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As AA mantras go, this must be one of the most daunting, especially as its advice was often given to newcomers. You can imagine people reacting: “but you just told me to take it a day at a time…” Most certainly it is a big ask for anyone, but successful recovery from addiction is not for the half-hearted. It requires a commitment to attend 90 meetings in 90 days.
Questioning the point of following such a lengthy procedure is entirely understandable, but the collective wisdom of the Twelve Step fellowships should never be taken lightly. Some people go on to do ‘Ninety in Ninety’ after completing treatment at Smarmore Castle. If you are wondering whether this might be worthwhile for you, here are some points to consider.
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The Idea Behind the Words
Recovery is not a ‘do it yourself project – it comes with the advice: ‘don’t try this at home, alone’. When Bill W first met Dr. Bob and started the AA movement, they discovered that connection and interaction were the keys. Neither man could recover in isolation. The start of true recovery is when you realise that ‘I can’t, but we can’. Addiction leaves us lonely and insecure. With that in mind, ‘ninety in ninety’ makes a lot more sense, because it is all about connection.
It Means What It Says
If you attend a meeting every day for the best part of three months, something from those meetings will rub off and you will become in some way different. This will only happen if you follow the advice thoroughly. If you let yourself off a few times or arrive at meetings late and leave early, then you won’t feel so good about yourself and you won’t get the full benefits from other members. ‘With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start.’ (Big Book, Chapter Five).
Try this experiment: before you start your ‘ninety in ninety’ – write down briefly your thoughts on lifelong sobriety and the Twelve Steps. At the end of ninety days, do the same and compare them. You will see change.
If You Can’t Room It, Zoom It
Thanks to the recent pandemic, there are many virtual meetings now available on the internet. They are not perfect, but they are most certainly better than nothing. You don’t of course have personal contact but for some, they are a lifesaver. If you can’t attend in person, Zoom it.
‘At some of these we balked, we thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 5). One of the first lessons you learn in a Twelve Step fellowship is that there are no compromises. We have to be completely open to new ideas, honest, and willing to change. Ninety in ninety is our first test of this.
How much time every day did you spend drinking? Did you ever not drink just because it seemed too difficult to arrange, or you couldn’t be bothered or had something better to do? Probably not. Now is the time to get real. If you want sobriety, this is your moment.
Newcomers are advised to find a sponsor as soon as possible. Do so – some meetings ask people willing to be sponsors to identify themselves so that they are then easier to approach. A sponsor will be invaluable support and encouragement as you start your ninety days and give you advice and encouragement as you work through it all.
Go to Any Lengths
‘Half measures availed us nothing’. The quaintly powerful words of the Big Book allow us no wiggle room. We must be prepared to go to any lengths to recover, just as we would when facing any serious illness. You would have walked through fire in the old days, to get to your dealer or the off licence. Now put that determination to positive use. But don’t see it as a labour of Hercules – see it as an exciting voyage of discovery. Here are some positives that you can expect from doing it:
- It gives your recovery focus: It is no good quitting and then simply hoping it will all be ok. You need a plan of action. Your life was probably disorganised and even chaotic in the past – here is a way to regain structure – it will give you a sense of purpose.
- It gives you friends: AA advises you to ‘stick with the winners’ and what better way of that can there be than a daily meeting? Meeting new people may make you feel anxious but remember that AA is not competitive or judgmental, we are all united by a common desire to stay sober. Your best friends are often those with whom you have been through challenging times. Early recovery is one such time.
- It keeps you safe from temptation: addiction has been banished but not slain. It will try to return, and you minimise the danger at your peril. Early recovery is the crucial time because cravings then seem stronger and you’re still learning how to handle them. The safest place to be is among people as determined as you to stay clean and sober.
- It builds team spirit: if you attend meetings regularly then people will surely take note. They will greet you, talk to you and welcome you as a fellow member. There is a big difference between being an occasional visitor and being a team member.
- It is good for your self-esteem: as the days go by, you will rightly be pleased with your performance and grow in self-respect. You are achieving something you set out to do, in a steady and resolute manner.
- It gives you an understanding of how recovery works: the Twelve Step fellowships contain a large store of experience, tradition, and wisdom that few people are aware of when they begin their recovery. Educating yourself in all of this will strengthen your respect for the movement – there are many truly inspiring stories – and help you to understand how Twelve Step recovery works.
- It establishes good habits: they say that it takes at least a month of doing things differently before it becomes a habit. Change is possible, as you will by now have realised, but change can also be reversed unless it is fully embedded in your personality. If you really want this change to last, then give it as much time as possible.
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If You Cannot Commit to Ninety in Ninety
For some people, circumstances may make this commitment impossible although the internet, where Zoom meetings abound, and an increase in the number of meetings available at all hours of the day and night make it easier than some years ago. For such people, the answer is to accept the things they cannot change and do the best they can. If work, family, or other considerations, such as geographical location, render it truly impossible, then lesser goals should be set. Progress rather than perfection is the aim, after all. Always, however, apply the two tests, to make sure you’re not choosing the ‘easier, softer way:
- Would I have found a way to do this, if I was still trying to feed my addiction instead of my recovery?
- Is it truly circumstances beyond my control (force majeure as the French put it) or is it my ego preventing me (for example, by not wanting to ask for help)?
Ninety in Ninety After Rehab
Rehab gives you a flying start into recovery and provides therapy to address underlying issues too, but it is unlikely to give you a deep immersion into practical Twelve Step recovery (though a good rehab will doubtless introduce you and arrange for you to attend a few meetings). The few weeks that follow your return home from rehab are a crucial time – will your resolve stay firm, will you progress in your recovery, will you attend meetings – or will you stagnate and trust luck?
In other words, will the changes that you began in rehab become lasting habits? Before you leave Castle Craig Hospital, you will discuss and prepare a Continuing Care Plan with your therapist. If your circumstances allow you to do so, then ninety in ninety is an obvious component in the strong recovery you presumably wish to establish. If ninety is too big a number and you have valid reasons for that, then consider a lesser number by all means – perhaps fifty or even thirty. For sure, your recovery needs structure and you need to establish good habits. Whatever you commit to, you should do.
One well-known piece of wisdom for early recovery is not to be hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (HALT). Isolation will not help you with any of these but attending a daily meeting will surely do so. Once again, it’s common sense and if you don’t recognise this, it is probably your denial speaking. If you are prioritising the needs of your employer, bank manager, or even your family over your own sobriety, then you are not putting your recovery first. Remind yourself that you are not to be driven by other people’s expectations but instead, by your own sense of your long-term needs.
Feel the Results – Contentment
They say that a feeling of contentment comes from having three things in your life – a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, and a sense that what you are doing is right. Ninety meetings in ninety days will give you all three. If you add to that a feeling that you are being guided by a Higher Power in everything you do, then you are approaching the ultimate and very worthwhile goal of – serenity.