Growth in the programs of AA, NA and OA is a process. It took a long time for many of us to make it into the rooms. Some of us were mandated to be there. Others were still using in the early days of attending meetings. After many struggles we finally put down our drug of choice. Perhaps we were surprised when an old timer told us that we were just at the beginning of our journey. Not drinking, drugging or binging did not mean we were truly sober. True sobriety was something that grew within us as we began to work the program. Meetings and having a sponsor were important elements which contributed to that growth. Our emotional sobriety really began to flourish as we seriously engaged in step work. For the first time in our lives, we honestly examined our character defects. Where necessary, we made amends to people we had harmed. Over time we deepened our relationship with our Higher Power. We called upon Him more and more as we admitted our ultimate powerlessness. Then one day after much work we began to truly understand the concept of “accepting the things we cannot not change”. In that moment we learned about serenity.
Personal Reflection: What helps contribute to my serenity?
Growing up many of us had a low sense of self esteem. This was especially true in families where one or more of the parents were active in their addiction. We could never know what to expect. One day our parent was full of rage, the next day they were crying and walking around depressed. Because we were children we often assumed blame for the way our parents acted. We got used to saying, “I’ll make sure that today I will be daddy or mommy’s good little boy or girl”. We twisted ourselves into a pretzel so that our parents would finally be happy with us and finally love us. When they still lashed out at us or became even more withdrawn we resolved to try harder the next day
We carried those feelings of attempting to please others into adulthood. When we entered the program, we found out a piece of startling news. We had not been responsible for the happiness and well being of our parents. They needed to have their own spiritual awakening. It was not our job to fix them. If they chose not to change, that was part of their journey. Our self esteem was not tied up in how others felt about us. It was really about how we felt about ourselves. Much of this was revealed as we engaged in step work.
Personal Reflection: When I look in the mirror, what do I see?
Early on in sobriety we began to work the steps. Often our sponsors had us read from The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. It didn’t matter if another substance was our drug of choice. The wisdom of the Twelve and Twelve was universal. Most of us went through the steps in the first year or two. Sometimes however a person would spend years on a particular step and be unable to move forward. When questioned, they would often claim that they were stuck because “it wasn’t good enough” or “not complete”. Part of the problem was that their perfectionism and fear of failure had carried over from their days when they were active in their addiction. In the past, they had exhibited the same type of behavior. They had often avoided challenges because of their fear of failure. If they did finally push themselves to take a risk, and they failed, they would fall into depression or turn to their drug of choice. In sobriety, we have learned that we can drop our perfectionism. That when we do take a risk and fail, there are many other options open to us. And as far as the steps are concerned; they need not be perfect. We will make the necessary changes the next time around when we do them again.
Personal Reflection: How do I react to failure?
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?
Part of our step work involves making amends to those we have harmed. This process involves acknowledging things that we had done wrong even when others were unaware of it. Many of us have stolen copy paper, pencils and pens from work after everyone had gone home. We might have been doing it for years and gotten away with it. Of course we had our rationalizations. We deserved this little “perk” because we hadn’t received a raise in a long time. The company was a huge one and could survive the loss of some office supplies. Didn’t the executives spend more on one lunch than a year of our pilfering? We used the same type of rationales for cheating on our taxes, lying to our spouses and going thru red lights when we knew one was around.
In sobriety, we have accepted the maxim of being honest in all of our dealings. It doesn’t make a difference if “we can get away with something”. Part of our spiritual growth is the development of character. We strive to be consistent in our behavior whether we are surrounded by a crowd of people or we are totally alone. Quite a few of us also feel that we are really never alone; for our Higher Power is always present.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to work on my character?
For a long time, we considered ourselves losers. We had lost friends, family and employment. We had lost the trust of those nearest to us. Often we reinforced these feelings by saying throughout the day, “I’m such a loser”. In program, we have a very different point of view. Many a newcomer has heard someone at a meeting say, “you didn’t take a drink or a drug today so you’re a winner”. At first, we might have discounted this statement. Over time we came to understand its veracity. We do not take sobriety lightly. The fact that we were able to stop using for many of us actually verged on the miraculous. For that alone we qualified as a winner. What really marked us as a winner was everything that followed that initial decision. As we began to work the steps, real changes began to be observed. We might not have even noticed these changes in ourselves because they were so gradual. However, these changes were often verified for us by people who had not seen us for a long time. They commented on how much we had changed. They confirmed that we truly were winners, albeit slow ones. And that was just fine with us.
Personal Reflection: How was I a winner today?
In recent years there have been a flurry of books on gratitude. Internet self help experts advice people to keep daily gratitude lists to record all that is good in their lives. In program, we too acknowledge the incredible importance of gratitude. We also maintain daily gratitude lists.
Beyond that, as part of our step work, we continue to take daily personal inventory. It is all well and good to write down 2 or 3 gratitudes in our daily journal. However, if after that we walk around leaking negativity, complaining, and judging others, are we really full of gratitude? It is only through a rigorous daily self assessment that we can ascertain how grateful we really are. It is also important to listen to the feedback from others regarding our behavior. When people indicate to us that we are being judgmental or negative, rather than getting defensive, we need to take the information and meditate on it carefully. As they say, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Finally, part of gratitude is being a gracious person who is willing to be of service to others. When you acknowledge that your cup truly does runneth over, then there is the possibility of sharing your good fortune with others.
Personal Reflection: Are your gratitude and actions in sync?