do I make the newcomer feel welcome?
One of the joys of being a member of a 12 step program is being able to share in the anniversary of a fellow member. There are different traditions surrounding this celebration. Sometimes the celebrant will share his experience strength and hope; sometimes he or she will get a speaker. There is almost always a cake to go along with our perennially present pot of coffee. There is also a coin ceremony where the celebrant receives his or her coin marking another year of sobriety.
These coins mean a lot to us. Many of us carry them wherever we go. They are a constant reminder of the recovery path we embarked upon when we entered the program. In some rooms, there is a tradition of passing around the coin just presented to every single person in the room. We are not doing this because we view the coin as some magic talisman that will prevent us from going out. Rather, by having all people present touch the coin we are affirming our deep connection to one another. It is oft repeated that this is a “we” program. Our sobriety only came about because we had the opportunity to share with one another our fears, problems, resentments, progress and insights. We are symbolically demonstrating that each of us has a role in the sobriety of his or her fellow, as do they in ours.
Personal Reflection: How have others helped me get my coins?
As we sit in meetings we begin to realize that we all have a lot in common.At a recent meeting a fellow told a story where his car had stalled out right in front of his house. He needed to parallel park the car without any power from the engine. He was struggling to push the car into a space and at the same time turn the wheel of the car. One of his neighbors saw what was happening. He came over and said, “would you like some help”? One would think that in a situation where you are trying to move a 3 thousand pound piece of metal by yourself that you would accept some assistance. Our program friend didn’t think so. He replied, “no thanks, I got it”, and proceeded to push.
At the end of the story, after a round of laughter, there was a lot of identification with what had occurred. Many of us have great difficulty accepting help from any source. We often feel, that by accepting help, we are in some way weak or less than. Not only won’t we accept help we will certainly not ask for it.
As we grow in sobriety we learn the beauty of both accepting and giving help. It is one of the things that defines our fellowship.
Personal Reflection: Am I open to giving and receiving help?
Whether you are in AA, NA, or OA; there is a commonality of experience. People that you barely know will go to almost any length to help you. It starts with sponsorship. Where else can you get someone who will mentor you on a daily basis for FREE. A man or a women who will share their extensive life experience with you in total honesty and provides a venue for you to do the same. Then of course there is the fellowship itself. Many of us have collected the phone numbers of other people in the program that we can call whenever we feel the need to talk. It is a comfort to know that there is always someone available at the other end of the line day or night. We have also discovered that when we need it, whatever the problem, a member of our fellowship will offer his or her assistance. Whether it’s helping us find a job, driving us to a meeting or taking us to the Department of Motor Vehicles, we know help is just around the corner. As we grow in our own sobriety, we join the ranks of those who freely give back what they have so freely received.
Personal Reflection: Am I doing enough service?
We used to blithely state that we had it all together. The fact that our lives were often in turmoil was ignored. There were health issues.which were frequently neglected. Many of our relations were in shambles. Work issues came up on an almost daily basis. Yet, with all of these challenges we failed to see that we were asleep regarding awareness of self and the reality of our situation.
As newcomers we often encountered what old timers refer to as “being on a pink cloud”. Free of alcohol,and drugs, we felt better than we had in years. Much of the drama and chaos dissipated as we grew in sobriety. Somewhere along the way, that pink cloud faded and our character defects rose to the surface. For many of us this was a bitter pill to swallow. Weren’t we in program? Hadn’t we become involved in working the steps? We learned humility as we came to understand that no one truly has it “all together”. Yes the program, could help us to grow spiritually and emotionally; but recovery was a lifelong endeavor. It was only through the collective knowledge and experience of others in the program that we got a glimmer of the possibility of significant evolvement.
Personal Reflection: What has the program taught me?