I have been working the 12 Steps since 1999. I actually started going to meetings in 1991, but didn’t get a sponsor and start working the program for eight years. Even in those early years, as I went to meetings week after week, I heard people talk about what helped them find sobriety and serenity, and what caused them to stumble. As I have listened to others, and as I have worked the Steps myself, I have gained an understanding of the importance of looking for patterns – patterns that help me grow as well as patterns that undermine my recovery. I have learned to look for them, analyze them, and use them to my advantage.
Patterns in Practice
The first time I became aware of the importance of a pattern was when I finally became willing to start recording the food I ate. It was the first change I became willing to make in my life as a result of my participation in the 12 Step program. I wasn’t willing to change how I ate at that point or tell anyone else what I was eating, and I certainly wasn’t willing to plan my food, but I decided that I was willing to record what I was eating.
Two things began to happen when I started to collect data on what I was eating. First of all, I started to lose weight. Why? Because I found that I had been eating mindlessly – picking up a handful of something every time I passed through the kitchen. When I committed to writing down every bite that went into my mouth, I discovered that some of the food I had been eating just wasn’t worth the effort it took to write it down! So the mindless snacking was cut way back.
The second thing was that I started to notice patterns. I could eat lunch on one day, and eat a different lunch the next day, both of which contained approximately the same number of servings from the same food groups, and find that I was satisfied when I finished one lunch but still wanted to eat more after I finished the other. As I continued to record what I ate, a pattern emerged. My satisfaction level was controlled not simply by how much I ate, or what kinds of foods I ate. The most important factor in determining whether I would be satisfied was texture – specifically crunch! If I didn’t get enough crunch in a meal, I wanted to continue eating. As soon as I came to that realization, I started keeping crunchy foods in the house and I found that I could eat less, be satisfied, and lose more weight!
Looking for patterns in an inventory
One of the objectives I have when receiving someone’s 5th step inventory, is to help them identify a list of shortcomings and character defects they can use as input to Step 6. As I listen to the person share their inventory, I make note of patterns I hear. Are they using certain words repeatedly? Does the same kind of thing keep happening to them? These patterns usually point to a shortcoming or character defect that I jot down. When they are done sharing their inventory I ask them to look back over it and identify any patterns they can find, and come up with their own list of shortcomings. Then we compare lists and talk about what they think they need to become willing to turn over to God as they embark on Step 6.
The use of patterns I mentioned so far is for taking a look at past behavior and understanding it better. Patterns can also help us create healthier and more effective ways of living. In the program I often hear people talk about “the dailies.” This is a set of activities they do every day to help them maintain sobriety and happiness. Here are some of the dailies that help me live a life of recovery:
At one time in my life I heard people talk about the importance of daily scripture study. I just couldn’t seem to find time to do it. Finally, I made a decision to get up before my children, very early in the morning, and try to establish a pattern of daily scripture study and prayer. I was successful and it made a big difference in my life.
My husband and I walk each morning. It is good for our health and good for our relationship. It also gets our day off to a good start. This is a pattern that helps me in my life.
Long-time readers will know that I believe structure is a very important aspect of living a sober and successful life. Collecting data to analyze and looking for self-limiting patterns helps me to identify things I need to change. Establishing recovery-promoting patterns helps me put a framework in place to allow the Lord to change me from within so that I can live my best life.
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