“Recovery is the only place where you can walk into a room full of strangers and reminisce.”
When I began going to meetings, I remember how uncomfortable it was being around so many people that I didn’t know. As soon as they found out I was new to the program, many of them came up to me and gave me their phone numbers, asked me how I was doing, and wanted to know all kinds of things that I didn’t want to tell them. It was all pretty overwhelming.
As I sat and listened to people share, I was pretty sure I didn’t belong because I hadn’t done half the stuff I was hearing. That’s when my sponsor told me I hadn’t done them yet. He asked me if I identified with the other half, and I admitted I did. He suggested I should look for the ways I was the same, rather than the ways I was different.
It’s amazing how that little piece of advice has changed my life. Now, no matter what part of the world I am in, I can always find a part of myself in the strangers I meet in the rooms of recovery. Even if I don’t know you personally, I know I can identify with many of your experiences and with the way you feel and think. This is what allows strangers like us to start reminiscing the first time we ever meet.
“A God small enough for me to understand, wouldn’t be large enough for me to trust.”
What a stumbling block the “God” thing was for me in the beginning of my recovery. Having been raised Catholic, I was afraid of God and after a while rejected the whole idea outright. I mean, how could there be a God if children got cancer and wars in His name still ravaged the world? And now I was told that my very life and recovery was dependent on my ability to forge a relationship with God? What was I going to do?
The key for me was reframing the “God concept” as simply a Power greater than myself. This put the mystery back in for me, and suddenly I didn’t have to understand how God worked, and I didn’t have to explain anything either. My proof of God was now clear enough. God could do something that I alone couldn’t do, and that was relieve me of the desire to drink and use.
Today, my concept and understanding of God doesn’t get clearer, it gets more expansive. I’ve become more accepting of God’s will, and time and time again find that things often work out for the best – despite what I initially thought. I’ve stopped trying to explain who or what God is and know that the infinite reality of the divine will always be beyond my finite understanding. Today, I am able to live in faith.
“If I’m feeling hysterical, it must be historical.”
Before recovery, I often wondered why little things caused such big reactions in me. I was often filled with rage when somebody drove too slowly, or hurt days over someone’s comments about me. Other things that didn’t go my way often caused oversized reactions, leaving me confused and resentful. I suffered many painful emotional hangovers from these events, and this only fueled my drinking – which led to a different kind of hangover.
By doing my Step work, I began to untangle the strings of my emotional past. Through journaling and inventories, I learned to look beyond these events and to the real causes of my feelings. What I uncovered were the old wounds and hurts from long ago – the historical causes and conditions of my hysterical reactions. Once I recognized that events were merely buttons triggering old feelings, my real emotional recovery began.
Today, I recognize uncomfortable feelings for what they are – guides into emotional areas that still need healing. I use questions to help me deal with these old wounds. “What is really behind this reaction?” “What can I do, right now, to sooth myself?” Where is the path to recovery here?” These kinds of questions are the tools I use to help me heal, and so avoid the bigger than life reactions which used to make my life unmanageable. Today, I uncover, discover, and discard those old hurts.
“It is what it is, but it will become what you make it.”
Before recovery, I mistook my reality of how things were, for how they were always going to be. When I found myself in a dead-end job, I felt as if I had missed my chance all those years ago at getting a college degree and bettering my life. I could envision years of waking up and dreading my terrible job. When a relationship ended, I was alone and could project myself years into the future as a sad, old bachelor. Towards the end of my drinking, all I could see of my future was a lonely drunk who would die a miserable death. And if I hadn’t gotten sober, much of that might have come true.
It was rough when I started working the Steps. Many uncomfortable feelings came up and, for a while, I confused how bad I felt with what recovery was like. I remember telling my sponsor that if this was what being sober was like, I’d prefer to just keep drinking. He told me this wasn’t what being sober was like, and that if it was, many other people might choose to keep drinking as well. Instead, he said this was what getting sober was like. He told me that if I was willing to keep working the Steps and to changing, then I would soon experience the joys of recovery.
And that was my experience. One of the enduring gifts I’ve learned is the knowledge that this, too, shall pass. No matter how bad things seem, or how I’m feeling, it will pass. The freedom I’ve been given is the choice to make things better. By working through the program, turning things over to my Higher Power, and taking the next right actions, my life has consistently gotten better. I now know that it may be what it is, but it will become what I have the courage to make it.
“If you don’t go within, you go without.”
Legend has it that the deepest wisdom was once freely available to man, but he ignored it. The Gods, growing tired of this, decided to hide this wisdom so only those determined to use it would search for it and find it. They considered hiding it on the tallest mountain, then underneath the deepest sea, and even burying it in the earth, but decided that man would eventually stumble upon it. Finally, they decided on the perfect place, inside man himself, a place he would never think to look.
This certainly describes me before recovery. I was constantly searching outside of myself for the answers to my life. I was convinced the right job, or the right relationship, or more money would fill the hole I had inside me. Eventually I turned to drugs and alcohol thinking the temporary relief I got would work, but it never did. In the end, I didn’t know where to look anymore, and once alcohol stopped working, I entered recovery.
I remember the first time I heard this quote, “If you don’t go within, you go without.” My sponsor explained that it meant not only were all the answers inside of me, but that if I didn’t go inside for them, then I would keep searching outside of myself and would continue to go without the solutions. It has taken years for me to consistently search within – the Gods did find the perfect hiding place! Each time I go within, however, the wisdom is there waiting for me. Now I know what they mean in the program when they say: “It’s an inside job.”
“Everyone has a Higher Power, and it’s not me.”
What a relief it was when I heard this quote for the first time. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what’s best for you, a lot of energy trying to arrange things for you, and a lot of time worrying about what’s going to happen to you. In other words, I was pretty sure that I knew what was best for everyone else, and I felt like it was my job to bring that about.
When I heard this quote, it restored me to my proper role in your (and everyone else’s) life. It relieved me of a lot of responsibility. It reminded me that you have your own path and that my role is to support and love you, not direct and control you. And it relieved me of responsibility by reminding me that you have a force in your life far greater in power and wisdom than me, and that is your Higher Power.
Once I stopped playing God, I stopped trying to direct life and instead learned to let go and let God. Today, when I worry about the challenges those I love and care about are going through, I recognize that I can be of the most service simply by being there for them, by helping them, and by loving them. But their ultimate solace, strength, and hope will always come from their own Higher Power. Today, I let go and let God work in my life and in the lives of others.