Monthly Archives: September 2013
Another Monday, another great Monday meeting! Ten people today, the largest group in several weeks, and everyone had something wonderful to share. A meeting does not get better than it did today!
I selected a group of readings from the AA book As Bill Sees It, which all fell under the category of complacency, a topic that is familiar to anyone in attendance at 12-step meetings. Complacency is a feeling that those of us in recovery must guard against. It is as cunning, baffling and powerful as addiction itself, because it can sneak up on you when you least expect it.
Which brings me to the title of this post. At today’s meeting, a long-timer shared his acronym for a slip, which is a term people use to describe picking up a drink after having sober time. Disclaimer: I would never use this word, as it seems too mild to describe the action that is relapse, but that’s just my opinion. Anyway, today I learned that S.L.I.P. means “sobriety loses its priority.” What a great way to describe it, because inevitably if you are choosing to pick up a drink or drug after sober time, then you have ultimately decided that something or someone is more important than whatever reason you had for choosing sobriety in the first place.
How can that happen? How could you fight so hard for something, work so long to achieve a goal, and then let it “slip” away? Quite easily, as anyone who frequents the rooms of AA will tell you. Right after my meeting, I learned of two different people I know personally who chose to go back to their addiction. These were both people with a decent amount of sober time, who were very committed as far as I could tell, and spoke eloquently of how much their sobriety meant to them. I do not know their stories personally, as they have not returned to tell them, but I have heard from many who were fortunate enough to make it back after a relapse to understand the warning signals.
The first warning signal to a slip is feeling like you’ve got the whole recovery game figured out, and that you’ve won the battle against addiction. I have heard many stories of people with sober time who had a relapse, and without fail every one of them start their story by saying that they felt they no longer needed a 12-step program, that they could maintain sobriety on their own. As time went by, and left to their own devices, the reasons not to drink diminished, while the desire to drink grew, until eventually it simply made sense to believe that this time the outcome would be a different one.
Complacency is one of those topics with which I struggle, and I’m sure I’m not alone in my way of thinking. The minute I hear the word, my mind start racing towards all the things I’m not doing, or could be doing better, or used to do but have not of late. I get myself all worked up, convinced that I am a breath away from a relapse. Just as quickly, I will get defensive (mind you, this is all in my head, who needs any extra voices when I’ve got so many of my own?), and start arguing all the good I do. Then I’m tired from all the internal battling, and I wind up right back at square one. Not very productive, I assure you.
So the trick, for me anyway, is finding balance, and of course that can apply to any area of life, not just recovery. Balance between keeping recovery as a priority, and doing the things I need to do every day to keep my sobriety, and enjoying the peace and serenity that are the fruits of that labor. The greatest news about complacency: once I see I’ve started down that path, it is very easy to turn around and find my way back. It’s all about awareness… keep checking in, and I will not stray very far. Recovery, like so many things in life, is a process, not an event!
For me, the greatest antidote to complacency is gratitude. When I heard those stories, my first gut reaction was to shoot up a quick prayer for them, and to end with “there but for the grace of God go I.”
Yep, these are all the spots I tapped!
When I first started writing this blog, I was more or less writing to myself. I really never contemplated the idea that others would be reading, and this belief went on for quite some time (in retrospect, a lot longer than it should have, I am a little slow on the uptake!). Since that time, I have come to understand all of the wonders that come with connecting with others in the blogging world, and I am still blown away every time I read a new post from a friend, or receive an insightful comment on my own blog.
But with those blessings, a bit of a curse has descended upon me. When I was essentially writing to and for myself, I just wrote whatever was going on during that particular day (yes, I did write every day back in the beginning, it blows my mind now to think of it!). Now, I often feel stymied about what to write, and I finally realized that it is because I am looking at this blog through a new lens: will that be interesting to readers? Will they relate, or even care? Is it important enough to publish?
I have finally come full circle in this thinking, because if I had only written what I thought was important in the beginning, this blog would have ended a month into my first publish!
So, with all that prelude, let me tell you what’s been on my mind this week. It started about three days ago, with a trip to the library. We needed a book for a book report, but were running between sports practices and CCD class (religious education), so we only had 10 minutes. But if I’m in a library, I’m finding something for myself, because I love books! So I headed off to the self-help aisle (I am still enthralled by the promises these books make), and see a book called The Little Book of Diet Help, by Kimberly Willis. It is small, and at a glance, easy to read, so I checked it out and ran to the next activity.
As I glanced through the book, a heading captured my attention: Tapping out Negative Beliefs. It goes on to describe how to break the hold established beliefs have on your life. The exercise asks you to look at one specific negative belief, and immediately the thought came into my head: “I will never change my unhealthy relationship with food.” This thought surprised me in the speed with which it popped into my head, and with the specificity of the statement. Then I read further into the exercise, and it’s talking about tapping pressure points, and, while it sounds somewhat familiar, I really have no idea what the author wants me to do. This, by the way, is what you get for jumping around a book, rather than reading it page by page. Towards the end of this section, it references an earlier section of the book for more details on “tapping” (which tells me I am not alone in jumping around a book!).
So I go back to the tapping section, and I have my aha moment…. I know where I have read about this practice before! Lisa Neumann, wise mentor and author of the tremendously insightful book Sober Identity, had written about it, but it’s been over a year since I’ve read it, so the concept had escaped my memory.
My rudimentary understanding of tapping (and I am understating rudimentary, for a better explanation, please google the term!) is that it is an ancient practice of using your fingers to tap various pressure points on the body, which will shift the energy in your body, presumably from a negative energy to a positive one.
When I first read this, 3 days ago, I didn’t give it a half second thought. I put the book down and went about my evening. But every time I picked up the book, I kept going back to those pages, and I started considering:
- I was drawn to the book for a reason
- I was drawn to this section for a reason
- I had an immediate response to the question of negative beliefs holding me back.
So, as the week progressed, and my wheels of what to write became more and more stuck in the mud, I finally thought, “What have I got to lose? I can try this tapping thing and see what the hell happens!”
Full disclosure: my feelings about the idea of tapping my head to dispel almost 44 years worth of negative beliefs is that it will be as effective as dropping an eye of newt and a toe of frog into a bubbling cauldron. In other words, I am a skeptic. But, and maybe this is the progress of my recovery, I know that meaningful change requires both open-mindedness and consistent effort. And since my best thinking has me stuck with the same unhealthy relationship with food for as long as I can remember, I can certainly afford to be open to new ideas.
So we’ll consider this a little experiment. I did the full round of tapping that the book describes (and it was a lot… 14 different points, 8 taps each point, and there were 6 different affirmations for each round!), and I used the negative belief that I will never have a healthy relationship with food.
Here are the negatives: I felt very, very foolish as I started, which I believe hampered this experiment initially, and I needed to keep checking which was the next pressure point to tap, which was distracting.
Here are the positives: I got the hang of it before I was halfway through, and when I got to the second to the last affirmation (“I can allow myself to imagine what it would feel like if this belief weren’t true”), I did get a strange little hopeful fluttering, and I had vague waves of feeling lighter. Sounds ridiculous, even as I’m typing it, but it’s the truth.
I would imagine that this is the type of thing that gets easier and more effective with practice, so I am committing to this exercise daily for 30 days, and I will check in weekly and let you know how things progress. Will I be a supermodel by next month? Stay tuned!
I’ll take an anniversary any way I can get one, so today I am celebrating 20 months of sobriety!
I had a really interesting meeting this morning. The fourth Monday of each month I take a little extra time and try to research some unusual AA literature to use at my meeting. This week, I found a really good piece. It was originally a pamphlet, produced in the late 1930’s, and used widely when AA first came into existence. The title of the brochure is “How To Listen to God.”
Now, if you have been reading me for any length of time, you know that I am prone to second-guessing myself, but I felt really confident about this reading. I have come to know most of my fellow attendees, and I felt reasonably sure that they would enjoy this piece as well.
As fate would have it, I had a new meeting attendee this morning. Based on what he shared, he clearly has some time in the Fellowship, although I personally have not met him. After we read the brochure, and I shared my thoughts on the subject, the newcomer was the first hand raised. And the first words out of his mouth? “I did not enjoy that reading AT ALL.”
He was very well-spoken, and very polite, but he did not like the ideas proposed in the brochure as to how to listen to God. He is, in fact, still uncertain about the God angle at all. He considers the Fellowship his Higher Power, and he hears the voice of his Higher Power out of the mouths of the people in the rooms. To use his words, “putting down the glass was easier than accepting there is a God.”
I will admit to having a few seconds of self-pity (how can he not like what I selected?!?), but I quickly rejected those thoughts to listen to his message. And I really liked what he had to say.
From my time in the blogging world, I have gotten to experience recovery through many different avenues… 12-step Fellowships, white-knuckled sobriety, using the blogging recovery world in lieu of 12-step meetings, Christian-based recovery, the list goes on and on. It is fascinating and uplifting to see success through the different channels. The biggest stumbling block, as I read, to 12-step programs is the belief in God. People who struggle with faith do not understand how they can commit to a program that requires believing that God can “restore them to sanity.”
Had I been as conflicted about the existence of God, I am sure I would have reacted the exact same way. I feel extra grateful that faith is one struggle I did not have, either in early sobriety, or now. I believe that alcoholics who also lack faith have an extra mile to walk in terms of recovery, and I have a lot of respect for their sobriety.
I went into my meeting this morning with the intent of sharing a really interesting reading on how to listen to God speak. But I came out of the meeting with so much more: gratitude for my sobriety, for my faith in God, and for the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Having the ability to sit with a group of recovery-minded individuals, and talk about the benefits and stumbling blocks of prayer, is an experience that is hard to describe, but feels miraculous!
I have an internal conflict that I need to settle, and what better place than this blog to hash it out? The question that is on my mind and in my heart today is: how does one appropriately handle negative judgment from others?
First, let me clarify what I mean by negative judgment. Once upon a time, negative judgment could have been just about anything. I believe I have come a long way in this department, but it’s clear to me that I have quite a bit further to go, because it is a topic with which I am struggling. In the past, an unreturned phone call, a strange look on someone’s face, a car passing me on a freeway could have all constituted negative judgment. Because, in my paranoid heyday, I could spin tales in my head that the dog walking down the street was thinking negatively of me.
I have come miles and miles from that starting point, and I believe my recovery plays a huge role in this progress. I am definitely more at peace with myself, much, much better at catching myself when projecting thoughts and feelings onto others, and even realizing that the opinions and feelings of others do not have to affect my opinions and feelings.
But, still, there are times…
Judgment can take so many different forms, and the struggles with judgment are certainly not the sole property of alcoholics and addicts. But, to give a few examples of what I mean, I’ll start with recovery. There are those who don’t understand recovery and will wonder aloud, “why can’t you just have one?” Or, “you’ve been doing this for a while now, do you still need to go to meetings?” Or, judgment can take the opposite approach: “it seems like you are not as involved in your 12-step program as you once were, are you sure you’re still doing it right?”
Judgment can affect any other part of my life. I once had a very close family member actually utter the following words to me, as we were talking about my decision to stay home and raise my children: “Don’t you feel like you’re wasting your education?” Yikes.
Hopefully I have illustrated my point on negative judgments. So the question on the table is how to handle when I am feeling judged. And when I say handle, I mean both internally and externally.
Currently, my external approach will vary depending upon who is “launching the attack,” and how sensitive I feel about the subject matter. Internally, my approach is the same: I feel crushed, defeated, which usually quickly translates into anger and resentment that I am feeling attacked.
Since I’ve come far enough along to know that I alone am in control of my thoughts and feelings, I realize that I need to make changes within myself to make this recurring problem go away. But I’ve got to say, as far along as I’ve come, I’m not there yet. If someone accuses me of something, even if my logical mind knows that it is untrue, and probably has more to do with their own problems and insecurities, I still haven’t been able to fully internalize that their shit doesn’t have to become my shit (excuse the vulgarity, it is just the best word I can come up with!).
So the next way I can figure to solve this problem is to look at the alternatives. If I am feeling judged, and obviously for the sake of this discussion the judgment is unfair, then what are my options? As I see it, there are a few:
- I can argue ad infinitum to convince the person that he or she is wrong in this judgment. People reading this who know me personally are laughing right now, because that has been my modus operandi for as long as I can remember. I can say, from repeated personal experience, this option almost never works. I am rarely able to get a concession that satisfies me, and usually I wind up feeling aggravated on top of everything else.
- I can walk away. This alternative can work in some situations, but not all. Certainly not in cases where you live with the “judge,” or where there are actual issues involved that need to be resolved. Walking away has never really sat well with me (see #1 above for more on that), as I usually wind up walking away, stewing about it, and thinking of all the different ways I can return to the scene of the crime and argue my point.
- I can retaliate. I can give as good as I get. If someone is questioning my character, I can fire off similar questions about theirs. This is the option that is almost irresistible when I am in the middle of a skirmish. The problem with this option is that the thrill is very short-lived, and is followed by a lot of guilt and remorse (sounds a lot like addiction, doesn’t it?). Also, as a person in recovery, I am trained to avoid situations where I will have to go back and make amends, so my minds puts a warning signal out the minute I start crafting my zingers.
- This fourth option should be the most well-balanced and reasonable approach, but I’m not sure I’ve got it. Certainly the external would be to avoid options 1, 2 and 3, respond reasonably to whatever needs a response, and possibly to communicate that I am feeling hurt by my perceived judgment. Internally, I guess the best approach is to let it go. Just as my feelings aren’t facts, neither are anyone else’s, so if I am good with myself, then it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If I’m being honest, that sounds like a pipe dream to me.
But maybe this is one of those things in life that I have to work towards a perceived ideal, while realizing that I will never fully attain it? I don’t know, but I do know this… just writing this out has helped center me, so I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to feel better!
Reading back through this post, the miracle today is recognizing the progress I’ve made on this issue. I may have a ways to go, but I’ve come a long way, baby!
I have been procrastinating with writing this installment of the series (series in my own mind, anyway) about my friends who have been so instrumental in my recovery. Why am I dragging my feet? Because some friendships are so special, so rare, that when I try to describe them with my limited mind and vocabulary, I fear I will never do justice to the importance of the person, and of the friendship that means so much to me. And yet, I started this series, and I have done so in a certain order. You know how at the end of movies they list the cast “in order of appearance?” Well, that is how I have been ordering the posts in this series… the friends that came back into my life from the starting point of recovery.
Which, of course, brings me to my friend Jim. While Jim is third on my list in this particular series, he is first and foremost in my life in terms of friendships. He is my longest and most enduring friendship. We have been close since 1987, back when The Cosby Show ruled the airwaves and Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were battling it out on the radio. We met very early on the first semester of college, and were completely inseparable from that time on. I have almost no college memories that don’t include him, and there are stories that are still in active rotation in my life today, over 25 years later.
Jim is the friend that challenged me to be more… more than I was, more than I thought I could be, and he did it with such grace that I was unaware of the push I was getting. Silly things… “of course you can go mule-riding” when every part of my mind insisted I was not capable (and might I add at this point that it was not me, but the damn mule, that was incapable… that thing knocked both of us into every tree we went past!). Or, “why don’t we just try climbing into that hole, what’s the worst that can happen?” As it turns out, getting stuck in a hole for hours was the worst that could happen, and did happen, in the middle of the night.
Of course, I’m noting the fun stuff, of which there are hundreds more such stories, but I mean it in the serious sense as well. Any major life decision I have made was done with the advice and counsel of Jim. That’s not to say I took every piece of advice, but I certainly respected it.
My friendship with Jim, as it relates to my recovery, is much more difficult to write. Because Jim was and is such an integral part of my life, it should go without saying that he was present for every part of my descent into addiction. Which in turn means that I broke the trust of our friendship over and over again, almost to the breaking point.
If I were to attempt to chronicle the events involving Jim during my active addiction, this post would run the length of a novel. And yet, it feels unjust not to include some events that led to my ultimate bottom, and Jim’s involvement. I have mentioned, on numerous occasions, that there was about an 8 month period of time when I was confronted about my addictive behavior, and strongly encouraged to get help. That period saw me through outpatient rehabs, inpatient rehabs, counselors, 12-step meetings, and a couple of sponsors. Through that entire 8 month period I lied with the intent of convincing everyone (myself included) that I was okay, that the fuss everyone was making did not need to be made. Especially in the first half of that period, very few people in my personal life had any clue what was going on. This was, of course, at my insistence… the less people who knew, the less stories I had to invent, the less accountability I needed to have. It really came down to my husband, my Mom, my siblings… and Jim. Again, I am glossing over the years prior, simply in the interest of blog post length.
So, long story short, I lied to Jim on almost a daily basis. Every time he called to check in, every time I told him that things were going well, I damaged the friendship a little bit further. And each time I was “caught” in a lie, there was that much more damage to repair. When I hit my personal bottom, I believed with absolute certainty that I needed to resign myself to the ending of what I always assumed would be a lifelong friendship.
Imagine the flip my heart did in my chest when I listened to a voice mail, on Valentine’s Day, no less, from my friend Jim. This would have been somewhere around 18 days sober. Listening to his voice telling me that he loves me, and is thinking of me, was one of those very rare bright spots in my otherwise very dark existence during that time.
This is not to say that the rebuilding of our friendship was easy. Those first few phone conversations were so difficult, so painful, it hurts my heart a little right now just remembering them. I could feel the hesitation right through the phone wires, he just didn’t know if he could ever trust me again. And why should he know that? I had given him no reason whatsoever to do so. But somehow, he found the courage to believe in me again, and his friendship became as important as it ever had been, through the next crucial stages of my recovery. And, of course, he continues to be my rock, my cheerleader, my confidant, and the first one that can find something humorous in a situation that needs it.
Friends like Jim, friends who are willing to take that leap of faith and trust again, there should be a special honor bestowed upon them. I don’t know if I could be as strong as he was, and is, but I really hope that I can be half the friend to Jim that he has been to me.
Having friendships that span decades, with all the memories that accompanies them, is a blessing for which I will be forever grateful.
Don’t you love when an issue plays out in your life like a story arc on television? A problem is presented, you puzzle over it, and, after a hopefully brief time, the issue resolves itself? A situation like that just happened with me.
Saturday night, I’m at Mass, and during the homily the priest says, “There are two different questions you need to answer. First, do you want to be a disciple of Christ? The second, completely separate question: are you willing to do what it takes to be a follower?” He proceeds with the homily, but I instantly relate these questions to my experience with recovery from addiction. In active addiction, I dreamed of recovery too many times to count. I could easily imagine a fantasy life where I was free of the obsession to drink or use drugs. I could see that end point as clearly as I could see whatever happened to be in front of me at the moment.
The trouble was, I had a problem with the second piece of that puzzle… I was not willing to do what it took to get to that finish line. I wanted the prize, but I was not willing to put in the work… back then. Now, of course, there is a happy ending. Nineteen months sober, actively involved in a 12-step program, life is good.
So why was Saturday night’s homily still on my mind? I could not figure it out. When I think about my life from a recovery stand point, I feel very centered, balanced, right on point, which is a miracle in and of itself. Nothing crazy is happening in my life, family and friends are well. So what part of those questions is still niggling?
This morning I held my Monday morning meeting. The literature we read from is a book called Living Sober. It is an easy-to-read book that gives practical advice for the newly sober. I absolutely loved this book when I just started out, and I thought I had read every chapter. So I asked one of my regular attendees to pick a selection that he thought spoke to him this morning. He selected a chapter titled “Be Good To Yourself.” It talks about the importance of giving yourself credit for the good you are doing. Alcoholics tend to want to rush everything… once you figure out that you are alcoholic, you tend to think, “Okay! Problem solved, let’s move on!” But addiction does not work like that; it a problem that took time to develop, and it takes time to recover, and so patience and self-love are critical components when you are newly sober.
And, just like that, a light bulb went off in my head, what had been bothering me since Saturday night.
As I have written about quite a few times, I have been working on a fitness program for myself. Of late, the program has been building to participating in a Recovery 5K, which is quickly approaching. When I first mentioned this 5K, about 5 weeks ago, my plan was to build up to doing some sort of running/walking combination. Through the course of my training, however, I injured my leg, and, try as I might, the only way that I can participate is to walk the whole race. Not at all problematic, as this particular 5K offers both options, so all I had to do was register as a walker.
The problem, however, is (as usual) all in my head. And what was niggling for me, since Saturday night, is that I keep playing back that second question (are you willing to do what it takes?), and I keep thinking that I’m not. All I have been focusing on these past few weeks is what I am not doing… running. All my head keeps saying to me is: you’re not trying hard enough. You are not pushing through the pain. You could do this, but you’re choosing not to. That insidious, persistent monkey mind has been at work, full-time, and I have been doing nothing to shut it up.
I haven’t wanted to even talk about it, because (and I’m sure this is the monkey mind at work) I feel like admitting what I am thinking is akin to fishing for compliments… please tell me how good I’ve been doing! Point out all the positive changes!
And I’m really not, because all the external praise in the world is but a soft whisper to the roar of the monkey mind. The monkey mind is a complete know-it-all, and there is only one person that can shut that monkey up, and that person is me.
So, for the rest of this week, I am going to continue training for my walking 5K, and I am going to celebrate that I am:
- sticking to a commitment
- doing regular, consistent exercise
- enjoying some really fabulous fall weather, and, most important,
- participating in something I would have never dreamed possible for myself, an athletic event! Talk about the idea that anything is possible!
Admitting these thoughts at all is a miracle, I am embarrassed just reading back through them, but the truth shall hopefully set me free!
When I first started attending 12-step meetings, I benefitted from every word out of every mouth. The lessons were almost endless: from the wisdom of the long-timers to the familiar pain of the fellow newcomers, I needed to hear it all. Possibly most important, however, in the earliest days of sobriety, what I needed to absorb from my daily AA meetings was the hope that resided there. In the beginning of recovery, I had precious little of that particular commodity, and so I needed to drink it in every day from my fellows in recovery.
Eventually, the seeds of hope within me began to bloom, I was taken through the 12 steps of my recovery program, and I began to have confidence in myself, my recovery, and my ability to give back what was so freely given to me. I then added another dimension to my meetings: sharing my own experience, strength and hope, and the experience deepened. I developed deeper relationships, I helped newcomers, and I strengthened my commitment to sobriety.
After a year of continuous sobriety, I began to question the need for so many meetings, which made me wonder: exactly how many meetings is enough? The answer, of course, is completely individual. I know people with 25 years of sobriety who still attend a meeting every single day, I know people with a year or two of sobriety that attend one meeting a week, if that. But through this questioning process I discovered a very important truth: meetings are an important part of recovery, no matter how much time you have, because they help remind you of the pain of early sobriety. Every time I listen to a newcomer talk about how devastated his or her life is due to active addiction, I am reminded of my own personal bottom, and how much easier it is to stay sober than it is to get sober. No matter how many years of sobriety with which I am blessed, I will always need to be reminded from whence I came.
Recently, I’ll say within the past 2 weeks, I have discovered a new function that meetings serve for me in my recovery. I’ll use a real life example that I received in the meeting I run on Mondays (which, by the way, was a pleasant surprise this week… 9 attendees, and it was Labor Day! Really decent numbers for a holiday meeting). A woman attended my meeting that I know in a somewhat peripheral manner. I have not seen her in months, and this is the first time she has actually attended “my” meeting, so it was great to re-connect with her. When she shared, she admitted that she was in emotional turmoil. While she has not relapsed, she feels emotionally bankrupt, and she is having a difficult time getting back to the peace and serenity she once had. She realizes that a key component to this anguish is her feeling of disconnect with her program of recovery. While she was once an avid meeting-goer, she has let that part of her life lapse of late, and she believes it is in that lapse that she has lost her way.
This woman has about 5 years of sobriety. Interestingly, in the past several weeks I have heard 2 other women speak of similar issues; all three of these women have been in recovery anywhere from 4 to 6 years.
What this means to me is the point of this post. A new element to my meeting experience is hearing these stories, and filing them away under the category “What To Look Out For.” I feel very fortunate, at 19 months and change, to still feel daily gratitude for my sobriety. But I would be foolish not to hear these stories and use them as cautionary tales… things that could happen to me if I take my sobriety for granted.
At my home group this morning, a gentleman with decades of sobriety finished sharing by saying, with tears in his eyes, “I woke up sober this morning, and that made me happy. And it made my wife pretty happy too.” This brought to mind last night, when my husband came home from work and said, “What should we have for dinner, frozen pizza?” To which I smiled from ear to ear, because I am currently obsessed with Kirkland frozen pizza. I replied, “You know, I think I have a low-level addiction to frozen pizza.” He stopped what he was doing, walked over to me, grabbed my shoulders, and said, “We can have frozen pizza every night for the rest of our lives, and I would be happy.” That kind of love and support… well, it’s a miracle, and one I hope I never take for granted.
I have to remember that new technology is usually scary at first!