Monthly Archives: October 2016
My head is still spinning a bit from the animation and wide array of shares from this morning’s meeting. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re approaching Halloween or what, but man were things interesting this morning!
And so I don’t forget, apologies for the missing post last week. I missed the meeting as well, since I had another job interview! Fingers crossed that this is the one that gets me back in the workforce!
Back to today: we read from the book Forming True Partnerships, which is a compilation of articles describing how people in recovery navigate their various relationships. Today’s reading focused on a relationship specific to 12-step programs, sponsorship.
I imagine most reading this blog have at least a nodding acquaintance of the concept of sponsorship. At the most basic level, a sponsor takes his or her sponsee through the 12 steps of recovery. From that foundation, the relationship can move in as many directions as there are people in the roles of sponsor and sponsee. The expectations from both sides of the sponsorship coin vary widely. Like most pieces of the 12-step puzzle, how you sponsor and how you are sponsored is entirely up to individual interpretation.
The story we read this morning detailed a woman’s account of being “dumped” by her sponsee. The author sponsored this woman, successfully in her opinion, for about a year, during which time she took the newly sober woman through the 12 steps of recovery, spent many hours on the phone with her, went to meetings together, and introduced her to a new network of sober people. Not long after a year into the relationship, the sponsee slowed down her phone calls, started ignoring texts, and finally sent the author an email that stated she did not feel she needed her anymore.
After concocting several snarky email responses in her head, the author did what she considered the next right thing to do, which was contact her sponsor for advice. Her sponsor had a similar tale of woe, and advised her to respond in honesty. The author replied to the email and let her know she was hurt by the decision to “fire” her over email, and left it at that.
From there the author describes several great things that came out of the situation. First, she was able to identify and sit with the feelings of sadness and hurt… a novelty for her. She recognized that she had placed quite a bit of value in the relationship, and it distressed her to realize that the reverse wasn’t quite the same.
The hurt and sadness caused the author to look at the relationships central in her life, and discover ways to deepen them. She reached out more to her family and friends, and especially to other women in recovery. She found that being a better friend was the best remedy for the hurt she was feeling.
That was the synopsis of the story, and the crowd (which in this case was about 18 meeting attendees) went wild with their interpretations of the story. Several in the crowd were almost offended by this woman’s sensibilities. For them, the relationship of sponsor/sponsee is a sacred one, and there are no room for hurt feelings within it. If the sponsee needed to move on, either to another sponsor, to try the fellowship without a sponsor, or even to go out and drink again, then that is their decision, and a sponsor’s hurt feelings should not come into play. No email back talking about hurt feelings should have happened.
A few thought expressing her feelings was the right thing to do, as it allowed the author to be true to herself, rather than cultivate a resentment which could lead to a relapse.
Others took a middle-of-the-road stance, and agreed that hurt feelings shouldn’t come into play; then again, sponsors and sponsees alike are human beings, and feelings come with the package.
Most who shared loved that she reached out to others in the program, rather than using hurt feelings as an excuse for isolating. One or two who shared related it to the expression “when God closes a door, he opens a window.” The author had to feel the pain of sponsee rejection to realize that her life would be fuller reaching out more to others, both in the program and outside of it.
The title of the post implies that there were a few shares that were difficult to put in the framework of this post. I’ll just chalk it up to the season of spookiness and leave it at that. I’m always grateful that people feel free to share and express themselves authentically!
It’s funny, the part everyone was debating in the story was the part I glossed over as I was reading. I’ve had several people fade out of my 12-step life, as I imagine people would say I’ve faded out of theirs. I believe I have a somewhat open-minded thought process about the relationships within the fellowship.
Two things did strike me as I read this woman’s account of her life in recovery. First, she explained at the start of the story that she considered herself a “fringe” member of AA. Meaning that she worked the 12 steps, attended meetings, and had congenial relationships, but she also had a very full life outside of AA. When she was asked to be a sponsor, she was frankly surprised, as she thought that generally happened for the “in” crowd.
While I’ve never considered there to be “in” or “out” crowds within the fellowship, I was grateful to read of a woman staying sober and having a rich life outside of the program. Sometimes it’s daunting to hear of people who, years into sobriety, continue to go to meetings every day, sponsor dozens of people, plan vacations and retreats with other folks in recovery, and do so with ease. It would appear as if their entire lives revolve around recovery.
So it’s a relief to read there are people out there like me, finding a balance between recovery life and non-recovery life that works.
The second part that stood out is the wisdom she gained, and the actions she took as a result of the hurt and sadness. Like the author, I am relatively new to feeling my feelings, and if I’m being really honest I’m not sure I’ve gotten to the point where I can learn the necessary lessons. I’ve had recent experiences involving similar hurt and sadness, and so far the most I can say is that I’m learning how to sit with the feelings, rather than berate myself for feeling them. Reading how she turned around those feelings into something good was inspirational.
Finally, something that my very wise regular attendee said struck home for me, albeit in a slightly off-topic way. He said what he is reading in the story is the grief process… the author is grieving a relationship that meant a lot to her. He said at the root of all grief is love, for you would not grieve something if you did not love it in some way. And for those of us who used to drink our feelings a way, isn’t feeling grief really a blessing, because we are acknowledging our love for another?
This brought me back immediately to a funeral I attended this weekend. And yes, 2016 remains the Year of Funerals for me. Too many to count at this point. This woman was very important to me in early sobriety, and she died with 40 years of recovery under her belt. I started crying before the funeral started, and I don’t think I stopped the entire Mass. At one point I looked around and, I kid you not, I am the only person crying in the place! This woman was older, and her health had been failing, so I assume her friends and family were relieved she was no longer suffering. So then, true to form, I berated myself: “For goodness sake, you are least important person in the room, quit crying!”
When my friend shared today, I felt better about my tears, for I truly loved this woman, and will remain forever grateful for the lessons she taught me. I will cry all I want from now on!
As I glance up at the length of this post, I wonder if the miracle is that I’m about to stop typing 😉
A special day indeed… the four year anniversary of my Monday meeting!
Lots of people (22, which I insist is a record high but others insist we’ve had more), a lot of great food, and, as always, tons of great wisdom and camaraderie. Two “soberversaries” (16 years, 3 years) added to the jubilation.
Today’s reading selection was the chapter “Letting Go of Old Ideas” from the book Living Sober. Reading it reminded me of how I came to start this meeting…
I was about 6 months sober when a new AA clubhouse opened up about 5 driving minutes from my house. A daily meeting attendee at the time, I was thrilled. One meeting in particular was perfect for my schedule, and so I started attending faithfully.
The woman who ran the meeting told me the clubhouse needed a lot of support in order for it to remain open, and suggested I start a meeting of my own.
“Are you kidding? I am only 6 months sober; in no way am I qualified to start a meeting. Who’d even think of coming to any meeting I ran?”
She said I’m more qualified than people with years of sobriety, and that people would come, I just had to show up.
I remember very clearly my thoughts on her ideas:
For two months, she continued to badger me about this, and had others get on me too. In the end, they wrangled me into doing it using my inbred Irish Catholic guilt… the club house needs loyal people!
The underlying fear, the absolute disbelief that I was capable, was a theme in my life. That black and white thinking was pervasive, and allowed for no other possibilities; either I believed I could do something, and therefore I would, or there was no chance in hell I believed I could do something, and nothing anyone said or did would convince me otherwise.
Four years later, I get to tell that story to a roomful of people and laugh ruefully at my closed mindedness.
As it relates to sobriety… well, you can imagine some of the unmitigated thoughts I had. I remember saying to someone, “Wait, are you saying I can never have a sip of alcohol again?” And my mind rejected that thought as if the suggestion was I couldn’t drink water again.
Or when I first started attending meetings and people would identify as grateful recovering alcoholics, and I assumed there were either pathological liars, or just pathological.
Or when someone would share they’ve been faithfully attending meetings for decades, and I’d feel sorry for them, thinking they must have nothing and no one in their lives and therefore just spent all day in the rooms of a 12-step meeting.
Yes, I would say there were one or two old ideas of which I was wise to let go.
Nowadays, I am working on letting go of more elusive ideas pertaining to myself, limiting beliefs that I’ve held for so long they feel like they’re almost part of the fabric that is me. I’m a work in progress, but I’m grateful for every bit of that work, as it means I’m heading in the right direction.
Others shared about their “old ideas.” Most were slow to recovery because they rejected the label of alcoholic. As one person shared, “My father was in recovery for 30 years, and all I could think was, ‘I don’t want to be an alcoholic and have to go to meetings all the time.’ Meanwhile, I was chained to my living room sofa polishing off bottles of wine each night. By the time I went to rehab I finally considered that maybe my thinking was backwards!”
Others stayed in denial because they did not fit the image of an alcoholic. They still had their job, their home, their spouse. Surely they were not an alcoholic if were able to hold on to all these things!
As the chapter says:
It is not a question of how much or how you drink, or when, or why, but of how your drinking affects your life—what happens when you drink. Living Sober, pg. 72
Some resisted sobriety due to old fears of what sober life would look like… humorless, lackluster, tedious. Life without alcohol = life without fun. Again, the choice in most of our cases was to continue on a path of known chaos and misery seemed better than the uncertainty of a life without alcohol.
One gentleman said his sponsor put it bluntly, “Just try it our way for 90 days. We can always give you back your misery if it doesn’t work out!”
Meetings that remind me of how far I’ve come in my thinking, my actions and my very way of life are the best kind, as they bring to mind how grateful I am for the life I live, and validate why sobriety is a priority!
Four years, and people are still coming back… I’ll take it 🙂
As any regular reader knows, I thoroughly enjoy my weekly Monday 12-step meeting. Like most everything in life, not every single experience is chock full of wisdom to share. The question for me then becomes: do I just skip blogging for a week, or do I attempt to find some nuggets to pass along?
Since I am of the mindset that no meeting is a bad one, I’ll attempt to write. There were 20 people in the meeting, which is near a record high, so surely as I write I will come up with something that is a decent take-away.
The reading selection is likely what is putting me in a bad frame of reference. We read from “The Big Book,” proper title Alcoholics Anonymous, and we read the chapter entitled “To the Employers.” Right away the subject matter puts me at a disadvantage, as I’ve been a stay at home Mom for so long that I have no experience on either side of this issue.
I also have an issue with the dated way in which the subject matter is approached. So as not to get into a critique of our fellowship’s most revered book, I’ll simply say that in my opinion, the chapter might have a subtitle of “HR Nightmare.”
It therefore became difficult for me to share in any meaningful way on the chapter itself, so I took a wider frame of the material and shared on the general topic of misunderstanding the disease of alcoholism. Even with this broader theme, I still don’t have a ton of personal experience, as the vast majority of my family and friends were supportive of my recovery. In the years I’ve attended 12-step meetings, I have heard absolute horror stories of loved ones strongly encouraging active addiction, and sabotaging efforts to remain sober.
One woman said her husband frequently would hold up a vodka bottle and announce, “Whenever you’re ready just say the word and I’m pouring!” It’s hard to compare to that level of disrespect.
It’s hitting me a little bit more as I move into the stage of parenting where I’m dealing with kids and alcohol. It is noticeable to me as I begin to navigate these waters that my perspective, my reaction and my plan of action is markedly different than parents I know who have not dealt with addiction.
Truth be told, I’m not even sure who’s got the right way of thinking. In all likelihood the best approach falls somewhere in the middle, as it usually does in life.
Meeting attendees had better experiences to share in terms of the chapter itself. Several in the group had been approached by employers regarding their drinking, and all agreed it was a warranted discussion. One person admitted to being on both ends of the spectrum; he had been fired as a result of his alcoholism, and he’s had to fire people as a result of theirs. The latter, he asserts, is a difficult action to take as a person in recovery himself.
Most of the people who are in charge of hiring and firing acknowledge that is is incredibly difficult in this day and age to approach an employee with respect to their drinking. But they also believe that their understanding of the disease and its cure helps them to show greater empathy.
One special note: for the first time in four years, my husband attended my meeting. As George Costanza says, worlds are colliding:
Of course, I’m kidding, I was honored that he’d want to attend, and he reports being happy to, as he puts it, “see me in action.”
Not one, not two, but THREE different sober anniversaries in this morning’s meeting!