I’m not sure I’ve ever been more excited for a month to end… it’s so exciting to write that date out. We are almost there!
Today’s reading came from the book Forming True Partnerships, and this morning’s chapter concerns the family. The author is an alcoholic in recovery, but her story focuses on the way she handled the alcoholism she found in three out of her four children. She learned early on that the most effective way she could help her children was to let go of the need to fix them, and to be a good example of sober living. The story has a happy ending in that all four of her children find sobriety (even the one that did not become a full-blown alcoholic), and together they have 73 years of sobriety. Inspirational stuff for sure.
My first reaction to reading this story was horror. I have a healthy fear of even one of my children having to grapple with this disease, and how I will handle that issue should it arise. To have three children suffer, and to know that powerlessness, would seem too much to handle.
The silver lining I heard in this cloud is that she got to experience the miracle of recovery over, and over, and over again. By doing what she had to do to stay sober herself, she was able to be there for her children when they needed her, and she got to see them recover. What a blessing that must have been.
The larger message I read, the broader issue that impacts each of us, is learning to let go of the need to control and fix our loved ones. Even if it is not as serious as the author described, three children facing the crisis of full-blown alcoholism, virtually all of us struggle with the need to “fix” people in our lives. It is so easy to see the problem when we are outside of it… surely people would be happier if they just did what we can so clearly see they should be doing! But of course we are powerless over the actions of others, as well we should be. This lesson is an important one for me to hear on a regular basis.
And that was only what I got from the reading! Here are some other great insights:
- This message applies to all sorts of family issues, and it is all too easy to get sucked into the drama of a family member’s life. A 12-step program is a true gift in times of family crisis, because it is a reminder that we can only control ourselves.
- Even without children, we all experience the situation where we are asked to fix someone else’s problem. When this happens, it can jeopardize our own sobriety. It is important to remember to put our own recovery first. We are of no help to anyone unless we are on solid sober ground.
- There are so many side benefits to a 12-step program besides helping us get sober, and this reading touches on an important one: using the tools of the program to more effectively parent our children. So many of the pithy expressions we take for granted in our fellowship are useful messages for our children. Take things one day at a time, do the thing right in front of you, first things first… these are not just ways to stay sober, they are ways to live the best life you can live.
- This story is more common than you think. An alcoholic parent of multiple children is likely to go through this, and it can rip a family apart. It is so useful to read a story such as this, and learn the things the author did to keep herself sane and sober, and to put yourself in the best position to help your children. The biggest piece in the puzzle, and the most challenging part, is to learn to let go and let God.
- One of the sneaky ways to parent a child that you worry might have some of the characteristics of a potential alcoholic, is to let them see how your recover. Let them read the things you are reading, let them help you get sober, and hopefully a seed has been planted should the problem surface for them later in life.
- It is frightening as the parent of small children to spot the characteristics that could lead to the disease of alcoholism, so it is important to learn how to detach from this fear and live in the present. Again, we have no control over this type of outcome, or of the future itself. We only have today.
- When caught in a situation where you feel like you need to fix someone, it is critical to share what’s going on with someone you trust. For those in a 12-step program, a sponsor is critical… make sure you are bouncing your thoughts, feelings and actions off someone who has an objective view of the situation.
- This whole reading seems like it is about setting boundaries, something that is tricky for almost all of us to do, especially with our children. An expression that is helpful when trying to create healthy boundaries is “let go or be dragged.”
Hope everyone is enjoying seeing February end as much as I am!
My initial reading of today’s story did not do a whole lot for me. But thanks to the miracle of the wisdom of the group, I gained a wealth of ideas and perspectives that really helped me appreciate the story. I am so grateful for my Monday morning peeps!
Suddenly it’s Tuesday morning, and still no wrap-up post from yesterday’s meeting. I’m going to blame the three day weekend, and an aging, limping mess of a dishwasher that needed some funeral arrangements, but the time is coming where I figure out what comes next for this blog.
In other words: sorry again for the delay.
It was a decently sized meeting, considering it to be a holiday. It’s counterintuitive to me that holidays produce smaller sized meetings. I would think more people would show up, since more people have off from work. In any event, we had the usual suspects, plus one or two extras.
We read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”), a chapter entitled “To the Family Afterward.” This is another chapter, much like last month, that deals with topics pertaining to the loved ones of the alcoholic, rather than the alcoholic himself/herself. As I mentioned last month, these two chapters are the prologue to Al-Anon.
According to this chapter, there seem to be two watchwords for the recovering alcoholic and his/her family in the early days of sobriety:
The chapter breaks down a whole bunch of possible scenarios that family may experience as the alcoholic recovers, and how best to handle them.
Attendees in the meeting shared their validation of the various scenarios laid out, and added a few more. One gentleman told an amusing story. He came home the night of his seven year sober anniversary, and proudly presented the coin to his wife. She replied, “Congratulations, these were the happiest six years of my life.” He gently reminded her it has been seven years, not six, to which she replied, “Yeah… I’m leaving out that first year on purpose.”
The expression “it’s a family disease” exists for a reason, I guess.
That illustrates the patience part. The balance concept? Well, those reading this post who are in recovery are likely chuckling ruefully. Alcoholics are known for a lot of things, but balance and moderation are not at the top of the list. Or at the bottom for that matter.
So it follows that in recovery, we can go in a bunch of well-intentioned but over the top directions… we find God, then shove Him down everyone’s throat. Or we lose sight of the friends and family that supported us in favor of our new recovery activities.
So the family reacts, and the cycle of chaos starts all over again.
The solution is for everyone involved to communicate honestly and productively, and bring those two watchwords back to the forefront.
As another gentleman pointed out in the meeting: if you go walking into the woods for three days straight, then finally decide you want out, do you think you’re finding your way back in an hour? It took time to get in, it’ll take time to get out again.
It was an interesting chapter for me to read, given the holiday on which we read it (for those not in the United States, we celebrated Labor Day yesterday). Normally when I read this chapter, I have little to no reaction. I am one of the extremely fortunate ones who had complete family support as I recovered. None of the anecdotes described in the chapter apply directly to my life.
However, Labor Day weekend holds a bi-annual event in my family of origin. We have been holding a family reunion for as long as I’ve been alive. Longer, actually, which makes me want to find out how long it’s been going on. At this point we have about 150 people in attendance, and it is an all-day, much-of-the-night affair.
There have been three so far in my sobriety. I believe I skipped entirely the first one, I attended briefly the second, this past Saturday I stayed the longest.
The days leading up to the event had me in a state of… something along the lines of discontent, I suppose. You see, this is the one situation on which I haven’t readily been able to slap the “sober is better” sticker. The event is largely outdoors, at a time of year where it is humid. I am not the outdoorsy type (understatement). There are tons of people, but these are people I see either at this event, or a funeral, so a catch-up conversation (and sometimes a reminder of names) is required each and every time. The vast majority of these people will be imbibing a social lubricant called beer (or a mixed drink); I will be consuming the social lubricant called Diet Pepsi.
If I’m being brutally honest, I was dreading the event, and then I was berating myself for dreading it. What kind of person does not want to spend time with their family? But the equally brutal truth is that pre-recovery, I couldn’t wait for the event, because it was an all all-day drink fest, and now it’s not. For me, anyway. For many others, it continued to be. So it felt like I had more to dread than I had to anticipate.
Luckily for me, I have tools in the toolkit to use in times such as these, and I had my pre-game rituals in place. The most important of these tools, in my opinion, is to have a quick exit strategy should I become uncomfortable around the alcohol/excessive drinking.
The other tool that I used, and was the turning point in the event, was to remember why I was actually there: to spend time with family, and to participate in a long-standing family tradition. When I kept that in the forefront of my mind, instead of focusing on the alcohol that surrounded me, I was able to relax and enjoy the event.
People still got drunk. In fact, I heard tales of overturned golf carts at the end of the evening (which was really early morning) that had me belly laughing. But the reality is the people who got as drunk as I would have gotten were in the minority. The majority of people were casually drinking, or not drinking at all, and they were a delight. I dragged my feet going to the reunion, but I left with a grateful heart.
And then I got to read and remember why I am so grateful!
Family love and support are perennial miracles
For those reading on the day this is published, a sincere thank you for taking time out of your Cyber Monday online shopping to read 😉
Today is one of the infrequent five-Mondays-in-a-month situations that leave me scrambling for a new type of literature to read in my Monday morning meeting. I had something ready to go that was okay, if not a bit irrelevant to the time of year. Then, a few minutes before the meeting started, a new opportunity presented itself: I was able to obtain a copy of a new book that is conference approved for 12-step meetings. Entitled Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships, it is a collection of stories from the AA Grapevine, the magazine put out by the Fellowship. The stories are divided into 7 categories; we started at the beginning, and read the first story under the category “Family.”
I forgot to take a headcount, but it was a decently sized meeting; most of the usual suspects, plus 3 additional new faces. The story was compelling, telling of a family with more than a half dozen family members who got sober through our 12-step program. If someone doubts the concept of the genetic component of the disease of alcoholism, the story provides some powerful proof!
A few parts of the story stood out to me. First, it was uplifting to read of a family who was able to role model for one another what it takes to get and stay sober. Often the reverse is true: it is easier to stay stuck in alcoholic thinking and behavior because that is the family norm.
Next, the author of the story used the word “surrender” quite a bit, and suggested that surrendering was the key to sobriety for his family. For all of his family success stories, there were two that resisted the need to surrender, and both died from the disease as a result. For some reason, the notion of surrender was calming to me this morning; as long as I cease to resist that I have this disease, and then I can do what it takes to stay sober today.
Simple, but of course not easy, especially if you are still in active addiction. One of the newcomers is just a little over 24 hours sober. She had time in the program previously, but stopped attending, and eventually picked up again. She is back, but it is clear from her sharing that she is struggling with the idea of surrendering to the disease. She wants to be sober, she says, but she doesn’t want anyone to tell her what to do. She knows she has made mistakes, but so have all the people around her. She knows she has some work ahead of her, so for now she is just going to keep coming back to the meetings.
A few people shared their family trees as it relates to alcoholism. Not surprisingly, everyone has multiple people, spanning multiple generations, that are or were alcoholics.
Another one of the new faces this morning revealed that he is 9 months sober, and so all of these holidays are sober firsts for him. He really appreciated the recently celebrated Thanksgiving holiday. He used to dread holidays, because they were free passes to overconsume, which for him inevitably led to disagreements and family chaos. He appreciated not being the center of family drama this holiday, and he looks forward to an equally peaceful Christmas.
Another woman spoke at length of her family tree as it relates to alcoholism. She is one of 11, her Mom is one of 14, and her Mom’s mom had 14 children. I suppose with those kinds of numbers an alcoholic or two is bound to come out of the mix! She has 25 years sober, several of her brothers and sisters have sober time, and they are currently dealing with an actively alcoholic brother. She says her mantra is the phrase “cunning, baffling and powerful.” Each time she observes a new iteration of the disease, she is reminded of her mantra.
As soon as she said this, two long-timers held up their hands: “you forgot to add patient!” they exclaimed simultaneously.
Cunning, baffling, powerful, and patient. Words to remember as I navigate the holiday season!
Taking time out of my online Cyber Monday shopping to attend a meeting, and then write about it 😉