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M(3), 3/29/15: Evolution of Prayers from Fox-Hole to Sincerity

Today’s reading selection came from the book Came to Believe, an anthology of stories that detail the spiritual journeys of  75 different 12-step members.  Today’s story fell under the category called “Coincidence?” which any regular reader of this blog knows is a topic of interest for this author!

Today’s story of spiritual evolution mirrors multiple journeys in my life.  Most directly, I can relate to the idea of a generalized belief in God thanks to upbringing, but an ambivalence to the concept as it applies to everyday life.  Like the author, I needed that gift of desperation that many of us in recovery have been given, which then gave me the motivation to give prayer a try despite my skepticism that there is anyone “on the other end of the line.”  As life proceeded, and circumstances improved, I was left to wonder:  which of the changes that I made was the turning point: staying sober?  praying?  meeting attendance?  The initial answer that gave me comfort was:  who cares?   All three bring me peace, confidence, and joy, so it doesn’t matter if one holds the key, because I’m sticking with all three!  The further along the road of recovery I travel, the more I realize that, in fact, there is a power greater than myself, and that power is the key to sobriety, to peace of mind, and to a happy, joyous and free existence.

In sharing this with the group, I was met with a lot of nods, and one or two people who shared after me had similar stories in which they reached the moment of truth, be it external circumstances or internal angst, where they were willing to give prayer a try, and had a similar outcome to what I described.  And then a woman, let’s call her M, raised her hand to share.

M had been to my meeting maybe 3 or 4 times before, but always with months in between.  She was recommended to my meeting by her parish priest, and although she had expressed an interest in sobriety, almost everything else she had to share seemed to contradict that interest.  Basically, M spoke like me and most others, still in active addiction, who see that their drinking is a problem but don’t want to actually stop drinking:

  • she notices all the ways her drinking story is different from everyone else’s
  • she speaks of all the times she can stay sober, and keeps quiet about the times she does not
  • she likes to share all she knows about the 12 steps because of various people in her life who are 12-step members, but does not seem to learn from doing her own 12-step work
  • the infrequent meetings she does attend never quite seem to gel with her, and she can’t seem to find a meeting with which she is comfortable

To those of us who regularly attend 12-step meetings, this story is familiar, because, first, we’ve been there ourselves, and second, we hear it regularly at the meetings we attend.

Most of the time a story like M’s ends with my not seeing the discontented person again.  This time I was lucky enough to see her turning point.  M raised her hand today and shared that her belief in God is strong, she was born and raised Catholic, and she prays to God every day of her life.  “So what I don’t understand,” she says, as she breaks down in tears, “is where is God when I’m driving to the state store?”

It was a powerful moment, and the kind that humbles me as I witness the members of the meeting rally to support her.

Every comment that followed M’s cry for help centered around turning points in sobriety.  Every comment that followed talked about weeks, months, years of tried and failed attempts to stay sober.  Some had a relationship with God, some were atheists at the outset, one member still considers herself agnostic, but all talked about their personal evolution to a healthy relationship with a Higher Power, even if the Higher Power is simply the collective wisdom of the 12-step fellowship.

One of the attendees commented on prayers in active addiction versus prayers in sobriety.  In time this particular woman came to realize that God was always there for her, she just wasn’t always there for God.  In addiction, her prayers ran along the lines of a fox-hole prayer:  God, please just get me out of this mess and I’ll never drink again.  Now she starts with gratitude and the mindset of how she can give back.

M suspects that her attempts and failures to stop drinking center around her inability to accept sobriety as a permanent way of life.  “I just can’t envision not drinking forever,”  she insists.

The meeting attendees that spoke after her (myself included, one of the perks of being the chair of the meeting is you have the ability to choose who speaks next, you can make it yourself if you really want to!) all shared the importance of taking sobriety one day at a time.  Most of us believed we were far too clever to accept the idea of “one day at time.”  You’re not fooling us!  We know that at the end of the stupid “one day” we promise you’re just going to ask us to do it again!  In time, however, every one of us agree that one day at a time is in fact all the time any one of us really has.  Managing our entire lives, not just sobriety, one day at a time makes everything easier to handle.

I am hoping that M was able to hear something that resonated with her.  I’ll let you know if we see her again next week!

 

Today’s Miracle:

One of the regular attendees asked for all of our collective prayers in the upcoming weeks, as he has every team in the final four for March Madness.  Now, I’m not a follower, but I’m given to understand that having all 4 teams this year counts as a miracle!  I’ll let you know how he makes out, he says to say a few extra prayers for Kentucky…

 

M(3), 3/16/15: Turn It Over

 

Today was a s…l…o…w meeting.  I mean, it was pulling teeth to get anyone to say anything at all!

Which fascinates me, because today was a step meeting, and since it is the third month of the year, we covered Step Three:

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

To me, there is much to say on Step Three.  While I don’t practice it nearly as much as I should, it is my opinion that this is the step that is the most important to practice on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.  It is also the step (again, my opinion here) that has the most universal application; you do not have to be an alcoholic to take advantage of its benefits.

My story of recovery had me in different stages with this step, and I would imagine there will be stages to come still.  First was a complete lack of understanding of its meaning, either theoretical or practical.  I simply did not get it.

Finally someone explained it to me this way:  imagine your life as a bus ride; you are the driver, God (or whatever you choose to call your Higher Power) is the co-pilot.  The more you turn to the co-pilot to ask for directions, the more direct and smooth your ride will be.

For the record, in the years since hearing that analogy, I’ve heard it the opposite way:  God is the driver, I am the co-pilot, but that analogy does not resonate with this alcoholic.  Whichever one works for you, though, go for it!

When explained in this way, it made a lot of sense.  Still chose not to take advantage of it, but at least I had some kind of understanding.

Finally, when that gift of desperation arrived, and I was at my personal bottom, I started my road to recovery.  Early days certainly did not have me turning anything over to anybody, at least not consciously, as life and my head space were too chaotic.  I can only assume the grace of God kept me sober.

Soon enough, I settled into sobriety a bit and I had the opportunity to reflect upon this idea a bit more:  so God is the co-pilot, how does that play out in everyday life?  And it was that willingness to explore the idea, to test it out, and to see the serenity that such decisions brought me, that deepened my understanding and conviction that this is the way to live.

Nowadays, I read this chapter and sigh to myself… I definitely don’t keep it in the forefront of my mind as I once did.  Here’s how it plays out for me these days:  I will find myself in some kind of funk, be it frustration at multiple people, some malaise or anxiety that I can’t quite define, or obsessively trying and failing to achieve some goal.  Once I become aware that I am in this “off” state, I know what I haven’t been doing, and what I need to do:  check in the Big Guy.  And the prayer that does it the best happens to be my go-to:

 

There is not much more to add in terms of the group today, I guess the 11 or so folks present just weren’t feeling it this morning!  One gentleman, someone who does not normally attend, did mention something that stood out to me.  He has been sober for quite a few years, and in reading this chapter again he realizes how evolutionary his spirituality has been.  In other words, how he defined his faith in a Higher Power when he first got sober is not how he would define it now.  It was an interesting point that tied in to something I was listening to this very morning.  Deepak Chopra and Oprah are running a 21-day meditation “experience” (their words, not mine), and I used it for today’s meditation practice.  Deepak mentions the need for a worthy goal, and that this goal can and should evolve.  Somehow this attendee’s words this morning brought me back to this morning’s meditation practice, and that it is a good thing to be open to change.

Maybe next week I should bring in some baked goods in the hopes that the sugar rush will wake everybody up!

Today’s Miracle:

Getting the reminder to pause and consider the direction I am heading, and also the gift of being able to turn around at any point!

M(3), 2/23/15: The Journey of Open-Mindedness

 

This might have been the first time since I started my Monday meeting 2 1/2 years ago where I really, really did not want to go.  This time of year in my part of the world can be tough… attendance is spotty at best, due to weather, and, speaking for myself, there is a general malaise that sets in by this point of the season.  Plus this week’s literature selection is “chairperson’s choice.” Since I am the only chairperson, I am cursing myself for throwing this into the rotation, because I don’t feel like doing the work in terms of researching a good reading selection.  Remembering that a regular attendee was singing the praises of a book a few weeks prior, I decided to go the easy route and just use that book.

The book is called Came to Believe, and it is a collection of short essays written by members of the 12-step fellowship about what the term “spiritual awakening” means to them.  I believe I have read from this book once or twice before, but don’t recall it resounding with me.  But on this frigid morning, feeling as lackluster as can be, I figured I will give it another shot, and if nothing else will make at least one meeting attendee happy.

Turns out, it made the entire 14 attendees happy, and I will include myself on that list!  Just seeing all those seats filled lifted my spirits… we haven’t been that crowded in a long time.  Plus, I got to catch up with a bunch of people I haven’s seen in a while.  Plus plus, we had a newcomer attending because she heard what a good meeting this was.  Heart-warming and rejuvenating, and I hadn’t even gotten to the actual meeting yet!

We were able to read two of the essays in the book.  The general theme of each was the process by which one goes from having no belief in any kind of Higher Power to embracing a spiritual way of life.  Neither writer had a dramatic, “burning bush” sort of moment; rather, the process involved a lot of “acting as if,” and realizing almost after the fact that faith had taken root in their lives.

Almost everyone who shared could relate to the idea of finding spirituality in a gradual way.  One gentleman said he could not, at first, comprehend the idea of a Higher Power, so he had to take a practical approach to the 12-step program:  attend meetings, take suggestions from others, listen with an open mind.  In taking these small, practical steps, slowly but surely he came to see that the promises made by the program were coming true from him.  The longer he stayed committed, the more his concept of and relationship with a Higher Power developed.

Another friend gave an analogy about faith:  in much the same way that currency in and of itself has no value, the same can be said for faith.  It’s not enough to simply be in possession of faith; as the saying goes, faith without works is dead.  But if we develop our faith, and take action based upon that faith, now we have a currency of value in our lives.

Yet another regular attendee of the meeting built upon that thought process, and shared that his initial struggle wasn’t believing in God, but rather in doing the work necessary to develop that relationship.  Step 3 in the 12-step programs tells us to turn things over to a Higher Power, but for this gentleman the catch was to do the proper work, and turn the results over to a Higher Power.  For him the answer in figuring out this puzzle lies in the Serenity Prayer:  asking for the serenity to accept unchangeable things, the courage to change what needs changing, and the wisdom to know the difference.

For me, both stories struck a chord, in that they reminded me of the earliest days of sobriety, and they illuminated some trouble I am experiencing currently.  The idea of doing something in spite of disbelief reminded me of the earliest days of sobriety, and praying to God to keep me sober another day.  As I’m praying I’m thinking, “Hypocrite!  How is this prayer any different from a week ago when you prayed and didn’t stay sober?”  And that same disbelief held true for meeting attendance, and bunch of other things that hadn’t worked in the past.  But pushing past that skepticism and giving every suggestion an honest, open-minded (or as open-minded as I could be, anyway) try  allowed me to experience for myself the miracles that the 12-step fellowship offers.

In a similar way, I am embarking on a new stage of self-discovery, in that I am participating in therapy, a subject I’m sure I will write about in more detail in the weeks and months to come.  It occurred to me this morning as I read the selections that my feelings about therapy mirror the feelings I had about the benefits of 12-step meetings and praying in early sobriety:  I strongly doubt there is any benefit to be had from speaking to a stranger about my life.

And yes, I have shared these feelings with the therapist.  And no, she has not kicked me out of the office (but it’s early days yet).

And now I realize that I must continue the process with a great deal more open-mindedness.  After all, if I had listened to my best thinking in active addiction, I’d shudder to think where I’d be, certainly not here typing this blog post.  So I will do my best to lean in, and see what comes out of it!

Today’s Miracle:

An attendance of 14 people during Frigid February!

M(3), 2/16/15: Applied Spirituality

A stellar turnout of 9 attendees at this morning’s meeting.  Given the dismal weather conditions, I am in awe of their dedication!

Today’s meeting talked about Step Two in the twelve steps of recovery:

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

This step marks one of the first major roadblocks to 12-step fellowship:  belief in a Higher Power.  And what a shame that is, for there are many successfully sober members who still consider themselves atheists!  If you are struggling with the concept of a Higher Power, consider the following things:

  • Every step, every idea shared within the fellowship is nothing more than a suggestion.  The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking, so don’t feel like you are excluded simply because you have no Higher Power in your life.
  • The definition of Higher Power is as varied as the membership within the 12-step program.
  • Most of us would agree that our concept of a Higher Power is ever evolving, and is not currently the same concept as the one with which we started in our recovery.

So if you are a non-believer, the 12 steps are still a viable option!

My personal story does not include a struggle with the concept of a Higher Power.  It wasn’t even a struggle with the belief that He could restore me to sanity.  Rather, my struggle was with the idea that He would restore me to sanity.  Sounds like a trivial distinction, but it really held me back.  For almost a year before my sobriety date I attempted to get a foothold in sobriety, and during that time I prayed on my knees nearly every day.  And every day I would get up from that prayer session and would basically be on my way to a relapse.  My vague thought process as the time was that “God only helps those who help themselves,” and since I was clearly not helping myself, then would or should He even bother?

I needed to, as this morning’s chapter read, “reconsider or die.”  The gift of desperation gave me the chance to revisit all of the suggestions given to me in my attempts and failures, and try each again with an open mind.  And when I had the open mind, I could see for myself that the suggestions actually worked!  It was all the scientific research I needed.

This step continues to work in my life.  I am reminded, time and again, that open-mindedness, rather than contempt prior to investigation, allows me to live the fullest life possible.

Others in the meeting focused on the latter part of the step, and the suggestion that we needed to be “restored” to sanity.  The notion that we were insane was offensive to many at the outset. However, with the clarity of sobriety, it is easy to look back on our drinking behavior and characterize it as insane.  The chapter we read uses the definition of sanity as “soundness of mind.”  As many of us in the room considered the lengths we went to fuel our addiction, the behaviors we consistently displayed in active addiction, and, perhaps most important, the countless times we tried and failed to moderate our drinking, all of us could easily concede that our alcoholic behavior could not be considered sane!

One of the newer members of the group shared that he often considers the 12-step group as a whole his Higher Power.  He looks to all of us, collectively, as a source of inspiration and strength, and of hope that he can achieve long-term sobriety.

Possibly the best source of wisdom came from an attendee who shared his evolution of a belief in a Higher Power.  Like so many, he struggled with the “God concept” at the outset.  The only thing that kept him coming back to meetings was the broad definition of the concept of a Higher Power.  His belief, even to this day (over 25 years later):  how anyone lives his or her life is applied spirituality, no matter which construct they use to define their spirituality.  Doing the next right thing, keeping your focus outward rather than self-centered, and using humility as the backbone of your life, this is enough of a foundation to accept step two.

Applied spirituality is a concept that I can take with me, reminds me of the wise childhood proverb:  actions speak louder than words.  Rather than get caught up in semantics, go out and do good!

Today’s Miracle:

Celebrating the 3 year soberversary of a friend who came out of the house just to get her coin at my meeting.  What an inspiring way to start a Monday!

M(3), 2/9/15: A Case of the Yeah Buts

 

Anyone else have a case of the winter blahs?  I am finding it difficult to fire up any brain cells at all today, much less ones that require me to form complete sentences!

In this morning’s meeting we discussed chapter 8 from the book Living Sober, entitled “Changing Old Routines.”  The chapter lists a variety of ways in which drinking can be ingrained into our lives, and how small tweaks to the way we do things can have a big impact on our ability to stay sober.  From the mundane, such as changing your commute to avoid passing temptation, to the more challenging, avoiding drinking buddies and social events that center around alcohol, the chapter is chock full of practical ideas to help the newly sober stay sober.

Within the meeting, the first change most attendees cited as being instrumental in staying sober was the commitment to attending 12-step meetings.  For each person who shared this, myself included, attending a meeting most days of the week represented a commitment to sobriety.  Some other changes volunteered from the attendees this morning:

 

  • A consultant who worked out of a home office changed its location from the basement to the upper level.  In active addiction it was all too easy to retire to the seclusion of the lower level of the house under the guise of work commitments, and the basement was the perfect temperature and secluded space for storing beverages.

 

  • A stay-at-home Mom with two small children was especially challenged to change old routines, as her drinking spot was at home, and with two small children that is exactly where she needed to spend most of her time.  She changed everything that was in her power to change:  where she sat in the house, which glass she drank out of, the order of her daily housework, any routine that reminded her of drinking she turned on its head!

 

  • One gentleman found the most difficult time of the day to be right after work.  Each day, he found himself with a few hours to kill before he could attend a 12-step meeting, and these hours were the most tempting time of the day to drink.  In a need to fill time, he decided to go to the nearby high school track and run a few laps to stay occupied.  While there, he found some like-minded runners who encouraged his efforts, and he wound up running a marathon.  So he stayed sober and became physically fit!

 

  • One woman, in an effort to prove all the traditional advice wrong, was determined not to change her life around just because she decided to get sober.  She had a vacation home at the Jersey shore, where the main weekend activity for her group was bar hopping.  She got sober in June, and had the most miserable summer of her life white-knuckling it.  At about six month sober, she came to the following conclusion:  bars are for drunk people.  Twenty eight sober years later, and she sticks by that sentiment!

 

  • Establishing a connection with like-minded people was a huge routine change for another gentleman at the meeting.  Finding people who drank like he did, and found a way to stay sober, was the inspiration that ignited his recovery.

 

  • The hardest time of the day for one working Mom was the dinner hour.  Just home from work, hungry herself, and needing to feed and care for her child, this was usually the time of day that a glass of wine (or two, or three) would work wonders in motivating her to get things done.  She needed to change up that routine immediately in order to stay sober, and for her that meant a small snack to sustain hunger on the commute home, and a special replacement drink at the ready once in the house.  She made sure she had the nonalcoholic ingredients ready and waiting for her after work, and she made a ritual out of creating her beverage before doing anything else.

 

  • The final idea shared by one attendee, and the one that most resounded with me:  a woman said she initially resisted every suggested given to her.  “Yeah, but… I’m a mom of small children.”  “Yeah, but… I can’t get to a meeting because I’m too busy.”  “Yeah, but…” started almost every sentence.  Until she was able to put her reservations aside, stop thinking her life was the exception to every rule, and make recovery her first priority, she was unable to stay sober.  Thankfully, she was able to stop making excuses, and 18 years later, she inspires the rest of us to do the same.

I’m sure there were lots more great ideas, but my winter-addled brain is failing to come up with them.  I would love to hear from my recovery-minded friends in the blogosphere:  what routines did you change in recovery, and how did they help you stay sober?

Today’s Miracle:

Typing out this miracle is today’s miracle, because it means I have finished this blog post.  Hopefully the publish button is also the energy button so I can get moving with the rest of my day!

M(3), 2/2/15: The Perpetual Quest

 

Another Monday, another wrongly predicted snowstorm that has my children enjoying a 3-day weekend for no reason whatsoever.  Arghhh.

Today’s reading came from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, a personal story entitled “The Perpetual Quest.”  The introduction to the story sums it up better than I ever could:

This lawyer tried psychiatrists, biofeedback, relaxation exercises, and a host of other techniques to control her drinking.  She finally found a solution, uniquely tailored, in the Twelves Steps.

–pg. 388, Alcoholics Anonymous

I selected it somewhat hurriedly, and realized I had never read this story.  As I have attended hundreds of 12-step meetings, it is always astounding to come across something new in terms of the Big Book.  Even more astounding, it was the first time anyone in the room had remembered reading it.  The story is interesting, and the point of view was recognizable to each of us in the room, but today I want to write about an experience that occurred separate from the literature this morning.

Last week, as was chronicled in a guest post written by my husband, marked the 3 year anniversary of my sobriety.  Side story:  at one point during that day I remarked to my husband, “I have hit a bunch of milestones today (with respect to the blog).”  His reply:  “WE hit a bunch of milestones, hon.”  His territorial nature notwithstanding, I continue to be humbled by his generosity, and his love.  I am, as you can see for yourself, abundantly blessed in my marriage.

Back to today:  while celebrating three years is an utterly wonderful experience, there has been a bittersweet feeling in both the days leading up to and the days following the milestone.  As I consider that I have been sober 3 years, I can’t help but recall the tumultuous time in active addiction leading to my personal bottom, and the 7 weeks that followed day one, weeks I will count among the most troubling in my life.

Because getting sober is the polar opposite of instant gratification, something we alcoholics tend to enjoy.  You choose sobriety, and then you must deal with the chaos that is your emotional state, your circumstances, really your life, and you have to do it without the long-enjoyed crutch of a mind-altering substance.  What was once troubling becomes unbearable.  And so it goes, day in and day out, with no real end in sight.

Obviously, I am writing this as I am three years sober, so there is a happy ending to this tale of woe.  But the trick is having the courage and the strength to stick it out until the miracle around the corner arrives for you.

We had a newcomer this morning.  She hesitated before she raised her hand, and when she did, a lot came out.   She forced herself to “do the right thing” and attend this morning’s meeting, but it’s the last place she wants to be.  She hates every part of it, resents that she has to sit here at all.  She will not drink, just for today (words laced heavily with sarcasm), but she has no belief that things are ever going to get better, and that what we all say to her will work for her personally.  The only reason she sits here at all is that she has tried every means possible to do it on her own, and she just can’t do it, so she will hold on for another day.

The first thing that occurred to me, as I listened, was how much she sounded like the author of this morning’s story before she found sobriety.  The second thing that occurred was how much she described my early days of sobriety.  As she spoke, I recalled, three years ago right around this very date, screaming to my mother in frustration, “And I’m supposed to stay sober even with all this shit going on!?!”

The happy ending to this story was being able to sit down with the newcomer and give personal empathy to her situation, and, hopefully, a little bit of hope that things will get better.

The happier ending to this story was a reminder of how far I’ve come.  My three-year anniversary feels just a bit more powerful after the meeting.

Today’s Miracle:

Coming home from the meeting to find that my children cleaned in my absence.  Now I’m not quite as angry at that stupid school district 🙂

M(3), 1/12/15: Letting Go of Old Ideas

Can you guess what kind of weather we are experiencing in my part of the world?

Today’s reading, selected as a nod to New Year’s resolutions, is entitled “Letting Go of Old Ideas.”  For most of us choosing the journey of sobriety, putting down the drink or drug (or both) is really just the first step in the process of recovery.  A monumentally arduous and often painful one, but a first step nonetheless.  The truly meaningful work begins when we examine the lifelong thoughts and beliefs that led us to the bottle in the first place, and then decide, with the clarity only sobriety can bring, if these thoughts and beliefs are serving us well.  If the answer is no, as it often will be, then we must figure out a way to release them.

Here are some bona fide ideas I held before I chose recovery.  This list is completely, 100% true, and not exaggerated for effect:

  1. Alcohol is a requirement at a social event.  If an event has no alcohol, I can assume the people making these choices are either restricted by something not of their own volition, or they are people with whom I do not want to relate.
  2. It is inconceivable that I will abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life.
  3. If I must abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life, I will eventually lose the companionship of everyone currently in my life.
  4. If I must abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life, I must not, under any circumstances, let this be known to anyone; keeping this secret is paramount to my happiness.
  5. A social life without alcohol will necessarily be less interesting and fun than a social life with alcohol.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.  Happily, through the process of testing the old ideas, discovering they no longer serve me, and discarding them, I find myself at peace in a way I did not believe possible.

Of course, I hold many more old ideas that need to be re-assessed as my journey continues.  In times of distress, my instinct to project and interpret the emotions of others, and then believe these projections as if they were handed to me by God Himself, is an old belief that does me an incredible disservice.  Fortunately, recovery is a journey rather than a destination, and I have a lifetime to figure things out.

Rather than go point by point over the various pieces of wisdom gleaned from today’s meeting, I want to share a miraculous story that happened this morning.   I have had an issue with my daughter, one with which I’ve been dealing all weekend, and it’s affecting me enough that I felt like I needed to share about it at the meeting this morning (more to follow at some point).  In so doing, I received some amazing support and wisdom, all of which I hold in my heart even as I type.  But one fellow in particular stood out, he shared almost immediately after me; he related to what I was going through, and he shared some of the experiences he is having with his daughter.

Since this gentleman has been an attendee of my meeting for some time, I was well-acquainted with stories about his daughter, as he has shared his concerns about her for months now.  He is currently in a place of relative peace with her, but re-telling the tales of some of his troubled times did remind me that I am not alone, and also that things could always be worse.  Of course his daughter is 21 and had moved across the country for a time, my daughter is 14 and lives with me, so the situations are not identical by any means.  On the other hand, the simple act of sharing our troubles with one another gives us both an opportunity to feel less isolated, and, as a result, feel better about our situations.

Possibly ten minutes after he shared he got up abruptly from his chair and left the meeting.  He did not return for several minutes, and when he did he raised his hand to request a “double dip.”  In other words, could he share again even though he had already shared once?  And since of course the answer is always yes at my meeting, he let us know he left the meeting because he received an urgent text from his daughter that she needed to speak with him as soon as possible.

Turns out, she’s been thinking a lot about all the issues she’s been facing, and she’s been reading some of the literature her father has suggested, and she thinks it’s possible that she has a problem with alcohol.  She would like him to take her to a 12-step meeting.

I’m not exaggerating when I say the entire room sat in silence for a full minute.  I finally broke it by saying that I don’t know what to say.  It’s one thing to feel a miracle taking place within yourself, it’s another to experience it with a room full of people!

And if, after all that gentleman has gone through with his daughter, this can be the end result, then surely my “privilege problems” with my daughter are going to work out just fine.  At least, that’s the message I received!

Today’s Miracle:

I’m pretty sure I’m not getting a better miracle than the one I just described.

 

 

M(3), 1/5/15: Silence is Golden

 

Holy moly, that was the first time I typed out  a date with the new year!  I hope 2014 closed peacefully, and 2015 is off to a marvelous start for all of you!

Sad news from my part of the world:  I have an extremely annoying ailment that has me sounding like a seal when I talk too much.  The upside, for me, is that I got to take a seat in the attendee chair at my Monday meeting this morning, and I was able to simply soak in the collective wisdom of the group.

This week’s literature selection comes from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.”  My friend who pinch hit for me this morning selected the chapter at the start of the book, entitled “The Doctor’s Opinion.”  This chapter is the equivalent to medical seal of approval for the fledgling 12-step program, and it was a risky business, professionally speaking, for the author of the chapter (Dr. William D. Silkworth) to give his endorsement to such a revolutionary solution for the disease of alcoholism.

Had I been able to share with the group without embarrassing myself with my hacking cough, I would have talked about the importance of his term “phenomenon of craving.”  Here is what Dr. Silkworth writes:

We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action
of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an
allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and
never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types
can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having
formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost
their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their
problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to
solve. Frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices. The message which
can interest and hold these alcoholic people must have depth and
weight. 
-pg. xxviii, Alcoholics Anonymous

Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect
produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they
admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true
from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal
one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can
again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at
once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking
with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as
so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass
through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful,
with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and
over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change
there is very little hope of his recovery.
-pg. xxviii-xxvix, Alcoholics Anonymous

I am sure I have said this before, and I am equally sure that I will say it again:  the concept of the phenomenon of craving is a major motivator in keeping me sober.  Anytime I have even the most fleeting of thoughts that I could have “just one, what would be the big deal,”  I immediately consider the idea that I could be opening a Pandora’s box that is the phenomenon of craving, and I consider what my life in active addiction was like, and the mere possibility of that allows me to easily shut down the desire for “just one.”

Most of the rest of the group focused on Dr. Silkworth’s description of alcoholism as a “manifestation of an allergy.”  Apparently there has been some debate on whether alcoholism is a disease or an allergy, and people can become quite passionate about defending their particular conviction.  Most of the group this morning liked the description of alcoholism as an allergy.  After all, the definition of the word allergy is an abnormal reaction of the body to a substance, and most of us who identify as alcoholics can certainly attest that our reaction to drinking, even if it was simply our preoccupation, was abnormal.

One attendee shared that she truly thought she was insane while in active addiction.  She observed that, while hungry, she would eat until satiated, and then her eating would slow down.  With drinking, however, the complete opposite occurred; the more she drank, the more she wanted.  And it seemed like she was the only one in the world who drank like this.  An isolating, anxiety-ridden way to live, until she found this 12-step program and learned that she was not crazy, nor was she alone.  Now, almost 30 years later, she believes that even if someone offered her a way to “drink like a lady,” she would decline, because then she would have to forfeit all the amazing benefits she realizes from her participation in our program of recovery.

A few members talked about dealing with drinkers during the holiday season.  The general take-away from these experiences:  create the boundaries you need to protect your sobriety.   People generally speaking are not considering what you need while they are drinking, so you need to do this for yourself.

As always, there is so much more to share, but it’s time to prepare some hot tea and honey!  Hopefully next week I will be back to normal…

Today’s Miracle:

After a 12-day holiday “staycation,” husband and kids are back to school and work.  The complete silence of the house is today’s miracle!

M(3), 12/22: The End of the End

 

Today’s meeting, which started out woefully small but wound up with 12 attendees by the end, focused on the second half of step 12 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  In case you are not following along with this series of posts, step 12 is:

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The section of the chapter we read today focused most on the third prong of this step, and that is taking the principles learned within the 12-step program, and applying those principles to all other aspects of our lives:  our marriages, our careers, our financial affairs, even (especially) our self-image.

I know I have written this ad nauseam, but I’ll write it again anyway:  there’s not a problem in my life that the 12-step principles can’t ameliorate, if not actually solve.  From the simplicity of practicing acceptance and taking life one day at a time, to the more intensive work of personal inventory and making amends, practicing the 12 steps improves my entire life, not just helps me to abstain from altering myself chemically.  A strong statement, but so far for this recovering alcoholic, a true one.

The rest of the group focused on the blessings that working the 12 steps has brought to their lives.  Some of the highlights:

  • The end of our self-imposed isolation
  • Being comfortable in our own skin
  • A greater appreciation for family and friends
  • The development of a whole new set of friends
  • A greater maturity and wisdom
  • The joy received from being of service to others
  • A sense of accomplishment (this fellow joked that receiving the one year coin at an AA meeting is the equivalent to receiving an Oscar)
  • The serenity that comes with knowing that whatever is happening, “this too shall pass”
  • The comfort that only comes from the trust in a power greater than oneself
  • The certainty that this Higher Power is a benevolent omnipresence in our lives
  • The absolute faith that everything happens for a reason, and that our job is simply to trust our Higher Power, clean up our side of the street and do the next right thing

A joyous and hope-filled meeting to start the holiday week off right.  Hope yours is off to as wonderful a start!

Today’s Miracle:

Finishing up this post, then off to cookie making, and preparing the cookie decorating assembly line for when the kids get home.  From someone who, a few short years ago, could not successfully bake the heat and eat varieties, homemade roll-out cookies topped with homemade royal icing is a miracle!  Here are some of the “naked” first batch:

001

 

M(3), 12/15: The Beginning of the End

Today’s reading in the literature rotation for my Monday morning meeting was the first half of step 12 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  Step 12, the final piece of the 12-step program’s puzzle, is:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the results of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

Of all the steps, twelve is the longest in terms of reading, mainly because it has three “sub-points” that lie within it:

1.  Defining a spiritual awakening, and describing what it looks like

2.  Discussing the various and sundry ways in which to carry the message

3.  Identifying the various parts of our lives in which the 12-step principles can be practiced

The sharing from today’s half-chapter focused quite a bit on the spiritual angle of the 12-step program, and the benefits the conscious contact with a Higher Power brings to daily life.  We had a pretty decent mix of spirituality in the meeting this morning:  some find it almost childish to pray to a Higher Power, some consider themselves alternatively spiritual rather than the more classical definition that involves organized religion, and then we have a professional clergyman in our group.

And although every person who shared defined their Higher Power differently, had different interpretations of the term “spiritual awakening,” and had different manifestations of spirituality in their daily lives, all agreed upon this premise:  the spiritual component of their recovery not only helped them to get and to stay sober, it enriched their lives in ways they couldn’t have possibly imagined.

For me, step 12 is the one that has been the most transformative, and is the one I reference most in my daily life, so a step 12 meeting is always one I enjoy.  But today’s meeting had a special element about which I will share.  First, however, I need to lay some groundwork:

This past weekend, which I will write more about in a different post, my husband and I had a delightful “adults only” trip to New York City, where we stayed with one of our best friends in the world.  More on the weekend later, but there was one miniscule moment, where through the course of dropping items in the subway station (yuck), I reached in to the pocket of my very old jeans and discovered a hole.

Which then led me down the rabbit hole of a memory from active addiction that included that same hole in the pocket of those same jeans.

In the immediate moment, I was able to shake it off by practicing mindfulness:  getting out of my own head and being present in my current circumstances.

On the drive home, however, the debilitating thoughts came back, and I knew the best course of action was to talk about them, to shine some light on the memory in order to dispel it.  However, the only available resource was my husband, and my general policy with this type of issue is to avoid burdening him with these thoughts.  After all, my bad memories are usually his too, and it is not right to create a memory burden for him in the interest of unburdening myself.

On the other hand, I know he appreciates when I am open with what is on my mind.  Back and forth the volley went in my head, and I finally decided to proceed in sharing my inner turmoil.

He did not appear troubled; in fact, he expressed gratitude in my trusting him with these thoughts.  When I asked if my reliving this particular experience bothered him, he replied that it made him grateful for the progress that has been made in the years since.

All positives all the way around, because I was able to shake the malaise, although in the back of my mind I did marvel at this ability to compare then and now and feel the difference.  I concluded that because I was the centerpiece, I am too close to it to have that particular viewpoint.

Short story long, today’s reading includes the following passage:

When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone.  He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being.  He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead-end, not something to be endured or mastered.

-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 107

Honestly, even while we read it, nothing really hit me about this section, until a friend re-read it and shared what it meant to him.  And then, like a thunderbolt, I had a memory from active addiction, where I consciously thought about life as something to be endured until I was able to alter myself chemically.  The meaning of life, while in active addiction, was to hang on until the next time I could drink or ingest something to make it livable.

And the difference between how I lived life then, and how I live life now, was so startling, and so crystal clear, that tears came to my eyes.  And in sharing this bittersweet realization with the group, I felt the full power of step twelve in my life.

Love those full-circle moments!

Today’s Miracle:

Two weeks ago the regular attendees of the meeting decided to throw together a “causal luncheon” for after the meeting.  The “causal luncheon” turned into a feast with homemade lasagna, cakes and cookies, and much more… how lucky am I to know these amazing chefs and bakers?

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