Monthly Archives: May 2013
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Eight
Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all
If you have been doing your steps thoroughly all along, step 8 is a lot easier than it may at first appear. Once you have completed, in writing, the fourth step inventory, the list you need to make in step eight really writes itself. In terms of specifics, there are a variety of ways I have seen people write this list. My sponsor instructed me to review my 4th step inventory, and, using it as a guide, write down all the people I had hurt. From there, I was to divide the list into 3 categories: those with whom I should make amends immediately, those with whom I should make amends at some point in the future, and those with whom I cannot make amends (such as, for example, the person has died). I guess the trick, if there is one, is in the idea of willingness, and developing the appropriate humility it will take to move on from this step into the action step nine. To mean that you are truly willing is a bigger deal than it seems, much like “became entirely willing” was in step seven. I can say that I feel terrible remorse for my past actions, but, until I am really ready to put my money where my mouth is, then I am not willing.
Being completely aware of the damage I caused to the people in my life has given me a new empathy in dealing with their personalities, their defects, and their differences in approaching life. I once gave little thought to the opinions of others, because, after all, my way is the right way. Now, having a concrete list of all the people in my life whom I have hurt, and a visible reminder of how they rose above that hurt and allowed me to try again (and again, and again), I can see that I need to consider what a gift I’ve been given, and I must give back by having the same compassion and understanding they have given me.
In a sense, the end result of the Step 8 list produces the same feelings as those generated by a gratitude list. Having a visible reminder of the past harms I have done, and such a challenging “to do” list, really does help me, in everyday life, to treat people better than I have before. First, as I mentioned, because I have gratitude for the compassion they have shown me. Second, and not quite as altruistic, I do not want to add any more to my amends list! It sounds silly, but a positive side effect of working these steps is the extra incentive not to repeat mistakes, and thus repeat the amends process. I can’t tell you how many times in the past year I have shut my mouth simply out of the stubborn refusal to need to make an amends to my husband! Now, to be fair, there are probably as many, if not more, times that I chose instead to let the choice words fly, but the point is that I am thinking about it at all, a feat unheard of prior to working the steps. In the past, my motto was “argue now, and most likely argue a little more later.” Having done the work required of the steps, I now will take the time to pose the question, “Is this really worth it?”
My husband is coming home after 4 days away, and all three of us at home can’t wait!
Introduction to The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living
I should have written this post two months ago, but the subject is on my mind, so it will have to fall into the category of “better late than never.”
Did you ever go to the gym and observe the different motivations present? Some, like myself, go in, head down, do what we really don’t want to do, but know we have to, and are at our happiest when the workout is done. Others seem genuinely happy to be moving their bodies, making the best use of the physical gifts given to them. Still another set, perhaps a more mature generation, are there with purpose, looking to maintain… weight, flexibility, endurance, they are seeking to hold on to what they have. And, of course, there is the group that are there to push their limits, to pursue greater and greater physical goals.
You will find this same scenario almost anywhere you go… church, work, school, even the grocery store. In each case, the players are all presumably doing the same thing (exercising, praying, working, studying, shopping), but, because the motivation is so vastly different, the experience and outcome vary widely.
And so it is in recovery. Everyone sitting in an AA meeting has the same ostensible goal, sobriety. But ask each person in that same meeting what sobriety means to them personally, and you will probably get as many answers as there are people in the room. For some, simply putting down the drink or drug is the period at the end of the sentence. Once they have stopped ingesting mind-altering substances, the game is over, and they have won.
Then there is the other end of the spectrum: for some, sobriety is taking every element of their 12-step program to the extreme. These people will frequent 12-step clubhouses, hang out there between meetings, take advantage of every service and social opportunity presented, and get involved in the deepest way possible.
Some, like myself, started out with a goal of wanting the alcoholic obsession removed, but in the course of recovery have evolved to loftier goals, things such as serenity and peace of mind.
Of course among these groups lie too many variations to count. I am not judging any of these variations as right or wrong; as far as I’m concerned, if you are content with your recovery, then I couldn’t be happier for you, however you go about it.
For me, recovery started out as a triage situation: I needed immediate and severe help.
Once I stanched the flow of blood (metaphorically, of course), I had some decisions to make. Which direction did I want to take my recovery? I could clearly see the paths in front of me, as I have witnessed all sorts of recovery variations, both in the rooms of AA, as well as in the blogging world. Do I want to go “all in” with recovery, and become the poster child for AA? Or do I feel like I’ve gotten all I needed from the 12-step program, and now it is time for me to stand on my own two feet?
My thought process, in making this decision, was simple: the heart of the AA program, or any 12-step program, are the steps themselves. When I was taught these steps, I caught on, even while learning them, that they are more than just about putting down the drink or drug. The steps are meant as a blue-print for life: follow them to the best of your ability, and you will never need to pick up a mind-altering substance again. As I put them into practice, I had clear proof that they are helping me live a better life, not just because it is a sober one, but because the overall quality is better than it ever had been before.
Since I have seen the 12 steps work for others, and I can feel the 12 steps working in my own life, my answer was simple: keep what is working in my life, and use what is working to fix what is not. So my goal is to use the 12 steps to improve all areas of my life. I have many examples where I have succeeded, and I try to chronicle them in the series I am writing on Fridays. I have much progress to make, but I am human and so it is all about the progress, rather than the perfection.
So, short story long, I firmly believe that everyone can benefit from the application of the 12 steps to their lives. Whether you are an alcoholic or not, there is much in this life over which we are powerless, there is much that causes discontent, and so there is much work to be done to restore all of us to sanity. It is certainly not a magic potion, nor is it a one-time cure, like a vaccine. Rather, it is like learning a trade: once you know what to do, you just need to do it. Like exercising a muscle, the more you do, the stronger it gets.
Alright, enough analogies already!
I know it will soon get old, but I am loving stepping outside into ninety degree weather… summer is here in Pennsylvania!
Did you ever have a plan to have a lazy day? A day you know, in advance, you have little scheduled, and you look forward to it as if it was a vacation? Well, today was that day for me. After a weekend of running around, kid-centered activities, family functions, etc., I was so excited to have this day.
Quick qualification: the lazy day is only the middle of the day. Front and back ends still have the normal obligations: breakfast-making, lunch-packing, car-pooling, orthodontist appointment, homework, dinner-making, and, tonight I am flying solo, so that will make the activities all the more interesting. But still, I had the late-morning and early afternoon to do with as I wished, and I couldn’t wait!
And now that it’s almost over, I have to admit to feeling disappointed in myself. In theory I believe in the idea of unplugging from the world in order to mentally re-charge, but I have this somewhat “blah” feeling, and vague guilt for having wasted an afternoon. The good news is I can atone for this mindlessness by inviting my Mom to dinner and serving her something delicious!
So what’s the lesson learned? For me, I need to practice balance. In the same way I should not over-extend myself, and thus make myself crazy, I cannot under-extend myself, and thus make myself guilt-ridden. It’s all about moderation, a skill I have not come anywhere near mastering.
So that this is not a complete waste of blog-space, here is my recovery-related update news: I had my Monday morning meeting yesterday. I erroneously assumed that the holiday would bring throngs of recovery-minded individuals to my meeting’s doorstep, instead I had a whopping 2 people show up. This was demoralizing for a few reasons:
1. I really did think the holiday would bring more people, not less
2. Several people who promised me they would attend did not
3. Because it was the 4th week of the month, the topic is “chairperson’s choice,” which means I do extra research and work beforehand
Now, having said that, I actually found the meeting to be more miraculous than normal, and here’s why: the second person to show up was a newcomer to my meeting, and a newcomer to sobriety. He was an older gentleman, and for whatever reason I assumed at the start of the meeting he was a “long-timer” to AA, but when he shared he let us know that he has 23 days sober, and woke up desperately wanting to drink, so he found the next available meeting, which was mine. The remainder of the meeting was focused on how to deal with the compulsion to drink in early sobriety, and he left the meeting feeling confident he could make it through the rest of the day without taking a drink. We talked more in-depth after the meeting, and I feel hopeful that I will see him again next week.
And that is a miracle that will take me through the week!
Today’s miracle is that I managed to get this post published at all, I have been lazy in all aspects!
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Seven
Step Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
Step seven seems almost impossibly easy… if you have completed 1 through 6 to the best of your ability; all you have to do is ask God to remove your shortcomings? I remember in early days of sobriety thinking, “ooh, I can’t wait to get to that step; I will breeze right through it!”
Not so fast. There’s an unspoken end to this step: then you need to act as if He has already removed it. There’s the rub! Yes, I was entirely ready to have God remove the obsession to drink and use drugs, and yes, I humbly asked Him to remove the obsession, but the action in this step is for me to get up from my knees, and go about life as if the obsession is gone. Some days easy, some days difficult, but it is in the continuous practice of this step that I finally found my release.
And it was one of those things that I did not even realize it had happened. I would have a thought about my addiction, and then I would try to remember when my last thought had been, and I couldn’t! And that is when I realized the miracle had taken place.
This step can be more challenging when dealing with less urgent shortcomings. Let’s take an easy one to identify, impatience. I’m sure every human being deals with it at some point in their lives, for me, it is definitely a character defect with which I still struggle. I have identified it, I have been more than willing to have God remove it, and I have asked Him, numerous times, to remove it. But it’s the acting as if feature that I still have work to do. I will find myself in the middle of yelling at one child or another, and I realize that I have reverted to my more basic nature. Depending on how deep I’ve gotten myself into the given situation, I will attempt to ask God in the moment to remove it (most of the time through gritted teeth, but still!). Now the real work begins for me… I need to act as if it is gone!
Of course, obstacles block the path to this step at every turn. I want to be patient and tolerant, but then the people around me behave in ways I find unacceptable, and I lose sight of these attributes. I want to have the best possible relationship with my loved ones, but if they have done me wrong, how do I handle that and have a good relationship? Sometimes, when practicing this step, it feels like I am always being the bigger person, and when the hell does everyone else get to practice a little humility?
Which of course brings it back to full circle… there is only one person I can control, only one set of behaviors I can correct, and only one person’s feelings with which I have to live… my own.
So if someone else is behaving badly, that does not excuse my bad behavior.
If I have a complicated history with a loved one, and I believe I have been wronged, that does not give me the right to respond in kind.
If my children make the same mistakes over and over, I do not have a pass to rant and rave about it.
It is every easy, when dealing with everyday life issues, to play the blame game, and justify why I revert to character defects… I am simply reacting to the bad behavior of others, and anyone would do what I am doing if they were in my position! But, of course, the victim mode is a slippery slope, and in the end, I am only hurting myself, and my own peace of mind, when I play that game. Bring it back to center, take stock of myself, and figure out what God’s will is!
My daughter will be turning 13 this weekend, and I will be spending the day figuring out how to make this event as special as possible… not too shabby!
All Roads Lead to Limeport
When I was in College, it seemed that no matter where my friends and I were driving, which direction we were heading, nor which road we traveled, we would invariably pass a sign for a small nearby town called Limeport, which “led” us to to the expression I used in the title above. This is a small and not-really-that-funny joke that we proceeded to beat to death for years.
I found myself thinking of that expression after my Monday meeting this morning. The topic was Step 5, and since I am writing about the steps each Friday, I will skip the main discussion we had. Instead, we had some extra time, and a gentleman shared that he had a thought about drinking. He had a disappointing day, which turned into resentment, and both were feelings over which he used to drink. The good news is he did not drink, and the better news is that he is sharing about it in a meeting.
Before I left for my meeting I had the opportunity to read the weekly post of one of my favorite bloggers in the world, Sober Identity. In her blog she spoke eloquently of a current situation with which she is dealing, and how parallel this situation runs to the time she began recovery. Even though she has been sober for many years now, she can closely identify current life issues to her recovery from alcoholism.
My life has been really and truly blessed, and while I am very grateful, I can take it for granted, which I believe I had been doing for a while now. Last week, I had an issue come up in my life… nothing that made me want to drink; rather, the issue brought my past mistakes back front and center for a few days. At the time, I felt like I swallowed a boulder, I could not sleep, and was upset enough that I could not even open up and talk to my husband about it. This tumultuous period lasted only about two days, but when life has been as good as it has been, two days seems like an eternity. I finally picked myself up by my bootstraps, did what needed to be done, and slowly but surely life is getting back to normal. I believe, very deeply, that this too shall pass, and I have enough sobriety to know that there is no way around things, you just have to go through them. I am almost there, and the light at the end of the tunnel is glimmering even now.
My point in what may seem like a pointless post: when you are an alcoholic/addict, all things lead back to it. Seemingly unrelated life circumstances, good feelings or bad, actions and reactions… when you are in recovery, everything intersects. If we keep this thought at the forefront of our minds, and use the tools we’ve been given, we can get through anything!
In solidarity with my wonderful friend over at Sober Identity, if she can detox from sugar for the next 28 days, then I will detox from my (current) biggest vice: salt!
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Six
Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Probably any member of a 12-step program, anyone who was once hopelessly enslaved to a mind-altering substance, but who now has some sober time within a Fellowship, can attest to the power of this step. For myself, I was once a person who had obsessive thoughts about my addiction from the time I opened my eyes in the morning. Not a moment in a day went by that I was in some stage of planning for my addiction… either I was figuring out how to get it, how to use it, or how to cover up my tracks.
Contrast that to present day, when the obsession is gone. It is hard to describe the miracle that is the release from the compulsion to ingest a drink or drug. So for people seeking recovery, reading this step and thinking it impossible (as I once did), I can tell you from personal experience it works, and it is miraculous.
It is the ongoing application of this step that is a great deal more difficult to practice. Step six, in everyday life, asks you to consider all of your defects, even the ones that are not as glaring as addiction, and suggests that you be entirely willing to have God remove them. When you think about it, that’s a pretty tall order. All defects? So what does that mean, this step is not complete until I am Mother Theresa?
My all-or-nothing thinking trips me up, in a big way, on this step. Since it seems a virtual impossibility to be entirely willing to remove all my defects of character, then why attempt it at all? Therefore I need to look at this step, in everyday living, as a yardstick. If being “entirely ready” is the gold standard, then I measure myself against it, and compare myself to myself. Am I more willing today than I was in active addiction? You better believe it, and I can celebrate that fact. Some days I pull the yardstick out and realize that I have not been nearly as willing today as I was yesterday, so I hit the reset button with which I have been blessed, and I start over.
Now, which of my many character defects should I use as an example? I’ll pick a common one: there are many times when I can be judgmental towards others. I know full well it is not my place to judge, but I do it anyway. I can certainly admit that it is a character defect, so will it work the same way as it did with addiction… I’ll just make myself “entirely ready” and then it will be gone? Maybe it would work that way, but first I have to really and truly be “entirely ready.” And, right or wrong, if I still get something out of this defect, if being judgmental makes me feel a little superior, and I enjoy that feeling, then I am not entirely ready.
The best I can do is to strive for the perfection the step suggests, work to be entirely willing, but all the while aware that, as a flawed human, I will never arrive at that destination. This is one step that is all about the journey. So, on a daily basis, I look at myself, I take stock, and I do the best I can to do the will of God.
Sometimes, it can be a small miracle: my son threw up in a sink full of dishes (including a rag). Cleaning up that mess, and not throwing up myself, is a miracle (came extremely close to not being a miracle, but I made it)!
Letting Go of Old Ideas
Monday is here, and the title of my post was the topic of today’s meeting (Chapter 27 in Living Sober if you want to read along!). The basic premise of the chapter is this: just because we “put the plug in the jug” doesn’t mean we transform into a whole new person. Old thought patterns still exist, and will (not may, but will) emerge, over and over, so we need to figure out how to deal with them. The answer? We in recovery have a new yardstick by which we measure our lives, our thoughts, and our decisions. And when we stumble backwards into old patterns of thinking, we can, first, recognize it, then second, use the new yardstick we’ve been given: “Hey, old thought pattern, do you keep me sober, or do you lead me back towards a drink? Is this thought pattern consistent with the way I am living life today, or is it more consistent with the way I lived in active addiction?” When you hold something up against those standards, the answer is usually pretty clear.
I remember a time, years ago, when I was trying to figure out what the heck my problem was (because the one thing I knew it wasn’t: alcoholism). Anyway, I was seeing a therapist, and was whining and moaning about how I just wanted to drink “like a normal person” (I swear when I said it, I honestly thought I was the first one to ever have that thought). The therapist said to me, “You know, for some people, “normal drinking” is not drinking at all, for those people it is entirely normal not to drink.” Even though this occurred probably close to 10 years ago, I still have perfect recall of the way I rejected the thought completely and utterly out of hand. I mean, yes, a human being had just uttered those words, but surely she was speaking in some high-level, esoteric way, because I personally knew zero real life examples of this hypothesis.
Having grown up in a large, Irish Catholic, close-knit family, I had never experienced a social situation that did not involve alcohol. Surely, I exaggerate, right? Somewhere there must have been a funeral, or a breakfast, some situation that did not involve an alcoholic beverage? No, and no… funerals were actually a great excuse for drinking (we were a classic Irish wake family), and breakfast would have Bloody Mary’s galore. It was, simply and plainly, all I knew.
So when it came time to admitting that alcohol was not working in my life, it is not difficult to see why I struggled with understanding the cause and effect relationship. All around me were people who drank as I did, and no one seemed to be questioning them. I could tell you tales that would make your hair stand up, some of the escapades in which my relatives have drunkenly found themselves. So why am I getting hassled?
Until, finally, I let go of the old thought patterns… what is or is not working in the lives of anyone and everyone around me is inconsequential. When I drink, my life becomes chaotic, when I do not drink, my life is peaceful. When I drink, I am ashamed. When I don’t drink, I am proud of myself. When I drink, I have horrific consequences. Since I have stopped drinking, I have had nary a consequence with which to deal.
Does it get any simpler than that?
I am still riding the high of yesterday’s miracle, which was a celebration of the beautiful Moms in my life, and a fantastic time with my husband and children celebrating me. I hope all the awesome Mothers reading this had a magnificent day yesterday!
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Five
Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This step, the AA equivalent of the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation, is important because it is not enough to acknowledge missteps to yourself, it is essential to vocalize them aloud to another human being.
I think I may be an anomaly, but I could not wait for this step. Once I got through the inventory, I needed to run it by someone to make sure I had done it right (and yes, I do recognize that validation is a critical issue for me). I didn’t love admitting all my most shameful secrets to another, but having established a relationship with my sponsor, knowing that I could trust her implicitly, and, most important, knowing that she had been where I had been, made the process a lot less stressful.
What I learned from this step, recovery-wise, is that I am not alone. I am not the Worst Person on the Face of the Earth. And although I can’t explain it, there is something to the whole idea of unloading the burden of your secrets… it really did make me feel lighter mentally.
It was at this point in my step work that I became fully convinced of the power of this program. Towards the end of the 3 1/2 hour session with my sponsor, she said to me, “I feel like God keeps putting something in my head.” It would be too complicated to write out the play-by-play, but, long story short, she was able to show me patterns of my addictive behavior that I truly had never seen, I’m still flummoxed by how she put it together. But she was absolutely correct, and that she could point it out to me, simply by my speaking aloud my 4th step inventory, convinced me that the steps work.
Step 5 is a work in progress in everyday life. Having learned that holding it in makes the problem worse, I work very hard to unburden myself at every opportunity. Whether it is admitting my feelings to my husband, confiding in my sponsor, sharing at a meeting, I make sure to verbalize whenever I feel bad about something. And the magic continues… usually, by the time I am finished telling whatever it is that’s on my mind, I really do feel better! I’m actually reading a book right now, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, and in it the main character talks about an experiment she did in her psychology class:
…these students she’d never known before, but had perhaps seen on campus, had freely told her about their breakups with their beloved high school boyfriends or girlfriends or the deaths of their mothers or even, once, the diving-accident death of a little brother. But the words they spoke were immaterial; they didn’t know that the only aspect she was studying for the experiment was body language. Jules watched their hands and their head movements, taking notes… They were relieved telling her about their pain, even though it didn’t actually matter how well she listened.
I guess the expression “getting it off your chest” exists for a reason. Only by articulating problems can we really and truly release them. For me, that is the true reward of step 5… voicing your fears, your worries, your resentments, your pain, so that you can let them go. In the past, I had the completely opposite mindset. My thought process was: “this is my shit, why should I burden someone else, that would just make two of us burdened with it?” I have since learned this is absolutely not the case. When I carry the burden of negative thought, and I keep it to myself, it stays with me. I can bury it, or gloss over it, pretend it doesn’t exist… but it is still with me. And it will rear its ugly head over and over again, unless I do something about it. The action I need to take is so simple, so basic, it almost seems too good to be true: I need to talk about it. By exposing it to the light of day, I take away its power.
My regular Friday meeting’s topic was Step 5; my husband read an insightful work-related article about honesty being the best policy, and the section of the book I read right before sitting down to write this post talks about the value of unburdening yourself… that’s a miracle!
My Mind Says No, But My Mouth Says Yes
I have a very limited ability to set, or, more accurately, to enforce personal boundaries. I can imagine all the different, healthy boundaries that I could set, but the reality is that I don’t currently possess the chutzpah to vocalize them to another human being.
Here is a real life example: I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions (read: every Monday morning), I started and run an AA meeting. The meeting takes place in a new clubhouse, less than a year old, where the goal is “to provide a clean, safe environment for recovery, spirituality and fellowship.”
I entered the picture about 6 months into this project. They had a building, and they were looking for people to start meetings, and so I said yes when I was asked. And I have never looked back; I am proud of the decision, proud of the way the meeting has grown, and deeply grateful for the personal growth the meeting has provided me.
Other than my meeting, however, I spend little time at the clubhouse, mainly because I don’t have a lot of time to give. I frequent others’ meetings there as often as I can, and I support events by providing food as they need it. But as a wife and a mother of 2 (relatively) small children, I have a full life outside of AA, and I got sober so that I could appreciate that life, so I will always opt for supporting my family over supporting a social AA function (please note that I am making a distinction between social AA events and AA meetings themselves, my recovery comes before everything else).
So imagine my surprise when, about a week ago, the clubhouse board members approached me and asked me to help them with their leadership. I was surprised but flattered, and of course I said I would do whatever I could to help them out. Then they said they would like me to serve as… drum roll please… the Director of the Clubhouse.
If I could provide an audio right now, it would be of car brakes screeching… WHAT THE WHAT?!?
This request makes sense to me on ZERO levels… I am not part of the original group, I am not even technically a charter member, I don’t attend business meetings, all I do is run one AA meeting a week… how exactly does that qualify me to be a Director? And of course there are my own personal reasons, such as the time commitment and the fact that I have NO EXPERIENCE with this type of position… I don’t even know what the heck a director does!
So I say to them, “I am happy to help, I will attend the next business meeting, but I do not wish to be a director, I just want to help out where I can.”
My words, apparently, fell on deaf ears. I have seen one of the board members twice this week. Each time he jokingly referred to me as the “head drunk of the clubhouse.” At the business meeting, which I attended last night, they asked me why I wasn’t sitting behind the desk. I calmly say, “because I am not the director, I am just here to help out.” There were several other mini-references, which I largely just ignored.
I left that meeting feeling like a failure. Why did I not just take the bull by the horns and address the issue as I saw it: I do not want to be a director, I stated that fact, and my statement has been ignored. Instead, I joked back with the guy, ignored the other references, and never let them know that I was entirely uncomfortable. Basically, I skirted around the issue as much as I could, which, in the end, gets me no closer to solving the problem.
Why is it so hard to tell someone No? I have been talked through this issue numerous times in my life (because this is far from my first experience with not communicating my feelings), and the process I have been given goes something like this: if you tell someone honestly how you are feeling, imagine the worst case scenario. Usually the worst case scenario is not so bad, thus prompting me to communicate in a healthy way.
So what worst case scenario can I imagine if I had just spoke up: “I am uncomfortable with how hard you are pushing me to take this position, and I am unwilling to contribute more than I have already offered?” I imagine unease, awkward silence, and subsequent internal discomfort. Now, I don’t know for sure what would have happened in terms of the first two points I just mentioned, but guess what? That internal discomfort was felt by me anyway, and that was WITHOUT me voicing my concerns!
Here’s the good news: I will have ample opportunities to correct my behavior in the days to come, I will keep you posted. All advice is gratefully welcomed!
Getting ready to enjoy a quiet, stress-free family night, and I cannot wait!