We all are different, it is what we all have in common. Therefore, I believe with good guidance from a sponsor, that we each need different tools to achieve a full recovery and a happy life. I have been sober for a long time, long enough to see people come and go. Long term stable recovery involves changing who we are on many levels.
Some say meetings and conference approved literature are the only way to go. Some have very regimented concepts of how the steps and recovery occurs. If that works, then it works, don’t fix it. I find that I need other tools to help me with my recovery.
One tool outside of the program that I use are retreat centers. I have found that getting away from my routine occasionally helps me to better understand myself, and work in a focused manner, or learn something new.
One of my character aspects is routine. Routine, like most character aspects, can be a positive force in my life. It can be a negative one as well. I can show up every day to the same job/meetings etc. Occasionally I need to recover from this by getting out to a safe place where I can see and experience myself from a different angle.
Remember, if we could recover by ourselves, many of us would. Our higher power works through others, occasionally I need to cut my higher power a break and get to a new place with different people. Retreat centers can help me with this.
I went to my favorite retreat center for the first time in September 2009 for a Labor Day retreat. It was a social retreat, no big agenda, just fun and meeting others. Like going to a family event, I took my own car, I backed in. I felt as out of place as I can get without bolting out the door. I did not feel right until I had a massage on the second day.
After that, I could understand that there were two folks there that bothered me. The rest of these folks were amazing friends I just had not met yet. By the end of the weekend, I was able to understand why the two folks bothered me.
So, some of my core issues are control and isolation. I cannot control others, so to feel better, I gravitate away from people. I also learned in recovery that the people I do not like or do not trust, or flat out hate, will teach me the most about myself.
If I have a strong emotional reaction to someone (good or bad), I try to the best of my ability to stick with it and learn what that is about. Going to a retreat where the entire goal was to be with new people was terrifying for me.
I can go to almost any 12 step meeting anywhere (been to meetings on several continents, different languages, different cultures, same message). It is safe, I know pretty much what will happen. If I am uncomfortable, deep in my heart I know it will be over soon…. and I can go on my way. I can fake it for an hour or two, no problem. At a retreat center, it is different. I am there for a few days.
It is not over in an hour. I have to live with it and try to understand it. My favorite retreat center provides me with a safe place to be uncomfortable. I am usually there long enough to figure out what the issue is, and usually enough time to either confront myself about it, or learn that this is part of who I am.
So, retreat centers can be a recovery tool. The programming often pushes a limit or two within me, but at the same time provides a safe container of spiritual people for me to be with long enough for me to face who I am and understand what is bothering me.
12 step meetings can be formulaic. They can have stifling routine. I can hide in that routine. My favorite retreat center is free flowing and causes me to run in to issues I did not expect. It gives me people to work with to help figure it out. Sometimes it gives me someone to just hold me while whatever energy (fear / loathing / love / warmth / whatever…) flows through me and dissipates or grows in me in that moment.
I have found that retreat centers can provide the connection and space that can help me move to the next level in my recovery. Retreat centers can do this by providing a different environment from a meeting to allow different issues to surface so you can understand them better, to see them from a different perspective. At least this has been my experience.
At meetings I am usually juggling one ball. At a retreat center the environment that the staff and volunteers create forces me to juggle a few balls at once. So, I have to be in a room with a bunch of people, I am opening myself up (something called intimacy, gosh I need to google that one of these days), I am walking through my fear of rejection, I am sometimes allowing myself to be held. And then to top it all off, I am doing I for 48 hours straight.
I don’t back in any more, I show up, I grow and I learn.
Note: At the beginning, I mentioned with “good guidance from a sponsor”. I want to stress this. Retreats and retreat centers are a tool that need to be used carefully. Your sponsor will hopefully help you understand what your motives are.
Retreats are not a substitute for meetings and working with others. Also, some people become retreat junkies, again, your sponsor with help guide you. You are looking for growth and moderation. If you figure out moderation, teach me.
I will be leading a 4th Step weekend January 20-22nd, 2017 at Easton Mountain in New York, all are welcome. Collectively as a group the leader and participants will walk through this transformative step.
Each will take stock of who they are, what they are. They can then use this tool to figure out what patterns and character aspects combine to produce the toxic mix that one’s drug/behavior covers up or relieves. Finding this combination opens the lock and lets you out.
I love leading these weekends, I have the privilege of watching recovery take off. Yes, the change is uncomfortable, the love is amazing. I do not back in, but do what you need to do to show up.
Andrew Kerivan has been in continuous recovery for 32 years. The Twelve Steps are the cornerstone of his recovery. Andrew does not subscribe to one method of doing the Twelve Steps. He feels that balanced recovery requires that each step be approached with different methods depending on one’s particular experience.