Twelve Steps

What are your thoughts about addicts in AA instead of NA?

There is absolutely no reason why addicts shouldn’t attend AA meetings.  However, AA has traditions that are important to the fellowship and to many of the members.  One of those is that they generally confine their discussions to alcoholism and recovery from alcoholism.

Disregarding the fact that alcoholism is an addiction like any other, and disregarding the “a drug is a drug is a drug” of NA, keeping drugs out of the conversation is the custom at the majority of AA meetings.  Everyone attending — cross-addicted people like me, and people not addicted to alcohol at all — should follow that custom in most cases.  It’s simply good manners.

There are, however, situations where a person is in crisis, and simply needs a meeting of whatever kind.  In that case it is perfectly proper — hell, it’s a life-threatening emergency — to say whatever we need to say in order to get whatever kind of support we need.  What I would do in that situation is simple.  I’d raise my hand and say “I’m not an alcoholic, but I really, really need help because I’m about to use.  Will someone come outside and talk to me about it?”  I would probably be invited to stay and say what I need to say, and if not I’d have a horde of people headed for the door with me.

Really, the substance has nothing to do with it.  What matters are the emotions, the behaviors and the solutions.  Those are the same for all addictions, and anyone should be able to talk about them in any meeting without ever mentioning alcohol or any other drug.

12 Steps: Surrender

Reservations, Powerlessness and Surrender

Reservations are little ideas, beliefs and loopholes that we leave for ourselves. We reserve the right to hang on to them, not realizing that we are really protecting some aspect of our addiction. Most of us started recovery with some reservations. They may have gone like this:

Opiates are my problem; a little drink now and then won’t hurt me. Alcohol just about ruined my life. I don’t ever want to drink again. Of course, I’ll still smoke a little weed when I’m feeling stressed. I don’t relate well to other women, so I’ll need a male sponsor. If my mother died, I don’t see how I could handle it without picking up. They say we’re as sick as our secrets, but they can’t mean everything. That one thing will never pass my lips.

We may be sincere about wanting recovery, and may be working diligently toward it by going to meetings, doing step work, and almost giving ourselves fully over to the program that’s recommended. But as long as we hold reservations, consciously or unconsciously, we are fooling ourselves.

One of the worst effects of reservations is that this kind of thinking keeps us from bonding with other recovering people. Recovery works because we are a fellowship with a common purpose: to stay clean and sober, and learn how to live that way. We do this by accepting that we can’t do it on our own, and that we need the guidance and support of others who have been successful at what we want to do. Reservations  prevent us from developing the close, trusting relationships that make those things possible.

Fighting is so much a part of addiction — fighting for the next fix, the next drink, the time to use, protecting our ability to keep getting high — that we forget how to stop fighting. When we are able to relax and stop struggling, we begin to gain the benefits of our recovery program, along with a huge sense of relief.

Move Away from the Addiction. Don't Stay and Fight

The problem is that we’re still trying to control our addiction, when what we really need is to let go of that control, let go of our reservations, and accept the reality that our addiction is far more powerful than we are — that we must move away from our addiction, not stay and fight.

Once we are able to surrender, the feeling of relief is amazing! We are no longer forced to twist our thinking around so that we can try to have things two ways at once. We no longer push, push, push back against our program. We no longer have to deal with the stress of always trying to be right, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. We are, at last, able to relax and recover.

We must surrender before we can win!

On Anonymity in Recovery

Submitted by Bill: I was at a 12 step meeting a few days ago where one of the participants’ remarks showed that he had no real idea of what anonymity meant, or the reasons for it.  So I thought I’d weigh in with a few ideas on the subject.

I tell people that I have no anonymity; that I drank and drugged publicly and I consider it a privilege to recover publicly.  Despite that, however, I do not advertise my membership in a particular 12-step program.  I often mention attending meetings, in my writing and elsewhere, but not which meetings.  I speak knowledgeably about AA, NA, and other fellowships, but I don't talk about membership.  I have what I believe are good reasons for that, and I'd like to share my thoughts with you.

As I see it, there are two basic reasons for anonymity in a program of recovery: protection of the recovering alcoholic/addict, and protection of the program itself.

First of all, if we wanted to tell people we were members of AA, that would be our business, and ours only, provided that we did it on a personal level.  We might do so when speaking to people one-on-one, or in small groups under conditions where privacy can be presumed, because friendships are enhanced by such honesty under most conditions.  Then, too, that revelation might raise opportunities to bring the 12th Step into play.

Another area where we need to be careful is in speaking to outside groups.  We need to be sure that we're not thought to be speaking for a particular fellowship.  If we set ourselves up as some sort of recovering guru, how is the program going to look if, six months from now, one of those folks sees us passed out behind a dumpster, or in the ER being treated for an overdose?

Could happen.  If you don't think it could, speak to your sponsor.

There are excellent reasons, however, for us not breaking  your anonymity.  You might be hindered in your employment if word got out.  You might be an airline pilot with 20 years clean and sober who had neglected to tell the FAA about her problem — required by law — and lose your livelihood due to our big mouth.  It could simply be an issue that you find embarrassing.  It's no one else's business.  Our business is to keep what we have learned about others in the rooms to ourselves, period.  (Whether or not the airline pilot is behaving ethically in that situation is not the issue; it's our behavior we're discussing — and that is not a hypothetical example.)

The last, and perhaps best, reason that I can think of for sticking with the tradition of anonymity is humility.  It makes me just “another bozo on the bus.”  If I'm going try to be a guru, it's going to have to be on my own merits, not those of the program.  That's good for me and for the program, because my opinions often vary somewhat from more traditional positions.   When they do, I need to take the credit — and the criticism.

Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts about the issue, and I'm only speaking for myself.  Your mileage may vary.

Why Does Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope Work?

In order for me to recover, I have to understand at least some of the ideas flitting around in my head. Telling someone else is the best way to get the mess organized. Saying what’s happening to me in a way that others can understand — putting it into words and sentences — removes the secrecy, the mystery, and clarifies things in my own mind. My thoughts have to stop running around in circles (at least a little bit), and that allows me to see through my own mental static. But there is another powerful reason for sharing our experience, strength and hope.

No one gets into recovery by accident.  We used alcohol, other drugs or behaviors — often all three — because they made us feel better about ourselves.  After they stopped working we kept using them because we were physically and emotionally addicted, and because we didn’t know what else to do.  Eventually something happened that made us willing to take a terrified leap into the unknown, because we could no longer tolerate what was going on in our lives. I didn’t get up one morning and say to myself, “Hey, it’s nice out; I think I'll go to detox!” Neither did you.

But what got us into recovery doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we have to repair the damaged thinking that made acting out our addictions seem preferable to facing reality. As many have said, “I’m not responsible for being an addict, but I am responsible for my recovery!” Back then, we didn’t know any better; now we do.

And that’s where the experience, strength and hope of others matters. In order for us to have faith in the program, we have to see that it works. Listening to other addicts tell how it was with them, what worked for them, the results and their hopes for the future — or maybe just how scared they are — tells us that we're not alone, and gives us hope. I may not believe that I can do it, but if I see and hear that there are people who felt the way I felt, who had many of the same or similar experiences, who suffered the same shame, guilt and despair, and that they've managed to get beyond all that, turned their thinking around and begun to live, then just maybe I will begin to believe that I can do it too.

Further into our recovery, we may listen with a changed ear and be able to hear how we can apply the experiences of others in our own lives. In the beginning, though, we simply need the reassurance that we are not the only ones who behaved the way we did, that others have recovered successfully and are willing to share what they’ve learned, and that we are not alone.

That's why we're told to identify with the lives and feelings of others, and not compare. The details don't matter. The feelings, fears, and humanity that we share with our fellow addicts are the keys.

Experience. Strength. But, most of all, HOPE!

Sponsors In Recovery — More Questions

Our clients attend group sessions while in detox, and questions come up about sponsors in recovery. Since the subject seems to confuse some folks in the beginning, we like to mention it occasionally with a bit of an explanation. These were a couple of recent questions.

What is a sponsor?

Sponsors in recovery are people with experience in the particular program of recovery, who have completed the 12 steps, and who help newcomers understand and guide them through completion. Along with that, they make themselves available as supports outside of meetings. A sponsor should be of a gender preference that minimizes the possibility of outside entanglement, and the sponsee should remember that age is not a factor in these matters. That is, men sponsor men and women sponsor women, unless the parties are gay.

Most sponsors require that their sponsees call them every day, and want to meet with them on frequent occasions to discuss their program, things that may be on their mind, and help prepare them for the various steps. If they do not have time to do that — and there are many good reasons why that might be the case — then perhaps another choice would be wise.

A sponsor is not a moneylender, legal adviser  marriage counselor or therapist. Their purpose is to help the newcomer focus on the 12 Steps, and to help them come to an understanding of their program of recovery. These other things distract and change the focus of the relationship, and are generally considered detrimental. Furthermore, it is quite likely that they are not qualified in those areas anyway. Although most of us develop friendships with our sponsors, even that is not necessary.  What is required is experience on the part of the sponsor, and our ability to learn to trust them.

The person we choose does not have to like our kind of music, be a sports buff, or even close to our own age, but he or she must show through appearance, actions and words that they are not only working a solid program but are also living a healthy life. There is no such thing as a perfect sponsor, but the best bet is to check out the person at a few meetings or over a cup of coffee, and see that they are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk as well.

Finally, we need to remember that a sponsor’s purpose is to lead us through the steps. If that is not happening, or if they are taking us off on some tangent, we need to understand that we are not married to them, and that we are free to look for another sponsor. We do, however, need to be sure that the incompatibility is real, and not simply a matter of having heard something we did not want to hear. The nature of recovery is change, and a sponsor who is unwilling to dig a little is not doing the job right.

Is it okay to have a sponsor in AA and another in NA?

This is a matter of opinion, to a degree. Generally-speaking, when it comes to those two fellowships, we would suggest that it is best to settle on one or the other for our step work. Every sponsor learns sponsorship from their own sponsors, and styles of sponsorship thus vary quite a bit. Having two individuals risks confusion. For example, one may like to spend more time on a particular step than another, or put more weight on writing as opposed to talking. Neither of those is wrong, but they can conflict.

One of the best reasons for not having two sponsors, however, is the danger that we will play one against the other. In any endeavor, it is best to have only one leader at a time. We recommend that a newcomer choose one fellowship for in-depth work, and attend meetings of the other for identification with those issues as well.

The exceptions to the above occur in the case of specialized fellowships, such as Overeaters or Gamblers Anonymous, or sexual addiction groups. In those and some other cases, the primary purposes are so different (at least on the surface) that it is imperative to have a sponsor who can personally and comfortably address those issues.

“Sought Through Prayer And Meditation”

The Eleventh Step reads, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Since I believe that one’s relationship (or not) with a higher power is private, and that in the context of the rooms of recovery it verges on being an outside issue, I won't be getting into it here. However, there is no question that the meditation part is critical to healthy emotional growth for alcoholics and other addicts, and that it’s important for the population at large, as well. (See the preceding link) That being the case, and because meditation has gotten a bad rap from folks who think it’s tedious and difficult, I thought I’d hit some of the high points about how to meditate.

In a sense, meditation is planned boredom. We purposely put ourselves into a situation where we have no choice but to live with our thoughts. This was common a half-century ago and more, because life contained far fewer ways of filling up time with relatively unnecessary things. By that, I mean things that don’t increase our quality of life, but that simply fill up empty time that could more profitably be spent in — boredom.

Human beings need these periods. Our days are filled with things that take up our time, but that do nothing to uplift us. Those of us who have been able to slow our brains down and spend a couple of 20 minute periods a day in meditation have found that if we do so regularly, things just seem to get better. During those periods, we seem somehow to fit the irregular pieces of our lives together a bit more smoothly.

RoadHave you ever driven several miles, only to realize that you remembered nothing about the trip — not only the trip, but what you might have been thinking, the songs that played on the radio — nothing? Have you ever come to with a start, and realized that you had lost a few minutes? Have you ever been so deeply engrossed in reading a book, or listening to music, that you were oblivious to everything going on around you for several minutes — even hours? If you have had any of these experiences, you have been in a meditative state. Whether we call it hyper-focusing, daydreaming, or “lost in thought,” it’s all the same thing.  In our fast-moving world we have come to think of these periods as wasting time, when in fact they are probably the most important parts of our day in terms of emotional health and general wellbeing.

We are naturals at meditation, and since we already know how, the idea of doing so regularly may seem less of an ordeal. It really isn’t difficult, although it may require a bit of patience and acceptance to begin with.  We only have to learn to do on demand what we already know how to do unconsciously.

That is surprisingly simple. We simply remove other distractions. We find a quiet place, indoors or outdoors (outdoors is best). We desert our phones, iPods, books, lists and the other things that tyrannize our day — including the other people in our lives. We sit quietly.

Then we simply let our mind wander. If we find it focusing on problems, chores, ideas for new projects, our love life or other specifics, we acknowledge their presence and then let them drift away. We don’t dwell on them. If they come back, we say, “Okay, there it is again,” and we let it go.

After while, we will drift into what amounts to a daydream, where we are no longer conscious of trying, our minds wandering where they will. That is meditation. We are not working at thinking about specific things. Quite the opposite; we are giving our minds a chance to function a bit on their own, undirected, and able to exercise themselves without interference from us.

It takes a bit of practice to reach a point where we can do this more-or-less on command. Most folks find that about fifteen to twenty minutes a couple of times a day can work wonders, once we get the knack of it. Just remember that meditation is for its own sake. It has no specific purpose. If we start looking for one, we’re approaching it wrong.

Try it for a couple of weeks, then keep on if you find it rewarding. My guess is that you’ll be online buying meditation supplies (that you really don’t need) before you know it.

It’s Okay Not To Feel Okay

We addicts are delicate folks. Things that other people shrug off hit us deep in the gut and stay there. Discomforts that other people find annoying are major issues. An off-the-cuff remark becomes a long-term resentment, minor aches and pains a medical catastrophe, and heaven help us if we have real issues to deal with!

We were people who didn't know that it’s okay not to feel okay, and we knew just what to do about it. We chased okay around casinos, crack houses, malls and singles bars, shooting galleries, sleazy hotels and online porn sites, and into and out the other side of all sorts of jackpots. We messed up our lives and those of bystanders (innocent and not-so-innocent), and we finally reached a point that the alcohol, other drugs, sex, shopping, football pools and what have you no longer did it for us. In the end, we were unable to believe that we were okay, even for a few minutes, no matter what we did.

That’s what got us into recovery: the realization, momentary though it may have been, that if we didn’t get clean and sober we had no chance of feeling okay, ever again.

Then we discovered that early recovery is, to a considerable degree, a lot of not feeling okay. We had to deal with the aspects of day to day living without the cushion of alcohol, drugs and other feel-good behavior. Accustomed to easy, quick answers to troubled feelings, and to easy obliteration of them when we couldn’t find the answers, we found ourselves bewildered when things in our lives didn’t get better right away. Personalities used to popping a pill, downing a couple of beers, hitting the slots or the mall or the back streets suddenly had to face real feelings, and life on life’s terms. At one time or another in early recovery, every single one of us thought that sucked.

But if we stuck with our programs of recovery, we got over it. We came to understand that the changes we made in our view of the world and others by our use of artificial ways of coping with feelings had caused, or were the results of, personalities that needed readjustment. It eventually got through our addled senses that we couldn’t expect bodies — especially our brains — that had been changed by the presence of those artificial ways of coping to get back to normal right away, either. It finally occurred to us that the days of buying answers were over, and that we needed to learn how to live a new way of life without covering up emotions artificially. We took suggestions, and we learned to work through the things that we used to use over. Slowly, we learned how to live without using, and to enjoy it.

Those of us who made those changes in our worldview, who learned that it’s a normal part of being a human not to feel okay sometimes, stayed clean. We learned that it's okay not to feel okay.  We found that feeling okay only part of the time worked just fine for us, because gradually the problems that we were trying to solve with drugs, booze and other behavior just seemed to sort of fade away — and that, sometimes, we were just plain happy, often for no particular reason.

The folks who were afraid to do the work…well, we don’t see them around much any more. And every single one of us thinks that sucks.