Monthly Archives: January 2016
I’m sitting here in the darkest hours of early morning, truly appreciating the quiet in the house. Snowstorms and house renovations see to it that most hours of the day finds my home to be an active one.
That same snowstorm has given us a delayed start to school, which of course they feel compelled to let us know at 4 am. I could go on for a bit about this; why waste the quiet expelling my energy this way?
Because it’s a special day, and ultimately, I’m glad to be starting it in the comforting quiet of darkness; too often the day gets going and is gone before I’ve had time to reflect on much of anything.
Today’s reflection centers around the idea of the trade-offs we make in our lives. To my way of thinking, most everything we do involves a trade-off. I can choose not to exercise, and allow myself the luxury of extra time in bed, or additional television to watch, but when I get out of said bed I will be extra creaky in my muscles and joints due to the inactivity. Or I can do the reverse and feel great with my extra energy, and find the trade-off to be an injury.
Some things are no-brainers in terms of the pay-off. I am, God willing, soon to be approaching a change in lifestyle: heading back into the workforce after being a stay-at-home Mom for many years. I envision the interview and the explanation of why my resume has the gap that it does.
And I feel no worry about it. For me, the pay-off between career trajectory and raising my children was decided, for all intents and purposes, before I even had children.
When I was in active addiction, the trade-off in giving up alcohol was inconceivable. I literally could not imagine a life without alcohol. What would I do while others were drinking? How could I possibly enjoy anything festive ever again? How would I toast the bride and groom at a wedding? Mourn at a funeral? De-stress after a rough day?
Sobriety was a journey I started on less of my own accord and more to satisfy the demands of those around me. In those days the pay-off was a simple one: sobriety vs. virtually every meaningful relationship. But had you asked Early Sobriety Me if this is a lifetime gig, I imagine the honest answer would have been “no.” Choosing to never drink alcohol again for the rest of my life? I would have said short-term, yes; long-term, I’m back to the inconceivable again.
Because the only way to convince this alcoholic that long-term sobriety is worth it is to experience long-term sobriety. I needed to get comfortable attending alcohol-fueled family functions, I needed to celebrate at weddings, mourn at funerals, get a root canal minus the pain reliever, before I could truly imagine this to be a lifetime commitment.
Yesterday, as fate would have it, I needed to create a gift basket for my daughter’s basketball team. The theme is “His and Hers Date Night,” and includes both beer and a bottle of wine. Where I live you still need to go into a liquor store to purchase wine (it’s winding around to being available in grocery stores, but slowly). So yesterday marked the first time in 4 years that I’ve been in a liquor store and selected a bottle of wine.
It was a strange thing. I held no particular affinity for this liquor store, so thankfully no bad memories resurfaced. But as I scanned the labels… that brought back some memories, memories that I suppose will always be bittersweet. Getting ready for a party, anticipating the night ahead, anxiously awaiting that first chilled sip, and the feeling that would soon follow.
Memories of fun times in the past, when everyone was enjoying the alcohol… hilarity, raucous behavior, impromptu karaoke and dancing. In sobriety, I won’t have a night quite like that again.
There’s always a trade-off.
So what do I get in exchange for the sacrifice of the warmth and joviality a night of drinking provides?
I should probably start with what sobriety forces me to surrender: hangovers, lapses in memory, fear of what that lapsed memory contains, shame in my lack of control, condemnation from loved ones, guilt in the behavior I am modelling for my children, paranoia that the world is turning against me, which turns into defensiveness over my right to drink because I am a grown-ass adult, the scheming that go into drinking the way I want to drink, the intricate machinations that go into covering up the way I drank.
And what I get out of sobriety? I’ve spent the last 4 years writing about that, but let me highlight a few. I get, first and foremost, peace of mind. Those words seems so much smaller than their meaning. A deep down feeling that things are really and truly okay.
I have my friends, my family, deep and meaningful relationships.
I have all the same celebrations and life events as I did before. The only thing that’s changed in the liquid in my glass, and my ability to remember it afterwards.
I have a whole new network of people, like-minded and soul-inspiring.
I have a faith not previously experienced in my life: faith in myself, faith in a power greater than me, faith in the people in my life.
Uninterrupted, peaceful sleep. This gift cannot be understated.
I have a touchstone: if I can get and stay sober, I can do anything.
It’s beginning to get light, almost time to get the day started!
After acknowledging to myself that I wouldn’t be falling back to sleep, I got out of bed and on my knees to pray, same as I’ve done every morning for the past 4 years. Today, it being what felt like the dead of night, was almost identical to the time and conditions of that first night of sincere prayer 4 years ago. What a gift it is to see how far I’ve come!
Up until about 30 minutes before the start of my meeting, I assumed a snow day was in effect. Having just weathered a blizzard 48 hours ago, I concluded there was no way the parking lot of the building had been plowed, and I started to craft an alternate post in my head.
Which, I need to write this down now so I commit myself: I will get back to writing that post. I swore I’d pen more posts this year, and I’m slow to fulfilling this promise. Yet since my WOTY is calm, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.
Here is some pictorial evidence of our the blizzard, as documented by my daughter and featuring our dog Dimple:
When I received the text that the parking lot had been plowed, I have to admit to a pang of disappointment… now I had to get out of my pajamas! Why I would ever begrudge attending something that always makes me feel better than when I started I do not understand, but there you have it.
Today was the first entrance of the new book I have introduced into the literature rotation. It is Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The book is a collection of articles from the AA magazine Grapevine that document how members use the principles of the 12 steps to improve all the different relationships in their lives. There is a chapter on pets that has me question the sanity of the publishers, but I’m keeping an open mind.
Fully anticipating sitting solo, I did not plan one iota, and was pleasantly surprised to see 9 hardy souls make their way out in this weather! Luckily, one of my favorite “regulars” has a passing acquaintance with this book and suggested a reading from the chapter on Sponsorship.
I am always happy when someone else voices an opinion on meeting subject matter, but I had a bit of apprehension on this particular subject. While everything about the 12-step program is a suggestion, and of course there are as many ways to get sober as there are sober members, conventional wisdom strongly suggests availing yourself of a sponsor as soon as possible, and maintaining that relationship throughout your recovery.
It now occurs to me that perhaps readers may not understand what I even mean by the term sponsor. From the AA pamphlet Questions and Answers on Sponsorship:
An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through A.A.
Here’s how the process of obtaining a sponsor was explained to me:
- go to meetings, listen to people
- when you hear a woman speak (sponsor/sponsee should be same sex) who seems to “have what you want,” ask her if she would be willing to take you through the 12 steps of recovery
- follow her suggestions
A little vague, I know… it was for me too! I had transitioned through a few sponsors before I found the relationship that would work in getting me through the labor of the 12 steps. That experience, documented fully in earlier blog posts, was nothing short of transformational.
Here’s where I get apprehensive: in the years since, I have, no better way to say it, fallen off the suggested path of the traditional sponsor/sponsee relationship. It has been many months since my sponsor of record and I have communicated, and even before that, our communication was more on the social side and less on the business side of recovery. A few months back I reached out to another woman, but our schedules just did not gel, and I’ve done nothing about it since.
As far at the other side of the coin, my sponsoring another, the anxiety grows: I had two attempts at sponsoring other women, and if you judge success by actually working through the 12 steps, then each attempt was not successful. Both of these experiences are at least two years old, and there has been no further attempts by me since.
Therefore, the thought of having to comment productively on the subject of sponsorship had me flummoxed. I shared very little, and opened it up to the group.
Turns out, they had quite a bit to say, thankfully. The gentleman who selected the reading believed it to be an apt description of a sponsor: one drunk helping another drunk to stay sober by showing him/her how he/she did it. A sponsor is not your friend or parent; he or she is not there to hold your hand or make you feel better. A sponsor is going to show you how the same failed logic that had you drinking problematically is present in many other areas of your life. It’s often not an enjoyable process, but it’s possibly the most rewarding experience within the 12 steps of recovery.
A second “long-timer” echoed these sentiments, and recalled fond stories of how sponsorship was done “in the old days” (for him, the 1980’s): calling sponsees “pigeons,” setting up rules and tests for the sponsee to pass before he was eligible to sponsor others, speaking in shockingly appalling manners to get their points across.
I’m not thinking I would have done so well getting sober in the 80’s.
A woman new to my meeting raised her hand and said she did not like this topic, and did not want to talk about sponsors. She compares her sponsor/sponsee relationship to those around her, and finds hers coming up short. She spoke for a bit about the different ways she believe it to be true, growing agitated as she compiled her list of grievances. As she wound down, she mentioned she had a habit of placing expectations on relationships, and speculated that perhaps this tendency was contributing to her problem. Finally, she concluded that she might try a little harder to open up more to her sponsor, and in that self-disclosure she will develop the kind of relationship she thinks she ought to have.
Listening to this woman speak, I was reminded yet again of the value in shining a light on the dark thoughts in our heads. In one share she identified, defined and solved a problem, all by opening her mouth. Miraculous.
Finally, a woman shared who is normally reticent. I think I wrote about her recently, for regular readers… she is the one who lost a friend and opened up for the first time at that meeting. I wish I could do justice to the power of her speech. It is so painfully clear how difficult this kind of sharing is to her that there is a magnetic quality to her words. At least that is my experience each of the few times she’s spoken. The part of her share that hit me right between the eyes:
A sponsor is only as helpful as the sponsee is honest
That statement brought back some painful memories. The summer before I got sober I availed myself of a sponsor, went to meetings with her, went to her house, socialized… all while continuously relapsing and refraining from telling her. Thankfully, she stuck with me through it all, and was around in my darkest hours of early recovery.
So I can attest to the truth of the statement above, and its more universal application:
a relationship is only as healthy as the people in it are honest
The last thing she mentioned… she has a skeptical nature, and early on she told her sponsor she felt like she was being brainwashed.
Her sponsor’s response: that’s right, you are, because your brain needs a good washing!
I had a regular attendee call to tell me his driveway was blocked by 3 1/2 feet of snow, and therefore he could not attend the meeting (he is an older gentleman and could not climb it safely). I told him no problem, and he said, “It is a problem, I have not missed your meeting since I got sober, and I’m distressed I have to miss it today.” Heartwarming, and a little guilt-producing, since I was hoping for a snow day!
Today is the first big change in my rotating literature line-up. Normally we would start with Step One in the 12 steps of recovery; today we started with Step Twelve and will work our way backwards throughout the year. This change is an attempt to:
- shake things up after more than 3 years
- prevent the inevitable moans and groans in April and September… oh no! another meeting on taking a moral inventory/making amends!
We’ll see how it goes.
Doing it this way presented two challenges, both of which occurred this month and are, as of this writing, done! The first is that we just read this chapter last month, and the second is the chapter is a looonnnnggg one!
In any event, the 14 attendees did not complain (much), and now we are smooth sailing for the rest of the year!
So, for the record, and even though I just wrote about this a few weeks ago, Step 12 reads:
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.
I shared a few take-aways from this morning’s reading. First, it is a good reminder that being of service is valuable all year long. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me December tends to be a lot about others, January tends to be a lot about me… New Year’s resolutions and all that. So a reminder to get out of my own head is a necessary one, right about now!
Second, the actual section I read aloud gave a poignant description of a spiritual awakening:
In a very real sense he had been transformed, because he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, he had hitherto denied himself. He finds himself in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness, peace of mind, and love of which he had thought himself quite incapable. What he has received is a free gift, and yet usually, in some small part, he has made himself ready to receive it. -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 107
What stood out to me this morning is that while I feel grateful to have received this gift, it is not a one-and-done endeavor. Ongoing cultivation and growth is in fact necessary to keep this gift in one’s life.
Even though we are only 3 weeks into the new year, I have already attended three funerals, and am awaiting details on a fourth later this week. I’ll speak for myself when I say… that is too high a number for my liking! The last funeral I attended, this past Friday, was particularly hard to take: an absolutely wonderful man, whose life, though marked with some impossible-to-imagine tragedy, was a shining example of grace and dignity in the face of severe adversity.
It was a challenge this weekend to not focus on the sadness of this death. The reading this morning is a reminder that it is during times of much spiritual challenge is, hopefully, much spiritual growth.
From there a regular attendee shared she had a rough 2015 in terms of deaths and funerals. In fact, those very situations are what caused her to pick up a drink after several years of sobriety, and she is just now getting back on her feet, recovery-wise. So the reminder that spiritual awakenings take ongoing work is a lesson she has learned the hard way.
Another gentleman shared that he loved starting the new year with the last step, rather than the first, for one simple reason: it sums up the whole of our program. In fact, the chapter is such a long one because it takes the time to review all of the steps that come before it. He said when he first started attending meetings, an “old-timer” told him to start with reading this chapter. He said it clearly states what the Fellowship has to offer. If, after reading, you decide you want what the Fellowship has to offer, then keep coming back!
Another member seconded the motion that step 12 is valuable to read up front. For him it was like flipping to the end of a mystery novel: now you know what you have to anticipate!
A friend talked about the need for ongoing self-development as well. Even though she has a few years under her belt, it is easy to slide backwards. She told a story from this very morning of a grumpy husband, and her reaction to his mood. She reviewed her behavior, and while she sees the progress from where she once was, she also knew that there was more she could have done. Immediately, she went back to her husband and “cleaned up her side of the street.” She said time will tell if her husband chooses to forgive and move on; for now, it is enough to know she did the next right thing.
I told her she must come back next week, because she is leaving us with a cliffhanger… will the husband forgive and forget? Stay tuned!
The value of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day!
The first week since I re-committed to blogging about my meeting, and I’m late. My apologies for the delay!
The literature came from the book Living Sober; the chapter, “Remembering Your Last Drunk.” An unusual turn of phrase, the title of the chapter refers to our predilection for calling to mind only the happy times. Sometimes this tendency is a good thing; few people would continue to procreate if they recalled the pain of childbirth. But in recovery from addiction, it is imperative that we remember the suffering that compelled us to choose sobriety in the first place.
Here’s the setup: you’ve decided you’ve had enough, you quit drinking. The process can be easy or hard, it’s not relevant. Time goes by, life improves: you feel better, you look better, your relationships are better, you’re more focused, organized, productive. Life is superb!
Then, the nudge to drink comes. It can come from a good place, such as a holiday celebration, personal victory, anniversary or birthday. It can come from a not-so-good place, such as stress, tragedy, disappointment. Either way, the glass of wine/bottle of beer/shot of whiskey seems like the perfect accompaniment/solution to your life situation.
It is that moment to which this chapter refers. Time and again, the mind will jump to the positives: how delicious the drink will taste, how much fun it will be to kick back with friends/by yourself and enjoy the feeling that alcohol provides, how many good times there has been in past moments such as these.
When these thoughts occur, and they will occur, I’ve yet to meet someone in recovery who has not had similar thoughts, the challenge is to play the tape through. Don’t stop at the early moments of your drinking career, but continue on to the bitter end. Because chances are, if you are even considering sobriety, the end of your drinking career paints a different picture than the beginning.
When this happens in my life, it is usually the celebratory times, and it is a glass of Chardonnay that catches my attention. The glass is beautiful, the color of the liquid in the glass is appealing, and I imagine how cool and refreshing the wine will taste.
Then I remember the following:
I have never once, in my entire drinking history, wanted simply one glass of wine. Even when I only drank one glass, I resented having to stop and wanted more.
So if I want more than one glass, already the picture in my head is changed: I’m drinking multiple glasses of wine. And then what? The story writes itself at that point… melodramatic behavior, hypersensitivity that leads to pointless arguments and huge scenes that need to be apologized for later, or, worse still, a blank spot where a memory should be.
In playing the tape through, the decision becomes almost elementary: I’ll take the non-alcoholic beverage, please, and I’ll thank myself in the morning!
The 12 or so attendees shared a bit about their memories of their last drunk. Some were memorable… one gentleman was simply going to take a sip of his friends’ beer, and by the last call ordered two drinks called “lady sings the blues,” with 4 shots in each drink, just to make sure he had enough! Just as many more, though, had lonely, miserable last hurrahs, where the joy was long gone, and drinking had just become a bad habit. Either way, the memory of the bad feelings associated with the overconsumption is powerful enough to remind them never to go back to that lifestyle again.
We had some great anniversaries yesterday: one gentleman celebrated 39 years, another celebrated 37 years and a third celebrated 60 days. There’s an extra energy present when someone celebrates an anniversary; you can imagine how amazing it was to celebrate three times!
The reading touched a nerve for two different attendees, as both had harrowing experiences with what they called their “built-in forgetters.” The first woman to share had 4 years of sobriety, decided she was cured, and then spent the next 4 years trying to find her way back to recovery.
The gentleman who shared a similar story had even more sober time, and he reported that the worst thing that happened to him when he picked up that first drink was… nothing. He had one drink, remained relatively unaffected, and it was weeks before he picked up a second. That was all the evidence he needed to convince himself he could drink again, and it took him close to a year before the drinking became problematic. And it was years before he was able to reclaim his seat in a 12-step meeting.
Both are profoundly grateful to be back; many don’t get the opportunity.
The reading was chosen by one of the attendees, rather than by me. This is relevant because, while I did not choose it, it had significance for me yesterday morning. The night prior, I had a drunk dream, something that occurs very rarely these days. This post is already going long, so I’ll try to write more about it later in the week, but for me the message is clear:
Today’s miracle falls under the “fingers crossed” category: on a night where at least 4 different events are occurring, things are tentatively managed to get kids where they need to be, when they need to be there. Anyone with teenage children will appreciate this miracle!
Without any further ado, my word of 2015 was:
And I wrote a lengthy post as to its possible manifestations about a year or so ago.
I just re-read the post, which was full of all sorts of good intentions, and considered if I got the job done. Did I successfully commit 2015 as the year of energy?
It’s a tough question to answer. On the one hand, the Inner Critic wants to yell no, and for one very good reason. The bottom line for me was, at the time, I wanted energy to mean, first and foremost, some pretty specific things:
- lose weight
- increase fitness
- bonus if the entire basement was purged and organized
So if you take that fairly specific list, then no, energy was not very well spent… I did not lose weight, my fitness level has had starts and stops, just as it’s had in the past 3 or so years, and considering the basement as it is right now, after Christmas decorations have been more or less thrown down there, would drain the energy right out of my body.
So I’m not going to consider that.
Here’s the thing, though. My journey to achieve some of the things on the list above has taken me in directions heretofore unchartered: real, honest therapy, meditation classes and practice, a variety of fitness routines, books read, podcasts heard, and thousands of words journaled on mind-expanding subjects.
And through it all I’ve learned a heck of a lot about myself.
The best part of all: I have not given up. Another first in the life of this 46 year old. My modus operandi has always been if I can’t do it perfectly in an extremely short period of time, then I’m not doing it at all. This includes the horrific game Words With Friends, but excludes Candy Crush… I’m still plugging away at that one, and I’m the only one I know who’s sticking with it!
So I’m going to continue on self-development this year and see where it takes me. So far it has taken me to some interesting places, given me a life-changing new friendship, and the possibility of substantial change in the coming year.
So, considering all of that, I’m giving energy a thumbs up, even if my basement’s still a wreck. There’s always 2016 for that one. Plus, I’m currently reading Marie Kondo, so I expect to find the inspiration very soon.
Moving on to this year, my word for the year came a day or two before the year began. As many of the blogging friends have shared, this word chose me rather than me choosing it. And this word has challenge etched into every letter. My word for 2016 is:
The idea came to me while watching the movie The Intern with Robert DeNiro. The movie itself was so/so, but I adored everything about the character he played in that movie. I even said to my husband at the end, “That character is everything I want to be when I grow up.” No matter what life threw his way, no matter how anyone treated him, he responded evenly, thoughtfully, politely.
The story line, in case you have not seen the movie, is the character deciding after a few years of retirement and living the life of a widower, that he had more to offer this world, so he applied for a senior intern position at a start-up internet company. He was overlooked, condescended to, and largely misunderstood, and yet remained unflappable. In the end, of course, everyone adored him.
Which is not the part I’m looking to emulate.
I don’t think.
Seriously, I just love the idea of remaining calm in the face of anything.
This, it should go without saying, is an uphill battle. I have friends that try to provoke me because they so thoroughly enjoy my somewhat excitable reactive nature. Those friends are going to be disappointed this year.
Now, I will say, I picked this right away, it is currently January 8, and I have done very little in terms of making headway with this goal. In fact, it almost seems like I’m moving in the opposite direction so far: big yelling matches with a family member, ongoing frustrations with a moody teenage daughter, impatience with customer service representatives.
All I can say is: Rome wasn’t built in a day. And the fact that I’m noticing is progress. Maybe.
So there you have it. Calm for 2016. Bring it on!
How about this… TGIF, the miracle of the weekend and sleeping in!
I hope this writing finds you off to a wonderful start in 2016.
The start of 2016 has me stymied with respect to the direction of this blog. I am ready for a change, but am really struggling with the nuts and bolts of said change.
I started writing this blog almost 4 years ago to document my journey of recovery from addiction. Part diary, part accountability tool, part self-guided therapy, I wrote a lot that first year, and in that writing learned a great deal about myself.
Somewhere in the course of that first year the blog morphed into an unexpected treasure trove of fellowship and camaraderie. Now not only was I getting things out of my head, but I was getting invaluable feedback from like-minded bloggers. What a gift!
In the next two years, life evened out, recovery stabilized, life drama declined… well, dramatically. The things on which I needed to vent often had very little to do with the main purpose of this blog: sobriety.
In 2015 I committed to bringing it back to its focus, which had me more or less exclusively writing about the lessons I gleaned from the 12-step meeting I chair each week.
A great concept, and I’m proud of those blog posts, and the message they impart to readers (at least the message I hope they impart).
But as I reflect on the trajectory of the blog, I’m not enjoying how far from the original purpose I’ve wandered. I started this blog to journal about my recovery, and for the past year most of what I’ve done is report the wisdom of others.
I have a few thoughts rolling around my head as I consider the possibilities. The first is to get a bit more real about life in 12-step recovery after a few years. As anyone who has read my blog knows, I am committed to the principles within the 12 steps of recovery; further, I believe those same 12 steps can help everyone, not just those of us who have chosen sobriety.
That said, there are struggles to be found in staying committed as the years go by. Up to this point, I abstained from writing of these struggles, lest I discourage even one person from considering 12-step recovery. But if I am to write as authentically as I did that first year, then those struggles would be exactly what I would write about, in terms of recovery.
So that’s one possibility. Another is to write about the things that take a more front-burner spot in my life these days: kids, marriage, diet, fitness, career changes, clutter management, which series I should select next to binge watch. Certainly not on point in terms of the main focus, but at least it would be more personal than a weekly meeting recap.
Finally, I could decide to keep things as is. If even one person decides to try a meeting in their area as a result of reading the magic that happens in mine, then I’ve done a great service. And since I know that has happened, why mess with a good thing?
Or I could do some combination of the above. Or I could start taking pictures of my dog and posting them. She is really cute, so that may be as valid an idea as any.
As always, I value your thoughts more than I could possibly say. If you have any opinion or preference in terms of future posts, I would love to hear it.
In the meantime, since I haven’t decided, here’s a quick and dirty synopsis of today’s meeting: 19 attendees, we read the introduction to the book Alcoholics Anonymous (colloquially referred to as “The Big Book”), and the general theme of the shares was “cunning, baffling, and powerful, is the disease of alcoholism.”
What struck me the most this morning was the person who shared he had all the desire in the world to stop drinking, but it wasn’t until he fully accepted that he had the disease of alcoholism that he was able to actually stop drinking. As someone who struggled for a long time with this very issue, I related entirely to this share.
Now, the knowledge that I have chosen sobriety as a way of life is a gift rather than a life sentence.
Writing this post. It’s been so long since I’ve opened up on this blog, I hesitated more than I would have ever thought possible!