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

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

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

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

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

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

Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I criticize a person, or judge them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Miracle:

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

M(3), 11/21/16: I’m Back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Miracle:

Logging in.  Writing.  Hitting Publish!

 

M(3), 9/19/16: Willingness is the Key

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Today’s meeting, and its subject matter, was so spot on for me that it gives me the chills just thinking about it.  Then again, I feel that way pretty much any time we talk about…

Step Three

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him

I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again:  step three is my favorite of the 12 steps of recovery.  It has universal application, and applies to every single human on the planet.  Maybe animals too.

We had an interesting turnout today.  For the first time in years, maybe ever, there were more strangers in my meeting than there were regulars.  This increase in diversity resulted in a wider array of wisdom and shares, which can only be a good thing.

One of the regulars, a man who I quote virtually every week in this blog, started our meeting off right with the announcement that he is 30 years sober as of this past weekend.  This announcement elevated the collective mood of the room big time.  He talked about a particular section of the reading:

…He might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from self-sufficiency.  Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking up into warring fragments.  Each fragment says to the others, “We are right and you are wrong.”  Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough, self-righteously imposes its will upon the rest.  And everywhere the same thing is being done on an individual basis.  The sum of all this mighty effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before.  The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off.  Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin.  -pg. 37, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

He said the first time he went to a Step Three meeting, an argument broke out over what the word “juggernaut” means.  Each of the multiple people involved insisted they knew the correct definition.  Finally, someone suggested pulling out a dictionary; someone did, and the definition was/is:

Juggernaut:  a literal or metaphorical force regarded as mercilessly destructive and unstoppable.

Once the irony settled in that they were acting like juggernauts while arguing about its meaning, everyone laughed and moved on to more productive conversations.

Humorous anecdote aside, my longtime sober friend went on to talk about what an apt description the word juggernaut is when describing self-will.  How often do we, in the zest to prove ourselves right and another wrong, get so deep into a debate that we lose sight of the original issue?

Or the times when we pursue a goal, something we justify as a “single-minded passion,” to the exclusion of everything else of value in our lives?

Or when we want something so badly we rationalize every questionable decision and action so that it fits our current needs and wants?

The list is endless, as is the specific list of ways we alcoholics misused our self-will:

  • “I’m an adult, and nobody is going to tell me what I can or can’t drink!”
  • “How dare they tell me I drink too much, when they fill in the blank.”
  • “I need this drink now, since life is so stressful.  Once life gets calmer, I will think about cutting back.”
  • “How can I not drink when it is such a part of my life?  Everyone I know drinks!”
  • Ad infinitum…

If we accept that relentless self-will is counterproductive, and we are intrigued by the idea of turning said will over the care of the God of our understanding, the next question becomes how exactly do we pull off such a feat?

Many people shared in the meeting this morning regarding the ways in which they went about this process; the underlying theme throughout was willingness.  The key to turning things over is simply to be willing to do so.  The minute we start arguing about the different reasons why our way in the right way, we have closed the door to willingness.

This is exactly why I love Step Three so much; it is a lesson that I need to learn over and over again.  I suspect for the rest of my life I will be remembering that I need to display some willingness.

I have an ongoing situation that has created some intermittent periods of anxiety in my life.  I have a strong suspicion that if I could go back and create a timeline of when I was feeling the most stress regarding this issue, and chart my feelings and subsequent actions during those period of angst, I would find that I decided to take back my self-will and force the solution of my choosing.  Therefore, just reading this selection brought instant relief:

The more we become willing to depend on a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are.  -pg. 36, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

When I am taking back my self-will, my logic screams out, “So what does that mean, you sit around and wait for God to hand things to you?”

And of course that’s not the answer.  The answer lies in yet another tool of recovery I love but conveniently “misplace” in times of stress:

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Today’s Miracle:

Rain, rain, don’t go away!  We just got rain in our area for the first time in forever, and never have I been happier to deal with gray skies! 

 

M(3), 8/1/16: Prologue to Al-Anon?

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If I get to the end of this post, and I hit publish, AND it’s coherent… that is today’s miracle.  I will simply put “enough said.”

Without getting into unnecessary complaining, we are getting to that point in the summer.  That and a ridiculously unnecessary, incredibly long and painful dentist appointment makes me less than the happy camper I want to be.

Hopefully blogging will work its usual magic.

Today being the first of the month, we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”), and we are up to Chapter 8:  To the Wives.

Come to think of it, this chapter might have sent the ball rolling down the hill of unhappiness, since the meeting was right before the dentist appointment.  I shared with the group that this chapter is, hands down, my least favorite in the book.

For those not familiar, “To the Wives” addresses the loved ones of alcoholics, and how best to help them.  In answer to your unspoken question, the chauvinistic title is due to the culture in the time it was published (1939).

My share was an honest one:  I did not have a whole lot to share, due to my being unable to relate to its contents.  I think the closest part of the chapter that spoke to me was the notion that the rebuilding a relationship in recovery is a journey for both parties.  Mistakes will be made, patience needs to be plentiful.  But the outcome can be a stronger relationship than ever before.

Amen to that part of the chapter!

The rest… not so much.  And I was not alone.  Others took umbrage with the advice to take the alcoholic behavior with a smile, for attempting to nag or browbeat an alcoholic into recovery is a futile endeavor at best, a nudge towards more drinking at worst.

One regular attendee who has been around the meetings for decades longer than I explained it this way:  this chapter is 13 years ahead of the creation of Al-Anon, the 12-step fellowship for families of alcoholics.  It is the first stumbling steps in terms of direction; therefore, it needs to be fleshed out a great deal more.  For him, his greatest take-away from the chapter is to understand an alcoholic cannot be forced into recovery, at least not into long-term recovery.  Willingness must come from within, and no brute force will create it.

One member of the group was a lone wolf.  He said the spirit of this chapter was the turning point for his sobriety.  For months and months, his wife and he argued bitterly over his drinking, to no avail.  It got so bad that he finally decided he needed to end the marriage.  He could not stop drinking, despite his best efforts, and he was tired of the endless fighting within his marriage.  He made up his mind that as soon as he was done work he was going to tell her the marriage was over.

As fate would have it, his wife went to her first Al-Anon meeting that very same day, and she was taught many of the same lessons discussed in this chapter.  When he arrived home that evening, he was met with compassion and understanding, rather than contempt and disgust.  They talked reasonably in a way they hadn’t before, and he sat down and read The Big Book for the first time that evening.

And the rest is history.

I believe I said this last week as well:  no matter how unusual the message, there is always someone to receive it.

One friend was in the meeting, and I was counting on her to bring enlightenment to me regarding this chapter.  She did not disappoint.  She thinks the message in the chapter is a sound one with universal application:  meet a problem in your life with love, rather than with resentment.  If you have an active alcoholic in your life, you are better served treating them with love.  She said earlier in her sobriety, both she and her husband attended Al-Anon as well as Alcoholics Anonymous, since they were both in recovery, and those were the best years of their married life.  The message is to take care of your side of the street rather than trying to fix someone else’s.

These words spoke to me more than any words in the chapter, and with problems more diverse than addiction.  We are currently struggling with an extended family problem, and how best to define our role in trying to resolve it.  Bringing love to the problem rather than hate is illuminating, and advice I will immediately be putting into effect!

Today’s Miracle:

Enough said!  And the blogging has helped me to detach with love from my dentist 😉

 

M(3), 7/18/16: Defective Characters

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Greetings  to all on a hot and muggy Monday morning from my part of the world.  The expression meteorologists use, “we are in the soup,” is apt right about now!

Today’s reading came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  We read the chapter that discusses step six:

Step 6:  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character

This turned out to be one of those meetings that started with almost nobody, but by the end filled up to our usual number of attendees.  A good thing, since step 6 tends to be somewhat of a dry discussion.

I shared my evolution on this step.  In my earliest days of sobriety, I assumed step 6 was the easiest of the 12.  It reminded me of Catholic confession…just admit you do wrong, easy peasy!  Since we all as human beings have character defects, and nobody wants to be defective, how hard can it be to be willing to have them removed?

Later, as I became more familiar with the steps, and the nuances within them, this step seemed the most ridiculous, and thus I disliked intensely discussing it at all.  Within the chapter itself, it details some of the “lesser defects,” not as urgent but still in need of removal:

In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticize; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness.

When gluttony is less than ruinous, we have a milder word for that, too; we call it “taking our comfort.” We live in a world riddled with envy. To a greater or less degree, everybody is infected with it. From this defect we must surely get a warped yet definite satisfaction. Else why would we consume such great amounts of time wishing for what we have not, rather than working for it, or angrily looking for attributes we shall never have, instead of adjusting to the fact, and accepting it? And how often we work hard with no better motive than to be secure and slothful later on—only we call that “retiring.” Consider, too, our talents for procrastination, which is really sloth in five syllables. Nearly anyone could submit a good list of such defects as these, and few of us would seriously think of giving them up, at least until they cause us excessive misery.

-pg. 67, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

I read this chapter, and I’ll be honest…calling retirement another version of sloth still annoys me!  So I swung the opposite direction, decided the notion of step 6 impossible (and stupid), and simply avoided it as much as I could.

Nowadays, thankfully, I take a more balanced approach.  The essence of step 6, to me, is the same as saying there is no graduation from recovery…there is always a way in which I can work on myself.  We are all works in progress, and as long as we are attempting to move in a direction of positive growth, we are capturing the essence of step six.

Several others shared about a variety of character defects they find most troubling, and reported mixed success in being entirely ready to remove them.

One of the first paragraphs in the chapter discusses how we in recovery can attest to the removal of one notable character defect…the obsession to drink.  One attendee found that part of the chapter troubling, as she has several years of sobriety, yet still thinks about drinking most days.  She’s worried she’s doing something wrong, since so many can declare that the obsession has been lifted from them.

This share brought an interesting sideline discussion:  does thinking about drinking make your sobriety less sound?  Obviously we are a small meeting, so it’s not like I can declare an official consensus, but our group all disagreed with the notion.  Each journey to recovery is unique, as is the active addiction story that led up to it.  So comparing one person’s sobriety to another is always a bad idea, and for any number of reasons.

When it comes right down to it, I imagine even the way one defines “obsession to drink” varies quite a bit.  People have made the statement that the obsession to drink was removed in an instant.  I cannot even comprehend how something like that would happen.

If someone were to ask me if I ever get a craving to chemically alter myself, my answer is a firm no.  But what does happen is I get lost in the memory of active addiction, and the feelings that surrounded those days are complicated.  In the early days of recovery this type of thing would happen many times a day, every day, and would consume me for hours.  As the years have passed, the frequency, intensity and duration of those moments have dramatically decreased, but they still happen.  So does this mean I still have the obsession?  Does this mean my sobriety is weak, and that I am heading towards a drink?

I choose to think no.  My take on any thoughts of drinking, or addiction, or anything related to my active addiction, is a normal part of life.  A pattern of such thoughts, or an increased emotional reaction to them, is another tool that allows me to check myself and my sobriety:  How strong do I feel?  How’s my spiritual life?  Have I been of service to others?  Have I been isolating?

The answers to those questions allows me to move in the proper direction.

The last thing I’ll share is the wisdom I heard this morning that meant the most to me.  One long timer talked about the idea of balance with regard to this step.  Often people will shoot for perfection, and if they can’t achieve it, they’ll be the perfect opposite.  Either way pride is involved, which of course is the opposite of humility, the general end goal of any of the 12 steps.

Balance, moderation, equilibrium…any time I hear them, my ears perk up, because I know they are qualities towards which I should strive.

Today’s Miracle:

Air conditioning.  Enough said!

 

 

M(3), 5/16/16: Better Late Than Never!

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Oh boy, this will, of necessity, be short and sweet.  Time (and fundraising snafus) have gotten away from me today, and a track meet is an hour from now!

Today we read Step 8 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  Step 8, for those unfamiliar with the 12 steps of recovery, reads:

Made a list of all the people we harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step eight can be challenging to discuss in and of itself; it is tempting to mention it as a passing reference to a more substantial discussion of the meatier step 9 (the actual making of amends).

For my part, I shared how creating my eighth step list was much easier than I anticipated, because much of the work had been done in my fourth step moral inventory.  I also shared that considering the harms I had done to others gave me a deeper gratitude for the relationships I held dear.  In that deeper gratitude came an easier time accepting the character defects in others, since I could so clearly see how they had been accepting of mine.

We had an interesting mix of people in today’s meeting.  The first group that shared had a significant chunk of sober time.  The kind of time that can be measured in decades, as a matter of fact!  From that group I heard a lot of wisdom that I honestly cannot hear enough:

  • Step 8 has 2 distinct parts to it:  the first is making the list, the second is finding the willingness
  • Step 8 is truly a lifelong process, and there is no need to add stress by imposing deadlines
  • It takes time to discover that for which you need to make amends
  • The heart and soul of step 8 is forgiveness:  forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, and God willing, others’ forgiveness of you
  • The longer one stays sober, the more clarity one gains in the amends process
  • If the amends process is overwhelming, start simply, and stop doing that for which you need to make amends.  If you’re sober, chances are you’ve already made a step in the amends process with many people in your life

The next group to share was the group with a relatively small amount of sober time (2 months, 3 months, 10 months).  Their take on step 8 was just as fascinating, because they’re reading it and wondering at how such a thing works:

  • Do you list someone if you can’t get in touch with them?
  • What do you do if you made amends for something but you were not in recovery… do you do it over again?
  • How can you even think about these kinds of things when your brain still feels likes it not clear?

Of course, the great thing about having a meeting with a mix of people is to share wisdom, and the long-timers were able to give out advice that they had been given in earlier days.

One really interesting and new bit I was able to take away came from a question from a newcomer:  what if you want to make amends to someone who has died?  The standard advice I have heard in response to this question is to write the deceased a letter, visit the gravesite, or visit your place of worship.

But today the advice given was to find a living substitute.  Let’s say, for example, that you were selfish with your time and thus missed out on the last years of your grandfather’s life because you were too busy drinking.  Now you’re sober and you want to make amends to him, but he is not around.  Find someone meaningful, either to you or someone who would have been meaningful to your grandfather, and give the gift of your time and attention to him or her.

I had never heard that particular piece of advice, but it struck me as a wonderful way to pay forward the blessings of sobriety.

As always, tons of good stuff.  For all my fellow 12-step readers, please share any nuggets of step 8 wisdom in the comment section!

Today’s Miracle:

Having to wrap this up to watch my son run track is a miracle on every level… he is doing what he loves, and I get to witness it!

 

 

 

M(3), 5/9/16: Figuring out HOW to Live and Let Live

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Spoiler alert:  so much good stuff at today’s meeting that my mind is still reeling.  This might ramble a bit.

Today’s reading came from the book Living Sober, which I’ve described a hundred times so won’t bore you again, except to say it is an easy-to-read book with practical advice on how to get and stay sober.

Typically before the meeting I take time to prep a little bit, read through a book and thoughtfully select the reading.  However, a case of the In-My-Headedness had my mind occupied, and I wound up spending time emailing with a friend to help me figure things out (which she did, and I am grateful, friend who reads this blog!)

And yes, In-My-Headedness is a real condition.  Or if it isn’t, it should be.

All that said, I had to select a chapter in a hurry, so I picked Chapter 5, “Live and Let Live.”  It vaguely applied to my crisis du jour, and every chapter in this book is a good one, so why the heck not?

It’s crazy how things work out.  The chapter selection brought back to surface a very brief, and relatively minor brush with alcohol I experienced recently.  Since I assume the memory was brought into consciousness for a reason, I shared the experience, not so much for myself, but for anyone else that it might help.

And for the rest of the meeting we talked about brushes with alcohol, and how it affects us.  My conclusion is that where you are on your recovery timeline is the most critical component of how intensely if affects you.  As I mentioned, mine was brief, and it did not affect me in a lasting way.

And I will pause here to comment how incredibly grateful I am to make the last statement.

A friend of mine with similar sobriety time to mine shared two stories of brushes with alcohol.  The first was brief, and her choice to accept or decline was taken away by a well-intentioned friend announcing (loudly) that neither of them wanted alcohol because they are sober.  So the issue there was less with alcohol, more with mixed feelings of someone choosing to take her anonymity away from her.

But her second incident was one that affected her more intensely.  Here’s the scene:  out to dinner at a chain restaurant with booth seating, she is trapped next to an enthusiastic beer drinker.  Not wanting to call attention to her vexation, she endured the affair, but grew increasingly uncomfortable as the smell of beer became more and more pungent.  By the end of the night, she felt like a wreck, and escaped as quickly as she felt socially correct to do so.

She considers it a valuable learning lesson, and an event she will never repeat.  She will either opt out of such occasions, or she will see to it that she puts a healthy distance between her and the more-than-casual drinkers in the group.  Her sobriety is too important for her to take chances like this one.

A few others spoke of more and less harrowing experiences that involved exposure to, offers of, or temptations with alcohol.

Then my friend in early sobriety raised his hand.  I have referenced him the past few blog posts, feel free to refer back for more information.  My guess is that he has almost a month of sobriety at this point.

He shared a very recent and poignant story of being offered a beer on Mother’s Day, which happened to be yesterday.  He is at a point in sobriety where he not only craves alcohol intensely, he believes strongly that it would be a temporary salve to some of the more troubling physical consequences of his excessive past drinking.

On top of all this, he was feeling emotionally low; it was Mother’s Day and he has no mother.  He did not go into further detail than that.

He shared that he said no to the offer of a beer, and had to walk outside to try to get a hold of his emotions.  He was angry, and he is fearful:  sure he refused this time, but what about the next time?  He doubts his ability to stay strong as he did yesterday.

As is always the case, a newcomer’s share is always powerful stuff.

My experience, my story of addiction, my life, is as different as night is from day to this gentleman.  Yet he shared this story, and I am transported back…

…Back to days of trying and failing at recovery, when even if I did manage to abstain, there was a very conscious voice in my head shouting, “Why bother?  You know it’s just a matter of time before you pick up, might as well do it now!”

…Back to days in earlier recovery, when less intimate friends would be asking in astonishment why I was drinking soda, and convincing me that it was okay to drink.  And my feeling of intense discomfort and painful self-awareness.

…Back to days when, comfortable with saying no to a point, then spending enough time around alcohol to where I started considering things like… Wow, am I really never going to have a sip of beer/wine/gin and tonic ever again?

…To current time, when someone offering me a cocktail is no more than a blip on the screen.  Talk about gratitude.

There were some powerful other issues discussed, more in line with the topic of the chapter.  Several of the group, and I will count myself among them, have a hard time figuring out the boundaries of the “let live” part of live and let live.  At a bare minimum, it is certainly easier said than done!

All agreed that when we make even the most minimal effort at staying in the moment of living our own lives, and letting go of that which distresses us, we are living our most peaceful and fulfilling lives.  The expression live and let live is timeless for a reason!

Today’s Miracle:

A day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, sending out love to all those who mother or who are mothered.  Hope you had a wonderful day!

M(3), 4/25/16: The Blessing of Friendship

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And a happy Monday to all!  We had an astonishingly large attendance at this morning’s meeting, I stopped counting at 18, though I’m relatively certain one or two more came in later.

Today’s reading selection came from Forming True Partnerships:  How AA members use the program to improve relationships.  The essay came from the chapter “Friendship,” and discussed the writer’s relationship with a woman named Pat who would eventually guide her to sobriety.  Although Pat herself was not an alcoholic, she was a member of the 12-step group Al-Anon, so she guided the author of the story using the common tenets of both programs:  one day at a time, the Serenity Prayer, honesty.

The long and short of the story is that everyone would be blessed to have a “Pat” in their lives, a friend who listens attentively, who shares wisdom without being bossy, who walks their talk.

I shared about the many “Pats” I’ve met in the rooms of our fellowship, and how many of them were sitting with me this morning!  One part of the story reminded me acutely of early sobriety: the author was frantic because of all the chaos in her life, and proceeded to list all the crises… a possible pregnancy, relationships in distress, house a disaster, and depression so deep she felt unable to tackle any of it.  Pat listened attentively, and remarked that most of the problems were future ones, but the one that could be handled was the dirty dishes in the sink.  She suggested that the author go home and clean them.  At the time the author was highly offended, and felt dismissed.  But after she went home and washed those dishes, she felt that sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something productive.  And to this day she remembers that lesson Pat taught her, to do what you can that day to improve something in your life.

I remember learning those same types of lessons, though I was not nearly so open-minded about it.  I remember being outraged at this type of suggestion… how dare you tell me to clean my house!  But as I started creating the routine of handling the problems directly in front of me, rather than obsessing about the myriad of perceived disasters in my life, the result was nothing short of amazing.

You might even say miraculous.

I actually spoke less than I typically do in deference to the crowd, but for some reason the crowd was slow to share.  A few piggybacked on the importance of routine; creating order in the world around you helps to create order in your mind.  One woman shared the expression that helped her was move a muscle, change a thought.  She gets easily caught up in worry and future projection, and it was suggested when she catches herself in the cycle to do something different… go make a bed, wash a dish, take a walk.  In making a physical change you will necessarily effect a mental one.

Several attendees spoke about the Bible verse referenced in the story, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of discipline, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.”

Side note:  I did not understand that verse at all.  I thought it had to do with being able to discipline effectively, which of course made no sense at all.  Which once again proves how lucky I am to have such wise people attend my meeting.

The people who commented on it said it reminded them of our literature, which references the benefit of having “restraint of pen and tongue.”

Another person put it this way:  say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.

Now that I understood!

Just as the shares were starting to fizzle out a newcomer shared.  And when I say newcomer, I mean new to me, several people in the room seemed to know him so I assumed he’d been around for some amount of time.

Turns out I was wrong.  He has less than 2 weeks of sobriety, a terrible case of “the shakes,” which he knows full well a drink will calm, and he craves alcohol intensely every moment that he is awake.  Between the shakes and the terrible depression he feels, he does not know how much longer he is going to last before he picks up (a drink).  People are telling him he looks better and is doing great, and he is angry… he does not feel better, and he doesn’t know how much longer he can take it.

The reticence I experienced from the group evaporated in an instant.  Virtually every hand in the room shot up in the air after the newcomer finished speaking.  And each piece of wisdom shared was better than the last:  advice on the ways to minimize the jittery feeling, suggestions on how to distract yourself in the early days, similar past experiences and how long it took to overcome, reminders that all of us have been there to one degree of another, and how miraculous it is once over the hump of early sobriety.

I watched carefully as the gentleman considered each anecdote or piece of advice, and actually saw tension leave his body.  We spoke after the meeting, and he seemed ready to face the rest of the day.

And really, is there a greater miracle than that?

Today’s Miracle:

Enough said!

M(3), 4/4/16: How to Decide if You’re Really an Alcoholic

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For my friends with me in the Northeastern corner of the United States… where the heck did Spring go?

Fantastic meeting despite completely dreary weather, I stopped counting after 14 attendees.  Several new to the meeting, one new to sobriety, and one I used to see at meetings in my first year of sobriety.

Today we read Chapter 3 from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, “More About Alcoholism.” This chapter speaks primarily to the person who is still on the fence about whether or not he or she is an alcoholic.  The chapter gives a variety of examples of people who believe they could control their drinking, to no avail.  As one of the attendees this morning remarked, “Chapter 3 is all about the disease of denial.”

I would contend that this chapter applies to anyone considering recovery.  I have yet to meet, either in person or in the blogosphere, a sober person who did not live through some period of denial.  The intensity of denial fluctuates, as does the duration, but at some point before every sober person stopped drinking they wondered whether they actually needed to stop, like, forever.

Any time I read the first half of “The Big Book,” I do so with two mindsets.  First I remember how I read it when I first started attending 12-step meetings.  At the same time, I read it and attempt to apply to what I know about myself today.  As you might expect, the two experiences are startling in their disparity.

Active Addiction Me read this chapter and scoffed at all the extreme examples of alcoholism illustrated.  She would have resisted strongly the notion that I am somehow different from other drinkers, or that I have progressed to the point where I am powerless over alcohol.  In fact, Active Addiction Me wouldn’t really understand the notion of powerlessness at all. She would have chuckled ruefully at the paragraph that lists the dozens of ways alcoholics try to control their drinking (limiting the number of drinks and switching to a drink with a lesser alcohol content in particular, these were perennial favorites).

At the same time Present Day Me reads the chapter and marvels at how closely my story mirrors the tales, at least in spirit, described in this chapter.  There is a story about a man, attempting sobriety, who concluded that adding a shot of whiskey to his milk after a full meal would do no harm.  Thinking that logical sounds preposterous, but I could give a half dozen examples of decisions I made in active addiction that seemed entirely reasonable at the time, but now take my breath away with their absurdity.  Or the illusion that someday, somehow, I would be able to “drink like normal people.”  I spent the last 4 years of my drinking career hell bent on proving this statement to be true.  And I got about as far as anyone else has, I suppose… which means nowhere.

Everyone else enjoyed the chapter as well.  One woman talked about the story of “Fred,” and announced that she is Fred:  completely logical and moderate about almost everything in her life, she loses puzzling control when it comes to alcohol.  For years she assumed she could think her way out of the problem, as she had every other problem in her life.  It wasn’t until she acknowledged her powerlessness, and applied the skills she learned through the 12 steps, that she was able to dissolve the obsession to drink.

Another gentleman added to the list of ways he tried to control his drinking, an exercise I’m sure all of us could do.  He believed he could control the amount he consumed by keeping the swizzle sticks from the drinks he consumed.  You can imagine how that story ends… a gigantic pile of swizzle sticks and no real memory of how he got them!

Another friend spoke of how she read this chapter in early sobriety, and did not enjoy what she read at all.  You see, she was thinking she would just take a break from drinking, and come to a few meetings to see if she could learn to drink like a lady.  Once she read the section of the chapter on conducting experiments on controlled drinking, she realized her plans might have a few holes in it.  She realized she had been trying controlled drinking for quite some time, with no success.

The newcomer to sobriety shared how much this chapter applied to her, and used recent real-life examples to prove it.  She said she knew she was an alcoholic when she observed her pattern of drinking one way with friends and family, but an entirely different way when alone and “safe.”  As with most of us, the pattern has been progressing, and she wants to arrest the behavior before she loses it all, the way some of the tales in the chapter end.

As I say quite a bit in this blog, there is so much more to share, and not enough time to share it!  I encourage anyone reading who still wonders if all this “sobriety stuff” applies to them to give chapter 3 a read!

Today’s Miracle:

Today my son receives the sacrament of Confirmation.  He kept telling me he needed an entire day off to reflect on his last hours of religious childhood, but I decided that he could make do with a half day!

 

 

M(3), 3/28/16: Is Dysfunctional Family a Redundancy?

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A damp, drizzly Monday in my neck of the woods, hope the weather is better for everyone else!

This morning we read from the book Forming True Partnerships:  How AA members use the program to improve their relationships.  I selected a reading from the chapter “The Family.” Since it is the day after a holiday I figured people could use some inspiration.

Myself included.

The author told the story of a 24-year old resentment she held against her sister-in-law.  A resentment she thought she resolved in early sobriety, but found out, 13 years later, that she did not.  She learned that forgiveness is something she needs to do with her heart, not just with words.  She found joy in being the agent of positive change in her relationship with her sister-in-law.  Finally, she realized that she is only given challenges in life when she is able to handle them.  Clearly, she needed to be further along in sobriety before she was able to tackle the challenge of her problematic familial relationship.

Many times the subject matter of my weekly meetings covers topics that fall under the umbrella “life problems” rather than “alcoholic problems;” family resentments most assuredly counts as one of them.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say all human beings have a tricky or troubled family relationship to which they lay claim.  So it was unsurprising to find that every member of the meeting today had their hand raised to talk about a resentment with which they are struggling.

Some of the resentments are long-standing ones.  For example, one woman identified almost to the word with this morning’s reading, in that she has a resentment with a sister-in-law that spans her entire married life… almost 50 years!  She had a situation with her sister-in-law in early sobriety that she felt justified in handling somewhat aggressively.  However, she finds as time goes by she is better able to see the gray in what she once thought to be a black-and-white issue.

Some of the resentments have cropped up within sobriety.  One woman spoke of an issue with her sister, who continues to drink in ways which are painfully familiar.  On the one hand, it is difficult to watch… why does she get to drink that way and I can’t?   Can’t she consider my feelings, even just a little?  On the other hand, it is easy to remember the feelings that go alongside that kind of drinking, and the behavior that accompanies it.  She can easily find empathy to replace the resentment when she considers that not too long ago she was in her sister’s shoes.

Some resentments are easy to examine and identify the solution.  One gentleman, sober for decades now, describes his personality in active addiction to be sarcastic and intimidating.  He has done his best in sobriety to correct this tendency, but he found family memories to be long… it was many years before people trusted his sober personality to be the authentic one!  He is grateful that he was given the opportunity to prove himself.

Other resentments are less clear-cut.  One gentleman spoke of a resentment he has with his mother and brother.  It is clear through his telling of the situation that his resentments could be justified.  It is equally clear, however, that for the sake of his serenity, and possibly his sobriety, that he finds a solution that brings him peace.

For myself, I shared of an ongoing situation that causes me angst, one in which I am resentful of someone else’s resentment… if that makes any sense at all!  Like most of the stories shared this morning, I imagine the situation would exist whether or not I was sober.   The difference for me is two-fold.  First, because I use the 12 steps of recovery as a blueprint for living my life, I find it more difficult to ignore or avoid resentments, because I have been taught that resentments are a tremendous roadblock to a peaceful existence.  So when I realize that one of my relationships is in turmoil, I consider what is my responsibility in repairing the problem, even if the turmoil is not mine.

Second, and more important, I look to clean up my side of the street.  Now, in a situation where the resentment is mine, it is simple enough to do:  I either confront the problem, or I work it out myself by remembering there are two sides to every story, and that my viewpoint is often not shared by others.

It gets more difficult to resolve when the resentment is not really of my doing.  On the one hand, I think:  not my problem to fix.  If someone has an issue, that’s on them.

On the other hand, I consider that I am part of a relationship.  If I know someone is in distress, don’t I have a responsibility to help them with their distress?

But if I am the distress… then what?

No easy answers for me this morning, but what I can take away is considerable.  First, I feel less isolated; everyone has a troubled relationship with which they struggle.  Next, I am a deep believer in the notion that when the time is right, the opportunity to resolve problems will appear.  If I remain confused, then I can trust that the time is not right.  Finally, I will be mulling over the idea of forgiving with the heart versus forgiving with words.  That popped up a few times in the shares this morning, and I’m thinking that is some thing to examine in my own life.

Today’s Miracle:

The reminder that everything happens for a reason, even when I don’t understand the reason.

 

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