Monthly Archives: December 2014

M(3), 12/29: Acceptance Does Not Mean Approval

Happy holidays to all!  Although I’m still in the active throes of holiday madness, and will be dashing off to another celebration momentarily, I wanted to write about all the wonderful insights gleaned from this morning’s meeting.

It was a larger crowd than I expected, and we had two brand-new to the meeting, one from out-of-state and six months of sobriety under his belt, and one just looking to try a new meeting, with several decades of sobriety under his belt.  Plus we had two people who used to be regulars show up because of the holiday schedule, and we once again had a pretty full house.  Meeting newcomers and reconnecting with old friends alone would have made this morning meaningful, but, as always, the shared experiences of the group give me so much more than I ever bargain for.

Today’s reading came from an older issue of Grapevine:  AA’s Meeting In Print, and the central topic of the article was the benefits of practicing acceptance in your life.  I shared that it is only in recovery that I even grasped acceptance as something desirable.  Pre-recovery, I was Billy Joel’s proverbial Angry Young Man, and I truly believed that my righteous anger was an admirable quality.  Slowly, with the help of the 12-step principles and lots of advice from friends in my 12-step program, I learned that my anger at slights, perceived or real, my indignation when things didn’t go the way I believed things should go, was doing nothing more than causing me needless discomfort.  Practicing acceptance with things out of my control is the equivalent to putting down a boulder I’d been carrying for most of my life.

The next several people who shared talked about the idea that accepting a situation does not mean you approve of it, only that you acknowledge it is not in your power to correct.  When someone is behaving badly, you can accept that behavior without condoning it.  I had referenced a situation I experienced lately that spoke directly to this issue… I felt that acceptance could be interpreted as approval, and I was genuinely unsure of the next right steps.  The advice I received made me want to smack myself upside the head:  pray the serenity prayer, because there are two more important points after accepting that which you cannot change, there is also courage to change what you can, and, perhaps most important, wisdom to know the difference.  It seems I forgot to use some pretty basic tools!

A woman, and regular attendee of the meeting, shared that after a long painful battle, her dog and faithful companion of more than 13 years, lost his battle with his illness yesterday.  Although she knew his time was coming, she is still struggling with the loss, and she shared about the steps she was taking to compensate for it.  She’s staying at her daughter’s house, she is reaching out to friends in out 12-step program, she is increasing her meeting attendance, and she’s sharing about what she’s feeling.  She reminds herself regularly that drinking will not make the loss any less painful, but it will throw away 3 hard-fought years of sobriety.

From there one of the newcomers, the one with decades of sobriety, shared, and his story actually took my breath away.  He talked about acceptance in terms of loss, because he experienced a very painful one.  Ninety days prior, his 40-year old daughter committed suicide.  The daughter, and his granddaughter, lived with him, and he said the change this loss has brought to his life is overwhelming.  Rather than driving a wedge between him and his Higher Power, he reports that he has experienced miraculous things in the past 90 days, things which convince him that his prayers are being heard.

The out-of-towner with only 6 months talked about practicing acceptance in terms of having the disease of alcoholism, that once he accepted that he had this disease, the solution for dealing with it became so much simpler, and his understanding of why he drank became clearer.

Finally, a gentleman shared his analogy of acceptance, and figuring out what he can change and what he can’t.  The weather, he explains is out of his control.  However, his reaction to the weather, is completely within his control:  he can carry an umbrella, wear a coat when it’s cold, where short sleeves when it’s warm.  In a similar manner, while he cannot control that he has the disease of alcoholism, he can control how he deals with it:  he can attend meetings, avoid people, places and things that trigger him to drink, and he can cultivate a relationship with a Higher Power.  Putting the focus on the things he can control makes the practice of acceptance much easier for him.

And since I cannot control the start time of the next celebration, or how long it takes to drive there, I will control what is in my power, and end this post!

Today’s Miracle:

The privilege of hearing the powerful stories shared at today’s meeting is a miracle I will be carrying with me for some time.

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M(3), 12/22: The End of the End

 

Today’s meeting, which started out woefully small but wound up with 12 attendees by the end, focused on the second half of step 12 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  In case you are not following along with this series of posts, step 12 is:

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.

The section of the chapter we read today focused most on the third prong of this step, and that is taking the principles learned within the 12-step program, and applying those principles to all other aspects of our lives:  our marriages, our careers, our financial affairs, even (especially) our self-image.

I know I have written this ad nauseam, but I’ll write it again anyway:  there’s not a problem in my life that the 12-step principles can’t ameliorate, if not actually solve.  From the simplicity of practicing acceptance and taking life one day at a time, to the more intensive work of personal inventory and making amends, practicing the 12 steps improves my entire life, not just helps me to abstain from altering myself chemically.  A strong statement, but so far for this recovering alcoholic, a true one.

The rest of the group focused on the blessings that working the 12 steps has brought to their lives.  Some of the highlights:

  • The end of our self-imposed isolation
  • Being comfortable in our own skin
  • A greater appreciation for family and friends
  • The development of a whole new set of friends
  • A greater maturity and wisdom
  • The joy received from being of service to others
  • A sense of accomplishment (this fellow joked that receiving the one year coin at an AA meeting is the equivalent to receiving an Oscar)
  • The serenity that comes with knowing that whatever is happening, “this too shall pass”
  • The comfort that only comes from the trust in a power greater than oneself
  • The certainty that this Higher Power is a benevolent omnipresence in our lives
  • The absolute faith that everything happens for a reason, and that our job is simply to trust our Higher Power, clean up our side of the street and do the next right thing

A joyous and hope-filled meeting to start the holiday week off right.  Hope yours is off to as wonderful a start!

Today’s Miracle:

Finishing up this post, then off to cookie making, and preparing the cookie decorating assembly line for when the kids get home.  From someone who, a few short years ago, could not successfully bake the heat and eat varieties, homemade roll-out cookies topped with homemade royal icing is a miracle!  Here are some of the “naked” first batch:

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Is Comparing Yourself to Others Always a Bad Thing?

Let me answer the question my title poses:  I don’t think so.

I learned early on in my recovery two similar phrases that have served me well:

1.  Compare self to self, not self to others

2.  Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides

Overall sage advice, and it can be especially relevant this time of year, when there is an endless to do list, followed by a scroll down Facebook lane to see all the things “others” have done that you have not.  It was a true revelation to me when it was pointed out that what people are presenting to the world is not necessarily what they are living, and that knowledge assisted me a great deal in letting go of the worry of what other people may (or may not) be thinking of me.

The corollary of comparing self to self is that you are seeking self-improvement in a continuous way; you are able to not only look at what needs improvement, but also celebrate that which has been improved.  All in all, an incredibly useful tool.

Sometimes, though, and maybe this is so obvious that it is almost silly to be writing down, sometimes it is necessary to compare myself to others, at least that’s the lesson I’m coming to learn.

Here’s an example:  last weekend, I was in New York for an annual get-together with my husband and friend.  As we typically do, my husband and I take my friend’s bedroom; my friend sleeps in his living room.  It is, as most in Manhattan are, a small apartment, and as such it is important to have respectful awareness of the people around you.

So we go to bed on the later side, and within 30 minutes I am awoken by a vaguely familiar feeling of discomfort, followed with lightning quick speed by a feeling of panic, and I shoot upright in bed.  My heart is pounding, and I am fighting the urge to want to jump up and create more space for myself.

In other words, I think I had a panic attack.

I say I think because, frankly, I do not feel remotely qualified to diagnosis myself with these types of illnesses.  I am, blessedly, free of disorders such as anxiety, or, for that matter, depression, so I’m not really even sure I know for certain what a panic attack looks or feels like.

Semantics aside, I am fighting to get a grip, and it occurs to me that it would not be disrespectful if I had to get up and use the bathroom.  So I did, and the ritual of doing so calmed me down.

For about 10 minutes.

After 3 trips to the bathroom, and worrying all the while that I am disturbing both my husband and my friend (and, to a lesser extent, the people who live below us), I sit up and try to take some calming breaths.

Now I know that sitting up will eventually call attention to myself (the bed is small, so anyone sharing the bed will eventually feel the difference between a prone person and an upright one), and soon it will be truth time:  do I tell my husband what’s really going on, or I just gloss it over with a half-truth (I’m uncomfortable/I can’t sleep/I’m not feeling well)?

There is a reason this decision is a difficult one:  the only other time I have experienced this anxious feeling was as a direct consequence of my active addiction.  So now not only am I panicking because of an apparent panic attack, now I’m panicking at the thought of alarming my husband about the status of my sobriety.  Seriously, sometimes it is tough to live in this head.

Of course, my program of recovery forced me to tell the truth, and, as usual, the truth did set me free.  Somehow, talking through the symptoms I was experiencing, and really just the simple admission, “I feel anxious, and I feel anxious that I feel anxious,” had a calming effect, and after a time I was able to fall back to sleep.

But what’s been dogging me in the days since is the wondering… why?  Why did that happen?  Was it a sign?  The only other time this has happened to me was when I was chemically altered, so why would it happen without the aid of chemicals?

I have a tendency towards claustrophobia (again, I hedge on using this term, it is completely self-diagnosed), and so when I am in crowded spaces I get those panicky feelings, and, if severe enough, I am compelled to find more space for myself.  One example is when I’m in the middle of a bed between two people, sometimes it gets bad enough that I feel like I’m almost propelled out of that space by some internal force.  That being said, I at least have some understanding of root causes.  Being woken up by it seems extreme, and random, and scary.  I do not feel stressed, there is nothing in particular on my mind, my sobriety is strong, and I am not at odds with anyone in my life.  So back to why, why, WHY?

This circles around to my original question, and my answer should be obvious:  sometimes comparing yourself to others is a good thing.  Because when I look at that incident, and compare it to stories I have read on various blogs, heard from friends and family who suffer from diagnosed anxiety, and even read about in magazines and books, I realize that I am not unique, and I am not, as Monica Lewinsky would say, patient zero with panic attacks.

And knowing that allows me to take a deep breath, and let go of the vicious circle of unanswered questions.

Today’s Miracle:

Heading out to see my three-year-old nephew in his first pre-school theatrical performance,  a sure-fire way to get into the holiday spirit!

M(3), 12/15: The Beginning of the End

Today’s reading in the literature rotation for my Monday morning meeting was the first half of step 12 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  Step 12, the final piece of the 12-step program’s puzzle, is:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the results of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

Of all the steps, twelve is the longest in terms of reading, mainly because it has three “sub-points” that lie within it:

1.  Defining a spiritual awakening, and describing what it looks like

2.  Discussing the various and sundry ways in which to carry the message

3.  Identifying the various parts of our lives in which the 12-step principles can be practiced

The sharing from today’s half-chapter focused quite a bit on the spiritual angle of the 12-step program, and the benefits the conscious contact with a Higher Power brings to daily life.  We had a pretty decent mix of spirituality in the meeting this morning:  some find it almost childish to pray to a Higher Power, some consider themselves alternatively spiritual rather than the more classical definition that involves organized religion, and then we have a professional clergyman in our group.

And although every person who shared defined their Higher Power differently, had different interpretations of the term “spiritual awakening,” and had different manifestations of spirituality in their daily lives, all agreed upon this premise:  the spiritual component of their recovery not only helped them to get and to stay sober, it enriched their lives in ways they couldn’t have possibly imagined.

For me, step 12 is the one that has been the most transformative, and is the one I reference most in my daily life, so a step 12 meeting is always one I enjoy.  But today’s meeting had a special element about which I will share.  First, however, I need to lay some groundwork:

This past weekend, which I will write more about in a different post, my husband and I had a delightful “adults only” trip to New York City, where we stayed with one of our best friends in the world.  More on the weekend later, but there was one miniscule moment, where through the course of dropping items in the subway station (yuck), I reached in to the pocket of my very old jeans and discovered a hole.

Which then led me down the rabbit hole of a memory from active addiction that included that same hole in the pocket of those same jeans.

In the immediate moment, I was able to shake it off by practicing mindfulness:  getting out of my own head and being present in my current circumstances.

On the drive home, however, the debilitating thoughts came back, and I knew the best course of action was to talk about them, to shine some light on the memory in order to dispel it.  However, the only available resource was my husband, and my general policy with this type of issue is to avoid burdening him with these thoughts.  After all, my bad memories are usually his too, and it is not right to create a memory burden for him in the interest of unburdening myself.

On the other hand, I know he appreciates when I am open with what is on my mind.  Back and forth the volley went in my head, and I finally decided to proceed in sharing my inner turmoil.

He did not appear troubled; in fact, he expressed gratitude in my trusting him with these thoughts.  When I asked if my reliving this particular experience bothered him, he replied that it made him grateful for the progress that has been made in the years since.

All positives all the way around, because I was able to shake the malaise, although in the back of my mind I did marvel at this ability to compare then and now and feel the difference.  I concluded that because I was the centerpiece, I am too close to it to have that particular viewpoint.

Short story long, today’s reading includes the following passage:

When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone.  He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being.  He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead-end, not something to be endured or mastered.

-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 107

Honestly, even while we read it, nothing really hit me about this section, until a friend re-read it and shared what it meant to him.  And then, like a thunderbolt, I had a memory from active addiction, where I consciously thought about life as something to be endured until I was able to alter myself chemically.  The meaning of life, while in active addiction, was to hang on until the next time I could drink or ingest something to make it livable.

And the difference between how I lived life then, and how I live life now, was so startling, and so crystal clear, that tears came to my eyes.  And in sharing this bittersweet realization with the group, I felt the full power of step twelve in my life.

Love those full-circle moments!

Today’s Miracle:

Two weeks ago the regular attendees of the meeting decided to throw together a “causal luncheon” for after the meeting.  The “causal luncheon” turned into a feast with homemade lasagna, cakes and cookies, and much more… how lucky am I to know these amazing chefs and bakers?

Parents Who Fear Losing the Holiday Magic as Children Grow Older: Take Heart

As I continued along the wrapping process this week, I had time galore to reflect upon the holiday season, and here’s what I’ve come to realize:  I am in the Golden Age of Holiday Parenting.  Sure, watching the kids’ excitement over the upcoming arrival of Santa is wonderful, and seeing their eyes pop out of their head as they barrel down the steps Christmas morning is something to behold.

I think back on those times, and I smile at the memory.

But this year, my kids are 14 and 12, and any illusion of Santa and reindeer landing on the roof is gone.  And I’m thinking that would make a lot of parents very wistful.

Me?  I’m over the moon!  This is exactly where I want to be with children and Christmas, and I will give you all the wonderful reasons I am enjoying this holiday season:

1.  Extra hands to help decorate

Not only have I cut my lugging of decorations up and down the stairs in half, but I also have consultations on what decoration would look best in which location.  I love their input!

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Very high shelves designed by my daughter

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The Snow Baby display (or, as my sister calls it, The Dust Collector’s Display, painstakingly unwrapped and arranged by my son

2.  Taking on new challenges

As much as I love my husband, he is a bit Scrooge-y (if that’s not a word, it should be) when it comes to certain aspects of the holiday season, in particular, outdoor lights.  So this year, I thought, “I’ve got two able-bodies kids that I can enlist,” and guess what?  We couldn’t be prouder of ourselves.  Of course, my mechanical-minded father-in-law did ask me if I would be offended if he went around and taped up all the exposed electrical thingies, but still and all, I think we did a fabulous job!

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I’m not sure this picture appropriately displays the majesty that is our electrical masterpiece!

3.  Appreciation of my holiday baking

They are at an age where they can truly appreciate when I am taking out the stand mixer versus throwing some Chips Ahoy on a plate.  Validation is good for this baker’s soul!

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It’s early days for baking, but this was attempt #1: something called a million dollar shortbread bar, chocolate on top, shortbread on the bottom, and some heavenly concoction in between. Very messy, though.

4.  Understanding the depreciation of the pile under the tree

The last couple of years have been tough, they want certain things, but were still to young to appreciate that pricier things = less gifts.  This year, they totally get it, because…

5.  They can communicate exactly what they want

This makes up for the missing wondrous amazement… being able to provide the exact sneaker that my son wanted, or the particular brand of clothes that my daughter has been coveting.

6.  Coming out of the dark

Not having to squirrel away in my dirty, dank messy basement for hours on end wrapping so that the kids don’t see gifts is a thing of the past.  I now get to wrap in front of a fireplace, or at my kitchen counter, or anywhere I want!

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One corner of the dining room

7.  No stress with ruining the surprise

I remember one year almost having a heart attack because my son was spooking around the basement.  I do not miss all the covert operations, that’s for sure (and clearly, I was never as good as Sherry was!)

8.  Going to bed each night of this season peacefully, rather than waking up at 3 am in terror…. DID I MOVE THE ELF???

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Back in the box, Elf

 

9.  They are still young enough to appreciate the classics

Even though they don’t believe in certain elements the same as they did at a younger age, they still get into the spirit of most of the things I do love… the childhood movies (The Year Without a Santa Claus is our all-time favorite), putting up the Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set (and, believe it or not, they will still play with it for a few days after it comes out!), putting up an ornament on each day of the Advent calendar.  It’s like the best of both worlds!

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Our Nativity set

 

10.  Not having to stay up until 4 am assembling crap

11.  Not having to wake up at the crack of dawn after staying up until 4 am assembling crap

12.  Still putting out the cookies and carrots, just because it is tradition

I hope you are enjoying this holiday season and the “best of” whatever ages your children, or pets, or nieces/nephews, or friends are this year!

 

Today’s Miracle:

That I’ve even started the wrapping process, or, for that matter, had present to wrap, this early in December, is a miracle!  Where did the Queen of Procrastination go?

M(3), 12/8: Tweak Your Routine, Transform Your Life

 

The reading selection I used in today’s meeting can be found in the book Living Sober.  We read chapter 8:  Changing Old Routines.  The chapter gives a whole slew of tips designed to help the newly sober avoid the people, places and things that may trigger a desire to drink.  Some of the tips include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Drive a new route to and/or from work in order to avoid a beloved drinking establishment
  • Shift shopping times, shopping places, and shake up your typical daily to-do list
  • Avoid, in the short-term, regular “drinking buddies”
  • Create a new after-work routine:  brew some tea or coffee, change your clothes, head out for a walk or some exercise
  • If drinking in front of the television at night was your thing, switch rooms, switch activities, or both
  • Change brands of toothpaste and mouthwash for a fresh new way to start the day
  • Begin each day differently, either with a morning mediation, a prayer, or just some quiet time, to start the day as peacefully as possible
  • Plan vacations and holidays around non-drinking activities

There were many more easy suggestions, I encourage anyone just starting out in sobriety to give this chapter, the whole book really, a read.  It contains a lot of really practical and easy-to-follow tidbits to make the early days more bearable.

The fairly large group (14 in all) of attendees agreed upon the usefulness of this chapter.  One friend said her drinking was primarily done at home, after work, and therefore it was difficult to change up certain aspects of her evening routine.  She still needed to come home from work, she still needed to feed and care for her child, and she still needed to live at home.  So her solution to the “walking in the door and wanting a drink immediately” routine was to create a desirable, fancy, adult beverage, and she prepares that as soon as she walks in the door after work.  She actually makes a ritual out of it:  a tonic and lime with lots of fresh lime juice and ice served in a specially purchased glass that does not resemble the wine glass that previously held her after-work drinks.

For the meeting attendees who drank mostly in bars and clubs, their challenge was to find a suitable substitute for their evening entertainment.  Most agreed that in the short-term, finding a 12-step meeting during those times is a great help distraction from thoughts of drinking, as well as an opportunity to make connections with a sober support network.  From there, several have gone on to find all sorts of fun, sober activities that engaged and energized them.

A couple of people spoke of the difficulty in staying sober while boating with drinking friends.  I almost giggled when the first person brought up this issue, because it seemed oddly specific (we do not live in or around water, so we’re not really a boating community).  Then when two more people spoke of this experience, I realized that boating and drinking is more of a thing than I knew (and I also realized that none of my friends have boats)!  In any event, when you’re on a boating trip with a group of drinkers, the challenge is creating your own space, since you have very limited options.  The attendee that owns a boat simply chooses to invite sober-minded people, friends who accept invitations to boating parties with alcohol choose to engage in the activities that boats provide, such as swimming and fishing, thus distracting them from the alcohol consumption around them.

I think changing up your routine helps a lot during the holiday season as well.  While attending parties with alcohol, instead of gravitating towards the drinking crew, choose instead to hang out with the non-drinkers.  I remember the first time I employed this strategy, I was astonished by how much fun I had!  If you usually associate a holiday tradition with drinking, such as baking cookies or decorating the tree, consider skipping and/or delegating those events this year.  It’s only one holiday, there will be plenty more, it’s always best to put sobriety first.

Two different attendees with long-term sobriety (more than 25 years) were astounded by how much this chapter still speaks to them, even with issues other than sobriety.  Nothing changes if nothing changes, so the reminder to examine your routine and change what’s not working is valuable advice to us all.

Today’s Miracle:

My overwhelming gratitude for the incredible support I received as  a guest on The Bubble Hour.  Your encouragement and kind words means more than I could possibly say.  A special thank you to Jean at Unpickled for making me feel at home on the air!

Multitasking: 5 Recovery Tools That Also Fix Holiday Stress

This is the time of year that we talk a lot about how to handle holiday celebrations sober (I will be doing just that on The Bubble Hour in a few short days!), but I think just as important is to talk about managing the daily stress that comes along with the holidays.  Holiday shopping, decorating, baking, and increased family interactions all conspire to make that glass of wine at the company holiday party/cookie exchange/family gathering look extra inviting.  So what can we do to manage the extra work and emotional holiday load?  I have found that many of the skills I acquired through recovery from alcoholism serve me wonderfully in dealing with holiday stress:

1.  One Day At a Time

In early sobriety I could emotionally derail myself with thoughts like, “Am I really not going to drink for the rest of my life?”  The anxiety over that question would quickly escalate and soon I would be in a funk that took a Herculean effort to resolve.  Until I learned to stop that question, and ask a different one:  “Can I manage not to drink for the rest of the day?”  The panic dissolved when I learned to ask that question instead.

Often in these stressful holiday times, we will be chugging along, and some wrinkle pops up and disrupts our day:  we remember a gift that needed to be ordered three days ago, we realize we double-booked ourselves, an item for which we’re shopping is sold out.  Once that happens, the wheels have a tendency to fall off the wagon, and suddenly all is lost.  We will never get everything done in time!  This is all too much!  What’s the use?

One day at a time works quite nicely in these situations.  Take a calming breath, remember that the past is done, and tomorrow’s not here yet, so what can we do, right now, to help alleviate the current stress?  If you can’t do something until tomorrow, then put it aside until tomorrow.  If the stress is angst over something in the past, leave it in the past, where it belongs.  Staying in the present moment has a miraculous way of relieving stress.

2.  Acting “As If”

There was a point in my recovery that I resented both praying and 12-step meetings.  At the same time, I knew I had to give both an honest try to get serious in recovery.  That’s when I learned this tool:  act as if you are a devoted meeting attendee, act as if getting down on your knees and praying is something that comes naturally to you.  So I did, and it was incredibly awkward… at first.  Over time, it became not only easy, but I got it, and gained much more than I could have ever hoped for.

So you’ve got a family function that you are dreading with every fiber of your being?  Do you want to be a part of the holiday spirit, but every annoying little thing in life is dragging you down?  Act as if… you want to be celebrating, you are into the holiday spirit, you have the patience of a saint.  Whatever it is you wish you were, act as if you are already there.  Which brings the corollary tool:

3.  Fake It ’til You Make It

This tool comes in supremely handy while parenting excited children throughout this season.  How often do I find myself wanting to bite their precious heads off, when all they want to do is add another item to the Christmas list?  Just like tool #2, fake the excitement, and, before too long, it won’t be fake (or, with this example, they will at least go to bed at some point!)

4.  People, Places and Things

One of the first things you learn in recovery circles is to avoid people, places and things that you associate with drinking.  If frequenting a certain restaurant harkens memories of the “good ol’ days,” then the solution is simple, do not visit that restaurant.

Likewise, if you review your history, there are surely patterns in your past holidays that you can observe, and avoid repeating.  If you know that each year you visit the Mall Santa the week before Christmas, and everyone has a meltdown due to the long lines, then either pick an off time, or find a different tradition that everyone enjoys.  If shopping crowds fill you with terror, commit to online shopping.  The key with this two is to take the time for some introspection, pick out the pitfalls, and make the plans to avoid them this year.

5.  H.A.L.T.

For those unfamiliar with the acronym, H.A.L.T. stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired.  People in recovery are cautioned strongly to avoid reaching any of these emotional states, for they trigger us into falling into old patterns.

Realistically, nothing positive comes out of any of these states for anybody at all, but the chances of negative consequences to being hungry, angry, lonely or tired go up quite a bit during the holiday season.  Staying up all night getting the cookies baked might mark one thing off your checklist, but then when you’re falling asleep at work, or screaming at your husband because you’re exhausted, you will create a whole new set of issues for yourself.  Make sure that you’re eating regularly, getting as much sleep as you can, and dealing with emotional issues in the moment, so that you’re not dealing with huge issues later.

Please share your own tips:  which recovery lessons help you stay sane during the holidays?

Today’s Miracle:

Thanks to all of these tools, I am uncharacteristically ahead of the Christmas shopping and decorating game, it’s unheard of for me to be almost done shopping in early December!

M(3), 12/1: The Keys to the Kingdom

Holy mackerel it’s December!!!  I bet if I look back, I write something like this every month, but still… it’s December!

Being that it is the first Monday of the month, today’s reading selection came from the book Alcoholics Anonymous.  The personal story is called “The Keys to the Kingdom,” and was written by Sylvia K., who was instrumental in bringing AA to the Chicago area.  Although written 75 years ago, Sylvia’s story of active addiction is as relatable today as any you would hear in the blogosphere, in the rooms of a 12-step meeting, or in a rehab:

…through a long and calamitous series of shattering experiences, I found myself being helplessly propelled toward total destruction. I was without power to change the course my life had taken. How I had arrived at this tragic impasse I could not have explained to anyone. I was thirty-three years old and my life was spent. I was caught in a cycle of alcohol and sedation that was proving inescapable…

-pg. 304, Alcoholics Anonymous

Sylvia’s path mercifully led her to the founders of AA, and from there her life changed dramatically:

It has been so many years since I had not relied on some artificial crutch, either alcohol or sedatives. Letting go of everything at once was both painful and terrifying. I could never have accomplished this alone. It took the help, understanding and wonderful companionship that was given so freely to me by my “ex-alkie” friends. This and the program of recovery embodied in the Twelve Steps. In learning to practice these steps in my daily living I began to acquire faith and a philosophy to live by. Whole new vistas were opened up for me, new avenues of experience to be explored, and life began to take on color and interest. In time, I found myself looking forward to each new day with pleasurable anticipation.

-pg. 310-311, Alcoholics Anonymous

An incredible message of hope, Sylvia’s story is one I would recommend reading.

Two messages stood out for me personally while reading today’s story.  The first was Sylvia’s personal physician who never gave up on her, and eventually led her to the founders of the AA program.  Without this man’s perseverance and guidance, Sylvia would not have had the introduction into this new and incredibly improved way of life.

Education about alcoholism and recovery have come a long way since Sylvia’s story, and we are blessed to have many resources at our disposal when we seek to find an answer to our addiction.   But there are still those angels in our lives that help us along the way.

I remember once, the summer before I hit bottom, I was attending a 12-step meeting, but was still deep in the throes of active addiction.  A woman who I recognized but did not know personally, came up to me and told me a story about herself which, at the time, seemed almost strange:  why is she telling me this?  The details of the story are unimportant, but two things stuck with me.  First, her challenges in sobriety so closely matched mine that I was amazed.  Up to that point, I had yet to find someone “just like me,” and I believe that feeling of “terminal uniqueness” kept me in the rut of active addiction.   Second, this woman had more than 5 years of sober time.  So, again, eye-opening:  here is someone just like me who is managing to stay sober.  It took several months more, and several more “angels,” but that moment represented a turning point in my thinking.

The second message that jumped out at me in Sylvia’s story was her belief that recovery is an ongoing process:

A.A. is not a plan for recovery that can be finished and done with. It is a way of life, and the challenge contained in its principles is great enough to keep any human being striving for as long as he lives. We do not, cannot, out-grow this plan. As arrested alcoholics, we must have a program for living that allows for limitless expansion. Keeping one foot in front of the other is essential for maintaining our arrestment. Others may idle in a retrogressive groove without too much danger, but retrogression can spell death for us. However, this isn’t as rough as it sounds, as we do become grateful for the necessity that makes us toe the line, for we find that we are more than compensated for a consistent effort by the countless dividends we receive.

-pg. 311, Alcoholics Anonymous

Sylvia writes it better than I ever could:  recovery is an ongoing, limitless, boundless journey.  There is no graduation, and no ceiling on the joy it brings!

I also asked for help from the very large group (we had 16 attendees today!) in an upcoming project of mine.  I asked them to share their best strategies for staying sober through the holiday season.  Some are tried and true, some really surprised me, but all were great tips.  There are so many that I will be compiling them into a separate post.  You can’t have enough tools in your sobriety toolbox!

Some other points shared by the group:

  • Recovery is a “we” program, not a “me” program:  whether you choose a 12-step program, reading and connecting with bloggers, or some other way, sobriety is so much easier with the support of like-minded people.
  • Alcoholic triggers do not have to be alcohol:  a friend just came home from a vacation with a large group of people.  None drank, but my friend’s anticipation of having to deal with alcohol gave her drunk dreams 3 nights in a row.  She has been sober for decades!  The message is clear:  alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful, and it is important to stay vigilant.
  • Keeping sobriety first despite holiday stress:  a friend found herself surviving Thanksgiving with a bit of white-knuckling.  She had plans to do something else this morning, and it finally dawned on her:  she needs to put sobriety first because of holiday stress, or the holiday stress will do her in!  She cancelled her appointment and instead came to the meeting.

I’m hopeful everyone had a joyful Thanksgiving (well, I hope my American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I hope my international friends had a wonderful November 27th!).  For those choosing sobriety, I hope you found success in this endeavor, and enjoyed yourself while doing so.  More to follow on holiday survival strategies!

Today’s Miracle:

Today I agreed to speak on The Bubble Hour, an internet talk show about recovery from alcoholism and addiction.  We will be discussing sober survival strategies for the holiday season this Sunday, December 7th, at 9 pm EST.  I’m not sure which part is the miracle, being asked to participate, agreeing to participate, or both, but I’m pretty sure there is a miracle in there somewhere!  Here is the link if you are interested in finding out more information:

http://www.thebubblehour.com/

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