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M(3), 2/17: Dissecting Step Two

The literature for today’s meeting was chapter 2 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and discusses in detail the thinking behind Step 2 in the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous:

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

This meeting, for me personally, was chock full of interesting shares, but before I venture into what I learned I will write about my experience with Step 2.  Step 2 can be broken down into two parts:

  1. Belief in a power greater than ourselves
  2. Belief that this power can restore us to sanity

I took no issue with the first part of this step, as I had a core belief in a Higher Power.  Having sat in a meeting or two, I have come to hold an immense gratitude for this core belief, as I know this is a major hurdle for many to jump.

The second part of this step, I have come to realize, was a stumbling block.  While I believed in a God of my understanding, I held tight to the belief that “God helps those who help themselves.”  In placing the emphasis on “helping myself,” I was giving myself all the power, and blocking His ability to help me.  Consequently, it took many months before I could finally let go of the belief that I had to do this on my own.   Since that time, my concept and my relationship with my Higher Power has deepened and grown, and I believe will continue to do so for the rest of my life…. good stuff!

Okay, onto to the wisdom I have gained from my fellows:

One gentleman, who has almost 3 decades of sobriety, made the following statement:  “The longer I stay sober, the less interested I become in defining my spirituality.”  This idea rocked my world… the idea that I can be less precise about my spirituality as time goes by.  I’m not sure where I got the idea that the more time sober I have, the clearer picture I should have of a Higher Power, but this man’s simple statement opened my mind in a way I hadn’t even realized was closed.  It is enough to know that there is a power greater than me, and that power is helping me to live, day by day, a better life.  Enough said.  Brilliant!

Another man, sober for eleven years, talked about Donald Rumsfeld, and the quote attributed to former Secretary of Defense:  “the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns.”  The gentleman this morning attributes his participation in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous with his ability to deal with those “unknown unknowns” of life.  Because this fellowship teaches us an assortment of new skills, skills we either never possessed, or which we could never master, we now have an ability to deal with life in a way which previously eluded us.  I could not agree more.

Another woman whose sobriety date is close to mine, talked about how often this chapter discusses the importance of humility.  She quotes a line in the chapter:

“…humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we place humility first.  When we began to do that, we received the gift of faith, a faith which works.”

 -page 30, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

As she spoke, I had the clearest vision of getting down on my knees and asking God for help that night a little over two years ago, and asking in a way that I had never asked before.  And since that time, I have come to understand my Higher Power in a way I hadn’t before.  So for me that sentence rings true… I truly became humble, and only then did I truly receive faith.

There was some dissention with step 2; for example, one gentleman took exception with the term “insanity.”  He felt it a little extreme, but has come to accept that he need not argue every period and comma put forth in order to reap the benefits of the 12-step program.  By accepting the 12 steps as a whole, rather than nitpicking his way through the verbiage, he was able to, as he put it, “put the skid chains on his thinking, which allowed him to stop drinking, which in turn allowed him to improve all different areas of is life.”  I had never heard the 12 steps described in quite this way, and I love the idea of putting skid chains on my thinking… it sums it up perfectly for me.  It doesn’t stop the extreme thoughts, but it allows me time to process them so I don’t react as quickly as I once did.

All in all, lots of sharing, lots of different experiences, but everyone agreed on one point:  it was in acceptance of a power greater than ourselves that we found true freedom.

Today’s Miracle:

I came home from my meeting to find that, while I was gone, husband and son decided to surprise me by tackling some long overdue projects.  It really doesn’t get any better than this kind of homecoming!

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M(3), 1/6: Phenomenon of Craving

But what if I’m craving it all!?!

First meeting of the new year!

Because it is the first Monday of the month, we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and in the immortal words of Maria Von Trapp, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start!”  And so we read “The Doctor’s Opinion,” in which Dr. Silkworth gives his seal of approval to the fledgling organization called AA.  A tremendous risk for a medical doctor to do in the 1930’s; the fellowship owes a debt of gratitude to him.

The part of the reading that stood out to me this morning is as follows:

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

pp xxviii-xxix, Alcoholics Anonymous

There are many reasons why I, as a woman in recovery from addiction, choose to remain sober, and on any given day the priority of those reasons may change.  On this particular day, the number one reason I choose to remain sober is my fear of the “phenomenon of craving.”  What would happen if I were to have one glass of wine, take one pill?  Would I go immediately back down the rabbit hole of active addiction?  Would I have a moderate experience that would spiral me downwards slowly but surely?  Would it be a non-event and I find that I don’t want to continue?  I don’t know what would happen, and more importantly, I have a healthy fear of the potential outcome, so I choose not to test those waters.

Two days ago I was heading downstairs for my first cup of coffee.  As I descended the stairs, I admired the handiwork of recent vacuuming.  I was so enchanted by their pristine condition that I lost my footing and fell down about 6 of them, winding up with my left leg up at the top, and the rest of me down at the bottom.  Ouch (and, needless to say, Kristen and Christy, I will be putting my “back to fitness” plans on a temporary hold!).  So the rest of the weekend was spent elevating, icing, and scheduling my Advil doses.  By this morning, I realized I would need to have this knee checked out.  So down to the doctor’s I will go.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past where this kind of calamity would have meant, in my addicted mind, a get out of jail free card.  I would have found ways to milk this injury to its greatest mind-altering extent, and would have felt completely justified in doing so.  Thanks to the clarity of sobriety and a new skill set developed through a program of recovery, I now know that there is no such thing as a get out of jail free card, and I am not willing to gamble with the phenomenon of craving.  So instead, I elevate and ice my knee, even when I am sick of doing so, and I remain grateful that I am able to overcome this obstacle and maintain my sobriety.

Today’s Miracle:

That I did not have to go to multiple Doctor’s offices, and no x-rays are necessary, is a miracle.  No tears, nothing broken, just time and patience are needed… God bless my husband and children!

Do You Want to be Right or Do You Want to be Happy?

 

The answer to this question should be obvious.  Sadly, for me, it is not.

My Monday meeting report:  nice meeting, 6 attendees.  It was a step 7 meeting, which, predictably, centers on the subject of humility, a key concept in step 7 work.  What is always interesting to me is the mindset on humility as it relates to sober time.  I have noticed that people in early sobriety (which, of course, is relative, I am in early sobriety.  I guess to be more specific, people with less than 12 months of continuous sobriety) focus on humiliation rather than humility… they speak of the various shameful experiences they have had, and they relate their humility to these experiences.

Of course, true humility, at least the quality to which we in recovery are aspiring, has nothing to do with humiliation.

hu·mil·i·ty

  [hyoo-mil-i-tee or, often, yoo-] 

noun

the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.
Here’s my evolution as it relates to humility:  in early days, when people spoke of the importance of humility, I essentially disregarded it.  I considered myself a humble person; if anything, I did not think highly enough of myself.  As time went on, and I worked the steps, I discovered, much to my chagrin, that in fact I needed to do quite a bit of work in this arena.  When I believe that the world revolves around me, I am not being humble. When I insist that my way is the right way, I am not behaving humbly.  When I am displaying self-righteousness, I am not displaying humility.
Like I said, I have some work to do.
Here’s an interesting story related to this topic.  In the course of the past 4 days, I have had various minor situations come up that have caused me to be irritable, restless and discontent.  These situations are minor enough that they are not even worth documenting, but are notable in that they happened in a relatively short period of time.  At one point I actually said to myself, “get to a meeting so you can find your answer.”  I went to a meeting, the topic was humility.  Hmmm.  Life goes on, apparently I wasn’t listening hard enough, because self-righteousness reared its ugly head several more times throughout the weekend.  Today’s meeting?  Humility.
Who says God doesn’t speak directly to you?
Today’s Miracle:
Last night, in what would be the pinnacle (or would it be nadir?) of my bad mood, I was reading a brilliant post by a fellow blogger (please check it out, it is beautiful… Sober Identity).  In the grips of my self-centered thinking, all I could focus on was how not far along I was, in comparison to her progress.  It was progress enough last night for me to shut down the computer and vow to re-read it when I was in a better frame of mind.  I did that today, within the framework of today’s meeting on humility, and it was as if a whole new set of words popped up… I could see all of my own progress, as well as feel genuine happiness for Lisa that she can see hers.  And so today’s miracle is appreciating the recovery of others… well done, Lisa!

The Steps in Everyday Living: Part Eleven

Step Eleven:  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Alright, we are in the home stretch!  That is what I thought when I got to this step while going through them, and that is what I think as I am writing this series.  Recovery-wise, Step 11 works in conjunction with step 10, and so are typically done simultaneously.  The way Step 10 is a mini-step 4, Step 11 is a mini-step 3 (Turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him).

Here’s the logistics of Step 11:  In the morning, say your prayers, and make sure to ask God to direct your thoughts and actions so that you may better serve His will.  This is important, because it is so easy to revert to self-will, asking for what we want, demanding what we think should happen.  So getting in the proper mindset, right up front, is important.  Next, take a minute to review your day, what’s on the to-do list, and what decisions need to be made.  Ask God for help with the decisions, and take some time to meditate.  Remember, praying is asking for God’s help, meditating is listening for His answer.  Conclude with a prayer asking to be free from self-will, since it is something that pops up again and again.

Throughout the day, when faced with anxiety or indecision, pause, and ask God for guidance, help, direction.  Turn the problem over to Him, and have confidence that He will handle it.

At the end of the day, take a moment and reflect on what you’ve done, both good and bad.  There are many different checklists available that you can use, if you find that sort of thing helpful,  but the idea is:  what did you do well?  what could you have done better?  what amends need to be made tomorrow?   Ask for forgiveness for the failings, thank Him for the successes, and pray for direction in determining any corrective actions that might be taken tomorrow.

This sounds like a lot of stuff, but in reality, each of these steps take but moments of each day, and I can tell you, make an absolute world of difference in the quality of my life.

I can’t say enough about how this step helps in everyday living.  The minute I feel out of sorts, I make it a point to shoot up a quick prayer and ask for His help.  Just that very small act almost invariably lifts whatever burden I am carrying off my shoulders, and I can breathe easier.  When I make the effort to clue in to my surroundings, I find He answers even more than I have asked of Him!

All I Really Need To Know I Learned in AA

All I Really Need To Know I Learned in AA

Accepting your powerlessness makes you powerful.
Trust in God.
Let go, let God… with everything in life
Take a good look at yourself: the good as well as the bad
Confession is good for the soul
Let go of the stuff that isn’t good for you.
Act as if the bad stuff is already gone.
Be responsible for your actions.
Clean up your side of the street.
Admit when you are wrong.
Keep building on your solid foundation.
Sharing makes everything better.

Today’s Miracle:

An upcoming weekend with very little obligation and running around. Bonus: we get to have a date night!

Dealing With Criticism

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. -Aristotle

In the span of about 15 minutes, and all before 8 o’clock in the morning, I was given the following feedback today:

1. My post yesterday rambled a bit much
2. I allowed old thinking to creep in, and, as a result, I interacted with my family in a negative way
3. I look odd… and, as a follow-up, some helpful advice: perhaps I should apply make-up before I go into the outside world

(To be fair, #3 came from a 10-year old boy)

In the spirit of comparing self to self, here’s how the “old me” would have handled the feedback: I would have been self-righteously indignant about the first, would have self-righteously dismissed the second, and would have self-righteously retaliated against the third for the rest of the day.

Here’s how the “new me” can, and will, handle this feedback. First, I will not lump them all together and decide that the day is doomed. Instead, I will look at them as individual pieces of information, and decide what to do with each. I will recognize that I regularly ask for feedback with my writing, and I will genuinely take the advice in the spirit in which it was given, and use it to improve my blog going forward.

With the second, I will consider the information, and whether or not I agree with the conclusion, I will accept that we are all entitled to our opinion, and I will respect it for that reason alone.

With the third, I will laugh my ass off, because he is absolutely correct!

Most important, I will see that when a chain of events is happening, they are happening for a reason, and I need to look inward and figure out what is going with my thoughts, feelings and behaviors, since they are the only thing I can control. As I may have mentioned once or twice, there are no coincidences, so I believe that God wants me to figure something out, and, if I choose to ignore this suggestion, the events will continue to happen until I do.

Now I need to go upstairs and put on some make-up!

Today’s Miracle:

The candor and perspective of a 10-year old boy (and the fact that I can laugh at it) qualifies as a miracle.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. -Lao Tzu

Oddly enough, I learned this prayer at an Ash Wednesday mass. Here is a new version of the time-honored Serenity Prayer:

A New Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.
At least not the last time I checked.

And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.
It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.

Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.

Basically, God,
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
not you.

Amen.

Today’s Miracle:

In a time of emotional angst, I was driving in the car, and asked God for inspiration. The third song I flipped to was Help Is On Its Way by The Little River Band. Once again, Amazing!

If You Have One Foot in Yesterday, and One Foot in Tomorrow, Guess What You’re Doing to Today?

“What day is it?”
‘It’s today,’ squeaked Piglet.
‘My favorite day,’ said Pooh.”
―    A.A. Milne

The answer is a little crude, so I’ll let you figure it out.

Staying in the day, rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future, is an acquired skill, at least it is for me.  It takes commitment, energy, and, most of all, practice, but the effort is really worth it.  Time spent in regret or worry usually amounts to little good.  Focusing on the present brings a peace of mind that this recovering individual has never known.

What’s happened, happened.  What might happen either will or won’t, but worrying about it won’t change the outcome, and it’s not happening right now.  There’s something within arm’s reach that can be enjoyed this very instant, so go do it!

Today’s Miracle:

My 10-year old son wants to try out for a solo piece in his chorus.  After trying and discarding several songs (mostly due to his not knowing the words), we settled on Amazing Grace, and rehearsed it before school.  Is there a better way to start the day than hearing a 10-year old boy singing Amazing Grace with all his heart and soul?

A Series of Bottoms: The Final Chapter

I hit rock bottom, but thank God my bottom wasn’t death. –Stevie Ray Vaughan

I can already hear my husband challenging the title of this post, he would argue that my next post should be labeled the final chapter, but for me, this is the finale, God willing, in terms of bottoming out.

Okay, quick summary of the past three days… for 8-9 months, I had been attempting recovery, with absolutely zero success (if you are just joining this story, read back a few posts to Chapter 1).  And each turning point during that time took me lower and lower, and feeling more and more hopeless.  Where we last left off, I had been struggling with marital problems, frustration and/or outright anger from family and friends, multiple failed rehab treatments, failed attempts with AA, stepwork, sponsors, and on top of it all, the question mark of legal consequences.

And still I continued my addiction.

My final day was actually this day (Friday), but the date was January 26, 2012.  The day started like any other.  I attempted to pray, but deep down knew that I would get up, and go right back to what I knew… addictive behavior.  I could retrace every step of that day, but I’m not sure it would serve much purpose.  I will, however, recount what has become for me the critical moment.  I had a thought so clear that I actually said it out loud, to myself, in the car:  “There was not one part of this day that was fun.”

Anyone reading who is an addict knows that after a time, your drug of choice becomes totally ineffective, and what you are in fact doing is chasing the high that hasn’t really happened for a long time.  By this point in my addiction, I really had no pleasant physical reaction at all, so of course the question becomes, then why do it?  That question is already answered in the minds of every addict reading this, and will never be answered to the satisfaction of every non-addict.  The ultimate answer:  I do it because I am an addict.

Back to the story:  so at the time I did not know I was uttering profound words, but in fact I was, because that was my last day of using a mind-altering substance.  The day continued, and I actually had plans that evening to go out with some friends.  During the car ride to the restaurant I spoke with my husband, and got a sense that something was amiss, but had no idea what it could be.  I got home later that evening, and waiting for me was a card and a dozen roses… it was the anniversary of our first date.  He remembered, I did not.  And while there were these beautiful things waiting for me, my husband’s mood was not one of them.  I tried to pry it out of him, but he would not budge…. nothing was wrong, he said.

Went to bed, next day, the icy silence continued.  I tried multiple times to figure out the problem, but to no avail.  This is technically day 1 of sobriety, but the ramifications of my behavior are still to come.

My final bottom was more or less like an airplane hitting a runway as it is attempting to come to a stop… a series of bumps, and then… silence.

Bump:  Sunday morning, I wake up, my husband is already out of bed.  He comes into the room, I ask, for perhaps the 1,000th time that weekend, can you please tell me what’s wrong.  He sits down on the bed, and lays it out very simply:  he cannot do this anymore, I need to leave the house, immediately.  He will drive me to my Mom‘s, but that is it.  If I don’t go, he will make a scene in front of the kids, and cause irreparable damage to my relationship with them.  He takes my phone, my keys, almost everything out of my wallet, and drives me away from my home.

Bump:  I am dropped off, like a bag of garbage, at my Mom’s house.  Both siblings that live there and my Mother cannot even look at me, they are so angry, hurt, and disappointed.

Bump:  The next day, I have an already scheduled lawyer’s visit, at which point I am told that there seems to be no other alternative but jail time for my legal consequences.

Bump:  The next day, I must report to a police station to make all the charges official.  My picture is taken, I am finger printed, just like you see on TV.

And then… silence.  And there I sat, my life in ruins, with very little idea of how I ever got to this place.

I’d like to add, at this point, that writing these posts for the past three days has been so much more difficult than I ever could have imagined.  Which is good, because I never would have done it if I had known how difficult it would be.  Mainly, I have discovered in the past few days that I am, at heart, an optimistic, hopeful person, and writing about such dire things really goes against my grain.  But if my story has touched even one person, and helped them in some way, then it is more than worth it.

I will conclude with what has become the beginning of my road to recovery.  The first night that I stayed at my Mom’s, I could not sleep to save my life.  As light was not even breaking on that next day, I got out of bed, dropped to my knees, and I prayed like I have never prayed before.  I believe, and often share, that acceptance of my disease came at that moment, and I got the answer that carried me through the next year of my life.  I need to do 4 things that day, and every day thereafter:  pray, go to a meeting, talk to another addict, and those three will keep me from the fourth, which is not pick up a drink or drug.  And I allowed myself the luxury of having only those 4 things on my “to-do” list for each and every day:  as long as I do those things, I have had a wildly successful day.

And that is where the next story begins…

Today’s Miracle:

If you are a Catholic, you will appreciate this one.  I thought that the past 3 days were much like Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday… full of sadness, but also of hope for Easter Sunday.  And then I laughed out loud at the audacity of comparing myself to Jesus Christ!

Finding Serenity During Holiday Madness

How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it. –Marcus Aurelius

I had every intention of writing something today about resentments, I even picked out my quote before I had my post fully formed in my mind (usually I do the opposite).  Since I knew I wrote on this subject matter before, I went back and re-read my previous posts that were related, one that was written in June.  Back then I wrote that I do not think I have many resentments, but I trust implicitly what people in the Fellowship say, and they say resentments are the number one offender of alcoholics, and we simply cannot afford to hold on to them, whether or not they are justified.  So to let go, I need to practice restraint, and turn them over to God.  I further wrote that I turn it over to God by getting quiet and trying to listen to that inner voice that is so hard to hear in times of turmoil.

Back to the present, I have some resentments, and, since June, I can compare myself to myself and see that I have gotten a bit more proficient at practicing restraint… kudos to me.  The turning over to God?  Not so much.  I think, “yeah, I’ll do that, but let me write this post first, then I’ll work on turning it over.”  So I’m searching through my “bag of AA,” which contains all of my literature, because I want to reference a certain book.  It is not there, which is odd (or is it God?), so instead I decide to look at the book entitled 24 Hours a Day (which I never think to open).  I flip to December 10th, and this is what I read:

We must keep trying to improve our conscious contact with God.  This is done by prayer, quiet times, and communion.  Often all you need to do is sit silent before God and let Him speak to you through your thoughts.

It’s much easier to turn your thoughts and actions over to the care of God when life is calm and peaceful.  But what about when life is packed with chores and never-ending to do lists?  Not so easy then.  And really, that’s when I need God the most.  What’s nice about being in recovery is the opportunity to recognize this lapse of judgment, and to correct it before it can spiral downward.

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