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M(3), 9/7/15: Making the Impossible Choice of Sobriety

Happy Labor Day to all my fellow Americans.  Wait, come to think of it, happy Labor Day to all my friends!

Any meeting day that is also a holiday is a crapshoot in terms of attendance.  I didn’t count, but surely we were on the low side of average today.  I selected a story that we read exactly a year ago.  It is called “Physician, Heal Thyself” and it is found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.  It is a story of a person with a high bottom; the author was a very successful surgeon who claims to have made more money is his last year of drinking than he ever had before or since.  His marriage was never in jeopardy, he was beloved by all.  To use his expression, his was the skid row of success, which is just as miserable as the skid row in any city.

In order to select that story, I needed to research back through this blog to see what I read last September.  In doing so, I read over the blog and the subject matter discussed, and I considered that on the way over to this morning’s meeting.  The general discussion then was how to choose sobriety when you are unconvinced or unwilling to accept that alcohol is a problem.

In reflecting upon that theme, I remembered a woman sharing about this subject when I was new to the program.  She said that even though she was 5 years sober (at the time), even though she was a regular attendee of our 12-step program, even though she had experienced miracles as a result of successfully working the steps… even with all of this information, she still will, once in a blue moon, get that thought, “Maybe it wasn’t all that bad.  Maybe I’m not really an alcoholic.”

Everyone in the room chuckled that day.  My own reaction, not knowing the woman particularly well, was to smile and nod, but think it an unrelatable story for me.  At less than a year sober (at the time), and happily sitting on the pink cloud of early sobriety, I scoffed at the idea I would ever forget what brought me into the rooms.

Now, of course, I know better than to scoff at anything, and, of course, in the years that followed, I have had those snatches of insanity… was it really that bad?  Would it be the end of the world if I drank again?  Fortunately, staying connected with a sober support network, both in the “blogosphere” and in the live world, helps me to play that tape through, and reach the logical conclusion that it makes more sense to stay sober.

So anyway, that was my thought process, and what I figured I might share once we read the story.

Five minutes after the meeting started, the woman who made the comment that started this thought process entered the meeting.  I have seriously not seen this woman in well over a year, maybe closer to two years.

I’m telling you, I can’t make this stuff up!

Aside from having the wonderful experience of reconnecting with an old friend, we had a newcomer at the meeting.  It took him some time to share, but when he did, it was powerful:  he had just left rehab on Friday, and today he has a family function where drinking will take place.  He is conflicted about so much, and the mere thought of attending this function cost him an entire night’s sleep.  He does not know what to do.

When I hear stories of this nature, I am immediately transported back in time, back to when I was trying and failing to stay sober.  My core belief at that point was that nothing in my life need change just because I’m not drinking.  Of course I will attend drinking family functions, why wouldn’t I?  As long as I don’t drink, what possible difference could it make?  How could I explain to husband/kids/mom/aunts/uncles/cousins why I was not present?

What would they do without me?

When written out like that, and with a small bit of sobriety under my belt, the illogic of that paragraph is obvious.  But to the gentleman sitting in that meeting this morning, not so much.  In speaking with him afterwards, he said, “But I want to spend time with my wife and son, and they want to spend time with the larger family, what can I do?”

In early days, it all seems so impossible.  The reality is, the time frame of chaos, uncertainty and fear, when contrasted against the timeframe of your life, is really quite short.   It seems inconceivable to put something like recovery in front of things like spending time with your spouse and child, or a family obligation.  But once you make that choice, what you come to realize is that in a very short period of time you will have it all, you will have those blessings and so many more in a way you cannot even imagine.

And all you have to do, just for today, is put your sobriety first.  Whatever that means for you:  skipping one family picnic, or taking your own car so you can get out if it gets too tense, attending a meeting, sharing what’s on your mind.

That newcomer will be on my mind today, and I’m hoping he is able to do what he needs to do, today, to stay sober.

Today’s Miracle:

Heading to a baseball game today.  The entire family looking forward to the same event at the same time, especially when two of those family members are teenagers… that is a miracle!

I AM 2 YEARS SOBER TODAY: Here’s What I’ve Learned…

24 Lessons Blog

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Today’s Miracle:

I AM 731 DAYS SOBER!!!

7 Sober Suggestions This Holiday Season

So here we are, in the final stretch of the holiday season, which brings with it, for most people, additional responsibilities, many opportunities to celebrate, and general chaos to the normal routine.  If you are in recovery, this is, without question, a trying time.  Although I am relatively new to sobriety (less than two years), I have had multiple opportunities to succeed in staying sober in the midst of alcohol-fueled merriment, so I thought I would write about the methods that have worked for me through holidays that not only allowed me to stay sober, but also provided me the means to enjoy the holidays in a way I had not previously done.  So without further ado, here are my top 7 tips for actually enjoying a sober holiday!

1.  Practice Self-Care

If you are like me, you are thinking, “Good idea, I’ll get to that after I bake some cookies, wrap some gifts, go shopping…”  Turn that thought process around!  The kind of self-care of which I am speaking must come before any of the holiday activities, and in practicing self-care all of those activities will become, if not enjoyable, then at the very least less stressful.  I am speaking of starting the day with a few minutes of getting centered.  For me, that means getting out of bed, getting down on my knees, and connecting with my Higher Power.  That’s what works for me, but a few minutes of any centering activity… meditation, simple deep breathing, thoughts of gratitude for all that is good in your life, and a commitment to yourself that you can make it through the day without picking up a drink or a drug, helps get the day off to a calm and peaceful start, and gives courage and confidence that the day can and will go well.  The last part of that process is so important, it becomes the next tip…

2.  Commit To Sobriety For One Day Only

And, of course, that one day must be the one you are in.  Remember, you don’t need to worry about staying sober for the next 30 years, just the current day.  So when your mind starts racing, ask yourself, “Can I stay sober, just for today?”  Chances are, the answer will be yes, so relax, and move on to…

3.  Organization

There are all types of helpful organizational tips for the holiday season, but the type of organization I refer to here is mental:  take some time to figure out all of the upcoming holiday drinking temptations, and then decide what you can and cannot do.  If you are early in sobriety, the less alcohol-filled social events you attend, the better off you are.  There were many events I simply turned down in my earliest days because I chose to put my sobriety first.  On the other hand, I have smaller children, and a large, Irish Catholic family, so there are always certain obligations that I feel I must attend, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling.  So step 2 is all about narrowing down the situations where you will be tempted, and then move on to…

4.  Set Your Parameters Within the Celebration

There is a multitude of ways to do this; the point of step three is to determine which will work best for your particular scenario.  Some examples include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • arriving late
  • leaving early
  • steering clear of the location of the alcohol
  • bringing a delicious virgin cocktail with you so you are enjoying a beverage
  • having a sober companion with you
  • figuring out who at the party will be like-minded in enjoying the party, rather than the beverages consumed at the party
  • keeping your cell phone in your pocket with a list of sober supports to call
  • disclosing to a few or all of the guests your intention to be sober

And I’m sure there are many more options, so take some time before the start of the party to decide which ones will be most effective.  And of all the ideas on that list, one stands out…

5.  Stick With The Winners

This has been a particularly beneficial strategy for me personally.  Again, I come from a large Irish Catholic family (read:  heavy drinkers), so at first I believed I would never again enjoy a family gathering.  As I gained some sober clarity, I realized that while the majority of my family drinks, not everyone does, and of those that do, only a small handful over-indulge.  So I started looking more closely at the non-drinkers, and even the moderate ones, and guess what I realized?  They are having just as much fun, and, I would assume, feel a hell of a lot better in the morning.  Chances are, whatever drinking celebration you are attending, there are many such people… choose to spend time with them.  And, while you’re at it…

6.  Act As If

Find someone who is not drinking and is also having a good time.  What are they doing, and how can you be like them?  For me, I found that they are usually much more interested in conversation and people than they are in the beverage they are consuming, and when I emulated them, not only did it take my mind off alcohol, I was able to actually have fun!  Take a look around, find some sober (and if you really can’t find sober, then at least someone who is a moderate drinker) people, and do what they do.  Last, and most important…

7.  Stay In The Present

This can be the most challenging for me, but has the most benefit when I put it into practice.  Stop thinking about the last holiday when you got trashed and embarrassed yourself, stop worrying about 4 hours from now when everyone is slurring your words and how you are going to handle it, stay in the actual moment:  you are at a party with family and/or friends, celebrating a festive season.  I’m sure that wherever you are is beautifully decorated, there are probably loads of great food choices, and many opportunities for interesting discussion.  Perhaps there are children around, observe the fun and joy they are experiencing, engage with them and see if you their joy isn’t contagious.  Keep coming back to this every time your mind wanders to the bar, and I know it will help you have a joyous holiday.

So those are my “Best of”  for sober holiday success.  What’s on your sober checklist?

Today’s Miracle:

The realization that I have a sober checklist, and the hope that sharing mine helps someone else.

One Day At A Time

I have had the opportunity to catch up on some blog reading, and an interesting theme came up for me, which is the mention of possibly the most common AA expression:  one day at a time.  Ask any person with long-term sobriety how they achieved this goal, and their answer will almost certainly be “one day at a time.”

I surprised to read that “one day at a time” does not work for people, that they have to commit to a lifetime approach to sobriety in order to be successful.  I want to share a story, I may have mentioned it in passing before, but I will re-tell it, because it was the very first time that “one day at a time” really worked for me.

I have mentioned that the first few months of my sobriety were fear-based; in other words, I stayed sober because fear of consequences outweighed the desire to alter myself chemically.  The next few months were probably, in looking back, “pink cloud” months.  For those not familiar with recovery jargon, the term “pink cloud” refers to a period of time where the addict experiences a reprieve from the struggles associated with early recovery.  I was choosing recovery for me, not anyone else, and I was proud of the accomplishments I was achieving.

Somewhere around the 6 month mark, I was having a completely uneventful day… nothing bad, nothing great… and out of nowhere the thought came to me:  “Will I really not be able to have a champagne toast at my daughter’s wedding?”

Please bear in mind, readers, at the time of that thought, my daughter was 12 years old, so why I needed to ponder this at all remains a mystery.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I ran with that thought and spent a good few minutes depressed and self-pitying… woe is me!  I can’t have a sip of champagne years from now!  But this is how addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful, if you let these thoughts take root.

Fortunately, I did not, and after a few minutes of worrying about this future quandary, I pulled the “one day at a time” tool out of my tool box.  I asked myself, “can you refrain from drinking or using a drug today?

I can remember where I was at that moment in time, the relief I felt was that palpable.  All I had to do was get through today without ingesting anything mind-altering.  As soon as I re-focused on the present day, my serenity returned.  I can let tomorrow take care of itself, because all I’ve got is today.

Anyway, that is why “one day at a time” is a key part of my recovery:  it is like a get out of jail free card, where the jail is my addictive mindset!

Today’s Miracle:

For the first time in recorded history, I am completely ready for the first day of school, and I still have 6 days to go!

Recovery Maintenance: Checklist for Keeping on Track

What do you want to hear first:  the good news or the bad news?

If you’re like me, you want to get the bad news out of the way, so here it is:  addiction is a chronic, progressive, incurable disease.  Once diagnosed, you are never healed.

Alright, bad news dispensed, here’s the good, no, scratch that, the great news:  the methods employed for managing the disease of addiction are ridiculously inexpensive (read: free), easily accessible, and can be utilized by anyone suffering from it.  If used properly and consistently, not only will the addict keep his or her disease in remission permanently, the rest of his or her life will improve dramatically.  How many other diseases can make that claim?

So the question for people like myself, with more than a year of recovery, how do you keep on keepin’ on?  How can you ensure that you are maintaining your recovery?

As a regular participant in 12-step recovery, nothing scares me more than to hear stories of people with significant sober time come back after a relapse.  Sadly, it happens more than one would like to think.  I have seen people with 20 years of sobriety “go out,” and come back and report what we all know to be true:  it never gets better.  Twenty minutes, twenty days, twenty years; pick up a drink or drug, and you have fallen back down the rabbit hole.

Every time I hear that tale, the person says the same thing:  “I picked up (meaning either drank again or used a drug again), but the relapse happened well before that.”

And that’s the part that terrifies this addict.  Because I can say, with certainty, for today, that I am not tempted to ingest a mind-altering substance.  But what worries me is am I heading towards it?  Because, as we say in AA, everything you do either takes you toward a drink, or away from it, and the steps towards relapse are small and inconsequential at first…. so have I taken them without realizing it?

Here’s how I’ve solved that problem, for myself anyway, and I figured I could write it out in case it would help anyone else.  I’ve developed a checklist to make sure I am staying on track when it comes to my recovery.  The list is in reverse order for a reason, for each question that I can respond in the affirmative, I feel that much better.

  1. Have I maintained my sobriety date?
  2. Do I wish to pick up a drink or a drug?
  3. Am I confident that I can refrain from ingesting mind-altering substances just for today?
  4. Have I prayed today?
  5. Am I regularly participating in 12-step meetings?
  6. How is my mental state?  If bad, has it been consistently bad?  Has there been a pattern of negative thinking?
  7. When life becomes stressful, do I react in healthy, sober ways, or do I revert to old patterns of behavior?
  8. Am I maintaining my new, sober healthy behaviors and daily structure, or am I letting things slip?
  9. Have I been talking about what’s going on with me, or have I been keeping things bottled up?
  10. Have I been sharing with other people in recovery?
  11. Have I been giving back (12th step work)?
  12. Gut check:  do I believe that I could pick up, just once, and it would be okay?

I would love to hear what people would add to this list, or how they would modify it!

Today’s Miracle:

That I can read this list, and feel pride that I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic/addict!

AA Principles in Everyday Life

Just for today…  I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life problem at once.  I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

This morning I deviated from my normal schedule, and will be attending a meeting closer to home, so I had some life-affirming time to myself.  To make use of that time, I put on an inspirational show while doing some paperwork.  And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

The show’s focus was on what to do when life gets too hard, when you are working towards a goal and it is taking too long, when you feel like giving up.  The speaker’s answer to that dilemma?  Don’t worry about how long it is going to take.  Ask yourself:  can I continue to push forward for today?  Do I have the strength to get through today?  Worrying about how long something is going to take is wasting the time you have right now… today.  Energy for tomorrow will be available tomorrow.

This show has absolutely nothing to do with addiction or recovery, and yet it is preaching the essence of any 12-step program.  Truthfully, I’m not sure how this message is applying to me personally right at the moment, but, because I believe there are no coincidences, I must need to hear the message, and it is a powerful one.  Whether it is frustration with kids, relationship issues, financial worries, or addiction, the answer is the same… can I do what I need to TODAY to accomplish my goals?  Tomorrow, next week, and next month will take care of themselves.  If I can summon the energy to do what I need to today, then I am golden!

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