Monthly Archives: December 2015

M(3), 12/21/15: The Collective Boo Hoo

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And just like that, we are here at Christmas week.

Another packed meeting today, 20 attendees!  For the record we read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  Because it is the 12th month, we read step 12:

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Because this is a long step, with an equally long reading associated with it, we read the first half today; we’ll read the second half next week.

Which turns out to be quite convenient, since we talked but little about this step in today’s meeting.  As it happens, the group had some venting to do!

I shared first, and I was able to keep my share in context with the reading. I have written this before, and I’m sure I’ll write this again:  when it comes to which of the steps had the most transformational effect on my life, step twelve is tied for first.

Step three is the other, in case you were curious.

My best guess for why both 3 and 12 are so important is that they have the greatest universal application:  anyone, anywhere, anytime can benefit from putting into action the suggestions in steps 3 and 12.

Which means that when I choose to use the spiritual awakening I was granted to help another, when I choose to practice the very basic suggestions given to me by this 12-step program everywhere in my life, not just within the confines of my recovery, then my life is exponentially better.  The moment I choose to get out of my own head in order to give assistance to someone else, my life improves.

It’s that simple, but its simplicity belies the profundity of its impact.

That was my take on the reading, but we took a major turn when I finished.  I’m not sure what it is about the holidays and family, but things were haywire with the group, at least with the portion of the group who shared.  Feelings of being misunderstood, familial expectations that lead to feelings of entrapment, confusion and resentment regarding the decisions of loved ones all permeated the room this morning.

A lot of people started their sharing with variations of the theme:  “I anxiously anticipate the end of the holiday season.”

You might think that I’m complaining, or perhaps resentful that this group of sad sacks pricked a hole in my balloon of optimism.  Far from it!  Every single person, by the conclusion of sharing their troubles, felt better for having shared it.  Not only did they state this to be true, it was visibly apparent… smiles replaced tears, countenances brightened, tones of voice evened out.  It’s like watching little miracles, one after the other.

Besides the actual act of sharing, the other element of improving each person’s mental state seemed to be absorbing the message within the reading this morning.  Now that the troubles are aired, each person remembered what they needed to do:  get out of their own heads, and be there for someone else.  And in so doing each seemed to take back some of the peace that this season promises.

And it brought me a lot of the magic this season promises!

Today’s Miracle:

Having this magnificent platform to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!

M(3), 12/14/15: ‘Tis the Season to be Sober!

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I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in my neck of the woods it could not feel less like the holiday season, it’s so warm!

This, by the way, is not a complaint.  Although I’ve heard a few grumbles from the skiers I know.

Unseasonable weather aside, I had close to a record high number of attendees this morning.  I actually could not accurately count without looking like I was counting, which would mean I was not paying attention to the person sharing, but I’m guessing in the neighborhood of 20 attendees!  And it was a true cross-section of sobriety, one person shared with close to 40 years of sobriety, next was a newcomer with 70 days sober, and after that two people struggling after a recent relapse.

Today we read from what I consider the timeliest book of all the possible selections, Living Sober.  Reading more like an instruction manual than an actual piece of literature, Living Sober gives practical, easy-to-follow suggestions on how to get and stay sober.  I selected what seemed to be the most topical chapter given the upcoming holiday:  “Being Wary of Drinking Occasions.”

Both the chapter, and the subsequent discussion, turned into a comparison of helpful (and unhelpful) strategies for dealing with the prevalence of alcohol in the upcoming weeks.  The reality is that alcohol is everywhere, and it would be impractical to expect the world to stop drinking simply because we choose recovery.

The chapter, and every single person that shared in today’s meeting, agreed on one point:  in early sobriety the best strategy for dealing with alcohol is not to deal with alcohol.  Opt out of the events that center around drinking.  Make excuses to avoid your usual haunts.   Skip the holiday happy hour.

At this point a reader could be protesting, “But that’s impossible!  It’s a required function/I am indispensable/the event cannot go on without me!”  And possibly in a few select cases, this is true.  But it is an amazing thing, when you really break it down, how rare those situations are.  One holiday season can survive without your presence, it truly can.

I was one of those people who figured there was no way of getting around it… holidays did not exist unless I was present.  And since I wasn’t stopping the rest of the world from drinking, then I better learn to deal. As a result, I relapsed habitually.

When I finally took my recovery seriously enough to claim it a priority over social gatherings, an interesting thing happened… those social occasions proceeded quite nicely without me.  Sure, people missed me, but then they continued to enjoy the event.  Soon, I grew comfortable enough with my sobriety to attend drinking functions with serenity.  Not arrogance or cockiness, but with a peaceful ease.

For those occasions where your presence is required alongside alcohol, here are some strategies, a mix from the chapter itself, and the wisdom shared by the group:

  • Arrive fashionably late, particularly if the first hour is cocktail hour.
  • Ensure you have the freedom to leave on your terms.  Don’t carpool with anyone who might insist on staying late.
  • If the event has a bar, make sure you head there first, and order something ambiguous:  ginger ale, tonic, sparkling mineral water.  No one will have a clue if your drink is alcoholic or not!
  • Make sure someone knows that you are planning to attend the function, particularly someone else in recovery.  If possible, arrange to call that person afterwards.  Accountability is key.
  • Remember:  “No” is a complete sentence.  It is not a requirement that you explain to anyone why you are choosing to abstain from alcohol.
  • Plan in advance what you will say if someone asks why you are not drinking.  There are a multitude of options, from the white lie of “I’m taking medication” to the completely candid, “I’m a recovering alcoholic.”  Many more possibilities exist in between those two; pick one and practice it, out loud, until you are comfortable with it.  I have been in the situation where I’ve been caught off guard, and I’ve been in the situation where I’ve rehearsed, and I promise, the latter is the way to go.
  • Bring your own drink with you.  I know people who carry around their own water bottles wherever they go, and will only drink that.  For a fancier function, bring a fancy non-alcoholic drink as your contribution to the party.  The people in my life know I am a huge fan of fountain soda; for a long time I brought a large Diet Pepsi from the nearest convenience store right into the party.  Presto!  The dilemma of anyone asking me what I wanted to drink, solved!
  • Plan to leave before drinking gets out of hand.  My extended family holiday parties can get rowdy as the night wears on.  I have a small phrase I’ve said to my husband, “It’s time.”  He knows this means I recognize the party is changing from regular holiday cheer to drunken antics, and we are typically out the door in under 10 minutes.  And if you understood all the people I had to go around and kiss goodbye individually, you would be very impressed!
  • Offer to be the designated driver.  No one is bugging the DD to drink!
  • Create new, sober holiday traditions to replace the old drinking ones.
  • Gravitate towards the people at the party who don’t drink.  You will be pleasantly surprised to find there are more of those than you ever thought possible!

Alright, that’s what I’ve got to report from this morning’s group, but I’d love to hear from those of you with more ideas… what’s your best sober holiday suggestion?

Today’s Miracle: 

20 people at the meeting this morning, it really has been awhile since I’ve seen crowds like this!

M(3), 12/7/15: Bullwinkle-ism

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Typing the date just gave me more than a little jolt to my system:

Christmas is coming!  Christmas is coming!

Today we read a story from Alcoholics Anonymous entitled, “AA Taught Him to Handle Sobriety.”  The selection below best sums up my personal take-away from the reading:

God willing, we members of AA may never again have to deal with drinking, but we have to deal with sobriety every day.  How do we do it?  By learning- through practicing the Twelve Steps and by sharing at meetings- how to cope with the problems that we looked to booze to solve, back in our drinking days.  -Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 559

Boy does that message resound this time of year!  Not only is there extra items on the to-do list, not only are there added family pressures, not only is this a time where stress runs high and time runs short, but all of this is happening simultaneous to when alcohol flows most freely.

I would say most of us in recovery have a time or two under our belts where we abstained from drinking.  All but the most physically addicted can stop drinking fairly easily; the trick to sobriety is staying stopped.

For me and the fourteen attendees this morning, we accomplish that trick with a twelve step program.  Others I know use our wonderful blogging community for support.  And countless additional roads to sobriety are out there as well, you just need to pick one and start travelling down the path!

It should go without saying that my experience is framed within the context of 12-step recovery.   It is this time of year especially that I am grateful for this fact, and for the exact reasons the author writes.  I can not drink, one day at a time, for the rest of my life.  And that is a miracle I hope I never overlook.  But the “beyond my wildest dreams” stuff of which people in recovery speak happens when I apply the twelve steps of recovery to the rest of my life.

Some other great perspectives came out of this morning’s meeting:

  • One woman, who of late has been struggling with relapse, has finally found a few days of peaceful sobriety.  She has been finding ways to sneak quiet prayer time into her hectic schedule, and she is feeling the benefits of it at last.  She wants to remain conscious of the power of prayer in her life.
  • A gentleman brand new to my meeting, but not the Fellowship in general, talked about how he related to the author’s continuing to drink despite increasingly dire consequences.  He was proud of all his “I never” statements, and continued to set himself apart as a result.  Inevitably, though, the “I nevers” came true until he hit his bottom eight years ago.  Now he remembers to look for the things he has in common with the people in the rooms of our Fellowship, rather than the ways he is different.
  • Another long-timer said that the 12-step Fellowship is the only place he’s ever experienced that takes care of so many things at once.  When he is in a bad mental, spiritual, or emotional space, simply attending a meeting brings him back to center.  The skills he learned here he wasn’t taught anywhere else, and so he keeps coming back, 28 years later!
  • A woman raised her hand to “piggyback” on the sentiment above.  She learned a long time ago (and I’m pretty sure she has at least a quarter of a century sober as well) “Recovery is for people who want it, not for people who need it.”  She said she used to go to a meeting where the chairperson started each one with a question:  who wants to stay sober today?  This question, and the physical act of raising your hand, is a reminder:  it’s not enough to sit in a chair.  Real recovery begins when you participate in the process.
  • Another woman related to the part of the reading that mentions learning to differentiate between our wants and our needs.  In times of turmoil, when she’s sure that what she wants is what she needs, it helps her to remember that God’s plan is better than hers.
  • Finally, a gentleman shared a term he coined that I have confiscated for the title of his post.  He said he has been afflicted with the condition himself, and frequently sees it in the rooms of our fellowship:

Bullwinkle-ism:  the condition that causes one to repeatedly go back to the same hat, thinking this is the time you will pull a rabbit from it.

Yep, I’ve been afflicted with that condition once or twice!

Today’s Miracle:

No longer suffering from Bullwinkle-ism; at least, the alcoholic kind!

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