Anyone who has sat through even a single twelve step meeting has heard and seen more than one piece of what can sometimes come across as clichéd advice. Framed sayings are on the walls and even more are usually tossed out during any given group discussion. When hearing over-quoted and under-explained philosophies, I can understand why those who are in and out several times (which I imagine most are; I was) eventually start to roll their eyes at seeing such examples as “Let go, let God.”
My personal belief is to NEVER use one of these “sayings” around newcomers without explaining the structure of how they work. This is not only unfair to the listener; it’s irresponsible of the speaker. When a newcomer is told “One day at a time” are they really going extract any usable information from just the adage itself? I doubt it. We who are beyond the initial pain and fog of coming out of a life lived under the influence have an obligation to explain the logistics of the idea. I think anything less is arrogance.
One of the most common statements I hear in meetings is “Stick around and the miracle will happen.” Believe it or not it was over six months before I was finally aware just what the miracle was. Yes, I’d probably read the Big Book three times by then, but I’d never made the connection. I was flabbergasted when I finally did because by then it had already happened. In the fourth edition at the top of page 85 from the chapter “Into Action” it’s made clear just what the “miracle” is. This is what it says. “We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it.” Be honest, would you have been just a little more motivated at the beginning of your program if the answer were available rather than just the question? Knowing that the day will come where you may not even think of having a drink? Is that a miracle? It was, and still is, for me. Do I think that holding back this information from a newcomer could lower their chances at recovery? Yes, I most certainly do.
Another piece of advice I hear frequently is to strongly suggest those new to the program to not get involved in a relationship for at least a year from their sobriety date. This one I’ll just explain outright. If you are already in a relationship, so be it; but those who are single should not seek companionship for the recommended time, and for damn good reason. Here’s why. The program is designed to change behavior from self-destructiveness to benevolent-constructiveness. This takes time and discipline as I’m sure anyone reading this would agree. When we seek comfort or companionship in others we will, without knowing it, be attracted to those who support what we believe in. In other words we will subconsciously seek reinforcement of old patterns. This is where we think we will find comfort. This is where we think we will begin anew when in reality we are rekindling old habits. Addiction is sneaky and it WILL seek ways to reassert itself. In the arms of what we think may be love, may lay nightmares of continuing the past. I have seen it myself. Those who look at each other in meetings with hardly any time away from their demons may think the common ground of A.A. (or any 12 step group) will strengthen once they join together will be quick to find they are dead wrong. Good intentions are not enough to overcome what has become instinct. We must place ourselves in a place of discomfort for a decent period. This means immersion into an environment of constant challenge to our old way of living. Here we will face loving criticism from those we have chosen to guide us to a better place. I was lucky enough to know this ahead of time. Many are not.
Obviously this article could go on long enough to fill a book. My desire is to ask you to continue what has been suggested here. Please, I beg you from my heart; do not tell someone who is lost and afraid for every moment, shaking with tremors and fear, “One day at a time” without explaining how to do it. It’s like pointing to a vault and telling them there are answers beyond, but they must search for a way to open it themselves. We must attempt to define the actions, not simply by relating the outcome but by, at the very least, telling them where to find the key. Even I must admit there is some benefit in being slightly covert because this may stimulate curiosity and self-motivation, but when the labyrinth becomes too overwhelming it will serve to discourage instead. When we know why something needs to be done, we are much more motivated to follow through on the actions required.
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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood