One of the strengths of the program is that we continue to hear new bits of wisdom at meetings. No matter how long we’ve been in the program, new expressions which we have not heard continue to pop up. This happened at a meeting recently, when a member shared, “without a mirror or another person, I can’t see my ears”. Within this simple aphorism lies two of the main principles of AA, NA and OA. We do a lot of work around taking a fearless moral inventory. For many of us initially, this can be quite challenging. Either we really don’t know ourselves well or are in so much denial that we are unable to get an accurate picture. The only way we can progress is to really look at ourselves closely. We need see what is really there. The reflection needs to be as accurate as the one we see in a mirror. Sometimes, even when we are looking at ourselves, what we see continues to be murky or distorted. This is when we need to turn to our sponsor or a friend in the program for feedback. Even though we might not be able to see ourselves accurately, chances are they will be able to paint a truer picture for us.
Personal Reflection: Can I see my ears today?
It’s Not An Old Behavior If I’m Still Doing It
When it comes to our drug of choice we can be very definite about what we mean by the word recovery. If alcohol was our problem, we have stopped drinking. If drugs were our problem, we have stopped using. If food was our problem, we have stopped eating compulsively. Once we get into other areas of recovery, the waters become more muddied. Emotional, and spiritual recovery are not so black and white. Many of our old behaviors predate our fall into drug and alcohol use. In early sobriety we might assume that once we put down our substance, all of those character defects somehow magically go away. We might even make statements like, “l never get angry, jealous or fearful since I entered the program”. That pink cloud of early recovery quickly gets burned away with our first emotional tirade. As we get honest, we no longer feel comfortable categorizing character defects as old behavior. We are able to make a more accurate assessment of ourselves. We still do certain negative actions, but far less frequently. We are also less reactive to old triggers. We are more comfortable saying, ” I’m becoming more conscious of how that behavior no longer works for me and I’m working on changing it”.
Personal Reflection: What negative behaviors of mine are really not old?
In early sobriety, the idea of getting a sponsor was quite alien to our way of thinking. Being masters of isolation, the thought of calling someone on a daily basis was quite strange. We felt very uncomfortable talking about ourselves with someone. Behind all these feelings was fear. We were afraid to reveal to another person that we were less than perfect. In fact, many of us deep down inside really did believe that we were perfect. For those of us that admitted that work needed to be done, we had concerns that we would be judged unfavorably. Then of course there was the belief that few people could sponsor us because we were so much smarter and more together than almost anyone else in program.
It was for these very reasons and many more that it was essential that we have a sponsor. The discipline of calling another person on a daily basis was very strengthening for us. Having the opportunity to open up to another person in a completely honest way was very liberating. We began to speak about issues that we had carried around for years and even decades. We found that our sponsors were not there to give us unsolicited advice but to share their life experience and insights from the program. Then one day something quite amazing happened. A person came up to us at the end of a meeting and asked us to sponsor them.
Personal Reflection: How deep is my relationship with my sponsor?
How does a person come to the point where they identify themselves as an alcoholic or an addict? Of course each person is different but there are some commonalities. Many people say that when they first started using, it was fun. Somewhere along the way it stopped being a fun experience and became a routine way to bury their pain and fear. For others, there was that moment when the person realized that try as they might, they could no longer control their drinking or substance abuse. When they attempted to put down their drug of choice they were unable to do so. No matter how they tried to sweep that fact away, the fact remained that they could not stopped using.
Admitting to being an alcoholic or addict was a huge first step. The fact that we even entertained the possibility of this being the case was in itself a clue that we needed to enter the program. Although most of us were in deep denial about our situation; somewhere deep inside of us was a voice that knew the truth. That part of us was nourished in the program and developed our capacity to become more honest in other areas of our life.
Personal Refection: What other issues do you “think” you have a problem with?
For many reasons many of us had difficulty simply admitting that we were wrong. For some of us it was based on a streak of perfectionism. Were we to admit to being wrong, we would be conceding that we were no longer perfect, something we could not do. There were others who suffered from low,self esteem. They were afraid to publicly show how they really felt about themselves. They would wear the mask of perfection; for to admit to being wrong would just confirm their negative feelings towards themselves.
Over time we learned in the program that admitting we were wrong did not reflect negatively upon us. In fact it was a sign of personal growth. It demonstrated a level of self examination which was praiseworthy. After personal reflection, to admit to an error in judgement was highly laudable. It also demonstrated a,level of courage to be able to admit tor our mistakes. In addition, it showed a degree of personal honesty which did not exist before our sobriety. Over time, it got easier and easier to admit to our mistakes. We took to heart the 12 step statement, “when we were wrong we promptly admitted it”. Paradoxically, as we grew in wisdom, it became easier for us to admit our lack of knowledge and our fallibility.
Personal Reflection: Do I promptly admit it when l’m wrong?
Walk into any bookstore these days and you will often find an entire section devoted to 12 step programs. There are literally hundreds of books, guides and workbooks for people in recovery. All of these can be helpful; but we like to say that it’s a “simple program for complicated people”. Recovery can be boiled down to 3 components. The first is “clean house”. This goes far beyond putting down our drug of choice. It involves taking “a fearless moral inventory”. This means we honestly and diligently admit to our defects of character and how they manifested in all of our relationships. Where necessary we also make amends to those we have harmed.
The second component in recovery is to “trust G-d”. Over time we came to realize our powerlessness over people, places and things. We filled that power vacuum with a G-d of our understanding, and turned to Him on a daily basis. We especially liked the flexibility of evolving our own concept of a Higher Power.
The final recovery component is to do service. We appreciated that recovery is a we program. Just working on our own personal transformation was not enough. We also had an obligation to help others to recover as well. Helping others helped us in ways we never expected.
Personal Reflection: Do I keep my program simple?
Part of our step work involves making amends to those we have harmed. This process involves acknowledging things that we had done wrong even when others were unaware of it. Many of us have stolen copy paper, pencils and pens from work after everyone had gone home. We might have been doing it for years and gotten away with it. Of course we had our rationalizations. We deserved this little “perk” because we hadn’t received a raise in a long time. The company was a huge one and could survive the loss of some office supplies. Didn’t the executives spend more on one lunch than a year of our pilfering? We used the same type of rationales for cheating on our taxes, lying to our spouses and going thru red lights when we knew one was around.
In sobriety, we have accepted the maxim of being honest in all of our dealings. It doesn’t make a difference if “we can get away with something”. Part of our spiritual growth is the development of character. We strive to be consistent in our behavior whether we are surrounded by a crowd of people or we are totally alone. Quite a few of us also feel that we are really never alone; for our Higher Power is always present.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to work on my character?
At a meeting recently, the topic of depression came up. In any other gathering of 35-40 people a topic like depression would have been avoided. Under “regular circumstances” few people would have felt safe enough to honestly address this issue. But, a meeting is unlike any other gathering of people. Almost everyone present shared on the topic. Two things came out. The first is that almost everyone at times feels sadness and depression. For many at the meeting this was a relief. In the world outside of meetings people don’t share in a real way. A person could draw the conclusion that he or she was the only one grappling with a particular issue. Hearing person after person share about depression helped people realize that their feelings and experience were far from unique.
What also came out was that for many of us, the best thing we could when we were feeling sad or depressed was to force ourselves to move the muscles. We needed to reach into our 12 step tool kit and get busy. Prayer, meditation, making meetings, calling sponsors, sponsees and other members and doing service were all tools we could tap into. Inertia truly was the enemy.
Personal Reflection: What tools do you use to combat depression?
Note: I am not speaking of clinical depression; which requires consultation with a medical professional.
At the beginning of every meeting a “friend” is asked to read a short statement on anonymity. Part of the text notes that anonymity is a “spiritual foundation” of the program.
Early on, when we heard that anonymity was a concept that would be treated with the utmost respect, our minds were set at ease. Many of us had a lot of shame upon entering the program. We had done and said things which we deeply regretted. Part of our healing process was to be able to openly share about our past, as well as talk about the present and plans for the future. If we did not feel that we were in a safe place, many of us would have held back what was really going on in our lives. For an alcoholic or addict, a meeting is probably the only place that he or she can truly be themselves. That daily dose of honesty is only able to exist because of our respect for anonymity. We take this concept very seriously. When we meet someone from program in a social or a work setting, an outside observer might think we were meeting for the first time; though in actuality we have sat next to each other at a meeting for the past ten years.
Personal Reflection: How do you safeguard the anonymity of others?
Being a child of the 1960’s I had a particular view of living a spiritual life. Truly spiritual people were only eating healthy organic foods. It went without saying that they were vegetarian. Daily meditation was of course part of their regimen. A strict yoga practice along with tai chi provided added benefit. Many of them were adherents to Buddhism or esoteric systems.
There are people in the program who do fit the above description. It is also possible for the rest of us to practice a spiritual life. Having full schedules, we make a yoga class whenever we can. We attempt to eat as well as possible given our budget and time constraints. When we fall short of our idealized goal, we are kind and accepting with ourselves. Our definition of spirituality has broadened as well. It has come to include being honest in all of our dealings. Being of service to others is also a very high spiritual act. Making time for self care feeds and replenishes our soul. Perhaps most importantly we focus on maintaining a connection to our Higher Power. Without that, everything else is just window dressing.
Personal Reflection: How do I walk the spiritual path?