Monthly Archives: August 2013

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: The Shame Cycle

M, D3, R

I have been told my daughter is a mini-me… what do you think?

It was a low-key recent Saturday morning, and my husband called me over to the computer to watch a video with Dr. Brene Brown talking about shame.  At one point Dr. Brown remarked that specific memories can bring up shame for us, and, as I listened, a personal childhood memory popped into my head.

I couldn’t tell you my exact age, but I was old enough to make my own toast for breakfast, which I had done the Saturday morning this event took place.  My childhood home had myself, my three siblings, two parents, a grandparent and a dog all living under one roof, and consequently there were always multiple things going on at any given time.  So I happily buttered my toast, then sat down to eat it and watch Saturday morning cartoons (this was during the era when you could only watch cartoons on Saturday morning, kids these days don’t understand how good they have it!).  Unbeknownst to me, my mother had taken note of how many pieces of toast I had made for myself, which was apparently too many, because suddenly I was the focus of her attention; an unusual occurrence, given the number of people in one household.  In this particular case, being the center of attention was not a good thing.  “Do you have any idea how bad that is for you?!?” she exclaimed.  “How could you possibly even think to eat all of that?”

As I re-read the nuts and bolts of that story, it doesn’t look at all horrifying; in fact, it is probably a commonplace occurrence in the average American household.  But I can tell you, it is at least 30 years later, and I can still feel the shame in the pit of my stomach when I recall that incident.  I can place myself in the room in which it took place, 70’s decor and all.  That feeling is one that would repeat itself, time and again, through the next 3 decades of my life.

So I recall the incident, I finish watching the video, and I walk into the kitchen to thank my husband for showing me the video.  Instead of my husband, I find my 13-year old daughter pouring herself some cereal out of a Tupperware container, which is now almost empty.  The problem is that I had only filled the container two days before.  The container easily holds 12 servings of cereal, possibly more, so in doing this math, I am quite alarmed, and I start my interrogation:  who has been eating this cereal?  The discovery portion of this investigation yields that my daughter has eaten the lion’s share of this cereal in the past two days.  I point to the Tupperware container in astonishment, and I exclaim, “Do you realize that this container holds 12 servings of cereal, and it now almost empty?”  She just looks at me with an expression that in all likelihood mirrored the expression I had when my mother admonished me for the toast.

Sometimes when I say there are no coincidences, I say it with some sadness.  I have shame as I am typing the story of how I handled The Cereal Incident.

I am no expert on shame and parenting, but I believe that if I were to read up on the subject, I would find that it is not a good thing to use shame as a parenting tool.  Since my daughter has entered adolescence, I have been vigilant in how people speak to her about eating, because I know from personal experience the outcome of using shame to change a child’s eating decisions.  Not too long after my issue with the toast is when I decided that food was best enjoyed in solitude, I began to eat in private, and the results of that decision have ultimately led me into recovery from substances other than food.  So I have said to my husband, when he feels frustrated by my hampering of his conversations with our daughter, “Look, I don’t claim to have all the answers.  I only know what not to do, because of what has happened to me.”

And yet, here I am, fresh off of listening to Dr. Brene Brown, and doing the exact opposite of what I have been preaching for years.

So how to handle the situation where your child is making decisions that are the opposite of what you have taught them?  I have been very, very open about my struggles with weight.  I truly believe in open communication with children when they are old enough to hear it, and, at 13, my daughter needs to hear about the consequences of overeating.  And who better to tell her than someone who has lived through it?  So we have had multiple conversations.  I am honest with her about my bad decisions (regarding weight, we are not quite up to mind-altering substances yet, but that conversation is coming soon), and the way the consequences affected my entire life.

At the same time, who better than me to have empathy for poor eating decisions?  Because I still make bad choices, all the time!  So why would I react with frustration to a child who is doing as I have done (and, let’s face it, am doing)?  There are no easy answers here, at least none of which I am aware.  For now, I keep the lines of communication open, I make amends when I make mistakes like the one I just described, and I attempt to be observant for patterns of behavior.  And the end result?  I guess time will tell…

Today’s Miracle:

One Day At A Time

I have had the opportunity to catch up on some blog reading, and an interesting theme came up for me, which is the mention of possibly the most common AA expression:  one day at a time.  Ask any person with long-term sobriety how they achieved this goal, and their answer will almost certainly be “one day at a time.”

I surprised to read that “one day at a time” does not work for people, that they have to commit to a lifetime approach to sobriety in order to be successful.  I want to share a story, I may have mentioned it in passing before, but I will re-tell it, because it was the very first time that “one day at a time” really worked for me.

I have mentioned that the first few months of my sobriety were fear-based; in other words, I stayed sober because fear of consequences outweighed the desire to alter myself chemically.  The next few months were probably, in looking back, “pink cloud” months.  For those not familiar with recovery jargon, the term “pink cloud” refers to a period of time where the addict experiences a reprieve from the struggles associated with early recovery.  I was choosing recovery for me, not anyone else, and I was proud of the accomplishments I was achieving.

Somewhere around the 6 month mark, I was having a completely uneventful day… nothing bad, nothing great… and out of nowhere the thought came to me:  “Will I really not be able to have a champagne toast at my daughter’s wedding?”

Please bear in mind, readers, at the time of that thought, my daughter was 12 years old, so why I needed to ponder this at all remains a mystery.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I ran with that thought and spent a good few minutes depressed and self-pitying… woe is me!  I can’t have a sip of champagne years from now!  But this is how addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful, if you let these thoughts take root.

Fortunately, I did not, and after a few minutes of worrying about this future quandary, I pulled the “one day at a time” tool out of my tool box.  I asked myself, “can you refrain from drinking or using a drug today?

I can remember where I was at that moment in time, the relief I felt was that palpable.  All I had to do was get through today without ingesting anything mind-altering.  As soon as I re-focused on the present day, my serenity returned.  I can let tomorrow take care of itself, because all I’ve got is today.

Anyway, that is why “one day at a time” is a key part of my recovery:  it is like a get out of jail free card, where the jail is my addictive mindset!

Today’s Miracle:

For the first time in recorded history, I am completely ready for the first day of school, and I still have 6 days to go!

The Narrow Path

As anyone who reads my blog regularly already knows, I am a big believer that the 12 steps of recovery apply to a lot more than just getting sober, they are the foundation for a better life. Therefore, I look for ways to include the steps in my life, and, conversely, I take note when things in my everyday life run parallel to the 12 steps of recovery.  For example, when I hear someone talking about “one day at a time” on television, I stop and listen.  Or when I read about a celebrity using rehab as a hotel, I heed this as a cautionary tale.

So when I went to Mass this weekend, and listened to the gospel, and the homily following the gospel, it got my attention.  Long story short, in the gospel Jesus is telling his congregation how to get into heaven:

Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.  –Luke 13

There’s obviously more, but the part I focused on was travelling the narrow path, and staying on the narrow path.  The priest went on to elaborate, and talk about the ways we can start out with the best of intentions, but the wider path is just so much easier, so much more tempting, that it is very easy for us to veer off the narrow path.

This spoke directly to me in terms of my recovery from addiction.  Let’s face it, the widest, simplest path to follow is to drink.  Everyone does it, it is more socially acceptable than not drinking, and it is fun to feel inebriated.  For an alcoholic/addict, there comes the point where the drinking becomes socially unacceptable, and there is the first choice to get on the narrow path.  It took me quite some time, and a lot of fighting, to make this choice.  The wider path, for me, was looking around and seeing so many people “drinking as I did or worse,” and so I actually fought to stay on that wider path.  Ultimately, there comes a time (God willing), when you are at the ultimate fork in the road.  When I made the choice to get on that narrow path, at first the only thing necessary to keep me on that path was to not pick up a drink or drug.  Simple sounding, but boy did that path look narrow at the time.

By doing that, I was finally heading in the right direction.  As I trudged onward, choices came up, not exactly forks in the road, but more like small bends to the right or left:  should I continue to attend AA meetings, or can I do this on my own?  Shall I take the opportunity to do the steps with a sponsor, or should I take my time with it?  Do I continue to follow the principles that AA has taught me, and reach out my hand in sponsorship, or should I just focus on myself and my recovery?

Each question I answered, each choice I made, either kept me on the narrow path, or led me slightly off it.  And so that will continue for the rest of my life.  Sometimes that seems like a depressing thought, “why do I have to continuously make these difficult choices, when it seems like the rest of the world doesn’t even think about it?”  But most of the time it seems like a gift: I can walk through my life with my head held high, knowing I am on the right path, the narrow path, and what better feeling is there than that?

Another bonus feature:  when I took my first steps on the narrow path of recovery, it appeared almost impossible to navigate.  But as time goes by, as I am challenged to make seemingly difficult decisions to stay on the narrow path, all I have to do now is look behind me… the path that once seemed impossibly narrow now appears quite wide, and almost ridiculously easy to navigate. And that lesson holds true throughout any new venture:  exercise, diet, staying organized, keeping a schedule… all things that seemed insurmountable at first become so much easier with time and dedication.  And the payoff to the effort?  To quote the famous ad campaign… priceless.

Today’s Miracle:

This is going to be a long one.  The topic of the blog also happened to be the topic I chose for my meeting this morning, I found AA literature to correspond to it, and I explained honestly how I came to choose the topic.  I had some reservations about this, because I try to discuss my spirituality in a universal way, out of respect for the AA program, but this required me to speak of Catholicism, so I worried a bit that I might offend my fellow attendees.  As I sat before the meeting, still debating how to go about discussing the gospel reading, I glanced out the window, and saw a man approaching who I thought to be a newcomer.  And he was a newcomer,to my meeting anyway, but I knew him from earlier in my sobriety, when I attended meetings closer to my Mom’s house.  I have not seen this gentleman in close to a year, and he had told me back then that he tends not to go to “club house meetings,” as he is not particularly comfortable there, but his schedule was such today that he wanted to attend a meeting, and this was the only one he could get to.  Why would this story fit in the category of today’s miracle?

The gentleman is a Catholic priest.

I still have goosebumps!

It’s All In Your Head

Here are two facts about me:

1.  I am extremely prone to motion sickness.  One of my earliest memories is not being able to stomach a trip to the local mall.  Side note: we had a behemoth 1975-ish Chevy Impala, I threw up, and my two older sisters turned into contortionists… to this day I don’t know how they got so far into the opposite corner of the back seat.

2.  I can be an extremely excitable person, particularly when I believe I am being delivered an injustice of any kind. Smart-alecky friends have been known to take advantage of this fact, and start rumors such as “Josie is the president of the Robin Williams fan club,” just to see me all fired up.

Now, knowing these two facts, imagine how I reacted when my cousin told me I should just go on an amusement park ride, because, “motion sickness is all in your head, and you can talk yourself out of it.”

Perhaps I should take him up on his offer, and allow him to sit beside me as we ride, I’m pretty sure that would teach him!

This glimpse into some banal facts about me is really just a backdrop into the real topic:  how much of what we deal with is “all in our heads?”  Despite my outrage over my cousin’s commentary, I have come to realize that I believe this statement more than I realize.  Except, of course, when it comes to motion sickness.

One example, and I know I am going to raise a few eyebrows with this one, but I personally have a hard time with the disease concept of alcoholism.  I am allowed to say that, since I am an alcoholic, along the same lines as:  I can criticize my family, but you better not try.  I certainly believe that I had an obsession, that, try as I did, I could not expel.  I believe that if I choose to alter my mind again with a substance, that obsession will return, but disease?  That is one that confounds this alcoholic.  I don’t waste a lot of time on it, just like I don’t waste a lot of time wondering when I crossed the line from enjoying a drink to craving one… I just did, that is my reality, and I will, for today, deal with my reality.

But I find the “all in your mind” mentality pervades other areas of my life, and I’m wondering if it’s something I need to explore.  Most recent example, and I have been giving periodic updates, but I have embarked on a fitness program.  Long story short, I have gone from zero exercise to considering participating in a 5k. August was to be dedicated to training for this event, to see how much of a 5k I could run (versus walking), and how low I could get my time down.  In my mind, if I could run at least half, and get my time under 45 minutes, I was set to do it.

And then, out of nowhere, I sustained an injury.  I really mean out of nowhere, because I still don’t know what the hell happened.  One minute, I’m jogging, the next minute, I almost fell over, because my leg couldn’t support me.

I could go into boring detail, but who really cares?  I am not a physical therapist, and I have never, and I mean never, been an athletic person, so I have never dealt with a sports injury of any kind.  So I look to my fellow supporters who have dealt with this, and I take every suggesting they give me (except go to the doctor, that is a last resort, and a topic for another post).

After an entire week of resting it, stretching it, icing it, I attempt to resume my training (treadmill this time).  Within 3 minutes, the pain is back, and I am limping again.

Again, long story short, I try everything I can think of, but the minute my legs go into running mode, this pain comes back.  So my husband, quite logically, says, “Well then just walk.”  Sensible, right?

But, and here is the real point:  I can’t wrap my mind around it.  Seriously.  I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t make myself grasp the concept that I am restricted from the activity of running.  I just keep thinking that I can figure out a way past this injury.

It’s this kind of thinking that reminds me that I’m an alcoholic, and that I will never be “cured” (of the disease that I still question in theory!).  The normal person would just see that running is not working, and switch to another form of exercise.  My thinking?  I can beat this leg injury, dammit!  Nothing so stupid is going to keep me from this goal!

I am off to meet a friend (from AA) for a walk in the same park I sustained my injury.  I am going to explain this thought process to her, and she is (hopefully) going to help me see the error in my thinking.

The progress:  that I know that there is an error in my thinking.

Today’s Miracle:

That I am choosing exercise over sitting around, that I am meeting a friend from AA with whom to exercise, and that I will choose walking over re-injuring myself until I can figure this whole thing out!

To Amend or Not to Amend, That is the Question

Quick Monday Meeting Recap:

Of course I am biased, but today was a spectacular meeting!  We had 11 people, which is a fine number of attendees:  everyone gets to share, but no one feels pressured to speak.  We had a perfect blend of sobriety (again, I am biased!)… one person had 12 days, one person had 25 years, and lots of time in between.  I like having the mix because it provides such a broad spectrum in terms of perspective.

Today was a Step 8 meeting (made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all).  If you are unfamiliar with the 12 steps of recovery and are interested in a little more background with regard to Step 8, I wrote a post about it earlier this year, check it out!

In my experience, the main topic of conversation at a Step 8 meeting is how detailed one needs to be in terms of making the list of people one has harmed.  Do you need to make amends to the playground buddy you pushed off the swing when you were six years old?

The sub-topic is just how detailed one needs to be while actually making an amends with respect to past misdeeds.  Usually a lively discussion follows, because there are people who will take the amends process to great lengths, while there are others who believe strongly that the intent of steps 8 and 9 (step 9 is actually making the amends) is to clean up your side of the street, but not at the expense of another’s peace of mind.

And then there are the murkier ethical dilemmas, such as:  what if your mistake has legal implications, but many years have gone by?  Do you risk legal consequences in order clear your conscience?  There are diverse opinions on all of these subjects, which is why step 8 is a fascinating topic to explore.

At less than two years of sobriety, all I know for sure is that I have a lot to learn about sobriety, so I don’t feel like I need to rush the amends process.  A friend of mine who happened to attend today’s meeting, a woman with nine years of sobriety, says the longer she stays sober the more she understands all the amends she needs to make.  That makes sense to me, and so I have faith that when the time is right, I will know it, and I will have the serenity, courage and wisdom with which to make amends.

As always, I welcome feedback from my friends in recovery… what are your thoughts on the amends process?

Today’s Miracle:

I have stayed true to the individuals to whom I’ve made amends in the last 18 months, and I have not had to add to my list since becoming sober!

The Value of Day Counting

Someday this is what my sobriety calculator will read; for now, it is just an example!

I had a coincidental (except that there are no coincidences) thing happen yesterday that I thought I’d share about.  Yesterday morning I was getting caught up with all my favorite bloggers, and Running On Sober published a beautiful piece talking about the value of sober time from the perspective of loved ones.  In this post she shared that did not bother to collect her 2-year coin, and described the reasons she did not feel like she needed it.

I finished up reading her post (and a few others, I don’t want to be too melodramatic in the telling of this story), but I logged off, said goodbye to the kids and headed off to a brand new AA meeting that I wanted to support.  It was a free-flow type of meeting, think more of a discussion rather than a formal meeting, but the topic was:  is keeping track of sober time important?

So, given the proximity of these two events, I figured this might be a sign that I should at least think about the topic, and while I’m thinking, I might as well write about it!

Before I give my thoughts, the general consensus of yesterday’s meeting was this:  we all only have today, so whether you have 1 day, 1 year, 1 decade or more, we all have the same amount of time (today).

And, of course, that is all any of us have… today.  We certainly can’t bring back yesterday, and we can’t fast forward into tomorrow, so we as human beings all have one thing, which is the present.  I am not taking exception to that position at all.

However, I do hold a different position on my accumulated sober time than the people in yesterday’s meeting did.  The naysayers of keeping track of sober time said it did nothing but cause them anxiety, and set them up to fail.  And several of them did fail… one woman shared that she felt a need to celebrate every time she got her 30-day coin (three guesses how she celebrated), and she wound up having a drawer full of 30-day coins!  So now she focuses on one day at a time, and that seems to be working for her.

Here’s my position as it relates to sober time:  it matters very much to me, I keep track of it, in my own mind, monthly, I thank God for it daily, and I ask Him to give me another day of it each and every morning.

The first few weeks of my sobriety, I was operating on only one emotion, and that emotion was fear.  I did not pick up a drink or a drug for any reason other than my life had gone to hell in a handbasket, and so fear and fear alone was driving the bus.

But that kind of abject fear can only last for so long.  About 4 or 5 weeks into sobriety, my life hadn’t improved too much, but I was at least more comfortable with my “new” routine.  And then it happened:  the obsession came knocking at my door.  I was on my way to a meeting, sitting at a red light, and I was at a literal and metaphorical fork in the road:  to the left was the meeting I planned to attend, to the right was the opportunity for relapse.

Let me back up a little in this story and say this:  when I was in active addiction, the biggest and most regular bullshit line I told myself was “if no one knows, it doesn’t matter.”  Variations of this:  if you don’t get caught, it didn’t happen; you’re not hurting anyone else, so why should anyone else care; It’s nobody’s business but your own… you get the picture.  I really and truly and really lived life with these mantras playing in my head.

So, back to the fork in the road.  I’m at the light and the voice in my head is back:

no one would know

there is no reason you can’t do this

your life it total shit right now anyway

you might as well go for it

That, of course, is the bad news:  the way an addict’s mind works.  Here is the unbelievably good news:  for the first time in my life, in my car, on that cold morning, another voice talked back.  It said two things that I carry around with me to this day.  The first:

But YOU will know

Sounds almost ridiculous, but that is the first time I have ever even considered that, much less cared… I will know that I did this.  I will know that I screwed up.  And for the first time, it mattered to me that I knew.

The second thing the voice said:

But if you do this, you will lose your sober time

Again, miraculous thinking for this alcoholic and addict.  The 30-odd days had somehow, some way, come to mean something to me, meant enough to at least give me pause when I contemplated relapsing.

Given that I am writing this in a blog I started at 90 days sober over a year ago, you can guess which direction my car turned that morning.

When I share my story at meetings, I will often say that the incident I just described is equally as important to me as my actual sobriety date, because it is the date I decided, with no outside influences whatsoever, that I choose recovery.

Today‘s Miracle:

Thanks to the choice I made in my car, on that cold morning, I am celebrating 566 days sober today.

Keep Calm and Sponsor

Monday’s meeting, while poorly attended (only 4), was still exactly what this alcoholic needed to start the week!

Since my format is rotating literature, and this the is the second Monday of the month, I selected a chapter from the book Living Sober.  If you have not heard of this book, and you are new to sobriety, I would highly recommend it. Short chapters, easily understood vocabulary, and very practical advice for how to live life without drinking.  Anyway, the chapter I selected was entitled “Avoiding Dangerous Drugs and Other Medications.”

Some full disclosure might be appropriate here.  One of the many benefits to running your own AA meeting is that you can tailor topics to suit your personal needs.  This particular Monday was absolutely the case.  I don’t think I have updated much on the topic of sponsorship lately, mainly because in the recent past not much has happened.  If you recall, I have had 2 different women ask me to sponsor them.  The first turned out to be someone who was asking in order to satisfy external circumstances (some legal issues, parents breathing down her neck, etc.).  We started to work on the steps, and then she stopped taking my calls, she missed a get-together we had planned, and so consequently we have been at a détente for months.  When I see her, which is very infrequently, I ask her how she is doing, and she always says she is fine, and that’s about it.

The second woman asked me after I spoke at her outpatient rehab.  At the time she had about 2 months, today she has close to 7 months of sobriety.  I have gotten to know her very well, and I am impressed with her commitment to sobriety in the face of some rather difficult life circumstances.

That said, I have been hearing from her a bit less than usual, and this week she cancelled due to pain from dental work.  When we did reconnect later in the weekend, she let me know that she was prescribed, and had taken, prescription pain medication as a result of her dental work, and wanted to know what I thought about that decision.

I was momentarily flummoxed, for a variety of reasons.  The first is that feeling I sometimes get as a parent, “Holy shit!  I am supposed to have an answer, right now, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to say!!!”  Another reason is that prescription pain medication is a significant part of my personal story, and, frankly the mention of it still hits a bit close to home.  Finally, I felt that whatever came out of my mouth next was important, because prescription pain meds are also a part of her personal story, and I truly felt like she was treading on some seriously thin ice.

I’ll tell you what I said in a minute, but the real point of this post is to talk about the early days of sponsoring someone.  For this sponsor, since I can only speak for myself, there have been quite a few moments of flying without a net, and shooting up loads of prayers that I’m saying the right thing.  I went to bed mulling over the situation.  The next morning, I ran into a mutual acquaintance of the first sponsee (the one who blew me off), and found out that she relapsed. So now, being ever-vigilant for God moments, I am panicked… oh no!  Please don’t let this be a sign!

I guess I should get back to what I told my sponsee yesterday when she asked about her prescription for narcotics.  I told her I am not a doctor, and therefore I am unqualified to tell her what she should or should not be taking.  I reminded her of the details of my personal story, and why I would be extremely hesitant to take anything that is mind-altering in nature.  But, at the end of the day, only one person can tell you if you are taking the medicine for legitimate reasons, only one person knows if you are taking it as prescribed, and only one person knows if you are disposing of it when you are done with it, and that person is not me, her primary physician, her dentist or her therapist… it is herself.  I told her if she is telling me that she legitimately needs the medicine, and that she is taking it exactly as prescribed on an as-needed basis, then she has maintained her sobriety.

But I went to bed wondering if I am correct.

Monday morning, I deliberately chose the chapter I described above.  The good news is this:  the chapter says essentially the same thing as I did:  that we in AA are not the medical community, we have no business telling people what to take or not to take, and we have no moral position on prescription or recreational drugs.  We only know what the potential outcome is for people who suffer with the disease of addiction, and we can only share our own stories as cautionary tales to the newcomer.

So I guess I did okay, but I can’t say I won’t be a little worried in the immediate future…

Today’s Miracle:

Our hot water heater burst over the weekend, so the miracle is the joy of hot water… showers, dishwashers, washing machines, the gratitude list goes on and on (and at the top of the list is my Father-in-law, who spent the entire Monday getting us the hot water!)

My List of I Never’s

 

I have been reading quite a bit in the blogging world about the subtle benefits of sobriety, which made me think of this post I wrote about a year and a half ago.  Since I am sick as a dog right now (get out your violins, people!), and have very little energy (and am obviously feeling just a smidge sorry for myself!), I figured I’d repost this and remind myself why I am so damn grateful to be sober…

 

First published spring 2012:

Today in a meeting two different young men… one 22, the other 20 years old… shared how they felt about being in a 12-step program at such a young age.  To them, it feels restrictive, and they listed all the “normal” things kids their age do that they will no longer be able to do.  They look around the room we are in, and they see the ages of the people in the chairs next to them, and they think, “why can’t I do this for another 20 years, and then get it?”

As I listened to them, it made me think of my own life.  Now, maybe it is my advanced age, but I had a slightly different viewpoint.  Of course, in my 20’s, I did get to experience a lot (not all) of the things they listed… college parties, social drinking events, and so on… and my heart goes out to them, because I remember those times fondly.

But when I think of all the things I will never be able to do again, here is what my list looks like:

  • I will never again get to wake up with my heart pounding out of my chest, because I am so ashamed of my actions from the day before
  • I will never again get to spend the morning violently nauseous, or with a headache pounding louder than a jack hammer
  • I will never again get to piece together the events of the evening before and never quite find all the pieces in my own memory
  • I will never again get to pretend I remember some idiotic thing I said or did, and pretend that it is funny that I don’t remember
  • I will never again get to hear about the jackass I made of myself at a family or social event
  • I will never again get to see the look of utter disappointment in my husband’s eyes
  • I will never again get to see the look of confusion on my children’s faces when they don’t understand my mood swings
  • I will never again get to see the look of abject fear in my mother’s eyes
  • I will never again get to be the guest of honor at an intervention
  • I will never again get to embarrass my husband and children (at least not while chemically altered!)
  • I will never again get to obsess over creating the next opportunity to obtain a mood altering substance

Of course this list could go a lot longer, but I think you get the picture.  I pray that the young men I heard share today get it so they don’t have to make the list I just made…

Today’s Miracle:

Reading this list over a year later and being, if it is even possible, even more grateful to have those experiences stay in the past!

Recovery Maintenance: Checklist for Keeping on Track

What do you want to hear first:  the good news or the bad news?

If you’re like me, you want to get the bad news out of the way, so here it is:  addiction is a chronic, progressive, incurable disease.  Once diagnosed, you are never healed.

Alright, bad news dispensed, here’s the good, no, scratch that, the great news:  the methods employed for managing the disease of addiction are ridiculously inexpensive (read: free), easily accessible, and can be utilized by anyone suffering from it.  If used properly and consistently, not only will the addict keep his or her disease in remission permanently, the rest of his or her life will improve dramatically.  How many other diseases can make that claim?

So the question for people like myself, with more than a year of recovery, how do you keep on keepin’ on?  How can you ensure that you are maintaining your recovery?

As a regular participant in 12-step recovery, nothing scares me more than to hear stories of people with significant sober time come back after a relapse.  Sadly, it happens more than one would like to think.  I have seen people with 20 years of sobriety “go out,” and come back and report what we all know to be true:  it never gets better.  Twenty minutes, twenty days, twenty years; pick up a drink or drug, and you have fallen back down the rabbit hole.

Every time I hear that tale, the person says the same thing:  “I picked up (meaning either drank again or used a drug again), but the relapse happened well before that.”

And that’s the part that terrifies this addict.  Because I can say, with certainty, for today, that I am not tempted to ingest a mind-altering substance.  But what worries me is am I heading towards it?  Because, as we say in AA, everything you do either takes you toward a drink, or away from it, and the steps towards relapse are small and inconsequential at first…. so have I taken them without realizing it?

Here’s how I’ve solved that problem, for myself anyway, and I figured I could write it out in case it would help anyone else.  I’ve developed a checklist to make sure I am staying on track when it comes to my recovery.  The list is in reverse order for a reason, for each question that I can respond in the affirmative, I feel that much better.

  1. Have I maintained my sobriety date?
  2. Do I wish to pick up a drink or a drug?
  3. Am I confident that I can refrain from ingesting mind-altering substances just for today?
  4. Have I prayed today?
  5. Am I regularly participating in 12-step meetings?
  6. How is my mental state?  If bad, has it been consistently bad?  Has there been a pattern of negative thinking?
  7. When life becomes stressful, do I react in healthy, sober ways, or do I revert to old patterns of behavior?
  8. Am I maintaining my new, sober healthy behaviors and daily structure, or am I letting things slip?
  9. Have I been talking about what’s going on with me, or have I been keeping things bottled up?
  10. Have I been sharing with other people in recovery?
  11. Have I been giving back (12th step work)?
  12. Gut check:  do I believe that I could pick up, just once, and it would be okay?

I would love to hear what people would add to this list, or how they would modify it!

Today’s Miracle:

That I can read this list, and feel pride that I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic/addict!

Home Again Home Again Jiggity-Jig!

I have to say, writing is like exercise:  the more you stay away from it, the harder it is to pick it up again!  And while I’m on the subject of exercise:

I have been plugging along in the fitness department.  I mentioned in a post (The Dreaded Topic)  I wrote about 2 months ago that I embarked on a fitness regime (alright, this is weird, I just went back to that post… June 5, it is now August 5th!).  So how have the last 2 months been?  Let me refresh your memory of my baseline:  walking upstairs to my bedroom was probably the most I exerted myself prior to taking on this challenge.  I wish I could say I am exaggerating for effect.  So my plan going in, for those that did not read:  do something physical every day.  I picked 20 minutes as my start time.  I guest posted early on over at Running On Sober, so I don’t remember the specifics, but for the first probably 5 or 6 weeks I did exactly that… every single day.  I started on the machine with which I was most comfortable (elliptical machine), but then I decided that going with comfort when it comes to exercise has never served me well, so I started mixing it up.  Here are some examples of the progress made within 2 months:

Elliptical Start time/mileage:  20 minutes, 1.25 miles, about 100 calories, Current:  45 minutes, 4 miles, 450 calories burned

Swimming Start:  6 laps, Current:  25 laps

Stationary Bike:  no stats to report, it hurt my knee, but the fact that I did it at all is something

Local Walking Start:  barely a mile, small loop within my development; Current:  I have built up to a 3.1 mile loop that starts in my development but extends beyond it

And, last but not least, the treadmill (or Dreadmill, as I thought of it)…

Start:  probably struggled to walk a mile around 20 minutes (I did not keep track of those early stats), Currently (as of yesterday):  46 minutes, 3.1 miles, interval walking/running

Now, none of these number are going to be making headlines over at ESPN, but the point is the progress in an incredibly short period of time.   There aren’t any major physical changes, but the mental ones are astounding.  Here’s the biggest example:  about 5 weeks into this commitment, I got an email from my unbelievably fitness-minded sister-in-law.  She knows of my new commitment, and has been encouraging me all she can.  She is the type to run in triathlons, half-marathons, mud runs, and other insane things, so she gets emails about local events regularly.  She forwarded one onto me:  a sober 5k walk/run sponsored by the Caron Foundation, and offered to walk it with me if I was interested.

Now, let’s pause and consider the information I gave you earlier:  2 months ago, ZERO exercise daily, never in my life have I been a sports-oriented person, never competed in anything physical… and now I am actually CONSIDERING this?!?!

Yes, I am.  I wanted to reply no, hit the delete button, and never think about it again, but I couldn’t do it.  So, first, I told my husband, who was encouraging and supportive, as always.  Next, I let my recovery-and-fitness-minded blogging friends know of this recent development, and, predictably, all are strongly encouraging me to do it (Bye Bye Beer has graciously offered to walk it with me, bless her soul!).  Finally, I started seeing if I could physically even do it, and to that end found local 3.1 miles loops, did treadmill workouts, in an attempt to get my time down.  My commitment to myself is this (and yes, I know I will be getting yelled at by my “exercise sponsor,” as I like to think of Christy, for not just signing up):  take the month of August and see what progress I can make in increasing running/decreasing walking for the 3.1 mile sessions.  Since it is only August 5, I’ve got some time, I will check back in on this subject in a few weeks!

Final mental breakthrough, and then I’ll stop rambling.  As it turns out, there was a promenade near the house that I stayed in last week that was flat, paved, and exactly 1.5 miles long  (another sign, in my opinion!), so I did that a few times last week.  Still being new to this whole outdoor running/walking gig, while at the same time being technologically handicapped when it comes to ipods, my playlists are disorganized and often interrupted with tween music.  So as I’m doing the “ralk,” as I call it, on the promenade, a song keeps coming up that was popular a year or two ago with the Disney crowd, It’s called “Who Says” by Selena Gomez.  I remember when my daughter listened to it a lot, and I remember thinking it a cute song, but that’s about it.  Now, as I’m regularly exercising, the music is an integral part in the process, and I am listening intently to the songs.  And this one is haunting me, although I don’t know why.  So I’m actually running as I think to myself, “pay closer attention and figure out why this song is bothering you.”  And the chorus comes on:

Who says, who says you’re not perfect?

Who says you’re not worth it?

Who says you’re the only one who’s hurting?

Trust me, that’s the price of beauty!

Who says you’re not pretty?

Who says you’re not beautiful

Who says?

And, just like that, my mind talked back to the questions, and said, “You say it, and you’re the only one who says it.”  And I thought of all the people in my life, and the voice is right… I am the only one saying negative things about me.  Well, immediately I started to cry, and now I am running down an extremely crowded promenade with tears streaming down my face.  I refused to make eye contact, but I can only imagine what the hell those people were thinking!

Even though it is the sappiest song ever, it is staying on my playlist, as a reminder that I only have one critic, and she has a proven spotty track record when it comes to making these judgments!

Today’s Miracle:

12 people at my meeting today, not a record, but a great number!

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