Monthly Archives: December 2012
The Mechanics of a Resolution
I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy. –Tony Robbins
It’s that time of year again… resolution time. I was just watching a small clip of Tony Robbins, and he was explaining why most resolutions fail. He says in order to be successful at resolving to change, you must have these three components in place:
1. Compelling vision (not just “I want to lose 10 pounds,” but really have a clear picture of what it will feel like once you have lost weight)
2. Strong reasons for pushing through when inevitable challenges arise (the reasons can be negative or positive, but they have to be serious)
3. Review it and feel it daily (otherwise you will run out of steam quickly)
Today I am celebrating 11 months of sobriety, and I can say these components were critical to my success in recovery. My compelling vision, 11 months ago, was that I wanted my life back… I wanted to gain back the trust and love of my husband, I wanted my family reunited, and I wanted to repair relationships everywhere else in my life. The vision was compelling because I knew what it looked like… I wanted what I had before I was in active addiction.
My strong reasons for pushing through were mostly negative, but they did work…. if I did not stay sober, I would lose my marriage, my family, and my life. Period. Along the way new reasons did pop up, such as letting down the people in the AA fellowship, and losing my sober time, which became an important part of my identity. All of these reasons kept me working towards my goal of recovery.
Reviewing it and feeling it daily is perhaps the most important of the three, at least for me. If I don’t get on my knees each morning and thank God for another day, if I don’t remind myself in meetings where I’ve been, and if I don’t reach out to help another person in need every day, then I am likely to forget the reasons I have chosen this resolution.
So the new question I am pondering, as the new year looms, and as I am heading towards the one year mark of sobriety… what am I resolving to progress towards next?
Since He IS the Reason for the Season…
Merry Christmas! In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, I wanted to include a song that helped me a lot in early recovery. I heard it early on, and believed then (and still do) that Stevie was talking about God. It’s like a really fun prayer now, hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Don’t You Steal My Sunshine
So I have been as sick as a dog for the past two days (fever seems to be down this morning, all other symptoms still there, but I can function without the fever). It started Wednesday night, and kept me up all night. Thursday I was forced to cut out all activities other than those mandated by law (not easy to do during holiday madness).
And when I was feeling my physical lowest, I also got slammed on some mental fronts as well (isn’t it always the way). One of my biggest intellectual hang-ups is injustice of any kind, and if I am personally factored into the injustice, then I have a tendency to go nuts. Well, in my opinion, I was the target of some injustice on Thursday, and it was a situation over which I was powerless. The icing on this cake was that feeling that comes creeping in when things don’t go my way… the “why are these people doing this to me/why don’t these people like me/what can I do to make these people like me” feeling that does nothing but sink me lower into the already pretty deep hole I was in.
So what did I do about it? First, I shared about it, because if I try to work things out in my own head, nothing but disaster will follow. I actually ran into a woman from the program (is it odd or is it God?), and was able to speak with her immediately following the troubling incident. Then I went to a meeting and shared some more. Then I went home and whined to my husband. In the past I would have berated myself for dumping my troubles on others, I truly believed that no good could come from spreading my misery. Now I know that keeping things bottled up only leads to explosions down the road.
I would be lying if I said everything is turned around now and I feel wonderful. Obviously physical health plays a role, and I am still under the weather. But sometimes, even when you know where you want to be mentally, even when you can see the other side of the road you want to be on, sometimes it just takes a while to actually get there. I know, absolutely, that I will come out of this funk, and so I will just continue to keep doing what I have been doing for the past 330 days, and believe that the miracle is around the corner!
…It Ain’t Just a River in Egypt…
The thing about denial is that it doesn’t feel like denial when it’s going on. -Georgina Kleege
It seems to be the time of year for this subject, because I have been hearing a lot about it. And who can blame someone? Holiday parties, egg nog, champagne toasts, wine spritzers, cookie exchange invitations that also require a bottle of wine… it can be difficult to picture a Merry Christmas without the merriment of alcohol. So, in honor of the holiday, here is the top 10 list of denials I have either used personally, or have heard about in meetings:
1. I’m really not that bad, because I haven’t… (fill in the blank: gotten a DUI, overdosed, gone to rehab, etc.)
2. Yeah, I probably shouldn’t drink, but what’s wrong with smoking a little pot? (switch substances as needed)
3. I’m a grown-ass man (or woman), I’ll do what I want!
4. I will just cut back, and drink like normal people (or, I’ll just pace myself, or I’ll drink water in between drinks, this list could go on forever).
5. I’ll stop AFTER the holidays, because, really, who would quit before?!?
6. I will stop drinking (or using) if you will just get off my back.
7. How can I not drink when all my friends (or family, or co-workers) drink?
8. I would stop drinking if I could just eliminate the stress of… (fill in the blank: job, spouse, kids, finances, almost anything could be inserted)
9. If you had the (spouse, kids, family, job) I do, you would drink like me too.
10. And my own personal favorite, one I used for months on end… I will absolutely stop this insanity TOMORROW…
The real problem with denial is why I used the quote at the top… the deeper you are in it, the less likely to see it for what it is… an excuse to avoid the pain of change. People in denial truly believe the lies they are telling (believe me, I speak from experience).
Here’s what I’m grateful to know today: there is no problem I have that a drink or drug won’t make worse. Once I decide to use a substance to solve a problem, I’ve just increased my burden exponentially. I thank God I don’t have to live like that anymore!
Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable. -Denis Waitley
In addition to my daily AA meetings, I also attend a therapy group once a week. This session is more or less a thorn in my side, because I am being mandated to attend it (the legal consequences to which I have referred in previous posts), and I tend to go into each session dragging my feet. As the weeks have gone by, however, and as I have developed relationships with my fellow group members, I have been able to gain more and more from each session. Today was particularly interesting, so I thought I’d write about it.
A man in the group was talking about his discomfort at being asked to do something he did not want to do. The person asking was a member of AA, and they have developed a friendship. But the request is time-consuming, and, as I said, uncomfortable for the man in my group, and he is not sure how to proceed.
Here’s why this is interesting to me: I had been asked by an aggressive young woman to give her a ride, one time, since it was on my way home. To make a really long story short, this has turned into an annoyance of monstrous proportions. I have said yes to every request (and there have been many), but I am getting increasingly agitated by each interaction. On the other hand, a big part of my 12-step program is to reach a hand out to those in need, so I have this recurring argument in my head…
Bad Angel on Shoulder: Tell this girl you are done giving rides.
Good Angel on Shoulder: No, that goes totally against the 12 steps, and you are basically driving by her anyway, what is the big deal?
Bad Angel: The big deal is that you are starting to get irritated before you even get in the car, and you can’t afford to let this resentment build.
Good Angel: But why even have the resentment? Stop being so self-centered and pick the girl up.
Bad Angel: ME self-centered? That girl does nothing but complain about her life for the entire time we are in the car together, pausing only to demand the next thing she needs!
Good Angel: Yes, you are self-centered, and this ridiculous debate is proof of it. Now stop whining and get on with it.
…And so on (and believe me, I am abbreviating this internal debate). So when this topic was introduced, I was able to ask the group (which includes a therapist) the question: how can you differentiate between setting boundaries for yourself, and being available to help another person in recovery?
It was a lively conversation, and the solution I heard was this: personal recovery comes first. If you are being asked to do something that compromises your own recovery, then the line from” helping others” to “boundary issues” has been crossed, and it’s time to assert yourself.
I will end by saying that I am getting very close to that line with this young woman, but it has not been crossed… yet. But now that I have this distinction in my mind, I really feel a lot better about knowing when it’s okay to say no.
The Meeting After the Meeting
In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us. -Flora Edwards
The title of this post is another common expression in Alcoholics Anonymous, and it refers to the more casual conversation that takes place after a formal meeting. An AA meeting provides the structure and the format for recovering alcoholics to gather and to share, but there are limitations within its parameters. For example, there is a strict policy that there is to be no “cross talk,” which means that you are not allowed to respond directly to a person who has shared. A sensible rule, to be sure, but if someone is sharing something intensely personal, or has a problem you have experienced, it is challenging not to respond. That is the point of “the meeting after the meeting.” You can address someone directly, offer assistance or advice, or simply welcome a newcomer and answer questions they may have after the meeting. It can also be strictly social, and allow for non-recovery conversation.
Mondays are the day I run the meeting I started in October. Coming up on 2 months now, and I can say that I have 3 regular attendees, and about the same number of “walk-in’s” each week. Every week I have held this meeting has been deeply meaningful to me, and fills me with an almost ridiculous amount of gratitude. There is always a span of sober time amongst the attendees, from as much as 28 years, right down to 30 days, so the perspectives shared are always diverse, and there is much to be learned.
But today’s meeting was special in two additional ways. First, a newcomer to the meeting shared for quite a bit of time on different things that were going on with him. He had a really interesting perspective, and it is always good to have a fresh viewpoint in a meeting. At the end of his sharing he told the group that he has been sober for 5 years, but that this is only the second time this year that he has felt comfortable enough to share in a meeting. I felt really humbled, and grateful, that he was open enough to share at all, and that he felt comfortable at this particular meeting.
I closed the meeting in the traditional way, and started to do the post-meeting paperwork, as I typically do. When I finished, I realized that every attendee was still present, and still sitting around and chatting about recovery and non-recovery issues. I couldn’t help but smile to myself… I had my first meeting after the meeting! It was such an amazing feeling, and I am just so grateful to have the opportunity to give back to the Fellowship that has given me so much.
Betty White is a Trigger
Yesterday is but a memory, tomorrow an uncharted course. So live today so it will be a memory without remorse. -Unknown
Did you ever eat something that brings up a powerful memory from the past, almost as if you are reliving it? For example, anytime I see purple grape juice, I have an instant recall of the time when I was about 8 or so, drank too much grape juice, then threw up all over my brand new Donald Duck pajamas (to give you a little insight as to how long ago that was, after I got cleaned up I sat down in front of a floor console television and watched the Donny and Marie variety show). While this incident happened a long time ago (clearly!), I can still remember the pajamas (stained purple) as if I just saw them yesterday.
So last night I had some downtime, and flipped through recorded programs on the DVR to see what interested me. I came across Hot in Cleveland, a brain-anesthetizing sit com that I decided was just what I needed. As I am watching, I am feeling increasingly agitated, with no obvious explanation as to why. I must have started to doze off, and with that I had the reason for the agitation… the last time I watched this particular program was, to say it plainly, the last time I was not sober. Suddenly, that entire last evening played out like a movie in my mind, exactly what had happened, exactly what I did, and, most disturbingly, exactly how I felt that night. While this recall lasted probably less than a minute, the feeling was so intense, it left me off-kilter for quite a bit longer.
In AA people use the following words interchangeably: thoughts, urges, cravings, obsessions, compulsions. Yet they are not interchangeable. The best explanation I can give for the process an addict goes through is… a thought comes to mind, the thought leads to an urge to satisfy the thought, which leads to a craving for a particular substance, which leads to an obsession to drink or use, which finally leads to the compulsion that is the relapse. The time is takes someone in active addiction to go through those steps is a quarter of the time it took you to read the sentence.
I get on my knees every morning and thank God for removing the obsession to pick up a drink or a drug. While last night was painful, I am also grateful for the reminder of where I have been, and how far I have come. Having said that, I think, for now, I will remove Hot in Cleveland from the Series Recording section of the DVR…
Honesty Vs. Privacy
If you want to be respected by others, the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you. –Fyodor Dostoyevsky
As a person in recovery, the question “to tell or not to tell” comes up quite a bit. For me, at nearly 11 months of continuous sobriety, everyone in my immediate family and closest friends knows about my journey through active addiction, and through my recovery thus far. Truth be told, I went kicking and screaming through most of these revelations, because the decision to tell had not been made by me. But I realize now the benefits of telling the people closest to you the truth of addiction, and the struggles and hard work that go hand in hand with achieving sobriety.
So what’s left for me to decide is this… what about the people who are in my life in a more peripheral way? Case in point: for the past two years, for one recovery-related reason or another, I have missed an annual Christmas party attended by a large group of long-time friends. One of these friends, whom I have known for decades but rarely see, asked my very close friend if anything was wrong, since I have missed the event two years running. He said nothing was wrong, but that I had a previous engagement (which was the truth for this year, but untrue for the year prior). He shared with me that he felt a bit of discomfort in not being able to share what was going on with me.
I can completely understand where he is coming from, and I feel badly that I have put him (or anyone else in my life) in this situation. However, this is my point of view: the news of my addiction, and my recovery, is intensely personal, and it is one I would like to share on my own, rather than have someone tell my story for me. Especially with people I do not see as often, I feel the best qualified to explain what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.
I have also had the opportunity to discuss this very issue with many members in my Fellowship, who largely share the same opinion: recovery is personal, and it is up to each individual when, if and how they will disclose such personal information.
For each person in my life whom I have NOT told, there are all sorts of reasons… concern about their knowledge and understanding of addiction, simple logistical issues, even concern about negative consequences. So the question on the table is this: by failing to tell someone I am in recovery, am I being dishonest, or am I making a personal choice, for the time being, not to disclose personal information?
Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem. –Virginia Satir
Today I had three separate occasions where I reviewed the coping skills I use in recovery, so I guess that is a sign I should write on the subject. An inventory of these skills is useful, for a couple of reasons. First, it gives me an opportunity to see how far I’ve come, and the positive steps I’ve taken to handle life on life’s terms. Second, it allows me to see the areas in which I can use improvement. Finally, it reminds me that there are a lot of tools in my tool belt, and, particularly this time of year, it is necessary to remember that I have what I need not just to survive the holidays, but to thrive.
Here are the coping skills I use to help with life stressors. I could write a separate post on each one, but I doubt anyone wants to read for that long. In no particular order…
- Prayer (I can’t stress this one enough, if you are a non-believer, give it a shot, He will meet you where you’re at!)
- Honesty (it just makes life simpler)
- Communication (keeping things bottled up only makes a bad situation worse)
- The Fellowship of AA
- Practicing Gratitude (hard to grab onto when times are tough, but eventually it works)
- Reaching out a hand to help someone (nothing gets me out of my own head faster)
- Remembering that I live One Day At A Time (this is the one that can bring instant relief in times of stress)
- Keeping structure to my day
- Practicing restraint (taking a breath and waiting to communicate until I can do so effectively)
- Focusing on the solution rather than the problem
I hope everyone reading is having such a stress-free life that they need no coping skills at all; if not, I hope this list helps someone out today!
Act Today, Shape Tomorrow
The things you do today affect not only today. They build you and prepare you and position you for all the days that will come. -Ralph Marston
I heard something similar to this quote earlier this morning, and it struck a chord. Small example… I started several mundane projects yesterday, but did not get around to finishing most of them. Now I am looking at a full schedule for today, and guess what else is waiting for me? So I can make a choice to defer any activity, but it will have the consequence of creating more work in the days to follow.
Bigger example: I can choose not to resolve an interpersonal issue, and I can even justify why I won’t make time for it (busy schedule, not good for my recovery, uncertainty over the correct way to solve the issue). That choice does not make the problem go away, it simply pushes it off until a later date. And, more often than not, the more I put off dealing with an issue, the larger and more complicated the issue becomes.
So my challenge for today, in both large issues and small, is, as the Nike ads say… Just Do It!