Monthly Archives: July 2012

Family

The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other. –Mario Puzo

Over the past 7 days, I had the opportunity to visit a sick family member, which ultimately meant saying good-bye to that family member.  I was then able to participate in the funeral arrangements, speak at the service, and then, the most comforting part, spend time with the living members of my family afterwards.  From that service I was able to join another set of family members to celebrate my God Daughter’s ninth birthday.  Today, I leave for two days to spend some one-on-one time with family that lives further away.  Four days from now, I will be vacationing with yet more family for a week “down the shore.”

Would these events take place in active addiction as they do in sobriety?  Absolutely, positively not!  Living in sobriety is like looking at life through an entirely different set of eyes, ones with sharper focus and much clearer vision.  Even the sad parts of life, like the funeral I attended, take on a deeper meaning, and I had a much greater appreciation for both the deceased, and the living who grieve.

This is not to say that I don’t have family challenges.  I still have two big issues in my life with regard to family, two issues that I daily find ways to justify my procrastination in handling.  The whole “one day at a time” mantra can be somewhat detrimental to someone who could make a profession out of putting off until tomorrow what I don’t feel like doing today.  But what is comforting is that I truly believe in the quote above, and even with the issues I face with these two family members, I believe in my heart that we have loyalty to one another, and that things will eventually work out.

All of this positive energy is another gift of sobriety, and it will continue as long as I continue in recovery!

180 Days

Today I received my 6 month coin at my daily AA meeting.  I have been jingling all the coins I have received thus far in my pocket all day and wondering what to write.

How do I feel?  I still feel pretty much like myself, although I feel more confident in my ability to handle my feelings, and, consequently, the people in my life.  How has life changed in the past 6 months?  I guess it depends on what I compare it to.  If I compare it to my life as it was exactly 6 months ago, my life has changed dramatically.  Six months ago I was separated from my husband and children, living back in my childhood home, a source of pain for all of my family and friends.  I was facing seemingly insurmountable problems in absolutely every area of my life.  To say my life is different from 6 months ago would be an understatement.

What I’ve been trying to figure out is this… with the exception of that time of separation from my family earlier this year, my life today, in terms of routine and structure, is not significantly different from any other time in my recent life.  There are two notable exceptions:  I attend 12-step meetings every day now, and I refrain from using any mind-altering substances.  But the daily activities are remarkably similar… I still grocery shop, clean (somewhat), cook (somewhat), attend to family obligations, raise my children, interact with my husband, watch TV, play Webkinz (yes, that is actually a daily activity for me).

So what makes today different from July 27th of last year?  Or January 27th of this year?  Here is the critical difference, the inner change that makes every single daily activity different from any I performed at any other point in my life… I am proud of myself.  I have done something, despite all odds, that I truly believed I could never do… I have remained sober for 180 consecutive days.  While it certainly did not start out as my own idea… there were many external forces at play 6 months ago that propelled me into sobriety… at some point during the past 6 months the decision to stay clean and sober was one I was making primarily for myself.

Today, no one is watching over me, insisting I make a meeting every day, I do it because I choose to, because it has become a point of pride for me.  If something unusual happens in the morning and I am unable to start my day on my knees in prayer (and that has only happened 2 or 3 times in the past 6 months), I will create a time later in the day to make up for it.  I have created my own goals of writing in this blog, and I have stuck to them, every week.

Feeling pride in myself as a person leads to all sorts of other good things… appreciation and gratitude for all the blessings in my life, confidence that if I can achieve this goal, then really the possibilities are endless, and, most importantly, fortitude to continue on this path, one day at a time, for the rest of my life.  Because now I know what all the people in the rooms have been saying since day one… it is much easier to stay sober than it is to get sober.

I had the opportunity to show my 6 month coin to my uncle today.  He asked me, “how do you feel?”  I answered, “I feel proud of myself.”  I honestly believe that is the first time in my entire life that I have said those words and truly meant them.

And I maintain, as I have many times in the past… all of this, and the best is yet to come!

Working With Others

It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed. ~ Napoleon Hill

Sometimes the things I hear in my meetings I disregard, thinking they are not truly applicable to me for one reason or another.  When I do this, the message becomes incessant, until my brain finally locks in that I better start paying attention.

In the past several days I have heard numerous testaments to the importance of working with others in recovery.  It is the absolute foundation of the AA program… the only way to stay sober is to give back what was freely given to you.  Anytime one alcoholic is talking to another alcoholic, a meeting is taking place, and the program is in action.

So, like the slow-learner I am, I hear this message, and appreciate its importance in general, but not so much to me personally.  After all, I don’t even have 6 months yet (that will change, God willing, with tomorrow’s post!), so how am I to help another?  Of course, I know I can talk to people, and have done so for a while now… I would even like to think I have helped a little in my own way.  But the main idea of working with others, to my way of thinking, is sponsorship, and I don’t have enough time to qualify.

But when the message continued to haunt me, straight through to this morning while reading a homework assignment given to me regarding my step work, I realized I needed to look at it a bit more closely.  And I am thinking what I am to hear through this message is this:  working with people means doing so even when you don’t want to, probably especially when you don’t want to.

Because it is summer time, and my kids are out of school, my AA schedule has been chaotic.  Thankfully, I still make a meeting every day, but I am often unable to make the meetings I had been making in my early months of sobriety.  And I now realize I have been a little resentful about this.  When I have to attend meetings closer to home, I am often critical of them… the topics aren’t relatable, the opinions shared annoyed me, and, consequently, I don’t make a big effort to speak one-on-one with people at these meetings.

So, if I am taking my program seriously, then I am doing the complete opposite of the most basic tenet of the program.  On that note, I am off to a local meeting, where I plan to arrive early, introduce myself, and engage in productive conversation.  And I pray that I can, in some small way, give back what has been freely given to me.

The Power of Prayer

The more you pray, the less you’ll panic. The more you worship, the less you worry.  You’ll feel more patient and less pressured.  –Rick Warren

I had a really nice, relaxing day today… I was able to attend my favorite 12-step meeting that I haven’t been able to attend in about a week, I had a fun afternoon at the pool with my kids, under a cloudless, blue sky, and got home to find my niece waiting to play with my kids, which allows me to see my niece and also entertain my kids while I write my post.  In between I returned phone calls that I have been meaning to return, threw in a load of wash, and unloaded the dishwasher to boot… I couldn’t ask for a better day.

So when I received an ominous voice mail that spoke of needing information regarding collecting a debt, I was thrown into a tailspin.  When I tell you my mood did a 180, I’ve never felt anything quite like it.  My heart started racing, and I couldn’t function for a few minutes.  I listened to the voice mail no less than 5 times trying to figure out what it was all about, to no avail… the caller did not get my name correct, did not leave the company name, and was (I believe) intentionally vague about the purpose of the call.  No matter how many times I said to myself “this makes no sense, you have no debt for anyone to collect,” I could not calm down.  Finally, I took the bull by the horns, and called the number left on the voice mail.  Yes, you know the end of this story… complete and total scam.  Side note:  it is truly terrible the gimmicks companies use to get people to call them back.

I was really impatient with myself by the time I wrapped up this incident (which, to be fair, probably took a total of 10 minutes, but still, complete disruption to my otherwise beautiful day!).  When am I going to instinctively use the tools I have been given by my program of recovery?  The entire thing truly wrapped up for me when I looked up at the ceiling, and shot a prayer up:  please take this anxiety from me, and, truly, it worked!  So I had to re-direct my thought process and write about the power of prayer rather than my original subject.

The ultimate point is this:  prayer works, and not just for the big things, it works at any point in the day, for any need you may have.  Try it!

What Sobriety Is For Me

In the last three meetings I attended, I have heard a recurring theme.  No fewer than 5 people who have shared in my meetings ended with “this is what sobriety is for me.”  The subject matter they talked about varied:  some spoke about their rewarding profession, some about the joy of spending time with their children, some about their extensive travel.  But no matter what positive thing that was going on, they cited sobriety as the reason they have such blessings in their lives.

Because the message was reinforced so many times for me in such a short period of time, I analyzed my reaction a little more closely, and I realized that I was a tiny bit skeptical to fully embrace this line of reasoning.  It seemed a little extreme.  I’m sure in some cases you wouldn’t hold a job, or have your children, etc., but in just as many cases you can be in active addiction and still have all of those things, so the logic didn’t flow for me.

And then, yesterday, I was interviewed by a professional in the field of psychology, and asked the question, “how has life improved in the past 176 days?”  Through my re-telling of the many blessings I have gained (or re-gained) in the past almost 6 months, I stumbled across the answer to my unspoken question “why does sobriety get the credit for all the blessings?”  Because the greatest blessing I have received in sobriety is gratitude.  Yes, I have the same children now as I had in active addiction.  I have the same husband, the same extended family, the same friends, the same home.  The difference is that I can now see, with eyes clearer than, I believe, even someone who has never been an addict, how incredibly fortunate I am.  I realize with an intensity I have never before felt how blessed I am to have so much in my life.  Small things, such as waking up in the morning, after having had a restful night’s sleep, take on a meaning deeper than the average person.

All of that gratitude is a direct result of sobriety.  And that is only the beginning of what sobriety is for me…

Humility and Persistence

No one should be ashamed to admit they are wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that they are wiser today than they were yesterday. ”

Usually I find the topic of my post the same day as I am writing it… either at a meeting, or something that is happening right now in my life.  I was going to write about another topic today, and I was scrolling back through my posts to look for a quote, and I came across a draft.  It had only the title above and the quote above, nothing else.  I had started to write it, but somehow got sidetracked and never went back to it, and for the life of me I can’t remember what had inspired it in the first place.
But as I looked at the title, and thought back to the past 24 hours, I have heard quite a bit about humility, which by this time should stop astounding me, how many “coincidences” I find in my life.  I am taking this to mean I need to look at the topic of humility again.
I have written previously on the subject, and the biggest lesson I have learned about humility is to not think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.  And thinking of yourself less applies to whether you think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread or the gum on the bottom of a shoe… either way, you are thinking too much about yourself, and your focus should be elsewhere.
I attended a meeting yesterday where a man was blathering on and on, and I found his opinion really offensive.  I was seriously ready to walk out of the room, and I vowed never to attend that particular meeting again.  Looking back, who was at the center of my thoughts in all that rage?  Me… how I felt about what he was saying, how I was offended.  The topic of that discussion, was, of course, humility, and at the time I self-righteously proclaimed that the offensive man was acting the opposite of the subject on which he was speaking, but today I realize that I too could have paid more attention to the topic.
Like everything in life, it is progress, not perfection, and persistence is needed to get closer to true humility.  For me, it is about finding the balance between inflated ego and low self-esteem, and a clearer perspective on who I really am.  Acceptance of my true self, faults and strengths, will hopefully bring the humility for which I am striving.

Knowing When to Talk and When to Shut Up

For almost 6 months now I have been focusing, more or less, on one thing… staying sober.  I have lived by the motto if I do the 4 things that have kept me sober one day at a time for the past 172 days (pray, not pick up, go to a meeting, and talk to another alcoholic), if I complete these things each day, then my day is a success.  Period.  Of course, other things do get done in the day, I have a home, husband and children, so it would be difficult NOT to do other things in a day, but if the house is messier than I would like, or if I did not exercise as I planned, forgot to pick up something at the store… these things used to haunt me in the past, but now I simply remember… did I do my 4 things?  Okay then, the day is a success.

Now the only blip in this otherwise perfect horizon is that it does leave few things personally out there hanging.  I have a few relationships, damaged more or less as the direct result of my addiction, that are unresolved in one way or another.  For the past 6 months I have made the conscious decision to put these relationships on the back burner, because sobriety comes first, and these relationships did not fit into my daily to-do list.

I am now finding that these issues are starting to simmer on the back burner, which tells me that God is gently letting me know I am ready to handle them.  The biggest struggle I have in cleaning up these messes is knowing what is truly important to say, and what makes more sense to leave be.  I have heard two different pieces of advice in the program.  The first is the importance of “cleaning up my side of the street,” which to me means talking everything through in order to clear out the past.  The other thing I have learned is “restraint of pen and tongue,” which to me means if you are not sure whether you should say it, then shut up!  So, to me, that is confounding… which do I do, clean up or shut up?

I guess I will figure it out, one way or the other…

AA Principles in Everyday Life

Just for today…  I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life problem at once.  I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

This morning I deviated from my normal schedule, and will be attending a meeting closer to home, so I had some life-affirming time to myself.  To make use of that time, I put on an inspirational show while doing some paperwork.  And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

The show’s focus was on what to do when life gets too hard, when you are working towards a goal and it is taking too long, when you feel like giving up.  The speaker’s answer to that dilemma?  Don’t worry about how long it is going to take.  Ask yourself:  can I continue to push forward for today?  Do I have the strength to get through today?  Worrying about how long something is going to take is wasting the time you have right now… today.  Energy for tomorrow will be available tomorrow.

This show has absolutely nothing to do with addiction or recovery, and yet it is preaching the essence of any 12-step program.  Truthfully, I’m not sure how this message is applying to me personally right at the moment, but, because I believe there are no coincidences, I must need to hear the message, and it is a powerful one.  Whether it is frustration with kids, relationship issues, financial worries, or addiction, the answer is the same… can I do what I need to TODAY to accomplish my goals?  Tomorrow, next week, and next month will take care of themselves.  If I can summon the energy to do what I need to today, then I am golden!

Psychic Change

The open-minded see the truth in different things.  The closed-minded see only the differences.

Last night I began what I believe will be the next chapter in my recovery:  I had what I will call a “big book study session.”  The goal of these sessions is to take an in-depth look at the big book (which is basically the Bible of Alcoholics Anonymous), and through that in-depth look, I will complete the 12 steps of recovery which is the foundation of the program.

I was both excited and nervous before attending this meeting.  I realize that this the heart of the program which has already given me so much, and I have been anxious to get to the things that are supposed to be so life-transforming.  But I am also nervous, because I have a hard time imagining the whole “life-transforming” part of it.  Already, I am faced with facets of my personality with which I am uncomfortable.  Right now, the main struggle I am having is with my skeptical nature, and, until last night, I don’t think I realized just how big a part of my personality my skepticism is.

When I am faced with a life view that is different from my own, I now realize I have a tendency to look for the faults in its logic, rather than look for the faults in my own.  I never considered myself to be an analytical type, but when it comes to making arguments for my own point of view and against others, I reign supreme.  This trait may work well someplace in life (although I have no idea where), but it positively must go as I embark on this new venture.

I also realize that I struggle a bit with extremists of any type… Bible beaters, fitness gurus, raging liberals, and so on.  When I am faced with this type of personality, I tend to withdraw as quickly as I can.  I am now in a situation where I must not only refrain from withdrawing, but I essentially have to embrace this as a way of life.  I am honestly struggling with this… it feels uncomfortable!  But if I want the psychic change that AA promises me, if I want my life to be transformed, then I need to live in discomfort, at least for the short-term.  I have tried my way for a really long time and haven’t gotten very far, what can it hurt to try another approach?

Like with so many things in life, time will tell…

Being of Service… Another Milestone!

Very often you will hear recovering alcoholics say that a big part of their program involves saying yes whenever they are asked to be in service, whether they want to or not.  I had that experience today, and it led to another personal milestone.

I walked into my regular daily meeting with about two minutes to spare, because I had finally hauled my lazy a$$ to the gym.  It is important to note that I was at the gym, because that means I walked into the meeting looking quite a bit more “casual” (a kind understatement) than I would normally prefer to look, but I was so pleased with myself for exercising, I figured it would be worth it.  I was happy as a clam, and my normal gang was already seated.  I was just getting ready to have a quick conversation with the group, when the chair called me to the front of the room.  As I walked up, I realized it was Monday, which means the format of the meeting is a speaker meeting, and the speaker seat was empty.  It was all I could do not to go running right out the door, but, remembering all I have learned, I took a deep breath, and approached the chair of the meeting.

And I, with exactly zero time to prepare, became the speaker at this morning’s meeting.  While I do not have a terrible hardship with public speaking, I do have a problem with being unprepared for public speaking.  Again, I called to mind what I have been taught, which is that there is no need to prepare, simply ask God to put the right words in your mouth, so I shot up a quick prayer (and I mean quick, there was NO TIME!), and off I went.

Here is what I learned:  sometimes taking a deep breath and saying a prayer is all the preparation you need.  Fortunately, I had told my story once before, when I did have time to prepare, at a different meeting, so I could draw upon that experience to help me lay out my personal timeline as it related to addiction.  Another big benefit to this blessing in disguise… I felt like I had really gotten to know many of the “regulars” at this meeting, but, now that I have shared my story with the group, I feel like they really know me.  One person raised their hand and said they appreciated my “brutal honesty,” which was a great compliment, because, as I have mentioned in earlier posts, I truly struggled with honesty for a long time, and so being told that felt like true progress.  I also worry that my story is unusual compared to what I often hear in the rooms, and yet I had 2 different women and 1 man walk up to me afterwards and tell me that I told their exact story.  Knowing that my speaking touches another… it is hard to put into words how rewarding it feels.

Even though I wanted to kill him at the time, I will remember the chairperson of this meeting for a long time, because he gave me a great gift!

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