How do you stay sober when you don’t feel like it? I’m in one of those moods right now. Perhaps you are too! The motivation of January has come and gone or maybe the hopes you have for a different life are starting to give way to the reality in front of you. Or maybe you just aren’t feeling it. I am in a combination of all three at the moment. I am in yet another career transition that was not entirely my choosing. I was all for the transition, just not the timing. The thing is I have been through this multiple times with the last two years being the last two times. I feel like I have my optimal career choice narrowed down to a few fields and cannot seem to make any of those doors open. Actually, it seems that I cannot make any doors open right now - well, except for the ones I want to stay closed. I had a lot of hope riding on a new job and a new city, but that doesn’t seem to be panning out. The fact that I have been through this multiple times makes me wonder if the universe is trying to send me a message - a message that I am clearly not understanding. I don’t want to keep fighting if I am going to be continually knocked to the ground and continue to loose whatever gains I previously made. I am loosing the will to fight. So what then? How do you stay sober when you don’t feel like trying?
Meetings. I am making my meetings a priority. I am going. I am sharing. I am connecting. I am offering advice to newbies or just being in the room for the newbies. I am doing my part in the community of recovery.
Gratitude. I am doing my daily gratitude lists whether on paper or in my mind. I am reminding myself of the things I am thankful for and reminding myself that it can always be worse. I am also utilizing a daily check list from DailySoulCare.com. It is kind of similar to a daily inventory only it focuses on the things you need to do for your soul each day like doing one thing you enjoy and writing down your victories, no matter how small.
God/Higher Power. I am making a point to really let God know how I feel right now. My concerns, my disappointments, and my yearnings. And I am asking for guidance and clarity on thought and movement. And I am making space for answers via quiet time and meditation and church attendance.
I guess the way you stay sober is very similar to the way you got sober. You just do it. You work the program and while doing so you let the program work for you. I know enough to know that I can’t always trust my emotions or trust what I see in front of me. What I can trust is the 12 steps of AA and the pathway it lays out to right living. What I can trust is my Higher Power to hear me, understand me and provide for me even when I don’t necessarily understand its movement’s in my life. And I can trust and know this one thing for sure: If I drink - I lose. If I drink, I loose the option of anything ever getting better and that is what keeps me sober when I just don’t feel like it.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Principle 8 (CR): Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and by my words.
One of the greatest gifts I have received as a result of being a part of the AA community is this new way of living that is found in the steps. I am no longer held captive by my fleeting feelings, desires or the actions of others. I now have a recipe for right living and by right living I mean conducting life in a way that leads to more peace and limits things like stress, anxiety and unnecessary drama.
Once you finish the steps, you realize that the steps become a part of you. Many of us in the rooms will continue to work through the steps at different points in our lives. A quick 4th -9th steps here, a quick 2nd and 3rd step here and maybe an 11th and 12 step from time to time. Instead of being this giant encumbering process, the steps become second nature and can be done in a matter of minutes more often than not. Living and breathing the steps is the new way of life I have come to know and I am grateful for having the 12 steps and the AA community for whatever life throws at me.
Okay, enough with the gratitude… what does it mean to practice these principles in all our affairs? In simplest terms it means keeping our side of the street clean or to put it another way keeping your karma clean. Aiming to do right in every situation and praying for guidance to know the right action. Being kind, being willing to hear another person out and being willing to help out when needed. In short, instead of doing the steps, you start living the steps. Please note that this does not mean that you allow people to walk all over you! Sobriety comes first. If someone or something causes you to stumble, you can choose to not partake - you don’t have to make yourself available to everyone and everything. What it does mean is that as you are able - you make yourself available to help others along this path. Whether it is welcoming people to a meeting, answering the phone or returning a 12 step call or offering to take someone out for coffee and a chat after a meeting… Living the steps is nothing more than making ourselves available to be of service should another human being need it and actively pursuing quality friendships and relationships with those we encounter along our path. Notice I said quality relationships - not unhealthy, unstable or one-sided. While it is important to be kind and friendly to everyone - we don’t have to subject ourselves to dangerous situations, mental and emotional abuse or to people who seem to drag us down.
Another way to look at living the steps is to see the steps as everyday components of our lives. We wake up each day acknowledging that we need help, ask for guidance from our Higher Power and thank Him in advance for loving us and guiding us along our path. We ask our Higher Power to reveal any shortcomings and ask Him to help us do better today than we did yesterday. (Some of us will write these down in a Daily Inventory journal). If and when we wrong someone, we will ask our Higher Power for forgiveness and seek the best way to make amends with that person. We will continue to go to meetings and share our experiences (victories and failures) so that others can grow strong in their journey. We will continue to pray daily and continue to take personal inventory of our interactions with others and with ourselves. When resentment, anger, loneliness, grief, sadness, or any other unhappy feeling comes over us - we will reach out to others in the program and enact our own plan for getting through these times (often starting with a 4th step like analysis). We will continue this life of prayer, acting in service to others and doing our best to see the good in others (or at least where they are coming from and why) as we go through life on life’s terms. This is living the steps. This is love in action. This is a new way to do life… And I can tell you with seven years of experience within this community - IT WORKS!
Step 11: 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.
Principle 7 (CR): Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.
Ohhh this can be such a hard one for us self-centered alcoholics and addicts. To not pray for what we want, but to only pray for what God wants! That takes trust. That takes will-power. That takes persistence. That takes Self-Awareness. That takes us out of our own muck where problems lie and into focused action where solutions and new life are found. This step is hard, but it is a necessary one if we are going to be able to fulfill the mission found in step 12. It is also necessary if we are going to live a joyous and free sober life!
And the thing is - we’ve all done it! In moments of dire need we have called out saying something like “Help me know what to say”, or “Whatever happens, help it be what’s supposed to happen”, or “whatever the outcome - just lead me through this cuz I just can’t”, or some that I’ve been saying a lot lately, “please don’t let me make a mistake!”, and “I have my preferences, but if its not mine - don’t bring it back to me” …. And the list goes on, right?
Hopefully, you saw yourself in those calls for help because reminding ourselves of when we’ve called out for help and how our God has answered us gives us the confidence to start turning our will over to the care of our Higher Power all the more. We came into the rooms because we lost ourselves somewhere along the way and as a consequence developed character defects that we need to try to correct. The answer is the continual turning over of our lives to our Higher Power as we understand Him. The more we pray for God’s will, the more we pray to accept that will and carry it out - the less our character defects become and the more free we become and the more happy we become and the more willing we become for the mission in Step 12.
I call it a mission, but it is more of a way of life… But you can’t live that way of life on your own - you need your Higher Power directing your steps and you need your recovery community walking with you. Are you ready to truly start stepping away from your own muck? Are you ready to start seeing people and situations differently? Are you ready to replace anxiety with peace? It starts with being willing to pray for God’s will for you and the power to carry it out.
One of the biggest problems people have with step work is the thought of taking the blame for all of their misdeeds. No one likes to admit that they were wrong and when it comes to those with addiction that desire is quadrupled. There is also the fact that for many of us, our addiction came on the heels of outside circumstances or events that we had no control over. Whether it was mental, emotional, physical or sexual abuse or unhealthy family dynamics or a predisposition to extra anxiety, melancholy thoughts or an inability to appreciate ourselves…. For most of us something preceded our addiction.
So let me be clear: When we do the steps - we are not taking the blame for our actions. What we are doing is taking responsibility for them. We didn’t choose the circumstances around our addictions and we did not choose the actions of our addictions. What we chose was unhealthy coping mechanisms. We thought these choices would help us - alleviate some of our racing thoughts, our anxiety, our feeling of not belonging…. The list just keeps going. We made a choice we thought would help us, but instead it hurt us more than we could have ever imagined. It took us down roads we thought we’d never travel and turned us into people we thought we would never become.
Taking responsibility means that we understand that we did the best we could given the knowledge and life experience that we had at the time. Taking responsibility means knowing that we are not bad… Our choices were, but we are not. So when we do the steps we are not taking the blame for anything - we are merely taking responsibility for the unintended consequences of our attempts to help ourselves.
The good news is we now know better. We are saying goodbye to our old selves, our old habits and for many of us - some of our old friendships. We are closing the door on the actions that got us here and starting down a new spiritual path with a complete road map (the 12 steps) of how to do life on earth with the most peace and the least drama. As we trudge down this path we will find that the promises of AA do come true… for some of us quicker… for some of us slower… but the promises do come true… All you have to do is keep coming back - to meetings, the Big Book, to your sponsor and/or accountability partners - whatever your program looks like… stick with it. If it’s not working - change it - try new meetings or adding meetings or adding service work or making a commitment to get to know one person every month or every week. Make the program work for you because those promises… they do come true.
" It takes a high degree of emotional awareness to see responsibility and self-blame as opposing states because both states recognize the self in a position of causation. For this reason, self-blame can disguise itself as responsibility like a wolf wearing sheep's clothing. But one is self-hating, the other self-loving. One condemns the self and the other saves the self. If you are taking responsibility, you are feeling empowered. If you are self blaming, you are feeling bad about yourself and disempowered.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Principle 7 (CR): Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.
I have to admit I don’t do this like I should. The daily inventory is a great tool to help you see your own patterns whether they be good and healthy patterns or sabotaging patterns bringing chaos to ourselves and to those around us. If you need help with the daily inventory, there are many options available. I happen to have a couple of daily inventory workbooks that have questions to jog my memory and help me to focus on what really mattered and what did not. You can find these on sites like Barnes & Noble and Amazon. I like these workbooks because they help me stay focused and help to pinpoint possible issues when I go back through my entries.
The main purpose of the daily inventory or the periodic inventory is growth. As we learn our patterns, we are able to get ourselves out of those patterns and eventually stop the patterns before they start to weave a trail of destruction in our lives. The daily and periodic inventories are also a great way to help us keep our side of the street clean (and make sure we aren’t on other people’s streets too). The bulk of the steps is learning to be a good person who stays out of unnecessary drama thereby limiting our addiction’s ability to rear its ugly head and try to take control. The steps as a whole are the necessary instructions for life on earth and the lessons they impart make life much easier and allow for joy to invade our lives.
I, like many of you, tend to take the daily or periodic inventories when I am unhappy, pissed off, frustrated or stressed out. And while this is good to do… I have to wonder if I would get to these points if I were doing the inventories on the regular like it is suggested in the literature. I mean if the inventories are good at helping me pinpoint what it is that I need to let go of or change to get me out of my funks - could they not also prevent said funks if I did them like I am supposed to??? What are your thoughts? Do you do the inventories like you are supposed to?
Challenge: Since the ever hectic and sometimes highly emotional holidays are upon us… I am going to challenge myself to do the daily inventory from November through February. I want to see if things at this time of year bother as much as they usually do or if I seem to be more level headed mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Want to join me? Be sure and let me know if you do and feel free to share any insights! You can leave comments here, email me or DM me on social media. :-)
PS: the daily inventory is also good for non-substance abuse readers who deal with depression, anxiety or fear to name a few… we all have patterns and choices that move us towards or away from recovery and happiness and the inventory can help!
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Ahhh, the actual making of the amends. The giant elephant that has been looming in front of anyone trying to trudge their way through the twelve steps. It really doesn’t live up to the hype. As with most things, all of the fear and anxiety usually goes unfounded.
Before you ever make an amends you should work with your sponsor on who exactly gets which type of amends. As has been noted before, there are some amends that would cause further damage if made outright and there are other amends that cannot be made directly due to death or the inability to track the person down. Your sponsor is key in this decision making process and he or she can discuss the amends options available (letters, burning missive, life amends, etc.). Your sponsor is also key in helping you decide what to say, write or do during the amends. Another way your sponsor can assist you is by preparing you for the responses you might get from your direct amends.
When it comes to direct amends, there are really only a few options on the table: Appreciation, Disgust and Anger, or Bewilderment. It is important to remind yourself that the amends is really for your own well-being and that how they respond is on their side of the street. Of course, it is also good to remember that we might not fully understand how we have hurt people in our lives and therefore might not understand how they can be so sad or mad or indifferent to us now that we are trying to get the help we need. And since many alcoholics/addicts run with other alcoholics/addicts - some of the people we owe amends to might not think we need to quit! (or we did such a great job at hiding our addiction they really don’t understand why we suddenly have one!) Our job is only to make the amends. It is NOT our job to try to convince people that we have changed, that they should accept us back into their lives, that we are finally done with our addiction or that we have an addiction to begin with. The amends itself, is all we are responsible for so be careful about getting into any kind of argument or debate while making an amends.
After the amends are made we need to guard our hearts and minds and understand that just because we are ready to move on - other people might not be so ready. I had a friend who had gotten sober, made her amends, completed the steps and reached 3 years of sobriety, but the fact that her daughter still didn’t trust her or let her into her life really hurt her and ultimately became her demise. And no it is not fair that some people’s family seem ready to forgive and forget while others keep everything at a distance. To be honest, I know some people that have over ten years of sobriety that are still not invited to family and holiday events. And I know some people with less than one year of sobriety who have family and friends clamoring around them at every turn. Acceptance plays a major role in our ability to move forward in sobriety with or without some of the important people in our lives. If we cannot accept that some people may not ever be ready to welcome us back in - then we will not be able to maintain sobriety long term.
Instead of focusing on who isn’t responding the way we would like, we should focus on who we do have in our lives. The family and friends that are willing to try again, the new friends from rehab, the meeting rooms and the new people flooding into our lives as we venture out into the world as sober people. While I did have to let a lot of people go in the beginning, I can tell you that I have received so much more love and acceptance in sobriety than I ever received in my addiction.
If you have an amends story that you think might benefit someone who is going through the process for the first time or the tenth time…. Feel free to leave in the comments below.
Step 8 : Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
The word “willing” is the key word in Step 8 just as it is a key word in all of the steps. You don’t necessarily have to want to make the amends; you just have to be willing to do so. The willingness comes from humbleness, determination and the desire to do whatever it takes to stop drinking or drugging or cutting or sexing or whatever it is for you.
So what does it mean to be willing? According to the folks at Oxford, Willing means to be ready, eager, or prepared to do something. Another definition goes as far to say given or done readily as in the phrase “it’s a given”. An example would be: it’s a given that she will move out of the house once she has obtained a stable job. Another way to look at it is it just being something you do. It just is. Some could say that the regular men and women who make up the now renown Cajun Navy see it as just something you do because why would you not? They may not always be up for everything water rescue involves, but they do it any way because of the strong desire to help or make a difference. Being willing to make amends is not all that different. You may not be up for everything that the act of making an amends entails, but your desire to beat your addiction and your desire to grow and to become a better version of yourself outweighs any negatives and so you make the amends.
Another way to look at making an amends is to remember that the amends is not for the person you harmed. Let’s face it. Some of the people on your list might deserve to be harmed. And that’s okay. It’s just not your job to do it. As you progress through the steps you learn about keeping your side of the street clean and not worrying so much about your neighbors yard. You can’t control them anyway. All you can control is your own yard. Step 8 is a precursor to keeping your side of the street clean. Doing what is right. Keeping a clean conscience. Stacking up good karma. It is all the same thing. AA and the 12 steps believe that if you keep your side of the street clean then all will go well with you - that you will be taken care of when in need. Making the amends isn’t for the person you harmed although some of them might benefit from it. Making an amends is for yourself. You are clearing your conscience, tidying away the cob webs and starting on a new path where you are responsible for your actions. It is the embarking on a new journey to a new you.
All you have to do is be willing. If you aren’t willing you cannot get through the steps. And it you can’t get through the steps how can you expect to stay sober? Are you willing?
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
Principle 5 from Celebrate Recovery: Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life…
A lot of people cover steps 6 and 7 together so I thought I’d do so here as well. The funny thing about step 6 is that we don’t always know if we are entirely ready until after we complete step 7. We might think we are ready to shrug off destructive patterns, unhealthy relationships and insufficient coping mechanisms, but we don’t always realize the price of what we are asking. I say this, simply to say that no one is ever fully ready. This readiness the steps speak of is more of a decision on our part. We have to decide that we are done with our drinking or drug of choice or issue of choice and all of the baggage that helped create it and all of the baggage that is attached to it.
Once we have made this decision and humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings we typically continue to work with our sponsor on what is safe for us and what is not safe for us. We invite God into our lives and ask Him to help us make wise choices and to alert us to what we need to change. Most of us are doing daily inventories and these dailies can provide priceless information for us and our sponsor or accountability partner. I can recall reading back through a week’s worth of entries and having several light bulbs come on in terms of stressors I needed to rid myself of as well as friendships that weren’t serving me anymore.
I included a portion of Celebrate Recovery’s Step 5 Principle above because I love how it reiterates that this whole process is a decision on our part. An Active Decision, at that. One that we must continue to make over and over again throughout our days and throughout our lives. The words “voluntarily submit to the changes God wants to make” are the foundation of lasting recovery. We have to choose to submit to the changes God brings to our attention. We have to choose to end an unhealthy relationship because we know it is taking us away from sobriety and away from God. We have to choose to end an unhealthy friendship because that person is just not who we need to be around right now. We even have to sometimes choose to leave a stressful job for one that allows us more room to breathe even if it means having to curtail some of our spending habits. Truth be told - our choices got us into our messes and it is our choices that will get us out of our messes and into a healthy and thriving life.
Step 6 and Step 7 are all about the power to choose. Many of us may have forgotten that we have any power at all, but we do. We have the power to listen to God, to listen to our sponsors, to listen to our accountability partners and we have the power to choose to make the suggested changes. We have the power to choose better for ourselves.
In my case for example, I have had to find completely new hobbies and interests and friends because sitting on a patio drinking all night is no longer a part of my life. In recovery, I have developed a love of the outdoors and photography! I discovered the world of hiking and rock climbing and paddle boarding and kayaking and I have made friends who have similar interests. I have also recently taken up golf and am loving every minute of that too. In recovery, I continue to surprise myself with the things I like to do now that I don’t drink! As for friendships and relationships, I only have a couple rules. They can’t create a desire for drinking in me and they can’t lead me away from my Creator. This basically translates to rare drinkers or non-drinkers who live out their faith instead of just talking about it. And trust me, being a thirty-something who is unmarried in the south - I have to continue to make these choices everyday. Yes, I could have more friends and go on a lot of dates, but none of it would be healthy for me so I choose to pursue only the right friendships and the right relationship because it is my choices that will keep me sober and healthy and happy. Happy choosing ya’ll.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Well, I guess, the one thing that is worse than the making of the list is the confessing of its contents out loud to another human being. One of the many great secrets of the steps is learning that being open and honest in the naming our faults, resentments and fears is the key to removing their power over us. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem so big and so damaging once it is out in the open. More often than not, we find that the person listening to our list of complaints against ourselves and most, if not all of humanity, not only understands us, but has either had similar feelings, been through similar situations, or have done the very thing we thought would ensure our rejection. There are a lot of people in AA who fear that once they spill their beans that the organization will kick them out. That their sponsor or accountability partner will smile and nod and then not return their phone calls. All sorts of wild scenarios occur in the minds of those who haven’t completed the 5th step.
The thing is we do this to ourselves in our own lives all of the time. Well, at least I do. One of the many pieces of wisdom I learned from my own journey through the steps is that I have this pattern of pre-determining anyone’s reaction to anything I have in my past, present or future (including my own reaction). I already know how person A, B & C are going to respond to this information so why even go there? Why be vulnerable? Why even start this friendship or this relationship? Okay, so maybe you’re not as bad as I am, but we all do this to a certain extent in out lives. And yes, there is a healthy and helpful version of this pattern that we also use, but when we take ourselves out of the game based on our presumptions about how other people might respond - we are definitely on the unhealthy side of the spectrum.
Doing the 5th step taught me that I am not as alone as I once thought. Other people have similar feelings, fears and insecurities. The 5th step also taught me that some of the things that were done to me have also been done to others. And that some of the things I have done that I prefer to never speak of again - have also been done by other people on this planet. We sometimes get it in our head that no one will ever understand or that no one has ever gone through what we’ve gone through or done what we’ve done, but the simple truth is - they have! We aren’t as alone as we think we are and this is a gift from Step 5.
In my personal step five journey, I learned that some of the events I was holding myself accountable for had to go off my list because they belonged on someone else’s list and in turn, I learned that I needed to put my reaction to those events on my list because that was the part I was responsible for. Step five, for me, was the beginning of the healing process. I learned about myself, I learned about my sponsor and I learned about how the events in my life had shaped me for better and for worse and I learned that the ones that shaped me for worse didn’t have to stay that way. I could learn to let the bad experiences shape me for the better. But it all started with the decision to be vulnerable and confess my past and present to my trusted sponsor and be willing to dive in and discuss as my sponsor deemed necessary.
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Nobody likes step four, in fact, more people quit the steps because of fear of step four and most people relapse because they are not doing a portion of step four that is found in a later step. Step four, like it or not, is an essential part of the recovery process. Without it, the steps just don’t work. Step four is where the rubber meets the road so to speak. It’s the step where you find out if you truly want recovery and the new life it brings. The funny part is that step four does not live up to the fear surrounding it. There are different ways to do step four, but most of them involve a chart where you list your grievance, why it bothers you, how it affects you and that column where you state your part in it. Ouch! Right? A good sponsor will give you a pre-determined amount of time to come up with a list. Note: you will most likely do many fourth steps in your life so don’t freak out and try to tackle everything in your life at once. Don’t get upset if you can’t remember everything and for crying out loud, don’t worry about forgetting something because it will not destroy your recovery. That little voice that is telling you that you can’t move forward until you have everything written down is actually your addiction trying to stall you so it can get out of this recovery thing! Don’t listen to it!
What you should do is make the list the best you can. Ask your Higher Power to bring out the important things and trust that what comes out is what you are supposed to hash over with your sponsor at this time. I can tell you that my first fourth step was definitely not all - encompassing. I left a lot of stuff off by accident. Some of it, I believe, was because I needed to deal with certain stuff before I could deal with the rest. I also believe that as we grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually.. we begin to see things that we couldn’t see back at the beginning of our journey which makes it impossible to get every person, place and thing in one swoop. Whatever your Higher Power brings to mind during your fourth step time frame - write it down on the chart, work it out, hash it out and learn from it. Don’t worry about what you can’t remember and trust that what you do remember is there for a reason.
I would also like to remind you that you get out of the steps exactly what you put into them. The same is true with everything in life, whether it is your on-going recovery, a relationship or a job - you get out what you put into it so do your best with the steps, but don’t get paranoid about it. Keep contact with your Higher Power trusting He or She to guide you along your recovery journey. Step four is where it all really begins…. Steps 1 through 3 were prep work for what is to come. Stay the course and keep your why in the front of your mind. And get excited… Everyone says the magic happens somewhere between step four and step 12…