M(3), 11/23/15: Holiday Family Challenges
Very excited to report that we had 15 attendees at this morning’s meeting. I can’t remember the last time we were over 12 people!
We read from As Bill Sees It, a book that is usually read by topic rather than by chapter. Typically I select gratitude in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. However, any time I do this I get at least one or two comments about the number of times this month they’ve already talked about gratitude. Which, if you ask me, means they could possibly use a little more gratitude, because it sounds a lot like they are complaining 😉
In any event, to prevent such grumblings, I selected another topic which is timely to many this week: family relationships. Here in the US we celebrate a family-centered holiday this Thursday, and all over the globe we have a variety of upcoming holidays that promote familial gathering.
It was a powerful meeting. Besides the number of people present, the shares from the attendees had quite a bit of emotion within them.
One woman just organized and participated in an intervention for her alcoholic brother. The intervention did not go well, and so the chaos continues for her. She knows that as much as she would love to share with her brother all of the invaluable tools she has been given in her 28 years in our 12-step program; unfortunately, she can’t force him to take those tools. All she can do is turn him over to her Higher Power, then do today what she needs to do to stay sober herself.
Another woman shared of her painful history with relapse, as it relates to family dynamics. She had 5 years sober when she lost her mother to the disease of alcoholism. The loss of her mother was a traumatic event in her life. But instead of opening up about her pain, she held it in, told herself she was okay on her own. From there it was a slippery slope… not sharing turned into a decline in meeting attendance, which turned into no meetings, which turned into a relapse. She finally made it back into the rooms, and she will soon celebrate two years sober. She learned a painful lesson: stick with the basics, and you will never have to re-learn them!
A gentleman shared his no-fail remedy for challenging family relationships: he turns the challenge over to his Higher Power. He was taught in our 12-step program the benefit in a restraint of pen and tongue, and he first employs that restraint, then shoots up a quick prayer to help him navigate the troubled waters of whichever situation is in front of him. He said this simple act has brought an incredible amount of peace over his 30-plus years of sobriety.
Another attendee talked about the enormous amount of stress he currently faces; enough stress to create high blood pressure for the first time in his life. He said that while he has quite a few obligations awaiting him this day, he knows it is equally if not more important for him to get to a meeting and share what’s going on with him. He recognizes that he must put his sobriety first in order to have the presence of mind to deal with all of his other stressors.
Another woman, one who has been chronically relapsing for months, shared that she drank again this past weekend. She had a few years of sobriety under her belt, but since taking that first drink, she has been unable to get back to the basics of recovery. She knows that she must keep trying, because she wants the peace that sobriety had brought her back in her life.
Finally, a woman shared her go-to solution for dealing with holiday stress. When she is dealing with challenging family situations, or just stress in general, she has a 2-step process for handling the situation:
- She checks in with herself and ensures she is behaving in a way about which she is proud
- She then lets go of the results of the interaction
She says the more a situation involves family, the more difficult it is to follow this process; after all, we are invested in the results of any family interaction! But the more we focus on that which we cannot control, the less at peace we are with ourselves. The less at peace we are with ourselves, the less peace we are able to transmit to the world. It’s important to keep in mind that we can only control ourselves and our behavior; how anyone else wishes to think, feel and behave is under their control. So let go of the results, and be amazed at how peaceful life becomes.
I told her and the group that I am going to take that advice as I prepare Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday… I’m going to throw that turkey in the oven, and let go of the results!
I’m praying that all readers of this post have a miraculous Thanksgiving holiday. And if you’re reading and do not celebrate Thanksgiving, then I’m praying you have a miraculous Thursday!
M(3), 10/26/15: Humility and Serenity are Strange Bedfellows
I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I’ve chaired this meeting, but I’m so happy I’m back. Let’s hope I’m not the only one who’s happy 😉
Believe it or not, it is the fourth Monday of the month… what the WHAT?!? In the rotation is the book As Bill Sees It, and the subject I chose is serenity. After last week’s post, where I disclosed my endless and needless guilt issues (quick note: I was overwhelmed with the incredible wisdom I gained as a result of everyone’s comments, thank you so very much), I figured I would seek a subject that is the opposite… focus on the solution, not the problem, right?
And serenity was the closest I could find in terms of guilt’s opposite. Plus, who couldn’t use a little serenity in their lives, right? Certainly the larger-than-average size group of attendees this morning thought so; all who shared claimed they heard just what they needed to this morning.
Funny how that works.
Two profound things came out of this morning’s meeting for me. First, multiple people disclosed that they are recently back from a relapse. Although the meeting was larger than usual, it is still a small meeting. To have a decent percentage of the crowd (I would guess about a third) to be starting over in terms of sobriety is a first for this particular meeting.
You would think that such a startling trend would be put a damper on the mood of the meeting; in fact, the opposite seemed to happen. Relief and even joy seemed to emanate from each of the individuals who spoke of their troubles. Not joy over relapsing, but joy in the fact that they were back where they needed to be. Some are facing legal problems, some worry that their hold on sobriety is tenuous, one is anticipating an upcoming surgery; his last surgery precipitated his recent relapse. But even with all of life’s issues, each person was grateful for the opportunity to begin again a sober life.
The second theme came from the collection of readings from this morning. Although the topic was serenity, each reading spoke in one form or another of the importance of humility. And each of us marvelled over the impact our humility has on our serenity.
And a quick reminder for those who don’t study recovery literature as those of us in 12-step programs do: humility is not humiliation. Rather, humility is a reasonable perspective of oneself. Bill Wilson, founder of the original 12-step program, defined it this way:
The clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to be what we can be.
-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
Seen from this perspective, it is easy to see why striving for humility might also bring about serenity.
It was in one of the discussions about humility that I had my thunderbolt thought. Let me back up and say that all of the readings had an impact on me, I had chosen serenity due to my recent lack of it. So all of the suggestions and thoughts were helpful. But at one point a gentleman was sharing about the idea of turning everything over to his Higher Power, and in so doing he finds serenity. So I considered this… would turning over these guilty feelings and incessant negative voices over to God help? Immediately the negative thoughts started, it is not even possible to gather and document them all. But the aggregate thought might be:
How do you know these negative voices aren’t God’s way of telling you to do something different? How do you know that the guilt isn’t from God, given as an impetus for change?
With that question came an immediate reply, one that caused all the negativity to quiet down, dramatically. I actually lost track of the conversation in the meeting for a few moments because my mind was so quiet:
Because God would not torture you with needless guilt to get His point across… duh!
And just like that I had an answer that made sense. I can talk back to the nagging guilty conscience, because it’s not some wisdom from above, wisdom from above does not come in the voice of a nagging shrew.
Gotta love those Oprah-style aha moments!
I came in with some pretty high expectations for this meeting, and I left with a peace and serenity the exceeded those high expectations.
M(3), 9/28/15: Open-Mindedness
We are almost a whole week into the season of Fall, and, other than my home decor and decreased sunlight, you would never know it in my area of the world. I say if I can’t have the long summer days, then I don’t want the summer humidity! Hopefully the rest of you are enjoying seasonal weather.
Today’s reading selection comes from the book As Bill Sees It, and the topic was “open-mindedness.” I selected it because I have been struggling of late to cultivate this trait… with myself. And I’m frustrated at how tedious and seemingly ineffective it is to try to change my own stubborn mind. The last time I had to engage this kind of shift in perspective it took hitting an alcoholic bottom to do so. I’m hoping that the wisdom gained in sobriety affords me the opportunity to develop the open-mindedness I need without the “benefit” of a personal low such as that!
So my sharing had to do with the broad concept of open-mindedness, but from my sharing the group took a decided turn towards open-mindedness as it relates to the belief in a Higher Power.
In fact, the next person to share after me revealed a multitude of points at which she finds herself stuck in developing a prayer life. She has classified herself an agnostic for most of her adult life, so the concept of a Higher Power at all is a new one to her. She finds it difficult to ascribe human qualities to an entity about which she is uncertain, so having a daily conversation makes little to no sense.
She has grown up with family that treated the God of their understanding as a Santa Claus God; if you ask nice enough you will get whatever you want. But praying for anything stumps my friend; isn’t that reverting to self-will again?
From her disclosure, each person shared about his or her journey to spirituality, and all agreed that it is a journey rather than a destination. Another prior agnostic said what appealed to him about the 12-step program is their refusal to define the term Higher Power. Thirty six years later, he still refuses to define it. But the benefits of following the simple suggestions of asking a Higher Power for help had immediate, practical results for him, and so he continues to keep it as simple as possible. That simplicity has kept him sober and happy for a very long time.
Another long-timer, a clergyman by profession, admits to having a more conventional concept of God. What he appreciates, however, and has deepened his spirituality, is sitting in the rooms of our 12-step program and hearing all the different constructs that people have in terms of their faith. No matter which way you go about developing your relationship with a Higher Power, this gentleman believes the ultimate goal is self-transcendence: getting out of our own heads, and developing a broader perspective. However you get there is up to the individual.
Another attendee has a hard time sticking to one definition of a Higher Power, so for him it varies. He has a picture of Christ in his car that brings him comfort, but he also feels God in nature. He finds it simpler to not ask too deeply, because his experience was rather dramatic: the first time he got down on his knees and asked to have the obsession to drink removed, it was removed. In over 25 years, it has not returned. So for him, there is surely a power greater than himself, because he could not quit drinking on his own. The details simply don’t matter to him.
Another woman spoke of all the manifestations of prayer life she has been through in her many years of sobriety. Come to think of it, most of the people who shared today have decades of sobriety. This usually means they’re doing something right! Anyway, this woman had a confusing childhood of mixed spiritual messages, then she disconnected completely from spirituality for the decades she drank.
So when she committed to getting sober through a 12-step program, she took every suggestion given to her, and the first was: pray for sobriety! At first, that was all she could do… start every morning asking God to keep her sober, then finishing each night with a thank you prayer for another sober day. Over the years, she has tried all kinds of conventional prayers, and a variety of meditations; the format of her prayer life is an evolution. But the one constant is that she asks God for help, and she remains as open as she can for the answer. And she has found incredible answers over the years, from all sorts of unlikely sources.
I had to jump back in and second that notion. I learned through this program that prayer is asking for God’s help, but meditation is listening for the answer. So the notion of a “Santa Claus God” is something I engaged in for years… I would desperately ask for something, then become aggravated when I didn’t get exactly what I wanted in the time frame I wanted.
But in the application of both prayer and meditation, I too have found answers in unusual circumstances. I may not always like the answer, and sometimes I wonder if in fact it is the answer, but the coincidences-that-are-not-coincidences happen too often to not be something greater than myself. The trick, of course, is cultivating the open-mindedness to receive them!
So many other great moments, but this post is turning into a book, and I’m late for an appointment…
Finally, after 2 1/2 months, I am getting my hair done this afternoon. Why I waited this long is anyone’s guess, but the skunk streak of gray is about to be banished from my head 🙂
M(3), 6/22/15: Bungee Jumpers, Horses, and Recovery
So it’s officially summer, and the meeting attendance has dwindled. Incredibly, though, we ran out of time today for discussion, even with only 8 people sharing. I’m thinking that this post might be continued into another, because I am sure that I will be unable to tie into one post all the insights shared in today’s meeting.
There was so much, in fact, that we read only two chapters from the literature selection. For the record, we read from As Bill Sees It, and the topic was acceptance. I jokingly chose the topic because I walked in on the dot of the meeting start time, which is late for the chair of the meeting to arrive. So I selected it lightheartedly, hoping the group would accept my tardiness, but it seemed to touch a nerve with all present.
The first topic of discussion centered around the feeling of anger, and how to satisfactorily handle angry feelings in sobriety. I’ll give the example I threw out to the group: this past weekend I travelled out of town with my daughter’s basketball team for a weekend-long tournament. The weekend, overall a wonderful time in a beach town spent with delightful people and watching my daughter socialize and challenge herself athletically, had some issues common to travelling with a group. Specifically, finding the balance between going along with the group decisions in terms of eating and recreation (much more on the latter in another post) and doing what we as a family wanted to do.
As an aside, I would often watch the other parents and wonder if they were struggling with all this togetherness as much as I was. Is it possible to want to do things as a large group every minute of the day? If so, I must be an introvert, because I was getting a little nuts in the head by Sunday.
The culmination of my angst played out over the last night (for my family, some of these other diehards were extending it into a mini-vacation where they could spend even more time in one another’s back pockets). We were on the boardwalk of the beach town, which of course is a wonderful place for all of these teenage girls to be, but not so much for the parents. We had all gone out for a team dinner beforehand, and due to alcohol consumption by some of the parents, my husband and I volunteered to split up and be designated drivers. A job I was happy to do, in driving from the restaurant to the boardwalk.
Fast forward a few hours, and I was not nearly so happy, because now it’s 10:30 pm, we’ve been milling around this sensory overload of an environment aimlessly for hours, plus we had decided as a family to go to an adorable ice cream parlor near the motel. But we can’t leave the boardwalk without taking people with us, because we are part of a caravan. I tried everything I could imagine to coax enough people to come home with me; not a single plot succeeded. It was only at the point that I was sulking like a 4-year old, on the verge of a tantrum, when my husband looked at me with disbelief and says, “You’ve got to get a grip,” that I recognized I was truly about to have meltdown, the likes of which I have not had in sobriety.
To my credit, I will say that I simply got quiet (ish) after his remark, breathed for a few moments, and finally took back what little power I thought I had by walking to the car and waiting for the group to be done milling around aimlessly.
Overall, though, I was displeased with my emotional reaction to the situation: shouldn’t I be better than this? With a few years of sobriety, shouldn’t I be better able to deal with these situations as they arise?
I will again rave about the power of finding the right 12-step meeting as a saving grace. Although I told the story this morning more or less to confess a situation I wish I had handled better, I wound up receiving more than I could ever write down in blessings from my group. Each person that shared after me told a story where they felt intense anger on the inside, which is why the title reads as it does! The ultimate point each person had, though, in sharing their most recent experience with a similar situation was this: our sobriety does not make us superhuman. Resentments will pop us, as they do for every human being on the planet, but in sobriety we now have a choice: we can handle it the way we have in the past, the kind of decisions that ultimately led us back to bitterness, anger, and ultimately, to drink, or we can choose a healthier option.
One attendee who related his recent story of inner turmoil spoke of the discomfort of knowing there is a choice: we see the 2 paths clearly, and it’s almost painful turning away from the choices to which we’ve become so accustomed. And when he said it, I pictured myself stiffly walking off the boardwalk that night, and discomfort was exactly what I was feeling! I wanted so badly to lash out and argue with my husband why it was okay for me to be self-righteous, as I had a laundry list of reasons to be angry.
That same attendee spoke of giving ourselves the proper credit we deserve. In his story, he griped and complained about his situation… in his mind only. He rose above his resentments and did what he needed to be done. So while he would have liked to have thought more gracious thoughts, the reality is he did what needed to be done. I wish I could say I only complained in my head. However, the only person with whom I vented was my husband, and even then I cut it off light years more quickly than I would have in the past. Progress, not perfection.
And that was one story, one small set of exchanges! There is more to tell, but I am on summer schedule, so I’m going to get back to this more later in the week. To be continued…
Still marvelling at seeing Paul McCartney last night in concert… that’s man’s talent and energy is a miracle!
M(3), 5/25/15… Even Though It’s Almost 5/27!
Better late than never!
Crazy few days in my corner of the world, with still a teensy bit more to go, but I wanted to recap yesterday’s meeting, for the sake of continuity, if nothing else.
Yesterday, as the fourth Monday of the month, we read from the book As Bill Sees It, the topical compilation of AA literature. I selected the topic freedom, in honor of our American holiday Memorial Day.
I will be honest and say that the topic in and of itself did not fill me with excitement, but the readings were interesting and the conversation lively. I was also impressed to have an attendance of 10, which is pretty good for a holiday.
Of course, the first point that hits home with anyone in recovery when the topic of freedom arises: the freedom experienced when released from the obsession and compulsion to drink or use drugs. After I selected the topic but before we started reading, my eyes fell upon the travel coffee mug I bring with me to the meeting. It is the type you get through a website like Snapfish, a mug personalized with a photograph. Mine has a beautiful photo taken of my family when we went on our one and only trip to Disney World, almost five years ago. I suppose because the topic of freedom was already on my mind, I thought back to that trip through that perspective. I looked at my own face in the picture, and I could remember, vividly, my mindset at the time. While I was generally able to control myself in situations like a family vacation, my mind would anticipate the time when I did not have to control myself. I remembered all too well anticipating the end of that vacation, where I could then end my control.
Who does that… in The Happiest Place on Earth no less?
Here’s the good news, and what I shared at Monday’s meeting: those days are a thing of the past. The past 4 days of my life have been dedicated to celebrating my daughter’s 15th birthday, which happens to be today. Friday we brainstormed a list of all her favorite food (an extensive and varied list, she will bankrupt her future boyfriends with her culinary taste). Saturday through Monday I baked/cooked/prepared every single item on the list (technically one item we ate at a restaurant, but still). We had her closest friends over for dinner, took them to a movie, then had them back for a sleepover. Sunday we went shopping for clothes and makeup. Monday she went out for a practice drive in anticipation of next year’s being able to apply for a driver’s license (all my husband, no way am I rushing that life event), and Monday night we had the family over to eat pie (no store-bought cake for this one!) and ice cream, and sing happy birthday. One more mini-event tonight with her basketball team, and I will go to sleep tonight feeling good that I celebrated my daughter’s birthday right.
Comparing that trip to Disney to this past birthday weekend… that’s freedom to me.
Even better insights came out of the meeting:
- One gentleman shared his thoughts about freedom versus responsibility. Some people think freedom = I can do what I want. For us alcoholics, that thinking did not equate to much freedom at all, quite the opposite. But thinking of doing “what I ought” instead “what I want,” ultimately provides us the greatest freedom that exists, the freedom that is peace of mind.
- Another friend at the meeting talked about the idea of dependence upon a Higher Power giving independence, and she felt that to be very true for her. For years, she admitted, she relied far too heavily upon her family for many of her needs, not the least of those being sobriety. Now, in relying upon a power greater than herself, she finds she does not have to rely upon her family to remain sober, she can manage her recovery with without them.
- In a discussion of the never-ending chatter of our minds, and that chatter hindering our ability to make calm and clear decisions, one “long-timer” share an acronym I heard for the first time on Monday:
EGO: Edging God Out
I love it! The more I go round and round in my head about a decision, the more I think and out-think and over think, the less I’m turning it over to God, and the more I’m turning it over to my ego. I’m keeping that one in my back pocket for the next time my monkey mind starts up!
There was, I’m sure, tons more great stuff, but the problem is the longer I wait to post, the less I can retain, so I’ll end here. Hope all my American friends had wonderful, sober 3 day weekend!
The awareness of how much better, richer, and more fulfilling a sober life is. So grateful to celebrate such a special day, so grateful that I will remember it tomorrow!
M(3), 3/23/15: I’m Taking a Trip… a Guilt Trip, That is
Today’s reading selection came from the book As Bill Sees It: The AA Way of Life. I would describe it as a “best of” book, in that it is composed of excerpts from hundreds of different letters, articles and book chapters written by the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson. Each selection of excerpts centers around a particular topic or theme; this morning I chose the guilt as the topic from which to read.
While smaller in attendance than last week’s meeting, the sharing was much more animated than the week prior. I did take my own suggestion and brought donuts for the first meeting of spring, so perhaps sugar is the key to conversation! In any event, everyone had a personal experience to relate with regard to the topic of guilt. Here are some of the highlights:
- There is no comparison to the role that guilt plays in the life of the actively addicted versus the life of a recovered person: guilt is all-encompassing and pervasive while we are still drinking. No matter what feelings of guilt we experience in sobriety, they pale in comparison to the guilt we lived in active addiction. Every one of us in attendance this morning had the opportunity to recall the caliber of guilt in active addiction, and be consciously grateful that we no longer have to live that way.
- Mucking around in the past is a pointless exercise that needlessly brings back guilt. Sometimes it is necessary to stop yourself mid-thought and bring yourself out of that state with the reminder that the past is unchangeable; all that can be done now is to live the best way you know how today.
- The worst thing we can do with our guilt is to keep it inside; one of the greatest blessings of fellowship within a 12-step program is the ability to share our burdensome feelings with people who understand completely. Sharing our guilt helps to lessen its power.
- Guilt over past mistakes with drinking can very well lead to relapse. The inability to forgive, combined with self-pity, led one attendee in the room back to the bottle time and again for years. Each time she would drink, then feel horrible about herself for drinking. Over time the guilt turned to thoughts of “why is this so hard for me?” Eventually, those feelings became too much, and she would pick up again. It was only in letting go of past mistakes that she was able to accrue her three years (and counting!) of sober time.
- Several of the long-timers cited step four and step five, in which they completed a personal inventory of themselves and then shared that inventory with a trusted advisor, as the turning point in the eradication of guilt as a driving force in their lives. The act of looking at their drinking lives thoroughly and honestly, and admitting to themselves and another human being their defects of character, was enough to allow them to let go of the past. The follow-up work in steps 8 and 9, where they made amends for the more egregious of faults, solidified their ability to live in the present rather than bemoan the mistakes of the past.
I picked this topic today because it had application to some recent events in my life. This past weekend I attended an annual charity event in which members of my family have participated for years. Personally, it is an event I dread in the days that lead up to it, and this year for whatever reason it bothered me more than most. The problem is that I associate bad memories with it both in active addiction as well as in sobriety. The active addiction is simple enough: I think of the times I attended while chemically altered, and the guilt hits me like a blow to the stomach. But then the memory hits me, like a one-two punch, of the first time I attended this event sober. It was very early in my sobriety, and I still had so many strained relations with a variety of family members, I actually had to walk away from the whole event and circle the block, I was having such a hard time catching my breath.
Both memories are still so powerful to me, they are really hard to shake. This year’s event was a perfectly fine one, both of my children participated and had a marvelous time doing so (my daughter even won a medal for second place in her age category!), plus I had a variety of friends participate this year so there was lots of good distraction.
But the bottom line: emotional hangovers can be nearly as powerful as alcoholic ones, and I wound up feeling physically sick most of the day Sunday. I could be creating a link where one doesn’t exist, but at the very least the emotional hangover did not help the physical ailment.
So what’s the answer when guilt grabs you by the throat? I’m not sure I have the sure-fire remedy, but I can certainly tell you what doesn’t work: wallowing in the memories. I spent some time doing that this weekend, and I can say with certainty that wallowing only exacerbates the issue.
The only two solutions I know I have employed this morning: I prayed, and I talked about it. I suppose this post counts as a third: I am taking the time to write it out. Hopefully all three things will help put these demons to rest once and for all!
Waking up and getting back to a normal routine after a sad sick day is always a miracle!