September is National Recovery Month. Created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration this month is devoted to celebrating and publicizing the fact that people can and do recover from substance abuse and lead successful lives.
While Recovery Month is sponsored by an organization whose policies I don’t always agree with, the premise is a good one. Recovery is a beautiful thing. It isn’t about lack, limitation or denying oneself things one wants. It’s about opening up into a new way of living that is vastly more rewarding than anything you could imagine.
I’ve been in recovery for 31 years. I’ve seen a lot, done a lot, studied and researched a lot, and witnessed a lot. Life happens in 31 years. Through it all I’ve learned a few things.
My area of expertise lies in the 12 steps, taken from a New Thought perspective. I’ve written a short little book about it, called A New Thought Journey through the 12 Steps. You can purchase it here. A workbook is in progress.
I’ve been blessed in my journey in recovery because people took the time to teach me simple things every step of the way. I went to a treatment center and came out with two takeaways, in addition to being clean for the first time in 20 years. The first takeaway was that alcoholism is an allergy. I will always be allergic to alcohol and any other substance that alters my mind. This removed the shame that is typically associated with addiction. Because I was not ashamed of my disease, I didn’t hide it. We are only as sick as our secrets and that was a secret that was well and thoroughly outed, brought into the light to heal. My other takeaway was that living life without alcohol was not only possible but desirable, and that to do so, I needed to incorporate the 12 steps into my life. Once I began attending meetings and talking with folks to learn about those steps, powerful wisdom was shared with me every step of the way. It was pointed out to me that if I did not think I was powerless over alcohol, I was free to allow it back into my life. With the same results. It was pointed out to me that if I did not think my life was unmanageable, to just do a quick little review of recent events. It was pointed out to me that it did not matter that I could not agree with the way those first three steps were worded. Agreement was not necessary to recovery. Work was. I was to work those steps, and incorporate them into my life. Comprehension could come later. I did and it did. This was how I got through those first three steps.
But those first three steps are where many New Thought folks balk. For folks grounded in a teaching that says we are all powerful, declaring one’s powerlessness is anathema. I view this step as simply another doorway into changing our thinking. For folks who hesitate at the word “insanity” in the second step, consider how the word is used in the original text that laid out the 12 steps and how to work them. All insanity means is that we continue to drink (or use, or whatever) in spite of knowing what it will do to us. And for those who believe in a God as part of us, not separate from us, the third step can seem disempowering.
But consider that when the original text was written, it was written so that newcomers could discover a way to get sober. Back then, substantial sobriety time was two years. They had no concept of what long term recovery could be. I often wonder what they would have written had they realized that people would walk this earth with 30, 40 and 50 plus years of recovery under their belt. I believe the first three steps are a way to GET sober, not a way to STAY sober.
I believe that to live in steps 1, 2 and 3 means to, as Ernest Holmes said, argue for our limitations. Living a life of continued powerlessness is not how I wish to live. I believe in personal empowerment, and steps 10 and 11 provide that.
Steps 10 and 11 are where the beauty and the true power of recovery lie. Get through those first steps and you never have to revisit them again. This has been my experience. There are promises inherent in living in steps 10 and 11. Addiction is no longer the issue. There simply is no desire to use or drink, so there is nothing to fight. The allergy is still there, but the fight is gone. There is no longer the fear of looking deep into one’s soul and being, because, well, we’ve been there, done that, in steps 4 and 5. Those introspective steps are now simply tools to discover what is blocking us in life, and remove those blocks. And step 10 gives me the power and strength and willingness to do so.
Today 10 and 11, or if you wish, meditation, prayer and introspection, are how I begin my day. These three things: meditation, prayer and introspection, are advocated by just about every teaching every presented to humankind. They aren’t just for people in recovery, but they are particularly helpful to those in recovery.
In this recovery month, my hope is that more people find the beauty, joy and power that lies in true recovery. My hope is that more people move beyond the disempowerment of being in active addiction and move into empowered living.
If you are in recovery, I celebrate you. If you are not in recovery, I celebrate you too, and affirm that you are right where you are supposed to be, well on your way to a life of freedom and joyous living.