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My new drug is gratitude
‘Our personal recovery depends on unity…’ is one of the foundations we learn in 12 step groups. I’m surprised we struggle to achieve unity given that our recovery depends on it. The process of recovery started for me when I first started attending 12 step meetings and connected with a home group. I didn’t see it at the time, but people were willing to accommodate me and my behaviors. I was loud, obnoxious, and lived on the strength of my personality, with barely an inkling of what ‘principles’ even meant. My early attempts to live by principles were crude - like using a sledge hammer to pound in a nail. I would show up on time for a meeting, judge others for being late, but spend the whole meeting ogling women or wondering what my life would be like if this or that happened. My honesty was brutally frank. Afterwards I would stand outside and smoke, longing for a connection and crying for help without saying a word. Unity was in the message that the members of a home group carried as a Fellowship. The Fellowship often talks about how language is so important in the rooms, and how valuable our literature is. The messages I heard early in recovery were the slogans, readings, and texts that we taught each other and put onto paper. I started to identify with honest sharing , and I felt a part of when someone talked to me and made me feel welcome. Connection was the start of the path out of addiction.
Connection grew in importance once I could identify with others. feelings shared created strong bonds of connection. Recently I watched a Ted Talk® by Johann Hari: “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong”. It never occurred to me at the time that I was disconnected from everything that I needed to stay healthy - including my feelings. Often the connection I achieved in early recovery was like the perfect storm. My hyperactive mind managed to stop for a desperate breath of air while sitting in a 12-step meeting. For a moment, as the silence descended, I could finally hear something outside myself, and the speaker’s voice sunk into my conscience awareness. The message that I so desperately needed at that moment rings true in my mind like a bell. There was a surge of energy as a connection is formed and the message is flowing in.
The first few meetings, it was a moment, mere seconds, but later as I attend regularly, connection grew in frequency and duration. I started to listen to what I so desperately needed to hear. What I needed was there the whole time but I was so focused on what I wanted. Separating my wants from my needs took time, and so I started doing the work that was suggested.
Unity inspired me to start and complete the 12 steps. I enjoyed the feeling of being a part of something and the warmth of fellowship attracted me to be a part of, even when I was uncomfortable. I sought out like-minded members and worked hard to be of service to the Fellowship. Unity became a shoulder patch, a symbol of what I wanted as a person in recovery. I felt united with my brothers and sisters and basked in the gratitude and joy of a life worth giving.
Unfortunately, addiction is powerful and insidious and toxic. Even gratitude can be poisoned by addiction. Gratitude is a bright light that blinds us to the suffering of others. Gratitude and Joy are positive feelings…It is easy to get lost in their embrace, but recovery taught me that feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are. The desire to live in joy and gratitude can prevent us from dealing with difficult situations. The connection with others is jeopardized by having to take a stand against behaviors or ideas we dislike. Even difficult admissions of humility can take away from joy but are critical admissions we need to make. Unity requires we sometimes sacrifice our own ideas and hold all members accountable for a common purpose. We don’t have to all have the same truth, or strive to fit in. We fit in to these 12 Step support groups because we all share the disease of addiction and that is where the rubber meets the road. Our whole purpose, and that of the group (as stated in the Narcotics Anonymous literature) says that, “an addict, any addict can stop using drugs, use the desire to use, and find a new way to live” (Preface, Basic Text, 6th edition). When we stray from unity, which speaks directly to our primary purpose, the consequences can be devastating and ultimately life-threatening.
Active addiction was not always a nightmare in the beginning, but it grew into one. The first few times we used drugs we often felt grateful for the experience because we stopped feeling badly. For most of us, our addiction had started long before the drugs. Actively using had its moments of gratitude and joy because our pain was diminished, for a time. And then we needed more, more of whatever was taking away our pain. The getting, using, and finding ways to get more became our life’s work; our families, friends, and society had had enough, and we were now completely isolated and disconnected. Addiction was a life focused on self: ego fueled consumption with little regard for consequences. For many recovering addicts, hitting bottom was as simple as being forced to finally deal with the consequences of our actions. Others, it was jails, institutions, or death. Returning to the life of addiction can be as simple as returning to or engaging in those behaviors or thoughts that kept us sick, and for some, that leads back to the drugs. For those that halt or stay stagnant in the 12 step process, lifestyle, hobbies, money, and other trappings of success can leave us feeling as though we are sliding back into our old ways. Anything that takes us away from actively seeking humility and recovery will cause disunity.
Our actions in our groups and our fellowships must come back to our primary purpose in carrying a message to the suffering addict or alcoholic. When we lose sight of that, and focus on personal gratitude, joy and freedom, our fellowship suffers. Gratitude is an action. It goes beyond feeling gratitude that we can wake up clean. Showing our gratitude by being of service to our Fellowship, our family and friends, and to society will ultimately get us out of our selfish and self-serving ways to then become part of, and in that we find Unity.
Even in our personal lives, unity has a purpose. The bond between two people is jeopardized when we put our own needs ahead of another. Marriages dissolve, friendships end, neighbors glare, and we all watch the suffering that surrounds us, too concerned with our own gratitude and joy to consider sacrificing it for another. The paradox is that we can only keep what we have by giving it away. And, as has been observed and felt by many, when we give away our love in service, we get that back in abundance feeling like we belong.
It’s easy to spot disunity when the fellowship is not healthy. This can come in several guises-one of them being that a few dedicated members are doing most of the service required to keep the Fellowships strong. Every time a hand reaches out to help the new-comer, a whole army of recovering people are behind that hand opening the doors for meetings, supplying literature, setting up rooms, workshops, conferences, training sessions, supplying meeting lists throughout the community, and the list goes on. All of these life-saving contributions to our Fellowships are given because those recovering addicts feel deeply grateful for the clean life they have and want that for any addict seeking help. How can we unify to the solidarity of purpose for recovery if we only think about ourselves, our wants, our desires, our recovery? Personal recovery depends on the Unity of the Fellowship and that Unity comes from grateful recovering addicts practicing spiritual principles and giving freely what was given to them.