Category Archives: Recovery
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!
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!
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
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!
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!
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.
- 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!
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!
Off by a day or two, but still, three posts in a week… a-MAH-zing!
I wanted to get back to my choice for WOTY (Word of the Year). I’ve been participating in this challenge for a few years now, with mixed results. Two years ago I picked the word energy, and felt… well, energized by it! Last year, I selected the word calm as my word for the year, and I would call that one a giant bust. 2016 was just about anything but calm!
This year I want to go in a different direction, and select an action word rather than a feeling. I selected the word service:
the action of helping or doing work for someone.“millions are involved in voluntary service”
synonyms: favor, kindness, good turn, helping hand; More
Why do I want to go with such a lofty word? Because to me, service sounds somewhat sanctimonious. But I don’t mean it that way at all.
One of the greatest lessons I learned through my participation in a 12-step program is the value of getting out of my own head. In fact, the final step in the 12-step process is just that… to pass along what you’ve learned to another person in need of recovery.
And of course that specific type of service is a wonderful thing, but my word choice is a whole lot broader than that. Here’s what I mean by service…
Josie’s Definition of Service:
Considering the perspective of another before my own. Understanding rather than being understood. Leaving people better than I found them.
It’s really that simple, although as I consider the past few months, that would be quite a shift. In sitting around and moping about my foot and unfulfilled career aspirations, I wasn’t sparing a whole lot of energy for the wants and needs of others.
And either path, self-centeredness or service, is the kind which builds upon itself. When I’m wallowing in self-pity, I can sink deeper and deeper. Likewise, when I have the mindset of consideration and thoughtfulness, that tends to be contagious as well. The question is: which mindset provides the most benefit?
Because that’s the truly amazing thing about service… that while the intention is to help another, you wind up helping yourself in the process. So even if I sound all saintly by choosing the word service, really I’m just cultivating positive self-growth!
So there you have it… let’s try to make 2017 the year to give back. Hopefully I’ll be better about checking in on the progress throughout the year!
The positive boost that comes from embarking on a new goal!
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!
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!
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:
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…
Writing. On a Sunday. Out of schedule. With a house full of people. Enough said!
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:
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
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!
The reading, and the insights is never fails to deliver, count as my miracle!
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!
Logging in. Writing. Hitting Publish!