Everything and everybody bothered me in early sobriety, though that might be a slight overstatement. I had two modes: ‘everything is great’ or ‘everything sucks’. The things that bothered me were petty resentments based on personalities. When enough of these build up isolation, pessimism and righteousness grow. That leads to relapse.
I knew this condition was dangerous and I would run to my sponsor and complain. He said I was being “kicked to death by rabbits.” Of course, when he said this kind of thing to me, I internally rolled my eyes. What I wanted to hear was that I was right and everyone was in fact annoying and wrong. What I got was that I was letting people live rent-free in my head….it was my responsibility.
Before we go any further down this rabbit hole a quick disclaimer is in order: the following is one way of looking at a process that occurs in recovery and treatment. It is an opinion based on personal and professional experience, but not the only way to look at the subject.
Just because we get sober doesn’t mean we are ‘well.’ A good way to look at this is ‘what is our reaction to life?’. Alcoholics and drug addicts can be sensitive and reactive, especially in early recovery, so finding a way to move past petty resentments can literally save our lives.
The end result of the Steps is a “Spiritual Experience”, a concept that eluded me until I read Appendix II in the back of the Big Book. It changed everything for me.
I spent six years in and out of recovery (very little actual recovery, but lots of meetings and therapists) because I kept hearing terms like ‘spiritual awaking’, ‘spiritual experience’, ‘let go and let God’ -- and my favorite, ‘you gotta have an attitude of gratitude’. When I heard these things, my mind slammed shut and eventually I would re-start the cycle of using drugs and alcohol.
Appendix II clarifies the concept of the Spiritual Experience as “ ….the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery” and that made sense to me. It’s concrete; I could wrap my head around it. It was easy to understand that I needed to change; my personality needed to shift to support recovery principles. That is what the Steps are for: learning to manage the thing that had always confounded me, life.
Treatment settings of all types play a key role in this process. There is a reason that most treatment settings are not comprised of one client, a therapist, a private chef and a yoga instructor in a beach house talking through the problem (though there is nothing wrong with any of these things). The group process is essential in spurring growth. Every button will be pushed, thus providing the opportunity to try new behavior on people who are there for the same reason. It was described to me as tackling dummies. I am not inferring that peers in treatment are disposable or dummies but they do provide the landscape to practice new behaviors so that they can be utilized in the outside world. Tackling dummies are used on the practice field to perfect form so that on game day you are ready.
Length of time around the group can play an important role as well. I can pretend nothing bothers me for a week or a month in order to simply get through some situation, but time is the great leveler. Character defects will emerge; thus, the opportunity to address them in a healthy manner. At Gray Wolf Ranch we see this all the time. Guys do great on the surface for the first couple of months and then their avoidance no longer works. This is when the work of ‘life on life’s terms’ begins and we see who is really working a program and who is not.
A side note: Step 10 provides us with very concrete steps to take to manage the problem of being kicked to death by rabbits. Four steps to be precise. Page 84 about half way down will illuminate the intention of this vital step. Check it out, it just may save your life…….