Stepping into the rooms…
Walking through the doors…
Beginning the recovery journey…
If you’re anything like me, those words come with a lot of baggage. Emotions and anxiety are bound up in memories of what it was like to begin. The entire ordeal can be a little surreal; it’s overwhelming.
Right now, in an attempt to keep working my twelfth step, I’m serving as the secretary for my 12 step group. That means that all inquiries about the group come to me via email and telephone.
I am reminded time and time again how difficult it is to reach out – to be vulnerable – to be honest – to make an effort – to admit to myself, let alone others, that I have a problem, and this is it.
People with no experience are often scared and feel like they’re going through this all alone.
I remember the first time I walked into the rooms. I dressed in such a way as to make myself feel invisible. Hoodie. Ball cap pulled low on my face. Hood up over the cap. If I could exist in the shadows, maybe I din’t really exist at all.
I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t have an option. I wasn’t really given an option – at least, not one I was willing to live with.
I was thinking a lot of the things many of us probably experience at this point.
“What if somebody sees me? What if somebody recognizes me? What if I know someone there? What if I have to face them at work or school or church or at a sporting event?”
People tell me all the time, either directly or indirectly, that they have no idea how to go about doing this thing. I mean, that makes sense. When we’re just starting out, we don’t know anything. “Do I come alone? Do I have to register? Can my spouse or significant other come with me? Is there a place for them?”
“I’m just kind of lost on how to go about all this.”
Of course, those questions just morph when someone actually starts the program. “Who do I call? When do I call? When can I call? Will you call me? Why not? Do I need one of those books? What are the 12 steps? People keep talking about working the program, working the steps – what does that mean? How do I do that?”
“Will you be my sponsor? What even is a sponsor? What is a temporary sponsor? Why will you only be my temporary sponsor? How do I get a “real” sponsor, a full time sponsor?”
From the get go I was in over my head. Of course I was in over my head. If I weren’t in over my head, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.
That’s where trust comes into play. That’s where the experience, strength, and hope of others comes into play. That’s where we have to rely on and borrow from the faith and strength and prayers of others to get through another day, another hour, another moment of temptation.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. This program is not about cessation. It’s not about stopping. It’s about starting. It’s about doing things differently. Change is less about letting go of certain behaviors and more about latching onto new ones.
The first step is the only step that talks directly about our disease. The first step mentions alcohol, or addiction, or lust, or whatever it is we struggle with, but that’s it. The rest of the steps teach us how to take on new behaviors.
In much the same manner, our literature pretty much universally says that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop, but then it goes on to say virtually nothing about stopping. The steps build on one another, and with each new step comes the challenge of facing or tackling some new task or thought or idea.
The trick to living life when you’re already drowning is learning how to not bite off more than you can chew. This is why we shouldn’t attempt to go through recovery alone. We walk together with accountability partners and sponsors and a home group and meetings and literature and phone meetings and treatment centers and a whole plethora of resources that are available if we’re willing to tap into them.
I’ve been walking recently with a kid in early recovery, and it hasn’t been easy.
First of all, I know this kid way too well. We’ve known one another for years, but this is different. I’m struggling. I want to do it for him, but I know I can’t.
He has to do the work.
He has to want it.
He has to own his part in all of this.
Watching him go from denial to what could potentially be rock bottom has been hard.
I’ve tried to force it. I’ve threatened him. But in the end I’ve been reminded time and time again by people who love me that his success is dependent upon his recognition and his willingness to do the work.
I’m trying to just be here for him. I’m trying to let go and allow relationships to form which will help him in the way similar relationships have helped me.
My sobriety and my relationship with God are at their best when my program is the most active. When I have sponsees and others who desire to use me as a resource to impart wisdom and help hold them accountable, I am more likely to seek counsel and touch base with God and my sponsor as a result thereof.
I’m also working actively to get over my desire for strict definition of roles. My mind is quick to say that when I sponsor people, I am supposed to be the voice of knowledge or authority. The reality is that we’re just two people working our way through recovery. And when my sponsees take time to check on me rather than in with me, I should value that and take advantage of it rather than dismiss it as inappropriate. Instead of continuing to see the reciprocity of care as a blurring of boundary of roles, I am learning to let go of the lies that fear and pride tell me.
Today I’m still in over my head, but I’m not alone. No longer do I feel like I’m the only one who has ever struggled with this in this way. I know better. I know that life is difficult for everyone. I realize that everyone I bump into is just trudging through life, and some of us are lucky enough to be “trudging the road of happy destiny.”
My friends in 12 step fellowships are quickly beginning to outweigh the other friends in my life, and that’s okay because we’re all just people. And we’re all in this together.
We understand one another.
That’s what makes these rooms so invaluable.
Life is, after all, nothing without relationships.
– Alex Walker