Another Monday, another great Monday meeting! Ten people today, the largest group in several weeks, and everyone had something wonderful to share. A meeting does not get better than it did today!
I selected a group of readings from the AA book As Bill Sees It, which all fell under the category of complacency, a topic that is familiar to anyone in attendance at 12-step meetings. Complacency is a feeling that those of us in recovery must guard against. It is as cunning, baffling and powerful as addiction itself, because it can sneak up on you when you least expect it.
Which brings me to the title of this post. At today’s meeting, a long-timer shared his acronym for a slip, which is a term people use to describe picking up a drink after having sober time. Disclaimer: I would never use this word, as it seems too mild to describe the action that is relapse, but that’s just my opinion. Anyway, today I learned that S.L.I.P. means “sobriety loses its priority.” What a great way to describe it, because inevitably if you are choosing to pick up a drink or drug after sober time, then you have ultimately decided that something or someone is more important than whatever reason you had for choosing sobriety in the first place.
How can that happen? How could you fight so hard for something, work so long to achieve a goal, and then let it “slip” away? Quite easily, as anyone who frequents the rooms of AA will tell you. Right after my meeting, I learned of two different people I know personally who chose to go back to their addiction. These were both people with a decent amount of sober time, who were very committed as far as I could tell, and spoke eloquently of how much their sobriety meant to them. I do not know their stories personally, as they have not returned to tell them, but I have heard from many who were fortunate enough to make it back after a relapse to understand the warning signals.
The first warning signal to a slip is feeling like you’ve got the whole recovery game figured out, and that you’ve won the battle against addiction. I have heard many stories of people with sober time who had a relapse, and without fail every one of them start their story by saying that they felt they no longer needed a 12-step program, that they could maintain sobriety on their own. As time went by, and left to their own devices, the reasons not to drink diminished, while the desire to drink grew, until eventually it simply made sense to believe that this time the outcome would be a different one.
Complacency is one of those topics with which I struggle, and I’m sure I’m not alone in my way of thinking. The minute I hear the word, my mind start racing towards all the things I’m not doing, or could be doing better, or used to do but have not of late. I get myself all worked up, convinced that I am a breath away from a relapse. Just as quickly, I will get defensive (mind you, this is all in my head, who needs any extra voices when I’ve got so many of my own?), and start arguing all the good I do. Then I’m tired from all the internal battling, and I wind up right back at square one. Not very productive, I assure you.
So the trick, for me anyway, is finding balance, and of course that can apply to any area of life, not just recovery. Balance between keeping recovery as a priority, and doing the things I need to do every day to keep my sobriety, and enjoying the peace and serenity that are the fruits of that labor. The greatest news about complacency: once I see I’ve started down that path, it is very easy to turn around and find my way back. It’s all about awareness… keep checking in, and I will not stray very far. Recovery, like so many things in life, is a process, not an event!
For me, the greatest antidote to complacency is gratitude. When I heard those stories, my first gut reaction was to shoot up a quick prayer for them, and to end with “there but for the grace of God go I.”
An interesting thing happened to me this weekend. Before I explain, a while back I wrote about the process an addict goes through, which is: a thought, which leads to an urge, which leads to a craving, which leads to an obsession, which results in a compulsion. As I mentioned when I wrote this, when in active addiction, this process is so quick, it is like a flipping the pages of a paperback from front to back.
As I also mentioned more recently, troubling memories have been resurfacing, and it is uncomfortable to experience. Fortunately, they are not thoughts to pick up a drink or drug. Unfortunately, it is memories of times in the past when I have.
For whatever reason, this past Saturday was one of those days where the memories were coming fast and furious. That night, we went to the 5:00 mass, and still I was plagued with disturbing thoughts. Since I was at church anyway, what better time to ask, in more elaborate detail, to have Him direct my thoughts in a more productive way?
The first answer I received was a reminder of the process I described above. With that reminder, I was able to reflect just how far I’ve come. By the grace of God, I have had the compulsion, obsession, the craving, and the urge to pick up a drink or drug lifted from me. That, in and of itself, is a miracle, one for which I should be grateful for every minute of every day. And even these thoughts that have been plaguing me are of a much lesser evil. The worst thought that occurs is just a bad memory, it is never a thought to use any mind-altering substance in the present. Another gift.
So finally, right before communion, there is a short space where I mentally recite the act of contrition. As I am doing this, the thought comes to me to ask for forgiveness, because at the heart of it I believe that I am somehow causing all these painful memories to resurface, that I am in some way at fault. The mass ends, we go home, eat dinner, and have a low-key Saturday night. While watching TV that evening, I am also catching up on email, and there is one from my husband (who happens to be sitting about 2 feet from me). It is an article he found online that he thought I would enjoy (mind you, I have not shared any of the thoughts from the day with him). I inluded the article (hopefully) in this post.
Is it odd, or is it God?
Monday mornings bring the meeting I started. First miracle: 12 attendees. Second miracle… a woman came to the meeting (I have met her, but have no personal relationship), and told me that she came because she has been hearing such good things about the woman who runs Monday’s literature meeting. I had to stop and back up mentally… wait, the woman she is talking about is ME!
… go I, is how that phrase finishes out. I have used that expression more in the past 137 days than ever before in my life. It probably goes without saying, but the expression means that I am fortunate, through God’s grace, not to have whatever bad luck has fallen upon another. For example, when I drive by a car accident, I will say this out loud, to remind myself how truly fortunate I am to be safe in my own car.
What I like about this expression is, first, that it re-focuses me on how positive my life really is. When I look around and see other people’s problems, I am truly grateful for the ones I have. And when you are in regular attendance in 12-step meetings, you have a real chance to be grateful for your own life. As bad as you may think you have it, I guarantee there is someone who has it worse.
The second reason I like this expression is that it reminds me that I am not running the show, and that I have someone else to thank for my good fortune. Just as this expression re-focuses me on the positive aspects of my life, it also re-focuses me on God, and how blessed I am to have a relationship with Him.