For those reading on the day this is published, a sincere thank you for taking time out of your Cyber Monday online shopping to read 😉
Today is one of the infrequent five-Mondays-in-a-month situations that leave me scrambling for a new type of literature to read in my Monday morning meeting. I had something ready to go that was okay, if not a bit irrelevant to the time of year. Then, a few minutes before the meeting started, a new opportunity presented itself: I was able to obtain a copy of a new book that is conference approved for 12-step meetings. Entitled Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships, it is a collection of stories from the AA Grapevine, the magazine put out by the Fellowship. The stories are divided into 7 categories; we started at the beginning, and read the first story under the category “Family.”
I forgot to take a headcount, but it was a decently sized meeting; most of the usual suspects, plus 3 additional new faces. The story was compelling, telling of a family with more than a half dozen family members who got sober through our 12-step program. If someone doubts the concept of the genetic component of the disease of alcoholism, the story provides some powerful proof!
A few parts of the story stood out to me. First, it was uplifting to read of a family who was able to role model for one another what it takes to get and stay sober. Often the reverse is true: it is easier to stay stuck in alcoholic thinking and behavior because that is the family norm.
Next, the author of the story used the word “surrender” quite a bit, and suggested that surrendering was the key to sobriety for his family. For all of his family success stories, there were two that resisted the need to surrender, and both died from the disease as a result. For some reason, the notion of surrender was calming to me this morning; as long as I cease to resist that I have this disease, and then I can do what it takes to stay sober today.
Simple, but of course not easy, especially if you are still in active addiction. One of the newcomers is just a little over 24 hours sober. She had time in the program previously, but stopped attending, and eventually picked up again. She is back, but it is clear from her sharing that she is struggling with the idea of surrendering to the disease. She wants to be sober, she says, but she doesn’t want anyone to tell her what to do. She knows she has made mistakes, but so have all the people around her. She knows she has some work ahead of her, so for now she is just going to keep coming back to the meetings.
A few people shared their family trees as it relates to alcoholism. Not surprisingly, everyone has multiple people, spanning multiple generations, that are or were alcoholics.
Another one of the new faces this morning revealed that he is 9 months sober, and so all of these holidays are sober firsts for him. He really appreciated the recently celebrated Thanksgiving holiday. He used to dread holidays, because they were free passes to overconsume, which for him inevitably led to disagreements and family chaos. He appreciated not being the center of family drama this holiday, and he looks forward to an equally peaceful Christmas.
Another woman spoke at length of her family tree as it relates to alcoholism. She is one of 11, her Mom is one of 14, and her Mom’s mom had 14 children. I suppose with those kinds of numbers an alcoholic or two is bound to come out of the mix! She has 25 years sober, several of her brothers and sisters have sober time, and they are currently dealing with an actively alcoholic brother. She says her mantra is the phrase “cunning, baffling and powerful.” Each time she observes a new iteration of the disease, she is reminded of her mantra.
As soon as she said this, two long-timers held up their hands: “you forgot to add patient!” they exclaimed simultaneously.
Cunning, baffling, powerful, and patient. Words to remember as I navigate the holiday season!
Taking time out of my online Cyber Monday shopping to attend a meeting, and then write about it 😉
An interesting meeting this morning. We read from the book Living Sober; I selected the chapter about gratitude. We’re so close to Thanksgiving, it seems a natural fit!
I shared first, and talked about a specific section of the chapter as it pertains to my journey of recovery: the idea of opening up to the perspectives of others, and the joy that open-mindedness can bring. An honest share, if not particularly thrilling.
From there a gentleman shared about his struggles with gratitude. He recognizes it has been missing in his two and a half years of sobriety. He wants to cultivate gratitude for his life, but anger and resentments continue to dog him. In his very share this morning, he spoke of realizing how much he has for which to be grateful compared to the lives of others, and immediately launched into a tale involving the misfortunes of others. The focus of his share on gratitude turned out to be all the things for which he is not grateful in his life.
From there, a few others spoke of a similarly themed struggle: fondly remembering the “glory days” of early sobriety gratitude. For example, waking up without a hangover and feeling exuberant about it. Being asked a question about the night before, and triumphantly realizing you remember the entire night.
A personal favorite of mine: a family drama unfolds, and not being at the center of it!
Several of the meeting attendees today wistfully remembered that feeling of gratitude, and long to get it back again. Gratitude is more of a struggle these days, and sobriety can be taken for granted the longer you stay sober.
Then, about halfway through the meeting, S shared. S has been a semi-regular, quiet attendee of this meeting. I wrote about S a few weeks back that after 8 years of sobriety, he relapsed, and has been painfully trying to get his recovery back on track. As anyone who relapses knows, it does not get easier with prior sober time under your belt.
I actually haven’t seen S since he shared about his relapse. I held my breath as he started to speak, uncertain if he has remained sober in the weeks since I’ve seen him.
Fortunately he has remained sober, and he spoke of struggling to find gratitude with a relapse so close in his rear view mirror. He said with all the challenges he currently faces in early sobriety, the thing for which he is most grateful is the opportunity to sit in a room full of recovery-minded people and simply absorb the positive energy. He doesn’t really have to hear anything special, or something that speaks to him personally. Just sitting and hearing the positive talk, feeling the empathy, and knowing that he can share what is going on with him and people will listen without judgment… this is all enough to turn his day around. He came in to the meeting in a negative state of mind, but he is leaving with a positive one.
All this from a guy who almost never raises his hand to share.
From that point forward, every single person who shared had something for which to be profoundly grateful: the gorgeous weather, the support of family, the health of their loved ones, simply being alive, sober and present this morning. I will speak for myself and say I felt the atmosphere change. It’s not that it had been a negative vibe, necessarily, but it lightened considerably from what it was.
I am very sorry to report that the gentleman entrenched in his misery left at the halfway point and did not have the opportunity to feel this shift.
It just made me think: if S’s simple words transformed an already happy crowd, then what could I do on any given day? I think I feel a challenge coming on, my kids better watch out this afternoon 🙂
The reminder of the transformative power of gratitude
I have been offline for a week now, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed this community! I have only just begun catching up, I feel like I’ve missed a gazillion great posts!
I am making this statement not just to say “hey!” to all the posts I’m late in reading, but also to bring up the point of today’s post. The reason I was absent last week was because I was preparing for my son’s 11th birthday. We were hosting a sit-down dinner for 15, followed by an ice cream party/sleep-over, followed by a trip to a trampoline place, followed by a lunch, I could go on for a while longer, but, suffice it to say: a busy weekend that required a lot of prep work. As a result, I was consumed with the details that involve making a weekend such as this one a success, and therefore let my usual sobriety-focused routines fall to the wayside. Nothing overly dramatic, as I’m only talking a week, but enough small “concessions” that by Sunday I was feeling the effects of a full-on emotional hangover: I was exhausted, cranky as all get-out, and reverting to behaviors in which I have not indulged in a really, really long time.
I woke up Monday, very excited to get back to a regular routine and lead my Monday meeting. And at that meeting the topic (pre-arranged) was Step 10: continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. If I were to attempt to highlight the portions of the chapter that directly applied to my life, I would, in fact, be re-typing the chapter. The focus of step 10 is to self-evaluate, at the very least daily, but, more specifically, when in any kind of turmoil. Because if I am feeling turmoil, I am the root cause, and the only way to resolve it is to look at my thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Guess what I failed to do the entire weekend?
The second part of step 10: and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. Quick side note: as I was typing that last sentence, my husband called to say hi. So I can now say that I have put into action the second part of step 10 as it relates to this past weekend. Again, there is nothing melodramatic that happened, I believe all who attended the dinner party had a great time, they ate well, and my son had a fantastic celebration. But only I am in my head, and I haven’t felt this out of sorts in a long, long time, and I don’t enjoy the feeling at all. When I think that this is how I used to live life daily, I shudder… how in the hell did I live like this? And I know, if I am feeling this bad, then there is no doubt that I am acting out of sorts as well, and so my husband, as usual, becomes my default punching bag. I already feel better for having promptly admitted my mistakes.
So the moral of today’s story: sharing your turbulent thoughts really does calm the mind, and try to keep constant the routines that keep you serene, even when you are stressed. Because avoiding routine during stressful times is like throwing gasoline on a fire, and there is that much more to douse at the end!
Since I posted a picture of last year’s birthday cake, I figured I could do it again… it was a work of art!
The ”Inside-Out” approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self / with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. The inside-out approach says that private victories precede public victories, that making and keeping promises to ourselves recedes making and keeping promises to
others. It says it is futile to put personality ahead of character, to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves. –Stephen R. Covey
The main topic that came out of my meeting this morning was about denial. Here’s why that is interesting…
Last night, as I was going through my son’s backpack, I found a letter to me that I have a parent-teacher conference scheduled for next week. These conferences have taken place every year that I have been involved in this school (8 years now), but I have never had to attend one, because they are only scheduled on an as-needed basis. So, bottom line: trouble’s a-brewing in the 4th grade.
My first reaction was a blinding fury towards my son, who was, thankfully, already asleep by the time I found this letter. Within the first 60 seconds of reading the note, I had punishments lined up for him until he was off to college. Directly behind this fury came the second, and just as powerful, rage, towards the teacher herself… how dare this woman schedule this kind of conference for my son? I have been hearing a litany of complaints about this woman for months, and at the moment I believed all of them, and more. So within the next 60 seconds I had a series of punishments lined up for her… scathing emails, refusal to attend the conference, and other ways to dress her down.
So at some point I have had to honestly examine the true source of my angst, because none of my elaborate revenge schemes are going to get the problem solved. As I worked through the emotions, I realized that I was frustrated that my extremely intelligent child repeatedly makes poor choices, and now we are both paying the price (I know, I know… Karma’s a bitch). And when I look further into the frustration, it is not with a 10 year-old boy, it is with myself. As far as he goes, the buck stops here, with me. If he his not grasping that his bad choices are leading to bad consequences, then I am not doing my job effectively.
So here’s the good news: the tools I have gained in my recovery will help me solve this problem. First, I can hit the reset button. Today is a new day, and a new chance to figure out how to make my son understand the consequences of his daily choices. Second, I can better understand what is in my control, and what is not. If this teacher is the type to nit-pick, or she has some vendetta against my son… well, that’s not in my power to change. What is in my power is how I handle the problem, first with my son, and by extension, how my son learns by my example. Finally, and as I have written about numerous times before, if something isn’t working, time to try something new. Clearly, something isn’t working, so time to change it up!
To be continued, the conference is on Valentine’s Day…
That I am able to tackle this problem clean and sober.
I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy. –Tony Robbins
It’s that time of year again… resolution time. I was just watching a small clip of Tony Robbins, and he was explaining why most resolutions fail. He says in order to be successful at resolving to change, you must have these three components in place:
1. Compelling vision (not just “I want to lose 10 pounds,” but really have a clear picture of what it will feel like once you have lost weight)
2. Strong reasons for pushing through when inevitable challenges arise (the reasons can be negative or positive, but they have to be serious)
3. Review it and feel it daily (otherwise you will run out of steam quickly)
Today I am celebrating 11 months of sobriety, and I can say these components were critical to my success in recovery. My compelling vision, 11 months ago, was that I wanted my life back… I wanted to gain back the trust and love of my husband, I wanted my family reunited, and I wanted to repair relationships everywhere else in my life. The vision was compelling because I knew what it looked like… I wanted what I had before I was in active addiction.
My strong reasons for pushing through were mostly negative, but they did work…. if I did not stay sober, I would lose my marriage, my family, and my life. Period. Along the way new reasons did pop up, such as letting down the people in the AA fellowship, and losing my sober time, which became an important part of my identity. All of these reasons kept me working towards my goal of recovery.
Reviewing it and feeling it daily is perhaps the most important of the three, at least for me. If I don’t get on my knees each morning and thank God for another day, if I don’t remind myself in meetings where I’ve been, and if I don’t reach out to help another person in need every day, then I am likely to forget the reasons I have chosen this resolution.
So the new question I am pondering, as the new year looms, and as I am heading towards the one year mark of sobriety… what am I resolving to progress towards next?
12-year old sister (with malice aforethought): “Mommy, Danny just said something he shouldn’t have said.”
10-year old brother: “Mommy, I have no idea what she’s talking about.”
Me: “So, Reilly, after all the times we have talked about tattling, you are choosing, again, to volunteer information to get your brother in trouble?”
Verbatim will take this post into the 1,000+ word category, so let’s fast forward. Reilly tattles, the incident is small, but extremely typical of Danny. Danny flat-out denies, and a heated argument ensues. I ask Danny to admit what he did, he repeatedly denies his wrongdoing, and now I get involved.
Me: “So, Danny, you are saying that even though the incident sounds exactly like something you would do, and even though Reilly has never been known to lie, and you have been known to be less than honest, you are still claiming that you did not do it?
Me: So someone is blatantly lying, and must be punished. If you are telling the truth, then Reilly has just made up an outrageous lie for no reason other than to get you in trouble, and she will be punished severely. Are you okay with this?”
Danny: “Yes, I am okay with this.”
At this point we are getting out of the car and into our home. I hand out various punishments, and start to send them to their rooms. Danny lingers, and I seize the opportunity.
Me: “Danny, here is the issue. Everything about this story leads me to believe you are lying, and, if this is true, then you have turned an extremely minor incident into an extremely major one by not simply admitting what you did. I am going to give you one more chance to tell me the truth.”
Long, long pause… then Danny: “Alright, I did it.”
This leads to a discussion about how lies exacerbate whatever problem you are trying to solve, and how the fallout of lying is broken trust. He becomes extremely agitated at this point, and is crying as he yells, “well, since you are never going to trust me again, why even bother trying?”
Here is the turning point of the conversation for me, the pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel. Sadly, I have been exactly where Danny is right now, feeling the frustration and desperation he feels, and I am quite a few years older, and should know a hell of a lot better. So I say to him, “There are two ways to deal with this situation, and it is your choice. You can be angry and feel like a victim, believing no one will ever trust you again, and you can continue to kick and scream. You have taken that road before, and you know where it leads. Or you can try another path. Admit you did wrong, accept the consequences, and do your best not to repeat the mistake. It’s the only way to build back the trust.”
I can now process this incident in one of two ways. I can feel immense guilt that my past mistakes have somehow taught Danny by example how to lie to get out of uncomfortable situations, and I can beat myself up for being the worst Mom in the history of the world. Or… I can use my past as a tool. First, I have an empathy for Danny, because I have been there and done that. And since I am actively working on correcting my past, I am in a position to teach him how to do the same.
I guess time will tell…
It’s not what you were, it’s what you are today. -David Marion
First, I hope everyone had a wonderful, blessed Thanksgiving day. I did. I was most grateful for being able to cook a meal alongside my husband, while navigating through children-generated chaos, and to sit down at a table and share that meal with people I love, and who love me. It is a small way for me to give back to the people who weathered the many storms I brought to their lives.
But onto new topics… today I attended my regular Friday morning AA meeting, this week was a speaker meeting. I had never met the woman who spoke, but it felt like I did, because she told my story. I have heard many speakers in the last 10 months, and I can usually relate to some part of their story, but today was the first time I actually felt uncomfortable as I listened, because so much of her pain was my pain, and it hurt me to relive it.
But here is the cool part of recovery… growth. In the past, when I heard something to which I could relate, I would feel a sense of kinship, or I would feel validated that I was right where I needed to be, which is good stuff. Today, I heard this woman’s message, and I realized that while I am proud of the accomplishments I have made, I can see, through her, what I aspire to be. While I don’t enjoy remembering how bad it was, I can look to this woman as a source of inspiration, and realize that I have more work to do. I want what she has, so I need to do what she does.
For me, that growth took place by walking up to her after the meeting, introducing myself, and letting her know how her story affected me. I am still on the shy side when it comes to opening up to speakers and chair people, but I realized that if I want to learn from her, she has to know who I am. So I just did it. And she was as wonderful as I knew she would be. We exchanged phone numbers, and I hope to meet up with her again soon. It is just another step on the journey, but I can recognize the steps as I’m taking them now!