Monthly Archives: September 2016
M(3), 9/26/16: Friends vs. Acquaintances
I don’t know what’s going on with my meeting lately, but every week we are getting more and more people that I’ve never met before. It adds such a great dynamic, and people seem to be leaving feeling the same uplift I am feeling… all great stuff. Next month is the meeting’s four year anniversary, so maybe it just takes that long to grow a meeting? In any event, Monday mornings are great in this part of the world!
Today’s reading came from the book Forming True Partnerships, or, as I call it, “The Relationship Book.” This morning’s selection focused on friendships, and made a distinction between those we call friends, and those who are actually acquaintances. According to the author, acquaintances are people bound by a common denominator. When you take away that common denominator, the relationship falters.
Drinking buddies are the obvious example for those of us in recovery. Many in the room spoke of the disintegration of relationships that were primarily held together by booze. Once the common denominator of alcohol is taken away, many report that the relationships with their drinking pals becomes defunct.
Others interpreted the reading a bit differently and focused on the deep and lasting connections they made with others in recovery. There is a unique connection that forms when one recovered person talks to another. Their stories may be as different as night from day, but they will share feelings and experiences that are universal. This kind of connection makes for deep, meaningful, lifelong connections.
Some in the room did not have the experience of losing friends in sobriety; I count myself as one of them. A lot of those who shared about this type of experience were isolated drinkers, and therefore did not make connections with drinking buddies. For them, the trick in early sobriety was learning how to make interpersonal connections at all, and to do so without the social lubricant of alcohol. Most of the people in this camp found that the sober social events helds at so many 12-step fellowships to be an excellent way to connect.
One woman, a newcomer to the meeting but not to the fellowship, spoke of her fear in giving up the way of life that is drinking. It did not matter that she virtually had no life due to alcohol, since by the end she was isolating from most everyone in her life; to her, a life with drinking was the only one she had known, and she feared the unknown.
As it turns out, her last drink took place at a professional football game in our area, she suspects her family was feeling sorry for the sad state of her life, and took her to the game to try to force her out of her isolation. As circumstances had it, she drank for the last time at that game, and began her road to sobriety. She went to meetings, took suggestions, made meaningful relationships; ultimately, she gained a life in sobriety.
Four years later, she competed and won in a contest to sing the national anthem for that same professional football team, and sang it at that same stadium. To her, that transformation, that upward spiral, is what sobriety is all about. This happened quite a few years ago, but she still gets tears in her eyes as she tells the story.
I told a story along this same lines this morning. This past weekend was milestone college reunion… the 25th anniversary, to be specific.
The last reunion I attended was my 20th reunion, which took place, as math would have it, 5 years ago this past weekend. Both times I served on the committee to plan and market it to my fellow alumni.
And there is where the similarities between the two experiences end. This time five years ago, I was slowly and painfully marching my way to my alcoholic bottom. The worst was still to come, but even so my life was a terrible mess.
I have little to no memory of the things I did to prepare for the 20th reunion; probably because I did very little. The event itself was poorly attended, dull in the extreme, and I was desperate for that night to end. I did not drink that night, but I was as resentful as hell at everyone who was. All I could see was the drink in a person’s hand; I could care less about interacting with them, seeing what was going on in their lives for the past 20 years, or even reconnecting with the friends that were there with me.
I have been aware of the time frame and life shift between the two reunions, and I wanted to take advantage of it. First, I paid attention to my duties as a committee person, and I did my best to honor them. Whether or not it made a difference was beside the point; I wanted to feel good by fulfilling my responsibilities.
The week leading up to the event I considered the changes in my life between then and now. I considered, I compared, and I practiced gratitude as often I could remember to do so.
I anticipated all the good that I would experience: the friends I rarely get to see these days that will be present, old classmates with whom I can reconnect, faculty and staff that might be present. The campus itself, and the nostalgia it might bring. I took time to consider my outfit, make-up and hair, things I don’t do in my “regular” life as a stay at home mom.
My goal was a simple one: be present during the evening. Pay attention to the people at the event. Enjoy the time spent getting dressed up with my husband. Keep it simple.
I imagine this is needless to say, but I had an excellent time. As fun as I anticipated it to be, the night was even better. A surprise bonus: a college friend’s husband approached me and asked if it was difficult for me to attend drinking functions now that I am sober. I was surprised, as I had never spoken to him directly about my sobriety. I answered honestly that at this stage of my sobriety, it was not difficult, but that it had not always been this way. He confided that his father died with 25 years of sobriety, and that he witnessed the transformation, and empathizes with my struggle. He congratulated me on the accomplishment of my sobriety.
What a difference five years can make!
All the newcomers this morning!
M(3), 9/19/16: Willingness is the Key
Today’s meeting, and its subject matter, was so spot on for me that it gives me the chills just thinking about it. Then again, I feel that way pretty much any time we talk about…
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again: step three is my favorite of the 12 steps of recovery. It has universal application, and applies to every single human on the planet. Maybe animals too.
We had an interesting turnout today. For the first time in years, maybe ever, there were more strangers in my meeting than there were regulars. This increase in diversity resulted in a wider array of wisdom and shares, which can only be a good thing.
One of the regulars, a man who I quote virtually every week in this blog, started our meeting off right with the announcement that he is 30 years sober as of this past weekend. This announcement elevated the collective mood of the room big time. He talked about a particular section of the reading:
…He might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from self-sufficiency. Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking up into warring fragments. Each fragment says to the others, “We are right and you are wrong.” Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough, self-righteously imposes its will upon the rest. And everywhere the same thing is being done on an individual basis. The sum of all this mighty effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before. The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off. Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin. -pg. 37, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
He said the first time he went to a Step Three meeting, an argument broke out over what the word “juggernaut” means. Each of the multiple people involved insisted they knew the correct definition. Finally, someone suggested pulling out a dictionary; someone did, and the definition was/is:
Juggernaut: a literal or metaphorical force regarded as mercilessly destructive and unstoppable.
Once the irony settled in that they were acting like juggernauts while arguing about its meaning, everyone laughed and moved on to more productive conversations.
Humorous anecdote aside, my longtime sober friend went on to talk about what an apt description the word juggernaut is when describing self-will. How often do we, in the zest to prove ourselves right and another wrong, get so deep into a debate that we lose sight of the original issue?
Or the times when we pursue a goal, something we justify as a “single-minded passion,” to the exclusion of everything else of value in our lives?
Or when we want something so badly we rationalize every questionable decision and action so that it fits our current needs and wants?
The list is endless, as is the specific list of ways we alcoholics misused our self-will:
- “I’m an adult, and nobody is going to tell me what I can or can’t drink!”
- “How dare they tell me I drink too much, when they fill in the blank.”
- “I need this drink now, since life is so stressful. Once life gets calmer, I will think about cutting back.”
- “How can I not drink when it is such a part of my life? Everyone I know drinks!”
- Ad infinitum…
If we accept that relentless self-will is counterproductive, and we are intrigued by the idea of turning said will over the care of the God of our understanding, the next question becomes how exactly do we pull off such a feat?
Many people shared in the meeting this morning regarding the ways in which they went about this process; the underlying theme throughout was willingness. The key to turning things over is simply to be willing to do so. The minute we start arguing about the different reasons why our way in the right way, we have closed the door to willingness.
This is exactly why I love Step Three so much; it is a lesson that I need to learn over and over again. I suspect for the rest of my life I will be remembering that I need to display some willingness.
I have an ongoing situation that has created some intermittent periods of anxiety in my life. I have a strong suspicion that if I could go back and create a timeline of when I was feeling the most stress regarding this issue, and chart my feelings and subsequent actions during those period of angst, I would find that I decided to take back my self-will and force the solution of my choosing. Therefore, just reading this selection brought instant relief:
The more we become willing to depend on a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are. -pg. 36, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
When I am taking back my self-will, my logic screams out, “So what does that mean, you sit around and wait for God to hand things to you?”
And of course that’s not the answer. The answer lies in yet another tool of recovery I love but conveniently “misplace” in times of stress:
Rain, rain, don’t go away! We just got rain in our area for the first time in forever, and never have I been happier to deal with gray skies!
M(3), 9/5/16: To the Family Afterward
Suddenly it’s Tuesday morning, and still no wrap-up post from yesterday’s meeting. I’m going to blame the three day weekend, and an aging, limping mess of a dishwasher that needed some funeral arrangements, but the time is coming where I figure out what comes next for this blog.
In other words: sorry again for the delay.
It was a decently sized meeting, considering it to be a holiday. It’s counterintuitive to me that holidays produce smaller sized meetings. I would think more people would show up, since more people have off from work. In any event, we had the usual suspects, plus one or two extras.
We read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”), a chapter entitled “To the Family Afterward.” This is another chapter, much like last month, that deals with topics pertaining to the loved ones of the alcoholic, rather than the alcoholic himself/herself. As I mentioned last month, these two chapters are the prologue to Al-Anon.
According to this chapter, there seem to be two watchwords for the recovering alcoholic and his/her family in the early days of sobriety:
The chapter breaks down a whole bunch of possible scenarios that family may experience as the alcoholic recovers, and how best to handle them.
Attendees in the meeting shared their validation of the various scenarios laid out, and added a few more. One gentleman told an amusing story. He came home the night of his seven year sober anniversary, and proudly presented the coin to his wife. She replied, “Congratulations, these were the happiest six years of my life.” He gently reminded her it has been seven years, not six, to which she replied, “Yeah… I’m leaving out that first year on purpose.”
The expression “it’s a family disease” exists for a reason, I guess.
That illustrates the patience part. The balance concept? Well, those reading this post who are in recovery are likely chuckling ruefully. Alcoholics are known for a lot of things, but balance and moderation are not at the top of the list. Or at the bottom for that matter.
So it follows that in recovery, we can go in a bunch of well-intentioned but over the top directions… we find God, then shove Him down everyone’s throat. Or we lose sight of the friends and family that supported us in favor of our new recovery activities.
So the family reacts, and the cycle of chaos starts all over again.
The solution is for everyone involved to communicate honestly and productively, and bring those two watchwords back to the forefront.
As another gentleman pointed out in the meeting: if you go walking into the woods for three days straight, then finally decide you want out, do you think you’re finding your way back in an hour? It took time to get in, it’ll take time to get out again.
It was an interesting chapter for me to read, given the holiday on which we read it (for those not in the United States, we celebrated Labor Day yesterday). Normally when I read this chapter, I have little to no reaction. I am one of the extremely fortunate ones who had complete family support as I recovered. None of the anecdotes described in the chapter apply directly to my life.
However, Labor Day weekend holds a bi-annual event in my family of origin. We have been holding a family reunion for as long as I’ve been alive. Longer, actually, which makes me want to find out how long it’s been going on. At this point we have about 150 people in attendance, and it is an all-day, much-of-the-night affair.
There have been three so far in my sobriety. I believe I skipped entirely the first one, I attended briefly the second, this past Saturday I stayed the longest.
The days leading up to the event had me in a state of… something along the lines of discontent, I suppose. You see, this is the one situation on which I haven’t readily been able to slap the “sober is better” sticker. The event is largely outdoors, at a time of year where it is humid. I am not the outdoorsy type (understatement). There are tons of people, but these are people I see either at this event, or a funeral, so a catch-up conversation (and sometimes a reminder of names) is required each and every time. The vast majority of these people will be imbibing a social lubricant called beer (or a mixed drink); I will be consuming the social lubricant called Diet Pepsi.
If I’m being brutally honest, I was dreading the event, and then I was berating myself for dreading it. What kind of person does not want to spend time with their family? But the equally brutal truth is that pre-recovery, I couldn’t wait for the event, because it was an all all-day drink fest, and now it’s not. For me, anyway. For many others, it continued to be. So it felt like I had more to dread than I had to anticipate.
Luckily for me, I have tools in the toolkit to use in times such as these, and I had my pre-game rituals in place. The most important of these tools, in my opinion, is to have a quick exit strategy should I become uncomfortable around the alcohol/excessive drinking.
The other tool that I used, and was the turning point in the event, was to remember why I was actually there: to spend time with family, and to participate in a long-standing family tradition. When I kept that in the forefront of my mind, instead of focusing on the alcohol that surrounded me, I was able to relax and enjoy the event.
People still got drunk. In fact, I heard tales of overturned golf carts at the end of the evening (which was really early morning) that had me belly laughing. But the reality is the people who got as drunk as I would have gotten were in the minority. The majority of people were casually drinking, or not drinking at all, and they were a delight. I dragged my feet going to the reunion, but I left with a grateful heart.
And then I got to read and remember why I am so grateful!
Family love and support are perennial miracles