Many people come to the program as tourists. They’ve heard about the twelve steps program from a family member, perhaps a TV movie or sitcom. There’s something in their lives that isn’t going well so they make the effort to find a meeting in order to see what it is all about and then they go back home. Perhaps they are around for a week or two, listening and hearing what is said but, then they go back to live their lives. Vacation from using and drinking is over and they return to their lives as before.
There’s nothing wrong with this and from the beginning twelve step groups knew that they weren’t everyone’s cup of tea and that some folks would come and go. It’s expected. Everyone is welcome to visit, learn and take away that learning. Not everyone who come into the rooms is an addict or alcoholic. Who knows, perhaps what they learn will be passed onto someone else in the future. Or perhaps they need to go back for more experience in their world before they are ready to admit they can no longer handle their addiction and want change. Remembering their experience in the rooms, perhaps they will return. Not everyone is ready for a commitment to their recovery when they first arrive.
For other people, it’s only when their home is destroyed, the battles are raging and there is nothing left that they will make the shift to recovery. These folks come as refugees to our doors. They really can’t go back because there’s nothing to go back to; everything has been destroyed. We welcome them because we have been there too. We know the destruction and the battles that raged around them. They are just as we were. These folks are no longer tourists at the table, they are now ready to make the commitment to do whatever it takes to stay clean and sober.
I first came to recovery as a tourist. I really didn’t have a desire to stop, I had a desire to learn how to control the firestorm that was closing in on me. I wanted to get back to how it was before, those good times, when partying was fun. I wanted to slow down a bit, get some peace, figure a few things out and continue.
But I’m not a regular tourist. Never have been. I don’t stay at big all inclusive resorts and hang out with other tourists. I like to go and see how the locals live. I like to eat at local restaurants and stay away from tourist traps. I guess I did the same thing when I arrived at my first meeting. I wanted to see what was really happening, not just what a tour guide might show me. I arrived with an open mind, ready to see how these ‘locals’ were living their lives.
I am grateful that it didn’t take a long time for me to realize that I didn’t want to be a tourist. I was welcomed. I was invited to come back. I listened. I was given hope. Soon I was able to see that I while I could go back to my life as it was, I could also stay. My life wasn’t completely destroyed, but like a river that undercuts its bank underneath a house, I knew that collapse was imminent: complete destruction was on its way. My whole life was on the verge of falling piece by piece into the river until nothing was left.
I made a commitment. I made a commitment to the program and to myself. I wasn’t a tourist here. I desperately needed what everyone else had. I was willing to follow, and still do, the five things I was told at the beginning: don’t use, go to meetings, get a home group, get a sponsor, and work the steps. Until there’s a commitment to stay, people are tourists in the program. Very often at the end of meetings people say together: “Keep coming back, it works if you work it.” I have a friend who says something I like equally as well. He just says: “Stay.”
Thank you Charlie for your share that inspired me today.