There is a particular malady going around these days. Let’s call it the “I hope you don’t mind me telling you so disease”. These are the people who feel it is their duty to comment on every aspect of every person’s life. When you think about it, there is a certain arrogance to this syndrome. No one asked them for their advice. Deep down inside they really believe that they could run your life and everyone else’s better; if only their sagely advice was followed.
The members of 12 step program are not immune from this disease. In fact quite a few of them suffer from it. There is actually a simple solution to this malady. Every time a “hope you don’t minder” is about to speak, they need to pause and think very carefully and answer the following question. “Did the person I am about to speak to ask me for my advice or counsel”? If the answer is no, then they need to remain silent. To take it to the next level, even when we are asked for advice, we need to answer a second question. “Am I knowledgeable enough in this area to give good advice”? Once again, if the answer is no, we need to restrain our tongue. Most likely we will gain more from our silence than the other person will gain from our advice.
Personal Reflection: Do I know when to keep my mouth shut?
Walk into any 12 step room and you are almost guaranteed to see a collection of small signs. This is true for every single branch of the fellowship; AA to NA to OA to DA et. al. Go to a meeting anywhere in the world and you will see the same signs. They might be in French or Dutch or Hebrew or Japanese; but they all carry the same messages. Some of these include, One Day At A Time; Easy Does It and Think (upside down of course).
When we first came into the program these signs were a perfect prescription of information and wisdom. Quite frankly, for many of us, we had been talked to death by well intentioned friends and family members. At that point in our lives, we needed to keep it simple. Short aphorisms were easy to remember when we needed to draw upon them. As we gained some time; we noticed that the signs were still in the rooms, and that their messages had become part of our vocabulary. More importantly, they had become part of our belief systems. They were a compass which guided us through some of our more difficult days. They invariably helped us find true north and to find our correct path.
Personal Reflection: Which slogan gives me the most sustenance?
When it comes to all of the blessings we have, our minds are like a sieve. I mean really, how anyone can walk around bemoaning their fate is really quite puzzling. Each of us has so much to be thankful for. Yes, there are people that are facing a lot of adversity. That being said, they too have a bounty of blessings. The fact that we can breathe without having to think about it or walk without having to balance ourselves surely are gifts. If only we were able to have all of these gifts front and center in our minds; how much brighter each day would would be.
Paradoxically, when it comes to our troubles; are minds are more like a sponge. It is so easy for us to soak up negative energy and then hold onto to it for dear life. Some of us walk around with a troubling event long after it has past. So here is a modest proposal. Let’s attempt to reverse our brain patterns. Let’s remember our blessings like we remember our troubles; and forget our troubles like we forget our blessings. That my friends,is called recovery.
Personal Reflection: Am I able to forget my troubles and remember my blessings?
There are miracles and magic in 12 step rooms. It really is quite miraculous that people were able to put down their drug of choice. It didn’t make a difference if it was alcohol, food or drugs. Our stories were almost identical. For years we had attempted to stop using. Time and again we had vowed that this would be the last time, only to go back on our word the next day. Then something quite miraculous happened. We entered into AA, NA or OA and our obsession to use was lifted. For the first time in years or perhaps decades we were free. All things considered it is safe to say that a miracle had taken place.
Then the magic appeared. As we immersed ourselves in the program, and began to work the steps, life began to change. At first these changes were subtle. Perhaps we were a little less reactive on the road, at the dinner table or at work. Over time, fears and resentments began to substantially lessen. We could honestly say that we were happier than we had been in years or even the happiest we had ever been. Pretty miraculous, right?
Personal Reflection: Do I still experience life magic?
As we sit in meetings we begin to realize that we all have a lot in common.At a recent meeting a fellow told a story where his car had stalled out right in front of his house. He needed to parallel park the car without any power from the engine. He was struggling to push the car into a space and at the same time turn the wheel of the car. One of his neighbors saw what was happening. He came over and said, “would you like some help”? One would think that in a situation where you are trying to move a 3 thousand pound piece of metal by yourself that you would accept some assistance. Our program friend didn’t think so. He replied, “no thanks, I got it”, and proceeded to push.
At the end of the story, after a round of laughter, there was a lot of identification with what had occurred. Many of us have great difficulty accepting help from any source. We often feel, that by accepting help, we are in some way weak or less than. Not only won’t we accept help we will certainly not ask for it.
As we grow in sobriety we learn the beauty of both accepting and giving help. It is one of the things that defines our fellowship.
Personal Reflection: Am I open to giving and receiving help?
The eleventh step says in part, “sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with G-d”. This proved to be a challenge for many of us in the program. There was those of us who had been brought up in homes where the scientific method was king. The G word was never been mentioned in our households. Prayer was a totally alien concept for us. We asked, “what should I say, how should I say it and when should it be said”? Then there those of us that had been brought up in religous homes. Yes we had prayed, but often under duress. Many grew up with the concept of a harsh punishing G-d. Why we would want to pray to that type of deity?
In the program, we learned to focus on the second part of the eleventh step prayer which qualified our Higher Power as a G-d of our understanding. For those who had felt burnt or betrayed by their religion, they now could relate to a different kind of G-d. That would be one who is accepting, loving and kind. For those who had never even thought about prayer; we were advised to simply speak from our hearts. When we did so, we were assured that our Higher Power would be listening.
Personal Reflection: How do I integrate prayer into my life?
Whether you are in AA, NA, or OA; there is a commonality of experience. People that you barely know will go to almost any length to help you. It starts with sponsorship. Where else can you get someone who will mentor you on a daily basis for FREE. A man or a women who will share their extensive life experience with you in total honesty and provides a venue for you to do the same. Then of course there is the fellowship itself. Many of us have collected the phone numbers of other people in the program that we can call whenever we feel the need to talk. It is a comfort to know that there is always someone available at the other end of the line day or night. We have also discovered that when we need it, whatever the problem, a member of our fellowship will offer his or her assistance. Whether it’s helping us find a job, driving us to a meeting or taking us to the Department of Motor Vehicles, we know help is just around the corner. As we grow in our own sobriety, we join the ranks of those who freely give back what they have so freely received.
Personal Reflection: Am I doing enough service?