Many people are men and women of extremes. When things are going well we are the most agreeable of people. However, if we are having one of those days where everything just seems to go wrong, then you had best get out of our way. As the day unfolds we get more and more into our negativity. This state of mind can be found in individuals both in and outside the program. There are some differences however.
The average person will have a bad day and just chalk it up to a series of unfortunate circumstances. At day’s end they will look forward to a better day tomorrow. For someone in the fellowship, a bad day can be a trigger for a person to have a slip and return to their drug of choice. The reasons for this are more complicated than simple cause and effect. When an alcoholic or addict has a bad day, they can let their negative thoughts overrun them. Their cascading thoughts lead them to the conclusion that not only is this day a bad one, but their entire life is one long failure and disappointment. When this type of thinking predominates, it is easy to understand how a person could despair and revert to old behaviors. The founders of the program understood this when they advised us to remember, “one day at a time”.
Personal Reflection: Do I still jump from bad day thinking to bad life thinking?
When we get up in the morning, many of us take our vitamins. Some take only a multi, and some of us take an alphabet laden hand full. Regardless of how many we take; once we’ve chewed or swallowed them, we go on about our business for the day. If vitamins are on our check list, we can dutifully check them off. We probably won’t think about them until the next morning.
Recovery is not like a multi vitamin. We don’t take our daily dose in the morning and declare. “I’m finished for the day”. Yes it’s wonderful to read the Big Book in the morning or to call our sponsor early on in the day or even to make an early riser meeting. These are all wonderful steps we can take. However, some time during the day something is likely to happen which will press our buttons or really challenge us. We can almost see ourselves descending back into old patterns of response which are harmful to both ourselves and others. When we see that happen, we need to immediately take a sober action to get us back on the beam. The reality is that we may have to do this a number of times each day until our head hits that pillow.
Personal Reflection: How do I recalibrate during the day?
When a person is finally willing to give the program a chance they are certainly to be commended. Many of those people spent years floating along in life. It seems as if they never could admit that they had a problem. When they became willing to give the program a chance, it was an encouraging sign. Family members were excited that their loved one was on the road to recovery.
We in the program also share in some of that new found optimism. However, our experience has shown that much more is needed after the initial excitement of commitment has been made. That is when the real work of the program actually begins. After patting the newcomer on the back, we strongly advice him that he make ninety meetings in ninety days. We push him to get a sponsor and to begin working the steps. When a newcomer hears these suggestions and immediately puts them into practice, there is a good chance that he or she has a good shot at sobriety. However, if the newcomer isn’t willing to do the work, then all the good intentions in the world will not keep them sober; and recovery will continue to elude them.
Personal Reflection: How is my program one of action?
At a meeting recently a person was having a good laugh with some of his friends. He said, “I guess if I walked around with my hands tied behind my back I wouldn’t have to worry about taking a drink”. The same principle could be applied to members in NA and OA as well. If only we had control over our hands we wouldn’t have a problem with alcohol, drugs or food. And therein lies the crux of the problem. Many of us had spent years attempting to control the use of our drug of choice. We had evolved countless strategies to deal with our addictive tendencies. Some of them were actually quite ingenious. Ultimately though all of them failed. We believe the reason behind this is actually quite profound. In our estimation, the ability to become truly sober goes beyond our own personal efforts. It was only with the help of our Higher Power that our obsession to use was lifted. This was the essence of step 2 where we “came to belief that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. This belief continues on a daily basis for our program of recovery. Without it, the only alternative would be to walk around with our hands tied behind our backs.
Personal Reflection: How do I apply Step 2 to my life?
During our lives we are going to interact with literally thousands of people. Our relationships with these people change over time. A prime example of this are High School and College reunions. While we were in school we established friendships with people that we felt would last forever. After graduation, it was not uncommon for us to drift apart from many of those people. When we attended a school reunion after 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years we frequently found ourselves disappointed. When we finally reconnected with people that at one time we had been very close to, we often found that we know longer had much in common. After shooting the breeze about our past escapades, we experienced those moments of uncomfortable silence.
In the program we recognize that friendships from our past may no longer resonate with us. We also encounter people that although they are not our friends, on some level we feel they have been sent to us by our Higher Power. They usually impart some lesson or knowledge that can help us move forward. Although we may never see them again, they help us in our recovery. Finally, many of us have established life long friendships through the fellowship of AA, NA, and OA. The very nature of the program helps to create life long bonds.
Personal Reflection: What kind of “friends” do I have?
All of us are familiar with the buttons on our clothes. When we were very young we lacked the manual dexterity to button clothes for ourselves. We were forced to turn to others to help us or to do it for us. That period of needing someone to help us open or close buttons was very short lived. For the vast majority of us it has been a very long time since someone touched our buttons. Well, that’s true at least on the physical level. Emotionally, many of us still allow people to “press our buttons”. There are just certain people that are able to really throw us off balance. They often have the ability to bring out negative attitudes and behaviors that we thought had been put to sleep a long time ago. Not only do they evoke a reaction from us; they seem to have the ability to cause us to enter into a state of rumination. Somehow, we can’t seem to get them out of our head. We find that we are repeatedly priming ourselves with resentments, fears, guilt and other characteristics that we really want to let go of.
Through the program we begin to cultivate acceptance of others. Over time we are not so easily hooked by people who press our buttons. When it does happen, we have a place to go to speak about it and let go of it.
Personal Reflection: Am I still renting space in my head?
Sobriety is a glorious thing. Whether alcohol, drugs, food or some other substance called you, letting go of them was truly a blessing. Initially some thought that refraining from their drug of choice would be the end of their journey. Once the obsession to use had lifted, they thought their work,was done. Unfortunately, many of them had to discover the hard way that this was not the case. In relatively short order they found that they were miserable and that they were making others miserable. Perhaps their defects of character were no longer fueled by drugs or alcohol; but many of those defects still rose to the surface. They had become classic dry drunks. All of that anger, rage, fear, jealousy, guilt, and shame just bubbled to the surface.
Hopefully after a particularly nasty meltdown, they realized that being part of the program was much more than just abstaining from their drug of choice. It involved daily work which included personal inventories, working the steps, attending meetings, frequent outreach and service. When those tools began to kick in, they finally began to taste true sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Is my behavior sometimes still that of a dry drunk?