On my 21st birthday, I was sitting in a random AA meeting: silent, sponsorless and alone. Like at most meetings, the slogans were posted on the wall and I remember seeing the following phrase: “Life on life’s terms.” Ironically, framed right beneath it were the words “Into action.” Incredulous, I remarked on this seeming oxymoron. One statement seemed to imply a fatalistic attitude and another seemed to give power to the individual in making a change. My remark caught the attention of my soon-to-be sponsor, who said he’d be happy to explain if I was interested. “No thanks,” I sheepishly said, not realizing that I had spoken my thoughts out loud.
As expected, I was cornered by the man who caught my stream of consciousness at the end of the meeting, along with his friend. They asked if I would mind chatting with them outside. That night, I gathered enough information from these two gentlemen that I raced home to write it all down.
Here are three main points that I scribbled down from our conversation, and what I continue to implement in my life today:
1. Right now, the only thing that I can manage, and barely at that, is staying sober. Anything after that is a victory.
2. Think about what positive things I have done for myself. I’ve taken more positive action steps today than I even realize.
3. Praying in the morning, helping another alcoholic or addict, calling my sponsor and making a meeting are all good ways to prevent a relapse.
After our talk, they motioned towards my car and asked how many people I drove to the meeting in that “big ole’ SUV.” I didn’t take anyone; no friend or acquaintance came to mind, either. So, for the next 14 months, I ran a carpool and offered rides to my peers. As I did so, I heard the men’s words in my head: “When you can’t stand yourself. Give of yourself to someone who deserves your time more than you.”
Believe it or not, I finally understood the mystery of the two slogans that I once considered impossibly incompatible. Life on life’s terms is not learned helplessness, but rather, learned acceptance, almost always helped along by the Serenity Prayer: To accept the things that I cannot the change…the courage to change the things I can…and the wisdom to know the difference…
I made lifelong friends during those rides to meetings all over South Florida. We also enjoyed dinner or coffee, conversation and developed real relationships. As far as the two older men that initially cornered me, I speak with them weekly, if not daily. No longer just my sponsors, I think of these men now as my friends. And the priceless piece of advice that they gave me on my 21st birthday is one that I will take with me all the way to the end of my recovery journey.
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