― William Pollard
Monthly Archives: April 2012
Another day, another milestone! Today I had the privilege of chairing my first 12-step meeting. A little background… each fellowship, I am sure, has its own proceedings, but in Alcoholics Anonymous, each meeting is very regimented. It is typically one hour long, and has one person who leads the meeting… that person is the chairperson. There is an agenda that is followed exactly the same at each meeting. There are different types of meetings: speaker meetings, where the chairperson asks a member of the fellowship to share his or her story. There are literature meetings, where the group reads a portion of AA-approved literature. Finally, there are topic meetings, where the chair person talks about something related to recovery. No matter which type of meeting, the last 30 minutes are devoted to sharing, where the group talks about how they relate to the speaker, literature or topic, or they simply share what is going on in their lives as it pertains to their addiction.
Mondays at my group are speaker meetings, so I asked my sponsor to share her story with the group. I was very surprised to discover that I was nervous this morning. Typically I don’t mind speaking in front of people, plus I believed that the chairperson has a fairly straightforward job. But I did not realize how different it would feel sitting in front of the group, rather than in the midst of it. And I felt the importance of my task from the moment I sat down… this meeting could be life or death to someone, and I was in charge of it! It felt like a tremendous responsibility in the moment. And yet, at the same time, the encouragement and support from the “regulars” who have gotten to know me in the past 93 days was absolutely overwhelming, and gave me the strength I needed to power through.
And I don’t really have the words to describe the feeling of accomplishment I had when I completed the meeting. I have been watching the chairperson for a really long time, and thinking that I would never meet the requirements for taking on the role (90 days of sobriety), so the feeling of pride I have, even now, is amazing, and I look forward to volunteering for the role again!
If I get to bed tonight, I will have 90 days clean and sober. This is a milestone in the recovery world… I will receive a coin to commemorate the event at my meeting tomorrow, and I will get lots of accolades from my comrades.
Since I am so close to a mile marker, I have spent some time reflecting on what has happened in the past 90 days. And really, it is nothing short of a miracle. In many ways, 3 months is not a very long period of time, and yet…
Three months ago I truly believed my life, as I knew it, was over. Every single relationship in my life was in jeopardy. My marriage, I believed, was over. My home life, ruined. The list goes on and on about what was wrong. I really cannot overstate the depths of despair that I was in. I felt that my addiction caused permanent, irreparable damage to every area of my life.
Fast forward to today… I start off the day, in my own home, with a warm hug and a waiting cup of coffee from my husband. I have the privilege of getting my children ready for, and taking them to, school. I spend a little time getting prepared for a big family party, then head down to my regular 12-step meeting. I walk into the meeting, a little early, and am greeted with yells from across the room, calling me by name. People stop to ask me specific questions about my life, and genuinely want to hear my response. When I tell people about how good my life is, they are ecstatic, because they clearly remember how sad I was when they first met me 90 days ago. And that was just the morning!
The miracles are too numerous to count. If all this can happen in 90 days, imagine what will happen 6 months, or a year?
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear – Mark Twain
Courage is an absolute requirement to get things done in early recovery. The simple admission to yourself that you are an addict is courageous enough, let alone admitting it to family and friends. Joining a 12-step program, admitting your troubles to a group of strangers, accepting help, and, last but certainly not least, changing essentially your whole way of thinking about yourself and your life… all of this requires courage.
Time and the repetition of these courageous acts, day by day, makes the process simpler, and builds self-confidence. So when I am hit with a new act that requires new courage, it throws me back, and my instinct is to believe I can’t handle it, that I don’t have the strength to endure. Last week I wrote of a situation that would, in my past addictive behaviors, have caused me great trouble. And while I worried, and prayed, that it would turn out okay, I forgot that I have developed courage over these last 88 days… and I made it through the situation successfully, and feel stronger and more self-confident for having done it.
So today, as I faced a new obstacle, my first instinct was to run, to hide behind my recovery… “I don’t need this stress, it is bad for me” mentality. But I was not taking into account the confidence I have gained from all my courageous decisions of the past 88 days. I forgot that I am stronger than I ever imagined possible.
So I will resist my fear, and I will face my obstacle with all the dignity and courage I can muster, and I do believe I will be stronger for it. Stay tuned…
How often in a lifetime do you hear this expression? Do you believe it? Do you mean it when you say it? Do you really think about what it means?
I have been thinking a lot about it lately, and I take a lot of comfort from this platitude. To me, it means that no matter how bad my circumstances are, there is something to be gained from them. It means I can learn, I can grow, and ultimately, something good is going to arise from whatever chaos I am operating. Because, let’s face it, the only time someone says “everything happens for a reason” is when something is going wrong.
It also allows me to take a breath, and to know that I will survive whatever is happening. Because if everything happens for a reason, then sooner or later, if I try, I will figure out the reason. And if I figure out the reason, it means I have moved far enough past the issue to see it, clearly, for what it is… a moment in time.
So, ultimately, “everything happens for a reason,” for me, is a message of hope. Hope that circumstances can and will improve, that wisdom can and will be gained, and that I can and will grow from whatever catastrophe befalls me or whatever disasters I create.
I’m looking back on what I’ve written, and I realize I’ve written quite a bit on acceptance. There’s a reason for that… it is a subject that comes up a lot, both in recovery, and in life. A huge silver lining in the cloud of addiction is that, when treated, it brings the person a toolbox for dealing with life, and all of its issues, not just those related to recovery.
So acceptance… I’ve talked about the necessity of accepting the disease of addiction, of accepting yourself, but acceptance is critical in another area… accepting those around you as they are. And that acceptance, I have found, has a lot to do with expectations. I expect a lot of myself, my kids, the cashier at Target, the drivers on the road, and the list goes on.
And when those expectations are not met, what happens? Depending on the situation: anger, resentment, frustration, hurt feelings… and what is productivity of those feelings? There is absolutely nothing constructive about feeling like that, it is just a complete waste of time and energy.
Another passage from the Big Book:
Perhaps the best things of all for me is to remember that my serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations. The higher my expectations of other people are, the lower is my serenity. I have to discard my “rights,” as well as my expectations, by asking myself, how important is it really? How important is it compared to my serenity, my emotional sobriety? And when I place more value on my serenity and sobriety than on anything else, I can maintain them at a higher level.
Seriously… if I could keep this paragraph at the forefront of my mind, and ask myself these questions before I open my mouth, I would eliminate about 95% of the troubles in my life!
― William Pollard
Usually when I am moved to write about a topic, it is because it has been a recurring theme in my life. At the last several meetings I attended, the topic of character defects has come up, and I have been avoiding writing about it, mainly because I don’t feel I know enough about the subject to be any kind of authority. And yet, it keeps coming back up, so I think I must make this attempt. This subject could be covered in multiple posts, so for the time being I will take a broad, overview approach in describing the subject matter.
First, to explain a little about the term, character defects are a major player in the 12 steps of recovery. In steps 4 through 7, you examine what your character defects are, you admit them out loud to another person, you become ready to have them removed, and then you ask God to remove them… that is the short-hand version of these steps.
So how do I figure out what my character defects are? In the AA literature I have read, you can look at the most universally regarded list of character defects… the 7 deadly sins… and figure out how they apply to your own life. And that may work, I’ll have to actually make my “searching and fearless moral inventory” (step 4) before I can judge if this is effective.
At this stage of recovery, what makes most sense to me in defining my character defects is to figure out what I have done wrong most glaringly and most often. From that list of faults, I imagine a pattern will emerge of why I am making the same mistakes, and the why’s will be my character defects.
For people like me, who tend to get mired in all the wrongs they have done, and have a difficult time seeing what they have done right in their lives, it is also important to see character defects as a spectrum. And, like any spectrum, there are degrees of dark and light. Taking the deadly sin of pride as an example, pride is on one end of the spectrum, humility is at the other, and at any given point you could be on either end of that spectrum. So for every time I have shown resentment to another person, there has been a time I have shown kindness. For every liability I have within me, there is an asset I need to acknowledge and cultivate. In keeping this big picture mentality while looking at character defects, I believe I will be most effective at eliminating the negative traits, and cultivating the positive attributes in my life.
You know how when you decide to go on a diet, and you try to plan your life out so as not to be around tempting foods? You throw all the junk out of your house, buy healthy foods, and avoid your favorite unhealthy places to eat? And then that inevitable event comes up that you can’t get out of, or your office throws a birthday party for a co-worker, and you find yourself surrounded by temptation. You find yourself resentful of the event, jealous of those around you who can enjoy the tempting food, and wondering why you have to find yourself in that situation in the first place.
Well, anyone taking early recovery seriously employs the same types of strategies in order to get and stay sober/clean, only the consequences of failure are far more devastating that of a failed diet. We in recovery are taught early on to stay away from people, places and things that we associate with our alcohol/drug use.
For the past 82 days, I have done just that, and it has brought me immense relief. But just as the dieter cannot eliminate food from his or her life, so too must the recovering addict deal with tempting situations at some point. I had hoped for myself that the time would come later in my recovery, when I had solid time behind me, but life doesn’t always work out the way I would like.
So I had my first encounter with a person, place or thing today. And it was hard. And it was upsetting. But guess what I found out?
1. I have the most amazing network of support that will be there for me at the drop of a hat.
2. That I am stronger than I think I am.
3. I have my first real experience involving temptation behind me, and I got through it.
And in a few hours, I will have 83 days!
In my meeting this morning we read in the AA Big Book a chapter called The Doctor’s Opinion. In it, doctors who were prominent in the field of addiction at the time the book was published added their thoughts on the 12-step program, and how critical the 12 steps are for people with the disease of alcoholism. They speak of a concept they call the “phenomenon of craving,” and they write:
After (alcoholics) have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery.
The most important lesson I have learned so far with respect to the phenomenon of craving is this: if I don’t take the first mood altering substance, then I will not wake up the craving that is apparently inside me.
The second most important lesson I’ve learned, and this took a lot longer to get through my thick head, is this: the outcome is always the same. If I use a mood altering substance, disaster happens. The only unknown is how long it will take… in the past there were periods where the outcome took longer to arrive, but the result was always the same: complete and total destruction.
Which brings me back to lesson number one… don’t take the first one, and I am free!
Today in a meeting two different young men… one 22, the other 20 years old… shared how they felt about being in a 12-step program at such a young age. To them, it feels restrictive, and they listed all the “normal” things kids their age do that they will no longer be able to do. They look around the room we are in, and they see the ages of the people in the chairs next to them, and they think, “why can’t I do this for another 20 years, and then get it?”
As I listened to them, it made me think of my own life. Now, maybe it is my advanced age, but I had a slightly different viewpoint. Of course, in my 20’s, I did get to experience a lot (not all) of the things they listed… college parties, social drinking events, and so on… and my heart goes out to them, because I remember those times fondly.
But when I think of all the things I will never be able to do again, here is what my list looks like:
- I will never again get to wake up with my heart pounding out of my chest, because I am so ashamed of my actions from the day before
- I will never again get to spend the morning violently nauseous, or with a headache pounding louder than a jack hammer
- I will never again get to piece together the events of the evening before and never quite find all the pieces in my own memory
- I will never again get to pretend I remember some idiotic thing I said or did, and pretend that it is funny that I don’t remember
- I will never again get to hear about the jackass I made of myself at a family or social event
- I will never again get to see the look of utter disappointment in my husband’s eyes
- I will never again get to see the look of confusion on my children’s faces when they don’t understand my mood swings
- I will never again get to see the look of abject fear in my mother’s eyes
- I will never again get to be the guest of honor at an intervention
- I will never again get to embarrass my husband and children (at least not while chemically altered!)
- I will never again get to obsess over creating the next opportunity to obtain a mood altering substance
- I will never again get to waste valuable time, money, and my physical well-being in obtaining a mood altering substance
Of course this list could go a lot longer, but I think you get the picture. I pray that the young men I heard share today get it so they don’t have to make the list I just made…