Monthly Archives: August 2012

Introspection

I have not failed; I’ve simply found 10,ooo ways it won’t work. –Thomas Edison

Tonight is the continuation of my AA step-study.  It’s funny, I keep reporting that nothing really happens in these sessions, they feel a lot like school work (which, I repeat, is not a bad thing), and I can’t really imagine how any “psychic change” can come about as a result of this work.

And yet…

I find myself, more and more, looking at my decisions and actions, things I have done unconsciously and repetitively, and seeing them through a new, more detached set of eyes.  Case in point:  tomorrow is our bi-annual family reunion.  It unites 10 different branches of our family tree, and has about 150 attendees.  It is just a big day-into-night-into late night (unless you are in recovery, and then it is day-into-evening-and-then-go-the-hell-to-bed) party, but, as with any large gathering, it requires a lot of planning.  I have done something related to this function almost every day for the past two weeks straight, and intermittently through the summer.  I am involved in it up to my ears, and it gets to the point that I just want the whole thing over with.  This morning, for the first time, I considered this… if 150 people are attending, what percentage of them are walking into the reunion, having done no more prep work than read the emails that have been sent out (usually by me), and simply enjoying the party?  The concept of doing that honestly boggled my mind.

Now, I don’t necessarily think that is the right approach either, I believe everyone should be willing to help out, and I think there can be actual joy in the prep work, but, like everything else, moderation is key, and I have, once again, failed to grasp that philosophy.

This post is not so much about the reunion, or my inability to moderate my involvement in party planning.  It is more about the idea that I have stepped back and seen that aspect of myself.  Before this time, if I thought about it at all, I probably thought it was a good thing… I am a good family member, I get involved, I care.  I honestly believe this insight, still very much a work in progress, is a direct result of “working the steps,” and God is mentally readying me to write that moral inventory (step 4).  Which, by the way, still scares the you-know-what out of me, but that is, thank God, not a worry for today…

Sometimes It’s Good To Be An Alcoholic

Step 10 of Alcoholics Anonymous:  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it

Today has been one of those days in which I am consciously grateful to be a member of a 12-step program.  The day started, as most days do, with children bickering to the point that requires my involvement.  I attempted to remain calm and talk through the problem, and I further tried to encourage them to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of why the incessant arguing is problematic for everyone.  To say this did not go well would be an understatement, and I, for the second time this summer, left the house very angry.

I arrived at my regular meeting at the same time as a friend did.  Since I apparently wear my emotions the way other people wear clothes, he took one look at me and wanted to know what was wrong.  I told him the events of the morning, and his response?  “You know, Josie, the point of this program is to practice these principles in all our affairs, and those affairs include our children.”  I promptly told him to shut up, but of course he was absolutely correct.

I think up to this point I have thanked God for all my blessings, and I turn over to Him all in my life that is huge, or seems to have no answer, or is overwhelming.  But the smaller issues, like my constant annoyance with my children?  It has never occurred to me to turn that over, because overall, I know I am so blessed with their health and happiness.  It seems trivial to ask God for help with the minor stuff.  But here’s what happens when you don’t turn the little stuff over… it becomes big stuff, and then I react in ways that I regret.  Later in the same meeting an older gentleman was speaking of the 7 (holy moly!) grandchildren that he watches daily, and how thankful he is to have a higher power that he can shoot a prayer up to:  “God, just help me keep quiet for 20 seconds, that’s all I need to regain control.”

Now why didn’t I think of that?

The final component that makes me happy to be an alcoholic:  by the end of my meeting, I was calm, centered, and able to go home and make amends to my children.  I followed up with a much more productive conversation about my expectations for their behavior, and, for the time being, I believe they understand.  Until the next argument, peace reigns in my household!

…And The List Gets Shorter…

Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change.  Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you.  Love them and release them.  Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time. -Sara Paddison

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that August 27th was the 7 month anniversary of recovery, not any more significant a milestone than 211 days (which is today), but for some reason, I received all kinds of rewards.  Here they are, in order from least to most:

1.  Cookie (the hamster) enjoyed the heck out of her clean cage (see yesterday’s post).

2. I received news that things are moving in a positive direction with regard to consequences from my past addictive behavior… I do not want to go into details on this, because I don’t want to jinx it.  But I will say this… if it continues to head in this direction, I will have a whole new source of inspiration for this blog!

3.  I went to a new meeting, a women’s group, met some really interesting women, and one asked me on the spot if I would speak for her the next time she chaired a meeting (which will be this Sunday).  This type of request is common in AA, but not for me personally, and I was honored to be asked.

4.  The last of my personal hold-outs… people who have been dragging their feet in my personal life because they have been so affected by my addiction… asked to have a conversation last night, and we finally cleared the air.

Number four is, of course, the big reveal for me today, since I have been whining about this fractured relationship for months.  I can honestly say I woke up this morning, and I felt lighter, as if something had actually been lifted from me.  I am so grateful.  The difference between last night’s conversation and the one I had with my sister last week, is that I was unsure with this one that things would ever work out.  With my sister I had confidence, with this relationship I did not.  Some really mean thoughts and feeling had been expressed, and I was not sure either one of us could overcome them.  But we made a wonderful start last night, and I have been really anxious to share this news with all of you… two down, one to go!

Lucky 7

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop

In my seven months of sobriety, I have heard over and over the importance of being of service to others.  It is the 12th step of the AA program, and it is why people with decades of sobriety keep coming to meetings.  Once you have achieved the peace and serenity that comes through the 12 steps, it is the only way to maintain that peace and serenity.  Or so I’ve heard, since I’ve barely begun the steps!

Here’s what I do know about being of service… it helps out in immediate and practical ways, and not just in relation to sobriety.  Example one:  a few days ago, I was carrying around quite a bit of anxiety about situations over which I have little control.  I was not shaking it off, and this was after I had done all my “AA” stuff… shared about it, spoke one-on-one with someone in recovery, prayed about it.  In the meantime, I have some upcoming family obligations that, frankly, I want no part of, but have somehow been roped into.  So, I figured if being of service in AA is helpful, surely it must help in other areas, right?  So I spent that afternoon tackling a job that will ultimately make someone’s day, month and year when it is finished.  The upside?  I got completely out of my head, and turned my whole day around.

Example two:  there is a new clubhouse opening near my home (long story short, a club house is a building designated for AA meetings).  I figure what better way to be of service than help at the ground floor of a new clubhouse?  Nice thought, in theory.  In practicality, I am finding my services to be of very little help (and, for those reading who are members of the fellowship, watching this group make decisions, I have a much greater understanding of the 12 traditions!).  But again, just the effort to serve has had immediate and practical benefits… I am getting to know a wide variety of people, and, equally important, they are getting to know me.  I am certainly getting an education as to what goes into the start-up of an organization.  And, I am feeling even more a part of something much greater than myself.

So, today, I decided to take “being of service” to the next level, and I cleaned out our hamster’s cage to celebrate my seven months (Cookie has been a part of our family for just slightly longer than I have been in recovery).  Reaching my hand out to the pet that everyone ignores has to have a side benefit, even if it is only to rid his cage of disease and squalor!

One Down, Two to Go…

If the family were a boat, it would be a canoe that makes no progress unless everyone paddles.Letty Cottin Pogrebin

For anyone keeping score with my day-to-day life, there are three unresolved issues as a direct result of my active addiction:  2 are interpersonal, one is legal.

As of last night, I now have only two unresolved issues.

I sat down and had a meal with my sister for the first time in almost 7 months.  To make a long story short, when my whole world imploded in January, my sister was very supportive for about 24 hours, and then, suddenly, not.  She could not handle the stress of the situation, and therefore separated herself from the entire family for a good bit of time.

She had tried to reach out to me a time or two through the past several months, but I felt I was not ready to tackle the problem of us. Initially, it was a situation where I truly needed to put my sobriety first.  But, of course, being the procrastinator that I am, I milked that excuse for way longer than I needed to, and let more time go by than I should have.

So the question:  how did it go last night?  I would say really well.  One of the greatest blessings of my family, for me, is the complete and total confidence that we will be there for one another, no matter what.  I can appreciate that blessing all the more given my past actions, and the subsequent reactions of the people around me.  Through my personal crisis, I have found that I can truly count on my family.  So, in knowing this, I went into last evening secure in the knowledge that somehow, some way we, as sisters, were going to be okay.  That kind of security takes the pressure off.

What my family is not as blessed with are communication skills, particularly with difficult subjects.  So for that portion of the evening I was a little nervous, particularly with regard to my own ability to speak up and voice some of my disappointments with events of the past.  Too many times to count I have had the attitude, “well, nothing’s going to change, so why bother?”

I am happy to report that I achieved my goals for the meeting:  I voiced my hurts, I listened to hers, I proudly spoke of the many accomplishments in my almost 7 months of sobriety, I felt genuine happiness for the positive changes in her life.  We were careful to stick to matters concerning only us, which is hard to do when it comes to family.

I am way too pragmatic a person to believe that a magic wand has been waved over our relationship.  But I feel really proud of my decision to attempt the repair of this fractured relationship, I truly appreciate her desire to do the same, and I walked away from the evening hopeful that we will come out of all this stronger than we have ever been.

Pretty good stuff for one simple dinner date!

Faith

“Faith isn’t believing without proof – it’s trusting without reservation.” -William Sloane Coffin

I have a daily meditation book that is supposed to help focus you each day (and maybe it would, if I actually picked it up every day).  Today’s entry talked about not letting the little problems in life divert you from achieving, and more importantly, appreciating, your goal.

In some ways this is easy to apply.  For example, my goal has been to provide my children with really positive experiences and memories this summer.   After the way this year started for them, it is the least I can do.  If I allow the incessant bickering, whining and back-talk to take the wheel, I will, first, fail to see that their summer has been the stuff of kids’ dreams, and second, I won’t be able to relish the time I have with them.  So I get that advice for this area of my life.

But sometimes it is difficult to have a clear-cut goal in mind.  I have been dealing with some consequences from my active addiction for months and months now.  The road to the end has taken different twists and turns, and through it my end goal has been forced to change time and again.  Every time I know what I want the end result to look like, another wrench gets thrown into the works and my vision needs to change accordingly.

What do you do when your end goal changes without your permission?  The answer, for me anyway, is simple:  believe with all my heart that whatever the outcome, God is arranging it, and He is doing it for a reason.  All I need to worry about is doing the next right thing, and the rest of it will all work out.

When Past Mistakes Come Knocking

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past are certain to miss the future. -John F. Kennedy

When I was in active addiction, my chief physical repercussion was insomnia.  At virtually no point during that time period did I sleep through the night.

Consequently, I am consciously grateful for my ability to sleep, unaided in any way, in recovery.  Even when I wake up in the middle of the night, I am able to fall back to sleep, and this is a blessing for which I am thankful on a daily basis.

So, last night, when I awoke to use the bathroom (not an uncommon occurrence), I found myself unable to fall back to sleep (an occurrence which has not happened in over 200 days).  I tried for an hour, then finally got up to read a book, and wound up falling asleep in the family room.  The rest of the morning I felt “off” mentally.  At first I chalked it up to fatigue, but I soon realized it was more than that.  I listened intently at my morning AA meeting, and today’s theme centered around things done in active addiction that  cause shame in recovery.

I then realized a train of thought that I forgot I had during my sleepless night.  I remembered that I was completely out of my blood pressure medication that I take in the mornings, and I then thought that I need to pick it up.  This thought led me to an experience that I had in active addiction, an incident which in fact led to the beginning of my recovery (it would sadly take several attempts before it would stick).  I had not recalled this incident in well over a year, and the pain and shame it caused me to think about it… well, I have not felt that way in some time, nor do I ever remember feeling with the intensity I did last night.

I finally realized why I was not feeling myself… it was more or less an emotional hangover from recalling those dark days.  To compound it, I also realized in the meeting that I did not get on my knees and pray when I awoke, since I was downstairs.  Again, this is a habit I have practiced, with almost no exception, for the past 206 days.  I believe the combination of recalling my past misdeeds, the physical action of going downstairs in the middle of the night (something that has not happened in sobriety), and the absence of my morning prayer caused me to feel extremely down for most of the morning.

So what is the solution?  First, talk to another person in recovery, which I did, and was immediately reassured that this is a common problem, and I am not alone in suffering through it.  This helped quite a bit.  Second, I needed to share this experience with my husband, because the incident I recalled included him directly, and it is important for me, in recovery, to be honest about my feelings.  I have told many people that our relationship is stronger now than it ever has been, and a big part of that strength comes from letting him know when things are bothering me (sounds obvious, but it is a novel concept for me).  I felt even better after I shared my mental burden with him.

Finally, writing about it.  This blog has to allow for the bad as well as the good, or it will not be honest.  And since dishonesty is what got me into my mess in the first place, it is important to talk about the downside of things, as well as the blessings.

Since I am a believer that you can restart your day at any time, I am going to hit “publish,” then get busy making this the best day ever!

Post Script to Giving the Steps a Chance

That some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than that everything happens for the best, which it assuredly does not.  ~James K. Feibleman

Here is the follow-up to yesterday’s post about my one-on-one step study:  on the surface, the third session was much like the first two.  We start by praying for an open mind.  We review the homework I completed, and questions will be answered if I have any (so far I haven’t).  We then continue to study the book Alcoholics Anonymous, reading aloud and pausing for sections that bear repeating, or for a complementary historical anecdote.  I am given more homework to complete (so far homework has simply been more reading), and we conclude our session with personal stories, both related and unrelated to addiction.

As I stated yesterday, not very different from a standard academic course.  But last night I paid closer attention to my feelings before, during and after, and here is what I noticed:  heading to this session I was very tired, and, truthfully, not overly enthusiastic about the upcoming evening.  My kids were at a sleepover, and I looked longingly at my Nook and recliner before I headed out the door.  Knowing myself, I would be up for this session once I was physically there, I would never want to waste someone’s time, and of course I did not.  In leaving, I felt completely different… energized, yet peaceful… than I did going in.  Since all we did was sit at her kitchen table, read and talk, I have to assume that something in content of the discussion changed my mood.

I also came to understand a little more about the timeline of the steps.  They are in order for a reason.  Steps 1, 2 and 3 focus on getting right with God, steps 4 through 7 focus on getting right with yourself, steps 8 and 9 focus on getting right with the world, steps 10 and 11 focus on how to create a framework for lifelong growth, and step 12 focuses on how to give back what you have been freely given.  In learning this framework, I can understand a little better why the beginning might feel like a little anticlimactic.  I would imagine (complete speculation here on my part) that an atheist or agnostic might struggle a little more with the early steps, but as someone who has always had a belief in God, and is completely open and willing to developing a deeper relationship with Him, then the first 3 steps might be fairly simple to digest.

So I will continue to plug along, and I feel very strongly I will have much, much more to report as I get into the “action steps,” which start with self-examination… yikes!

Giving The Steps A Chance

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones. –
John Maynard Keynes

Tonight will be my third session of my one-on-one Big Book study.  I have not written much about it, because, frankly, not a whole lot has happened.  The woman who is “taking me through” the Big Book is absolutely wonderful, with a ton of knowledge on all things AA, but I guess I had some preconceived notions about what would happen when I went through this process, and so far none have come to pass.

At this point, “doing the steps” feels a lot like taking a history course on the founders of AA.  I am not complaining about this… I have always loved school…. but I simply cannot imagine anything life-changing happening as a result of these sessions.

And the kicker is this: supposedly, the entire process generally takes about 10 weeks.  What!?!

Alright, this is why I have not written on this subject, and it is time to reel myself back in.  First:  keep an open mind.  Second, remember there is no worst-case scenario, because I am gaining knowledge on a subject that has become very important to me, so it is all good.  Third, if the “psychic change” that I am promised in the Big Book does not happen, I can always try again.  And finally, keep an open mind (I always need to tell myself this twice).  I really hope there is a follow-up tomorrow where I can publicly acknowledge my skepticism was all for nothing!

Upward Spriral

Upward Spiral: any self-reinforcing process that creates a valuable resource as it grows

This title is not an expression commonly used.  Its counter-point, downward spiral, is much more well-known.  And certainly in active addiction, the latter expression aptly describes life.  But in recovery, the opposite happens.  First, you feel better physically, then you think more clearly, you build a slow confidence in your ability to succeed, and you continue to build upon this success day by day, in many different facets of life.

The thinking in any 12-step program is that the upward spiral is infinite, if you continue to reach out your hand to help another in recovery.  If you stay active in the program, and continue to be of service to others, there is no limit to the happiness and serenity you will feel.

I had my first inkling of what that message means this week.  One of the very first times I chaired a meeting (which basically means I led the group through the reading and discussion assigned for that day), a man approached me and let me know that this was his first AA meeting and he was unsure what to do.  I acted automatically, as most would, by doing everything I could to explain the format and make him feel as comfortable as possible.  After all, it had not been that long ago that I had been in the very same seat.  So I spoke with him at our mid-meeting “intermission,” and again at the end of the meeting.  He wound up coming back frequently to the same meetings, and he even went to a few different ones I suggested.

Then summer came and I saw him less frequently, due to kid schedules, work and vacations.  This past week I attended a meeting I do not usually attend, and, lo and behold, this same man was now chairing the meeting!  I was so excited for him, and I marvelled at how fast time flies (you must have 90 days sober to chair a meeting, so I knew at least 3 months had passed since I first met him).

After the meeting I approached him to let him know, one-on-one, what it meant to me to see him chairing the meeting, and to congratulate him on a job well done.  Instead of thanking me, he looked amazed, and said, “I should be thanking you!”  He went on to explain… he attended that first meeting with a plan already in place.  He even brought the money with him to the meeting to make the plan happen:  he would attend the meeting, then go directly to the local bar.  He would tell his wife that AA did not work out, they were a bunch of (expletive omitted).  He said, “but then I met you, and you were so nice to me, I couldn’t just walk out.  And then you stayed to talk to me after, and I realized I had to give this a shot.”

That is the way this program works… you reach your hand out, even the simplest gesture, and you can’t even believe the miracles that happen as a result.

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