I watched a National Geographic program once that presented the nurture and development of wolves. In this program, the mother died unexpectedly. The four pups were not quite ready to strike out on their own, so they hovered next to the dead carcass, sucking on the tits of the dead mother. The program filmed the pups hovering, hoping for life sustenance. The filmmaker flashed forward to snow falling and beginning to cover the carcass of the mother. Each of the four pups drifted off in separate directions. The narrator stated that the pups now will never return to the mother or each other. It was their time to move forward in life or die with their mother.
This portrayal is a picture of recovery growth. Life is dynamic. Bob Dylan crooned “Times are A-Changin’”. There have always been arguments to refute biological evolution. However, what is irrefutable is that who we are tomorrow will not be the same as who we are today.
Many addicts grew up in unpredictable environments. Those who sought refuge from the chaos and turmoil created by addiction pandemonium found safety in recovery rooms. The acceptance and closeness from other addicts gave us what we never received growing up in our family of origin. The 12-step community created a much-needed safe haven for those of us who were driven by the demons of addiction.
I love the Old Testament story about the children of Israel crossing the wilderness headed for the Promised Land. The story goes that God provided manna from heaven while the people of Israel wandered through the wilderness. It was great. Wake up, go out, and pick breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was all provided by the generous Yahweh! Most wanted to settle and hang out for good. Why move forward? Let the Promised Land remain distant. We’re good right where we are! There were many problems and conflicts that ensued for those who settled and refused to move forward.
It’s that way where the rubber meets the road in recovery, too. The cocoon of support provided through a 12-step community is only as safe as you are willing to commit to personal growth. Growth means that you will not remain the same . . . neither will the environment compared to when you first entered for recovery. The very nature of a 12-step community will intensify the need for change.
Most of us don’t want change. Yet, without change, you stagnate. At some point, you can plateau in your recovery and build a fortress within a 12-step group that helps you not act out, which is good. Some people hover around the fortress and refuse to dig deeper for new recovery growth.
It is not to say that we outgrow our need for a 12-step group. Growth will require that our recovery moves past our 12-step group into the lives of our family, community, and occupation. It is not that we evangelize others to do 12-step work. It is that we promote acceptance, principled living, tolerance, and a transformative lifestyle in all aspects of living.
Here are a few considerations:
- Defensiveness and complaint are signals for needed growth. When someone touches an area of pain in your life and you bristle and push back with defensiveness, this is a signal that you need to grow in this area. For example, someone pushes you to stop being so codependent, to look at your payoff toward self-harm and sabotage and you scream back at them that either they don’t know what they are talking about or that you have got this! If you scream loud enough people will leave you alone to address your dilemma. You can justify your pain and lack of growth because of your misfortune. Like a little kid who skinned his knee, you can go through 12-step living hollering “Don’t touch it” and no one will, and you will seek someone to commiserate in your misery. Recovery is a river that moves forward with or without you. If 8 or 9 people say you’ve got a tail, at least look at your rear in the mirror. Pay attention to the signals that tell you to grow!
- Simply adjust. The dynamic of life presents the need for continual adjustment. Your rituals are interrupted by a sick child. You have a flat tire on the way to a 12-step meeting that you were scheduled to present and that you stayed up late working very hard to get just right. Your sponsor stands you up and you sit at a coffee shop twiddling your thumbs and pissed. People let you down and some days everything just goes wrong. The solution to all of these everyday experiences is to simply adjust. Be flexible. Be adventurous. Take a deep breath and look for the nugget of wisdom in everything that you deem has gone wrong. None of us are perfect with this skill set. Perfection is not required. What is required is that you know where the tool of “adjustment” is on the recovery shelf and you know when to reach for it and how to use it. This only requires practice. Adjustment isn’t fancy. It just works.
- Shift your focus away from the goal of day count and zero in on how much you can grow. Goals are important. A commitment to lifetime growth is more meaningful. Your commitment to growth will take you to new unknown territory in your life that will stretch and develop you beyond the safety zones that you found in early recovery. Take the risk and go with it. It doesn’t mean that you have to give up a 12-step community and work. It means that it will take you way beyond to help you fulfill your destiny. Be willing to throw everything up for grabs for the sake of personal growth and depth. You don’t need to ignore your personal limitations, but you will need to go deep within. There is no limit to going deep inside. Go for it.
There are times in life when you find that the well you have gone to is dry. It’s time to dig a new well. Time to launch into the deep. Like the wolf pups who recognized it is time to move on to something new, it’s time for you to move ahead and grow. Whether you are just beginning your recovery journey or you are an old geezer like me, today is the day to remove the excuses and go deep.