A very happy Monday, and a happy President’s Day to my American readers! I’m hoping you are having as beautiful a day as I am having. It feels more like spring than it does late February in my neck of the woods!
Today’s reading was from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we studied:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
There was a great crowd this morning… just enough people that everyone had a chance to share, a nice mix of long-timers and those with a smaller amount of sober time, a group of regular attendees and those who were new to the meeting.
When I read this particular step, I break it down and look at prayer and meditation as two distinctly separate things, though I suppose in an ideal world they would be connected. As for prayer, the chapter defines prayer perfectly:
Prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God. -pg. 102, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
My prayer life, or ritual of praying, has evolved quite a bit over the years, and I imagine will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I am currently at a point where the bulk of my praying is conversational in nature… I talk to God, express gratitude, ask for intentions, in much the same way as I would talk to another human being. I shared as much with the group this morning, and I wondered aloud if I am missing something important by not including more formal prayers in my daily practice. I invited anyone in the group that might be willing to share with me the benefits they receive from praying in a more formal manner.
As is always the case, my fellow Monday meeting attendees did not disappoint. Each person shared with me the various ways they pray, and how their prayer rituals help them. Unsurprisingly, the list was a diverse one:
- Morning prayers said immediately upon waking
- Morning prayer said over coffee
- Morning prayers said on the commute into work
- Reading from a daily devotional book
- Listening to Christian radio
- Formal meditation
- Yoga as a form of prayer
- Chanting and singing prayer
Believe it or not, I’m not sure I listed them all! In every case, the benefits received were the same, no matter what type of prayer is uttered: a deeper relationship with one’s Higher Power. In deepening the relationship, each person reports receiving a deeper sense of gratitude, a feeling of connection, and an overall sense of peace that, prior to a prayer life, had not been experienced.
Most important, not a single person could list a negative side effect to prayer. There simply is no downside! Even those who fall on the spectrum of agnosticism did not find a drawback in attempting to pray.
The group did not speak as much on the meditation piece, so it is hard to try to write a consensus. Speaking for myself, and I know I’m repeating myself from past blog pieces, meditation is a practice I dearly wish to master. Hell, I’d settle for being able to claim that I am half-assed meditator! Sadly, I can make no such proclamation. Here’s what I can say: when I have been able to meditate on a regular basis, I am able to draw upon a reserve of calm that I don’t otherwise have. That calm allows me to pause in stressful situations, and thoughtfully consider the best way to react.
Regular meditation also deepens my sense of gratitude, and allows me to be more present in my daily activities.
Finally, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment when I engage in a regular meditation practice. Similar to when I exercise, I feel empowered by the regular practice of something I know is good for me mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
Maybe, just maybe, now that I’ve written all this out, the fire will be lit, and I will restart my meditation practice!
Writing a post when everyone is home from school/work. Usually people around means I am anywhere but in front of the computer!
It is still so strange to write 2017! I wonder when I’ll get used to it?
Today we finished up the reading we started last week, which is a discussion of
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.
I like breaking up the step and discussing it this way. Last week we talked about the spiritual awakening and carrying the message, this week we discussed practicing the principles in all our affairs. Today’s topic is the one that has the most universal application, and it’s a reminder that I could benefit from reading daily.
What stood out for me in today’s reading was the reminder of the importance of staying in balance. It is all too easy to get caught up in the business of life, and forget the basic but invaluable lessons learned in recovery. I can be reminded of this lesson, and forget all about it again the span of a heartbeat. As the chapter itself says,
“We found that freedom from fear was far more important than freedom from want.” -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 122
The next time I start to panic about the job search process, I hope I can remember that line!
In addition to the reminder for balance, I also heard the message of hope within the chapter. One section reads:
“Service, gladly rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with God’s help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a common effort, the well understood fact that in God’s sight all human beings are important, the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons, the surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes but can fit and belong in God’s scheme of things- these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes. ” -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 124
Wow is that a run-on sentence! Grammatical commentary aside, this statement is an important reminder of what we in recovery are working towards.
So I was reminded this morning to work towards balance in my life, and the benefits for doing so are too numerous to count. Other great lessons learned today:
- Remembering that “True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God” is the key to this step.
- Fixing a marriage/relationship damaged by active addiction takes time; both patience and persistence are critical.
- When it comes to repairing relationships, often the situation gets worse before it gets better. It’s important to hear that so as not to throw in the towel too early! Many of us experienced a long period of marital hardship in recovery.
- Al-anon can be a useful tool for the family member of an alcoholic. However, not everyone will agree with this notion, so the most we can do is throw out the suggestion.
- Financial insecurity is another problem that can persist well into sobriety. It is a process for sure, but the 12 steps teach us how to lose those fears no matter what our financial situation looks like.
- Step 12, like every other step, is practiced one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time! We can feel very good about practicing step 12, then a minute later be thrown a curve ball that takes us completely off-balance. The trick is to keep bringing ourselves back to center.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the rest of your Monday!
The title of today’s post… someone said it today while speaking of relationships in recovery. I had never heard it before, and was so delighted, I had to share!
Housekeeping: if I take time to reply to comments, I’ll never get this post written. But I’ll do so as soon as I hit publish! Overall I’d like to say a big thank you to all who commented, and I am thinking long and hard about all suggestions. As I mentioned yesterday, circumstances are such that no resolution can be reached for a few weeks. In the meantime, I am going to tinker about with different formats and see if I can’t come up with a way to transmit all the wonderful wisdom without the remotest possibility of breaking anonymity.
Having said that, today’s meeting was an actual first, at least I think it was… we did not have enough chairs in the meeting room to house the attendees present! A great way to start an otherwise cold and dreary Monday, I’ll tell you that much.
As it is the first Monday of not only the month, but the year, we reach chapter one of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”), “Bill’s Story.” Bill is Bill Wilson, the co-founder of the original 12-step program of recovery. And his story is a compelling one: from one of the lowest bottom drunks that exists, to co-founding a program that is in existence and thriving 80 plus years later.
As compelling a story as Bill’s is, I am often challenged when I read it to find a part relatable to my journey of recovery. Today, however, proved to be an exception, as a theme stood out for me in a way that hasn’t any of the past time I’ve read it. And the theme is ego. Bill truly believed that his self-will could conquer any challenge, win any war. And for a long time, it did. Remember, Bill lived through World War One, the roaring 20’s and the Great Depression, and his creativity, persistence and gumption got his to the top of a lot of heaps. But ultimately he found his self-will was no match for his addiction to alcohol. When he finally surrendered to that notion, miraculous things happened to him, and for a lot of alcoholics who followed in his footsteps.
So what’s relatable about that? For me, it is a reminder of how insidious the ego can be. How many of us have gotten sober a few days, weeks, month, or even years, then decided that “we’ve got this?” Or we appreciate the value of humility for a while, especially when newly sober, but over time forget the value of staying humble?
For those of us who cultivate our spiritual lives, the ego is especially dangerous, for how easy it is to let those simple spiritual practices fall by the wayside as life gets too chaotic? By the time we are in real need of a spiritual connection, we realize we’ve actually been disconnected.
For me, today’s meeting is a reminder to stay right-sized, and keep my ego in check. Here is some other great stuff I heard today:
- The story is an important reminder of what the alcoholic bottom feels like. Who doesn’t vividly recall the horrific feelings of the morning following a particularly nasty drunk? Or the hopelessness of the broken promise that we won’t drink today?
- The 12 steps of the program are clearly explained as Bill tells his story of recovery. If you read nothing else in the Big Book but Bill’s story, you will have a basic understanding of the 12 steps of recovery.
- Reading the transformation of Bill’s life and attitude is a reminder of how different a life of sobriety can be from a life of active addiction. You can almost feel the remarkable difference in his perspective and how it positively impacts his world, and the worlds of those around him.
- Unconditional surrender is another theme of the story. For a long time Bill believed he could beat this problem by his own means, but when he understood the concept of unconditional surrender, and applied it to his own life, miraculous things happened for him, and for countless others.
- Addiction to alcohol can make the most logical and intelligent people strangely insane. They can be incredible in every other area of their lives, and yet their logic completely escapes them when it comes to moderating alcohol.
- Overcoming the hurdle of a higher power when one does not believe such a thing exists is covered wonderfully in this story. Bill himself struggled with the notion of turning his will over, until he was convinced he could create a God of his understanding. This concept got many an alcoholic over the hump of believing in a traditional God.
Hope everyone is enjoying the new year!
Writing two posts in two days. It’s been a loooong time since I’ve done that. And if I’m really on my game, another post talking about the WOTY is coming tomorrow!
Some housekeeping: apologies for being so absent from this blog. Not only have I not written in a couple of weeks, I’ve also not responded to comments. I will be going back when I hit publish, but it shows a complete lack of appreciation for those who take the time to respond, and the last thing I want to do is to appear ungrateful. I appreciate all comments, and I’m sorry for failing to show my appreciation!
The reason for the absence is due to a recent foot surgery that kept me with my foot elevated for a good number of days. Since I detest using a laptop, this prevented me from my trusty desktop computer. Then we were on a days-long road trip to watch my son race a cross-country course with the best of the best, so again away from my preferred choice of writing.
So now I’m back, and hopefully with some wisdom to share!
Today’s meeting focused on Step Two in the twelve steps of recovery:
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Always a good step for discussion, since so many people come to the rooms of the 12-step fellowship with such a vast array of beliefs and non-beliefs.
As usual, the attendees did not disappoint. One regular, a man whose professional life is based on his spirituality, says he struggles. Not in the sense in believing a Higher Power exists, but in those who judge him for what he does for a living (member of a religious order). Even in the meetings he has found this to be true, and it can be problematic. He reminds himself that the step reads “could,” not “will,” and that his focus should remain on the positive, not the negative. He finds meetings that support him, and avoids meetings that tear him down.
Good advice on a broader scope, not just because he is a religious professional, and advice that I’ll take to heart.
A friend who continues to struggle with the notion of God still struggles with this step, and takes umbrage with some of its wording. She dislikes that they suggest to us that we “quit the debating society” and instead do our best to keep an open mind. She finds this advice somewhat offensive, in that she believes an open mind should question things.
But then she reminds herself that keeping an open mind means remaining open to all suggestions, even the ones that don’t necessarily make sense to her. Plus, all questions about a higher power aside, she firmly believes in the success of the 12-step paradigm, as she’s seen literally hundreds of success stories with her own eyes. For now, this is enough to keep her coming back, and trying to keep her mind open to new possibilities.
Another woman shared that she is the type who believed herself spiritual while continuing to drink problematically. She thought she asked for help numerous times, only to continue to relapse. So she believed in a higher power, but not necessarily in His/Her/Its ability to “restore her to sanity.”
She realized the error in her thinking was that she was asking for help, but not doing her part to make things happen. In working the 12 steps she realized there was real action that needed to be taken by her, and in taking that action she believes her Higher Power removed from her the obsession to drink.
I particularly enjoyed hearing her share, because it clicked with my personal story a bit. I tried and failed to get sober for a solid 8-9 months before I hit my alcoholic bottom. During that time I went to meetings, I had a sponsor, and I prayed all the time, on my knees just as I was told to do. I thought I followed instructions, but I relapsed too many times to count.
Then I hit my bottom, and while fear certainly played into my early days of sobriety, I was more or less doing the same types of things I had done the previous 8-9 months. Over the years I’ve often asked myself: other than the fear and the consequences I was facing, what was so different before and after?
When my friend shared this morning, I remembered that one prayer session that I’ve referenced a few times on this blog. It was on my first night of sobriety, not even morning yet since I surely wasn’t getting to sleep that night. I think the language I used in my prayers was likely a little more (in my head, though I’m not above talking out loud while I’m praying)… sincere, or real, for lack of a better word. But the critical difference was the question I asked of God that night. I said, “Okay, it is clear that I am doing something wrong. Can you please show me what it is?”
From that query came the analysis of what I was doing differently than the other members of the Fellowship. And from that thought process came a blueprint that I thought might help me, or at the very least would be something different to try.
And the rest is history. I believe sobriety, like life itself, is a never-ending process, so I continue to learn and grow, but I’m grateful for the original struggles that started me on a path to a more peaceful, more spiritual existence.
And I’m writing on and on, and never even got to the surgery and all the trials and tribulations that have come with it. I will do my best to get back later in the week to detail!
Logging in. Writing. Hitting Publish!
I keep staring at the blank screen expecting a lightning bolt of creativity to hit me, and it doesn’t appear to be happening. Now I’m going to try the “just start writing” approach and see where that gets me.
I’ll start with the meeting and wind round to why my thoughts are scattered. Our reading selection today from the the book Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the “Big Book.” This year I tried something different in terms of this book. For the 3 years prior to this one, I selected readings from the second half of the book, the part that contains all the personal stories. To mix it up, in the year 2016 we read from the first 164 pages, which most consider to be the heart and soul of the 12-step program. There are 11 chapters in this first part of the book, so today marked the end of this cycle.
I have been waiting, practically since January, to get to this month, because by leaps and bounds my favorite chapter is the one we read today. It is called “A Vision for You,” and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you have heard me wax rhapsodic about it. It is so uplifting and energizing, I wish the book started with this chapter.
I’ll start with my share, as the reading of this chapter reminded me of a story from my early days of sobriety. The chapter speaks of the serendipitous circumstances that connected the co-founders of the fellowship, their meeting with the third member, and the growth of the program that came from these meetings. It brought to mind a not quite so miraculous, but still noteworthy story of my own:
When I first got sober, I went to meetings daily. Specifically, I attended the same 10 am meeting that took place every day of the week. In so doing, I got to know all the other regular attendees. I happen to hit the 90-day mark on a Friday, at which point several of the long-timers announced that since I have my 90 day coin I am eligible to chair meetings, and so no time like the present. Then they erased the chairperson for Monday and put my name in his or her place.
I can’t specifically recall, but I imagine I sweated out the weekend worrying about how I was going to pull off this responsibility. Thankfully the chair rotation was different on the weekends, or I would have had to do it the very next day.
So Monday comes and I couldn’t be more nervous. That meeting was significantly different than the one I run now in that it is a much larger crowd… figure 50 to 60 on average. I start the meeting, and I suppose I do okay. The break comes (halfway through the 60-minute meeting) and a gentleman comes up and introduces himself as Jim, tells me this is his very first meeting, and asked me a question. I wish I could remember the question, but I’m pretty sure my abject fear at having to answer a 12-step question when I had 90 days of sobriety under my belt must have blocked it out. I’m sure I said something, though I can’t remember specifically what, and as soon as was politely possible I connected him with the regulars in the group that I felt could give him the information he needed.
The rest of the meeting proceeded, and that was that.
By the time I hit the six-month mark, I was still attending daily meetings, but I was branching out and rarely got back to original meeting place. However, for the milestone of 6 months I wanted to announce it there; it was a Sunday, and the only time I could get there was the 6 pm meeting. I anticipated not knowing too many people, as I tend to hit daytime meetings.
To my surprise and delight, I knew the chairperson of the meeting: my friend Jim, the one who had just started 3 months ago! I marvelled at the fantastic coincidence, and I could not wait to share with him. In fact, I raised my hand and shared out loud the story of how nervous I was, and congratulated Jim on achieving 90 days and chairing the meeting. At the end of the meeting Jim found me and said he could top my story with one of his own from that day:
It turns out that his wife had dropped him off at that meeting 3 months ago, but he had no intention of staying. He figured he’s stay to the break, but he had just enough money in his pocket to head out to the nearest open bar as soon as the halfway point came. Something had him ask me a question, he has no idea what… his best guess is he wanted to be polite to me since I was leading the meeting. My response was so kind that he figured he owed it to me to stay. And afterwards when those gentlemen with whom I connected him were so kind, he figured he could give this a try.
And three months later, still sober, he was chairing meeting.
The moral of the story, of course, is that no matter how little you think you know, how little you think you have to give, it just might be the world to someone else. I don’t remember what I said, but I know for sure it wasn’t anything profound or wise. It couldn’t have been… I didn’t know squat! And his taking the time to fill me in on that backstory made all the difference to me. It was at that moment everything crystallized for me that when I pay attention, amazing things happen, all around me, every day.
From my share a few other people had similar tales of amazing coincidences-that-are-never-coincidences. And a secondary theme of this morning’s share was gratitude, a most fitting theme for a November meeting!
I went a little long with my personal story, but today’s miracle for me is getting what I needed from that meeting today, as I usually do. Even if I have to relearn the same lesson a dozen times, there is always someone there to teach me. And for that I am grateful!
Additionally, the miracle of unscattering my thoughts via writing should be noted!
Today’s meeting, and its subject matter, was so spot on for me that it gives me the chills just thinking about it. Then again, I feel that way pretty much any time we talk about…
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again: step three is my favorite of the 12 steps of recovery. It has universal application, and applies to every single human on the planet. Maybe animals too.
We had an interesting turnout today. For the first time in years, maybe ever, there were more strangers in my meeting than there were regulars. This increase in diversity resulted in a wider array of wisdom and shares, which can only be a good thing.
One of the regulars, a man who I quote virtually every week in this blog, started our meeting off right with the announcement that he is 30 years sober as of this past weekend. This announcement elevated the collective mood of the room big time. He talked about a particular section of the reading:
…He might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from self-sufficiency. Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking up into warring fragments. Each fragment says to the others, “We are right and you are wrong.” Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough, self-righteously imposes its will upon the rest. And everywhere the same thing is being done on an individual basis. The sum of all this mighty effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before. The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off. Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin. -pg. 37, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
He said the first time he went to a Step Three meeting, an argument broke out over what the word “juggernaut” means. Each of the multiple people involved insisted they knew the correct definition. Finally, someone suggested pulling out a dictionary; someone did, and the definition was/is:
Juggernaut: a literal or metaphorical force regarded as mercilessly destructive and unstoppable.
Once the irony settled in that they were acting like juggernauts while arguing about its meaning, everyone laughed and moved on to more productive conversations.
Humorous anecdote aside, my longtime sober friend went on to talk about what an apt description the word juggernaut is when describing self-will. How often do we, in the zest to prove ourselves right and another wrong, get so deep into a debate that we lose sight of the original issue?
Or the times when we pursue a goal, something we justify as a “single-minded passion,” to the exclusion of everything else of value in our lives?
Or when we want something so badly we rationalize every questionable decision and action so that it fits our current needs and wants?
The list is endless, as is the specific list of ways we alcoholics misused our self-will:
- “I’m an adult, and nobody is going to tell me what I can or can’t drink!”
- “How dare they tell me I drink too much, when they fill in the blank.”
- “I need this drink now, since life is so stressful. Once life gets calmer, I will think about cutting back.”
- “How can I not drink when it is such a part of my life? Everyone I know drinks!”
- Ad infinitum…
If we accept that relentless self-will is counterproductive, and we are intrigued by the idea of turning said will over the care of the God of our understanding, the next question becomes how exactly do we pull off such a feat?
Many people shared in the meeting this morning regarding the ways in which they went about this process; the underlying theme throughout was willingness. The key to turning things over is simply to be willing to do so. The minute we start arguing about the different reasons why our way in the right way, we have closed the door to willingness.
This is exactly why I love Step Three so much; it is a lesson that I need to learn over and over again. I suspect for the rest of my life I will be remembering that I need to display some willingness.
I have an ongoing situation that has created some intermittent periods of anxiety in my life. I have a strong suspicion that if I could go back and create a timeline of when I was feeling the most stress regarding this issue, and chart my feelings and subsequent actions during those period of angst, I would find that I decided to take back my self-will and force the solution of my choosing. Therefore, just reading this selection brought instant relief:
The more we become willing to depend on a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are. -pg. 36, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
When I am taking back my self-will, my logic screams out, “So what does that mean, you sit around and wait for God to hand things to you?”
And of course that’s not the answer. The answer lies in yet another tool of recovery I love but conveniently “misplace” in times of stress:
Rain, rain, don’t go away! We just got rain in our area for the first time in forever, and never have I been happier to deal with gray skies!
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!
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!
Another Monday, another great meeting!
Today reading came from Chapter 4 in Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book), “We Agnostics.” I’m too lazy to go back and check, but I’m fairly confident I have never selected this reading from the book in the 3 1/2 years I’ve been running this meeting!
But it’s a great one to read for anyone struggling with the concept of a Higher Power. I will sheepishly admit this is not a chapter to which I have paid great attention through the years; never having considered myself an agnostic, I generally thought my time was better spent on other chapters.
But in reading this morning, I related to the idea of the rewards of open-mindedness. The chapter speaks of ways in which history has proven the benefit of considering all possibilities, rather than assuming your way of thinking is the only way of thinking.
It reminded me of a time, years before I got sober, I bemoaned my inability to control my drinking. “I just want to drink like normal people!” To which the counselor replied, “Do you realize that ‘normal drinking’ for many people means not drinking at all?”
I may as well have walked out the office for as much attention I paid after that comment.
Because for me, at that time, there was no conception of a life without alcohol. So if I can go from that mindset to the one I possess today? All bets are off… anything I consider a given is up for debate. It’s a life-altering shift in thinking, I can tell you that!
There were two attendees who considered themselves agnostic prior to 12-step recovery. The first who shared recognizes that her spiritual path is still in the developmental stages, as she is still fleshing out a concept of a Higher Power that works for her. When she reads and finds references that smack of traditional Christianity-based imagery, she simply looks for the relatable part of the story, rather than reject the information because it’s not her concept of God.
The second once-Agnostic said she was anxiety-ridden when she realized that a belief in a Higher Power is a requirement. She thought that meant she had to hurry and “catch up” to all those who had an “edge” by having religion. Her sponsor quickly assured her by saying all those religious folks drank enough to earn a seat in the rooms, so how much of an edge did they really have?
What made her more comfortable was the knowledge that the development of a spiritual life in an ongoing process, and the only thing you really need to get started is, well, a willingness to get started!
The rest of the attendees who shared all came into the fellowship with a belief of some sort. Most were raised within an organized religion, but opted out once they were of an age to make decisions for themselves. One gentleman described it this way:
I believed in belief, now I just believe
That may sound confusing, but it made a lot of sense to me.
Everyone in the room agreed that the greatest selling point of 12-step spirituality is its inclusiveness: any concept of a Higher Power is welcome. Secular, non-secular, completely original and unique point of view… all ideas are welcome here, and all will get you where you need to go!
The gentleman I wrote about last week, the newcomer who was suffering from so many physical symptoms, was back this week and looking and feeling better!
A meeting chock full of great thoughts and ideas, at least there was for this participant! This morning we read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and focused on Step Eleven:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
The chapter that covers this step talks in depth about the many benefits of prayer and meditation. In addition, it discusses methods to overcome agnostic/atheistic mindsets, as well as easy pointers on how to get started praying and meditating.
The first person to share talked about how he almost walked out of his first meeting because it talked about prayer and meditation. Agnostic by nature, he was sure that the end of the meeting would be asking for money and/or a signed contract. When neither happened, and he realized that he was in charge of his conception of a Higher Power, he stuck around and followed the suggestions given to him. Thirty-six years later, and he considers prayer to be an essential component of his daily life. He knows prayer and meditation works because he’s experienced the positive effects. He realized early on that he did not have to know how something works for it to work; therefore, he stopped questioning the mechanics behind the power of prayer.
His last point, and the one that stuck with me the most: he has learned through his years in recovery that it is not enough to ask for something through prayer, then sit back and wait for it to arrive. He must be a participant in the process, and do his part to make things happen.
Another gentleman with long-term sobriety shared his prayer life journey. I was trying to calculate his years of sobriety by following the story; I got up to 34 years before I got confused. Regardless of the actual number, suffice it to say he’s been sober a long time! He considers his prayer life an unfolding story, one that has developed slowly over time, and one he imagines will continue to evolve as long as he’s alive. He said he started the way most of us do… a daily prayer book that asks you to read something small each day. He said for years that is what his prayer life involved… reading, with not a whole lot of engagement on his part. Over time he noticed that quite often the reading for the day would correlate precisely to something that was troubling him. From there he learned to participate more in the process, rather than by simply reading a daily paragraph. Finally, through a series of chaotic events, he lost track of his prayer routine, and found himself out of sorts with no real reason as to why. He went to a retreat where the leader posed the following question:
If you find yourself in a state of discontent with no discernible cause, think back… was there something you were habitually doing that you stopped?
Bingo! He realized he was missing his time spent in prayer and meditation. He went home, fished out his “little black book,” and now makes sure he stays in practice.
A few attendees shared of their struggles with making prayer and meditation part of their daily routine. All recognize the benefits of such a practice, but, like any new habit, it can be a bumpy road getting started.
Finally, a friend of mine shared her thoughts on the subject of prayer and meditation. She is sober about 2 1/2 years, but I know from spending time with her that acceptance of a Higher Power has been her biggest struggle. Turns out she is actively working on this aspect of her recovery; she remarked that the shine is off the penny, so to speak, in terms of meeting attendance, step work, and the various readings. She knows she needs a deeper connection in order to sustain her sobriety, and she is seeking spirituality to fill that need.
She said she is learning, through her research and reflection, that attachment is the origin of suffering. In other words, if she is suffering, then she has an expectation of an outcome. Either she is trying to control what happens, or she is trying prevent something from happening.
As she was speaking, I recalled a conversation I had with my husband not an hour before. I was explaining to him the root cause of some internal angst I have been experiencing, and seeking his advice on how to proceed. His suggestions were, at first blush, unimaginable, and I told him so, and my defense of my opinion. His face has that look that tells me I need to stop and rewind, but I was unable to fully decipher what specifically I had said to cause his expression.
So I ask him to please just tell me what is causing the pained look, since I have tried to decipher with no success. He considers for a moment, then says, “Everything you’ve said since we’ve started this discussion, from you thoughts about what is causing your discontent to your reaction to my advice… that’s all Old Josie talking.”
And it was a light bulb moment… every single moment of disquiet I have experienced with regard to this issue, every quick fix action I’ve taken, and every subsequent action to correct the quick fix… all seen through the lens of pre-recovery thinking. It stopped me in my tracks.
Whenever I have found myself in the past heading down the path of old thinking, my correction has always been to deepen my efforts at prayer and meditation. So it was crazy enough that this step was the one we were discussing. A coincidence that is never a coincidence.
But then to hear my friend describe in layman’s terms a basic tenet of Buddhist thinking in a way I could understand, a concept that applied so directly to the discussion I was having with my husband, was the breakthrough I needed.
Attachment to an outcome = suffering
Yep, that pretty much sums up in a nutshell the source of my suffering.
So I got the wake-up call I needed this morning. Of course, like my friend above said, the wake-up call is not enough. I need to be a participant in the process. The good news is that you can start just where you are when it comes to prayer and meditation!
Coincidences-that-are-never coincidences will always be a miracle to me!