Life was very hard for us. We were often flooded with a myriad of feelings. Anger, fear, jealousy, resentment and pride often overwhelmed us. We frequently felt that there was no pathway of relief from all of these emotions. Everything became bottled up inside. Then, at some point in our lives we discovered a safety valve. We began to use drugs, alcohol, food and other substances to dampen those feelings. Initially we experienced some degree of relief. Over time we discovered that using a substance was not a solution and just added a new layer of problems to our lives.
In sobriety we still feel all of those feelings. Sometimes we need to go to meetings and just “dump” out all of those feelings we are going through. Often once is not enough. That is why you who hear people sharing on the same issue over and over again in meetings. Each time they share, the issue or feeling loses a little bit more of its power.
Meetings however are not just about us sharing. When we deeply listen to others share we can find a solution to something which has been bothering us. The collective wisdom of members of our fellowship is a power which can heal.
Personal Reflection: How do I handle my feelings in sobriety?
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?
Recently at a meeting a member was sharing. Although he now had many years of sobriety, he still felt some anxiety about speaking at meetings. Thankfully, his level of anxiety had decreased over time. He attributed this to some advice that a fellow member had given him when he first came in. In his early days, he would just sit somewhere in the back of the room to avoid sharing. However, on a weekly basis he attended a small meeting that sat in a circle. It was impossible for him to escape speaking at that meeting. He confided his anxiety about sharing to one of the old timers in the circle. He told her he was worried what other people would think about his share. She smiled and said that the people who had already shared were going over in their mind what they had spoken about. Should they have deleted something, or added something in their share? The people who hadn’t shared yet were formulating in their minds what they were going to speak about. “So you see”, she said laughing, “you don’t need to worry about what you say at this meeting, because no one is paying attention anyway”. Although it was a bit of a joke, he realized that there was some truth to it. From that point on whenever he shared he just visualized everyone in the room being self absorbed; and his anxiety level decreased.
Personal Reflection: Am I sharing frequently enough at meetings?
Many newcomers feel very uncomfortable about sharing at meetings. They sit there very stoically with a grim look on their face. Their minds are racing with all of their regrets, fears, resentments, anger and shame. Yes, it’s true they are no long using, but they feel pretty miserable about their life.
Then one day, perhaps thru another member’s encouragement they finally share. When they are finished, they realize that they feel a little bit better; and sometimes a whole lot better. It seems almost counter-intuitive. Although everyone was listening, no one gave them advice or tried to solve their problems for them. Yet, thru the process of personal reflection thru sharing, something changed within them. Over time we have come to realize that having the opportunity to share with others is extremely therapeutic.
The flip side of the coin is also true. By listening to others share and identifying, we see that our feelings of isolation and negative uniqueness are lies we tell ourselves. The shares of others verify that our feelings are just part of being human.
After the meeting we can seize the opportunity to speak to others and get advice if that is what we want. There is great collective wisdom within the walls of the fellowship.
Personal Reflection: Am I sharing enough at meetings?
Going to meetings is one of the cornerstones of the program. Sometime we walk into the room bursting with the desire to share. Perhaps something occurred at work which we found to be upsetting. By sharing, some of the sting of the incident is lessened. Speaking at a meeting also gives us an opportunity to celebrate our sober victories. Maybe we were at a party and refrained from getting into an argument with someone. There is also power in our having the courage to raise our hands and speak our truth. For all too long we lived lives of lies and deception.
There will also be times when we go to a meeting and decide to just listen. This can be a good practice as well. While active we often dominated conversations because we thought we had all of the answers. By keeping silent and listening we strengthen our humility. Chances are, we will also hear something which can help strengthen our sobriety.
Finally, sometimes we’ve raised our hands to share and didn’t get an opportunity to do so. Rather than having a resentment we accept that our Higher Power wanted this to be a listening meeting for us. And, there is always the meeting after the meeting where we can share.
Personal Reflection: Am I both a talker and a listener
There is a reality to sobriety that is irrefutable. We cannot and should not attempt to do this program by ourselves. That was our modus operandi while we were active. Although we had many feelings of anger, fear and shame we chose to not share those feelings with anyone else. We walked around in a state of upset. As a result,when the opportunity appeared for us to relieve ourselves of all of that upset through our drug of choice, we were more than willing participants. Then of course we felt remorse for using; or for actions while we were under the influence. Since we didn’t share this with anyone else, it was just piled on along with all of the other buried feelings. The cycle of upset, drug of choice and remorse had begun once again.
When we finally put down the alcohol, drugs or food, the cycle was temporarily broken. However if we failed to change our behavior, we would quickly end up back on the despair treadmill. A big part of that change was the acknowledgement that this is a “we” program. The failure to recognize this usually lead to relapse. Utilizing the wisdom and support of other members of the fellowship was critical to recovery. Once we got beyond our pride or shame and opened ourselves to the help and concern of others; we had a much greater chance of success.
Personal Reflection: Am I practicing a “we” program?
For the first 20 years of our lives, we spent much of our time sitting at desks in school. The learning experienced was a very formalized one. The teacher, who was the expert stood at the front of the room and passed on the information to us; the students. There were other experts in our lives who passed on information as well. Religious leaders were the experts who gave sermons which taught us how we should behave. Doctors were the experts we went to see when we were sick. Wherever we turned there was someone who was going to educate us. It seemed like we were always on the receiving end of information and wisdom.
Of course it’s important for us to listen to the advice of others who have knowledge. What we learned in the program was that everyone had wisdom. Sometime we would be sitting in a meeting and see someone who in a million years we wouldn’t think we could learn anything from. Then he or she opened their mouth and we were blown away by their story or by how they incorporated a Higher Power into their life or how they worked the steps on a daily basis. We also learned that we had important things to say as well.
Personal Reflection: How am I both a student and a teacher?
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?
At a meeting recently, the topic of depression came up. In any other gathering of 35-40 people a topic like depression would have been avoided. Under “regular circumstances” few people would have felt safe enough to honestly address this issue. But, a meeting is unlike any other gathering of people. Almost everyone present shared on the topic. Two things came out. The first is that almost everyone at times feels sadness and depression. For many at the meeting this was a relief. In the world outside of meetings people don’t share in a real way. A person could draw the conclusion that he or she was the only one grappling with a particular issue. Hearing person after person share about depression helped people realize that their feelings and experience were far from unique.
What also came out was that for many of us, the best thing we could when we were feeling sad or depressed was to force ourselves to move the muscles. We needed to reach into our 12 step tool kit and get busy. Prayer, meditation, making meetings, calling sponsors, sponsees and other members and doing service were all tools we could tap into. Inertia truly was the enemy.
Personal Reflection: What tools do you use to combat depression?
Note: I am not speaking of clinical depression; which requires consultation with a medical professional.
When I was a newcomer I spoke with my sponsor about judgement. I was feeling very frustrated over my tendency to jump to judgement. I wondered when this defect of character would be lifted. I learned from my sponsor that there were certain defects of character that would always be with us. As long as we had eyes to see, judgements would always arise. There was however the possibility of growth even with this defect of character. When we found ourselves going into judgement we did not have to immediately share our opinion with the person who we were judging. If we started judging a postal employee who wasn’t working fast enough in our estimation, we could chose to say nothing. We could also chose to refrain from complaining to our friends and family about our post office experience. What we could do was to call our sponsor and talk about it. We could share our experience at a meeting. Writing in our journal gave us an opportunity to be reflective. Finally, engaging in prayer and meditation about the incident often revealed new insights. As a result of all of these steps, we often found that the frequency and intensity of our judgements decreased over time.
Personal Reflection: How do I respond when judgements arise?