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12/12/16: Be Good to Yourself

The title of this blog post, which also happens to be the title of the chapter we read in the morning’s meeting (from the book Living Sober) might seem counterintuitive given the endless tasks of the current holiday season.  Who has time to take care of themselves when there are gifts to be bought, presents to be wrapped, cookies to be baked, parties to attend, and all of this amidst our daily lives?

And the answer is:  make the time.  You can’t transmit what you haven’t got.  And if you don’t take the time to acquire the holiday spirit, then all the cooking, baking and shopping in the world isn’t going to give it to you.

Interestingly, this reading selection was not picked by me, but by a regular attendee of the meeting.  And he did not select this reading in deference to holiday madness; rather, he selected it in deference to my madness, and the madness that surrounds my ongoing foot troubles.

So let me back it up a few steps and fill you in on exactly what’s happening with the foot.  For several years now, I’ve had a problem with foot pain.  The more I exercise, the worse it gets.   Over the summer I joined a gym that is the most intense workout that I’ve personally endured, and so the recurring foot problem reared its ugly head.

Long story short, I finally went and had the problem diagnosed, found out there is a very simple outpatient procedure that can fix the problem, and scheduled to have it done in early November.  I was uncharacteristically on the ball with the whole process… asked in-depth questions, looked out in the calendar to get the best 5 day window for the healing process, organized my life accordingly.

And I had the surgery, and was told it was a success.  Except… my foot had more pain than before I started.  And so the last several weeks have been spent trying to figure out exactly why this is so.  This afternoon I have an appointment where the doctor will read the MRI and hopefully give me a firm diagnosis and solution.

This process… and I dislike wrapping it up like this, as if the process is complete, which it by no means is… has been inconvenient, frustrating, anxiety-producing, and has forced me to reach out for help in ways that make me extremely uncomfortable.

So when my friend first suggested the reading, I wanted to roll my eyes to the ceiling.  “Being good to myself” is all I’ve been doing, since I don’t have much of a choice to do anything else… my foot won’t let me!

Plus the chapter is all about sobriety, so I doubted it would have much relatability to my current state of affairs.

Then I read this section:

Now that we know alcoholism is not immoral behavior, we have found it essential to readjust our attitudes. We have learned that one of the persons least likely to treat the alcoholic like a sick person is, somewhat surprisingly, the alcoholic herself (or himself). Once again, our old thinking habits are cropping up.

It’s often said that problem drinkers are perfectionists, impatient about any shortcomings, especially our own. Setting impossible goals for ourselves, we nevertheless struggle fiercely to reach these unattainable ideals.

Then, since no human being could possibly maintain the extremely high standards we often demand, we find ourselves falling short, as all people must whose aims are unrealistic. And discouragement and depression set in. We angrily punish ourselves for being less than super-perfect.

That is precisely where we can start being good—at least fair—to ourselves. We would not demand of a child or of any handicapped person more than is reasonable. It seems to us we have no right to expect such miracles of ourselves as recovering alcoholics, either.

Impatient to get completely well by Tuesday, we find ourselves still convalescing on Wednesday, and start blaming ourselves. That’s a good time to back off, mentally, and look at ourselves in as detached, objective a way as we can. What would we do if a sick loved one or friend got discouraged about slow recuperation progress, and began to refuse medicine?  -pg. 42
So much for no relatability!  I have been beating myself up for all of this… it’s my own fault!  I should have never gotten the surgery!  And all that guilt gets me is more angst.  Thank goodness for the wise people in my meeting, and for their compassion and understanding.
So that’s me, and what I needed from this morning’s meeting.  The group had a really interesting discussion about the balance between being good to yourself and being self-absorbed.  Some worried that we, in our tendency to be all-or-nothing thinkers, might take the advice in this chapter too far, and find ourselves wallowing in self-pity disguised as self-care.
But the long-timers in the room had an entirely different perspective, and it’s the one I referenced at the beginning of the post.  You can’t take care of anyone else until you’ve taken care of yourself.  Once I get myself settled physically, mentally and spiritually, only then am I best able to reach out to others and provide service.  Doing it backwards short changes everyone involved.
Finally, and I’m ending on this because the story moved me so much… a woman shared that she’s been troubled by people asking for help but not being as honest as they could be, and the conflict that brings about for the woman herself.  Should she help someone when they are dishonest?
Another woman raised her hand and offered a true story she had been told some years ago.  There was a professional baseball player known for his generosity.  One day he was approached in the parking lot by a woman in need.  She told him her child was in desperate need of surgery, but she had no insurance and no way to afford the proper medical care.  He asked how much was needed, she told him, and without hesitation he gave her the money she needed.
Later his team mates criticized him, and told him, “Don’t you know she conned you?  There is no sick child!  She just wanted money!”
His immediate response:  “Wait… there’s no sick child?”
“That’s WONDERFUL news!”
For the baseball player, there was no confusion.  He wants to help others.  If they choose to be dishonest or take advantage of his generosity, that is out of his control.  He can only control his own actions, and that is what brings him peace.
Today’s Miracle:
That story made brightened my day, I hope it brightened yours as well!

M(3), 6/27/16: Breaking the Chain


Already we are heading into the month of July… incredible!

Because it is the end of the month, we read from the book Forming True Partnerships:  How AA members use the program to improve relationships.  The story was from the chapter “The Family,” and talked about the author’s relationship with her alcoholic father in three stages:

I.  When her father was actively drinking and she was a child

II.  When her father got sober and her drinking took off

III.  The relationship they were able to build in sobriety.

A fascinating read for most everyone; even the attendees who did not have alcoholic parents could relate, as everyone in the room had someone in their family who suffers/suffered from the disease of addiction.

Part I mirrored my own childhood:  the shame that goes along with a parent’s alcoholic behavior, the sure knowledge of a personality change the moment a drink is consumed, the uncertainty of knowing which personality would be walking in the door each evening.

I loved reading about the beautiful relationship the author was able to build with her father once she started getting sober.  My father passed away years before even my active addiction, but I have daydreamed often about how he and I might relate now that I am sober.  I’d like to think we would have forged a deeper and more meaningful relationship that we ever had.

And I also believe that he is proud of me, wherever he is.

Some of the other members of the meeting touched on childhood shame surrounding parents and alcoholism, and learning how to discern between the person and the disease.  Several with alcoholic parents remarked that they were always able to do this; they could love their mother or father but hate the effects alcohol had on him or her.

This point stood out to me, as I recently had a discussion with a close friend about this very idea:  loving the person, but hating the disease.  It made me wonder if I had been able to make this distinction with my own father.

The truth is, I’m not sure I ever thought consciously about it while he was alive; I just hadn’t developed enough self-awareness at that young an age.

Then I thought to myself:  do I make that distinction for myself, and my addiction?  I will have to ponder this some more, but I’m sorry to say I’m not sure I do.  At this point, a few years into sobriety, I can say I no longer experience the raw shame of my actions in active addiction, but I think that is because I feel like I’ve rectified to the best of my ability by living each of these past 1600 or so days sober.  And as I thought about it further, and considered some of the “lesser” demons I’m trying to conquer, I’m not sure I am separating myself from my actions.  When I intend to eat well, exercise and drink lots of water, then fail to do so, I feel bad about myself, I don’t separate out the action from the person.

And as I write that I see it for the old thinking that it is, and I realize there is work yet for me to do.  Good thing I wasn’t looking to graduate anytime soon.

There were two women new to sobriety present at the meeting, and both are experiencing struggles as they try to navigate life sober.  One woman’s story in particular spoke to me.  She has less than a month sober, and is battling a few things at once.  First, she has adult children living in her home who still drink.  So there is the challenge of going into the fridge for a bottle of water, and finding it standing next to a six-pack of beer.

Due to a medical condition, she is responsible for driving her husband everywhere he needs to go, and thus finds social situations that involve drinking to be a challenge.

Finally, her adult children want to know why, even though she has been to rehab, been to outpatient therapy, been to a counselor, and is attending meetings, why would she still be sad and struggling?

I am indignant on this woman’s behalf, which of course does her no good.  What I could do, and what a couple of us did after the meeting, is share what worked for us in early sobriety.  Probably the greatest piece of advice I can give (completely and utterly from the rear view mirror, mind you) is this:  ask for help.  Tell people what you need.  Set some boundaries.  People who aren’t afflicted with the disease have zero concept of its trials and tribulations, and it is wrong for us to think otherwise.

Do whatever you need to stay sober, even if it feels selfish to the extreme.  Early sobriety is not a life sentence; you will get more comfortable with time.  But to acquire that time you need to put yourself first.  Failing to do so puts your sobriety in peril.

I’m hoping to see my friend next week with a report that she was able to negotiate some breathing room for herself.

That’s all I’ve got this beautiful summer day!

Today’s Miracle:

I will count mindful organization as the miracle of the moment.  There’s a lot going on in my household this week, and what’s keeping me sane is a list, and reminding myself to stay in the moment.  It truly is a miracle when you take the time to appreciate the here and now!

Hypochondria as it Relates to Recovery

Everyone knows the type:  the person who reads about an illness, then suddenly develops the symptoms of said illness.  I can tell you that throughout my pregnancies there was not one symptom I experienced that my husband didn’t also share, and sometimes try to top!

I can’t honestly say I have ever had that particular mind disorder; that is, until now.  I am currently sober 22 months and change, and as such am approaching another big milestone.  Add to that another juncture, if you will, on my journey to recovery:  the legal consequences that I have referenced from time to time on this blog are just about wrapped up.  The heavy lifting is officially done, all that’s left now is the loose-end tie-up (which, of course, could be endless, I am never one to say it’s over until is really, really over).  The closing of this chapter in my life book, and there is no way to overstate this, is huge.

But it’s like running the 5K, or reaching a goal weight, or achieving whatever accomplishment for which I have been striving… now what?

This is where the hypochondria has, on a low-level, set in.  I find myself looking around for the people who started on the recovery road with me, and I don’t see them.  I hear stories in 12-step meetings about how they have reached a goal, got the feeling of “I’ve got this,” and eventually forgot from whence they came.  And that feeling only leads back to one place… the bottle.

So for the first time in my life, I am sympathizing with the hypochondriacs of this world.  Because I think, “if it can happen to them, then it can happen to me.”  And then I think, “maybe I am on my way back, and I don’t even realize it.”

So how do you talk back to this voice?  I don’t want to disregard the concern, yet wallowing in worry and anxiety doesn’t seem sensible either.

The only way I can figure makes sense is to have a plan of attack, a checklist, and pray that I am still heading in the right direction.  So, first things first, if I have a concern, get it out of my head.  Which, clearly, I am doing, and have also done in my 12-step meetings.  Next, remember what has worked for the past 22 months, and ensure that I am still practicing these principles in all my affairs.  When I started, I had a to-do list of 4 things every day:

1.  Pray

2.  Go to a meeting

3.  Talk to another alcoholic

4.  Not pick up a drink or drug

Now, I look at that list and my mind panics… I only do 2 of those 4 things on a daily basis!  So I go back to square one and figure out what has changed, and if the changes are working.  As it turns out, they are.  I went to daily meetings for the first year; the past 10 months, I have scaled back to those meetings from which I glean the most, and that change has been effective for me.  Okay, problem solved.

I could also add something to the list that I hadn’t even considered on day one of sobriety:  give back that which has been freely given, which is something I do on a regular basis.  So although I have taken off the list, I have also added to it, so net/net it works out.

Next on the list:  gut check:  can I stay sober today?  Because remember, today is all we’ve got.  I have never asked myself that question in sobriety where the answer hasn’t been a resounding YES, so again, there is great comfort in realizing that the obsession is still lifted.   Of course, if another answer were to come, back to square one:  Speak.  Up!  Tell someone what is going on.

Finally, do a mental check-in on associations within my sober support network.  For me, am I still blogging (I guess that answer is self-evident)?  Am I checking in with my fellow bloggers?  Am I still connected to people in my fellowship?  Am I shying away from commitments, or am I embracing the opportunities?  The answer to this is a mixed bag for me currently.  Some I am doing well (you will read more about this one in Today‘s Miracle); some I need to re-visit.  Of course, the next obvious step here:  go out and do what you’ve been slacking on.

I guess time will tell is this plan of action is one that works.  I have had sober time before, probably about as much as I have currently.  The difference between then and now is the ongoing practice of the 12 steps of recovery. I am hopeful that, one day at time, I will “trudge the road of happy destiny!”

Today’s Miracle:

I’m putting this in as a reminder to myself that it is, indeed a miracle (rather than the stomach-twisting event that it currently feels like):  I have been asked to speak at an anniversary celebration for an Al-Anon meeting this evening.  The regular attendees of this meeting are, I assume, quite familiar with my story, although they have not met me personally.  This will change, and they will hear my story from me, tonight.  Right now all I’m thinking is, “Yikes!  I’m venturing into the enemy camp!”  But, deep down, I know this will be a monumental event, and I am, despite my nerves, grateful for this opportunity.  I’m sure I will be writing about the experience!

How Low Can You Go? Monday Meeting Wrap-Up

Yesterday’s meeting fell in the midst of torrential rains, and at least 2 roads were closed nearby, so the fact that I had 3 attendees was really fantastic.  Just to follow up, the woman I have been writing about did not show up.  Whether that was rain-related, or something else, will remain a mystery, but suffice it to say it was a wonderfully drama-free affair!

The reading I chose for the meeting told the story of a woman who contracted cirrhosis of the liver before she was able to surrender and seek recovery (Twice Gifted, in the Big Book, in case anyone would like to read).  In the story, she wrote that she was critically ill for the first year of her sobriety, but then was given the gift of a liver transplant, and, of course, life got better and better.  She commented that she was grateful that her medical condition had gotten to that point, because she did feel she would have ever chosen sobriety if not.

The discussion that ensued centered around our various “bottoms,” the point at which we truly accepted that we were powerless, and thus became willing to make the changes needed to begin our recovery.  Always an interesting topic, because inevitably the examples are so varied.

I know for me, I made an ineffective and feeble attempt at recovery for about 8 months before I hit my personal bottom.  I was a participant in an outpatient rehab group, and I was beyond ashamed, beyond humiliated to be there.  The counselor said, “I notice that you seem unable to hold you head up, or make eye contact with myself or anyone else in the group.  Can you tell me why that is?”  I told him that I was full of shame.  He asked me why, and I admitted freely the various transgressions that had brought me to the group at that time.  He then said, “I’m sorry you feel the way you do, but I want you to understand, from my perspective, these are very common admissions, and I regularly hear a lot worse.”  He went on to ask me a series of questions, have you ever done this, or this, or this?  The answer was consistently no, and his goal (presumably) was accomplished, I was able to engage more in the group.

Unfortunately, my time with that group did not stop me from digging quite a bit deeper before I finally put down the shovel.  I don’t remember the specific questions he asked me, but I would guess to that I could not say a universal no to all of them at this point.  But, as you will frequently hear in the rooms of AA, it takes what it takes.

When I look back over my active addiction with the clarity of sobriety, I can point to no less than 5 or 6 MONUMENTAL moments where I should have seen the light.  Incidents that, looking back, were gigantic God moments that I completely ignored.  Why, I sometimes wonder?  Why was I able to grasp it in January of 2012, and not in any of those previous moments?

The answer to that question will never be satisfactorily answered in my lifetime, and I can accept that, as I have accepted the disease that is my alcoholism.  Focusing on the past is possibly the most pointless waste of time, and ruins the beautiful present in which I live.  At the end of the day, I am grateful for every drink, and every drug, because they led me to this moment… living soberly, appreciating the life I have never fully appreciated, establishing a relationship with God, and writing to all of you!

Today’s Miracle:

First, that I can focus on writing this at all.  There are currently 4 screaming kids outside my window, soaking each other with a hose and loving every minute of it.  That I am appreciating their merriment, that’s miracle number 2!

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