Monthly Archives: March 2013
Remembering that I am Powerless: It Really is a Daily Reprieve!
Powerless is an oft-repeated word in AA, it is used in the very first step, which states:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
As my mind cleared, as I worked the steps, and as I deepened my recovery, I realized that I was powerless over a heck of a lot more than just drugs or alcohol. I am, in fact, powerless over everyone and everything except for myself. Depending on the day, this thought is either a relief or a colossal pain in the ass.
I have so many examples of how powerlessness came up in my day today, it would take too long to write them all. Here’s just one example: I have a friend in the program who relapsed about 2 weeks ago, and she feels like she is coming apart at the seams. Her job is a trigger for her addiction, she cannot have a single conversation without crying, and her husband has said he is fed up with her. She is panicked about whether or not to leave her job, she has no idea how to handle her husband, and she fears she is losing control over her kids. And the harder she tries to hold it together, the more she seems to fall apart.
It’s an extreme example, but who hasn’t had days (or weeks, or months) like this?
In going through her story in more detail, the heart of the matter is that she cannot accept her powerlessness over anything. She wants so badly to control her addiction, her husband, her children, and her job, that the more she attempts to control, the more her world is crumbling.
The happy ending to this particular story: she shared about this at our meeting (which, by the way, was a Step One meeting), and the women present were able to stay with her afterwards and give her the support she needed to get through the day.
And, of course, I think, “there but for the grace of God go I.” I remember well the chaos of early sobriety. But just because those extreme calamities aren’t happening in my life, doesn’t mean that I don’t have to consciously revisit this step, examine my behavior on a daily basis, and remind myself that I am powerless over everything and everyone but myself. More important, when reminding myself that I am powerless over the people around me, I also have to remember that I do have power over my reactions to the people around me.
Being a sober support for a friend is the gift that keeps on giving.
A Little Raw Honesty
Recovery is a journey between two stations. One station represents total chaos, and the other represents total serenity. What is important is not where you are, but what direction you are facing. -Unknown
I have written several times in the past few months that I have been semi-haunted with memories from the past. I have also written that it is very difficult to describe why these memories are troublesome. Mainly because, until today, I did not fully understand why the memories have been bothering me. Up to today, I assumed the angst generated from these memories was caused by guilt, shame and remorse. Like I have said in the past, here is how it goes: something in the present triggers a memory of a time when I was in active addiction, my mind will go back to those times, and I will feel disturbed. Depending on the situation, I will deal with it by either talking about it, writing about it, or praying, it goes away, and life moves on. But I have always had a niggling sense that there was something more that I couldn’t quite grasp, and that I needed to figure it out in order to move past it, but what it was and what I needed to do was not apparent, and so I just kept plugging away.
So this morning I get up, and, in the course of my morning routine, vaguely recall a dream I had that involved a time in my active addiction. It wasn’t a drunk dream, no drugs or alcohol were involved, but it did remind me of past events in my life. I recalled it, but was busy getting kids ready for school, so I figured I would get back to it at some point. I then connected with a friend in the program, and we agreed to see each other at a morning meeting. It was a Big Book meeting, where we read a story from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and a couple of lines from today’s story stood out for me as if in bold print:
There have also been numerous times when I have thought about taking a drink. Such thinking usually begins with thoughts of the pleasant drinking of my youth. I learned early in my AA life that I could not afford to fondle such thoughts, as you might fondle a pet, because this particular pet could grow into a monster. Instead, I quickly substitute one or another vivid scene from the nightmare of my later drinking.
I swear, I read those words, and if my life were a cartoon, a giant lightbulb would have gone off over my head. This was the missing piece of the puzzle for me with these memories… yes, there is absolutely guilt, shame and remorse, but there was also an element of nostalgia, and a memory of when I received pleasure from my addiction.
I know this is tough for the non-addict readers to understand, or even hear (especially family), but, let’s face it: if active addiction was always terrible, then no one would be an addict. At some point in time every addict enjoyed their drug of choice, or else they wouldn’t have wound up abusing it. As much as I wish it weren’t true, the memories of when it was “fun” are still in my subconscious, and they still surface from time to time. And when I read those lines from today’s story, I realized that the dream was exactly that: it was reminding me of when I (thought) I was having fun.
You would think I would be incredibly depressed with this thought, but, actually, I was relieved. I honestly could not get what was bothering me about these memories, but now that I feel like I can explain them, and the subsequent feelings, I know what to do with them. For me, it was like have a box of tools that I knew how to use, and having a problem that required tools, but until I knew the specific problem, I didn’t know which tool to pull out and fix the problem. And now, when a nostalgic memory pops up (wasn’t it fun the time when I…), I simply have to acknowledge it, and then play the tape out (maybe that time was fun, but how about the following 300 times, when it became less fun, more dangerous, more isolating, and ultimately, nearly destroyed my life?). When I finish the thought, the answer becomes very clear: my worst day sober is 1,000 times better than my best day drunk.
That my worst day sober is better than my best day drunk!
You Can Lead a Horse to Water…
The meeting I started was this morning, and though we read the daily meditation from the book 24 Hours a Day, our discussion ran in many different directions. One of the reasons I love smaller meetings: we can share more in-depth about what is going on in our lives than we can when there are 20 or more people, there is much more time for everyone to get involved.
I was able to get more insight into issues I am having with my sponsee. I have realized for some time now that she is not nearly as invested in the 12 steps as I was when I met my sponsor, but the struggle I am having is figuring out my responsibility in the relationship. When we started, I saw her on a very regular basis, we spoke on the phone at least once a week, and we had just begun to meet at her house weekly to do the actual step work. Over time, we have devolved into seeing each other once every other week, and she has essentially stopped calling. We were scheduled to do step work on two separate occasions last week, and both times she either cancelled, or was not where she said she would be.
On one hand, I know, from personal experience, that if someone is not committed to the 12-step program, then nothing I can say or do is going to change her mind. On the other hand, I worry… is there something I am doing, or not doing, that is causing the disconnect? Is there some magic word or action that could sway her to the side of committing to recovery? It is to the point where I am not even certain that she is clean and sober, and here is another area where I am unclear on the etiquette… do I simply take her at her word, or should I be calling her out on her behavior?
The feedback I received was unanimous: as long as I am reaching out, and I am there when she needs me, then I have met my end of the bargain. It is the most difficult part of my present recovery, though, because I so much want to give to her what I have been freely given, but I guess she is just not ready to take it.
I will keep you posted with updates.
There are two today. First, my meeting took place at the very worst part of today’s snowstorm in my part of the world, and I still had four people show up! Second, in re-reading this post, that the most difficult part of my present recovery is worrying about someone else’s recovery… what an amazing gift.
Get Up, Stand Up: Stand Up For Your Rights!
A man without decision can never be said to belong to himself. -John Watson Foster
Yesterday was the Philadelphia’s Fighting for Air Climb, an event where individuals and teams race up 1,088 steps as quickly as they can. Since 2010, my husband has participated with a team in this “vertical race” in an effort to raise money for the American Lung Association. For the past 2 years, my children have joined his team, and climbed fast enough to received trophies. Very cool experience, and very rewarding for all involved, including spectators such as myself. The picture above is this year’s team, which is the largest ever in the climb’s history, nation-wide. Great job, Team Stab!
This year’s event has taught me a valuable lesson in decision-making, and, more importantly, in standing up for my decisions. I can’t remember what, if any, pressure was placed upon me to participate in this event prior to this year, and since I can’t remember, I’m guessing, not a lot. This year, however, I had received entreaties from several different participants: 2013 is the year I should join this worthy cause.
Here’s how the decision-making process went for me:
- ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, NO (EXPLETIVE OMITTED) WAY
- Alright, you should at least consider it… then, repeat #1
- As various people would attempt to talk me into it… well, maybe…
- But I really, really don’t want to do this, so no way
- But, maybe this is one of those things I should be pushing myself to do, and think of all the benefits…
… and so on. I went back and forth with this process for days on end. I shared about it at meetings, and with people close to me, but at the end of the day I realized only one person could make this decision, and that was me. So I took some time, sat down, and did my best to quiet my mind, and see what God thought about this quandary. I kid you not, within minutes I was able to focus, not on what other people thought was good for me, or how I would be making this one or that one proud of me, but how I would feel about actually doing it. Long story short, I felt calm and confident that this was not an event in which I would enjoy participating, and any other choice I would be making for someone else.
So that is that, right? I waited a few days (this was over a month ago, I had to make the decision early because I would have needed to train for it), then shared the decision with my husband. His immediate reply: please reconsider. I gave my reasons why I did not wish to participate, and he argued against most of them, but finally conceded that it was my decision to make. Good enough.
Same conversation, different person, several more times before the event. And each time, I am fighting getting annoyed. Finally, the event day comes, and everyone does really well, and it was awesome (as always) to be a spectator, they have cameras set up as everyone passes the “finish line,” or reaches the 50th floor, so I got to see everyone as they completed. As people are leaving the event, no short of 4 different people say as they are leaving, “so you are in for next year, riiight???”
So, as I mentioned, two lessons. The first was the decision-making process, which taught me to weed out the expectations, demands, and even wishes of others, and get to the heart of the issue, which is what is good for me, and what works for me. The second is having the conviction and confidence to stand up for my decision, and this was the much harder lesson. I really struggled yesterday with not making a sharp comment, not getting defensive, and not going overboard explaining myself to every person present. For the most part, I succeeded (although my husband had to hear about it, God bless him for listening!), and I think that the whole experience will get easier each subsequent time. At least, I really, really hope so!
The perfect Sunday: sleep in a bit, wonderful conversation over coffee, just a little bit of shopping, and back home to putter around on the computer. It just doesn’t get any better!
Get Out Your Party Hats, It’s Time To Celebrate Another Anniversary!
Welcome. It is my goal in this blog to document my journey of recovery from addiction. I have 52 days clean, so I am still very new on this path. I hope to enlighten both myself and others on the daily trials, and the miracles, that can be found along the way.
Even this early on, I know one thing: it is only one day at a time, one step at a time, that can bring success in freedom from addiction. Living in the mistakes of the past brings nothing but heartache, and anxiety about the future brings nothing but stress. Living in the present is a skill that requires patience through repetition, but will eventually bring rewards unlike any that I have ever known… at least that is my hope.
As I continue to document, I will try to include more personal details so that you may know more about me as a person. I am completely new to the process of blogging, so I hope to learn as I go, and hopefully my site will improve daily. I welcome all feedback, especially on ways to bring more depth to my story!
Thanks for taking the time to read this, I look forward to sharing my story…
-written by me, as the first post in this blog, one year ago today
I said to my husband this morning that I feel like I’m writing about one anniversary or another every week. But it’s an amazing milestone: one year of blogging! When I wrote the words above, my honest expectation was that two people would read it: my Mom, and the friend who suggested I started this “experiment.” I remember the first time I received an email notification that someone “liked” my post, I had to show it to my husband, and he had to explain to me that, in fact, there are others out there in the world that might be reading what I wrote. What a concept! And here we are, one year and quite a few more readers later, and my mind is blown how much this blog, and this community, have come to mean to me. Now, I write, and cannot wait to read feedback from my friends, old and new. Now, I get so excited when I see a new post from all of my fellow recovery “experts.” And when I don’t see a post from someone, I worry about them, and pray that they are well.
The day I started this blog, was, coincidentally (or not), the day I moved back in with my husband after a 7-week break. So the words above don’t fully convey the chaos that was reigning in my life; and yet, they were my mantra: stay in the moment, stay in the moment, stay in the moment. And I was right, that skill did take practice and patience, but man, was it worth it. My life, one year later, is truly beyond my wildest dreams. And it just keeps getting better.
So, a million thanks to all of you. The support, the advice, the praise, the encouragement… there are simply no words to tell you how much richer my life has been because of all of you.
I would say one year of blogging counts as a bona fide miracle!
Step Three in Everyday Living
Keep praying, but be thankful that God‘s answers are wiser than your prayers! -William Culbertson
Today is Monday, and with it comes the meeting that I started. The format is rotating literature, and this week was about step three, which is made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him.
When I first started recovery, I had a hard time understanding the practical application of this step. It made sense in theory, but I had no idea how to actually do it. An employee of a rehab facility explained it to me this way: imagine your life as a bus, you are the driver, God is the co-pilot. As you are making decisions through the day, check in with Him, and see if He agrees with your decisions. Seems kind of hokey as I’m writing it out, but it made a lot of sense to me then, and I still use the visual a year and half after hearing it.
In early days of sobriety, step 3 was almost ridiculously easy. If something took me towards a drink/drug, I resisted it, if something kept me away from a drink/drug, I embraced it. Simple. There were almost no question marks whatsoever, life was very black and white. And as a result, life became easier, peaceful, and so much more fulfilling.
Now, as I have grown more confident in my sobriety, step three can get a little dicier, and God’s will becomes harder to ascertain. I can easily revert to old ways of thinking, and let my will and/or the will of others cloud my judgment. If I take this action, I am okay with it, but what about this person’s feelings? Or will my husband be disappointed? Or will I let down this family member, and what about my kids’ needs? Which person’s feelings should be prioritized over everyone else’s? And that train of thought ultimately leads to restlessness, irritability, and discontent, and that just seems silly in light of all that I have done to make my life so peaceful!
So consciously practicing Step Three gives me a chance to take a minute, catch my breath, and get quiet. And, in that quiet, figure out how to align my decisions with God’s will. When I take this time, all of the extraneous nonsense falls away, and my priorities become clear. And that is the magic of the 12-step program!
On a day that promises snow, it is a little after 1 pm, and still no call for early dismissal from school!
‘Cause I Gotta Have Faith!
Faith isn’t the ability to believe long and far into the misty future. It’s simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step. –Joni Eareckson Tada
I’ve had several experiences this week dealing with the issue of faith.
I was sitting with my sponsee working on the 12 steps. After asking about her belief in God, she replied, “I do believe in God, and I believe in AA, but I guess I have a hard time accepting the idea that simply praying every day, and sitting in AA meetings is going to cure me. I don’t really understand how it works.”
I was sitting in Mass last night as my daughter was receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. I looked up at skylight in the church’s ceiling, and saw a white bird looking into the church. As I did a double take (because the dove, a white bird, is the symbol of this sacrament), the bird flew away. The rest of Mass I was trying to come up with alternate reasons why that bird would have been up there, checking out the ceremony.
This morning at my home group meeting, the topic was about how to tackle the 12-step program when you consider yourself agnostic. A newcomer to the meeting talked about how envious she was of people who had a belief in God. She was born and raised in Japan, and therefore her religious upbringing made it difficult for her to grasp the concept of a higher power (these are her words, I have no knowledge of Japanese culture and how it relates to spirituality). After this statement, she talked for quite some time, and unknowingly referenced multiple ways she does believe in a power greater than herself (one example is her belief in Karma, but there were several other references).
I believe that we can over think the whole spirituality business. For me, I had a basic belief in God when I started my recovery… I believed in God, but took no further action with that belief (unless you count foxhole prayers like, “God, if you get me out of this mess, I will never do wrong again” a type of action). I had the same reservations that my sponsee did. How can sitting with a group of drunks relieve you of the obsession to drink? It made no sense, but I had run out of options, so prayer and AA were my only alternatives.
As time had moved on, my faith in both God and AA has grown exponentially, and here I am using the word faith deliberately. Because I have no real answer to my sponsee’s question, I’m not sure there is a definitive answer. But as they say in the rooms, “I came, I came to, and then I came to believe.” Days, weeks, and months of cultivating a relationship with God, days, weeks and months of immersing myself in the Fellowship, has made me a believer. And the best part? There is always room for growth, room for improvement, room for deepening my faith. The more you work at it, the better it gets. You just have to take that proverbial leap!
Having the clarity to connect the dots in my life!
It’s Easier to Stay Sober than it is to Get Sober
You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there. -Unknown
I have an update from Monday’s post that I would like to share. I wrote about an issue I was having, where thoughts about past misdeeds were coming up with increasing regularity, and causing me some mental distress. I received some wonderful feedback, and I really appreciate the insights given to me.
Later that same afternoon, I connected with a friend from the AA Fellowship. She and I had been playing phone tag all day, but we finally connected late in the afternoon. I thought she was calling me with an update about a mutual friend who is ill; in fact, she was calling for something completely different: she had relapsed the night before, and was desperate to connect with someone who understood. As she conveyed the details of the events, it was truly like the pieces of the puzzle falling into place for me. All those feelings I have been experiencing, which for me, thank God, were as a result of events that took place more than a year ago, she is experiencing, right now, in the moment, and she is paralyzed by them. For me it was a true God moment, one that I recognized right in the midst of the phone call.
So all those feelings did two things for me: first, I was able to relate to her in a very meaningful way. She would tell a detail of her day, and I could give her a time in my life where I was in the exact same situation. This may sound like a case of “misery loving company” but it is not… it helps to know someone else has walked your path. Further, I could show, through my example, how to get out of that mess of feelings and come out on the other side.
Second, and more important, it gave me an answer to why these feelings may be resurfacing… I don’t ever, ever, want to feel that pain again. Like anything else (losing weight, fitness routine, smoking cessation), it is so much easier to maintain sobriety than it is to achieve it.
And you know what? Those feelings that I wrote about, the ones that came about at least daily, if not several times daily? They have not come back since that phone call. Odd, or God?
Looking forward to preparing a delicious dinner for my baby brother tonight. Now, maybe I should start figuring out what I’m going to serve!
Ghosts of Addictions Past
Do you remember the things you were worrying about a year ago? How did they work out? Didn’t you waste a lot of fruitless energy on account of most of them? Didn’t most of them turn out all right after all? -Dale Carnegie
I’ve had an uncomfortable thought process come up, with increasing frequency and intensity, in the past month or so. I have written about it once or twice, peripherally, I have shared about it, in meetings and one-on-one, but it is hard for me to describe, and so I have been mostly talking to God about it, and asking Him to remove it. Since He has not done so in the time frame I would like (as in, IMMEDIATELY!), I have to assume it is happening for a reason, and maybe the reason is I need to share it with others. So at my Monday morning meeting, I decided to work my literature topic around this thought process and really try to explain it to the group. I have no idea if I was effective in explaining myself, but I received some meaningful feedback, and so it was, as usual, an awesome meeting.
So here’s how the thought process works… I’ll use the most recent example, but I have hundreds more, it happens so frequently. This morning I’m driving, and a song comes on the radio (Pink’s Glitter in the Air). I immediately recall when she performed this song (2010 Grammy’s), and how much I enjoyed it. I remember how that particular night I was watching the Grammy’s by myself in my bedroom (an unusual occurrence, my husband and I almost always watch evening television together in the family room). I then try to recall if I was in an altered state, and perhaps that was why I was alone watching the show (I still can’t honestly remember if that was true or not, but for the purpose of this example let’s assume I was). Here’s where it gets harder for me to explain: once I pose this question to myself, an unpleasant sensation washes over me, a feeling to which I can’t quite put a name… guilt? remorse? It’s not a simple emotion, I believe it’s a mix of feelings, but it is intense, and hard to shake.
I have tried different things to snap out of it… I have tried sitting in the feeling, to give a more definitive name to the emotion. I have tried to simply direct my thoughts elsewhere. I have prayed about it, I have shared about it. And still, the memories come back, on a regular enough basis that I fear God is telling me something, although I have no idea what that is. This thought process does not just happen with music, it can happen at any time, and sometimes, for no reason at all. Last week I was sitting with my son at the bus stop when this feeling washed over me, I can’t even recall what we were talking about.
The most hopeful feedback I received from this morning’s meeting was that time will heal this particular wound, so I need to exercise some patience. If nothing else, I can at least feel grateful that these memories, or thoughts, or painful feelings, or whatever, are not causing me to want to give up my sobriety, which brings me to…
409 days sober, and even when painful thoughts arise, the obsession to alter myself chemically is gone!
To Tell or Not to Tell… That is the Question
Let there be spaces in your togetherness. -Kahlil Gibran
It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not. -Andre Gide
Twice this week I’ve had conversations about the value of telling people in my life that I am in recovery. What’s nice about these conversations is that they were rhetorical, and nothing was/is riding on it. Typically, when I have had these conversations in the past, it was usually an intense “you need to tell them now, or else…!” situation. No so this week, both times were conversational, a pro and con discussion, and in neither situation was I feeling pressured to do something I did not want to do.
So, mentally, I have been revisiting the subject. There are numerous people in my life who know nothing of my recovery… non-immediate family on my husband’s side, long-time friends that I only see, infrequently, in group situations, neighbors, kids’ parents with whom I am friendly. At first, the only people that knew anything of my addiction were told by my husband. As time went on, I did start to tell people, but I was basically playing “beat the clock” to avoid other people telling my personal story. I have proactively told people, of my accord, twice. In each situation, the end result is the same: all people are supportive, and no one has cut me out of their lives as a result of this revelation.
So why not just tattoo it to my forehead? Why are there people left who do not know what constitutes such a big part of my life? As I examine it, there are several factors that prevent me from reaching out to people and letting them know. The first, and easiest to identify: sheer laziness. This is a conversation that takes planning, and I simply don’t feel like taking the time to do it.
Next, and equally important, is the shame factor… it is simply not easy revealing this side of myself. I have come a long way with this emotion. Initially, I was ashamed of the whole thing… being an addict, my behavior, and the resulting consequences of my actions. At this point I have no shame about being an addict, I am genuinely proud of my recovery. But I still have a great deal of shame with regard to my past actions, and resulting consequences, and this is a factor that holds me back.
Certainly there is a decent-sized dose of fear in the equation… I view several people in the above categories as very, very judgmental, and so I am very, very reticent when it comes to giving these people too much personal information. I know that small-minded opinions should not matter to me, but I would be less than honest if I did not list this fear as one of the reasons I am holding back.
The last component is my desire to choose those with whom I disclose. I suffered mentally when that choice had been taken from me in the past, and now that I have been given back this luxury, I really want to have a good reason to exercise my option to self-disclose. And I really haven’t had a good enough reason to reach out to the remaining people in my life. That could change when I get up from this computer, but for now I simply haven’t been “feeling’ it” enough.
So I guess I’ll throw it out there to my friends in recovery… what’s your position… Wear the Scarlet Letters (two A’s instead of one!), or It’s none of Your Damn Business?
In reading back this post, the miracle is the realization that I have come a long way with my feelings of shame… very cool realization indeed!