” Service will keep you Sober!”

I heard this phrase over and over in my first month or so of recovery. My recovery group was hosting its annual convention and I was recruited by the chairperson to be the one to make announcements and provide local information. “Service will keep you sober Tim,” she said over and over to me. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by this, of course, I wasn’t quite sure about a lot of what was being said at that convention weekend. Everything was so new to me. In reality, I was just glad to be out of the house and have something to do, something to keep me busy and keep my mind off of my problems.

In the years since, I have washed a lot of coffee cups, set up chairs and tables, chaired meetings, and sponsored other men in the program. And I have worked on the annual convention every year since. This year I had the honour of chairing the convention committee. With each commitment, I gain more understanding more of what it means to be of service.

When I am doing service work I am stepping outside of myself and my difficulties, problems and challenges. Doing something, keeping busy, whether its sweeping the floor, setting out books, making coffee, chairing a meeting, reading, sharing, all of these activities are not only vital to the life of the group, they are vital to my own recovery, reminding me that I am not alone and that I can’t do this by myself. Service reminds me that I am part of something and that everything I do has importance in maintaining my recovery.

That phrase that I was told at the beginning, became embedded in my  recovery. It taught me that I need to pitch in because we sink or swim together. It taught me that my personal recovery is very dependent on my group and making sure that my group functions. It taught me that I am not alone and that I can’t recovery alone either.

When I first came into recovery, I came from a point where my world had shrunk to a very small circle of people and activities. Coming into the program and jumping right into service work got me involved. Forced me to meet new people. Allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and experience a new way of living. Service is not the only part of recovery, but it is one of the key elements: I can’t keep my recovery to myself, I have to give it away.

The service work of this past weekend took me way out of my comfort zone. But as my recovery has grown, so has my ability to take on new responsibilities and challenges. My Higher Power is by my always. And with the enormous amount of service work by the other committee members and volunteers, I participated in an incredible event that will carry me forward in my recovery.

Jennifer R., I thank you for your guidance in my recovery. Service is still keeping me sober. I am grateful.

Don’t Forget your Program

As the end of the year approaches, it seems that time moves faster. There seems so much that needs to be done and little enough time to complete it. It’s just a perception; the earth doesn’t spin any faster this time of year, but we want to squeeze in so much more in a period of 24 hours. My message today is: don’t forget your program.

When things are moving at a fast past it is so easy to let a meeting or two or seven slip by. Once a couple of days goes by and we feel that we’re okay,  we begin to think that if we made a couple of days without a meeting, we’ll be okay skipping another day. Maybe yes, maybe no. I always have to remember that I am just a couple of bad decisions away from a substance. After that, all bets are off. These holidays are tough for a lot of us. We’re dealing with family: the people who have years of experience at pushing our buttons. And we’re dealing with a lot of expectations, ours and those of others. Depending upon where we live, there may be a blast of nasty weather blown into the mix. This time of year, probably more than any other time, is filled with opportunities to do the next right thing, as well as the next wrong thing, especially where our recovery is involved.

I have a friend in the program from NYC. He’s a great guy who works a good program. One of the things he often shares and that stuck with me is this.  He tells it, “When I came into the program I got a lot of very good suggestions. The were all given freely and free for me to use by members who had a lot more time in the program than I did. I took those suggestions. The only ones I had to pay for were the ones I didn’t take.” Work your program, especially when you don’t feel you have time for it. Make being clean and sober your number one priority. If you put your job, or your family or preparing that perfect Christmas ahead of sobriety, you are putting yourself at risk of losing everything, including all your clean time. Failing to heed this suggestion may turn out to very costly indeed.

Somewhere along the line many of us were told to believe that we had to constantly prove our strength and our worth. You don’t have to do that anymore. You don’t need to prove you’re stronger than your substance by putting yourself in harms way or by tempting yourself. None of us is made of stone. Things affect us. You don’t have to lead yourself into temptation. The old standby slogan of H.A.L.T. is especially true this busy time of year: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Make sure that you treat yourself to what you need in your life: Recovery. Let that be your gift to yourself and your loved ones.

Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël.


Sharing Solutions

I was talking to a friend yesterday who is in recovery. She mentioned that she goes to very few meetings. Why? Because her home group meetings tend to focus on the using stories, you know, the war stories, the drunk-a-logs, the remember whens. It’s often a negative experience for her. Unfortunately there aren’t many options for her in her town and not having a vehicle, it’s difficult to get to other places where meetings aren’t always looking at the problem.

I am grateful that my home group has good recovery. We read that we don’t need to regret the past or shut the door on it, but rather, learn from it and apply it to our lives today. And yes, there are days when there seems to be a table full of members complaining about their problems with relationships, neighbours or finances, but the sharing somehow always comes back to living in the solution.

How does the group achieve this? I believe that it is taught by continued good sponsorship. When I was young in the program, I think I had maybe three or four months of being clean and sober, I became very aware. Now that substances weren’t clouding my judgement, I could see my defects and deficiencies. As they say, a horse thief who isn’t drinking is still a horse thief. I was beginning to see who I really was. I used a meeting to complain about the program, the pace of my recovery, my fears and worries. I can see now that I was focusing in on my problems at the meeting.

Fortunately for me, after the meeting, an old-timer asked me, “Do you have a sponsor?” I was rather taken aback by his directness, but replied that I did. “Then I suggest you use him,” he advised. Fortunately I was willing to listen to this advice and learned a valuable lesson: Bring your problems to your sponsor and your solutions to the meetings.

Yes, it’s important that meetings are places where one can go and vent about what is going on in ones life, but I don’t think my friend is wrong in her assessment of her local meeting. We need to hear solutions. We all know the problems but we often have difficulty, especially in early recovery, in using our program and applying solutions to those problems. That’s what I need to hear. I don’t want to hear about your problems at home, I need to hear about how I can apply the program in creating solutions. We all have an irritating coworker or someone who cuts us off on the road, but tell me how you are finding serenity in the midst of it all. I don’t need sympathy and compassion, I need to know how you managed a similar situation. My sponsor or the person beside me might share a new perspective or idea from their experience, strength and hope.

I get those solutions from working my twelve step program with my sponsor and by having these same people sharing around the table. I get the solutions because we have a policy of no cross-talk: no giving direct advice to a person. Rather than commiserating with the person or telling them what they should do, we share how we dealt with people, places, things and events that happened in our lives. I get the program because sponsorship is encouraged and promoted. That for me is the program in action, and in action in a very positive way. If you’re not hearing solutions at meetings, perhaps it’s time to look for another home group. There’s a lid for every pot; find look for one that fits you well.