M(3), 4/10/2017: Live and Let Live
On this glorious Spring Monday morning we read from the book Living Sober, the chapter entitled “Live and Let Live.”
Of course, the expression live and let live does not originate in the recovery community. In fact, the whole lesson today falls into the category of “human problems” rather than “alcoholic problems.” But still, learning how to focus on our own lives, and refrain from concerning ourselves with the lives and opinions of others goes a long way to a successful sobriety.
I remember reading this chapter in early sobriety and finding it to be an eye opener. I never thought of my addiction as being in any way related to the people around me. I would hear people say, “I like to drink at my problems” or “I drank at people, not with people,” and those expressions made no sense to me.
But as the chapter let me know… I started drinking, as most do, with people. Then, I became resentful when people commented negatively on the quantity I drank, or my attitude after I drank, so I decided to drink alone. I compared my drinking style to that of others. I preferred social functions with alcohol, and avoided those events that did not have alcohol.
And in all of those situations, people, and my reactions to those people, were involved.
It was a relief indeed to learn the mantra live and let live. It reminded me that there is only one set of beliefs, opinions and actions I can control, and so to worry about anyone else’s is not only pointless, but it is counterproductive to my own serenity.
Two corollary philosophies I learned in recovery that go hand in hand with live and let live are:
What other people say about me is none of my business.
Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?
When I am on my game, and embracing these three ways of living, then my life is peaceful indeed.
Like most lessons in recovery, it is one that needs to be reviewed on a very regular basis! It is supremely simple to forget how good life is when I am living and letting live, and instead I easily fall into the trap of believing I know what’s best for everyone around me.
As always, I am grateful to start my week with positive and healthy ways to live my most peaceful life.
Here are some other great thoughts from this morning:
- Often the focus is on the second half of this expression… the letting live part. But equally important is the first half… live! If we focus on living our own best lives, is is natural to let others do the same.
- Often figuring out the best way to live takes time. Early sobriety is confusing in and of itself, so patience is key in terms of figuring out what exactly brings you joy.
- People who like to control things by nature find the “let live” part of this advice to be extra difficult. It is a process to unlearn the habit of giving others our take on a situation, or offering our input. Time and practice will help us strengthen this skill of letting things go.
- Typically the root cause of our inability to live and let live is our ego… we think we know better, and therefore we insist on forcing our will on others. Learning to get our egos right-sized will go a long way in learning how to live and let live.
- It is our job to figure out the best way for us personally to live and let live. For some of us, the challenge is in figuring out how to keep our mouths shut, and our opinions to ourselves. For others, the challenge is in asserting our own needs and wants, and learning to live authentically, rather than trying to please those around us. Either way, it is our responsibility to figure it out and challenge ourselves to living our best life.
- When in doubt about which is the best course of action…. keeping our mouths closed or open… shooting up a quick prayer can do wonders!
Wishing everyone who celebrates a beautiful Easter holiday!
Spring, glorious spring!
M(3), 1/2/2017: Ego vs. Addiction
Housekeeping: if I take time to reply to comments, I’ll never get this post written. But I’ll do so as soon as I hit publish! Overall I’d like to say a big thank you to all who commented, and I am thinking long and hard about all suggestions. As I mentioned yesterday, circumstances are such that no resolution can be reached for a few weeks. In the meantime, I am going to tinker about with different formats and see if I can’t come up with a way to transmit all the wonderful wisdom without the remotest possibility of breaking anonymity.
Having said that, today’s meeting was an actual first, at least I think it was… we did not have enough chairs in the meeting room to house the attendees present! A great way to start an otherwise cold and dreary Monday, I’ll tell you that much.
As it is the first Monday of not only the month, but the year, we reach chapter one of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”), “Bill’s Story.” Bill is Bill Wilson, the co-founder of the original 12-step program of recovery. And his story is a compelling one: from one of the lowest bottom drunks that exists, to co-founding a program that is in existence and thriving 80 plus years later.
As compelling a story as Bill’s is, I am often challenged when I read it to find a part relatable to my journey of recovery. Today, however, proved to be an exception, as a theme stood out for me in a way that hasn’t any of the past time I’ve read it. And the theme is ego. Bill truly believed that his self-will could conquer any challenge, win any war. And for a long time, it did. Remember, Bill lived through World War One, the roaring 20’s and the Great Depression, and his creativity, persistence and gumption got his to the top of a lot of heaps. But ultimately he found his self-will was no match for his addiction to alcohol. When he finally surrendered to that notion, miraculous things happened to him, and for a lot of alcoholics who followed in his footsteps.
So what’s relatable about that? For me, it is a reminder of how insidious the ego can be. How many of us have gotten sober a few days, weeks, month, or even years, then decided that “we’ve got this?” Or we appreciate the value of humility for a while, especially when newly sober, but over time forget the value of staying humble?
For those of us who cultivate our spiritual lives, the ego is especially dangerous, for how easy it is to let those simple spiritual practices fall by the wayside as life gets too chaotic? By the time we are in real need of a spiritual connection, we realize we’ve actually been disconnected.
For me, today’s meeting is a reminder to stay right-sized, and keep my ego in check. Here is some other great stuff I heard today:
- The story is an important reminder of what the alcoholic bottom feels like. Who doesn’t vividly recall the horrific feelings of the morning following a particularly nasty drunk? Or the hopelessness of the broken promise that we won’t drink today?
- The 12 steps of the program are clearly explained as Bill tells his story of recovery. If you read nothing else in the Big Book but Bill’s story, you will have a basic understanding of the 12 steps of recovery.
- Reading the transformation of Bill’s life and attitude is a reminder of how different a life of sobriety can be from a life of active addiction. You can almost feel the remarkable difference in his perspective and how it positively impacts his world, and the worlds of those around him.
- Unconditional surrender is another theme of the story. For a long time Bill believed he could beat this problem by his own means, but when he understood the concept of unconditional surrender, and applied it to his own life, miraculous things happened for him, and for countless others.
- Addiction to alcohol can make the most logical and intelligent people strangely insane. They can be incredible in every other area of their lives, and yet their logic completely escapes them when it comes to moderating alcohol.
- Overcoming the hurdle of a higher power when one does not believe such a thing exists is covered wonderfully in this story. Bill himself struggled with the notion of turning his will over, until he was convinced he could create a God of his understanding. This concept got many an alcoholic over the hump of believing in a traditional God.
Hope everyone is enjoying the new year!
Writing two posts in two days. It’s been a loooong time since I’ve done that. And if I’m really on my game, another post talking about the WOTY is coming tomorrow!
Intermediate Recovery: Guilt
It’s been awhile since I’ve written in this category, I’m not sure why that is. But since I’ve missed another Monday post, now’s as good a time as any to write one.
I missed this past Monday because I didn’t attend the meeting; I asked a regular attendee to cover for me. I didn’t attend the meeting because I have been feeling under the weather for past 10 or so days, whatever’s got me has really grabbed hold! I have been through all the regular permutations of an infection… sore throat, cough, aches, chills, and I’d say for the most part they’ve come and gone. What’s lingering now, and has been for at least 5 days, is this unrelenting lethargy… it feels like I’m moving through water, and I could sleep at any moment.
It’s bad enough that I actually went to the doctor, which may not mean a lot if you don’t know me, but says something significant if you do. I intensely dislike going to the doctor’s. He gave me an antibiotic, and paperwork to get my blood tested, and told me the exhaustion is normal; since my body is fighting an infection, it is working overtime, so it’s tired!
Problem solved, case closed. For what possible reason would I be writing about such an inane subject?
Answer: I have uncovered an interesting mental side effect of this physical illness, and that is guilt. I feel guilty for feeling sick.
Illogical, irrational, and most likely makes me sound unbalanced, but it’s the truth. I have no energy, and I berate myself for getting nothing done. The monkey mind creates a laundry list of things I should be doing to get well: exercise more, fight through the exhaustion! Drink more water, eat healthier, meditate harder, snap out of it.
“You’re not that sick,” says the monkey mind.
I do try to talk back to criticism, but suffice it to say the circular argument is exhausting to think about, let alone write it out, let alone have it in the first place.
And even when I’ve completed the laundry list, there is always, always another item added for which to feel guilty because it has gone uncompleted.
Three days ago, I awoke from a disturbing dream. All I can remember from it is that I was diagnosed with cancer. The disturbing part was the emotion I experienced, which was guilt, because I was convinced that the cancer was my fault for something I had done, or something I had failed to do.
When I realized that was my take-away from the dream, I knew I was troubled. And I examined where guilt was infecting my life, and was startled to discover how pervasive it was. Truly, it is egotistical how much responsibility I give myself.
So my inflated ego… something else about which to feel guilty.
While the illness is the catalyst for this self-examination, I believe I will find that, even as I heal, even as I become more active, take on more responsibility, and so on, guilt will still be playing a role. My best guess is that it’s always been there, I’m just painfully aware of it now that I’m sober. I’m still not sure what that is, if it is:
A. connected with addiction
B. residue from being raised in an Irish Catholic household
Or maybe it’s
C. all of the above
And more important, here’s the essay question that needs to be answered:
How the heck do you overcome an addiction to feeling guilty?
Feel free to respond, especially if you’re in recovery… from guilt!
Taking the time to write this post, because I know I am going to get great responses to help me tackle this issue!
M(3), 5/25/15… Even Though It’s Almost 5/27!
Better late than never!
Crazy few days in my corner of the world, with still a teensy bit more to go, but I wanted to recap yesterday’s meeting, for the sake of continuity, if nothing else.
Yesterday, as the fourth Monday of the month, we read from the book As Bill Sees It, the topical compilation of AA literature. I selected the topic freedom, in honor of our American holiday Memorial Day.
I will be honest and say that the topic in and of itself did not fill me with excitement, but the readings were interesting and the conversation lively. I was also impressed to have an attendance of 10, which is pretty good for a holiday.
Of course, the first point that hits home with anyone in recovery when the topic of freedom arises: the freedom experienced when released from the obsession and compulsion to drink or use drugs. After I selected the topic but before we started reading, my eyes fell upon the travel coffee mug I bring with me to the meeting. It is the type you get through a website like Snapfish, a mug personalized with a photograph. Mine has a beautiful photo taken of my family when we went on our one and only trip to Disney World, almost five years ago. I suppose because the topic of freedom was already on my mind, I thought back to that trip through that perspective. I looked at my own face in the picture, and I could remember, vividly, my mindset at the time. While I was generally able to control myself in situations like a family vacation, my mind would anticipate the time when I did not have to control myself. I remembered all too well anticipating the end of that vacation, where I could then end my control.
Who does that… in The Happiest Place on Earth no less?
Here’s the good news, and what I shared at Monday’s meeting: those days are a thing of the past. The past 4 days of my life have been dedicated to celebrating my daughter’s 15th birthday, which happens to be today. Friday we brainstormed a list of all her favorite food (an extensive and varied list, she will bankrupt her future boyfriends with her culinary taste). Saturday through Monday I baked/cooked/prepared every single item on the list (technically one item we ate at a restaurant, but still). We had her closest friends over for dinner, took them to a movie, then had them back for a sleepover. Sunday we went shopping for clothes and makeup. Monday she went out for a practice drive in anticipation of next year’s being able to apply for a driver’s license (all my husband, no way am I rushing that life event), and Monday night we had the family over to eat pie (no store-bought cake for this one!) and ice cream, and sing happy birthday. One more mini-event tonight with her basketball team, and I will go to sleep tonight feeling good that I celebrated my daughter’s birthday right.
Comparing that trip to Disney to this past birthday weekend… that’s freedom to me.
Even better insights came out of the meeting:
- One gentleman shared his thoughts about freedom versus responsibility. Some people think freedom = I can do what I want. For us alcoholics, that thinking did not equate to much freedom at all, quite the opposite. But thinking of doing “what I ought” instead “what I want,” ultimately provides us the greatest freedom that exists, the freedom that is peace of mind.
- Another friend at the meeting talked about the idea of dependence upon a Higher Power giving independence, and she felt that to be very true for her. For years, she admitted, she relied far too heavily upon her family for many of her needs, not the least of those being sobriety. Now, in relying upon a power greater than herself, she finds she does not have to rely upon her family to remain sober, she can manage her recovery with without them.
- In a discussion of the never-ending chatter of our minds, and that chatter hindering our ability to make calm and clear decisions, one “long-timer” share an acronym I heard for the first time on Monday:
EGO: Edging God Out
I love it! The more I go round and round in my head about a decision, the more I think and out-think and over think, the less I’m turning it over to God, and the more I’m turning it over to my ego. I’m keeping that one in my back pocket for the next time my monkey mind starts up!
There was, I’m sure, tons more great stuff, but the problem is the longer I wait to post, the less I can retain, so I’ll end here. Hope all my American friends had wonderful, sober 3 day weekend!
The awareness of how much better, richer, and more fulfilling a sober life is. So grateful to celebrate such a special day, so grateful that I will remember it tomorrow!