Monthly Archives: November 2014

M(3), 11/24: Gratitude as a Verb

The topic of my Monday meeting was gratitude, and yet I am fighting the urge to sit down and start complaining.  Why?  Because, despite a solid two years of avoidance, my meeting was subjected to a dreaded business meeting, insisted upon by someone who seems energized by complicating simple matters.  What a completely annoying way to finish out an otherwise delightful Monday meeting experience.

But I digress.  Now, where was I?  Oh yes, gratitude!

Today is the fourth Monday of the month, which, in the literature rotation, is “chairperson’s choice.”  Because this is the week of the American holiday called Thanksgiving, I thought it apropos to use gratitude as the subject matter, and so this morning we did a series of readings on that subject.

I was a bit nervous at the start of this meeting, as there were very few attendees.  Mental note:  the more I prepare for a meeting, the less attendees there seems to be.  I’m not sure why it works out that way, but it has been pretty consistent throughout these 2 years, today there wound up being less than ten of us at the meeting.  The combination of a low turnout, along with an unfamiliar anthology, left me uncertain as to how this topic might resonate with the group.

The first couple of passages were met with some awkward silences, but soon enough the small group got into the swing of things, and the sharing really took off.  Whew!  I did not have to sit and ramble on for 60 minutes by myself!

Of all the different things that were read, two really stood out to me in a powerful way.  First, the idea of gratitude as a forward-paying action, rather than a passive thought process of things received.  For those of us involved in a 12-step fellowship, gratitude as an action means reaching out our hand to the still-suffering alcoholic in the same way a hand reached out to us when we needed help.

But that concept can extend to so much more than the disease of addiction.  Instead of writing down “I am grateful for the love of my family,” I could instead pay that love forward and show them that I am grateful for their love.  Gratitude should be active, not passive, and the reading reminded me to be conscious of that, particularly with the holidays so rapidly approaching.

The second reading that stood out talked about people in AA considering themselves privileged, for the misfortune of the alcoholism turned into the good fortune of living in recovery.  Boy does that hit home for me.  For a very long time I bemoaned the fact that I could not “drink like normal people.”  The holiday season in particular was a great time for the pity party to rage on, as I watched what seemed like every person on the planet drinking merrily.

Now that recovery from addiction and a sober lifestyle has taken root, I have a completely different outlook on abstaining from alcohol.  I see how being sober allows me to be present in a way I never was before sobriety; how working the 12 steps of recovery has allowed self-transcendence and a new way of living life on life’s terms, and how embracing sobriety has brought a whole new network of people into my life, people whom I never would have met if I was still drinking.  I can say, sincerely, that I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic.

Other people spoke of their plans for the holidays, and the preparations they are making to ensure their sobriety (bringing their own car to a function, arriving late, leaving early, planning to attend a recovery meeting, planning to spend time with other sober people).  They spoke of holidays where they did not make these plans, holidays where they chose instead to drink, and how those holidays inevitably wound up being about the alcohol, rather than about family or friends.

In the midst of this sharing, a regular attendee raised her hand and said she would be speaking off-topic, because she needed to share a situation with friends who would understand what she was going through.  This week she is hosting her in-law’s who have traveled from Europe to spend the holiday with her, her husband and her daughter.  Having been sober for over a year, she said her in-law’s know something of her alcoholism, but not all the details:  they know that she had decided to stop drinking, and that she attends support groups in the effort to not drink, but that is about the extent of it.  So within the past year, they have drunk in her presence but have not pressed her on the subject, and all in all it has worked out satisfactorily for all.  This visit, however, the in-law’s did something a bit different:  they presented my friend and her husband (not an alcoholic, but a rare drinker… due to acid reflux, he will rarely consume more than half a glass of anything) with NINE BOTTLES of wine and a bottle of single malt scotch.

My friends in recovery reading…. can you seriously imagine?  And this was the good stuff, by the way!

My friend handled it the best way she could:  she had her husband remove the alcohol from plain sight for while the in-law’s are still visiting, and she had made plans for a non-alcoholic friend to take whatever is remaining as soon as the in-law’s return home.   She just needed to share this story with people who would understand her plight, and, in this understanding could she finally find some peace with the subject.

Everyone who shared after her spoke of understanding, told stories of a similar vein, and how they handled similar issues in their own lives.  By the end of the meeting, my friend had a new point of gratitude:  the empathy of others in this meeting.

For anyone out there struggling with added stress of less-than-supportive family and friends during this holiday season, please know that you have us in the sober blogosphere, people who have been there, who understand what you’re going through, and will lend our support any way we can.  You just need to reach out, and you can survive the season with your sobriety intact.  If all else fails, this is a song I have used to amuse and empower myself when the going got tough, imagine all of your sober friends disco dancing with you through this holiday season:

Today’s Miracle:

The weather in Pennsylvania today definitely falls into the miracle category… it feels like summer today!  You’ve got to appreciate these days when you get them, especially in November!

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Vicarious Disappointment

 

So you decide to have a kid or two, and you have a kid or two, and you raise a kid or two.

And along the way, the normal things happen:  developmental milestones, bumps and bruises, temper tantrums, good grades, friendships found, friendships lost, surprising sneaky behavior, surprising wonderful behavior.  And you realize, over and over, that you are merely along for the ride of parenthood, rather than the operator of the vehicle.

With each new phase, you experience challenges new to you, but tales as old as time for those who went so boldly before you.  You say, “I’m nothing more than a limo driver,” thinking you are the originator of this thought, and you receive instant nodding, knowing looks from your predecessors.  And you are humbled, once again.

But still, when your child experiences disappointment, it is a most unusual feeling, almost an out-of-body experience.  And it appears as though the residual feelings last longer with the parent than with the child.

First,  physical sensations:  prickly tears, churning stomach, jangled nerves, all of which must be controlled so that you can comfort the one who is actually experiencing the disappointment, your child.  Not you, your child.  Buck up, ninny, and do your job.

Then, the mental obsession:  How dare this disappointing thing happen to my child.  Doesn’t everyone know how special my child is/how hard my child tries/how much better my child would be if this disappointment hadn’t happened?  Why doesn’t anyone (everyone) care?

Quickly enough, the pointing finger does a u-turn:  Surely there are things you could have done, should have done, to prevent this disappointment in the first place?  Surely you could have instructed your child better, played a better social game with the people in your child’s world, insisted that your child prepare herself better to prevent the disappointment?

Next, residual issues:  the physical and mental affect you enough to deal inappropriately with the people around you.  You pick fights with your husband, you snap at the other child, you are disappointed with the behavior of your dog.

Still, you reason, disappointment happens, and therefore your next most important task in life is to do and say the next right thing with respect to your disappointed child.  You carefully consider your conversational options, you write uplifting texts for her to read, and you anxiously await the next time you see her to gauge her feelings and give the most correct, most sage, most transformative speech that will be the turning point in your child’s despair.

And she comes home, and she is fine.  In fact, did something disappointing even happen?  No, she has no updates or news, she hadn’t thought much about it, to tell the truth.  And she grabs a snack and breezes up to her room, to find the next drama upon which to focus.

This should be a happy ending, right?  Then why doesn’t it feel like a happy ending?  And how in the hell did this suddenly become about me?

Is there an appropriate filing cabinet for feelings of vicarious disappointment?  Is there a manual written on how to recover from the disappointment you didn’t actually experience?

Today’s Miracle:

After an overdue heart-to-heart discussion with a long-term friend, I am sharing my blog with her for the first time today.

 

M(3), 11/17: See God in the Response, Not the Disaster

My Monday morning meeting had a wonderfully large turnout (15) on a day that almost demands one to stay inside due to cold, dreary, pouring rain.   I hope the weather is better wherever you may be in the world!

This week’s literature selection came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and covered the topic of Step Eleven in our 12-step program:

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

In essence, the chapter’s purpose is to describe to a newcomer what prayer and meditation are, why they are important to cultivate in our lives, and the benefits that are derived from the implementation of these practices.  This is one of those chapters that applies to the whole of the human race, not just those of us who identify as alcoholics.

I am fortunate to have held a belief in the existence of God prior to joining my 12-step program; therefore, when it was suggested that I start each day, on my knees, in prayer, I did not balk, and have continued the practice to present day.  The ease with which I was able to incorporate prayer into my life is not universally true, as many who join our Fellowship consider themselves atheists and agnostics.  For them, step eleven is another hurdle to jump, but the good news is that many who came before them have successfully cleared the hurdle, and provide practical ideas to make it easier.

Meditation, on the other hand, is a practice with which I struggle mightily.  I have written, on numerous occasion, about my battle to control the monkey mind that slips into high gear at the mere mention of the word “meditation.”  And although I firmly believe in the benefits, and although I have had some limited success with practicing it, for some reason I have failed to make this part of my daily routine.

But the bottom line, for me, with regard to step eleven:  no matter what form my conscious contact with God takes, be it morning prayer, mid-day “pulse checks,” meditation attempts or evening inventories, the results are invariably the same:  the answer to the questions I am seeking lies in looking outward, rather than inward.  In other words, what can I do to help another?  The possibilities are endless:  I can reach out to the still suffering alcoholic, I can help a friend or family member in need, I can assist the person in front of me in the supermarket line, I can drive with patience, rather than with road rage.  The point is my focus is on helping others, rather than myself, and it is in this shift from self-centered thinking to a more benevolent thought process that I find my peace and serenity.

From my share a regular attendee, one with decades of sobriety, remarked that he remembers well my struggle with meditation (hmmm… perhaps I am a bit repetitive?!?).  He said he learned very early in sobriety the simplest definition of prayer and meditation is the one he carries with him to this day:

Prayer is talking to God

Meditation is listening to God

So, to him, when he is saying a formal prayer like the Prayer to St. Francis (Make me a channel of thy peace prayer), he is praying.  When he studies the prayer, and breaks it down line by line and figures out what that would look like in his life, he is meditating.   This particular attendee happens to be a priest, so I take his suggestions on prayer and meditation very seriously!

I absolutely love this idea, because it is something I put into practice pretty regularly:  I see something profound, or wise, and I try to see how I can apply it to my life.  If this is a way of meditating, I’ll take it!

Other people focused on the idea of meditation as being present in whatever you are doing; consciously appreciating your present situation.  You can meditate doing just about anything:  walking, cleaning, washing the dishes.  I informed that friend that I had a sinkful of meditation waiting for me at home!

A gentleman new to my meeting but sober since 1981 said that throughout his sobriety, every time he got into a funk, it was because he failed to work on his conscious contact with God.  Each time, he said, his ego got in the way and he became complacent in his prayer and meditation practices, and each time he wound up feeling down and out for no discernible reason.

Finally, a woman who considers herself agnostic is able to practice prayer and meditation by virtue of science: there have been many studies which prove measurable benefits of meditation, mindfulness, and incorporating spirituality into one’s life.  She is unable to refute the results, so why not try to improve her own life?  When she struggles with the concept of God, she remembers the expression I used in the title of this post:  see God in the response, not the disaster.  Rather than focus on the question, “Why would a God allow bad things to happen to good people,” my friend instead focuses on the caring and compassionate response to the tragedies, or disasters, or hard times.

Today’s Miracle:

The blessing of being allowed to absorb the collective wisdom of these Monday meetings, plus the added blessing of being allowed to share them with you!

Good Tidings: I’ve Become a WHAAAAT?!?

Present-day you meets 10-years-ago you for coffee. Share with your younger self the most challenging thing, the most rewarding thing, and the most fun thing they have to look forward to.

 

“First of all,” 35-year old Josie (35J) declares to 45 year-old Josie (45J), “We don’t even drink coffee.  Why not catch up with a glass of Chardonnay?”

“That question segues nicely into my biggest news,” replies 45J.  “Although I’d rather have had more time to build up to this, I might as well dive in.  Coffee, in fact, is our beverage of choice, as we now identify as an alcoholic.”

Silence.  Dumfounded, disbelieving, dead silence, followed by some polite overtures to end this ridiculous conversation that is clearly based in fiction.  Once convinced that 45J knows what she is talking about, 35J has lots of arguments:

“We have been drinking, without a remote incident, for better than 15 years now.  How can one go from having no problem with alcohol to being an alcoholic that needs to attend meetings, abstain from ingesting anything mind-altering, and work the 12 steps of recovery?”  How does that happen?

“We don’t have enough time to go into those details, this is only a coffee date, but it is true, battling addiction will be the most challenging issue you will face in the next 10 years.  And you will not only battle it once with alcohol, but you will do it again a few years later with pain medicine.  The consequences of that addiction will extend further than the active addiction itself.”

“As difficult as this entire conversation is to believe, the content of the conversation is even more unbelievable.  I barely know what pain medication is, and I’ve never been sick a day in my life.  I’m not even sure what follow-up questions to ask at this point!”

“Amazingly, the most challenging thing you have to deal with in the next ten years, addiction, becomes the most rewarding thing,” reveals 45J.  “Recovering from addiction, participating in a 12-step fellowship, and employing those principles as part of your everyday life allows us to live, comfortable in our own skin, in a way we never dreamed possible.”

“Well that, at least sounds promising,” responds 35J ruefully. “Tell me something, do we ever lose all the weight we want and become the size 6 we dream?”

“No, weight loss continues to be on our list of goals, but two positive things do change:  We never gain back any of the weight we lost the year you are in, and we also gain a healthier perspective on our body image.  The obsession to be a size 6 fades away, and we are working towards an acceptance of ourselves as we are, rather than what we think we should be.”

“Hmm, sounds lovely,” murmurs 35J, completely unconvinced.  “What about this backwoods area we live… do we ever get out?”

“We do, in less than 2 years we will get a chance to move, and it gives us everything that we wish for.  But, as they say, be careful what you wish for… we want neighborhood camaraderie, but we are woefully unprepared for the social pressure it puts on us.  We long to live closer to family, but we fail to anticipate the obligations that proximity creates.”

“That sounds dismal!” exclaims 35J.

“Well, did we think everything in our future is sunshine and lollipops?  Here’s the reality:  in the next ten years, there will be a boatload of things, good and bad that will be handed to us:  awesome vacations, along with tense family showdowns.  Milestones in our children’s lives, disappointment in our children’s lives.  Loss of loved ones, new additions to our family. Some we will handle better than others, but the best news of all:  we are still around to live our life, to learn from our mistakes, and to continue to grow and become a better person.”

“It’s really hard to figure out pronoun usage when we’re talking to ourselves, isn’t it?” remarks 35J.

“We said it,” replied 45J.

A Birthday Retrospective

Yesterday was my 45th birthday, a semi-milestone, right?  Well, either way, it gave me pause to consider the broad spectrum of birthdays past.  My husband asked me last night, “What were your childhood birthdays like?”  The one that stood out the most was my eighth birthday.  It fell on a Saturday, and a typical Saturday morning involved, almost without fail, a shopping trip to somewhere incredibly boring, usually Sears, because my Dad peripherally worked for the company as a truck driver, hence a family discount.  I still associate extreme boredom with that store, and I still look at circular clothes racks as potential hiding spots.  Anyway, my Mom woke me up and told me to hurry up and get ready, because we were going to Sears.  Outrage feels like a small word to describe my feelings on this subject, we are really going to this store AGAIN on MY birthday?!?  Yep, so get moving.

I was resentful for the entire ride, and as we entered the parking lot, my Mom drove past the usual place we parked, and kept on going to the back of the store.  I’m asking questions, but she’s not answering.  There, waiting behind the store, in his 24-wheel tractor-trailer, sat my Dad, he was waiting to give me and my younger brother a ride for my birthday.  It was my first (and, come to think of it, last) experience with a “Take Your Daughter To Work Day,” and the cool things I experienced stay with me to this day:  I learned that the horn was not on the steering wheel, but a string that hung on the passenger’s side of the cab, so the driver has to reach over to pull it.  The height at which you sit in such a vehicle is awe-inspiring (alright, that fact may be glorified by the age I was at the time of the experience, but still).  Most of all, I felt incredibly special, that my Dad was thinking of me and made such arrangements on his day off, almost like a celebrity paid me a visit.  I wish my Dad was alive so that I could tell him how much that simple act affected my life.  Mom, you read this blog, and you put up with my complaining that morning… sorry for that, and thanks for the wonderful memory.

Lots of other birthdays since then, many memorable ones, both with and without alcohol, although as the years passed, the alcohol played a more and more dominant role.  I remember one birthday, I’m guessing my 35th but I can’t say that with certainty, was a low-key affair:  the kids were small, my husband had given me some time to myself, and I came home to a nice dinner, and a really nice birthday gift.  It was a pink iPod mini with an inscription he had engraved:

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I wish I could say the only reason that birthday is memorable is the beautiful, thoughtful, romantic gift my husband gave me.  It is not, although those facts are true… my husband was and is the most romantic person I know, and I am including myself on that list!  Sadly, I also remember it because of addiction.  Of course, the details are hazy from both alcohol consumption and from time passing, but the morning of my birthday I had a terrible hangover.  And since I’m fairly certain it was a weeknight, I am confident that hangover was due to drinking solo, most likely in secret.  What I do remember, clear as crystal, are the promises I made to myself as I spent time alone that afternoon/evening:  “You just can’t drink anymore… it’s not worth it!  It is not worth waking up with that feeling of sick dread, not remembering what you did!”  I remember the resolve I felt as I had these thoughts:  I.  Am.  Done.  It felt liberating, that light bulb thought, “I just won’t drink anymore!”  I can remember these simple thoughts getting me over the hump of the hangover.  I remember coming into the house, and being surprised with dinner, the day keeps getting better!  And I remember my husband pulling out the wine glass and bottle, there was no real point in asking the question, as the answer was obvious.  And I remember the instant blank spot.  Just like that the pain of the hangover was banished from my memory, the resolution and the joy that resolution brought me also gone.  Wine was there, it was my birthday, and of course I’m going to drink it.

 

About 10 birthdays have passed since that one, some were alcohol-fueled (40th surprise birthday party, I’m thinking of you), some were in a period of being alcohol free, but far from being sober, the last three have been in recovery.  And here’s what I’ve learned:  when you look through the lens of gratitude, your birthday, and life, is a magical thing.  Here is how my birthday went yesterday, and I will add pictures when appropriate:

4 am:  my daughter wakes me up to tell me she is not feeling well, can she climb into bed?  I roll over, and then proceed to lay there and figure how to get her to sleep, not wake up my husband, and not wake up my severe claustrophobia (I finally gave up on the third, and rearranged to put her in the middle, just thinking about being in the middle right now has me breaking out in a cold sweat).  As I’m laying there, I’m thinking how lucky I am to have this moment… it’s not very often that either kid will come and snuggle in with me (they are 14 and 12, so it’s pretty understandable), so it felt like a really cool way to start my birthday.  Of course, I was sad she wasn’t feeling well, but the silver lining was she got more sleep than she would have on her own, and I got to feel good being a Mom.

6 am:  Got up, decided she was feeling well enough to go to school, and went downstairs to find my first birthday treat, a vanilla latte and donuts from the most delicious donut store in our area:

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6:30 am:  Got my daughter off to school, woke my son up, and he presents me with this card.  In case it is not obvious, I have been a fan of Bruce Springsteen for decades:

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7: 30 am:  Got son and husband off to their respective places to be, enjoy the rest of my coffee and donut(s), and head down to my Mom’s for our annual trip to Sephora and lunch at the Cheesecake Factory.  This has become a tradition with on my birthday since recovery, and I look forward to it every year.  Buying make-up at that store is just plain fun, I’m saying this as one who is really not much of a shopper.  Plus, Cheesecake Factory, enough said.  Here are two of the delicious things we ordered:

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a concoction of lemon, cream and cake… it was as delicious as it looks!

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ahi carpaccio, my all-time favorite appetizer to order anywhere, but especially at The Cheesecake Factory!

3 pm:  Came home from that delightful afternoon to find my husband has left work early to surprise me (and cut the grass before it gets dark).  There are beautiful roses awaiting me, in my favorite color, which, in case you haven’t yet guessed, is pink:

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5 pm:  The evening plans revolved around sports schedules, so I figured we’d maybe get something to eat in between drop-off’s and pick-up’s, but I did not anticipate my husband hooking us up with reservations at a restaurant I have been really wanting to check out.  It was an amazing experience:  it was one of those farm-to-table deals, I normally roll my eyes at that particular trend, but there has been so much good press that I wanted to see what it was all about.  The food really was noticeably different in the preparation (fresh as in, make sure you have some time to spend fresh), presentation (the choices were the most unusual I have ever experienced), and taste (Oh.  My.  God!).   It was such an intimate, unique, and satisfying experience, I still feel overwhelmed by how special I was made to feel.

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Complimentary, fresh-baked cookies brought with the check… just one of at least a half-dozen personal touches at this restaurant!

 

And I forgot to mention the gift the kids got me, to aid me in my fitness ventures (which I sorely need, after resting my ankle and celebrating with all that food):

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Note the pink color… it’s all in the details!

 

With the gift came this card made by my daughter:

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I know I’m the Mom, but do I have talented kids or what?!?

 

8 pm:  Coming home from the restaurant, my son had this surprise waiting for me:

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The number “45” written in rapidly melting whipped cream. My kids have a fixation on how old I am!

 

And another from my next-door neighbor, her sons baked this by themselves in their EZ Bake oven!

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9 pm:  Then I got to sit down, and read all the thoughtful birthday messages on Facebook from friends as young as grade school to neighbors I did not see face-to-face.  Say what you want about Facebook, the ability to connect with people, and just send a small uplifting message, is a really special thing, at least it made me feel really special and loved last night!

 

10: 30 pm:  The final gift of the night, and I’m sorry to be cagey here, but I can’t talk details until everything is officially sorted out:  a text regarding a complicated matter seems finally, after a very long time, to be coming to a favorable conclusion.  The fact that this information arrived on my birthday felt like a thumbs up from God himself, “Go ahead, have a great day, you deserve it!”  And of course, I did just that.

So that was my day, filled with special things, but made even more special by the conscious and present-minded appreciation of them, all throughout.  And none of that, absolutely none of it, would have been possible without the ultimate gift, on my birthday and every other day, of sobriety.

I am so very blessed.

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Today’s Miracle:

 Of course, all the miracles I just described, plus, and this can’t be overstated, transferring these pictures from my phone to my desk top computer is a miracle!

M(3), 11/10: You Don’t Have to Be Mangled to Be Merry

 

The past few weeks, my Monday morning meetings have been nothing that has lit my imagination on fire.  Not bad by any stretch, there truly is no such thing as a bad meeting, but nothing overly inspiring, which of course makes chronicling it difficult.

I am pleased to report, not so with today’s meeting!

It is the second Monday, so the literature rotation required me to select from Living Sober, the book that gives the practical, easy to read advice for those new to recovery.  There was no hesitation as I opened to the table of contents.  Since I feel we are at the opening of what I like to think of as Drinking Season (Thanksgiving Week through the next working day after New Year’s), I knew to look for a chapter that involved planning around drinking occasions.  And the book did not disappoint.  We read Chapter 26:  “Being Wary of Drinking Occasions.”

What happened at this morning is what I love most about meetings:  newcomers opening up and sharing their fears and worries about staying sober, experienced members sharing their wisdom, everyone leaving with feeling of enrichment and solidarity.  Fortuitously, we had the biggest turnout in weeks (15), and an almost perfect mix of sobriety: about a third with a year or less, a third somewhere between 1 and 10 years, and third with over 20 years.  This variety of experience really helps with a discussion like “how to handle drinking celebrations,” because the perspective on this subject changes over time (thankfully the perspective gets better and better!).

For myself, the biggest takeaway from the reading, and this was difficult to pick, there is A LOT of good advice in this chapter, was simply:  do not worry about anyone’s opinion of your decision to be sober, focus instead on the best decisions you can make to shore up that commitment.  In early sobriety, this lesson can be excruciatingly difficult to adopt, and examples of not doing it are many.  For example, in early sobriety, I was appalled at the suggestion that I skip a drinking function.  I mean, are you kidding?  I can’t skip that party, the whole family will be there!   What will they think if I don’t show up?

Tell people I don’t drink, no way I am going to tell people that…. what would they think of me?

If I don’t drink at the party, people will notice, and then what?

That list of rhetorical questions could go on and on, and I bought into every single one of them.  As a matter of fact, for a long time I lived in defiance of this good advice (you don’t understand my life, so don’t you tell me that I can just avoid drinking situations), and the predictable outcome happened:  I did not stay sober.

So, at least from this recovered person’s perspective, I validate the advice:  worry about yourself during the early stages of recovery.  Worry about one thing about yourself:  staying sober.  And, I’m sorry to say, avoid drinking situations as much as you possibly can.  It will not be the big deal you are imagining it will be, and, even if it is, the drama will be short-lived.

From my sharing, everyone else that shared had fantastic ideas on how to stay sober during holiday gatherings.  Here are just a few, some are reiterated from the book, but all are things these attendees regularly do:

  • Give someone a call before you are heading to the event, and then call them the next morning to debrief.  This piece of advice came from my friend with nearly 30 years of sobriety, she says she still does it.  It helps her to connect with friends in recovery, and, as she puts it, “Alcohol is stronger than my 30 years, and sometimes the emotional hangover is just as bad as a physical one, talking helps!”
  • Another friend, with almost the same amount of sobriety, is a professional with the occupational hazard of regular, mandatory attendance of drinking events.  His trick, employed for so long now that people say it for him, is to deflect:  someone asks him if he wants a drink, he declines politely and immediately starts talking about the upcoming menu, and his hopes for cocktail weenies.  He is now known for his love of them, and that is what they offer him, not a drink!
  • He also gave this great advice:  No is a complete sentence.  If someone asks you if you would like a drink, you are perfectly entitled to say, “No, thank you.”  There is positively no need for further explanation!
  • One attendee says he regularly takes the humorous tack:  someone asks him if he would like a drink, his answer is, “Oh no, you don’t have enough for me.”
  • Another person says she has a lot of success throwing out the “designated driver” card, she finds people instantly respond with understanding to that.
  • I added my two cents to this advice melange:  I am well-known in my circles for my love of fountain sodas (specifically Diet Pepsi in case you are interested).  My strategy, that I still employ to this day, is to arrive at the party with a fountain soda in my hand.  People already know I love it, and convenience stores are always available to assist me in this strategy.  It has been a great success:  no one asks you if you need a drink if you’ve already got one in your hand!
  • Two more reiterated pieces of advice:  showing up a bit on the later side, and definitely leaving on the earlier side, of a drinking event will save you lots of hassles when it comes to being asked what you are drinking and dealing with drunk people.  These are strategies that I continue to use with great success at drinking bashes (which, in my family, are all major holidays).
  • The bottom line with all these great bits of advice:  no matter which path you take, I promise you are thinking about it way, WAY more than anyone else at that social function.  Once you make the decision not to drink, people move on.  The vast majority of people do not care what beverage is in your glass!

So much more great advice was given, so many great questions asked, it would be hard to fit it all into one blog post.  But the best part of the meeting, that has me smiling still:  two of the five or so “newbies” have less than 90 days, and admitted to me that they are really struggling.  As one of them put it, “So many Day One’s, it’s hard to keep track!”  Oh boy, can I remember that feeling.  This is the kind of meeting that serves the newcomer the best, so I am over the moon that they were here to gain all of this wisdom.

Plus I am hoping to try that cocktail weenie strategy and see if it works!

I’d love to hear from all of you… any good holiday survival tips?

Today’s Miracle:

Like the klutz I am becoming in middle age, I sprained my ankle over the weekend.  I am walking so much better today, so the miracle is the appreciation of the ability to walk without a limp!

Clarity in Goal Setting

 

I have said this before, but I’m going to say it again:  at least from a goal-setting standpoint, sobriety is actually easier than a lot of other life-enhancing goals.  There is almost a wistfulness to looking back to the first few months sober (alright, not the first month, that was just plain awful):  I had one goal for my day:  stay sober.  I had a simple 4-point “to do” list that I believed would allow me to achieve this goal, and each night I went to bed satisfied that I achieved my goal.  And as it got easier, and things started getting done on top of staying sober, it felt like a heavenly chorus was playing, I felt so accomplished.

Other goals are not so simple.  We’ll take the obvious one:  diet and exercise.  Each day I wake up determined to make progress in the goal, but the bottom line is that the goal seems to be a fluid one.  Some days I think I just want to get to a certain weight, other days I want to stay within a caloric range, still others I want to eat healthfully.  With exercise, do I want to increase the overall number of steps each day, do I want to increase the amount of miles logged on the treadmill, or do I want to complete the regimen best for my overall health?  And God help us all if it is that last one, because the how’s and why’s to accomplish that makes my head spin.

Then there’s this little blog I’ve got going on.  Sometimes, when the monkey mind is working in overdrive, I will whine (to myself or to anyone who will listen) that I feel like I’ve said all there is to say.  Worse still, I will compare myself to other blogs and find mine wanting.  To which complaints my husband calmly replies, “What specifically are you looking to achieve?”  So is my goal to reach a certain pinnacle in terms of metrics?  Is it to win some kind of accolade?  Is it to provide a service to others?  If so, exactly who are the others:  the newly sober, my blogging friends who “grew up” with me, lurkers who are considering getting sober, or my family and friends who are actually my longest and most loyal readers?

So I read back and I think, “Welcome to the human race!”  And of course I realize this is mundane “life gets life-y” stuff that is, in fact, a blessing of sobriety.  In active addiction most of these things would take a back seat, if not a dark corner of the trunk, as I pursued my real goal:  altering myself chemically so I did not have to deal with anything at all.  But now that that party is over, I would like to come to a peaceful conclusion with some of these issues, and I am realizing that the solution lies in creating clarity in terms of my end game.

A recent example:  the first marking period just closed, and the biggest academic issue in our household was forgetfulness, the consequences of which were “0” scores that caused the overall grades to plummet from an “A” to an “F” within 24 hours several different times (there is a definite downside to having instant access to your children’s grades).  This would drive me wild, and no resulting conversation (yelling) seemed to correct the problem.  For the most part, the situations worked themselves out, but the internal angst I experienced as a parent was wildly disproportionate to the urgency I attempted to convey.

My husband and I are at cross-purposes on the solution.  He believes the answer is to micromanage:  she has proven she does not have the proper skills to manage her time, and therefore she needs someone to do it for her.  I say poppycock! She is in high school, I have given copious tutorials on how best to get homework done, she is at a point in her life where if she needs me standing over her as she does homework, then I have failed as a parent (you should be reading that last bit in a Beverly Goldberg tone of voice.  If you have not yet watched the sitcom The Goldberg’s, stop reading this, head to your television, and hit the On Demand button.  It will be worth it).

So today is Day One of the new marking period, and I had one more “discussion” on this subject with my daughter.  I explained the problem as I saw it (for what feels like the millionth time), but this time I defined the goals in a more specific way:  grades are to be no lower than a certain number, there are to be no more “missing” or “late icons” found on the website that gives grades.  The first time any of these objectives are missed, life outside of academic and athletic will come to a grinding halt (and, believe me, this threat is a big one for a high school freshman).

I’m not sure how effective this goal-setting clarification will play out for my daughter, but I’m telling you, it has played out wonderfully for me so far.  I feel lighter when it comes to this issue, because I have defined the goal, I have set the expectations, and I can manage the consequences.  I am genuinely hopeful that the first time one of these things appear (because I am, if nothing else, a realist with regard to my daughter’s academics), I will calmly employ the consequence without going ballistic.

I guess I just need to get some clarity in the other areas of my life where I’m feeling unsettled, and peace will once again reign all over my personal kingdom.

Today’s Miracle:

In my FedEx-imposed house arrest that lasted more than 6 hours (but only half of their preposterous 12-hour window), I managed to make a challenging to-do list, and get every bit of it done.  Thank you, FedEx (but not really).

 

 

M(3), 11/3: A Vision For You

 

I know I say this at the start of every month, but… I can’t believe it’s already November!

Today’s reading selection was the final chapter in Part I of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (aka The Big Book), entitled “A Vision for You.”  This chapter more or less encapsulates the entire 12-step program, and does so in a beautiful, profound, and energizing way; it is regularly regarded as the most inspirational chapter of the book.  The image above contains the last two powerful paragraphs of the chapter, I get goosebumps every time I read it!  And I am not alone, this same sentiment was shared by nearly every attendee this morning.  This chapter reinforces for those of us lucky enough to call ourselves members of this 12-step fellowship, why we go to meetings, why we work the 12 steps, and why we are always ready to help the next suffering alcoholic.  The answer is that by doing these simple things, we are given a life that exceeds our wildest dreams.

I selected this chapter because if aligns with the feelings I experienced as a result of some events from yesterday.  A friend asked me if I would join her at a meeting she attends; she thought I might enjoy it too.  I agreed, and it wasn’t until that morning, when I mapquested it, I discovered a personal significance:  it is the very first meeting I attended after I hit my alcoholic bottom.

When I realized it, I almost called and cancelled.  What possible good could come of reliving that horrific weekend?  I could just as easily attend another meeting with her later in the week.  However, remembering that my going may very well be helping my friend, and it would be pretty darn rude to cancel that late, I decided to thumb my nose at these feelings and soldier on.

The ride to the meeting was chock full of unpleasant memories, and landmarks of active addiction.  Walking in to the beautiful stone church which housed the meeting, I passed the area where, on that frigid Sunday in January, I smoked probably a half-dozen cigarettes, still in so much shock that I had no real appreciation for the complete mess my life had become.

These unpleasant thoughts are rolling around my head as the meeting starts and the chairperson announces that the format is something called the “ask it basket.”  She explains that as this is a newcomer’s women’s meeting (both of which are facts that escaped me 3 years ago), they offer this format as an opportunity to ask questions in an anonymous way, and see how other women are handling/have handled said situation.  This turns my mood around quickly; this is a new format for me, and I’m always one to be captivated by shiny, new objects.

There were a bunch of really interesting questions, but the one that enchanted me, and the one I chose to use as the springboard for my sharing, was:

Why do we have to go to so many meetings?

I love this question, because it is absolutely one I was asking on a regular basis when I dragged my hours-sober-self into this very meeting!  I explained to the group the circumstances of my last encounter with this meeting, and how for the 8 or 9 months prior to it I had been attending meetings, but was anything but a true member of the fellowship.  Up to that point, I attended meetings because I was satisfying somebody else’s idea of how to get sober.

And on that day, I’m fairly certain I left the meeting the same way I entered it… shattered, heartsick, terrified.  But that night, praying to God in a way I hadn’t before, I considered those kind women who took time out of the meeting to show me some helpful sections of the Big Book, sections that are important to my sobriety even today.  I considered those women and realized they go to meetings because they want to, not because someone else wants them to.  They go even though they have years, some even decades, of sobriety.  Those women seemed happy and peaceful in a way that my brain could not begin to comprehend.

And on that night, I resolved to go to a meeting every day, and pray like crazy that I could get what those women have.  Failing that, I prayed that the obsession to drink and use drugs would be lifted.

That day, almost 3 years ago, I was awoken to my husband telling me to pack my bags, he was taking me to my Mom’s, he did not want me around him or the children anymore.  I arrived like the unwelcome surprise that I was on my Mom’s doorstep, and was met with horrified disbelief that I would be taking up residence there.  I was taken to the meeting, and I could feel the disappointment from my sponsor.  I left that meeting to go start my new life without my husband and children.

Yesterday, I woke up, gloriously refreshed due to the extra hour of sleep permitted.  I sat with my husband enjoying our morning coffee, and we watched our favorite Sunday morning program.  I drove myself to the meeting to spend time with my friend.  I went home, picked up my son, and together we celebrated a successful cross-country season with his team mates.  We returned home to get organized for the week ahead while my husband put the finishing touches on his world-famous chili, served in bread bowls that he picked up at the bakery while I was at the meeting.  We sat down as a family to devour the feast, then cleaned up and quietly ended our weekend in the family room in front of the fire.

It may seem counterintuitive to remind ourselves of our painful past mistakes and horrors, but, for me anyway, it keeps my blessings fresh, and reminds me of the progress and growth I’ve made.  It is absolutely worth it.

Today’s Miracle:

Two newcomers to my meeting today, and three anniversaries celebrated (3 years, 5 months, and 4 months).  In a group this small (13 people), that is amazing!

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