WAt the end of many meetings you will see people exchanging phone numbers. Often, one of them has said something that the other identified with and they decided to stay in contact. Most of us have collected a large list of phone numbers over time.
That little Rolodex of numbers is a valuable tool for the alcoholic, drug or food addict. We have our “regulars” whom we call on a weekly basis just to touch base and talk about how our Program is going. We can also use the phone when we need to make a decision about something and want to get some feedback or advice. Often, we make a call when something is bothering us and need to talk about it and ventilate some of our feelings.
Almost all of us have the luxury and immediate access of a cellphone. Before the era of cellphones, program members were advised to carry around a pocket of loose change. Back then, a phone booth was our cellphone.
Sometimes of course we do make that call and it immediately goes to voicemail. We try another number and it’s busy. We finally reach someone but they can’t talk with us. We really need to dump our feelings or seek advice and no one is picking up. At that point we make a virtual phone call to the One who is always available and who always answers our call.
That conversation often relieves our upset about something. Frequently we even come up with an answer to a problem that has been dogging us.
Remember, you never need to spend money to chat with your Higher Power.
Personal Reflection: When was the last time I called my Higher Power?
It has been said that underlying almost all problems is fear. We in the program can definitely identify with that concept. For as long as we can remember, fear permeated our life. For the most part, we weren’t even conscious that we had these feelings. We just knew that something wasn’t working for us. Along the way, we discovered alcohol, drugs or food. These substances didn’t remove the fears we felt. They just buried them down deeper.
When we finally made it into the rooms; we of course gave up our drug of choice. Within a short period of time, all of those old fears came rushing back into our lives. In listening to others in the fellowship we began to understand that many of those fears could be pushed through. All we often needed to do was to take that first step. What had appeared in our minds as an insurmountable and frightening task was frequently something that with effort could be handled. We also began to tap into our Higher Power. Whenever those feelings of fear kicked in, we prayed for the strength and courage to transcend those feelings. In asking for courage to move forward we found that we had inner resources which heretofore had lain dormant.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to pray for courage over a life challenge?
Sit in at any meeting and observe the faces of members. For the most part most of of us are in a fairly positive state. This is often in proportion to how rigorously we work the program. Of course, there will be times where life events challenge us. Like anyone else, we feel the stress of these moments. However, once this rough patch has passed, we in short order return to our usual state.
Then there are those who walk around like they lost their best friend. They rarely crack a smile. When they share, they usually end up complaining about their life situation. Usually, they attribute what is happening in their life to others. They feel they are victims of circumstance. If people only understood them and would comply with their wishes, then their lives would finally take a turn for the better. Of course this rarely happens. Even when on occasion it does, they quickly find something else to complain about. Their speech is peppered with negativity and sarcasm. They are miserable and have no problem letting you know it.
In the program we have learned not to attempt to rescue these people. They need to reach their bottom and come to a realization that they are responsible for how they feel. What we can do is pray for them that they have a spiritual awakening.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to pray for anyone who thinks they are a victim?
Imagine you found yourself in a deep dark hole. It was so deep in fact that there was absolutely no way that you could just jump out or pull yourself out of it. The only way you could get out of the hole was if there was a ladder you could use to climb out with.
Addiction is similar to that deep hole. Left to out own devices, we found it impossible to extricate ourselves from it. We tried many strategies but we always seemed to end up back in that hole once again. The programs of AA, NA and OA provided us with a ladder to help us depart from the hole of addiction. Each of the rungs of the ladder represented a different aspect of the program to help us climb out. Some of those rungs included going to meetings, getting a sponsor, working the steps, taking service commitments, practicing daily prayer and meditation and helping another member of the fellowship. By climbing the rungs we found that we could extricate ourselves from that dark pit. We also found that when we neglected various aspects of the program we began to slide back into the hole. It was not something we could say we were ever free and clear off.
Personal Reflection: Am I going up or sliding down the ladder?
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?
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?
Over the past decade there has been a proliferation of retreat centers. People go to these centers to practice meditation and prayer in silence. Much time is also spent in personal reflection while there. After a week of healthy food and body and mind work, they feel quite serene as they reenter the world. Yet, as they’re driving down the highway heading for home and they see police lights flashing in their rear view mirror; and a voice ordering them to pull over, that state of serenity is quickly broken. How is that possible? They just spent 10 hours a day in deep prayer and mediation. They had such a sense of calm and peace when they left the retreat center. Yet now, all those feelings of fear, blame and resentment come flooding back over the possibility of a speeding ticket.
In recovery, we have come to understand that true serenity is defined by how we respond to the trials of life; both big and small. When we are on retreat, of course we gain a type of serenity. It is the serenity of secluded spiritual practice. The very nature of retreat facilitates it. In recovery, we gain practical serenity. That is the calm of not responding negatively in the face of adversity. It is actually of a much more profound genus.
Personal Reflection: How can I improve my response to conflict?
One of the main tools of the program is meditation. As we began to meditate many of us were quite taken aback at just how challenging it was. We had been told to focus our attention solely on our breath. This seemed simple enough. What we discovered was that our mind was everywhere except on focusing on our breath. Our thoughts cascaded from one topic to another that were often only loosely associated. A lot of the time we would end up dwelling on thoughts from the past. These often caused us much distress. We had frequently behaved quite inappropriately due to our alcohol or drug addiction. Sometimes we thought about the future. These thoughts were just as disturbing. We discovered that without our drug of choice to soothe us, fear had often kicked in. This could often verge on feelings of panic as some upcoming event or commitment loomed on the horizon. We were advised to as best as possible “stay in the moment”. This worked some of the time, but often our thoughts turned to past transgressions or fears of the future. In those moments we turned to another cornerstone of the program. We turned to our Higher Power to help us to stay in the present and practice the principles of acceptance.
Personal Reflection: Do I look up often enough?
The eleventh step says in part, “sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with G-d”. This proved to be a challenge for many of us in the program. There was those of us who had been brought up in homes where the scientific method was king. The G word was never been mentioned in our households. Prayer was a totally alien concept for us. We asked, “what should I say, how should I say it and when should it be said”? Then there those of us that had been brought up in religous homes. Yes we had prayed, but often under duress. Many grew up with the concept of a harsh punishing G-d. Why we would want to pray to that type of deity?
In the program, we learned to focus on the second part of the eleventh step prayer which qualified our Higher Power as a G-d of our understanding. For those who had felt burnt or betrayed by their religion, they now could relate to a different kind of G-d. That would be one who is accepting, loving and kind. For those who had never even thought about prayer; we were advised to simply speak from our hearts. When we did so, we were assured that our Higher Power would be listening.
Personal Reflection: How do I integrate prayer into my life?
In the world prior to program there was a lot of “collision of instincts”. Hardly a day went by without someone stepping on our toes, or our stepping on someone else’s. As a result, many of us walked around holding onto resentments for days, months and often years. When we spoke to our sponsor about these resentments, his advice was to pray for the person who had offended us. “Surely you jest”, we queried. “You mean I have to pray for the person who wronged me”? Our sponsor with a smile nodded his head yes. Over the next few days and perhaps weeks we begrudgingly prayed for the person. It certainly was not easy. Every time we thought of them it reminded us about how they had wronged us. In frustration, we went to our sponsor and asked, “exactly how long do I have to pray for this person”? He looked at us and said, “until you mean it”. In that moment we realized that prayer wasn’t only for the other person. By praying for a person who had wronged us, we created change in ourselves. Resentment was transformed into forgiveness. By seeing that they too were sick and suffering, we learned about empathy.
Personal Reflection: Do you need to pray for someone today?