There are critics of twelve step programs that equate them with a cult. From the outside, perhaps it does appear that we are in lockstep around our actions.The reality is that regardless of our drug of choice, we are all in agreement about a number of tenets. As we say in AA; one is too many and ten are not enough. We can not drink or drug safely. We must practice total abstinence around alcohol,or drugs. We also agree about the importance of going to meetings and having a sponsor. It has been demonstrated time and again that these are important for the maintenance of sobriety. Beyond that, you will find a tremendous degree of variation in how people practice the program. There are people who meditate daily and others who almost never do. Some people have journaling as part of their program, while others have never utilized this technique. Some people go to a meeting once a day, while others go less frequently. There are members who fiercely protect their anonymity while others are very open about the program they attend. You will find certain members attending the same meetings for decades, while others like to experience new people at different meetings every week. Each of us has the flexibility to create the program of recovery which works for us.
Personal Reflection: How have I individualized my program of recovery?
It took courage for us to enter that AA or NA or OA meeting for the first time. Walking down the steps to the meeting we had the impulse to turn around, but we didn’t. Fighting that initial fear was the beginning of our recovery journey. As we went through the steps, we exhibited courage as well. Admitting to our character defects was a daunting process. Making amends to others tapped into inner strength.
With all that said, somewhere along the way, perhaps we became a little too complacent. We began to become very comfortable with the status quo. Our lives had certainly gotten better, yet on some level we had become stuck in a type of static limbo. Our lives had improved greatly but growth had ceased. It was only when we began to take risks again that our evolvement was refueled. We learned that there was a big difference between the “risky behavior” of our past vs taking risks that could provide movement forward in our journey of recovery. Though it might be a bit uncomfortable, pushing through fear of people, places or things could yield big dividends.
Personal Reflection: Have I become stuck in a comfortable place?
Many of us make daily lists of things we need to do. Upon examination, we often find an interesting phenomenon. There are some items on the list which by day’s end we have accomplished. No matter how busy we are, we seem to be able to pick up the dry cleaning, and pay the phone bill. There are other items which might appear repeatedly on the list for a few days or even a week before they are attended to. Finally, there is the third group. These are items which appear on our list which never seem to be able to be crossed off because we never reach them. Within this category, there are also items which never even make it to the list.
Before program we might have said we never reached these items because our lives were just too busy. When we examined the issue more deeply; we found that fear was at the bottom of our procrastination. Many of us had concerns that trying something new would end in failure. The thought of this was too painful. What would others think of us when they saw how we had screwed things up or were less than perfect. As we grew, we saw that we were missing out on some amazing activities and people. We could experience life full throttle and still make mistakes and be less than perfect.
Personal Reflection: Do I use busy work as a buffer to growth?
In the program you will find some very powerful and successful individuals, who also happen to be alcoholics or addicts. One of these competent captains of industry was recently sharing at a meeting. A few weeks before he had overcome an important hurdle at work. Feeling very proud of himself, he walked into his home that evening and declared to his wife, “Honey, I did it, I finally pulled off that deal”. His wife happened to also be in the program. She smiled at him and said, “yes you did, with G-d’s help”. Her response certainly wasn’t the one he was expecting. He was looking for accolades about how wonderful he was, and here she was reducing his accomplishment. When he thought about it, he realized that she was right. It was true that a major goal had been accomplished at work. However the reality was that over a hundred people were involved in a project that was a year in the making. The man realized that it was arrogant on his part to fail to give credit to all of the employees who had contributed time and energy to the project. He sheepishly admitted that he also failed to acknowledge his Higher Power as part of his formula of success. By the end of the meeting he was once again “right sized”.
Personal Reflection: Am I right sized today?
In our society so much has been reduced to a soundbyte. On the one hand this can be problematic. When we distill a lot of information into short “bytes” a lot can be lost in the process. Part of the growth process is being able to sift through experiences and information, reflect on them and only then move forward. That being said, sound bytes do have their place. They provide an easily assimilable piece of information. The same holds true for material in the program. Although people spend years studying the Big Book; there are aphorisms which do capture a lot of the direction of the program. The following expression is a case in point.
If I’m focusing on you
I should focus on me
If I’m focusing on me
I should focus on G-d
Most of us need to focus our energies in 2 distinct areas. First, we need to move our focus away from others and place it on ourselves. It is only when we do this that we can begin to take responsibility for our actions and initiate change. Second, a major component of the program is learning to “turn it over” to our Higher Power”. This means we will do the work, but we let go of the illusion that we can control the results. That is in the power of the G-d of our understanding.
Personal Reflection: Where is my focus?
Through our immersion in the 12 step program, we experienced many changes in our lives. Part of the reason that occurred was that we have daily rituals which help reinforce the life changes we have put into place. We have a lot of tools in our tool kit. Most of us call our sponsors almost every day and frequently attend meetings. We also engage in daily prayer and meditation. It is common for us to reach out to others in our program to both give and receive support. All of these actions help solidify our emotional, social and spiritual growth.
Unfortunately, there are many people in the world that don’t have the same kind of support. They engage in all kinds of inappropriate behavior. Some of them are alcoholics and addicts who are still active in their disease. Beyond that, there are many people who are suffering from grave emotional hurts. They say and do things that can often hook us into revisiting some of our own improper behavior. We need to be extremely vigilant around these types of people. We don’t need to take a drink or a drug to act if we had taken one. When these people attempt to engage us, we need to politely disengage from them.
Personal Reflection: Do I still dance with unhealthy people?
See page 449
At one time or another almost all newcomers have experienced the following. They found themselves talking to their sponsor. At some point in the conversation they began to complain about some aspect of their lives. In the middle of a sentence their sponsor interrupted them and said, “Go get your copy of the Big Book and turned to page 449”. Upon opening to that page, the newcomer reads one of the most important passages from the book. That passage is about acceptance. It says in part, “I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, or thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment”. Even after reading it, many newcomers still don’t get it. They continue complaining about some aspect of their life. Their sponsor then tells them to reread the passage and meditate or journal on it. At some point, a light bulb goes off and the newcomer (or sometimes even an old timer) gets it. They come to understand that placing blame on others is a total and absolute waste of time. From a spiritual perspective, we believe that our Higher Power has sent us whatever we are going through and that we can grow through the process of dealing with it.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to read page 449 today?