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M(3), 11/2/15: Finding the Common Solution

And just like that, it’s November!

Since it is the first Monday of the month, we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous; I selected the chapter entitled “There is a Solution.”  A hopeful title if ever there was one, the chapter is as optimistic as it sounds…. it is possible to rise from the depths of alcoholic despair to “a fourth dimension of existence of which we had never dreamed.” (pg. 25)

Big promises in this chapter, and for untold numbers of recovering alcoholics, promises that have been delivered!

We were on the low side of normal in terms of attendance this morning; however, I heard exactly what I needed to hear.  Two things stood out to me in this morning’s reading.  The first was the description of a necessary spiritual experience:  huge emotional displacements and rearrangements (pg. 27).  When I look back on my mental state of mind before I hit my alcoholic bottom and compare it to sobriety, that description is an apt one.

In 12-step meetings before sobriety I would catalog all the ways I was different from everyone else in the room; in sobriety I marvel at all the things we have in common.

In active addiction, my first consideration was where you were wrong and I was right; in sobriety it is acceptable to agree to disagree.

Prior to getting sober there was no middle ground things were black and white.  Today I can see the shades of gray in between.

The second concept that stood out to me in the reading is the idea of clinging to solution offered by the 12-step program, and thinking it flimsy at first, but soon enough realizing how strong it is.  I read that paragraph, and was immediately transported back in time, starting my days in prayer and thinking how ridiculous I felt.  Day after day, I continued a ritual that seemed so hokey, so preposterous, and in my wildest dreams I could not imagine anything meaningful coming of it.  How about all those times I prayed in the past… why would this be any different?

Until, slowly but surely, I stayed sober.  Not only did I stay sober, but I started noticing other changes as well.  Coincidences that were too good to be coincidences, calls and emails just when I needed support, inspirational readings that would seem to land in front of me when I was ready to read them.

Now, if something happens and I don’t start my day with a prayer… that would be preposterous.

Others in the meeting spoke of their emotional displacements and rearrangements; some were dramatic, most were incremental and not truly recognizable until well after the fact.  All agree that using the simple tools that we were taught within our 12-step program help us not only to stay sober, but also to live peaceful, joyful lives.

Last, but most certainly not least, one of my favorite meeting regulars shared what she loves most about this chapter:  the hopefulness of finding a common solution.  It’s not her solution, or my solution, but it’s our solution.  Unlike those bonded together by a crisis like an earthquake or a fire, this is a bond that continues well past the crisis, because it is in seeking out one another that we recover.

Today’s Miracle:

Finding people who understand you = a miracle

Finding people who understand you and can offer you a solution to your problem = an even greater miracle

The ability to give that solution to still others = the greatest miracle of all

Pain

Troubles are often the tools by which God fashions us for better things. –Henry Ward Beecher

Pain is the touchstone of all spiritual progress.   This concept is discussed in AA literature, but it is most certainly a universal truth.  Pain is almost always what makes me stop and realize that I need a change.  It can be physical pain…  my back aches to the point that I must stop whatever physical activity I am doing.  Mental pain… everyone in my life irritates me to the point that I must stop and consider that I am the common denominator.  Emotional pain… I continue with my addictive behavior until the consequences are so painful, that I must stop and consider a new way of living.

No matter what kind of pain you are experiencing, there is an opportunity for growth, and an opportunity for learning.  There is no way I would wish for myself (or anyone else) the kind of pain that addiction brings, but I can say that I have learned a hell of a lot about myself, about the disease, and about how to deal with life on life’s terms.  And since I don’t get to choose whether or not to be an addict, I must learn to play with the cards I’ve been dealt, so I may as well learn what I can, and apply the knowledge going forward.

And now, when other kinds of pain come my way, I can recognize the potential for growth, and the potential to learn something new, even while I’m in the midst of it.

Here’s what else I’ve learned about pain:  you can try to ignore it, and hope it goes away on its own, but it does not.  In fact, ignoring pain tends to magnify it.  So, when I experience pain, I know I have a choice: deal with it now, or wait for it to get much worse.  Either way, I’m going to have to face it.

Today’s Miracle:

 Got up this morning at the usual time, but it was lighter and brighter, and it is only March 1st… spring is coming!!

Don’t You Steal My Sunshine

So I have been as sick as a dog for the past two days (fever seems to be down this morning, all other symptoms still there, but I can function without the fever).  It started Wednesday night, and kept me up all night.  Thursday I was forced to cut out all activities other than those mandated by law (not easy to do during holiday madness).

And when I was feeling my physical lowest, I also got slammed on some mental fronts as well (isn’t it always the way).  One of my biggest intellectual hang-ups is injustice of any kind, and if I am personally factored into the injustice, then I have a tendency to go nuts.  Well, in my opinion, I was the target of some injustice on Thursday, and it was a situation over which I was powerless.  The icing on this cake was that feeling that comes creeping in when things don’t go my way… the “why are these people doing this to me/why don’t these people like me/what can I do to make these people like me” feeling that does nothing but sink me lower into the already pretty deep hole I was in.

So what did I do about it?  First, I shared about it,  because if I try to work things out in my own head, nothing but disaster will follow.  I actually ran into a woman from the program (is it odd or is it God?), and was able to speak with her immediately following the troubling incident.  Then I went to a meeting and shared some more.  Then I went home and whined to my husband.  In the past I would have berated myself for dumping my troubles on others, I truly believed that no good could come from spreading my misery.  Now I know that keeping things bottled up only leads to explosions down the road.

I would be lying if I said everything is turned around now and I feel wonderful.  Obviously physical health plays a role, and I am still under the weather.  But sometimes, even when you know where you want to be mentally, even when you can see the other side of the road you want to be on, sometimes it just takes a while to actually get there.  I know, absolutely, that I will come out of this funk, and so I will just continue to keep doing what I have been doing for the past 330 days, and believe that the miracle is around the corner!

The Courage of Honesty

You are you.  Now, isn’t that pleasant? –Dr. Seuss

Sometimes the answer to the question in the quote above is yes, and sometimes, especially after looking back at past mistakes, the answer is a resounding NO!!!  Fortunately, more often than not these days, the answer is a positive one.

Okay, so I am officially through my fourth step, which means I have completed a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.  Sound scary?  Yes, indeed!  I feel good for having accomplished it, but nothing miraculous happened to me yet, other than feeling proud of myself the way I do when I complete any project.

The most interesting part of the whole experience was noting the patterns that emerge in my behavior.  It seems at the heart of it, lack of honesty is my biggest problem with respect to the harm I have caused others.  Believing that people will discover the real me and run as fast as their feet will take them seems to be at the heart of my dishonestly (geez, even writing that was difficult).

Logic would follow that having the courage to truly be myself seems to be the ultimate goal, and, hopefully, the ultimate reward.  Without realizing it I have been working towards this goal for the past 243 days.  And this is just one more thing where it is all about the journey, rather than the destination… progress and not perfection!

My List of “I Nevers”

Today in a meeting two different young men… one 22, the other 20 years old… shared how they felt about being in a 12-step program at such a young age.  To them, it feels restrictive, and they listed all the “normal” things kids their age do that they will no longer be able to do.  They look around the room we are in, and they see the ages of the people in the chairs next to them, and they think, “why can’t I do this for another 20 years, and then get it?”

As I listened to them, it made me think of my own life.  Now, maybe it is my advanced age, but I had a slightly different viewpoint.  Of course, in my 20’s, I did get to experience a lot (not all) of the things they listed… college parties, social drinking events, and so on… and my heart goes out to them, because I remember those times fondly.

But when I think of all the things I will never be able to do again, here is what my list looks like:

  • I will never again get to wake up with my heart pounding out of my chest, because I am so ashamed of my actions from the day before
  • I will never again get to spend the morning violently nauseous, or with a headache pounding louder than a jack hammer
  • I will never again get to piece together the events of the evening before and never quite find all the pieces in my own memory
  • I will never again get to pretend I remember some idiotic thing I said or did, and pretend that it is funny that I don’t remember
  • I will never again get to hear about the jackass I made of myself at a family or social event
  • I will never again get to see the look of utter disappointment in my husband’s eyes
  • I will never again get to see the look of confusion on my children’s faces when they don’t understand my mood swings
  • I will never again get to see the look of abject fear in my mother’s eyes
  • I will never again get to be the guest of honor at an intervention
  • I will never again get to embarrass my husband and children (at least not while chemically altered!)
  • I will never again get to obsess over creating the next opportunity to obtain a mood altering substance
  • I will never again get to waste valuable time, money, and my physical well-being in obtaining a mood altering substance

Of course this list could go a lot longer, but I think you get the picture.  I pray that the young men I heard share today get it so they don’t have to make the list I just made…

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