I don’t think I’ve done a Monday meeting wrap-up in a while. We have been holding steady… today we had 9 attendees, and several are newer “regulars.” One gentleman had been with us a while back, and is now resuming his attendance. People who come back to meetings after having been absent always provide excellent insight, at least to my way of thinking, so I got a lot out of today’s experience.
Today I selected a reading called “Watching Out for Anger and Resentments,” from the book Living Sober. I had a specific reason for picking this chapter. Over the past week, I have had 5 very different, very disturbing dreams that, one way or another, referenced my time in active addiction. What’s most troubling to me about these dreams, other than that they are recurring, is that I have no conscious disturbance in my life. Each morning that I woke up from one I spent time reflecting on what can be causing the subconscious turmoil, and I have yet to pinpoint a reason. Life is still really, miraculously good… so what is the problem?
In AA, we are taught that resentments are “the number one offender,” so I picked that chapter from the book, and we had a meaningful discussion after the reading. Here is what I uncovered for myself at the conclusion of the meeting:
- As always, I have more resentments than I realize. After reading all the different ways resentment can manifest itself (hostility, contempt, rigidity, cynicism, to name but a few), I have more going on than I realize. What’s been missing from my personal equation is taking the time to figure out all that is going on in my head, talking about it, praying on it, and listening for His answer.
- Bringing a resentment to a final conclusion. It is not enough to just figure out, “oh yeah, I have a resentment about that.” I have been doing that with certain things in my life for months on end now. Once I figured out that I have a resentment, I need to Let. It. Go! And that is the one I thing I have refused to do on a number of issues. I guess there is some progress in acknowledging the resentment, for most of my adult life I did not have the skill set to do even that. But now I need to take the next logical step, and remove the resentment from my life.
- A woman in my meeting was telling me how much her marriage has improved. She said to her husband, “What made you change?” He replied, “I didn’t change, you did.” So we talked about how his behavior had really stayed constant, but her acceptance had increased, and thus the entire relationship improved. Kudos for her! Unfortunately, the same thing can happen in reverse, and I’m afraid I am guilty of it. One small example: my son has been severely testing my patience for close to two weeks now. It seems as if there is an argument of some kind at least once a day. In reading the chapter today, and digesting the sharing afterwards, I realized that his behavior has been consistent, it is my attitude that has changed. So until I can get my head on straight, he is going to drive me crazy.
- Finally, and this is an off-shoot of point #2, I need to take the time to figure out how to resolve the resentments in my life. There were several alternatives discussed in today’s reading, but the one that resonated most with me was: ask yourself how a reasonable, well-balanced person would solve this problem, then act as if you are that reasonable, well-balanced person. This made me laugh out loud, because I can’t tell you how many times I have said exactly that to myself… “how would a normal person handle this?” Where I fall short is the acting as if part, and I realize, yet again, it is not enough to think my way into right acting, I need to act my way into right thinking!
It is a picture-perfect fall day here on the East Coast, and I am grateful for the beautiful season we are having!
Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.
Last night I completed steps 10 and 11, which means only one more to go, and I will have officially completed the 12 steps of recovery! And yes, my friends in the fellowship, I do know that means I have not graduated. I think of it more like Weight Watchers… 10 and 11 are the maintenance program, and with step 12 I am a lifetime member. As someone who, in the past, joined Weight Watchers more times than I could ever count, it feels like a HUGE accomplishment to be in the maintenance program of anything (I was insanely jealous of those people who had the special colored weigh-in cards and did not have to pay their weekly fee!)!
I must add, for the record, that step 9, making amends, is a process, and I have continued my step work even though I am not through making my amends. Depending on individual circumstances, making amends can take years, and it would not be efficient to stop step work until you are completely through step 9.
I was required to complete 2 amends before advancing to Step 10. My original thought was saving my husband for last, but when I realized how long the process could take, I decided to “do” him first (sort of like movie credits, the most important actor is listed either first or at the end with an “and” in front of the name). As long as I was getting important ones done, I asked my Mom if I could also make my amends with her.
Here is what I think about Step 9, now that I have officially done some work on it: it is painful!. The worst part of the whole thing is the preparation for it, because I am once again reliving the horrific mistakes of the past. Second worst is the wait time between preparing for and actually sitting down to do the amends. Because I live with my husband, and because I have procrastination in my blood, I put this off as long as I possibly could (seriously, I did both amends the same day I was scheduled to meet with my sponsor for Step 10!). During those few days, any of which I could have sat down and done it, I did not sleep well, had a hard time making eye contact, and was generally pretty crabby.
The actual process itself is not quite as painful as the prep work, but by no means is it a party. Luckily for me, with both amends I completed, I was dropping no bomb shells, and I had a pretty good feeling that both amends would be accepted. There was some painful feedback, but it would have been weird if there wasn’t, and by the end of both I felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction that it was DONE!
My greatest fear in making amends, particularly with my husband, was that I would re-open some pretty fresh scars, and that by doing what I needed to do for my recovery, I would in fact be hurting him. Thankfully, this did not seem to be the case, and with both amends I was able to spend “normal” time afterwards, and it really was normal. Such a blessing!
This post is going too long, I was really going to write about Steps 10 and 11, I guess I will save that for tomorrow!
Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time. -Sara Paddison
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that August 27th was the 7 month anniversary of recovery, not any more significant a milestone than 211 days (which is today), but for some reason, I received all kinds of rewards. Here they are, in order from least to most:
1. Cookie (the hamster) enjoyed the heck out of her clean cage (see yesterday’s post).
2. I received news that things are moving in a positive direction with regard to consequences from my past addictive behavior… I do not want to go into details on this, because I don’t want to jinx it. But I will say this… if it continues to head in this direction, I will have a whole new source of inspiration for this blog!
3. I went to a new meeting, a women’s group, met some really interesting women, and one asked me on the spot if I would speak for her the next time she chaired a meeting (which will be this Sunday). This type of request is common in AA, but not for me personally, and I was honored to be asked.
4. The last of my personal hold-outs… people who have been dragging their feet in my personal life because they have been so affected by my addiction… asked to have a conversation last night, and we finally cleared the air.
Number four is, of course, the big reveal for me today, since I have been whining about this fractured relationship for months. I can honestly say I woke up this morning, and I felt lighter, as if something had actually been lifted from me. I am so grateful. The difference between last night’s conversation and the one I had with my sister last week, is that I was unsure with this one that things would ever work out. With my sister I had confidence, with this relationship I did not. Some really mean thoughts and feeling had been expressed, and I was not sure either one of us could overcome them. But we made a wonderful start last night, and I have been really anxious to share this news with all of you… two down, one to go!
I had originally entitled this post “Forgiveness: The Conclusion,” then went back and changed it because the nit-picky voice in my head kept nagging me that the conclusion would be when I actually resolved my relationship issues face-to-face.
On that note, this is a follow-up to yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read it, you might want to, this post will make a lot more sense if you do. A couple of things happened yesterday that helped me along in the forgiveness process, and I believe it is important to share the lessons I learn as much as the issues I face mentally. No sooner did I hit “publish” yesterday on my post, and this thought occurred to me: I hope that the people in my life are able to look at the big picture of me, and reach the conclusion that the good in me outweighs the bad. In other words, I hope they forgive my past behavior because I should not be defined by one disease, or one period in my life, or one series of actions, when I am in fact a combination of good and bad actions that span 42 years. Well, then, who the hell am I to define someone by one email, when in fact they have been so much more than that to me for a really long time? It’s time to practice what I preach, time to get out of the glass house, time for me to stop calling the kettle black.
Within in the next hour of this revelation, a series of events occurred where I had to rely, in a pinch, on the person in question to help out with the kids. While this is certainly not a new event, we have a reciprocal agreement in place despite our issues with one another, it served to reinforce the earlier insight I had… stop holding on to one bad decision, and look at the big picture.
The last piece of the puzzle that fell into place for me was this: yesterday I referenced having a bad night sleeping, which is very unusual for me in recovery. If I may be more specific, I had what is commonly known in recovery as a drunk dream. This terms means you have a very graphic dream in which you have relapsed, and you wake up with a lot of anxiety that is hard to shake, believing as you first wake up that you in fact did relapse. Anyway, I have come to believe, as a result of the chain of events between yesterday and today, that I have the answer that God is trying to show me. The first I described above. The second lesson is: holding on to the resentments, the way I did the other night, will lead me straight back to past behavior.
So, on that note, I have a clear mission: I will be resolving the conflicts in my life, so that I may progress in my recovery. Stay tuned for updates on these situations…
The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that situation is over, you cannot move forward. -Steve Maraboli
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this topic as the subject of forgiveness… can I hope to be forgiven by family and friends, how do I approach them asking to be forgiven, how to show them that I am worthy of forgiveness. In retrospect, the solution to all of that is easy… keep doing the next right thing, and, for the most part, people in your life will come around.
But what about when I need to forgive? The first, most obvious choice is, after all I’ve done to everybody in my life, everyone just gets a free pass… if anyone has harmed me, I should just forgive them. But, as we all know, life isn’t simple. And what I cannot get past is this… do my grievous errors justify someone else’s?
A series of events occurred yesterday that led me to the conclusion that I need to be more proactive in dealing with hurt from the past. Then, a few hours later, through a completely random series of clicks, an email from the past showed up on my computer reminding me why I am having such a hard time forgiving. Since I believe (and have beaten into the ground) there are no coincidences. what am I to make of this? Does my re-reading a painful email from months ago mean I am justified in holding on to my hurt? Because that is exactly what I was feeling last night, and the subsequent nightmares I had reflected those feelings.
In the cold light of day, I know that God was not sending me a sign telling me to hold on to my hurt feelings like a security blanket. So I knew I had to write about forgiveness, I just don’t have the answer yet to my particular problem. At the very least, I have hope that because it is now in the forefront of my mind and heart, because I am writing about it, and because I am actively praying for it, the answer will soon come.
Two common struggles I have been hearing in the rooms of AA lately are “why can’t I drink and have fun like normal people?” and “I can’t tolerate staying sober for the rest of my life!” I would guess with the warm weather upon us and barbecues, graduation parties and the like in abundance, this would be the natural thought progression.
Hearing these struggles is very good for me for two reasons. First, it makes me grateful that I am personally not struggling with either of them, at least not for today. But the second reason it is good for me is that it reminds me of when I did feel that way, and the subsequent actions I took because of those feelings, and the horrific consequences I suffered as a result of my actions.
It is so important to remember the negative thoughts that can so easily lead an addict down the path away from recovery; remember them, and think those negative thoughts all the way through to their logical conclusion. Because simply thinking “I wish I could drink like a normal person” can lead to reminiscing about the good times of drinking. And chances are, if you are an addict, the good times, if there really were any at all, were a very long time ago, and the more recent memories, if you choose to recall them, are anything but good. Typically the reality is that those memories are ones that you wish you had never experienced in the first place, and hope to God that everyone around you forgets as well.
Finally, remembering those struggles helps me to sharpen one of the most important tools in my recovery toolbox, namely, re-focusing on the present. If I ever get the blues about never being able to drink again, all I have to do is ask myself this simple question: am I able to abstain from using any mind altering substances… just for today? Invariably, the answer is yes, and there is a profound relief that comes with not worrying about the future. This skill can be applied to almost any problem in life, with the same results, and the peace it brings is absolutely worth the effort.