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?
As we were growing up, we were not issued a manual on how to navigate this life. Many feelings arose for us on a daily basis. Although some were positive, many were not. All those feelings of fear, anger, shame, jealousy, envy and pride hobbled our ability to function on a daily basis. We suffered greatly because of it. Then one day, we discovered alcohol, drugs or food. As soon as we ingested our drug of choice, all of the pain we suffered from lifted. At least for a short while we had a respite. The problem was that a short respite was not enough and we increased our usage. Before we knew it, we couldn’t even identify what a feeling was. We walked around in a coma like state; one day aimlessly following another.
At some point we were able to put down our substance. Within a short period of time, we began to truly feel alive once again. Shortly thereafter all of those old troubling feelings came flooding back as well. This time we didn’t run away from all of those feelings. With tools garnered from our 12 step program we were able to deal with life issues without turning to substances. We had learned the meaning of living life on life’s terms.
Personal Reflection: How do I deal with feelings today?
There is a reality to sobriety that is irrefutable. We cannot and should not attempt to do this program by ourselves. That was our modus operandi while we were active. Although we had many feelings of anger, fear and shame we chose to not share those feelings with anyone else. We walked around in a state of upset. As a result,when the opportunity appeared for us to relieve ourselves of all of that upset through our drug of choice, we were more than willing participants. Then of course we felt remorse for using; or for actions while we were under the influence. Since we didn’t share this with anyone else, it was just piled on along with all of the other buried feelings. The cycle of upset, drug of choice and remorse had begun once again.
When we finally put down the alcohol, drugs or food, the cycle was temporarily broken. However if we failed to change our behavior, we would quickly end up back on the despair treadmill. A big part of that change was the acknowledgement that this is a “we” program. The failure to recognize this usually lead to relapse. Utilizing the wisdom and support of other members of the fellowship was critical to recovery. Once we got beyond our pride or shame and opened ourselves to the help and concern of others; we had a much greater chance of success.
Personal Reflection: Am I practicing a “we” program?
There is a pathology about arrogance. Rather than admit that we don’t know something, we will place ourselves in all kinds of situations which are to our detriment. Of course the classic example of this, is the refusal of car drivers (and without being sexist they were usually men) who refused to ask directions when lost. Multiple gas stations where the answer was at hand were passed because the driver stubbornly refused to ask directions. On some deep level asking directions was an admission of our ignorance and lack of perfection. Pride caused many a family to endure a half hour delay while dad tried to tough it out on his own. Thank G-d for the invention of the GPS.
The same pathology can occur in recovery. That’s why we have sponsors and friends in the program. Life is really not designed for us to fly solo. We are a fellowship because Bill W. and Dr. Bob understood the power of one alcoholic (or drug or food addict) helping another. The only thing is that we are not mind readers. When someone from the program needs advice, it’s their responsibility to ask for help. We encourage them to get beyond the shame of admitting their ignorance. Once they do, we are more than happy to share our experience, strength and hope. Asking directions also includes turning to our Higher Power for council as well.
Personal Reflection: Have I been holding back from asking directions about something?
Occasionally in the news we hear of a case of extreme sleep walking. A person might have taken the bus to work or driven their car to a take out restaurant all while asleep. When we hear of cases like this, we are grateful that we do not suffer from this condition. The reality is that there is another kind of sleep walking. It’s not of the variety of clinically diagnosed sleep walking. In fact we are fully up and fully conscious. Yet we are still asleep. How is that possible? Because we are asleep to who we really are.
Many of us in the program fell into this category. While we were active, we had a vision of ourselves that was totally distorted. Some of us were full of pride, arrogance and grandiosity. We smugly felt superior to everyone. Then there were those of us who felt we were hopeless cases. We frequently berated ourselves for our inadequacies.
When we finally joined the fellowship, much of that bravado or shame was shed and we were able to take an honest look to discover who we really were. For most of us, this has been an ongoing process. The more we work the program, the more we are able to see who we really are; and to accept and love that person.
Personal Reflection: In what area of my life am I still asleep?
We believe that there is a certain order to the universe. Take humility for example. It is one of the cornerstones to our program. A big part of our work is to do a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves. It definitely takes humility to admit to our defects of character. Perhaps in the past we had consistently placed blame on others to explain away our failures or problems. Now for the first time we were able to admit to the role we had played in these life events. In fact, when appropriate, we were able to claim the lion’s share of responsibility.
Once we had admitted “our part”, we sought out people we had harmed and made our amends. This often took courage and quite frequently caused quite a bit of discomfort for us as well.
Some of us however refused to admit our wrongs and our defects of character. We then discovered that if we weren’t going to admit to our pride and arrogance, then life itself would somehow force us to do so. When that happened it was a lot more painful than if we had come to that conclusion on our own.
Personal Reflection: Did I have to be made humble?
Recently, two people who had just come out of their yoga class had a small fender bender in the parking lot. Right after the accident they began to yell at each other at the top of their lungs. Both had spent an hour doing deep stretches in class and ended their session in deep meditation. Yet now, just a few minutes later, they had left the serenity of the class far behind. So, the question is where did a spiritual experience take place that morning? Many would say that their hour long session of yoga and meditation qualified as spiritual. We in the program look at life a little differently. We believe the true spiritual experience took place when they lost it with one another in the parking lot. Yes, the yoga class was very nice and relaxing. But, it was when they were yelling at each other that they had the greater opportunity for spiritual growth. If they had chosen to examine their actions, they would have discovered opportunities to work on anger, pride, self righteousness, arrogance and a host of other defects of character. The real spiritual “work” takes place when we see those darker parts of ourselves and have the capacity to own up to them. If one of them had stopped yelling and said “forgive me for hitting your car”, that would have been a spiritual home run.
Personal Reflection: What was my last rude awakening?
A healthy person takes joy in assisting others in their personal growth. As parents we swell with pride when our children surpass us. We do everything in our power to facilitate their success. In the program we often help others to grow thru sponsorship. We guide our sponsees through the steps or celebrate their anniversaries with them. We also need to exercise caution. It is all to easy to prevent growth by attempting to exercise too much control. When you begin to have a belief that says “I know better what’s good or right for you so you had better follow my advice”, a red flag should go up. You need to examine your motives. Is your advice coming from pride and ego, or do you really have the person’s best interests in mind.
The same holds true with our own personal growth. Because growth can produce fear and anxiety, sometimes we need to examine to see, if on some level we are sabotaging ourselves. Just like with others we need to see if we have our own best interests in mind.
Personal Reflection: To what degree do I help facilitate the growth of myself and others?