Monday, March 15, 2010

“Are You Done Yet?”

One of my favorite quotes that I’ve heard in the rooms of Recovery goes something like this: “Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell; 12-Step programs are for people who’ve been there.” I’m not sure why this quote comes to my mind today, but it’s at the forefront.

Another bit that I’m contemplating right now is a very familiar passage from the AA Big Book, read aloud in most meetings: “…If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it…” (emphasis added)

And still a third thing that’s swimming around in my brain is this: “Pain is the price of admission.”

As someone who feels that the disease is the disease is the disease, I don’t have any problems with saying “My name is Zach and I’m an alcoholic,” when I’m at an AA meeting, or introducing myself “My name is Zach and I’m an addict,” at NA meetings. At my homegroup, though, where I am most comfortable, I occasionally say this: “My name is Zach and I still suffer from the disease of addiction.” Oddly enough, this feels like the most truthful statement I can make.

The program teaches us honesty, but I am always conscious of whichever room I am in to be respectful of that particular meeting. After all, I am just like everyone else there; I am not so special as to warrant a specialized introduction. A big part of my Recovery has been getting over myself and letting go of the idea that I am so special and unique. In the rooms, I am an addict and/or an alcoholic, just like everyone else there. It’s not a coincidence that I tend to use that last intro at times when I am not doing so well.

I’ve heard it said by some that one of the most amazing things the Program has done for them is relieved them of the burden of self. This is mostly true for me as well, but there are days when my sense of self marches to the front and demands it’s ego be stroked: I am special. I am unique. I am different from all of you and I demand respect and special treatment. Ah, Uncle Steve… he tries so hard. If only he could look in the mirror and see the little two-year-old he all too often acts like.

This disease, the sick insanity it causes in our lives, it never quits. We can treat it through working the Program, but it is always there. Like someone who is diabetic but takes their insulin, or someone who has manic depression who takes psychiatric medication—they don’t stop being diabetic or bipolar, but the damage caused by their diseases can be minimized. The damage caused by the disease of addiction can be minimized, too, but only if we choose to minimize it. Only when we choose to treat our disease, live according to the spiritual principles of the program and by the will of our higher power instead of self-will, does the insanity, chaos, and wreckage begin to stop.

Many of us have learned the hard way that when we let self-will run our lives, the consequences are disastrous. It’s not called ‘wreckage’ for nothing. We find ourselves in situations we never thought we’d be in, doing things we’d never thought we’d do. And when we are stuck in self-will, our ability to see our part in things, our ability to understand why we are where we are, why we’re doing what we’re doing, how we got there and why we’re stuck, can be almost completely impaired. It takes a crash to shake us out of it, and when the crash comes it is far too often more painful than we ever thought it would be. We have to bottom out. We have to be in so much pain that we become willing to go to any lengths to change. If we're lucky, we can get to a point where we choose to live by the principles of the Program because we don't want to be in that pain anymore.

The disease is insidious. It sneaks up on us. It disguises itself, cloaks itself, comes on us sometimes rapidly, other times gradually. The gradual times are the worst, because the progression is so slow that we don’t notice it. Everything seems normal, and ‘normal’ can be a real bitch because, as addicts, our sense of normal is horribly warped. When the disease is at the helm, when self-will is running our lives, that’s when we create wreckage. We destroy friendships, hurt loved ones, and hurt ourselves.

We have to check ourselves constantly. The tenth step can be an invaluable tool. But even without it, we still have others. The spiritual principle of the first step—Honesty—can be all we need. Being honest with ourselves is more often harder than anything else, but we can do it if we choose to. We can ask ourselves the hard questions: why have I chosen to not follow the advice of those who have always given me good advice? Why am I choosing to compromise my principles? What exactly am I afraid of? What am I trying to control?

Sometimes we aren’t able to be honest with ourselves. We can become locked into the disease; it’s at the helm and we are completely unable to wrest our fingers off the steering wheel of our lives. We then must follow the course through, let our self-will run things until they once again get so bad that we are in so much pain that we again become willing to go to any lengths for our spiritual recovery. We are human beings; we aren’t perfect. Sometimes creating more wreckage is the only way we learn. Sometimes losing things that are precious to us is the only way we are able to clue-in to what we have been doing or how bad our disease is. Sometimes, we have to lose everything before we become willing to let go and make the change and do things differently. Sometimes, we have to experience deep pain before we can be done.

Being 'done' doesn't refer to just using or drinking. We can be done, too, with creating wreckage. We can be done with causing chaos in other peoples' lives. We can be done with losing our jobs, our family, and our friends.

I had a discussion not too long ago with some guys in the program whose time was in the 5-10 year range. They were talking about sponsorship and how you shouldn’t waste your time trying to sponsor newcomers who aren’t willing to follow suggestions. “Help someone who is ready,” they advised. “Find someone who’s done.”

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