It feels good to be writing on this blog, I can’t seem to string two weeks together here!
This is the Monday I’ve been waiting for all year. When I chose the new format of the Big Book readings back in January, I realized that December would be a free pick month, and I didn’t need two seconds to consider what reading I’d select.
Normally I choose this reading at least two times in a calendar year, so I’m overdue for this topic!
The reading is the title of the post. It is in the personal stories section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and is one of the most popular ones in the fellowship. If you say to a member of the 12-step program, “what is the significance of page 417?” they will likely have the answer. It is the seminal paragraph in Dr. Paul O’s story:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
I’ve told, possibly a dozen times or more, the significance of the story in my own personal journey of sobriety (here’s one example if you haven’t read). And there hasn’t been a time I’ve read the story that it doesn’t help me gain perspective in some way.
The main reason I took the blog in the direction I’ve taken it… writing about the lessons I’m learning within the fellowship of the 12-step program… is that I find so many universal lessons within the program, lessons that teach me so much more than just how to stay sober. This story, and the enlightenment we in the meeting rooms receive, is possibly the best example I can provide.
As usual, the story did not disappoint. We had a large group this morning, and the positive reaction was unanimous. In fact, a bonus treat was introducing the story to a woman for the first time. She was familiar with the paragraph I have above, but not with the story itself. Even more amazing, she shares the same profession as the author of the story, and the profession plays a huge role in his recovery story, so it held special meaning for her.
For people unfamiliar with 12-step meetings, books are typically kept in the meeting room, then shared by all. The first person to share this morning said what stood out most to her about the story was how the author was able to improve his marriage by using the principles of the program at home. Coincidentally, in the book this woman was reading from this morning, someone wrote at the end of the chapter: “portrait of a marriage.” So someone else agrees that reading this story can help to build bridges with your spouse!
Another long-timer shared that would stood out most to him was the idea that “serenity works in inverse proportion with expectations.” In other words, the more you expect out of people and life, the less peaceful you are likely to be. Another universal concept that everyone could use in their lives, especially around the holidays!
A friend shared that what struck her this morning was how she related to the author’s sense of self-deprecating humor. Because he wrote so humorously and compellingly, she was able to relate to his story, despite having little in common with him in terms of logistics. She especially related to the way he described chemically altering himself to achieve unconsciousness. She found that even though she merely drank wine at night, the end result was the same. It’s reassuring to read that the basic principles of the program work despite the substance of choice.
Another gentleman shared that he used to read this story with a sense of self-righteousness, as he too only drank alcohol, and refrained from any kind of drug use. But he is starting to come around to the idea that at the end of the day, the underlying issues are the same for all of us, and comparisons, good or bad, are detrimental. We all only have today in which to stay sober.
I of course got an absolute ton out of the reading itself and from the wisdom everyone shared. As I mentioned earlier, this reading applies to all areas in my life:
When I criticize a person, or judge them:
“When I complain about me or about you, I am criticizing God’s handiwork. I am saying I know better than God.” -pg. 417
If I’m frustrated that people aren’t taking my advice:
“And if I don’t know what’s good for me, then I don’t know what’s good or bad for you or for anyone. So I’m better off if I don’t give advice, don’t figure I know what’s best, and just accept life on life’s terms, as it is today – especially my own life, as it actually is.” -pg. 418
When I am angry that my husband won’t see my point of view:
“… in AA I was told… ‘the courage to change’ in the Serenity Prayer meant not that I should change my marriage, but that I should change myself and learn to accept my spouse as she was.” -pg. 419
When I am fearful and anxious that my stupid foot is taking too long to heal:
“Acceptance is the key to my relationship with God today. I never just sit around and do nothing while waiting for Him to tell me what to do. Rather, I do whatever is in front of me to be done, and I leave the results up to Him; however that turns out, that’s God’s will for me.” -pg. 420
I’m already sad the meeting is over and I won’t be able to pick this selection for a while!
The reading, and the insights is never fails to deliver, count as my miracle!
Some housekeeping: apologies for being so absent from this blog. Not only have I not written in a couple of weeks, I’ve also not responded to comments. I will be going back when I hit publish, but it shows a complete lack of appreciation for those who take the time to respond, and the last thing I want to do is to appear ungrateful. I appreciate all comments, and I’m sorry for failing to show my appreciation!
The reason for the absence is due to a recent foot surgery that kept me with my foot elevated for a good number of days. Since I detest using a laptop, this prevented me from my trusty desktop computer. Then we were on a days-long road trip to watch my son race a cross-country course with the best of the best, so again away from my preferred choice of writing.
So now I’m back, and hopefully with some wisdom to share!
Today’s meeting focused on Step Two in the twelve steps of recovery:
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Always a good step for discussion, since so many people come to the rooms of the 12-step fellowship with such a vast array of beliefs and non-beliefs.
As usual, the attendees did not disappoint. One regular, a man whose professional life is based on his spirituality, says he struggles. Not in the sense in believing a Higher Power exists, but in those who judge him for what he does for a living (member of a religious order). Even in the meetings he has found this to be true, and it can be problematic. He reminds himself that the step reads “could,” not “will,” and that his focus should remain on the positive, not the negative. He finds meetings that support him, and avoids meetings that tear him down.
Good advice on a broader scope, not just because he is a religious professional, and advice that I’ll take to heart.
A friend who continues to struggle with the notion of God still struggles with this step, and takes umbrage with some of its wording. She dislikes that they suggest to us that we “quit the debating society” and instead do our best to keep an open mind. She finds this advice somewhat offensive, in that she believes an open mind should question things.
But then she reminds herself that keeping an open mind means remaining open to all suggestions, even the ones that don’t necessarily make sense to her. Plus, all questions about a higher power aside, she firmly believes in the success of the 12-step paradigm, as she’s seen literally hundreds of success stories with her own eyes. For now, this is enough to keep her coming back, and trying to keep her mind open to new possibilities.
Another woman shared that she is the type who believed herself spiritual while continuing to drink problematically. She thought she asked for help numerous times, only to continue to relapse. So she believed in a higher power, but not necessarily in His/Her/Its ability to “restore her to sanity.”
She realized the error in her thinking was that she was asking for help, but not doing her part to make things happen. In working the 12 steps she realized there was real action that needed to be taken by her, and in taking that action she believes her Higher Power removed from her the obsession to drink.
I particularly enjoyed hearing her share, because it clicked with my personal story a bit. I tried and failed to get sober for a solid 8-9 months before I hit my alcoholic bottom. During that time I went to meetings, I had a sponsor, and I prayed all the time, on my knees just as I was told to do. I thought I followed instructions, but I relapsed too many times to count.
Then I hit my bottom, and while fear certainly played into my early days of sobriety, I was more or less doing the same types of things I had done the previous 8-9 months. Over the years I’ve often asked myself: other than the fear and the consequences I was facing, what was so different before and after?
When my friend shared this morning, I remembered that one prayer session that I’ve referenced a few times on this blog. It was on my first night of sobriety, not even morning yet since I surely wasn’t getting to sleep that night. I think the language I used in my prayers was likely a little more (in my head, though I’m not above talking out loud while I’m praying)… sincere, or real, for lack of a better word. But the critical difference was the question I asked of God that night. I said, “Okay, it is clear that I am doing something wrong. Can you please show me what it is?”
From that query came the analysis of what I was doing differently than the other members of the Fellowship. And from that thought process came a blueprint that I thought might help me, or at the very least would be something different to try.
And the rest is history. I believe sobriety, like life itself, is a never-ending process, so I continue to learn and grow, but I’m grateful for the original struggles that started me on a path to a more peaceful, more spiritual existence.
And I’m writing on and on, and never even got to the surgery and all the trials and tribulations that have come with it. I will do my best to get back later in the week to detail!
Logging in. Writing. Hitting Publish!
I keep staring at the blank screen expecting a lightning bolt of creativity to hit me, and it doesn’t appear to be happening. Now I’m going to try the “just start writing” approach and see where that gets me.
I’ll start with the meeting and wind round to why my thoughts are scattered. Our reading selection today from the the book Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the “Big Book.” This year I tried something different in terms of this book. For the 3 years prior to this one, I selected readings from the second half of the book, the part that contains all the personal stories. To mix it up, in the year 2016 we read from the first 164 pages, which most consider to be the heart and soul of the 12-step program. There are 11 chapters in this first part of the book, so today marked the end of this cycle.
I have been waiting, practically since January, to get to this month, because by leaps and bounds my favorite chapter is the one we read today. It is called “A Vision for You,” and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you have heard me wax rhapsodic about it. It is so uplifting and energizing, I wish the book started with this chapter.
I’ll start with my share, as the reading of this chapter reminded me of a story from my early days of sobriety. The chapter speaks of the serendipitous circumstances that connected the co-founders of the fellowship, their meeting with the third member, and the growth of the program that came from these meetings. It brought to mind a not quite so miraculous, but still noteworthy story of my own:
When I first got sober, I went to meetings daily. Specifically, I attended the same 10 am meeting that took place every day of the week. In so doing, I got to know all the other regular attendees. I happen to hit the 90-day mark on a Friday, at which point several of the long-timers announced that since I have my 90 day coin I am eligible to chair meetings, and so no time like the present. Then they erased the chairperson for Monday and put my name in his or her place.
I can’t specifically recall, but I imagine I sweated out the weekend worrying about how I was going to pull off this responsibility. Thankfully the chair rotation was different on the weekends, or I would have had to do it the very next day.
So Monday comes and I couldn’t be more nervous. That meeting was significantly different than the one I run now in that it is a much larger crowd… figure 50 to 60 on average. I start the meeting, and I suppose I do okay. The break comes (halfway through the 60-minute meeting) and a gentleman comes up and introduces himself as Jim, tells me this is his very first meeting, and asked me a question. I wish I could remember the question, but I’m pretty sure my abject fear at having to answer a 12-step question when I had 90 days of sobriety under my belt must have blocked it out. I’m sure I said something, though I can’t remember specifically what, and as soon as was politely possible I connected him with the regulars in the group that I felt could give him the information he needed.
The rest of the meeting proceeded, and that was that.
By the time I hit the six-month mark, I was still attending daily meetings, but I was branching out and rarely got back to original meeting place. However, for the milestone of 6 months I wanted to announce it there; it was a Sunday, and the only time I could get there was the 6 pm meeting. I anticipated not knowing too many people, as I tend to hit daytime meetings.
To my surprise and delight, I knew the chairperson of the meeting: my friend Jim, the one who had just started 3 months ago! I marvelled at the fantastic coincidence, and I could not wait to share with him. In fact, I raised my hand and shared out loud the story of how nervous I was, and congratulated Jim on achieving 90 days and chairing the meeting. At the end of the meeting Jim found me and said he could top my story with one of his own from that day:
It turns out that his wife had dropped him off at that meeting 3 months ago, but he had no intention of staying. He figured he’s stay to the break, but he had just enough money in his pocket to head out to the nearest open bar as soon as the halfway point came. Something had him ask me a question, he has no idea what… his best guess is he wanted to be polite to me since I was leading the meeting. My response was so kind that he figured he owed it to me to stay. And afterwards when those gentlemen with whom I connected him were so kind, he figured he could give this a try.
And three months later, still sober, he was chairing meeting.
The moral of the story, of course, is that no matter how little you think you know, how little you think you have to give, it just might be the world to someone else. I don’t remember what I said, but I know for sure it wasn’t anything profound or wise. It couldn’t have been… I didn’t know squat! And his taking the time to fill me in on that backstory made all the difference to me. It was at that moment everything crystallized for me that when I pay attention, amazing things happen, all around me, every day.
From my share a few other people had similar tales of amazing coincidences-that-are-never-coincidences. And a secondary theme of this morning’s share was gratitude, a most fitting theme for a November meeting!
I went a little long with my personal story, but today’s miracle for me is getting what I needed from that meeting today, as I usually do. Even if I have to relearn the same lesson a dozen times, there is always someone there to teach me. And for that I am grateful!
Additionally, the miracle of unscattering my thoughts via writing should be noted!
My head is still spinning a bit from the animation and wide array of shares from this morning’s meeting. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re approaching Halloween or what, but man were things interesting this morning!
And so I don’t forget, apologies for the missing post last week. I missed the meeting as well, since I had another job interview! Fingers crossed that this is the one that gets me back in the workforce!
Back to today: we read from the book Forming True Partnerships, which is a compilation of articles describing how people in recovery navigate their various relationships. Today’s reading focused on a relationship specific to 12-step programs, sponsorship.
I imagine most reading this blog have at least a nodding acquaintance of the concept of sponsorship. At the most basic level, a sponsor takes his or her sponsee through the 12 steps of recovery. From that foundation, the relationship can move in as many directions as there are people in the roles of sponsor and sponsee. The expectations from both sides of the sponsorship coin vary widely. Like most pieces of the 12-step puzzle, how you sponsor and how you are sponsored is entirely up to individual interpretation.
The story we read this morning detailed a woman’s account of being “dumped” by her sponsee. The author sponsored this woman, successfully in her opinion, for about a year, during which time she took the newly sober woman through the 12 steps of recovery, spent many hours on the phone with her, went to meetings together, and introduced her to a new network of sober people. Not long after a year into the relationship, the sponsee slowed down her phone calls, started ignoring texts, and finally sent the author an email that stated she did not feel she needed her anymore.
After concocting several snarky email responses in her head, the author did what she considered the next right thing to do, which was contact her sponsor for advice. Her sponsor had a similar tale of woe, and advised her to respond in honesty. The author replied to the email and let her know she was hurt by the decision to “fire” her over email, and left it at that.
From there the author describes several great things that came out of the situation. First, she was able to identify and sit with the feelings of sadness and hurt… a novelty for her. She recognized that she had placed quite a bit of value in the relationship, and it distressed her to realize that the reverse wasn’t quite the same.
The hurt and sadness caused the author to look at the relationships central in her life, and discover ways to deepen them. She reached out more to her family and friends, and especially to other women in recovery. She found that being a better friend was the best remedy for the hurt she was feeling.
That was the synopsis of the story, and the crowd (which in this case was about 18 meeting attendees) went wild with their interpretations of the story. Several in the crowd were almost offended by this woman’s sensibilities. For them, the relationship of sponsor/sponsee is a sacred one, and there are no room for hurt feelings within it. If the sponsee needed to move on, either to another sponsor, to try the fellowship without a sponsor, or even to go out and drink again, then that is their decision, and a sponsor’s hurt feelings should not come into play. No email back talking about hurt feelings should have happened.
A few thought expressing her feelings was the right thing to do, as it allowed the author to be true to herself, rather than cultivate a resentment which could lead to a relapse.
Others took a middle-of-the-road stance, and agreed that hurt feelings shouldn’t come into play; then again, sponsors and sponsees alike are human beings, and feelings come with the package.
Most who shared loved that she reached out to others in the program, rather than using hurt feelings as an excuse for isolating. One or two who shared related it to the expression “when God closes a door, he opens a window.” The author had to feel the pain of sponsee rejection to realize that her life would be fuller reaching out more to others, both in the program and outside of it.
The title of the post implies that there were a few shares that were difficult to put in the framework of this post. I’ll just chalk it up to the season of spookiness and leave it at that. I’m always grateful that people feel free to share and express themselves authentically!
It’s funny, the part everyone was debating in the story was the part I glossed over as I was reading. I’ve had several people fade out of my 12-step life, as I imagine people would say I’ve faded out of theirs. I believe I have a somewhat open-minded thought process about the relationships within the fellowship.
Two things did strike me as I read this woman’s account of her life in recovery. First, she explained at the start of the story that she considered herself a “fringe” member of AA. Meaning that she worked the 12 steps, attended meetings, and had congenial relationships, but she also had a very full life outside of AA. When she was asked to be a sponsor, she was frankly surprised, as she thought that generally happened for the “in” crowd.
While I’ve never considered there to be “in” or “out” crowds within the fellowship, I was grateful to read of a woman staying sober and having a rich life outside of the program. Sometimes it’s daunting to hear of people who, years into sobriety, continue to go to meetings every day, sponsor dozens of people, plan vacations and retreats with other folks in recovery, and do so with ease. It would appear as if their entire lives revolve around recovery.
So it’s a relief to read there are people out there like me, finding a balance between recovery life and non-recovery life that works.
The second part that stood out is the wisdom she gained, and the actions she took as a result of the hurt and sadness. Like the author, I am relatively new to feeling my feelings, and if I’m being really honest I’m not sure I’ve gotten to the point where I can learn the necessary lessons. I’ve had recent experiences involving similar hurt and sadness, and so far the most I can say is that I’m learning how to sit with the feelings, rather than berate myself for feeling them. Reading how she turned around those feelings into something good was inspirational.
Finally, something that my very wise regular attendee said struck home for me, albeit in a slightly off-topic way. He said what he is reading in the story is the grief process… the author is grieving a relationship that meant a lot to her. He said at the root of all grief is love, for you would not grieve something if you did not love it in some way. And for those of us who used to drink our feelings a way, isn’t feeling grief really a blessing, because we are acknowledging our love for another?
This brought me back immediately to a funeral I attended this weekend. And yes, 2016 remains the Year of Funerals for me. Too many to count at this point. This woman was very important to me in early sobriety, and she died with 40 years of recovery under her belt. I started crying before the funeral started, and I don’t think I stopped the entire Mass. At one point I looked around and, I kid you not, I am the only person crying in the place! This woman was older, and her health had been failing, so I assume her friends and family were relieved she was no longer suffering. So then, true to form, I berated myself: “For goodness sake, you are least important person in the room, quit crying!”
When my friend shared today, I felt better about my tears, for I truly loved this woman, and will remain forever grateful for the lessons she taught me. I will cry all I want from now on!
As I glance up at the length of this post, I wonder if the miracle is that I’m about to stop typing😉
A special day indeed… the four year anniversary of my Monday meeting!
Lots of people (22, which I insist is a record high but others insist we’ve had more), a lot of great food, and, as always, tons of great wisdom and camaraderie. Two “soberversaries” (16 years, 3 years) added to the jubilation.
Today’s reading selection was the chapter “Letting Go of Old Ideas” from the book Living Sober. Reading it reminded me of how I came to start this meeting…
I was about 6 months sober when a new AA clubhouse opened up about 5 driving minutes from my house. A daily meeting attendee at the time, I was thrilled. One meeting in particular was perfect for my schedule, and so I started attending faithfully.
The woman who ran the meeting told me the clubhouse needed a lot of support in order for it to remain open, and suggested I start a meeting of my own.
“Are you kidding? I am only 6 months sober; in no way am I qualified to start a meeting. Who’d even think of coming to any meeting I ran?”
She said I’m more qualified than people with years of sobriety, and that people would come, I just had to show up.
I remember very clearly my thoughts on her ideas:
For two months, she continued to badger me about this, and had others get on me too. In the end, they wrangled me into doing it using my inbred Irish Catholic guilt… the club house needs loyal people!
The underlying fear, the absolute disbelief that I was capable, was a theme in my life. That black and white thinking was pervasive, and allowed for no other possibilities; either I believed I could do something, and therefore I would, or there was no chance in hell I believed I could do something, and nothing anyone said or did would convince me otherwise.
Four years later, I get to tell that story to a roomful of people and laugh ruefully at my closed mindedness.
As it relates to sobriety… well, you can imagine some of the unmitigated thoughts I had. I remember saying to someone, “Wait, are you saying I can never have a sip of alcohol again?” And my mind rejected that thought as if the suggestion was I couldn’t drink water again.
Or when I first started attending meetings and people would identify as grateful recovering alcoholics, and I assumed there were either pathological liars, or just pathological.
Or when someone would share they’ve been faithfully attending meetings for decades, and I’d feel sorry for them, thinking they must have nothing and no one in their lives and therefore just spent all day in the rooms of a 12-step meeting.
Yes, I would say there were one or two old ideas of which I was wise to let go.
Nowadays, I am working on letting go of more elusive ideas pertaining to myself, limiting beliefs that I’ve held for so long they feel like they’re almost part of the fabric that is me. I’m a work in progress, but I’m grateful for every bit of that work, as it means I’m heading in the right direction.
Others shared about their “old ideas.” Most were slow to recovery because they rejected the label of alcoholic. As one person shared, “My father was in recovery for 30 years, and all I could think was, ‘I don’t want to be an alcoholic and have to go to meetings all the time.’ Meanwhile, I was chained to my living room sofa polishing off bottles of wine each night. By the time I went to rehab I finally considered that maybe my thinking was backwards!”
Others stayed in denial because they did not fit the image of an alcoholic. They still had their job, their home, their spouse. Surely they were not an alcoholic if were able to hold on to all these things!
As the chapter says:
It is not a question of how much or how you drink, or when, or why, but of how your drinking affects your life—what happens when you drink. Living Sober, pg. 72
Some resisted sobriety due to old fears of what sober life would look like… humorless, lackluster, tedious. Life without alcohol = life without fun. Again, the choice in most of our cases was to continue on a path of known chaos and misery seemed better than the uncertainty of a life without alcohol.
One gentleman said his sponsor put it bluntly, “Just try it our way for 90 days. We can always give you back your misery if it doesn’t work out!”
Meetings that remind me of how far I’ve come in my thinking, my actions and my very way of life are the best kind, as they bring to mind how grateful I am for the life I live, and validate why sobriety is a priority!
Four years, and people are still coming back… I’ll take it🙂
As any regular reader knows, I thoroughly enjoy my weekly Monday 12-step meeting. Like most everything in life, not every single experience is chock full of wisdom to share. The question for me then becomes: do I just skip blogging for a week, or do I attempt to find some nuggets to pass along?
Since I am of the mindset that no meeting is a bad one, I’ll attempt to write. There were 20 people in the meeting, which is near a record high, so surely as I write I will come up with something that is a decent take-away.
The reading selection is likely what is putting me in a bad frame of reference. We read from “The Big Book,” proper title Alcoholics Anonymous, and we read the chapter entitled “To the Employers.” Right away the subject matter puts me at a disadvantage, as I’ve been a stay at home Mom for so long that I have no experience on either side of this issue.
I also have an issue with the dated way in which the subject matter is approached. So as not to get into a critique of our fellowship’s most revered book, I’ll simply say that in my opinion, the chapter might have a subtitle of “HR Nightmare.”
It therefore became difficult for me to share in any meaningful way on the chapter itself, so I took a wider frame of the material and shared on the general topic of misunderstanding the disease of alcoholism. Even with this broader theme, I still don’t have a ton of personal experience, as the vast majority of my family and friends were supportive of my recovery. In the years I’ve attended 12-step meetings, I have heard absolute horror stories of loved ones strongly encouraging active addiction, and sabotaging efforts to remain sober.
One woman said her husband frequently would hold up a vodka bottle and announce, “Whenever you’re ready just say the word and I’m pouring!” It’s hard to compare to that level of disrespect.
It’s hitting me a little bit more as I move into the stage of parenting where I’m dealing with kids and alcohol. It is noticeable to me as I begin to navigate these waters that my perspective, my reaction and my plan of action is markedly different than parents I know who have not dealt with addiction.
Truth be told, I’m not even sure who’s got the right way of thinking. In all likelihood the best approach falls somewhere in the middle, as it usually does in life.
Meeting attendees had better experiences to share in terms of the chapter itself. Several in the group had been approached by employers regarding their drinking, and all agreed it was a warranted discussion. One person admitted to being on both ends of the spectrum; he had been fired as a result of his alcoholism, and he’s had to fire people as a result of theirs. The latter, he asserts, is a difficult action to take as a person in recovery himself.
Most of the people who are in charge of hiring and firing acknowledge that is is incredibly difficult in this day and age to approach an employee with respect to their drinking. But they also believe that their understanding of the disease and its cure helps them to show greater empathy.
One special note: for the first time in four years, my husband attended my meeting. As George Costanza says, worlds are colliding:
Of course, I’m kidding, I was honored that he’d want to attend, and he reports being happy to, as he puts it, “see me in action.”
Not one, not two, but THREE different sober anniversaries in this morning’s meeting!
I don’t know what’s going on with my meeting lately, but every week we are getting more and more people that I’ve never met before. It adds such a great dynamic, and people seem to be leaving feeling the same uplift I am feeling… all great stuff. Next month is the meeting’s four year anniversary, so maybe it just takes that long to grow a meeting? In any event, Monday mornings are great in this part of the world!
Today’s reading came from the book Forming True Partnerships, or, as I call it, “The Relationship Book.” This morning’s selection focused on friendships, and made a distinction between those we call friends, and those who are actually acquaintances. According to the author, acquaintances are people bound by a common denominator. When you take away that common denominator, the relationship falters.
Drinking buddies are the obvious example for those of us in recovery. Many in the room spoke of the disintegration of relationships that were primarily held together by booze. Once the common denominator of alcohol is taken away, many report that the relationships with their drinking pals becomes defunct.
Others interpreted the reading a bit differently and focused on the deep and lasting connections they made with others in recovery. There is a unique connection that forms when one recovered person talks to another. Their stories may be as different as night from day, but they will share feelings and experiences that are universal. This kind of connection makes for deep, meaningful, lifelong connections.
Some in the room did not have the experience of losing friends in sobriety; I count myself as one of them. A lot of those who shared about this type of experience were isolated drinkers, and therefore did not make connections with drinking buddies. For them, the trick in early sobriety was learning how to make interpersonal connections at all, and to do so without the social lubricant of alcohol. Most of the people in this camp found that the sober social events helds at so many 12-step fellowships to be an excellent way to connect.
One woman, a newcomer to the meeting but not to the fellowship, spoke of her fear in giving up the way of life that is drinking. It did not matter that she virtually had no life due to alcohol, since by the end she was isolating from most everyone in her life; to her, a life with drinking was the only one she had known, and she feared the unknown.
As it turns out, her last drink took place at a professional football game in our area, she suspects her family was feeling sorry for the sad state of her life, and took her to the game to try to force her out of her isolation. As circumstances had it, she drank for the last time at that game, and began her road to sobriety. She went to meetings, took suggestions, made meaningful relationships; ultimately, she gained a life in sobriety.
Four years later, she competed and won in a contest to sing the national anthem for that same professional football team, and sang it at that same stadium. To her, that transformation, that upward spiral, is what sobriety is all about. This happened quite a few years ago, but she still gets tears in her eyes as she tells the story.
I told a story along this same lines this morning. This past weekend was milestone college reunion… the 25th anniversary, to be specific.
The last reunion I attended was my 20th reunion, which took place, as math would have it, 5 years ago this past weekend. Both times I served on the committee to plan and market it to my fellow alumni.
And there is where the similarities between the two experiences end. This time five years ago, I was slowly and painfully marching my way to my alcoholic bottom. The worst was still to come, but even so my life was a terrible mess.
I have little to no memory of the things I did to prepare for the 20th reunion; probably because I did very little. The event itself was poorly attended, dull in the extreme, and I was desperate for that night to end. I did not drink that night, but I was as resentful as hell at everyone who was. All I could see was the drink in a person’s hand; I could care less about interacting with them, seeing what was going on in their lives for the past 20 years, or even reconnecting with the friends that were there with me.
I have been aware of the time frame and life shift between the two reunions, and I wanted to take advantage of it. First, I paid attention to my duties as a committee person, and I did my best to honor them. Whether or not it made a difference was beside the point; I wanted to feel good by fulfilling my responsibilities.
The week leading up to the event I considered the changes in my life between then and now. I considered, I compared, and I practiced gratitude as often I could remember to do so.
I anticipated all the good that I would experience: the friends I rarely get to see these days that will be present, old classmates with whom I can reconnect, faculty and staff that might be present. The campus itself, and the nostalgia it might bring. I took time to consider my outfit, make-up and hair, things I don’t do in my “regular” life as a stay at home mom.
My goal was a simple one: be present during the evening. Pay attention to the people at the event. Enjoy the time spent getting dressed up with my husband. Keep it simple.
I imagine this is needless to say, but I had an excellent time. As fun as I anticipated it to be, the night was even better. A surprise bonus: a college friend’s husband approached me and asked if it was difficult for me to attend drinking functions now that I am sober. I was surprised, as I had never spoken to him directly about my sobriety. I answered honestly that at this stage of my sobriety, it was not difficult, but that it had not always been this way. He confided that his father died with 25 years of sobriety, and that he witnessed the transformation, and empathizes with my struggle. He congratulated me on the accomplishment of my sobriety.
What a difference five years can make!
All the newcomers this morning!
Today’s meeting, and its subject matter, was so spot on for me that it gives me the chills just thinking about it. Then again, I feel that way pretty much any time we talk about…
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again: step three is my favorite of the 12 steps of recovery. It has universal application, and applies to every single human on the planet. Maybe animals too.
We had an interesting turnout today. For the first time in years, maybe ever, there were more strangers in my meeting than there were regulars. This increase in diversity resulted in a wider array of wisdom and shares, which can only be a good thing.
One of the regulars, a man who I quote virtually every week in this blog, started our meeting off right with the announcement that he is 30 years sober as of this past weekend. This announcement elevated the collective mood of the room big time. He talked about a particular section of the reading:
…He might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from self-sufficiency. Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking up into warring fragments. Each fragment says to the others, “We are right and you are wrong.” Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough, self-righteously imposes its will upon the rest. And everywhere the same thing is being done on an individual basis. The sum of all this mighty effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before. The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off. Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin. -pg. 37, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
He said the first time he went to a Step Three meeting, an argument broke out over what the word “juggernaut” means. Each of the multiple people involved insisted they knew the correct definition. Finally, someone suggested pulling out a dictionary; someone did, and the definition was/is:
Juggernaut: a literal or metaphorical force regarded as mercilessly destructive and unstoppable.
Once the irony settled in that they were acting like juggernauts while arguing about its meaning, everyone laughed and moved on to more productive conversations.
Humorous anecdote aside, my longtime sober friend went on to talk about what an apt description the word juggernaut is when describing self-will. How often do we, in the zest to prove ourselves right and another wrong, get so deep into a debate that we lose sight of the original issue?
Or the times when we pursue a goal, something we justify as a “single-minded passion,” to the exclusion of everything else of value in our lives?
Or when we want something so badly we rationalize every questionable decision and action so that it fits our current needs and wants?
The list is endless, as is the specific list of ways we alcoholics misused our self-will:
- “I’m an adult, and nobody is going to tell me what I can or can’t drink!”
- “How dare they tell me I drink too much, when they fill in the blank.”
- “I need this drink now, since life is so stressful. Once life gets calmer, I will think about cutting back.”
- “How can I not drink when it is such a part of my life? Everyone I know drinks!”
- Ad infinitum…
If we accept that relentless self-will is counterproductive, and we are intrigued by the idea of turning said will over the care of the God of our understanding, the next question becomes how exactly do we pull off such a feat?
Many people shared in the meeting this morning regarding the ways in which they went about this process; the underlying theme throughout was willingness. The key to turning things over is simply to be willing to do so. The minute we start arguing about the different reasons why our way in the right way, we have closed the door to willingness.
This is exactly why I love Step Three so much; it is a lesson that I need to learn over and over again. I suspect for the rest of my life I will be remembering that I need to display some willingness.
I have an ongoing situation that has created some intermittent periods of anxiety in my life. I have a strong suspicion that if I could go back and create a timeline of when I was feeling the most stress regarding this issue, and chart my feelings and subsequent actions during those period of angst, I would find that I decided to take back my self-will and force the solution of my choosing. Therefore, just reading this selection brought instant relief:
The more we become willing to depend on a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are. -pg. 36, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
When I am taking back my self-will, my logic screams out, “So what does that mean, you sit around and wait for God to hand things to you?”
And of course that’s not the answer. The answer lies in yet another tool of recovery I love but conveniently “misplace” in times of stress:
Rain, rain, don’t go away! We just got rain in our area for the first time in forever, and never have I been happier to deal with gray skies!
Suddenly it’s Tuesday morning, and still no wrap-up post from yesterday’s meeting. I’m going to blame the three day weekend, and an aging, limping mess of a dishwasher that needed some funeral arrangements, but the time is coming where I figure out what comes next for this blog.
In other words: sorry again for the delay.
It was a decently sized meeting, considering it to be a holiday. It’s counterintuitive to me that holidays produce smaller sized meetings. I would think more people would show up, since more people have off from work. In any event, we had the usual suspects, plus one or two extras.
We read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”), a chapter entitled “To the Family Afterward.” This is another chapter, much like last month, that deals with topics pertaining to the loved ones of the alcoholic, rather than the alcoholic himself/herself. As I mentioned last month, these two chapters are the prologue to Al-Anon.
According to this chapter, there seem to be two watchwords for the recovering alcoholic and his/her family in the early days of sobriety:
The chapter breaks down a whole bunch of possible scenarios that family may experience as the alcoholic recovers, and how best to handle them.
Attendees in the meeting shared their validation of the various scenarios laid out, and added a few more. One gentleman told an amusing story. He came home the night of his seven year sober anniversary, and proudly presented the coin to his wife. She replied, “Congratulations, these were the happiest six years of my life.” He gently reminded her it has been seven years, not six, to which she replied, “Yeah… I’m leaving out that first year on purpose.”
The expression “it’s a family disease” exists for a reason, I guess.
That illustrates the patience part. The balance concept? Well, those reading this post who are in recovery are likely chuckling ruefully. Alcoholics are known for a lot of things, but balance and moderation are not at the top of the list. Or at the bottom for that matter.
So it follows that in recovery, we can go in a bunch of well-intentioned but over the top directions… we find God, then shove Him down everyone’s throat. Or we lose sight of the friends and family that supported us in favor of our new recovery activities.
So the family reacts, and the cycle of chaos starts all over again.
The solution is for everyone involved to communicate honestly and productively, and bring those two watchwords back to the forefront.
As another gentleman pointed out in the meeting: if you go walking into the woods for three days straight, then finally decide you want out, do you think you’re finding your way back in an hour? It took time to get in, it’ll take time to get out again.
It was an interesting chapter for me to read, given the holiday on which we read it (for those not in the United States, we celebrated Labor Day yesterday). Normally when I read this chapter, I have little to no reaction. I am one of the extremely fortunate ones who had complete family support as I recovered. None of the anecdotes described in the chapter apply directly to my life.
However, Labor Day weekend holds a bi-annual event in my family of origin. We have been holding a family reunion for as long as I’ve been alive. Longer, actually, which makes me want to find out how long it’s been going on. At this point we have about 150 people in attendance, and it is an all-day, much-of-the-night affair.
There have been three so far in my sobriety. I believe I skipped entirely the first one, I attended briefly the second, this past Saturday I stayed the longest.
The days leading up to the event had me in a state of… something along the lines of discontent, I suppose. You see, this is the one situation on which I haven’t readily been able to slap the “sober is better” sticker. The event is largely outdoors, at a time of year where it is humid. I am not the outdoorsy type (understatement). There are tons of people, but these are people I see either at this event, or a funeral, so a catch-up conversation (and sometimes a reminder of names) is required each and every time. The vast majority of these people will be imbibing a social lubricant called beer (or a mixed drink); I will be consuming the social lubricant called Diet Pepsi.
If I’m being brutally honest, I was dreading the event, and then I was berating myself for dreading it. What kind of person does not want to spend time with their family? But the equally brutal truth is that pre-recovery, I couldn’t wait for the event, because it was an all all-day drink fest, and now it’s not. For me, anyway. For many others, it continued to be. So it felt like I had more to dread than I had to anticipate.
Luckily for me, I have tools in the toolkit to use in times such as these, and I had my pre-game rituals in place. The most important of these tools, in my opinion, is to have a quick exit strategy should I become uncomfortable around the alcohol/excessive drinking.
The other tool that I used, and was the turning point in the event, was to remember why I was actually there: to spend time with family, and to participate in a long-standing family tradition. When I kept that in the forefront of my mind, instead of focusing on the alcohol that surrounded me, I was able to relax and enjoy the event.
People still got drunk. In fact, I heard tales of overturned golf carts at the end of the evening (which was really early morning) that had me belly laughing. But the reality is the people who got as drunk as I would have gotten were in the minority. The majority of people were casually drinking, or not drinking at all, and they were a delight. I dragged my feet going to the reunion, but I left with a grateful heart.
And then I got to read and remember why I am so grateful!
Family love and support are perennial miracles
Wow, does this feel weird. It’s been weeks since I last logged on. There’s been a hundred and one reasons for my absence, all of which I hope to be writing about as time goes on. It’s been a turbulent summer, though I suppose turbulence is relative. We’ve been dealing with stuff that is unusual for us, and I’m hoping to be able to hash it all out within the blog eventually.
In the meantime, I’m so sorry for my absence in reporting my Monday meeting updates! We’ve been having a grand time, as usual. In fact, last week was a record high in terms of attendance.
Today’s reading selection(s) dealt with the topic of resentment (for those who follow along with the actual literature, we read from the book As Bill Sees It). If you are unfamiliar with 12-step philosophy, the language surrounding resentments is strong, and it is negative. The main text, Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”) contains countless warnings regarding the dangers of cultivating and holding onto resentments.
On second thought, “countless” is inaccurate. Of course I could go line by line and count the number of references, or I could Google it, but it’s the first day back to school, and I’d rather just enjoy the peace and quiet of this house.
In any event, we are warned from almost the first second we enter the doors of a 12-step meeting to let go of any and all resentments, or else (cue the ominous music).
Or else what? In terms of recovery, or else you may drink again.
I remember thinking two things when I first heard this kind of dire prediction:
- That’s stupid
- It doesn’t matter, since I don’t have any resentments anyway
In the years since, I’ve learned that I did not have a broad enough understanding of what falls into the category of resentment. I’ve also learned that I needed to learn a lot more about myself and my feelings.
As for my first judgment, that it sounds a bit melodramatic to say that by nursing a grudge I’ll soon be nursing a drink, I’ve learned enough to say that I have a lot more to learn. But here’s what I do know about resentments: they are a colossal waste of time, and they tend to pull me into a downward spiral. The quicker and easier I can resolve my feelings of resentment, the more peaceful and joyful my life is.
As usual, many excellent shares in this morning’s meeting, all of which helped elevate me. It is an amazing thing to sit and listen to someone’s story, and from it gain wisdom that I hadn’t realized I needed.
The main share from which most others followed came from a woman who struggles in setting boundaries with a family member. Her story is an extreme one, but the question she must answer is familiar to many of us: how do you distinguish between setting healthy boundaries and “being the bigger person?”
On the one hand, our 12-step program focuses on changing ourselves. We look to see our part in any situation, and we seek to be of service, rather than asking people to serve us. Very noble aspirations.
But in my friend’s case, she has a person in her life whom she defines as toxic. Her question is: how many times should she go back to the same well, knowing that the outcome will be a negative one?
Her share was met with a lot of empathy and support. When I first heard her story, I listened with sympathy. But when I listened to the wise responses and follow-up shares, I listened with empathy. Because all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, have areas in our lives where we struggle with where to draw a line between what is good for us and what is good for the people we love. I imagine in virtually every relationship such a question exists.
The best advice I heard given was this: rather than focusing on “doing the next right thing,” a phrase which is tossed around a lot in the 12-step rooms, perhaps we should focus instead on doing the next healthy thing. In defining “right,” we can get into some murky waters… who defines right? But in deciding what is the healthiest thing to do, you are ultimately creating an environment to be your best possible self.
Of course, it is important to seek feedback. In our program sponsors and trusted members of the fellowship are excellent sources of guidance, but at the end of the day we must make decisions for ourselves. The back of sobriety coins handed out at anniversaries reads:
To thine own self be true
Apropos to this conversation, for sure. And we did get to hand out one of those coins this morning for someone celebrating her nine month anniversary!
One last thought, and then I’ll stop rambling. At the end of the meeting someone came up to me and shared a lesson she learned regarding resentments. The first time you feel angry or resentful towards someone, the blame is on them for whatever they’ve done to cause your reaction. But each and every time you revisit that feeling, or relive that experience, whether it’s in your own head or complaining about it to someone else… that’s on you.
That alone tells me I’ve got some work to do on handling resentments!
- I’m back writing
- Kids are back at school (see video below)