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M(3), 7/25/16: Into Me See

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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!

Today’s Miracle:

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!

 

 

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Time for a Story about Alcohol (It’s Been Awhile)

First, my apologies.  I promised in my last post that I would write a follow-up and include all the wisdom I failed to include from last Monday’s meeting.  There was so much great stuff!  But, and anyone with kids will understand, it is the first week of summer vacation, and to say chaos reigned supreme in my household would be an understatement.  I’m feeling under the gun right now, waiting for someone to call needing a ride!

So, instead of resuming the recap, I am going to share a story that was a prologue to last week’s adventure.  Rather than link back to my last post, here’s the set-up:  last weekend we travelled to a beach town for the weekend so that our daughter could participate in a basketball tournament.  We had been looking forward to it, because usually tournaments are not in fun places like resort-y beach towns.  The coach of the team made the lodging arrangements, so there was a bit of excitement at the mystery of it all.  Unfamiliar beach town, lack of knowledge regarding accommodations, it was a true adventure!

The night before we were to leave for the weekend my daughter had a basketball game in town.  Most of the parents were there.  One particularly organized mom, the mom I actually know the best, started speaking to me about logistical details:  who is bringing what snacks, how to select a restaurant for a team dinner, and so on.  Through the course of this conversation, she mentioned the fun it will be to drink several times.  None of these references bothered me, truly I couldn’t even be very specific about what she said.  As the conversation progressed, however, the references became more pointed, “it will be awesome when we get sit by the pool and drink,” “Us moms are going to have a blast drinking.” My recovery sensors started humming, though nowhere near high alert.  At this point there have been 3-4 different references to drinking to which I simply did not respond.

In retrospect, I wonder if my lack of response may have prompted the continued talk, or maybe I’m unnecessarily Monday morning quarterbacking.  In any event, she continues on the path of how much fun carousing will be, and indicated her daughter felt that Organized Mom would be the embarrassment of the group, I suppose because of her drinking antics in the past?  I have no clue, since I could count on one hand the number of times where we have been in a situation with alcohol together (and I would have fingers to spare).  I laughed politely, because, I’m not even sure what else would be an appropriate response to this silly conversation.  Then Organized Mom says, as she continued to recount her conversation with her daughter:

“So I told her, ‘Oh, you don’t know Josie, she’ll be right there with me!”

Does is go without saying that I am Josie?

I’m going to plow right ahead with the story so there’s no cliffhanger:  I say and do nothing in the moment.  I regretted it for a solid 24 hours, but it’s the choice I made.  My brain was, quite simply, frozen.  It seemed incapable of forming logical thoughts.  There are a few reasons why this is so:

  1. Environment:  we sitting on the bleachers of a basketball court, ostensibly there to watch our daughters play basketball, surrounded by parents and younger siblings.  It was surreal to me to be trying to figure out how to decline a drink.
  2. Out-of-shape mental muscles:  it has been a really, really long time since I’ve had to think about declining a drink.  As in, I can’t remember a situation where someone offered and I felt uncomfortable.
  3. Complete and utter bewilderment:  even as I type this I have no clue why this woman would think such a thing, or say it to her daughter.

It was number 3 that ultimately kept me from responding in the moment about my choice not to drink.  At the time, I assumed that we had somehow intersected during my active addiction, and I’m just not remembering.  Her daughter and mine have been in the same circle for the past 11 years, so who’s to say what I’m forgetting, especially in terms of the active addiction years?  In addition, my husband coached this team for many years, and in the early days, we did include alcohol during the season wrap-up party.  I was terrified to start a conversation about my not drinking and then have to respond to a “But what about that time…”

So I laughed again, and then I got away from her as soon as I politely could.

As I mentioned, I regretted this decision the moment I resumed my seat next to my husband on the bleachers.  Because now, not only did I have all sorts of awkward Mom/drinking events to anticipate, I have now tacitly agreed to participate!

When I shared this story with my husband, he was surprised by the decision I made to stay silent.  “What’s the big deal,” he says, “I tell people all the time, ‘No, I actually don’t drink’.”

This conversation did nothing to set my mind at ease.

I talked it over with some friends, received some great advice, weighed the pro’s and con’s of telling a half-truth (i.e. I don’t feel like drinking tonight, or that some medication prevents me from drinking).  At the end of it all I concluded that I will correct this feeling that I did wrong somehow by telling the simple truth when it comes up:

No, thanks, I don’t drink alcohol.

The first night we are there, we are on the boardwalk pretty late, and I’m thinking that I’m actually going to get away with not having this conversation at all.  Then one of the moms says, “I vote we leave the dads on the boardwalk with the kids so the moms can go back and drink!”  My husband and I look at each other, and his eyes convey what he is thinking:  say the words and I will go back with you.  And while I remain forever grateful for the support, I realized this issue dragged out way longer than it needed to already.  Time to put on the big girl panties and deal.

We head back, and drink mixing begins.

Organized Mom, immediately: “Josie, what can we make you?”

I say, “I’m going to run back to my room to grab a soda, because I actually don’t drink.”

Organized Mom (stops mixing and stares at me):  “Like, ever?”

Josie (in what I’m hoping is an even tone):  “Correct.”

Organized Mom:  (continues to stare as if she is processing a complex thought):   “But for how long?”

Josie:  “Umm, for a few years now.”

Organized Mom:  “Wow… just… wow.  I can’t even imagine!”

I leave to get my soda, but realize I did not pack plastic cups.  I walk back into their room to borrow one, and now they’re all looking at me like I’m an exotic creature.  I grab my cup, go back to my room and fill it with soda, and sit down with them.

All agree they can’t imagine not drinking.  All justify how much, how often, and the rules they have in place for their own alcoholic consumption.

I nod politely at each of these stories, in much the same way I nodded on the bleachers the night before.  After the subject seemed to exhaust itself, we moved on to other subjects.

And that was that.

I’d like to think that I’ve learned some lessons here.  And the primary one is that Benjamin Franklin had it right (or Thomas Jefferson, whoever said it first):

Today’s Miracle:

Today my daughter started her first day of work, ever.  I was as nervous as if I was working for the first time!

M(3), 4/27/15: The Fear Wrap-Up

It feels like forever since I’ve been on this blog, I’ve missed you all terribly!  I considered writing a mini-post last week explaining why I wouldn’t be recapping my regular Monday morning meeting, then I mocked myself for thinking that anyone would notice that it was missing, then I argued against the mocking voice, then I got angry at all the voices and told them all to shut the hell up.

So here I am, back.  I did not blog last week because I was not able to attend my meeting, the reason for which I will explain as I talk about today’s meeting.

At the beginning of this month I wrote about deciding on the theme of fear for April’s reading selections, the end goal in mind being this fourth week of the month, and the book from which we read, As Bill Sees It.  This book is a compilation of several hundred excerpts from AA literature, and it is typically read in a topical fashion.  In other words, I select the topic of fear, and then we read all the selections that feature fear as their subject matter.

In the post to which I linked above, I explained I had picked fear as a topic because I’m uncertain how fear plays out in my life. I don’t feel overly fearful, and I don’t often connect the various emotions I do experience to fear the way others in my fellowship seem to do.  So April 2015 became the dedicated month of fear for this meeting leader.

Fast forward to Friday, April 17th.  I have a wonderful friend in the fellowship who for a time texted a group of us daily morning inspirations.  She has not done so for a long time, so when, early that morning I saw the text come in, I read it out loud to my husband.  Here’s what the text read:

Don’t let unexpected events throw you off course; rather, respond calmly and confidently.  Remember that God is with you. As soon as something grabs your attention, talk to Him about it.  This is the way of peace.

Ninety minutes later, I got a call from my daughter at high school:  she had been assaulted by a fellow student while getting her books out of her locker.  Then I received another phone call from the principal:  my daughter has been involved in a fight, and I am to pick her up because she has been suspended for fighting.

And so began the odyssey of 10 days (and counting, because this is far from over in my mind) of crying, worrying, pacing, arguing, conference calling, comforting, numbing (with television and food, thankfully, not mind-altering substances), internet searching, on-the-spot decision-making, threatening, and just general stressing over the safety and future academic setting of my 14-year old daughter.

For the record, my daughter is okay.  Her head hurt from where the female student slammed her it into the locker, but otherwise no permanent physical damage.  In doing what she could to protect herself, my daughter attempted to hit and kick the girl away from her, and those defensive motions were what caused the school to cite her for fighting and suspend her for three days.

Hence the myriad conference calls.  We were even fortunate enough to see the inevitable YouTube video that someone so thoughtfully uploaded for all the world to see, and it was very clear who was the assailant and who was the victim (and also the cause of a very sleepless night replaying the image of my daughter’s attack over and over), but my husband and I are definitely David fighting the Goliath of the school district, albeit with a more unfortunate ending.

So I wanted to know what fear felt like:  check.

I wanted to know the various ways fear hides behind other emotions:  check, check, check.

Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

Here’s the good news:  my apparent telepathic powers allowed me some tools that I would not have had otherwise.  Week one of this month taught me that faith combats fear; countless times in the past 10 days I found myself turning to prayer for all sorts of things:  peace of mind, guidance for the next right action, patience with both people and the process.  I also learned that crisis is a great time to romance the drink.  Truthfully (and thankfully) I did not have an urge to chemically alter myself, but I will say the thought of a cigarette crossed my mind on more than one occasion.  Playing the tape through helped immensely, as I was taught it would.

Week two of this month gave some incredibly practical tips for dealing with all the things with which I had to deal over the last 10 days.  I wish I could say I took advantage of all of them, in the moment they were needed; sadly I did not.  However, remembering the serenity prayer from time to time, and especially remembering the phrase “this too shall pass” were powerfully effective weapons against the increasing stress and tension each day brought to me.

Week 3 I guess I didn’t need to learn anything, since my meeting was usurped by various combative calls from all levels of school district administration.

So here we are at week four, and the readings that I wanted to read in the first place.  And they have been placed after the event for a reason, since believe me the fear is far from over, today is more or less Day One of my daughter’s return to school, and my cell phone is never more than an inch away from my body while she is not home.

Today’s readings, for me, reinforced the idea that faith is the opposite of fear.  In the absence of complete faith, acting as if works in the interim.  I prayed, I researched options, I discussed the issue with a variety of people, and sending her back to school for the remaining two months seems to be the right thing to do.  At this point, having faith means to send her off and believe she will be okay until I see her after school today.

Wow, so many words, and I haven’t even gotten to all the other amazing discussions we had at this morning’s meeting! The sharing took a small turn from generalized fears to the more specific fears concerning anonymity, and to whom we feel comfortable disclosing our disease of alcoholism.  A variety of people shared on this topic, with a variety of answers, but the general consensus seems to be three-fold:

  1. It is a personal decision
  2. The longer your sober time is, the less anxiety this topic seems to bring
  3. When the motive for disclosing your anonymity is to help another struggling with the disease, the answer is always to share our story.  To give what was so freely given to us is the foundation of our 12-step program!

Enough blathering from me, go out and enjoy this spring day!

Today’s Miracle:

The joy in my daughter’s face as she headed off to school today reaffirms my decision to have faith!

M(3), 2/9/15: A Case of the Yeah Buts

 

Anyone else have a case of the winter blahs?  I am finding it difficult to fire up any brain cells at all today, much less ones that require me to form complete sentences!

In this morning’s meeting we discussed chapter 8 from the book Living Sober, entitled “Changing Old Routines.”  The chapter lists a variety of ways in which drinking can be ingrained into our lives, and how small tweaks to the way we do things can have a big impact on our ability to stay sober.  From the mundane, such as changing your commute to avoid passing temptation, to the more challenging, avoiding drinking buddies and social events that center around alcohol, the chapter is chock full of practical ideas to help the newly sober stay sober.

Within the meeting, the first change most attendees cited as being instrumental in staying sober was the commitment to attending 12-step meetings.  For each person who shared this, myself included, attending a meeting most days of the week represented a commitment to sobriety.  Some other changes volunteered from the attendees this morning:

 

  • A consultant who worked out of a home office changed its location from the basement to the upper level.  In active addiction it was all too easy to retire to the seclusion of the lower level of the house under the guise of work commitments, and the basement was the perfect temperature and secluded space for storing beverages.

 

  • A stay-at-home Mom with two small children was especially challenged to change old routines, as her drinking spot was at home, and with two small children that is exactly where she needed to spend most of her time.  She changed everything that was in her power to change:  where she sat in the house, which glass she drank out of, the order of her daily housework, any routine that reminded her of drinking she turned on its head!

 

  • One gentleman found the most difficult time of the day to be right after work.  Each day, he found himself with a few hours to kill before he could attend a 12-step meeting, and these hours were the most tempting time of the day to drink.  In a need to fill time, he decided to go to the nearby high school track and run a few laps to stay occupied.  While there, he found some like-minded runners who encouraged his efforts, and he wound up running a marathon.  So he stayed sober and became physically fit!

 

  • One woman, in an effort to prove all the traditional advice wrong, was determined not to change her life around just because she decided to get sober.  She had a vacation home at the Jersey shore, where the main weekend activity for her group was bar hopping.  She got sober in June, and had the most miserable summer of her life white-knuckling it.  At about six month sober, she came to the following conclusion:  bars are for drunk people.  Twenty eight sober years later, and she sticks by that sentiment!

 

  • Establishing a connection with like-minded people was a huge routine change for another gentleman at the meeting.  Finding people who drank like he did, and found a way to stay sober, was the inspiration that ignited his recovery.

 

  • The hardest time of the day for one working Mom was the dinner hour.  Just home from work, hungry herself, and needing to feed and care for her child, this was usually the time of day that a glass of wine (or two, or three) would work wonders in motivating her to get things done.  She needed to change up that routine immediately in order to stay sober, and for her that meant a small snack to sustain hunger on the commute home, and a special replacement drink at the ready once in the house.  She made sure she had the nonalcoholic ingredients ready and waiting for her after work, and she made a ritual out of creating her beverage before doing anything else.

 

  • The final idea shared by one attendee, and the one that most resounded with me:  a woman said she initially resisted every suggested given to her.  “Yeah, but… I’m a mom of small children.”  “Yeah, but… I can’t get to a meeting because I’m too busy.”  “Yeah, but…” started almost every sentence.  Until she was able to put her reservations aside, stop thinking her life was the exception to every rule, and make recovery her first priority, she was unable to stay sober.  Thankfully, she was able to stop making excuses, and 18 years later, she inspires the rest of us to do the same.

I’m sure there were lots more great ideas, but my winter-addled brain is failing to come up with them.  I would love to hear from my recovery-minded friends in the blogosphere:  what routines did you change in recovery, and how did they help you stay sober?

Today’s Miracle:

Typing out this miracle is today’s miracle, because it means I have finished this blog post.  Hopefully the publish button is also the energy button so I can get moving with the rest of my day!

M(3), 1/5/15: Silence is Golden

 

Holy moly, that was the first time I typed out  a date with the new year!  I hope 2014 closed peacefully, and 2015 is off to a marvelous start for all of you!

Sad news from my part of the world:  I have an extremely annoying ailment that has me sounding like a seal when I talk too much.  The upside, for me, is that I got to take a seat in the attendee chair at my Monday meeting this morning, and I was able to simply soak in the collective wisdom of the group.

This week’s literature selection comes from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.”  My friend who pinch hit for me this morning selected the chapter at the start of the book, entitled “The Doctor’s Opinion.”  This chapter is the equivalent to medical seal of approval for the fledgling 12-step program, and it was a risky business, professionally speaking, for the author of the chapter (Dr. William D. Silkworth) to give his endorsement to such a revolutionary solution for the disease of alcoholism.

Had I been able to share with the group without embarrassing myself with my hacking cough, I would have talked about the importance of his term “phenomenon of craving.”  Here is what Dr. Silkworth writes:

We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action
of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an
allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and
never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types
can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having
formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost
their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their
problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to
solve. Frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices. The message which
can interest and hold these alcoholic people must have depth and
weight. 
-pg. xxviii, Alcoholics Anonymous

Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect
produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they
admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true
from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal
one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can
again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at
once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking
with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as
so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass
through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful,
with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and
over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change
there is very little hope of his recovery.
-pg. xxviii-xxvix, Alcoholics Anonymous

I am sure I have said this before, and I am equally sure that I will say it again:  the concept of the phenomenon of craving is a major motivator in keeping me sober.  Anytime I have even the most fleeting of thoughts that I could have “just one, what would be the big deal,”  I immediately consider the idea that I could be opening a Pandora’s box that is the phenomenon of craving, and I consider what my life in active addiction was like, and the mere possibility of that allows me to easily shut down the desire for “just one.”

Most of the rest of the group focused on Dr. Silkworth’s description of alcoholism as a “manifestation of an allergy.”  Apparently there has been some debate on whether alcoholism is a disease or an allergy, and people can become quite passionate about defending their particular conviction.  Most of the group this morning liked the description of alcoholism as an allergy.  After all, the definition of the word allergy is an abnormal reaction of the body to a substance, and most of us who identify as alcoholics can certainly attest that our reaction to drinking, even if it was simply our preoccupation, was abnormal.

One attendee shared that she truly thought she was insane while in active addiction.  She observed that, while hungry, she would eat until satiated, and then her eating would slow down.  With drinking, however, the complete opposite occurred; the more she drank, the more she wanted.  And it seemed like she was the only one in the world who drank like this.  An isolating, anxiety-ridden way to live, until she found this 12-step program and learned that she was not crazy, nor was she alone.  Now, almost 30 years later, she believes that even if someone offered her a way to “drink like a lady,” she would decline, because then she would have to forfeit all the amazing benefits she realizes from her participation in our program of recovery.

A few members talked about dealing with drinkers during the holiday season.  The general take-away from these experiences:  create the boundaries you need to protect your sobriety.   People generally speaking are not considering what you need while they are drinking, so you need to do this for yourself.

As always, there is so much more to share, but it’s time to prepare some hot tea and honey!  Hopefully next week I will be back to normal…

Today’s Miracle:

After a 12-day holiday “staycation,” husband and kids are back to school and work.  The complete silence of the house is today’s miracle!

M(3), 10/27: The Medical Profession and AA

 

In the literature rotation of my meeting, the fourth Monday is labelled “chairperson’s choice.”  This week, I chose a selection from a book not used very frequently these days, entitled Alcoholic Anonymous Comes of Age:  A Brief History of A.A.  The book gives an account of the historic 1955 St. Louis convention, at which the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous assumed full responsibility for all its affairs.  It contains the lectures of many of the notable speakers throughout the convention, as well as discusses the three principles of the fellowship:  recovery, unity and service.

This morning we read the chapter entitled, “Medicine Looks at Alcoholics Anonymous.”  In this chapter we read the speech from a distinguished member of the American Medical Association, Dr. W. W. Bauer.  Dr. Bauer, in his address to the assembly, compares the societal view towards alcoholism to that of tuberculosis:  both are diseases that afflict people through no fault of their own, and yet at one time those afflicted with either illness were regarded shamefully.  He notes that same stigma was once attached to those afflicted with cancer.  Happily, though, both the medical establishment, as well as society itself, is slowly coming around to regarding these diseases objectively, without assigning disgrace to those who carry them.

He praises AA for its use of “group therapy,” as he calls it:  gathering support, sympathy and guidance from one another as each attempts to dispel the obsession to drink alcohol.  Many of the treatment options the medical profession offers the sick and suffering alcoholic was learned from cooperating with the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.  The partnership of the two – medicine and AA – is a mutually beneficial one.

By and large the group enjoyed the reading, although the glad handing that went on as one speaker introduced the next proved to be a time waster.  The standout of Dr. Bauer’s lecture, for me, occurred when he touched upon the importance of our attitude:

“Illness of the emotions is no more something to be ashamed of than is illness of the body.  We should no more hesitate to consult a psychiatrist than we should hesitate to consult an orthopedist for a sore foot.”

-pg. 240, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age

It took time for me to stop feeling ashamed of having the disease of alcoholism; for a long time I could not let go of the idea that I should just be able to control myself.  Letting go of the shame felt as though a load was lifted off my back.  To borrow an idea from another 12-step fellowship:  I didn’t cause my alcoholism, I can’t control whether or not I am afflicted with it, and I cannot cure it.  One day at a time, however, I can do a few simple things that will remove the obsession to drink right out of me!

Other talking points, as shared by the various attendees of this morning’s meeting, included:

  • Our program of recovery has three legs upon which it stands firmly:  physical, spiritual emotional.  Today’s reading touched upon the physical leg, and it is so important, especially in the earliest days of sobriety.  Learning proper nutrition, what vitamins and minerals support healthy recovery, and touching base with a medical professional for any prescriptive needs all provide a sound foundation upon which we build our sober future.
  • In the last paragraph of his lecture, Dr. Bauer says:

“I am no psychiatrist, but I have confidence in saying this to you as I have said to thousands of patients, that the thing we need most of all in this world today is tranquility of mind.  Various names have been given to it.  Some books about it have been very popular.  Some call it the power of positive thinking, some call it peace of mind, some call it peace of souls, but I’m inclined to along with Billy Graham and call it peace with God.  Those are the things that we need.  And an organization like yours, in a world that seems to have gone materialistically mad, gives us courage to believe that there is still hope, that there is still idealism, and that we are going to win out over many, many of our problems, one of the most serious of which is alcoholism.”

-pg. 244, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age

This paragraph stood out to a number of us today, in that we are so grateful to be part of a fellowship whose very goal is to achieve this peace for ourselves, and to have the honor of helping others do the same.

  • Finally, and this was echoed by almost every attendee who shared, was the appreciation of the “group therapy” component of our fellowship.  As one member put it this morning, “Putting a dollar in a basket to sit here and share my troubles, and have all of you help me, is a real bargain compared to the thousands I have spent in therapy!”  Another put it this way, “No matter how I feel, good or bad, I have never left a meeting disappointed… I am always in a better mental place leaving the meeting than when I went in.”  A friend who we have not seen a few weeks berated herself on her absence:  “I feel the difference when I stop going to meetings, just coming here and seeing all of your friendly, supportive faces brightens my day, and when I don’t go I feel like I’m missing something in my life!”

Today’s Miracle:

Sometimes it takes the miracles of others to become conscious of your own.  Hearing how much everyone gets out of meetings helped deepen my own appreciation!

M(3), 10/13: The Id, Ego, Superego, and Then There’s the Alcoholic Ego

 

Today’s meeting was special for a few reasons.  First, we got to celebrate a friend’s one year “soberversary.”  Coffee cake was made this morning, and eaten in its entirety by the end of the meeting.

Second, we had two newcomers to the meeting.  One seemed to have a bit of time under his belt, the other brand-spanking-new to the Fellowship.  Always fun to get some fresh perspectives.

Third, a regular attendee who almost never shares raised his hand.  It’s interesting to hear from someone who’s usually quiet.

Finally, the meeting was interesting to me because my main takeaway from the reading was markedly different from that of the rest of the group.  We read from the book Living Sober, one of the final chapters entitled “Trying the Twelve Steps.”  The chapter gives a brief history of the group Alcoholics Anonymous, the serendipity of the meeting of its two founders, and the basic principles under which it operates.

What stood out to me about the reading was the synchronicity that led to Bill W. and Dr. Bob meeting, but my focus on that section of the chapter had much to do with a television program (programme for my Canadian and European readers, hee hee) I watched yesterday.  On the show CBS Sunday Morning there was a segment on coincidences.  If you know me and/or have read this blog for any length of time, you know any topic involving coincidences will be one I find fascinating.  Here is the segment if you feel like checking it out:

I watched that segment and felt sad for the scientists, because they are missing a magical part of life with their perspective.  So when I read this morning how such an unlikely grouping of people brought such miraculous and long-lasting results to alcoholics the world-wide, I was reminded again that there are no coincidences, just God moments that may or may not be recognized by the people experiencing them.

The rest of the relatively large group (15 in all) focused on the section of the chapter that talked about one of the cornerstones of our 12-step program:  it is in getting out of our self-absorption, and in getting into service work, specifically helping another alcoholic, that we are most assured of maintaining our sobriety.  In other words:  it’s not all about me.  Or, as a much more eloquent attendee put it:  it is in the transcendence of self, in getting out of the pronoun “I’ and into the pronoun “We,” that we start our recovery from alcoholism.

So what does all of this mean to the non-alcoholic, or even the recovering alcoholic who does not participate in a 12-step program?  It’s incredibly simple:  get out of your own head, and go help somebody, anybody.  Go help your child with his homework.  Go take your Grandmother to her hair salon.  Take some chicken soup to your sick neighbor.  You get the point.

It is truly the most fundamental tenet of this 12-step program:  helping another alcoholic helps you stay sober.  The gift that keeps on giving!

There was a great discussion about what is meant by the label “egotistical.”  A lot of us, myself included, initially took ourselves out of any discussion involving the expression egotistical… if anything, we rationalized, we did not think enough of ourselves due to our crippling lack of self-confidence.  But in this case, “egotistical” is not a pejorative term, as in one who has an overinflated sense of self; rather, it is used to describe one who is focused too much on oneself.  Not necessarily thinking bad or good, just thinking too much about our own wants, needs, desires, how things are affecting us, how we are perceived.  Like the old joke… “Now, enough about me, what do YOU think about me?”

So it follows naturally that helping another person, alcoholic or not, forces the self-centered individual out of his or her own head.  And that service not only helps another, it boomerangs right back, and helps the individual doing the helping.

The last person who shared summed up my feelings on this subject the best:  “Getting out of my own head was the hardest part of this program I had to learn, and the first character defect that comes back, even in sobriety.”  Oh boy, could I relate to that!  Putting down the drink or drug does not take away our flawed humanity.  On the other hand, choosing recovery does give us a set of skills to first recognize our flaws, then correct the mistakes that we as human beings are prone to make.

All of that, and praise galore for my super quick and easy coffee cake.  Who could ask for anything more out of a Monday morning?

Today’s Miracle:

Alright, this may be predicting a miracle, but I’m going to put it out there anyway:  I’m hosting a dinner for 18 this Friday for my son’s 12th birthday.  He requested fried chicken a la a special Philly restaurant (Federal Donuts for local readers), and I have been hard at work perfecting the recipe.  I think I got it last night, and so… the miracle is… I will be working on gathering everything I need for this party starting today (actually, technically speaking, last night).  To the über-organized of the world, this may seem like a day in the life, but the procrastinators will totally get it.  By this time next week I should have some fun pictures to share!

M(3), 10/6: Life Beyond Compare

 

Is it Monday again already?  Small(ish) meeting today, only 10 attendees, but a delightful newcomer (to my meeting, not to the Fellowship) that I will talk about in a bit.  As it is the first Monday of the month, today’s reading was selected from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book), entitled “The Housewife Who Drank at Home.”

Often I say that stories in the Big Book are relatable to me in terms of the feelings behind the nuts and bolts of the story, rather than the story itself.  Most of the personal stories were written by men over 50 years ago, so day-to-day life experience is not something I would typically share with the authors of most of the stories.  With the exception of this one.  So much of the story parallels mine, it would be difficult to list it all:  an alcoholic who drank by herself, at home, who knew she had a problem but tried to distract herself with various interests in the hopes the problem would go away, who did not understand the concept of a middle ground.  Relatability was not an issue for me with this story.

The standout point, for me, came right at the beginning:

At one time, the admission that I was and am an alcoholic meant shame, defeat, and failure to me. But in the light of the new understanding that I have found in A.A., I have been able to interpret that defeat, and that failure, and that shame, as seeds of victory. Because it was only through feeling defeat and feeling failure, the inability to cope with my life and with alcohol, that I was able to surrender and accept the fact that I had this disease, and that I had to learn to live again without alcohol. -pg. 296, Alcoholics Anonymous

Even when I knew, deep down knew, that drinking (and other substances) was a very serious problem, I still did not want to accept the label alcoholic.  When I first attended 12-step meetings, I would be outraged by the people who identified themselves as “grateful, recovering alcoholics.”  I mean, get serious, why in the world would you be grateful to be an alcoholic?!?

As it turns out, it makes all the sense in the world.  Had I not suffered from this disease, I would have had no reason to join this group of individuals who figured out how to live life without chemical aid.  Had I not joined this happy, joyous and free group, I would not have met the people who taught me a whole new set of skills, skills that enable me to not only live life sober, but also to be a significantly improved version of myself… a better mother, wife, family member and friend.  And had I not learned these skills, I would not have used them to build a life beyond my wildest dreams.

So, yes, I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic, and I’m damned proud of it!

Other parts of the story that stood out for the group was the idea of the all or nothing approach to everything that we alcoholics seem to embrace.  People with 30 days to 30 years in the meeting this morning had this personality trait in common.  Also in common:  the amazement that we all felt that we kept our lives together the way we did in active addiction.  The story talks of how the author would take all the cleaning supplies out, but they would sit for hours as she distracted herself with drink, only to rush around right before anyone was to come home and make it appear as though chores had been accomplished.  Several in the group this morning, myself included. could relate.

A final thought from one of the attendees:  coming into the Fellowship to figure out how to stop drinking, but leaving with so much more:  a feeling of community, the spirit of true understanding, and real camaraderie.  His gratitude list is never complete without including “finding the rooms of our 12-step program!”

A final thought from me:  I had a mini-God moment that I’d like to share.  This past weekend, my husband was reading an article online that had to do with asking your 12-year old self what she thinks of how you turned out (hopefully that makes sense, it was entirely confusing to create that sentence).  This is the exact kind of exercise that could get my eyeballs stuck in the back of my head from rolling them so hard, but we proceeded to have a conversation, which ended with his suggestion that I write about it.  I dismissed that thought entirely out of hand, and life proceeded.

Fast forward to this morning’s meeting.  I mentioned there was a newcomer today.  She was from a town about 30 minutes away, and, through the course of her sharing, I gather she has close to 40 years of sobriety under her belt.  Needless to say, she was an absolute font of wisdom, and I am so grateful to have gotten to listen to her share.  In the midst of speaking, she offered this:  if she had had the foresight at a young age to write down what she would have liked her life to be, even her greatest fantasies would have paled in comparison to the life she had the opportunity to live as a result of making the 12 steps a part of her life.

And I thought to myself:  that’s why I didn’t want to write about what I said, because I was to meet the woman who would sum it up so much more perfectly than I!

Today’s Miracle:

After a weekend of enjoying my 15-year wedding anniversary (which was Thursday, so not sure why I needed to celebrate it for 4 days straight), getting up and getting back on track with diet and exercise counts as 2 miracles!

M(3), 9/29: How Big of a Deal is an Alcoholic Slip?

 

Polarized would be the word I choose to describe this morning’s meeting, and never before have I had a chance to do that!

This being the fifth Monday in the month of September, I did a little research and came up with an unusual article to use as this morning’s reading selection.  Originally published in 1947 in the AA magazine Grapevine, “Slips” was written by Dr. William D. Silkworth, an American medical doctor who was tremendously influential in the founding of the 12-step program Alcoholics Anonymous.  Silkworth’s position in this article is that a relapse, or “slip,” to an alcoholic can be compared to the cardiac patient who, after time spent abiding by the rules of his condition, slowly but surely reverts to his old lifestyle that caused the heart attack.  In other words:  alcoholics are human beings first and foremost, and the poor decisions made by an alcoholic are often the result of flawed humanity, rather than by the condition of alcoholism.

I picked this reading because of its provocative nature.  The 12-step program to which I am accustomed tends to teach a bit opposite this idea, and yet one of the players instrumental in the development of this very program is stating otherwise.  Parts of the reading that spoke to me personally is the idea that alcoholism is a disease, but one that does not define me as a person:

Both in professional and lay circles there is a tendency to label everything than an alcoholic may do as “alcoholic behavior.”  The truth is it is simply human nature.  It is very wrong to consider many of the personality traits observed in liquor addicts as peculiar to the alcoholic.  Emotional and mental quirks are classified as symptoms of alcoholism merely because alcoholics have them, yet these same quirks can be found among non-alcoholic also.  Actually they are symptoms of mankind, ORDINARY PEOPLE.

-Silkworth, “Slips,” Grapevine magazine

This part made sense to me, especially as I mature a bit in sobriety.  As I observe the world and the people around me with the clarity of sober eyes, I realize that my character defects are common to those around me, whether they are alcoholic or not.  Remembering that to err is human calms the perfectionistic thinker who dwells within.

And yet, I had the vague sense that a critical something was off in this article, but, truth be told, I just figured my comrades on Monday morning would help me figure it out, so I put it aside until today.  And my friends did not disappoint!

The first several to share their opinion on the article viewed it favorably.  They liked the idea that we are human first, alcoholic second.  And each of the people who enjoyed the article emphasized the importance of remembering that relapses, or slips, happen long before the first drink or drug in ingested.  A relapse starts the moment we begin sliding back into old ways of thinking and acting.  If we continue down that path, the return to alcohol is inevitable.

The next group of people to share had a different opinion.  And while they used words like feeling “ambiguous” and “ambivalent” about the article, it was clear to me that they in fact disagreed with Silkworth’s opinion.  As one attendee put it, Silkworth is a doctor and therefore looks at it from a physical point of view.  Alcoholism, however, is a three-pronged disease:  physical, mental, spiritual.  When you consider the totality of the condition, alcoholism, and the effects of a relapse, are quite different that a cardiac patient who reverts to his previous unhealthy lifestyle.

The next attendee to share had even stronger feelings about it:  the article completely disregards the foundation of the AA program; namely, the need to discover and rely upon a power greater than oneself.  In no way does this correlate to a cardiac patient.  In addition, there is simply no comparison to the repercussions of an alcoholic “slip” and that of a cardiac one.  A cardiac patient can smoke one cigarette with minimal consequences, but there is no telling what may happen when a recovered alcoholic takes that first drink.

There was also an animated discussion on the use of the word “slip” when describing an alcoholic relapse.  On this point everyone seemed to agree:  a slip implies something accidental, whereas a person with sober time who chooses to drink does so with absolute premeditation.

There was a lively debate back and forth about some of the semantics of the article, but everyone seemed to enjoy reading it and, more importantly, considering his or her own feeling on the subject.  Another general consensus reached is that a healthy fear of picking up a drink is not a bad thing, in the same way that a healthy fear of getting burned by a stove, or being hit by erratic drivers is not a bad thing; both keep us safe.

I encourage readers who are in recovery to take a second a read Silkworth’s article… I would love to know your thoughts on the subject!

Today’s Miracle:

Participating in such a lively discussion, and taking that energy with me as I continue my day!

M(3), August 3: Family Affair

 

 

The image says it all!

Last week I was “down the shore” with a large group of extended family members on my husband’s side, the week before I was entertaining out-of-town family on my side.  For those not local, down the shore is a Philadelphia expression that refers to the beaches of southern New Jersey, a popular family vacation destination in my part of the world.  The house we rented had no internet connection, leaving me to wonder if we had fallen into a time warp of some kind, and also leaving me absent of the ability to get caught up with my fellow bloggers.  I did have my phone, but alas, I am woefully inept at typing on small devices, so I figured I have the rest of my life to get caught up, right?

That long introduction eventually winds around to my main point, which is that it is so interesting that the main topic of discussion at this morning’s meeting centered around family, and the stress interactions with family can cause.  Today’s reading was from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and was written by one of the founding fathers of the 12-step fellowship, Jim B.  Jim has been credited with the expression “God as we understood Him,” because of his staunch agnosticism, and he is also the reason we have our third tradition, which states that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

While reading Jim’s story this morning, I had a feeling that I often have when reading stories from the Big Book:  the feeling that while none of my life events parallel the author’s, the feelings behind those events are remarkably similar.  Jim describes his all or nothing approach to life that I write so frequently about on this blog.  He talks about his pattern of being passionate about solving a problem, but then needing an immediate reward for the effort expended… usually an alcoholic reward.  And he writes of the importance of remembering clearly the events that led him to recovery; I too believe that remembering my last days of active addiction is critical to the maintenance of my sobriety.

From my sharing on my take-away of this morning’s story, we veered sharply away from the reading to focus on more personal matters.  One person had attended an alcohol-saturated family event that left her feeling like she had gone nine rounds with a prize-fighter.  Another woman shared of a recent visit with family that left her feeling badly about herself:  she should feel happy to visit with her relatives, and instead she feels guilt that the relatives irritated her.  Finally another attendee shared that he had an overall positive experience with family over the weekend, but for one sister whose very voice sends his stress level to the roof.

It would take a person much wiser than me to answer the question:  why does family make us so crazy?  Therefore, I will not even try.  What’s interesting to me about this morning is that this meeting could have been well-timed; after two weeks with such intimate family interactions I would, in the past, have been batshit crazy.  But I’m really not.  Both with my side of the family two weeks ago, and with my husband’s last week, I would say that they were both the best vacations of their kind in recent memory.  Maybe this morning’s discussion was a reminder for me to be grateful to be in such a good space.  Or maybe it gave me the perspective and calm I needed to help the people suffering with some objective advice.

In any event, as nice as vacation was, I’m so happy to be back!

Today’s Miracle:

Getting to give and receive life lessons with people, finding out that we are never, EVER alone with our fears and self-doubt, there are simply no words to describe that miracle of kinship.

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