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M(3), 3/2/15: How Many Times Can I Beat a Dead Horse?

I actually just went back through my blog archives and checked:  this will make the ninth time I am writing on this subject.  So the answer to the title question is, at least nine times, and I’m pretty sure there will be a tenth.

And with that mysterious lead-in, the reading selection at my Monday morning miracle was a personal story in Alcoholics Anonymous entitled “Acceptance is the Answer.”  Long-time readers of this blog, as well as regular 12-step meeting attendees are probably quite familiar with this story.  Here (again) is the seminal paragraph, possibly the most important lesson I’ve learned within the 12-step program of recovery:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. -Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 417

This story is a huge part of my personal recovery.  On day one of sobriety, the meeting I attended stopped the discussion they were having and instead turned to this selection when they found out I was less than 24 hours sober.  Of course, it meant very little at the time, my life was in too much chaos for me to focus on anything, but in the 6 weeks that followed I was at meetings that featured this story 5 or 6 times.  Statistically improbable, but I now realize God needed me to hear it.

And it took that many times, more than that actually for the message of this story to sink into this hard head.  It was probably the second or third time reading that I started to get indignant about this story, and I scoffed at the premise that I am the cause of my discontent.  What if somebody’s being a total jerk?  What if they’re 100%, black and white, straight up wrong?  Then can I have some justifiable anger?

Turns out the answer is no to that one.  You see, people are always going to be jerks, there’s always going to be irritations beyond our control, shit’s gonna happen, but here’s what we can control:  our reactions to it.  And if we can find acceptance of these perceived imperfections, well, then, we’re going to find peace of mind.  It’s really that simple.

I told the group this morning that I needed this reading selection because of my discontent with the season, with the weather, and with the disagreeable decisions my school district continues to make.  And certainly I am ready for spring, but as I read through the selection with the group, a few things stood out to me that highlighted the real reason I needed to hear this story today:

  • Perhaps the best thing of all for me to remember that my serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations.

  • When I focus on what’s good today, I have a good day, and when I focus on what’s bad, I have a bad day.  If I focus on the problem, the problem increases; if I focus on the answer, the answer increases.

-pg. 419, Alcoholics Anonymous

It was when I read those lines that I realized what the problem I was focusing on:  myself.  Self-acceptance has always been a challenge for me, currently it has become impossible.  Every part of this story has been true for me when I read it from the viewpoint of self-acceptance:

  1. I am focused on the problem rather than the solution, and have so far the problem has increased
  2. I find myself unacceptable, and thus find myself disturbed and unable to grab hold of serenity
  3. I continue to manipulate my external environment in the hope of influencing the internal one, to no avail

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea.  Even as we were reading and I’m realizing the ultimate point of this selection, I still had the audacity to rail against it:  but it’s myself, I think furiously, and therefore I’m allowed to be frustrated about my continually repeating negative patterns!  And then one attendee shared this perspective that helped her with the concept of acceptance:

Acceptance does not mean approval.  Acceptance does not mean agreement.

At this point of the meeting even my argumentative brain shut up.  I spoke with the woman after the meeting, and told her how much her share had meant to me, and how I would be reflecting upon it in the days to come.  She responded that she was blown away by something that had happened to me:  I stated at the outset how badly I needed to hear the important lessons of this reading selection, there’s a dozen or so people who take turns reading, and yet it “just so happened” to be my turn at the most highly regarded paragraph of the story (at the top of this post).  I laughed, and thanked her for reminding me of this.  You see, I make sure to read this story twice a year for the past few years I have been running this meeting… at least 6 times so far.  And every time we’ve read it, the responsibility for reading that paragraph falls on me.

There are no coincidences!

Today’s Miracle:

That I was reminded that there are no coincidences.  I would have taken that miracle for granted had it not been pointed out to me.

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M(3), 1/26/15: From Hell to the Mountaintop

Driving to today’s meeting, I would have guessed a meeting attendance of two people, and that would have been the high end.  And the big storm hasn’t even arrived yet… yikes!

So the fun surprise was winding up with six attendees.  Not bad in the midst of what is predicted to be record snow fall!  Today’s reading came from the book ‘Pass It On:’  The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world.  Its purpose is self-evident in the title:  it is a biography of Bill Wilson’s life and how he came to found the organization Alcoholics Anonymous.  The book is a fascinating read for both members and non-members of a 12-step program.

When I first started reading, I thought it might be redundant, as I thought I knew Bill W.’s story from start to finish.  But this book gives details and background that were brand new to me, and put his story in a context that made his climb out of the depths of alcoholic despair even more amazing.  Fans of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) will find Pass It On enlightening.

This morning we read chapter five, which details Bill W.’s last days of active addiction, followed by a personal account of his “spiritual awakening.”  Many elements of the chapter stood out for me, but I think what stuck with me most was how much I could relate to his story.  This person could not have lived a more opposite life than me, and yet I can relate to the feelings he described:

“For long hours, I thought over my past life.  How and why could I have come to this?  Save for my drinking, Lois and I had had a wonderful life together.  My whole career had teemed with excitement and interest.  And yet here I was, bedeviled with an obsession that condemned me to drink against my will and a bodily sensitivity that guaranteed early insanity at best.” -pg. 109, Pass It On

Another stand-out for me as I read his numerous attempts to recover from alcoholism:  his so-called failures, when viewed in light of his whole story, are clearly stepping-stones that led to his ultimate success.  Each time he failed, he learned a bit about what works and what doesn’t, and over time he was able to use those lessons like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that ultimately formed the picture of recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of body and mind.

Inspiring stuff for a snowy Monday morning, let me tell you!  The rest of the group focused on his amazing journey from agnostic to believer, a compelling story to be sure.  Some admitted to a bit of envy for the rather dramatic circumstances surrounding his “conversion,” and several in the group shared the evolution of their relationship with their Higher Power.

A final thought this morning:  one gentleman shared that learning Bill’s story, and realizing how he recovered from such a low bottom, gave him the inspiration and confidence that he could recover as well.  If a man like Bill Wilson can achieve sobriety, there is hope for us all.

To anyone reading that lives in the Northeastern US:  stay warm and stay safe!

Today’s Miracle: 

As of this writing, we are in the lull of the storm.  I keep anxiously going over places I might need to get to before the rest of the storm hits, and each time, I realize I’m covered and don’t need to go out.  This level of preparation, my friends, is a miracle!

M(3), 1/19/15: The Paradox of Powerlessness

 

Thanks to the American holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my Monday meeting had a nice-sized turnout, and I was able to reconnect with some people I don’t normally get a chance to see. Great way to start the week!

As it is the third Monday in the month of January, today’s literature selection came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  We read the chapter that covers Step One:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable

Lots of great insight shared this morning, so I will keep my perspective brief:  I struggled mightily with the premise of this step.  At first, I scoffed at the idea that my life was unmanageable.  As a matter of fact I was managing just fine, thank you very much.  As my addiction progressed, I was forced to recognize that yes, if I continue along this path, the path where I insisted that I was okay to drink, and no one had the right to tell me otherwise, I could see the manageable parts of my life dwindling to zero.  With the clarity that only sobriety can bring, I can now see that even when I was insistent my life was manageable, it really was anything but:  the unhealthy fixation on when I could next drink, the guilt and the shame when I overindulged, the broken promises I made to myself, and the time and energy expended on the whole process.  What part of that seemed manageable to me, I don’t know!

But even while conceding the unmanageability component, I was still unconvinced on the powerlessness.  It made no sense to be powerless over something that had no power in and of itself.  It cannot force itself into my body, so don’t I ultimately have the power by choosing to ingest it?  When it was explained to me that I was powerless over the effect it had on me, that made a lot more sense.  There were occasions that I was able to “drink like a lady,” have one or two glasses of chardonnay and gracefully decline the third.  But for every one time I did that, there were many more times when I started drinking and I simply did not want to stop.  Or, worse yet, when I knew I should stop and did not do it.  So it was basically a crap shoot on how an evening would turn out if I were to drink.  Now, if that’s not powerlessness, I don’t know what is!

On to even better insights:

  • A newcomer to my meeting (but not to the Fellowship) said what stands out to her even more than “powerlessness” and “unmanageability” is the word admit.  For her, “admit” necessarily implies “the truth,” and it took her a very long time to actually admit that she had a problem… even to herself.  The denial was so deep and powerful, she used to hide alcohol in her own home, and she lived by herself!  For her it took some strong-arming to get her into the rooms of the 12-step fellowship, but once she did she was flabbergasted.  These people were telling her story!  It was not long after her first meeting before she could finally admit, “Yes, I am an alcoholic,” and that admission freed her in a way she never thought possible.
  • One of the regular attendees of the meeting said he too struggled initially with the concept of powerlessness.  “But I can control my drinking,” he argued with his sponsor, “Maybe not every time, but enough that I can’t admit to being powerless.”  His sponsor said the words that turned his thinking around nearly 30 years ago, “If you are working on controlling your drinking at all, you are already admitting you have a problem.  Moderate drinkers do not have to control their drinking.”  That was all it took for him to see the issue for what it was:  alcoholism.
  • Another friend shared how she resolved her issues with powerlessness.  As she pondered step one, she realized that with almost any doctrine, there is a paradoxical premise:  Buddhist’s teaching of self-effacement begetting enlightenment and Christianity’s Holy Trinity are just two examples that she cited this morning.  Powerlessness as a way of claiming power is the paradoxical premise of the 12-step doctrine.  Within this framework she was able to embrace it.  In so doing she is able to see that in accepting the “defeat” in not being able to drink she has been given the greatest peace she has ever experienced.
  • Finally, another eminently wise regular attendee talked about how she struggled with the idea of a Higher Power, and the only way she could get around it, in the initial stages of sobriety, was to use the collective wisdom of the people in the rooms of the Fellowship as her higher power.  As stubborn as she was, even she could see that this group had something she wanted and could not seem to get on her own.  She acknowledged that her best thinking was what landed her in the rooms of a 12-step meeting in the first place, and that by continuing to defend her reasons that she is not an alcoholic, she is closing her heart and mind to any other possibility.  Just that small change… my own thoughts are keeping in the same place I don’t like, maybe I could try to open myself to another possibility… was enough to start her on a journey of sobriety that has served her well for the past three decades.

Since it seems that I am also powerless over the bickering of my children and their friends, all home for the holiday, I better sign off and see how best I can mediate.  Happy Monday!

Today’s Miracle:

Both kids had a friend overnight, and all four made it through the evening in one piece, and, as a bonus, were still alive when I got home from my meeting, so that’s a miracle right there.  Here’s hoping the good mojo continues through the rest of the afternoon!

M(3), 1/12/15: Letting Go of Old Ideas

Can you guess what kind of weather we are experiencing in my part of the world?

Today’s reading, selected as a nod to New Year’s resolutions, is entitled “Letting Go of Old Ideas.”  For most of us choosing the journey of sobriety, putting down the drink or drug (or both) is really just the first step in the process of recovery.  A monumentally arduous and often painful one, but a first step nonetheless.  The truly meaningful work begins when we examine the lifelong thoughts and beliefs that led us to the bottle in the first place, and then decide, with the clarity only sobriety can bring, if these thoughts and beliefs are serving us well.  If the answer is no, as it often will be, then we must figure out a way to release them.

Here are some bona fide ideas I held before I chose recovery.  This list is completely, 100% true, and not exaggerated for effect:

  1. Alcohol is a requirement at a social event.  If an event has no alcohol, I can assume the people making these choices are either restricted by something not of their own volition, or they are people with whom I do not want to relate.
  2. It is inconceivable that I will abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life.
  3. If I must abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life, I will eventually lose the companionship of everyone currently in my life.
  4. If I must abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life, I must not, under any circumstances, let this be known to anyone; keeping this secret is paramount to my happiness.
  5. A social life without alcohol will necessarily be less interesting and fun than a social life with alcohol.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.  Happily, through the process of testing the old ideas, discovering they no longer serve me, and discarding them, I find myself at peace in a way I did not believe possible.

Of course, I hold many more old ideas that need to be re-assessed as my journey continues.  In times of distress, my instinct to project and interpret the emotions of others, and then believe these projections as if they were handed to me by God Himself, is an old belief that does me an incredible disservice.  Fortunately, recovery is a journey rather than a destination, and I have a lifetime to figure things out.

Rather than go point by point over the various pieces of wisdom gleaned from today’s meeting, I want to share a miraculous story that happened this morning.   I have had an issue with my daughter, one with which I’ve been dealing all weekend, and it’s affecting me enough that I felt like I needed to share about it at the meeting this morning (more to follow at some point).  In so doing, I received some amazing support and wisdom, all of which I hold in my heart even as I type.  But one fellow in particular stood out, he shared almost immediately after me; he related to what I was going through, and he shared some of the experiences he is having with his daughter.

Since this gentleman has been an attendee of my meeting for some time, I was well-acquainted with stories about his daughter, as he has shared his concerns about her for months now.  He is currently in a place of relative peace with her, but re-telling the tales of some of his troubled times did remind me that I am not alone, and also that things could always be worse.  Of course his daughter is 21 and had moved across the country for a time, my daughter is 14 and lives with me, so the situations are not identical by any means.  On the other hand, the simple act of sharing our troubles with one another gives us both an opportunity to feel less isolated, and, as a result, feel better about our situations.

Possibly ten minutes after he shared he got up abruptly from his chair and left the meeting.  He did not return for several minutes, and when he did he raised his hand to request a “double dip.”  In other words, could he share again even though he had already shared once?  And since of course the answer is always yes at my meeting, he let us know he left the meeting because he received an urgent text from his daughter that she needed to speak with him as soon as possible.

Turns out, she’s been thinking a lot about all the issues she’s been facing, and she’s been reading some of the literature her father has suggested, and she thinks it’s possible that she has a problem with alcohol.  She would like him to take her to a 12-step meeting.

I’m not exaggerating when I say the entire room sat in silence for a full minute.  I finally broke it by saying that I don’t know what to say.  It’s one thing to feel a miracle taking place within yourself, it’s another to experience it with a room full of people!

And if, after all that gentleman has gone through with his daughter, this can be the end result, then surely my “privilege problems” with my daughter are going to work out just fine.  At least, that’s the message I received!

Today’s Miracle:

I’m pretty sure I’m not getting a better miracle than the one I just described.

 

 

M(3), 12/29: Acceptance Does Not Mean Approval

Happy holidays to all!  Although I’m still in the active throes of holiday madness, and will be dashing off to another celebration momentarily, I wanted to write about all the wonderful insights gleaned from this morning’s meeting.

It was a larger crowd than I expected, and we had two brand-new to the meeting, one from out-of-state and six months of sobriety under his belt, and one just looking to try a new meeting, with several decades of sobriety under his belt.  Plus we had two people who used to be regulars show up because of the holiday schedule, and we once again had a pretty full house.  Meeting newcomers and reconnecting with old friends alone would have made this morning meaningful, but, as always, the shared experiences of the group give me so much more than I ever bargain for.

Today’s reading came from an older issue of Grapevine:  AA’s Meeting In Print, and the central topic of the article was the benefits of practicing acceptance in your life.  I shared that it is only in recovery that I even grasped acceptance as something desirable.  Pre-recovery, I was Billy Joel’s proverbial Angry Young Man, and I truly believed that my righteous anger was an admirable quality.  Slowly, with the help of the 12-step principles and lots of advice from friends in my 12-step program, I learned that my anger at slights, perceived or real, my indignation when things didn’t go the way I believed things should go, was doing nothing more than causing me needless discomfort.  Practicing acceptance with things out of my control is the equivalent to putting down a boulder I’d been carrying for most of my life.

The next several people who shared talked about the idea that accepting a situation does not mean you approve of it, only that you acknowledge it is not in your power to correct.  When someone is behaving badly, you can accept that behavior without condoning it.  I had referenced a situation I experienced lately that spoke directly to this issue… I felt that acceptance could be interpreted as approval, and I was genuinely unsure of the next right steps.  The advice I received made me want to smack myself upside the head:  pray the serenity prayer, because there are two more important points after accepting that which you cannot change, there is also courage to change what you can, and, perhaps most important, wisdom to know the difference.  It seems I forgot to use some pretty basic tools!

A woman, and regular attendee of the meeting, shared that after a long painful battle, her dog and faithful companion of more than 13 years, lost his battle with his illness yesterday.  Although she knew his time was coming, she is still struggling with the loss, and she shared about the steps she was taking to compensate for it.  She’s staying at her daughter’s house, she is reaching out to friends in out 12-step program, she is increasing her meeting attendance, and she’s sharing about what she’s feeling.  She reminds herself regularly that drinking will not make the loss any less painful, but it will throw away 3 hard-fought years of sobriety.

From there one of the newcomers, the one with decades of sobriety, shared, and his story actually took my breath away.  He talked about acceptance in terms of loss, because he experienced a very painful one.  Ninety days prior, his 40-year old daughter committed suicide.  The daughter, and his granddaughter, lived with him, and he said the change this loss has brought to his life is overwhelming.  Rather than driving a wedge between him and his Higher Power, he reports that he has experienced miraculous things in the past 90 days, things which convince him that his prayers are being heard.

The out-of-towner with only 6 months talked about practicing acceptance in terms of having the disease of alcoholism, that once he accepted that he had this disease, the solution for dealing with it became so much simpler, and his understanding of why he drank became clearer.

Finally, a gentleman shared his analogy of acceptance, and figuring out what he can change and what he can’t.  The weather, he explains is out of his control.  However, his reaction to the weather, is completely within his control:  he can carry an umbrella, wear a coat when it’s cold, where short sleeves when it’s warm.  In a similar manner, while he cannot control that he has the disease of alcoholism, he can control how he deals with it:  he can attend meetings, avoid people, places and things that trigger him to drink, and he can cultivate a relationship with a Higher Power.  Putting the focus on the things he can control makes the practice of acceptance much easier for him.

And since I cannot control the start time of the next celebration, or how long it takes to drive there, I will control what is in my power, and end this post!

Today’s Miracle:

The privilege of hearing the powerful stories shared at today’s meeting is a miracle I will be carrying with me for some time.

M(3), 12/22: The End of the End

 

Today’s meeting, which started out woefully small but wound up with 12 attendees by the end, focused on the second half of step 12 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  In case you are not following along with this series of posts, step 12 is:

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The section of the chapter we read today focused most on the third prong of this step, and that is taking the principles learned within the 12-step program, and applying those principles to all other aspects of our lives:  our marriages, our careers, our financial affairs, even (especially) our self-image.

I know I have written this ad nauseam, but I’ll write it again anyway:  there’s not a problem in my life that the 12-step principles can’t ameliorate, if not actually solve.  From the simplicity of practicing acceptance and taking life one day at a time, to the more intensive work of personal inventory and making amends, practicing the 12 steps improves my entire life, not just helps me to abstain from altering myself chemically.  A strong statement, but so far for this recovering alcoholic, a true one.

The rest of the group focused on the blessings that working the 12 steps has brought to their lives.  Some of the highlights:

  • The end of our self-imposed isolation
  • Being comfortable in our own skin
  • A greater appreciation for family and friends
  • The development of a whole new set of friends
  • A greater maturity and wisdom
  • The joy received from being of service to others
  • A sense of accomplishment (this fellow joked that receiving the one year coin at an AA meeting is the equivalent to receiving an Oscar)
  • The serenity that comes with knowing that whatever is happening, “this too shall pass”
  • The comfort that only comes from the trust in a power greater than oneself
  • The certainty that this Higher Power is a benevolent omnipresence in our lives
  • The absolute faith that everything happens for a reason, and that our job is simply to trust our Higher Power, clean up our side of the street and do the next right thing

A joyous and hope-filled meeting to start the holiday week off right.  Hope yours is off to as wonderful a start!

Today’s Miracle:

Finishing up this post, then off to cookie making, and preparing the cookie decorating assembly line for when the kids get home.  From someone who, a few short years ago, could not successfully bake the heat and eat varieties, homemade roll-out cookies topped with homemade royal icing is a miracle!  Here are some of the “naked” first batch:

001

 

M(3), 12/15: The Beginning of the End

Today’s reading in the literature rotation for my Monday morning meeting was the first half of step 12 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  Step 12, the final piece of the 12-step program’s puzzle, is:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the results of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

Of all the steps, twelve is the longest in terms of reading, mainly because it has three “sub-points” that lie within it:

1.  Defining a spiritual awakening, and describing what it looks like

2.  Discussing the various and sundry ways in which to carry the message

3.  Identifying the various parts of our lives in which the 12-step principles can be practiced

The sharing from today’s half-chapter focused quite a bit on the spiritual angle of the 12-step program, and the benefits the conscious contact with a Higher Power brings to daily life.  We had a pretty decent mix of spirituality in the meeting this morning:  some find it almost childish to pray to a Higher Power, some consider themselves alternatively spiritual rather than the more classical definition that involves organized religion, and then we have a professional clergyman in our group.

And although every person who shared defined their Higher Power differently, had different interpretations of the term “spiritual awakening,” and had different manifestations of spirituality in their daily lives, all agreed upon this premise:  the spiritual component of their recovery not only helped them to get and to stay sober, it enriched their lives in ways they couldn’t have possibly imagined.

For me, step 12 is the one that has been the most transformative, and is the one I reference most in my daily life, so a step 12 meeting is always one I enjoy.  But today’s meeting had a special element about which I will share.  First, however, I need to lay some groundwork:

This past weekend, which I will write more about in a different post, my husband and I had a delightful “adults only” trip to New York City, where we stayed with one of our best friends in the world.  More on the weekend later, but there was one miniscule moment, where through the course of dropping items in the subway station (yuck), I reached in to the pocket of my very old jeans and discovered a hole.

Which then led me down the rabbit hole of a memory from active addiction that included that same hole in the pocket of those same jeans.

In the immediate moment, I was able to shake it off by practicing mindfulness:  getting out of my own head and being present in my current circumstances.

On the drive home, however, the debilitating thoughts came back, and I knew the best course of action was to talk about them, to shine some light on the memory in order to dispel it.  However, the only available resource was my husband, and my general policy with this type of issue is to avoid burdening him with these thoughts.  After all, my bad memories are usually his too, and it is not right to create a memory burden for him in the interest of unburdening myself.

On the other hand, I know he appreciates when I am open with what is on my mind.  Back and forth the volley went in my head, and I finally decided to proceed in sharing my inner turmoil.

He did not appear troubled; in fact, he expressed gratitude in my trusting him with these thoughts.  When I asked if my reliving this particular experience bothered him, he replied that it made him grateful for the progress that has been made in the years since.

All positives all the way around, because I was able to shake the malaise, although in the back of my mind I did marvel at this ability to compare then and now and feel the difference.  I concluded that because I was the centerpiece, I am too close to it to have that particular viewpoint.

Short story long, today’s reading includes the following passage:

When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone.  He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being.  He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead-end, not something to be endured or mastered.

-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 107

Honestly, even while we read it, nothing really hit me about this section, until a friend re-read it and shared what it meant to him.  And then, like a thunderbolt, I had a memory from active addiction, where I consciously thought about life as something to be endured until I was able to alter myself chemically.  The meaning of life, while in active addiction, was to hang on until the next time I could drink or ingest something to make it livable.

And the difference between how I lived life then, and how I live life now, was so startling, and so crystal clear, that tears came to my eyes.  And in sharing this bittersweet realization with the group, I felt the full power of step twelve in my life.

Love those full-circle moments!

Today’s Miracle:

Two weeks ago the regular attendees of the meeting decided to throw together a “causal luncheon” for after the meeting.  The “causal luncheon” turned into a feast with homemade lasagna, cakes and cookies, and much more… how lucky am I to know these amazing chefs and bakers?

M(3), 12/8: Tweak Your Routine, Transform Your Life

 

The reading selection I used in today’s meeting can be found in the book Living Sober.  We read chapter 8:  Changing Old Routines.  The chapter gives a whole slew of tips designed to help the newly sober avoid the people, places and things that may trigger a desire to drink.  Some of the tips include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Drive a new route to and/or from work in order to avoid a beloved drinking establishment
  • Shift shopping times, shopping places, and shake up your typical daily to-do list
  • Avoid, in the short-term, regular “drinking buddies”
  • Create a new after-work routine:  brew some tea or coffee, change your clothes, head out for a walk or some exercise
  • If drinking in front of the television at night was your thing, switch rooms, switch activities, or both
  • Change brands of toothpaste and mouthwash for a fresh new way to start the day
  • Begin each day differently, either with a morning mediation, a prayer, or just some quiet time, to start the day as peacefully as possible
  • Plan vacations and holidays around non-drinking activities

There were many more easy suggestions, I encourage anyone just starting out in sobriety to give this chapter, the whole book really, a read.  It contains a lot of really practical and easy-to-follow tidbits to make the early days more bearable.

The fairly large group (14 in all) of attendees agreed upon the usefulness of this chapter.  One friend said her drinking was primarily done at home, after work, and therefore it was difficult to change up certain aspects of her evening routine.  She still needed to come home from work, she still needed to feed and care for her child, and she still needed to live at home.  So her solution to the “walking in the door and wanting a drink immediately” routine was to create a desirable, fancy, adult beverage, and she prepares that as soon as she walks in the door after work.  She actually makes a ritual out of it:  a tonic and lime with lots of fresh lime juice and ice served in a specially purchased glass that does not resemble the wine glass that previously held her after-work drinks.

For the meeting attendees who drank mostly in bars and clubs, their challenge was to find a suitable substitute for their evening entertainment.  Most agreed that in the short-term, finding a 12-step meeting during those times is a great help distraction from thoughts of drinking, as well as an opportunity to make connections with a sober support network.  From there, several have gone on to find all sorts of fun, sober activities that engaged and energized them.

A couple of people spoke of the difficulty in staying sober while boating with drinking friends.  I almost giggled when the first person brought up this issue, because it seemed oddly specific (we do not live in or around water, so we’re not really a boating community).  Then when two more people spoke of this experience, I realized that boating and drinking is more of a thing than I knew (and I also realized that none of my friends have boats)!  In any event, when you’re on a boating trip with a group of drinkers, the challenge is creating your own space, since you have very limited options.  The attendee that owns a boat simply chooses to invite sober-minded people, friends who accept invitations to boating parties with alcohol choose to engage in the activities that boats provide, such as swimming and fishing, thus distracting them from the alcohol consumption around them.

I think changing up your routine helps a lot during the holiday season as well.  While attending parties with alcohol, instead of gravitating towards the drinking crew, choose instead to hang out with the non-drinkers.  I remember the first time I employed this strategy, I was astonished by how much fun I had!  If you usually associate a holiday tradition with drinking, such as baking cookies or decorating the tree, consider skipping and/or delegating those events this year.  It’s only one holiday, there will be plenty more, it’s always best to put sobriety first.

Two different attendees with long-term sobriety (more than 25 years) were astounded by how much this chapter still speaks to them, even with issues other than sobriety.  Nothing changes if nothing changes, so the reminder to examine your routine and change what’s not working is valuable advice to us all.

Today’s Miracle:

My overwhelming gratitude for the incredible support I received as  a guest on The Bubble Hour.  Your encouragement and kind words means more than I could possibly say.  A special thank you to Jean at Unpickled for making me feel at home on the air!

M(3), 12/1: The Keys to the Kingdom

Holy mackerel it’s December!!!  I bet if I look back, I write something like this every month, but still… it’s December!

Being that it is the first Monday of the month, today’s reading selection came from the book Alcoholics Anonymous.  The personal story is called “The Keys to the Kingdom,” and was written by Sylvia K., who was instrumental in bringing AA to the Chicago area.  Although written 75 years ago, Sylvia’s story of active addiction is as relatable today as any you would hear in the blogosphere, in the rooms of a 12-step meeting, or in a rehab:

…through a long and calamitous series of shattering experiences, I found myself being helplessly propelled toward total destruction. I was without power to change the course my life had taken. How I had arrived at this tragic impasse I could not have explained to anyone. I was thirty-three years old and my life was spent. I was caught in a cycle of alcohol and sedation that was proving inescapable…

-pg. 304, Alcoholics Anonymous

Sylvia’s path mercifully led her to the founders of AA, and from there her life changed dramatically:

It has been so many years since I had not relied on some artificial crutch, either alcohol or sedatives. Letting go of everything at once was both painful and terrifying. I could never have accomplished this alone. It took the help, understanding and wonderful companionship that was given so freely to me by my “ex-alkie” friends. This and the program of recovery embodied in the Twelve Steps. In learning to practice these steps in my daily living I began to acquire faith and a philosophy to live by. Whole new vistas were opened up for me, new avenues of experience to be explored, and life began to take on color and interest. In time, I found myself looking forward to each new day with pleasurable anticipation.

-pg. 310-311, Alcoholics Anonymous

An incredible message of hope, Sylvia’s story is one I would recommend reading.

Two messages stood out for me personally while reading today’s story.  The first was Sylvia’s personal physician who never gave up on her, and eventually led her to the founders of the AA program.  Without this man’s perseverance and guidance, Sylvia would not have had the introduction into this new and incredibly improved way of life.

Education about alcoholism and recovery have come a long way since Sylvia’s story, and we are blessed to have many resources at our disposal when we seek to find an answer to our addiction.   But there are still those angels in our lives that help us along the way.

I remember once, the summer before I hit bottom, I was attending a 12-step meeting, but was still deep in the throes of active addiction.  A woman who I recognized but did not know personally, came up to me and told me a story about herself which, at the time, seemed almost strange:  why is she telling me this?  The details of the story are unimportant, but two things stuck with me.  First, her challenges in sobriety so closely matched mine that I was amazed.  Up to that point, I had yet to find someone “just like me,” and I believe that feeling of “terminal uniqueness” kept me in the rut of active addiction.   Second, this woman had more than 5 years of sober time.  So, again, eye-opening:  here is someone just like me who is managing to stay sober.  It took several months more, and several more “angels,” but that moment represented a turning point in my thinking.

The second message that jumped out at me in Sylvia’s story was her belief that recovery is an ongoing process:

A.A. is not a plan for recovery that can be finished and done with. It is a way of life, and the challenge contained in its principles is great enough to keep any human being striving for as long as he lives. We do not, cannot, out-grow this plan. As arrested alcoholics, we must have a program for living that allows for limitless expansion. Keeping one foot in front of the other is essential for maintaining our arrestment. Others may idle in a retrogressive groove without too much danger, but retrogression can spell death for us. However, this isn’t as rough as it sounds, as we do become grateful for the necessity that makes us toe the line, for we find that we are more than compensated for a consistent effort by the countless dividends we receive.

-pg. 311, Alcoholics Anonymous

Sylvia writes it better than I ever could:  recovery is an ongoing, limitless, boundless journey.  There is no graduation, and no ceiling on the joy it brings!

I also asked for help from the very large group (we had 16 attendees today!) in an upcoming project of mine.  I asked them to share their best strategies for staying sober through the holiday season.  Some are tried and true, some really surprised me, but all were great tips.  There are so many that I will be compiling them into a separate post.  You can’t have enough tools in your sobriety toolbox!

Some other points shared by the group:

  • Recovery is a “we” program, not a “me” program:  whether you choose a 12-step program, reading and connecting with bloggers, or some other way, sobriety is so much easier with the support of like-minded people.
  • Alcoholic triggers do not have to be alcohol:  a friend just came home from a vacation with a large group of people.  None drank, but my friend’s anticipation of having to deal with alcohol gave her drunk dreams 3 nights in a row.  She has been sober for decades!  The message is clear:  alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful, and it is important to stay vigilant.
  • Keeping sobriety first despite holiday stress:  a friend found herself surviving Thanksgiving with a bit of white-knuckling.  She had plans to do something else this morning, and it finally dawned on her:  she needs to put sobriety first because of holiday stress, or the holiday stress will do her in!  She cancelled her appointment and instead came to the meeting.

I’m hopeful everyone had a joyful Thanksgiving (well, I hope my American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I hope my international friends had a wonderful November 27th!).  For those choosing sobriety, I hope you found success in this endeavor, and enjoyed yourself while doing so.  More to follow on holiday survival strategies!

Today’s Miracle:

Today I agreed to speak on The Bubble Hour, an internet talk show about recovery from alcoholism and addiction.  We will be discussing sober survival strategies for the holiday season this Sunday, December 7th, at 9 pm EST.  I’m not sure which part is the miracle, being asked to participate, agreeing to participate, or both, but I’m pretty sure there is a miracle in there somewhere!  Here is the link if you are interested in finding out more information:

http://www.thebubblehour.com/

M(3), 11/10: You Don’t Have to Be Mangled to Be Merry

 

The past few weeks, my Monday morning meetings have been nothing that has lit my imagination on fire.  Not bad by any stretch, there truly is no such thing as a bad meeting, but nothing overly inspiring, which of course makes chronicling it difficult.

I am pleased to report, not so with today’s meeting!

It is the second Monday, so the literature rotation required me to select from Living Sober, the book that gives the practical, easy to read advice for those new to recovery.  There was no hesitation as I opened to the table of contents.  Since I feel we are at the opening of what I like to think of as Drinking Season (Thanksgiving Week through the next working day after New Year’s), I knew to look for a chapter that involved planning around drinking occasions.  And the book did not disappoint.  We read Chapter 26:  “Being Wary of Drinking Occasions.”

What happened at this morning is what I love most about meetings:  newcomers opening up and sharing their fears and worries about staying sober, experienced members sharing their wisdom, everyone leaving with feeling of enrichment and solidarity.  Fortuitously, we had the biggest turnout in weeks (15), and an almost perfect mix of sobriety: about a third with a year or less, a third somewhere between 1 and 10 years, and third with over 20 years.  This variety of experience really helps with a discussion like “how to handle drinking celebrations,” because the perspective on this subject changes over time (thankfully the perspective gets better and better!).

For myself, the biggest takeaway from the reading, and this was difficult to pick, there is A LOT of good advice in this chapter, was simply:  do not worry about anyone’s opinion of your decision to be sober, focus instead on the best decisions you can make to shore up that commitment.  In early sobriety, this lesson can be excruciatingly difficult to adopt, and examples of not doing it are many.  For example, in early sobriety, I was appalled at the suggestion that I skip a drinking function.  I mean, are you kidding?  I can’t skip that party, the whole family will be there!   What will they think if I don’t show up?

Tell people I don’t drink, no way I am going to tell people that…. what would they think of me?

If I don’t drink at the party, people will notice, and then what?

That list of rhetorical questions could go on and on, and I bought into every single one of them.  As a matter of fact, for a long time I lived in defiance of this good advice (you don’t understand my life, so don’t you tell me that I can just avoid drinking situations), and the predictable outcome happened:  I did not stay sober.

So, at least from this recovered person’s perspective, I validate the advice:  worry about yourself during the early stages of recovery.  Worry about one thing about yourself:  staying sober.  And, I’m sorry to say, avoid drinking situations as much as you possibly can.  It will not be the big deal you are imagining it will be, and, even if it is, the drama will be short-lived.

From my sharing, everyone else that shared had fantastic ideas on how to stay sober during holiday gatherings.  Here are just a few, some are reiterated from the book, but all are things these attendees regularly do:

  • Give someone a call before you are heading to the event, and then call them the next morning to debrief.  This piece of advice came from my friend with nearly 30 years of sobriety, she says she still does it.  It helps her to connect with friends in recovery, and, as she puts it, “Alcohol is stronger than my 30 years, and sometimes the emotional hangover is just as bad as a physical one, talking helps!”
  • Another friend, with almost the same amount of sobriety, is a professional with the occupational hazard of regular, mandatory attendance of drinking events.  His trick, employed for so long now that people say it for him, is to deflect:  someone asks him if he wants a drink, he declines politely and immediately starts talking about the upcoming menu, and his hopes for cocktail weenies.  He is now known for his love of them, and that is what they offer him, not a drink!
  • He also gave this great advice:  No is a complete sentence.  If someone asks you if you would like a drink, you are perfectly entitled to say, “No, thank you.”  There is positively no need for further explanation!
  • One attendee says he regularly takes the humorous tack:  someone asks him if he would like a drink, his answer is, “Oh no, you don’t have enough for me.”
  • Another person says she has a lot of success throwing out the “designated driver” card, she finds people instantly respond with understanding to that.
  • I added my two cents to this advice melange:  I am well-known in my circles for my love of fountain sodas (specifically Diet Pepsi in case you are interested).  My strategy, that I still employ to this day, is to arrive at the party with a fountain soda in my hand.  People already know I love it, and convenience stores are always available to assist me in this strategy.  It has been a great success:  no one asks you if you need a drink if you’ve already got one in your hand!
  • Two more reiterated pieces of advice:  showing up a bit on the later side, and definitely leaving on the earlier side, of a drinking event will save you lots of hassles when it comes to being asked what you are drinking and dealing with drunk people.  These are strategies that I continue to use with great success at drinking bashes (which, in my family, are all major holidays).
  • The bottom line with all these great bits of advice:  no matter which path you take, I promise you are thinking about it way, WAY more than anyone else at that social function.  Once you make the decision not to drink, people move on.  The vast majority of people do not care what beverage is in your glass!

So much more great advice was given, so many great questions asked, it would be hard to fit it all into one blog post.  But the best part of the meeting, that has me smiling still:  two of the five or so “newbies” have less than 90 days, and admitted to me that they are really struggling.  As one of them put it, “So many Day One’s, it’s hard to keep track!”  Oh boy, can I remember that feeling.  This is the kind of meeting that serves the newcomer the best, so I am over the moon that they were here to gain all of this wisdom.

Plus I am hoping to try that cocktail weenie strategy and see if it works!

I’d love to hear from all of you… any good holiday survival tips?

Today’s Miracle:

Like the klutz I am becoming in middle age, I sprained my ankle over the weekend.  I am walking so much better today, so the miracle is the appreciation of the ability to walk without a limp!

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