M(3), 5/1/2017: Short and Sweet!
Today is the first meeting in a long time where I found myself looking at the clock and wishing it would move a bit faster. Attendance was on the lower side, but it was also that people were unwilling to share. It happens from time to time, but it doesn’t get less uncomfortable each and every time it happens.
And the reading was a solid one… we read a personal story from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It was called “Women Suffer Too,” and it was written by one of the first female members of our 12-step program. Her tale is a compelling one, and inspirational to boot.
If nothing else, I can speak to what I personally took from this morning’s reading. While the timeline of her progression through alcoholism and recovery did not resemble mine whatsoever, I could relate to the emotions behind her drinking and subsequent sobriety.
Most notably, she wrote of the diminishing returns of alcohol, despite the increasing quantities she drank. Almost everyone in the room could relate to that. As time goes on, it becomes a chase… drink/ingest more and more in the hopes of recapturing the glory days when drinking/altering yourself was fun! Soon it becomes a situation where you know you are never going to recapture the nostalgia, and yet you can’t envision a life where you simply refrain. A dark place, but ultimately a hopeful one, as it usually the starting point of recovery.
The second part of the story that spoke to me this morning is the feeling of camaraderie she found within the fellowship. She found, through gathering with a group of like-minded individuals, that she no longer felt that she was alone in her troubles, or that she was morally depraved, or irreparable. She found that in allowing acceptance of her less than ideal but still human qualities, she found the motivation she needed to improve herself… and found peace within to boot.
The group that did share focused on some of the “before” parts of the story… specifically, the blackouts that the author was able to describe in colorful detail. A lot of us can relate to this unfortunate part of alcoholic drinking…. the absence of memory for certain parts of the night, and the discomfort that causes the next day.
That’s all I’ve got for today. Better than nothing, I suppose!
Heading out to celebrate my husband’s birthday!
M(3), 4/3/2017: A Life-Long Plan
This morning we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I selected the reading “The Keys to the Kingdom,” written by a woman instrumental in starting the Chicago chapter of our 12-step program.
As always, there is loads of great stuff within the reading, but one paragraph in particular stood out to me:
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, outgrow 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
This is a great reminder for me to keep active in my own journey of recovery. And when you think about it, it is counterintuitive to most things in our lives… if we are on a diet we restrict calories to lose weight, get to the desired number on the scale, and then set out on a maintenance plan. Or we decide to stop smoking, and put a tremendous amount of effort into that process until it becomes more natural to not smoke than it does to pick up a cigarette, then we can more or less hit cruise control. Even expanding out further, we work towards a retirement, we raise our kids until they are able to take care of themselves. In most areas of our life we are working towards a goal that allows us to “graduate” in one way or another.
But this is not so in recovery. Here we seek to grow, endlessly. And sometimes this feels like the biggest curse in the world. I’m guilty of these thoughts myself, on numerous occasions. I’ve even said it out loud, “How come I have to always be the bigger person? How come that someone gets to be a jackass without repercussion just because they’re not an alcoholic?”
But in reality this program is far more a blessing than it is a curse. Because for the minimal amount of work it requires, if offers blessings a thousandfold.
Here are some other excellent points made this morning:
- Not only are we lucky to have a lifelong program of learning, we are even luckier to have a fellowship of people on the same path. These people are the foundation that keep us sober.
- In the story the author talks about coming into the program and wishing for only a part of the peace and happiness she saw displayed among its members. That sentiment is true for so many of us… we come in and think we’ll never be as happy as the members we see, but if we can be half as happy, and stay sober, we’ll be satisfied. And of course the dream becomes a reality for a lot of us.
- The story talks about the many ways the author attempted to control her drinking, to no avail. Most of us in the meeting this morning could relate to the various ways someone can try to control drinking. And in most cases, once you start planning ways to control your drinking, you’ve already lost control!
- The story talks about the many blessing sobriety brings. All of us present this morning have blessings we can list, but none so great as the blessing of healing a fractured relationship with your children. It is the greatest gift of sobriety to be present and engaged in the lives of your children.
- Some of us marvel, like the author, at how competent we were while in active addiction. And if you can accomplish so much while not sober, imagine how much more productive you can be once you’re sober? Active addiction takes mental time and energy that could be put so so much better use!
Sitting down and writing. I know I’ve used that one before, but it still counts as a miracle to me!
M(3), 3/6/2017: A Story for Any Stage of Recovery
Happy March to all!
Today’s reading was a personal story from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”) entitled “It Might Have Been Worse.” This story is an excellent read for a variety of reasons. First, it describes eloquently the progression that is the disease of addiction. Equally convincingly does the author describe the role denial plays into alcoholism, and the various ways denial manifests itself into the life of an alcoholic. Finally, and perhaps most compellingly, the author describes how he came into the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous in order to stay sober, but found he received an entirely better way to live his life.
I got a lot out of the reading this morning, and I was surprised to find this to be so. I actually walked into the meeting this morning doubtful I could keep my head in the game for the hour the meeting took place. I’m having “one of those weeks,” the kind every single human being on the planet has. And truly, the fact that I can easily identify having a lot going on is progress, as is taking my mental inventory on a regular basis. But still, knowing that I’m dealing with life issues the same as everyone doesn’t actually take those life issues away, and so I was distracted this morning.
But I also know that sitting around and ignoring responsibilities is not going to take the worry away, so I go where I’m committed to going. And as is always the case, the meeting helped.
What I related to most in the story… well, actually, I related to a lot. The author developed a problem with alcohol later in life, as did I. The author could clearly remember a time when he drank without problems, as can I. The author initially heard stories within the 12-step fellowship that made him think his problems were not relatable… so did I.
Unlike the author, who took to the principles of the 12 steps from his very first meeting, it took me a little while to buy into the 12 steps. But once I got on board, I found the same result: I went to meetings and followed suggestions initially to stay sober and nothing more. But once I started following the suggestions, I realized that staying sober is only the beginning of the miracles that take place; every part of my life is enhanced by practicing the principles of the 12 steps in all my affairs. The very reason I write this blog is to show that the 12 steps are really a blueprint for a better life!
The reading was a great selection for this particular meeting, as we had several people new or newly returning to sobriety. A story that gives such practical advice as this one is sure to help anyone at any stage of sobriety, and it seems like the story resonated with everyone as much as it did me. Here are some other great take-away’s:
- There is an excellent description in the reading about what it means to be powerless over alcohol:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable. This didn’t say we had to be in jail ten, fifty, or one hundred times. It didn’t say I had to lose one, five or ten jobs. It didn’t say I had to lose my family. It didn’t say I had to finally live on skid row and drink bay rum, canned heat, or lemon extract. It did say I had to admit I was powerless over alcohol- that my life had become unmanageable. Most certainly I was powerless over alcohol, and for me my life had become unmanageable. It wasn’t how far I’d gone, but where I was headed. -pg. 354, Alcoholics Anonymous
- Denial is the most insidious symptom in the disease of alcoholism, and it is the one element that can come back no matter how much sober time one has. There aren’t many diseases in the world that have denial as part of the condition. A way to combat the return of the symptom of denial is to continue to treat the disease… go to meetings, read literature, share with others, develop a spiritual life, work the 12 steps. By staying close to the things that got you sober you insure against denial creeping back into your life.
- The reading talks about the use of alcohol as a form of self-medication. Life gets rough, and the first thought is how to take the edge off, and of course alcohol is the go-to solution. A big part of successful recovery is learning how to face life on life’s terms, without needing to chemically alter ourselves when things get stressful.
- There are a number of AA expressions that the author references as helpful, and many in the meeting this morning agreed that these simple phrases have a powerful effect on living a peaceful life. “First things first,” “Easy does it,” “24 hours a day…” these are all things that help us to get sober, but over time they help us to live our lives more effectively and peacefully as well.
- The story distinguishes between the two components of the disease of addiction: the allergy of the body and the obsession of the mind. The first component has a (relatively) simple fix: if you don’t take the first drink, you will not suffer the consequences of the “allergy.” In other words, if you don’t take the first drink, you won’t crave the next dozen or so after! The obsession of the mind is a little harder to grasp, and takes quite a bit longer to heal, but the 12 steps go a long way in restoring peace of mind, and thus removing the obsession to drink.
So much great stuff, and I’m thinking I still failed to cover it all. Happy Monday!
Today, hitting publish on this post is going to count as today’s miracle. Here’s hoping that this time next week I have all sorts of positive news to report from my life issues!
M(3), 1/2/2017: Ego vs. Addiction
Housekeeping: if I take time to reply to comments, I’ll never get this post written. But I’ll do so as soon as I hit publish! Overall I’d like to say a big thank you to all who commented, and I am thinking long and hard about all suggestions. As I mentioned yesterday, circumstances are such that no resolution can be reached for a few weeks. In the meantime, I am going to tinker about with different formats and see if I can’t come up with a way to transmit all the wonderful wisdom without the remotest possibility of breaking anonymity.
Having said that, today’s meeting was an actual first, at least I think it was… we did not have enough chairs in the meeting room to house the attendees present! A great way to start an otherwise cold and dreary Monday, I’ll tell you that much.
As it is the first Monday of not only the month, but the year, we reach chapter one of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”), “Bill’s Story.” Bill is Bill Wilson, the co-founder of the original 12-step program of recovery. And his story is a compelling one: from one of the lowest bottom drunks that exists, to co-founding a program that is in existence and thriving 80 plus years later.
As compelling a story as Bill’s is, I am often challenged when I read it to find a part relatable to my journey of recovery. Today, however, proved to be an exception, as a theme stood out for me in a way that hasn’t any of the past time I’ve read it. And the theme is ego. Bill truly believed that his self-will could conquer any challenge, win any war. And for a long time, it did. Remember, Bill lived through World War One, the roaring 20’s and the Great Depression, and his creativity, persistence and gumption got his to the top of a lot of heaps. But ultimately he found his self-will was no match for his addiction to alcohol. When he finally surrendered to that notion, miraculous things happened to him, and for a lot of alcoholics who followed in his footsteps.
So what’s relatable about that? For me, it is a reminder of how insidious the ego can be. How many of us have gotten sober a few days, weeks, month, or even years, then decided that “we’ve got this?” Or we appreciate the value of humility for a while, especially when newly sober, but over time forget the value of staying humble?
For those of us who cultivate our spiritual lives, the ego is especially dangerous, for how easy it is to let those simple spiritual practices fall by the wayside as life gets too chaotic? By the time we are in real need of a spiritual connection, we realize we’ve actually been disconnected.
For me, today’s meeting is a reminder to stay right-sized, and keep my ego in check. Here is some other great stuff I heard today:
- The story is an important reminder of what the alcoholic bottom feels like. Who doesn’t vividly recall the horrific feelings of the morning following a particularly nasty drunk? Or the hopelessness of the broken promise that we won’t drink today?
- The 12 steps of the program are clearly explained as Bill tells his story of recovery. If you read nothing else in the Big Book but Bill’s story, you will have a basic understanding of the 12 steps of recovery.
- Reading the transformation of Bill’s life and attitude is a reminder of how different a life of sobriety can be from a life of active addiction. You can almost feel the remarkable difference in his perspective and how it positively impacts his world, and the worlds of those around him.
- Unconditional surrender is another theme of the story. For a long time Bill believed he could beat this problem by his own means, but when he understood the concept of unconditional surrender, and applied it to his own life, miraculous things happened for him, and for countless others.
- Addiction to alcohol can make the most logical and intelligent people strangely insane. They can be incredible in every other area of their lives, and yet their logic completely escapes them when it comes to moderating alcohol.
- Overcoming the hurdle of a higher power when one does not believe such a thing exists is covered wonderfully in this story. Bill himself struggled with the notion of turning his will over, until he was convinced he could create a God of his understanding. This concept got many an alcoholic over the hump of believing in a traditional God.
Hope everyone is enjoying the new year!
Writing two posts in two days. It’s been a loooong time since I’ve done that. And if I’m really on my game, another post talking about the WOTY is coming tomorrow!
M(3), 12/5/16: Acceptance is the Answer
It feels good to be writing on this blog, I can’t seem to string two weeks together here!
This is the Monday I’ve been waiting for all year. When I chose the new format of the Big Book readings back in January, I realized that December would be a free pick month, and I didn’t need two seconds to consider what reading I’d select.
Normally I choose this reading at least two times in a calendar year, so I’m overdue for this topic!
The reading is the title of the post. It is in the personal stories section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and is one of the most popular ones in the fellowship. If you say to a member of the 12-step program, “what is the significance of page 417?” they will likely have the answer. It is the seminal paragraph in Dr. Paul O’s story:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
I’ve told, possibly a dozen times or more, the significance of the story in my own personal journey of sobriety (here’s one example if you haven’t read). And there hasn’t been a time I’ve read the story that it doesn’t help me gain perspective in some way.
The main reason I took the blog in the direction I’ve taken it… writing about the lessons I’m learning within the fellowship of the 12-step program… is that I find so many universal lessons within the program, lessons that teach me so much more than just how to stay sober. This story, and the enlightenment we in the meeting rooms receive, is possibly the best example I can provide.
As usual, the story did not disappoint. We had a large group this morning, and the positive reaction was unanimous. In fact, a bonus treat was introducing the story to a woman for the first time. She was familiar with the paragraph I have above, but not with the story itself. Even more amazing, she shares the same profession as the author of the story, and the profession plays a huge role in his recovery story, so it held special meaning for her.
For people unfamiliar with 12-step meetings, books are typically kept in the meeting room, then shared by all. The first person to share this morning said what stood out most to her about the story was how the author was able to improve his marriage by using the principles of the program at home. Coincidentally, in the book this woman was reading from this morning, someone wrote at the end of the chapter: “portrait of a marriage.” So someone else agrees that reading this story can help to build bridges with your spouse!
Another long-timer shared that would stood out most to him was the idea that “serenity works in inverse proportion with expectations.” In other words, the more you expect out of people and life, the less peaceful you are likely to be. Another universal concept that everyone could use in their lives, especially around the holidays!
A friend shared that what struck her this morning was how she related to the author’s sense of self-deprecating humor. Because he wrote so humorously and compellingly, she was able to relate to his story, despite having little in common with him in terms of logistics. She especially related to the way he described chemically altering himself to achieve unconsciousness. She found that even though she merely drank wine at night, the end result was the same. It’s reassuring to read that the basic principles of the program work despite the substance of choice.
Another gentleman shared that he used to read this story with a sense of self-righteousness, as he too only drank alcohol, and refrained from any kind of drug use. But he is starting to come around to the idea that at the end of the day, the underlying issues are the same for all of us, and comparisons, good or bad, are detrimental. We all only have today in which to stay sober.
I of course got an absolute ton out of the reading itself and from the wisdom everyone shared. As I mentioned earlier, this reading applies to all areas in my life:
When I criticize a person, or judge them:
“When I complain about me or about you, I am criticizing God’s handiwork. I am saying I know better than God.” -pg. 417
If I’m frustrated that people aren’t taking my advice:
“And if I don’t know what’s good for me, then I don’t know what’s good or bad for you or for anyone. So I’m better off if I don’t give advice, don’t figure I know what’s best, and just accept life on life’s terms, as it is today – especially my own life, as it actually is.” -pg. 418
When I am angry that my husband won’t see my point of view:
“… in AA I was told… ‘the courage to change’ in the Serenity Prayer meant not that I should change my marriage, but that I should change myself and learn to accept my spouse as she was.” -pg. 419
When I am fearful and anxious that my stupid foot is taking too long to heal:
“Acceptance is the key to my relationship with God today. I never just sit around and do nothing while waiting for Him to tell me what to do. Rather, I do whatever is in front of me to be done, and I leave the results up to Him; however that turns out, that’s God’s will for me.” -pg. 420
I’m already sad the meeting is over and I won’t be able to pick this selection for a while!
The reading, and the insights is never fails to deliver, count as my miracle!
M(3), 11/7/16: Coincidence? I Think Not!
I keep staring at the blank screen expecting a lightning bolt of creativity to hit me, and it doesn’t appear to be happening. Now I’m going to try the “just start writing” approach and see where that gets me.
I’ll start with the meeting and wind round to why my thoughts are scattered. Our reading selection today from the the book Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the “Big Book.” This year I tried something different in terms of this book. For the 3 years prior to this one, I selected readings from the second half of the book, the part that contains all the personal stories. To mix it up, in the year 2016 we read from the first 164 pages, which most consider to be the heart and soul of the 12-step program. There are 11 chapters in this first part of the book, so today marked the end of this cycle.
I have been waiting, practically since January, to get to this month, because by leaps and bounds my favorite chapter is the one we read today. It is called “A Vision for You,” and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you have heard me wax rhapsodic about it. It is so uplifting and energizing, I wish the book started with this chapter.
I’ll start with my share, as the reading of this chapter reminded me of a story from my early days of sobriety. The chapter speaks of the serendipitous circumstances that connected the co-founders of the fellowship, their meeting with the third member, and the growth of the program that came from these meetings. It brought to mind a not quite so miraculous, but still noteworthy story of my own:
When I first got sober, I went to meetings daily. Specifically, I attended the same 10 am meeting that took place every day of the week. In so doing, I got to know all the other regular attendees. I happen to hit the 90-day mark on a Friday, at which point several of the long-timers announced that since I have my 90 day coin I am eligible to chair meetings, and so no time like the present. Then they erased the chairperson for Monday and put my name in his or her place.
I can’t specifically recall, but I imagine I sweated out the weekend worrying about how I was going to pull off this responsibility. Thankfully the chair rotation was different on the weekends, or I would have had to do it the very next day.
So Monday comes and I couldn’t be more nervous. That meeting was significantly different than the one I run now in that it is a much larger crowd… figure 50 to 60 on average. I start the meeting, and I suppose I do okay. The break comes (halfway through the 60-minute meeting) and a gentleman comes up and introduces himself as Jim, tells me this is his very first meeting, and asked me a question. I wish I could remember the question, but I’m pretty sure my abject fear at having to answer a 12-step question when I had 90 days of sobriety under my belt must have blocked it out. I’m sure I said something, though I can’t remember specifically what, and as soon as was politely possible I connected him with the regulars in the group that I felt could give him the information he needed.
The rest of the meeting proceeded, and that was that.
By the time I hit the six-month mark, I was still attending daily meetings, but I was branching out and rarely got back to original meeting place. However, for the milestone of 6 months I wanted to announce it there; it was a Sunday, and the only time I could get there was the 6 pm meeting. I anticipated not knowing too many people, as I tend to hit daytime meetings.
To my surprise and delight, I knew the chairperson of the meeting: my friend Jim, the one who had just started 3 months ago! I marvelled at the fantastic coincidence, and I could not wait to share with him. In fact, I raised my hand and shared out loud the story of how nervous I was, and congratulated Jim on achieving 90 days and chairing the meeting. At the end of the meeting Jim found me and said he could top my story with one of his own from that day:
It turns out that his wife had dropped him off at that meeting 3 months ago, but he had no intention of staying. He figured he’s stay to the break, but he had just enough money in his pocket to head out to the nearest open bar as soon as the halfway point came. Something had him ask me a question, he has no idea what… his best guess is he wanted to be polite to me since I was leading the meeting. My response was so kind that he figured he owed it to me to stay. And afterwards when those gentlemen with whom I connected him were so kind, he figured he could give this a try.
And three months later, still sober, he was chairing meeting.
The moral of the story, of course, is that no matter how little you think you know, how little you think you have to give, it just might be the world to someone else. I don’t remember what I said, but I know for sure it wasn’t anything profound or wise. It couldn’t have been… I didn’t know squat! And his taking the time to fill me in on that backstory made all the difference to me. It was at that moment everything crystallized for me that when I pay attention, amazing things happen, all around me, every day.
From my share a few other people had similar tales of amazing coincidences-that-are-never-coincidences. And a secondary theme of this morning’s share was gratitude, a most fitting theme for a November meeting!
I went a little long with my personal story, but today’s miracle for me is getting what I needed from that meeting today, as I usually do. Even if I have to relearn the same lesson a dozen times, there is always someone there to teach me. And for that I am grateful!
Additionally, the miracle of unscattering my thoughts via writing should be noted!
M(3), 10/3/16: To Write or Not to Write?
As any regular reader knows, I thoroughly enjoy my weekly Monday 12-step meeting. Like most everything in life, not every single experience is chock full of wisdom to share. The question for me then becomes: do I just skip blogging for a week, or do I attempt to find some nuggets to pass along?
Since I am of the mindset that no meeting is a bad one, I’ll attempt to write. There were 20 people in the meeting, which is near a record high, so surely as I write I will come up with something that is a decent take-away.
The reading selection is likely what is putting me in a bad frame of reference. We read from “The Big Book,” proper title Alcoholics Anonymous, and we read the chapter entitled “To the Employers.” Right away the subject matter puts me at a disadvantage, as I’ve been a stay at home Mom for so long that I have no experience on either side of this issue.
I also have an issue with the dated way in which the subject matter is approached. So as not to get into a critique of our fellowship’s most revered book, I’ll simply say that in my opinion, the chapter might have a subtitle of “HR Nightmare.”
It therefore became difficult for me to share in any meaningful way on the chapter itself, so I took a wider frame of the material and shared on the general topic of misunderstanding the disease of alcoholism. Even with this broader theme, I still don’t have a ton of personal experience, as the vast majority of my family and friends were supportive of my recovery. In the years I’ve attended 12-step meetings, I have heard absolute horror stories of loved ones strongly encouraging active addiction, and sabotaging efforts to remain sober.
One woman said her husband frequently would hold up a vodka bottle and announce, “Whenever you’re ready just say the word and I’m pouring!” It’s hard to compare to that level of disrespect.
It’s hitting me a little bit more as I move into the stage of parenting where I’m dealing with kids and alcohol. It is noticeable to me as I begin to navigate these waters that my perspective, my reaction and my plan of action is markedly different than parents I know who have not dealt with addiction.
Truth be told, I’m not even sure who’s got the right way of thinking. In all likelihood the best approach falls somewhere in the middle, as it usually does in life.
Meeting attendees had better experiences to share in terms of the chapter itself. Several in the group had been approached by employers regarding their drinking, and all agreed it was a warranted discussion. One person admitted to being on both ends of the spectrum; he had been fired as a result of his alcoholism, and he’s had to fire people as a result of theirs. The latter, he asserts, is a difficult action to take as a person in recovery himself.
Most of the people who are in charge of hiring and firing acknowledge that is is incredibly difficult in this day and age to approach an employee with respect to their drinking. But they also believe that their understanding of the disease and its cure helps them to show greater empathy.
One special note: for the first time in four years, my husband attended my meeting. As George Costanza says, worlds are colliding:
Of course, I’m kidding, I was honored that he’d want to attend, and he reports being happy to, as he puts it, “see me in action.”
Not one, not two, but THREE different sober anniversaries in this morning’s meeting!
M(3), 9/5/16: To the Family Afterward
Suddenly it’s Tuesday morning, and still no wrap-up post from yesterday’s meeting. I’m going to blame the three day weekend, and an aging, limping mess of a dishwasher that needed some funeral arrangements, but the time is coming where I figure out what comes next for this blog.
In other words: sorry again for the delay.
It was a decently sized meeting, considering it to be a holiday. It’s counterintuitive to me that holidays produce smaller sized meetings. I would think more people would show up, since more people have off from work. In any event, we had the usual suspects, plus one or two extras.
We read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”), a chapter entitled “To the Family Afterward.” This is another chapter, much like last month, that deals with topics pertaining to the loved ones of the alcoholic, rather than the alcoholic himself/herself. As I mentioned last month, these two chapters are the prologue to Al-Anon.
According to this chapter, there seem to be two watchwords for the recovering alcoholic and his/her family in the early days of sobriety:
The chapter breaks down a whole bunch of possible scenarios that family may experience as the alcoholic recovers, and how best to handle them.
Attendees in the meeting shared their validation of the various scenarios laid out, and added a few more. One gentleman told an amusing story. He came home the night of his seven year sober anniversary, and proudly presented the coin to his wife. She replied, “Congratulations, these were the happiest six years of my life.” He gently reminded her it has been seven years, not six, to which she replied, “Yeah… I’m leaving out that first year on purpose.”
The expression “it’s a family disease” exists for a reason, I guess.
That illustrates the patience part. The balance concept? Well, those reading this post who are in recovery are likely chuckling ruefully. Alcoholics are known for a lot of things, but balance and moderation are not at the top of the list. Or at the bottom for that matter.
So it follows that in recovery, we can go in a bunch of well-intentioned but over the top directions… we find God, then shove Him down everyone’s throat. Or we lose sight of the friends and family that supported us in favor of our new recovery activities.
So the family reacts, and the cycle of chaos starts all over again.
The solution is for everyone involved to communicate honestly and productively, and bring those two watchwords back to the forefront.
As another gentleman pointed out in the meeting: if you go walking into the woods for three days straight, then finally decide you want out, do you think you’re finding your way back in an hour? It took time to get in, it’ll take time to get out again.
It was an interesting chapter for me to read, given the holiday on which we read it (for those not in the United States, we celebrated Labor Day yesterday). Normally when I read this chapter, I have little to no reaction. I am one of the extremely fortunate ones who had complete family support as I recovered. None of the anecdotes described in the chapter apply directly to my life.
However, Labor Day weekend holds a bi-annual event in my family of origin. We have been holding a family reunion for as long as I’ve been alive. Longer, actually, which makes me want to find out how long it’s been going on. At this point we have about 150 people in attendance, and it is an all-day, much-of-the-night affair.
There have been three so far in my sobriety. I believe I skipped entirely the first one, I attended briefly the second, this past Saturday I stayed the longest.
The days leading up to the event had me in a state of… something along the lines of discontent, I suppose. You see, this is the one situation on which I haven’t readily been able to slap the “sober is better” sticker. The event is largely outdoors, at a time of year where it is humid. I am not the outdoorsy type (understatement). There are tons of people, but these are people I see either at this event, or a funeral, so a catch-up conversation (and sometimes a reminder of names) is required each and every time. The vast majority of these people will be imbibing a social lubricant called beer (or a mixed drink); I will be consuming the social lubricant called Diet Pepsi.
If I’m being brutally honest, I was dreading the event, and then I was berating myself for dreading it. What kind of person does not want to spend time with their family? But the equally brutal truth is that pre-recovery, I couldn’t wait for the event, because it was an all all-day drink fest, and now it’s not. For me, anyway. For many others, it continued to be. So it felt like I had more to dread than I had to anticipate.
Luckily for me, I have tools in the toolkit to use in times such as these, and I had my pre-game rituals in place. The most important of these tools, in my opinion, is to have a quick exit strategy should I become uncomfortable around the alcohol/excessive drinking.
The other tool that I used, and was the turning point in the event, was to remember why I was actually there: to spend time with family, and to participate in a long-standing family tradition. When I kept that in the forefront of my mind, instead of focusing on the alcohol that surrounded me, I was able to relax and enjoy the event.
People still got drunk. In fact, I heard tales of overturned golf carts at the end of the evening (which was really early morning) that had me belly laughing. But the reality is the people who got as drunk as I would have gotten were in the minority. The majority of people were casually drinking, or not drinking at all, and they were a delight. I dragged my feet going to the reunion, but I left with a grateful heart.
And then I got to read and remember why I am so grateful!
Family love and support are perennial miracles
M(3), 8/1/16: Prologue to Al-Anon?
If I get to the end of this post, and I hit publish, AND it’s coherent… that is today’s miracle. I will simply put “enough said.”
Without getting into unnecessary complaining, we are getting to that point in the summer. That and a ridiculously unnecessary, incredibly long and painful dentist appointment makes me less than the happy camper I want to be.
Hopefully blogging will work its usual magic.
Today being the first of the month, we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”), and we are up to Chapter 8: To the Wives.
Come to think of it, this chapter might have sent the ball rolling down the hill of unhappiness, since the meeting was right before the dentist appointment. I shared with the group that this chapter is, hands down, my least favorite in the book.
For those not familiar, “To the Wives” addresses the loved ones of alcoholics, and how best to help them. In answer to your unspoken question, the chauvinistic title is due to the culture in the time it was published (1939).
My share was an honest one: I did not have a whole lot to share, due to my being unable to relate to its contents. I think the closest part of the chapter that spoke to me was the notion that the rebuilding a relationship in recovery is a journey for both parties. Mistakes will be made, patience needs to be plentiful. But the outcome can be a stronger relationship than ever before.
Amen to that part of the chapter!
The rest… not so much. And I was not alone. Others took umbrage with the advice to take the alcoholic behavior with a smile, for attempting to nag or browbeat an alcoholic into recovery is a futile endeavor at best, a nudge towards more drinking at worst.
One regular attendee who has been around the meetings for decades longer than I explained it this way: this chapter is 13 years ahead of the creation of Al-Anon, the 12-step fellowship for families of alcoholics. It is the first stumbling steps in terms of direction; therefore, it needs to be fleshed out a great deal more. For him, his greatest take-away from the chapter is to understand an alcoholic cannot be forced into recovery, at least not into long-term recovery. Willingness must come from within, and no brute force will create it.
One member of the group was a lone wolf. He said the spirit of this chapter was the turning point for his sobriety. For months and months, his wife and he argued bitterly over his drinking, to no avail. It got so bad that he finally decided he needed to end the marriage. He could not stop drinking, despite his best efforts, and he was tired of the endless fighting within his marriage. He made up his mind that as soon as he was done work he was going to tell her the marriage was over.
As fate would have it, his wife went to her first Al-Anon meeting that very same day, and she was taught many of the same lessons discussed in this chapter. When he arrived home that evening, he was met with compassion and understanding, rather than contempt and disgust. They talked reasonably in a way they hadn’t before, and he sat down and read The Big Book for the first time that evening.
And the rest is history.
I believe I said this last week as well: no matter how unusual the message, there is always someone to receive it.
One friend was in the meeting, and I was counting on her to bring enlightenment to me regarding this chapter. She did not disappoint. She thinks the message in the chapter is a sound one with universal application: meet a problem in your life with love, rather than with resentment. If you have an active alcoholic in your life, you are better served treating them with love. She said earlier in her sobriety, both she and her husband attended Al-Anon as well as Alcoholics Anonymous, since they were both in recovery, and those were the best years of their married life. The message is to take care of your side of the street rather than trying to fix someone else’s.
These words spoke to me more than any words in the chapter, and with problems more diverse than addiction. We are currently struggling with an extended family problem, and how best to define our role in trying to resolve it. Bringing love to the problem rather than hate is illuminating, and advice I will immediately be putting into effect!
Enough said! And the blogging has helped me to detach with love from my dentist 😉
M(3), 6/6/16: Back to Business!
Many apologies for the unplanned two-week hiatus. Week one saw me with a dental crisis; the worst is over, but follow-up visits abound (cue the sad music). Week two saw me preparing for my first job interview in 17 years (cue the horror music). Both of these situations deserve completely separate blog posts, which I will hopefully get to sometime this decade, but in the meantime, let’s return to our regularly scheduled program.
This week’s reading came from Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.” We read one of the quintessential chapters, entitled, “How It Works.” This is the first in a three-chapter overview of the 12 steps; specifically, steps one through four.
A newcomer reading this chapter is likely to be overwhelmed, as there is a lot going on in these four steps! We had two women in the meeting today that, by my definition, would count as newcomers: one having recently completed rehab, and one that indicated she was a newcomer, but did not elaborate just how new she is.
First-time readers of this chapter might be alarmed at how often the words “self-centered,” “egotistical,” “resentful,” “self-pitying” and “fearful” are peppered throughout. Indeed, the entire premise of the twelve steps (at least in this writer’s humble opinion) is based upon the notion that the alcoholic life is run on self-will and self-seeking.
And so the answer to the alcoholic dilemma is a paradigm shift: instead of thinking the world is out to get us, we choose instead to look at our part in any situation. Instead of considering what the world owes us, we look to see what we can contribute. Instead of dishonesty and deception, we opt for transparency.
Instead of thinking we are running the show, we now seek a Power greater than ourselves, and we turn our will over to the care of that Power.
As always, when newcomers attend the meeting, I read and consider how I felt as a newcomer. I know when I first started paying attention to this reading, I considered myself an exception to most of the generalizations: I did not feel particularly angry or resentful, I didn’t consider myself to be (overly) selfish, and I believed I put the needs of a great many others before my own needs.
I remember thinking, “Wow my inventory is going to be so small, since I have no resentments whatsoever!” I can’t remember exactly, but I believe my inventory ran upwards of 6 handwritten pages.
Now I read the chapter and consider how my life has changed since first starting the road to recovery. The most fundamental change would be awareness, and the ability to feel my feelings. Sounds ridiculous, but it is a change that words cannot sufficiently capture. In addiction, I self-medicated so as not to feel anything.
So now I feel, and I’m aware that I feel. I can define the emotion, and the corresponding physical sensations.
“Why is this a big deal?” someone may wonder. Awareness allows for the processing of emotions, particularly negative ones. If I’m stuffing down feelings, I’m not processing or releasing them. So there they sit, swirling around and ready to wreak emotional havoc at any point in time.
Awareness is just one part of the puzzle. That same awareness had me realize that all my resentment-free days were just a facade designed to keep me from feeling. I had a lot more resentments than I ever realized I had, and a lot more fears as well.
In fact, I believe I am a work in process in the arena, and likely will be for some time.
In getting more self-aware and more honest about my part in every resentment-filled situation, I am better able to handle new challenges. Now when a resentment pops up, I am able to:
- recognize it
- define it
- look at my part in it
All of which allows me to
4. handle it
Above all, the peace that comes from a reliance on a Higher Power is the gift that keeps on giving.
Having this before-and-after experience upon which to draw was especially helpful this morning when one of the newcomers expressed confusion… she does not think she has any anger, or even much fear, so she’s not sure where she would even start with such a process.
The ability to pay it forward!