Category Archives: Monday Meeting Miracles

M(3), 1/23/2017: Two Sickies Don’t Make a Wellie

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It is still so strange to write 2017!  I wonder when I’ll get used to it?

Today we finished up the reading we started last week, which is a discussion of

Step 12:

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

I like breaking up the step and discussing it this way.  Last week we talked about the spiritual awakening and carrying the message, this week we discussed practicing the principles in all our affairs.  Today’s topic is the one that has the most universal application, and it’s a reminder that I could benefit from reading daily.

What stood out for me in today’s reading was the reminder of the importance of staying in balance.  It is all too easy to get caught up in the business of life, and forget the basic but invaluable lessons learned in recovery.  I can be reminded of this lesson, and forget all about it again the span of a heartbeat.  As the chapter itself says,

“We found that freedom from fear was far more important than freedom from want.”  -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 122

The next time I start to panic about the job search process, I hope I can remember that line!

In addition to the reminder for balance, I also heard the message of hope within the chapter.  One section reads:

“Service, gladly rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with God’s help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a common effort, the well understood fact that in God’s sight all human beings are important, the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons, the surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes but can fit and belong in God’s scheme of things- these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes. ”  -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 124

Wow is that a run-on sentence!  Grammatical commentary aside, this statement is an important reminder of what we in recovery are working towards.

So I was reminded this morning to work towards balance in my life, and the benefits for doing so are too numerous to count.  Other great lessons learned today:

  • Remembering that “True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God” is the key to this step.
  • Fixing a marriage/relationship damaged by active addiction takes time; both patience and persistence are critical.
  • When it comes to repairing relationships, often the situation gets worse before it gets better.  It’s important to hear that so as not to throw in the towel too early!  Many of us experienced a long period of marital hardship in recovery.
  • Al-anon can be a useful tool for the family member of an alcoholic.  However, not everyone will agree with this notion, so the most we can do is throw out the suggestion.
  • Financial insecurity is another problem that can persist well into sobriety.  It is a process for sure, but the 12 steps teach us how to lose those fears no matter what our financial situation looks like.
  • Step 12, like every other step, is practiced one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time!  We can feel very good about practicing step 12, then a minute later be thrown a curve ball that takes us completely off-balance.  The trick is to keep bringing ourselves back to center.

That’s it for today.  Enjoy the rest of your Monday!

Today’s Miracle:

The title of today’s post… someone said it today while speaking of relationships in recovery.  I had never heard it before, and was so delighted, I had to share!

M(3), 1/9/17: Easy Does It

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Today was one of those days where I took advantage of my “power,” as it were, and selected a reading I hoped would help me personally.  We read from the book Living Sober, and I selected the chapter “Easy Does It.”

I actually went in searching for the chapter “One Day At A Time,” only to find it was not in there.  I could use that prioritization as well.  And a blog post may soon follow on this one, as I find it one of the most useful adages in the 12-step lexicon.

But back to the subject at hand:  we read the chapter “Easy Does It.”  In terms of recovery, the chapter talks about the common thread of compulsivity that seems to exist in alcoholics.  We are the type to rarely let a drink go unfinished (alcoholic or not), we read until the book is finished, and, in a newer twist, and speaking for myself, binge watching television series is a great additional example of pursuing something until the bitter end!

And of course, there’s nothing wrong with many of these compulsive tendencies… most of them are, in fact, preferable to drinking.  But the chapter gently asks us to look at this piece of our personalities, and consider slowing down once we realize we are in the grips of this thinking.

Of particular import to me today was this section:

When we do find ourselves uptight and even frantic, we can ask ourselves occasionally, “Am I really that indispensable?” or “Is this hurry really necessary?”  What a relief to find the honest answer is frequently no!  And such devices actually serve, in the long run, no only to help us get over our drinking problem and its old ways; they also enalbe us to become far more productive, because we conserve and channel our energy better.  We arrange priorities more sensibly.  We learn that many actions once considered vital can be eliminated if they are thoughtfully reexamined.  “How much does this really matter?” is a very good question.  -pg. 45, Living Sober

Here’s what’s been the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of my mind for the past solid month… I sit with my boot on, thinking I need to sit in order to get the boot off.  Then as I sit I think of the various things that I’m not doing, and feel badly about not doing them.  I look around and see evidence of my not doing things… dust bunnies, empty refrigerator, laundry piles, etc.  At least this is how things look in my mind.  I finally get so agitated I get up and do something, anything, to relieve the pressure of not doing something.  Then I recognize that my foot hurts from, you know, walking on it.  Then I am depressed anew because all this means is a delay of healing.  And I sit down, and the cycle begins again.

 Preposterous, as I type it out, but it’s the truth.
So I read chapters like this, I talk about what’s going on in my head, and I remember that this too shall pass.  And guess what?  The house isn’t that horrible, I have teenage children and a husband who are more than capable of undecorating and carrying laundry baskets around.  And one way or another, I will survive the boot.
I will survive the boot.  I’ve just decided this is my new mantra.
In other, more recovery-related subjects, the following pearls of wisdom were shared this morning:
  • An almost unanimous decision that employing “easy does it” to one’s life is a work- in-progress situation.  Some days/weeks/months you’ll have it, and some you won’t.
  • Part of the trap of this personality booby trap is the idea that we’ll relax/take time out/start enjoying life once x, y or z happens.  I’ll start taking it easy after I get through the holidays, as soon as I get the promotion, once I clean the house.  But this logic is inherently flawed, as there is always a new item to get through/achieve/do.
  • Making a conscious decision to feed ourselves rather than delete from ourselves is important.  Taking time to actually schedule, in your planner or calendar, time each day to nurture yourself, will have untold benefits.
  • Claiming that you are too important to employ “easy does it” is a form of self-aggrandizing.  It’s especially important to ask the questions listed above (Am I really that important and is this hurry really necessary), as the ego could be at play.
  • Often we find a sense of disappointment when we are too goal-oriented.  We work and work to achieve a goal, be it materialistic or not, then find said goal did not give us the satisfaction we thought it would.  Then life becomes a series of pushing from goal to goal, with little appreciation for the journey that takes us to those goals.
  • Though it may be trite, appreciating the journey is as important, if not more important, than appreciating the destination, as so much of life is about exactly that… the journey.

Hope everyone is having an Easy Does It Monday!

Today’s Miracle:

True story:  one person, in his/her share (remember, trying to make things more anonymous) said the following:  “if there’s laundry to be done…. well then, teach the kids how to do it!”  It was said lightly, but it should be noted I wrote the paragraph above before the meeting.  So I’d say this reminder from someone who did not know I was fretting about this counts as my miracle!

 

M(3), 1/2/2017: Ego vs. Addiction

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Housekeeping:  if I take time to reply to comments, I’ll never get this post written.  But I’ll do so as soon as I hit publish!  Overall I’d like to say a big thank you to all who commented, and I am thinking long and hard about all suggestions.  As I mentioned yesterday, circumstances are such that no resolution can be reached for a few weeks.  In the meantime, I am going to tinker about with different formats and see if I can’t come up with a way to transmit all the wonderful wisdom without the remotest possibility of breaking anonymity.

Having said that, today’s meeting was an actual first, at least I think it was… we did not have enough chairs in the meeting room to house the attendees present!  A great way to start an otherwise cold and dreary Monday, I’ll tell you that much.

As it is the first Monday of not only the month, but the year, we reach chapter one of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”), “Bill’s Story.”  Bill is Bill Wilson, the co-founder of the original 12-step program of recovery.  And his story is a compelling one:  from one of the lowest bottom drunks that exists, to co-founding a program that is in existence and thriving 80 plus years later.

As compelling a story as Bill’s is, I am often challenged when I read it to find a part relatable to my journey of recovery.  Today, however, proved to be an exception, as a theme stood out for me in a way that hasn’t any of the past time I’ve read it.  And the theme is ego.  Bill truly believed that his self-will could conquer any challenge, win any war.  And for a long time, it did.  Remember, Bill lived through World War One, the roaring 20’s and the Great Depression, and his creativity, persistence and gumption got his to the top of a lot of heaps.  But ultimately he found his self-will was no match for his addiction to alcohol.  When he finally surrendered to that notion, miraculous things happened to him, and for a lot of alcoholics who followed in his footsteps.

So what’s relatable about that?  For me, it is a reminder of how insidious the ego can be.  How many of us have gotten sober a few days, weeks, month, or even years, then decided that “we’ve got this?”  Or we appreciate the value of humility for a while, especially when newly sober, but over time forget the value of staying humble?

For those of us who cultivate our spiritual lives, the ego is especially dangerous, for how easy it is to let those simple spiritual practices fall by the wayside as life gets too chaotic?  By the time we are in real need of a spiritual connection, we realize we’ve actually been disconnected.

For me, today’s meeting is a reminder to stay right-sized, and keep my ego in check.  Here is some other great stuff I heard today:

  • The story is an important reminder of what the alcoholic bottom feels like.  Who doesn’t vividly recall the horrific feelings of the morning following a particularly nasty drunk?  Or the hopelessness of the broken promise that we won’t drink today?
  • The 12 steps of the program are clearly explained as Bill tells his story of recovery.  If you read nothing else in the Big Book but Bill’s story, you will have a basic understanding of the 12 steps of recovery.
  • Reading the transformation of Bill’s life and attitude is a reminder of how different a life of sobriety can be from a life of active addiction.  You can almost feel the remarkable difference in his perspective and how it positively impacts his world, and the worlds of those around him.
  • Unconditional surrender is another theme of the story.  For a long time Bill believed he could beat this problem by his own means, but when he understood the concept of unconditional surrender, and applied it to his own life, miraculous things happened for him, and for countless others.
  • Addiction to alcohol can make the most logical and intelligent people strangely insane.  They can be incredible in every other area of their lives, and yet their logic completely escapes them when it comes to moderating alcohol.
  • Overcoming the hurdle of a higher power when one does not believe such a thing exists is covered wonderfully in this story.  Bill himself struggled with the notion of turning his will over, until he was convinced he could create a God of his understanding.  This concept got many an alcoholic over the hump of believing in a traditional God.

Hope everyone is enjoying the new year!

Today’s Miracle:

Writing two posts in two days.  It’s been a loooong time since I’ve done that.  And if I’m really on my game, another post talking about the WOTY is coming tomorrow!

12/12/16: Be Good to Yourself

The title of this blog post, which also happens to be the title of the chapter we read in the morning’s meeting (from the book Living Sober) might seem counterintuitive given the endless tasks of the current holiday season.  Who has time to take care of themselves when there are gifts to be bought, presents to be wrapped, cookies to be baked, parties to attend, and all of this amidst our daily lives?

And the answer is:  make the time.  You can’t transmit what you haven’t got.  And if you don’t take the time to acquire the holiday spirit, then all the cooking, baking and shopping in the world isn’t going to give it to you.

Interestingly, this reading selection was not picked by me, but by a regular attendee of the meeting.  And he did not select this reading in deference to holiday madness; rather, he selected it in deference to my madness, and the madness that surrounds my ongoing foot troubles.

So let me back it up a few steps and fill you in on exactly what’s happening with the foot.  For several years now, I’ve had a problem with foot pain.  The more I exercise, the worse it gets.   Over the summer I joined a gym that is the most intense workout that I’ve personally endured, and so the recurring foot problem reared its ugly head.

Long story short, I finally went and had the problem diagnosed, found out there is a very simple outpatient procedure that can fix the problem, and scheduled to have it done in early November.  I was uncharacteristically on the ball with the whole process… asked in-depth questions, looked out in the calendar to get the best 5 day window for the healing process, organized my life accordingly.

And I had the surgery, and was told it was a success.  Except… my foot had more pain than before I started.  And so the last several weeks have been spent trying to figure out exactly why this is so.  This afternoon I have an appointment where the doctor will read the MRI and hopefully give me a firm diagnosis and solution.

This process… and I dislike wrapping it up like this, as if the process is complete, which it by no means is… has been inconvenient, frustrating, anxiety-producing, and has forced me to reach out for help in ways that make me extremely uncomfortable.

So when my friend first suggested the reading, I wanted to roll my eyes to the ceiling.  “Being good to myself” is all I’ve been doing, since I don’t have much of a choice to do anything else… my foot won’t let me!

Plus the chapter is all about sobriety, so I doubted it would have much relatability to my current state of affairs.

Then I read this section:

Now that we know alcoholism is not immoral behavior, we have found it essential to readjust our attitudes. We have learned that one of the persons least likely to treat the alcoholic like a sick person is, somewhat surprisingly, the alcoholic herself (or himself). Once again, our old thinking habits are cropping up.

It’s often said that problem drinkers are perfectionists, impatient about any shortcomings, especially our own. Setting impossible goals for ourselves, we nevertheless struggle fiercely to reach these unattainable ideals.

Then, since no human being could possibly maintain the extremely high standards we often demand, we find ourselves falling short, as all people must whose aims are unrealistic. And discouragement and depression set in. We angrily punish ourselves for being less than super-perfect.

That is precisely where we can start being good—at least fair—to ourselves. We would not demand of a child or of any handicapped person more than is reasonable. It seems to us we have no right to expect such miracles of ourselves as recovering alcoholics, either.

Impatient to get completely well by Tuesday, we find ourselves still convalescing on Wednesday, and start blaming ourselves. That’s a good time to back off, mentally, and look at ourselves in as detached, objective a way as we can. What would we do if a sick loved one or friend got discouraged about slow recuperation progress, and began to refuse medicine?  -pg. 42
So much for no relatability!  I have been beating myself up for all of this… it’s my own fault!  I should have never gotten the surgery!  And all that guilt gets me is more angst.  Thank goodness for the wise people in my meeting, and for their compassion and understanding.
So that’s me, and what I needed from this morning’s meeting.  The group had a really interesting discussion about the balance between being good to yourself and being self-absorbed.  Some worried that we, in our tendency to be all-or-nothing thinkers, might take the advice in this chapter too far, and find ourselves wallowing in self-pity disguised as self-care.
But the long-timers in the room had an entirely different perspective, and it’s the one I referenced at the beginning of the post.  You can’t take care of anyone else until you’ve taken care of yourself.  Once I get myself settled physically, mentally and spiritually, only then am I best able to reach out to others and provide service.  Doing it backwards short changes everyone involved.
Finally, and I’m ending on this because the story moved me so much… a woman shared that she’s been troubled by people asking for help but not being as honest as they could be, and the conflict that brings about for the woman herself.  Should she help someone when they are dishonest?
Another woman raised her hand and offered a true story she had been told some years ago.  There was a professional baseball player known for his generosity.  One day he was approached in the parking lot by a woman in need.  She told him her child was in desperate need of surgery, but she had no insurance and no way to afford the proper medical care.  He asked how much was needed, she told him, and without hesitation he gave her the money she needed.
Later his team mates criticized him, and told him, “Don’t you know she conned you?  There is no sick child!  She just wanted money!”
His immediate response:  “Wait… there’s no sick child?”
“That’s WONDERFUL news!”
For the baseball player, there was no confusion.  He wants to help others.  If they choose to be dishonest or take advantage of his generosity, that is out of his control.  He can only control his own actions, and that is what brings him peace.
Today’s Miracle:
That story made brightened my day, I hope it brightened yours as well!

M(3), 12/5/16: Acceptance is the Answer

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It feels good to be writing on this blog, I can’t seem to string two weeks together here!

This is the Monday I’ve been waiting for all year.  When I chose the new format of the Big Book readings back in January, I realized that December would be a free pick month, and I didn’t need two seconds to consider what reading I’d select.

Normally I choose this reading at least two times in a calendar year, so I’m overdue for this topic!

The reading is the title of the post.  It is in the personal stories section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and is one of the most popular ones in the fellowship.  If you say to a member of the 12-step program, “what is the significance of page 417?” they will likely have the answer.  It is the seminal paragraph in Dr. Paul O’s story:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417

I’ve told, possibly a dozen times or more, the significance of the story in my own personal journey of sobriety (here’s one example if you haven’t read).  And there hasn’t been a time I’ve read the story that it doesn’t help me gain perspective in some way.

The main reason I took the blog in the direction I’ve taken it… writing about the lessons I’m learning within the fellowship of the 12-step program… is that I find so many universal lessons within the program, lessons that teach me so much more than just how to stay sober.  This story, and the enlightenment we in the meeting rooms receive, is possibly the best example I can provide.

As usual, the story did not disappoint.  We had a large group this morning, and the positive reaction was unanimous.  In fact, a bonus treat was introducing the story to a woman for the first time.  She was familiar with the paragraph I have above, but not with the story itself.  Even more amazing, she shares the same profession as the author of the story, and the profession plays a huge role in his recovery story, so it held special meaning for her.

For people unfamiliar with 12-step meetings, books are typically kept in the meeting room, then shared by all.  The first person to share this morning said what stood out most to her about the story was how the author was able to improve his marriage by using the principles of the program at home.  Coincidentally, in the book this woman was reading from this morning, someone wrote at the end of the chapter:  “portrait of a marriage.”  So someone else agrees that reading this story can help to build bridges with your spouse!

Another long-timer shared that would stood out most to him was the idea that “serenity works in inverse proportion with expectations.”  In other words, the more you expect out of people and life, the less peaceful you are likely to be.  Another universal concept that everyone could use in their lives, especially around the holidays!

A friend shared that what struck her this morning was how she related to the author’s sense of self-deprecating humor.  Because he wrote so humorously and compellingly, she was able to relate to his story, despite having little in common with him in terms of logistics.  She especially related to the way he described chemically altering himself to achieve unconsciousness.  She found that even though she merely drank wine at night, the end result was the same.  It’s reassuring to read that the basic principles of the program work despite the substance of choice.

Another gentleman shared that he used to read this story with a sense of self-righteousness, as he too only drank alcohol, and refrained from any kind of drug use.  But he is starting to come around to the idea that at the end of the day, the underlying issues are the same for all of us, and comparisons, good or bad, are detrimental.  We all only have today in which to stay sober.

I of course got an absolute ton out of the reading itself and from the wisdom everyone shared.  As I mentioned earlier, this reading applies to all areas in my life:

When I criticize a person, or judge them:

“When I complain about me or about you, I am criticizing God’s handiwork.  I am saying I know better than God.” -pg. 417

If I’m frustrated that people aren’t taking my advice:

“And if I don’t know what’s good for me, then I don’t know what’s good or bad for you or for anyone.  So I’m better off if I don’t give advice, don’t figure I know what’s best, and just accept life on life’s terms, as it is today – especially my own life, as it actually is.” -pg. 418

When I am angry that my husband won’t see my point of view:

“… in AA I was told… ‘the courage to change’ in the Serenity Prayer meant not that I should change my marriage, but that I should change myself and learn to accept my spouse as she was.”  -pg. 419

When I am fearful and anxious that my stupid foot is taking too long to heal:

“Acceptance is the key to my relationship with God today.  I never just sit around and do nothing while waiting for Him to tell me what to do.  Rather, I do whatever is in front of me to be done, and I leave the results up to Him; however that turns out, that’s God’s will for me.” -pg. 420

I’m already sad the meeting is over and I won’t be able to pick this selection for a while!

Today’s Miracle:

The reading, and the insights is never fails to deliver, count as my miracle!

M(3), 11/21/16: I’m Back!

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Some housekeeping:  apologies for being so absent from this blog.  Not only have I not written in a couple of weeks, I’ve also not responded to comments.  I will be going back when I hit publish, but it shows a complete lack of appreciation for those who take the time to respond, and the last thing I want to do is to appear ungrateful.  I appreciate all comments, and I’m sorry for failing to show my appreciation!

The reason for the absence is due to a recent foot surgery that kept me with my foot elevated for a good number of days.  Since I detest using a laptop, this prevented me from my trusty desktop computer.  Then we were on a days-long road trip to watch my son race a cross-country course with the best of the best, so again away from my preferred choice of writing.

So now I’m back, and hopefully with some wisdom to share!

Today’s meeting focused on Step Two in the twelve steps of recovery:

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

Always a good step for discussion, since so many people come to the rooms of the 12-step fellowship with such a vast array of beliefs and non-beliefs.

As usual, the attendees did not disappoint.  One regular, a man whose professional life is based on his spirituality, says he struggles.  Not in the sense in believing a Higher Power exists, but in those who judge him for what he does for a living (member of a religious order).  Even in the meetings he has found this to be true, and it can be problematic.  He reminds himself that the step reads “could,” not “will,” and that his focus should remain on the positive, not the negative.  He finds meetings that support him, and avoids meetings that tear him down.

Good advice on a broader scope, not just because he is a religious professional, and advice that I’ll take to heart.

A friend who continues to struggle with the notion of God still struggles with this step, and takes umbrage with some of its wording.  She dislikes that they suggest to us that we “quit the debating society” and instead do our best to keep an open mind.  She finds this advice somewhat offensive, in that she believes an open mind should question things.

But then she reminds herself that keeping an open mind means remaining open to all suggestions, even the ones that don’t necessarily make sense to her.  Plus, all questions about a higher power aside, she firmly believes in the success of the 12-step paradigm, as she’s seen literally hundreds of success stories with her own eyes.  For now, this is enough to keep her coming back, and trying to keep her mind open to new possibilities.

Another woman shared that she is the type who believed herself spiritual while continuing to drink problematically.  She thought she asked for help numerous times, only to continue to relapse.  So she believed in a higher power, but not necessarily in His/Her/Its ability to “restore her to sanity.”

She realized the error in her thinking was that she was asking for help, but not doing her part to make things happen.  In working the 12 steps she realized there was real action that needed to be taken by her, and in taking that action she believes her Higher Power removed from her the obsession to drink.

I particularly enjoyed hearing her share, because it clicked with my personal story a bit.  I tried and failed to get sober for a solid 8-9 months before I hit my alcoholic bottom.  During that time I went to meetings, I had a sponsor, and I prayed all the time, on my knees just as I was told to do.  I thought I followed instructions, but I relapsed too many times to count.

Then I hit my bottom, and while fear certainly played into my early days of sobriety, I was more or less doing the same types of things I had done the previous 8-9 months.  Over the years I’ve often asked myself:  other than the fear and the consequences I was facing, what was so different before and after?

When my friend shared this morning, I remembered that one prayer session that I’ve referenced a few times on this blog.  It was on my first night of sobriety, not even morning yet since I surely wasn’t getting to sleep that night.  I think the language I used in my prayers was likely a little more (in my head, though I’m not above talking out loud while I’m praying)… sincere, or real, for lack of a better word.  But the critical difference was the question I asked of God that night.  I said, “Okay, it is clear that I am doing something wrong.  Can you please show me what it is?”

From that query came the analysis of what I was doing differently than the other members of the Fellowship.  And from that thought process came a blueprint that I thought might help me, or at the very least would be something different to try.

And the rest is history.  I believe sobriety, like life itself, is a never-ending process, so I continue to learn and grow, but I’m grateful for the original struggles that started me on a path to a  more peaceful, more spiritual existence.

And I’m writing on and on, and never even got to the surgery and all the trials and tribulations that have come with it.  I will do my best to get back later in the week to detail!

Today’s Miracle:

Logging in.  Writing.  Hitting Publish!

 

M(3), 11/7/16: Coincidence? I Think Not!

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I keep staring at the blank screen expecting a lightning bolt of creativity to hit me, and it doesn’t appear to be happening.  Now I’m going to try the “just start writing” approach and see where that gets me.

I’ll start with the meeting and wind round to why my thoughts are scattered.  Our reading selection today from the the book Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the “Big Book.”  This year I tried something different in terms of this book.  For the 3 years prior to this one, I selected readings from the second half of the book, the part that contains all the personal stories.  To mix it up, in the year 2016 we read from the first 164 pages, which most consider to be the heart and soul of the 12-step program.  There are 11 chapters in this first part of the book, so today marked the end of this cycle.

I have been waiting, practically since January, to get to this month, because by leaps and bounds my favorite chapter is the one we read today.  It is called “A Vision for You,” and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you have heard me wax rhapsodic about it.  It is so uplifting and energizing, I wish the book started with this chapter.

I’ll start with my share, as the reading of this chapter reminded me of a story from my early days of sobriety.  The chapter speaks of the serendipitous circumstances that connected the co-founders of the fellowship, their meeting with the third member, and the growth of the program that came from these meetings.  It brought to mind a not quite so miraculous, but still noteworthy story of my own:

When I first got sober, I went to meetings daily.  Specifically, I attended the same 10 am meeting that took place every day of the week.  In so doing, I got to know all the other regular attendees.  I happen to hit the 90-day mark on a Friday, at which point several of the long-timers announced that since I have my 90 day coin I am eligible to chair meetings, and so no time like the present.  Then they erased the chairperson for Monday and put my name in his or her place.

I can’t specifically recall, but I imagine I sweated out the weekend worrying about how I was going to pull off this responsibility.  Thankfully the chair rotation was different on the weekends, or I would have had to do it the very next day.

So Monday comes and I couldn’t be more nervous.  That meeting was significantly different than the one I run now in that it is a much larger crowd… figure 50 to 60 on average.  I start the meeting, and I suppose I do okay.  The break comes (halfway through the 60-minute meeting) and a gentleman comes up and introduces himself as Jim, tells me this is his very first meeting, and asked me a question.  I wish I could remember the question, but I’m pretty sure my abject fear at having to answer a 12-step question when I had 90 days of sobriety under my belt must have blocked it out.  I’m sure I said something, though I can’t remember specifically what, and as soon as was politely possible I connected him with the regulars in the group that I felt could give him the information he needed.

The rest of the meeting proceeded, and that was that.

By the time I hit the six-month mark, I was still attending daily meetings, but I was branching out and rarely got back to original meeting place.  However, for the milestone of 6 months I wanted to announce it there; it was a Sunday, and the only time I could get there was the 6 pm meeting.  I anticipated not knowing too many people, as I tend to hit daytime meetings.

To my surprise and delight, I knew the chairperson of the meeting:  my friend Jim, the one who had just started 3 months ago!  I marvelled at the fantastic coincidence, and I could not wait to share with him.  In fact, I raised my hand and shared out loud the story of how nervous I was, and congratulated Jim on achieving 90 days and chairing the meeting.  At the end of the meeting Jim found me and said he could top my story with one of his own from that day:

It turns out that his wife had dropped him off at that meeting 3 months ago, but he had no intention of staying.  He figured he’s stay to the break, but he had just enough money in his pocket to head out to the nearest open bar as soon as the halfway point came.  Something had him ask me a question, he has no idea what… his best guess is he wanted to be polite to me since I was leading the meeting.  My response was so kind that he figured he owed it to me to stay.  And afterwards when those gentlemen with whom I connected him were so kind, he figured he could give this a try.

And three months later, still sober, he was chairing meeting.

The moral of the story, of course, is that no matter how little you think you know, how little you think you have to give, it just might be the world to someone else.  I don’t remember what I said, but I know for sure it wasn’t anything profound or wise.  It couldn’t have been… I didn’t know squat!  And his taking the time to fill me in on that backstory made all the difference to me.  It was at that moment everything crystallized for me that when I pay attention, amazing things happen, all around me, every day.

From my share a few other people had similar tales of amazing coincidences-that-are-never-coincidences.  And a secondary theme of this morning’s share was gratitude, a most fitting theme for a November meeting!

Today’s Miracle:

I went a little long with my personal story, but today’s miracle for me is getting what I needed from that meeting today, as I usually do.  Even if I have to relearn the same lesson a dozen times, there is always someone there to teach me.  And for that I am grateful!

Additionally, the miracle of unscattering my thoughts via writing should be noted!

 

M(3), 10/24/16: The Freaks Come Out At…10 am on a Monday?

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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!

Today’s Miracle:

As I glance up at the length of this post, I wonder if the miracle is that I’m about to stop typing 😉

M(3), 10/10/16: Out With the Old, In With the New

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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:

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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!

Today’s Miracle:

Four years, and people are still coming back… I’ll take it 🙂

M(3), 10/3/16: To Write or Not to Write?

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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.”

Today’s Miracle:

Not one, not two, but THREE different sober anniversaries in this morning’s meeting!

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