Monthly Archives: April 2016
M(3), 4/25/16: The Blessing of Friendship
And a happy Monday to all! We had an astonishingly large attendance at this morning’s meeting, I stopped counting at 18, though I’m relatively certain one or two more came in later.
Today’s reading selection came from Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The essay came from the chapter “Friendship,” and discussed the writer’s relationship with a woman named Pat who would eventually guide her to sobriety. Although Pat herself was not an alcoholic, she was a member of the 12-step group Al-Anon, so she guided the author of the story using the common tenets of both programs: one day at a time, the Serenity Prayer, honesty.
The long and short of the story is that everyone would be blessed to have a “Pat” in their lives, a friend who listens attentively, who shares wisdom without being bossy, who walks their talk.
I shared about the many “Pats” I’ve met in the rooms of our fellowship, and how many of them were sitting with me this morning! One part of the story reminded me acutely of early sobriety: the author was frantic because of all the chaos in her life, and proceeded to list all the crises… a possible pregnancy, relationships in distress, house a disaster, and depression so deep she felt unable to tackle any of it. Pat listened attentively, and remarked that most of the problems were future ones, but the one that could be handled was the dirty dishes in the sink. She suggested that the author go home and clean them. At the time the author was highly offended, and felt dismissed. But after she went home and washed those dishes, she felt that sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something productive. And to this day she remembers that lesson Pat taught her, to do what you can that day to improve something in your life.
I remember learning those same types of lessons, though I was not nearly so open-minded about it. I remember being outraged at this type of suggestion… how dare you tell me to clean my house! But as I started creating the routine of handling the problems directly in front of me, rather than obsessing about the myriad of perceived disasters in my life, the result was nothing short of amazing.
You might even say miraculous.
I actually spoke less than I typically do in deference to the crowd, but for some reason the crowd was slow to share. A few piggybacked on the importance of routine; creating order in the world around you helps to create order in your mind. One woman shared the expression that helped her was move a muscle, change a thought. She gets easily caught up in worry and future projection, and it was suggested when she catches herself in the cycle to do something different… go make a bed, wash a dish, take a walk. In making a physical change you will necessarily effect a mental one.
Several attendees spoke about the Bible verse referenced in the story, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of discipline, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.”
Side note: I did not understand that verse at all. I thought it had to do with being able to discipline effectively, which of course made no sense at all. Which once again proves how lucky I am to have such wise people attend my meeting.
The people who commented on it said it reminded them of our literature, which references the benefit of having “restraint of pen and tongue.”
Another person put it this way: say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.
Now that I understood!
Just as the shares were starting to fizzle out a newcomer shared. And when I say newcomer, I mean new to me, several people in the room seemed to know him so I assumed he’d been around for some amount of time.
Turns out I was wrong. He has less than 2 weeks of sobriety, a terrible case of “the shakes,” which he knows full well a drink will calm, and he craves alcohol intensely every moment that he is awake. Between the shakes and the terrible depression he feels, he does not know how much longer he is going to last before he picks up (a drink). People are telling him he looks better and is doing great, and he is angry… he does not feel better, and he doesn’t know how much longer he can take it.
The reticence I experienced from the group evaporated in an instant. Virtually every hand in the room shot up in the air after the newcomer finished speaking. And each piece of wisdom shared was better than the last: advice on the ways to minimize the jittery feeling, suggestions on how to distract yourself in the early days, similar past experiences and how long it took to overcome, reminders that all of us have been there to one degree of another, and how miraculous it is once over the hump of early sobriety.
I watched carefully as the gentleman considered each anecdote or piece of advice, and actually saw tension leave his body. We spoke after the meeting, and he seemed ready to face the rest of the day.
And really, is there a greater miracle than that?
M(3), 4/18/16: How to Decide if You’ve Hit Rock Bottom
And finally it feels like spring in my part of the world. Hope the weather is as enjoyable in your part!
Today’s meeting was the kind that fools me. I assumed at the start that it was going to be one where I would have to exert myself, since the crowd seemed small and I knew in advance we would be reading about Step 9 (the one about making amends). Then two things happened:
- A bunch of people strolled in late
- One of them was a newcomer
We have a policy in my meeting that if a newcomer is present on a week we are reading about the steps, then we start over at step one in deference to said newcomer. In my opinion, an absolutely delightful turn of events; I don’t think I’ve made much of a secret of my… let’s call it reluctance… to speak endlessly on step 9.
Someday I’ll get there, but until then, I’ll take the disruption to the schedule and be happy.
For those not familiar, Step One:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
I shared, as I always do, the depth with which I struggled with this step in early sobriety. Powerlessness over some liquid in a glass? Utter nonsense. I needed a mental assist to get me over the hump, not unlike those yoga blocks you use when you need help getting into the various positions. The specific tweak I used escapes me at this point, but it had something to do with being powerless over the consequences once I started consuming alcohol. Or something like that.
Either way, once I accepted the notion and moved along the steps, life improved dramatically and the obsession to ingest mind-altering substances was lifted.
Which was awesome, of course. But the clincher for me is when I realized how transferable these steps were to my everyday life. I wasn’t just powerless over alcohol, I was powerless over a multitude of things that took up space in my brain. When my brain is overtaken by an obsession over things I am powerless, guess what becomes unmanageable?
So step one is always a great read for me. In fact, I could have used it about 10 different times this weekend, time spent worrying about kids, sports, home projects, career opportunities. Every single instance was time wasted, worrying about things that I cannot control.
Moving on from my share, things became more intense. The newcomer spoke of a sister that passed away from the disease of alcoholism. Hearing her speak of the devastating consequences of excessive drinking was, pardon the pun, a sobering experience. Her sister ferociously denied being an alcoholic until she was on her actual deathbed. The day before she died, lying in the hospital suffering from end-stage cirrhosis, was when she was able to admit she was an alcoholic. Sadly, too late for her to do anything about it, but the newcomer is hopeful that she uses her sister’s experience to propel her along the path of recovery.
Another friend at the meeting shared a personal experience that she uses as a metaphor for the concept of powerlessness. At the age of 18 she nearly drowned in the waters of the Hawaiian North Shore. A strong swimmer and a healthy fit young woman, she did not consider for a moment that she would have an issue with the waves. But she tried for nearly 30 minutes of the strongest swimming she could to get back to the shore, with no success. It was finally a daring rescue attempt by her sister that she was saved. For her, the disease of alcoholism is much like that ocean. It may look alluring, and she may think that she is powerful enough, strong enough, willful enough, to take it on, but the bottom line is she is not. And there’s no shame in that! Just like there’s no shame in her story of needing help with surviving her swimming scare, so too is there no shame in admitting she needs helps with recovery.
After these two powerful shares, the discussion turned to the notion of what comprises a “low bottom” or a “high bottom,” and how does one know if they’ve hit their bottom? For those unfamiliar with the term, an alcoholic bottom refers to the place a person must reach before they recognize they have a problem that they are willing to try to solve. Several attendees cited concerns that their bottoms weren’t low enough to be worth of a seat in a 12-step meeting. No DUI’s, no jobs lost, no families separated, so how do they know if they’ve actually hit bottom?
One long-timer shared that his physical bottom was quite high… he got sober at a really young age with absolutely no external consequences. However, he describes his mental bottom as quite low… his outlook was so bleak, his hope for a better life so dim, suicide was a viable option. He was steered towards a 12-step meeting, and saw it as a lifeline. Thirty eight years later, he still sees it as a gift.
Another gentleman said the answer to “how do you know when you hit bottom?” is simple… when you stop digging! Your bottom can be wherever you choose it to be.
Another meeting regular compared his two different attempts at recovery. In the first, his bottom was so high that he felt superior to those around him. That confidence led to complacency, which led to an extended relapse. The second time around his bottom was, in his opinion, quite low: detox, rehab, loss of license, physical health on the decline. His approach to his recovery was much more sincere and focused, and this time he intends to hold on to his sobriety.
The consensus reached this morning was this: every personal bottom is unique, and pointless to compare. Relapse is never a requirement… keep the basics of sobriety close at hand, and you will never have to crawl your way back!
The reminder that I have a tool to deal with powerlessness in life is a miracle every time I use it!
M(3), 4/11/16: We’ve Only Got Today
So much to say, so little time!
Today’s meeting was jam-packed, both with people (I stopped counting at 15) and wisdom. Today’s literature was Living Sober. As is my custom, I asked a woman who I know is in early sobriety (the woman I mentioned had 6 days last week, she is back and now has 13!) to select the chapter. She chose Chapter 3: Using the 24-Hour Plan.
Talking about “the 24-hour plan,” also known as the “just for today plan,” brings back vivid memories of early sobriety. When I was drinking addictively, the pattern was depressingly repetitive. Drink too much, go to bed, and, like clock work, wake up in the 2 to 3 am range. Heart racing, I would spend the first several moments in the oh-no-I-did-it-again stage. Next was the frantic attempts at recollection: what did I do last night? In front of whom? Did I drunk dial anyone? Did I fight with my husband? Next came the shame and remorse, a period which could take an hour or more, woefully listing all the ways in which I was a horrible person. Finally, some attempt at logic would take over: how did I get to this place again? More importantly, how could I stop repeating the same mistake?
Then, the lightbulb moment, where I reach the brilliant conclusion. Just don’t drink anymore, and this won’t happen anymore! Suddenly, I am full of resolve, because this time I’m going to do it! Those motivating feelings, after several hours of horrific feelings, is usually what allowed me to drift to sleep for the 30 or so minutes left of the night.
But no matter, I still felt good upon waking: today is the day I am going to put this plan into place. Excited and resolved, the intention stayed strong throughout the morning and most of the afternoon.
Then 4 o’clock rolled around, my personal witching hour. And it was like a magic trick, how quickly the resolve vanished, and how delightful a glass of Chardonnay seemed.
Over and over again went that sad cycle.
Finally, I started on the road to sobriety. And even then, the “one day at a time plan” offended my sensibilities. You may fool others with that nonsense, but you’re not fooling me! You ask me “can you not drink, just for today?” I say yes, then I come back tomorrow and you ask me the same thing? Give me a break… I’m smarter than that. Dammit.
However, I had already been given the gift of desperation, and therefore I did not feel I had another choice but to give sobriety my best shot. So I just ignored that particular tool, for several months.
Within the first 6 months, though, the time had come for me to use it. Truthfully, I don’t remember the specifics of the mental tizzy in which I found myself, but I know it was full-blown, and I was panicking about everything. At the time, when that would happen, the next logical thought process would be: do you really think you can do this for the rest of your life? What if someone dies? What about weddings? What if… the questions could go on indefinitely.
And for some reason, the question came to me: do you feel like drinking right now? No. Do you think you can make it through the rest of the day without drinking? An even stronger no. Then does any of what you’re worrying about matter? It doesn’t… Thank God!
To this day that remains a pivotal moment in my sobriety.
Nowadays, I am blessed to have had the obsession to drink removed, and so thinking about the 24-hour plan is not something I do daily. But one of things that I am practicing is meditation. And guess what the primary goal of mediation is? Mindfulness, bringing you back to the present moment, and reminding you that life can only be lived in the moment. Anxiety about the future, regret about the past, all take you away from the present moment, and thus take you away from your life.
Which to me pretty much sums up the 24-hour plan, so I’m not as far removed as I would have thought!
Several people talked about the illogical ways they denied the need to stop drinking: picking “meaningful” future sobriety dates, then letting them slip by. One woman thought that instead of stopping drinking, her goal would be to keep a stocked bar. Of course, the perpetual trouble with that plan was that she drank her way through it too quickly!
The woman that chose the reading did so because she is currently struggling with the desire to drink. She has to break down time into smaller chunks than 24 hour ones. She plans out her day as best she can, and when the cravings strike, she attempts to distract herself one hour at a time. For 13 days, it’s been working well, and I’m hoping I get to congratulate her next week on 20 days.
The absolute best share of the morning, at least in my opinion, came from one of my best friends in recovery. She said early on she learned that the 12 steps are a way of building the best relationship possible with your Higher Power. When you spend your time worrying about the future, or wallowing in the past, then you are not in that relationship… your Higher Power is in the present moment, which is your life! So if you’re wasting your time in the past or the future, you are going it alone, without the benefit of that Higher Power. Such an interesting perspective, but one that makes a lot of sense.
Everyone who shared agreed wholeheartedly on one thing: using the one-day-at-a-time approach is beneficial not only to quitting drinking, it’s an effective means of living life.
The energy that came of this morning’s meeting was so positive, so powerful, I am still feeling it sitting at home typing on my computer… that is an amazing miracle!
M(3), 4/4/16: How to Decide if You’re Really an Alcoholic
For my friends with me in the Northeastern corner of the United States… where the heck did Spring go?
Fantastic meeting despite completely dreary weather, I stopped counting after 14 attendees. Several new to the meeting, one new to sobriety, and one I used to see at meetings in my first year of sobriety.
Today we read Chapter 3 from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, “More About Alcoholism.” This chapter speaks primarily to the person who is still on the fence about whether or not he or she is an alcoholic. The chapter gives a variety of examples of people who believe they could control their drinking, to no avail. As one of the attendees this morning remarked, “Chapter 3 is all about the disease of denial.”
I would contend that this chapter applies to anyone considering recovery. I have yet to meet, either in person or in the blogosphere, a sober person who did not live through some period of denial. The intensity of denial fluctuates, as does the duration, but at some point before every sober person stopped drinking they wondered whether they actually needed to stop, like, forever.
Any time I read the first half of “The Big Book,” I do so with two mindsets. First I remember how I read it when I first started attending 12-step meetings. At the same time, I read it and attempt to apply to what I know about myself today. As you might expect, the two experiences are startling in their disparity.
Active Addiction Me read this chapter and scoffed at all the extreme examples of alcoholism illustrated. She would have resisted strongly the notion that I am somehow different from other drinkers, or that I have progressed to the point where I am powerless over alcohol. In fact, Active Addiction Me wouldn’t really understand the notion of powerlessness at all. She would have chuckled ruefully at the paragraph that lists the dozens of ways alcoholics try to control their drinking (limiting the number of drinks and switching to a drink with a lesser alcohol content in particular, these were perennial favorites).
At the same time Present Day Me reads the chapter and marvels at how closely my story mirrors the tales, at least in spirit, described in this chapter. There is a story about a man, attempting sobriety, who concluded that adding a shot of whiskey to his milk after a full meal would do no harm. Thinking that logical sounds preposterous, but I could give a half dozen examples of decisions I made in active addiction that seemed entirely reasonable at the time, but now take my breath away with their absurdity. Or the illusion that someday, somehow, I would be able to “drink like normal people.” I spent the last 4 years of my drinking career hell bent on proving this statement to be true. And I got about as far as anyone else has, I suppose… which means nowhere.
Everyone else enjoyed the chapter as well. One woman talked about the story of “Fred,” and announced that she is Fred: completely logical and moderate about almost everything in her life, she loses puzzling control when it comes to alcohol. For years she assumed she could think her way out of the problem, as she had every other problem in her life. It wasn’t until she acknowledged her powerlessness, and applied the skills she learned through the 12 steps, that she was able to dissolve the obsession to drink.
Another gentleman added to the list of ways he tried to control his drinking, an exercise I’m sure all of us could do. He believed he could control the amount he consumed by keeping the swizzle sticks from the drinks he consumed. You can imagine how that story ends… a gigantic pile of swizzle sticks and no real memory of how he got them!
Another friend spoke of how she read this chapter in early sobriety, and did not enjoy what she read at all. You see, she was thinking she would just take a break from drinking, and come to a few meetings to see if she could learn to drink like a lady. Once she read the section of the chapter on conducting experiments on controlled drinking, she realized her plans might have a few holes in it. She realized she had been trying controlled drinking for quite some time, with no success.
The newcomer to sobriety shared how much this chapter applied to her, and used recent real-life examples to prove it. She said she knew she was an alcoholic when she observed her pattern of drinking one way with friends and family, but an entirely different way when alone and “safe.” As with most of us, the pattern has been progressing, and she wants to arrest the behavior before she loses it all, the way some of the tales in the chapter end.
As I say quite a bit in this blog, there is so much more to share, and not enough time to share it! I encourage anyone reading who still wonders if all this “sobriety stuff” applies to them to give chapter 3 a read!
Today my son receives the sacrament of Confirmation. He kept telling me he needed an entire day off to reflect on his last hours of religious childhood, but I decided that he could make do with a half day!