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M(3), 6/20/16: The Person with the Most Sobriety Is the One who Got Up the Earliest this Morning

be-willing-to-give-up-what-you-are-for-what-you-can-become

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.

However….

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!

Today’s Miracle:

At the moment, blessed silence in the house while kids are at the movies.  Silence is golden!

 

M(3), 10/26/15: Humility and Serenity are Strange Bedfellows

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I’ve chaired this meeting, but I’m so happy I’m back.  Let’s hope I’m not the only one who’s happy 😉

Believe it or not, it is the fourth Monday of the month… what the WHAT?!?  In the rotation is the book As Bill Sees It, and the subject I chose is serenity.  After last week’s post, where I disclosed my endless and needless guilt issues (quick note:  I was overwhelmed with the incredible wisdom I gained as a result of everyone’s comments, thank you so very much), I figured I would seek a subject that is the opposite… focus on the solution, not the problem, right?

And serenity was the closest I could find in terms of guilt’s opposite.  Plus, who couldn’t use a little serenity in their lives, right?  Certainly the larger-than-average size group of attendees this morning thought so; all who shared claimed they heard just what they needed to this morning.

Funny how that works.

Two profound things came out of this morning’s meeting for me.  First, multiple people disclosed that they are recently back from a relapse.  Although the meeting was larger than usual, it is still a small meeting.  To have a decent percentage of the crowd (I would guess about a third) to be starting over in terms of sobriety is a first for this particular meeting.

You would think that such a startling trend would be put a damper on the mood of the meeting; in fact, the opposite seemed to happen.  Relief and even joy seemed to emanate from each of the individuals who spoke of their troubles.  Not joy over relapsing, but joy in the fact that they were back where they needed to be.  Some are facing legal problems, some worry that their hold on sobriety is tenuous, one is anticipating an upcoming surgery; his last surgery precipitated his recent relapse.  But even with all of life’s issues, each person was grateful for the opportunity to begin again a sober life.

The second theme came from the collection of readings from this morning.  Although the topic was serenity, each reading spoke in one form or another of the importance of humility.  And each of us marvelled over the impact our humility has on our serenity.

And a quick reminder for those who don’t study recovery literature as those of us in 12-step programs do:  humility is not humiliation.  Rather, humility is a reasonable perspective of oneself.  Bill Wilson, founder of the original 12-step program, defined it this way:

The clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to be what we can be.

-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

Seen from this perspective, it is easy to see why striving for humility might also bring about serenity.

It was in one of the discussions about humility that I had my thunderbolt thought.  Let me back up and say that all of the readings had an impact on me, I had chosen serenity due to my recent lack of it.  So all of the suggestions and thoughts were helpful.  But at one point a gentleman was sharing about the idea of turning everything over to his Higher Power, and in so doing he finds serenity.  So I considered this… would turning over these guilty feelings and incessant negative voices over to God help?  Immediately the negative thoughts started, it is not even possible to gather and document them all.  But the aggregate thought might be:

How do you know these negative voices aren’t God’s way of telling you to do something different?  How do you know that the guilt isn’t from God, given as an impetus for change?

With that question came an immediate reply, one that caused all the negativity to quiet down, dramatically.  I actually lost track of the conversation in the meeting for a few moments because my mind was so quiet:

Because God would not torture you with needless guilt to get His point across… duh!

And just like that I had an answer that made sense.  I can talk back to the nagging guilty conscience, because it’s not some wisdom from above, wisdom from above does not come in the voice of a nagging shrew.

Gotta love those Oprah-style aha moments!

Today’s Miracle:

I came in with some pretty high expectations for this meeting, and I left with a peace and serenity the exceeded those high expectations.  

M(3), 2/17: Dissecting Step Two

The literature for today’s meeting was chapter 2 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and discusses in detail the thinking behind Step 2 in the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous:

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

This meeting, for me personally, was chock full of interesting shares, but before I venture into what I learned I will write about my experience with Step 2.  Step 2 can be broken down into two parts:

  1. Belief in a power greater than ourselves
  2. Belief that this power can restore us to sanity

I took no issue with the first part of this step, as I had a core belief in a Higher Power.  Having sat in a meeting or two, I have come to hold an immense gratitude for this core belief, as I know this is a major hurdle for many to jump.

The second part of this step, I have come to realize, was a stumbling block.  While I believed in a God of my understanding, I held tight to the belief that “God helps those who help themselves.”  In placing the emphasis on “helping myself,” I was giving myself all the power, and blocking His ability to help me.  Consequently, it took many months before I could finally let go of the belief that I had to do this on my own.   Since that time, my concept and my relationship with my Higher Power has deepened and grown, and I believe will continue to do so for the rest of my life…. good stuff!

Okay, onto to the wisdom I have gained from my fellows:

One gentleman, who has almost 3 decades of sobriety, made the following statement:  “The longer I stay sober, the less interested I become in defining my spirituality.”  This idea rocked my world… the idea that I can be less precise about my spirituality as time goes by.  I’m not sure where I got the idea that the more time sober I have, the clearer picture I should have of a Higher Power, but this man’s simple statement opened my mind in a way I hadn’t even realized was closed.  It is enough to know that there is a power greater than me, and that power is helping me to live, day by day, a better life.  Enough said.  Brilliant!

Another man, sober for eleven years, talked about Donald Rumsfeld, and the quote attributed to former Secretary of Defense:  “the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns.”  The gentleman this morning attributes his participation in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous with his ability to deal with those “unknown unknowns” of life.  Because this fellowship teaches us an assortment of new skills, skills we either never possessed, or which we could never master, we now have an ability to deal with life in a way which previously eluded us.  I could not agree more.

Another woman whose sobriety date is close to mine, talked about how often this chapter discusses the importance of humility.  She quotes a line in the chapter:

“…humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we place humility first.  When we began to do that, we received the gift of faith, a faith which works.”

 -page 30, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

As she spoke, I had the clearest vision of getting down on my knees and asking God for help that night a little over two years ago, and asking in a way that I had never asked before.  And since that time, I have come to understand my Higher Power in a way I hadn’t before.  So for me that sentence rings true… I truly became humble, and only then did I truly receive faith.

There was some dissention with step 2; for example, one gentleman took exception with the term “insanity.”  He felt it a little extreme, but has come to accept that he need not argue every period and comma put forth in order to reap the benefits of the 12-step program.  By accepting the 12 steps as a whole, rather than nitpicking his way through the verbiage, he was able to, as he put it, “put the skid chains on his thinking, which allowed him to stop drinking, which in turn allowed him to improve all different areas of is life.”  I had never heard the 12 steps described in quite this way, and I love the idea of putting skid chains on my thinking… it sums it up perfectly for me.  It doesn’t stop the extreme thoughts, but it allows me time to process them so I don’t react as quickly as I once did.

All in all, lots of sharing, lots of different experiences, but everyone agreed on one point:  it was in acceptance of a power greater than ourselves that we found true freedom.

Today’s Miracle:

I came home from my meeting to find that, while I was gone, husband and son decided to surprise me by tackling some long overdue projects.  It really doesn’t get any better than this kind of homecoming!

Do You Want to be Right or Do You Want to be Happy?

 

The answer to this question should be obvious.  Sadly, for me, it is not.

My Monday meeting report:  nice meeting, 6 attendees.  It was a step 7 meeting, which, predictably, centers on the subject of humility, a key concept in step 7 work.  What is always interesting to me is the mindset on humility as it relates to sober time.  I have noticed that people in early sobriety (which, of course, is relative, I am in early sobriety.  I guess to be more specific, people with less than 12 months of continuous sobriety) focus on humiliation rather than humility… they speak of the various shameful experiences they have had, and they relate their humility to these experiences.

Of course, true humility, at least the quality to which we in recovery are aspiring, has nothing to do with humiliation.

hu·mil·i·ty

  [hyoo-mil-i-tee or, often, yoo-] 

noun

the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.
Here’s my evolution as it relates to humility:  in early days, when people spoke of the importance of humility, I essentially disregarded it.  I considered myself a humble person; if anything, I did not think highly enough of myself.  As time went on, and I worked the steps, I discovered, much to my chagrin, that in fact I needed to do quite a bit of work in this arena.  When I believe that the world revolves around me, I am not being humble. When I insist that my way is the right way, I am not behaving humbly.  When I am displaying self-righteousness, I am not displaying humility.
Like I said, I have some work to do.
Here’s an interesting story related to this topic.  In the course of the past 4 days, I have had various minor situations come up that have caused me to be irritable, restless and discontent.  These situations are minor enough that they are not even worth documenting, but are notable in that they happened in a relatively short period of time.  At one point I actually said to myself, “get to a meeting so you can find your answer.”  I went to a meeting, the topic was humility.  Hmmm.  Life goes on, apparently I wasn’t listening hard enough, because self-righteousness reared its ugly head several more times throughout the weekend.  Today’s meeting?  Humility.
Who says God doesn’t speak directly to you?
Today’s Miracle:
Last night, in what would be the pinnacle (or would it be nadir?) of my bad mood, I was reading a brilliant post by a fellow blogger (please check it out, it is beautiful… Sober Identity).  In the grips of my self-centered thinking, all I could focus on was how not far along I was, in comparison to her progress.  It was progress enough last night for me to shut down the computer and vow to re-read it when I was in a better frame of mind.  I did that today, within the framework of today’s meeting on humility, and it was as if a whole new set of words popped up… I could see all of my own progress, as well as feel genuine happiness for Lisa that she can see hers.  And so today’s miracle is appreciating the recovery of others… well done, Lisa!

The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Seven

Step Seven:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings

Step seven seems almost impossibly easy… if you have completed 1 through 6 to the best of your ability; all you have to do is ask God to remove your shortcomings?  I remember in early days of sobriety thinking, “ooh, I can’t wait to get to that step; I will breeze right through it!”

Not so fast.  There’s an unspoken end to this step:  then you need to act as if He has already removed it.  There’s the rub!  Yes, I was entirely ready to have God remove the obsession to drink and use drugs, and yes, I humbly asked Him to remove the obsession, but the action in this step is for me to get up from my knees, and go about life as if the obsession is gone.  Some days easy, some days difficult, but it is in the continuous practice of this step that I finally found my release.

And it was one of those things that I did not even realize it had happened.  I would have a thought about my addiction, and then I would try to remember when my last thought had been, and I couldn’t!  And that is when I realized the miracle had taken place.

This step can be more challenging when dealing with less urgent shortcomings.  Let’s take an easy one to identify, impatience.  I’m sure every human being deals with it at some point in their lives, for me, it is definitely a character defect with which I still struggle.  I have identified it, I have been more than willing to have God remove it, and I have asked Him, numerous times, to remove it.  But it’s the acting as if feature that I still have work to do.  I will find myself in the middle of yelling at one child or another, and I realize that I have reverted to my more basic nature.  Depending on how deep I’ve gotten myself into the given situation, I will attempt to ask God in the moment to remove it (most of the time through gritted teeth, but still!).  Now the real work begins for me… I need to act as if it is gone!

Of course, obstacles block the path to this step at every turn.  I want to be patient and tolerant, but then the people around me behave in ways I find unacceptable, and I lose sight of these attributes.  I want to have the best possible relationship with my loved ones, but if they have done me wrong, how do I handle that and have a good relationship?  Sometimes, when practicing this step, it feels like I am always being the bigger person, and when the hell does everyone else get to practice a little humility?

Which of course brings it back to full circle… there is only one person I can control, only one set of behaviors I can correct, and only one person’s feelings with which I have to live… my own.

So if someone else is behaving badly, that does not excuse my bad behavior.

If I have a complicated history with a loved one, and I believe I have been wronged, that does not give me the right to respond in kind.

If my children make the same mistakes over and over, I do not have a pass to rant and rave about it.

It is every easy, when dealing with everyday life issues, to play the blame game, and justify why I revert to character defects… I am simply reacting to the bad behavior of others, and anyone would do what I am doing if they were in my position!  But, of course, the victim mode is a slippery slope, and in the end, I am only hurting myself, and my own peace of mind, when I play that game.  Bring it back to center, take stock of myself, and figure out what God’s will is!

Today’s Miracle:

My daughter will be turning 13 this weekend, and I will be spending the day figuring out how to make this event as special as possible… not too shabby!

Humility and Persistence

No one should be ashamed to admit they are wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that they are wiser today than they were yesterday. ”

Usually I find the topic of my post the same day as I am writing it… either at a meeting, or something that is happening right now in my life.  I was going to write about another topic today, and I was scrolling back through my posts to look for a quote, and I came across a draft.  It had only the title above and the quote above, nothing else.  I had started to write it, but somehow got sidetracked and never went back to it, and for the life of me I can’t remember what had inspired it in the first place.
But as I looked at the title, and thought back to the past 24 hours, I have heard quite a bit about humility, which by this time should stop astounding me, how many “coincidences” I find in my life.  I am taking this to mean I need to look at the topic of humility again.
I have written previously on the subject, and the biggest lesson I have learned about humility is to not think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.  And thinking of yourself less applies to whether you think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread or the gum on the bottom of a shoe… either way, you are thinking too much about yourself, and your focus should be elsewhere.
I attended a meeting yesterday where a man was blathering on and on, and I found his opinion really offensive.  I was seriously ready to walk out of the room, and I vowed never to attend that particular meeting again.  Looking back, who was at the center of my thoughts in all that rage?  Me… how I felt about what he was saying, how I was offended.  The topic of that discussion, was, of course, humility, and at the time I self-righteously proclaimed that the offensive man was acting the opposite of the subject on which he was speaking, but today I realize that I too could have paid more attention to the topic.
Like everything in life, it is progress, not perfection, and persistence is needed to get closer to true humility.  For me, it is about finding the balance between inflated ego and low self-esteem, and a clearer perspective on who I really am.  Acceptance of my true self, faults and strengths, will hopefully bring the humility for which I am striving.

Anonymity: The Spiritual Foundation of all Traditions

Tradition Six of Alcoholics Anonymous:  The AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

Because it is June, many 12-step meetings will focus on the sixth step, and, towards the end of the month, the sixth tradition.  Many people (I’m sorry to say myself included) find “tradition” meetings boring, because they talk a lot about the history of the group, and how the program has evolved.

The conversation generated at these meetings have been interesting, and surprising, at least to me.   The topic that has come up each time has to do with anonymity, obviously a key component in the program, but not one I would necessarily equate with this tradition.  But, nonetheless, I have learned some interesting things as a result.

First, at the heart of the principle of anonymity is humility.  I would never have related the two, but I can now understand why they would be connected at the group level.  If you are a successfully recovering alcoholic, it would be gratifying to shout it from the rooftops, but that would be counterintuitive to what we are learning to do.  To practice humility, we have to always remain grateful and thankful for our blessings, and not allow them to inflate our egos.

The second thing I’ve learned, to my great surprise, is how selective people are with whom they break their anonymity (on the personal level).  Most people who I have encountered in meetings are very hesitant in sharing with someone outside the program that they are an alcoholic.  The simple reason given is that the disease of alcoholism is largely misunderstood, and, consequently, prejudices and judgments are made when this information is shared.  Therefore, the most prudent course of action is to simply refrain from revealing this personal confidence.

There are people in my life who have strongly encouraged me to share my status as a recovering alcoholic/addict with everyone I know.  I have been conflicted about this decision for almost as long as I have been sober.  Now that I have had the opportunity to hear the experiences of others, I am thinking that for now, I will choose to share my story with those I am convinced understand the disease.  The nice thing about this decision is that it can be reversed, whereas if I went the other direction, there would be no turning back!

Humility

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.        –Saint Augustine

Humility gets a bad rap in the world today.  And why wouldn’t it?  It is the root of the word humiliated, and no one wishes to experience that feeling.  Most people know logically that humility is a virtue, but emotionally, I think people tend to think of it as a mixed bag… it can be good, but, too much, and we run the risk of becoming door mats.  Yet, most, if not all, religions preach of its importance, and in recovery, it is an absolute necessity to true peace and happiness.

I know when I think of humility, I feel unsure of its exact meaning.  Modest is the first synonym that comes to mind, and pride is what I think when I consider its opposite.  But, like so many things, I may understand that humility is something to which I should aspire, I may even deeply desire to perfect it, but how do I, in a practical sense, achieve it?

As a person who tends to move in the direction of valuing myself less than I should, my chief concern in practicing humility is that I will go to extremes with it and lose any sense of self-worth.  But then I heard a fantastic piece of wisdom:  humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.

Further, in maintaining a low sense of self-worth, I am doing the opposite of what God wants for me, so I am being anything but virtuous.  By viewing myself as less than, I am devaluing God’s work (namely, me).  So for now, until I can get a better handle on what true humility looks like, I will go for presenting the most honest version of myself that I know how, and not worrying so much about my wants and needs, and I am sure God (and those around me) will appreciate the effort!

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