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”?
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?
If you’ve ever gone to a professional sports match, it’s quite amazing just how good the players are. In fact they make it look so easy that more than one spectator has said, “I could do that”. If they thought about it, they would realize just how mistaken they were. For example, a pitch in the major leagues goes upwards of 100 miles an hour. Before you had begun to swing the bat, it would already have passed over the plate. The batter who gets a base hit seems to do so effortlessly, but it took years of training and thousands of hours of practice to be able to hit that ball.
The same holds true for all facets in life including recovery. Sometimes you’ll see someone who just exudes the program. He or she really seems to be “happy, joyous and free”, with a strong connection to their Higher Power. Because they seem so serene you might believe they got to where they were with little effort. Do you think they just flowed into recovery and emotional sobriety? To quote a line from the movie Moonstruck, “snap out of it”. Just like that professional ball player, people that have good recovery worked hard to achieve it. Just as importantly, they continue to put in daily effort to maintain it.
Personal Reflection: Have I been coasting in the program?
In this society we place a big premium on getting things done as quickly as possible. Efficiency and speed are some of the holy grails of modern western civilization. People want there Big Macs and Whoppers ready before they receive their change for their order. Drinking drip coffee or using a French press is so passé because it is just too slow. These days we all have little machines that we put in a pre measured cup of coffee and 30 seconds later we have our brew.
Though it might work for coffee, speed does not work for recovery. If we find ourselves rushing through the 12 steps, we are probably not doing them correctly. Experience has shown us that almost anything that has value in our recovery comes along with associated challenges. As we dig deep into our past, and examine our character defects, there will be times that we become stuck in the process. Rather than being concerned about this, we should acknowledge that if we are feeling resistance, we are probably doing something right. Many of us even feel that obstacles are often placed in our path by our Higher Power to test our mettle. We have also discovered that things we once viewed as being impossible to deal with, our now in our rear view mirror.
Personal Reflection: How has adversity helped me to grow?
Recovery comes in various gradations. The most fundamental one of course is that a person has stopped drinking or using his drug of choice. This in and of itself is extremely laudable. Having done so definitely changes a person’s life for the better. The reality though is that so much more is possible. Many a newcomer has said, “Ok, I have stopped using, what else is there to do”? That question will often be answered in a tongue and cheek way. Someone will probably respond and say, “I know a guy who turned his life around. He used to be depressed and miserable. Now he’s miserable and depressed”. The essence of recovery goes far beyond mere abstinence. If you are still plagued with anger, fear, resentment, shame, jealousy, procrastination et al.; can you really claim to be in a state of recovery. Yes, it’s wonderful that you are not using. But beyond that what types of changes have you witnessed in yourself. Are you just shuffling your character defects around, or have you really begun the work of recovery. If you are still full of negativity upon awakening and when you go to sleep, much more work needs to be done. Why not take the next step in your recovery voyage.
Personal Reflection: Are you still shuffling character defects?