Our comfort level was sorely tested when we became members of AA, NA or OA. What particularly irked us was this G-d thing. The first step we could live with. We admitted our lives were unmanageable and we were powerless over our substance of choice. Then you hit us with step two and three which referenced a Higher Power and G-d. We found this G-d thing problematic because our experiences with this concept had not been positive. Some of us had been brought up with religious training that had been forced down our throats. While our friends were outside playing, we were stuck inside learning about some stuffy religious ideas. Then there were those of us who had been subjected to the idea that we were sinful and that G-d was a punishing and vengeful Deity. When we asked questions about why G-d allowed so much pain and suffering in the world we were at best met with silence or at worst punished for being so rebellious.
Over time we learned that our Higher Power could be anything we wanted. He could even be the power of the group. No one judged or criticized us regarding how we viewed G-d. When we started to call upon the G-d of our understanding, we began to draw comfort from that fact. Our relationship with a Higher Power helped contribute to our sobriety.
Personal Reflection: How does my relationship with a Higher Power contribute to my sobriety?
Many people in the program were extremely successful in their given careers. Among us you will find lawyers, doctors, CEO’s, architects and other professionals. We were highly regarded by our colleagues in our respective fields. A good part of our success was due to discipline and hard work. That was why it baffled us when it came to our drug of choice. How could we be so successful in our professional life; and yet when it came to a drug, alcohol or food we constantly relapsed. We had so much self directed will in one area of our life and yet in another we did not.
Many of us entered the program because of this very paradox. Early on we learned that our experience was actually quite average among addicts and alcoholics. When it came to our drug of choice, we needed to accept that willpower alone would not help us break our endless cycle of use and remorse. We accepted that we were indeed powerless over alcohol, drugs or food. We needed to turn to a “power greater than ourselves” for assistance. For some, that power was their home group or sponsor. For many, we had a true spiritual awakening and recognized the role of a Higher Power in removing our obsession to use.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to let go of my will in some area of my life?
Many of us had made a mess out of our lives. Problems with work, family, marriages and health. We honestly couldn’t understand why all of this had happened to us. Then we hit our first meeting. We were a bit taken aback by what we heard. In a nutshell, we heard that everything had happened to us because of us. While we were running the show, our lives resembled one long protracted traffic accident. Probably some old timer told us it was time for us to get out of the driver’s seat. In that moment we really didn’t get what he was talking about. Over time, his words began to percolate within us. On the most basic level, it meant that we needed to follow the directions of others who had come before us. These included people with time, our sponsor and some of the readings from the Big Book. Beyond that, we needed to create a connection between ourselves and a Higher Power. Twelve step program is rooted in that connection. We began to understand that our Higher Power could “do for us what we could not do for ourselves”. We just needed to get out of the way and believe we could let go.
Personal Reflection: Am I still trying to drive the bus?
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?
Prayer and meditation are integral parts of our program. This was actually a turn-off for many of us in the beginning of sobriety. Prayer in particular was a sore point for us. Growing up, we had often had bad experiences with the religion of our youth. It was often shoved down our throats with no regard for what we wanted or needed. We also often experienced a G-d who was angry and punishing. There was enough self flagellation taking place without G-d jumping on the band wagon. The prayers that we mechanically muttered rarely resonated with us.
All that changed as we became immersed in the program. We learned that our Higher Power could be whatever we wanted It, He, or She to be. It was totally up to us. Most of us opted for a loving caring Higher Power that we could pour our hearts out to. We learned that prayer was an opportunity for us to have a personal conversation with the G-d of our understanding, whenever we needed to. Many of us also adopted a meditation practice. During those moments of silence, we found answers to questions which had dogged us or inspirational thoughts moving us in totally new directions. Not believing in coincidence we attributed this to our Higher Power as well.
Personal Reflection: How do I use prayer and meditation to maintain my sobriety?
We are unabashed defenders of a belief in our Higher Power. This belief for many of us did not come easy. We had tried to stop using our drug of choice without success. It was only when we had reached our bottom, that we surrendered and asked G-d to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Some of those bottoms were pretty severe. We only looked up for our Higher Power when their was no other direction to go.
Perhaps initially we thought that this turning to G-d was a one shot deal. OK, now that we were out of the woods, we could rely solely on ourselves again. What we found was that there were all other kinds of bottoms, that did not involve drugs or alcohol. We could be abstinent so to speak, and still walk around like we were intoxicated. This was the dilemma of the dry drunk. When we were in this state, we were hurtling ourselves like a runaway train towards all other kinds of emotional bottoms. The brakes were shot; and there was but one alternative; to turn to the G-d of our understanding. After repeated, brake failures, we began to turn to our Higher Power when the train had only begun to pick up speed.
Personal Reflection: Is my train picking up speed?
In our society so much has been reduced to a soundbyte. On the one hand this can be problematic. When we distill a lot of information into short “bytes” a lot can be lost in the process. Part of the growth process is being able to sift through experiences and information, reflect on them and only then move forward. That being said, sound bytes do have their place. They provide an easily assimilable piece of information. The same holds true for material in the program. Although people spend years studying the Big Book; there are aphorisms which do capture a lot of the direction of the program. The following expression is a case in point.
If I’m focusing on you
I should focus on me
If I’m focusing on me
I should focus on G-d
Most of us need to focus our energies in 2 distinct areas. First, we need to move our focus away from others and place it on ourselves. It is only when we do this that we can begin to take responsibility for our actions and initiate change. Second, a major component of the program is learning to “turn it over” to our Higher Power”. This means we will do the work, but we let go of the illusion that we can control the results. That is in the power of the G-d of our understanding.
Personal Reflection: Where is my focus?
At alcohol and drug treatment programs, 12 step meetings are part of the daily schedule. At one such meeting a man who was 65 years old was qualifying. He had been in and out of detoxes and rehabs since his early 20’s. This time however he felt that things would be different. He had experienced a spiritual awakening. He had 15 grandchildren who he loved to take to the park or fishing. Lately however, he had been avoiding them. They would call him up and say, “Grandpa; Grandpa we miss you. Why aren’t you coming over to see us”? He had no answer for them. Then it suddenly hit him. He said, “I didn’t want them to see me drunk or stinking of booze, so I stopped seeing them”. Within a short time he had checked himself in to an alcohol and drug rehab center. Now, he had some time and was telling his story to help other newcomers.
Most of us can identify the moment we made that decision to put down drugs, alcohol, food or any other addictive substance. When it occurred it was just a small blip on the screen of our life. However, its importance can not be overestimated. Why then, often after years or decades of addiction were we able to stop using? For many of us, the only explanation was an intervention by our Higher Power.
Personal Reflection: When did I have my awakening?
A young fellow had just attended his first AA meeting. He approached someone from the group who had spoken during the meeting. He said to him, “do you think this AA will work for me”? The group member responded with the following oft used statement:AA will work for people who believe in G-d.
AA will work for people who don’t believe in G-d.
AA will not work for people who believe they are G-d.
For those who believed in a Higher Power, 12 step program was a natural path. Left to our own devices, we had been unable to stop using our drug of choice. It was only when we admitted our powerlessness over alcohol and drugs that we could accept that a “power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”.
For those who didn’t believe in a Higher Power, we have found the program to be very helpful as well. By taking a fearless moral inventory of ourselves, we gained the ability to stay sober a day at a time. Some of us even found G-d along the way.
Unfortunately, program could not help those who maintained that they were G-d. Until a person could get humble and admit their shortcomings and make amends to others, they were missing the core of the program.
Personal Reflection: How has the program helped me today?
On an almost daily basis we experience fear. Sometimes it can be the type of fear that immobilizes us. Our stomachs tighten, our pulse quickens and our palms get sweaty. When we encounter this type of fear, we feel that there is little we can do until it passes.Then there are other times where the fear is of a much more subtle nature. We realize that something is not right, yet we are unable to place our finger on it. In almost all cases, our fears hold us back from moving forward with our lives.
Recently, a friend from program, passed on a technique that is very effective in countering fear. Whenever you feel fearful, pause from whatever you’re doing. Take a slow deep breath in. As you do so, say to yourself, “breathe in G-d”. As we slowly exhale say, “breathe out fear”. Do a series of these inhalations and exhalations for about five minutes, or until the feelings dissipate. Many have found this technique to be highly effective. By practicing mindful breathing and filling ourselves with our Higher Power, we can let go of fear. You can use this technique with other negative feelings. Breathe out resentment, envy, impatience or whatever else you’re feeling.
Personal Refection: Make a mental note to practice this technique.