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The Leap of Faith

You know how a friend will tell you she just ate something that you’ve never heard of before, then the next day you will see an ad for that same product, then the next day that product will jump off the shelf at you in the grocery store?  Then you figure with that many signs, surely you were meant to try it?

Well, that’s what’s been happening with me lately regarding the ways in which negative self-talk, a lack of self-worth, and harsh self-judgment can be damaging.  I won’t bore you with the details, except to say:  something in the Universe wants me to look at this issue.

And I’m fighting it.  A lot.  And it is so reminiscent of early recovery that I figured I’d write about it here.

So here’s just one example, I could give you a dozen, just from the last week alone.  I am talking to my therapist about some self-directed frustration I am experiencing, and as an exercise she forces me to look at the opposite side of the coin, and list out the things I am doing well.  I resist this exercise with an energy I am not used to feeling, but my people-pleasing ways win out over my stubborn ways, and I do as she asks.  But I do it while rolling my eyes, and ready and waiting to argue my counter points, confident that I will win her over to my side.

And my side is to criticize me.

Silly, illogical thinking, but as much as I cringe at that last paragraph, I can’t take it back, because it’s the truth.

The session goes on from there, and I am forced to admit that perhaps I am a bit hard on myself, but I want to tie this back into recovery.  Believe it or not it does intersect.

I remember, very clearly, my mindset those first few 12-step meetings.  Yes, I knew logically that I had an issue with which I had to deal.  Yes, some of what I was hearing in those meetings made some sense.  Craziest still, yes, these people seem to be very comfortable in these meetings, they seemed very happy (almost suspiciously so, my critical mind judged) and, if they are to be believed, voluntarily come back to this forum years after the problem has been solved.

I sat in that position, showing up, listening, speaking when forced, for a long time.  At no point did I let go of my cynicism, and at no point did my critical mind stop judging.

And at no point during that time period did I stop relapsing.

So last week, when my therapist said to me, “At some point, Josie, you need to trust the process, because really this entire thing is a leap of faith,” I was immediately transported to that moment in time.  I was on my knees, in the dark, praying as I had never prayed before.  And when the critical voice showed up to say, “Puh-lease!  You’ve tried this a hundred and one times, why would this be any different?”  I didn’t agree or disagree, I kept on praying.

And when somebody suggested going to a meeting every day, and the critic showed up to say, “Do you know how many meetings you sat in and then went out and relapsed?”  I didn’t agree or disagree, I just kept on showing up.

And when I was told to chair my first meeting, share my personal story, sit down one-on-one with another woman to go through the steps, I did it.  I had no idea if the process would be effective long-term or not, I had no basis of comparison really, so I need to take the leap of faith, and I needed to trust the process.

And boy, oh boy, 3 years later, I am so grateful I did.

So I guess it’s time to trust the process again, and start talking back to the critical voice.  Here’s hoping the results are as miraculous as the last time.

Today’s Miracle:

The miracle of the normal school day schedule.  This will be going away very soon, and so I must, with mindfulness, feel the pleasure of routine while it exists!

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

No matter which way you choose to recover, whether by 12-step fellowship, rehab, or a “DIY” program, it is a  universal truth that, early on, it is best to stay away from the people, places and things that the newly sober associates with their addiction.  So, for example, it is prudent for an alcoholic to steer clear of the local watering hole at which he used to have a regular bar stool.  Or for a drug addict to steer clear of dicey urban areas where she previously drove to “score.”

But what about the rest of us whose only “people, places and things” are areas that cannot be extricated from our lives?  Well, to a certain extent you can, at the very least, alter the landscape.  For example, if you were a home drinker, you can remove all alcohol in the house.  Or if you were a rabble-rouser at house parties, you can choose to avoid them in the short-term.  Both of the following examples apply to me personally, and, for various reasons, both are the solutions I used to solve the “people, places and things” dilemma for me in early sobriety.

Sooner or later, though, you have to face the music, and that opportunity came for me this holiday season.  I was faced with a number of events in which I chose to participate for the first time in recovery, and I wanted to write about that experience, because I would imagine I am not alone in dealing with this issue.

At the outset, the choice to join in the fun an festivities of the holiday season was a well-thought out one.  I have discussed the idea with my fellows in recovery, prayed about it, and was completely comfortable with the decision to participate.  So there was planning there.  I also had my toolkit at the ready, and my checklist of things to keep me safe and sober while in the moment (I wrote about this checklist here).  In fact, there was one party where I said six simple words to my husband:  “the party is starting to turn,” and we were out the door within 10 minutes.  So adequate preparation in that department.

If there was one element for which I had not prepared, it was the emotional angst associated with event.  Whether it was the location of the party, places where I have engaged in behavior that still shames me, whether it was the people themselves, and the reminder they bring of my past life, or the holiday itself, and the association with all the past misbehavior, I was uncomfortable in a way that surprised me.  The memories of the past came back so quickly, and with such strength, at times it was an actual effort to turn and move in a different direction.

These feelings of discomfort took me by surprise because all of the things I did worry about were for naught.  For example, I was concerned about awkwardness around family members who are seeing me in a social situation for the first time in recovery.  Not only did that awkwardness fail to materialize; family and friends were supportive in ways I could never have imagined.

So why did these memories come back to haunt me?  I’m not sure I will ever have a definitive answer to this question, and I have learned enough in my recovery not to over think it.  I did what I was taught to do:  move a muscle, change a thought.  Even though it took extra effort, I turned and walked in an opposite direction, and found someone “safe” to engage in conversation.  I participated in cooking and cleaning, which is helpful and distracting at the same time.  Most important, I considered the real reason I was present at the holiday, to gather with family and/or friends, and to re-connect with them, and I took advantage of that opportunity in a way I never would have if I was chemically altered.

So when I said my prayer the morning after each holiday function, I was able to say with extra sincerity:  “Thank you, God, for all my days of sobriety.”

Today’s Miracle:

I am so grateful to have 23 months and 1 day of sobriety!

The Final Bottom

Spoiler alert:  this post may be a bit on the depressing side, apologies in advance.

There’s an expression in recovery meetings, “taking a meeting hostage,” where a person will talk longer than appropriate about personal issues.  Today, at my Monday morning meeting, I did a variation, in the sense that I tailored the meeting topic to a situation in my personal life.  Probably not the most selfless act of my day, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.  For the record, 11 attendees, and, from my perspective, the meeting was exactly what I needed.

Last night I met my sponsee at a meeting so that she could get her 6 month coin, very celebratory in nature, and I am so thrilled to have been able to share in her accomplishment.  That’s the good news.  The bad:  while there I learned about the death of a friend and past Monday meeting attendee, whose name was George.  I still can’t believe I had to use the past tense in that last sentence.

I met George about 10 months ago, we were fellow members of a drug and alcohol therapy group.  George and I bonded from our very first day together, and anyone that has ever been through an outpatient rehab situation will understand what I’m about to say… George and I were the talkers of the group.  What this means, for anyone unfamiliar with group therapy, is that often the majority of people prefer to sit and listen (or not), and do their absolute best to limit their participation.  I can’t speak for George, but my philosophy is if I’m there, I might as well participate, plus I do have empathy for a group counselor that has to drag words out of every participant, so I am the one who will jump in and get things started.  George seemed to be of the same mind, so many sessions had us gabbing back and forth about our personal circumstances in the moment.  Through my time with him in group therapy, I found George to be open, honest, funny, and genuinely motivated to grab a hold of recovery.  But, like myself and everyone else in that group, the obsession that goes along with addiction is very strong, and George fell prey to his addiction a few times throughout my time in the group, and so he eventually had to advance his therapy to a more intensive rehabilitation.  I was able to let him know about my meeting, which had started right before we parted ways, and, once he got himself back on his feet recovery-wise, he started attending my Monday morning meetings.

And, just like in our group therapy, George was a tremendous benefit to the meeting.  His personality is so engaging, and he is so sincere in his desire to stop drinking, that he drew people in every time he spoke.  He thanked me profusely every single time he shared, for being an example to him and for having this meeting for him to attend.  No matter what was going on in his life, he was able to talk about it honestly, and turn it around so that we could all learn something from it.

In the months that he attended my Monday meeting, George relapsed twice, and twice he came back and spoke candidly about the experience… the thoughts that led up to the decision, the shame and remorse he felt, and the negative consequences he suffered as a result.  Always he was hopeful that this was the time he would get it together.

And then… nothing.  He simply stopped attending my meetings.

I spoke with several mutual friends who went to other meetings with George, the same thing, they just stopped seeing him and hearing from him.  Some of the male friends did reach out and try to call him, to no avail.  The unspoken rule in AA is that guys call guys, women call women, so I did not have any numbers with which to reach out to George myself, but every single week in the past 2 1/2 months that he has been missing I have asked the mutual friends, and they all shake their heads sadly and say they have not seen him.

The limited information I received was this:  his death was directly related to alcohol, and his wife is devastated.  She actually called one of our mutual friends to let us know the news.  She wanted to make sure his friends in AA knew of his death, because he spoke a lot about the group he had met and bonded with, and they meant the world to him.  She also said he had a special friend during his time in group therapy, and was hopeful that the friend would know how highly he spoke of her.  I’m guessing I’m the special friend, and if I’m not, it’s okay, because he was certainly my special friend, and my heart is broken.

This is my first experience of this nature:  losing someone close to me to this disease, and, I’ve got to tell you, it sucks.  It is going to sound trite, but it’s still the truth:  George had so much to offer this world, and his loss is felt by more than he will ever understand.  I want to say I am grateful to be sober, and I am, but it truthfully feels almost insensitive to say it in the wake of his death.  The best takeaway I got from all the beautiful feedback from this morning is this:  his death is a painful reminder that however low my bottom was, there is a much lower, and much more finite, bottom.  As for why I was blessed with the gift of recovery and George was not, another question I struggled with last night, I was told that’s God‘s business, not mine, so I should stick to my own, and let God worry about the rest.

So I’m grateful that I am sober, and, just for today, I will stay sober, in George’s memory.

Today’s Miracle:

Being able to talk about my feelings this morning, and write about them this afternoon, and know that people care, is a miracle that give me tears in my eyes as I write this.

A Series of Bottoms, Chapter 2

I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed, and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep trying.                     –Tom Hopkins

When I last left off in this story, it was the summer of 2011 (if you are just joining the story now, read yesterday’s post).  I have successfully removed a few addictive substances from my life with the belief that simply one vice would satisfy the people around me, while still maintaining the control I so desperately wanted.  Two hitches with this train of thought.  First, I still had to live a lie in order to hold on to my addiction.  Second, addiction doesn’t sit, lay down and roll over as I truly believed it would.

As I have learned, there are a number of paths my “philosophy” in the summer of 2011 could have taken me, such as:  I could have picked up another, totally separate addiction, or I could have simply reverted to all the previous ones, since, what the heck, I’m already lying, why not just go back to everything?  But the way it actually panned out was this:  I held onto that one vice, and that addiction simply took off.  What at first was a “when you have it, just enjoy it, and when it runs out, wait until you can get some more” thought process evolved into “let’s see what we can do to make this happen as frequently as possible.”  And so the addiction progressed, and, if I am being honest, I truly believed I was pretty clever.  It’s like anything else:  when you put your mind to work, it is amazing what you can accomplish, and accomplish I did.  Through trial and error, I came up with some pretty ingenious ways for obtaining my drug of choice.

Never once giving thought to the damage I was doing to my physical self, or the addictive properties of the drug itself, it became like a game to me.  At the time, my husband was the referee of the game, and our marriage suffered greatly for it.  My thinking at this point was something along the lines of:  “If he would just stop prying into every little detail of my life, everything would be fine!”  I can’t stress this strongly enough, I wasn’t justifying my actions, I simply chose not to look at myself at all.  All my thought processes at this point were external… where and how can I obtain my drug of choice?  Why is my husband spying on my every move?  How can I be even more clever so I can avoid his interrogations?

So the next few months were a series of deceit, lies, cover-ups, and explosions when I was finally “caught in the act.”  The culmination of this particular bottom happened on October 14, 2011.  My husband, for what felt like the millionth time, uncovered a deception, and gave me an ultimatum:  go away and get help, or simply go away.  It took a few days to find an appropriate facility, and I was able to negotiate staying home long enough to celebrate my son’s 9th birthday, but I went to an inpatient rehab on October 19, 2011.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this was where the story turns around?  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s shocking twist…

Today’s Miracle:

That I can retell this story, and my friends and family still love me.

A Series of Bottoms, Chapter 1

It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light. –Aristotle Onassis

I have been back and forth about the following series of posts I am about to write (so obviously you know which way I decided).  On the one hand, I believe describing the events that led me into recovery is helpful for me personally, so I will always remember from whence I came.  Plus, as any recovery program will attest, sharing my experience, strength and hope will benefit the people around me as well (at least I hope it will).

On the other hand, and I cannot stress this part strongly enough, I have two different kinds of readers of this blog:  the community I have come to know and love, and the readers who have known and have loved me my whole life.  It is to this second group I am making the following statement:  the next several posts will be rough reading for you.  I am going to write candidly here about what is was like before I came into recovery.  If you want to read on, please do so at your own risk.

I am going to start my series of bottoms when I first attempted recovery.  By the end of this week, if you have read all of my posts, it will be as if you have come to an AA meeting where I was the guest speaker.   I took the first step of my journey to recovery in the winter of 2011.  I believe it was sometime in February when my husband sat me down and said he knew there was something wrong with me, but he couldn’t quite figure out what it was.  I believe at the time I blamed it on winter blues, mixed in with some sadness because it was around the anniversary of my Father’s death (of course, he had been dead for 19 years, but hey, I can still be sad, right?).  The reality was that I was abusing prescription pills, basically, anything I could get my hands on.  It had started with back problems, and a referral to a pain management specialist a few years before, but by this point had escalated… basically, if you told me it was addictive, I wanted to take it.  At this point I had a vague sense that what I was doing was none too smart, but my rationalization was if it was legitimately prescribed for me, then how bad could it really be?

This particular bottom (and there will be more) culminated in April of 2011, when my husband got a more definitive grasp (though still not complete) of the nature of my problem; namely, prescription drugs.  He insisted I get help, and so I sought out treatment in an outpatient rehab near my house.  I actually completed that treatment, at least according to their paperwork, although I’m not sure how they could have, in good faith, let me “graduate.”  Because I was nowhere near accepting my disease in any way, shape or form.

Here’s what I was able to accomplish during that 6-week period.  Going into that treatment program, I was regularly abusing 3 different types of prescription drugs, in addition to drinking on a regular basis.  So my thought process at that point was:  okay, there is clearly a problem, and the problem is doing way too many different things.  Why not control it by eliminating what is not necessary or fun?  Alcohol, oddly enough, was the first to go, particularly because it caused me the most problems (if I had one glass of wine, the entire world knew it).  Next in line were what I would consider “extraneous” prescription drugs… the drugs I took because I was told they were “relaxing,” when in fact they did absolutely nothing for me.  That left what I have come to realize was my drug of choice, prescription pain pills.  At this time I had a regular, legitimate prescription waiting for me each and every month, and the idea of giving that up was as foreign to me as the idea of giving up water… simply not an option.  So I gave up everything else, but the one drug, and thought, alright, then, I am cured.  I will just narrow it down to one vice, how bad could it get?

We can all see where this is going, too bad I didn’t… Stay tuned for the next bottom…

Today’s Miracle:

There are two:  having the courage to write this down, and that someone has read far enough to get to this section!

Spring Ahead, and Fall Ahead Too!

Lasting sobriety is achieved within the mind-set of abstaining from alcohol and drugs.  Our ability to abstain is the by-product, at first, of sheer desperation the waking nightmare of our lives.  Over time, however, we grow to enjoy the waking hours.  It is then that recovery takes on a momentum of its own- abstinence becomes normal. -Lisa Neumann, Sober Identity

Today I am changing over to fall decorations.  This is the type of project that I dread in advance, but enjoy immensely when it is finished (our house is absolutely made for fall decor, it is so beautiful!).  This year, however, brings painful memories along with the usual work that goes into the switch.

In the not-so-distant past, this type of activity would be one in which I would have liked to be in an altered state.  It is painful just typing that last sentence.  Doing something for the first time in recovery that you had last done in addiction brings the painful past front and center, and is extremely uncomfortable.  It is not the first time I have experienced these feelings, and I’m sure it will not be the last.

What is different is how I handle these feelings.  The first thing I have to do is acknowledge exactly what they are, and why they are happening.   Once I know exactly what I am dealing with emotionally, I can talk back to the feelings.  It is so important to remember… feelings aren’t facts, and they have nothing to do with present reality.  My 224 days of sobriety has given my recovery the momentum about which the quote above speaks, and thank God for that momentum!  It is that momentum that allowed me to talk back to my feelings of shame, allowed me to finish my decorating project, and will allow me to enjoy my home in a way I never have before.

Milestones

You know how when you decide to go on a diet, and you try to plan your life out so as not to be around tempting foods?  You throw all the junk out of your house, buy healthy foods, and avoid your favorite unhealthy places to eat?  And then that inevitable event comes up that you can’t get out of, or your office throws a birthday party for a co-worker, and you find yourself surrounded by temptation.  You find yourself resentful of the event, jealous of those around you who can enjoy the tempting food, and wondering why you have to find yourself in that situation in the first place.

Well, anyone taking early recovery seriously employs the same types of strategies in order to get and stay sober/clean, only the consequences of failure are far more devastating that of a failed diet.  We in recovery are taught early on to stay away from people, places and things that we associate with our alcohol/drug use.

For the past 82 days, I have done just that, and it has brought me immense relief.  But just as the dieter cannot eliminate food from his or her life, so too must the recovering addict deal with tempting situations at some point.  I had hoped for myself that the time would come later in my recovery, when I had solid time behind me, but life doesn’t always work out the way I would like.

So I had my first encounter with a person, place or thing today.  And it was hard.  And it was upsetting.  But guess what I found out? 

1.  I have the most amazing network of support that will be there for me at the drop of a hat.

2.  That I am stronger than I think I am.

3.  I have my first real experience involving temptation behind me, and I got through it.

And in a few hours, I will have 83 days!

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