Monthly Archives: July 2015
I am going on a small blogging hiatus to enjoy a much-anticipated family vacation. Before I go, I wanted to share a lesson I’ve recently been taught that has yielded great results.
This lesson probably only relates to a small percentage of the universe… or not; I’ve given up thinking I have any sense of what is normal and what is unique to my personality.
Backdrop: I’m talking about my view of competition, which seems not to jive with a lot of people around me. A lot of people I know find competition to be energizing, motivating, and inspiring. But often what I view as competition tends to have the opposite effect: it enervates me and creates anxiety within about my progress (or perceived lack thereof) in the given area of competition. Historically, given these set of conditions, I give up long before the competition ends.
Mind you, most of this is mental. I don’t mean I overturn the Monopoly board, or throw my miniature golf club into the trash can as I storm off the course. I mean I give up trying my best, because I believe my best won’t be good enough.
I could give 100 examples of this type of behavior. It’s just another manifestation of my all-or-nothing personality, a topic about which I’ve written numerous times.
In the conversation of which I am writing the subject winds around to weight loss, fitness and the like. Here the competition can be with others, like a family organized weight loss competition, but more often than not the competition is between (among?) me, myself, and I. Diet trajectory that I’ve traveled numerous times:
Week 1: I am motivated and raring to go, I follow X plan perfectly, and I lose a lot (10 pounds has happened on multiple occasions).
Week 2: I amp it up, buoyed by the success of Week 1… more exercise, more precise food measurement, loftier goals. The weight loss is significantly less (think 1 pound). I fight disappointment, and I attempt to talk back to it with logic.
Week 3: Dragging a bit, I find the whole process to be getting old, but I’m still doing better than my average in terms of exercise. No weight loss at all, and now I’m frustrated. I look to see what I can do to generate success, and I see a million ways I can improve my diet: increase speed on treadmill! eliminate creamer! reduce sodium! eat more vegetables!
And then I become so overwhelmed with what I’m not doing, it feels as if an elephant has demanded a piggy back ride.
Weeks 4/5: At this point, any number of things happen. Sometimes I simply give up right then and there, defeated by the disappointment. Other times I will manically try several days more, all the while compulsively weighing myself and getting more and more frustrated.
It ends by scrapping the whole deal, and reverting to the old lifestyle I was trying so hard to change.
Those who have tried and failed at sobriety might be able to relate, since it mirrors a lot how pre-recovery attempts often start and end. In my case, sober attempts lasted a lot less than 4 or 5 weeks, it was more like 4 or 5 hours, half the time!
Back to the conversation: the person to whom I was sharing had taken a Feldenkrais class, a method of alternative medicine that deals with somatic movement. In class, the instructor advised the students to aim for a “C” grade, rather than arduously striving for the perfect “A” grade.
This suggestion, made by an instructor no less, rendered me speechless. In what universe would it be a good thing to aim for a C?
The answer, in this case, is that the class was about movement, and stress-release. If you are anxiously trying to maintain perfect form, then you are missing the point.
This further explanation made more sense, and I knew I would be considering this concept again. Turns out I didn’t have to wait long.
The next day was a Friday, and that day, more than any other in the week, my meal plans are looser. We hosted a sleepover with my daughter’s friend, and I made some brownies for them to eat. Already hungry for dinner, and at loose ends due to indecision over what to prepare myself, the brownie batter was looking better and better.
And the panicky voice is getting louder and louder:
You can’t eat that! How will you account for it? This is not on your plan!
At which point the words from the day prior came back to me…
Strive for the “C”
Immediately a peaceful feeling swept through me, a palpable sensation of relief. I had done well all day, all week, as a matter of fact. There is no perfect here, and the point is to enjoy food, not be a slave to a plan. And I knew that it truly could fit into my plan, that I had more than enough calories allotted for this treat.
And I ate the brownie batter, and it was delicious, and, the craziest part of all, revolutionary for me, in fact:
I stopped after a few bites. I did not go back for more. And I continued that day, and the rest of the weekend, to follow a healthy eating plan.
Why am I writing about this here, in a recovery blog? Because the whole experience was reminiscent of my early days of sobriety. I’ve written about this about a million times before, but bear with me while I repeat myself. If you are newly sober, I hope you take these words to heart.
When I was at my bottom, and crawling my way back to normal, I had 4 items on my to-do list:
- Go to a meeting
- Talk with another person in recovery
- Refrain from picking up a drink or a drug
If I completed those 4 things, the day was a success. In the earliest days that was not striving for a C, completing that list was an A+!
But as time went by, I naturally started to do more things, take on more responsibilities. Occasionally, things would get stressful, and that panicky feeling would come back in, a feeling I know to deal with in the moment, lest it lead me back to active addiction. In that moment, I would look down at my feet, and remember the checklist of 4, and I would remind myself that is all that is really important. If I am sober, everything else in life will fall into place.
And with the application and conscious gratitude for each day of successfully completing those things, before I knew it, I was more successful than I ever thought I possibly could be.
Now I shall try to strive for the “C” in other areas of my life, and see where I wind up!
We are westward bound, and we can’t wait!
Ten attendees at today’s meeting, robust by summer standards, several of whom had been away for some time. In other words, a reunion of sorts for me. We read from a chapter from the book Living Sober, entitled “Live and Let Live.”
Certainly, those in recovery have no trademark on the expression live and let live; the proverb precedes 12-step recovery by many years. However, it contains a powerful message for those of us choosing sobriety. How many of us drank “at” a problem, a resentment, an irritating person? How many, when in the midst of a challenging social situation, turn to thoughts of a drink to soften its edges?
Naturally, then, when issues arise in sobriety, it is essential to develop a new set of skills. Because, since we are flawed humans living amongst other flawed humans, situations will continue to arise that rub us the wrong way.
The part of the chapter that stood out for me personally, and I so noted to the group, was:
We have learned it pays to make a very special effort to try to understand other people, especially anyone who rubs us the wrong way. For our recovery, it is more important to understand than to be understood.
Living Sober, pg. 12
Ouch! That last sentence hurt, since I can rewind not very far back and find a multitude of examples of doing the exact opposite.
From my share a good friend was freshly back from an extended family overseas vacation, and she shared of her struggles during that time: a family that relies heavily upon alcohol, especially when in vacation mode, far from the comfort of home and sober support, and very little chance of escaping all the alcoholic conviviality of the group. She worried that, at close to 2 years sober, the chaotic feelings she experienced, and to some extent is still experiencing, even while home, are not normal. She worries that she will feel this way for the rest of her life.
Thankfully, the group has several with decades of sobriety, and all were quick to assure her that it is normal to experience feeling of discomfort when surrounded by excessive alcohol. You’re not “doing something wrong” in sobriety if you look longingly at a glass of your old favorite varietal wine.
Chances are, if you are attending a 12-step meeting, you have acknowledged a problem with alcohol on some level. People who have experienced problems with alcohol will, from time to time, wish to imbibe alcohol. It would be illogical to think otherwise! The difference is, in sobriety, we learn to think through the longing, and play the tape through to its inevitable end, which is not that one glass of wine.
Even in the short time span of the meeting, my friend reported feeling much better about the situation, and about her confidence in her sobriety. Sometimes all it takes is getting it out of your head to feel better.
A few others reported being “live and let live” people naturally, so applying that philosophy to sobriety came a bit easier to them than to those of us who struggle with the concept. Needless to say, present company is included in the half that struggle!
One attendee finds that even with over 7 years of sobriety, her natural inclination is the complete opposite of live and let live; her hackles are raised the instant somebody interferes with her sense of right and wrong. Her response to feelings of irritation and discontent is prayer. She finds that by taking all issues to her Higher Power, both crises and smaller irritations, she is better able to live and let live.
Another gentleman, the type who enjoys the “live and let live” philosophy naturally, finds that it is a skill. Like most skills, it gets easier and stronger with practice. He finds that even when his feathers are ruffled these days, the feelings of discontent are benign and short-lived.
Finally, a variety of people talked sober vacation strategy: limiting your time spent around alcohol, creating sober activities for yourself to counteract prior traditional ones, packing inspirational literature, researching 12-step meetings in your vacation town.
All tried and true advice given by the very wise group of Monday meeting attendees. I would love to hear others that we missed. What are your go-to strategies for staying sober away from home?
As always, getting more than I think I need from this group is a blessing I hope I never take for granted.
I’m hoping all of my US friends had a spectacular Independence Day, and for my outside-of-the-US friends, I hope you had a wonderful first weekend in July 🙂
I had an amazing weekend myself, gallivanting with my family and best friend all over the big city of New York (and logged over 50,000 steps on my activity tracker to prove it). As a result, I was dragging my wagon this morning, and was as reluctant as I’ve been in a long time to chair my Monday morning meeting. Got there with minutes to spare, and only 2 people awaited me.
As the reluctance to be there grew, I reached for the reading that never fails to inspire me. It is the last chapter of the first half of Alcoholics Anonymous, entitled “A Vision For You.” I have described it too many times to count, so I won’t bother doing so again, but it is my go-to reading when I need an energizing lift.
The reading, and the meeting itself, did not disappoint. Before we were through reading the chapter, we had a total of 10 attendees, a respectable number for a summer meeting. The theme of the shares today was, not surprisingly, just what I needed to hear. Before I get to that theme, I want to share my take-away from this morning’s literature.
Several times this chapter gives mention to the necessary component of a spiritual awakening in a 12-step-based recovery. For those unfamiliar with 12-step recovery, a spiritual awakening refers to the process of becoming aware of, and connected to, a power greater than ourselves, and building and strengthening a connection with that power to get and stay sober.
Although this could probably go without saying, that definition is my interpretation of the term “spiritual awakening.” If it confuses you more than it helps, you can find all kinds of good stuff on the internet to help better your understanding. Important to remember, in grasping the concept of a spiritual awakening, is:
1. It is an ongoing process, not a one-time event
2. It is a unique experience; no two spiritual awakenings are the same
Back to the meeting: I’m reading along and considering my unique spiritual awakening story, and I’m realizing that I have fallen off the beam with connection to my Higher Power. Nothing dramatic, where I’ve renounced my faith, or taken some hard left morally, but that slippery slope that is so small it’s not terribly noticeable unless you’re paying attention: morning prayers said hurriedly, not even an attempt to meditate, not even a passing thought as to how better to serve others. It made me think, and hence the title above, that I’ve hit the snooze button on my spiritual awakening.
And I did share this with the group, but, in an unusual twist, I did not share until the end of the meeting. People were anxious to get their thoughts out, which is a wonderful thing!
And in the majority of the shares, an incredible theme took shape: people are sitting this Monday morning, incredibly grateful for their sobriety. Apparently several of the attendees had a shared experience: friends in the program with significant sober time suffering through a relapse, with the typical devastating results.
The people sharing this morning are not newcomers to sobriety, or the fellowship itself: one has 10 years of sobriety, one has 25 years, and the third has one year sober currently, but prior to this had 14 years before a relapse.
And all say the same thing: they continue to attend meetings, and stick to the basics of their program of recovery, so that they do not become one of the statistics. It doesn’t matter how much sober time they have, all assert, because a program of recovery is worked one day at a time.
So in honor of my fallen anonymous comrade, and also on the words of inspiration from my friend ainsobriety, I came home from my meeting, I went to my neglected meditation spot, and I sat and meditated. Time to deactivate that snooze button!
Hearing what I needed to hear today to be profoundly grateful for my sobriety