First Segment - Principle 8 - Commitment - How am I responsible?
CREATING A SUSTAINABLE recovery involves much more than merely creating sobriety. It’s a qualitatively different effort. It’s the difference between 2-D and 3-D. Between liking and loving. Between involvement and commitment.
Commitment is absolutely critical to sustaining recovery. Our addiction rewired our brain to sabotage us, to constantly pull us back into our illness. In order to maintain our recovery, we need to continually re-engineer our brain—not once, or until we reach a certain goal or threshold, but on an ongoing basis, day by day.
Although commitment is partly about attitude, it is most about what we do—how we show up, what responsibilities we shoulder, what decisions we make, and what actions we take to sustain those decisions. Recovery is a team effort that requires multiple commitments: our determination to build a new life, the mindfulness of our inner observer, the help of trustworthy people, and the guidance of our Higher Power.
- Are you ready for the commitment to a life of recovery? How do you know you are? What do you need to know in your heart to ensure that you are committed to such a life?
In Step Eight, we mentally redesigned our relationships with all the people we had harmed. As we live Principle Eight, we mentally redesign our relationship with recovery. We no longer see recovery as something we practice; it becomes part of who we are. We see that the Principles of recovery are also the Principles of living, and we commit ourselves fully to them.
We addicts already have deep and intimate experience with commitment. When we were caught in our addiction, our commitment to it was nearly absolute. We got very skilled at obtaining whatever substance or experience we were addicted to. We committed great time and energy to planning and organizing these efforts, as well as to covering up our addiction.
Our commitment to recovery needs to be equally thoroughgoing. This means bringing to resolution everything unexamined, undisclosed, unaddressed, or unfinished in our life. It also means asking ourselves, moment after moment, What is the next right thing I need to do? As we live the Principles, our commitment to recovery broadens and deepens into a commitment to the world.
- Addiction, achievement and commitment tap into some of the same processes in the brain. What do you do to be at your best and avoid old patterns of self-sabotage?
Commitment and Your Inner Observer
Suppose that you drive the same highway to work every day and always get off at the same exit. One morning you need to deliver a package to a friend who lives three miles further down that highway. Without thinking, out of habit, you automatically take your usual exit. You don’t even realize your error until you’re halfway down the off-ramp.
Our brain is always creating these kinds of shortcuts for us. It tries to be more efficient, to do more with less energy, so it can free up as much mental bandwidth as possible for other tasks. Much of the time, these shortcuts help us. But when we need to do something different—such as get off the highway three miles later—our mental shortcuts can get in our way.
Most of us have some harmful mental shortcuts as well, such as the ones created by our addictions and our dysfunctional upbringings. For example, when we see a police officer, we may feel an automatic twinge of fear and panic, even though we know the officer’s job is to protect and serve us.
- What harmful mental shortcuts did your addiction create?
In recovery, we work with these mental shortcuts in four ways. First, we train our inner observer to spot them and let us know when they have begun to kick in. Second, we teach our inner observer to tell us when we’re in a situation that might trigger an unhealthy shortcut. Third, we learn to stop ourselves from taking certain shortcuts, and to instead act mindfully, based on the particular situation. Fourth, over time we create new, helpful mental shortcuts to replace some of our old unhelpful ones.
This process takes time, effort, and lots of practice—but our recovery requires it. Only with ongoing mindfulness can we make and sustain crucial changes to our brain. Sticking with this process requires commitment. But the process also creates commitment: once it starts to yield positive results, it becomes self-reinforcing.
- Have you worked on these harmful mental shortcuts? Have you created new, helpful mental shortcuts? What are they?
In practicing the first seven Principles, we developed our inner observer into a reliable, mindful presence that monitors and manages all the traffic in our brain. Now, as we live Principle Eight, we also make it responsible for monitoring and managing our daily practices of recovery. These practices differ somewhat from person to person, but they typically include prayer, meditation, personal reflection or writing, and reading Twelve Step materials.
- How much has your inner observer developed, if any, from working through and practicing the first seven principles? Have you noticed a difference? What are your daily practices of recovery? Do you feel like you should be doing more, less or have you got the balance right?
We also give our inner observer the responsibility of managing our moment-by-moment practices of recovery. This includes alerting us to:
- Potentially dangerous situations, such as an invitation to a friend’s birthday party in a bar, or a Facebook friend request from a former girlfriend.
- Physical or emotional states that make us vulnerable, such as loneliness, disappointment, frustration, exhaustion, or hunger.
- Thoughts or impulses that can get us into trouble, such as a desire to take a walk past the casino, or a brilliant new plan to limit our partner’s drinking.
- Mental shortcuts that are inappropriate or potentially damaging.
- Signs that our addiction has reappeared in a new form.
This mutation of one addiction into another is quite common, and represents yet another cunning and baffling aspect of the disease. Even with years of successful recovery under our belt, we can suddenly find ourselves thinking like an addict. Something that had never been a problem for us before—eating, dating, shopping, computer gaming—begins to take on compulsive overtones. These are signs that our addiction has re-emerged with a new focus and is trying to hijack our brain. Our inner observer’s careful monitoring can stop this hijacking in its early stages and help us return to the path of recovery.
- Has your old behaviour mutated into a new addiction? If so, how are you dealing with it? If not, how do you keep your old behaviour from mutating into a new addiction?
We also give our inner observer one other important responsibility: helping us create and maintain new, healthy shortcuts and habits. These are often called unconscious competencies. They are unconscious because, once we have integrated them into our life, we do them automatically, without thinking. They are competencies because they are always sane and helpful. Common examples include:
- Listening intently without criticism, judgment, or interruption.
- Asking someone who is obviously in distress, “Is something wrong?”
- Asking our Higher Power for help when we need it.
- Being grateful for the good things in our life.
- Asking ourselves What is needed here? How can I be of service?
- Do you struggle with any of these common examples of unconscious competencies? Are there any that you want to try and implement into your life? Why?
Second Segment - Topic Of The Week
- Have I said my good-byes to addiction and moved on?
Is my program about stopping or living? It's not like I will be bored or alone after Step One. I will have Freedom and I will have choice.
Is the program a problem solver that I apply and move on from, or a way of living for me?
Third Segment - Quote Of The Week
“One of the ways of surrendering Freedom is to actually have convictions. And a way of further surrendering Freedom is to spend quite a bit of time acting on those convictions.” Jonathan Franzen (born 1959)
Anyone who knows this author's devotion to Art would question his Commitment to balanced living. He spent nine years writing the book Freedom, without holidays or much recreation. Franzen’s dedication to Art is an enslavement he would prefer to Freedom. We often look at recovery and addiction in opposite lights—addiction was manic (or depressive) and compulsive, so recovery should be long walks on the beach or curled up with a book. Recovery releases us from enslavement. Our new Freedom is ours to do with as we see fit. If we want to trade in our Freedom for a calamitous cause, we go for it. We need not be afraid of extreme behavior, so long as we maintain our sanity and our power of choice. Music, painting, travel and many other ways we spend our time don’t come with early to bed, early to rise, three square meals per day and a white picket fence.
How do we differentiate obsessive-compulsive behavior (unhealthy living) from getting lost in a noble calling? Our inner voices guide us. Checking with a sponsor or a confidant might not hurt either. Do we start slow and see how it goes or do we jump right in? The all-or-nothing drama from our past doesn’t have to dictate how we follow our bliss. How calm or dramatic our lives are will not determine whether they are good or bad. Good living is Meaningful living. Pleasure and accolades aren’t something we desperately seek for reassurance when our lives our chock-full of Meaning. Are we living in accordance with our true values?
- What Limits do I impose on my life because I am an addict? Are these healthy Limits? Are they necessary? Put another way, what are the Limits and Freedoms of my recovery?