Mental telepathy would make our lives so much easier. If we could read other people’s minds, we could find out so much information effortlessly. We would know when someone needed our help. If a person had a resentment towards us, we could immediately make amends and repair the relationship. Of course, as of now mental telepathy doesn’t exist. Yet, some people seem to think that it does.
People walk around expecting others to be able to read their minds. When that doesn’t happen, they will say things like, “I can’t believe that she didn’t call me when she knew I was so upset”, or “I’m so annoyed that he didn’t help me clean the dishes. Didn’t he see me standing there at the sink?”
In recovery, we learned early on that we needed to ask others for help if we wanted it. Perhaps our fear of being told no or our perfectionism prevented us from asking for another’s assistance. We also learned that asking others for aid would not guarantee their assistance. However, one thing was for sure. If we didn’t ask, we would be left alone and without help.
Finally, once we began to ask others in the fellowship for assistance we discovered how many people were willing to go to any length to help us.
Personal Reflection: How can I give or receive help today?
Countless people have entered AA because they had a desire to not drink. People in other fellowships entered because they wanted to stop using drugs or eating compulsively. An early suggestion to these newcomers was to get a copy of the Big Book and read two pages a day. Invariably the newcomer complained about this. “Why do I have to read a book with hundreds of pages? All I want to do is stop using my drug of choice. You could tell me how to do that in less than one page”. They are actually correct on this point. If the program were only about not drinking or drugging, a magazine article at most would have sufficed. But, the Big Book and the program are much more. They are literally about a new way of living where we undergo a psychic change. It is about developing a connection with a G-d of our understanding. Through the program we learn about emotional sobriety and all that it entails. Part of that sobriety is a daily review of our actions and making amends where necessary. We also learn about the necessity of doing service. In reality, given all it contains, it’s pretty amazing that the Big Book is as short as it is.
Personal Reflection: What did I learn from the Big Book today?
For a long time many of us walked around in a constant state of self judgement. Perhaps we grew up in a household where we were constantly criticized, demeaned or punished. Whatever its origins, those feelings of self deprecation were our constant companion. It was often those very feelings which drove us to drink or drug or binge on food. Rather than accept our perceived realty of who we were, we chose to self medicate.
Being in the program has changed our thinking on this matter. We have come to understand that admitting our character defects is actually the first step in our healing. Once we identified where personal transformational work was required, we could then go about the task of change. We used to think that admitting we were less than perfect was a sign of weakness. Our perfectionism blocked our taking an honest view of ourselves. As we began to drop that veneer of needing to be perfect, we began to experience the power of humility. For the first time instead of berating ourselves, we learned about self love and self care. We could love ourselves even with our shortcomings. As part of this process we also learned that we had often been far too critical of our actual shortcomings. As we worked the program we gained a more realistic view of ourselves.
Personal Reflection: Have I truly accepted myself for who I am?
12 Step program runs the entire gamut of members. You will find people who have 50 or more years of sobriety from their drug of choice. On the other end of the spectrum are people who repeatedly have difficulty putting 30 days together. They have been bouncing in and out of the rooms for years. Many of this repeat group will often blame the program itself for their failure to stay sober. “AA, NA or OA is not for me”, they say. Yet, they see people who have remained sober for decades using exactly the same program which has “failed” them.
In fact, many of these repeaters finally do get it and begin to put together some time. It’s obvious,that their success involved some type of change. Under closer examination we see that the program itself remained the same. It was the attitude and actions of the alcoholic, drug or food addict which had altered. When they began to let go of doing it “their way” and listened to the advice of “The Big Book”, their sponsor and other members; the program started to pay big dividends. Suddenly, some of the very things they rebelled against doing started to make a lot of sense.
Personal Reflection: How do I make the program work for me?
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?
Low self esteem was an issue for many of us before we came into the program. Its roots often predated our drinking and drugging. These feelings of being less than caused us to make many life decisions that were not in our best interest. We ended up in relationships that were unhealthy and career choices which were often below our actual abilities. We turned to alcohol, drugs, food and other unhealthy activities to buffer all of those negative self images.
By immersing ourselves in the program, we began to peel away many of those negative feelings we had towards ourselves. In fact, in doing our 4th step we listed low self esteem as one of our character defects and asked G-d to remove this from us. Over time, as we grew in sobriety, many of those feelings of self loathing actually began to disappear. In fact, we really began to feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments in sobriety. Sometimes, we began to feel too good about ourselves. That’s when our sponsor had a conversation with us about being “right sized”. Healthy self esteem is all well and good. However, as soon as we started becoming arrogant, our spiritual and emotional growth declined. Continued progress would only take place when accompanied by humility.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to work on my humility?
A newcomer doesn’t need a sign around his or her neck to be identified as one. Usually they’ve taken a seat in the back of the room. They are the ones who often bolt out of the meeting as soon as it’s over. If they do stay for the meeting after the meeting, they often begin to assess the other people who were present. They might judge how a person dressed or spoke. The newcomer might also freely express his or her judgment about what was said.
Usually though, no one corrects the newcomer. Yes, it’s true, they are taking other people’s inventories. Experience has shown that if we criticized the newcomer, it might turn them off to the program. Even if they accepted our criticism, they really aren’t ready to grasp the idea of taking someone’s inventory. They probably would say they are just expressing their opinion.
As they gain some time, that newcomer will begin to take their own inventory. When they do so, their eyes will be opened as to their own character defects. They will learn that we need to keep the focus on ourselves. As they work on their fourth step, they will suddenly stop judging other and begin to keep the focus on themselves.
Personal Reflection: Do I still take other people’s inventory?
A healthy individual needs to have a positive sense of self. We are comfortable in our own shoes and need not seek the approval of others. We get into trouble when our egos get in the way. If we attribute too great a sense of importance to ourselves, it drives a wedge between us and others. We quickly find that people don’t want to be around us because we radiate the feeling that we are better than them. This often manifests in the way we speak and act towards others. The more egotistical we become, the more people tend to avoid us. We are often confused by this. We think that given how wonderful we are, how brilliant is our advice, that people would flock to us. Yet the opposite is just the case. We discover that people are much more interested in being around someone whose interest extends beyond them self.
Excessive ego also drives a wedge between people and their Higher Power. The more ego we have, the less space we are allowing for G-d to enter our lives. As our humility increases, more space becomes available for G-d to fill. Over time our relationship and connection to G-d deepens as a result.
Personal Refection: Do I need to deepen my connection with G-d and with others?
Membership in the fellowship of AA, NA or OA needs to be looked at as the first step in a process of growth.. In the beginning we brought along many of our character defects. One of these was grandiosity. Although we were new, we acted as if we were the most important person in the room. When this happened an old timer approached us, and sensing our “importance” asked us if we wanted to be “chairman” of the meeting. Of course we answered yes because our importance and stature almost demanded that we take charge. The old timer pointed to a stack of unopened chairs and said, “ok Mr. Chairman, get to work and open up all of these chairs and put them away at the end of the meeting”. At first our feelings were ruffled. As time passed we grew to understand that small things were extremely important. Since this was a day at a time program, the goal was to string together a lot of days one by one. Within each day, there was much work to be done by accumulating a series of small actions. It was far more important to engage in a series of many small activities, than to occasionally participate in one large one. Consistency yielded important results.
Personal Reflection: Have I been neglecting some of the little things?
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?