Don’t use; go to meetings; get a sponsor; work the steps, carry the message. These are the basics of recovery in the 12-step programs. If we say “don’t act out,” we can include all variations of addictive behaviors, and if we broaden our definitions to include other successful recovery programs, these are the basics of recovery, period. Continue reading
My wife and I picked up medallions at a meeting last week. It’s been 29 years since we got out of treatment. My anniversary was the 14th, and hers was the 29th.
I couldn’t help thinking about the incredible importance of the support we got from other people in the program over the years. There is no question in my mind but that I would have relapsed without it, because my arrogance had me convinced that I could handle recovery on my own.
My addictions taught me to go it alone. Although family, friends and others who care about us sometimes do try to support us when we are active in our addictions, that is not the only kind of support we need. Furthermore, we often draw away from them in various ways that eventually cause them to do the same. Since non-addicts rarely have any conception of where we’re coming from, many of them accept our self-imposed isolation even though they may find the rejection extremely painful.
Thus we become islands surrounded by our addictions, and because our pathology prevents us from letting others into our lives enough to be supportive, we have to try — with greater or lesser success — to deal with issues then that we couldn’t even handle when we were straight. That rarely goes well. Nonetheless, even though I felt abandoned I resisted efforts at real support from any source. If people knew what was really going on in my life, I might have had to do something about it.
The result, when I got into recovery, was a Catch 22 sort of situation: I desperately needed support and guidance but didn’t know how to accept it and act accordingly. Because I’m a bright guy and a good mimic it wasn’t long before I was talking a good game, but I wasn’t reaching out or being completely honest. That stalled the beginnings of real recovery considerably.
It’s hard for us addicts to believe that others sincerely care about us. We have already proven that we can’t be successful on our own. That’s what brought us to the rooms of recovery, yet opening up to others and admitting to ourselves that we do need help is the first big stumbling block to getting clean and sober. (There’s a step for that.) It’s hard for us to realize the power of the group, and of a program based on hope, self-knowledge and the compassion and understanding of other folks who know where we’re coming from. We expect to be judged, and instead they offer us hugs – how weird is that?
At least that’s how it was for me. I talked the talk because I wanted to fit in, but it took me a long time and a lot of slaps upside the head from life before I became willing to open my mind, open up to others, get honest with myself, and start walking the walk. When I did that, I began to be able to look at and resolve many of the issues that kept me from true sobriety.
So I’ve got a lot of good feelings about the folks with whom I’ve traveled and am still traveling this road. They helped me get just enough through my thick head to realize that recovery does work. This is where I got my first taste of unconditional love that I recognized. (I’d had a lot from friends and family, but they didn’t really know how to express it, and I sure as hell didn’t know how to accept it!)
I’m not saying that those people kept me sober, because I didn’t start getting really sober until I became willing to look at the real causes of my addiction: issues that date back to my childhood, but they did convince me through example that recovery was posslble and that someone cared. That kept me coming back.
And coming back, over and over, saved my life.
I’ve been to a lot of 12-Step meetings. I doubt if I could estimate with any real accuracy, but definitely a couple or three thousand — maybe more. That doesn’t mean I’m any more sober than you. Lots of folks go to meetings for half a lifetime and fail to get really sober. I managed to do it for 24 years, so I know what I’m talking about. I mention the number only to provide context for the following.
Service is part of the foundation of the 12-Step fellowships — Unity, Service, Recovery and variations on that theme, along with responsibility: “if anyone, anywhere reaches out for help….” If the topic of a meeting is something like Ways To Stay Sober, it’s a sure bet that service will come up on the list of almost everyone who shares. But what is service, really? Continue reading
Many of us speak about our “relationships” with our Higher Power, whatever that may be, but how many of us spend our time asking for things instead of for the power to do things, as in the Third Step Prayer. (Look it up: page 63 in the AA Big Book.)
How many of us spend our time telling H.P. what we want, asking for advice, but then never shut up long enough to hear any answers? What kind of relationship is that? That doesn’t even work with humans! Continue reading
Note: These comments are not meant to apply to
newcomers or people in crisis.
I get really annoyed at meetings when the discussion veers to subjects that have nothing to do with recovery. I’m perfectly willing to admit that the irritation is my problem, but this is my blog and I’m going to discuss it anyway. :-p
The other night I was at a meeting where the chair asked for a topic, and one of our more “intellectual” members raised a hand and commenced a five-minute dissertation on how they didn’t understand why we say in the rooms that it takes an addict to really understand an addict, why they shouldn’t just be able to speak openly about their addiction to any friend and get useful feedback, etc. They used the words obviously, clearly and in my opinion a lot. This sort of thing does nothing to promote discussion about recovery; it merely exercises the ego of the speaker.
Our fellowships are not debating societies. They are about getting a sponsor, developing a support system, working the steps and practicing the 12 principles* in our daily lives. If I want to bitch, whine or debate, I need to do it outside a meeting with my sponsor or a support, not hijack a meeting with subjects that have little or nothing to do with the process of recovery. Better yet, at whatever point in recovery I may be, I need to remember that I’m the problem, and projecting my complaints onto other people or ideas is not conducive to a genuine pursuit of sobriety.
Maybe that’s what I’m doing now: projecting my issues.
Or maybe not.
* 12 Principles? What 12 principles?