There are no shortcuts in recovery. It’s not a buffet of items I can pick and choose. Rather it’s a recipe that I need to follow on a daily basis in order to get the results of happiness, joy and freedom. Initially I may not like doing a step or part of the step but leaving it out is an open invitation to return to the life I had before. Leaving out the sugar or substituting salt is going to alter the results of your mother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, regardless of how much love and care you put into their making. The same is true of a recovery program: “If you want what we have, then you do what we did.”
Is it always easy? No. There are times when I want to skip an apology to someone I had an argument with. I don’t always feel like praying. What if the meetings are boring? Why should I do it all? I’ve been in recovery a month, or a year or ten years. I’m doing fine. Right? How do you think the cookies taste without the sugar?
“Do it anyway: do it any way!”
Larry was a friend of mine in recovery who often said this. A recovery program requires trust. Even if I don’t understand what is happening, even if I don’t believe it is going to work, even when I don’t have any desire, I need to do ‘it’. And I need to find a way to do ‘it’. ‘It’ has to get done. ‘It’ is part of my recovery work.
What is ‘it’? Perhaps it’s working the next step. Perhaps it’s making amends for the argument I was in yesterday or last year. It might be sitting down to pray or meditate. It could be looking into the real reason why I’m depressed or why I avoid social situations. It’s that which gnaws and knots our stomach. We all have an ‘it’. And if we’ve been in recovery even a short time, we won’t have to dig very long to know what that ‘it’ is: the next right thing I need to do.
If you ask anyone who returns to the program after a relapse if they were ‘thoroughly following their program the answer is always ‘no’. They left something out of their program that was vital to their success in it. In going to meetings you will run into members whose recovery is much less than happy, joyous and free. They too are living without some of the ingredients of a healthy recovery program. They aren’t doing ‘it’.
I’ve learned to trust the Twelve Steps as my guide. I learn to go over and review them regularly because I don’t want to go back to where and how I was living before. I can’t guarantee that I’ll still be in recovery ten years from now, but I don’t need to. If I keep doing the next right thing, if I live my recovery today then I will be okay today. Tomorrow is another day.
Today I’ll do it anyway/any way because I want recovery. I am grateful that Larry was a part of my recovery. RIP big fellow!
Meetings. They’re part of the foundation of my recovery. When I came into the rooms I was invited back the next day. Not used to receiving many invitations at that time, I accepted. And I kept going back. I never counted the meetings I went to at the beginning, but I know I did a lot more than 90 meetings in 90 days. Now that I wasn’t consuming anything, I suddenly found that I had more time on my hands. I really didn’t trust myself going out socially. So I went to a lot of meetings. They ended at 9 PM. I’d get home a bit before 10 and go to bed. Safe and sound.
What I didn’t realize then was that I didn’t know how to act with nothing in my system. I didn’t know how to relate to others. My whole world had revolved around my disease. How to get it, how to hide it, how to get some more. I’d be nice to others because I thought you might share with me. Or I’d be trying to control things so I could make it through the next part of the day until I’d be free to let loose again. My life revolved in so many ways around my disease, so that now that I was trying to live in the solution, I had to find out what the solution was. I had to relearn, or in many cases, learn for the first time how to relate to other people and life. I did this through meetings.
Going to meetings isn’t the whole program of recovery. But meetings kept me in contact with others who had, or were going through the same things I was going through. At meetings I learned how to apply the steps to my own life. I heard simple ideas about how to stay in recovery and not stray. I may not have been the cream of the crop of addicts but I did figure out something fairly quickly: people who were having the most difficult time in recovery were the same people who figured they didn’t need to go to meetings. Those who have long term recovery are those who still go to meetings regularly as part of their recovery. They’ve built their recovery on a strong and solid foundation upon which to base their lives. When the difficulties and challenges come along, that firm base supports them.
When I came into the program I was told five things: don’t consume, go to meetings, get a home group, get a sponsor, work the steps. There’s a reason why meetings have been part of Twelve Step programs since their inception: they work. Who am I to think I know better? After all, some of my best thinking got me to the point where I had to turn to recovery.
I go to meetings regularly because I’ve learned, when I start missing meetings, I start missing whatever I used. I listen at meetings because there’s still so much I need to know. I share at meetings because I’m grateful for what been given by the other members.
It’s not easy to live life without regrets. It’s much easier to wonder sometimes about the “what ifs” and “if onlys”. Regret is a sadness or disappointment over what happened or didn’t happen in the past. “What might have been?” I can ask myself. “I could have been a better son, friend, husband, father and coworker. I might have made so much more with my life.” If we don’t stop the internal conversation it can lead to the vicious spiral of depression, more regret and relapse.
“The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago. The second best time to plant one is today.”
The gift of the Serenity Prayer is acceptance of what we cannot change. One of those things is the past. I know that my life would be very different today had I taken another road in the past. I was in a relationship that wasn’t working and hadn’t been working for a lot of years. I knew it, but I lacked the courage and strength to leave. In the end, I was the one who was left behind. I can’t take back those years. I can’t go back in time and change them. So what do I do so as not to live in regret?
I have to accept what happened. I accept that my Higher Power was looking after me during that time and continues to do so. I accept that I had challenges to overcome and some lessons to learn. It’s not easy to learn to forgive oneself for roads not taken but I must. Steps four through nine help us to work through regret. So yes, things did or didn’t happen in the past and today I don’t have to regret those things. Rather I can use them as teaching tools for the present. I prefer to look at all that happened in the past was needed to bring me to who I am today. And I know that what happens today will lead me on to who I am to be tomorrow. I’m learning to trust the process of the program and my Higher Power. Today can I plant that tree I didn’t in the past without guilt, without remorse and without regret.
It’s important for me to remember that: “We will not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it,” is a Ninth Step promise. I have to work all the steps that come before. There aren’t short cuts. Living the steps isn’t all that difficult but it does take persistence. I don’t get a vacation from being in recovery. I live in recovery 24 hours a day. So today I will plant a tree. It may be a while before it bears fruit, but an unplanted tree never will. Trust the process. It works when you work it!