The circle and triangle (a triangle within a circle) is an ancient symbol that can mean many things. For instance: mind, body, and spirit in balance create a whole, healthy individual. One of the 12-Step fellowships has adopted the symbol to represent recovery, unity and service, which, when practiced in balance by an individual (or a group) create emotional sobriety.
At Gray Wolf Ranch we embrace the concept of balance. Our residents participate in recovery in a manner that meets the severity of their addictions while allowing for a social life, service and fun activities.
Before we get too much further into this topic, there needs to be a disclaimer, so here it is: there are many different views on recovery topics, and the one being presented here is based on our collective experience in personal recovery and professionally in the recovery field. This is simply one way of looking at the topic.
What is the goal of recovery and how can this symbol help guide the recovery process? The most obvious goal of recovery is to stop drinking or using drugs. Those of us in recovery understand that quitting is the easy part; staying quit and making personal changes are the tough part.
Alcohol and drugs are a symptom of a greater problem, and for every person that problem looks a little different. Still, there are some common traits among those afflicted, including selfishness, self-pity, grandiosity, denial, irritability, manipulation, always looking for the ‘magic bullet’ (taking the easy way out), obsessions, and sensitivity. When we sober up, we are left with the inability to manage life effectively. We often pull it together for periods of time, but inevitably life falls apart. Emotional sobriety can be defined as the ability to successfully navigate life without using drugs and alcohol.
The circle and triangle symbol provide us with a basic roadmap leading to healthy sobriety. Like most things in recovery, it is simple but not easy. The base of the triangle is recovery, as it is your personal work in recovery that the other two sides grow from. Recovery represents working the Steps, being accountable to a sponsor and practicing of daily disciplines.
One of the many misconceptions about recovery is that it is simply a program of attendance: i.e., show up to meetings once a week, drink some coffee and it’s all good. Nothing could be further from the truth. Recovery is about personal change and starts with working the Steps with a sponsor and practicing daily disciplines that keep us moving forward. Relentless, forward progress is essential. It has been said one is either moving away from the last drink/drug or moving toward the next one. There is no standing still. Our recovery actions are what keep us moving away from that last use.
The next side of the triangle is unity. The concept of unity is easier understood as an action/verb. It is not a state of being; rather, a state of doing. Unity refers to the fellowship found in the recovery community. Showing up to meetings and recovery events (picnics, campouts, and other social engagements) is essential to emotional sobriety. How many times have we heard that people feel better when they go to a meeting? That’s because they are around their ‘people’ or their tribe, an understanding community working towards the same goal.
Attendance does not produce lasting change, but it does provide a respite while engaged in change. Consistent attendance develops relationships, and these relationships can have a positive impact on recovery. Many people attribute personal growth directly to the impact that support and accountability to their peer group provided. When we first enter recovery, we are timid and test the waters slowly. This is to be expected, but our confidence should grow progressively over time. We will discuss balance in this area a little later.
There is a common trait among those with long-term, quality sobriety. It is a sense of service. They are of service in their local communities, recovery communities and within their families. The benefits of service far outweigh the effort of service, and once the recovering person feels this, service sells itself. Service often begins as simply just showing up before a meeting to set up chairs or clean up afterwards, but it evolves and changes.
The key component in service is the concept of paying it forward. We have to give it away to keep it. We do this by sponsoring newcomers, speaking at treatment centers, going on 12-Step calls, having a home group or even speaking with families who have a loved one suffering from addiction. Common to service is a sense of anonymity, service for the sake of service, not for recognition. Service allows us to get outside ourselves, it relieves us of the selfishness…..today. Yesterday doesn’t count; tomorrow hasn’t happened yet; so it is all about today. Action, not reminiscing what you did or planning what you will do, is the solution.
The circle that surrounds the triangle is important, in fact, essential. The circle represents living on all three sides of the triangle equally and in balance. The balance part is important. As addicts and alcoholics, we can be creatures of extremes, thus prone to practice only one or two of these three traits, leaving out the one(s) we don’t like.
Why is it that we need to practice all three? The simple answer is this: we have never seen a person who is practicing all three principles in balance relapse. We have seen individuals practicing only one or two relapse.
Unity is a great example. Unity is often the most attractive of the three principles. Hanging out with others in fellowship, going to meetings, going out to coffee are fun activities -- but do they produce lasting change? Our experience tells us not. Conversely, there are those who only want to get a sponsor, work through the Steps and avoid interactions with the group. This most likely will not support lasting change. The circle challenges us to apply ourselves in balance, because recovery is a road to life, not a road of life.
The ‘road to life’ is an interesting and at times controversial topic. Remember the goal of recovery outlined earlier? To effectively navigate life means we are supposed to ‘get a life’. Hobbies, families, careers, pets, sports are all supposed to be a part of our life. What good is recovery if all we do is go to meetings? The concept of balance is important so that recovery is not all- consuming and allows us to move toward a successful, healthy life.
The circle and triangle combination is also the perfect self-assessment tool to gauge your recovery. Let’s say that you’ve been sober a while and your recovery seems a little off. Review your participation as it relates to the three sides of the triangle and you will find at least one side needs attention. This is a moving target, and it requires humility to assess and adjust. Do not get stuck in your ways, because there is nothing more dangerous than people with enough time under their belt to think they know it all and are unwilling to change.
Keep the circle and triangle in front of you, because this symbol serves as a simple reminder of what recovery should be. See it for what is and use it; it may just save your life.