Monthly Archives: February 2016
Happy Leap Year 2016!
Today’s meeting was a study in contrasts: at the start of the meeting we had 3 people, by the end we had twelve. A variety of interpretations of each reading, yet each person’s viewpoint became the springboard for the next person to share. A tremendous disparity in sober time (one gentleman celebrating 34 years, another one celebrating 21 months, a woman with a few days under her belt), yet the appearance of complete understanding of one another’s viewpoints.
If only the rest of the world could work this way.
We read from the book As Bill Sees It, and the theme of each reading was growth. To tell the truth we only read about two paragraphs; today was more about sharing, less about reading. Which is pretty much my favorite kind of meeting.
The first point to which everyone agreed: growth cannot begin until active addiction is arrested. In other words, getting sober is priority number one. It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people attempt to put the cart before the horse, and think that the work of recovery can be done while still drinking.
Several attendees shared their “most essential tool” used in getting sober. One talked of the value of the fellowship in teaching him how to get and stay sober… as he says, “My broken brain couldn’t fix my broken brain!”
Another attendee found great comfort and logic in the 12 steps of recovery. He needed something to replace his drinking, and found the work of doing the steps to be a healthy alternative.
Although agreeing that the need to get and stay sober is a critical first step, most of the shares went in different directions after this point. One attendee said that once she got sober, her growth came in the work she did on finding balance in her life. While drinking, she lived in an all-or-nothing state. In sobriety, she had to learn to live in the middle, and it is an ongoing process.
Another gentleman found his growth in learning to find assertiveness outside the bottle. For years the only way he could speak up and voice his own opinions was while drunk. In sobriety he had to learn to articulate his resentments, decide which were important to address, and which were okay to let go, and, most important, speak his mind in a productive manner. Sober for 38 years, he still considers this an lifelong journey!
Another member of the group shared his growth will be in addressing those character defects that led him to alcoholic drinking in the first place. Because it is not conditions that cause us to drink, but rather our reaction to the conditions in our lives. He thinks in many ways the work he is undertaking now is more challenging than it was to put down the drink in the first place.
Another woman who recently celebrated four years of sobriety shared her struggle with trying to stay focused on the present when friends and family remind her of her actions in active addiction. She would prefer to leave that chapter of her life behind her, and wishes others would too. The growth she seeks is in learning to accept that which she cannot change with her loved ones so she can enjoy the serenity that she’s earned in these past four years.
One attendee spoke of the blessing of active addiction. Without it, he would not have the gift of recovery; without recovery he feels certain he would not have lived up to his potential. For it was the skills he learned within the fellowship of our 12-step program that allowed him to achieve all his greatest successes. It is because of the gift of sobriety that he holds the unshakeable belief that all things are possible now that he is sober.
As always, everything that everyone shares is meaningful to me, and relatable in some fashion to my life experience. What stood out most, in the readings and shares, is the notion that an awakening is an ongoing process. There’s no finish line, no graduation ceremony, no box to check off. It seems counterintuitive, really: aren’t you done if you’re sober? What else is there to do, really?
I see sobriety similar to an ongoing housecleaning. Did you ever decide to clean out a drawer, and in finding homes for all the miscellaneous items, discover a whole new set of cleaning and organizational projects?
That’s the way I’m finding sober life to be. Sobriety has opened my eyes to all the different areas in my life I can choose to improve, as well as give me the confidence to let go of the things that no longer serve me.
And of course it’s not always fun. In fact, often it feels like I’m wearing an itchy wool sweater in the heat of summer. But as my friend above stated so eloquently, there’s a profound sense of hope that all things are possible in sobriety!
A friend from the beginning of my journey to recovery is back in our fellowship; seeing her her this morning, hearing her share about the profound changes that commitment to sobriety has brought, reaffirms my own recovery!
I’m uncertain whether I would have followers that ainsobriety does not, but I can’t take the chance. This post is a must read for anyone considering the journey of recovery, or in early sobriety where that journey can be rocky. The miracle really is around the corner, and Anne writes about that miracle perfectly!
Source: Is this a habit?
Today’s larger-than-average meeting (We had 15 today!) focused on the book Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. We read the first story from the chapter “On the Job.”
Since I have not worked outside the home for a number of years, I was uncertain how I might relate to any story in this chapter. As always, 12-step literature has come through, and I found a number of points within the chapter that relates not only to work, but to family relationships, friendships, and even some auxiliary relationships. For example…
We have been dealing with a minor family drama involving my son and what he considered unfair treatment by his coach. Ultimately, in the practices and games that followed, my husband and I have come to agree with our son’s assessment that he has been singled out, and no explanation has been given.
This sounds like a relatively minor situation, and of course in many ways that is exactly what it is, but the ripple effects are noteworthy: our son’s anxiety/angst/anger affects the entire family dynamic, my husband and I spend entirely too much mental energy trying to “figure things out,” which often leads to points of contention between us. Further, there are all sorts of corollary decisions that need to be made: talk to the coach or don’t talk to the coach? Support the team or stand up for your own rights? Use aggressive techniques, passive techniques, or my old standby, passive-aggressive techniques to make a point with the coach?
Here’s the bottom line: it is a serenity thief, and the quicker it is handled, the better off we are.
Back to today’s reading, the point to which I related the most was the author’s assertion that she behave out in the world the same way she behaves within her 12-step fellowship. And the first tradition of the fellowship is that group welfare comes before self. In other words: consider what is good for the group before you consider what is good for you.
That notion gave me pause in terms of how to handle the situation with the basketball team. I can look back over my decisions and actions over the past few days and see where I might have made different decisions, had I kept in mind the greater good of the team, rather than the greater good of my son. I will have to file that away under “lessons learned,” and try to do the next right thing, I suppose.
Another gentleman shared a hilarious work story where he had been the boss, and therefore was used to being treated deferentially. Years went by, and he returned to school to receive his degree; an assignment was given to reach out to past co-workers for an anonymous assessment of what it was like to work with him. Needless to say, the results of the survey were eye-opening! It’s been a few years since that assignment, but he holds on to it as a reminder to be mindful of how you come across to others.
His share was also the inspiration for the title of this post. He went on to talk about his gratitude for our fellowship, in particular because he recognizes the ongoing need for feedback. Left to his own devices, his brain will lead him in some crazy directions, so he needs the objective guidance of other sober individuals to keep him on track.
Another woman shared how much the reading will help her with a few irritating work experiences. As a nurse with the most seniority on her staff, she periodically has a generational disconnect with some of the newer members of her profession: the training is different, priorities are different, work ethic is different. It would be easy to insist the her way is the right way, and refuse to change or compromise. But in reading the story, and considering the notion of what is good for the group versus what is good for her, she can see a whole new side of things.
She also spoke of the idea of bringing troubles to the group and getting advice on how to best handle them. She said her inclination is to fix problems from the outside in, whereas the 12-step solution is almost always to fix things from the inside out. She needs to keep coming back as a reminder on how to best solve life’s problems.
There were many other great shares, with a whole range of issues, from very early sobriety to those with decades of sobriety, but this post would run way too long if I wrote down every pearl of wisdom! One last thing that one of my favorite attendees shared what I’ve come to recognize as a theme. The entire notion described in the story, putting the group before the self, is really just another way of describing self-transcendence: getting out of your own head to help another. Every time we do this, without fail, we are bettering ourselves as human beings.
And you most certainly don’t have to be an alcoholic to reap these benefits!
Although chilly, the sun is so bright in my part of the world that I just get the sense that Spring is around the corner. The lightness that brings to my day, in typically dreary February… well, that has to count for some kind of miracle!
A meeting chock full of great thoughts and ideas, at least there was for this participant! This morning we read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and focused on Step Eleven:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
The chapter that covers this step talks in depth about the many benefits of prayer and meditation. In addition, it discusses methods to overcome agnostic/atheistic mindsets, as well as easy pointers on how to get started praying and meditating.
The first person to share talked about how he almost walked out of his first meeting because it talked about prayer and meditation. Agnostic by nature, he was sure that the end of the meeting would be asking for money and/or a signed contract. When neither happened, and he realized that he was in charge of his conception of a Higher Power, he stuck around and followed the suggestions given to him. Thirty-six years later, and he considers prayer to be an essential component of his daily life. He knows prayer and meditation works because he’s experienced the positive effects. He realized early on that he did not have to know how something works for it to work; therefore, he stopped questioning the mechanics behind the power of prayer.
His last point, and the one that stuck with me the most: he has learned through his years in recovery that it is not enough to ask for something through prayer, then sit back and wait for it to arrive. He must be a participant in the process, and do his part to make things happen.
Another gentleman with long-term sobriety shared his prayer life journey. I was trying to calculate his years of sobriety by following the story; I got up to 34 years before I got confused. Regardless of the actual number, suffice it to say he’s been sober a long time! He considers his prayer life an unfolding story, one that has developed slowly over time, and one he imagines will continue to evolve as long as he’s alive. He said he started the way most of us do… a daily prayer book that asks you to read something small each day. He said for years that is what his prayer life involved… reading, with not a whole lot of engagement on his part. Over time he noticed that quite often the reading for the day would correlate precisely to something that was troubling him. From there he learned to participate more in the process, rather than by simply reading a daily paragraph. Finally, through a series of chaotic events, he lost track of his prayer routine, and found himself out of sorts with no real reason as to why. He went to a retreat where the leader posed the following question:
If you find yourself in a state of discontent with no discernible cause, think back… was there something you were habitually doing that you stopped?
Bingo! He realized he was missing his time spent in prayer and meditation. He went home, fished out his “little black book,” and now makes sure he stays in practice.
A few attendees shared of their struggles with making prayer and meditation part of their daily routine. All recognize the benefits of such a practice, but, like any new habit, it can be a bumpy road getting started.
Finally, a friend of mine shared her thoughts on the subject of prayer and meditation. She is sober about 2 1/2 years, but I know from spending time with her that acceptance of a Higher Power has been her biggest struggle. Turns out she is actively working on this aspect of her recovery; she remarked that the shine is off the penny, so to speak, in terms of meeting attendance, step work, and the various readings. She knows she needs a deeper connection in order to sustain her sobriety, and she is seeking spirituality to fill that need.
She said she is learning, through her research and reflection, that attachment is the origin of suffering. In other words, if she is suffering, then she has an expectation of an outcome. Either she is trying to control what happens, or she is trying prevent something from happening.
As she was speaking, I recalled a conversation I had with my husband not an hour before. I was explaining to him the root cause of some internal angst I have been experiencing, and seeking his advice on how to proceed. His suggestions were, at first blush, unimaginable, and I told him so, and my defense of my opinion. His face has that look that tells me I need to stop and rewind, but I was unable to fully decipher what specifically I had said to cause his expression.
So I ask him to please just tell me what is causing the pained look, since I have tried to decipher with no success. He considers for a moment, then says, “Everything you’ve said since we’ve started this discussion, from you thoughts about what is causing your discontent to your reaction to my advice… that’s all Old Josie talking.”
And it was a light bulb moment… every single moment of disquiet I have experienced with regard to this issue, every quick fix action I’ve taken, and every subsequent action to correct the quick fix… all seen through the lens of pre-recovery thinking. It stopped me in my tracks.
Whenever I have found myself in the past heading down the path of old thinking, my correction has always been to deepen my efforts at prayer and meditation. So it was crazy enough that this step was the one we were discussing. A coincidence that is never a coincidence.
But then to hear my friend describe in layman’s terms a basic tenet of Buddhist thinking in a way I could understand, a concept that applied so directly to the discussion I was having with my husband, was the breakthrough I needed.
Attachment to an outcome = suffering
Yep, that pretty much sums up in a nutshell the source of my suffering.
So I got the wake-up call I needed this morning. Of course, like my friend above said, the wake-up call is not enough. I need to be a participant in the process. The good news is that you can start just where you are when it comes to prayer and meditation!
Coincidences-that-are-never coincidences will always be a miracle to me!
Another Monday, another round of craziness. I’m not even going to detail it this time, I’m sick of hearing myself talk about schedules-gone-haywire. I suppose serenity will come when my schedule gets comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Interestingly, this is a lesson I learned from one of the wise regulars in my meeting this morning. We were back to a group of the usual 12 attendees, and we read the chapter “Changing Old Routines” in the book Living Sober. The chapter gives a plethora of ways in which the newly sober can tweak their daily schedule to maximize their chances of staying sober.
As someone who struggled with staying sober for a solid nine months before I actually got sober, I can attest to each and every one of the ideas in the chapter. Here are some of the best ideas:
- Get up earlier or later
- Do the opposite of what you normally do in terms of eating breakfast before or after you get dressed for the day
- Take a different route to work
- Avoid drinking buddies, at least temporarily
- Avoid drinking haunts, such as restaurants and bars, at least temporarily
- Change routine when you come home from work… come in a different door, immediately fix yourself a non-alcoholic treat, take a relaxing bath, lay down for a nap
- Change up evening activities, to the extent of changing which room of the house you occupy
- Start an exercise program
- Keep sweet treats on hand
- Change up vacations that used to center around drinking in favor of something new to you
These are just some of the great ideas shared in the chapter. I will say, as I do each time I write about the book Living Sober... if you are new to sobriety, buy yourself a copy of this book. It is chock full of practical wisdom for surviving the early days!
Back to the gentleman to whom I referred to earlier, he said the biggest change he made in his routine was attending a meeting each day (in early sobriety). Having already been convinced of his need for recovery, he chose to attend meetings every day as a way of cementing his decision. The biggest hurdle he had to overcome was the notion of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. His only tool for dealing with discomfort had been drinking, so now the challenge was to simply feel the feelings until they passed. Thirty six years later, and he feel quite comfortable being uncomfortable!
A friend of mine shared that in early sobriety she used many of the techniques listed above to cope with giving up the routine of drinking. Now that she is more comfortable with sobriety, she finds she needs tools like these to change her routines in terms of emotional upset. Prior to recovery, her tools involved:
b. stuffing down, which ultimately led to
Since she no longer has access to option c, she needs to change the routine of using a. and b. to deal with difficult situations. Things like giving herself permission to feel feelings (I’m beginning to sense a pattern with us!), setting boundaries to take time for self-care, and letting go of expectations all help her in the same way the tools above helped with putting down the drink.
Several people talked of specific strategies they used early on: taking up jogging, finding a new set of people to replace drinking buddies, creating accountability by acknowledging the need for help.
In other words, rather than simply giving up the habit of drinking and all it entails, replacing it with people, places and things to ease the transition to sobriety.
Finally, a woman shared something that served as my personal take-away for the morning. She has been sober for some time, but this chapter still spoke to her. She believes that while she is no longer a product of her alcoholism, she is a product of her choices. In other words, while she no longer struggles with the desire to pick up a drink, she still struggles, from time to time, to live life on life’s terms. When she is feeling out of sorts for reasons such as an erratic schedule, or an inability to get to her regular meetings, she can play the victim, or she can use the tools she’s been given to make a healthier choice. She woke up in just such a mood, and wanted nothing more than to wallow in it. Instead, she made the choice to attend a meeting.
I let her know that I benefitted greatly from her choice!
Recognizing that I too have a choice!
Today has been a strange day thus far, for reasons that would be entirely boring to recreate.
One disruption bears mentioning: as I was handing out books at the start of the meeting, the school nurse called with the report of a sick child. Fortunately, there were 13 able-bodied replacements to run the meeting, and off I went to the middle school. Since it turned out the most urgent thing my son needed was to sleep, and I had a family member at my house, I was lucky enough to go back and catch most of the meeting as a spectator.
This turned out to be a very good thing for me. Last week I attended a meeting on the anniversary of my sobriety, and it was one of those rare meetings that I left feeling worse than when I started. I had to take a close look at myself, and I worried that I was getting too big my britches. Could I only enjoy a meeting that I lead?
Fortunately that fear did not come to pass, as I enjoyed the meeting as much from the attendee seat as I do the chairperson’s chair. Today we read Bill’s Story from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill W. is the co-founder of the 12 steps of recovery; this chapter in the book describes how AA came to be.
All who shared marvelled at the process by which Bill W. created the 12-step program. A rags to riches story (morally speaking rather than financial), Bill’s Story is captivating from start to finish. The story depicts more than any other in the book just what miracles can take place when you put your faith in a power greater than yourself.
The process that Bill developed, which later became the 12-step program so many of us use today as a blueprint for our sobriety, was fundamentally a simple one. And as he states himself,
Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. -pg. 14, Alcoholics Anonymous
Simple but not easy was the phrase that stood out to me in this morning’s reading. True for sobriety, true for so many other things in life. And when I consider the stumbling blocks to most anything standing between a goal I desire and me, self-centeredness is usually in the mix.
The simplest antidote to self-centeredness? Getting out of your head and into service. And the results of this simple but not easy process are nothing short of miraculous!
Too many from which to choose today… loyal meeting goers who pitch in to help, compassionate school employees, the health of my children, generous family members, living in such close proximity to the school and my meeting. Most important: I am here to comfort my son!