Suddenly it’s Tuesday morning, and still no wrap-up post from yesterday’s meeting. I’m going to blame the three day weekend, and an aging, limping mess of a dishwasher that needed some funeral arrangements, but the time is coming where I figure out what comes next for this blog.
In other words: sorry again for the delay.
It was a decently sized meeting, considering it to be a holiday. It’s counterintuitive to me that holidays produce smaller sized meetings. I would think more people would show up, since more people have off from work. In any event, we had the usual suspects, plus one or two extras.
We read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”), a chapter entitled “To the Family Afterward.” This is another chapter, much like last month, that deals with topics pertaining to the loved ones of the alcoholic, rather than the alcoholic himself/herself. As I mentioned last month, these two chapters are the prologue to Al-Anon.
According to this chapter, there seem to be two watchwords for the recovering alcoholic and his/her family in the early days of sobriety:
The chapter breaks down a whole bunch of possible scenarios that family may experience as the alcoholic recovers, and how best to handle them.
Attendees in the meeting shared their validation of the various scenarios laid out, and added a few more. One gentleman told an amusing story. He came home the night of his seven year sober anniversary, and proudly presented the coin to his wife. She replied, “Congratulations, these were the happiest six years of my life.” He gently reminded her it has been seven years, not six, to which she replied, “Yeah… I’m leaving out that first year on purpose.”
The expression “it’s a family disease” exists for a reason, I guess.
That illustrates the patience part. The balance concept? Well, those reading this post who are in recovery are likely chuckling ruefully. Alcoholics are known for a lot of things, but balance and moderation are not at the top of the list. Or at the bottom for that matter.
So it follows that in recovery, we can go in a bunch of well-intentioned but over the top directions… we find God, then shove Him down everyone’s throat. Or we lose sight of the friends and family that supported us in favor of our new recovery activities.
So the family reacts, and the cycle of chaos starts all over again.
The solution is for everyone involved to communicate honestly and productively, and bring those two watchwords back to the forefront.
As another gentleman pointed out in the meeting: if you go walking into the woods for three days straight, then finally decide you want out, do you think you’re finding your way back in an hour? It took time to get in, it’ll take time to get out again.
It was an interesting chapter for me to read, given the holiday on which we read it (for those not in the United States, we celebrated Labor Day yesterday). Normally when I read this chapter, I have little to no reaction. I am one of the extremely fortunate ones who had complete family support as I recovered. None of the anecdotes described in the chapter apply directly to my life.
However, Labor Day weekend holds a bi-annual event in my family of origin. We have been holding a family reunion for as long as I’ve been alive. Longer, actually, which makes me want to find out how long it’s been going on. At this point we have about 150 people in attendance, and it is an all-day, much-of-the-night affair.
There have been three so far in my sobriety. I believe I skipped entirely the first one, I attended briefly the second, this past Saturday I stayed the longest.
The days leading up to the event had me in a state of… something along the lines of discontent, I suppose. You see, this is the one situation on which I haven’t readily been able to slap the “sober is better” sticker. The event is largely outdoors, at a time of year where it is humid. I am not the outdoorsy type (understatement). There are tons of people, but these are people I see either at this event, or a funeral, so a catch-up conversation (and sometimes a reminder of names) is required each and every time. The vast majority of these people will be imbibing a social lubricant called beer (or a mixed drink); I will be consuming the social lubricant called Diet Pepsi.
If I’m being brutally honest, I was dreading the event, and then I was berating myself for dreading it. What kind of person does not want to spend time with their family? But the equally brutal truth is that pre-recovery, I couldn’t wait for the event, because it was an all all-day drink fest, and now it’s not. For me, anyway. For many others, it continued to be. So it felt like I had more to dread than I had to anticipate.
Luckily for me, I have tools in the toolkit to use in times such as these, and I had my pre-game rituals in place. The most important of these tools, in my opinion, is to have a quick exit strategy should I become uncomfortable around the alcohol/excessive drinking.
The other tool that I used, and was the turning point in the event, was to remember why I was actually there: to spend time with family, and to participate in a long-standing family tradition. When I kept that in the forefront of my mind, instead of focusing on the alcohol that surrounded me, I was able to relax and enjoy the event.
People still got drunk. In fact, I heard tales of overturned golf carts at the end of the evening (which was really early morning) that had me belly laughing. But the reality is the people who got as drunk as I would have gotten were in the minority. The majority of people were casually drinking, or not drinking at all, and they were a delight. I dragged my feet going to the reunion, but I left with a grateful heart.
And then I got to read and remember why I am so grateful!
Family love and support are perennial miracles
It seems almost absurd to say this, but today we celebrated the 3 year anniversary of my Monday morning meeting. I know it’s trite but… where the heck did the time go?
Plus over the weekend my husband and I celebrated 16 years of wedded bliss, so it’s been a commemorative few days!
Due to the celebratory nature of the meeting, and possibly because there were copious baked goods, the mood was festive this morning, with a nice sized crowd to boot.
Because it is the first Monday of the month, and because we are commemorating the birth of this meeting, and because I personally can’t read it often enough, I selected the story Acceptance is the Answer from the Personal Stories section of book Alcoholics Anonymous. If you’ve ever read this blog before, then you know this is my favorite story in the Big Book; I’d read it every Monday if I could get away with it. Which I wouldn’t, because the meeting regulars would vote me out if I did. It was the very first reading I selected 3 years ago, and I get something new out of it each time I read it.
For those unfamiliar with the story, here is the seminal paragraph. Most 12-step regulars will know the page on which to find it:
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.
What’s so great about this story, and the reason I go back to this particular well time and time again, is that the message is universal. On any given day, there are no less than a dozen things I am struggling to accept: how my children are behaving, the weather, why some electronic device is not working correctly, traffic, how my clothes fit, someone who calls too much, someone who doesn’t call enough, the state of the world, the state of my house.
All the tremendous energy it takes me to worry, complain, be irritated, plan out the various scenarios by which I make the world as I see fit… where does it get me? Almost without fail, it gets me to the same spot I was in before I started. That is to say, I am left with the same children misbehaving, poor weather, faulty electronics, and so on.
And so, acceptance is the answer.
Anniversaries provide the opportunity to reflect back through the time they are commemorating. I can say, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the happiest time periods in the last three years were those spent consciously practicing acceptance on a regular basis. Conversely, the periods filled with the most strife were the opposite: I was railing against something or someone who I believed had done me dirty.
The lack of acceptance which has proved the most challenging for me personally has been self-acceptance. Again, I can look back on times when practicing self-acceptance has brought about miracles in my life, sobriety being the most obvious. The simple acceptance that chemical alteration does more harm than good allowed me to live in the solution, rather than living in the problem of active addiction.
This blog in an ongoing testament to the power of living in the solution.
Yet even with this knowledge, wisdom that has been almost beaten into my head, I am still erratic with both acceptance in general, and self-acceptance in particular. Why is it so? I’m sure there’s a variety of answers, both psychological and practical, that would account for lack of consistency. I guess I just need to practice acceptance that it takes me so long to practice acceptance!
As is the case every time I select this reading, a woman sat in amazement today, because this story was so timely for her. This story is the gift that keeps on giving!
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an anecdote that relates to this blog’s tagline, There Are No Coincidences. Guess that means it’s time for one. There’s a bonus, too: this one’s got layers!
Yesterday a series of events led me to searching through an external hard drive. I discovered a Word document with an intriguing title, so I opened it, and found a letter written by me to another family member, dated November 2005. The letter describes my journey to my then current state of being two months sober.
For those reading who don’t know my full back story, my (God Willing) permanent sobriety date is in 2012. What I did not know at the time of writing that 2005 letter was that period of sobriety would only last about a year or so.
I had some mixed feelings reading about that time of my life. On the one hand, I felt pride, because that letter was a surprisingly honest and accurate depiction of the timeline of events that led me to choosing sobriety.
Dismay and shameful feelings upon re-reading events about which I had forgotten.
Feelings of regret when I wrote, even at two months sober, that “AA is not for me, because I can’t really relate to the people I meet there.” I think I stopped attending meetings almost immediately following that letter.
Finally, feelings of curiosity, as I was writing this letter because some family members had questioned my decision to identify as an alcoholic. I concluded in the letter that I was unsure as well, but that for the time being, sobriety seemed the right choice for me.
I wondered ruefully if those family members have changed their minds in the years since.
So yesterday was an introspective day, lots of “what if” scenarios played out in my head:
- What if those family members were right, and I somehow could have figured out a way to moderate drinking?
- What if I had remained sober that entire time period, what would be different in my life?
- And the worst case scenario: what if I hadn’t chosen to get sober in 2012?
The nice part of all this rumination is the conclusion: I needed every part of my journey to get me where I am today, the questioning, the heartache, the trial and error. I’m grateful for all of it.
Long-winded back story, but I promise it’s going somewhere. The scheduled reading for this morning’s meeting was step 8, made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. But at the last moment a newcomer walked into the room and let us know he was a little over 30 days sober; this was his first meeting after rehab.
I made a quick decision, and ran it by the group for agreement: read out of meeting order, and read step one, we admitted we were powerless, that our lives had become unmanageable.
I can remember, even now, how preposterous the later steps sounded when I was in early recovery. I sincerely doubt that this gentleman was ready to hear about the details involved in making amends. The group agreed.
As we were reading the chapter, I wanted to laugh out loud at some of the lines, and how much they related to what I had written back in 2005:
Many less desperate alcoholics tries AA, but did not succeed because they could not make the admission of hopelessness.
Check and check, my conclusion in 2005 that my problem drinking was a result of circumstances, and it was most likely a temporary problem.
The answer is that few people will sincerely try to practice the A.A. program unless they have hit bottom.
Yep, also true for me. I needed that gift of desperation in order to make the necessary change!
I could list a dozen more examples, but the point has been made that reading my 2005 letter, then reading step one, provided the perfect reminder of what happens when you fail to make sobriety a priority.
After I shared all of this, many other meeting attendees with much more wisdom, not to mention sober time, raised their hands to share their insight regarding step one.
One gentleman reminded us that there are two parts to this step:
- admission of powerlessness
- acknowledgement of unmanageably
Often, it’s impossible to tell which comes first, but it is essential to accept both in order to proceed with the remaining 11 steps. The powerlessness and unmanageability are inextricably combined.
Another attendee spoke of alcoholism being the disease of denial. It’s a vicious cycle: the disease has us denying that we have a disease. How to break the cycle? Remove the alcohol from our system, and follow a few simple steps.
Yet another shared the power of two critical lessons from his early days: staying sober one day at a time, and staying away from the first drink. He remembered thinking how ingenious these two simple ideas are, and he has used them every day for the past 38 years!
The next person to share also spoke of how devastating denial can be. She was able to put down the drink, but remained a dry drunk for years because she insisted she “was not like the rest of us.” She finally got to the point where she had to either surrender completely, and follow the instructions given within the 12 steps, or pick up a drink to end the misery. It’s been 24 years, and she’s never looked back. As she puts it, “it’s such a great way of living, why not follow the steps?”
Finally, the newcomer raised his hand to speak. Being unfamiliar with the typical meeting format, he opted to share his history with drinking. Having started in 1958, he could see a steady progression of the disease until he sought some help…
wait for it…
He was able to stop drinking for…
wait for it…
a little over a year before he decided he could drink again.
Crazy, crazy stuff. Our stories deviate in that he kept going past 2012, but he’s here now, and I’m really hoping we see him again next week.
Listening for the similarities, rather than the differences, is a miracle!
Today is the fifth Monday in the month of June, and I am at a point with my meetings that I dread months with 5 Mondays. Which, when you think about it, is beyond silly, since I am the only person that pays attention to the literature rotation from one Monday to the next.
So I stress about choosing a reading selection each time a fifth Monday pops up, I change my mind a whole bunch of times, and it always works out okay. Just like today, when I switched at the last-minute and read from the book Came To Believe, a collection of stories, written by members of Alcoholics Anonymous, that describe how they came to find a God of their understanding.
A few things made the meeting exciting. First, a gentleman who has come to be known as a regular attendee celebrated 90 days of sobriety, a huge milestone in this writer’s opinion! Second, although we were on the low side of normal in terms of attendance, we ran out of time in terms of sharing. Always the sign of a good meeting.
The topic that seemed to grab the attention of the majority was loneliness, and it’s counterpart, solitude. By the chapter’s definition solitude is the joy of being alone, whereas loneliness describes the pain associated with aloneness. Two sides of the same coin. Most recovering alcoholics, at least most of whom I’ve heard share on this subject, directly relate the pain of loneliness to their drinking activity. They experienced loneliness, whether by themselves, with family, or in a crowd of people, and so they drank to escape that feeling. Initially, the effects of alcohol worked for a time, but in most cases wound up creating the isolation they drank to escape in the first place. Many who shared today claimed this vicious cycle as their own, and added further that the lonely feeling was a lifelong one.
The chapter read this morning speaks of using alone time to our advantage rather than fearing it: quiet reflection, taking our inventories, prayer and meditation. In time, the author reports, we will anticipate with relish our solitude.
In the meeting, most reported a turnaround in thinking with respect to alone time. Once a time to be restless and discontent, all who shared now look forward to quiet time to do all the suggestions listed above.
The 90-days-sober-attendee said he vacillates in his perspective of his alone time. Some days, he can have a bad attitude about it, and reflect miserably that it’s another night spent alone while all of his friends are out socializing and doing all the things in which he used to be able to engage. When his perspective is such, nothing makes him happy. Other times, he looks forward to his alone time as a way to decompress and shut down his overactive brain. He is hopeful that over time the latter attitude will come more naturally than the former.
Another gentleman, a 12-step long-timer and a religious professional, cites his lifestyle can be the perfect balance of both: he is required to spend time in prayer and meditation, and can head to his room anytime he needs solitude. Conversely, his weekends are filled with hundreds of people when all is said and done, as he performs his ministerial duties. Of course, he is human, and so once in a while the balance tips in favor of one or the other, but he is careful to keep that balance in check.
Another long-timer shared that he has a similar set of issues as the 90-days-sober attendee. As a single man, some days he feels very alone, with no one to care for him. Other days, he is deeply appreciative of the people who are in his life. The important thing for him is that when he is feeling the pangs of loneliness, he must acknowledge and take action to correct so that it does not drag on indefinitely. His active alcoholism, he remembers, was mired in loneliness, and he consciously drank to fill that hole of loneliness in his life. His best remedy to correct? A gratitude list, so simple and yet so powerful. He reminds himself of how many good people are in his life, and that usually does the trick!
A sideline discussion came about in terms of whether you can feel connected in terms of computer usage; specifically, online connection. Some felt that the connection derived from the internet is not an authentic one, and we are better served with live interaction, others felt that connecting anonymously with others is just as beneficial to their sobriety.
As a blogger for over 3 years, I imagine you all can guess which side of the debate I land. Happy Monday to all!
The honor of handing the 90-day coin out this morning is a miracle I hope I never take for granted!
Another Monday, another wrongly predicted snowstorm that has my children enjoying a 3-day weekend for no reason whatsoever. Arghhh.
Today’s reading came from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, a personal story entitled “The Perpetual Quest.” The introduction to the story sums it up better than I ever could:
This lawyer tried psychiatrists, biofeedback, relaxation exercises, and a host of other techniques to control her drinking. She finally found a solution, uniquely tailored, in the Twelves Steps.
–pg. 388, Alcoholics Anonymous
I selected it somewhat hurriedly, and realized I had never read this story. As I have attended hundreds of 12-step meetings, it is always astounding to come across something new in terms of the Big Book. Even more astounding, it was the first time anyone in the room had remembered reading it. The story is interesting, and the point of view was recognizable to each of us in the room, but today I want to write about an experience that occurred separate from the literature this morning.
Last week, as was chronicled in a guest post written by my husband, marked the 3 year anniversary of my sobriety. Side story: at one point during that day I remarked to my husband, “I have hit a bunch of milestones today (with respect to the blog).” His reply: “WE hit a bunch of milestones, hon.” His territorial nature notwithstanding, I continue to be humbled by his generosity, and his love. I am, as you can see for yourself, abundantly blessed in my marriage.
Back to today: while celebrating three years is an utterly wonderful experience, there has been a bittersweet feeling in both the days leading up to and the days following the milestone. As I consider that I have been sober 3 years, I can’t help but recall the tumultuous time in active addiction leading to my personal bottom, and the 7 weeks that followed day one, weeks I will count among the most troubling in my life.
Because getting sober is the polar opposite of instant gratification, something we alcoholics tend to enjoy. You choose sobriety, and then you must deal with the chaos that is your emotional state, your circumstances, really your life, and you have to do it without the long-enjoyed crutch of a mind-altering substance. What was once troubling becomes unbearable. And so it goes, day in and day out, with no real end in sight.
Obviously, I am writing this as I am three years sober, so there is a happy ending to this tale of woe. But the trick is having the courage and the strength to stick it out until the miracle around the corner arrives for you.
We had a newcomer this morning. She hesitated before she raised her hand, and when she did, a lot came out. She forced herself to “do the right thing” and attend this morning’s meeting, but it’s the last place she wants to be. She hates every part of it, resents that she has to sit here at all. She will not drink, just for today (words laced heavily with sarcasm), but she has no belief that things are ever going to get better, and that what we all say to her will work for her personally. The only reason she sits here at all is that she has tried every means possible to do it on her own, and she just can’t do it, so she will hold on for another day.
The first thing that occurred to me, as I listened, was how much she sounded like the author of this morning’s story before she found sobriety. The second thing that occurred was how much she described my early days of sobriety. As she spoke, I recalled, three years ago right around this very date, screaming to my mother in frustration, “And I’m supposed to stay sober even with all this shit going on!?!”
The happy ending to this story was being able to sit down with the newcomer and give personal empathy to her situation, and, hopefully, a little bit of hope that things will get better.
The happier ending to this story was a reminder of how far I’ve come. My three-year anniversary feels just a bit more powerful after the meeting.
Coming home from the meeting to find that my children cleaned in my absence. Now I’m not quite as angry at that stupid school district 🙂
Today’s meeting, which started out woefully small but wound up with 12 attendees by the end, focused on the second half of step 12 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. In case you are not following along with this series of posts, step 12 is:
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.
The section of the chapter we read today focused most on the third prong of this step, and that is taking the principles learned within the 12-step program, and applying those principles to all other aspects of our lives: our marriages, our careers, our financial affairs, even (especially) our self-image.
I know I have written this ad nauseam, but I’ll write it again anyway: there’s not a problem in my life that the 12-step principles can’t ameliorate, if not actually solve. From the simplicity of practicing acceptance and taking life one day at a time, to the more intensive work of personal inventory and making amends, practicing the 12 steps improves my entire life, not just helps me to abstain from altering myself chemically. A strong statement, but so far for this recovering alcoholic, a true one.
The rest of the group focused on the blessings that working the 12 steps has brought to their lives. Some of the highlights:
- The end of our self-imposed isolation
- Being comfortable in our own skin
- A greater appreciation for family and friends
- The development of a whole new set of friends
- A greater maturity and wisdom
- The joy received from being of service to others
- A sense of accomplishment (this fellow joked that receiving the one year coin at an AA meeting is the equivalent to receiving an Oscar)
- The serenity that comes with knowing that whatever is happening, “this too shall pass”
- The comfort that only comes from the trust in a power greater than oneself
- The certainty that this Higher Power is a benevolent omnipresence in our lives
- The absolute faith that everything happens for a reason, and that our job is simply to trust our Higher Power, clean up our side of the street and do the next right thing
A joyous and hope-filled meeting to start the holiday week off right. Hope yours is off to as wonderful a start!
Finishing up this post, then off to cookie making, and preparing the cookie decorating assembly line for when the kids get home. From someone who, a few short years ago, could not successfully bake the heat and eat varieties, homemade roll-out cookies topped with homemade royal icing is a miracle! Here are some of the “naked” first batch:
Holy mackerel it’s December!!! I bet if I look back, I write something like this every month, but still… it’s December!
Being that it is the first Monday of the month, today’s reading selection came from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. The personal story is called “The Keys to the Kingdom,” and was written by Sylvia K., who was instrumental in bringing AA to the Chicago area. Although written 75 years ago, Sylvia’s story of active addiction is as relatable today as any you would hear in the blogosphere, in the rooms of a 12-step meeting, or in a rehab:
…through a long and calamitous series of shattering experiences, I found myself being helplessly propelled toward total destruction. I was without power to change the course my life had taken. How I had arrived at this tragic impasse I could not have explained to anyone. I was thirty-three years old and my life was spent. I was caught in a cycle of alcohol and sedation that was proving inescapable…
-pg. 304, Alcoholics Anonymous
Sylvia’s path mercifully led her to the founders of AA, and from there her life changed dramatically:
It has been so many years since I had not relied on some artificial crutch, either alcohol or sedatives. Letting go of everything at once was both painful and terrifying. I could never have accomplished this alone. It took the help, understanding and wonderful companionship that was given so freely to me by my “ex-alkie” friends. This and the program of recovery embodied in the Twelve Steps. In learning to practice these steps in my daily living I began to acquire faith and a philosophy to live by. Whole new vistas were opened up for me, new avenues of experience to be explored, and life began to take on color and interest. In time, I found myself looking forward to each new day with pleasurable anticipation.
-pg. 310-311, Alcoholics Anonymous
An incredible message of hope, Sylvia’s story is one I would recommend reading.
Two messages stood out for me personally while reading today’s story. The first was Sylvia’s personal physician who never gave up on her, and eventually led her to the founders of the AA program. Without this man’s perseverance and guidance, Sylvia would not have had the introduction into this new and incredibly improved way of life.
Education about alcoholism and recovery have come a long way since Sylvia’s story, and we are blessed to have many resources at our disposal when we seek to find an answer to our addiction. But there are still those angels in our lives that help us along the way.
I remember once, the summer before I hit bottom, I was attending a 12-step meeting, but was still deep in the throes of active addiction. A woman who I recognized but did not know personally, came up to me and told me a story about herself which, at the time, seemed almost strange: why is she telling me this? The details of the story are unimportant, but two things stuck with me. First, her challenges in sobriety so closely matched mine that I was amazed. Up to that point, I had yet to find someone “just like me,” and I believe that feeling of “terminal uniqueness” kept me in the rut of active addiction. Second, this woman had more than 5 years of sober time. So, again, eye-opening: here is someone just like me who is managing to stay sober. It took several months more, and several more “angels,” but that moment represented a turning point in my thinking.
The second message that jumped out at me in Sylvia’s story was her belief that recovery is an ongoing process:
A.A. is not a plan for recovery that can be finished and done with. It is a way of life, and the challenge contained in its principles is great enough to keep any human being striving for as long as he lives. We do not, cannot, out-grow this plan. As arrested alcoholics, we must have a program for living that allows for limitless expansion. Keeping one foot in front of the other is essential for maintaining our arrestment. Others may idle in a retrogressive groove without too much danger, but retrogression can spell death for us. However, this isn’t as rough as it sounds, as we do become grateful for the necessity that makes us toe the line, for we find that we are more than compensated for a consistent effort by the countless dividends we receive.
-pg. 311, Alcoholics Anonymous
Sylvia writes it better than I ever could: recovery is an ongoing, limitless, boundless journey. There is no graduation, and no ceiling on the joy it brings!
I also asked for help from the very large group (we had 16 attendees today!) in an upcoming project of mine. I asked them to share their best strategies for staying sober through the holiday season. Some are tried and true, some really surprised me, but all were great tips. There are so many that I will be compiling them into a separate post. You can’t have enough tools in your sobriety toolbox!
Some other points shared by the group:
- Recovery is a “we” program, not a “me” program: whether you choose a 12-step program, reading and connecting with bloggers, or some other way, sobriety is so much easier with the support of like-minded people.
- Alcoholic triggers do not have to be alcohol: a friend just came home from a vacation with a large group of people. None drank, but my friend’s anticipation of having to deal with alcohol gave her drunk dreams 3 nights in a row. She has been sober for decades! The message is clear: alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful, and it is important to stay vigilant.
- Keeping sobriety first despite holiday stress: a friend found herself surviving Thanksgiving with a bit of white-knuckling. She had plans to do something else this morning, and it finally dawned on her: she needs to put sobriety first because of holiday stress, or the holiday stress will do her in! She cancelled her appointment and instead came to the meeting.
I’m hopeful everyone had a joyful Thanksgiving (well, I hope my American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I hope my international friends had a wonderful November 27th!). For those choosing sobriety, I hope you found success in this endeavor, and enjoyed yourself while doing so. More to follow on holiday survival strategies!
Today I agreed to speak on The Bubble Hour, an internet talk show about recovery from alcoholism and addiction. We will be discussing sober survival strategies for the holiday season this Sunday, December 7th, at 9 pm EST. I’m not sure which part is the miracle, being asked to participate, agreeing to participate, or both, but I’m pretty sure there is a miracle in there somewhere! Here is the link if you are interested in finding out more information:
The past few weeks, my Monday morning meetings have been nothing that has lit my imagination on fire. Not bad by any stretch, there truly is no such thing as a bad meeting, but nothing overly inspiring, which of course makes chronicling it difficult.
I am pleased to report, not so with today’s meeting!
It is the second Monday, so the literature rotation required me to select from Living Sober, the book that gives the practical, easy to read advice for those new to recovery. There was no hesitation as I opened to the table of contents. Since I feel we are at the opening of what I like to think of as Drinking Season (Thanksgiving Week through the next working day after New Year’s), I knew to look for a chapter that involved planning around drinking occasions. And the book did not disappoint. We read Chapter 26: “Being Wary of Drinking Occasions.”
What happened at this morning is what I love most about meetings: newcomers opening up and sharing their fears and worries about staying sober, experienced members sharing their wisdom, everyone leaving with feeling of enrichment and solidarity. Fortuitously, we had the biggest turnout in weeks (15), and an almost perfect mix of sobriety: about a third with a year or less, a third somewhere between 1 and 10 years, and third with over 20 years. This variety of experience really helps with a discussion like “how to handle drinking celebrations,” because the perspective on this subject changes over time (thankfully the perspective gets better and better!).
For myself, the biggest takeaway from the reading, and this was difficult to pick, there is A LOT of good advice in this chapter, was simply: do not worry about anyone’s opinion of your decision to be sober, focus instead on the best decisions you can make to shore up that commitment. In early sobriety, this lesson can be excruciatingly difficult to adopt, and examples of not doing it are many. For example, in early sobriety, I was appalled at the suggestion that I skip a drinking function. I mean, are you kidding? I can’t skip that party, the whole family will be there! What will they think if I don’t show up?
Tell people I don’t drink, no way I am going to tell people that…. what would they think of me?
If I don’t drink at the party, people will notice, and then what?
That list of rhetorical questions could go on and on, and I bought into every single one of them. As a matter of fact, for a long time I lived in defiance of this good advice (you don’t understand my life, so don’t you tell me that I can just avoid drinking situations), and the predictable outcome happened: I did not stay sober.
So, at least from this recovered person’s perspective, I validate the advice: worry about yourself during the early stages of recovery. Worry about one thing about yourself: staying sober. And, I’m sorry to say, avoid drinking situations as much as you possibly can. It will not be the big deal you are imagining it will be, and, even if it is, the drama will be short-lived.
From my sharing, everyone else that shared had fantastic ideas on how to stay sober during holiday gatherings. Here are just a few, some are reiterated from the book, but all are things these attendees regularly do:
- Give someone a call before you are heading to the event, and then call them the next morning to debrief. This piece of advice came from my friend with nearly 30 years of sobriety, she says she still does it. It helps her to connect with friends in recovery, and, as she puts it, “Alcohol is stronger than my 30 years, and sometimes the emotional hangover is just as bad as a physical one, talking helps!”
- Another friend, with almost the same amount of sobriety, is a professional with the occupational hazard of regular, mandatory attendance of drinking events. His trick, employed for so long now that people say it for him, is to deflect: someone asks him if he wants a drink, he declines politely and immediately starts talking about the upcoming menu, and his hopes for cocktail weenies. He is now known for his love of them, and that is what they offer him, not a drink!
- He also gave this great advice: No is a complete sentence. If someone asks you if you would like a drink, you are perfectly entitled to say, “No, thank you.” There is positively no need for further explanation!
- One attendee says he regularly takes the humorous tack: someone asks him if he would like a drink, his answer is, “Oh no, you don’t have enough for me.”
- Another person says she has a lot of success throwing out the “designated driver” card, she finds people instantly respond with understanding to that.
- I added my two cents to this advice melange: I am well-known in my circles for my love of fountain sodas (specifically Diet Pepsi in case you are interested). My strategy, that I still employ to this day, is to arrive at the party with a fountain soda in my hand. People already know I love it, and convenience stores are always available to assist me in this strategy. It has been a great success: no one asks you if you need a drink if you’ve already got one in your hand!
- Two more reiterated pieces of advice: showing up a bit on the later side, and definitely leaving on the earlier side, of a drinking event will save you lots of hassles when it comes to being asked what you are drinking and dealing with drunk people. These are strategies that I continue to use with great success at drinking bashes (which, in my family, are all major holidays).
- The bottom line with all these great bits of advice: no matter which path you take, I promise you are thinking about it way, WAY more than anyone else at that social function. Once you make the decision not to drink, people move on. The vast majority of people do not care what beverage is in your glass!
So much more great advice was given, so many great questions asked, it would be hard to fit it all into one blog post. But the best part of the meeting, that has me smiling still: two of the five or so “newbies” have less than 90 days, and admitted to me that they are really struggling. As one of them put it, “So many Day One’s, it’s hard to keep track!” Oh boy, can I remember that feeling. This is the kind of meeting that serves the newcomer the best, so I am over the moon that they were here to gain all of this wisdom.
Plus I am hoping to try that cocktail weenie strategy and see if it works!
I’d love to hear from all of you… any good holiday survival tips?
Like the klutz I am becoming in middle age, I sprained my ankle over the weekend. I am walking so much better today, so the miracle is the appreciation of the ability to walk without a limp!
In the literature rotation of my meeting, the fourth Monday is labelled “chairperson’s choice.” This week, I chose a selection from a book not used very frequently these days, entitled Alcoholic Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A. The book gives an account of the historic 1955 St. Louis convention, at which the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous assumed full responsibility for all its affairs. It contains the lectures of many of the notable speakers throughout the convention, as well as discusses the three principles of the fellowship: recovery, unity and service.
This morning we read the chapter entitled, “Medicine Looks at Alcoholics Anonymous.” In this chapter we read the speech from a distinguished member of the American Medical Association, Dr. W. W. Bauer. Dr. Bauer, in his address to the assembly, compares the societal view towards alcoholism to that of tuberculosis: both are diseases that afflict people through no fault of their own, and yet at one time those afflicted with either illness were regarded shamefully. He notes that same stigma was once attached to those afflicted with cancer. Happily, though, both the medical establishment, as well as society itself, is slowly coming around to regarding these diseases objectively, without assigning disgrace to those who carry them.
He praises AA for its use of “group therapy,” as he calls it: gathering support, sympathy and guidance from one another as each attempts to dispel the obsession to drink alcohol. Many of the treatment options the medical profession offers the sick and suffering alcoholic was learned from cooperating with the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. The partnership of the two – medicine and AA – is a mutually beneficial one.
By and large the group enjoyed the reading, although the glad handing that went on as one speaker introduced the next proved to be a time waster. The standout of Dr. Bauer’s lecture, for me, occurred when he touched upon the importance of our attitude:
“Illness of the emotions is no more something to be ashamed of than is illness of the body. We should no more hesitate to consult a psychiatrist than we should hesitate to consult an orthopedist for a sore foot.”
-pg. 240, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
It took time for me to stop feeling ashamed of having the disease of alcoholism; for a long time I could not let go of the idea that I should just be able to control myself. Letting go of the shame felt as though a load was lifted off my back. To borrow an idea from another 12-step fellowship: I didn’t cause my alcoholism, I can’t control whether or not I am afflicted with it, and I cannot cure it. One day at a time, however, I can do a few simple things that will remove the obsession to drink right out of me!
Other talking points, as shared by the various attendees of this morning’s meeting, included:
- Our program of recovery has three legs upon which it stands firmly: physical, spiritual emotional. Today’s reading touched upon the physical leg, and it is so important, especially in the earliest days of sobriety. Learning proper nutrition, what vitamins and minerals support healthy recovery, and touching base with a medical professional for any prescriptive needs all provide a sound foundation upon which we build our sober future.
- In the last paragraph of his lecture, Dr. Bauer says:
“I am no psychiatrist, but I have confidence in saying this to you as I have said to thousands of patients, that the thing we need most of all in this world today is tranquility of mind. Various names have been given to it. Some books about it have been very popular. Some call it the power of positive thinking, some call it peace of mind, some call it peace of souls, but I’m inclined to along with Billy Graham and call it peace with God. Those are the things that we need. And an organization like yours, in a world that seems to have gone materialistically mad, gives us courage to believe that there is still hope, that there is still idealism, and that we are going to win out over many, many of our problems, one of the most serious of which is alcoholism.”
-pg. 244, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
This paragraph stood out to a number of us today, in that we are so grateful to be part of a fellowship whose very goal is to achieve this peace for ourselves, and to have the honor of helping others do the same.
- Finally, and this was echoed by almost every attendee who shared, was the appreciation of the “group therapy” component of our fellowship. As one member put it this morning, “Putting a dollar in a basket to sit here and share my troubles, and have all of you help me, is a real bargain compared to the thousands I have spent in therapy!” Another put it this way, “No matter how I feel, good or bad, I have never left a meeting disappointed… I am always in a better mental place leaving the meeting than when I went in.” A friend who we have not seen a few weeks berated herself on her absence: “I feel the difference when I stop going to meetings, just coming here and seeing all of your friendly, supportive faces brightens my day, and when I don’t go I feel like I’m missing something in my life!”
Sometimes it takes the miracles of others to become conscious of your own. Hearing how much everyone gets out of meetings helped deepen my own appreciation!
Is it Monday again already? Small(ish) meeting today, only 10 attendees, but a delightful newcomer (to my meeting, not to the Fellowship) that I will talk about in a bit. As it is the first Monday of the month, today’s reading was selected from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book), entitled “The Housewife Who Drank at Home.”
Often I say that stories in the Big Book are relatable to me in terms of the feelings behind the nuts and bolts of the story, rather than the story itself. Most of the personal stories were written by men over 50 years ago, so day-to-day life experience is not something I would typically share with the authors of most of the stories. With the exception of this one. So much of the story parallels mine, it would be difficult to list it all: an alcoholic who drank by herself, at home, who knew she had a problem but tried to distract herself with various interests in the hopes the problem would go away, who did not understand the concept of a middle ground. Relatability was not an issue for me with this story.
The standout point, for me, came right at the beginning:
At one time, the admission that I was and am an alcoholic meant shame, defeat, and failure to me. But in the light of the new understanding that I have found in A.A., I have been able to interpret that defeat, and that failure, and that shame, as seeds of victory. Because it was only through feeling defeat and feeling failure, the inability to cope with my life and with alcohol, that I was able to surrender and accept the fact that I had this disease, and that I had to learn to live again without alcohol. -pg. 296, Alcoholics Anonymous
Even when I knew, deep down knew, that drinking (and other substances) was a very serious problem, I still did not want to accept the label alcoholic. When I first attended 12-step meetings, I would be outraged by the people who identified themselves as “grateful, recovering alcoholics.” I mean, get serious, why in the world would you be grateful to be an alcoholic?!?
As it turns out, it makes all the sense in the world. Had I not suffered from this disease, I would have had no reason to join this group of individuals who figured out how to live life without chemical aid. Had I not joined this happy, joyous and free group, I would not have met the people who taught me a whole new set of skills, skills that enable me to not only live life sober, but also to be a significantly improved version of myself… a better mother, wife, family member and friend. And had I not learned these skills, I would not have used them to build a life beyond my wildest dreams.
So, yes, I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic, and I’m damned proud of it!
Other parts of the story that stood out for the group was the idea of the all or nothing approach to everything that we alcoholics seem to embrace. People with 30 days to 30 years in the meeting this morning had this personality trait in common. Also in common: the amazement that we all felt that we kept our lives together the way we did in active addiction. The story talks of how the author would take all the cleaning supplies out, but they would sit for hours as she distracted herself with drink, only to rush around right before anyone was to come home and make it appear as though chores had been accomplished. Several in the group this morning, myself included. could relate.
A final thought from one of the attendees: coming into the Fellowship to figure out how to stop drinking, but leaving with so much more: a feeling of community, the spirit of true understanding, and real camaraderie. His gratitude list is never complete without including “finding the rooms of our 12-step program!”
A final thought from me: I had a mini-God moment that I’d like to share. This past weekend, my husband was reading an article online that had to do with asking your 12-year old self what she thinks of how you turned out (hopefully that makes sense, it was entirely confusing to create that sentence). This is the exact kind of exercise that could get my eyeballs stuck in the back of my head from rolling them so hard, but we proceeded to have a conversation, which ended with his suggestion that I write about it. I dismissed that thought entirely out of hand, and life proceeded.
Fast forward to this morning’s meeting. I mentioned there was a newcomer today. She was from a town about 30 minutes away, and, through the course of her sharing, I gather she has close to 40 years of sobriety under her belt. Needless to say, she was an absolute font of wisdom, and I am so grateful to have gotten to listen to her share. In the midst of speaking, she offered this: if she had had the foresight at a young age to write down what she would have liked her life to be, even her greatest fantasies would have paled in comparison to the life she had the opportunity to live as a result of making the 12 steps a part of her life.
And I thought to myself: that’s why I didn’t want to write about what I said, because I was to meet the woman who would sum it up so much more perfectly than I!
After a weekend of enjoying my 15-year wedding anniversary (which was Thursday, so not sure why I needed to celebrate it for 4 days straight), getting up and getting back on track with diet and exercise counts as 2 miracles!