By Bart Ross | Recovery & Alumni Services Coordinator
Is a 12-Step program really a “we” thing? Yes! But it didn’t always feel like one to me.
I began attending 12-Step fellowships in 1987. I was very shy and never felt comfortable around groups of people, since as far back as I can remember. I said I didn’t like people, but the truth is, I was shy.
A very common thing I’d heard said in the meetings was that it’s a “we” program. I always felt separate and not a part of the “we.” At my very first meeting that I tried to attend, someone handed me a little blue card and asked me to read it. I started reading it to myself. As the room began to fill, I kept my eyes on that little blue card to avoid eye contact with anyone. It felt to me like the whole world walked in and were all looking at me. The chairperson started the meeting. I was asked to read that little blue card out loud. I panicked, mumbled the reading, and started planning my escape. I had no idea what was done at these meetings, but I thought to myself that if it’s reading and speaking out loud, then it’s not for me
I walked out of the meeting and later was surrounded by some really good people. They invited me out to dinner with them. I had hundreds of excuses for why I couldn’t go, but they wouldn’t accept any of them. On that night, I began to be a part of a fellowship.
I continued to attend meetings for a very long time. I would continuously hear that this is a “we” program. Physically, I was in the fellowship, but spiritually and mentally, I was not. I would attend meetings and not say a word. I would stand outside, and unless someone approached me, I would just stand there feeling lost and alone in my head. There were some great people, but I had no idea how to be comfortable around people. I made some terrific friends and started doing fun things, but inside I was still lost and unable to feel part of that “we.” I knew everyone else was staying sober and that they were happy. Why not me?
On June 12, 1995, I walked back into a meeting after being on a spree. My ears began to hear things very differently. I met a man who became my sponsor. He quickly began showing me how to practice the 12-Steps as a way of life. Something started to change in me. Not only was I staying sober, I began to feel a part of the “we.”
I was sober. I was happy. I was willing to be involved. I started sharing in meetings, taking commitments, making coffee, setting up chairs, cleaning up, and eventually telling my story. The coolest thing was that I started walking others through the Steps.
I remember speaking at a meeting when an old-timer came up to say that I’d done a great job. I turned red in the face! The old-timer said, “You don’t know how to handle a compliment, do you?”
When I replied that I didn’t, he said, “Just say thank you.”
At that point, I started to live and become a part of my life rather than merely existing.
I soon realized that just because I had been going to meetings didn’t mean I was a part of “we.” I read the Steps from the Big Book on pages 59-60 and realized that they are all written in the past tense. Those people who were happy and a part of “we” probably had done something that I didn’t do until June 1995. They admitted while I didn’t. They came to believe while I did not. They made a decision, but nope, no decision for me. They humbly asked, but I asked for nothing because I didn’t think I had to. They continued and sought, but not me.
As a result, they all had something, but all I had was my misery. What they had was a spiritual awaking by things that I hadn’t done. If I wanted to feel part of the “we,” then I had couldn’t just go to meetings and read the steps off the wall. If I did, all I would get was an off-the-wall program.
Those who know me now know that you can’t shut me up. My friends used to offer me money to share, and I still couldn’t do it. Now I’m sure some people would like to provide me with money to shut up. NOPE, NOT HAPPENING! I have a homegroup that I’m active in. To me, being an active member means showing up, setting up, speaking up, and reaching out. I have a group of men I can do the Tenth Step with. I no longer feel alone in a room full of people, and I don’t have that feeling of uselessness. I never thought I would have been able to do these things sober. Through working the Steps, I discovered that I was way too selfish, self-centered, and full of fear and self-doubt to have been a part of the “we.”
Today, thanks to a God of my understanding and a design for living, I’ve had a complete psychic change. I’m part of the “we” with both feet all-in! With a Higher Power, all things are possible!
If you’re struggling, feeling alone in a 12-Step program, or want to share your experience, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing from all you sober (soba) soldiers.
Hanley Center – A Path to Recovery
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