Category Archives: 12-Step Programs

How Do I Measure My Recovery?

Many of us say stuff like “My worst day sober was better than my best day acting out” (definitely hyperbole, but whatever). If asked, most of us could make a list of the things that we’ve gained from recovery, and perhaps list some of the things we’d like to improve.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a checklist that we could use to measure our progress and help guide us in the future? Well, as it happens, those exist. You just don’t hear much about them in most or our fellowships. So I’ve presumed to look at a couple and herewith present an amalgam that I think works pretty well for me. Your mileage, of course, may vary. Continue reading

Change (I’ve heard this tune before)

This is the initial entry in my pocket journal from this morning. Believe me, it was not for the purpose of having an interesting illustration for this post.

I retired last week. I’ve been working, full- or part-time, more or less constantly since I was about eleven — more than 60 years. So I took a week off to just fool around and rest. But now it’s time to look at the road ahead, the one I’ll be following for the next stage of my life. Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m about as far from a workaholic as one can get and remain a productive member of the human race. Taking it easy — and not feeling the least bit embarrassed about it — is a skill I mastered a long time ago, and that’s the real danger now.

It’s easy to adopt the refrain, “Hey, I don’t have to do that right now; it can wait, I’m retired!” as an anthem. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen people younger than me retire and seem to think it means stop giving, stop producing, stop thinking, stop whatever and become a human quitting instead of remaining a human being,  doing, evolving. They don’t seem to last long, and they often seem terribly unhappy. I don’t want the last decade or so of my life to be like that. I’ve worked too hard to get here.

So, it’s time to make some plans: not hard and fast plans, but a rough map of Where Do I Go From Here.

There is a theme that runs through most of the world’s belief systems, that our lives proceed (or ought to proceed) in roughly defined stages. The concept goes back to at least the 5th Century B.C.E., and likely much farther. These stages are, (and this is only my interpretation):

Childhood and education, where we learn the basic skills of life, play, building relationships and so forth, and of living in a world full of other peoples, groups and values. In other words, we build the foundations that will guide us and allow us to become healthy, productive members of society.

Then we reach a period of application, of exploration and self-discovery, where we move away from our nuclear family and familiar things and learn to function as individuals. This is a time of adventure, of applying our previously learned skills and learning new ones. We may work away from home, in the military, on a pipeline in Alaska, as a teacher of our native language in a foreign land. We are reaching out, developing our ability to function as individuals, and learning about ourselves and the world at large. We become adults.

As adults, we move into the realms of marriage, kids, family, steady work and responsibilities. We mature, become stronger and wiser. As time goes on, we become aware of its passage and become contemplative, considering the things we have accomplished, the things left to do before we move into our “senior years.”

As elders, we enter into a role of wisdom and benevolence. We become mentors, volunteers, and sources of wisdom. As time passes, we consider more actively our mortality, the legacies — skilled or less skillful — that we are leaving behind, and what we can do to prepare for whatever may come when we pass out of this world.

It’s this last role that I’m facing, along with the questions of how best to fulfill it. I’ve no doubt that the answers are out there if I look for them. However, I need to avoid the trap that so many seniors fall into: the idea that my responsibilities to myself and others are over. It ain’t over until the fat lady croaks.

In writing the above, I was struck by how the stages of life also describe, with slight modifications, the stages of recovery: sponsees, then sponsorship, then old-timers who gently guide but do not decide the directions that our fellowships take. In a sense, recovery is an opportunity to learn and get right some of the things that we realize we may have handled less skillfully in our lives.

Where do you fall into the recovery continuum, using the criteria above as a general guide? I’m going to think about that too.

Thought for the day — 11/25/2018


True North is an abstract concept, but it is
vitally important to navigators. So, too, are ideals to the seeker, although they may seldom be reached.

Thought for the day — 11/20/2018

“Putting one foot in a bucket of ice water and the
other in boiling water is not balanced living.”

~ Joe C. “Beyond Belief”, 11/20

Thoughts On Guilt v. Shame

I’ve heard it said that guilt is a useless emotion. I disagree.

If I stub my toe, it hurts. That brings my attention to possible damage to my body. If it’s more than superficial damage the pain hangs around, reminding me to take it easy and allow it to heal. The same is true of a headache, which could be a symptom of tension, high blood pressure, or even a brain tumor. A headache that’s severe or doesn’t go away in a relatively short time is cause for further investigation. And so forth.

I think of guilt as another form of pain. Guilt reminds me that I’ve “stubbed my toe” spiritually. By some commission or omission I have failed to live up to an obligation, duty, or my own moral and ethical standards. Just as physical pain is a warning to look to the health of my body, so is guilt a warning about my behavior: something needs to be fixed, a duty discharged, amends made. Like pain, it remains until I do something to allow it to heal.

Shame, on the other hand,  is without doubt undesirable. It’s a spiritual bruise, perhaps a scar. Rather than influencing us to right a wrong, shame tells us that we are a wrong. It causes us to behave unskillfully, as well. In a very real sense, we can say that guilt keeps us honest; shame keeps us dishonest, with ourselves and others. In attempting to make ourselves feel better, we may fail to react to the pain of guilt in useful ways. If we stuff the guilt, instead of fixing the problem, it is likely to turn into more shame.

I think it’s useful for our spiritual development and repair to keep this distinction firmly in mind. People like us addicts, who come from a place of shame, are likely to find it hard to react usefully to guilt, because we were taught to believe that guilt makes us less worthy. The reality is exactly the opposite. As we learn to admit our mistakes, wrongs, and other transgressions, we move farther from shame, collecting reasons to feel better about ourselves. In time, lesson builds on lesson, and we begin to think of ourselves as worthy, rather than “wrong.”

That’s far easier said than done, but it’s a path necessary to the self-esteem that we addicts crave.