Monthly Archives: February 2015
This might have been the first time since I started my Monday meeting 2 1/2 years ago where I really, really did not want to go. This time of year in my part of the world can be tough… attendance is spotty at best, due to weather, and, speaking for myself, there is a general malaise that sets in by this point of the season. Plus this week’s literature selection is “chairperson’s choice.” Since I am the only chairperson, I am cursing myself for throwing this into the rotation, because I don’t feel like doing the work in terms of researching a good reading selection. Remembering that a regular attendee was singing the praises of a book a few weeks prior, I decided to go the easy route and just use that book.
The book is called Came to Believe, and it is a collection of short essays written by members of the 12-step fellowship about what the term “spiritual awakening” means to them. I believe I have read from this book once or twice before, but don’t recall it resounding with me. But on this frigid morning, feeling as lackluster as can be, I figured I will give it another shot, and if nothing else will make at least one meeting attendee happy.
Turns out, it made the entire 14 attendees happy, and I will include myself on that list! Just seeing all those seats filled lifted my spirits… we haven’t been that crowded in a long time. Plus, I got to catch up with a bunch of people I haven’s seen in a while. Plus plus, we had a newcomer attending because she heard what a good meeting this was. Heart-warming and rejuvenating, and I hadn’t even gotten to the actual meeting yet!
We were able to read two of the essays in the book. The general theme of each was the process by which one goes from having no belief in any kind of Higher Power to embracing a spiritual way of life. Neither writer had a dramatic, “burning bush” sort of moment; rather, the process involved a lot of “acting as if,” and realizing almost after the fact that faith had taken root in their lives.
Almost everyone who shared could relate to the idea of finding spirituality in a gradual way. One gentleman said he could not, at first, comprehend the idea of a Higher Power, so he had to take a practical approach to the 12-step program: attend meetings, take suggestions from others, listen with an open mind. In taking these small, practical steps, slowly but surely he came to see that the promises made by the program were coming true from him. The longer he stayed committed, the more his concept of and relationship with a Higher Power developed.
Another friend gave an analogy about faith: in much the same way that currency in and of itself has no value, the same can be said for faith. It’s not enough to simply be in possession of faith; as the saying goes, faith without works is dead. But if we develop our faith, and take action based upon that faith, now we have a currency of value in our lives.
Yet another regular attendee of the meeting built upon that thought process, and shared that his initial struggle wasn’t believing in God, but rather in doing the work necessary to develop that relationship. Step 3 in the 12-step programs tells us to turn things over to a Higher Power, but for this gentleman the catch was to do the proper work, and turn the results over to a Higher Power. For him the answer in figuring out this puzzle lies in the Serenity Prayer: asking for the serenity to accept unchangeable things, the courage to change what needs changing, and the wisdom to know the difference.
For me, both stories struck a chord, in that they reminded me of the earliest days of sobriety, and they illuminated some trouble I am experiencing currently. The idea of doing something in spite of disbelief reminded me of the earliest days of sobriety, and praying to God to keep me sober another day. As I’m praying I’m thinking, “Hypocrite! How is this prayer any different from a week ago when you prayed and didn’t stay sober?” And that same disbelief held true for meeting attendance, and bunch of other things that hadn’t worked in the past. But pushing past that skepticism and giving every suggestion an honest, open-minded (or as open-minded as I could be, anyway) try allowed me to experience for myself the miracles that the 12-step fellowship offers.
In a similar way, I am embarking on a new stage of self-discovery, in that I am participating in therapy, a subject I’m sure I will write about in more detail in the weeks and months to come. It occurred to me this morning as I read the selections that my feelings about therapy mirror the feelings I had about the benefits of 12-step meetings and praying in early sobriety: I strongly doubt there is any benefit to be had from speaking to a stranger about my life.
And yes, I have shared these feelings with the therapist. And no, she has not kicked me out of the office (but it’s early days yet).
And now I realize that I must continue the process with a great deal more open-mindedness. After all, if I had listened to my best thinking in active addiction, I’d shudder to think where I’d be, certainly not here typing this blog post. So I will do my best to lean in, and see what comes out of it!
An attendance of 14 people during Frigid February!
Like I’ve said so many times before, sometimes I write just to sort things out in my own head, and hopefully in that sorting I will feel better and also possibly help someone else. This is one of those times.
In the broadest of explanations, I am out of sorts, and it’s a state from which I can’t seem to extricate myself. As I pause to reflect upon the why’s and how’s of this out-of-sortness, a few of the usual suspects rear their ugly heads (kid aggravations being one such example), but when I really burrow deep, I think the root of this issue lies in the conflict between standing my ground and my people-pleasing tendencies.
For a really, really long time, maybe even for as long as I can remember, there would be no conflict… I would inevitably revert to people-pleasing. I may bitch and moan about it, I may seek passive aggressive means of standing my ground in future situations as a form of revenge, but ultimately, in the moment of conflict, I deferred in favor of making the other person happy.
As I work on becoming a more honest and authentic version of myself, I have become aware of the conflict, and wonder whether the path of least resistance is doing anyone any good. At the bare minimum it makes me feel not quite honest, and not quite authentic! This certainly does not mean that I choose the right action every time, but I am getting better and better and saying what I mean, and meaning what I say. If I don’t actually assert myself or voice my own feelings, at the very least I can choose to do or say nothing, so at least I’m not practicing dishonesty.
Old Me: “Of COURSE it’s not a problem! No worries! That will be fine/I am fine/You are fine!”
Current Me: (silence)
Hopefully Future Me: “The truth is that I’m feeling…”
Sometimes though, when you are seeking honesty, there is simply no way around a conflict between two people. As humans we each have our unique thought processes, opinions, and strategies for handling life, and my way of doing things does not always mesh with the way others do things.
And then there’s the moment of truth: stand my ground, or defer in order to smooth out the rough edges of the situation.
Of course, anyone reading knows the obvious answer is if you believe in yourself, your stance, you stand your ground. I knew that even when I wasn’t doing it.
The trick isn’t even in the standing of ground (although that’s certainly not fun). The real trick is living inside of my own head in the days that follow.
I am in perpetual awe of people who can take a stand, face their adversaries gracefully, and then let the situation go. I simply do not know how to do that. Even when I believe in myself, even when I have no regrets in any decision I have made, my people pleasing tendencies make me twitchy in wanting to correct, to soothe, to make everyone in the world happy again.
So what to do in this situation? Well, historically the simple investigation and acknowledgement of such feelings goes a long way, as does writing about it and seeking empathy. It’s always a great thing to know I’m not alone.
But the further work for me is in the practice of letting go… letting go of my expectations of how things should have been, or how things should be currently. Letting go of the worry of the future. Letting go of my projections as to how the rest of the world is thinking and feeling. Full disclosure: that last one’s the toughest!
I just exhaled deeply in re-reading that last bit. Yep, the cathartic writing exercise works again! Now, the next post will be when and how I figure out the “letting go” part! Advice, as always, is welcome!
Not including an image from the movie Frozen, since I’m sure you’re all humming that song right about now!
I am honored to publish an article written by my friend John. I have known John for a great deal of my sobriety, he has been a great source of wisdom and inspiration throughout my recovery. Without further ado, here are John’s thoughts on the importance of introduction within the rooms of a 12-step meeting:
Introductions – What Are We Telling the Newcomer?
There are many different ways to introduce ourselves in AA meetings. My favorite – “My name is John and I’m an alcoholic.” Simple, to-the-point, unembellished. Here are some others that I have heard, with possible ramifications for the newcomer. For simplicity’s sake, I will use my name in each:
- “My name is John and I’m an addict and an alcoholic.” We need not even bring up the 5th tradition implications (although they could certainly be cited). By using this introduction, we have unnecessarily set ourselves apart from the newcomer, who may shy away from us thinking that drugs are not his or her problem. If drugs are in our backgrounds, there is plenty of time to discuss that, but at a later date.
- “John, alcoholic.” This one is too quick and glosses over our deadly disease almost as an afterthought. Saying the entire sentence out loud conveys a sense of ownership of the disease from which the newcomer may benefit.
- “My name is John, and I am a recovering alcoholic.” This can be disconcerting to the uninitiated newcomer, especially if the person introducing himself has been sober a long time. It may lead the newcomer to question the value or efficacy of AA. The concept of continual growth through the practice of the 12 steps can be discussed if and when we develop a relationship with the newcomer, or when we share at a meeting.
- “My name is John, and I am a recovered alcoholic.” While many may hear hope and encouragement in this introduction, a newcomer may hear, “So you’re better than me?” The concept of recovery from a “…hopeless state of mind and body…” can be discussed as noted in 3 above.
- “My name is John, and I am a grateful, recovering (or recovered) alcoholic.” I question whether or not this introduction should be used unless one is grateful every minute of every day, as one is alcoholic every minute of every day.
- “I’m an alcoholic with a John problem.” This introduction, while it may be accurate, screams obsession with self. It also may lead the newcomer to believe that AA is a psychoanalytical exercise, rather than a path toward spiritual awakening.
- “My name is John, and I’m a real” Again this introduction may be accurate, but it may allow the newcomer to think that perhaps he or she is not as bad as the speaker. Also, having to qualify the term alcoholic with a superlative indicates our own desire to be special – either especially good or, in this case, especially bad.
- “My name is John (insert last name here), and I am an alcoholic.” Routinely introducing yourself with our last names may scare the newcomer into thinking that Alcoholics Anonymous is not as anonymous as he or she thought. It also conveys a sense of self-importance that is contrary to many of our principles (see 6 above). A possible exception to this suggestion may be our most famous circuit speakers (Sandy B, Earl H, Tom I, and many others come to mind). To those of us who routinely do this, don’t worry about changing to just your first name. If someone actually does need our information, he or she can always get us after the meeting.
As with so many things in life and in AA, less is often more. What better time to keep it simple than when uttering the first words out of our mouths.
A stellar turnout of 9 attendees at this morning’s meeting. Given the dismal weather conditions, I am in awe of their dedication!
Today’s meeting talked about Step Two in the twelve steps of recovery:
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
This step marks one of the first major roadblocks to 12-step fellowship: belief in a Higher Power. And what a shame that is, for there are many successfully sober members who still consider themselves atheists! If you are struggling with the concept of a Higher Power, consider the following things:
- Every step, every idea shared within the fellowship is nothing more than a suggestion. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking, so don’t feel like you are excluded simply because you have no Higher Power in your life.
- The definition of Higher Power is as varied as the membership within the 12-step program.
- Most of us would agree that our concept of a Higher Power is ever evolving, and is not currently the same concept as the one with which we started in our recovery.
So if you are a non-believer, the 12 steps are still a viable option!
My personal story does not include a struggle with the concept of a Higher Power. It wasn’t even a struggle with the belief that He could restore me to sanity. Rather, my struggle was with the idea that He would restore me to sanity. Sounds like a trivial distinction, but it really held me back. For almost a year before my sobriety date I attempted to get a foothold in sobriety, and during that time I prayed on my knees nearly every day. And every day I would get up from that prayer session and would basically be on my way to a relapse. My vague thought process as the time was that “God only helps those who help themselves,” and since I was clearly not helping myself, then would or should He even bother?
I needed to, as this morning’s chapter read, “reconsider or die.” The gift of desperation gave me the chance to revisit all of the suggestions given to me in my attempts and failures, and try each again with an open mind. And when I had the open mind, I could see for myself that the suggestions actually worked! It was all the scientific research I needed.
This step continues to work in my life. I am reminded, time and again, that open-mindedness, rather than contempt prior to investigation, allows me to live the fullest life possible.
Others in the meeting focused on the latter part of the step, and the suggestion that we needed to be “restored” to sanity. The notion that we were insane was offensive to many at the outset. However, with the clarity of sobriety, it is easy to look back on our drinking behavior and characterize it as insane. The chapter we read uses the definition of sanity as “soundness of mind.” As many of us in the room considered the lengths we went to fuel our addiction, the behaviors we consistently displayed in active addiction, and, perhaps most important, the countless times we tried and failed to moderate our drinking, all of us could easily concede that our alcoholic behavior could not be considered sane!
One of the newer members of the group shared that he often considers the 12-step group as a whole his Higher Power. He looks to all of us, collectively, as a source of inspiration and strength, and of hope that he can achieve long-term sobriety.
Possibly the best source of wisdom came from an attendee who shared his evolution of a belief in a Higher Power. Like so many, he struggled with the “God concept” at the outset. The only thing that kept him coming back to meetings was the broad definition of the concept of a Higher Power. His belief, even to this day (over 25 years later): how anyone lives his or her life is applied spirituality, no matter which construct they use to define their spirituality. Doing the next right thing, keeping your focus outward rather than self-centered, and using humility as the backbone of your life, this is enough of a foundation to accept step two.
Applied spirituality is a concept that I can take with me, reminds me of the wise childhood proverb: actions speak louder than words. Rather than get caught up in semantics, go out and do good!
Celebrating the 3 year soberversary of a friend who came out of the house just to get her coin at my meeting. What an inspiring way to start a Monday!
Anyone else have a case of the winter blahs? I am finding it difficult to fire up any brain cells at all today, much less ones that require me to form complete sentences!
In this morning’s meeting we discussed chapter 8 from the book Living Sober, entitled “Changing Old Routines.” The chapter lists a variety of ways in which drinking can be ingrained into our lives, and how small tweaks to the way we do things can have a big impact on our ability to stay sober. From the mundane, such as changing your commute to avoid passing temptation, to the more challenging, avoiding drinking buddies and social events that center around alcohol, the chapter is chock full of practical ideas to help the newly sober stay sober.
Within the meeting, the first change most attendees cited as being instrumental in staying sober was the commitment to attending 12-step meetings. For each person who shared this, myself included, attending a meeting most days of the week represented a commitment to sobriety. Some other changes volunteered from the attendees this morning:
- A consultant who worked out of a home office changed its location from the basement to the upper level. In active addiction it was all too easy to retire to the seclusion of the lower level of the house under the guise of work commitments, and the basement was the perfect temperature and secluded space for storing beverages.
- A stay-at-home Mom with two small children was especially challenged to change old routines, as her drinking spot was at home, and with two small children that is exactly where she needed to spend most of her time. She changed everything that was in her power to change: where she sat in the house, which glass she drank out of, the order of her daily housework, any routine that reminded her of drinking she turned on its head!
- One gentleman found the most difficult time of the day to be right after work. Each day, he found himself with a few hours to kill before he could attend a 12-step meeting, and these hours were the most tempting time of the day to drink. In a need to fill time, he decided to go to the nearby high school track and run a few laps to stay occupied. While there, he found some like-minded runners who encouraged his efforts, and he wound up running a marathon. So he stayed sober and became physically fit!
- One woman, in an effort to prove all the traditional advice wrong, was determined not to change her life around just because she decided to get sober. She had a vacation home at the Jersey shore, where the main weekend activity for her group was bar hopping. She got sober in June, and had the most miserable summer of her life white-knuckling it. At about six month sober, she came to the following conclusion: bars are for drunk people. Twenty eight sober years later, and she sticks by that sentiment!
- Establishing a connection with like-minded people was a huge routine change for another gentleman at the meeting. Finding people who drank like he did, and found a way to stay sober, was the inspiration that ignited his recovery.
- The hardest time of the day for one working Mom was the dinner hour. Just home from work, hungry herself, and needing to feed and care for her child, this was usually the time of day that a glass of wine (or two, or three) would work wonders in motivating her to get things done. She needed to change up that routine immediately in order to stay sober, and for her that meant a small snack to sustain hunger on the commute home, and a special replacement drink at the ready once in the house. She made sure she had the nonalcoholic ingredients ready and waiting for her after work, and she made a ritual out of creating her beverage before doing anything else.
- The final idea shared by one attendee, and the one that most resounded with me: a woman said she initially resisted every suggested given to her. “Yeah, but… I’m a mom of small children.” “Yeah, but… I can’t get to a meeting because I’m too busy.” “Yeah, but…” started almost every sentence. Until she was able to put her reservations aside, stop thinking her life was the exception to every rule, and make recovery her first priority, she was unable to stay sober. Thankfully, she was able to stop making excuses, and 18 years later, she inspires the rest of us to do the same.
I’m sure there were lots more great ideas, but my winter-addled brain is failing to come up with them. I would love to hear from my recovery-minded friends in the blogosphere: what routines did you change in recovery, and how did they help you stay sober?
Typing out this miracle is today’s miracle, because it means I have finished this blog post. Hopefully the publish button is also the energy button so I can get moving with the rest of my day!
This Saturday marks the 23rd anniversary of the day my Dad passed away. To honor his memory, I will provide anecdotal evidence of the great teacher he was. I wish I could provide it to him in person, but I have faith that he will hear it anyway.
When I was a teenager, I became aware of a macabre habit: on Saturday mornings, Dad would get his coffee, sit at the end of the counter, and read the paper. And while I’m sure he read all the traditional parts (sports, front page, etc.), it was his custom to also read the obituaries. If he found someone he knew, even (especially) if it was someone he knew from a long time ago, he would get up from his counter stool, get dressed, and head to that funeral. As a teenager, I was horrified by this prospect. Just showing up at a funeral to express condolences to a group of strangers, for someone you haven’t seen in years, it’s insanity!
My Dad died relatively young (he was 52), he died suddenly, and our family is large, so we prepared for the crowds by having his wake in the church, rather than in the more traditional funeral home. I believe the doors opened at 7 pm, and I did not see the end of that line until after 11 pm. The crowds of people who came to pay their respects to that man still blow my mind. As a daughter, the people who made the most lasting impression on me were not the relatives or close family friends. Of course, I appreciated their presence, but I expected to see them. What stands out to me, even 23 years later, are the men who walked up to me, shook my hand, and told me what a great childhood friend my father was, or what a great co-worker he was, many years ago.
To this day, when I find out that someone has died, and I knew them even in a peripheral way, I attend their funeral.
If I may be so bold to characterize the parenting style in which I was raised, I would label it Fear-Based Parenting. “Wait until your father gets home” are words that still strike terror in my heart, and the man’s been dead for almost a quarter of a century. Lest you think I’m criticizing, I often long for my children to have that same fear of me, but, sadly, that ship has sailed.
One of the arenas in which the fear mongering played out was academics. I dreaded that quarterly report card as if it were a death sentence for 12 straight years, and the most ridiculous part of it was I was consistently on the honor roll. The one and only time I remember that fear being necessary was either second or third grade, and I received an “S-” in conduct. I could not contain the anxiety as I waited until evening, when my father got home. He sat at the counter (same spot where he read the paper), and I stood, trembling next to him as he studied the green cardstock. He looked down at me, and he said, “You did a good job on your report card. The teacher’s pen must have slipped near the “S” on the conduct line, she needs to be more careful.”
I almost fainted with relief.
Last weekend my daughter and I were driving in the car, and she bursts into tears. When she calmed enough to speak, she said, “I really screwed up, there’s nothing I can do to fix it, and I’m too scared to tell you what I did.”
Note to teenage children reading: This is a great strategy, because by the time you tell them what actually happened, your parents, having immediately conjured up things like homicide, pregnancy, and drug-related crimes, will want to hug you instead of kill you. Unless you did in fact murder someone, are pregnant, or have been arrested for a drug-related crime. In that case, I can’t help you to strategize your confession.
It turns out my that the inaugural experience with mid-terms did not have the best results. We talk through the how’s and why’s, and attempt to create some learning points for the future. But by the time we are heading for home, she is a wreck again, because now she has to tell Daddy, and oh my god he is going to kill me. I say I will talk to him first. I do, and armed with the facts, and me recounting the Tale of the “S-,” he calls her down and has a similar conversation. And her relief was as palpable as I’m sure mine was, all those years ago. And I’m sure the chuckle my husband and I shared was similar to the one my Mom and Dad had all those years ago.
When I was roughly the age my son is now (12), I had an ongoing Bickering War with my younger brother. Every day we would come home from school and proceed to taunt, bully, and scream at each other until my Mom got home from work. And then continued to taunt bully and scream at each other in a slightly more subdued way. My grandmother lived with us, but I don’t remember much her opinion on the situation, although as a parent now I can make an educated guess. I’m also sure my Mom threatened us numerous times, to no avail.
One day my Dad is home from work a little earlier than usual. I am called from whatever I was doing to set next to him at the counter (at the same spot where he read the paper and report cards). He tells me he is home from work early because his boss called him into the office to have a talk with him. Turns out, a neighbor has been complaining about the ruckus my brother and I have been causing on a regular basis, and the neighbor has complained to my Dad’s place of employment. The boss tells my Dad, “Jack, if you can’t control your kids at home, how can I expect you to control your truck at work?” He looks at me earnestly, and tells me how important my job is to him, to our family. Do I want him to lose his job?
I am in tears, and I solemnly vow to keep things under control while he is at work. I am permitted to leave the kitchen, and I hole myself away to plot my revenge against the neighbor who squealed. As I consider the possibilities, a few thoughts occur to me:
a. My Dad is a truck driver, and
b. I myself have no idea how to get a hold of him at work, let alone his boss.
My tears of shame turn into tears of outrage. But since I was raised under the Fear-Based Parenting model, I allow the rage to subside. And I did tone down the bickering, so I guess it was a successful strategy.
The lesson? A well-crafted tale can work wonders with children, but the details are critical to its success.
Despite his dying young, I have a multitude of stories from which to choose when writing this post. Hopefully I will get a chance to share them all!
Another Monday, another wrongly predicted snowstorm that has my children enjoying a 3-day weekend for no reason whatsoever. Arghhh.
Today’s reading came from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, a personal story entitled “The Perpetual Quest.” The introduction to the story sums it up better than I ever could:
This lawyer tried psychiatrists, biofeedback, relaxation exercises, and a host of other techniques to control her drinking. She finally found a solution, uniquely tailored, in the Twelves Steps.
–pg. 388, Alcoholics Anonymous
I selected it somewhat hurriedly, and realized I had never read this story. As I have attended hundreds of 12-step meetings, it is always astounding to come across something new in terms of the Big Book. Even more astounding, it was the first time anyone in the room had remembered reading it. The story is interesting, and the point of view was recognizable to each of us in the room, but today I want to write about an experience that occurred separate from the literature this morning.
Last week, as was chronicled in a guest post written by my husband, marked the 3 year anniversary of my sobriety. Side story: at one point during that day I remarked to my husband, “I have hit a bunch of milestones today (with respect to the blog).” His reply: “WE hit a bunch of milestones, hon.” His territorial nature notwithstanding, I continue to be humbled by his generosity, and his love. I am, as you can see for yourself, abundantly blessed in my marriage.
Back to today: while celebrating three years is an utterly wonderful experience, there has been a bittersweet feeling in both the days leading up to and the days following the milestone. As I consider that I have been sober 3 years, I can’t help but recall the tumultuous time in active addiction leading to my personal bottom, and the 7 weeks that followed day one, weeks I will count among the most troubling in my life.
Because getting sober is the polar opposite of instant gratification, something we alcoholics tend to enjoy. You choose sobriety, and then you must deal with the chaos that is your emotional state, your circumstances, really your life, and you have to do it without the long-enjoyed crutch of a mind-altering substance. What was once troubling becomes unbearable. And so it goes, day in and day out, with no real end in sight.
Obviously, I am writing this as I am three years sober, so there is a happy ending to this tale of woe. But the trick is having the courage and the strength to stick it out until the miracle around the corner arrives for you.
We had a newcomer this morning. She hesitated before she raised her hand, and when she did, a lot came out. She forced herself to “do the right thing” and attend this morning’s meeting, but it’s the last place she wants to be. She hates every part of it, resents that she has to sit here at all. She will not drink, just for today (words laced heavily with sarcasm), but she has no belief that things are ever going to get better, and that what we all say to her will work for her personally. The only reason she sits here at all is that she has tried every means possible to do it on her own, and she just can’t do it, so she will hold on for another day.
The first thing that occurred to me, as I listened, was how much she sounded like the author of this morning’s story before she found sobriety. The second thing that occurred was how much she described my early days of sobriety. As she spoke, I recalled, three years ago right around this very date, screaming to my mother in frustration, “And I’m supposed to stay sober even with all this shit going on!?!”
The happy ending to this story was being able to sit down with the newcomer and give personal empathy to her situation, and, hopefully, a little bit of hope that things will get better.
The happier ending to this story was a reminder of how far I’ve come. My three-year anniversary feels just a bit more powerful after the meeting.
Coming home from the meeting to find that my children cleaned in my absence. Now I’m not quite as angry at that stupid school district 🙂