Have carried this card for 30 years now!
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them. – AA Promises
I play this game of sorts with students I advise these days. I ask them to list the 10 ideal jobs they would like to have today. We then discuss how to morph the attributes of those 10 jobs into a single position. The discussion focus now shifts from a job to a career. Next we consider both the formal and informal education needed to develop the skill set and experience to start on that career path. I note that the process may take a lifetime with many shifts and complete changes along the road. That is a career is a process, not an event.
Naysayers to this approach might argue that I am setting students up for failure – that there are economic and market limitations that prevent such unlimited possibilities. I consider those nattering nabobs of negativism to be dream stealers or dream killers. This cynical view, if replaced by a plan of action, will demonstrate that we certainly can move toward that ideal career.
I find that recovery is much the same. The AA Promises might seem completely unattainable to the person fresh into abstinence from their addiction. But there are a myriad of recovery programs, including of the 12-step variety that work well for me, that offer a plan to reach those goals. I am convinced that if I do the work, based on my experience, strength, and hope, living into an ideal recovery is not only possible but the very likely result. That too is truly a process and not an event.
Yesterday my wife and I drove a couple of hours south of where we live to what was billed as a nature festival of sorts. The event was quite crowded and the nature part was rather minimal. Rather the 15.00 per head admission and abundance of vendors suggested instead that fundraising was a primary motivation for the event.
We decided instead to head to a nearby small town for a visit. The town contained a couple of museums, both of which were closed despite being advertised as open.
We found a place for lunch, checked out a cemetery, drove around a bit and then headed for home.
We both commented on the drive back how this had been a good day. We reflected how we just have not been getting out of town enough and having “fun” driving on back roads like we have done during most of our lives together. Our expectations for the day were completely unmet. However the results were better than our plans had led us to expect.
You can make plans but don’t plan the results is a saying I hear a lot in recovery. The message seems to be that things don’t always work out the way we plan – get ready for disappointment Yesterday showed that results can exceed or expectations. Upon reflection, I find that is consistently the case over time in my recovery. As a totality, I could never have predicted the fantastic life I have lived since starting on a road to recovery.
I like the one-day-at-a-time approach that is promoted in recovery. Yes, it is much easier and less overwhelming to think about not getting into my addictive behaviors for a 24-hour period than for the rest of my life. The latter raises all of those ultimately useless hypotheticals like “You mean I can’t toast when my now two-year-old daughter gets married two decades?” and other such dilemmas.
Rather, I have been thinking less about what I choose not to do, but more about what I can choose to do each day. I have been thinking about:
- being present for my family each day. It is very easy for me to get very wrapped up in a host of other issues and activities and not leave room for those folks who I often take for granted.
- making a difference each day. I appreciate that this can be as simple as saying hello to someone on the street. Making a difference does not mean discovering a cure for cancer, bringing about world peace, or ending hunger. I think of the times when a simple statement of thanks from someone has meant so much to me.
- being consciously grateful each day. I can zoom through life and not smell the roses along the path. I can get caught up in the world crisis of the moment and forget that I am alive and able to play my part in a solution.
- and so forth, each day.
So I like that one-day-at-a-time is not just about choices of things I will not do, but also choices of things that I will do, each day.
“Made A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory of Ourselves” Alcoholics Anonymous, Step Four
The Fourth Step of the Twelve Step Program is often seen as one of the most difficult tasks in recovery. To that end, recommendations for completing a Fourth Step range from 400-question inventories to the three column (resentment, cause, affect) approach contained in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. I have done one Fourth Step a bunch of years ago which was a combination of several different methods. I did my Fifth Step (Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs) with Mike, my sponsor at the time. Mike had a pretty hefty prison record and could trump the outward appearing severity of whatever wrong from my past. I have occasionally considered doing another Fourth Step, but have never done so. Rather, I find tremendous healing and progress through regularly practicing the AA Tenth Step “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”
The Fourth Step process set me on a road to begin living a “searching and fearless” existence. I made a decision when I first entered detox that I was going to tell the truth and not scam anyone. Over the years, I have found that decision has turned inward in not scamming myself either. That is a process that the Fourth Step initiates, and for me, I need to emphasize the process in that initiation. Over time, I know that the “searching and fearless” has evolved. I know that I can be more truthful today than I was when I first got sober. I am confident that with continued recovery, that evolution will continue.
In retrospect, I could redo a Fourth Step on an annual basis and add insights into my moral inventory of the past. Had Mike not insisted that I destroy my written Fourth Step all those years ago, I am certain that I could have written a ton of column notes by now. Instead, my first and only Fourth Step set me up for a lifelong process of having the opportunity to be searching and fearless in all of my dealings. Whether I choose to take that route, and that certainly is not always the case today, is a choice I make. However, like so much in recovery, I am given the tools to go down that road. When I take advantage of that opportunity, solutions to life events are more clear. When I choose to live into my own self-centered will, the experience often leads me to consider wiser choices the next time around.
Here is how I have come to view service, whether in recovery or in life in general. I have a need, a desire, a commitment to give back and be of service. Whether the need or the desire comes first seems to be a sort of chicken and the egg question.
I know that when I am in service and in community with others – whether sharing my experience, strength, and hope in recovery or life’s road in general, my ability to live a meaningful life is enhanced. Whether that service is doing something, saying something, or simply being present in something – the result in all the same. In this way, for me service is really quite self-serving. I know that if I do not practice service to others, I will focus exclusively on myself, my own narrow self-interests and my life will be diminished and back into self-will run riot.
On the other hand, I enjoy being of service to others. I enjoy that I have been able to play a positive role in the lives of other people. I feel a very strong desire to give back for all that I have been given over the years.
I find this service thing awkward. I find it increasingly important to let folks know when they express their thanks for service rendered, that it is really I who need to thank them for passing through and sharing our mutual existence so that I can do that which I know is important for me as a person on a recovery road.
Being of service works both ways.