AA, or Alcoholic’s Anonymous, is a very popular program of recovery. AA is a 12-step program, meaning you follow or “work” the 12-steps of Alcoholic’s Anonymous upon entrance into the program. The 12-steps are your guide to recovering from alcoholism. Being in this program of recovery, I’ve learned a great deal about myself and the world.
Here are just some of the lessons I’ve learned from this program of recovery, since allowing it to work in my life:
I literally hated acceptance until I learned what is was. Then I hated it less. I still hate it. I thought it meant I had to like everything and never say anything about awful things and awful people and like it when good people had awful things happen to them. It doesn’t. Acceptance just means I face the reality of everything and say to myself, “that’s how it is”. I change the bad to good when I can, I see what may take longer to improve and I try; I see what is beyond my ability to change for the better, and I can rest my head at night in peace knowing that I did what I could. Read page 417 of the Big Book of AA, it’ll be very helpful.
I can’t change anyone; I can barely change myself. Change is uncomfortable, we all resist change of any kind. Many of us absolutely know we have to change jobs, have to end bad relationships, get away from toxic people and toxic places, we have to start new healthy behaviors. But we don’t, because we want to maintain the status quo. We are familiar with it, even though it sucks, we know what to expect.
Part of this is about the social contract we have with people. We expect people to act a certain way and do certain things based on things like Karma or goodness or treat people as we would wish to be treated.
In life, this doesn’t work out like it should. We expect people to treat us well, be kind, be generous, to remember our birthday, or to know exactly what’s going on in our head. If all these things happen and all the stars lined up just right, people will meet our expectations of conduct and justice. Well, it turns out in my life— this happens maybe once every few months for an hour or two. I suggest you relish and appreciate those few hours or you’ll be in a state of chronic disappointment and mortal fear of the future.
The actor Anthony Hopkins, who has decades sober, famously advises: “expect nothing and appreciate everything”. I hope to one day achieve this state of mind. It’s all, progress, not perfection for me. I have hope that in the future after doing the work, I can achieve this state of bliss, this state of meaning, this state of joy.
Take what you want and leave the rest. With any program of recovery, every fellowship, every therapy, every therapist, there will be parts that are absolutely offensive to you. I’ve had idiots and raving lunatics as doctors and therapists diagnose me with things I didn’t have and tell me if I didn’t strictly follow their demands and instructions I’d relapse and die.
I’ve had to endure evangelicals telling me the lord Jesus is the only true way to sobriety and I’m not really sober if I don’t accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior. I had a sponsee drop me as a sponsor for not telling him to pray.
I’ve had people tell me that I’m not the real alcoholic because my experience was different than theirs. I’ve been chastised in NA meetings for saying addict/alcoholic when by all definitions that’s what I am.
I’ve heard people’s explanations of the steps and traditions in a meeting that were, let’s just say, a form of mental illness, all on their own.
There are plenty of people I just simply do not like in the treatment business. There are plenty of people I dislike and who literally hate me, in the fellowships. I filter out the good, the good for me at this moment, and I leave the rest right where it is. You are not required to like everyone in recovery at every meeting every time. Grab the good.
- Be of Service.
This isn’t just for the fellowships. Be of service to the world. Do some random acts of kindness every day. Pause before acting out in anger or rage. Join some community organizations that help people. Get politically involved. Join a church or place of worship. (If you’re an atheist like me, find some organization that aligns with your beliefs and find out how you can help). Get involved in your 12-step fellowship, hold a service position too. Don’t know how? Literally everyone in every service position is winging it. You don’t have to know anything special in any of the positions, showing up and doing a little work is 95% of it. Pretty much all the work is self-explanatory or just what you thought you should do.
Where you do service is unimportant. It’s important that you give back.
- People will relapse.
People will die. It’s certainly not a requirement of recovery, but it happens with great regularity and in large numbers. It’s what we do. We’ve been drinking and drugging for years. We lose our way, we stumble, we fall. The important thing is to get back up on that horse and ride. Just get back into recovery with both feet.
Because drugs are just more powerful today and even five years ago, our friends and family will die. People take too much, others take drugs or drink too much for long periods of time and it catches up with us. It’s deadly. It’s just the facts of life and death in addiction. We mourn their death and we try to help the living.
There is a lot of drama in recovery, there’s even more in active addiction and alcoholism. In active addiction there’s a lot of lying cheating and stealing. It’s a part of it.
Getting your next drink, getting your next fix, getting that next bottle of pills, is just everything we’re focused on. To the exclusion of who we hurt, or what we have to do to people to get it. All of that spills over into our recovery. Even if we’re not doing those old behaviors now. They echo into our future. People hold lifelong resentments against us, we may have debts, we may have charges. Some people, while sober, even start to fulfill prison sentences. And everyone has a recovery romance or two filled with a plethora of poor decision making.
My suggestion is to stay out of other people’s drama. You have a choice today not to participate in it. even if it’s your BFF, your participation is not required. Let the saying “not my circus, not my monkeys” be your mantra.
What is also helpful is when you are finally ok with not everyone liking you. Not being a people pleaser. Saving your ass over saving face. Being ok with people disliking you after you stand up for the little guy, or for what is right and good and just.
- Work full time.
An interesting statistic we found at Royal Life Centers is that, of the guests that stay successfully sober long term, 70% were and are employed full time. It might be the best predictor for success after treatment. When you study the numbers on what really works by studying the people who do something successfully, you find gems of information like this. This is why we provide experienced employment specialists who help our guests with things like resume-building, interview skills, and even job placement.
- Get a sense of humor.
Learn to laugh at yourself, learn to find humor in everything. If you don’t have the ability to laugh when the times are tough, you’ll never find joy when the times are good.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, please reach out to us at 877-RECOVER or 877-732-6837. Our admissions coordinators are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.