Recently, a woman was qualifying at a meeting. Her drinking had caused her many problems in her life. She had received a number of DWI’s and ended up in the county jail. As a result she became estranged from her family. She lost her job and also faced foreclosure on her house.
When she finally came into the program, she often shared that she had lost almost everything due to her drinking and drugging. In fact, it almost became a mantra for her.
Early in her sobriety an old timer approached her after a meeting had concluded. He told her that he too used to say that he had lost almost everything due to his actions. Then one day, upon closer examination he realized that telling people he had lost everything transferred much of the responsibility away from himself. When we lose something, we are often describing a situation that was beyond our control. On the contrary, what had happened to this fellow was directly related to his actions. From that day forward, instead of saying that “he lost everything”‘ he began to say “that he gave everything away”. For when he took a drink, it was almost like he was giving away his life. Upon hearing the story, the woman who had shared changed her mantra as well. She took responsibility for “giving away” much of her life before she came into the program
Personal Reflection: Do I still give away aspects of my life?
There are all sorts of slips in life. We can have a slip of the tongue, or a slip in judgement. In the program, we too can have these types of slips. Of course we are also concerned with a very serious type of slip. The one where we return to our drug of choice.
In listening to people share their experience about this type of slip one thing is clear; that it didn’t just happen by accident. Perhaps an analogy is in order. Imagine two possible scenarios. In the first a man is walking down the street and he “slips” on a banana peel. In this case it was just some random act of the universe. In the second scenario a man decides he wants to miss work for a few weeks. He starts eating a bunch of bananas and drops the peels on the floor. When he goes for a walk he slips on the peel. He calls his employer and says “I slipped on a banana peel”. In the second case it is obvious the man set up the “slip”. In the program our experience has shown that when a person has a slip, it is usually not a random act of the universe. Rather, whether consciously or unconsciously the slip was planned in advance.
Personal Reflection: Am I guilty of premeditated carelessness in my life?
In the program we recognize that we are dealing with addiction. In an ideal world, once a person enters the program it would be wonderful if they put down their drug of choice forever. Unfortunately, sometimes that is not the case. Periodically, at a meeting someone will raise their hand and say they have a day or a week back. In response people at the meeting will say, “keep coming back”. We understand how powerful addiction is. Rather than judging the person who had a slip, we individually and collectively encourage them to rejoin the program. When this happens it demonstrates the power of the program. It’s not easy to admit to your peers that you had a slip. Yet is is important to do so. We begin by being honest with ourselves. We could have so to speak “put one over on the fellowship” by not admitting our slip. Yet by admitting our slip publicly, we strengthen the concept of being honest in our dealings. If we can’t be honest to ourselves and others about our drug of choice, we have little chance of being successful with long term sobriety. Denial grows where personal honesty is lacking.
Personal Reflection: How can I help someone who is just coming back?
Quite often you will be at a meeting where someone will say that “they need to rat out on themselves”. They will proceed to talk about something which they did or said which they felt was inappropriate or wrong. When you examine this concept of “ratting out” it is really quite amazing. What is occurring is essentially a confession in public of a perceived wrong or impropriety. Where else in the world will you find a person publicly acknowledging a mistake. Certainly not in the world of politics or the work place. On this scale it is only found in the rooms of AA, NA, OA and other fellowships. What is even more amazing is that these so called “acknowledgements” are often seeing the light of day for the first time. In essence the person is describing something which no one else knew about. If they kept their mouth shut, their secret would have been safe. Yet they chose to open up and share. Why do they do it? Perhaps because in sobriety they no longer want to live with secrets. They no longer want to live with lies. Even if no else knows about their wrongdoing, this process helps them acknowledge it to them self. When they publicly admit a wrong, we can all be proud to be part of the program.
Personal Reflection: Is there anything I need to share at a meeting?
In the past we often had difficulty admitting to our mistakes. Time was often spent defending our position long after it was necessary. There was a misguided sense that if we were to admit we were wrong, that there was something inherently wrong with us.
Now we have come to a new understanding about our mistakes. Admitting errors in judgment was not an act of personal failure. When we were able to admit our errors, we opened ourselves up to the possibility of change and growth. By learning to become honest about ourselves, we could also acknowledge our positive traits and decisions as well. We even came to see the word mistake differently. No longer was it a pejorative for us. Rather, we saw it as a mis-take. A mis-take meant that we had assessed a situation and then took an action. Perhaps the result of our “take” on things was not as we expected. However there no so shame in what we had done. Reading a situation incorrectly did not mean that there was anything inherently wrong with us. We had just made a mistake and now we would move on and reassess the situation. It was just one of a myriad number of decisions which needed to be made in our lives.
Personal Reflection: Do I readily admit to my mis-takes?
Put down the weapons, pick up the tools
Many people walk around in defense mode. It’s almost as if they are in a constant combat stance. All suggestions about change are rejected outright. To do otherwise would show signs of weakness on their part, or so they believe. Denial is also another big part of their arsenal. Even when confronted with the absolute truth about themselves, they will continue to be in that denial. Their persona also has a lot of bluster. They paint a picture that they’re experts in everything. When questioned about it, they either turn up the bluster volume or come up with a litany of excuses.
Upon entering the rooms of AA, NA or OA, these same people begin to learn that they have been carrying around the wrong objects. They understand that it’s time to put down the weapons and pick up the tools. Denial needs to be dropped and replaced with honesty. When they finally do this they begin to to be able to assess exactly what is working for them and what is not. Looking at their character defects for the first time is truly the beginning of their recovery. That bluster also needs to be dropped. Adopting humility will signify that they are truly teachable and open to change. Along the way they also pick up many other tools including, sponsors, meetings, and working the steps.
Personal Reflection: What tools do you carry into the world?
Sometimes you will meet someone at a meeting who truly inspires you. They seem to be an embodiment of all the principles of the program. After listening to them, you decide to boot up your own program. You start to make more meetings because of what you heard. You also journal, pray, meditate and call your sponsor more because you want to follow that great advice given to you earlier.
A few months pass and you see that person who inspired you once again. This time however they don’t look so good. In fact, they look pretty bad. When they share; you find out that they went out shortly after you spoke last and are just coming back. How did that happen? They had such good advice; yet here they are again counting days.
Perhaps a big part of the problem was that “inspiring person” had forgotten one of the principles of the program; to be honest in all of our dealings. Apart from the fact that they weren’t honest with you, more importantly they weren’t honest with themselves. They painted a picture of themselves which was completely false. At one time it had been true, but those days had faded. Pride had replaced truth and the results were a descent back into their disease.
Personal Reflection: Does my advice mirror my own actions?
We had prided ourselves on our gift of gab. This was especially true after we had had a few. The next day we couldn’t understand why people were upset or angry with us. The fact is we couldn’t quite remember what we had said. It must have been brilliant though, given our ability to wax poetic on all things. They must be sensitive sorts we mused to ourselves; and started the next conversation with whoever was near us.
In sobriety our sponsor really let us have it. At first he told us if we had a thought we should keep it to ourselves. Then he relented and told us we could resume conversations with people, but with three provisos. First, we could only speak the truth. No more of that grandiosity or arrogance of ours that often leaked through. Then he told us that before we told anyone anything we needed to check if it would hurt them in any way. If so, we were to keep our mouths shut. Finally, after passing those first two hurdles, we needed to examine if what was being said was really necessary. Following these guidelines we discovered that we had a lot less to say to people. On the positive side, when we did speak to people they no longer were angry or upset with us. In fact sometimes, they wanted to hear more.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to monitor my words more carefully?
Once we’ve entered the program we will often encounter people who are active in their addiction. In the past, before sobriety, we might have been good acquaintances or even best friends with some of these people. Back then, their behavior seemed quite normal. Now, looking at them with sober eyes, we see something quite different. We are able to recognize that they are alcohol, drug or food addicts. When we attempt to tell them that this is they case, their usual response is to vehemently deny that this is so. Sometimes they become quite agitated and defensive. “How dare we accuse them of being an addict”. They might even want to engage in a shouting match with us. When any of these things happen, the best approach is to detach with love. It is obvious that they are not ready to take an honest look at who they are. No argument on our part will convince them that they have a problem. The best thing we can do for them is to pray for them. To pray that they have a spiritual awakening about their condition. Unfortunately, many of us have to hit bottom before we can admit that we are an alcoholic or an addict. Perhaps we can pray that they have a high bottom after which they awaken to who they really are.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to pray for an active alcoholic or addict?
An old timer recently asked a newcomer why his Higher Power had created him with two eyes. After entertaining a few possible answers, the old timer explained that the 2 eyes represent 2 courses of action. One eye is to be used for looking outward at the world. The other eye is to be used for looking into ourselves.
There is nothing wrong with using that one eye to view the outside world. There is incredible beauty to be enjoyed and appreciated through our sight. The problem is that sometimes we jump to judgement and resentment based on what we see. Some people spend most of their time finding fault with whatever crosses their visual path. No matter what they see, they feel impelled to put a negative spin on it.
We also need to utilize the second eye, the one used for self introspection. In some people this eye has atrophied from non use. In the program, taking an honest look at ourselves, our behavior and our defects of character is a daily ritual. We have found that as we use that one eye for looking inward, our second eye spends less time judging others; and more time seeing life’s gifts.
Personal Reflection: Do I need an eye examine?