Words and phrases like stop, slow down, exercise caution ahead, were largely disregarded by us during our days of alcohol, drug and food excess. If anything, the only word we lived by was “more”.
Entering the program provided structure and boundaries for us that were very necessary. One of the first things we needed to do was stop talking and begin listening. It turned out that we didn’t have the answer for every problem that landed on our doorstep. It was a wise move to be quiet and listen to the counsel of those with greater experience.
It was also imperative that we stop acting on our impulsive thoughts. Just because we had a thought didn’t mean we had to immediately fulfill it. When we had done so in the past we often ended up in some serious hot water. Our poor choices had frequently led to divorce, insolvency and medical issues.
Learning to put the brakes on our thoughts and behaviors did not come easily for us. Often we needed to speak things over with our sponsor or another member in the program. We also learned a lot just by listening to others share how they had sped through their own personal stop signs.
Personal Insight: Have I instituted stop signs in my life?
Sometimes we discover a 12 step room that could be from a movie set. All of the chairs are comfortable. The room is well lit and airy. We can see trees and sky through the picture windows. There is the wonderful strong aroma of fresh brewed high quality coffee. Some delicious treats have been laid out buffet style for all to enjoy. The space is wonderfully cool during the warm weather months and nice and toasty in the winter.
Yes, sometimes we find a room like that, but much of the time that’s not the case. Often the chairs are rickety, the lighting is poor, it’s hot in the summer and chilly in the winter and the coffee looks and tastes like mud.
But the truth is that none of that matters. We could be sitting on pogo sticks and still need to be full of gratitude. We are part of a fellowship which has changed our lives. Apart from freeing us from of our drug of choice, we have experienced a psychic change. We are no longer the same person who walked through the door of AA, NA or OA the first time. Emotional sobriety has been encountered and has begun to be absorbed. That rickety chair you’ve been sitting on is worth more than a truckload of massage chairs and recliners.
Personal Reflection: Why is my home group seat so valuable?
There will be frequent challenges in life regardless of where we live, who we associate with or what we do. Every person encounters this fact. For those of us who were addicts and alcoholics, an additional layer of problems was often piled on as a result of our actions. Lacking the tools to deal with these roadblocks of life, we quickly turned to the one remedy we were familiar with; our substance of choice. Unfortunately, not only did it not solve our dilemma, it often exacerbated the situation.
Coming into the fellowship provided some immediate relief. When we put down the bottle, drug or food our life began to improve. However, we quickly saw that we still were encountering many challenges. At first we may have panicked because self medication was no longer an option. It was then that we began to explore a whole new world of choices which helped us to navigate life’s hardships.
Speaking to a sponsor every day provided us with an outlet for our feelings. We also often received excellent guidance on how to handle various situations. As we began to work the steps we began to turn more and more of our life over to a Power greater than ourselves. Ironically, we also found that by helping others we were able to escape much of the negativity which had been generated by an issue we had been facing.
Personal Reflection: When I’m jammed up, what do I run to?
A cornerstone of the program is service; which can come in many varieties. Sponsorship, chairing or making coffee at meetings and even speaking to another alcoholic or addict on the phone all fall under the umbrella of service.
Recently a newcomer heard an old timer speak at a meeting where he told his story. A few days later the same newcomer heard the same old timer qualify at another meeting and tell essentially the same story. After the meeting was over, the newcomer approached the old timer about this. The old timer told him that in reality he had shared the same story dozens of times. Yet, whenever he was asked to speak he did so without reservation. He explained that we tell our story with the hope that another alcoholic or addict will be able to identify with it and it will help contribute to his or her sobriety. But we also tell our story to remind ourselves of what it was like before we entered the program. As addicts and alcoholics we constantly need to be reminded of what our life was like without a program and without fellowship. In that way we will never romanticize what it was like prior to entering AA, NA, or OA.
Personal Reflection: What parts of my story are important for me to remember?
Many shifts occur when people finally get it and enter the program. Obviously the first major shift was the giving up of our drug of choice. As a result, our lives began to dramatically improve. We started to pay better attention to our health and our doctors were very pleased with the results they were seeing. Our work environment became much more pleasant. Suddenly we were getting along much better with our co-workers. Our home life was on a much more even keel. Many of these changes rapidly occurred once we gave up drugs, alcohol, food or any other substance of choice.
A different series of changes took place over a longer period of time. We began to learn about emotional sobriety. This caused a major shift in both our thinking and actions. In the past the focus had always been on ourselves. We really did believe that we were the center of the universe. We constantly clashed with others who had the same belief system. With sobriety we began to move away from a life of self centeredness to a life of service. The further away we were from being in the center the better our life became.
Personal Reflection: How far away from the center am I?
There are many reasons that people delay coming into the program. One of the most common is the feeling that “our” problems are unlike anyone else’s. How could a program which is so general in nature address our specific issues?
When we finally made it into the rooms we discovered two things. First, we were not terminally unique. We found we had a lot of identification with others in the program. For a long time we had walked around thinking we were the only one who had certain thoughts and feelings. As we immersed ourselves in the fellowship we found much commonality.
Second, it turned out that in some ways we were right in our belief about our individual uniqueness. At the same time we learned that the program was broad enough and robust enough to provide us with solutions to our individual needs. We chose to attend those meetings that best suited our makeup and temperament. We selected a sponsor who we were able to connect with on a deep level.
It was even ok to admit our wackier side and be able to laugh about it; and ultimately come to love ourselves for who we were.
Personal Reflection: How am I able to express my individuality in the program?
There are countless stories as to how people ended up on the doorstep of an AA meeting. Over and over again people have shared that they suddenly felt impelled to attend their first meeting. They might have gone years or even decades without nary a thought of AA. Even if the concept had entered their mind, it was quickly forgotten. Some of course had “tried” the program and had quickly dropped it. Yet here they were now sitting in a meeting and knowing in some deep way that the program was the solution to their problems.
Many of these people believe that their attending that particular meeting on that particular day was not a chance occurrence. Rather, it was a direct act of Divine Intervention.
This was all the more surprising because these same people had felt that G-d had given up on them a long time ago. In response, they had often also given up their belief in a Higher Power. Through the program of AA and it’s sister programs, they began to re establish a relationship with a Higher Power of their understanding. That relationship opened up many new vistas for their personal, emotional and spiritual growth.
Personal Reflection: How has My Higher Power been a part of my program of recovery?