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?
A lot of excuses surround people when they come into the program. Of course the most common is that, “I will never be able to stop drinking or drugging”, along with “I’m too old to begin this program”. There is also a tremendous amount of shame around our past and fear of the future. We are constantly dogged by the inner voices which attempt to discourage us from sobriety. The flow of 12 step is in the opposite direction. Our attention is focused on the here and now. This is why during the first year of sobriety we place such emphasis on day count. At a meeting you will hear someone say, “I have 57 days”, or “4 months since I took my last drink”. Upon hearing this, people will often burst into spontaneous applause. We do so because we are celebrating where you are in this moment. It’s not about the past or future, but your recovery right here, right now. As we grow in our recovery, the same principle also applies. When a person says, “I never qualified before at a meeting”, they are still encouraged to share their experience, strength and hope. After doing so, they will often find that someone deeply identified with their story. Wherever you are along the road to recovery, you can always begin a new chapter of growth.
Personal Reflection: Where is my recovery at this moment?
The Alcoholics Anonymous preamble is read virtually at every 12 step meeting. It says in part that “AA is not allied with any sect, denomination……or institution”. As such, it is clear that the program is non religious in nature. You don’t have to be of a member of a particular religion to gain entry. You are not required to read the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Koran or the Torah. Members of the fellowship, have discovered the program to be of a spiritual rather than of a religious nature.
As addicts and alcoholics we had found that our lives had become unmanageable. Left to our own devices we had been unable to deal with our addictive actions. It was clear that we needed help from outside of ourselves. We needed a blueprint for living. Not only a plan to help us stop using, but a plan to help us start living. For millions of members in the program that plan was disclosed in The Big Book. Somewhere in its stories we uncovered areas of identification and instruction. The entire twelve step program was contained in its pages. Whether members were believers, agnostics or atheists they all utilize the Big Book. Without religious connotation, it has become the bible of recovery for millions of people.
Personal Reflection: How do I utilize The Big Book?
I recently heard a young women tell the following story about herself at one of my meetings:
At the time I was in my early twenties and was waiting in a hospital to go into a rehab. I was flooded with a lot of emotions and feelings. There was resentment over the fact that I had reached the point where a rehab was necessary. I had anger towards my family who were insisting on my going. There was fear about whether this time I would finally be able to stop using. A kindly man in the waiting room attempted to engage me in conversation. Feeling incredibly raw, talking to some middle aged guy was the last thing I wanted. I brusquely informed him that I wanted to be left alone. When he once again attempted to speak with me, I shouted “just leave me alone”. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small flashlight. He smiled and said to me, “this is for you”. I angrily replied, “What the hell do I need that for”? In a soft voice he said, “this is for you when you have trouble seeing the light”. On that day I began my recovery journey.
Personal Reflection: What do you do to help others see the light?