M(3), 4/10/2017: Live and Let Live
On this glorious Spring Monday morning we read from the book Living Sober, the chapter entitled “Live and Let Live.”
Of course, the expression live and let live does not originate in the recovery community. In fact, the whole lesson today falls into the category of “human problems” rather than “alcoholic problems.” But still, learning how to focus on our own lives, and refrain from concerning ourselves with the lives and opinions of others goes a long way to a successful sobriety.
I remember reading this chapter in early sobriety and finding it to be an eye opener. I never thought of my addiction as being in any way related to the people around me. I would hear people say, “I like to drink at my problems” or “I drank at people, not with people,” and those expressions made no sense to me.
But as the chapter let me know… I started drinking, as most do, with people. Then, I became resentful when people commented negatively on the quantity I drank, or my attitude after I drank, so I decided to drink alone. I compared my drinking style to that of others. I preferred social functions with alcohol, and avoided those events that did not have alcohol.
And in all of those situations, people, and my reactions to those people, were involved.
It was a relief indeed to learn the mantra live and let live. It reminded me that there is only one set of beliefs, opinions and actions I can control, and so to worry about anyone else’s is not only pointless, but it is counterproductive to my own serenity.
Two corollary philosophies I learned in recovery that go hand in hand with live and let live are:
What other people say about me is none of my business.
Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?
When I am on my game, and embracing these three ways of living, then my life is peaceful indeed.
Like most lessons in recovery, it is one that needs to be reviewed on a very regular basis! It is supremely simple to forget how good life is when I am living and letting live, and instead I easily fall into the trap of believing I know what’s best for everyone around me.
As always, I am grateful to start my week with positive and healthy ways to live my most peaceful life.
Here are some other great thoughts from this morning:
- Often the focus is on the second half of this expression… the letting live part. But equally important is the first half… live! If we focus on living our own best lives, is is natural to let others do the same.
- Often figuring out the best way to live takes time. Early sobriety is confusing in and of itself, so patience is key in terms of figuring out what exactly brings you joy.
- People who like to control things by nature find the “let live” part of this advice to be extra difficult. It is a process to unlearn the habit of giving others our take on a situation, or offering our input. Time and practice will help us strengthen this skill of letting things go.
- Typically the root cause of our inability to live and let live is our ego… we think we know better, and therefore we insist on forcing our will on others. Learning to get our egos right-sized will go a long way in learning how to live and let live.
- It is our job to figure out the best way for us personally to live and let live. For some of us, the challenge is in figuring out how to keep our mouths shut, and our opinions to ourselves. For others, the challenge is in asserting our own needs and wants, and learning to live authentically, rather than trying to please those around us. Either way, it is our responsibility to figure it out and challenge ourselves to living our best life.
- When in doubt about which is the best course of action…. keeping our mouths closed or open… shooting up a quick prayer can do wonders!
Wishing everyone who celebrates a beautiful Easter holiday!
Spring, glorious spring!
M(3), 3/13/2017: How Much Does It Really Matter?
I’m sitting here debating whether or not to even continue typing. Yes, I did just return from my Monday morning meeting, and yes, people had great stuff to share, but I’m not sure I’m in a calm enough headspace to transmit the messages I received.
I mentioned last week that a lot of stuff is going on, and that stuff continues. I’m in the midst of three separate kid issues, which is strange since I only have two children! I am still recuperating from a fractured heel that I thought would be long over by now, and I’m hoping against hope a car repair is done before we are hit by the Blizzard of 2017.
I should really stop typing now.
No, I really shouldn’t. Maybe if I repeat all the great stuff I heard this morning, it will seep into my scattered brain.
The reading on which we reflected on this morning is entitled “Easy Does It,” something I picked haphazardly as I was late this morning. Turns out to be a good pick, since my head is in the opposite space of being easy. Here is a line I read out loud this morning:
If a strong inner core of peace, patience and contentment looks at all desirable to you, it can be had. -Living Sober, page 46
I laughed as I read it, then of course had to explain myself in my share. If I took the time and explained each of my various issues, they’re not anything out of the ordinary: teenage mishaps, car trouble, slow-healing body parts. But the theme that’s running through all of them is they require me stepping out of my comfort zone in some way, shape or form and confronting someone. Any kind of assertive conversation (and in some cases I’ll go ahead and upgrade it to aggressive) makes me uncomfortable in the extreme.
And in virtually all of the issues where I am required to assert myself, I have very little hope of swaying the opposing party to my side. Which of course leads to feelings of frustration before I even assert myself.
Some of the issues have been dragged out for ridiculous reasons, which leads to impatience.
So, to sum up:
Anxiety + Frustration + Impatience = Scattered and Lacking Peace
Here’s what I can say: I know, even at the worst of my negative feelings, that sooner or later all will settle down. Sooner or later each of these issues will resolve, and a whole new set will crop up. I know this, and at times this knowledge can settle my nerves.
In the meantime, I talk about my feelings, and I get advice from those that have been there and done that. From this morning’s reading, the greatest take-away I got was the importance of asking the question:
How much does this really matter?
If I ask that question for each of my various issues, often the answer is a fairly simple “not as much as I’m making it matter.” Some of the kid issues my Devil’s Advocate can argue are important based on principle, or could potentially be stepping stones to bigger issues, but even in those cases, if I take a wide-angle view, these things are blips on the screen of life.
So if I find out I can’t pick up my car today, how much does it really matter? I will likely pick it up the next drivable day after the snow storm. In the case of my foot, if I’m in the boot a month longer than I thought I would be, in the span of my life how much does it really matter? The kid issues… well, I suppose I can simply do my personal best, and leave the results up to God. As much I wish I could, I have control over one person in this life, and it’s all I can do to control myself!
Here are some other great thoughts from this morning:
- Everyone with children has issues with children. It is the nature of the beast of parenting!
- Sharing with people who understand helps, as does listening to people who have what you want. If you are lacking peace, go talk to someone you feel has a good sense of peace about them.
- Slowing down the process of anything helps to do it better, more thoroughly, and with less mistakes.
- Taking time each morning in quiet reflection helps to make the entire day a calmer experience.
- Remembering that for which you are grateful helps to alleviate the stressful parts of your life.
- The theme of humility runs through this morning’s reading. It is important to remember to keep our egos in check when trying to fix all the world’s problems.
For those of you who are getting hit with bad weather, I wish you safety and warmth. For those of you in warm, sunny climates, I’m jealous!
The hope that I’m back next week with fabulous resolutions to all the issues I’m complaining about this week 🙂
M(3), 1/9/17: Easy Does It
Today was one of those days where I took advantage of my “power,” as it were, and selected a reading I hoped would help me personally. We read from the book Living Sober, and I selected the chapter “Easy Does It.”
I actually went in searching for the chapter “One Day At A Time,” only to find it was not in there. I could use that prioritization as well. And a blog post may soon follow on this one, as I find it one of the most useful adages in the 12-step lexicon.
But back to the subject at hand: we read the chapter “Easy Does It.” In terms of recovery, the chapter talks about the common thread of compulsivity that seems to exist in alcoholics. We are the type to rarely let a drink go unfinished (alcoholic or not), we read until the book is finished, and, in a newer twist, and speaking for myself, binge watching television series is a great additional example of pursuing something until the bitter end!
And of course, there’s nothing wrong with many of these compulsive tendencies… most of them are, in fact, preferable to drinking. But the chapter gently asks us to look at this piece of our personalities, and consider slowing down once we realize we are in the grips of this thinking.
Of particular import to me today was this section:
When we do find ourselves uptight and even frantic, we can ask ourselves occasionally, “Am I really that indispensable?” or “Is this hurry really necessary?” What a relief to find the honest answer is frequently no! And such devices actually serve, in the long run, no only to help us get over our drinking problem and its old ways; they also enalbe us to become far more productive, because we conserve and channel our energy better. We arrange priorities more sensibly. We learn that many actions once considered vital can be eliminated if they are thoughtfully reexamined. “How much does this really matter?” is a very good question. -pg. 45, Living Sober
Here’s what’s been the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of my mind for the past solid month… I sit with my boot on, thinking I need to sit in order to get the boot off. Then as I sit I think of the various things that I’m not doing, and feel badly about not doing them. I look around and see evidence of my not doing things… dust bunnies, empty refrigerator, laundry piles, etc. At least this is how things look in my mind. I finally get so agitated I get up and do something, anything, to relieve the pressure of not doing something. Then I recognize that my foot hurts from, you know, walking on it. Then I am depressed anew because all this means is a delay of healing. And I sit down, and the cycle begins again.
- An almost unanimous decision that employing “easy does it” to one’s life is a work- in-progress situation. Some days/weeks/months you’ll have it, and some you won’t.
- Part of the trap of this personality booby trap is the idea that we’ll relax/take time out/start enjoying life once x, y or z happens. I’ll start taking it easy after I get through the holidays, as soon as I get the promotion, once I clean the house. But this logic is inherently flawed, as there is always a new item to get through/achieve/do.
- Making a conscious decision to feed ourselves rather than delete from ourselves is important. Taking time to actually schedule, in your planner or calendar, time each day to nurture yourself, will have untold benefits.
- Claiming that you are too important to employ “easy does it” is a form of self-aggrandizing. It’s especially important to ask the questions listed above (Am I really that important and is this hurry really necessary), as the ego could be at play.
- Often we find a sense of disappointment when we are too goal-oriented. We work and work to achieve a goal, be it materialistic or not, then find said goal did not give us the satisfaction we thought it would. Then life becomes a series of pushing from goal to goal, with little appreciation for the journey that takes us to those goals.
- Though it may be trite, appreciating the journey is as important, if not more important, than appreciating the destination, as so much of life is about exactly that… the journey.
Hope everyone is having an Easy Does It Monday!
True story: one person, in his/her share (remember, trying to make things more anonymous) said the following: “if there’s laundry to be done…. well then, teach the kids how to do it!” It was said lightly, but it should be noted I wrote the paragraph above before the meeting. So I’d say this reminder from someone who did not know I was fretting about this counts as my miracle!
12/12/16: Be Good to Yourself
The title of this blog post, which also happens to be the title of the chapter we read in the morning’s meeting (from the book Living Sober) might seem counterintuitive given the endless tasks of the current holiday season. Who has time to take care of themselves when there are gifts to be bought, presents to be wrapped, cookies to be baked, parties to attend, and all of this amidst our daily lives?
And the answer is: make the time. You can’t transmit what you haven’t got. And if you don’t take the time to acquire the holiday spirit, then all the cooking, baking and shopping in the world isn’t going to give it to you.
Interestingly, this reading selection was not picked by me, but by a regular attendee of the meeting. And he did not select this reading in deference to holiday madness; rather, he selected it in deference to my madness, and the madness that surrounds my ongoing foot troubles.
So let me back it up a few steps and fill you in on exactly what’s happening with the foot. For several years now, I’ve had a problem with foot pain. The more I exercise, the worse it gets. Over the summer I joined a gym that is the most intense workout that I’ve personally endured, and so the recurring foot problem reared its ugly head.
Long story short, I finally went and had the problem diagnosed, found out there is a very simple outpatient procedure that can fix the problem, and scheduled to have it done in early November. I was uncharacteristically on the ball with the whole process… asked in-depth questions, looked out in the calendar to get the best 5 day window for the healing process, organized my life accordingly.
And I had the surgery, and was told it was a success. Except… my foot had more pain than before I started. And so the last several weeks have been spent trying to figure out exactly why this is so. This afternoon I have an appointment where the doctor will read the MRI and hopefully give me a firm diagnosis and solution.
This process… and I dislike wrapping it up like this, as if the process is complete, which it by no means is… has been inconvenient, frustrating, anxiety-producing, and has forced me to reach out for help in ways that make me extremely uncomfortable.
So when my friend first suggested the reading, I wanted to roll my eyes to the ceiling. “Being good to myself” is all I’ve been doing, since I don’t have much of a choice to do anything else… my foot won’t let me!
Plus the chapter is all about sobriety, so I doubted it would have much relatability to my current state of affairs.
Then I read this section:
It’s often said that problem drinkers are perfectionists, impatient about any shortcomings, especially our own. Setting impossible goals for ourselves, we nevertheless struggle fiercely to reach these unattainable ideals.
Then, since no human being could possibly maintain the extremely high standards we often demand, we find ourselves falling short, as all people must whose aims are unrealistic. And discouragement and depression set in. We angrily punish ourselves for being less than super-perfect.
That is precisely where we can start being good—at least fair—to ourselves. We would not demand of a child or of any handicapped person more than is reasonable. It seems to us we have no right to expect such miracles of ourselves as recovering alcoholics, either.
Impatient to get completely well by Tuesday, we find ourselves still convalescing on Wednesday, and start blaming ourselves. That’s a good time to back off, mentally, and look at ourselves in as detached, objective a way as we can. What would we do if a sick loved one or friend got discouraged about slow recuperation progress, and began to refuse medicine? -pg. 42
M(3), 10/10/16: Out With the Old, In With the New
A special day indeed… the four year anniversary of my Monday meeting!
Lots of people (22, which I insist is a record high but others insist we’ve had more), a lot of great food, and, as always, tons of great wisdom and camaraderie. Two “soberversaries” (16 years, 3 years) added to the jubilation.
Today’s reading selection was the chapter “Letting Go of Old Ideas” from the book Living Sober. Reading it reminded me of how I came to start this meeting…
I was about 6 months sober when a new AA clubhouse opened up about 5 driving minutes from my house. A daily meeting attendee at the time, I was thrilled. One meeting in particular was perfect for my schedule, and so I started attending faithfully.
The woman who ran the meeting told me the clubhouse needed a lot of support in order for it to remain open, and suggested I start a meeting of my own.
“Are you kidding? I am only 6 months sober; in no way am I qualified to start a meeting. Who’d even think of coming to any meeting I ran?”
She said I’m more qualified than people with years of sobriety, and that people would come, I just had to show up.
I remember very clearly my thoughts on her ideas:
For two months, she continued to badger me about this, and had others get on me too. In the end, they wrangled me into doing it using my inbred Irish Catholic guilt… the club house needs loyal people!
The underlying fear, the absolute disbelief that I was capable, was a theme in my life. That black and white thinking was pervasive, and allowed for no other possibilities; either I believed I could do something, and therefore I would, or there was no chance in hell I believed I could do something, and nothing anyone said or did would convince me otherwise.
Four years later, I get to tell that story to a roomful of people and laugh ruefully at my closed mindedness.
As it relates to sobriety… well, you can imagine some of the unmitigated thoughts I had. I remember saying to someone, “Wait, are you saying I can never have a sip of alcohol again?” And my mind rejected that thought as if the suggestion was I couldn’t drink water again.
Or when I first started attending meetings and people would identify as grateful recovering alcoholics, and I assumed there were either pathological liars, or just pathological.
Or when someone would share they’ve been faithfully attending meetings for decades, and I’d feel sorry for them, thinking they must have nothing and no one in their lives and therefore just spent all day in the rooms of a 12-step meeting.
Yes, I would say there were one or two old ideas of which I was wise to let go.
Nowadays, I am working on letting go of more elusive ideas pertaining to myself, limiting beliefs that I’ve held for so long they feel like they’re almost part of the fabric that is me. I’m a work in progress, but I’m grateful for every bit of that work, as it means I’m heading in the right direction.
Others shared about their “old ideas.” Most were slow to recovery because they rejected the label of alcoholic. As one person shared, “My father was in recovery for 30 years, and all I could think was, ‘I don’t want to be an alcoholic and have to go to meetings all the time.’ Meanwhile, I was chained to my living room sofa polishing off bottles of wine each night. By the time I went to rehab I finally considered that maybe my thinking was backwards!”
Others stayed in denial because they did not fit the image of an alcoholic. They still had their job, their home, their spouse. Surely they were not an alcoholic if were able to hold on to all these things!
As the chapter says:
It is not a question of how much or how you drink, or when, or why, but of how your drinking affects your life—what happens when you drink. Living Sober, pg. 72
Some resisted sobriety due to old fears of what sober life would look like… humorless, lackluster, tedious. Life without alcohol = life without fun. Again, the choice in most of our cases was to continue on a path of known chaos and misery seemed better than the uncertainty of a life without alcohol.
One gentleman said his sponsor put it bluntly, “Just try it our way for 90 days. We can always give you back your misery if it doesn’t work out!”
Meetings that remind me of how far I’ve come in my thinking, my actions and my very way of life are the best kind, as they bring to mind how grateful I am for the life I live, and validate why sobriety is a priority!
Four years, and people are still coming back… I’ll take it 🙂
M(3), 7/11/16: The Gratitude Advantage
Is it wrong that I just kicked a variety of kids out of the house to write this blog post? I am choosing to think not.
In typing out the title I realize it is 7-11 day, which means that particular convenience store will be giving out free Slurpees, so perhaps if I get through this post without interruption I can reward them.
The jury’s out if that can actually happen. Actually, the jury is heavily leaning towards this not happening.
It’s funny that I am about to write a post on gratitude, and, if I’m keeping things real, I am feeling anything but in the current moment. I dropped a weight on my finger during this morning’s workout. At the time, I was grateful it wasn’t my writing hand; now I am realizing in this day and age I need all 10 fingers to write. An extremely frustrating customer service call five minutes ago plays in my head, with no obvious solution on the horizon.
And have I mentioned the variety of kids?
But this is why I love a topic like gratitude; is is a universal tool that any human being can employ at any time, for any reason. Even in the moment, when I don’t know what the next sentence will be, I am 100% sure that by the time I hit publish I will feel better, simply because my focus will be on gratitude.
And with that long intro, this morning’s literature selection came from the book Living Sober, a chapter entitled “Being Grateful.” The chapter describes the various mindsets that a grateful attitude can improve:
- Negative speculations (always assuming the worst)
- The tendency to say “Yes, but…” to anything complimentary or optimistic
- Focusing on (and talking about) the ways in which other people are wrong
- An urgency to be right, and to prove we are right
- An unwillingness to open our minds to the thoughts/beliefs of others
In each of these cases, a simple shift to the perspective of gratitude can make a world of difference.
I shared first, and I spoke of the primary reason I needed to read about gratitude today. A few months back, I submitted a resume for a job, something I have not done in more than 16 years. I found out this weekend that I did not get the job (cue the sad music).
This is the type of news where my mind and my heart are at war with one another. Maybe skirmish is a better fit, since war seems a bit big. On the one hand, I really and truly (and really and truly) know that the job was a bit of a longshot (I was competing with people with years of experience in a field where I had essentially none), it was my first foray into the professional world in a really long time, and that another opportunity will present itself. I am a strong believer that things happen for a reason, and therefore this job must not have been meant for me. I had the most ideal of scenarios in terms of the interview process, as the hiring manager is someone with whom I have a passing acquaintance and so I was able to be my authentic self. So my mind absolutely knows I put my best foot forward and have nothing in which to feel ashamed.
So that’s my head’s side of the story.
My heart has a different version of events. The fact that I can make that statement at all shows the kind of progress I’ve made in recovery. Who even knew that you could think one way but feel another? Certainly not pre-recovery Josie! All weekend long I’d be doing something and then wonder why my stomach felt jittery, or my chest area felt achy, then I’d stop and realize what the problem was… oh yeah! I didn’t get the job! And I’d feel disappointment, and a vague sense of something resembling panic, all over again.
And my mind would reprimand: What is there to feel bad about? And I’d distract myself some more. And so on, for the next two days.
I fessed up to all of this to my group this morning, and as usual they came through for me. According to people much wiser than me, it seems that the feeling of feelings is something that is actually important to do (who knew?). When I expressed uncertainty at what I would have done with this situation in active addiction, they said, “Duh! You would have picked up a drink.”
It also turns out that being hard on oneself is a typical trait of alcoholics. At least, that is the opinion of several in the room with decades of sobriety, so I trust they’ve been around our group long enough to know. This fact illustrates for me, once again, that the real work begins once we put down the drink. I’ve been sober for over four years now, and I’m still working on the self-kindness. Good thing I’m not looking to graduate from this program!
Pushing aside feelings for any reason, telling yourself they are silly or illogical, is denying your value as a human being. Human beings feel a variety of emotions for a variety of reasons; telling yourself you “shouldn’t” feel that way makes little to no sense.
Others spoke of the need to balance their feelings, so as not to wallow too long in something unpleasant or react to something too quickly. The easiest way to do this? Get out of your own head… go to a meeting, call a friend, just do something different. As the saying goes, “move a muscle, change a thought.”
A woman newer to sobriety talks about how focusing on that for which she is grateful is the number one tool she uses daily to help her stay sober. She has found it transformative: good things become great things, and when things are not so great she is able to remember all the other good things, and it lessens the sting of whatever disappointment or irritant is happening for her.
So I guess I need to focus on my nine healthy fingers!
I got one prediction right, and one wrong. I do feel better now that I’ve written about gratitude. Even better, I was wrong about the kids not coming in to hassle me. Looks like everyone’s getting a free Slurpee!
M(3), 2/8/16: The George Costanza Approach
Another Monday, another round of craziness. I’m not even going to detail it this time, I’m sick of hearing myself talk about schedules-gone-haywire. I suppose serenity will come when my schedule gets comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Interestingly, this is a lesson I learned from one of the wise regulars in my meeting this morning. We were back to a group of the usual 12 attendees, and we read the chapter “Changing Old Routines” in the book Living Sober. The chapter gives a plethora of ways in which the newly sober can tweak their daily schedule to maximize their chances of staying sober.
As someone who struggled with staying sober for a solid nine months before I actually got sober, I can attest to each and every one of the ideas in the chapter. Here are some of the best ideas:
- Get up earlier or later
- Do the opposite of what you normally do in terms of eating breakfast before or after you get dressed for the day
- Take a different route to work
- Avoid drinking buddies, at least temporarily
- Avoid drinking haunts, such as restaurants and bars, at least temporarily
- Change routine when you come home from work… come in a different door, immediately fix yourself a non-alcoholic treat, take a relaxing bath, lay down for a nap
- Change up evening activities, to the extent of changing which room of the house you occupy
- Start an exercise program
- Keep sweet treats on hand
- Change up vacations that used to center around drinking in favor of something new to you
These are just some of the great ideas shared in the chapter. I will say, as I do each time I write about the book Living Sober... if you are new to sobriety, buy yourself a copy of this book. It is chock full of practical wisdom for surviving the early days!
Back to the gentleman to whom I referred to earlier, he said the biggest change he made in his routine was attending a meeting each day (in early sobriety). Having already been convinced of his need for recovery, he chose to attend meetings every day as a way of cementing his decision. The biggest hurdle he had to overcome was the notion of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. His only tool for dealing with discomfort had been drinking, so now the challenge was to simply feel the feelings until they passed. Thirty six years later, and he feel quite comfortable being uncomfortable!
A friend of mine shared that in early sobriety she used many of the techniques listed above to cope with giving up the routine of drinking. Now that she is more comfortable with sobriety, she finds she needs tools like these to change her routines in terms of emotional upset. Prior to recovery, her tools involved:
b. stuffing down, which ultimately led to
Since she no longer has access to option c, she needs to change the routine of using a. and b. to deal with difficult situations. Things like giving herself permission to feel feelings (I’m beginning to sense a pattern with us!), setting boundaries to take time for self-care, and letting go of expectations all help her in the same way the tools above helped with putting down the drink.
Several people talked of specific strategies they used early on: taking up jogging, finding a new set of people to replace drinking buddies, creating accountability by acknowledging the need for help.
In other words, rather than simply giving up the habit of drinking and all it entails, replacing it with people, places and things to ease the transition to sobriety.
Finally, a woman shared something that served as my personal take-away for the morning. She has been sober for some time, but this chapter still spoke to her. She believes that while she is no longer a product of her alcoholism, she is a product of her choices. In other words, while she no longer struggles with the desire to pick up a drink, she still struggles, from time to time, to live life on life’s terms. When she is feeling out of sorts for reasons such as an erratic schedule, or an inability to get to her regular meetings, she can play the victim, or she can use the tools she’s been given to make a healthier choice. She woke up in just such a mood, and wanted nothing more than to wallow in it. Instead, she made the choice to attend a meeting.
I let her know that I benefitted greatly from her choice!
Recognizing that I too have a choice!
M(3), 1/11/16: Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot, and Never Brought to Mind?
The first week since I re-committed to blogging about my meeting, and I’m late. My apologies for the delay!
The literature came from the book Living Sober; the chapter, “Remembering Your Last Drunk.” An unusual turn of phrase, the title of the chapter refers to our predilection for calling to mind only the happy times. Sometimes this tendency is a good thing; few people would continue to procreate if they recalled the pain of childbirth. But in recovery from addiction, it is imperative that we remember the suffering that compelled us to choose sobriety in the first place.
Here’s the setup: you’ve decided you’ve had enough, you quit drinking. The process can be easy or hard, it’s not relevant. Time goes by, life improves: you feel better, you look better, your relationships are better, you’re more focused, organized, productive. Life is superb!
Then, the nudge to drink comes. It can come from a good place, such as a holiday celebration, personal victory, anniversary or birthday. It can come from a not-so-good place, such as stress, tragedy, disappointment. Either way, the glass of wine/bottle of beer/shot of whiskey seems like the perfect accompaniment/solution to your life situation.
It is that moment to which this chapter refers. Time and again, the mind will jump to the positives: how delicious the drink will taste, how much fun it will be to kick back with friends/by yourself and enjoy the feeling that alcohol provides, how many good times there has been in past moments such as these.
When these thoughts occur, and they will occur, I’ve yet to meet someone in recovery who has not had similar thoughts, the challenge is to play the tape through. Don’t stop at the early moments of your drinking career, but continue on to the bitter end. Because chances are, if you are even considering sobriety, the end of your drinking career paints a different picture than the beginning.
When this happens in my life, it is usually the celebratory times, and it is a glass of Chardonnay that catches my attention. The glass is beautiful, the color of the liquid in the glass is appealing, and I imagine how cool and refreshing the wine will taste.
Then I remember the following:
I have never once, in my entire drinking history, wanted simply one glass of wine. Even when I only drank one glass, I resented having to stop and wanted more.
So if I want more than one glass, already the picture in my head is changed: I’m drinking multiple glasses of wine. And then what? The story writes itself at that point… melodramatic behavior, hypersensitivity that leads to pointless arguments and huge scenes that need to be apologized for later, or, worse still, a blank spot where a memory should be.
In playing the tape through, the decision becomes almost elementary: I’ll take the non-alcoholic beverage, please, and I’ll thank myself in the morning!
The 12 or so attendees shared a bit about their memories of their last drunk. Some were memorable… one gentleman was simply going to take a sip of his friends’ beer, and by the last call ordered two drinks called “lady sings the blues,” with 4 shots in each drink, just to make sure he had enough! Just as many more, though, had lonely, miserable last hurrahs, where the joy was long gone, and drinking had just become a bad habit. Either way, the memory of the bad feelings associated with the overconsumption is powerful enough to remind them never to go back to that lifestyle again.
We had some great anniversaries yesterday: one gentleman celebrated 39 years, another celebrated 37 years and a third celebrated 60 days. There’s an extra energy present when someone celebrates an anniversary; you can imagine how amazing it was to celebrate three times!
The reading touched a nerve for two different attendees, as both had harrowing experiences with what they called their “built-in forgetters.” The first woman to share had 4 years of sobriety, decided she was cured, and then spent the next 4 years trying to find her way back to recovery.
The gentleman who shared a similar story had even more sober time, and he reported that the worst thing that happened to him when he picked up that first drink was… nothing. He had one drink, remained relatively unaffected, and it was weeks before he picked up a second. That was all the evidence he needed to convince himself he could drink again, and it took him close to a year before the drinking became problematic. And it was years before he was able to reclaim his seat in a 12-step meeting.
Both are profoundly grateful to be back; many don’t get the opportunity.
The reading was chosen by one of the attendees, rather than by me. This is relevant because, while I did not choose it, it had significance for me yesterday morning. The night prior, I had a drunk dream, something that occurs very rarely these days. This post is already going long, so I’ll try to write more about it later in the week, but for me the message is clear:
Today’s miracle falls under the “fingers crossed” category: on a night where at least 4 different events are occurring, things are tentatively managed to get kids where they need to be, when they need to be there. Anyone with teenage children will appreciate this miracle!
M(3), 11/16/15: Gratitude is Contagious
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