Monthly Archives: March 2012
I am still very new at writing on a daily basis, and I struggle a bit with whom the intended audience is for this blog. For that reason, I have consciously kept my writing a bit on the general side, particularly when it comes to personal information. It can also be challenging to come up with a topic each day about which it feels comfortable to write, since I tend to feel I don’t have a lot of worthwhile information to share. So for me, today’s post is radically different than all of the preceding ones. First, because the inspiration hit me like a ton of bricks, early this morning, and the desire to share it was so strong I was actually disappointed that I had to wait until so late in the day to share it. Second, it is different because it is the most intensely personal bit of information I am sharing to date.
When you are an addict, living with regret becomes such a normal part of life that it almost feels natural. It might be more accurate to say that you make so many decisions you regret that you easily find a way to avoid dealing with them, and the avoidance becomes natural. So, in early recovery, one of the first priorities is learning how to stay sober while simultaneously learning how to manage the regrets, since prior to recovery the goal was brushing mistakes under the carpet.
My understanding, although I am not close to being at this place, is that if I follow the steps to the best of my ability, I will eventually find true absolution from the mistakes of the past. So I am hopeful and excited for that day to come, but in the meantime, I struggle daily with the wreckage in my life that I have created.
And while the list of regrets I have could probably span a football field or two, I can tell you without hesitation that there is one regret that stands far apart from all the others. That regret, simply put, is that I have irrevocably changed certain loved ones, changed their personality in a permanent and negative way from which they will be unable to recover. This is a fear that haunts me daily.
So back to the title of this post. I have experienced absolutely amazing things in the last 62 days, things that felt like little miracles. This morning, I believe I have experienced what for me was the greatest blessing of my recovery to date. Like many blessings, I did not recognize it until after it happened. Today, for the first time, I saw a glimpse of a loved one whom I truly believed was gone forever. It was a morning routine like so many others, but when I looked back on it I realized it was like so many others in the past, when my mistakes did not interfere with every aspect of our daily lives, when he was free to express his naturally positive personality… that happened today, even with all the pain I have caused.
In my heart, I was certain he had been so hurt, so broken, by my mistakes that I would never really recover him. And yet, with the normal activity of a regular weekday morning, I was witness to the hope that maybe, with time, patience, and continued progress, he may be restored to his natural, optimistic, joyful self, and that I did not do irreparable damage to him. For me, this is a miracle, and there are no words to describe the feeling of gratitude and hope it brings me.
Consequences are a big theme in the early days of recovery. In my experience, it is some type of consequence that leads you to realize you need help. If you are lucky, you realize that recovery is an option when the consequences are of a lesser degree: embarrassment over addictive behavior and actions, regret of the pain caused to loved ones. But the longer your addictive behavior goes on, the more dire the consequences become: legal issues, loss of loved ones, and, if the addiction goes on long enough, the ultimate consequence: the loss of your life.
As time passes, dealing with the consequences of your past behavior gets trickier. At first, the chaos that is life is so overwhelming, that the only way to go through each day is to take what is directly in front of you and deal with it the best way you can, while still doing the fundamental steps of recovery, most importantly, not picking up a drink or drug. As time passes, it truly does get easier to get through each day. Confidence grows with each hurdle you overcome, and soon the most important step… not picking up… actually becomes the norm, and does not have to rent so much space in your head.
That is when the consequence issue becomes a little more challenging. On the one hand, you feel so much better, so much stronger, and you are having a much easier time of living in the present, rather than submerging yourself in the regret of past mistakes. However, living in the present requires living with people who do not have the benefit of recovery as you do, and the past is not so easily forgotten for them. I believe I have touched upon this subject in an earlier post. How to reconcile your new way of thinking with their old one? When is it okay to say that the rules of the new game should be modified to meet the new thought processes?
And there is another side to consequences… the butterfly effect. Certainly my past mistakes have heaped consequences on my head that I must face, and I am doing that each day. But I find an interesting twist comes about with the people around me: it appears, from my perspective, that people often allow my actions to justify their behavior, and it seems paradoxical to me. If I have to accept the consequences of my actions, why aren’t the people around me held to the same standard?
It is at this point that the power of the Program comes into play (a little alliteration to fancy up the post). Because it is not my responsibility, nor my right, to judge the behavior, the decisions, or the actions of people around me. There is only one person’s actions I can control, and since that seems to have been a difficult enough task, I better just work on me. If I can’t learn to accept people around me for exactly who they are, then my recovery is in jeopardy… it is simply that important. Learning true, honest tolerance for everyone and everything in my life, is ultimately the consequence that will have the most profoundly positive influence on my life, and I hope to improve that skill each day.
I have come to appreciate the many blessings of recovery, even in these early days. At the absolute top of the list of is the unbelievable love and support I have received from my family and friends. I will not say that I couldn’t have made it through the last two months without them, because I have met many people who have recovered from addiction with no love and support. But what it did provide was comfort and security, and a hope that life will improve if I just keep my recovery first and foremost in my life.
And it is absolutely amazing how quickly life can improve. Here is the best example I can provide. A little over two months ago, I was deposited on my Mother’s doorstep and left there like a bag of unwanted clothing. I literally had nothing else with me but the clothes on my back, and now my Mother has to figure out what to do with her 42-year-old screw-up of a daughter. Fast forward to present day, I am on the phone with her (because in this span of time I am back living with my family and no longer a burden on her), and my Mom tells me that spending the last two months with me has been one of the greatest joys of her life. Now, if that is not a miracle, I don’t know what is. She had every right to be resentful towards me for the rest of her life, I wouldn’t have judged her one bit. But instead, she provided me with the comfort and security that only a mother can, and now she can appreciate the silver lining in the cloud of my addiction… growing even closer than we already were, and watching me progress to being the best daughter I can be. As for me, there simply are no words to describe the feeling of pride that hearing those words brought. I will remember that day for the rest of my life.
So I guess my point today is no matter how dire the circumstances of life are, there is almost always another way to look at it, another perspective to take, that will help ease the burden. It may take a little time, and it almost certainly will take mental effort, but the payoff… better peace of mind… is most certainly worth it.
The foundation of any 12 step program is regular attendance at meetings. You often hear phrases like “keep coming back” and “meeting makers make it.” I have often wondered what exactly is the magic of simply showing up for an hour each day, sitting with a completely diverse group of people who happen to share a common problem, and talking about that problem? Because frankly, there were several months where I did make regular attendance at meetings, and the magic absolutely did not happen for me. So why have the last 60 days been different?
I still don’t have all the answers, and I still believe it is overly simplistic to say just keep coming back and you will get this program. For me, I believe it is more than regular attendance at meetings that keeps me clean and sober. For me, a series of life altering events took place, which shook me enough to suspend my desire to relapse. But, then the magic of the meetings started to happen for me.
First, it felt like an obligation… go to a meeting every day, OR ELSE, and for me I did it to show the people in my life I was serious about recovery. And I heard things that were valuable, but I’m not sure how much stuck in my head because my life was so chaotic.
Then, as a little time passed, I started to settle in, and I got comfortable with the particular meetings I attended. I started to see familiar faces, I got the rhythm of the meeting formats. and the repetition of the message started to sink in.
Next, while chaos still loomed large in the rest of my life, I started to think of the meetings as a calm in the storm, a place to feel some measure of peace for an hour while the rest of my life raged around me. Messages started to hit hard and fast, and very often the central point of the meeting fit so eerily into my life that I realize that there are no coincidences.
Now, I consciously look forward to meetings each day. I look for ways to share with the group how the meeting, and the program in general, in impacting my life. I enjoy the small talk before and after the meetings. And I dream of the day that I have enough clean time to share my story with the group, and lead my own meeting. Tomorrow I will receive my 60 day coin, and I am as excited to share this with the people in the meeting as I am with my family and friends. And that excitement I am feeling is absolutely the magic of the meeting at work in my life.
Today is monumental, and one I know I will look back on in years to come as being a pivotal moment. I have been fortunate to find a 12 step meeting that occurs daily, in a convenient location, with a group of people who feel comfortable to me. I have been around “the rooms” enough to know that this a very rare combination.
I found this group on day 3 of my now 58 days, so I have been attending this particular meeting at least 5 times a week for the past 8 weeks. And while I am always polite, and speak when I am spoken to, and listen very attentively, and even occasionally share, I have not engaged in a way that makes me feel a part of the group. I knew more was needed to be done on my part for this to happen, but I felt like I would be fake to pretend like I am feeling happy-go-lucky, and I certainly don’t want to fill everybody’s life with the chaos that is in my own head, so my m.o. has been to be open to new relationships, but not to force anything before its time.
And certainly, I have made some relationships. I have come across people I knew outside the rooms, and those people have connected me with other quality people. From daily attendance I have gotten to know, superficially at least, other people who attend the same meetings daily. It is absolutely never a chore to come to a meeting, or to chat with people in the rooms. And what I hear on a daily basis is opening up new worlds for me. But still, I know in my heart that even more is needed for me to really feel like I am part of this community.
And today, on Day 59, it happened. I got to the meeting early feeling very proud of a particularly strenuous workout, and sat down in what I consider prime real estate in the meeting room (comfortable chair, with a table to my left to put my water bottle). From across the room, a gentleman whom I see regularly, but who I did not realize knew me, yelled, “Yo! Josie Wales!” I look over and laugh, and let him know I have no idea what that means. Apparently it is a character in a very famous Clint Eastwood movie? Go figure. The point is, I have been given a nickname, and in the meeting that followed, during the break, and after the break, the nickname was cemented… I even addressed myself that way when I shared.
This may sound like a very minor incident. But it is monumental to me for two reasons. One, I have been around these rooms long enough to know that the people who seem the most successful in the program, who seem to be most respected and loved, have nicknames. Most people know that 12 step programs are anonymous, and as such use first names only. So very often people are distinguished by descriptive words with their first names, like Big Mike, or Good Doug, or John the Greek, and it seems to make people feel that much more connected. Of course, a nickname is not a requirement for success, but for me it deepens the feeling that I have finally found my niche in the recovery community.
Secondly, it is almost comical that I, of all people, look forward to having a nickname. I would guess to say there aren’t many people in the world who have had as many nicknames as I have had in my life. This post is already running a bit long, or I would take the time to list the various names I have responded to throughout my life. In fact, it had been suggested that perhaps my problems with addiction stemmed from an identity crisis, and that I should go back to my birth name (which almost no one, except my Mother, calls me), and I would be cured. But I have genuinely enjoyed each nickname I was given, it has given me a feeling of acceptance and belonging, and so to be given one in the program really feels like I am now a bona fide member. I have arrived!
Here is a confusing paradox in early recovery: in the 12 step program, you are strongly encouraged to live one day at a time, to look back on the past but do not stare, and to celebrate all your new sober milestones. Which is great for morale, and generally seems to be a good way to live life in general.
And then you go home to your significant other (or anyone else in your life who is very angry with you). And while you are off learning this great new way of thinking, they, sadly, are not, and all they can see is all you are trying to forget… your mistakes, your missteps, your old behavior. They don’t give a shit if you have gotten your act together for the past 56 days… in their minds, what you have been doing for the past 56 days is what you should have been doing all along, and certainly does not eliminate the memory of all the bad decisions you have made 57 days ago and beyond.
So, how to dovetail these two seemingly opposite ways of viewing the present? Because that is currently life on a daily basis, and sometimes it seems like it would be easier to live in the meeting rooms than it does in my own home. And that is not a judgment against anyone; on the contrary, my instinctive thought process is in agreement with not letting go of the past.
This is another post that does not tie up with a pretty bow. I really do struggle with this issue, many times on a daily basis. For now, the only thing I can do is ignore opinions and judgments that do not jive with what I am learning in the program. Basically, what other people think of me is none of my business. Like so many things I write about, this is much easier said than done, and, in fact I am struggling with this as I write.
But I do believe this: as long as I do not use a mind altering substance, and as long as I strive to do the next right thing, then I am having a wildly successful day, and I can hang on to that in the face of any and all judgments.
There are many gifts promised with recovery in the 12 step programs, but two that I hear about most often are the joy that comes from helping another as you were helped, and applying the principles learned to other areas of your life, thus making you that much more joyous, happy and free. This early in recovery, I assumed that these are benefits of the distant future, but today I had a small taste of what it feels like to give away one of the lessons I have learned, and it truly is a gift.
The message I had the opportunity to pass on has to do with staying in the present moment. There are many popular slogans in the 12 step programs centering around this theme… “one day at a time,” “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that is why it is called the present,” and so on. These are well-known for a reason, they make a lot of sense, but when serious emotions set in, such as regret for mistakes of the past, or anxiety about fears for the future, how can they apply? The words become meaningless unless you have a practical application.
This was not an easy lesson for me to learn, it has taken a lot of practice, and I have not come close to perfecting this skill. But, when I start wallowing in mistakes I have made in the past, I use a physical action, like shaking my head and consciously reminding myself that whatever is troubling me is in the past. I then consciously redirect my thoughts to something more productive.
More prevalent for me these days are worries about the future. When my thoughts get tangled up in this pattern, I again stop the thought process by consciously becoming aware of my immediate surroundings, then asking myself, “does this worry affect me right here, right now?” The answer has been no every time I have asked it, and this exercise always brings some measure of relief.
These may sound like simplistic practices, but if you struggle with either of these thought patterns, you would be amazed at how much they will improve your life!
I have been mulling over many different directions to take in today’s post, because, like anyone in early recovery (or probably anyone at all), a million things happen in a day, and I try to figure out what sticks out the most.
The meeting I attended today focused on Step 3: turning our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him. As always in this kind of meeting, the opinions are varied as to how exactly to do this, but the theme I kept hearing was as long as you are trying your hardest, you will eventually get the concept of turning your will over.
The idea of knowing definitively that I tried my hardest is as alien to me as the idea of a higher power is to an atheist. As soon as it was said today in the meeting I grew uncomfortable. The man who introduced this topic then listed all the different ways he tries to turn his will over. Without exception, I have been doing these same things for the past 54 days, and yet I still question whether I’m “trying my hardest.”
Perfectionist thinking is a hallmark of any addict. Our “all or nothing” thinking is usually whats gets us into our mess with whatever substance we prefer. So it would seem a simple answer: just find more balance in your thinking, choose the middle of the road with the goals and expectations you set for yourself, and you will be fine.
But for me, this has never been a simple problem to solve. I genuinely struggle with what is moderate, what is good enough, and thus I have a hard time knowing when I have tried hard enough. And the flip side of this problem is being unable to accurately see the progress I am making, because I am struggling so much with the question of whether I am doing all I can do.
I can only assume this is a normal problem for a person in early recovery, and this is not a post that is going to end with an easy answer. Maybe the simple realization that it is a significant problem that I need to resolve within myself shows that I have “tried hard enough” in my post today!
Day 2 of blog, 53 days clean… what to write about? Today let’s start with the basics. For the past 53 days, I had 4 hard and fast rules to live by, and absolutely nothing else about my day mattered except following those rules. They are:
- Don’t use any mood altering substance
- Go to a 12 step meeting (I choose AA, but there are many other respectable 12 step organizations)
- Call my sponsor (if you don’t have one, call another addict)
Truthfully, there have been many days during the last weeks where this did not seem like enough, and then I was told even more firmly not to get ahead of myself, do those four things, and I will get better.
In the beginning, this seemed ridiculous. First, I have tried to recover many times before, so I completely lacked confidence in my ability to even get past rule #1. Second, these rules are simply too easy, if it is that easy, why can’t anyone do it, and, more specifically, why haven’t I been able to do it?
But, 53 days ago, I was simply out of options. My life had spiraled so far out of my control that I had absolutely no choice but to listen to the people who had their shit together. I am fortunate to have a great sponsor that has been willing to stick by me through all of my mistakes and bad decisions of the past, and this time I guess I was finally backed far enough into a corner that I did not feel I had a choice but to follow every directive she gave me.
So I did it, went to bed, got up, and did it again. And for many days I thought that my life was pointless, meaningless, and I was accomplishing absolutely nothing. Then, I guess as my head cleared, and as I got used to my new circumstances (again, I will get into my back story at some point), I started listening in meetings more intently, and I was hearing things I hadn’t heard before, relating in a way I had never related before. Small little signs from God were happening, and, while my actual life circumstance weren’t improving, I began seeing a small light at the very far end of the tunnel.
And today, at a meeting, I hear someone with 12 days sober talk about how out of control his life is, and how desperate he feels, and, for the first time in 53 days, I was able to see that in less than 2 months time, I had truly come a long way. I was that person a very short time ago, I had that much chaos and that little hope. And already, I can be a person that helps the hopeless, and share a story that is already re-writing itself.
Welcome. It is my goal in this blog to document my journey of recovery from addiction. I have 52 days clean, so I am still very new on this path. I hope to enlighten both myself and others on the daily trials, and the miracles, that can be found along the way.
Even this early on, I know one thing: it is only one day at a time, one step at a time, that can bring success in freedom from addiction. Living in the mistakes of the past brings nothing but heartache, and anxiety about the future brings nothing but stress. Living in the present is a skill that requires patience through repetition, but will eventually bring rewards unlike any that I have ever known… at least that is my hope.
As I continue to document, I will try to include more personal details so that you may know more about me as a person. I am completely new to the process of blogging, so I hope to learn as I go, and hopefully my site will improve daily. I welcome all feedback, especially on ways to bring more depth to my story!
Thanks for taking the time to read this, I look forward to sharing my story…