There were many who entered the program with the goal of controlling their drinking, drugging or binge eating. They had no intention of practicing any type of abstinence. After a while, they realized that “controlled” using was antithetical to the program. Accepting this fact, they embarked on their journey towards sobriety. Shortly thereafter, another question was raised in their minds. They queried, “if the only reason you entered the program was to stop your drinking and drugging, why do you continue to attend meetings year after year”? As they gained a little more sobriety they soon were able to answer their own question. Listening carefully at meetings, they realized that the majority of shares had nothing to do with alcohol, drugs or food. Rather, people spoke about many other areas. There was a lot of discussion about personal defects of character and what people were doing to correct them. People also shared about life situations where they needed advice as to how to proceed. Sometimes members just reviewed their gratitudes or accomplishments from the day. It emerged that meetings provided a daily dose of guidance on how to navigate life. They also found that after sharing, they inevitably felt better.
Personal Reflection: What have I gained from the program beyond abstinence?
Given that this is election season, you will see many people advertising their favorite candidate on the bumpers of their cars. In fact, there are many other bumper sticker categories. Some advertise a particular point of view on a controversial political position. Others through pictorial representation show how many family members and pets are in the family of the car being viewed. Then of course we have humorous bumper stickers about family and life situations. Cars even get their own category with a bumper sticker announcing that the car has climbed a particular mountain road.
On occasion you will also see a 12 step bumper sticker like, “easy does it” or “let go and let G-d”. The driver wants you to know that they are a member of a 12 step program, or perhaps just likes the sentiment of the slogan. For those of us in the program, we think it would be wiser to place the sticker on the dashboard as well. Because we are never cured of our addictive tendencies, it would serve us well to have a constant reminder of a piece of wisdom from the program. Spreading the word about the fellowship is a wonderful sentiment. However, we must always remember that we have a daily reprieve and must do everything in our power to maintain our sobriety.
Personal Reflection: What do I do to keep it green?
There are many people who failed to come into the program because of their total denial of their challenge of addiction. They minimized or lied about the frequency and amount of their usage. We can easily understand how this delayed their seeking help in their program.
However there is a second group which is a bit more perplexing. At some point in time they realized they had a problem with alcohol, drugs or food. Yet although they had self knowledge, they continued to use as well. Much of this can be explained by the character defect of arrogance. These people felt they could solve their drug and alcohol problem by themselves. In some perverted way they believed that asking for help was a sign of weakness.
When they finally surrendered and entered the program they began to see the error in their thinking. Part of the disease of addiction is to isolate and not ask others for help. By not sharing honestly with others they were not exhibiting strength but were just manifesting another attribute of addiction. It was only when we had the courage to share and also ask others for help that we began to heal. Sometimes we needed to be reminded of this even when we had accumulated some time in the program. Whenever we felt like isolating, it was a signal for us to get to a meeting or pick up the phone.
Personal Reflection: How do I deal with isolation?
A big part of the fellowship is service. One alcoholic or addict helping another. Sometimes we get immediate verification that something we said or did had an impact on another person. Someone comes up to us after a meeting and tells us that they had a lot of identification with something we said. Getting a smile out of someone as we hand them a cup of coffee. Calling someone and have them tell us they are so grateful because they were feeling a bit lonely and sad. These are times that we immediately know that we’ve touched someone
Then of course there are actions we take which affect others in ways we are totally unaware of. Maybe that ride we gave to someone to get to a meeting helped keep them from going out that day. Perhaps that heartfelt welcome we gave to a newcomer helped them to decide to come back to another meeting. Maybe we encountered someone at a party who was drinking, using or eating compulsively. During the conversation we broke our anonymity and informed them there was a better way of living. Even if they continued to use after our conversation, we never know what seeds were planted. Many of us have seen those very people walk into a 12 step room months or years later.
Personal Reflection: How have you impacted others?
Many people walk around feeling quite sorry for themselves. They honestly believe that they have few choices in this life. Perhaps they blame their parents who never gave them the love they deserve. Or they might say they are now too old to try out new ideas or approaches. Then again they might claim they are not old enough when it comes to certain decisions. Bosses often get blamed for lack of promotions or increases in salary. The list of excuses is endless.
We in the fellowship also used to complain about our lot. We felt stuck due to our compulsive use of alcohol, drugs and food.
Once we achieved sobriety, perhaps we mechanically referenced those old complaints as well. Within short order, someone in the program probably questioned us on this. They pointed out that we ultimately determine our destiny through the choices we make. Parents didn’t love you? Choose to love yourself and others. Think you’re to old or young to take a new path? Find the courage to take the first step. Unhappy at work? Change jobs or get retrained. For almost every challenge we face in life, there are choices we can make which will impact the outcome. The choice is ours.
Personal Reflection: Have I been avoiding making an important choice?
We are often asked, “how do I know if I belong in AA, NA, OA or one of the other programs”? The answer that we give often surprises people. There is no yardstick used to determine if you belong in one of the programs. Now of course, there are people who obviously do belong in the program. They consume large amounts of alcohol, drugs or food and are totally addicted to them. We would immediately urge a person like that to enter the program.
We are talking about a different category of person. One whose behavior does not immediately identify them as an addict or alcoholic. For this group we ask them to take a closer look at the reasons they are using. Are they using for sociability or to escape responsibilities and feelings. They also need to honestly examine what happens to them after they use. Does their behavior dramatically shift? Are problems created in their life because of actions taken while under the influence? A simple question often suffices to determine the next course of action. “Do you have a desire to stop drinking, using or eating compulsively? If the answer to that question is yes, we bring them to their first meeting.
Personal Reflection: How did my drug of choice negatively impact my life?
The life of an alcoholic, drug or food addict is not a happy one. All aspects of our lives had been negatively impacted by the choices we had made. Our health had often deteriorated because of our actions. A lot of stress had been placed on our relationships with family and friends. We also encountered many work related problems. All of these had taken a toll on our emotional well being.
We felt a sense of relief when we entered the fellowship. We thought that once we had stopped our addictive behavior, everything would be fine. It was a bit of a shock to us to discover that many feelings which had laid dormant for a long time, came rushing back in. It seemed like we had replaced one set of problems with another. As we immersed ourselves in the program, we saw that not using drugs and alcohol was only the first step. If we really wanted to become, “happy joyous and free”, a lot of work needed to be done. A rigorous examination of our character defects was in order. Out of that examination we began to see our role in the reality we created. We also learned about our powerlessness and the need to let go after we had done the requisite work. Our Higher Power was also called upon as part of this process.
Personal Reflection: Am I happy, joyous and free today?