Writing can be an integral part of the program. Writing can also be a daily struggle for us. When we got to the 4th step, our sponsor told us to put pen to paper and make a fearless and searching moral inventory. This often turned out to be quite a struggle. Even people who wrote for a living wrestled with this particular homework assignment. When we finally were able to begin the process, we found that it was both revealing and cathartic. It allowed us to often speak about things that we had carried around for years and often decades.
Once we had gotten into the rhythm of writing, it was suggested that we also take on a daily journaling practice. There was often resistance to this as well. As we pushed through personal inertia we discovered that our writing began to reveal to us solutions to problems which had eluded us for a long time. It was almost as if our Higher Power began to speak to us thru our daily journal entries. The more often we wrote, the more often we received what we needed to hear.
Personal Reflection: Is writing an integral part of my recovery program?
In the 12 step rooms, one of the most oft repeated words is “acceptance”. In fact this word is a cornerstone of the program. For many a newcomer (and for some not so newcomers), this was a difficult concept to grasp. We felt that the only reason we had ended up in the rooms was because of the set of cards we had been dealt. “If I had grown up with a different set of parents, I wouldn’t be sitting here today”. “Had my friends been different when I was growing up I wouldn’t have started drinking as a teenager”. “If only my teachers had encouraged me more in school, I wouldn’t have made the choices I made”. As we gained some time in the program, we began to realize that we needed to accept our past choices. Bemoaning the past would not help us change the present or plan for the future. We couldn’t undo the past. What we could do was live our lives one day at a time; and sometimes one hour or one minute at a time. We certainly couldn’t change the past, but we could live fully in the present.
Personal Reflection: Have I fully accepted my past?
There is a classic scene from a Woody Allen movie. In it Woody and his date are rapidly approaching a movie marquis. Woody abruptly stops and says, “it’s too late, the movie has already started”. His date says, “we’re only 5 minutes late”, and “didn’t you tell me that that you’ve seen this movie multiple times before?” To which Allen replies, “once the movie starts, it’s ruined for me”.
Many of us followed this line of thinking. If something negative occurred during our day, the rest of the day was ruined. If someone had offended us, we would walk around in righteous indignation about what had occurred. If we had made a mistake we walked around in judgement of ourselves for the rest of the day. Either way, the rest of the day was lost to us. Then one day we called our sponsor about what a miserable day we were having; to which he or she responded, “the day ain’t over yet”. Then it hit us. We had a choice over how we would inhabit the rest of the day. We could draw out every moment from it and make it count, or be in negativity.
Personal Reflection: Did you end the day for yourself already?
Proper speech is not just about correct syntax or tense. The words we use have a lot of power. Researchers have found that when we use certain words and expressions over and over again they create neural pathways in our brains. These pathways become our new reality. Far too many of us are still walking around with a vocabulary that no longer serves our purpose. All too often you will hear someone in the rooms say, “when I was out there drinking and drugging I was a terrible person”, or “a loser”, or “a dope” etc..
When someone has a disease, we don’t call them a bad person. We say that they are sick. When they are healed we don’t say that now they are good. Rather we claim that they are well. The same standard needs to be applied to addictive behavior. The addict is not “bad”. He or she is merely “sick”. When we begin to experience recovery, we are becoming “well”. When we begin to view ourselves as having been sick, we can begin to drop the judgements we had against ourselves. This will aid in our recovery.
Personal Reflection: How careful am I in describing my past behavior?
For a long time we walked around with a lot of grievances. Wherever we went, we thought that people had it in for us. At the supermarket, the cashier took somebody on the line before us. At the restaurant the waitress messed up our order on purpose because of something we had said. Even as kids we never got a fair shake. We didn’t make the team because the coach didn’t like us.
When we finally entered the program we began to realize that maybe we weren’t such victims after all. The reality was that most people were just doing the best they could. When something happened to us, in most cases we weren’t being targeted. People sometimes just made mistakes. No intent was attributable. That cashier just didn’t realize that we were on line. The waitress made a mistake with our order because the diner was so noisy. Coach didn’t take us because we were 90 pounds soaking wet. We learned that our sense of grandiosity had caused many of our grievances. And, for those times that we had a legitimate grievance, we learned to look at our part.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to do a reality check on a recent grievance?
We came to the rooms for many reasons. Our employers had sent us because they were fed up with our behavior. Our doctors had told us that our health was in danger unless we ceased our lifestyle. Family members had given us an ultimatum that we enter the rooms or leave. Some of us had gotten in trouble with the law and were mandated to enter a 12 step program. In almost every case we initially just wanted to “control” our drinking or drugging or addictive behavior. We thought the program would teach us to limit or control our actions. After we stuck with the program for a while our obsessive patterns began to lift. Beyond that, a relationship with a Higher Power of our understanding was rekindled and nourished. A sponsor was chosen to guide us through the 12 steps. New ways of thinking and acting were developed. We began to step outside of ourselves and do service for others. At times, other members even began to turn to us for counsel.
Personal Reflection: What right answer could you give a newcomer today?