Many apologies for the unplanned two-week hiatus. Week one saw me with a dental crisis; the worst is over, but follow-up visits abound (cue the sad music). Week two saw me preparing for my first job interview in 17 years (cue the horror music). Both of these situations deserve completely separate blog posts, which I will hopefully get to sometime this decade, but in the meantime, let’s return to our regularly scheduled program.
This week’s reading came from Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.” We read one of the quintessential chapters, entitled, “How It Works.” This is the first in a three-chapter overview of the 12 steps; specifically, steps one through four.
A newcomer reading this chapter is likely to be overwhelmed, as there is a lot going on in these four steps! We had two women in the meeting today that, by my definition, would count as newcomers: one having recently completed rehab, and one that indicated she was a newcomer, but did not elaborate just how new she is.
First-time readers of this chapter might be alarmed at how often the words “self-centered,” “egotistical,” “resentful,” “self-pitying” and “fearful” are peppered throughout. Indeed, the entire premise of the twelve steps (at least in this writer’s humble opinion) is based upon the notion that the alcoholic life is run on self-will and self-seeking.
And so the answer to the alcoholic dilemma is a paradigm shift: instead of thinking the world is out to get us, we choose instead to look at our part in any situation. Instead of considering what the world owes us, we look to see what we can contribute. Instead of dishonesty and deception, we opt for transparency.
Instead of thinking we are running the show, we now seek a Power greater than ourselves, and we turn our will over to the care of that Power.
As always, when newcomers attend the meeting, I read and consider how I felt as a newcomer. I know when I first started paying attention to this reading, I considered myself an exception to most of the generalizations: I did not feel particularly angry or resentful, I didn’t consider myself to be (overly) selfish, and I believed I put the needs of a great many others before my own needs.
I remember thinking, “Wow my inventory is going to be so small, since I have no resentments whatsoever!” I can’t remember exactly, but I believe my inventory ran upwards of 6 handwritten pages.
Now I read the chapter and consider how my life has changed since first starting the road to recovery. The most fundamental change would be awareness, and the ability to feel my feelings. Sounds ridiculous, but it is a change that words cannot sufficiently capture. In addiction, I self-medicated so as not to feel anything.
So now I feel, and I’m aware that I feel. I can define the emotion, and the corresponding physical sensations.
“Why is this a big deal?” someone may wonder. Awareness allows for the processing of emotions, particularly negative ones. If I’m stuffing down feelings, I’m not processing or releasing them. So there they sit, swirling around and ready to wreak emotional havoc at any point in time.
Awareness is just one part of the puzzle. That same awareness had me realize that all my resentment-free days were just a facade designed to keep me from feeling. I had a lot more resentments than I ever realized I had, and a lot more fears as well.
In fact, I believe I am a work in process in the arena, and likely will be for some time.
In getting more self-aware and more honest about my part in every resentment-filled situation, I am better able to handle new challenges. Now when a resentment pops up, I am able to:
- recognize it
- define it
- look at my part in it
All of which allows me to
4. handle it
Above all, the peace that comes from a reliance on a Higher Power is the gift that keeps on giving.
Having this before-and-after experience upon which to draw was especially helpful this morning when one of the newcomers expressed confusion… she does not think she has any anger, or even much fear, so she’s not sure where she would even start with such a process.
The ability to pay it forward!
It feels like forever since I’ve been on this blog, I’ve missed you all terribly! I considered writing a mini-post last week explaining why I wouldn’t be recapping my regular Monday morning meeting, then I mocked myself for thinking that anyone would notice that it was missing, then I argued against the mocking voice, then I got angry at all the voices and told them all to shut the hell up.
So here I am, back. I did not blog last week because I was not able to attend my meeting, the reason for which I will explain as I talk about today’s meeting.
At the beginning of this month I wrote about deciding on the theme of fear for April’s reading selections, the end goal in mind being this fourth week of the month, and the book from which we read, As Bill Sees It. This book is a compilation of several hundred excerpts from AA literature, and it is typically read in a topical fashion. In other words, I select the topic of fear, and then we read all the selections that feature fear as their subject matter.
In the post to which I linked above, I explained I had picked fear as a topic because I’m uncertain how fear plays out in my life. I don’t feel overly fearful, and I don’t often connect the various emotions I do experience to fear the way others in my fellowship seem to do. So April 2015 became the dedicated month of fear for this meeting leader.
Fast forward to Friday, April 17th. I have a wonderful friend in the fellowship who for a time texted a group of us daily morning inspirations. She has not done so for a long time, so when, early that morning I saw the text come in, I read it out loud to my husband. Here’s what the text read:
Don’t let unexpected events throw you off course; rather, respond calmly and confidently. Remember that God is with you. As soon as something grabs your attention, talk to Him about it. This is the way of peace.
Ninety minutes later, I got a call from my daughter at high school: she had been assaulted by a fellow student while getting her books out of her locker. Then I received another phone call from the principal: my daughter has been involved in a fight, and I am to pick her up because she has been suspended for fighting.
And so began the odyssey of 10 days (and counting, because this is far from over in my mind) of crying, worrying, pacing, arguing, conference calling, comforting, numbing (with television and food, thankfully, not mind-altering substances), internet searching, on-the-spot decision-making, threatening, and just general stressing over the safety and future academic setting of my 14-year old daughter.
For the record, my daughter is okay. Her head hurt from where the female student slammed her it into the locker, but otherwise no permanent physical damage. In doing what she could to protect herself, my daughter attempted to hit and kick the girl away from her, and those defensive motions were what caused the school to cite her for fighting and suspend her for three days.
Hence the myriad conference calls. We were even fortunate enough to see the inevitable YouTube video that someone so thoughtfully uploaded for all the world to see, and it was very clear who was the assailant and who was the victim (and also the cause of a very sleepless night replaying the image of my daughter’s attack over and over), but my husband and I are definitely David fighting the Goliath of the school district, albeit with a more unfortunate ending.
So I wanted to know what fear felt like: check.
I wanted to know the various ways fear hides behind other emotions: check, check, check.
Be careful what you wish for, I guess.
Here’s the good news: my apparent telepathic powers allowed me some tools that I would not have had otherwise. Week one of this month taught me that faith combats fear; countless times in the past 10 days I found myself turning to prayer for all sorts of things: peace of mind, guidance for the next right action, patience with both people and the process. I also learned that crisis is a great time to romance the drink. Truthfully (and thankfully) I did not have an urge to chemically alter myself, but I will say the thought of a cigarette crossed my mind on more than one occasion. Playing the tape through helped immensely, as I was taught it would.
Week two of this month gave some incredibly practical tips for dealing with all the things with which I had to deal over the last 10 days. I wish I could say I took advantage of all of them, in the moment they were needed; sadly I did not. However, remembering the serenity prayer from time to time, and especially remembering the phrase “this too shall pass” were powerfully effective weapons against the increasing stress and tension each day brought to me.
Week 3 I guess I didn’t need to learn anything, since my meeting was usurped by various combative calls from all levels of school district administration.
So here we are at week four, and the readings that I wanted to read in the first place. And they have been placed after the event for a reason, since believe me the fear is far from over, today is more or less Day One of my daughter’s return to school, and my cell phone is never more than an inch away from my body while she is not home.
Today’s readings, for me, reinforced the idea that faith is the opposite of fear. In the absence of complete faith, acting as if works in the interim. I prayed, I researched options, I discussed the issue with a variety of people, and sending her back to school for the remaining two months seems to be the right thing to do. At this point, having faith means to send her off and believe she will be okay until I see her after school today.
Wow, so many words, and I haven’t even gotten to all the other amazing discussions we had at this morning’s meeting! The sharing took a small turn from generalized fears to the more specific fears concerning anonymity, and to whom we feel comfortable disclosing our disease of alcoholism. A variety of people shared on this topic, with a variety of answers, but the general consensus seems to be three-fold:
- It is a personal decision
- The longer your sober time is, the less anxiety this topic seems to bring
- When the motive for disclosing your anonymity is to help another struggling with the disease, the answer is always to share our story. To give what was so freely given to us is the foundation of our 12-step program!
Enough blathering from me, go out and enjoy this spring day!
The joy in my daughter’s face as she headed off to school today reaffirms my decision to have faith!
Eighteen: That’s the number of people in attendance at this morning’s meeting!
Exciting stuff, especially because several regulars were missing; this means we had quite a few newcomers, plus a bunch that have been MIA. It’s always energizing to have a larger, more diverse group.
Today we covered chapter 15 from the book Living Sober, entitled, “Watching Out for Anger and Resentments.” My goal for this month was to select readings whose subject matter centered around fear; not readily seeing one in the table of contents, I figured this must be closely related. Plus the facial expressions of several in attendance had me believing this was a subject that needed to be discussed this morning.
As I started reading about the chapter and reflecting upon what I might share, my heart began to sink. You see, I’m not sure how much progress I’ve made in the area of dealing with anger and resentments. In active addiction, I would have told you I had none at all. Then again, in early recovery, I was the person who needed to look at those charts with the smiley faces to figure out how I was feeling at any given moment:
I wish I was kidding, but I am not.
So the progress from then until now is that most of the time I can, when I take the time to consider, name how I am feeling without the aid of a graphic. The problem is that most of the time I don’t take the time to consider, and my anger or resentment winds up getting more time than it should picking up steam. Before you know it I’m fixing my hair and having imaginary conversations with people that have no idea I’m even upset. And how could they? I didn’t even know!
So a bit more progress to mention would be that when it gets to that point, I can stop myself (literally, the last time it happened I put down the brush and stared at myself in the mirror), and I talk back to the craziness. I also realize that some mental housekeeping is in order, and that usually starts with sharing whatever the heck is going on in my head.
Not having much more to contribute in terms of how to deal with anger and resentments, I shared with the group all that I just wrote above.
As always, I get so much more out of these meetings than I could ever contribute, because all that followed had direct application to my life. Here are just some of the highlights:
Reciting the Serenity Prayer
Multiple people shared that this is a technique that works for them. Repeat it like a mantra, even (especially) when you don’t think it will work.
Talking it Out
Another commonly used technique by the group. This various members that shared about this specifically stated that talking to someone else in the 12-step fellowship is helpful to get a better perspective.
This Too Shall Pass
When all else fails, remembering that feelings are temporary, and that it is possible to wait things out, often can diffuse the tension within.
Time and Space
Removing yourself from the situation helps to redirect your anger. At the very least, it restricts your ability to act impulsively on the anger, which almost certainly will lead to regret (and, in the case of 12-step members, another amends that none of us wants to have to make!)
Giving yourself something else to think about gives you less opportunity to brood, and more opportunity to clear your head, both of which give you the best chance of productively resolving your anger.
Acting As If
One of the techniques described in the chapter is to ask yourself what a well-adjusted person might do when handling anger and resentment, and then to attempt to act as if you are that well-adjusted person. This section of the chapter never fails to get a laugh out of the group, but I actually have tried this, and it does work! One person shared that he struggled with this idea in early sobriety, as he thought it seemed insincere, and really just a form of repressing angry feelings. It took him time to balance the idea of “acting as if” in an authentic way. When he can find that balance, he finds he is very effective in dealing with his resentments.
The one point with which every member of the group agreed: bottling up anger and resentment is the quickest way back to a drink. Any technique at all is better than repression.
I would love to hear from all of you… what is your go-to method of dealing with anger?
Besides 18 attendees, gorgeous spring weather, and coming off a weekend where both kids set personal records in their respective sports… I got my butt back on a treadmill, and I went faster than a walk. I’m not sure it actually classifies as jogging, but dammit, I’ll take it!
I received news this week, good news, in the form of a package in the mail. News towards which I have been working for nearly 3 1/2 years, longer even than my sober time.
In the interest of privacy, and brevity, because the story could fill the pages of a novel, the package in the mail put a final period on the sentence: The consequences of my addiction. Hmmm… come to think of it, that isn’t even a sentence. Oh well.
Someone once joked that the period of time waiting for this package was longer than the period of active addiction; depending how you define active addiction, that is an accurate statement.
So how did I celebrate this milestone? Did I call every person I know, shout it from the rooftops, rent a billboard along I-95?
None of the above; some friends or family may in fact be finding out the news by virtue of reading this post (sorry guys).
So what gives? I’m not sure, and of course, I am using my old stand-by of this blog to help me figure it out.
The first thought that comes to mind when I pose the question why aren’t you more excited about this incredible blessing is: disbelief. It’s been so long in the making, there have been so many setbacks, I feel like doubting Thomas, needing to put my fingers in the side of Christ before I believe He has risen. The paperwork is in my hands, and I’m still making phone calls in order to verify its existence, for Pete’s sake!
But I think, skepticism aside, there’s something deeper at play here, and, ironically enough, I think it has to do with fear. Ironic, of course, because the very post before this one I wrote how I can’t figure out how fear plays out in my life. Be careful what you wish for!
So of what am I fearful? I’m still uncertain, I mean, really, it’s only been a couple of days since I wrote that I don’t understand fear, how much could I have possibly learned in a couple of days?
On the most obvious level, while the package represents the end of the most tumultuous time in my entire life, a good thing, by extension that means it also marks the beginning of a new era, and change will be afoot as a result. Who isn’t a little fearful of change?
There is also a fear in trusting a process to do what it is supposed to have done, and I can say with certainty fear in trusting that process is an issue. Human error occurs all the time, I know I make mistakes, what if I trust this process and I wind up getting burned? It’s like jumping out of an airplane and trusting that the parachute is actually going to work, certainly that fear is going to run through your head at least for a split second, right? It might even keep you from jumping. Note to self: now that I’ve written that, I will not let this fear keep me from jumping, dammit! See this solution-by-blogging thing is already working!
Finally, and this is the part that is still somewhat elusive, almost hazy, in my mind: I think there’s a fear in letting go of this part of my identity. Which is a really strange thing to say, given that it is an entirely negative identity (I mean, I’ve labeled it consequences of active addiction, the title alone should indicate how negative it is). For the first year of my sobriety, I struggled to come up with a solution for resolving the consequence, the second year, I did the hard work to resolve the consequence; the last year and half was the fight to get my hard work recognized so that the resolution would actually happen.
And now it has, and, I don’t know, there’s this crazy, almost empty feeling. Really, really strange. And yes, now that therapy that I keep “dissing” will come in handy, perhaps my therapist will help me better understand. I hope to have a positive update to resolving this hazy fear next week!
There is a wonderful new website, addiction. com, I highly recommend you check out. And if you choose to do so, why not start with an article that’s got my ugly mug in it? Here’s the link:
If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got. -W.L. Bateman
Years ago, my Mom was driving up to the college I attended to visit me. I’m not sure if it was her first time driving on her own, or she just took a wrong turn somewhere, but she got lost, and it took her a while to find her way to the campus (this was before the age of GPS and cell phones). When she finally arrived, she was in a state, and exclaimed, “I could see the college, but I just couldn’t get to the college!” This quote has stood the test of time amongst my group of friends, and we will still occasionally throw it out there.
Fast forward a couple of decades. My husband and I are sitting on a beach and I was trying to open up about my struggles with recovery (this was during the 8 months where I was trying and failing). I said to him, “I can see where I want my life to be, but it’s like it’s sitting across a crowded freeway. I can see the destination, but I have no idea how to get there.”
So what’s the answer when we know what we want, or as the case may sometimes be, what we don’t want, but we’re completely unsure how to enact the right change? In using my own journey of recovery as a reference point, I believe the answer is simply do something. If you don’t like your current circumstances, whatever they may be, then the plain truth is that you have to change something. I can hear the defenses going up…. but what do I change? what if I make things worse? what if I create a new set of problems? I know all of these defenses because I’ve used them all myself, about a thousand times. They are the rationalizations of someone who wants to remain stagnant.
When you make a change, then the outcome is uncertain. But if you know you don’t like the current circumstances, and you refuse to make a change, then the outcome is certain… you will continue to live and feel the exact way you do now. When you look at it that way, the answer is pretty simple!
As someone who really, really, really hates feeling cold, I have so appreciated this balmy 40 degree day (for the past week, we have been living in the teens, temperature-wise, in the Northeast), and it is supposed to get even warmer tomorrow!
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. -Unknown
I had the opportunity, since yesterday, to turn around my thinking with respect to the current fear in my life, and I always feel accomplished when I can achieve these kinds of mental battles. In the past, I could not even recognize my negative thought patterns for what they were, and now, to not only do I recognize them, but I can rebut them and win the battle, which is a true gift.
So another way to look at fear, or any kind of hardship in your life, is to compare it against past, more difficult obstacles you have faced, and see how they compare. Or, to look at the world in general and see how your problems stack up against what the world at large is facing. You see, just as recently as a few months ago, I was facing problems I thought I could not overcome: I was losing my marriage, my home life, and, in a very real sense, my freedom. In 144 short days, I was able, through the miracle of a family babysitting offer, to have a wonderful date night with that same husband last night.
Five months ago, I truly did not believe I had the strength to overcome my personal demon, addiction. I truly did not believe I had the capacity to be honest with anyone, including myself… I wasn’t even sure I knew what honesty looked like. Today, I am genuinely proud, and even a little awestruck, of the things I have managed to accomplish in 144 days. And if I can do all of that, then really, what can’t I face? Certainly not the comparatively small issues that trouble me today. The kind of issues I face today are what are known as “champagne problems” in recovery… yes, they are irritating, and maybe worrisome, but they are nothing compared to problems facing someone in active addiction. And when they trouble me, because everyone in life has troubles of some kind, I have the added bonus of the toolkit I have gained in recovery… I know what I have to do to face any kind of hardship in life. So, while addiction has caused some of my problems, addiction has also given me the fantastic resources I now have to solve any problem in life.
And now, I can walk out of my house, face my fear, and know with certainty I am going to come out stronger on the other side… stay tuned!
A mind focused on doubt and fear cannot focus on the journey to victory. ~ Mike Jones
I have learned, through recovery, that at the heart of any problem in life… addiction, of course, being a problem in life… is fear. Perhaps because I am still relatively new to the 12-step program, I have not been able to trace back all problems in my life to fear, but then again, I have not truly inventoried my life yet, so I guess there’s still time.
But when I am facing fear, it is a comfort to use the knowledge I have gained so far to help me conquer the negative feelings that accompany this emotion. For me, when I have fear, it affects every area of my life… I even have dreams that seem to zero in on what makes me most afraid, and then plays that fear out in my head all night long. And when you wake up from those kinds of dreams, it does not feel like a good start to your day, to say the least.
The biggest obstacle for me to overcome in managing fear exists strictly between my ears. In other words, most of the things I fear are imagined outcomes of upcoming events. Which is why the title of this post is important for me to remember any time I am feeling fear… is what I fear actually happening, or is it something I’m afraid might happen? I have never done any verifiable research, but my best guess would be 99.9% of things I fear are not truly happening in the moment, but rather events I fear could happen, or how someone may react, or what dangers could possibly befall my children… the list goes on an on. And since, as I have written about numerous times by now, worrying about anything that hasn’t happened yet constitutes as a “tomorrow” item, and I am focused on living one day at a time, then the simple solution to this kind of fear is to remind myself to stay in the present, and leave future worries for the future.
And again, as I have written in the past, this process falls under the “Much Easier Said Than Done” category, but at least its a starting point from which I can grow!