Monthly Archives: January 2015
Guest Post: My Wife Josie is 3 Years Sober Today
For almost 3 years you’ve gotten to know Josie by reading her blog. The blogging relationships she has developed have been of great assistance to her and her life. But it’s about time that you get to know the Josie I know. It’s about time that you hear stories from another point of view. It’s about time you see my wife Josie through my eyes and my heart…
In the winter of 1994, while in college I tagged along to a Residence Life staff dinner at my college. At that time my then girlfriend was part of this group as were many friends that I came to know. When the event was over a few people stayed behind to clean up. This was spearheaded by the Residence Life Coordinator, Josie. The clean-up took place in her apartment attached to one of the residence halls. A discussion broke out about the perfect scenario for having children. How many? What sex? And when to keep going and when to stop in order to have the perfect mix of girls and boys. In this discussion there were only two people who agreed with each scenario, and it wasn’t me and my then girlfriend. There was something about that discussion and something so powerful about that moment that I left that evening and said to myself, I am going to marry Josie. That was the moment when I knew she was the one.
Two years later, after our friendship grew, my break-up with another and many other variables, we began dating. Yesterday marked 19 years that we’ve been together.
During our 15+ years of marriage Josie and I have moved multiple times, experienced the birth of not one but two premature children, went through promotions and layoffs, the death of loved ones and the coming and going of friends and family. During these years we have become quite accustomed to each other’s positive and not so positive attributes. Yet through it all, one thing had always remained a constant…Josie and me.
Like many married couples I know, some things are said that have more meaning than others. For me, I’ve told Josie that I would not and could not ever cheat on her. No one, even her, understands how adamant I am about that statement. For Josie, she once told a financial planner who was working with us, when asked how you would describe your life, “We’re living the dream.” And then there was the conversation we had one day about the purpose of our lives. Josie defined hers by the roles she played in life. I told her, and I still believe it, that I was here for something greater than me. I told her that it involved her. I believed that my purpose was to help her achieve something greater than both of us. Yet my most personal and momentous conversation came when I revealed to her my greatest fear in life. I told her that I feared being a father to two children without her as their mother. Listen, I am good Dad, but certainly not great. What Josie does for our two children, that’s what makes the world go around. She is a mother that will go to any length for our children. She is their rock. Without her I don’t know how I would be able to do it, or how they’d be able to go day-to-day in their own lives.
Then on January 27th, 2012 I chose my greatest fear. I told Josie she could no longer live in our home. She had become a detriment to herself and a danger to our children. I told her she had to go.
I can picture that day like a movie in my head. I know where I was when I told the most immediate members of my family about what had transpired. I don’t think I cried to anyone, I just think I did what had to be done.
The next evening we sat down with the children and explained that Mommy was sick and had to live with Mom Mom. We told them what we thought was the best for them at that time. They each took the news and questioned it differently. We had two children who knew as much as we did about our future as a family. They cried. Josie cried. And reluctant acceptance was had by all.
Josie would come to see the children almost every day with the supervision of her Mom. We were fortunate. Between Josie’s Mom taking her in and driving with her to and from our house each day, she was a life saver upon which many things would never had been able to happen. My sister would take our son, every morning after I got our daughter off to school, so I could get to work. My parents made themselves available so I could attend Al-Anon meetings. Friends and extended family gradually became aware of what was going on. There was no shortage of miracles throughout that difficult time.
Josie began her quest for sustained sobriety on that January Sunday. Her Mom and others tried to explain this to me during the 7 weeks that followed, but it took some time for me to believe it. For I had gone through many broken promises and lies as well as in-patient rehab and legal issues just a year earlier. However, as one day at a time passed, my personal cries stopped. My anger subsided. My fear had been conquered.
I stopped drinking at this time. I was never a heavy drinker nor did I ever have any personal addiction issues. But as I watched my wife from afar, my belief in her sobriety became a reality. I did not want to do something she was choosing to no longer partake in. I don’t remember the exact moment, like I did in 1994, but at some point I remember the statement I made to Josie years earlier. I was here for something greater than me and something greater than her. This could not be done if we were not together.
And 7 weeks after my choice to face my greatest fear and Josie’s choice to become sober…Josie came home.
Awkward, yes. Bouts of distrust, yes. A learning curve on how to be married and co-parent again, yes.
However, today, January 27th, 2015 I am proud to say my wife is 3 years sober.
In my opinion my wife has an addictive personality. No matter the substance, food, alcohol or drugs, they are just a symptom of something more. But none of this defines Josie.
Today, my marriage to Josie is stronger than ever before. She has accepted herself for who she is, the person I met many years ago and fell in love with. My wife is the smartest person I know (I will never tell her this however). While I see things as black and white, she sees the gray in many situations. She has given me the two greatest gifts ever, our daughter and our son and we parent together. We complement each other’s strengths and we lift each other up in areas that we’re not as strong. We have found a way to communicate honestly and openly about our thoughts and our feelings. Sobriety has created a foundation that makes our relationship stronger each and every day.
The Josie I know took an intelligent mind and made choices that were neither in her best interest nor that of anyone around her. I hate the choices she made, but never hated her.
I love my wife. She is the one and only for me. I love coming home to her. I cannot sleep in a bed she is not in. I love to make her laugh and I will go to all lengths to make that happen. She is the only person with whom I can do something, or sit still and do nothing, and be just as happy either way.
Sobriety is a part of our lives. Lives that have never been better. I do not sit in judgment of others who have chosen differently. I just know that I wouldn’t trade my life or the last 19 years for anything. I am living the dream with Josie and my two children and I am the luckiest human being alive.
That I can express just a fraction of what my wife Josie means to me because the full amount goes beyond words.
M(3), 1/26/15: From Hell to the Mountaintop
Driving to today’s meeting, I would have guessed a meeting attendance of two people, and that would have been the high end. And the big storm hasn’t even arrived yet… yikes!
So the fun surprise was winding up with six attendees. Not bad in the midst of what is predicted to be record snow fall! Today’s reading came from the book ‘Pass It On:’ The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world. Its purpose is self-evident in the title: it is a biography of Bill Wilson’s life and how he came to found the organization Alcoholics Anonymous. The book is a fascinating read for both members and non-members of a 12-step program.
When I first started reading, I thought it might be redundant, as I thought I knew Bill W.’s story from start to finish. But this book gives details and background that were brand new to me, and put his story in a context that made his climb out of the depths of alcoholic despair even more amazing. Fans of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) will find Pass It On enlightening.
This morning we read chapter five, which details Bill W.’s last days of active addiction, followed by a personal account of his “spiritual awakening.” Many elements of the chapter stood out for me, but I think what stuck with me most was how much I could relate to his story. This person could not have lived a more opposite life than me, and yet I can relate to the feelings he described:
“For long hours, I thought over my past life. How and why could I have come to this? Save for my drinking, Lois and I had had a wonderful life together. My whole career had teemed with excitement and interest. And yet here I was, bedeviled with an obsession that condemned me to drink against my will and a bodily sensitivity that guaranteed early insanity at best.” -pg. 109, Pass It On
Another stand-out for me as I read his numerous attempts to recover from alcoholism: his so-called failures, when viewed in light of his whole story, are clearly stepping-stones that led to his ultimate success. Each time he failed, he learned a bit about what works and what doesn’t, and over time he was able to use those lessons like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that ultimately formed the picture of recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of body and mind.
Inspiring stuff for a snowy Monday morning, let me tell you! The rest of the group focused on his amazing journey from agnostic to believer, a compelling story to be sure. Some admitted to a bit of envy for the rather dramatic circumstances surrounding his “conversion,” and several in the group shared the evolution of their relationship with their Higher Power.
A final thought this morning: one gentleman shared that learning Bill’s story, and realizing how he recovered from such a low bottom, gave him the inspiration and confidence that he could recover as well. If a man like Bill Wilson can achieve sobriety, there is hope for us all.
To anyone reading that lives in the Northeastern US: stay warm and stay safe!
As of this writing, we are in the lull of the storm. I keep anxiously going over places I might need to get to before the rest of the storm hits, and each time, I realize I’m covered and don’t need to go out. This level of preparation, my friends, is a miracle!
My Brush With a Teenage Drug Dealer
I typically like to have an ultimate point before I write about an event or an issue. At the very least a destination, even when I’m not sure which route I’m going to take to get there. I have neither the destination nor the GPS directions for this one, I only know there is something here that can be shared.
A few backdrop facts before I tell this story:
- I am, generally speaking, a glass-half-full type of person by nature. As it pertains to this story, I generally don’t anticipate negative possible outcomes in any given situation. The upside to this, presumably, is less anxiety than one who might be anticipating disastrous outcomes. The downside… well, we’ll get to the downside in a moment.
- My oldest child is a 14-year-old (woman? girl? gal? child?). Her nature is similar to mine, but more extreme, which I presume is due to a lack of life experience. Not only does she fail to anticipate negative outcomes, she proactively assumes positive ones. She is also at the teenage sweet spot: she possesses the firm conviction that she is old enough and wise enough that her life experience is the equivalent to an adult’s.
- At her age and life circumstances, dating is defined as holding hands between classes, electronic communication, an occasional kiss after school, and incessant rallying to arrange weekend get together’s that have yet to come to fruition.
Back to the regularly scheduled program:
My daughter’s romantic relationships are not dissimilar to a roller coaster ride: they are fast, chock full of high’s and low’s, and short-lived, although the next ride starts up with astonishing regularity. My husband is convinced this is abnormal behavior; I am inclined to think it is part of the teenage experience.
Up to about middle school, my daughter had been rigorously honest. As she ages she is getting skilled at remaining honest while withholding what she wishes to withhold. Of course, I am patient, wily, and unafraid to ask the same question 10 different ways, so it usually works out fine. Until the Most Recent Boyfriend.
Here’s how it works: she will mention the name of someone new in the context of a story. Then she will mention him again. That is the cue for me to start asking the obligatory questions: what grade? sports or no sports? family situation? discipline situation at school?
And so it goes with Most Recent Boy. There were two mildly alarming facts right out of the gate about MRB:
1. He smokes (my daughter is vehemently opposed to smoking, to the point where I’ve had to correct her disrespect to adults who make this choice)
2. He is a junior (my daughter is a freshman)
On the other hand, my nature being as it is, and given the transient nature of these relationships, I didn’t think too much about it. Even when she said he asked her out, even when she started rallying for dates outside of school. We were, in fact, in the midst of planning such an event (he would come to our house so we could meet him), and I thought to ask, “What kind of grades does he get?” The response: not very good. Here is the follow-up information I received from my subsequent interrogation:
- He is a skateboarder who hangs out at a notoriously drug-riddled skate park
- He not only smokes cigarettes, but he has “tried” marijuana and has drunk alcohol, but does neither currently
- He has “been kind of a troublemaker”
Okay, we’ve gone from one-alarm to three-alarm, but I’m still not panicked yet. I calmly explain that while I’m sure he’s a nice boy, I think we need to hold off on scheduling any out-of-school dates until the relationship progresses a bit. We’re in the car while having this conversation, so hopefully she’s not noticing the smug expression I’m wearing, because surely this relationship will fizzle out on its own before I have to do a thing.
That very night my daughter, apparently having experienced amnesia, starts in on a full-court press to travel to Philadelphia with MRB’s family (about 45 minutes away). Probably not as calmly as in the car, I remind her of the facts she has provided, and our agreement that we wait a bit before arranging dates. She is quite unhappy about this, which I can only tell you in a Monday-morning-quarterbacking kind of way. At the time I’m not thinking a thing is amiss.
The next day, a Saturday, she is styling her hair and other such things. I go into the bathroom to ask her something, she says she has something to tell me, and immediately starts crying. I wisely shepherd her into the sitting room of my bedroom, and away from the flatiron.
Turns out, “being kind of a troublemaker” actually means “he was expelled from school for dealing drugs.” From I’m dating MRB to this, all in the space of about 18 hours.
Now I have several competing issues: the acceleration of alarms in my head (remember, this is not my usual m.o.), the emotional state of my daughter, who is hysterical in a way I’ve never seen her before, and, most critical, what in the hell to do and say next.
Here’s the rub: she is convinced, in the way the rest of humanity is convinced that the Earth will rotate around the sun, that he was “just holding the drugs for a friend.” That “he is definitely done with the whole drug thing.” And, the most heartbreaking fact of all, that “he is the boy who has been the nicest to me in my whole life!”
That was a rough afternoon, I’ll tell you that much.
In the moment, I dealt with what I thought was most imminent: my daughter’s hysteria. I told her that I believed he was a nice boy, and that I’m not judging him as a person. I reminded her that I am uniquely qualified to make such a statement. I explained that “holding drugs for a friend” is the equivalent to “the dog ate my homework.”
Continuing the relationship is the only item on her to-do list, and she is single-minded in this endeavor. And in my confusion, and my attempt to console, I make my first fatal error, and say yes. The fact that she pulled herself together so quickly should have alerted me right then and there, but the downside to my Pollyanna ways is that I don’t always think about the possible pitfalls.
Thank the good sweet Lord the parenting team of this child has a savvier, less trusting side than her mother. I fill my husband in, and he asks the questions that did not even occur to me, such as:
- If you knew about the expulsion, why did you withhold that information while begging to go into the city with him?
- How was he caught? Was it a situation that indicated that they had been tracking him? If so, what communication did you have with him that could possibly cast aspersions on your character?
- How has this relationship changed the perception of you with regards to your teacher and peers?
- And, the most important question: Did you find out about the drugs before or after you decided to have a relationship with him?
When I found out the answer to that last question was a defiant “Before! So what, if I’m not doing drugs?” my rose-colored glasses slipped down my nose quite a bit.
The follow-up conversations were many, and tension existed in our house in a way this family has not yet seen. We’re dealing with some serious stuff here, made more serious by the way my daughter was digging in her heels. She does not regret this relationship, she is not naive, and if we would just take the time to get to know this young man we would see what she is seeing.
This high-stakes drama lasted for about 72 hours. I state that with gratitude, I know for some parents it goes on a hell of a lot longer. On our end, we tread lightly, but were firm: things needed to change. If these are the decisions she is making when left to her own devices, well, then she needs a bit more supervision. We did our best to make these changes not resemble a punishment, but I imagine it would feel like exactly that to a teenager.
Then one night, for reasons yet obscure to me, she walked in from basketball practice, came up to me, gave me hug, and started crying. “It’s going to be okay now, Mom,” she whispered. I looked at my husband in alarm and mouthed over her head, “What happened?” He appeared as confused as I felt. She decided, after approaching the principal (her idea, not ours, we did not know she was going to do this) and letting him that while she was friends with the expelled student, she does not do drugs and does not condone the use of them, that she needed to break up with MRB, temporarily, until he gets his life together.
Another 24 hours of drama surrounded that decision, many tears, much staring into the distance, as the reality of the separation (that was already a reality, mind you, he was expelled from school) sunk in.
To give her the credit she deserves, when she says something, she sticks to it: the phone call was made, and the communication stopped completely. She apparently believes in a clean break.
I held my breath for a few more days while I waited for the next shoe to drop, all the while experiencing a profound longing for all my past glory days of Pollyanna-ism. “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone” is how the song goes, and how true it is. The days marched on, life started to feel normal, and I cautiously started to breathe.
Over the weekend the name Dakota was dropped into the conversation. A day later, the name was mentioned again. And a day after that, “I think Dakota likes me.”
Funny side story, my response was, “You have a lesbian friend who said she likes you?” Turns out, Dakota is a unisex name.
Only then did I get what was happening: the roller coaster ride was slowly starting to roll again. Never have I been so thankful for the short-lived cycle of the teenage romance.
If this post serves as nothing else, I’ve at least documented the story for when my daughter is a mother. The miracles of blogging!
M(3), 1/19/15: The Paradox of Powerlessness
Thanks to the American holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my Monday meeting had a nice-sized turnout, and I was able to reconnect with some people I don’t normally get a chance to see. Great way to start the week!
As it is the third Monday in the month of January, today’s literature selection came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. We read the chapter that covers Step One:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable
Lots of great insight shared this morning, so I will keep my perspective brief: I struggled mightily with the premise of this step. At first, I scoffed at the idea that my life was unmanageable. As a matter of fact I was managing just fine, thank you very much. As my addiction progressed, I was forced to recognize that yes, if I continue along this path, the path where I insisted that I was okay to drink, and no one had the right to tell me otherwise, I could see the manageable parts of my life dwindling to zero. With the clarity that only sobriety can bring, I can now see that even when I was insistent my life was manageable, it really was anything but: the unhealthy fixation on when I could next drink, the guilt and the shame when I overindulged, the broken promises I made to myself, and the time and energy expended on the whole process. What part of that seemed manageable to me, I don’t know!
But even while conceding the unmanageability component, I was still unconvinced on the powerlessness. It made no sense to be powerless over something that had no power in and of itself. It cannot force itself into my body, so don’t I ultimately have the power by choosing to ingest it? When it was explained to me that I was powerless over the effect it had on me, that made a lot more sense. There were occasions that I was able to “drink like a lady,” have one or two glasses of chardonnay and gracefully decline the third. But for every one time I did that, there were many more times when I started drinking and I simply did not want to stop. Or, worse yet, when I knew I should stop and did not do it. So it was basically a crap shoot on how an evening would turn out if I were to drink. Now, if that’s not powerlessness, I don’t know what is!
On to even better insights:
- A newcomer to my meeting (but not to the Fellowship) said what stands out to her even more than “powerlessness” and “unmanageability” is the word admit. For her, “admit” necessarily implies “the truth,” and it took her a very long time to actually admit that she had a problem… even to herself. The denial was so deep and powerful, she used to hide alcohol in her own home, and she lived by herself! For her it took some strong-arming to get her into the rooms of the 12-step fellowship, but once she did she was flabbergasted. These people were telling her story! It was not long after her first meeting before she could finally admit, “Yes, I am an alcoholic,” and that admission freed her in a way she never thought possible.
- One of the regular attendees of the meeting said he too struggled initially with the concept of powerlessness. “But I can control my drinking,” he argued with his sponsor, “Maybe not every time, but enough that I can’t admit to being powerless.” His sponsor said the words that turned his thinking around nearly 30 years ago, “If you are working on controlling your drinking at all, you are already admitting you have a problem. Moderate drinkers do not have to control their drinking.” That was all it took for him to see the issue for what it was: alcoholism.
- Another friend shared how she resolved her issues with powerlessness. As she pondered step one, she realized that with almost any doctrine, there is a paradoxical premise: Buddhist’s teaching of self-effacement begetting enlightenment and Christianity’s Holy Trinity are just two examples that she cited this morning. Powerlessness as a way of claiming power is the paradoxical premise of the 12-step doctrine. Within this framework she was able to embrace it. In so doing she is able to see that in accepting the “defeat” in not being able to drink she has been given the greatest peace she has ever experienced.
- Finally, another eminently wise regular attendee talked about how she struggled with the idea of a Higher Power, and the only way she could get around it, in the initial stages of sobriety, was to use the collective wisdom of the people in the rooms of the Fellowship as her higher power. As stubborn as she was, even she could see that this group had something she wanted and could not seem to get on her own. She acknowledged that her best thinking was what landed her in the rooms of a 12-step meeting in the first place, and that by continuing to defend her reasons that she is not an alcoholic, she is closing her heart and mind to any other possibility. Just that small change… my own thoughts are keeping in the same place I don’t like, maybe I could try to open myself to another possibility… was enough to start her on a journey of sobriety that has served her well for the past three decades.
Since it seems that I am also powerless over the bickering of my children and their friends, all home for the holiday, I better sign off and see how best I can mediate. Happy Monday!
Both kids had a friend overnight, and all four made it through the evening in one piece, and, as a bonus, were still alive when I got home from my meeting, so that’s a miracle right there. Here’s hoping the good mojo continues through the rest of the afternoon!
10 Rebuttals to 12-Step Naysayers
So here we are, mid-January. For those of us who made resolutions, this is right about the time the wheels fall off the wagon. If your resolution was to stop drinking, and you have made it this far, you are surely having some of the following thoughts:
“Well, I made it two weeks, so I’m sure it will be okay to just have one now and again.”
“I made it two weeks, so clearly I am not an alcoholic.”
“I made it two weeks, and there is no way in hell I’m doing this for the rest of my life!”
If you are going it alone, the journey can be quite a bit tougher than for those who choose a fellowship of some sort. If you have read my blog for any period of time, you know that I am a regular participant in a 12-step program, and that is has helped me tremendously, not only in helping me to get and stay sober, but also in improving most areas of my life. However, I am aware of many who are against meeting attendance, and the reasons are varied. Today I am going to tackle some of the most common ones I’ve heard or read, and give my perspective on each:
1. I cannot attend meetings because I don’t believe in God
At no point in the 12-step program is a belief in God a requirement. However, in the long-term, if you wish to work the steps of the 12-step program, a belief in a power greater than yourself is required. For many people, that power is the power of the Fellowship, but there are endless variations on what people choose to call their Higher Power.
Having said all of that, the idea in the beginning is to get connected with a group of people who are trying, or have gotten, sober. There are no requirements at all for this, except for you to find a meeting, drive to it, sit down and listen.
2. I won’t participate in a group whose doctrine forces me to admit powerlessness
I can relate to this one somewhat, it was hard for me to understand the concept of being powerless over alcohol. I would argue, “Alcohol is an inanimate object, how I can I be powerless over an inanimate object?” Powerlessness was then explained to me like this, which better resonated with me: powerless over the effect alcohol has on me once I take that first drink.
The bottom line for me with this debate, and, frankly, quite a few of the others, is that arguing over semantics is a waste of time. If I’ve considered the idea of attending a recovery meeting at all, then I am clearly dissatisfied, on some level, with my relationship with alcohol. Until I’ve given it a real shot, I won’t really know if it can work for me. I only know that what I have done so far to address the problem is not working.
3. I experience too much anxiety to sit in a room full of strangers
Anxiety is a real issue; I’ve experienced my fair share of it (large crowds, not meetings, but I get it). Of course, if you worry about experiencing anxiety in a meeting, surely you’ve experienced it elsewhere. How have you dealt with it then? Can you apply those same solutions here? Can you sit in the very back of the room? Can you negotiate with yourself that you will walk in and try it for 5 minutes? There are probably loads more solutions to explore, but the idea is that you acknowledge what’s holding you back, and attempt to find a solution.
4. I do want to stop drinking, but I don’t really think I’m like those people, so there’s nothing for me to gain by attending
Well, obviously I don’t know you, so I don’t know how our addiction stories compare. But let’s leave the addiction story out of it for a minute. I am a middle-aged, stay-at-home mom of 2 reasonably well-adjusted children. I am 15 years married to my husband, and I am also a member of a large, close-knit, Irish Catholic family. I hold a Master’s degree, and I have the same circle of friends that I did in college. I run a weekly 12-step meeting, whose regular attendees include men and women, some retired, some white-collar, some blue-collar, some stay-at-home like myself. There is a priest, there is a professor of english, there is a music instructor, there is a yoga instructor, there is an auto mechanic. Some are married, some are divorced, some are widowed, and some are gay. I would know none of them if I were not a 12-step meeting attendee, but I count each of them among my friends. The group I just described is a small one; others that I attend with 50 or more people have still more occupations, and cultural backgrounds, and personalities. Still think there is no one like you in a recovery meeting?
5. AA is a cult
This one is tough for me to refute, as someone who believes this also believes that I’ve already “drunk the Kool-Aid.” I will debate using Google’s definition:
- a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
- a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister
So, by definition, AA (or any 12-step program) is not religious, there is certainly no leader (or any governing body whatsoever), it is by no means a small group, and I can’t think of one practice that would be considered strange or sinister. Pretty much everything you hear, every piece of instruction or advice you receive at a 12-step meeting, is a suggestion.
6. 12-step people think EVERYBODY is an alcoholic; I don’t want to turn into that kind of extremist
In the spirit of honesty, I will acknowledge that sure, I have run into some right-leaning personality types within the Fellowship (or would it be left-leaning? I’m not sure, but you get the idea). But for every one extremist, I have found literally a dozen or more quality, salt-of-the-earth people who are just looking to stay sober and increase the peace and serenity in their lives. When I do run into that stray extremist, I simply walk away, or I attend a different meeting. The absolute beauty of the 12-step Fellowship is the quantity and variety of meetings available. There are gay meetings, there are atheist meetings, there are young people’s meetings, there are women’s meeting, men’s meetings, and probably a bunch more that I’m not seen myself.
7. I don’t think I’m bad enough to qualify
This again goes back to the comparison of each other’s drinking stories. I had very similar thoughts after I attended my first meeting. The people there were talking about these crazy extreme things that happened to them as a result of their alcoholism, and nothing even close to that had happened to me. Then, as my disease progressed, I came back, and now I had the same issue in reverse: these people don’t understand me, they don’t have the specific issues I’m having, so these meetings can’t possibly help me.
Both trains of thought kept me in active addiction. Here’s the bottom line: deep down, are you concerned/uncomfortable/fearful of your relationship with alcohol, and do you desire that relationship to end? Then you possess the sole requirement of attending a 12-step meeting. The specifics of the individual stories are irrelevant, how we feel about alcohol is the only thing that matters.
8. I don’t want people telling me what to do, telling me how I’m wrong, insisting I change my life around
Again, to keep things real here, there are certainly going to be individuals who, though well-intentioned, come off with a dictator-like attitude. I remember my very first week, maybe my 4th meeting, this woman giving me a laundry list of things I “needed to do.” I could barely get myself to the meeting, and now here’s this stranger giving me an impossible to-do list 4 days into recovery! She meant well, as probably most do, but I was in no way ready for the things she was throwing at me. I have since learned the phrase, “take what you want, and leave the rest” really applies. If the idea of sponsorship scares you, again, we are only talking about giving recovery meetings a shot, and seeking out some group support. Things like sponsors, and practicing the steps, all come at your own pace.
9. I am an introvert, and I am terrified that people will hound me the second I’m in the door
I see introverts all the time, and I recognize them, because I was one in the early days. I would say the majority of newcomers are shy; after all, the idea of sitting down with a group of strangers and admitting something that feels shameful would make almost anyone feel a bit nervous! The truth is that every one of us has been there, in the seat of the newcomer, and every one of us empathizes. You will in all likelihood have people come up to you and say hello, but if you make it clear (either verbally or non-verbally) that you wish to keep to yourself, it is my experience that the group will leave you alone to sit, listen and absorb. If you choose to reach out and ask questions, more power to you, but if you want to simply observe, you are welcome to do so.
10. But then I’ll have to stop drinking… forever
This may sound like a ridiculous statement for someone considering a 12-step meeting, but for those of us who struggled with the idea of “forever,” it makes perfect sense. Attending meetings only means you are exploring the idea of sobriety. There are no Breathalyzers, no contracts to sign, and you can change your mind about sobriety anytime you want (and we will cheerfully refund your misery is how that AA-ism ends!). Technically speaking, you can be drinking and still attend meetings; as I mentioned earlier, “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” so there’s nothing stopping you from leaving the meeting and hitting the closest bar (though I surely hope no one decides to do that if you’re attempting to get sober!).
What arguments have I missed? What are the other stumbling blocks to checking out the group support of a recovery meeting?
Writing posts like this one, and reminding myself of where I’ve been mentally, and the progress I’ve made, is a miracle that I hope all who are struggling get to experience for themselves!
M(3), 1/12/15: Letting Go of Old Ideas
Can you guess what kind of weather we are experiencing in my part of the world?
Today’s reading, selected as a nod to New Year’s resolutions, is entitled “Letting Go of Old Ideas.” For most of us choosing the journey of sobriety, putting down the drink or drug (or both) is really just the first step in the process of recovery. A monumentally arduous and often painful one, but a first step nonetheless. The truly meaningful work begins when we examine the lifelong thoughts and beliefs that led us to the bottle in the first place, and then decide, with the clarity only sobriety can bring, if these thoughts and beliefs are serving us well. If the answer is no, as it often will be, then we must figure out a way to release them.
Here are some bona fide ideas I held before I chose recovery. This list is completely, 100% true, and not exaggerated for effect:
- Alcohol is a requirement at a social event. If an event has no alcohol, I can assume the people making these choices are either restricted by something not of their own volition, or they are people with whom I do not want to relate.
- It is inconceivable that I will abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life.
- If I must abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life, I will eventually lose the companionship of everyone currently in my life.
- If I must abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life, I must not, under any circumstances, let this be known to anyone; keeping this secret is paramount to my happiness.
- A social life without alcohol will necessarily be less interesting and fun than a social life with alcohol.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. Happily, through the process of testing the old ideas, discovering they no longer serve me, and discarding them, I find myself at peace in a way I did not believe possible.
Of course, I hold many more old ideas that need to be re-assessed as my journey continues. In times of distress, my instinct to project and interpret the emotions of others, and then believe these projections as if they were handed to me by God Himself, is an old belief that does me an incredible disservice. Fortunately, recovery is a journey rather than a destination, and I have a lifetime to figure things out.
Rather than go point by point over the various pieces of wisdom gleaned from today’s meeting, I want to share a miraculous story that happened this morning. I have had an issue with my daughter, one with which I’ve been dealing all weekend, and it’s affecting me enough that I felt like I needed to share about it at the meeting this morning (more to follow at some point). In so doing, I received some amazing support and wisdom, all of which I hold in my heart even as I type. But one fellow in particular stood out, he shared almost immediately after me; he related to what I was going through, and he shared some of the experiences he is having with his daughter.
Since this gentleman has been an attendee of my meeting for some time, I was well-acquainted with stories about his daughter, as he has shared his concerns about her for months now. He is currently in a place of relative peace with her, but re-telling the tales of some of his troubled times did remind me that I am not alone, and also that things could always be worse. Of course his daughter is 21 and had moved across the country for a time, my daughter is 14 and lives with me, so the situations are not identical by any means. On the other hand, the simple act of sharing our troubles with one another gives us both an opportunity to feel less isolated, and, as a result, feel better about our situations.
Possibly ten minutes after he shared he got up abruptly from his chair and left the meeting. He did not return for several minutes, and when he did he raised his hand to request a “double dip.” In other words, could he share again even though he had already shared once? And since of course the answer is always yes at my meeting, he let us know he left the meeting because he received an urgent text from his daughter that she needed to speak with him as soon as possible.
Turns out, she’s been thinking a lot about all the issues she’s been facing, and she’s been reading some of the literature her father has suggested, and she thinks it’s possible that she has a problem with alcohol. She would like him to take her to a 12-step meeting.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the entire room sat in silence for a full minute. I finally broke it by saying that I don’t know what to say. It’s one thing to feel a miracle taking place within yourself, it’s another to experience it with a room full of people!
And if, after all that gentleman has gone through with his daughter, this can be the end result, then surely my “privilege problems” with my daughter are going to work out just fine. At least, that’s the message I received!
I’m pretty sure I’m not getting a better miracle than the one I just described.
Since I’m Usually Late to a Party Anyway…
… I am going to ignore the fact that we are a week into the new year, but still state my intention for my Word Of The Year. This practice has been making the rounds in my little corner of the blogging world, and it seems to have started with the delightful Mished-Up, I am so excited to have found her blog! Thanks for this wonderful new ritual, I am excited to embrace the concept and see what great things it brings to my life!
For my inaugural word, I have selected:
Here’s the reasons and hopes for and in selecting energy:
- Just thinking about the word energy brightens my spirits. I mentioned that I have been under the weather for the past few days. The silver lining of this being that I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate about my Word Of the Year! With zero energy right now, the idea of working to bring more of it into my life seems like a rewarding project.
- Energy is applicable to every component of life, and can be incorporated into any possible resolution I might want to make. If I choose to improve my diet, well, calories are technically units of energy. If I choose to revamp (read: restart) my fitness regimen, increased energy is a natural outcome. If I choose to organize myself better in the new year, I am ultimately expending more energy than I have in the past.
- I have an undertaking in the works currently that I will address in more detail in a later post, primarily because I detest talking about goals before I’ve really begun, but the undertaking involves the practice of meditation. From my limited understanding, one of the many benefits of meditation is increased energy, as well as the development of a new set of skills for dealing with the negative energy in one’s life.
- And speaking of negative energy, and by negative energy I am referring to any form of energy that is detrimental, learning how to best handle it would make this list as well. Managing/eliminating/limiting toxic relationships, growing/encouraging/fostering positive relationships, eradicating that which drains me mentally, and working to end negative patterns all could fall under the umbrella of possibilities.
- Harnessing the energy I possess and using it for good, rather than continuing to weigh the pro’s and con’s without ever taking action. Giving myself permission to fail would be key to this process, as well as working against my natural tendency for all or nothing thinking.
- Somewhat along the lines of the bullet point above, taking action to resolve long-standing issues that drain me of energy. Continuing to bitch and moan about a problem without making any attempt to solve it enervates me, so, clearly, the opposite approach should energize.
- Cultivate a greater awareness of and gratitude for the energy I have right here, right now. It is default thinking for me to consider what I should be doing, how I could be better spending my time, and how much more could have been achieved. Again, this type of thinking is exhausting. Taking time each day to consider what has been done well always brings positive energy, so why not increase that energy as much as possible?
- Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include some component of recovery into this list. I know from experience the energy I receive from helping another. Continuing to reach my hand out to those in need boomerangs right back to me in a way that would be impossible to describe. There is a virtually limitless supply of energy in being of service to others.
So, there you have it, time to get energized! I really hope my throat and head are getting the message. Let’s see how energized 2015 turns out to be!
Writing this, sitting upright in the home office, rather than slumped over the laptop on the recliner, seems to be miracle enough for today.
The Secret Keepers
This beautiful, insightful post was written by my friend Karen needs to be shared as often as it can be. Please give it a read, or a re-read, it spoke more to me this morning than it did when I first read it!
I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to ask you to share this post. Reblog it, share it on Facebook, tweet it. Someone out there needs to hear this message today. Even if you think you don’t know anyone who has been abused. Even if you don’t read the entire post.
About a month ago I was asked by Dawn at WTF words, thoughts, feelings to contribute an essay for an anthology that she and Joyelle are creating for parents who are survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse (learn more at https://www.facebook.com/TriggerPointsAnthology).
I submitted my essay but I also want to shine a bigger spotlight on this project because I fear that they may not get many submissions. Not because it’s not a worthy cause or because there aren’t enough people out there to contribute but because survivors of abuse are secret…
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M(3), 1/5/15: Silence is Golden
Holy moly, that was the first time I typed out a date with the new year! I hope 2014 closed peacefully, and 2015 is off to a marvelous start for all of you!
Sad news from my part of the world: I have an extremely annoying ailment that has me sounding like a seal when I talk too much. The upside, for me, is that I got to take a seat in the attendee chair at my Monday meeting this morning, and I was able to simply soak in the collective wisdom of the group.
This week’s literature selection comes from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.” My friend who pinch hit for me this morning selected the chapter at the start of the book, entitled “The Doctor’s Opinion.” This chapter is the equivalent to medical seal of approval for the fledgling 12-step program, and it was a risky business, professionally speaking, for the author of the chapter (Dr. William D. Silkworth) to give his endorsement to such a revolutionary solution for the disease of alcoholism.
Had I been able to share with the group without embarrassing myself with my hacking cough, I would have talked about the importance of his term “phenomenon of craving.” Here is what Dr. Silkworth writes:
We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action
of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an
allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and
never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types
can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having
formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost
their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their
problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to
solve. Frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices. The message which
can interest and hold these alcoholic people must have depth and
-pg. xxviii, Alcoholics Anonymous
Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect
produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they
admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true
from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal
one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can
again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at
once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking
with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as
so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass
through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful,
with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and
over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change
there is very little hope of his recovery.
-pg. xxviii-xxvix, Alcoholics Anonymous
I am sure I have said this before, and I am equally sure that I will say it again: the concept of the phenomenon of craving is a major motivator in keeping me sober. Anytime I have even the most fleeting of thoughts that I could have “just one, what would be the big deal,” I immediately consider the idea that I could be opening a Pandora’s box that is the phenomenon of craving, and I consider what my life in active addiction was like, and the mere possibility of that allows me to easily shut down the desire for “just one.”
Most of the rest of the group focused on Dr. Silkworth’s description of alcoholism as a “manifestation of an allergy.” Apparently there has been some debate on whether alcoholism is a disease or an allergy, and people can become quite passionate about defending their particular conviction. Most of the group this morning liked the description of alcoholism as an allergy. After all, the definition of the word allergy is an abnormal reaction of the body to a substance, and most of us who identify as alcoholics can certainly attest that our reaction to drinking, even if it was simply our preoccupation, was abnormal.
One attendee shared that she truly thought she was insane while in active addiction. She observed that, while hungry, she would eat until satiated, and then her eating would slow down. With drinking, however, the complete opposite occurred; the more she drank, the more she wanted. And it seemed like she was the only one in the world who drank like this. An isolating, anxiety-ridden way to live, until she found this 12-step program and learned that she was not crazy, nor was she alone. Now, almost 30 years later, she believes that even if someone offered her a way to “drink like a lady,” she would decline, because then she would have to forfeit all the amazing benefits she realizes from her participation in our program of recovery.
A few members talked about dealing with drinkers during the holiday season. The general take-away from these experiences: create the boundaries you need to protect your sobriety. People generally speaking are not considering what you need while they are drinking, so you need to do this for yourself.
As always, there is so much more to share, but it’s time to prepare some hot tea and honey! Hopefully next week I will be back to normal…
After a 12-day holiday “staycation,” husband and kids are back to school and work. The complete silence of the house is today’s miracle!