Monthly Archives: March 2016
A damp, drizzly Monday in my neck of the woods, hope the weather is better for everyone else!
This morning we read from the book Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve their relationships. I selected a reading from the chapter “The Family.” Since it is the day after a holiday I figured people could use some inspiration.
The author told the story of a 24-year old resentment she held against her sister-in-law. A resentment she thought she resolved in early sobriety, but found out, 13 years later, that she did not. She learned that forgiveness is something she needs to do with her heart, not just with words. She found joy in being the agent of positive change in her relationship with her sister-in-law. Finally, she realized that she is only given challenges in life when she is able to handle them. Clearly, she needed to be further along in sobriety before she was able to tackle the challenge of her problematic familial relationship.
Many times the subject matter of my weekly meetings covers topics that fall under the umbrella “life problems” rather than “alcoholic problems;” family resentments most assuredly counts as one of them. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say all human beings have a tricky or troubled family relationship to which they lay claim. So it was unsurprising to find that every member of the meeting today had their hand raised to talk about a resentment with which they are struggling.
Some of the resentments are long-standing ones. For example, one woman identified almost to the word with this morning’s reading, in that she has a resentment with a sister-in-law that spans her entire married life… almost 50 years! She had a situation with her sister-in-law in early sobriety that she felt justified in handling somewhat aggressively. However, she finds as time goes by she is better able to see the gray in what she once thought to be a black-and-white issue.
Some of the resentments have cropped up within sobriety. One woman spoke of an issue with her sister, who continues to drink in ways which are painfully familiar. On the one hand, it is difficult to watch… why does she get to drink that way and I can’t? Can’t she consider my feelings, even just a little? On the other hand, it is easy to remember the feelings that go alongside that kind of drinking, and the behavior that accompanies it. She can easily find empathy to replace the resentment when she considers that not too long ago she was in her sister’s shoes.
Some resentments are easy to examine and identify the solution. One gentleman, sober for decades now, describes his personality in active addiction to be sarcastic and intimidating. He has done his best in sobriety to correct this tendency, but he found family memories to be long… it was many years before people trusted his sober personality to be the authentic one! He is grateful that he was given the opportunity to prove himself.
Other resentments are less clear-cut. One gentleman spoke of a resentment he has with his mother and brother. It is clear through his telling of the situation that his resentments could be justified. It is equally clear, however, that for the sake of his serenity, and possibly his sobriety, that he finds a solution that brings him peace.
For myself, I shared of an ongoing situation that causes me angst, one in which I am resentful of someone else’s resentment… if that makes any sense at all! Like most of the stories shared this morning, I imagine the situation would exist whether or not I was sober. The difference for me is two-fold. First, because I use the 12 steps of recovery as a blueprint for living my life, I find it more difficult to ignore or avoid resentments, because I have been taught that resentments are a tremendous roadblock to a peaceful existence. So when I realize that one of my relationships is in turmoil, I consider what is my responsibility in repairing the problem, even if the turmoil is not mine.
Second, and more important, I look to clean up my side of the street. Now, in a situation where the resentment is mine, it is simple enough to do: I either confront the problem, or I work it out myself by remembering there are two sides to every story, and that my viewpoint is often not shared by others.
It gets more difficult to resolve when the resentment is not really of my doing. On the one hand, I think: not my problem to fix. If someone has an issue, that’s on them.
On the other hand, I consider that I am part of a relationship. If I know someone is in distress, don’t I have a responsibility to help them with their distress?
But if I am the distress… then what?
No easy answers for me this morning, but what I can take away is considerable. First, I feel less isolated; everyone has a troubled relationship with which they struggle. Next, I am a deep believer in the notion that when the time is right, the opportunity to resolve problems will appear. If I remain confused, then I can trust that the time is not right. Finally, I will be mulling over the idea of forgiving with the heart versus forgiving with words. That popped up a few times in the shares this morning, and I’m thinking that is some thing to examine in my own life.
The reminder that everything happens for a reason, even when I don’t understand the reason.
It’s getting happy, though not quite there yet. It’s sunny, but cold, I am mending from an illness, though not yet 100%. Sorry I missed last week’s post, I missed the meeting as well.
Since time moves along whether I am sick or I am well, this week we covered Step 10 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. For those unfamiliar,
Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
Reading this step is timely, as I have been struggling of late with those self-critical voices that dog all of us to a greater or lesser degree. My voices start out very innocently, and are disguised as The Objective Devil’s Advocate…
Are you sure you’re exercising as hard as you could? I’m sure you’ve got more left in the tank.
Which turns into…
Of course you can do more, if you don’t then you have clearly failed to exercise properly.
Which can easily morph into…
You suck at exercise!
Now, this is one very small example, but multiply that by 1,000 and include every area of life, and you’ve got the inner workings of my negative brain gone haywire.
So reading step 10, and remembering some of its fundamental tenets, was particularly helpful this morning. Things like:
Focusing on nothing but the negative is not the point of any inventory
A true and honest appraisal must, but its very definition, include the good that is happening. It could probably go without saying, but once I start to look at the good that is happening in my life, I realize that it far outweighs the bad, and severely limits the negative chatter.
We need to look at progress, not perfection
This lesson can’t be taught enough for me. It is so easy to wonder why I can’t do more, achieve more, be more, but what about what I’ve done compared to where I was?
In fact, the very nature of my share this morning had to do with the discontent I’ve felt while I’ve been sick… how it messed with my head, made me feel unnecessarily down on myself, and how I am looking to regain my serenity after visiting the doctor and having to take medicine.
A gentleman who shared after me talked about having the opposite experience, how the first time he went to the doctor in sobriety he was elated, because he could actually tell he was sick, since he was no longer self-medicating with alcohol.
Excellent point, one I had forgotten in my low physical state.
After that a newcomer shared, and said she looks forward to the day where she can feel sick in a legitimate way. Currently even if she does feel under the weather, she will lie to her husband and say she feels okay so that he doesn’t question her drinking wine with dinner.
Message received, Universe: there has been progress for this alcoholic!
Courtesy, kindness, justice and love is the way to handle pretty much anybody and everybody with whom we come in contact
Really, enough said here. Well, one more thing… I need to include how I treat myself in that list!
A long-timer talked about how he favors step 10 above all else, because it is one that is so universal, and so easy to make progress. In early sobriety, he could not think of something as daunting as putting pen to paper and writing a lifelong inventory, but he could look at the day and see what he did right and wrong. By starting small, he was able to build up to the other, more labor-intensive steps.
Another attendee focused on the notion of justifiable anger, and whether we in recovery are entitled to it. He has decided that for him, the answer is no… there is no excuse for holding onto anger in recovery. In any situation where he finds himself resentful, he looks to correct his part in the situation, and let go of the parts where others are responsible. Like everything else, this practice takes time and patience to cultivate.
Another gentleman talked about the gift he received from the regular practice of step 10: self-awareness. Knowing when to take action and when to sit back, when to open his mouth and when to keep it shut, when to push himself and when to rest, these are the fruits of the labor involved in a regular self-inventory.
So there’s hope for me yet.
As always, there was so much more shared than I can write down in one blog post. I’m just glad to be back in the saddle!
Sitting upright and writing a blog post after having chaired a meeting. After the past week, I can say that all counts as a miracle!
I hope your Monday is as filled with Springtime hope as mine is… we are looking to hit 70 degrees this week in my part of the world!
Today we read chapter 2 in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (colloquially referred to as The Big Book), entitled “There is a Solution.”
A chapter that is chock full of hope, “There is a Solution” breaks down misconceptions of what an alcoholic is and isn’t. More importantly, however, the chapter provides optimism for those who feel like they are out of options in terms of quitting drinking.
We had a large group this morning, and a lot of different viewpoints on what stood out most in the chapter. The first gentleman to share talked about how he related to the notion of giving up alcohol first, personal growth second. He was directed to our 12-step program years ago by a therapist who told him, in no uncertain terms: no real growth will commence without first giving up drinking. He found that to be true for him.
Another attendee related to the open-ended concept of spirituality that is laid out in the chapter. There is no one definition of a Higher Power. Each individual’s conception is unique and personal, and all versions are welcome. He was able to commit fully to our fellowship because there was no “one right way” forced upon him
Another woman found most compelling the image that we are like survivors of a shipwreck: we come from all walks of life, and would likely not fraternize under regular circumstances. But because we all share a common peril, we relate to one another, and we celebrate together the victory that is freedom from the obsession to drink.
Another regular talked about the miracle involved in Atheists entering our program and finding their way to a Higher Power. Even if that Higher Power is nothing more than the power found in the group itself, that discovery is enough to give them a foothold in the program. No matter which way you go about finding a power greater than yourself, be it within conventional religion, unconventional spiritual practice, or the simplicity of using the 12-step group as your higher power, the ultimate goal is the same: self-transcendence. Finding your way out of egocentric thinking and into thought of how to help another.
A newcomer to the meeting talked about the power of one alcoholic helping another, and the magic that happens as a result. How many of us try for years to find our solution in the office of a therapist or doctor, only to find that we don’t believe they understand what we’re going through? But the minute we are able to connect with someone who’s experienced the same thoughts and feelings that we’ve experienced… that’s where the miracle begins!
What stood out most for me in today’s reading was something I actually read out loud:
The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. -Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 25
While this is a fact that is true for me, I wish the paragraph would add a little footnote:
You won’t know this up front!
There was a newcomer to this morning’s meeting, 6 days sober. Whenever that happens I automatically read with my mind in newcomer mode. I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that when I read those words at 6 days sober, I would have been obstinately resistant to the concept. And I was/am a Theist… I can’t even imagine how an Atheist newcomer would treat that paragraph!
My point in my share this morning is that some miracles that take time and patience. Some miracles you can only see in the rear view mirror. Sobriety is often exactly that type of miracle: you get started without any real sense of permanence, or even belief that any good will come of it. You’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, and you’ll give any idea a go.
That’s all you need to get started, really and truly. You don’t need to be committed to sobriety forever, just for today. You don’t need to believe in God, just that you are willing to consider practicing some open-mindedness somewhere along the way. You don’t need to commit to anything, just inclined to listen to the suggestions of others who have what you want.
If someone told me at 6 days sober that I’d be doing any of the things I’m doing now, 4 years later… well, you know how that sentence ends!
My miracle for the day is the reminder of how grateful I am to have suspended my disbelief just long enough that it became belief!