Have you ever gone hiking and suddenly realized that you’ve lost the trail. You try to retrace your steps and most of the time find the last trail marker on a tree that you somehow missed. No problem; you now make that left or right as required instead of walking straight ahead. Occasionally, you retrace your steps and realize that you have gotten yourself good and lost. You start to panic and then in the distance see the well worn path of the trail. Breathing a sigh of relief you head towards the path and resume your hike.
For many of us, drugs, alcohol or food was our map through the forest of life. Initially, it worked fairly well for us. It helped us buffer some of the pain, fear and loneliness that we often felt. At some point it stopped working. It was like straying from a path as we stumbled deeper and deeper into the forest.
When we had strayed very far from the path we suddenly came upon a trail marker. It had the letters AA, NA or OA on it. We began to follow that trail and a guide appeared who became our sponsor. He or she had also been lost in the forest but had found their way out. They acted as a compass for us on a daily basis.To make sure we didn’t stray far from the path they gave us a Big Book to study. It provided us with a set of directions for almost any path we choose to take. We also started to attend meetings where we met many other travelers who helped guide us as well. At some point we even began to guide others who had become lost.
Personal Reflection: Do I still stray off the path?
Early recovery for many of us was a bundle of confusion. We had been so full of denial and self loathing for so long that we didn’t have much of an idea of who we really were. To remedy this, we were urged by our sponsor and others to make a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Some of us wanted to avoid this process because we didn’t want to have to confront our character defects. We felt it would be too painful to face the truth about ourselves.
One member recently spoke about it this way. She described looking in a mirror that was so smudged that she could barely make out her reflection. That mirror was her life prior to entering the program. Every smudge represented a character defect.
So what do we do when our mirror is smudged? Why of course we clean it with some Windex. For her, every time she worked on a character defect, it was like a spray of Windex removing a smudge on her mirror. As she progressed in her Fourth Step work, the smudges on her mirror slowly began to disappear. For the first time in her life she began to have a clear view of who she was. For the first time in her life she began to like that reflection in the mirror.
Personal Reflection: What smudges on your mirror still need to be removed?
Almost every 12 step meeting regardless of fellowship will begin or end with the serenity prayer, which says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
At a topic meeting recently, the chairperson of the group had chosen to qualify on acceptance and serenity. After he finished sharing, he opened up the meeting for others to share. Towards the end of the meeting, one fellow rhetorically asked, “Do you want to know the difference between acceptance and serenity?”
“Acceptance is when you are standing on the 10 item express line at the supermarket where the person in front of you has 13 items and you don’t say anything to them.
And serenity…….Serenity is when you are on the same line and you don’t even count how many items he has in his basket.”
Many of us have mastered moments of acceptance,where instead of blurting out a criticism or a disagreement we exercise self-control over our speech muscles. Yet one often still senses a degree of agitation which percolates along with our self-control.
To come to a place where we no longer even “count” is a much more rarefied spiritual state.
You can determine if you are in acceptance or in serenity by examining if there is any “counting” chatter in your head the next time you are presented with a challenging situation.
Personal Reflection: Have I gone beyond acceptance and moved towards serenity in my life?
Not everyone is the 12 step world is an immediate success. Some people do get the program on the first go around. Unfortunately, many other do not. Some have short term sobriety and then go out. Others can have years of immersion in the program and then slip as well.
Almost all of them have some familiarity with the program. Many of them can quote the Big Book chapter and verse. Yet, they failed to remain sober. They often “sound” like they are the picture postcard for an AA, NA or OA member. When we dig a little bit deeper we discover that talking about the program is not the same as practicing the program. AA and it’s sister fellowships are not theoretical organizations. They are based on action. When people give mere lip service to their recovery, regardless of how good it sounds, they are not in recovery.
Those who have slipped and return to the program are the first to admit this. Over and over again you will hear them say how they finally realized that in the past they were not committed to their recovery. Only through daily practice will recovery be achieved and maintained.
Personal Reflection: Do I practice the answers to my recovery on a daily basis?
Repeatedly in the rooms one hears people saying that one day they suddenly had this overwhelming feeling that they had had enough of their drinking, drugging or binging on food. For many of them this became their sober date. What they failed to mention is that in the past they had made similar declarations. Yet the next day they returned to their addictive behavior. Why did this last statement of contrition work?
Perhaps it can be likened to a combination lock. It can only work when all of the cylinders are aligned and click into place. The same is true of sobriety. Only when the right combination of circumstances falls into place does our proclamation of our last drink or drug hold true. Why did all of those circumstances align so that we finally, finally had the resolve to put down our drug of choice. Prior to that, left to our own devices we repeatedly had failed. We believe that it was only through the intercession of a power greater than ourselves that we we were able to say for the very last time that we were sick and tired of being sick and tired. The last cylinder clicked into place and we were finally on the road to recovery.
Personal Reflection: What locks continue to be opened for me through my Higher Power?
Members in the program often call themselves walking miracles. They have every right to do so. Prior to entering the program you probably would not have recognized them,,They were frequently in both poor physical and emotional health. Spiritually they were often just an empty shell. So yes, they are walking miracles. And they can continue to experience that miracle every day they are free of alcohol, drugs and compulsive use of food.
We in the fellowship believe that there is much more than the abstention from our drug of choice. The greater work involves our beginning the process of addressing all of our character defects and initiating change. The success of those changes can be seen in our interactions with others. In the same situation do we now behave differently? Our path also involves making amends to people we have harmed in the past. Part of our daily work is to take personal inventory of our actions and make amends there as well. Along the way there is often the development of a deeper personal relationship with a G-d of our understanding. When all the pieces come together and we are a changed man or woman; that my friends is magic.
Personal Reflection: What has been magical in my recovery?
Recovery is a process. Each person needs to engage in their program at their own pace. Some people will go through all the steps within their first year. Others will not get beyond the first three steps during the same time period. There is no set prescription as to how quickly you need to progress. We are all different. That being said, a qualification needs to be added. If you are stalled on a particular step, a conversation with your sponsor is in order. You need to examine why you are not progressing. If you can honestly say that your pace is appropriate for where you are emotionally and spiritually; then keep doing what you’re doing. However, if you are stuck due to procrastination, laziness, confusion, shame or fear, then that is something which needs to be examined more carefully. It might actually be the starting point for your fourth step analysis of character defects.
Our recovery can also be impacted by other choices we make. When you start missing meetings, there is often a decline in your recovery. The same holds true when you fail to call your sponsor regularly or hold back information from him or her. Each of the daily choices we make will impact our future sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to jumpstart my recovery?
Everything in this world is in a state of change. Millions of cells in your body are being replaced as you read this. The weather of course varies from day to day and even from moment to moment. Aging is perhaps one of the greatest signposts of change.
Yet, as human beings we often grapple with change. This is particularly evident within our emotional world. Many of us struggle with negative emotions which have dogged us since we were children. That temper tantrum of yesteryear, manifests as road rage today. Perhaps the average person can get away without making changes to some of those negative attributes. Those of us who are addicts or alcoholics can not afford the luxury of complacency. We need to be diligent in identifying our character defects. These very same defects of character, if left unattended will eventually cause us to go out. That is why we make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, to help identify where work needs to take place.. There is also a recognition that left to our own devices; changing or removing our shortcomings is practically impossible. It is for this reason that we call upon our Higher Power on a constant basis to remove those defects of character.
Personal Reflection: How have I changed in recovery?
We are the first to acknowledge that AA, NA and OA are spiritual programs. The second of the twelve steps states, “we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. Many of us can attest to this first hand. We had tried on our own to stop using our drug of choice. It was only when we called upon a Higher Power for aid that our obsession to use was lifted. It really was a miraculous moment. Years had been spent on a hamster wheel of use, abstinence, relapse and regret. Now, suddenly we had been able to step off the wheel.
Before we got too excited however, an old timer probably set us straight. Yes, we needed to have faith in a Higher Power. Yes, our obsession to use had been lifted. With all that we were informed that the work of the program had just begin. On a daily basis we needed to take certain actions to maintain our sobriety. The more diligent we were about these actions, the stronger our recovery would be. It was not only about putting down the drink or drug. Action also included the building of emotional sobriety. This was done thru meetings, sponsorship, prayer, meditation and all of the other tools of the program. We had faith that when we did the work G-d would take care of the rest.
Personal Reflection: What actions helped keep me sober today?
Comparison can be a very dangerous thing. We look at someone and sigh to ourselves, “I wish I was that person. They seem so happy and well adjusted”. For many of us, looking at others from this perspective was a very old story. When we were growing up, we often came from very dysfunctional families. Perhaps one or both of our parents were alcoholics or addicts. Even if this wasn’t the case, many of our parents were rage-aholics, or troubled in other ways. As a result, there was often a lot of drama taking place in our homes. We often looked wistfully at some of our friends whose lives in our eyes resembled “Father Knows Best”. This view followed us into adulthood where we continued to see everyone as somehow more normal and better adjusted than us.
In recovery, we saw some of those so called “normal people” at our meetings. When they shared our mouths dropped. Those so called normal ones often told stories that made our hairs stand on end. It quickly became apparent that everyone had their bundle of pain. Some hid it better than others, but in the final analysis we were all on that journey called recovery.
Personal Reflection: Do I tend to romanticize about the “normal ones”?