When I first started in recovery I was told that if I want to get it and to keep it I needed to do five things: don’t drink/use, go to meetings, get a home group, get a sponsor, work the steps. A little over seven years later, I’m still doing these five things and I would have to say that there is no way my life would be as complete as it is today without following that advice.
Over the years I’ve probably gone to an average of six meetings a week. At the beginning I often went twice a day: it gave me something to focus upon and besides, I didn’t know what else to do with my time. Before recovery I spent most of my time drinking/using or scheming to drink/use, scrounging for cash or dreaming of the perfect high. Now (somewhat) sober, I found meetings allowed me a reprieve from drifting back into my old ways of thinking and taught me new ways of approaching life.
By going to meetings I learned how others applied the steps to their lives. I could use their experience as my own. I know what happens when you allow anger to take over your life because I have heard about the experience of others. I don’t have to invent tools and approaches to situations because I can borrow the tools and approaches that others have shared at meetings. I don’t have to wonder what will happen to me if I stop going to meetings because fellow members have shared what happened to them when they stopped. I may only have a day or a week or a year or 10 years in recovery, but if I go to meetings with an open mind I can benefit from the many, many years of experience of those that are sharing around the table. You’re my team and without you, I have no chance of winning.
Early on I was taught the 70-20-10 rule of going to recovery meetings. Seventy percent of the time you hear good solid material that you can pack into your toolbox and use at a later date. Twenty percent of the time what you hear has you at the edge of your seat because it’s exactly what you need to hear now. And ten percent of the time the share is a lesson in patience and tolerance of others. What I must remember in this, because it has happened to me it that while I may be experiencing a 10% moment, it could be a 20% moment for another person in the room. I can always learn something at a meeting.
Making meetings isn’t the program of recovery; the Twelve Steps are the program. Meetings, however, are part of the way that I can learn about the program and deepen my understanding. They are one of those first five things that have been working for me in my recovery. When I feel I don’t really need a meeting or I don’t want to go, that, I have learned too, is exactly when I need to go to a meeting. I keep the program close to my heart and mind; I don’t even want to consider the alternative. I’ll stick with the winning team.
I’ve learned a few things over the years by going to recovery meetings. And I have heard a lot of ‘suggestions’ as well. I’m going to add one more ‘suggestion’ to the pile: never say ‘I got this’, or ‘I didn’t before but now I get it,’ or ‘I know what I’m doing now,’ or anything similar. It’s usually shared by folks with less than a year in recovery and, unfortunately, they usually stop coming to meetings and go back out.
What we have is a disease that is chronic and will never go away. I’ve learned in the rooms that I can never let down my guard. I must always be vigilant against the urge. I have heard too many people say that everything was going well and suddenly they were slugging directly out of a bottle or sucking on a pipe and couldn’t understand what had happened; the disease happened.
Cunning, baffling, powerful. That is what we hear and it is so true. The disease of addiction is sly in its progress. It says that everything is good and you’re doing fine and that you ‘deserve’ or are ‘entitled’ to a bit of relaxation. Or it tells you that you are doing so well in the program because you’re really not an alcoholic or addict. And down comes the cleaver: back into it again. I have learned that I can’t listen to my thoughts without the filter of my program. The second I say I’ve got this it’s like my mind opens up again to the disease.
“Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.” Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 89
Step Twelve of our program asks us to work with others ‘intensively’. That is more than saying hi or sharing at a meeting. It is working with a sponsor or with a sponsee. It’s sitting down one on one with another in your recovery program and working the steps, deepening your knowledge and how to apply it to your own life. Working with others rewards by showing us what we need to do and by reminding us of where we came from. It keeps things fresh. And by keeping it fresh in our minds, we are reminded just how cunning, baffling and powerful this disease of addiction really is.
There is so much depth to the program. I am constantly amazed by people who have 10, 20 or 30 years in their program say at a meeting after reading some program literature that they don’t remember hearing this before. I am amazed at the comment of an old timer who had just over 50 years in recovery state at a meeting that he was still ‘just scratching the surface’ of the program.
So if I get a bit cocky at a meeting and say ‘I got this’ remind me of this blog post. I need to be constantly vigilant and living and sharing my program. Without it I am without defense against that first drug or drink. I am grateful for my program every day and I still have a lot to learn.
When I first got to recovery I was told not try to do everything at once. This was a process that would take time and I needed time to heal. There was a lot to learn and to assimilate into my life. I wanted to my life to change but I didn’t have to do the whole program at once: there was no schedule and no test at the end. “Easy Does It,” was often said at meetings. But really what I heard was ‘do it later’.
I have always fluctuated between going at full speed or full stop. ‘Get ‘er done!’ or ‘I’ll get it later.” As time went on, I gradually slipped more into putting things off, telling myself that things would look after themselves. I got lazy, I put it off. Tomorrow would be a better day to do it. I just don’t have the energy to do that now I would say and I would pass my spare time with little accomplished.
I have always had a tendency to procrastination, of letting things be and let the ship sail where the wind might blow. Of course I complained bitterly when I didn’t arrive where I wanted to go, but ‘whatcha gonna do?’ Life is like this I thought: a series of lousy crap and something nice once in a while.
I carried these beliefs into recovery with me. I thought that my life was over and I would never enjoy life again. I didn’t understand that I needed some action in life in order to balance my inertia. I learned that not doing anything was really a decision to let happen to me whatever came along. I was abdicating my ability to make decisions about my life. Coming into the rooms was a first step in changing the direction of my life but I had to do the work. I might not be able to control the wind but I could still steer by adjusting my sails.
I need balance in my life. I still have to fight against procrastination. I know that when I’m not doing something I need to do it’s because I fear things not turning our as I want them, not turning out perfect, of me falling short of what should be done. I know it’s all traceable back to my ego and things not going my way. So I am learning to push forward and do what I fear. Do what is beyond my comfort zone. Do it because the results will be more to my liking than if it just happens on its own. At the same time, I don’t have to do it all at once. Slow and steady is fine. I need to put one foot ahead of the other.
Easy does it Tim, but ‘do’ it!