By Diane Cameron, author of Out of the Woods: A Woman’s Guide to Long-term Recovery

One of the wonderful parts of long recovery is that we begin to discover who we were (before addiction) and who we are (after recovery). After we have immersed ourselves in learning about addiction and personal growth we often find that there are new things we want to learn—or old things we once loved that we can now return to.

It’s very common to see people in recovery go back to school. Some finish high school; get a Bachelors degree and even go on to graduate or professional school. Some folks try something new just to keep busy outside of meetings and they discover real joys.

Some discover that they like music or dance and soon they are taking piano lessons or studying tango. I’ve watched friends become excellent photographers, serious ballroom dancers and award winning painters, sculptors and jewelers. We move past saving our lives to having lives worth saving.

But how do we learn new things? Even with long recovery sober people have “leftovers” –those character defects or characteristics that interfere. Just as we “practice these principles in all our affairs” we can bring our recovery lessons to our studies, classes and hobbies.

I’ve watched myself over the past few years and I’ve learned that I can apply recovery principles to my new interests.

A few years ago I noticed that many people in their 80’s who had vibrant minds were regular Bridge players. I decided to learn to play Bridge. I talked to friends and they offered to show me the basics but I quickly became frustrated. The old messages in my head intruded: “I’m dumb”, and “I can’t do this”. But years of recovery taught me that I could do a lot of hard things so I had to borrow a few recovery slogans and practices and apply them.

So I got a “sponsor”—a Bridge teacher –and I joined a “community”—a beginners Bridge class. I discovered that I could learn. It was slow and bumpy but we laughed a lot and made flashcards to practice and played for fun each week. And I learned to play Bridge.

Three years ago I decided to play golf. Being around golfers in AA—I knew I had to start by applying  “principles before personalities”—especially my own personality. I made some decisions: I wanted to have fun; I’d be comfortable with gradual progress; and I’d be the judge of my own golf game.

Now it’s my third season and I enjoy golf. When I start to swear I remind myself that I want to have fun and that I am competing only against myself. To my great surprise I discovered that I love to play alone. Early mornings on a pretty golf course is part of my prayer and meditation time.

Here are recovery principles that I’ve learned to apply to learning new things outside of AA:

One day at a time. This means one class, one hand, or one hole at a time.

Have  a beginners mind. Be willing to be a student. I don’t have to pretend to know more than I do, or more than the teacher.

And always return to humility: It’s OK and even great to take a class, get a teacher, and ask for help. I don’t have to be the expert so why pretend. I can be the can be a humble beginner. That too is living happy, joyous and free.

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