There are a number of rituals in the rooms of AA, NA and OA. One of the most widely practiced is the coin ceremony. Whether you’re getting a coin after 30 days or 30 years there is cause for celebration. You have proven that one day at a time you can keep sober.
In the world outside of the program, an anniversary celebrating an important event is usually an opportunity to drink and drug or to overeat. Obviously we do not subscribe to these practices as we are of a different mindset. An anniversary is a celebration of abstinence from our substance of choice.
Sometimes we encounter people who are not in the program who don’t understand this. They will often ask us, “can’t you have just one? What could the harm be in having just one”? Experience has shown us that no, we cannot have just one. That “just one” sooner or later will result in total relapse. That’s why we advice people in the fellowship to see if their anniversary coin will dissolve in their mouth. That should be the only time they consider going out and using.
Personal Reflection: How do I maintain my sobriety?
People are perpetually making resolutions. Probably the most common are New Year resolutions. About a month before January 1st of any year, people commit to change their behavior with the new year. Some common resolutions are to stop smoking, to lose weight or to begin an exercise program. The new year is also used by alcoholics and drug and food addicts as a projected turning point for their behavior.
Unfortunately what often happens is quite different than the intent of the person who made the pledge to change their behavior. Some will begin their program of change and then within a day or a week throw in the towel and renew their old behavior. Others have a few months of success, but then think that because of it they can now engage in “controlled” use. In the majority of cases this does not turn out well. For many people the first day of the new year has no significance because they have already forgotten about their resolution.
In the program, we do not adhere to a timeline for the cessation of our drug of choice. It is not necessary to wait for a calendar date to change our actions. All we need is a desire to stop using alcohol, drugs or food. If we have such a desire, we are ready to embark on our journey of recovery. Putting it off to a certain date is just a symptom of our disease.
Personal Reflection: How can I help someone get off the elevator?
Sometimes you will meet someone at a meeting who truly inspires you. They seem to be an embodiment of all the principles of the program. After listening to them, you decide to boot up your own program. You start to make more meetings because of what you heard. You also journal, pray, meditate and call your sponsor more because you want to follow that great advice given to you earlier.
A few months pass and you see that person who inspired you once again. This time however they don’t look so good. In fact, they look pretty bad. When they share; you find out that they went out shortly after you spoke last and are just coming back. How did that happen? They had such good advice; yet here they are again counting days.
Perhaps a big part of the problem was that “inspiring person” had forgotten one of the principles of the program; to be honest in all of our dealings. Apart from the fact that they weren’t honest with you, more importantly they weren’t honest with themselves. They painted a picture of themselves which was completely false. At one time it had been true, but those days had faded. Pride had replaced truth and the results were a descent back into their disease.
Personal Reflection: Does my advice mirror my own actions?
Relapse is a very enigmatic topic. We are often stunned when someone with long term sobriety goes out. When they finally make it back into the rooms, they often speak honestly about what happened. How did they end up in that bar ordering drinks, or on that corner buying drugs, or in that bakery buying a sheet cake? There seems to be a common denominator with all of them. None of them will say that they got up that morning and just decided to go to the bar, the street corner or the bakery. That was actually the last stop before they picked up. There was a progression of thoughts and actions which led them to that point. Perhaps a month before; they had needed to buy a birthday present for someone and went into a liquor store to buy a gift. Perhaps a sibling had asked for help in baking a chocolate cake for an upcoming wedding anniversary. A small action can cause a chain of events with serious consequences. The same applies to our emotional sobriety as well. We can not allow something like a “small” resentment to linger. Before we know it, it could snowball into something far more serious and destructive.
Personal Reflection: Have I stumbled over any pebbles lately?
It’s pretty easy to spot the newcomer. They are often the ones who are sitting in the back of the room trying to melt into the furniture. The ones who when the person leading the meeting looks around to call on someone will immediately avert their eyes. The ones who run out as soon as the meeting is over. Perhaps they will talk to their sponsor about their discomfort at being at meetings. “What shall I talk about? I have nothing to speak about”, they will say. The reality is that each of us really has a lot to say. While we were active, we had so tamped down our feelings with our drug of choice that we hadn’t the foggiest idea of what we felt. As we began to accept life on life’s terms, we discovered that we had a lot of fear, resentment, anger, jealousy, et al arising every day. As an addict, it was critically important for us to be able to unload those feelings either with our sponsor or at a meeting. When we kept those negative thoughts bottled up they continued to build up in us. Unfortunately, when we did so, the chances of us pursuing our drug of choice to soothe ourselves greatly increased. Sharing at meetings was a much healthier, more intelligent and far safer alternative.
Personal Reflection: What do I need to share today?
Go into almost any 12 step room and you will observe two groups of people. The first group are people who have accumulated sober time. Not only people with a year or two of sobriety, but often multiple years and even decades of it. Quite often folks enjoy coming to meetings where people have “a lot of sobriety”, because of the wisdom found in those rooms.
The second group are people are those who constantly relapse.They may put together a few days, months or even years but they eventually go back out. We definitely have compassion for these folks because we have seen how devastating a relapse can be and how difficult it is to rejoin the fellowship. Generally speaking this second group professes to wanting the program and the benefits of sobriety. We would not be so presumptive as to say why they keep going out. However, we do know one thing for sure. The desire to stop drinking or drugging will gain you admittance to the program; but can only sustain you for so long. Each of us needs to put in the required work to remain sober. We need to draw on all of the tools the program offers to maintain our sobriety. As they say, “it works if you work it”.
Personal Reflection: How do I work my program?
What is the price on an admission ticket to any AA, OA or NA meeting. Of course there is no monetary charge for attending a meeting. Although people throw a dollar or two into the collection basket as it is passed, we say in all sincerity, “we need you more than we need your money.” Rather the price of admission is desire. That is, do you have a desire to stop drinking, using drugs or eating compulsively? When you are able to answer yes to that question, you have gained entrance into the program
However, we are a demanding lot. Having a desire to stop using will only get you to the threshold of the program. The only way you can really become a member of the fellowship is to take that desire to the next level. Doing anything to the contrary will only result in relapse. It is only through total,abstinence that our desire is extinguished. To some of us this might appear counter-intuitive. We might think that going cold turkey so to speak is extreme and would only increase desire. We reason that just taking a “little bit or weaning ourselves off our substance would work better. As many an old timer has said, “how’s that working for you?” Then we drag ourselves back into the rooms and begin to work the program the right way.
Personal Reflection: How can I apply abstinence to other areas of my life?
As members of the fellowship, we have all experienced the following scenario. A fellow or gal will enter the program and earnestly admit to being an alcoholic or addict. They regularly attend meetings for a few days, weeks or months. Then they disappear for months on end. The next time we see them, months later, they are raising their hands and saying, “hi my name is ………., and I have one day back”. We see them at meetings for a few weeks or months and then they disappear again. This cycle can go on for years. Each time they go out, it gets harder and harder to come back. Some of these folks go out and unfortunately never make it back. For those that finally “get it”, they almost always come to the same conclusion as to why they were chronic relapsers. They failed to make their program a priority. When we view something as a life or death situation, we bring a tremendous degree of focus to it. There is no doubt that the disease of addiction can kill us.When we treat our recovery with the respect and priority it deserves, we find that we begin to accumulate sober time.
Personal Reflection: Am I around or in my program?
At a meeting recently, a fellow raised his hand and said I have one day back. Usually this isn’t something out of the ordinary. There are those who are chronic relapsers. They keep going out after a few days, weeks or months of sobriety. Usually they want to do it their way. In their arrogance they think they know better than people with years and often decades of sobriety. They refuse to listen to the advice of others with a lot more time and experience. This invariably leads to a slip and their having one day back.
In the case of the fellow who raised his hand, the scenario was quite different. He had 1 day back, but his slip was after 22 years of sobriety. He had a sponsor, sponsees, and a home group. What happened was that he had gotten very complacent. He had forgotten that we work the program one day at a time. Because he had so many years of sobriety he decided to cut back on meetings, and do much less program work. He forgot that having a lot of time was no guarantee for the present day. His failure to be emotionally and spiritually fit every day led to his giving in to his addiction.
Personal Reflection: How do I keep it green?