Monthly Archives: June 2012
Speaker of the House
I can now check another AA milestone off my list: I shared my story for the first time at a Speaker Meeting. For those unfamiliar, AA meetings have different formats… some are topic meetings, some are literature meetings, and some are speaker meetings. At a speaker meeting, one person shares their experiences with the group, and then discussion flows from the speaker’s story.
In terms of life accomplishments, this morning’s speech is going to rank right up there for me. I doubt I will ever forget the process of getting ready for it (procrastinator that I am, there was minimal actual work done, just a lot of worrying), the feeling of nervous anticipation walking into the meeting, looking at everyone’s face before I told my story, and, of course, the amazing feedback I received once I finished.
In AA, the format for telling your story is: what is was like, what happened, and what it is like now, all in the framework of your addiction. Here is what I gained personally from telling my story:
What It Was Like
This was beneficial for me because it heightened my awareness that addiction was in my life long before I took my first sip of alcohol. It reinforced for me that addiction has little to do with the substance, and everything to do with your thought process. Telling my personal story from beginning to end highlighted the patterns in my life where I behaved in an addictive fashion. A lot of that time had nothing to do with mind altering substances, and everything to do with how I thought, and, more importantly, the actions I took as a result of those thoughts.
I would imagine this part of the story becomes more important to share the more time you have sober. For me, with 5 months and 2 days, “what happened” is still very much a part of my consciousness. However, telling what happened out loud to a group of relative strangers allowed me to look back at my shameful behavior, but to do so in the comfort of those who empathize without judgment. It also served to remind me how far I’ve come in such a short period of time.
What It’s Like Now
I can’t say enough about how transforming it was to share this part of the story. It felt indescribably empowering to testify to the power of this 12-step program, and to share the pride I feel in the accomplishments I have made in just 5 short months. It also called to mind, though I should need no reminders, how blessed I am to have the supportive people in my life. Having the ability to publicly list all the different ways my relationships have improved with almost every key person in my life, to describe the endless blessings I have received, and to specify how I have been able to use the tools of recovery to improve nearly every aspect of my life… there are simply no words to convey the depth of positive emotion I feel.
All that I have described, and I have not even touched on the positive feedback I received, and how wonderful that felt! I will need a separate post. And to think, the best is yet to come…
Anonymity: The Spiritual Foundation of all Traditions
Tradition Six of Alcoholics Anonymous: The AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
Because it is June, many 12-step meetings will focus on the sixth step, and, towards the end of the month, the sixth tradition. Many people (I’m sorry to say myself included) find “tradition” meetings boring, because they talk a lot about the history of the group, and how the program has evolved.
The conversation generated at these meetings have been interesting, and surprising, at least to me. The topic that has come up each time has to do with anonymity, obviously a key component in the program, but not one I would necessarily equate with this tradition. But, nonetheless, I have learned some interesting things as a result.
First, at the heart of the principle of anonymity is humility. I would never have related the two, but I can now understand why they would be connected at the group level. If you are a successfully recovering alcoholic, it would be gratifying to shout it from the rooftops, but that would be counterintuitive to what we are learning to do. To practice humility, we have to always remain grateful and thankful for our blessings, and not allow them to inflate our egos.
The second thing I’ve learned, to my great surprise, is how selective people are with whom they break their anonymity (on the personal level). Most people who I have encountered in meetings are very hesitant in sharing with someone outside the program that they are an alcoholic. The simple reason given is that the disease of alcoholism is largely misunderstood, and, consequently, prejudices and judgments are made when this information is shared. Therefore, the most prudent course of action is to simply refrain from revealing this personal confidence.
There are people in my life who have strongly encouraged me to share my status as a recovering alcoholic/addict with everyone I know. I have been conflicted about this decision for almost as long as I have been sober. Now that I have had the opportunity to hear the experiences of others, I am thinking that for now, I will choose to share my story with those I am convinced understand the disease. The nice thing about this decision is that it can be reversed, whereas if I went the other direction, there would be no turning back!
Keeping It Green
This is another common expression in the rooms of AA, and one that I have come up against several times in as many days. It means, for an addict, keeping the true memory of what it was like in active addiction fresh in your mind. After some sober time (apparently, I cannot speak from experience), it becomes easy to forget how bad the bad times really were. And once you forget the bad times, it becomes fairly easy to take the next step, which is to think it wouldn’t be so bad to have just one drink, since everyone else is having one, or if I used drugs just one time, I won’t do it more than once… you get the picture.
So how do you keep it green? According to AA, going to meetings regularly is the easiest way to keep the memories fresh. That is because (and now I can speak from experience) you very often will hear the story of someone coming into the program for the first time, or for the first time since a relapse, and in hearing their story you are reminded of your own personal “bottom.” I had this experience three times in the past three days, and I’ll tell you, there is nothing more powerful at a meeting than hearing the raw pain of someone at the end of their rope.
At five months sober today, I don’t necessarily feel like I need to be reminded, because memories of my personal bottom are still fresh in my mind, but at the same time I guess it never hurts to have this very important truth reinforced… it is much, much easier to stay sober than it is to get sober!
Resting on Your Laurels
rest on one’s laurels
Obviously, this expression does not originate in recovery. In fact, I believe its origins have something to do with ancient Greece, but I doubt that anyone reading this blog cares too much about that kind of information. At my point in recovery, and really, in life, it means don’t get complacent, or even too confident. Many people before me have had this feeling of “I’ve got this.” And, since this is the most time I’ve personally had sober (149 days), I can’t say for certain, but I would imagine the idea of resting on my laurels will come up time and again as I reach different milestones, achieve different victories.
But believing that sobriety can be maintained through past action is just as logical as thinking that once you lose a certain amount of weight you are free to stop eating well, or once you’ve run a marathon you can stop exercising. True, you can do these things, but you will gain the weight back if you stop eating well, and you will become out of shape if you stop exercising. In the same way, I must attend to sobriety like anything I want to maintain through my lifetime… the same regular, consistent actions that brought me results for the past 5 months need to be applied throughout my life. Today’s sobriety does not depend on yesterday’s achievements, it depends on today’s actions!
Sought Through Prayer AND Meditation
As I have mentioned a few hundred times, I am achieving sobriety through the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. While I haven’t actually begun step work with my sponsor, I attend a lot of meetings where we study and talk about the various ways people have completed the steps. This weekend we studied Step 11 in a meeting, and while I am nowhere near ready to even think about that step (they are in order for a reason), I learned something that may help me in my daily life, right now.
For those not familiar with the steps, Step 11 reads:
Sought through prayer and mediations to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
To date, I haven’t given a lot of thought to this step, but recently I have had a lot of interesting things happen that I believe are signs from God, but I don’t necessarily understand what those signs are supposed to mean to me (see my post on Synchronicity, as one example). I have continued to pray that I obtain understanding, but it has not yet been granted.
And then someone shared their interpretation of Step 11, which is that both prayer and meditation are necessary, because prayer is speaking to God, and meditation is listening to what He has to say. That blew me away… I am fantastic at talking to God, but how good am I at sitting and trying to listen? I heard that explanation, and I realized that to God, I am probably a lot like my 9-year-old son is to me… he is great at telling me all that is going on in his life, and complaining about what is missing, and demanding all that he needs, but when it comes time to hearing what I have to say back to him? He is usually too busy moving on to his next activity to pay much attention to my pearls of wisdom.
My extremely limited knowledge of meditation involves people with shaved heads, sitting in a lotus position, and chanting “ohm”… not really my bag. But I am guessing I need to expand my horizon a bit on the real meaning of meditation and figure out a way to make it work in my life, because I don’t want to just talk at God, I really do want to hear what He has to say back to me.
Wreckage of the Past
“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
We have all heard this line before… we are not our mistakes… but when you are new in recovery and struggling to reclaim your life before addiction, mistakes, if dwelled upon, can overshadow all of the advances that have been made. So, it is as important to learn how to effectively deal with the mistakes from the past as it is to learn to abstain from using any mind-altering substances. Because, if I continue to brood over all of my past failures, then I am on my way to relapse.
When I think about my personal past errors, I categorize them: there are mistakes that have consequences outside of the realm of family and friends, and these mistakes must be dealt with first. They are often the most frightening of the consequences, but usually the good news about these mistakes is that you have little choice but to deal with them. So, these are the easiest to square your shoulders, and prepare to simply get through them. The upside is that once you correct this category, it is done, and you can feel a great sense of accomplishment in having dealt with it.
The second, and in my opinion, more difficult category under “wreckage of the past” is the mistakes made with regard to family and friends. There are usually many examples of this kind of mistake, and range in severity from the damage done to your spouse and children, to the petty behavior displayed to more casual acquaintances. There are too many varieties to count in this category, and the length of time it can take to clear up these mistakes is indefinite.
The most important thing to remember, in the early stages of becoming sober, is that clearing up mistakes from the past takes time. It took time to make the mistakes, so it is only logical that it will take time to correct them. It is my experience that people are generally more tolerant, and have more patience for me than I have for myself, and their main objective is for me to be well, so they are more than happy to give me the time I need. And for the people who aren’t so patient and understanding… well, I will probably need a separate post to delve into that set of problems. In the meantime, dealing with mistakes requires the same mentality as dealing with recovery… one day at a time!
Fear, Part II: Champagne Problems
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. -Unknown
I had the opportunity, since yesterday, to turn around my thinking with respect to the current fear in my life, and I always feel accomplished when I can achieve these kinds of mental battles. In the past, I could not even recognize my negative thought patterns for what they were, and now, to not only do I recognize them, but I can rebut them and win the battle, which is a true gift.
So another way to look at fear, or any kind of hardship in your life, is to compare it against past, more difficult obstacles you have faced, and see how they compare. Or, to look at the world in general and see how your problems stack up against what the world at large is facing. You see, just as recently as a few months ago, I was facing problems I thought I could not overcome: I was losing my marriage, my home life, and, in a very real sense, my freedom. In 144 short days, I was able, through the miracle of a family babysitting offer, to have a wonderful date night with that same husband last night.
Five months ago, I truly did not believe I had the strength to overcome my personal demon, addiction. I truly did not believe I had the capacity to be honest with anyone, including myself… I wasn’t even sure I knew what honesty looked like. Today, I am genuinely proud, and even a little awestruck, of the things I have managed to accomplish in 144 days. And if I can do all of that, then really, what can’t I face? Certainly not the comparatively small issues that trouble me today. The kind of issues I face today are what are known as “champagne problems” in recovery… yes, they are irritating, and maybe worrisome, but they are nothing compared to problems facing someone in active addiction. And when they trouble me, because everyone in life has troubles of some kind, I have the added bonus of the toolkit I have gained in recovery… I know what I have to do to face any kind of hardship in life. So, while addiction has caused some of my problems, addiction has also given me the fantastic resources I now have to solve any problem in life.
And now, I can walk out of my house, face my fear, and know with certainty I am going to come out stronger on the other side… stay tuned!
FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real
A mind focused on doubt and fear cannot focus on the journey to victory. ~ Mike Jones
I have learned, through recovery, that at the heart of any problem in life… addiction, of course, being a problem in life… is fear. Perhaps because I am still relatively new to the 12-step program, I have not been able to trace back all problems in my life to fear, but then again, I have not truly inventoried my life yet, so I guess there’s still time.
But when I am facing fear, it is a comfort to use the knowledge I have gained so far to help me conquer the negative feelings that accompany this emotion. For me, when I have fear, it affects every area of my life… I even have dreams that seem to zero in on what makes me most afraid, and then plays that fear out in my head all night long. And when you wake up from those kinds of dreams, it does not feel like a good start to your day, to say the least.
The biggest obstacle for me to overcome in managing fear exists strictly between my ears. In other words, most of the things I fear are imagined outcomes of upcoming events. Which is why the title of this post is important for me to remember any time I am feeling fear… is what I fear actually happening, or is it something I’m afraid might happen? I have never done any verifiable research, but my best guess would be 99.9% of things I fear are not truly happening in the moment, but rather events I fear could happen, or how someone may react, or what dangers could possibly befall my children… the list goes on an on. And since, as I have written about numerous times by now, worrying about anything that hasn’t happened yet constitutes as a “tomorrow” item, and I am focused on living one day at a time, then the simple solution to this kind of fear is to remind myself to stay in the present, and leave future worries for the future.
And again, as I have written in the past, this process falls under the “Much Easier Said Than Done” category, but at least its a starting point from which I can grow!
What Other People Think of You is None of Your Business
One of the character defects on which I have to work is obsessing about others’ opinions of me. I have wasted an inordinate amount of my lifetime trying to guess what other people are thinking, assuming I know what they are thinking, and, in general, projecting my feelings onto others.
In recovery, I have, as much as possible, put those thoughts to the side. In the very early days, I simply did not have the mental energy to waste. Now, at 142 days, as life has become so much more peaceful, it actually takes a bit more effort to manage this defect.
When life is completely chaotic, fear takes up the bulk of mental space. But when life becomes more “normal,” it can be easy to slide into old mental habits, such as monitoring the tone of someone’s voice, or the look on their face, and then deciding I know exactly what they are thinking, and then oh-my-God-what-I am-going to-do-about-this, what are they saying to others… you get the idea.
So now, when I experience this backslide into old ways of thinking, I must, first, realize that this is what I am doing. The realization alone is a huge improvement for me, but it is not enough. The next step, after the realization, is to use the tools I have gained from recovery, and apply them to my unproductive thought processes.
First, I must remind myself that everyone’s thoughts, emotions, and attitudes do not revolve around me. So to assume that someone’s bad mood, or odd tone of voice has to do with me, is completely self-centered and in all probability false.
Second, if someone is not coming to me with a problem they are having, then what they are thinking is none of my business. This is proving to be a hard lesson for me to learn, but life is about progress, not perfection, and all I can do is try my best.
Because, at the end of the day, what people are feeling and thinking is completely out of my control… they are going to choose their thoughts and feelings, the same way I am going to choose mine. If I choose to let go of the worry about others, I will feel more serene, and their thoughts will still be theirs.
Happy Father’s Day
A father is respected because
he gives his children leadership…
he gives his children care…
he gives his children time…
he gives his children the one thing
they treasure most – himself.
As I wrote in my “Mother’s Day” post, I have been fortunate to have been blessed with not one, but two sets of amazing parents. Since I took the opportunity to give accolades to Moms on their special day, I figured I would give equal time to the Dads of the world.
If Moms are all about love, forgiveness and quiet strength, then Dads are all about discipline, leadership and not- so-quiet strength. They are the ones we turn to when something breaks, when we are lost, or when (and this is especially true for me) we need general how-to information.
As I mentioned, I have had the great gift of having two Dads, the first having passed away 20 years ago, the other for the past 13 years through marriage. And while I miss my biological Dad dearly, I could not be more fortunate to have my current Dad. If not for him, I would not, at the most basic level, have my husband and children. But more importantly, he leads our family by his great example…. there is not one thing that he teaches us (and believe me, he has taught all of us so many things!) that he is not willing to do himself. So when preaches the value of hard work, he is the first to volunteer when a project needs to be done. When he preaches family values, he is the absolute first person there for any one of his family members in a crisis.
He has shown me, and his son, who emulates him perfectly in this respect, the real meaning of fatherhood. I simply cannot imagine what my life would be lacking without him as a role model, a source of strength, and as a friend.