One Day at a Time for 2,922 Days

Today is my eighth anniversary of living in recovery. I say this not in a self congratulatory manner. Rather its a reminder that I have enjoyed eight years of a life that is very different from what it would otherwise be. Coming into the rooms and making the decision to stay has been the most pivotal decision I have made in my life, ever. Had I stayed on the road I was on, I doubt that I would still be around to tell the tale.

Stopping, and staying stopped was part of the process. What that did was clear my head enough to begin applying the program of the Twelve Steps of Recovery. Up until that point in my life I had been trying many different ways of living. I knew that I was not doing a great job in my approach to life but I had not yet found one that suited me. In fact, I was doing such a poor job of living life that I put myself on a path which I could see was destroying me but I was powerless to change by myself. Alone, I could no longer stop.

I found what I needed in the rooms of recovery: a new approach to life, a program to apply that approach and the support to go through the process and maintain it. I had thought that as an adult I had to do everything by myself. I had thought that I should know how to live but I didn’t. I was just trying to cope with what was happening to me in life with the skills I had garnered, but my skill set was sorely lacking.

In my struggles to find and maintain recovery I learned that I am not alone in life. I learned that I don’t have to do ‘it’ all on my own. I learned what was in my control, and what wasn’t. I learned that I am connected in a way to a Consciousness that transcends what I can physically sense in the world.

Recovery isn’t the key to a life of easy and comfort. I have gone through some very difficult challenges in life in the last eight years but I have not had to stray off of my path in order to face those challenges. In fact, I was better equipped to go through them because I have a program and because I am not alone in this.

Recovery is a way of life. One or two months in a rehab centre is a good start, but it doesn’t guarantee life long sobriety. It requires a daily commitment. It requires maintenance. The result: recovery is the most important change that I have ever made in my life. I still have a long way to go. I still struggle some days with being me. Sometimes I don’t want to face life on life’s terms. Fear and worry, or anger and resentment still cloud my thoughts some days. Recovery is my way of dealing with these issues. And so while eight years may seem like a long time, I must still work my program and live the steps, one day at a time.

I am grateful.

Evolving Personality

You and I are shaped by our environment: the family we have, where we grew up, the people we hang around with, the job we chose or fell into. All of these things work, sometimes very subtly, to mold us into the persons we are today. The environment helped to shape our experiences and those experiences our helped to form our personality. And so here we are, very unique personalities. And there’s not much I can do to change that is there?

“If your environment is disorganized, so is your mind. Everything is energy. Your environment is constantly influencing you whether you’re aware of it or not.” Benjamin Hardy

In his book Willpower Doesn’t Work, Benjamin Hardy posits that if we change our environment, we can change our personality. While the current self-help trend focuses on changing our personalities to become more of who we want to be, Hardy tells us to focus on what in our immediate environment is preventing us from changing. If I want to become an organized person then I need organize my environment.  I want to become a student of life, then I have to organize my space so that it is conducive to that study. If I want to be a successful person then I need to hang out with successful people.

I’m don’t know who first said it, but the idea is that if you want to know who you really are, look carefully at the five people you are closest to. Change your friends and change your personality. It’s not a far stretch for me to see the results for this suggestion. When I first came into recovery I had few friends and the ones I did have were those who were as in need of recovery as I was. I had to get new friends. I needed to change my environment to find success in this new way of living.

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If you don’t want a hair cut, stop hanging around the barbershop. Will power alone will eventually weaken. Strength will fade with time until it seems like a good idea to get into the chair and under the clippers. I had to change my environment: where I was hanging out, who I was hanging out with and what I was doing in order to have any success with sobriety. I am grateful that early on I learned that I didn’t have to be a martyr. I didn’t have to make it more difficult for myself. I didn’t have to test my new found way of life.

“Surround yourself with people who remind you more of your future than your past.” Dan Sullivan

When I first came into recovery I was told five things: Don’t consume. Go to meetings. Get a home group. Get a sponsor. Work the Twelve Steps of Recovery. All of these five things were instrumental in changing my environment. I was hanging around with people who were living what my future could be. The bar stool philosopher had to give way to the meeting room student if I was going to have any chance at this thing called sobriety.

I had some misgivings about leaving friends behind but I soon discovered that those who really were friends were glad that I was making this change. The backroom buddies only missed me when they saw me on the street and they suddenly realized that they hadn’t seen me for a while.

I am still working on changing my environment. For the most part right now it is the mental environment. I am changing how I think by focusing on what I am thinking about. I am reading and studying quality material rather than simply passing time with social media or the endless task of finding the perfect thing to watch on Netflix. With time the changes to the environment and therefore the changes to me are happening. I am a work in progress taking the next right step for the evolving me.

The Spiritual Angle: Making Connections

Today’s reading from Daily Reflections of AA literature (Feb. 9) talks about the ‘spiritual angle’ of the recovery program and how many people find this to be one of the most difficult parts of the program to accept and integrate into their lives. For many the term ‘spiritual’ is synonymous with God and religion and brings with it a whole basket full of snakes.  A basket they’d rather keep well sealed. I know that the preconceived ideas I had about the program and religion kept me out of the rooms for several years because I thought that recovery would turn me into a bible thumping fool. And yet I finally came, despite my misgivings, because I couldn’t do it on my own.

And that’s really the key to the ‘spiritual angle’: I couldn’t do it on my own. In my disease I had dug my hole so deep that I had isolated myself from everyone and everything. Now here I was in a recovery meeting surrounded by others who could relate to me, and, more importantly, I found I could relate to them. I was impressed that these people seemed happy. I heard laughter. I was invited back. In a few days I knew I had found my tribe and that my preconceptions had been incorrect.

Slowly I started making connections. First to the others at the meeting. Then I started connecting to myself. I fount that I could actually get through a day without altering my personality. I didn’t know it then, but I still had a long way to go. And I learned a new trick, or so I thought of it that way: one day at a time. Every day at the meetings I was deepening my connection to others, to the program and to myself.

In that process I started to develop my spirituality, which I believe is, stated simply, making connections. I was seeing first, that I wasn’t alone. Then I started seeing that it wasn’t all about me. I started being less selfish with my time and my talents. I started listening. Not only was I learning that I couldn’t do it all by myself, I was also learning that I didn’t have to, nor was there ever a ‘rule’ that I had to do it alone.

The connections to myself and to other people then broadened my mind to realize that we are all connected in a manner much deeper than a ‘hello, how are you?’ kind of way. I had a renewed sense of being a part of something. I was breaking out of my isolation, breaking out of my ego and entering into the ‘realm of the spirit’ as it is sometimes called. For me, it is the ‘realm of connections’ where I am no longer alone.

I see myself today as connected to myself in that I take responsibility for my actions, realizing that I’m the only one I can control. I am connected to others: not just the folks in the recovery rooms but also with my family, people I work with and interact with everyday. And I believe that I have a connection to everything. There is something greater at work here. Something I still can’t put my finger on but which connects me to everything else.

That is my understanding of the ‘spiritual angle’ of the Twelve Step program of recovery. I have connections I didn’t have before. It doesn’t matter what I call it or how I understand it. I just have to recognize that it exists.

I am more than self and selfishness: I am connected.

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