Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Tools of the program

When there is a new person present, some Alanon meetings ask a member to share what they've gotten from the program. I sometimes offer to do that, though how does one distill decades of experience, strength and hope? When I first attended Alanon, listening at the bathroom door to make sure my heroin-addicted boyfriend hadn't overdosed, the only tools I wanted were those that would convince him to get clean and sober. But in your shares, you described an internal journey - that my problem was myself and my attitude towards others, as in thinking I was supposed to fix what was wrong for someone else. Such a journey.

Whether AA or Alanon, I was very confused by the Steps when I first got to the rooms. OK, they're on the wall, but what exactly does it mean to work the Steps? What I came to see over time is that the Steps are a gateway to healing my relationships with others and myself, and with my history. I can't undo my mistakes, I can't go back to age six or twelve and make different decisions about who I am in the world, but I can use the tools of the program to make peace with the past. Kind of like a Swiss army knife, the Steps, Traditions, meetings, sponsorship, fellowship - all provide a way in, a means of getting my murky emotions and memories on to paper or into a conversation with a trusted other. 

With years of practice, the process is usually fairly automatic these days. I experience a flare - annoyance, anger, envy, insecurity - I take a breath and ask myself what's going on, really, and if I'm in top form, can choose to change the channel/keep my mouth shut/talk it out in a meeting or with a friend. If I'm off kilter to begin with (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) I'll probably spew my emotions onto someone else - only when the words are leaving my mouth thinking, "Dang it. Here I go again." I'm so glad that it is "progress not perfection.'' Indeed, there has been a great deal of progress over time, and... I'm a very fallible human being. That is less distressing than it used to be.

I was fortunate enough to spend a long weekend in Taos for a friend's milestone birthday. As much as I love home, the mossy green of the Pacific Northwest, northern New Mexico is stunning, with awe inspiring sky-scapes and wide-open spaces. Like my road trip friend from earlier in the month, these are relationships I would've never had were it not for recovery. All I wanted, when I stumbled over the threshold into treatment all those years ago, was to stop hurting, and to get my boyfriend back. Little did I know that life wasn't over, but just beginning. 

Just beginning, and every expanding - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes triggered by outer circumstance, sometimes via an internal nudge. I'm better at paying attention these days, to the joy-meter, the sense of certainty that accompanies some ideas. Not everything - doubt is still a companion, but I'm better at "If you don't know what to do, don't do anything." I do sometimes say "yes" automatically, but since I hate to back-pedal, I practice saying, "Let me think about that and get back to you." One day at a time, one situation at a time.

When you review your years in recovery, do you see your forward movement, however haltingly? How have the Steps, or other tools, become an automatic response to life on life's terms? Are you able to cut yourself some slack when your humanness shows itself?

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See the Jan 13, 2023 post for a sample of the "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" workbook with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. Available in PDF format ($12.95) for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy ($19.95 mailed to you. Email me at with questions.  You can order from the WEB VERSION of this page, payment link on top right. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

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