Monthly Archives: December 2013
No matter which way you choose to recover, whether by 12-step fellowship, rehab, or a “DIY” program, it is a universal truth that, early on, it is best to stay away from the people, places and things that the newly sober associates with their addiction. So, for example, it is prudent for an alcoholic to steer clear of the local watering hole at which he used to have a regular bar stool. Or for a drug addict to steer clear of dicey urban areas where she previously drove to “score.”
But what about the rest of us whose only “people, places and things” are areas that cannot be extricated from our lives? Well, to a certain extent you can, at the very least, alter the landscape. For example, if you were a home drinker, you can remove all alcohol in the house. Or if you were a rabble-rouser at house parties, you can choose to avoid them in the short-term. Both of the following examples apply to me personally, and, for various reasons, both are the solutions I used to solve the “people, places and things” dilemma for me in early sobriety.
Sooner or later, though, you have to face the music, and that opportunity came for me this holiday season. I was faced with a number of events in which I chose to participate for the first time in recovery, and I wanted to write about that experience, because I would imagine I am not alone in dealing with this issue.
At the outset, the choice to join in the fun an festivities of the holiday season was a well-thought out one. I have discussed the idea with my fellows in recovery, prayed about it, and was completely comfortable with the decision to participate. So there was planning there. I also had my toolkit at the ready, and my checklist of things to keep me safe and sober while in the moment (I wrote about this checklist here). In fact, there was one party where I said six simple words to my husband: “the party is starting to turn,” and we were out the door within 10 minutes. So adequate preparation in that department.
If there was one element for which I had not prepared, it was the emotional angst associated with event. Whether it was the location of the party, places where I have engaged in behavior that still shames me, whether it was the people themselves, and the reminder they bring of my past life, or the holiday itself, and the association with all the past misbehavior, I was uncomfortable in a way that surprised me. The memories of the past came back so quickly, and with such strength, at times it was an actual effort to turn and move in a different direction.
These feelings of discomfort took me by surprise because all of the things I did worry about were for naught. For example, I was concerned about awkwardness around family members who are seeing me in a social situation for the first time in recovery. Not only did that awkwardness fail to materialize; family and friends were supportive in ways I could never have imagined.
So why did these memories come back to haunt me? I’m not sure I will ever have a definitive answer to this question, and I have learned enough in my recovery not to over think it. I did what I was taught to do: move a muscle, change a thought. Even though it took extra effort, I turned and walked in an opposite direction, and found someone “safe” to engage in conversation. I participated in cooking and cleaning, which is helpful and distracting at the same time. Most important, I considered the real reason I was present at the holiday, to gather with family and/or friends, and to re-connect with them, and I took advantage of that opportunity in a way I never would have if I was chemically altered.
So when I said my prayer the morning after each holiday function, I was able to say with extra sincerity: “Thank you, God, for all my days of sobriety.”
I am so grateful to have 23 months and 1 day of sobriety!
I wasn’t sure which way today’s meeting was going to go, attendance-wise, being that we are two days away from Christmas. At the start, it was just me and two other gentleman, so I thought, “Well, I wasted some baking.” But ten minutes after the start of the meeting, we were up to 10 attendees, so hooray!
Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
Step 12 is a great one for sharing at meetings, because there is so much to discuss, and because it encapsulates the 12-step program so beautifully. One person shared that what he took most from the reading is the importance of staying in good spiritual condition. For him, that means regular meeting attendance, so that he can be reminded of what is important… and what is not. A great thought for this time of year!
Another person found his focus on the part of the step that talks about carrying the message, and how much reaching his hand out to another in need enriches his life.
For me, what I took away from the reading selection today is the importance of maintaining the proper outlook. In any given situation, I can choose to focus on what is going wrong, or I can choose to focus on what is going right, and my mental state will reflect that choice perfectly.
And what another great message this is for the season. As I headed into the meeting, I was preoccupied with my ever-present holiday to do list: will I have time to hit all the stores I need to hit? What chores can I delegate (and be satisfied however they turn out)? Will the kids manage not to kill each other while I am away from the house? You get the idea. And when my mind is going a mile a minute like that, guess where my serenity level is?
Just reading about the idea of changing my thought process was enough to stop the racing thoughts, and by the time I was finished sharing, I truly felt ready to leave the meeting and properly enjoy the holiday season, the school break, and even the shopping, wrapping and baking that still awaited me.
Which, when you think about it, is a miracle!
I am filled with excitement, not only because I got everything done I needed to today, not only because I am sitting down to write this post (which I never thought I would do), but because I vowed to myself that on December 26th my Christmas present to myself will be an uninterrupted morning, coffee ready and waiting, a comfortable chair, and my computer, and I am catching up on all the brilliant posts I have been missing by my wonderful friends in the blogosphere. In the meantime, know that I miss you all so much, and I am praying that you are having a miraculous holiday season!
I’ve been wanting to share a story that happened a few weeks ago, during a time when a bunch of things were happening at once, so I needed time to process it along with all the other things, before I could write about it. I have written numerous posts about the trials and tribulations of parenting (here’s one, and another, and another, just as examples), and it seems, of late, that subject material is plentiful. If it’s not one child, it’s the other, and the best I can hope for is to keep my head above water these days. And when life feels like chasing one crisis after the other, it’s easy to let self-pity creep in… Woe is me! Nobody has all the drama I have! Where is my Higher Power when I need Him?
So let me set the stage for this story: it is mid-week, and I’m hustling to get elementary school child out the door for his 8 am chorus rehearsal. Middle school kid is already on the bus. As I’m giving directives (make sure your schoolbag is packed, get your saxophone, etc.) I glance over to the cubby where the schoolbags are packed and see that basketball sneakers have been left behind by the daughter who is already gone. Now, this may not seem like a huge deal, unless you are armed with the knowledge that this child forgets something… lunch, sneakers, once she got onto the bus and left her entire school bag in the garage… at least once a week, sometimes more. I am running late as it is, and her school is 10 minutes further away than the elementary school I am driving to, but I calculate, and tell my son to move even faster, because we are dropping off the sneaks before I take him. I am into the garage, and he says, “I can’t find my saxophone.”
A couple of things should be noted here:
- The saxophone is not a small instrument, and is made even larger by its carrying case. It would be very difficult to misplace.
- The saxophone is a very expensive instrument.
- The saxophone, and lessons, were something that my son had to sell us on; we did not believe he was responsible enough to take this on.
Needless to say, I am not a happy camper at this point. We determine that the best possible scenario is that he left it at school (which is a side story/lecture that could fill another post), but suffice it to say that I am ranting and raving about this issue for the entire ride to the middle school to drop off the forgotten sneakers. We are, no exaggeration, pulling up to the school, so have been in the car for at least 10 minutes, and my son says, “Maybe I took the saxophone upstairs to my bedroom.”
I will just let your imagination run wild with my response to that conjecture.
By the time I unloaded him at his school, and was driving by myself, I was beside myself. My poor husband made the mistake of calling to check in on me (he knew part of the calamity that was the morning), and I unloaded on him. “I used to pride myself on being a stay at home mom, so that I could be there for my children, no matter what. There was a time when being able to run a forgotten item to school made me feel good,” I said. “But now I’m afraid I have engaged too much, and I’m doing them a disservice. I’m so involved that they feel no sense of responsibility!” We talked it through and decided that, going forward, I needed to let them suffer the consequences for their lapses, and that is how they would learn.
About an hour went by, I was running various errands, and my phone rang, it was the middle school calling. I answered, and it was the Vice Principal of the school. My daughter has been in that school for 3 years now, and I have never received a phone call from anyone other than the nurse, so I was more curious than anything else. My daughter is definitely the one I fear school phone calls from the least. Anyway, the Vice Principal, who seems to be very intelligent, and very concerned staff member, starts by telling me a story of his earliest days as an educator, and how he was out to save the world, and some student who seemed to be slightly off-track, so he contacts the parents, and, long story short, the parents try to have him fired. So, for him, lesson learned, he will only do things by the book from now on. I am interested, but am connecting no dots with how this story relates to me. He then says, “Do you remember meeting me at the “coffee klatch” (an informal parent/teacher gathering)?” I confirm that I do, and he goes on to say, “Well, I remember you, because you asked some insightful questions, and were so interested, and so engaged, and I was very impressed by your level of involvement.”
I would like to editorialize at this point in the story: there were only about a dozen parents, and the whole point of the coffee klatch was for parents to get to know the teachers and administrators. By no means did I do anything extraordinary in that meeting.
So again, to make a long story short (and this was long, we were on the phone for an hour), he just wanted to share with me some generalized concerns he had about my daughter. There was nothing concrete, and no disciplinary action, but because I presented as such an “involved parent,” he wanted to speak with me informally and let me know his thoughts.
I am, of course, glossing over the emotion involved in getting such a phone call, and the fact that there was any concern at all about my daughter. I kid you not, she is an angel, so it floored me that she would come to anyone’s attention in a negative way. So, much to process on my end, and the long and short of that part of the story is a good one. My husband and I were able to communicate with her in a very positive way, and, since then, there has been nothing but good that has come out of that issue. I am forever indebted to the Vice Principal.
But the more relevant reason for my sharing this story: if ever there is doubt in my mind that God is listening to me, I will have only to recall this day in my mind to clear away my doubt. The very same morning that I voiced out loud my concern that I was “over-engaged” in the lives of my children, I receive a phone call from a seasoned professional telling me that he is only speaking to me this candidly because he appreciated how engaged I was in the lives of my children.
There are God moments, and then there are God moments!
I started writing this post yesterday afternoon, but was prevented from finishing it due to schedule conflicts. In the interim, I “ran into” (no coincidences) the Vice Principal himself! I was able to shake his hand and tell him how much his reaching out meant to me. Crazy good stuff!
It has been a heck of a morning.
I think the miracle today is that I have anything to write about, in terms of a Monday meeting. Woke up this morning to the 5 am phone call: schools are on a 2-hour delay, due to a surprise snowfall yesterday. The snow fall was surprising, the phone call was not. Then found out the car will not start, despite due diligence on the part of my husband. Okay, so the challenge: figure out how to get the kids to their respective schools, find out how to schedule the tow truck, and still there is that whole Monday meeting thing I’ve got going on.
At which point I discover tactical error number one on my part, and it falls squarely into the category of Things Josie Should Have Known Better: I’ve got not a single phone number of any of my regular meeting attendees. Not one. Further, I regularly drive a gentleman without a license to my meeting; he has my phone number, but I do not have his. And the pressure mounts, as the kids are running around like lunatics!
At one point I actually had to stop myself in the middle of whatever task I was doing, and talk back to the racing thoughts. And I said, “You are not the first person to have car trouble, this is a privilege problem, and the world is not coming to an end. Snap out of the self-pity, and do the next task in front of you.” Seriously, I had to say these words to myself (in my head, so as not to alarm the kids).
This kind of “back talk” to the craziness that is my mind is a newer skill, and one that comes in very handy during chaotic mornings like this one. Each time my son said, “But what about…” and “How are you going to…” and “But what if…,” I was able to calmly say, “One thing at a time,” and know that is the right answer.
The result was not as smooth as I would have liked, but I am sitting here typing this story, so things worked out. The tow truck was delayed, but they called to let me know. So I borrowed a car (and was consciously grateful for the relationships that allowed me to do so), drove directly to the gentleman’s house I take with me on Mondays, picked him up, asked him to please chair the meeting, got him there, and got back before the tow truck arrived. Made arrangements for both kids to get to school (and again had subsequent gratitude for the neighbors that helped me), and asked my sister-in-law to drive me back out to the meeting after everything was squared away. Actually made it to the meeting before the halfway point (thank goodness the place is close to home), and was able to participate in the meeting. Got a ride home, and no catastrophe has befallen me. Of course, I have not heard from the car dealership yet, but still, I’m going to count this morning as a win.
So, onto the actual point of this post, which is the meeting topic, and the message that means so much to me on a weekly basis. Today was a selection from the book Living Sober, a simply written “how to” book on handling situations in early sobriety. The chapter selected by the gentleman who pinch hit for me today was entitled: “Remembering that alcoholism is an incurable, progressive, fatal disease.” Of course, I missed the first half of the meeting, so I am unsure of his reasons for selecting it, but the sharing I heard during my time made it clear that this is a message that is important to remember, especially during the holiday season. With all the merriment that surrounds the holidays, it can be very easy for an alcoholic like myself to forget that drinking, for me, does not end in the laughter and fun that it does for most.
So how to handle it? One of the meeting attendees, a gentleman with 28 years of sobriety, put it this way: “This time of year, each year, I keep the word diligence at the forefront of my mind. I remember I went to any and all lengths to get sober, and now I need to go to any and all lengths to stay sober.” For him, that means keeping up with meeting attendance, regular sharing with other alcoholics, and not being afraid to ask about alcohol as an ingredient at upcoming functions.
When I consider that the maintenance of my sobriety is actually just a few simple steps, it lightens the load of alcoholism. At a bare minimum, if I simply refrain from ingesting any mind-altering substances, then I can survive the holiday season, car problems and the subsequent stress; really, I can handle anything. Of all the incurable, progressive, fatal diseases, I am grateful to have the one with the simplest means of keeping it in remission!
I would say making it to my Monday meeting, even halfway through, counts as a miracle!
Everyone knows the type: the person who reads about an illness, then suddenly develops the symptoms of said illness. I can tell you that throughout my pregnancies there was not one symptom I experienced that my husband didn’t also share, and sometimes try to top!
I can’t honestly say I have ever had that particular mind disorder; that is, until now. I am currently sober 22 months and change, and as such am approaching another big milestone. Add to that another juncture, if you will, on my journey to recovery: the legal consequences that I have referenced from time to time on this blog are just about wrapped up. The heavy lifting is officially done, all that’s left now is the loose-end tie-up (which, of course, could be endless, I am never one to say it’s over until is really, really over). The closing of this chapter in my life book, and there is no way to overstate this, is huge.
But it’s like running the 5K, or reaching a goal weight, or achieving whatever accomplishment for which I have been striving… now what?
This is where the hypochondria has, on a low-level, set in. I find myself looking around for the people who started on the recovery road with me, and I don’t see them. I hear stories in 12-step meetings about how they have reached a goal, got the feeling of “I’ve got this,” and eventually forgot from whence they came. And that feeling only leads back to one place… the bottle.
So for the first time in my life, I am sympathizing with the hypochondriacs of this world. Because I think, “if it can happen to them, then it can happen to me.” And then I think, “maybe I am on my way back, and I don’t even realize it.”
So how do you talk back to this voice? I don’t want to disregard the concern, yet wallowing in worry and anxiety doesn’t seem sensible either.
The only way I can figure makes sense is to have a plan of attack, a checklist, and pray that I am still heading in the right direction. So, first things first, if I have a concern, get it out of my head. Which, clearly, I am doing, and have also done in my 12-step meetings. Next, remember what has worked for the past 22 months, and ensure that I am still practicing these principles in all my affairs. When I started, I had a to-do list of 4 things every day:
2. Go to a meeting
3. Talk to another alcoholic
4. Not pick up a drink or drug
Now, I look at that list and my mind panics… I only do 2 of those 4 things on a daily basis! So I go back to square one and figure out what has changed, and if the changes are working. As it turns out, they are. I went to daily meetings for the first year; the past 10 months, I have scaled back to those meetings from which I glean the most, and that change has been effective for me. Okay, problem solved.
I could also add something to the list that I hadn’t even considered on day one of sobriety: give back that which has been freely given, which is something I do on a regular basis. So although I have taken off the list, I have also added to it, so net/net it works out.
Next on the list: gut check: can I stay sober today? Because remember, today is all we’ve got. I have never asked myself that question in sobriety where the answer hasn’t been a resounding YES, so again, there is great comfort in realizing that the obsession is still lifted. Of course, if another answer were to come, back to square one: Speak. Up! Tell someone what is going on.
Finally, do a mental check-in on associations within my sober support network. For me, am I still blogging (I guess that answer is self-evident)? Am I checking in with my fellow bloggers? Am I still connected to people in my fellowship? Am I shying away from commitments, or am I embracing the opportunities? The answer to this is a mixed bag for me currently. Some I am doing well (you will read more about this one in Today‘s Miracle); some I need to re-visit. Of course, the next obvious step here: go out and do what you’ve been slacking on.
I guess time will tell is this plan of action is one that works. I have had sober time before, probably about as much as I have currently. The difference between then and now is the ongoing practice of the 12 steps of recovery. I am hopeful that, one day at time, I will “trudge the road of happy destiny!”
I’m putting this in as a reminder to myself that it is, indeed a miracle (rather than the stomach-twisting event that it currently feels like): I have been asked to speak at an anniversary celebration for an Al-Anon meeting this evening. The regular attendees of this meeting are, I assume, quite familiar with my story, although they have not met me personally. This will change, and they will hear my story from me, tonight. Right now all I’m thinking is, “Yikes! I’m venturing into the enemy camp!” But, deep down, I know this will be a monumental event, and I am, despite my nerves, grateful for this opportunity. I’m sure I will be writing about the experience!
I would like to note: my recent holiday was absolutely, miraculously, stress-free, a fact for which I am truly grateful, because I know that many cannot say the same.
I have been absent from WordPress for close to a week now, there is lots going on, much to write about, but for continuity I want to recap yesterday’s meeting. I am hopeful to be back on track now that the kiddies have gone back to school (are my kids the only school district in the universe to have off Thanksgiving Monday? Is Thanksgiving Monday even a thing?).
Yesterday’s meeting, in the rotating literature format, was a Big Book meeting. I selected the very last personal story in the book, entitled “AA Taught Him To Handle Sobriety.” This selection was a deliberate one that relates directly to events in my personal life, which I will write about in the upcoming weeks, but the main take-away that I received from the story is this: it is no great feat to stop drinking, quite probably most of us who call ourselves alcoholics have stopped drinking at various points in our lives. The real challenge for an alcoholic is to stay stopped. So how does that work? To use the author’s words:
By learning- through practicing the Twelve Steps and through sharing at meetings- how to cope with the problems that we looked to booze to solve, back in our drinking days. -Pg. 559, Alcoholics Anonymous
There is, of course, so much more to this gentleman’s story, I would encourage anyone to read his message of experience, strength and hope.
The shares that followed took an interesting turn into the trials and tribulations that come with being part of a family unit. I believe I am correct in assuming that the recent American holiday of Thanksgiving, and the subsequent family rituals that go along with the celebration, played a direct role in the angst about which people were sharing. All sorts of different issues were discussed, but the bottom line for each person was this: resentment is the end result, and resentment is the one thing an alcoholic cannot afford to cultivate.
Even though this holiday is over, the next one is on the horizon, so how does someone in recovery handle it? The first step is to talk about it, get it out, shine a light on the dark thoughts racing around the mind.
The next, and somewhat illuminating, message that came out of the meeting (at least for me, anyway): spin the resentment around, and look for that which you are grateful. If nothing else, if every person in your life is doing you wrong, and you feel that you are the only person doing right, then be grateful that: you are handling yourself with dignity and grace. Could you have made that statement in active addiction? God knows I couldn’t!
Get out of victim mode and see what you can do to better the situation; if you can’t find anything to do, then find a situation you can make better. This last piece comes with a lifetime guarantee: if you get out of your own head long enough to help somebody else, you will go a long way to feeling better about the resentment with which you started.
So many to choose from.. how about this: it is December 3rd, my Christmas cards are out, the house is decorated, and the bulk of my shopping is done. I can tell you, in my 44 years, I have never been able to string those words together, and have them be true!