Category Archives: Intermediate Recovery

M(3), 1/30/2017: 5 Years Later

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A happy Monday to all!  Today we read from Forming True Partnerships, a book that talks about the various relationships and how recovery impacts each.  Today’s reading came from the chapter on friendship, and the author wrote both eloquently and compellingly on the friendships formed within the 12-step fellowship, and how that connection keeps her coming back.

This meeting was a celebratory one for me, as I announced my 5-year sober anniversary to the group this morning.  The actual anniversary took place a few days before (Friday), and I already received my coin, but I was able to pass that coin around to my main sober network, and get their good wishes instilled into the metal.  At least, that’s the tradition in our neck of the 12-step woods.

The reading was a poignant one for me.  Nowadays my main network is, as I just mentioned, my Monday meeting group.  But since my anniversary was Friday, I had the option of attending a meeting that was vitally important to me in my first year of sobriety.  I don’t think I missed more than one or two of those Friday meetings that first year, and I went a heck of a lot in my second year as well.  By year three, I was tapering them off, as the commute had become unbearable.

So this year the coincidence of the anniversary falling on the same day the meeting was held had me considering the trek down-county.  That particular morning I had a horrible night’s sleep, and strongly reconsidered.  I was tired, cranky, I knew I could just as easily celebrate with my Monday peeps, plus there was a fear lingering in the background… it had probably been at least a year since I had seen a single one of those meeting attendees… what if I walk in and I know no one?  What if things are intensely awkwards since I had not been around in such a long time?

Finally, the correct thought hit me:  I don’t attend meetings so I can be heralded, I go to share my experience, strength and hope.  So with a prayer that my anniversary and whatever I was to share might help another, I set out.

Of course, none of my fears came to pass (which leads me to wonder… do they ever?).  With the exception of one or two, all the old regulars were there, plus a handful of delightful newcomers (at least, new to me).  I happened to arrive on the anniversary of the meeting, which meant good eats were there, and an incredible speaker who shared her story.  I left with more energy than I ever would have gotten from sitting around bemoaning my previous night’s sleeplessness.  I reconnected with old friends, was asked to speak at a future meeting, and left feeling a renewed sense of the fellowship.

All of which I shared at my meeting this morning, along with my most delicious homemade cake that I make (pound cake with buttercream frosting, my way of thanking this group for all their wonderful support through these 5 years).  Here are some other wonderful pearls of wisdom shared:

  • The value of the fellowship, and of connecting with other human beings, taps into an essential part of the human condition:  the need to be seen for who we are.
  • The reading, and the extolling of the fellowship within it, is reminiscent of our program’s 1st tradition.  Just like we have 12 steps, we also have 12 traditions.  The first one is “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on AA unity.”
  • Every aspect of our fellowship is a beautiful experience that is vastly different from the relationships we build in almost any other setting.  When we gather at a 12-step meeting, most of the time we are a group that would not interact in the “outside world” by a long shot.  We come from vastly different social circles, socio-economic classes, even geographically there can be differences.  Yet when we sit down for our 12-step meeting, we are virtually a family.  We have an inherent understanding of one another before we speak a word.  It is truly a priceless gift.
  • One part of the story referenced the television show from the 80’s, Cheers.   Specifically, the author writes about when the character Norm walks into the bar and, as the theme song sings, “everyone knows his name.”  For many of us, our 12-step group is much like that, where everyone not only knows our name, but pays attention to our innermost thoughts, and sincerely wants the best for us.
  • The fellowship is an amazing resource for those of us who consider ourselves introverts, shy, or have a hard time developing friendships.  It’s simply a matter of coming back and becoming a regular part of a meeting… the friendships take care of themselves organically.
  • The quality of friendships within the fellowship is often markedly better than the relationships formed with our drinking buddies.  Some noted that when the drink is taken out of the equation, the “buddies” go away, whereas the friendships within the fellowship have staying power.
  • A common expression used in meetings is “keep coming back.”  And the reason for that expression is that, in many cases, that is all that’s needed for success… just keep at it, and amazing things happen!

Today’s Miracle:

When I said that my Monday meeting peeps are my main source of support, I do my blogging circle of friends a disservice.  I started this blog at 3 months sober.  It is a freaking miracle that I am still writing this same blog 5 years later, and I owe it all the incredible friends I’ve made in the blogosphere along the way!

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My 5-year coin

WOTY, A Recap, and Whatever Else Might Be in my Head

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  writing is a muscle, and when you don’t exercise the muscle, you lose it, rapidly!  It’s easier to stay in the rhythm of writing than in trying to resurrect it.

But try I must, since my life is vastly improved when I use this outlet.  There’s been a lot going on, and so the unmotivated side of myself seizes upon these life issues and uses them as a handy excuse, a get out of jail free card, if you will.

And now, lo and behold, it is January 1st.  The last day of the holiday season (for the most part), and a time to look ahead and focus on self-improvement.  For the past few years I have participated in the WOTY theme (Word of The Year, an anchor to remind yourself of the priorities you’ve set for yourself in January); this year, given my pulling away from the blogging world, I was sure I would not participate again.  In fact, I wasn’t 100% sure I remembered 2016’s word of the year.

Then I woke up this morning, and a word popped into my head, and I can’t seem to let go of it.  And I haven’t found a whole lot of those lightbulb-y, aha! experiences of late, so I need to grab hold of them while I do.

So methinks I will be participating in the fun again this year.  But first, because I hate to do things out of order, I want to write a bit on where I’ve been and what’s been keeping me from the blog.

I’ve referenced the most obvious of problems a few times in the past 2 months, and that is an ongoing podiatric issue.  I elected to have a minor corrective surgical procedure in early November, and somehow I wound up with a fractured heel.  That sums up in one sentence something that, had I kept my writing muscles in shape, a subject matter that could have entertained you for hours.  Sadly, I did not, and I believe I am at last at a stage of acceptance about the whole issue.  My heel is fractured, it is a long and slow recovery (made longer and slower by my non-compliance, but give me a break, it was the holiday season), and there are worse things in life.  End of story.  Simple to say and write out now, but the mental process took some time.

A second issue took place since I’ve last written, and if I do what I should be doing, I will sit down in the near future and make a full and proper post about the experience.  I had another job opportunity come and go in the past few weeks.  This is not the first opportunity (or the second for that matter), but it was by far the most painful loss I’ve experienced in a long time.  I believed in my heart and soul that this job was meant for me. Simply put, I was wrong.  Or at the very least someone of importance disagreed with me, because they chose someone else.

I know many will be reading this and thinking “Oh boo hoo, you didn’t get a job?  Sing it to the choir, sister!” Or maybe your thoughts have trendier expressions than mine, who’s to say?  But what I’ve learned about myself through this process is how far I go to protect myself from disappointments such as these.  I assume failure before every new experience, so that if it happens I am not too shocked or upset.  I let my guard down this time, and ooh baby did it hurt.  And the timing of it was either awful or perfect… I had house guests arrive one hour after I received the news.  Not sure if this was a good distraction, or it prolonged the healing process, but as they say, it is what it is.  I believe there is more processing to come.

Finally, and possibly most irritating, was an incident that occurred a few weeks back directly after the weekly meeting I run.  A bit of backdrop:  I started the meeting 4 1/2 years ago, at the request of people who were starting a brand new clubhouse.  The goal of the clubhouse was to be a safe space for 12-step program members of all kinds to recover and support one another in recovery.  At the time I was horrified… I had only 6 months or so sober myself, who am I to start a meeting?  But I was convinced, and the rest is history.  The meeting is going strong, and in fact is one of the more well-attended ones in the club house.

Since that time I’ve backed out of most involvement in the clubhouse; once upon a time I attended their business meetings and social events, now I am almost exclusively using the space to run the Monday meeting.  I imagine it’s an evolution, and there are ebbs and flows, and I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about.

But in the meantime all sorts of political changes have taken place, throughout all of which I’ve minded my own business.  I recently heard they elected a new president, and thought nothing of it until he introduced himself to me.  And something in my gut told me, at that very moment, that something was going to happen.  And I can tell you I don’t often get gut feelings.

And please do not get me wrong, the new president is a wonderful gentleman.  He introduced himself as though he did not recognize me, but I certainly know him, and respect his sobriety greatly.  And I stand in awe of his service… it is a huge undertaking to lead a clubhouse, and I respect his decision to do so.

A few weeks later he arrived oddly late to my meeting… there was at most 10 minutes left to go.  I did not think a thing of it, until he hung around waiting to speak with me.  My radar picked up the signal of distress, and I waited patiently through the “how’s your foot?” questions to see what was up.

And my radar was correct, he was coming to me with a problem that was brought to him.  He understands I write a blog.  He has not read it himself, but somebody in our local community has, and they are concerned that I am breaking the anonymity of a specific person, and that if this person were to find out, he/she would be devastated and leave my meeting.

So let’s back up here:  the person coming to me with the problem has yet to read the blog himself, and the person coming to him isn’t concerned with his or her anonymity, but someone else’s.  And they’re not speaking on behalf of that person, they’re just projecting a potential problem.

My defenses register all of this immediately.  But first, this is on the heels of a recovery meeting, second, the newly elected president is saying all of this in the gentlest of ways, so it’s not liking he’s “coming at me,” per se, and third, I detest all forms of confrontation and thus will always want to consider all options before I respond.  One last factor that I’m ashamed to include but will for the sake of honesty:  at the time of this discussion/suggestion, I truly believed I would be employed on a full-time basis in a matter of weeks.  If I’m working full-time I am no longer chairing this meeting, and this becomes a non-issue.

In the moment, I politely thanked him for the feedback.  He had expressed which individual was the concern, and I assured him that I do not think such an issue exists, but I will make sure to find out, as the individual and I are very close.  I then wished him a good day, and I actually have not seen him since.

Then the stupid job fell through, and I realized that I never actually dealt with the issue.  And I have been mentally blocked ever since.

To be fair, it was a busy holiday season, and all of the things I wrote about above were happening, and I’ve already declared how easy it is to make excuses.

So here is my vow:  I will get to the bottom of this issue, because I do completely respect the person in question.  As it happens circumstances prevent me from doing this for a few weeks, but I will get to the bottom of it.

In my heart I do not believe I have broken anyone’s anonymity.  The vast majority of the readership live nowhere near me.  If there is the smallest handful of local people reading this blog, and they put two and two together, it is because they attend the same meetings I do, and hear the same things I do.  I don’t use names, and only occasionally use gender.  I don’t talk give physical descriptions, or anything else that might directly point the finger to a specific individual.

But if the busybody source is correct, I will take immediate steps to back it down even further.

And now I have written a novel, and never even gotten to my Word of The Year.  I will leave you with the word, but will save the rationale for another post, since nobody has time to read any more out of my brain.  My Word of the Year is:

Service

And I have much to say about it, what that word means to me, and how I came to determine that I need this in the forefront.  I will also look back and see how 2016’s word impacted my year as well.  Until then…

Today’s Miracle:

Writing.  On a Sunday.  Out of schedule.  With a house full of people.  Enough said!

New Year, New… Something

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I hope this writing finds you off to a wonderful start in 2016.

The start of 2016 has me stymied with respect to the direction of this blog.  I am ready for a change, but am really struggling with the nuts and bolts of said change.

I started writing this blog almost 4 years ago to document my journey of recovery from addiction.  Part diary, part accountability tool, part self-guided therapy, I wrote a lot that first year, and in that writing learned a great deal about myself.

Somewhere in the course of that first year the blog morphed into an unexpected treasure trove of fellowship and camaraderie.   Now not only was I getting things out of my head, but I was getting invaluable feedback from like-minded bloggers.  What a gift!

In the next two years, life evened out, recovery stabilized, life drama declined… well, dramatically.  The things on which I needed to vent often had very little to do with the main purpose of this blog:  sobriety.

In 2015 I committed to bringing it back to its focus, which had me more or less exclusively writing about the lessons I gleaned from the 12-step meeting I chair each week.

A great concept, and I’m proud of those blog posts, and the message they impart to readers (at least the message I hope they impart).

But as I reflect on the trajectory of the blog, I’m not enjoying how far from the original purpose I’ve wandered.  I started this blog to journal about my recovery, and for the past year most of what I’ve done is report the wisdom of others.

I have a few thoughts rolling around my head as I consider the possibilities.  The first is to get a bit more real about life in 12-step recovery after a few years.  As anyone who has read my blog knows, I am committed to the principles within the 12 steps of recovery; further, I believe those same 12 steps can help everyone, not just those of us who have chosen sobriety.

That said, there are struggles to be found in staying committed as the years go by.  Up to this point, I abstained from writing of these struggles, lest I discourage even one person from considering 12-step recovery.  But if I am to write as authentically as I did that first year, then those struggles would be exactly what I would write about, in terms of recovery.

So that’s one possibility.  Another is to write about the things that take a more front-burner spot in my life these days:  kids, marriage, diet, fitness, career changes, clutter management, which series I should select next to binge watch.  Certainly not on point in terms of the main focus, but at least it would be more personal than a weekly meeting recap.

Finally, I could decide to keep things as is.  If even one person decides to try a meeting in their area as a result of reading the magic that happens in mine, then I’ve done a great service.  And since I know that has happened, why mess with a good thing?

Or I could do some combination of the above.  Or I could start taking pictures of my dog and posting them.  She is really cute, so that may be as valid an idea as any.

As always, I value your thoughts more than I could possibly say.  If you have any opinion or preference in terms of future posts, I would love to hear it.

In the meantime, since I haven’t decided, here’s a quick and dirty synopsis of today’s meeting:  19 attendees, we read the introduction to the book Alcoholics Anonymous (colloquially referred to as “The Big Book”), and the general theme of the shares was “cunning, baffling, and powerful, is the disease of alcoholism.”

What struck me the most this morning was the person who shared he had all the desire in the world to stop drinking, but it wasn’t until he fully accepted that he had the disease of alcoholism that he was able to actually stop drinking.  As someone who struggled for a long time with this very issue, I related entirely to this share.

Now, the knowledge that I have chosen sobriety as a way of life is a gift rather than a life sentence.

Today’s Miracle:

Writing this post.  It’s been so long since I’ve opened up on this blog, I hesitated more than I would have ever thought possible!

You Can’t Unring a Bell

“You’re being too hard on yourself.”

There was a time, really not that long ago, when the statement above would have been met with resistance on my part.  My instinctive response:  scoff and declare I was not hard enough on myself.

I know this because it is still the instinctive thought.

Had I taken the time to self-examine, the statement would have seemed complimentary in nature.  There is value in being hard on yourself.  It motivates you to achieve more, it alerts you when you are wading into morally ambiguous territory, and it prevents you from adopting that godawful victim mentality.

Possibly deeper still:  if you are hard enough on yourself, then anyone external being hard on you is likely not to hurt as badly.

All of this is conjecture, of course; introspection was not an activity I placed high on my list until the years following active addiction.  Now it seems I am questioning every thought and feeling I have.

And yes, some days the jury is out as to whether or not this is a good thing.

One rather startling revelation has come up in the past few weeks, so revolutionary that I feel compelled to write it out.  Through the endless self-examination and awareness of internal dialog, I have reluctantly concluded that perhaps I am more critical of myself than is necessary, certainly more than is effective.  This is not necessarily news.  What is the newsflash:  the Inner Critic manifests itself in a variety of ways, ways I would have previously defended to the death as virtuous.

It has been recently pointed out to me that in describing an event about which I’m feeling badly, I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the other side of things.   It could be an argument with my husband, disappointment with my kids, hurt feelings with a family member.  No matter what the situation, I am compelled to state their case, project their feelings, or rationalize why I may be overdramatizing the situation.

When this pattern was first pointed out to me, I dismissed it as a non-pattern.  When the pattern became too obvious to dismiss, I was defensive, indignant even.  This shows my extreme sense of justice, I proclaimed self-righteously.   I am a better person for considering all sides, aren’t I?

And then, the question I can’t un-hear:  but if you’re spending all your time understanding and appreciating the perspective and feelings of everyone else, then when are you understanding and appreciating your own?

Every once in a while I am asked a question that makes my brain fall silent.  Even now, and this is a few weeks later, I think of that question and I mentally blank.  Which always, without fail, means I’ve got shift in perspective coming.

So if considering all sides of the problem, all the possible scenarios, all the feelings and thoughts of everyone involved is not the way to go, then what the heck is?  Apparently, the answer is to relate the story, and end with how I feel.  Period.  No explanations, no rationalizations, no justifications.

Even, especially, if I am relating the story to myself:

I feel (fill in the blank), and then refrain from rationalizing the feeling away.

And then, apparently, I am to feel the feelings.  Oh, how hard it is to keep the eyes from rolling.

Feel the feelings.  Does that sound as inane to the rest of the world as it does to me?  Except, ever since discovering this pattern, I have attempted to take the advice.  And found it almost a physical impossibility.  I will clamp my mouth shut, then open it to say, “But I realize that…”  The closest I have come is to say, “I want to say…, but I’m supposed to just say how I’m feeling, so I feel…”

So now I’m in the really annoying stage of criticizing myself for criticizing myself.  Exhausting to read?  Imagine living it!

At this point someone might be thinking, “How does someone get a few years into sobriety and not learn how to feel her feelings?

I suppose comparing post-recovery life to pre-recovery life, I have made progress with understanding, acknowledging, and even communicating feelings.  For example, in the earliest days of sobriety, I needed one of those smiley face charts to even figure out what I was feeling.  So there’s been progress in the years since.

What is the endpoint, I demand?  Let’s say I figure all this out, and feel my feelings, what then?  Do I live happily ever after?

No such luck.  What is supposed to happen is a greater sense of peace, of calm, of self-worth.  Learning to identify, process, and resolve internal “situations” will create room for positive things like happiness, gratitude, and joy.

Or so I’m told.  To say that I am in the experimental phase of this (the world “bullshit” has rolled around through my head several times while writing this post) would be an understatement.

And how does one get started on this magical process?  The first step, one in which I am deeply entrenched at the moment, is developing awareness.  Every time the negative inner voice speaks up, I take note of what is being said and how it makes me feel.  In case you’re interested, my heart picks up a few beats, and there is a small clenching in my stomach.

Now, here is a critical part:  don’t get impatient.  Don’t criticize the critic!  Just take note, become curious, detach as much as possible:

“How interesting is it that you feel anxious about something, but you’re trying to convince yourself why you are wrong for feeling this way?”

Fascinating… you are angry about a situation, but at the same time worried that you will upset someone with your anger?”

“Isn’t that curious that you just walked by the mirror and told yourself how fat you are?”

It sounds preposterous, I know.  But I will say the few times I’ve successfully done this, I usually laugh, and it does seem to break some pattern.  I suppose time and practice will tell if there are long-term benefits.

From there… to tell you the truth, I’m not sure.  Since I’ve really only gotten as far as awareness, I can’t say for sure what’s next.  I find myself pointing out when I’m doing the things I shouldn’t be doing, like making excuses for my feelings.  Perhaps that’s another step on the ladder.

In terms of a step-by-step guide to feeling the feelings… well, I’m working on it.  So far I’ve learned a few on the “What Not to Do” list:

  1. Open a bag of chips
  2. Binge watch a Netflix series
  3. Name your feelings, then talk yourself out of them

I’ve gotten back into the practice of meditating again.  This was no one’s suggestion but my own, because I find that even a small daily practice of sitting still and being mindful tends to increase my ability to detach from my thoughts.

Like most things, it is a work in progress.  I am a work in progress.  We’ll see if all this awareness results in a peaceful, yogi-like existence, or I wind up talking to the walls…

Today’s Miracle:

This post has been rolling around in my head for weeks; the miracle will be, if you are reading, then I have actually published it!

Intermediate Recovery: Guilt

It’s been awhile since I’ve written in this category, I’m not sure why that is.  But since I’ve missed another Monday post, now’s as good a time as any to write one.

I missed this past Monday because I didn’t attend the meeting; I asked a regular attendee to cover for me.  I didn’t attend the meeting because I have been feeling under the weather for past 10 or so days, whatever’s got me has really grabbed hold!  I have been through all the regular permutations of an infection… sore throat, cough, aches, chills, and I’d say for the most part they’ve come and gone.  What’s lingering now, and has been for at least 5 days, is this unrelenting lethargy… it feels like I’m moving through water, and I could sleep at any moment.

It’s bad enough that I actually went to the doctor, which may not mean a lot if you don’t know me, but says something significant if you do.  I intensely dislike going to the doctor’s.  He gave me an antibiotic, and paperwork to get my blood tested, and told me the exhaustion is normal; since my body is fighting an infection, it is working overtime, so it’s tired!

Problem solved, case closed.  For what possible reason would I be writing about such an inane subject?

Answer:  I have uncovered an interesting mental side effect of this physical illness, and that is guilt.  I feel guilty for feeling sick.

Illogical, irrational, and most likely makes me sound unbalanced, but it’s the truth.  I have no energy, and I berate myself for getting nothing done.  The monkey mind creates a laundry list of things I should be doing to get well:  exercise more, fight through the exhaustion!  Drink more water, eat healthier, meditate harder, snap out of it.

“You’re not that sick,” says the monkey mind.

I do try to talk back to criticism, but suffice it to say the circular argument is exhausting to think about, let alone write it out, let alone have it in the first place.

And even when I’ve completed the laundry list, there is always, always another item added for which to feel guilty because it has gone uncompleted.

Three days ago, I awoke from a disturbing dream.  All I can remember from it is that I was diagnosed with cancer.  The disturbing part was the emotion I experienced, which was guilt, because I was convinced that the cancer was my fault for something I had done, or something I had failed to do.

When I realized that was my take-away from the dream, I knew I was troubled.  And I examined where guilt was infecting my life, and was startled to discover how pervasive it was.  Truly, it is egotistical how much responsibility I give myself.

So my inflated ego… something else about which to feel guilty.

While the illness is the catalyst for this self-examination, I believe I will find that, even as I heal, even as I become more active, take on more responsibility, and so on, guilt will still be playing a role.  My best guess is that it’s always been there, I’m just painfully aware of it now that I’m sober.  I’m still not sure what that is, if it is:

A.  connected with addiction

B.  residue from being raised in an Irish Catholic household

Or maybe it’s

C.  all of the above

And more important, here’s the essay question that needs to be answered:

How the heck do you overcome an addiction to feeling guilty?

Feel free to respond, especially if you’re in recovery… from guilt!

Today’s Miracle:

Taking the time to write this post, because I know I am going to get great responses to help me tackle this issue!

Friday Afternoon Ramble

Think of this post like you would a long, chatty, catch-up phone call; if you don’t have time for it, don’t pick up the phone!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written without a purpose, but since I missed my weekly “post with a purpose,” now’s as good a time as any.  Since the reason I missed Monday is the reason I am writing today (also, to procrastinate on some new baking challenges I’ve set for myself for an upcoming busy weekend), let’s start with where I was on Monday, which was North Carolina, for a girl’s weekend.

Girl’s weekend started probably about 10 years ago in my family.  Half of the “girls” live in the Philadelphia area; half live in Maryland, one lives in North Carolina.  The one in North Carolina is the only one who happens to have a vacation home where we can comfortably gather without the “boys,” so North Carolina it is.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out my personal timeline as it relates to Girl’s Weekend:  did I go to the inaugural one?  How many, exactly, did I attend?  What was the year of the last one I attended?  I have it narrowed down, but can’t get confident with the specifics; then again, nobody else is wondering, so I suppose the pressure’s off.

What I remember most about Girl’s Weekend is the last one I attended before this one.  That year we chose to fly in and out of the larger NC airport, which happens to be about 2 hours from my cousin’s vacation home.  When it was time to leave, we were loading our luggage and ourselves into the two behemoth cars my cousin had wrangled for us to use that weekend, and a perplexingly big deal was being made out of who was going into what car.  I was told which car to go in, and was satisfied to stay out of the debate, so I slid into the front seat of the assigned car.

As it happens, the confusion and debate centered around who wanted to be in the Intervention Car, and who didn’t.  To this day, I’m not sure if the argument was over the number of people who wanted in on the intervention, or how many wanted out.  I have my theories of course, but I’ll leave it as one of life’s mysteries.

In case it is not patently obvious, I was the star of the Intervention Car.  To be honest, I could not give you one detail about what was spoken.  Which is a shame, because this many years later, I am genuinely curious.  All I remember is that frozen feeling you get when you are blindsided.  Two hours, trapped, in a car… nowhere to run.  And then another hour plane ride home, and then another hour ride from the airport to my car.  I’m uncomfortable thinking about it now.

Needless to say, I was not rushing back to Girl’s Weekend anytime soon.  By my best guess, that weekend happened 7 years ago.  And by the way, my sobriety date is not quite 4 years ago, so I’m thinking intervention-by-car-ride is not the most effective means of expressing your concern.  At least, it wasn’t for this alcoholic.

So years of resentment go by, then I hit my alcoholic bottom, then another couple of years getting comfortable with sobriety.  And here it is, 2015, and I think I’m ready to give this a go again.  No talk of the Intervention Car, I have no wish to revisit that situation, and so I couldn’t tell you who else even remembers it.  Everyone seemed excited that I was joining them, and I left it at that.

As is always the case of firsts in sobriety, I had some… I’m not sure I would say nerves, exactly, maybe disquiet?  Apprehension?  Whichever word, some thoughts about whether or not the drinking and party atmosphere would negatively impact my sobriety.  This house sits on a completely residential, gated island, so I’m not easily planning my escape.  Then again, it’s a large house, with lots of bedrooms, and everyone knows that I’m sober, so I conclude that I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Believe it or not, alcohol was not my biggest concern.  My goal, coming into the weekend, was to lay down a new track in terms of my personal memories of Girl’s Weekend.  Any time I thought of this event, or it came up in conversation at family parties, I would feel a punch in the gut (metaphorical punch, my family is not one for physical violence), because the memory of those last hours haunted me.  I wanted to prove to myself, and maybe to them, that I am a different person now.

Plus, and maybe this could go without saying, I genuinely love my family, and crazily enough like them a whole heck of a lot too.  We have fun together, and my self-imposed isolation was starting to bug me.

So off I went to North Carolina, for 5 days.  And yes, we believe in long weekends in my family.

How did it go?  It went, by any standard of measurement, well.  I would say it exceeded pretty much all of my expectations, and I suppose it did that because I went in with absolutely no expectations.  I was determined to go with the flow, and I think having the plan to have no plan was a good one when you are dealing with 11 women cohabitating in one house for 5 days.

We laughed, and ate, and talked, and laughed and ate some more.  We did not sleep much, it seemed there was too much to say to one another to waste time sleeping.  We repeated this routine in the kitchen, in the dining room, in the living room, on the beach, in a small nearby town, and on a boat.  Some drank alcohol in addition to eating, talking and laughing, but a few of us didn’t, and most of those who did stopped appropriately.

A fact which never ceases to amaze me.

There was no drama whatsoever, no hurt feelings, no verbal altercations of any kind.  At no point in time did my feathers get ruffled.

If I ever doubt that I have significantly changed in sobriety, I need to look no further than the sentence above as proof that I have.

The best example I can give:  I was speaking to my two aunts, and the sillier one said, “You’ve got to stop being so negative!”  I rewound the conversation and saw nothing negative.  Rather than arguing the point (or, worse still, getting offended), I said, “Aunt Barbara, thanks so much for that learning opportunity!”  I then spent the rest of the time helpfully turning the negatives into positives.

Example:  I was the designated driver.  Go figure!  But the DD status also translated to morning runs to the grocery store.  One morning I had to go out for a bunch of groceries, then run up and down the stairs with the groceries, while everyone else went to the beach.  I texted to make sure they had a chair for me; they did not, but they did want me to bring them snacks.  When I got to the beach I thanked everyone for providing me the opportunity for service, as well as the opportunity for physical activity.

Here’s the interesting part:  I started out this turning-the-negative-into-a-positive with a decidedly sarcastic slant, but by the end of the 5 days I was doing it automatically, and sincerely.  And it actually felt good!

I need to get that attitude back when dealing with my teenaged children, that’s for sure.  Perhaps this weekend, when there are 8,000 things going on at once, and a son who is 48 hours away from being an official teenager.  I vow to reinstate the Girl’s Weekend Attitude of Positivity as we slide into the weekend, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Today’s Miracle:

In the time I’ve spent writing and editing this post, I’ve completed both baking challenges, one a complete success, one an excellent learning opportunity (I now know self-rising flour and all-purpose flour are not interchangeable).  And how’s that for a positive spin?

Time for a Story about Alcohol (It’s Been Awhile)

First, my apologies.  I promised in my last post that I would write a follow-up and include all the wisdom I failed to include from last Monday’s meeting.  There was so much great stuff!  But, and anyone with kids will understand, it is the first week of summer vacation, and to say chaos reigned supreme in my household would be an understatement.  I’m feeling under the gun right now, waiting for someone to call needing a ride!

So, instead of resuming the recap, I am going to share a story that was a prologue to last week’s adventure.  Rather than link back to my last post, here’s the set-up:  last weekend we travelled to a beach town for the weekend so that our daughter could participate in a basketball tournament.  We had been looking forward to it, because usually tournaments are not in fun places like resort-y beach towns.  The coach of the team made the lodging arrangements, so there was a bit of excitement at the mystery of it all.  Unfamiliar beach town, lack of knowledge regarding accommodations, it was a true adventure!

The night before we were to leave for the weekend my daughter had a basketball game in town.  Most of the parents were there.  One particularly organized mom, the mom I actually know the best, started speaking to me about logistical details:  who is bringing what snacks, how to select a restaurant for a team dinner, and so on.  Through the course of this conversation, she mentioned the fun it will be to drink several times.  None of these references bothered me, truly I couldn’t even be very specific about what she said.  As the conversation progressed, however, the references became more pointed, “it will be awesome when we get sit by the pool and drink,” “Us moms are going to have a blast drinking.” My recovery sensors started humming, though nowhere near high alert.  At this point there have been 3-4 different references to drinking to which I simply did not respond.

In retrospect, I wonder if my lack of response may have prompted the continued talk, or maybe I’m unnecessarily Monday morning quarterbacking.  In any event, she continues on the path of how much fun carousing will be, and indicated her daughter felt that Organized Mom would be the embarrassment of the group, I suppose because of her drinking antics in the past?  I have no clue, since I could count on one hand the number of times where we have been in a situation with alcohol together (and I would have fingers to spare).  I laughed politely, because, I’m not even sure what else would be an appropriate response to this silly conversation.  Then Organized Mom says, as she continued to recount her conversation with her daughter:

“So I told her, ‘Oh, you don’t know Josie, she’ll be right there with me!”

Does is go without saying that I am Josie?

I’m going to plow right ahead with the story so there’s no cliffhanger:  I say and do nothing in the moment.  I regretted it for a solid 24 hours, but it’s the choice I made.  My brain was, quite simply, frozen.  It seemed incapable of forming logical thoughts.  There are a few reasons why this is so:

  1. Environment:  we sitting on the bleachers of a basketball court, ostensibly there to watch our daughters play basketball, surrounded by parents and younger siblings.  It was surreal to me to be trying to figure out how to decline a drink.
  2. Out-of-shape mental muscles:  it has been a really, really long time since I’ve had to think about declining a drink.  As in, I can’t remember a situation where someone offered and I felt uncomfortable.
  3. Complete and utter bewilderment:  even as I type this I have no clue why this woman would think such a thing, or say it to her daughter.

It was number 3 that ultimately kept me from responding in the moment about my choice not to drink.  At the time, I assumed that we had somehow intersected during my active addiction, and I’m just not remembering.  Her daughter and mine have been in the same circle for the past 11 years, so who’s to say what I’m forgetting, especially in terms of the active addiction years?  In addition, my husband coached this team for many years, and in the early days, we did include alcohol during the season wrap-up party.  I was terrified to start a conversation about my not drinking and then have to respond to a “But what about that time…”

So I laughed again, and then I got away from her as soon as I politely could.

As I mentioned, I regretted this decision the moment I resumed my seat next to my husband on the bleachers.  Because now, not only did I have all sorts of awkward Mom/drinking events to anticipate, I have now tacitly agreed to participate!

When I shared this story with my husband, he was surprised by the decision I made to stay silent.  “What’s the big deal,” he says, “I tell people all the time, ‘No, I actually don’t drink’.”

This conversation did nothing to set my mind at ease.

I talked it over with some friends, received some great advice, weighed the pro’s and con’s of telling a half-truth (i.e. I don’t feel like drinking tonight, or that some medication prevents me from drinking).  At the end of it all I concluded that I will correct this feeling that I did wrong somehow by telling the simple truth when it comes up:

No, thanks, I don’t drink alcohol.

The first night we are there, we are on the boardwalk pretty late, and I’m thinking that I’m actually going to get away with not having this conversation at all.  Then one of the moms says, “I vote we leave the dads on the boardwalk with the kids so the moms can go back and drink!”  My husband and I look at each other, and his eyes convey what he is thinking:  say the words and I will go back with you.  And while I remain forever grateful for the support, I realized this issue dragged out way longer than it needed to already.  Time to put on the big girl panties and deal.

We head back, and drink mixing begins.

Organized Mom, immediately: “Josie, what can we make you?”

I say, “I’m going to run back to my room to grab a soda, because I actually don’t drink.”

Organized Mom (stops mixing and stares at me):  “Like, ever?”

Josie (in what I’m hoping is an even tone):  “Correct.”

Organized Mom:  (continues to stare as if she is processing a complex thought):   “But for how long?”

Josie:  “Umm, for a few years now.”

Organized Mom:  “Wow… just… wow.  I can’t even imagine!”

I leave to get my soda, but realize I did not pack plastic cups.  I walk back into their room to borrow one, and now they’re all looking at me like I’m an exotic creature.  I grab my cup, go back to my room and fill it with soda, and sit down with them.

All agree they can’t imagine not drinking.  All justify how much, how often, and the rules they have in place for their own alcoholic consumption.

I nod politely at each of these stories, in much the same way I nodded on the bleachers the night before.  After the subject seemed to exhaust itself, we moved on to other subjects.

And that was that.

I’d like to think that I’ve learned some lessons here.  And the primary one is that Benjamin Franklin had it right (or Thomas Jefferson, whoever said it first):

Today’s Miracle:

Today my daughter started her first day of work, ever.  I was as nervous as if I was working for the first time!

The Leap of Faith

You know how a friend will tell you she just ate something that you’ve never heard of before, then the next day you will see an ad for that same product, then the next day that product will jump off the shelf at you in the grocery store?  Then you figure with that many signs, surely you were meant to try it?

Well, that’s what’s been happening with me lately regarding the ways in which negative self-talk, a lack of self-worth, and harsh self-judgment can be damaging.  I won’t bore you with the details, except to say:  something in the Universe wants me to look at this issue.

And I’m fighting it.  A lot.  And it is so reminiscent of early recovery that I figured I’d write about it here.

So here’s just one example, I could give you a dozen, just from the last week alone.  I am talking to my therapist about some self-directed frustration I am experiencing, and as an exercise she forces me to look at the opposite side of the coin, and list out the things I am doing well.  I resist this exercise with an energy I am not used to feeling, but my people-pleasing ways win out over my stubborn ways, and I do as she asks.  But I do it while rolling my eyes, and ready and waiting to argue my counter points, confident that I will win her over to my side.

And my side is to criticize me.

Silly, illogical thinking, but as much as I cringe at that last paragraph, I can’t take it back, because it’s the truth.

The session goes on from there, and I am forced to admit that perhaps I am a bit hard on myself, but I want to tie this back into recovery.  Believe it or not it does intersect.

I remember, very clearly, my mindset those first few 12-step meetings.  Yes, I knew logically that I had an issue with which I had to deal.  Yes, some of what I was hearing in those meetings made some sense.  Craziest still, yes, these people seem to be very comfortable in these meetings, they seemed very happy (almost suspiciously so, my critical mind judged) and, if they are to be believed, voluntarily come back to this forum years after the problem has been solved.

I sat in that position, showing up, listening, speaking when forced, for a long time.  At no point did I let go of my cynicism, and at no point did my critical mind stop judging.

And at no point during that time period did I stop relapsing.

So last week, when my therapist said to me, “At some point, Josie, you need to trust the process, because really this entire thing is a leap of faith,” I was immediately transported to that moment in time.  I was on my knees, in the dark, praying as I had never prayed before.  And when the critical voice showed up to say, “Puh-lease!  You’ve tried this a hundred and one times, why would this be any different?”  I didn’t agree or disagree, I kept on praying.

And when somebody suggested going to a meeting every day, and the critic showed up to say, “Do you know how many meetings you sat in and then went out and relapsed?”  I didn’t agree or disagree, I just kept on showing up.

And when I was told to chair my first meeting, share my personal story, sit down one-on-one with another woman to go through the steps, I did it.  I had no idea if the process would be effective long-term or not, I had no basis of comparison really, so I need to take the leap of faith, and I needed to trust the process.

And boy, oh boy, 3 years later, I am so grateful I did.

So I guess it’s time to trust the process again, and start talking back to the critical voice.  Here’s hoping the results are as miraculous as the last time.

Today’s Miracle:

The miracle of the normal school day schedule.  This will be going away very soon, and so I must, with mindfulness, feel the pleasure of routine while it exists!

Yoga Challenge: Check!

Very, VERY similar to the set-up from last Wednesday!

I am going to do my level best to keep this post short, it seems the last several have read like novellas!

At the beginning of April I challenged myself to participate in a yoga class.  You might be asking either one or both of the following questions:

1.  Why?

2.  Why is this challenging in the first place?

Before I answer those questions, let’s set the record straight as to what are the purported benefits of regular yoga practice:

  • increases flexibility
  • builds muscle strength
  • calms the mind
  • improves concentration
  • promotes patience
  • betters bone health
  • increases blood flow
  • boosts immunity
  • drops blood pressure
  • improves balance
  • promotes deeper sleep
  • increases self-esteem

To name but a few.  Plus several of my wise and trusted fellow bloggers write persuasively of how well yoga and meditation deepen the commitment to/enrich the experience of sobriety.

So that should answer the first question.  As to question 2, since millions of people take yoga classes every day (a non-scientific figure, mind you, but I imagine it’s a fair enough guess), what’s the big deal?  Just buy a Groupon and take a class!

Not so simple, if you are as self-conscious as I am with physical things such as an exercise class.  I was terrified!

But a series of coincidences-that-aren’t-really-coincidences came up, and a yoga and meditation center opened up not five minutes from my house, and I knew I had to put my insecurities aside and give this a shot.  It took 29 days to muster up the courage (and clear the schedule of kid sports), and it took wrangling my husband to come with me (partially as support, partially because I feel like he could use some of these benefits as well), but on Wednesday, April 29th, I took my first Svaroopa yoga class.  And please don’t ask to pronounce that name.  How did it go?

Well, I’m no expert, but I’d say it went pretty well!  First, the teacher was very kind.  She had compassion for my nervousness, and took time to explain what would happen in the 90 minute class, and answered my 802 questions patiently.

I feel accomplished for completing the class; specifically, completing each of the poses she taught us.  Possibly the biggest fear I had going in was either:

  • not being able to do something at all, or, worse yet
  • trying to do something and getting stuck in a position permanently

So it felt great being able to do it all, the same as everybody else.

I also felt fairly relaxed when I left, almost as if I had had a massage.

There were a few downsides, most of which would probably go away if I committed to practicing yoga regularly:

  1. Soreness:  I had a terrible neck ache and butt ache for a few days following.  I’m certain I overstretched something, but still, ouch!
  2. Fear of embarrassment:  Alright, I’m just going to be real here.  I was paranoid about passing gas while in some of the postures, and that terror kept me from being fully present in the experience.  I’m not quite sure how to correct that one (eat nothing for 12 hours before class?  Or just let one rip and accept the embarrassment?)
  3. Preoccupation with getting the posture correct:  At times I was so concerned about my posture I missed the opportunity to enjoy the moment.  Again this con would likely go away with practice.

So there you have it.  The question becomes:  will I go back?  I definitely would do it again, though I’m unsure if I’m willing to pay the price this particular studio is charging.  I may try several studios in the area, as I’m sure most would offer a free trial class.

However… I have a bonus story to add-on to the yoga experience:

In leaving I took note of a meditation class that was starting up the following week (this past Monday), and my husband surprised me with an early Mother’s Day present by signing me up for it!  I went Monday night for 2 hours, learned all sorts of interesting techniques, got to connect with a group of like-minded people, and successfully meditated for 20 minutes. And that was just class one, I still have 2 more to go!  Our homework was to repeat the practice each day, and so far I have been able to successfully complete 20 minutes of meditation at home.  It is incredible how much personal instruction has improved my ability, and I am only 4 days into the new practice.  The gift that will keep on giving!

Today’s Miracle:

The incredible group over at addiction.com included me again in an article.  Check it out, and the rest of the website!

http://www.addiction.com/9655/what-i-wish-id-known-when-i-first-got-sober/

Intermediate Recovery: Releasing Certain Recovery Labels

I received news this week, good news, in the form of a package in the mail.  News towards which I have been working for nearly 3 1/2 years, longer even than my sober time.

In the interest of privacy, and brevity, because the story could fill the pages of a novel, the package in the mail put a final period on the sentence:  The consequences of my addiction.  Hmmm… come to think of it, that isn’t even a sentence.  Oh well.

Someone once joked that the period of time waiting for this package was longer than the period of active addiction; depending how you define active addiction, that is an accurate statement.

So how did I celebrate this milestone?  Did I call every person I know, shout it from the rooftops, rent a billboard along I-95?

None of the above; some friends or family may in fact be finding out the news by virtue of reading this post (sorry guys).

So what gives?  I’m not sure, and of course, I am using my old stand-by of this blog to help me figure it out.

The first thought that comes to mind when I pose the question why aren’t you more excited about this incredible blessing is:  disbelief.  It’s been so long in the making, there have been so many setbacks, I feel like doubting Thomas, needing to put my fingers in the side of Christ before I believe He has risen.  The paperwork is in my hands, and I’m still making phone calls in order to verify its existence, for Pete’s sake!

But I think, skepticism aside, there’s something deeper at play here, and, ironically enough, I think it has to do with fear.  Ironic, of course, because the very post before this one I wrote how I can’t figure out how fear plays out in my life.  Be careful what you wish for!

So of what am I fearful?  I’m still uncertain, I mean, really, it’s only been a couple of days since I wrote that I don’t understand fear, how much could I have possibly learned in a couple of days?

On the most obvious level, while the package represents the end of the most tumultuous time in my entire life, a good thing, by extension that means it also marks the beginning of a new era, and change will be afoot as a result.  Who isn’t a little fearful of change?

There is also a fear in trusting a process to do what it is supposed to have done, and I can say with certainty fear in trusting that process is an issue.  Human error occurs all the time, I know I make mistakes, what if I trust this process and I wind up getting burned?  It’s like jumping out of an airplane and trusting that the parachute is actually going to work, certainly that fear is going to run through your head at least for a split second, right?  It might even keep you from jumping.  Note to self:  now that I’ve written that, I will not let this fear keep me from jumping, dammit!  See this solution-by-blogging thing is already working!

Finally, and this is the part that is still somewhat elusive, almost hazy, in my mind:  I think there’s a fear in letting go of this part of my identity.  Which is a really strange thing to say, given that it is an entirely negative identity (I mean, I’ve labeled it  consequences of active addiction, the title alone should indicate how negative it is). For the first year of my sobriety, I struggled to come up with a solution for resolving the consequence, the second year, I did the hard work to resolve the consequence; the last year and half was the fight to get my hard work recognized so that the resolution would actually happen.

And now it has, and, I don’t know, there’s this crazy, almost empty feeling.  Really, really strange.  And yes, now that therapy that I keep “dissing” will come in handy, perhaps my therapist will help me better understand.  I hope to have a positive update to resolving this hazy fear next week!

Today’s Miracle:

There is a wonderful new website, addiction. com, I highly recommend you check out.  And if you choose to do so, why not start with an article that’s got my ugly mug in it?  Here’s the link:

http://www.addiction.com/8487/my-best-tip-sticking-with-recovery/

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