Monthly Archives: September 2015

M(3), 9/28/15: Open-Mindedness

We are almost a whole week into the season of Fall, and, other than my home decor  and decreased sunlight, you would never know it in my area of the world.  I say if I can’t have the long summer days, then I don’t want the summer humidity!  Hopefully the rest of you are enjoying seasonal weather.

Today’s reading selection comes from the book As Bill Sees It, and the topic was “open-mindedness.”  I selected it because I have been struggling of late to cultivate this trait… with myself.  And I’m frustrated at how tedious and seemingly ineffective it is to try to change my own stubborn mind.  The last time I had to engage this kind of shift in perspective it took hitting an alcoholic bottom to do so.  I’m hoping that the wisdom gained in sobriety affords me the opportunity to develop the open-mindedness I need without the “benefit” of a personal low such as that!

So my sharing had to do with the broad concept of open-mindedness, but from my sharing the group took a decided turn towards open-mindedness as it relates to the belief in a Higher Power.

In fact, the next person to share after me revealed a multitude of points at which she finds herself stuck in developing a prayer life.  She has classified herself an agnostic for most of her adult life, so the concept of a Higher Power at all is a new one to her.  She finds it difficult to ascribe human qualities to an entity about which she is uncertain, so having a daily conversation makes little to no sense.

She has grown up with family that treated the God of their understanding as a Santa Claus God; if you ask nice enough you will get whatever you want.  But praying for anything stumps my friend; isn’t that reverting to self-will again?

From her disclosure, each person shared about his or her journey to spirituality, and all agreed that it is a journey rather than a destination.  Another prior agnostic said what appealed to him about the 12-step program is their refusal to define the term Higher Power.  Thirty six years later, he still refuses to define it.  But the benefits of following the simple suggestions of asking a Higher Power for help had immediate, practical results for him, and so he continues to keep it as simple as possible.  That simplicity has kept him sober and happy for a very long time.

Another long-timer, a clergyman by profession, admits to having a more conventional concept of God.  What he appreciates, however, and has deepened his spirituality, is sitting in the rooms of our 12-step program and hearing all the different constructs that people have in terms of their faith.  No matter which way you go about developing your relationship with a Higher Power, this gentleman believes the ultimate goal is self-transcendence:  getting out of our own heads, and developing a broader perspective.  However you get there is up to the individual.

Another attendee has a hard time sticking to one definition of a Higher Power, so for him it varies.  He has a picture of Christ in his car that brings him comfort, but he also feels God in nature.  He finds it simpler to not ask too deeply, because his experience was rather dramatic:  the first time he got down on his knees and asked to have the obsession to drink removed, it was removed.  In over 25 years, it has not returned.  So for him, there is surely a power greater than himself, because he could not quit drinking on his own.  The details simply don’t matter to him.

Another woman spoke of all the manifestations of prayer life she has been through in her many years of sobriety.  Come to think of it, most of the people who shared today have decades of sobriety.  This usually means they’re doing something right!  Anyway, this woman had a confusing childhood of mixed spiritual messages, then she disconnected completely from spirituality for the decades she drank.

So when she committed to getting sober through a 12-step program, she took every suggestion given to her, and the first was:  pray for sobriety!  At first, that was all she could do… start every morning asking God to keep her sober, then finishing each night with a thank you prayer for another sober day.  Over the years, she has tried all kinds of conventional prayers, and a variety of meditations; the format of her prayer life is an evolution.  But the one constant is that she asks God for help, and she remains as open as she can for the answer.  And she has found incredible answers over the years, from all sorts of unlikely sources.

I had to jump back in and second that notion.  I learned through this program that prayer is asking for God’s help, but meditation is listening for the answer.  So the notion of a “Santa Claus God” is something I engaged in for years… I would desperately ask for something, then become aggravated when I didn’t get exactly what I wanted in the time frame I wanted.

But in the application of both prayer and meditation, I too have found answers in unusual circumstances.  I may not always like the answer, and sometimes I wonder if in fact it is the answer, but the coincidences-that-are-not-coincidences happen too often to not be something greater than myself.  The trick, of course, is cultivating the open-mindedness to receive them!

So many other great moments, but this post is turning into a book, and I’m late for an appointment…

Today’s Miracle:

Finally, after 2 1/2 months, I am getting my hair done this afternoon.  Why I waited this long is anyone’s guess, but the skunk streak of gray is about to be banished from my head 🙂

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M(3), 9/21/15: Amends is More Than an Apology

It is the third Monday of the month, and fall is just around the corner.  Hard to believe we’re into the school year already!  The third Monday is where we discuss the various steps in my 12-step program; since it is September, the ninth month, we discuss Step Nine:

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

This is, without a doubt, the Monday to which I look forward the least, as step 9 is the step to which I personally have the most conflict.  I’m sure if I went back through the archives of this blog I would find multiple posts that discuss in detail my conflict in executing this step; I won’t bore the world again.

In fact, the only thing that may have changed between last year and this year is a general sense of patience with regard to this step.  Sooner or later, this turmoil will resolve itself, and I will be ready to proceed.  It’s happened with many other crossroads in my life, and I have absolute faith it will happen with this one.

So that’s my personal journey with step 9, and when the time comes for me to proceed, you better believe I will be writing about it!

Of course, wiser people than myself attend this meeting, and they had more profound things than I to share:

First, a regular attendee who just celebrated his 29th year of sobriety, spoke of his conflict regarding step 9.  Due to the nature of his profession, he interacts with dozens of people daily, which would make an amends list an overwhelmingly lengthy one.  His sponsor at the time tugged on his sleeve and said, “Why don’t you start the amends process simply, and stop the behavior that caused you the need to make an amends?”   When we are all twisted up on the how’s and why’s of an amends, it is critical to remember this is the most important aspect.

The woman who last year told me to pray for the willingness was back, and her advice was as spot on as it always is.  She referenced the chapter we read this morning where it talks about the importance of sound judgment, and good timing playing a role in the amends process.  She said whenever fear is involved, both of those things fly out the window, which is why it is critical to enlist the support of a sponsor or a spiritual advisor when tackling this step.  Rushing into an amends often does more harm than good, so planning and practicing with someone who knows your history will produce the best results.

A friend who is back to the meeting after many weeks absence said it took her years of sobriety before she was ready to attend to this step.  Her best advice is to get right with yourself before you attempt to get right with anyone else.

Another gentleman said the roadblock he encountered in completing this step was the incredulity of the people to whom he was making amends.  Turns out, most people in his life didn’t think he was that bad!  He overcame this obstacle by reminding himself, and those to whom he was making amends, that doing so is important to his sobriety.  It doesn’t matter whether or not someone else thinks you need to make amends; it only matters that you think so.

A woman who is not as far along as step 9 told a cautionary tale about rushing this step.  She was speaking with a loved one, who was asking about a time in her active addiction.  She decided she may as well just forge ahead and start the amends process with the full and unvarnished truth.  This candor turned out to be a mistake, and she regretted being as forthcoming as she was.  She failed to consider the second part of the step, and inadvertently “injured” her loved one.  She learned the valuable lesson of running things by her sponsor rather than making an impulsive decision.

Another regular attendee spoke of harm he had caused in his college days.  He said the house-mother of his fraternity stands out as someone to whom he wishes he could make amends.  He guesses he is currently around the age she was at the time, and it causes him shame to think of how his drinking antics affected her.  She is, sadly, deceased, but he had been advised to write a letter to the woman to tell her what he would say if he was able.  Great advice for any of us who feel we owe an amends to people who have passed away.

I said to the group that this is the meeting I dread the most going in, but leave with the most going out!

Today’s Miracle:

Feeling decidedly under the weather today, so I suppose the miracle is composing this post and hitting publish!

M(3), 9/14/15: Staying Away From The First Drink

Happy Monday to all!

We finally, after what feels like ages, had a decent sized crowd this morning, a sure indication that fall is here.  Not entirely sure why the summer brings smaller meeting attendance, but 3 summers into running this meeting, and the fact remains the same.

The stunningly perfect fall day in my neck of the woods could have gotten people out of their houses as well.

In any event, big crowd, and my favorite book in the literature rotation, Living Sober.  And the icing on the cake:  two newcomers, one of whom had never heard of the book before!

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, Living Sober is the only book in the 12-step literature selection that made even the tiniest bit of sense to me in early sobriety.  It is like a manual on how to get and stay sober.  It is easy to read, and chock full of practical, relevant advice if you are just starting on your road to recovery.

Come to think of it, it’s relevant even if you’re further along that recovery road!

Today we read the chapter entitled “Staying Away From The First Drink.”  It goes on to describe the benefits of focusing on not picking up the first drink when trying to get sober.

Most people, myself included, read this advice and thought, “Well, duh!”  It sounds oversimple, almost a waste of paper and ink writing a chapter on something so obvious.

But for those of us who have tried and failed to stop drinking, we need to think harder about this advice before we toss it aside.  How many times have we gone into an evening promising ourselves that we’d just have one, and then wound up drinking more than we could even remember?  Or swearing we would go an evening/weekend/month without alcohol, just to prove to ourselves that we could, and wind up giving in at the first possible opportunity?

In giving up on sobriety, the process is usually the same:  I’ll drink, but I’ll do so moderately.  I’ll set a limit, I’ll drink water in between drinks, I’ll drink as slow as my moderately drinking friend X, I’ll only drink beer.  This list could go on for quite a bit.

Sometimes these strategies work, which proves to us even more conclusively that we weren’t that bad.  Look… I went out for the evening and only drank 2 glasses of wine… what problem drinker can say that?

The person in denial of problem drinking will keep that 2-glasses-of-wine-night in his or her back pocket for a long, long time.  It will be pulled out as evidence any time the threat of being called an alcoholic is near.

The chapter goes on to describe how much simpler it is to stay away from the first drink.  Rather than obsess over counting how many, how drunk, how fast you’re imbibing, how much alcohol before you’ve crossed the line, keep your focus much narrower, and simply avoid the first drink.  In so doing, you take off the table any concerns about every one of those other issues.

I remember thinking this was the most annoyingly obvious piece of advice that did me no good, and I remember when I decided it was the most ingenious bit of wisdom that anyone ever conceived.  Often, the simplest things are the most inspired.

This advice took on new meaning for me in later stages of recovery.  If you attend enough meetings you will surely hear a long-timer sagely intone, “You are either moving towards a drink or away from one.”  It drives me crazy when I hear it, and sets my monkey mind into overdrive:  oh no!  I might be heading towards a drink right now!  I might have been heading towards one for hours/days/weeks/months!  Maybe I will relapse, and look back and realize the relapse started right this very second!!!

If you wonder if I’m exaggerating for effect… I am not.  If anything, I’m understating.

The advice “just stay away from the first drink” is the antidote to this mental madness.  If I do nothing else right, and everything else wrong, as long as I stay away from that first drink, I am sober.

Whew!

Today’s Miracle:

In honor of National Recovery month, I wrote a few lines for the website addiction.com.  Check it out!

M(3), 9/7/15: Making the Impossible Choice of Sobriety

Happy Labor Day to all my fellow Americans.  Wait, come to think of it, happy Labor Day to all my friends!

Any meeting day that is also a holiday is a crapshoot in terms of attendance.  I didn’t count, but surely we were on the low side of average today.  I selected a story that we read exactly a year ago.  It is called “Physician, Heal Thyself” and it is found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.  It is a story of a person with a high bottom; the author was a very successful surgeon who claims to have made more money is his last year of drinking than he ever had before or since.  His marriage was never in jeopardy, he was beloved by all.  To use his expression, his was the skid row of success, which is just as miserable as the skid row in any city.

In order to select that story, I needed to research back through this blog to see what I read last September.  In doing so, I read over the blog and the subject matter discussed, and I considered that on the way over to this morning’s meeting.  The general discussion then was how to choose sobriety when you are unconvinced or unwilling to accept that alcohol is a problem.

In reflecting upon that theme, I remembered a woman sharing about this subject when I was new to the program.  She said that even though she was 5 years sober (at the time), even though she was a regular attendee of our 12-step program, even though she had experienced miracles as a result of successfully working the steps… even with all of this information, she still will, once in a blue moon, get that thought, “Maybe it wasn’t all that bad.  Maybe I’m not really an alcoholic.”

Everyone in the room chuckled that day.  My own reaction, not knowing the woman particularly well, was to smile and nod, but think it an unrelatable story for me.  At less than a year sober (at the time), and happily sitting on the pink cloud of early sobriety, I scoffed at the idea I would ever forget what brought me into the rooms.

Now, of course, I know better than to scoff at anything, and, of course, in the years that followed, I have had those snatches of insanity… was it really that bad?  Would it be the end of the world if I drank again?  Fortunately, staying connected with a sober support network, both in the “blogosphere” and in the live world, helps me to play that tape through, and reach the logical conclusion that it makes more sense to stay sober.

So anyway, that was my thought process, and what I figured I might share once we read the story.

Five minutes after the meeting started, the woman who made the comment that started this thought process entered the meeting.  I have seriously not seen this woman in well over a year, maybe closer to two years.

I’m telling you, I can’t make this stuff up!

Aside from having the wonderful experience of reconnecting with an old friend, we had a newcomer at the meeting.  It took him some time to share, but when he did, it was powerful:  he had just left rehab on Friday, and today he has a family function where drinking will take place.  He is conflicted about so much, and the mere thought of attending this function cost him an entire night’s sleep.  He does not know what to do.

When I hear stories of this nature, I am immediately transported back in time, back to when I was trying and failing to stay sober.  My core belief at that point was that nothing in my life need change just because I’m not drinking.  Of course I will attend drinking family functions, why wouldn’t I?  As long as I don’t drink, what possible difference could it make?  How could I explain to husband/kids/mom/aunts/uncles/cousins why I was not present?

What would they do without me?

When written out like that, and with a small bit of sobriety under my belt, the illogic of that paragraph is obvious.  But to the gentleman sitting in that meeting this morning, not so much.  In speaking with him afterwards, he said, “But I want to spend time with my wife and son, and they want to spend time with the larger family, what can I do?”

In early days, it all seems so impossible.  The reality is, the time frame of chaos, uncertainty and fear, when contrasted against the timeframe of your life, is really quite short.   It seems inconceivable to put something like recovery in front of things like spending time with your spouse and child, or a family obligation.  But once you make that choice, what you come to realize is that in a very short period of time you will have it all, you will have those blessings and so many more in a way you cannot even imagine.

And all you have to do, just for today, is put your sobriety first.  Whatever that means for you:  skipping one family picnic, or taking your own car so you can get out if it gets too tense, attending a meeting, sharing what’s on your mind.

That newcomer will be on my mind today, and I’m hoping he is able to do what he needs to do, today, to stay sober.

Today’s Miracle:

Heading to a baseball game today.  The entire family looking forward to the same event at the same time, especially when two of those family members are teenagers… that is a miracle!

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