Monthly Archives: October 2015

M(3), 10/26/15: Humility and Serenity are Strange Bedfellows

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I’ve chaired this meeting, but I’m so happy I’m back. ¬†Let’s hope I’m not the only one who’s happy ūüėČ

Believe it or not, it is the fourth Monday of the month… what the WHAT?!? ¬†In the rotation is the book As Bill Sees It, and the subject I chose is serenity. ¬†After last week’s post, where I disclosed my endless and needless guilt issues (quick note: ¬†I was overwhelmed with the incredible wisdom I gained as a result of everyone’s comments, thank you so very much), I figured I would seek a subject that is the opposite… focus on the solution, not the problem, right?

And serenity was the closest I could find in terms of guilt’s opposite. ¬†Plus, who couldn’t use a little serenity in their lives, right? ¬†Certainly the larger-than-average size group of attendees this morning thought so; all who shared claimed they heard just what they needed to this morning.

Funny how that works.

Two profound things came out of this morning’s meeting for me. ¬†First, multiple people disclosed that they are recently back from a relapse. ¬†Although the meeting was larger than usual, it is still a small meeting. ¬†To have a decent percentage of the crowd (I would guess about a third) to be starting over in terms of sobriety is a first for this particular meeting.

You would think that such a startling trend would be put a damper on the mood of the meeting; in fact, the opposite seemed to happen. ¬†Relief and even joy seemed to emanate from each of the individuals who spoke of their troubles. ¬†Not joy over relapsing, but joy in the fact that they were back where they needed to be. ¬†Some are facing legal problems, some worry that their hold on sobriety is tenuous, one is anticipating an upcoming surgery; his last surgery precipitated his recent relapse. ¬†But even with all of life’s issues, each person was grateful for the opportunity to begin again a sober life.

The second theme came from the collection of readings from this morning.  Although the topic was serenity, each reading spoke in one form or another of the importance of humility.  And each of us marvelled over the impact our humility has on our serenity.

And a quick reminder for those who don’t study recovery literature as those of us in 12-step programs do: ¬†humility is not humiliation. ¬†Rather, humility is¬†a reasonable perspective of oneself. ¬†Bill Wilson, founder of the original 12-step program, defined it this way:

The clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to be what we can be.

-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

Seen from this perspective, it is easy to see why striving for humility might also bring about serenity.

It was in one of the discussions about humility that I had my thunderbolt thought. ¬†Let me back up and say that all of the readings had an impact on me, I had chosen serenity due to my recent lack of it. ¬†So all of the suggestions and thoughts were helpful. ¬†But at one point a gentleman was sharing about the idea of turning everything over to his Higher Power, and in so doing he finds serenity. ¬†So I considered this… would turning over these guilty feelings and incessant negative voices over to God help? ¬†Immediately the negative thoughts started, it is not even possible to gather and document them all. ¬†But the aggregate thought might be:

How do you know these negative voices aren’t God’s way of telling you to do something different? ¬†How do you know that the guilt isn’t from God, given as an impetus for change?

With that question came an immediate reply, one that caused all the negativity to quiet down, dramatically.  I actually lost track of the conversation in the meeting for a few moments because my mind was so quiet:

Because God would not torture you with needless guilt to get His point across… duh!

And just like that I had an answer that made sense. ¬†I can talk back to the nagging guilty conscience, because it’s not some wisdom from above, wisdom from above does not come in the voice of a nagging shrew.

Gotta love those Oprah-style aha moments!

Today’s Miracle:

I came in with some pretty high expectations for this meeting, and I left with a peace and serenity the exceeded those high expectations.  

Intermediate Recovery: Guilt

It’s been awhile since I’ve written in this category, I’m not sure why that is. ¬†But since I’ve missed another Monday post, now’s as good a time as any to write one.

I missed this past Monday because I didn’t attend the meeting; I asked a regular attendee to cover for me. ¬†I didn’t attend the meeting because I have been feeling under the weather for past 10 or so days, whatever’s got me has really grabbed hold! ¬†I have been through all the regular permutations of an infection… sore throat, cough, aches, chills, and I’d say for the most part they’ve come and gone. ¬†What’s lingering now, and has been for at least 5 days, is this unrelenting lethargy… it feels like I’m moving through water, and I could sleep at any moment.

It’s bad enough that I actually went to the doctor, which may not mean a lot if you don’t know me, but says something significant if you do. ¬†I intensely dislike going to the doctor’s. ¬†He gave me an antibiotic, and paperwork to get my blood tested, and told me the exhaustion is normal; since my body is fighting an infection, it is working overtime, so it’s tired!

Problem solved, case closed.  For what possible reason would I be writing about such an inane subject?

Answer:  I have uncovered an interesting mental side effect of this physical illness, and that is guilt.  I feel guilty for feeling sick.

Illogical, irrational, and most likely makes me sound unbalanced, but it’s the truth. ¬†I have no energy, and I berate myself for getting nothing done. ¬†The monkey mind creates a laundry list of things I should be doing to get well: ¬†exercise more, fight through the exhaustion! ¬†Drink more water, eat healthier, meditate harder, snap out of it.

“You’re not that sick,” says the monkey mind.

I do try to talk back to criticism, but suffice it to say the circular argument is exhausting to think about, let alone write it out, let alone have it in the first place.

And even when I’ve completed the laundry list, there is always, always another item added for which to feel guilty because it has gone uncompleted.

Three days ago, I awoke from a disturbing dream.  All I can remember from it is that I was diagnosed with cancer.  The disturbing part was the emotion I experienced, which was guilt, because I was convinced that the cancer was my fault for something I had done, or something I had failed to do.

When I realized that was my take-away from the dream, I knew I was troubled.  And I examined where guilt was infecting my life, and was startled to discover how pervasive it was.  Truly, it is egotistical how much responsibility I give myself.

So my inflated ego… something else about which to feel guilty.

While the illness is the catalyst for this self-examination, I believe I will find that, even as I heal, even as I become more active, take on more responsibility, and so on, guilt will still be playing a role. ¬†My best guess is that it’s always been there, I’m just painfully aware of it now that I’m sober. ¬†I’m still not sure what that is, if it is:

A.  connected with addiction

B.  residue from being raised in an Irish Catholic household

Or maybe it’s

C.  all of the above

And more important, here’s the essay question that needs to be answered:

How the heck do you overcome an addiction to feeling guilty?

Feel free to respond, especially if you’re in recovery… from guilt!

Today’s Miracle:

Taking the time to write this post, because I know I am going to get great responses to help me tackle this issue!

Friday Afternoon Ramble

Think of this post like you would a long, chatty, catch-up phone call; if you don’t have time for it, don’t pick up the phone!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written without a purpose, but since I missed my weekly “post with a purpose,” now’s as good a time as any. ¬†Since the reason I missed Monday is the reason I am writing today (also, to procrastinate on some new baking challenges I’ve set for myself for an upcoming busy weekend), let’s start with where I was on Monday, which was North Carolina, for a girl’s weekend.

Girl’s weekend started probably about 10 years ago in my family. ¬†Half of the “girls” live in the Philadelphia area; half live in Maryland, one lives in North Carolina. ¬†The one in North Carolina is the only one who happens to have a vacation home where we can comfortably gather without the “boys,” so North Carolina it is.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out my personal timeline as it relates to Girl’s Weekend: ¬†did I go to the inaugural one? ¬†How many, exactly, did I attend? ¬†What was the year of the last one I attended? ¬†I have it narrowed down, but can’t get confident with the specifics; then again, nobody else is wondering, so I suppose the pressure’s off.

What I remember most about Girl’s Weekend is the last one I attended before this one. ¬†That year we chose to fly in and out of the larger NC airport, which happens to be about 2 hours from my cousin’s vacation home. ¬†When it was time to leave, we were loading our luggage and ourselves into the two behemoth cars my cousin had wrangled for us to use that weekend, and a perplexingly big deal was being made out of who was going into what car. ¬†I was told which car to go in, and was satisfied to stay out of the debate, so I slid into the front seat of the assigned car.

As it happens, the confusion and debate centered around who wanted to be in the Intervention Car, and who didn’t. ¬†To this day, I’m not sure if the argument was over the number of people who wanted in on the intervention, or how many wanted out. ¬†I have my theories of course, but I’ll leave it as one of life’s mysteries.

In case it is not patently obvious, I was the star of the Intervention Car. ¬†To be honest, I could not give you one detail about what was spoken. ¬†Which is a shame, because this many years later, I am genuinely curious. ¬†All I remember is that frozen feeling you get when you are blindsided. ¬†Two hours, trapped, in a car… nowhere to run. ¬†And then another hour plane ride home, and then another hour ride from the airport to my car. ¬†I’m uncomfortable thinking about it now.

Needless to say, I was not rushing back to Girl’s Weekend anytime soon. ¬†By my best guess, that weekend happened 7 years ago. ¬†And by the way, my sobriety date is not quite 4 years ago, so I’m thinking intervention-by-car-ride is not the most effective means of expressing your concern. ¬†At least, it wasn’t for this alcoholic.

So years of resentment go by, then I hit my alcoholic bottom, then another couple of years getting comfortable with sobriety. ¬†And here it is, 2015, and I think I’m ready to give this a go again. ¬†No talk of the Intervention Car, I have no wish to revisit that situation, and so I couldn’t tell you who else even remembers it. ¬†Everyone seemed excited that I was joining them, and I left it at that.

As is always the case of firsts in sobriety, I had some… I’m not sure I would say nerves, exactly, maybe disquiet? ¬†Apprehension? ¬†Whichever word, some thoughts about whether or not the drinking and party atmosphere would negatively impact my sobriety. ¬†This house sits on a completely residential, gated island, so I’m not easily planning my escape. ¬†Then again, it’s a large house, with lots of bedrooms, and everyone knows that I’m sober, so I conclude that I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Believe it or not, alcohol was not my biggest concern. ¬†My goal, coming into the weekend, was to lay down a new track in terms of my personal memories of Girl’s Weekend. ¬†Any time I thought of this event, or it came up in conversation at family parties, I would feel a punch in the gut (metaphorical punch, my family is not one for physical violence), because the memory of those last hours haunted me. ¬†I wanted to prove to myself, and maybe to them, that I am a different person now.

Plus, and maybe this could go without saying, I genuinely love my family, and crazily enough like them a whole heck of a lot too.  We have fun together, and my self-imposed isolation was starting to bug me.

So off I went to North Carolina, for 5 days.  And yes, we believe in long weekends in my family.

How did it go?  It went, by any standard of measurement, well.  I would say it exceeded pretty much all of my expectations, and I suppose it did that because I went in with absolutely no expectations.  I was determined to go with the flow, and I think having the plan to have no plan was a good one when you are dealing with 11 women cohabitating in one house for 5 days.

We laughed, and ate, and talked, and laughed and ate some more. ¬†We did not sleep much, it seemed there was too much to say to one another to waste time sleeping. ¬†We repeated this routine in the kitchen, in the dining room, in the living room, on the beach, in a small nearby town, and on a boat. ¬†Some drank alcohol in addition to eating, talking and laughing, but a few of us didn’t, and most of those who did stopped appropriately.

A fact which never ceases to amaze me.

There was no drama whatsoever, no hurt feelings, no verbal altercations of any kind.  At no point in time did my feathers get ruffled.

If I ever doubt that I have significantly changed in sobriety, I need to look no further than the sentence above as proof that I have.

The best example I can give: ¬†I was speaking to my two aunts, and the sillier one said, “You’ve got to stop being so negative!” ¬†I rewound the conversation and saw nothing negative. ¬†Rather than arguing the point (or, worse still, getting offended), I said, “Aunt Barbara, thanks so much for that learning opportunity!” ¬†I then spent the rest of the time helpfully turning the negatives into positives.

Example:  I was the designated driver.  Go figure!  But the DD status also translated to morning runs to the grocery store.  One morning I had to go out for a bunch of groceries, then run up and down the stairs with the groceries, while everyone else went to the beach.  I texted to make sure they had a chair for me; they did not, but they did want me to bring them snacks.  When I got to the beach I thanked everyone for providing me the opportunity for service, as well as the opportunity for physical activity.

Here’s the interesting part: ¬†I started out this turning-the-negative-into-a-positive with a decidedly sarcastic slant, but by the end of the 5 days I was doing it automatically, and sincerely. ¬†And it actually felt good!

I need to get that attitude back when dealing with my teenaged children, that’s for sure. ¬†Perhaps this weekend, when there are 8,000 things going on at once, and a son who is 48 hours away from being an official teenager. ¬†I vow to reinstate the Girl’s Weekend Attitude of Positivity as we slide into the weekend, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Today’s Miracle:

In the time I’ve spent writing and editing this post, I’ve completed both baking challenges, one a complete success, one an excellent learning opportunity (I now know self-rising flour and all-purpose flour are not interchangeable). ¬†And how’s that for a positive spin?

M(3), 10/5/15: Has It Been 3 Years Already?

It seems almost absurd to say this, but today we celebrated the 3 year anniversary of my Monday morning meeting. ¬†I know it’s trite but… where the heck did the time go?

Plus over the weekend my husband and I celebrated 16 years of wedded bliss, so it’s been a commemorative few days!

Due to the celebratory nature of the meeting, and possibly because there were copious baked goods, the mood was festive this morning, with a nice sized crowd to boot.

Because it is the first Monday of the month, and because we are commemorating the birth of this meeting, and because I personally can’t read it often enough, I selected the story Acceptance is the Answer from the Personal Stories section of book Alcoholics Anonymous. ¬†If you’ve ever read this blog before, then you know this is my favorite story in the Big Book; I’d read it every Monday if I could get away with it. ¬†Which I wouldn’t, because the meeting regulars would vote me out if I did. ¬†It was the very first reading I selected 3 years ago, and I get something new out of it each time I read it.

For those unfamiliar with the story, here is the seminal paragraph.  Most 12-step regulars will know the page on which to find it:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

What’s so great about this story, and the reason I go back to this particular well time and time again, is that the message is universal. ¬†On any given day, there are no less than a dozen things I am struggling to accept: ¬†how my children are behaving, the weather, why some electronic device is not working correctly, traffic, how my clothes fit, someone who calls too much, someone who doesn’t call enough, the state of the world, the state of my house.

All the tremendous energy it takes me to worry, complain, be irritated, plan out the various scenarios by which I make the world as I see fit… where does it get me? ¬†Almost without fail, it gets me to the same spot I was in before I started. ¬†That is to say, I am left with the same children misbehaving, poor weather, faulty electronics, and so on.

And so, acceptance is the answer.

Anniversaries provide the opportunity to reflect back through the time they are commemorating.  I can say, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the happiest time periods in the last three years were those spent consciously practicing acceptance on a regular basis.  Conversely, the periods filled with the most strife were the opposite:  I was railing against something or someone who I believed had done me dirty.

The lack of acceptance which has proved the most challenging for me personally has been self-acceptance.  Again, I can look back on times when practicing self-acceptance has brought about miracles in my life, sobriety being the most obvious. The simple acceptance that chemical alteration does more harm than good allowed me to live in the solution, rather than living in the problem of active addiction.

This blog in an ongoing testament to the power of living in the solution.

Yet even with this knowledge, wisdom that has been almost beaten into my head, I am still erratic with both acceptance in general, and self-acceptance in particular. ¬†Why is it so? ¬†I’m sure there’s a variety of answers, both psychological and practical, that would account for lack of consistency. ¬†I guess I just need to practice acceptance that it takes¬†me so long to practice acceptance!

Today’s Miracle:

As is the case every time I select this reading, a woman sat in amazement today, because this story was so timely for her.  This story is the gift that keeps on giving!

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