Perhaps you’ve been on the fence about attending your first AA, NA or OA meeting. There really is no requirement to join other than a desire to stop using your drug of choice. Or perhaps you’re one of those who were once active in the program but have somehow stopped going to meetings. To you we say, “come on back and we will welcome you with open arms”. Of course some of you will think to yourselves that you no longer need to attend meetings because you know longer drink or drug. To this we can respond with a simple test. If you’ve gone through the day without at least one resentment than maybe you can do without a meeting today. For the rest of you who after an honest self inventory discover those resentments we suggest you make it back to a meeting today or tonight. We can almost guarantee you will feel better after sharing what is on your mind. You might also discover that others are going through the same issues as you and can be a source of both support and help. Of one thing we can guarantee. The coffee will be plentiful, hot and strong.
Personal Reflection: is there something on my mind I need to share at a meeting today?
Many an emotion and feeling has been shared at a meeting. Perhaps more than any other, the feeling most touched upon is resentment. When we first entered the program this fact puzzled us greatly. During our years of using, resentment often got pushed beneath the surface due to our use of drugs, alcohol and food. Now that we had entered sobriety, our resentments seemed to be making up for lost time. We just couldn’t understand how other people could be so arrogant, thoughtless, greedy, insensitive and pushy on a daily basis. Yet, as we attended more meetings, we did encounter people that had achieved a degree of serenity. Why weren’t they raging against other people who had engaged in some transgression against them? Why weren’t they encountering the same kinds of people as us? As we listened to them speak we realized that it really had nothing to do with who they met or what was said or done to them. What was pivotal was their attitude towards others and in particular their level of expectation of behavior. When they had no or little expectation of others, resentments were extremely minimal. Conversely, when they had high expectations which were not fulfilled, resentments boiled over. As we followed their lead, we saw a decline in resentments as well.
Personal Reflection: Do I still have high expectations of others?
We are going to have our toes stepped on in life. It is totally unavoidable. While we were active, this seemed to happen a lot to us. Very rarely would we immediately forgive someone for a perceived personal affront. Part of the reason this was the case is because we saw intent behind most actions. “You did it to me”‘ we exclaimed. We assumed that whatever had taken place was done on purpose. At a minimum, we gave people the silent treatment. We also often seethed in resentment. If we really felt the victim, we spent time planning our revenge for what you had done to us.
In sobriety these scenarios have largely changed. When things happen to us, we no longer immediately assume they were done on purpose. We accept that sometimes accidents occur. As a result we are quick to forgive others. Even when it appears that someone has truly treated us unfairly, and we find ourselves in resentment, we have tools that help us relieve those feelings. Sharing with our sponsor or at a meeting is especially helpful. We are also able to step back and examine what our role was in creating the issue. We certainly no longer waste time thinking about revenge. We have better things to do with our day.
Personal Reflection: Do thoughts of revenge eat up my day?
Powerless over people, places and things; it’s a two-way street
In the program we put a lot of emphasis on our being powerless. For many of us this was a big change. We had spent a good part of our time attempting to control others. If only they would do it our way, then our lives would improve; or so we thought. In sobriety, we began to understand that the only person we had some degree of control over was ourselves. Acting maturely and responsibility gave us a better shot at our goals, but there were no guarantees on how others would respond. Once we accepted this, we were ready for a second aspect of being powerless. Just as we were powerless over others, they were powerless over us as well. This fact was a revelation for us. We had often tailored our behavior to the needs and wants of others. While doing so we picked up a lot of resentments along the way. We began to realize that fulfilling the requests of others was a choice, not a foregone conclusion. We always had the option of saying no. Perhaps this was initially difficult for we feared the withdrawal of love from others. Ultimately we came to see that people had power over us only when we gave it to them. Being powerless went both ways.
Personal Reflection: Have I accepted that being powerless is a 2 way street?
Everybody has a bad day. We claim to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. Perhaps we are a little more irritable than we normally are. It seems that for some reason more stressful situations than usual head our way. All of this is nothing out of the ordinary. All of us at one time or another have one of those days.
What is of concern is when we repeatedly enter the day in a negative state, and it just goes downhill from there. When we were using, at least we had the excuse of a massive hangover.
If you want to consider yourself emotionally sober, there is no excuse for waking up in a state of negativity and resentment. Our emotional state upon awakening and throughout the day is an inside job. Yes, of course we will have difficult days. What is important to note is that we have a choice on how to respond. Old timers put it very bluntly. After hearing our rant about what a horrible day we had; will turn to us and simply say, “time to get off the pity pot”.
Personal Reflection: What kind of day am I going to have today?
Over the course of a year we are going to experience many disappointments. On a scale of 1 to 10 some will be an 8 or a 9. Perhaps the promotion you were seeking went to another person. Maybe you planned the perfect vacation and it rained the entire week you were away. Then of course there will be much more minor disappointments. Someone got to a parking space right before you. The store ran out of the item you wanted which was on sale. The examples of disappointments great and small are endless. Everyone experiences them. The more important question is what are you going to do with them. It really is a choice. You can choose to be full of resentment and anger over your disappointments. It can make you a bitter and negative person. It might even lead to your drinking, drugging or eating over it.
On the other hand, your disappointments can be a teacher. There are so many lessons that can be gained from them. For example, when you didn’t get that promotion you could be filled with anger, resentment and negativity. You might sulk for days and say, “I can’t believe they gave it to that guy”. Or, you could take an honest look as to why you didn’t get the promotion. Carefully assess the reasons; resolve to make some changes and then prepare for the next opportunity.
Personal Reflection: Do I use my disappointments as a teacher?
Alcohol, drugs and food were like a light switch for us. As long as we stayed away from our drug of choice, we often appeared to be quite well adjusted to those around us. Once we took that first drink or drug, then all bets were off. That switch was turned on, and everything changed. Perhaps initially we became the life of the party or felt at ease in social situations. For many of us, that light switch also unleashed a lot of pent up feelings we had been carrying around. In particular, we tapped into a mother lode of anger and resentment. These were feelings that we had often carried for a long time without having addressed them.
Perhaps abstaining from our drug of choice removed the trigger for our anger. It didn’t take long however for us to discover that all of those feelings of anger and resentment were only just below the surface. Now almost any life situation could trigger us into some kind of emotional tirade. Left unaddressed, these feelings would eventually lead us to taking that first drink or drug. That’s why it was imperative for us to begin to address all of those feelings of rage and anger. We made it our business to tap into the fellowship for assistance. We also asked our Higher Power to remove our reactivity to the vicissitudes of life.
Personal Reflection: Is anger still my master?
It definitely hurts when someone wrongs us. Sometimes we don’t quite understand why it is necessary for us to forgive them. It’s not like we are going to seek them out and tell them we forgive them for their actions. If anything we are the aggrieved party. They should be the one coming to us and asking for forgiveness. What exactly is the point of our saying to ourselves that we forgive a particular person for a perceived wrong which was committed.
Forgiveness does have purpose. When we forgive someone, as long as it is sincere, we short circuit any resentments that we have. To an alcoholic or drug addict, resentments are like pouring gasoline on a fire. They are the springboard for the launch of all of our other character defects. The ultimate outcome of a resentment is a slip or a major dry drunk episode. When we are able to release those resentments, we help maintain physical, emotional and spiritual sobriety.
On those occasions when someone comes to us with an amends, in most instances we should immediately forgive them. The process of forgiveness helps us maintain our humility. It also gives us an opportunity to take a look at our part and where necessary make amends as well.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to work on being more forgiving?
A women was sharing about an incident from her early days of sobriety. She was a few minutes late for work. When the timekeeper from the firm saw her, she was informed that she would be docked for her tardiness. The program member exploded in anger. She got into a full blown screaming match, first with the timekeeper, then with the manager and finally with the owner. She was lucky she didn’t get fired. Later in the day she relayed the incident over to her sponsor. The then newcomer said, “How dare they dock me. I was only a few minutes late. I give so much to that firm. I got caught in traffic and that was why I was late”. When she finished her tirade, her sponsor responded and said, “that wasn’t very sober behavior was it? The sponsee sheepishly admitted that indeed her behavior had not been sober. She might not have been drinking or drugging, but all her actions belied that fact.
It is so easy to fall into the “how dare theys”.
How dare they double park.
How dare they go before me.
How dare they speak to me like that.
You can fill in the blank for your own personal “how dare they”. It’s important to remember that how dare they thinking is the antithesis of emotional sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Do I still engage in “how dare they” thinking?
In earlier days our sense of perception was distorted. It wasn’t because we had failed to visit the eye doctor recently. Our perception problem actually ran much deeper. It was not a problem that could be solved by a new set of glasses. We just saw, heard and felt everything in a peculiarly perverted way. Wherever we went we would often end up getting into fights over perceived slights. Sometimes we felt our manhood or femininity had been insulted. Perhaps we believed that our honesty was being brought into question. Someone might have said something which we believed questioned our intelligence. Frequently our pride was hurt. At times, although we would not end up in a dispute; we would silently seethe with resentment. After one of these events, it usually ended with our finding comfort in our drug of choice.
In the program we have come to accept that most of the time the hurts we thought we heard or felt were mostly of our own making. We have learned that when our button gets pushed, it’s often a character defect that predates our drug or alcohol usage. It is no longer acceptable to blame our poor behavior solely on that usage. We have a choice on whether or not we will respond to perceived insults. We are not victims of circumstance.
Personal Reflection: Do I need a new set of glasses?