I do not necessarily have anything against the AA program. My problem with such programs is that they become the solution for people rather than the thing that points to the solution.
There is a great story about a Zen teacher and his student. The teacher points up at the moon one night and says “What is that?” The student answers “the moon.” The teacher corrects him and says “no, that is a finger pointing at the moon.”
Seem silly? Maybe a little. But there is an important lesson there as well. Do not mistake the pointer for the thing itself. Do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.
In a similar way, do not mistake a program of recovery (such as AA) as being the solution itself. Do not mistake AA as being recovery. It may point to recovery, but it is not recovery.
There are some things in recovery that are more important than “knowing the path.” That would be: Walking the path. We want to walk the path rather than to just read about it and learn about it. We want to experience recovery and all of the good things that it has to offer us (better relationships, greater health, personal growth, etc.).
There is a quote from the Big Book of AA: “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it!”
That is the very idea behind the daily practice. It is more important to be living the daily practice than it is to be studying AA principles and going to meetings every day. Yet our solution has become to immerse ourselves in AA meetings so that we can cling to sobriety in the hopes of avoiding relapse.
I got to a point in my recovery where I had been going to meetings every single day for over a year. I also noticed that this was not the secret solution to lifelong sobriety. Many of my peers who were doing the same thing had since relapsed. So if dedication to daily meetings was not the solution, then what was the answer?
The answer I was seeking was not to embrace a program that pointed towards recovery, but to embrace the recovery process itself.
All of life is process. Anything that has any meaning at all is process. How does a thing change and evolve over time? What are the lessons learned? What is the point of growth? How does a thing improve? This is all process.
I have been guilty of trying to turn my recovery into an event. When I was still struggling with alcoholism I wanted my recovery to be an event. I did not want to engage in any new process. I just wanted to stop drinking. But no one can just stop drinking and make it be a casual event (not an alcoholic anyway). For them the “event” of quitting drinking is actually a lifelong process. And as with any process, the devil is in the details. You can’t just sandbag the process and expect to get good results. Garbage in, garbage out. Recovery takes real work.
And this “work” that you must do is not a one-off event. It is an ongoing process.
You are a product of your habits. You become what you do each day
Your habits dictate the outcomes of your life. This is just as true in addiction and alcoholism recovery as it is in the “normal world.”
Consider a distance runner who is in top-notch shape. Would you look at such a person and say “Oh, they are just born skinny and the like to run so that is why they are in great shape!” Of course not. Such a person has arrived at that point in their life based on process. They have built up their running distance and training over many years. They probably focus on a healthy diet as well. Their being in a shape is a direct result of the process that they follow. They are in great shape based on the habits they have held for the past several years.
Consider the alcoholic or drug addict whose life has spun completely out of control. They, too, are a product of their habits. Their health is failing them. They may have very little or no money. They may have lost their job. Everything is a result of the process they have followed. Their habits have dictated their outcome.
So how does this apply to addiction recovery, you ask?
Your habits dictate your process in recovery just as they do at any other time in your life. What you do each day is defining who you will become over the next few years. You are a product of all of your individual decisions.
One of my decisions in early recovery was to take some advice from others and start exercising. I almost missed the bus on this one. Luckily enough people kept encouraging me to exercise and get physically healthy. Now this is a huge part of my recovery process. Distance running and weights are a big part of the healthy habits that keep me moving forward in recovery. These habits are more than just physical health for me. In many ways the distance running is like meditation. It has truly changed my life in a way that I never could have anticipated.
Another part of my process in recovery was to shift from consuming media to creating it. So at one time I would sit and watch television or play video games. Instead of continuing with that I decided to start creating instead of consuming. This has been a huge learning process and it has opened a lot of new doors for me. In addition it has made a big impact on the quality (and depth) of my recovery. It changed the “depth” of my recovery by opening the door to new connections and relationships in recovery that would have gone unexplored previously.
I am always on the lookout now for ways to improve my process in recovery. Changing one tiny habit from “bad” to “good” can create a huge effect when you shift in time 10 years down the road. Tiny, seemingly insignificant changes can really add up over the course of a lifetime (or even just a few years). Imagine how different my health might be today if I had not exercised every day for the last decade. Imagine how that difference might play out 20 years down the road. Positive habits today can create powerful ripples of change in the future.
Recovery programs such as AA can guide you in the right direction but you still have to initiate action yourself
The finger pointing at the moon is not the same thing as the moon.
The AA program is pointing at recovery, but it is not going to do the hard work for you. Recovery is not a list of steps written in a book somewhere. It is a process that must be lived and experienced. Everything is process. If you want recovery then you must take action in your life and create your own image of success.
AA can be a guide. Some people do very well in programs such as AA or NA. Other people do not find them to be as helpful. I attended meetings heavily for a year but then I drifted away from them after I realized that my time was not being well spent there. It is not that a meeting is completely negative for me; that is not the case. It is just that there are better ways for me to use my time in recovery. Personal growth is the objective that AA is pointing at. But sitting in meetings every single day is a clunky way for me to engage with a path of personal growth. I needed to break free from that mold so that I could create a better life for myself in recovery.
Even if you are in AA and doing well you should realize that it is all up to your own action and initiative. No one can create a life of sobriety for you. The steps are merely suggestions and the hard work comes from taking action and living through personal growth experiences and learning from them. Everything is process, whether you are in AA or not.
My discovery during my first or second year of recovery was that personal growth was the real key to sustained sobriety. I was carefully watching people in the program and I realized that some of the “winners” in AA attended very few actual meetings. What was their secret? The secret was the process, their daily habits, the fact that they were striving for personal growth. They were living the process. Simply showing up to the occasional meeting was a minor detail for them.
Positive action in recovery is cumulative. What are you building and creating in your life today?
One of the key points that I have learned over the years in recovery is that the benefits in recovery are cumulative.
Your success in recovery builds on itself. Things get better and better over time.
When I was in very early recovery at one point I heard a man speaking at an AA meeting. He was very passionate about recovery. And one thing that he said stuck with me because he kept emphasizing it over and over again: “Things just keep getting better and better in recovery!”
At the time I was not sure if I really believed this. I could picture the path in recovery and I imagined that at some point your growth would level off. Things would stabilize. Your life would become “normal” again.
But I have to agree that the man was right. After 12 plus years in sobriety I have to agree with the idea that “things just keep getting better.” This is because the learning process in recovery never truly ends. There is always another layer of growth to tackle. There is always another adventure laying up ahead of you. Your task in recovery is to uncover your next learning challenge and then rise to meet it. Keep moving forward and you continue to receive the rewards of recovery.
I once heard someone talking about recovery and they said “I still have problems today in my life (now that I am sober), but my problems are much better than what they used to be.” This is actually profound if you stop and think about it. When I was stuck in addiction my problems were very serious and life-threatening. I did not know if I was going to be arrested, thrown in jail, black out due to drinking, or what might happen. I had serious problems.
Today, after 12 years of sobriety, I still have problems. But my problems today are like nothing compared to what they were in my addiction. And this is a huge blessing!
But how often do I find myself wrapped up in my daily problems and feel like I am so stressed out over them, when in fact they are very minor compared to the train wreck that used to be my life in addiction?
When I gain proper perspective, I can look at my problems today and realize that they are merely challenges. They are not really “problems” at all compared to when I was drinking. Life today is full of opportunity and, frankly, exciting challenges.
And this is also why the daily practice becomes so important. In order to be in a position to learn and to grow, you have to have a solid foundation. A baseline of stability in your life. This starts with abstinence from drugs and alcohol. From there you start to eliminate other negative elements from your life. In doing so you build the discipline that is necessary to tackle just about any goal that you may choose to pursue. But you have to lay the foundation first. You need to establish a daily practice, one that allows you the freedom to explore a new life of creation.
My daily practice includes self reflection, meditation, exercise, and exploratory writing. I do these things every single day without question. I don’t make time for them; instead I prioritize them as being the most important part of my day. Then I structure the rest of my life around these things. I put my daily practice first because that is what leads to good results in my life. This is what allows positive benefits to accumulate for me.
If you exercise once or twice a month then you get little to no benefit. If you exercise every single day without fail then you get tremendous benefit in the long run. It changes your entire life in many positive ways that may even be difficult or impossible to describe. Or maybe exercise is not really your thing. If that is the case then there is something else that needs to find its way into your daily practice. Maybe for you it is meditation or prayer. But it is up to you to find what works for you in the long run. In order to do that you are going to have to commit to taking action on a regular basis and following through.
Dependency on people or programs can only take you so far in recovery. After that you must become responsible for future success
There is a time and a place for a structured program such as AA.
That time and place is in early recovery. Very early recovery.
After you have achieved some stability in early recovery then there is pressure for you to engage in personal growth.
If you are not moving forward in recovery then you are moving backward. No one gets to stand still in recovery and remain sober. If you stand still you relapse. If you stop making progress then you relapse. If you are not pursuing personal growth then you relapse.
The idea behind AA is to get you to have a spiritual transformation. Then you are to carry the message to other alcoholics and start doing the real footwork. If you do this diligently then you will most likely remain sober.
But most people in AA do not follow this path. They may do a bit of 12 step work but it will eventually fall by the wayside. And so the quality of their recovery is dependent on how much personal growth they are achieving in their life.
Recovery is a journey in which you must continuously reinvent yourself.
You have to reinvent yourself over and over again.
You must keep doing this just to remain sober.
Some people can do this while being in AA. Other people may become complacent in AA and end up relapsing.
The key is not in the AA principles. The key is in whether you apply them or not.
Some people believe that AA has a secret formula for sobriety. They do not. It is all about taking action. It is all about doing the work. There is no secret formula for sobriety.
The secret formula is: “Don’t drink.”
Of course in order to deal with this decision you need to take action. And that is where the real “formula” comes in. If you are engaged in positive action and personal growth then it makes it so much easier to deal with your decision not to drink.
There is no magic in the steps of AA, other than the fact that they are steps to a different life. There are other steps that you could easily take as well to create a new life for yourself.
Consider these steps:
1) Don’t drink no matter what.
2) Take positive action every single day and improve yourself.
3) Create a new life for yourself based on positive changes.
Do you really believe that this would not work if you followed it? I can assure you that it does work. The magic is not in the directives, but in the action. You have to actually do something in order to get sober. You have to take action. You have to work at it. It is process.
Everything is process in life. Everything in recovery is a process. Recovery itself is process. It unfolds slowly over time. This is why you must be consistent in your approach. If you slip up one day and drink then all progress is lost instantly. You go back to square one and start over from scratch.
Recovery programs can help you to a certain extent. They can help you to find stability and give you guidance in early recovery.
But recovery programs cannot do the work for you. And they cannot save you if you become complacent in long term recovery. That is entirely up to you to overcome. You can do so by pursuing personal growth. If you are learning and growing in recovery then you are reinventing yourself and you will remain sober. If you fail to do those things at all then you run the risk of relapse. If AA is helping you to reinvent yourself then it is part of your daily practice and you should keep focusing on it. But if you get stuck in a recovery program then you need to find a way to improve your daily practice and gear it towards personal growth.
Dedication to AA meetings can bring a false sense of security and lead to complacency. A daily practice can overcome this danger
If there is one danger in long term recovery programs it is complacency.
The way to overcome complacency is through personal growth.
Seek to improve your life.
Seek to improve your life situation.
Seek to eliminate negative things from your life.
If you do these three things diligently then you will not relapse.
If you can do this in AA then that is great. If you can do this outside of AA then that is great too.
Find the path that leads to growth.