M(3), 9/19/16: Willingness is the Key
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…
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:
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), 8/29/16: Back to Business
Wow, does this feel weird. It’s been weeks since I last logged on. There’s been a hundred and one reasons for my absence, all of which I hope to be writing about as time goes on. It’s been a turbulent summer, though I suppose turbulence is relative. We’ve been dealing with stuff that is unusual for us, and I’m hoping to be able to hash it all out within the blog eventually.
In the meantime, I’m so sorry for my absence in reporting my Monday meeting updates! We’ve been having a grand time, as usual. In fact, last week was a record high in terms of attendance.
Today’s reading selection(s) dealt with the topic of resentment (for those who follow along with the actual literature, we read from the book As Bill Sees It). If you are unfamiliar with 12-step philosophy, the language surrounding resentments is strong, and it is negative. The main text, Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”) contains countless warnings regarding the dangers of cultivating and holding onto resentments.
On second thought, “countless” is inaccurate. Of course I could go line by line and count the number of references, or I could Google it, but it’s the first day back to school, and I’d rather just enjoy the peace and quiet of this house.
In any event, we are warned from almost the first second we enter the doors of a 12-step meeting to let go of any and all resentments, or else (cue the ominous music).
Or else what? In terms of recovery, or else you may drink again.
I remember thinking two things when I first heard this kind of dire prediction:
- That’s stupid
- It doesn’t matter, since I don’t have any resentments anyway
In the years since, I’ve learned that I did not have a broad enough understanding of what falls into the category of resentment. I’ve also learned that I needed to learn a lot more about myself and my feelings.
As for my first judgment, that it sounds a bit melodramatic to say that by nursing a grudge I’ll soon be nursing a drink, I’ve learned enough to say that I have a lot more to learn. But here’s what I do know about resentments: they are a colossal waste of time, and they tend to pull me into a downward spiral. The quicker and easier I can resolve my feelings of resentment, the more peaceful and joyful my life is.
As usual, many excellent shares in this morning’s meeting, all of which helped elevate me. It is an amazing thing to sit and listen to someone’s story, and from it gain wisdom that I hadn’t realized I needed.
The main share from which most others followed came from a woman who struggles in setting boundaries with a family member. Her story is an extreme one, but the question she must answer is familiar to many of us: how do you distinguish between setting healthy boundaries and “being the bigger person?”
On the one hand, our 12-step program focuses on changing ourselves. We look to see our part in any situation, and we seek to be of service, rather than asking people to serve us. Very noble aspirations.
But in my friend’s case, she has a person in her life whom she defines as toxic. Her question is: how many times should she go back to the same well, knowing that the outcome will be a negative one?
Her share was met with a lot of empathy and support. When I first heard her story, I listened with sympathy. But when I listened to the wise responses and follow-up shares, I listened with empathy. Because all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, have areas in our lives where we struggle with where to draw a line between what is good for us and what is good for the people we love. I imagine in virtually every relationship such a question exists.
The best advice I heard given was this: rather than focusing on “doing the next right thing,” a phrase which is tossed around a lot in the 12-step rooms, perhaps we should focus instead on doing the next healthy thing. In defining “right,” we can get into some murky waters… who defines right? But in deciding what is the healthiest thing to do, you are ultimately creating an environment to be your best possible self.
Of course, it is important to seek feedback. In our program sponsors and trusted members of the fellowship are excellent sources of guidance, but at the end of the day we must make decisions for ourselves. The back of sobriety coins handed out at anniversaries reads:
To thine own self be true
Apropos to this conversation, for sure. And we did get to hand out one of those coins this morning for someone celebrating her nine month anniversary!
One last thought, and then I’ll stop rambling. At the end of the meeting someone came up to me and shared a lesson she learned regarding resentments. The first time you feel angry or resentful towards someone, the blame is on them for whatever they’ve done to cause your reaction. But each and every time you revisit that feeling, or relive that experience, whether it’s in your own head or complaining about it to someone else… that’s on you.
That alone tells me I’ve got some work to do on handling resentments!
- I’m back writing
- Kids are back at school (see video below)
M(3), 8/1/16: Prologue to Al-Anon?
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!
Enough said! And the blogging has helped me to detach with love from my dentist 😉
M(3), 7/25/16: Into Me See
The literature in this week’s meeting was Forming True Partnerships. It is the newest book in AA’s conference-approved literature, and it deals with relationships in sobriety. Some of the chapters are universal: family, friendships. Some are semi-specific: marriage, job. And some are puzzling in their specificity (I’m looking at you, chapter on pets).
I have been sticking with the universal ones for the first half of the year; today I challenged myself to delve into deeper waters. The story turned out to be oddly specific, entirely too long and 99% pessimistic. Note to self: fully read selection before choosing!
As fate would have it, the room filled up with people, and each person that shared talked about their difficulty in relating. The very last person who shared, a male (the author of the story was female), redeemed the choice by stating he felt like he was reading his own story. So there you have it… someone is going to relate, no matter how unlikely it seems!
Odd storylines aside, we had a great discussion about relationships, both pre- and post-recovery. Every person in the room agreed that the “blueprint” offered through the twelves steps enriches relationships of all kinds.
One person shared the variety of ways he attempted to feel complete: filling his life with material things, relationship after relationship, and, through it all, alcohol. No matter how many things and people he brought into his life, he could never quite fill the hole, and loneliness was an emotion he could not tolerate. In working the 12 steps of recovery, he is able to be alone without feeling lonely.
Several other people spoke of drinking to avoid the feeling of loneliness. Most of us shared that initially alcohol was a decent working solution to problems such as loneliness, shyness, self-consciousness, and challenging social situations.
It was a solution… until it wasn’t. Then alcohol became the problem; either we drank in isolation and thus compounded our loneliness, or we drank in public and became a detriment to any and all social situations.
As it turns out, putting down the drink solves some of our problems (especially the ones that involve drunken behavior), but not all of them. Getting sober gives us the clarity to see the problems for what they are, and allows us the freedom to deal with life on life’s terms.
The final discussion I’ll share was the comparison of infatuation to intimacy. Once again, the 12 steps of recovery mirror the steps to a lasting, intimate relationship. Infatuation, where a lot of relationships begin, focus on the the ways in which one can take from the relationship. True intimacy, on the other hand, looks for ways in which you can give back. When both partners in the relationship look to be of service to one another… that’s where the magic happens.
A powerful reminder for me as I navigate all relationships in my life!
The reminder that life comes down to a few simple things… get out of my own head, and see what I can do to help others. The rest takes care of itself!
M(3), 7/18/16: Defective Characters
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.
Air conditioning. Enough said!
M(3), 7/11/16: The Gratitude Advantage
Is it wrong that I just kicked a variety of kids out of the house to write this blog post? I am choosing to think not.
In typing out the title I realize it is 7-11 day, which means that particular convenience store will be giving out free Slurpees, so perhaps if I get through this post without interruption I can reward them.
The jury’s out if that can actually happen. Actually, the jury is heavily leaning towards this not happening.
It’s funny that I am about to write a post on gratitude, and, if I’m keeping things real, I am feeling anything but in the current moment. I dropped a weight on my finger during this morning’s workout. At the time, I was grateful it wasn’t my writing hand; now I am realizing in this day and age I need all 10 fingers to write. An extremely frustrating customer service call five minutes ago plays in my head, with no obvious solution on the horizon.
And have I mentioned the variety of kids?
But this is why I love a topic like gratitude; is is a universal tool that any human being can employ at any time, for any reason. Even in the moment, when I don’t know what the next sentence will be, I am 100% sure that by the time I hit publish I will feel better, simply because my focus will be on gratitude.
And with that long intro, this morning’s literature selection came from the book Living Sober, a chapter entitled “Being Grateful.” The chapter describes the various mindsets that a grateful attitude can improve:
- Negative speculations (always assuming the worst)
- The tendency to say “Yes, but…” to anything complimentary or optimistic
- Focusing on (and talking about) the ways in which other people are wrong
- An urgency to be right, and to prove we are right
- An unwillingness to open our minds to the thoughts/beliefs of others
In each of these cases, a simple shift to the perspective of gratitude can make a world of difference.
I shared first, and I spoke of the primary reason I needed to read about gratitude today. A few months back, I submitted a resume for a job, something I have not done in more than 16 years. I found out this weekend that I did not get the job (cue the sad music).
This is the type of news where my mind and my heart are at war with one another. Maybe skirmish is a better fit, since war seems a bit big. On the one hand, I really and truly (and really and truly) know that the job was a bit of a longshot (I was competing with people with years of experience in a field where I had essentially none), it was my first foray into the professional world in a really long time, and that another opportunity will present itself. I am a strong believer that things happen for a reason, and therefore this job must not have been meant for me. I had the most ideal of scenarios in terms of the interview process, as the hiring manager is someone with whom I have a passing acquaintance and so I was able to be my authentic self. So my mind absolutely knows I put my best foot forward and have nothing in which to feel ashamed.
So that’s my head’s side of the story.
My heart has a different version of events. The fact that I can make that statement at all shows the kind of progress I’ve made in recovery. Who even knew that you could think one way but feel another? Certainly not pre-recovery Josie! All weekend long I’d be doing something and then wonder why my stomach felt jittery, or my chest area felt achy, then I’d stop and realize what the problem was… oh yeah! I didn’t get the job! And I’d feel disappointment, and a vague sense of something resembling panic, all over again.
And my mind would reprimand: What is there to feel bad about? And I’d distract myself some more. And so on, for the next two days.
I fessed up to all of this to my group this morning, and as usual they came through for me. According to people much wiser than me, it seems that the feeling of feelings is something that is actually important to do (who knew?). When I expressed uncertainty at what I would have done with this situation in active addiction, they said, “Duh! You would have picked up a drink.”
It also turns out that being hard on oneself is a typical trait of alcoholics. At least, that is the opinion of several in the room with decades of sobriety, so I trust they’ve been around our group long enough to know. This fact illustrates for me, once again, that the real work begins once we put down the drink. I’ve been sober for over four years now, and I’m still working on the self-kindness. Good thing I’m not looking to graduate from this program!
Pushing aside feelings for any reason, telling yourself they are silly or illogical, is denying your value as a human being. Human beings feel a variety of emotions for a variety of reasons; telling yourself you “shouldn’t” feel that way makes little to no sense.
Others spoke of the need to balance their feelings, so as not to wallow too long in something unpleasant or react to something too quickly. The easiest way to do this? Get out of your own head… go to a meeting, call a friend, just do something different. As the saying goes, “move a muscle, change a thought.”
A woman newer to sobriety talks about how focusing on that for which she is grateful is the number one tool she uses daily to help her stay sober. She has found it transformative: good things become great things, and when things are not so great she is able to remember all the other good things, and it lessens the sting of whatever disappointment or irritant is happening for her.
So I guess I need to focus on my nine healthy fingers!
I got one prediction right, and one wrong. I do feel better now that I’ve written about gratitude. Even better, I was wrong about the kids not coming in to hassle me. Looks like everyone’s getting a free Slurpee!
M(3), 6/27/16: Breaking the Chain
Already we are heading into the month of July… incredible!
Because it is the end of the month, we read from the book Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The story was from the chapter “The Family,” and talked about the author’s relationship with her alcoholic father in three stages:
I. When her father was actively drinking and she was a child
II. When her father got sober and her drinking took off
III. The relationship they were able to build in sobriety.
A fascinating read for most everyone; even the attendees who did not have alcoholic parents could relate, as everyone in the room had someone in their family who suffers/suffered from the disease of addiction.
Part I mirrored my own childhood: the shame that goes along with a parent’s alcoholic behavior, the sure knowledge of a personality change the moment a drink is consumed, the uncertainty of knowing which personality would be walking in the door each evening.
I loved reading about the beautiful relationship the author was able to build with her father once she started getting sober. My father passed away years before even my active addiction, but I have daydreamed often about how he and I might relate now that I am sober. I’d like to think we would have forged a deeper and more meaningful relationship that we ever had.
And I also believe that he is proud of me, wherever he is.
Some of the other members of the meeting touched on childhood shame surrounding parents and alcoholism, and learning how to discern between the person and the disease. Several with alcoholic parents remarked that they were always able to do this; they could love their mother or father but hate the effects alcohol had on him or her.
This point stood out to me, as I recently had a discussion with a close friend about this very idea: loving the person, but hating the disease. It made me wonder if I had been able to make this distinction with my own father.
The truth is, I’m not sure I ever thought consciously about it while he was alive; I just hadn’t developed enough self-awareness at that young an age.
Then I thought to myself: do I make that distinction for myself, and my addiction? I will have to ponder this some more, but I’m sorry to say I’m not sure I do. At this point, a few years into sobriety, I can say I no longer experience the raw shame of my actions in active addiction, but I think that is because I feel like I’ve rectified to the best of my ability by living each of these past 1600 or so days sober. And as I thought about it further, and considered some of the “lesser” demons I’m trying to conquer, I’m not sure I am separating myself from my actions. When I intend to eat well, exercise and drink lots of water, then fail to do so, I feel bad about myself, I don’t separate out the action from the person.
And as I write that I see it for the old thinking that it is, and I realize there is work yet for me to do. Good thing I wasn’t looking to graduate anytime soon.
There were two women new to sobriety present at the meeting, and both are experiencing struggles as they try to navigate life sober. One woman’s story in particular spoke to me. She has less than a month sober, and is battling a few things at once. First, she has adult children living in her home who still drink. So there is the challenge of going into the fridge for a bottle of water, and finding it standing next to a six-pack of beer.
Due to a medical condition, she is responsible for driving her husband everywhere he needs to go, and thus finds social situations that involve drinking to be a challenge.
Finally, her adult children want to know why, even though she has been to rehab, been to outpatient therapy, been to a counselor, and is attending meetings, why would she still be sad and struggling?
I am indignant on this woman’s behalf, which of course does her no good. What I could do, and what a couple of us did after the meeting, is share what worked for us in early sobriety. Probably the greatest piece of advice I can give (completely and utterly from the rear view mirror, mind you) is this: ask for help. Tell people what you need. Set some boundaries. People who aren’t afflicted with the disease have zero concept of its trials and tribulations, and it is wrong for us to think otherwise.
Do whatever you need to stay sober, even if it feels selfish to the extreme. Early sobriety is not a life sentence; you will get more comfortable with time. But to acquire that time you need to put yourself first. Failing to do so puts your sobriety in peril.
I’m hoping to see my friend next week with a report that she was able to negotiate some breathing room for herself.
That’s all I’ve got this beautiful summer day!
I will count mindful organization as the miracle of the moment. There’s a lot going on in my household this week, and what’s keeping me sane is a list, and reminding myself to stay in the moment. It truly is a miracle when you take the time to appreciate the here and now!
M(3), 6/20/16: The Person with the Most Sobriety Is the One who Got Up the Earliest this Morning
Hoping everyone who celebrated Father’s Day yesterday had a wonderful time doing so.
This morning’s meeting was a powerful one, surprising because summer is when we see a lower attendance. But this morning we had 16 seats filled, and everyone had something to share.
We read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we focused on Step Seven:
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
This is a chapter that focuses on the concept of humility, and its importance in the process of recovery from addiction. Many people equate humility with humiliation, when in fact they are more or less polar opposites. Humility is a virtue and something to which someone would strive; humiliation is a state of abasement, and a negative emotion from which someone would steer clear.
The book we read from today (though not in the chapter we read), defines humility as:
a clear recognition of who and what we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 58
This construct was an eye-opener. I assumed because I lean heavily towards self-deprecation that I had the humility thing all wrapped up. Clearly not when considered through the lens of this definition!
Of course, there’s lots more to this chapter, but I want to get to the discussion that followed. The first person to share did so because she wanted to clear her mind of some dark thoughts that had taken hold. She had been away for a week or so, and there was some stress involved in the trip. She got home and quickly had to dive into the holiday weekend, which also involved a birthday celebration. Out to dinner last evening, she was overcome by a powerful craving for alcohol the likes of which she had not experienced for at least two years. It was strong enough that it made her cry, which in turn made her feel self-pity: why, after several years of sobriety, would this kind of thing still happen?
A powerful share in and of itself, and one to which everyone could relate.
Then the next two people shared. We had two people new to the meeting; everyone else was a regular. The first person shared that this is his first meeting back in over two years. Once upon a time, he was thoroughly entrenched in a 12-step program. Then he moved, and never took the time to find a new set of meetings. The story followed its usual trajectory: the feeling that he could handle a few drinks, which led back to old drinking patterns, and the disease progressed as if he had never stopped drinking.
The story would have been powerful in and of itself, but directly after the share prior, wondering why a craving would hit after years of sobriety, and what giving in to the craving would actually mean, had the room silent for a moment or two.
Then the next newcomer shared, and it was a similar story, though on a shorter timeframe: he had been sober for 63 days, the urge to drink got stronger and stronger, and he actually said to himself while driving to the liquor store, “Well, here I go, on my way to a relapse!” Over the weekend, he was looking through some family photos, and he noticed that in each and every one of them he was drunk. It was the wake-up call he needed to get back to a meeting this morning.
The next share was from a regular attendee with a couple of decades of sobriety. She is not struggling with an urge to drink; rather, she is struggling with life itself: a 20-year old family member died in a tragic car accident over the weekend. She did what she could to be there for her family, but she needed this meeting for herself. She is grateful to have a place to go where she can share for feelings, and find relief in both the sharing and the empathy received.
And all this happened in the first 30 minutes!
The shares that followed all had to do with urges to drink, and how best to handle them, as well as wisdom on how best to recover from a relapse. Two phrases, oft-repeated in the rooms of the 12-step fellowship, were shared:
I. Addiction is cunning, baffling, powerful… and patient
This expression usually ends with the visual that our addiction is doing push-ups in the parking lot of our sobriety. It is a simple reminder to stay vigilant, and avoid the thinking that “you’ve got this” after a period of sobriety. Always great advice.
II. The person with the most sobriety is the person who got up earliest this morning
I used this as the title because it stuck with me this morning, despite having heard it a million times before. The meaning, in case it is not obvious: it does not matter if you are sober 10 days or 10 years, all any of us really has is today. You could broaden the scope to include anything in life, since today is all any of us ever has. I believe the person sharing this meant it as a balm to the wounded souls of the relapsed newcomers… it’s okay, you’re sober today, I’m sober today, we’re all the same.
It’s sticking with me because, if I’m being candid (and I suppose I am since I’m writing a blog), I don’t completely agree with this sentiment. Certainly I agree that all any of us has is the present moment, and I also agree longer time sober does not equate to being “more” sober, there are not placement awards, per se.
My time means something to me personally. I’ve mentioned this many times before, but a turning point in my sobriety came when I chose not to chemically alter myself because I did not want to give up my time. At six weeks sober, I did not want to reset the clock. I am incredibly fortunate that I have not had an urge to “pick up” in a very long time, but I know with certainty that if (when) I do that a huge deterrent would be that I would be giving up my sober time.
Maybe that’s just me, and at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. Whatever tools keep you sober are the ones to keep on hand!
At the moment, blessed silence in the house while kids are at the movies. Silence is golden!
M(3), 6/6/16: Back to Business!
Many apologies for the unplanned two-week hiatus. Week one saw me with a dental crisis; the worst is over, but follow-up visits abound (cue the sad music). Week two saw me preparing for my first job interview in 17 years (cue the horror music). Both of these situations deserve completely separate blog posts, which I will hopefully get to sometime this decade, but in the meantime, let’s return to our regularly scheduled program.
This week’s reading came from Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.” We read one of the quintessential chapters, entitled, “How It Works.” This is the first in a three-chapter overview of the 12 steps; specifically, steps one through four.
A newcomer reading this chapter is likely to be overwhelmed, as there is a lot going on in these four steps! We had two women in the meeting today that, by my definition, would count as newcomers: one having recently completed rehab, and one that indicated she was a newcomer, but did not elaborate just how new she is.
First-time readers of this chapter might be alarmed at how often the words “self-centered,” “egotistical,” “resentful,” “self-pitying” and “fearful” are peppered throughout. Indeed, the entire premise of the twelve steps (at least in this writer’s humble opinion) is based upon the notion that the alcoholic life is run on self-will and self-seeking.
And so the answer to the alcoholic dilemma is a paradigm shift: instead of thinking the world is out to get us, we choose instead to look at our part in any situation. Instead of considering what the world owes us, we look to see what we can contribute. Instead of dishonesty and deception, we opt for transparency.
Instead of thinking we are running the show, we now seek a Power greater than ourselves, and we turn our will over to the care of that Power.
As always, when newcomers attend the meeting, I read and consider how I felt as a newcomer. I know when I first started paying attention to this reading, I considered myself an exception to most of the generalizations: I did not feel particularly angry or resentful, I didn’t consider myself to be (overly) selfish, and I believed I put the needs of a great many others before my own needs.
I remember thinking, “Wow my inventory is going to be so small, since I have no resentments whatsoever!” I can’t remember exactly, but I believe my inventory ran upwards of 6 handwritten pages.
Now I read the chapter and consider how my life has changed since first starting the road to recovery. The most fundamental change would be awareness, and the ability to feel my feelings. Sounds ridiculous, but it is a change that words cannot sufficiently capture. In addiction, I self-medicated so as not to feel anything.
So now I feel, and I’m aware that I feel. I can define the emotion, and the corresponding physical sensations.
“Why is this a big deal?” someone may wonder. Awareness allows for the processing of emotions, particularly negative ones. If I’m stuffing down feelings, I’m not processing or releasing them. So there they sit, swirling around and ready to wreak emotional havoc at any point in time.
Awareness is just one part of the puzzle. That same awareness had me realize that all my resentment-free days were just a facade designed to keep me from feeling. I had a lot more resentments than I ever realized I had, and a lot more fears as well.
In fact, I believe I am a work in process in the arena, and likely will be for some time.
In getting more self-aware and more honest about my part in every resentment-filled situation, I am better able to handle new challenges. Now when a resentment pops up, I am able to:
- recognize it
- define it
- look at my part in it
All of which allows me to
4. handle it
Above all, the peace that comes from a reliance on a Higher Power is the gift that keeps on giving.
Having this before-and-after experience upon which to draw was especially helpful this morning when one of the newcomers expressed confusion… she does not think she has any anger, or even much fear, so she’s not sure where she would even start with such a process.
The ability to pay it forward!
M(3), 5/16/16: Better Late Than Never!
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!
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!