Monthly Archives: June 2015
M(3), 6/29/15: Loneliness Vs. Solitude
Today is the fifth Monday in the month of June, and I am at a point with my meetings that I dread months with 5 Mondays. Which, when you think about it, is beyond silly, since I am the only person that pays attention to the literature rotation from one Monday to the next.
So I stress about choosing a reading selection each time a fifth Monday pops up, I change my mind a whole bunch of times, and it always works out okay. Just like today, when I switched at the last-minute and read from the book Came To Believe, a collection of stories, written by members of Alcoholics Anonymous, that describe how they came to find a God of their understanding.
A few things made the meeting exciting. First, a gentleman who has come to be known as a regular attendee celebrated 90 days of sobriety, a huge milestone in this writer’s opinion! Second, although we were on the low side of normal in terms of attendance, we ran out of time in terms of sharing. Always the sign of a good meeting.
The topic that seemed to grab the attention of the majority was loneliness, and it’s counterpart, solitude. By the chapter’s definition solitude is the joy of being alone, whereas loneliness describes the pain associated with aloneness. Two sides of the same coin. Most recovering alcoholics, at least most of whom I’ve heard share on this subject, directly relate the pain of loneliness to their drinking activity. They experienced loneliness, whether by themselves, with family, or in a crowd of people, and so they drank to escape that feeling. Initially, the effects of alcohol worked for a time, but in most cases wound up creating the isolation they drank to escape in the first place. Many who shared today claimed this vicious cycle as their own, and added further that the lonely feeling was a lifelong one.
The chapter read this morning speaks of using alone time to our advantage rather than fearing it: quiet reflection, taking our inventories, prayer and meditation. In time, the author reports, we will anticipate with relish our solitude.
In the meeting, most reported a turnaround in thinking with respect to alone time. Once a time to be restless and discontent, all who shared now look forward to quiet time to do all the suggestions listed above.
The 90-days-sober-attendee said he vacillates in his perspective of his alone time. Some days, he can have a bad attitude about it, and reflect miserably that it’s another night spent alone while all of his friends are out socializing and doing all the things in which he used to be able to engage. When his perspective is such, nothing makes him happy. Other times, he looks forward to his alone time as a way to decompress and shut down his overactive brain. He is hopeful that over time the latter attitude will come more naturally than the former.
Another gentleman, a 12-step long-timer and a religious professional, cites his lifestyle can be the perfect balance of both: he is required to spend time in prayer and meditation, and can head to his room anytime he needs solitude. Conversely, his weekends are filled with hundreds of people when all is said and done, as he performs his ministerial duties. Of course, he is human, and so once in a while the balance tips in favor of one or the other, but he is careful to keep that balance in check.
Another long-timer shared that he has a similar set of issues as the 90-days-sober attendee. As a single man, some days he feels very alone, with no one to care for him. Other days, he is deeply appreciative of the people who are in his life. The important thing for him is that when he is feeling the pangs of loneliness, he must acknowledge and take action to correct so that it does not drag on indefinitely. His active alcoholism, he remembers, was mired in loneliness, and he consciously drank to fill that hole of loneliness in his life. His best remedy to correct? A gratitude list, so simple and yet so powerful. He reminds himself of how many good people are in his life, and that usually does the trick!
A sideline discussion came about in terms of whether you can feel connected in terms of computer usage; specifically, online connection. Some felt that the connection derived from the internet is not an authentic one, and we are better served with live interaction, others felt that connecting anonymously with others is just as beneficial to their sobriety.
As a blogger for over 3 years, I imagine you all can guess which side of the debate I land. Happy Monday to all!
The honor of handing the 90-day coin out this morning is a miracle I hope I never take for granted!
M(3), 6/22/15: Bungee Jumpers, Horses, and Recovery
So it’s officially summer, and the meeting attendance has dwindled. Incredibly, though, we ran out of time today for discussion, even with only 8 people sharing. I’m thinking that this post might be continued into another, because I am sure that I will be unable to tie into one post all the insights shared in today’s meeting.
There was so much, in fact, that we read only two chapters from the literature selection. For the record, we read from As Bill Sees It, and the topic was acceptance. I jokingly chose the topic because I walked in on the dot of the meeting start time, which is late for the chair of the meeting to arrive. So I selected it lightheartedly, hoping the group would accept my tardiness, but it seemed to touch a nerve with all present.
The first topic of discussion centered around the feeling of anger, and how to satisfactorily handle angry feelings in sobriety. I’ll give the example I threw out to the group: this past weekend I travelled out of town with my daughter’s basketball team for a weekend-long tournament. The weekend, overall a wonderful time in a beach town spent with delightful people and watching my daughter socialize and challenge herself athletically, had some issues common to travelling with a group. Specifically, finding the balance between going along with the group decisions in terms of eating and recreation (much more on the latter in another post) and doing what we as a family wanted to do.
As an aside, I would often watch the other parents and wonder if they were struggling with all this togetherness as much as I was. Is it possible to want to do things as a large group every minute of the day? If so, I must be an introvert, because I was getting a little nuts in the head by Sunday.
The culmination of my angst played out over the last night (for my family, some of these other diehards were extending it into a mini-vacation where they could spend even more time in one another’s back pockets). We were on the boardwalk of the beach town, which of course is a wonderful place for all of these teenage girls to be, but not so much for the parents. We had all gone out for a team dinner beforehand, and due to alcohol consumption by some of the parents, my husband and I volunteered to split up and be designated drivers. A job I was happy to do, in driving from the restaurant to the boardwalk.
Fast forward a few hours, and I was not nearly so happy, because now it’s 10:30 pm, we’ve been milling around this sensory overload of an environment aimlessly for hours, plus we had decided as a family to go to an adorable ice cream parlor near the motel. But we can’t leave the boardwalk without taking people with us, because we are part of a caravan. I tried everything I could imagine to coax enough people to come home with me; not a single plot succeeded. It was only at the point that I was sulking like a 4-year old, on the verge of a tantrum, when my husband looked at me with disbelief and says, “You’ve got to get a grip,” that I recognized I was truly about to have meltdown, the likes of which I have not had in sobriety.
To my credit, I will say that I simply got quiet (ish) after his remark, breathed for a few moments, and finally took back what little power I thought I had by walking to the car and waiting for the group to be done milling around aimlessly.
Overall, though, I was displeased with my emotional reaction to the situation: shouldn’t I be better than this? With a few years of sobriety, shouldn’t I be better able to deal with these situations as they arise?
I will again rave about the power of finding the right 12-step meeting as a saving grace. Although I told the story this morning more or less to confess a situation I wish I had handled better, I wound up receiving more than I could ever write down in blessings from my group. Each person that shared after me told a story where they felt intense anger on the inside, which is why the title reads as it does! The ultimate point each person had, though, in sharing their most recent experience with a similar situation was this: our sobriety does not make us superhuman. Resentments will pop us, as they do for every human being on the planet, but in sobriety we now have a choice: we can handle it the way we have in the past, the kind of decisions that ultimately led us back to bitterness, anger, and ultimately, to drink, or we can choose a healthier option.
One attendee who related his recent story of inner turmoil spoke of the discomfort of knowing there is a choice: we see the 2 paths clearly, and it’s almost painful turning away from the choices to which we’ve become so accustomed. And when he said it, I pictured myself stiffly walking off the boardwalk that night, and discomfort was exactly what I was feeling! I wanted so badly to lash out and argue with my husband why it was okay for me to be self-righteous, as I had a laundry list of reasons to be angry.
That same attendee spoke of giving ourselves the proper credit we deserve. In his story, he griped and complained about his situation… in his mind only. He rose above his resentments and did what he needed to be done. So while he would have liked to have thought more gracious thoughts, the reality is he did what needed to be done. I wish I could say I only complained in my head. However, the only person with whom I vented was my husband, and even then I cut it off light years more quickly than I would have in the past. Progress, not perfection.
And that was one story, one small set of exchanges! There is more to tell, but I am on summer schedule, so I’m going to get back to this more later in the week. To be continued…
Still marvelling at seeing Paul McCartney last night in concert… that’s man’s talent and energy is a miracle!
M(3), 6/15/15: Semantics Can Make a Difference
Last full day of school, for one kid anyway. So last day of calm before the craziness of summer!
It is the third Monday of the month, so the reading comes from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we focus on Step Six:
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
I have admitted this before, so must admit this again: this is my least favorite step. It seems impossible to me… how can a human being be entirely ready to have all character defects removed? Wouldn’t that make one no longer human? And if something cannot be done perfectly, then why is the wording as such? I think, even being a committed 12-step fellowship member for 4 years now, I don’t truly grasp the importance of this step. The good news, and I have admitted all this at the meeting this morning: there was a time when I did not grasp and/or had a philosophical objection to each of the 12 steps; now it’s down to just this one. So there’s hope for Step Six and me yet!
Fortunately for me, the rest of the group of 11 had wisdom to spare, and I have a much better feeling about Step Six than I did going into the meeting. Here are some of the highlights:
- One attendee shared that she has been grappling a bit herself when it come to the application of Step Six in her life. Like me, her initial interpretation is one of such an impossibly high standard, it’s a bit de-motivating…if I know I can never achieve this, why bother? The way she uses it, in terms of discovering her character defects, is to check the motives behind her actions. Turns out, presenting a facade of perfection to the world is a common theme. So she ponders the other side of the coin: what would being vulnerable, instead of presenting the facade, look like? What would it feel like? Are there small steps that can be taken to start moving in a direction? With this train of thought, she feels she is thinking in the spirit of Step Six.
- Another attendee shared something really fascinating to me, something counterintuitive to my thought process regarding this step. In his opinion, self-acceptance is a big part of the process when tackling Step Six. As humans, we all have character defects. Like the disease of alcoholism itself, acceptance is the first step towards change. Given my recent work on self-acceptance, this is a theory I will be exploring a bit on my own.
- A few attendees talked about the usual suspects in terms of character defects. One struggles with being judgmental, another with chronic tardiness, another still with procrastination. All three agree that it is a work in progress in terms of removing these character defects. Progress, not perfection may be the mindset for all three!
- One friend said she does not like the term “character defect” at all, it is just too negative! She prefers using “characteristics that no longer serve us.” In hearing it put this away, it gave voice to something that bothers me the most about this chapter: it’s very negative, and has us look at ourselves negatively. I really enjoyed this simple phrase switch!
- The same friend said she looks at the whole process from a more positive perspective. Instead of focusing on giving up something, she regards what she will gain. In giving up impatience, for example, she will gain so much more peace and serenity. Again, this speaks volumes to the criticism I found in reading this chapter.
- Another gentleman sees the foundation of Step Six as developing the motivation to change. For most of us, choosing sobriety and recovery came as a direct result of misery. Either we were miserable because of the consequences of our addiction (legal woes, marital stress, family disarray, career jeopardy), or we were miserable within ourselves because we could not control our compulsion to drink. Now, Step Six is asking us to look at the not-as-severe character traits that cause harm, and see if we can work to improve them. Not because we are miserable, but because it is the right thing to do. A daunting task, when shown in this light, but far from impossible.
- The same gentleman had his own positive spin on this step. Instead of just looking at the character defect, look at the larger picture, because there is usually an asset on the other side of scale, and things are just out of whack. For example, if you are chronically late, typically you are being very productive doing something else. Instead of berating yourself for all you are not doing, widen the lens, appreciate the good, and attempt to balance out a bit. Again, this gave the step a better framework for me to grasp.
As usual, so much great stuff, what a blessing to start a week off with this much wisdom. Hope everyone is having as wonderful a day!
Remembering to enjoy the last day of calm, before enjoying the craziness of summer!
M(3), 6/8/15: Be Good to Yourself
I walked into my Monday meeting this morning with only a few minutes to share, and there were only TWO ATTENDEES! My heart, I must admit, sank, because I haven’t seen those kinds of low numbers for a long time. Then I remembered it was summer, plus, it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality! And before we got to the reading itself we had 6 more join us, one carrying a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie, so life is good!
Being the second Monday of the month, we read from the book Living Sober, the book I recommend for anyone new to sobriety, whether or not you choose to participate in a 12-step fellowship. I selected the chapter a bit selfishly, in deference to my new commitment to self-acceptance (see last post for details): Being Good to Yourself.
As we read the chapter, I mentally switched gears to apply the chapter to my sobriety. Either I never read this chapter before, or I did not take it seriously, but I completely disregarded these suggestions when I first got sober. I was shocked as I read, then I laughed at my shock. If I need to work as hard as I am on this endeavor more than 3 years into sobriety, then it should come as no surprise that I didn’t learn it along the way!
So I admitted to the group that:
- I picked this selection for selfish reasons
- I had nothing meaningful to contribute from my own personal experiences
Luckily the group had my back, and had some wonderful insights that really helped me:
- The biggest take-away I received, and this was really from every member of the group (because every member had a chance to share, this is the great part of a smaller meeting): the tendency to be hard on oneself is a common trait among alcoholics. We have shame that we drink, we don’t like that shame, we drink to escape the shame, we feel bad physically, we drink some more. Getting off the alcoholic merry-go-round does not necessarily mean we take away the tendency to be hard on ourselves, we just find different means with which to perpetuate the cycle. Yet another reminder why self-care is so important to cultivate.
- The second most important insight: self-care is another arena in which the phrase “progress, not perfection” applies. Consider the self-care of active addiction versus the self-care of sobriety. I will speak for myself when I say there is no comparison! Not only was I ingesting substances that essentially poisoned my body, those substances caused insomnia, loss of appetite, and created a complete lack of energy. I had no meaningful connection with other humans, since I was always in some state of denial, and I had no remote thought of a spiritual life. By comparison, my self-care of today is exemplary. Good to remember next time I’m beating myself up for beating myself up!
- One attendee (the baker of the strawberry rhubarb pie) believes the most important thing he does everyday towards self-care is not drink. No matter what else, this act must come first.
- Another friend remembered well the feeling of perfectionism being a catalyst for his addiction: “Well, I can’t seem to do anything perfectly, might as well drink and not bother at all!” In recovery, he works hard to strike the balance between trying his hardest and fighting his tendency towards perfectionism.
- The struggle against perfectionism came up with every person who shared this morning. One person shared he strives for excellence rather than perfection; for doing his personal best rather than “the best.”
All great stuff, as usual, now I need to take it out my pocket and put it to good use. Happy Monday!
After a fairly long hiatus from getting all my morning “good for you” stuff done (exercise, meditation and the like), this Monday I checked every item off the list. Not surprisingly, I feel good about being good to myself!
The Leap of Faith
You know how a friend will tell you she just ate something that you’ve never heard of before, then the next day you will see an ad for that same product, then the next day that product will jump off the shelf at you in the grocery store? Then you figure with that many signs, surely you were meant to try it?
Well, that’s what’s been happening with me lately regarding the ways in which negative self-talk, a lack of self-worth, and harsh self-judgment can be damaging. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say: something in the Universe wants me to look at this issue.
And I’m fighting it. A lot. And it is so reminiscent of early recovery that I figured I’d write about it here.
So here’s just one example, I could give you a dozen, just from the last week alone. I am talking to my therapist about some self-directed frustration I am experiencing, and as an exercise she forces me to look at the opposite side of the coin, and list out the things I am doing well. I resist this exercise with an energy I am not used to feeling, but my people-pleasing ways win out over my stubborn ways, and I do as she asks. But I do it while rolling my eyes, and ready and waiting to argue my counter points, confident that I will win her over to my side.
And my side is to criticize me.
Silly, illogical thinking, but as much as I cringe at that last paragraph, I can’t take it back, because it’s the truth.
The session goes on from there, and I am forced to admit that perhaps I am a bit hard on myself, but I want to tie this back into recovery. Believe it or not it does intersect.
I remember, very clearly, my mindset those first few 12-step meetings. Yes, I knew logically that I had an issue with which I had to deal. Yes, some of what I was hearing in those meetings made some sense. Craziest still, yes, these people seem to be very comfortable in these meetings, they seemed very happy (almost suspiciously so, my critical mind judged) and, if they are to be believed, voluntarily come back to this forum years after the problem has been solved.
I sat in that position, showing up, listening, speaking when forced, for a long time. At no point did I let go of my cynicism, and at no point did my critical mind stop judging.
And at no point during that time period did I stop relapsing.
So last week, when my therapist said to me, “At some point, Josie, you need to trust the process, because really this entire thing is a leap of faith,” I was immediately transported to that moment in time. I was on my knees, in the dark, praying as I had never prayed before. And when the critical voice showed up to say, “Puh-lease! You’ve tried this a hundred and one times, why would this be any different?” I didn’t agree or disagree, I kept on praying.
And when somebody suggested going to a meeting every day, and the critic showed up to say, “Do you know how many meetings you sat in and then went out and relapsed?” I didn’t agree or disagree, I just kept on showing up.
And when I was told to chair my first meeting, share my personal story, sit down one-on-one with another woman to go through the steps, I did it. I had no idea if the process would be effective long-term or not, I had no basis of comparison really, so I need to take the leap of faith, and I needed to trust the process.
And boy, oh boy, 3 years later, I am so grateful I did.
So I guess it’s time to trust the process again, and start talking back to the critical voice. Here’s hoping the results are as miraculous as the last time.
The miracle of the normal school day schedule. This will be going away very soon, and so I must, with mindfulness, feel the pleasure of routine while it exists!
Guest Post: My Friend John is Back!
And he’s written an informative article on some literature important to the 12-step fellowship:
Twelve Step Heresy: A Critique of
Emmet Fox’s The Sermon on the Mount
I wish I had a nickel for every time I have heard Emmet Fox praised as a principal author of non-conference-approved literature useful in the recovery process. Believing that I was long overdue, I finally broke down and read The Sermon on the Mount – Fox’s work that I hear referenced most frequently. Upon finishing the first two chapters, I had said, alone but out loud, “What?!? That can’t be what he means!” several times. Having read the work through, I feel compelled to speak.
Dr. Fox repeats several themes that are central to recovery – the deflation of ego, constant thought of others, and utter faith in the power of God. But he takes some of these precepts to, for me, an unheard of level. The resultant conclusions sound, I cannot come up with a more accurate description, silly.
Here are just a few examples…
On page 49, Dr. Fox correctly notes that “…there is no virtue in martyrdom.” I am sure that most martyrs would agree, and would have preferred that their beliefs did not require sacrificing their lives. But then, he makes a left turn and asserts that “Did the martyr but possess a sufficient understanding of the Truth, it would not have been necessary to undergo that experience [martyrdom].” Huh. I need elaboration on this point, and Dr. Fox obliges with this statement:
While we may well envy the moral and spiritual heights which they did attain, we know that, had the martyrs ‘loved’ their enemies sufficiently – loved them, that is to say, in the scientific sense of the knowing the Truth about them – then the Roman persecutor – even Nero himself – would have opened the doors of their prison; and the fanatic of the Inquisition would have come to reconsider his cause.
This assertion attributes to the faithful person a degree of power that can only be considered Divine – the control of others free will. The Roman persecutor, under orders, required the Christian prisoner to renounce Jesus and declare allegiance to Caesar and the Roman gods. The faithful, with a degree of faith that I can only imagine, refused to deny that Jesus was the one, true King. The result – the faithful Christians were fed to lions that had been starved for days. The truth, or the Truth, about them (these enemies) was, well, just what is described above. Ditto for the Inquisition. A person bent on evil deeds may be inspired by the faithful to relent, but must make the decision to do so.
For a better discussion of this aspect of humanity, check out Leslie Weatherhead’s The Will of God, published about ten years after the subject work.
Now if you think that the above example was strange, then you will love this next one. On page 57, he seeks to demonstrate examples of a human being’s ultimate spiritual growth and writes as follows:
…suppose that in a street accident you find that a man has severed an artery, and the blood is spurting out. The normal course of things is that unless this bleeding is stopped the victim will die within minutes. Now, what is the spiritual attitude to take in such a case? Well, it is perfectly simple. Immediately you perceive what has happened; you must turn the other cheek by knowing the Truth of the Omnipresence of God. If you get this clear enough, as Jesus would, for instance, the severed artery will immediately be healed, and there will be nothing more to be done.
I know what you are thinking – John C must be taking this quote out of context or leaving something out. I encourage you to read The Sermon on the Mount and see for yourself. He gives another equally absurd example of a child lost down a canal.
Let me quickly add that I may simply be wrong here. I may be missing something that a person with more experience would see immediately, and that the universally (in the recovery world) praised author is just speaking over my head. Certainly this work contains a host of enlightening explanations of “The Book of Matthew.” But on these points, I am still shaking my head.
 Fox, Emmet, The Sermon on the Mount, Harper and Row, NY et al, 1938, ISBN 0-06-0622950-0.
M(3), 6/1/15: DENIAL (Don’t Even Know I Am Lying)
Another Monday, another Monday morning meeting. The magic number of 12 attendees today made it a lively group with lots of discussion, which is miraculous given the dreary weather conditions in my corner of the universe. As it is the first Monday of the month, we read a personal story from the “Big Book” (Alcoholics Anonymous) entitled “Student of Life.”
Quick sidebar, one I’m sure I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the other fact a new one. The author of this story, Jane D., is local to my area, and several in my meeting this morning have had the pleasure of meeting her. The story is extra-special to us for that reason. Second fact, given to me this morning by an attendee who knows her: Jane wanted to title the story S.O.L., for the regular reason people use that acronym (shit out of luck), but of course was denied that title. She settled on Student of Life, figuring it had the same letters!
The focus of our discussion following the story was denial, as the author stays stuck in addiction for a good number of years because she focused on all the things that “never” happened to her: she never lost a job, a spouse or any material possessions as a result of her drinking, so she concluded that she must not have a problem with alcohol.
Most of us in the room, more than likely anyone at all who has chosen recovery, can relate to the notion of comparing ourselves to people “worse off” than us, then feeling better about our own choices. The very first meeting I ever attended (years before I got sober) scared the absolute crap out of me. It wasn’t that I felt superior or judgmental, just that I did not belong there. As time went on and my list of “I Never’s” became shorter (coincidentally, as that list was dwindling, my list of reasons that included me in a 12-step meeting was growing longer), I would stubbornly cling to the reasons I didn’t belong: “See how bad off that person is, I’m not that bad! How am I supposed to learn anything from someone who is so much worse off than I am?”
Cautionary tale was not a concept of which I could grab hold back then. Not surprisingly, hanging on to this mindset had me on the relapse merry-go-round for quite some time. Fortunately, the gift of desperation had me at the spot I needed to be to recover: focusing only on what I needed to do, one day at a time, to stay sober.
The first gentleman to share described how denial of his disease slowly but surely stole interest in any activity outside of drinking. Once a high school wrestling champion, he found that once he started drinking he lost the desire to continue with the sport, due to its interference with his new hobby. Although he tried many different treatment centers and programs, he finds the support and true understanding in our 12-step fellowship to be the only “medicine” that works for him.
Another person related to the author’s relationship with alcohol. He recalls, just as the author had, how that first drink had a transformative effect on his personality: all his anxieties went away practically from the first sip of a drink. He also related to the author’s description of someone’s addiction “bottom.” In the story, the author worries that she had not yet hit her bottom, because she had not lost anything significant in her life. A recovering alcoholic told her: “You reach your bottom when you stop digging.” My friend relates to this: he had not lost a whole lot either, but he simply made the decision to put down the shovel, and in the almost 30 years since, has never felt the need to pick it back up.
Another regular at the meeting said his denial was so deep that he drank for almost a whole year after identifying himself as an alcoholic. Why? Because he figured that’s what alcoholics do, they drink… so he drank some more! Only after he experienced the magic of one alcoholic talking to him in a way that he understood was he able to choose sobriety, and he is another who has not regretted this decision for more than a quarter of a century!
Another friend focused on the magic of service, she believes getting out of your own head and into helping another to be the most important part of the 12-step program. In the early days she was taught to do whatever could help the meetings she attended: make coffee, greet newcomers, put out the books for people to read. Nowadays, having been through the steps more times than she can count, service in the form of helping the newcomer is what keeps her sober and at peace.
Here’s hoping all of you reading are at peace, and enjoying your Monday!
After a week and weekend of on-the-go activity, a day of (relative) peace and low activity is a miracle I am consciously enjoying!