Many people when they enter the program have a laundry list of complaints against others. They are full of reasons and justifications as to why they have these grievances. Part of their work in the program is to admit to their part in the creation of this antipathy. Many a newcomer has struggled with admitting their role in the creation of bad feelings with another. What really blows their mind is when their sponsor asks them to forgive not only those who were only partially at fault; but even those people who were fully responsible for perceived mistreatment. For those newcomers who were able to take this leap of faith regarding forgiveness; something quite amazing occurred. First they found that they had the capacity to engage in forgiveness. More importantly, when they let go of that laundry list, they discovered how much psychic energy was being burnt up by resentments. As they let go of their grievances they begin to develop a new found positivity and lightness of spirit. Upon the suggestion of others from the rooms, they even began a program of forgiveness for someone who they never thought forgiveness would be possible. They began to forgive themselves for past as well as present grievances they were still holding onto.
Personal Reflection: Where in my life is forgiveness called for?
While we were active, we often became upset about how little respect we received from others. Wherever we turned , it seemed that people were trying to take advantage of us or disrespect us. This often ended for us badly. We would get into disputes about perceived injustices. What we failed to understand was that we created our own reality. The persona we presented to the world unfortunately attracted criticism and often argument. We engaged in actions which often triggered negative responses from others. Being loud, abusive sarcastic or argumentative led to a response in kind. People did not take us seriously when we showed up drunk or high or both. In fact, our actions acted like a magnet for certain types of people; who were just looking for someone to engage in drama with due to their own defects of character.
In sobriety, we found that as our persona changed, people’s response to us changed as well. When we acted in an adult gracious manner others often responded in kind. When people acted inappropriately towards us, we developed tools which helped us to either disengage or reframe the situation. We also began to attract people into our lives who were healthier on many levels.
Personal Reflection: How can I improve how I treat myself?
There is an interesting aspect regarding people in 12 step programs. It seems that many of them are astute observers. You would think that this would be a blessing. Indeed it is, but not in the way you might think. Often what they observe are the failings of others. This one’s a chatterbox, that one is lazy and so on and so forth. Upon deeper analysis we often find an interesting phenomena. Frequently, they are correct in their observation of shortcoming in another. When they look a little deeper at themselves they often find that they exhibit the same weakness of character. Yes it’s true that she is a chatter box, but so is the person who made the observation. It’s almost as if they are impelled to judge those who exhibit the same weaknesses that they possess. This really can be a wonderful tool for self growth. If we do start judging others, we can use this as a signal for self introspection. For example, when I judge someone as a gossip, I can immediately examine myself to see if I possess this characteristic. Hopefully we can be as a good an observer of ourselves as we are of others. As we work this aspect of our program we can also expect a reduction in judgements in general.
Personal Reflection: What shortcomings do I frequently spot in others?
At alcohol and drug treatment programs, 12 step meetings are part of the daily schedule. At one such meeting a man who was 65 years old was qualifying. He had been in and out of detoxes and rehabs since his early 20’s. This time however he felt that things would be different. He had experienced a spiritual awakening. He had 15 grandchildren who he loved to take to the park or fishing. Lately however, he had been avoiding them. They would call him up and say, “Grandpa; Grandpa we miss you. Why aren’t you coming over to see us”? He had no answer for them. Then it suddenly hit him. He said, “I didn’t want them to see me drunk or stinking of booze, so I stopped seeing them”. Within a short time he had checked himself in to an alcohol and drug rehab center. Now, he had some time and was telling his story to help other newcomers.
Most of us can identify the moment we made that decision to put down drugs, alcohol, food or any other addictive substance. When it occurred it was just a small blip on the screen of our life. However, its importance can not be overestimated. Why then, often after years or decades of addiction were we able to stop using? For many of us, the only explanation was an intervention by our Higher Power.
Personal Reflection: When did I have my awakening?
At the end of a meeting you will often see someone who is coming into the rooms for the first time. You can almost sense their discomfort. Perhaps a lot of what they heard at the meeting was confusing. They might have been shocked to hear people speak about their feelings so openly and honestly. Many of them are grappling with coming to terms about their own addiction. Most likely they are in denial about that addiction. You can almost see them grimace at the mention of the word addict or alcoholic.
Almost all of us can identify with this moment because at one time that newcomer was us. So how did we evolve to being actively engaged in our program? As long as we came back after that first meeting; we discovered that we had found a home in AA, NA, OA or whatever program(s) we were involved with. We usually decided to come back because we identified with something someone spoke about. Many a newcomer has said, “as I was listening to you, I felt that you were telling my story”. There is a place in the program for anyone who is struggling with addiction. All you have to do is claim your seat.
Personal Reflection: How did I recognize my seat?
A woman was sharing at a meeting about her recent experience at the airport. She had overpacked her bag and was quite over the 50 pound limit. She had to repeatedly remove items from her suitcase until she met the correct weight. Hearing about the experience another member commented about our emotional baggage. As we evolve in the program, we need to make sure that our emotional baggage is well under the allotted limit. To accomplish this we remove resentments from that emotional suitcase. They can take up so much room and really weigh us down. Some of those resentments have been carried around for years. There are resentments which we probably don’t even remember exactly what they were about.
We also need to remove guilt from our emotional suitcase. These are essentially resentments against ourselves. So many of us walk around beating ourselves up for what we should or shouldn’t have done. Engaging in this type of behavior prevents us from living in the now where we could have a lightness to our step. Instead, we are dragged down by remorse.
We also need to be clear about our destination. When we wander aimlessly through life, even relatively “light emotional baggage”, can begin to feel heavy. Meetings and a sponsor can help us with that one.
Personal Reflection: Do I travel light?
One of the most popular types of meetings in the program are step meetings. Newcomers are often surprised to see people with a lot of time attending these meetings. Although many of these old timers went through the steps in relatively early sobriety; they continue to work the steps on a daily basis. As they experience difficulties in their lives, they return to the first step to admit to degrees of powerlessness. This often leads into steps two and three where they turn over that life situation to their Higher Power. As they navigate thru life there are times when they owe an amends to someone. When that occurs they promptly admit it and follow up whenever possible. At the end of each day they engage in step ten; in a review of their actions. They resolve to do better the next day; while at the same asking G-d to remove their shortcomings. A daily practice of meditation to improve their conscious contact with their Higher Power is step work. Finally, living the principles of the program is a daily amplification of step twelve. In fact, anyone with good sobriety will tell you it’s because they continually work the steps.
Personal Reflection: What step am I on?