” 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.

Preparing for Harvest

I grew up on a small family farm in Southern Ontario. Every spring, once the snow melted and the land dried up, we would get out on the fields to prepare for the harvest. Every effort, from cultivating the soil, fertilizing, seeding, weeding and patience was required to raise the crop to harvest time. Some crops require more care than others. And I was taught that a prayer or two for a good harvest wouldn’t hurt.

I left the farm when I went off to study, but its lessons stayed with me. I plan for the future but live in the present. It isn’t enough for me to plant a seed and leave it.  I need to tend to its needs of water, weeding and pruning for the future harvest to be realized and not every seed or plant has the same requirements. As well, I need to be aware of what seed I am planting: sowing wheat won’t give me watermelons.

I often say at meetings that I can’t rely on yesterday’s recovery to keep me happy, joyous and free today. I have to constantly tend to my recovery: if I’m not investing myself in it, then the chances for a good harvest are slim.

Wherever you focus, that’s where you’ll end.

My attitude, my actions and my goals determine where I will end up. What I focus upon, either positively or negatively influences where I will go.  Saying to myself over and over I not going to drink or I’m not going to use I am still focused on drinking and using. Turning the focus outward away from addiction has the effect of creating new directions. Turning the focus onto my recovery and its benefits changes me and my actions. An attitude of gratitude works because it shifts focus to the gifts of recovery. Acts of service to others work because my focus is on others not on me.

It’s not easy cultivating a change in attitude. It takes continuous work, at least I’ve found it so, to maintain the change. I can slip into a negative attitude at the drop of a hat: it’s how I used to function, it’s an old habit.  The challenge is to scratch the old record enough times so that it can never play again and put a new record on the turntable.

In focusing on recovery I am focusing on the harvest. I do those things I need to do in order to stay in recovery and keep that focus. With time comes growth. Planting a seed of change today will not provide a harvest of results tomorrow. That’s why I follow my program. It helps me cultivate, fertilize, prune and weed my recovery so that I can reap a bountiful harvest.

Truth and Courage

“Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.” M. Scott Peck

Step Four asks us to make a thorough and fearless moral inventory. I took more time with this step than any other step in my recovery program. I kept telling myself I was preparing my thoughts, waiting for the right time and hoping to be inspired. What I was really doing was working on a character trait that still dogs me: procrastination. Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow? And I was afraid of what I would find. I was afraid I might find the truth of who I was. There were a lot of dark corners of my past that I had shut the door on and I was quite sure I would be opening Pandora’s Box if I looked too closely.

I had my own deadline for completing this step. I wanted to have it down and talk about it with my sponsor before I moved. As the period of time got shorter and shorter, my anxiety about the step increased. And then I started thinking that perhaps I didn’t need to do it before I moved. It could always be done later, right?

About this time I went to a meeting where the topic arose. A fellow shared that it took him two years and three days to complete his Fourth Step: two years of procrastination and three days to do the work. He talked about how his fear of what he might find froze him. When he finally sat down to write, he broke through that fear and faced himself with honesty, discovering that the task wasn’t as arduous as he thought it would be. This was the push I needed.

I got out the guide for the step that a friend suggested. I wasn’t sure what I would find but I knew that if I wanted to recover I had to trust the process. I knew it worked because I could see the results in others.  I also had examples of what happened to those who skipped this step. All it took was a couple of days of effort to work through the 59 questions  in the guide. In the end, the experience I heard at that step meeting bore true for me as well. My fear was a phantom. I knew my past. A few things I hadn’t thought about in years came up, but I realized that I never had anything to fear.

Like making that first phone call to ask for help, or walking into a meeting room for the first time, my fear diminished once I got down to doing Step Four. It wasn’t a Pandora’s Box of frightful things. Everything that was there I had placed inside. Step Four allowed me to open the box and see exactly what was in there. Now I had a better idea of who I was and what I needed to work on a better future for myself.