When a newcomer enters the program, it can often be a very overwhelming time. There is a joke that sometimes gets 'shared' in meetings, about a newly recovering addict who asks what he will have to change in his life in order to prevent a relapse and a return to the old, addictive ways. The sponsor replies, nonchalantly, "Oh you don't need to change much. Just, everything!"
A willing newcomer will find that there are key, simple things for them to do on a daily basis in order to surrender their way out of addiction: attend as many meetings as possible, ideally 90 meetings in 90 days; read some of the Big Book, the main piece of literature, every day (even if it's just on the toilet!); start to pray to a Higher Power; pick up the phone and make contact with other recovering addicts.
These simple 'tools', used consistently, begin to change the very fabric of one's life, until suddenly, a person who had been so consumed by addiction turns 90 days clean, then 6 months, then a year. Day in, day out, the program becomes an integral part of their life, to the degree that the person chooses to have it be. Collecting the NA keyrings was hugely important to me in my early days, and I had them all lined up in my bedroom on top of a mirror. I looked at them every day and consciously connected with how grateful I was to be free.
Sometimes in meetings or discussions with friends, a recovering addict who has perhaps been clean and sober for a while, will hear the term Back to Basics. It might show up like this:
"Gee whizz, [this recovering addict is American - no offence intended to American readers] I notice that I am getting really caught up in the day to day minutiae of my life. Bills, chores, work pressures. I seem to have lost my way a bit with my recovery. It has slipped from being the top of my list to number four or five, and my overall sense of well-being feels really depleted right now. I'm going to commit to get Back to Basics."
Back to Basics implies attending meetings more regularly, doing the simple things that were so crucial in the 'early days' of recovery, in order to re-prioritize one's recovery.
Now, I do not consider myself to be an 'addict', although I know I have the potential to be addictive in relation to food, to my work, and to certain ways of thinking and feeling. I no longer live my life by the 12 steps; they're not the foundation of my life, as they were a few years ago. I don't attend meetings, and I don't have a sponsor. But some things from AA and NA still resonate with me, and today this phrase is one of them.
I find it so easy to start doing different things with my time, particularly in the morning and before sleeping, which for me are two really crucial times, two times during the day when I can most clearly hear the call to connect, with my Self, with the Holy Spirit, with truth, with Love. But suddenly, I don't want to meditate, or write, or simply look out of the window at the stunning sky. No no no, I've got more important things to do! I need to watch GMTV, and I need to check my emails at 7.00 in the morning. It's imperative that I faff on the internet, checking my Cashback balance and having a nose on Facebook before I even think about sitting quietly for ten minutes or reading the Course. And then, two hours have gone by and I need to get the hell out of here and go ... where? Out! To be busy! To do... you know... stuff. Important stuff that needs doing.
The ego thinks it's won, ladies and gentleman, when I slip back into this pattern, as I have done of late. But alas for Mr. Ego, that still, small Voice continues to call, and I know and cannot deny that it is only when I heed this Voice that I am truly at peace.
So, I get Back to Basics, and when I'm back there, it's obvious that my wandering off didn't really take me further away from God; all it did was block my awareness of the Love that is always available to me.
There's a part of me that wants to commit to a solid, clear plan for my mornings, particularly at this time of transition and uncertainty, as I enter the last 60 days of employment before who-knows-what's-next.
And I wanted to write this post to sort out what that might look like, even if I don't stick to it.
Earlier this year, I had a really consistent period when I spent time every day reading the day's lesson from A Course in Miracles, meditating on that, and literally carrying it with me throughout the day, stuck on a post it note. So I think that would be a key ingredient.
Prayers have been a part of my life for years with varying degrees of commitment and consistency. I struggle with prayer, quite a lot actually, but I'm pretty sure that doing it regularly helps me feel more connected to God, not less, so I'll chuck a prayer in there too!
Plus, it's one of the wonderful ways that Nige and I connect - on our bikes. Ah....
I'm also really keen to slow down my life, rather than speed it up, and have a little kitchen centred fantasy about making my own bread, leisurely preparing beautiful salads and soups, and creating little dishes that may seem simple to others but which I understand to be little miracles of love.
Being present is probably a key outcome of all of this, and is also a Basic in itself. Taking the time to eat slowly, in the garden where possible, among the cheeky squirrels and free-flying birds, is one of my life's great joys and is something I've avoided doing recently, choosing instead to gobble down grub in front of Faceache.
So, meditation, reading the Course, writing, prayer, exercise, cooking, being present: just some of the Basics I'm hoping to reinstate into my life. But as they say in 12 step programs, it's 'Just for Today'. Today is all I have, and knowing that, this potential 'list' of 'things to do' becomes a lot less overwhelming, because I've only got to 'do' it for today.
And today, dear reader, I woke up and literally wasted a couple of hours of this precious, precious life, before making the decision to get out there and live, sharing a beautiful conversation with Nige, then riding my bike for 18 miles, stopping for 45 minutes to have a cup of tea and talk to a friend, returning home to eat and watch "Life is Beautiful" (what a film!), then going for a quick run around the park with a hypnosis cd playing in my ears, then eating supper in the garden, meditating for ten minutes, and settling down in my room to write all this to you.
The discomfort I feel when I don't take good care of myself is always enough - eventually - to propel me back into loving action. And writing this has helped me get a clearer mental picture of tomorrow morning, in which I can easily visualize myself living my Basics once again.
What are your Basics, the things without which your life begins to feel like a never ending wash cycle? How do you know that you need to get 'back' to them? And how do you stay with them once you're doing them again? I'd love to hear....
Love, as always,