Monthly Archives: June 2016

M(3), 6/27/16: Breaking the Chain

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Already we are heading into the month of July… incredible!

Because it is the end of the month, we read from the book Forming True Partnerships:  How AA members use the program to improve relationships.  The story was from the chapter “The Family,” and talked about the author’s relationship with her alcoholic father in three stages:

I.  When her father was actively drinking and she was a child

II.  When her father got sober and her drinking took off

III.  The relationship they were able to build in sobriety.

A fascinating read for most everyone; even the attendees who did not have alcoholic parents could relate, as everyone in the room had someone in their family who suffers/suffered from the disease of addiction.

Part I mirrored my own childhood:  the shame that goes along with a parent’s alcoholic behavior, the sure knowledge of a personality change the moment a drink is consumed, the uncertainty of knowing which personality would be walking in the door each evening.

I loved reading about the beautiful relationship the author was able to build with her father once she started getting sober.  My father passed away years before even my active addiction, but I have daydreamed often about how he and I might relate now that I am sober.  I’d like to think we would have forged a deeper and more meaningful relationship that we ever had.

And I also believe that he is proud of me, wherever he is.

Some of the other members of the meeting touched on childhood shame surrounding parents and alcoholism, and learning how to discern between the person and the disease.  Several with alcoholic parents remarked that they were always able to do this; they could love their mother or father but hate the effects alcohol had on him or her.

This point stood out to me, as I recently had a discussion with a close friend about this very idea:  loving the person, but hating the disease.  It made me wonder if I had been able to make this distinction with my own father.

The truth is, I’m not sure I ever thought consciously about it while he was alive; I just hadn’t developed enough self-awareness at that young an age.

Then I thought to myself:  do I make that distinction for myself, and my addiction?  I will have to ponder this some more, but I’m sorry to say I’m not sure I do.  At this point, a few years into sobriety, I can say I no longer experience the raw shame of my actions in active addiction, but I think that is because I feel like I’ve rectified to the best of my ability by living each of these past 1600 or so days sober.  And as I thought about it further, and considered some of the “lesser” demons I’m trying to conquer, I’m not sure I am separating myself from my actions.  When I intend to eat well, exercise and drink lots of water, then fail to do so, I feel bad about myself, I don’t separate out the action from the person.

And as I write that I see it for the old thinking that it is, and I realize there is work yet for me to do.  Good thing I wasn’t looking to graduate anytime soon.


There were two women new to sobriety present at the meeting, and both are experiencing struggles as they try to navigate life sober.  One woman’s story in particular spoke to me.  She has less than a month sober, and is battling a few things at once.  First, she has adult children living in her home who still drink.  So there is the challenge of going into the fridge for a bottle of water, and finding it standing next to a six-pack of beer.

Due to a medical condition, she is responsible for driving her husband everywhere he needs to go, and thus finds social situations that involve drinking to be a challenge.

Finally, her adult children want to know why, even though she has been to rehab, been to outpatient therapy, been to a counselor, and is attending meetings, why would she still be sad and struggling?

I am indignant on this woman’s behalf, which of course does her no good.  What I could do, and what a couple of us did after the meeting, is share what worked for us in early sobriety.  Probably the greatest piece of advice I can give (completely and utterly from the rear view mirror, mind you) is this:  ask for help.  Tell people what you need.  Set some boundaries.  People who aren’t afflicted with the disease have zero concept of its trials and tribulations, and it is wrong for us to think otherwise.

Do whatever you need to stay sober, even if it feels selfish to the extreme.  Early sobriety is not a life sentence; you will get more comfortable with time.  But to acquire that time you need to put yourself first.  Failing to do so puts your sobriety in peril.

I’m hoping to see my friend next week with a report that she was able to negotiate some breathing room for herself.

That’s all I’ve got this beautiful summer day!

Today’s Miracle:

I will count mindful organization as the miracle of the moment.  There’s a lot going on in my household this week, and what’s keeping me sane is a list, and reminding myself to stay in the moment.  It truly is a miracle when you take the time to appreciate the here and now!

A Must-Read

If you are:

  • Considering sobriety, and wondering if it will be worth the trouble
  • New to sobriety, and thinking the hard stuff never ends
  • A few years into sobriety, and want something to which you can relate
  • Long in sobriety, and want to look back fondly and remember
  • At work, and looking for something interesting to read…

Then you must stop what you’re doing and read the following amazing article written by my gifted friend Kristen.

At Five Years Sober, Do You Really Get Your Marbles Back?

And join me in congratulating Kristen in celebrating five years of sobriety.  Thanks for showing us how it’s done, Kristen 🙂

 

 

 

 

M(3), 6/20/16: The Person with the Most Sobriety Is the One who Got Up the Earliest this Morning

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Hoping everyone who celebrated Father’s Day yesterday had a wonderful time doing so.

This morning’s meeting was a powerful one, surprising because summer is when we see a lower attendance.  But this morning we had 16 seats filled, and everyone had something to share.

We read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we focused on Step Seven:

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings

This is a chapter that focuses on the concept of humility, and its importance in the process of recovery from addiction.  Many people equate humility with humiliation, when in fact they are more or less polar opposites.  Humility is a virtue and something to which someone would strive; humiliation is a state of abasement, and a negative emotion from which someone would steer clear.

The book we read from today (though not in the chapter we read), defines humility as:

a clear recognition of who and what we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 58

This construct was an eye-opener.  I assumed because I lean heavily towards self-deprecation that I had the humility thing all wrapped up.  Clearly not when considered through the lens of this definition!

Of course, there’s lots more to this chapter, but I want to get to the discussion that followed.  The first person to share did so because she wanted to clear her mind of some dark thoughts that had taken hold.  She had been away for a week or so, and there was some stress involved in the trip.  She got home and quickly had to dive into the holiday weekend, which also involved a birthday celebration.  Out to dinner last evening, she was overcome by a powerful craving for alcohol the likes of which she had not experienced for at least two years.  It was strong enough that it made her cry, which in turn made her feel self-pity:  why, after several years of sobriety, would this kind of thing still happen?

A powerful share in and of itself, and one to which everyone could relate.

Then the next two people shared.  We had two people new to the meeting; everyone else was a regular.  The first person shared that this is his first meeting back in over two years.  Once upon a time, he was thoroughly entrenched in a 12-step program.  Then he moved, and never took the time to find a new set of meetings.  The story followed its usual trajectory:  the feeling that he could handle a few drinks, which led back to old drinking patterns, and the disease progressed as if he had never stopped drinking.

The story would have been powerful in and of itself, but directly after the share prior, wondering why a craving would hit after years of sobriety, and what giving in to the craving would actually mean, had the room silent for a moment or two.

Then the next newcomer shared, and it was a similar story, though on a shorter timeframe:  he had been sober for 63 days, the urge to drink got  stronger and stronger, and he actually said to himself while driving to the liquor store, “Well, here I go, on my way to a relapse!”  Over the weekend, he was looking through some family photos, and he noticed that in each and every one of them he was drunk.  It was the wake-up call he needed to get back to a meeting this morning.

The next share was from a regular attendee with a couple of decades of sobriety.  She is not struggling with an urge to drink; rather, she is struggling with life itself:  a 20-year old family member died in a tragic car accident over the weekend.  She did what she could to be there for her family, but she needed this meeting for herself.  She is grateful to have a place to go where she can share for feelings, and find relief in both the sharing and the empathy received.

And all this happened in the first 30 minutes!

The shares that followed all had to do with urges to drink, and how best to handle them, as well as wisdom on how best to recover from a relapse.  Two phrases, oft-repeated in the rooms of the 12-step fellowship, were shared:

I.  Addiction is cunning, baffling, powerful… and patient

This expression usually ends with the visual that our addiction is doing push-ups in the parking lot of our sobriety.  It is a simple reminder to stay vigilant, and avoid the thinking that “you’ve got this” after a period of sobriety.  Always great advice.

II.  The person with the most sobriety is the person who got up earliest this morning

I used this as the title because it stuck with me this morning, despite having heard it a million times before.  The meaning, in case it is not obvious:  it does not matter if you are sober 10 days or 10 years, all any of us really has is today.  You could broaden the scope to include anything in life, since today is all any of us ever has.  I believe the person sharing this meant it as a balm to the wounded souls of the relapsed newcomers… it’s okay, you’re sober today, I’m sober today, we’re all the same.

It’s sticking with me because, if I’m being candid (and I suppose I am since I’m writing a blog), I don’t completely agree with this sentiment.  Certainly I agree that all any of us has is the present moment, and I also agree longer time sober does not equate to being “more” sober, there are not placement awards, per se.

However….

My time means something to me personally.  I’ve mentioned this many times before, but a turning point in my sobriety came when I chose not to chemically alter myself because I did not want to give up my time.  At six weeks sober, I did not want to reset the clock.  I am incredibly fortunate that I have not had an urge to “pick up” in a very long time, but I know with certainty that if (when) I do that a huge deterrent would be that I would be giving up my sober time.

Maybe that’s just me, and at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter.  Whatever tools keep you sober are the ones to keep on hand!

Today’s Miracle:

At the moment, blessed silence in the house while kids are at the movies.  Silence is golden!

 

The Serenity Prayer: Some Practical Applications

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The original and complete prayer

Yes, it is a Monday.  No, I will not be writing the usual Monday Meeting Miracles post.  I was unable to chair this morning’s meeting; instead, I attended a funeral.  More on that in a moment.

I’m thinking this post may have all the structure and logic of a long overdue phone call with an old friend… at the end of it you will have all the information, but the delivery may be a bit convoluted.  It’s been a while since I have written in this blog just for me.

First things first.  Actually, I have no idea which to put first… updates on my life, or the reason I am sitting down to write at all?  Here’s the quick and dirty synopsis:  life is a little bit chaotic right now.  I qualify with “a little bit” because I know plenty of people whose lives are perpetually more chaotic than mine, and in fact chaotic is a subjective feeling.  For me, chaotic means:  the usual rigamarole of winding down spring sports, which overlaps with the start of summer sports.  As a matter of fact, this is the first summer both kids have that overlap, so things are trickier than usual.  End of the year school stuff, which includes, but is not limited to, half-days and talent shows.  Finally, since the rest of the world has this same stuff, there is the family obligations, and fitting in their stuff as well (note to self:  Father’s Day is this weekend, need to get on the stick!).

All of this is routine, and I’m pretty sure I complain  write about this stuff every year.  But this year two additional things have conspired to add some more chatter to the monkey mind.  I alluded to both of these things in a recent post, might as well take time to write out about each in a little more detail:

I.  Dental woes

I have been experiencing some serious, and I mean seriously serious, dental issues.  Let me sum it up with this story:  I crack a tooth a few weeks ago, and it’s towards the front of the mouth, so I am forced to make this issue a priority so as not to look like an extra from the cast of Hee Haw.

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I go to the dentist, he takes a look around my mouth, and tells me the issues are more complicated than the cracked tooth, and that he needs to refer me to a specialist.  No stranger to dental problems, I ask, “Do you mean an endodontist?”  He says, “No, a prosthodontist.”  I actually had to go home and look up this word, since I had never heard it before.  Looking it up did little to reassure me, by the way, as they seem to specialize in replacing teeth, and I was obviously hoping to save this one.

Turns out, in my case anyway, going to the prosthodontist was the right call.  The regular dentist said no way was the tooth going to be saved, but the prosthodontist did exactly that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and I can already see I’m rambling too much.  The point of this whole story is that the entire situation is stressful.  For obvious reasons… who the heck enjoys cracking a tooth and needing to go to multiple dentists?  But as a person in recovery, the prospect of anxiety-producing and painful dental procedures are an extra source of concern.  Finally, the unknown cost of these “complicated dental issues” adds an extra layer of fear into the mix.

II.  Job Search

I can’t remember if I’ve written about this or not.  Again, trying to make a long story short, I have been looking for a job, and preparing myself mentally for the transition from being a stay at home mom for the past 16 years to being a working mom.  A job has presented itself, and the process has been a long and deadly slow one.  I submitted my resume in early February, for Pete’s sake!  Here’s the good news:  130 resumes were submitted for this job, and I was one of 9 interviewed.

Here’s the not-as-good news:  that was two weeks ago, and I’ve heard not a peep since.

Then again, it’s been a slow process thus far, so maybe it’s just continuing to go slow.

Time will obviously tell.  In the meantime, I doubt I have to write out the ways this process has been a stressful one.  It can and should have a post of its own, and, depending on the outcome of the process, it likely will.

That’s the long and short of what’s been going on with me.  None of which explains the title of the post, does it?

Yesterday I was speaking to my husband of a workplace challenge he is experiencing.  Not being a part of a workplace (yet, she says with her fingers crossed), I did not want to take a stab at having the answer, nor did I want to pooh-pooh the issue by giving some trite “You’ve got this!” cheer.  So I tell him what always works for me when I am faced with a complicated issue, and that is the serenity prayer.

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This is the abridged, more commonly known prayer

Hopefully this advice helps him.  More to the point of this particular post, it sure as hell helped me!

When was the last time I actually used the serenity prayer in my own life?  The fact that I can’t answer that question tells me all I need to know about my current level of serenity.  The trouble is, the loss of serenity is an erosion process… it starts small, with the occasional worry over the pace of the job selection process, but it gradually bleeds into every aspect of your life.

I worry about fixing my tooth, I worry about the upcoming dental bills, I worry if I get the job, I worry if I don’t get the job.  Pretty soon I’m worrying about things that have nothing to do with either.  Before I know it I’m thinking in patterns that I describe as Old Josie Thinking:  making everything about me, projecting my thoughts and feelings onto others, assuming I know better than everyone.

And that, my friends, is a slippery slope.

So the timing of this advice could not be better, which is the way things go, for the most part.

I had time to flesh this out on the way to the funeral this morning.  I was attending a service for the father of a friend and former co-worker.  I have not seen this friend in years, but thanks to the magic that is social media, I was alerted to the death, and felt compelled to attend.  During the drive, I became aware of nervous feelings, and I attempted to talk them out with myself.  Turns out, I was worried about issues that are decades old, and could not have been more preposterous.

It was at that moment the light bulb went on that illuminated Old Josie Thinking, and I flashed back to the conversation from yesterday about The Serenity Prayer.  So here’s the practical application:

Accepting things I cannot change:  things that happened close to 20 years ago certainly fall into this category, as do the thoughts and feelings of others (what other people think is none of my business)

Courage to change things I can:  paying my respects to a person who was an incredibly important part of my life, especially after so long an absence, takes courage

Wisdom to know the difference:  paying attention to my own advice (for once) is wise

So as not to make this already long post even longer, I can apply this prayer to both the dental issues and the job process as well (and both lean heavily in the accepting-that-which-I-cannot-change direction).

Whew!  When’s the last time I wrote this much?  There you have it… the life and times of me.  I will keep everyone up to date on the job process.  Either way, I will have a lot to process!

Today’s Miracle:

I’m going to have to go with taking the time to write out this post!

Adding a second miracle:  just got back from the talent show of my 7th grade son, who forbade me from attending (I compromised by sitting in the back where he hopefully did not see me).  Turns out, his act was a group of his friends flanking a special needs student and singing “You are My Sunshine”  I am sooooooooooooooooooooooo glad I did not listen to his order that I am banned, and now I wish I had thought to videotape!

 

 

 

M(3), 6/6/16: Back to Business!

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Many apologies for the unplanned two-week hiatus.  Week one saw me with a dental crisis; the worst is over, but follow-up visits abound (cue the sad music).  Week two saw me preparing for my first job interview in 17 years (cue the horror music).  Both of these situations deserve completely separate blog posts, which I will hopefully get to sometime this decade, but in the meantime, let’s return to our regularly scheduled program.

This week’s reading came from Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.”  We read one of the quintessential chapters, entitled, “How It Works.”  This is the first in a three-chapter overview of the 12 steps; specifically, steps one through four.

A newcomer reading this chapter is likely to be overwhelmed, as there is a lot going on in these four steps!  We had two women in the meeting today that, by my definition, would count as newcomers:  one having recently completed rehab, and one that indicated she was a newcomer, but did not elaborate just how new she is.

First-time readers of this chapter might be alarmed at how often the words “self-centered,” “egotistical,” “resentful,” “self-pitying” and “fearful” are peppered throughout.  Indeed, the entire premise of the twelve steps (at least in this writer’s humble opinion) is based upon the notion that the alcoholic life is run on self-will and self-seeking.

And so the answer to the alcoholic dilemma is a paradigm shift:  instead of thinking the world is out to get us, we choose instead to look at our part in any situation.  Instead of considering what the world owes us, we look to see what we can contribute.  Instead of dishonesty and deception, we opt for transparency.

Instead of thinking we are running the show, we now seek a Power greater than ourselves, and we turn our will over to the care of that Power.

As always, when newcomers attend the meeting, I read and consider how I felt as a newcomer.  I know when I first started paying attention to this reading, I considered myself an exception to most of the generalizations:  I did not feel particularly angry or resentful, I didn’t consider myself to be (overly) selfish, and I believed I put the needs of a great many others before my own needs.

I remember thinking, “Wow my inventory is going to be so small, since I have no resentments whatsoever!”  I can’t remember exactly, but I believe my inventory ran upwards of 6 handwritten pages.

Now I read the chapter and consider how my life has changed since first starting the road to recovery.  The most fundamental change would be awareness, and the ability to feel my feelings.  Sounds ridiculous, but it is a change that words cannot sufficiently capture.  In addiction, I self-medicated so as not to feel anything.

So now I feel, and I’m aware that I feel.  I can define the emotion, and the corresponding physical sensations.

“Why is this a big deal?” someone may wonder.  Awareness allows for the processing of emotions, particularly negative ones.  If I’m stuffing down feelings, I’m not processing or releasing them.  So there they sit, swirling around and ready to wreak emotional havoc at any point in time.

Awareness is just one part of the puzzle.  That same awareness had me realize that all my resentment-free days were just a facade designed to keep me from feeling.  I had a lot more resentments than I ever realized I had, and a lot more fears as well.

In fact, I believe I am a work in process in the arena, and likely will be for some time.

In getting more self-aware and more honest about my part in every resentment-filled situation, I am better able to handle new challenges.  Now when a resentment pops up, I am able to:

  1. recognize it
  2. define it
  3. look at my part in it

All of which allows me to

4.  handle it

Above all, the peace that comes from a reliance on a Higher Power is the gift that keeps on giving.

Having this before-and-after experience upon which to draw was especially helpful this morning when one of the newcomers expressed confusion… she does not think she has any anger, or even much fear, so she’s not sure where she would even start with such a process.

Today’s Miracle:

The ability to pay it forward!

 

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