Addiction, NA, Narcotics Anonymous, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Self-Discipline, Pop-Quizzes, and Tests

“Today we are going to have a pop-quiz.” Now there’s a sentence that will strike fear in the hearts of a classroom full of students. The pop-quiz. The ultimate means of torture for young students the world over. Talk about a way to ruin a good school day!

I can remember my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Skinner, using those words at the beginning of math class on the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL! We were all shocked. “Pop quiz? Over what? You haven’t even taught us anything yet Mrs., um, what’s your name again?”

Yet there it was, a pop-quiz covering every sort of math problem I had ever seen. There were even some I had not seen before. I was shocked. I was caught completely off guard, and I was not alone. One of my classmates objected, pointing out the obvious, “But no one gives a pop-quiz on the first day of school!”

They never did find that poor kid’s body.

After the initial shock wore off, each of us dutifully completed as much of our quiz as possible. As Mrs. Skinner collected our papers, she eased our fears by telling us that the quiz would not become part of our grades. Rather, they would be used to help her understand what concepts we understood well, versus those that needed more focus. The quiz, it turned out, was designed to help us. She respected us too much to waste our time and her own on topics we already comprehended.

Mrs. Skinner, it turned out, became one of my all-time favorite teachers. She held us to high standards, but it was obvious that she loved each and every one of us. Both she and her husband were teachers in our community. He later taught me Geometry during my sophomore year of high school.

As a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Skinner impacted the lives of countless children over the course of their careers. Mr. Skinner loved giving pop-quizzes as much as his wife. Sometimes, I would envision them at home at night. Maybe they were watching “The Waltons” and during a commercial one said to the other “I think I’ll give them a pop-quiz in the morning!” Then the two would laugh like a couple of maniacal villains in a bad movie.

That’s how I pictured it anyway.

Today, I appreciate the value of those pop-quizzes more than I ever would have expected. Unlike tests, for which students had ample time during which to prepare, the pop-quiz catches us by surprise. Like being hit by a meteor, one of life’s pop-quizzes can take us down in an instant.

In recovery, I am learning that self-discipline is a necessity if I am to pass life’s pop-quizzes. For instance, for me, business travel is like a test. I have a trip to New York coming up soon. As part of my preparations for that trip, I already know when and where meetings of Narcotics Anonymous are available. I’ve made preparations to be able to attend those meetings.

Like studying for a test, practicing self-discipline before a business trip makes all the difference in the world. Preparations are made to help me to succeed.

Then there are those pop-quizzes in my recovery. They are commonly referred to as “triggers.” Things that can set off a thought about using. There are so many possible pop-quizzes out there: certain songs, smells, people, places. Things that stir a memory that seemed to have been buried long ago.

How does an addict prepare for such pop-quizzes? How can I be prepared?

The answer is found in self-discipline. That is a big part of why every day begins with my time praying, meditating, reading, and writing. That is why, even on days like today, when no story came to mind, I simply sat and waited for inspiration.

My morning routine is my way of preparing for life’s pop-quizzes. It is my private time. It is my personal time. It is time when I calm myself long enough to hear the voice of my Higher Power. A time for reflection and gratitude.

No one is immune from life’s pop-quizzes. Shoot, I wouldn’t want to be. After all, like Mrs. Skinner’s first day of school math quiz, they can help identify my strengths and weaknesses. They keep life interesting. As long as I am prepared, practicing self-discipline, pop-quizzes are nothing to be feared.

Have a remarkable day!


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