M(3), 4/3/2017: A Life-Long Plan
This morning we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I selected the reading “The Keys to the Kingdom,” written by a woman instrumental in starting the Chicago chapter of our 12-step program.
As always, there is loads of great stuff within the reading, but one paragraph in particular stood out to me:
A.A. is not a plan for recovery that can be finished and done with. It is a way of life, and the challenge contained in its principles is great enough to keep any human being striving for as long as he lives. We do not, cannot, outgrow this plan. As arrested alcoholics, we must have a program for living that allows for limitless expansion. Keeping one foot in front of the other is essential for maintaining our arrestment. Others may idle in a retrogressive groove without too much danger, but retrogression can spell death for us. However, this isn’t as rough as it sounds, as we do become grateful for the necessity that makes us toe the line, for we find that we are more than compensated for a consistent effort by the countless dividends we receive. -pg. 311, Alcoholics Anonymous
This is a great reminder for me to keep active in my own journey of recovery. And when you think about it, it is counterintuitive to most things in our lives… if we are on a diet we restrict calories to lose weight, get to the desired number on the scale, and then set out on a maintenance plan. Or we decide to stop smoking, and put a tremendous amount of effort into that process until it becomes more natural to not smoke than it does to pick up a cigarette, then we can more or less hit cruise control. Even expanding out further, we work towards a retirement, we raise our kids until they are able to take care of themselves. In most areas of our life we are working towards a goal that allows us to “graduate” in one way or another.
But this is not so in recovery. Here we seek to grow, endlessly. And sometimes this feels like the biggest curse in the world. I’m guilty of these thoughts myself, on numerous occasions. I’ve even said it out loud, “How come I have to always be the bigger person? How come that someone gets to be a jackass without repercussion just because they’re not an alcoholic?”
But in reality this program is far more a blessing than it is a curse. Because for the minimal amount of work it requires, if offers blessings a thousandfold.
Here are some other excellent points made this morning:
- Not only are we lucky to have a lifelong program of learning, we are even luckier to have a fellowship of people on the same path. These people are the foundation that keep us sober.
- In the story the author talks about coming into the program and wishing for only a part of the peace and happiness she saw displayed among its members. That sentiment is true for so many of us… we come in and think we’ll never be as happy as the members we see, but if we can be half as happy, and stay sober, we’ll be satisfied. And of course the dream becomes a reality for a lot of us.
- The story talks about the many ways the author attempted to control her drinking, to no avail. Most of us in the meeting this morning could relate to the various ways someone can try to control drinking. And in most cases, once you start planning ways to control your drinking, you’ve already lost control!
- The story talks about the many blessing sobriety brings. All of us present this morning have blessings we can list, but none so great as the blessing of healing a fractured relationship with your children. It is the greatest gift of sobriety to be present and engaged in the lives of your children.
- Some of us marvel, like the author, at how competent we were while in active addiction. And if you can accomplish so much while not sober, imagine how much more productive you can be once you’re sober? Active addiction takes mental time and energy that could be put so so much better use!
Sitting down and writing. I know I’ve used that one before, but it still counts as a miracle to me!
M(3), 1/30/2017: 5 Years Later
A happy Monday to all! Today we read from Forming True Partnerships, a book that talks about the various relationships and how recovery impacts each. Today’s reading came from the chapter on friendship, and the author wrote both eloquently and compellingly on the friendships formed within the 12-step fellowship, and how that connection keeps her coming back.
This meeting was a celebratory one for me, as I announced my 5-year sober anniversary to the group this morning. The actual anniversary took place a few days before (Friday), and I already received my coin, but I was able to pass that coin around to my main sober network, and get their good wishes instilled into the metal. At least, that’s the tradition in our neck of the 12-step woods.
The reading was a poignant one for me. Nowadays my main network is, as I just mentioned, my Monday meeting group. But since my anniversary was Friday, I had the option of attending a meeting that was vitally important to me in my first year of sobriety. I don’t think I missed more than one or two of those Friday meetings that first year, and I went a heck of a lot in my second year as well. By year three, I was tapering them off, as the commute had become unbearable.
So this year the coincidence of the anniversary falling on the same day the meeting was held had me considering the trek down-county. That particular morning I had a horrible night’s sleep, and strongly reconsidered. I was tired, cranky, I knew I could just as easily celebrate with my Monday peeps, plus there was a fear lingering in the background… it had probably been at least a year since I had seen a single one of those meeting attendees… what if I walk in and I know no one? What if things are intensely awkwards since I had not been around in such a long time?
Finally, the correct thought hit me: I don’t attend meetings so I can be heralded, I go to share my experience, strength and hope. So with a prayer that my anniversary and whatever I was to share might help another, I set out.
Of course, none of my fears came to pass (which leads me to wonder… do they ever?). With the exception of one or two, all the old regulars were there, plus a handful of delightful newcomers (at least, new to me). I happened to arrive on the anniversary of the meeting, which meant good eats were there, and an incredible speaker who shared her story. I left with more energy than I ever would have gotten from sitting around bemoaning my previous night’s sleeplessness. I reconnected with old friends, was asked to speak at a future meeting, and left feeling a renewed sense of the fellowship.
All of which I shared at my meeting this morning, along with my most delicious homemade cake that I make (pound cake with buttercream frosting, my way of thanking this group for all their wonderful support through these 5 years). Here are some other wonderful pearls of wisdom shared:
- The value of the fellowship, and of connecting with other human beings, taps into an essential part of the human condition: the need to be seen for who we are.
- The reading, and the extolling of the fellowship within it, is reminiscent of our program’s 1st tradition. Just like we have 12 steps, we also have 12 traditions. The first one is “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on AA unity.”
- Every aspect of our fellowship is a beautiful experience that is vastly different from the relationships we build in almost any other setting. When we gather at a 12-step meeting, most of the time we are a group that would not interact in the “outside world” by a long shot. We come from vastly different social circles, socio-economic classes, even geographically there can be differences. Yet when we sit down for our 12-step meeting, we are virtually a family. We have an inherent understanding of one another before we speak a word. It is truly a priceless gift.
- One part of the story referenced the television show from the 80’s, Cheers. Specifically, the author writes about when the character Norm walks into the bar and, as the theme song sings, “everyone knows his name.” For many of us, our 12-step group is much like that, where everyone not only knows our name, but pays attention to our innermost thoughts, and sincerely wants the best for us.
- The fellowship is an amazing resource for those of us who consider ourselves introverts, shy, or have a hard time developing friendships. It’s simply a matter of coming back and becoming a regular part of a meeting… the friendships take care of themselves organically.
- The quality of friendships within the fellowship is often markedly better than the relationships formed with our drinking buddies. Some noted that when the drink is taken out of the equation, the “buddies” go away, whereas the friendships within the fellowship have staying power.
- A common expression used in meetings is “keep coming back.” And the reason for that expression is that, in many cases, that is all that’s needed for success… just keep at it, and amazing things happen!
When I said that my Monday meeting peeps are my main source of support, I do my blogging circle of friends a disservice. I started this blog at 3 months sober. It is a freaking miracle that I am still writing this same blog 5 years later, and I owe it all the incredible friends I’ve made in the blogosphere along the way!
M(3), 10/3/16: To Write or Not to Write?
As any regular reader knows, I thoroughly enjoy my weekly Monday 12-step meeting. Like most everything in life, not every single experience is chock full of wisdom to share. The question for me then becomes: do I just skip blogging for a week, or do I attempt to find some nuggets to pass along?
Since I am of the mindset that no meeting is a bad one, I’ll attempt to write. There were 20 people in the meeting, which is near a record high, so surely as I write I will come up with something that is a decent take-away.
The reading selection is likely what is putting me in a bad frame of reference. We read from “The Big Book,” proper title Alcoholics Anonymous, and we read the chapter entitled “To the Employers.” Right away the subject matter puts me at a disadvantage, as I’ve been a stay at home Mom for so long that I have no experience on either side of this issue.
I also have an issue with the dated way in which the subject matter is approached. So as not to get into a critique of our fellowship’s most revered book, I’ll simply say that in my opinion, the chapter might have a subtitle of “HR Nightmare.”
It therefore became difficult for me to share in any meaningful way on the chapter itself, so I took a wider frame of the material and shared on the general topic of misunderstanding the disease of alcoholism. Even with this broader theme, I still don’t have a ton of personal experience, as the vast majority of my family and friends were supportive of my recovery. In the years I’ve attended 12-step meetings, I have heard absolute horror stories of loved ones strongly encouraging active addiction, and sabotaging efforts to remain sober.
One woman said her husband frequently would hold up a vodka bottle and announce, “Whenever you’re ready just say the word and I’m pouring!” It’s hard to compare to that level of disrespect.
It’s hitting me a little bit more as I move into the stage of parenting where I’m dealing with kids and alcohol. It is noticeable to me as I begin to navigate these waters that my perspective, my reaction and my plan of action is markedly different than parents I know who have not dealt with addiction.
Truth be told, I’m not even sure who’s got the right way of thinking. In all likelihood the best approach falls somewhere in the middle, as it usually does in life.
Meeting attendees had better experiences to share in terms of the chapter itself. Several in the group had been approached by employers regarding their drinking, and all agreed it was a warranted discussion. One person admitted to being on both ends of the spectrum; he had been fired as a result of his alcoholism, and he’s had to fire people as a result of theirs. The latter, he asserts, is a difficult action to take as a person in recovery himself.
Most of the people who are in charge of hiring and firing acknowledge that is is incredibly difficult in this day and age to approach an employee with respect to their drinking. But they also believe that their understanding of the disease and its cure helps them to show greater empathy.
One special note: for the first time in four years, my husband attended my meeting. As George Costanza says, worlds are colliding:
Of course, I’m kidding, I was honored that he’d want to attend, and he reports being happy to, as he puts it, “see me in action.”
Not one, not two, but THREE different sober anniversaries in this morning’s meeting!
M(3), 9/5/16: To the Family Afterward
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
M(3), 8/29/16: Back to Business
Wow, does this feel weird. It’s been weeks since I last logged on. There’s been a hundred and one reasons for my absence, all of which I hope to be writing about as time goes on. It’s been a turbulent summer, though I suppose turbulence is relative. We’ve been dealing with stuff that is unusual for us, and I’m hoping to be able to hash it all out within the blog eventually.
In the meantime, I’m so sorry for my absence in reporting my Monday meeting updates! We’ve been having a grand time, as usual. In fact, last week was a record high in terms of attendance.
Today’s reading selection(s) dealt with the topic of resentment (for those who follow along with the actual literature, we read from the book As Bill Sees It). If you are unfamiliar with 12-step philosophy, the language surrounding resentments is strong, and it is negative. The main text, Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”) contains countless warnings regarding the dangers of cultivating and holding onto resentments.
On second thought, “countless” is inaccurate. Of course I could go line by line and count the number of references, or I could Google it, but it’s the first day back to school, and I’d rather just enjoy the peace and quiet of this house.
In any event, we are warned from almost the first second we enter the doors of a 12-step meeting to let go of any and all resentments, or else (cue the ominous music).
Or else what? In terms of recovery, or else you may drink again.
I remember thinking two things when I first heard this kind of dire prediction:
- That’s stupid
- It doesn’t matter, since I don’t have any resentments anyway
In the years since, I’ve learned that I did not have a broad enough understanding of what falls into the category of resentment. I’ve also learned that I needed to learn a lot more about myself and my feelings.
As for my first judgment, that it sounds a bit melodramatic to say that by nursing a grudge I’ll soon be nursing a drink, I’ve learned enough to say that I have a lot more to learn. But here’s what I do know about resentments: they are a colossal waste of time, and they tend to pull me into a downward spiral. The quicker and easier I can resolve my feelings of resentment, the more peaceful and joyful my life is.
As usual, many excellent shares in this morning’s meeting, all of which helped elevate me. It is an amazing thing to sit and listen to someone’s story, and from it gain wisdom that I hadn’t realized I needed.
The main share from which most others followed came from a woman who struggles in setting boundaries with a family member. Her story is an extreme one, but the question she must answer is familiar to many of us: how do you distinguish between setting healthy boundaries and “being the bigger person?”
On the one hand, our 12-step program focuses on changing ourselves. We look to see our part in any situation, and we seek to be of service, rather than asking people to serve us. Very noble aspirations.
But in my friend’s case, she has a person in her life whom she defines as toxic. Her question is: how many times should she go back to the same well, knowing that the outcome will be a negative one?
Her share was met with a lot of empathy and support. When I first heard her story, I listened with sympathy. But when I listened to the wise responses and follow-up shares, I listened with empathy. Because all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, have areas in our lives where we struggle with where to draw a line between what is good for us and what is good for the people we love. I imagine in virtually every relationship such a question exists.
The best advice I heard given was this: rather than focusing on “doing the next right thing,” a phrase which is tossed around a lot in the 12-step rooms, perhaps we should focus instead on doing the next healthy thing. In defining “right,” we can get into some murky waters… who defines right? But in deciding what is the healthiest thing to do, you are ultimately creating an environment to be your best possible self.
Of course, it is important to seek feedback. In our program sponsors and trusted members of the fellowship are excellent sources of guidance, but at the end of the day we must make decisions for ourselves. The back of sobriety coins handed out at anniversaries reads:
To thine own self be true
Apropos to this conversation, for sure. And we did get to hand out one of those coins this morning for someone celebrating her nine month anniversary!
One last thought, and then I’ll stop rambling. At the end of the meeting someone came up to me and shared a lesson she learned regarding resentments. The first time you feel angry or resentful towards someone, the blame is on them for whatever they’ve done to cause your reaction. But each and every time you revisit that feeling, or relive that experience, whether it’s in your own head or complaining about it to someone else… that’s on you.
That alone tells me I’ve got some work to do on handling resentments!
- I’m back writing
- Kids are back at school (see video below)
M(3), 8/1/16: Prologue to Al-Anon?
If I get to the end of this post, and I hit publish, AND it’s coherent… that is today’s miracle. I will simply put “enough said.”
Without getting into unnecessary complaining, we are getting to that point in the summer. That and a ridiculously unnecessary, incredibly long and painful dentist appointment makes me less than the happy camper I want to be.
Hopefully blogging will work its usual magic.
Today being the first of the month, we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”), and we are up to Chapter 8: To the Wives.
Come to think of it, this chapter might have sent the ball rolling down the hill of unhappiness, since the meeting was right before the dentist appointment. I shared with the group that this chapter is, hands down, my least favorite in the book.
For those not familiar, “To the Wives” addresses the loved ones of alcoholics, and how best to help them. In answer to your unspoken question, the chauvinistic title is due to the culture in the time it was published (1939).
My share was an honest one: I did not have a whole lot to share, due to my being unable to relate to its contents. I think the closest part of the chapter that spoke to me was the notion that the rebuilding a relationship in recovery is a journey for both parties. Mistakes will be made, patience needs to be plentiful. But the outcome can be a stronger relationship than ever before.
Amen to that part of the chapter!
The rest… not so much. And I was not alone. Others took umbrage with the advice to take the alcoholic behavior with a smile, for attempting to nag or browbeat an alcoholic into recovery is a futile endeavor at best, a nudge towards more drinking at worst.
One regular attendee who has been around the meetings for decades longer than I explained it this way: this chapter is 13 years ahead of the creation of Al-Anon, the 12-step fellowship for families of alcoholics. It is the first stumbling steps in terms of direction; therefore, it needs to be fleshed out a great deal more. For him, his greatest take-away from the chapter is to understand an alcoholic cannot be forced into recovery, at least not into long-term recovery. Willingness must come from within, and no brute force will create it.
One member of the group was a lone wolf. He said the spirit of this chapter was the turning point for his sobriety. For months and months, his wife and he argued bitterly over his drinking, to no avail. It got so bad that he finally decided he needed to end the marriage. He could not stop drinking, despite his best efforts, and he was tired of the endless fighting within his marriage. He made up his mind that as soon as he was done work he was going to tell her the marriage was over.
As fate would have it, his wife went to her first Al-Anon meeting that very same day, and she was taught many of the same lessons discussed in this chapter. When he arrived home that evening, he was met with compassion and understanding, rather than contempt and disgust. They talked reasonably in a way they hadn’t before, and he sat down and read The Big Book for the first time that evening.
And the rest is history.
I believe I said this last week as well: no matter how unusual the message, there is always someone to receive it.
One friend was in the meeting, and I was counting on her to bring enlightenment to me regarding this chapter. She did not disappoint. She thinks the message in the chapter is a sound one with universal application: meet a problem in your life with love, rather than with resentment. If you have an active alcoholic in your life, you are better served treating them with love. She said earlier in her sobriety, both she and her husband attended Al-Anon as well as Alcoholics Anonymous, since they were both in recovery, and those were the best years of their married life. The message is to take care of your side of the street rather than trying to fix someone else’s.
These words spoke to me more than any words in the chapter, and with problems more diverse than addiction. We are currently struggling with an extended family problem, and how best to define our role in trying to resolve it. Bringing love to the problem rather than hate is illuminating, and advice I will immediately be putting into effect!
Enough said! And the blogging has helped me to detach with love from my dentist 😉
M(3), 7/25/16: Into Me See
The literature in this week’s meeting was Forming True Partnerships. It is the newest book in AA’s conference-approved literature, and it deals with relationships in sobriety. Some of the chapters are universal: family, friendships. Some are semi-specific: marriage, job. And some are puzzling in their specificity (I’m looking at you, chapter on pets).
I have been sticking with the universal ones for the first half of the year; today I challenged myself to delve into deeper waters. The story turned out to be oddly specific, entirely too long and 99% pessimistic. Note to self: fully read selection before choosing!
As fate would have it, the room filled up with people, and each person that shared talked about their difficulty in relating. The very last person who shared, a male (the author of the story was female), redeemed the choice by stating he felt like he was reading his own story. So there you have it… someone is going to relate, no matter how unlikely it seems!
Odd storylines aside, we had a great discussion about relationships, both pre- and post-recovery. Every person in the room agreed that the “blueprint” offered through the twelves steps enriches relationships of all kinds.
One person shared the variety of ways he attempted to feel complete: filling his life with material things, relationship after relationship, and, through it all, alcohol. No matter how many things and people he brought into his life, he could never quite fill the hole, and loneliness was an emotion he could not tolerate. In working the 12 steps of recovery, he is able to be alone without feeling lonely.
Several other people spoke of drinking to avoid the feeling of loneliness. Most of us shared that initially alcohol was a decent working solution to problems such as loneliness, shyness, self-consciousness, and challenging social situations.
It was a solution… until it wasn’t. Then alcohol became the problem; either we drank in isolation and thus compounded our loneliness, or we drank in public and became a detriment to any and all social situations.
As it turns out, putting down the drink solves some of our problems (especially the ones that involve drunken behavior), but not all of them. Getting sober gives us the clarity to see the problems for what they are, and allows us the freedom to deal with life on life’s terms.
The final discussion I’ll share was the comparison of infatuation to intimacy. Once again, the 12 steps of recovery mirror the steps to a lasting, intimate relationship. Infatuation, where a lot of relationships begin, focus on the the ways in which one can take from the relationship. True intimacy, on the other hand, looks for ways in which you can give back. When both partners in the relationship look to be of service to one another… that’s where the magic happens.
A powerful reminder for me as I navigate all relationships in my life!
The reminder that life comes down to a few simple things… get out of my own head, and see what I can do to help others. The rest takes care of itself!
M(3), 7/11/16: The Gratitude Advantage
Is it wrong that I just kicked a variety of kids out of the house to write this blog post? I am choosing to think not.
In typing out the title I realize it is 7-11 day, which means that particular convenience store will be giving out free Slurpees, so perhaps if I get through this post without interruption I can reward them.
The jury’s out if that can actually happen. Actually, the jury is heavily leaning towards this not happening.
It’s funny that I am about to write a post on gratitude, and, if I’m keeping things real, I am feeling anything but in the current moment. I dropped a weight on my finger during this morning’s workout. At the time, I was grateful it wasn’t my writing hand; now I am realizing in this day and age I need all 10 fingers to write. An extremely frustrating customer service call five minutes ago plays in my head, with no obvious solution on the horizon.
And have I mentioned the variety of kids?
But this is why I love a topic like gratitude; is is a universal tool that any human being can employ at any time, for any reason. Even in the moment, when I don’t know what the next sentence will be, I am 100% sure that by the time I hit publish I will feel better, simply because my focus will be on gratitude.
And with that long intro, this morning’s literature selection came from the book Living Sober, a chapter entitled “Being Grateful.” The chapter describes the various mindsets that a grateful attitude can improve:
- Negative speculations (always assuming the worst)
- The tendency to say “Yes, but…” to anything complimentary or optimistic
- Focusing on (and talking about) the ways in which other people are wrong
- An urgency to be right, and to prove we are right
- An unwillingness to open our minds to the thoughts/beliefs of others
In each of these cases, a simple shift to the perspective of gratitude can make a world of difference.
I shared first, and I spoke of the primary reason I needed to read about gratitude today. A few months back, I submitted a resume for a job, something I have not done in more than 16 years. I found out this weekend that I did not get the job (cue the sad music).
This is the type of news where my mind and my heart are at war with one another. Maybe skirmish is a better fit, since war seems a bit big. On the one hand, I really and truly (and really and truly) know that the job was a bit of a longshot (I was competing with people with years of experience in a field where I had essentially none), it was my first foray into the professional world in a really long time, and that another opportunity will present itself. I am a strong believer that things happen for a reason, and therefore this job must not have been meant for me. I had the most ideal of scenarios in terms of the interview process, as the hiring manager is someone with whom I have a passing acquaintance and so I was able to be my authentic self. So my mind absolutely knows I put my best foot forward and have nothing in which to feel ashamed.
So that’s my head’s side of the story.
My heart has a different version of events. The fact that I can make that statement at all shows the kind of progress I’ve made in recovery. Who even knew that you could think one way but feel another? Certainly not pre-recovery Josie! All weekend long I’d be doing something and then wonder why my stomach felt jittery, or my chest area felt achy, then I’d stop and realize what the problem was… oh yeah! I didn’t get the job! And I’d feel disappointment, and a vague sense of something resembling panic, all over again.
And my mind would reprimand: What is there to feel bad about? And I’d distract myself some more. And so on, for the next two days.
I fessed up to all of this to my group this morning, and as usual they came through for me. According to people much wiser than me, it seems that the feeling of feelings is something that is actually important to do (who knew?). When I expressed uncertainty at what I would have done with this situation in active addiction, they said, “Duh! You would have picked up a drink.”
It also turns out that being hard on oneself is a typical trait of alcoholics. At least, that is the opinion of several in the room with decades of sobriety, so I trust they’ve been around our group long enough to know. This fact illustrates for me, once again, that the real work begins once we put down the drink. I’ve been sober for over four years now, and I’m still working on the self-kindness. Good thing I’m not looking to graduate from this program!
Pushing aside feelings for any reason, telling yourself they are silly or illogical, is denying your value as a human being. Human beings feel a variety of emotions for a variety of reasons; telling yourself you “shouldn’t” feel that way makes little to no sense.
Others spoke of the need to balance their feelings, so as not to wallow too long in something unpleasant or react to something too quickly. The easiest way to do this? Get out of your own head… go to a meeting, call a friend, just do something different. As the saying goes, “move a muscle, change a thought.”
A woman newer to sobriety talks about how focusing on that for which she is grateful is the number one tool she uses daily to help her stay sober. She has found it transformative: good things become great things, and when things are not so great she is able to remember all the other good things, and it lessens the sting of whatever disappointment or irritant is happening for her.
So I guess I need to focus on my nine healthy fingers!
I got one prediction right, and one wrong. I do feel better now that I’ve written about gratitude. Even better, I was wrong about the kids not coming in to hassle me. Looks like everyone’s getting a free Slurpee!
M(3), 6/20/16: The Person with the Most Sobriety Is the One who Got Up the Earliest this Morning
Hoping everyone who celebrated Father’s Day yesterday had a wonderful time doing so.
This morning’s meeting was a powerful one, surprising because summer is when we see a lower attendance. But this morning we had 16 seats filled, and everyone had something to share.
We read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we focused on Step Seven:
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
This is a chapter that focuses on the concept of humility, and its importance in the process of recovery from addiction. Many people equate humility with humiliation, when in fact they are more or less polar opposites. Humility is a virtue and something to which someone would strive; humiliation is a state of abasement, and a negative emotion from which someone would steer clear.
The book we read from today (though not in the chapter we read), defines humility as:
a clear recognition of who and what we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 58
This construct was an eye-opener. I assumed because I lean heavily towards self-deprecation that I had the humility thing all wrapped up. Clearly not when considered through the lens of this definition!
Of course, there’s lots more to this chapter, but I want to get to the discussion that followed. The first person to share did so because she wanted to clear her mind of some dark thoughts that had taken hold. She had been away for a week or so, and there was some stress involved in the trip. She got home and quickly had to dive into the holiday weekend, which also involved a birthday celebration. Out to dinner last evening, she was overcome by a powerful craving for alcohol the likes of which she had not experienced for at least two years. It was strong enough that it made her cry, which in turn made her feel self-pity: why, after several years of sobriety, would this kind of thing still happen?
A powerful share in and of itself, and one to which everyone could relate.
Then the next two people shared. We had two people new to the meeting; everyone else was a regular. The first person shared that this is his first meeting back in over two years. Once upon a time, he was thoroughly entrenched in a 12-step program. Then he moved, and never took the time to find a new set of meetings. The story followed its usual trajectory: the feeling that he could handle a few drinks, which led back to old drinking patterns, and the disease progressed as if he had never stopped drinking.
The story would have been powerful in and of itself, but directly after the share prior, wondering why a craving would hit after years of sobriety, and what giving in to the craving would actually mean, had the room silent for a moment or two.
Then the next newcomer shared, and it was a similar story, though on a shorter timeframe: he had been sober for 63 days, the urge to drink got stronger and stronger, and he actually said to himself while driving to the liquor store, “Well, here I go, on my way to a relapse!” Over the weekend, he was looking through some family photos, and he noticed that in each and every one of them he was drunk. It was the wake-up call he needed to get back to a meeting this morning.
The next share was from a regular attendee with a couple of decades of sobriety. She is not struggling with an urge to drink; rather, she is struggling with life itself: a 20-year old family member died in a tragic car accident over the weekend. She did what she could to be there for her family, but she needed this meeting for herself. She is grateful to have a place to go where she can share for feelings, and find relief in both the sharing and the empathy received.
And all this happened in the first 30 minutes!
The shares that followed all had to do with urges to drink, and how best to handle them, as well as wisdom on how best to recover from a relapse. Two phrases, oft-repeated in the rooms of the 12-step fellowship, were shared:
I. Addiction is cunning, baffling, powerful… and patient
This expression usually ends with the visual that our addiction is doing push-ups in the parking lot of our sobriety. It is a simple reminder to stay vigilant, and avoid the thinking that “you’ve got this” after a period of sobriety. Always great advice.
II. The person with the most sobriety is the person who got up earliest this morning
I used this as the title because it stuck with me this morning, despite having heard it a million times before. The meaning, in case it is not obvious: it does not matter if you are sober 10 days or 10 years, all any of us really has is today. You could broaden the scope to include anything in life, since today is all any of us ever has. I believe the person sharing this meant it as a balm to the wounded souls of the relapsed newcomers… it’s okay, you’re sober today, I’m sober today, we’re all the same.
It’s sticking with me because, if I’m being candid (and I suppose I am since I’m writing a blog), I don’t completely agree with this sentiment. Certainly I agree that all any of us has is the present moment, and I also agree longer time sober does not equate to being “more” sober, there are not placement awards, per se.
My time means something to me personally. I’ve mentioned this many times before, but a turning point in my sobriety came when I chose not to chemically alter myself because I did not want to give up my time. At six weeks sober, I did not want to reset the clock. I am incredibly fortunate that I have not had an urge to “pick up” in a very long time, but I know with certainty that if (when) I do that a huge deterrent would be that I would be giving up my sober time.
Maybe that’s just me, and at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. Whatever tools keep you sober are the ones to keep on hand!
At the moment, blessed silence in the house while kids are at the movies. Silence is golden!
M(3), 6/6/16: Back to Business!
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!