Monthly Archives: April 2014
A quick sidebar before I dive into the Monday Meeting Miracles: I have been elusive in the blogging world for the past two weeks; if you factor in my recent vacation, it’s been closer to a month. Probably not overly alarming to anyone, but I know when one of the bloggers I follow regularly is absent, I wonder if all is well. So in case anyone is wondering… all is well. I have embarked upon an interesting… well, let’s call it an adventure for now, and I’m sorry to sound mysterious, but I will explain more later in the week, when I will be back up and running at normal blogging speed.
Okay, editorial comments aside, today’s meeting was interesting in a few ways. First, as usual, the number of attendees surprised me. I fully expected a small turnout, as quite a few regulars had plans that prevented them from attending. And yet we had 12, several of them new (to my meeting anyway). It’s always fun to have new perspectives, and I really enjoyed getting to know the newcomers.
Second: it is the fourth meeting of the month, which, in my literature rotation, is Chairperson’s Choice. As the sole chairperson, I am finding it more and more difficult to come up with new and interesting selections, but I came across a book in the club house where my meeting is held that I thought just might fit the bill. For the sake of expediency, I will sum us the book as a format for taking a newcomer through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, but done in a manner consistent with the way the original members of our Fellowship did it. The book touts using the exact format as was done in 1946. At the time, a newcomer was introduced to the 12 steps from his (or her) very first meeting, and it took him (or her) exactly 4 weeks to complete the 12 steps. Anyone familiar with 12-step recovery in modern times knows this is a marked difference from that to which we are currently accustomed, and that is just the beginning of the interesting changes in the Fellowship.
I felt like I stepped a little out of my comfort zone on this selection, as I was unsure what the reception to it would be. Overall, the response was positive, although the group conscience decided that each chapter needs to be broken down into two-week segments, so there is enough time for everyone to share. I had one naysayer, but I will get to that story in a minute. For me, learning about the history of anything is interesting, so I loved the educational aspect of the reading. I also really enjoyed the streamlined approach our “Founding Fathers” took in presenting the 12 steps to newcomers. There was no hemming and hawing back then, I can tell you that! The only thing I found myself wondering, as I read how they introduced the program overall, and specifically, step one (which was what we read today): if I were brand spanking new, sitting in my first meeting, would I be receptive to this? The honest answer is probably not, I would have thought these people extremist, and I would have been overwhelmed. The writers of this format countered my internal argument, and suggest that whether or not you truly believe you are an alcoholic, it might be better to be inside the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous by mistake, than outside the fellowship, drinking and dying by mistake. Excellent rebuttal to what I might have argued, had I been born 30 years earlier!
So I’m in for continuing with this series, but time ran out before I could take an official vote. Final interesting component of the meeting: I had to step out of my comfort zone with an aspect of the meeting other than the literature selection. A little back story: a woman who I have recently met has come to my meeting for the past two weeks. Today, when I asked for people new to the meeting to raise their hand, she raised hers. I tried to explain this section is for those who have never been to this particular meeting before, she insists she had not. Curious, because she was actually there before me the week before, and had saved me the effort of making the coffee. Okay, strange, but stranger things have happened.
We are about 25 minutes into the meeting, each person reading a chapter or two, and this same woman suddenly raises her hand and says she needs to ask a question. I motion for her to go ahead, and she says, “I think we need to have a break at this point.” May I respectfully point out that this is, in fact, a statement, and not a question! For those of you unfamiliar with a 12-step meeting, this is unusual behavior, and she recently made the announcement that she has celebrated one year sober, so I can’t cite inexperience as the reason for her breach of etiquette. We normally take a break when we finish the literature selection, but, uncertain of what to do, I acquiesce, and we break in the middle of the reading. Again, not really the end of the world.
We come back from break, finish the reading, and begin the portion where we share our thoughts with one another. Time is short (the selection was a long one), so I speak of the need to abbreviate “shares” so that everyone has an opportunity to speak. This woman is the second to share. She starts off innocently enough, but within 60 seconds begins to share her beliefs, all of which are chock full of wildly incorrect statistics, blatantly false information, and generally anti-12-step rhetoric. Very, very puzzling behavior, and, while I’m sure she is not the first nor will she be the last to speak against the 12-step program, I felt in a quandary about my role in putting the brakes on it. As she was launching into her beliefs that all alcoholics should be treated psychiatrically and medicated, I decided I had to put a stop to it. So as gently as I could, I interrupted and explained that since we were so short on time could she please abbreviate her share so that others may have an opportunity to do so. This kind of confrontation (or any kind of confrontation, for that matter), is not in my wheelhouse, and I was very, very uncomfortable. She did wrap it up, and there was no further incident, but it will be curious to see if she returns next week. I am still worrying that I offended her; at the same time, I need to take my chairperson responsibility seriously. Right or wrong, it was certainly a learning opportunity for me. Any readers who are also 12-step meeting attendees, I would love to hear if you have similar stories!
Whew, that’s a lot of info for one post! I will let everyone know how the group decides in terms of continuing with this format, and I look forward to catching up with all my blogging friends later in the week!
Stepping out of my comfort zone, I guess, and speaking up, counts as a miracle… at least it does for this timid mouse!
Happy Monday! In today’s meeting we read a selection from the book Living Sober, a fantastically helpful guide for the newly recovering individual. The chapter, entitled “Letting Go of Old Ideas,” is short in length, but chock full of helpful information.
The action of refraining from ingesting alcohol, or any other mind-altering substance, does little to abate our preconceived notions about drinking, our mental associations of various things to drinking, and our perception of the disease of addiction. Of course not drinking is a vital first step on the road to recovery, but our thoughts and ideas about drinking need change as well if we are to experience lasting peace in sobriety.
The chapter discusses the various common forms of faulty logic those of us trying to recover frequently used during our drinking days. Most opinions about alcohol are formed fairly early in life, and depend upon our childhood family situation. For me, having been raised an Irish Catholic in a large, close, extended family, I did not know that family functions existed without alcohol. I am not exaggerating when I say that we did not gather as a family without alcohol present, and I am including breakfast gatherings (bloody mary’s, anyone?). Consequently, for many of my adult years I operated under the assumption that alcohol was a necessary component of social situations, and I found it uncomfortable if I was at someone else’s family gathering and there was not alcohol present. It was not a conscious thought process at the time, but I judged an alcohol-free function as strange, and certainly less desirable, than my own family gatherings.
I believe I may have shared this story before, but it’s relevant here: years before I recovered, I was expressing the desire to “drink normally” to a therapist. The therapist countered this desire by pointing out that for some people, normal drinking is, in fact, not drinking at all. I’m not sure how much longer I went to visit this therapist, but I may as well have stopped with that appointment, because I know I wrote her off right there and then!
The trick in letting go of old ideas is to first develop an awareness of what they even are, and then to ask yourself if the ideas are factual, and if they are serving you well in sobriety. Here are some of my old ideas that I have learned to dismiss:
1. It is impossible to have fun without alcohol
I think I may have shared this story before as well. I was a couple of months sober and attending a family function with alcohol. About halfway through the evening, I had a light bulb moment: the only thing different about me and the other party goers is the type of liquid in my cup. We are eating the same food, enjoying the same family and friends, and laughing at the same jokes. It was a milestone moment for me, and each time I have been tempted to feel sorry for myself that “others can drink what they want and I can’t, wah wah wah!” I bring to mind this moment and realize how silly it is to think that a drink will change the social occasion for the better.
2. Non-Drinkers are weird
My original preconceived notions about non-drinkers was not that they were recovering alcoholics, but just that they were, quite simply, strange: boring, uninteresting, and certainly not people with whom I wanted to associate. This assumption goes hand-in-hand with the prevalence of alcohol in my childhood social situations. I remember, during a brief stint of being alcohol-free (though certainly not sober or in recovery), friends of my parents popped in unexpectedly at my house. Even though I was choosing not to drink, even though it was the middle of the damned day, I remember vividly how mortified I was that I did not have alcohol to serve them. I assumed they felt about me what I felt about other non-drinkers, and I felt ashamed.
It goes without saying that I know plenty of non-drinkers these days, and most of them could have grown up in my house, we are so much alike. In other words, if they are weird, then so am I!
3. I will need to develop an entirely new set of family and friends if I stop drinking
I believed this would be the end result either because:
a. I would not be able to handle others drinking around me, or
b. that my family and friends would no longer be interested in being around me
It’s a little painful to admit this one, because it sounds so incredibly shallow.
Certainly in the earliest days of sobriety I chose to eliminate as many drinking situations as I possibly could, so that I could build a sober foundation for myself. As time goes on, it gets exponentially easier to handle situations that involve alcohol. Just yesterday I attended my family Easter celebration, and an uncle spilled his beer on me. Now, I will admit: having to walk around smelling like a beer was not a fun experience. On the other hand, not at any point did that incident evoke a desire to drink a beer, or any other alcohol, and believe me there was plenty of it to go around.
And so far, my friends and family have kept me around, so I assume the second part of my theory was equally incorrect!
I imagine, as time goes by, I will find even more false notions under which I operate. Let me throw the question out to all of my blogging friends in recovery: what old ideas have you let go?
Having the mental clarity to examine the crazy ideas that hold me back
First Monday meeting back from vacation, and an awesome turnout! Fourteen people, so many attendees that we didn’t have time for everyone to share… that’s a first for us!
Today was a step meeting, we covered Step Four:
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
For a more detailed discussion on this step please read my post The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living, Part Four. Today, the consensus about step four: it is a process that is much, much scarier to anticipate than it is to actually do. My fear prior to taking this step was that I would not be able to do it perfectly, and so, like the good alcoholic I am, I would rather do nothing at all than to do something imperfectly. To which my sponsor said, “Knock it off, pick up the pen, and get writing!” (full disclosure, since my sponsor does read this blog: she probably did not say those words exactly, but definitely something to that effect, I often need a kick in the pants to get started on any new venture!).
Sitting down and taking an honest look at your life is an eye-opening experience. For me, the process of making a searching and fearless moral inventory gave me one of the greatest gifts of sobriety that I treasure to this day: the ability to understand that anything about which I worry, anything that causes me stress, anxiety, anger, anything that disrupts my peace and serenity… the ability to fix what is wrong lies within me. There is no one else to blame, no outside source that can correct it, the responsibility is mine and mine alone.
Had you spoken those words to me prior to making my 4th step inventory, I would have laughed in your face. I mean, come on! Surely there are instances where others are to blame. Well, sure, people make mistakes, people cause hurt and anger, but the bottom line is I am responsible for my feelings. If I am upset, it is my responsibility to accept that which cannot be changed, it is my responsibility to summon the courage to change the things that I can, and it is my responsibility to seek the wisdom to know the difference. Mind-blowing stuff for those of us who liked to self-righteously declare what is wrong with the world!
While the action required in step four is a finite thing (you write down your personal inventory, and you have thus completed the step), the process of self-discovery should be ongoing. As I read through the step this morning, there are a few things on my mind, even with some sober time under my belt, that I realize I could benefit from revisiting the inventory process. And I bet that if I sat down to write a new inventory, I would find some new things, and remember a few things that did not occur to me the first time around. Those in today’s meeting with decades of sobriety agree, and have thus completed the step four inventory numerous times. Self-discovery is a life-long process, and the rewards of getting to your best self are priceless.
Getting back to my Monday meeting after a hiatus: absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder!
Counterintuitive though it may seem, it’s easier to sit down and write about recovery than it is to extol the virtues of a vacation. I’ve been home for several days, yet every time I thought to sit down and write, anything and everything seemed more interesting to me than resuming my blog.
Plus there are several of us recently returned from vacation, but there’s nothing like a little oversaturation, right?
So I’ll try to keep this short and sweet, though I really could have stopped with the title.
I have had the good fortune to take many vacations in my life: annual trips to the Jersey shore, trips with big groups of friends to exotic locales, Disney with the kids, cross-country road trips. And each of these genres have had their pros and cons. But this last trip, which was a joint milestone birthday/anniversary celebration (husband’s milestone birthday/our milestone wedding anniversary), was the absolute best vacation I’ve ever taken, and here’s why:
1. Sobriety… first, last, and always, I will credit sobriety for all of the blessings in my life. Because I have been given the gift of a sober perspective on life, I am able to view everything through its lens, and I am grateful for each and every blessing that comes my way. Whereas in the past so many details in my life have been taken for granted. I now appreciate all the bits and pieces that make up the overall picture of a great holiday.
2. Self-Confidence… maybe self-clarity would be a more apt description? This was the first vacation that I planned, start to finish, based on what we wanted to do, what we liked and disliked, and what we value recreationally. So many past trips have started with the notion, “Well, we really SHOULD do…” and fill in the blank, never minding that both my husband and I hated that particular activity. Or, while at the vacation, thinking, “I need to go back and have a story to tell,” and planning an activity based solely on the idea of being able to report it back (of course, in active addiction, those stories would be built into any vacation, but that’s a different kind of story, and not necessarily one I would be racing home to tell!). This time around, we planned the location based on where we wanted to be (Bahamas, because of the horrific winter), we planned the resort based on our personal preferences (quality and variety of dining being top of the list), and we planned our daily activities based on our goals of the vacation (prime poolside real estate, anyone?). So, the re-telling of the story of our vacation may not be packed with dramatic action, but by God did we have a good time!
3. Spoils of Victory… this one may be unique to me (or not), and I need to put this in the proper perspective for you before I state it. I have been dieting, off and on, since I was 12 years old. I am 44, so that’s several decades worth of failed attempts. Countless times I have set myself up in a position where I gave myself a deadline, and pushed myself to lose weight in time for: entering high school, proms, entering college, graduations, weddings (10 times I have been in a wedding party), vacations, pre-child-birth, post-child-birth, I could probably list dozens more. Never, and I mean never, has this type of motivation worked for me.
With one exception… this vacation. When we officially decided to take the vacation, I wrote about my personal 6-week challenge. I stuck to it, exceeded my own goals, and, I have to say, getting up at 4:15 am that morning and getting on the scale… that sense of victory was incredible. And getting dressed up for dinner each night for my husband felt incredible. Very good stuff.
Alright, that was entirely too much bragging. I will be back to regular writing tomorrow… no more, as Paul says, #humblebragging (although in this case I pretty much have to lose the humble part, this was flat-out #bragging!)
Finally getting my vacation-addled brain into gear!