These days there is much greater awareness about heart health. People are altering their diets and eating cleaner and healthier food. There is far more awareness about issues like stress and obesity. The American Medical Association recommends aerobic exercise and walking 10,000 steps a day. All of these will definitely aid in the improvement of cardiovascular health.
There is another type of heart health, that is often neglected as well. We are talking about emotional heart health. What is the prescription for those suffering from a heart that is pained by guilt or loss. Or even a heart that is so covered over that almost nothing can penetrate it’s hard lacquered veneer. Of course talking to a friend or a therapist can be helpful. Beyond that, we have found that helping another person who is suffering is often the best course of action. This might seem counter-intuitive. When we are immersed in our own problems, the last thing we want to do is go help someone else. We would rather stay in bed watching television and nursing our wounds. That is exactly the time we need to reach out and help another member whose heart is also emotionally under attack. When we are able to get outside of ourselves and help another, a little bit of sunlight can pierce the hearts of our fellow. We have also found that some of the veils covering our own heart are lifted in the process as well.
Personal Reflection: How do I exercise my heart?
Every generation has had people that were considered spiritual. In the 19th century Henry David Thoreau left the hustle and bustle of the city behind and went to live on Walden Pond. More recently, in the 1960’s thousands of people flocked to Ashrams in India. Today, large numbers of people attend gatherings led by people like the the Dali Lama. If queried, almost all of these people would probably categorize themselves as spiritual.
We in AA, NA and OA identify our programs as spiritual as well. Yes, we also spend time in self examination, meditation and prayer. However, we define a large aspect of spirituality as something quite different. For us, spirituality, involves us stepping out of ourselves. For all to long we were obsessed with the world of I. We really did believe that the world should revolve around us. Now we see things very differently. A big part of our program is to extend ourselves and help others. When we do so, some of that arrogance of self is burned away and we begin to experience the joys of service. Helping others is a beautiful thing. When we do so, our minds quiet and we can forget about that world of I for a few hours. Those hours have become a precious commodity to us.
Personal Reflection: Do I exercise spirituality thru service?
Whether you are in AA, NA, or OA; there is a commonality of experience. People that you barely know will go to almost any length to help you. It starts with sponsorship. Where else can you get someone who will mentor you on a daily basis for FREE. A man or a women who will share their extensive life experience with you in total honesty and provides a venue for you to do the same. Then of course there is the fellowship itself. Many of us have collected the phone numbers of other people in the program that we can call whenever we feel the need to talk. It is a comfort to know that there is always someone available at the other end of the line day or night. We have also discovered that when we need it, whatever the problem, a member of our fellowship will offer his or her assistance. Whether it’s helping us find a job, driving us to a meeting or taking us to the Department of Motor Vehicles, we know help is just around the corner. As we grow in our own sobriety, we join the ranks of those who freely give back what they have so freely received.
Personal Reflection: Am I doing enough service?
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?
Walk into any bookstore these days and you will often find an entire section devoted to 12 step programs. There are literally hundreds of books, guides and workbooks for people in recovery. All of these can be helpful; but we like to say that it’s a “simple program for complicated people”. Recovery can be boiled down to 3 components. The first is “clean house”. This goes far beyond putting down our drug of choice. It involves taking “a fearless moral inventory”. This means we honestly and diligently admit to our defects of character and how they manifested in all of our relationships. Where necessary we also make amends to those we have harmed.
The second component in recovery is to “trust G-d”. Over time we came to realize our powerlessness over people, places and things. We filled that power vacuum with a G-d of our understanding, and turned to Him on a daily basis. We especially liked the flexibility of evolving our own concept of a Higher Power.
The final recovery component is to do service. We appreciated that recovery is a we program. Just working on our own personal transformation was not enough. We also had an obligation to help others to recover as well. Helping others helped us in ways we never expected.
Personal Reflection: Do I keep my program simple?
Every day we face a new set of challenges. If we allow it to happen, we can quickly become overwhelmed. This often occurs because we are unable to say no to people. After years of self-centered behavior, many recovering people feel they need to make up for lost time. Whenever they are called upon for help, they immediately say yes. The problem with this approach is that it can cause us to overload our circuits. As we attempt to squeeze more and more into the day, we begin to see some of our old behaviors returning. Before we know it, we have lost our serenity and are full of fear, anger and resentment. What also happens is that as we fill up our day with so many commitments, we begin to neglect our program. We end up skipping meetings and failing to call our sponsor because we have spread ourselves too thin. Part of sobriety is maintaining a healthy balance between service and self-care.
Sometimes we even need to say no to ourselves. Perhaps we need to stay home when we’re feeling tired and read a book instead of going to the gym for a late night workout.
Personal Reflection: How close are you to overwhelm today?
A cornerstone of all 12 step programs is the idea of a sponsor. A sponsor is someone in the program who you can turn to discuss your upsets, weigh your options and share your secrets. The benefits of sponsorship are threefold.
Have one – When we ask someone to be our sponsor, we are making a definite statement about ourselves. It is actually a declaration of our humility. We are saying that we don’t have all the answers. It declares we are humble enough to ask others for their help and to show our vulnerability.
Use one – There are many people with a lot of sober time who still call their sponsor on an almost daily basis. We have found that even when we don’t think we have something to talk to our sponsor about; issues come out in our conversation which need to be addressed. Perhaps it’s an unresolved resentment or a decision which requires feedback. Calling also challenges our complacency.
Be one – A big part of the program is giving back. When we sponsor someone, it allows us to repay in some way what others did for us in helping to maintain our sobriety. Assisting others also helps to develop and strengthen our own program.
Personal Reflection: Do I fulfill the 3 parts of sponsorship?