Words and phrases like stop, slow down, exercise caution ahead, were largely disregarded by us during our days of alcohol, drug and food excess. If anything, the only word we lived by was “more”.
Entering the program provided structure and boundaries for us that were very necessary. One of the first things we needed to do was stop talking and begin listening. It turned out that we didn’t have the answer for every problem that landed on our doorstep. It was a wise move to be quiet and listen to the counsel of those with greater experience.
It was also imperative that we stop acting on our impulsive thoughts. Just because we had a thought didn’t mean we had to immediately fulfill it. When we had done so in the past we often ended up in some serious hot water. Our poor choices had frequently led to divorce, insolvency and medical issues.
Learning to put the brakes on our thoughts and behaviors did not come easily for us. Often we needed to speak things over with our sponsor or another member in the program. We also learned a lot just by listening to others share how they had sped through their own personal stop signs.
Personal Insight: Have I instituted stop signs in my life?
Just because you have a pain doesn’t mean you have to be one.
One of the powers of the program is that we are not alone. If you are going through a rough patch you can certainly call your sponsor about it. Not only will you have an opportunity to vent, you can also seek out solutions. The same holds true for meetings. The more meetings you attend the more opportunities you will have to share what is happening in your life. There is also the meeting after the meeting where you can get advice as well. All of these actions are encouraged in the program.
That being said we do not endorse unacceptable behavior just because a person is feeling angry, fearful, resentful, guilty or victimized. When we are being self reflective and share at a meeting the emphasis needs to be on ourself and not others. Just because we are full of emotion doesn’t give us the right to take someone else’s inventory. It certainly doesn’t give us the right to lash out or to act in an inappropriate way. Our goal is to practice emotional sobriety. This is especially true when we’re encountering difficulties during our day.
Personal Reflection: How do I maintain emotional sobriety?
As we immersed ourselves in the program, we gained a lot of knowledge. We began to understand the reasons behind our drinking, drugging or food binging. A lot of tools were picked up which helped us maintain our sobriety. We might even have begun practices like journaling and meditation. All of these contributed to our sobriety. But the reality is that no matter how many meetings we made; no matter how many times we called our sponsor; no matter how much we planned out our day; unexpected challenges were still going to take place. When that happened we had an opportunity to tap into tools like meditation, reading from 12 step literature or an outreach call. What many of us have found to be most helpful when we have a startle in life is to immediately turn to our Higher Power. We can ask for an attribute of restraint like patience or one of action like courage. Perhaps the most evolved course is to ask our Higher Power what would He have us do in the next moment. When we clear our mind and make a space for an answer it often comes. Sometimes we also gain understanding us to why the “blessed event” occurred in the first place.
Personal Reflection: How do I react to unexpected challenges?
Addicts are not known for their patience. Like everyone else, they undergo the travails of daily living. However, their coping skills are highly underdeveloped. When confronted with the daily tests of life, they quickly turned to their drug of choice. This lack of patience manifests in many facets of their lives. They usually give up on any type of work except for the least challenging. Working at jobs with little challenge often leads to feelings of guilt and shame. They stay in unhealthy relationships because the people are usually less demanding of them. If their partner or friend begins too expect more of them, they move on.
In sobriety, we begin to move away from impatience. We no longer see time as our enemy. We come to learn that things of value often require an investment of time. To advance in a career, a lot of work has to be done over time. Quitting when we hit the first speed bump is not an option in sobriety. The same holds true in relationships. Building a healthy relationship takes work, commitment and patience. It certainly is not going to evolve without, stress, friction and differences. With patience however something wonderful can and will be created. Since our Higher Power created time, we might as well use it.
Personal Reflection: Do I still have issues with patience?
Everything in our society has accelerated. From the speed athletes can run a mile in, to the processing time of computers. People are looking for rapid weight lose and a quick way they can double their money. Fast food has become a staple in most households. This acceleration has affected human relationships as well. There are whirlwind engagements and speed dating. The list goes go on and on.
For those of us in recovery, we need to exercise caution when it comes to life speeding up. In the past we often acted impulsively and failed to exercise judgement. More often than not this resulted in problems down the road for us. Some of that impulsive nature was rooted in fear. We felt that if we didn’t immediately respond to a request, that somehow you would think less of us or not like us. We ended up to agreeing to courses of action that were to our detriment. In the program we learned that it’s okay to tell someone that we need more time before we give an answer. In the past we probably would have been in judgement of ourselves had we taken that course of action. Today we can endorse ourselves for exercising care and weighing our options.
Personal Reflection: Do I still act impulsively?
A fundamental element of language are cause and effect phrases. When we choose A, then B results. There are literally thousands of these types of phrases. Many are of course relevant to people in program. One of the most common (though stated in the negative) is, “if you don’t take the first drink, (or drug or trigger food) then you won’t get drunk”. That is the most basic of cause and effect.
Then there is another category. We could call it, “if I had known that was going to happen, then I would have chosen differently. We call this type of thinking 20/20 hindsight. It can be of value when we examine the repercussions of our actions and learn from them. Hopefully we make better decisions the next time around.
Sometimes it’s best to refrain from 20/20 hindsight thinking. Instead of immediately concluding that we made the wrong decision, we begin to practice an oft neglected skill; that of patience. In the program we ultimately believe that G-d is running the show. Sometimes we need to exercise patience and see how things play out. In order to do this we need to push aside our initial rush to judgement; and trust that our Higher Power knows what He’s doing. More often than not, when patience is practiced, things somehow fall into place.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to exercise patience?
Impulsivity has been a common defect of character for many of us. Sometimes it involved a trivial decision like subscribing to a newspaper or a magazine that we really didn’t want. At other times our impulsive nature resulted in us making important life decisions that weren’t in our best interests. Some of us ended up in places that were unsafe, or engaging in dangerous behavior or even marrying a person that we had just met and hardly knew. We then learned that although decisions could be made quickly and impulsively, reversing them wasn’t always easy. When we finally entered the program, our tendency to make impulsive decisions did not just melt away. We really needed to begin a program of retraining. Although we intellectually now understood the dangers of making snap decisions, new neural pathways needed to replace those impulsive ones. We learned that if we took a breath and paused before we committed to something, it rarely caused the loss of the opportunity. In fact, in most situations people were perfectly willing to give us time to ponder a decision before giving them an answer. For those decisions that had to be made on the spot; better that we lose out than commit to something that would cause us pain down the road.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to work on being impulsive?
The world seems to be moving faster and faster. Travel to the remotest regions of the world and you will find fast food restaurants. People respond with road rage to the slightest delays in traffic. We have grown used to instantly ordering a vast array of goods with the click of a mouse. People have a vast selection of television and movies available to them by just pressing their remote. This culture of instant gratification is in sharp contrast to twelve step program. We make no promises of how long it will take you to recover. In reality, we believe that recovery is a lifelong process. You didn’t become an alcoholic or an addict overnight, so you can’t expect to recover in a short time either. Perhaps more than anything we need to develop patience. Relationships that were severely affected by our addictive behavior take time to repair. Changes in our way of interacting with others require months and often years of personal transformative work. Working on specific character defects can and should take a lifetime. As we say in the program, “G-d doesn’t wear a watch”. Perhaps we should put ours away as well.
Personal Reflection: How can I develop more patience?