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Monday Meeting Miracles: 12/23

I wasn’t sure which way today’s meeting was going to go, attendance-wise, being that we are two days away from Christmas.  At the start, it was just me and two other gentleman, so I thought, “Well, I wasted some baking.”  But ten minutes after the start of the meeting, we were up to 10 attendees, so hooray!

Today’s reading selection was the second half of step 12 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.   For those unfamiliar, Step 12 reads as follows:

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

Step 12 is a great one for sharing at meetings, because there is so much to discuss, and because it encapsulates the 12-step program so beautifully.  One person shared that what he took most from the reading is the importance of staying in good spiritual condition.  For him, that means regular meeting attendance, so that he can be reminded of what is important… and what is not.  A great thought for this time of year!

Another person found his focus on the part of the step that talks about carrying the message, and how much reaching his hand out to another in need enriches his life.

For me, what I took away from the reading selection today is the importance of maintaining the proper outlook.  In any given situation, I can choose to focus on what is going wrong, or I can choose to focus on what is going right, and my mental state will reflect that choice perfectly.

And what another great message this is for the season.  As I headed into the meeting, I was preoccupied with my ever-present holiday to do list:  will I have time to hit all the stores I need to hit?  What chores can I delegate (and be satisfied however they turn out)?  Will the kids manage not to kill each other while I am away from the house?  You get the idea.  And when my mind is going a mile a minute like that, guess where my serenity level is?

Just reading about the idea of changing my thought process was enough to stop the racing thoughts, and by the time I was finished sharing, I truly felt ready to leave the meeting and properly enjoy the holiday season, the school break, and even the shopping, wrapping and baking that still awaited me.

Which, when you think about it, is a miracle!

Today’s Miracle:

I am filled with excitement, not only because I got everything done I needed to today, not only because I am sitting down to write this post (which I never thought I would do), but because I vowed to myself that on December 26th my Christmas present to myself will be an uninterrupted morning, coffee ready and waiting, a comfortable chair, and my computer, and I am catching up on all the brilliant posts I have been missing by my wonderful friends in the blogosphere.  In the meantime, know that I miss you all so much, and I am praying that you are having a miraculous holiday season!

7 Sober Suggestions This Holiday Season

So here we are, in the final stretch of the holiday season, which brings with it, for most people, additional responsibilities, many opportunities to celebrate, and general chaos to the normal routine.  If you are in recovery, this is, without question, a trying time.  Although I am relatively new to sobriety (less than two years), I have had multiple opportunities to succeed in staying sober in the midst of alcohol-fueled merriment, so I thought I would write about the methods that have worked for me through holidays that not only allowed me to stay sober, but also provided me the means to enjoy the holidays in a way I had not previously done.  So without further ado, here are my top 7 tips for actually enjoying a sober holiday!

1.  Practice Self-Care

If you are like me, you are thinking, “Good idea, I’ll get to that after I bake some cookies, wrap some gifts, go shopping…”  Turn that thought process around!  The kind of self-care of which I am speaking must come before any of the holiday activities, and in practicing self-care all of those activities will become, if not enjoyable, then at the very least less stressful.  I am speaking of starting the day with a few minutes of getting centered.  For me, that means getting out of bed, getting down on my knees, and connecting with my Higher Power.  That’s what works for me, but a few minutes of any centering activity… meditation, simple deep breathing, thoughts of gratitude for all that is good in your life, and a commitment to yourself that you can make it through the day without picking up a drink or a drug, helps get the day off to a calm and peaceful start, and gives courage and confidence that the day can and will go well.  The last part of that process is so important, it becomes the next tip…

2.  Commit To Sobriety For One Day Only

And, of course, that one day must be the one you are in.  Remember, you don’t need to worry about staying sober for the next 30 years, just the current day.  So when your mind starts racing, ask yourself, “Can I stay sober, just for today?”  Chances are, the answer will be yes, so relax, and move on to…

3.  Organization

There are all types of helpful organizational tips for the holiday season, but the type of organization I refer to here is mental:  take some time to figure out all of the upcoming holiday drinking temptations, and then decide what you can and cannot do.  If you are early in sobriety, the less alcohol-filled social events you attend, the better off you are.  There were many events I simply turned down in my earliest days because I chose to put my sobriety first.  On the other hand, I have smaller children, and a large, Irish Catholic family, so there are always certain obligations that I feel I must attend, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling.  So step 2 is all about narrowing down the situations where you will be tempted, and then move on to…

4.  Set Your Parameters Within the Celebration

There is a multitude of ways to do this; the point of step three is to determine which will work best for your particular scenario.  Some examples include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • arriving late
  • leaving early
  • steering clear of the location of the alcohol
  • bringing a delicious virgin cocktail with you so you are enjoying a beverage
  • having a sober companion with you
  • figuring out who at the party will be like-minded in enjoying the party, rather than the beverages consumed at the party
  • keeping your cell phone in your pocket with a list of sober supports to call
  • disclosing to a few or all of the guests your intention to be sober

And I’m sure there are many more options, so take some time before the start of the party to decide which ones will be most effective.  And of all the ideas on that list, one stands out…

5.  Stick With The Winners

This has been a particularly beneficial strategy for me personally.  Again, I come from a large Irish Catholic family (read:  heavy drinkers), so at first I believed I would never again enjoy a family gathering.  As I gained some sober clarity, I realized that while the majority of my family drinks, not everyone does, and of those that do, only a small handful over-indulge.  So I started looking more closely at the non-drinkers, and even the moderate ones, and guess what I realized?  They are having just as much fun, and, I would assume, feel a hell of a lot better in the morning.  Chances are, whatever drinking celebration you are attending, there are many such people… choose to spend time with them.  And, while you’re at it…

6.  Act As If

Find someone who is not drinking and is also having a good time.  What are they doing, and how can you be like them?  For me, I found that they are usually much more interested in conversation and people than they are in the beverage they are consuming, and when I emulated them, not only did it take my mind off alcohol, I was able to actually have fun!  Take a look around, find some sober (and if you really can’t find sober, then at least someone who is a moderate drinker) people, and do what they do.  Last, and most important…

7.  Stay In The Present

This can be the most challenging for me, but has the most benefit when I put it into practice.  Stop thinking about the last holiday when you got trashed and embarrassed yourself, stop worrying about 4 hours from now when everyone is slurring your words and how you are going to handle it, stay in the actual moment:  you are at a party with family and/or friends, celebrating a festive season.  I’m sure that wherever you are is beautifully decorated, there are probably loads of great food choices, and many opportunities for interesting discussion.  Perhaps there are children around, observe the fun and joy they are experiencing, engage with them and see if you their joy isn’t contagious.  Keep coming back to this every time your mind wanders to the bar, and I know it will help you have a joyous holiday.

So those are my “Best of”  for sober holiday success.  What’s on your sober checklist?

Today’s Miracle:

The realization that I have a sober checklist, and the hope that sharing mine helps someone else.

Recovery as it Relates to Un-Decorating

This one step- choosing a goal and sticking to it- changes everything. -Scott Reed

Here’s how the mind of an addict works:  Time to un-decorate the house.  Check.  Start un-decorating, make some headway, then decide to start hauling the decorations down to the basement.  Look around the basement and realize that all the cardboard boxes from online Christmas shopping are still sitting in a gigantic pile blocking the path to where Christmas storage containers sit.  Alright, slight diversion, but deal with it, and move on.  Trash day was yesterday, so move the pile, but mentally bemoan the fact that trash day has come and gone.   Continue to organize decorations upstairs, all the while thinking about the projects that await in the basement.  Look over and observe that there is still a pile of Christmas presents, in boxes, in a corner.  Another diversion as they need to be unboxed, put in their place (What place do they go?  Oh, man, just put them in the dining room for now.)  Back to Christmas decorations.  Wait, while in the dining room did I just observe yet more decorations?  Okay, back to that room to un-decorate, and now the pile of decorations has grown, still not stored, still not down in the basement yet.  Tree still upright, with all decorations on.  Oh, and what about those high shelves with the decorations still on them?  Where is the big ladder?  Back down to the basement, no ladder anywhere in sight.  Need to text husband to find out where the hell the ladder is.  Back upstairs… okay, let’s just get the larger decorations into the basement and put them on the shelves, that’s a simple enough project.  Back down the basement, only to discover there is no room on the shelves, because they are filled with non-Christmas decorations that go back up once the Christmas decorations come down.  But which ones, and where do they go?  And shouldn’t I completely dust and vacuum before I put non-Christmas decorations back in place?  And don’t I need to completely un-assemble the tree before I dust and vacuum?

And now it’s two hours later, and I’m looking around the chaos I’ve created, and I have no idea what to do next…

Except stop what I’m doing, take a deep breath, and do something else on my to-do list so I can clear my head (which, if you have not figured out yet, is write this post).  And realize that projects are done one step at a time, and obsessing about all the other projects that need to be done will not help complete the project at hand.  One goal:  can the Christmas decorations come down?  Yes, if I stop adding things on, and worrying about other things.

One day at a time, or, in this case, one minute at a time, one project at a time.

Today’s Miracle:

I have an entire day with absolutely no distracting appointments in which to complete this project, and no matter how un-fun these chores are, I am still so happy to be at home to do them!

The Mechanics of a Resolution

 I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy. –Tony Robbins

It’s that time of year again… resolution time.  I was just watching a small clip of Tony Robbins, and he was explaining why most resolutions fail.  He says in order to be successful at resolving to change, you must have these three components in place:

1.  Compelling vision (not just “I want to lose 10 pounds,” but really have a clear picture of what it will feel like once you have lost weight)

2.  Strong reasons for pushing through when inevitable challenges arise (the reasons can be negative or positive, but they have to be serious)

3.  Review it and feel it daily (otherwise you will run out of steam quickly)

Today I am celebrating 11 months of sobriety,  and I can say these components were critical to my success in recovery.  My compelling vision, 11 months ago, was that I wanted my life back… I wanted to gain back the trust and love of my husband, I wanted my family reunited, and I wanted to repair relationships everywhere else in my life.  The vision was compelling because I knew what it looked like… I wanted what I had before I was in active addiction.

My strong reasons for pushing through were mostly negative, but they did work…. if I did not stay sober, I would lose my marriage, my family, and my life.  Period.  Along the way new reasons did pop up, such as letting down the people in the AA fellowship, and losing my sober time, which became an important part of my identity.  All of these reasons kept me working towards my goal of recovery.

Reviewing it and feeling it daily is perhaps the most important of the three, at least for me.  If I don’t get on my knees each morning and thank God for another day, if I don’t remind myself in meetings where I’ve been, and if I don’t reach out to help another person in need every day, then I am likely to forget the reasons I have chosen this resolution.

So the new question I am pondering, as the new year looms, and as I am heading towards the one year mark of sobriety… what am I resolving to progress towards next?

…It Ain’t Just a River in Egypt…

The thing about denial is that it doesn’t feel like denial when it’s going on. -Georgina Kleege

It seems to be the time of year for this subject, because I have been hearing a lot about it.  And who can blame someone?  Holiday parties, egg nog, champagne toasts, wine spritzers, cookie exchange invitations that also require a bottle of wine… it can be difficult to picture a Merry Christmas without the merriment of alcohol.  So, in honor of the holiday, here is the top 10 list of denials I have either used personally, or have heard about in meetings:

1.  I’m really not that bad, because I haven’t… (fill in the blank:  gotten a DUI, overdosed, gone to rehab, etc.)

2.  Yeah, I probably shouldn’t drink, but what’s wrong with smoking a little pot? (switch substances as needed)

3.  I’m a grown-ass man (or woman), I’ll do what I want!

4.  I will just cut back, and drink like normal people (or, I’ll just pace myself, or I’ll drink water in between drinks, this list could go on forever).

5.  I’ll stop AFTER the holidays, because, really, who would quit before?!?

6.  I will stop drinking (or using) if you will just get off my back.

7.  How can I not drink when all my friends (or family, or co-workers) drink?

8.  I would stop drinking if I could just eliminate the stress of… (fill in the blank:  job, spouse, kids, finances, almost anything could be inserted)

9.  If you had the (spouse, kids, family, job) I do, you would drink like me too.

10.  And my own personal favorite, one I used for months on end… I will absolutely stop this insanity TOMORROW…

The real problem with denial is why I used the quote at the top… the deeper you are in it, the less likely to see it for what it is… an excuse to avoid the pain of change.  People in denial truly believe the lies they are telling (believe me, I speak from experience).

Here’s what I’m grateful to know today:  there is no problem I have that a drink or drug won’t make worse.  Once I decide to use a substance to solve a problem, I’ve just increased my burden exponentially.  I thank God I don’t have to live like that anymore!

Handling Disappointment

Anytime you suffer a setback or a disappointment, put your head down and plow ahead. -Les Brown

Today I received some disappointing news.  I have mentioned in previous posts that I have some legal consequences as a result of my addiction.  Consequently I have opted to participate in a program that will have long-term positive benefits.  The short-term, however, is intensive, time-consuming, and requires following rules that seem to have no basis in logic.

One such rule is that I am not permitted, while enrolled in this program, to attend any establishment or function that serves alcohol.  Being in recovery, this rule for the most part is fairly easy to follow.  However, Christmas is approaching, and I traditionally celebrate with an extended, large family. and naturally alcohol will be present.  I have been a participant in this program for close to three months, and have had different thought processes along the way.  First, I thought I would wow them with my charm, wit, and ability to be the best participant they have ever seen, and they would therefore bend all sorts of rules for me.  Once I began the program, I realized quickly these dreams would never come to pass.

My next thought, once I had gotten the lay of the land, was to simply go to the family parties, because the supervision of these rules is mostly the honor system.  There are plenty of people bending the rules everywhere I look, so why not?  It’s a ridiculous rule anyway, and I am reasonably confident that I could get away with it.

The more I thought about that option, the more it unsettled me, because it smacked a little too close to my old way of thinking.  So the final option was the one I took:  if you don’t ask, you don’t get, so I made an official request, in writing, to have an exception to this rule for Christmas.  I explained the entire scenario (quite eloquently, if I do say so myself), and my sincere and altruistic reasons for wanting this (small children who look forward to this tradition, family unity during the holidays, and so on).

If you re-read the first line, you already know the end to this story… denied.  The reasons were as ridiculous as the rule itself, I won’t waste time on them.  I haven’t felt that crushingly disappointed in a really long time.  I try very hard to keep expectations low so that I can avoid the disappointment I felt today, but I have to admit it… I really, really thought this exception would be granted.

As I worked through all the different feelings, I think the part that hurts the most, and I am almost ashamed to admit this, but I am really disappointed because it feels like the “powers that be” simply don’t like me.  I don’t mean to pat myself on the back too much, but generally I am a pretty likable person.  Plus, once I commit to something, I try to do it to the best of my ability, which usually gets validation from the people around me.  I don’t feel like I am getting anything remotely like validation in this program, and it really stings my ego.

So what to do?  Short-term, absolutely nothing (with the exception of bitching about it to the people closest to me)… I am powerless in this situation.  Long-term, I guess I have to look at why it bothers me so much that I can’t win the approval of people who probably don’t think twice about me.  Sigh… more self-examination…

Sorry for the less-than-upbeat post.  I am ever hopeful that things will look up tomorrow!

The Blessings of Recovery

St. Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer to Obtain Favors

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

(It is piously believed that whoever recites the above prayer fifteen times a day from the feast of St. Andrew (30th November) until Christmas will obtain what is asked.)

The prayer listed above may be familiar to the Catholics reading this post, it is a Christmas tradition to try to remember saying it 15 times a day for 25 days!  I have been attempting this ritual for more years than I can count.  Two interesting things to note about this year’s novena.  First, my good friend and novena partner left me a voicemail on the 29th to remind me to start praying it the next day.  I listened to his voicemail, then walked over to the computer to google the prayer to make sure I remembered all the words.  In my inbox was a group email from a distant relative, and she wrote out the prayer.  Good stuff…

The next day I sat down to officially start the novena.  As I mentioned, I have been doing this for years, I’m trying to remember all of the different “favors” for which I have prayed, I’m sure sobriety and weight loss topped the list!  But in general I believe the idea is to pray for one particular favor.  This year, I was sincerely stumped… I really and truly don’t have a specific need.  The most I could come up with is “please let the miracle that is my life continue to be as blessed as it currently is.”  Great stuff…

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