Intermediate Recovery: My Beef With the 12-Step Program
It has been a while since I’ve written a post about just me, mostly I’ve been writing a little bit about me and a lot about the great things I learn in my Monday 12-step meeting. There are a couple of reasons for that:
1. I’ve been putting a lot of time and energy into figuring out some of my food-related issues, which amounts to more blathering about diet and exercise. I worry that I have used up my fair share of
complaining about discussing this topic, and so I’m hesitant to write the “here’s what’s going on with me” post, since the main topic will be… well, I’m not going to say it again.
2. In general, life is really and truly great! And while that’s a blessing, it does not provide a lot of fodder for blog posts.
3. Most important, I have a great respect for the readers coming to this blog thinking about getting sober, in the earliest stages of sobriety, or trying and failing to get sober. It is those readers who keep me faithfully coming back every Monday to write that post, because I want to show the miracle that is recovery from addiction. Where that respect trips me up is that some of the things going on in what is now my fourth year of recovery will not be helping the newly sober one bit, and so I think I should not write about it. Most certainly I am over thinking, but there you have it.
So here’s how I’m going to solve the last little dilemma: from now on, when I write about something that is a problem that is more specific to my recovery now, as opposed to something that is universal or one that is applicable to early recovery, I will label it as I have above. If you are in the newly sober bear in mind that the issue at hand probably did not effect me in any way, shape or form in my earliest stages of sobriety. So read on or pass the post by, it’s your choice!
Enough preface statements…
When I first got sober, I attended a 12-step meeting every day for the entire first year of my recovery. Clearly, then, my solutions to getting sober are almost exclusively based upon the teaching and wisdom of that fellowship. It served me very, very well so far, and I believe it will continue to serve me well, for the rest of my life if I so choose. I choose not to think of the rest of my life per the teachings of this program; instead I choose to think that it serves me well today.
Can you hear the but coming? Because there is one. But…
I am coming around to discovering a serious flaw in the program as it was taught to me. Those last words are italicized for a reason: I learn the 12 steps from someone who’s been taught the 12 steps from someone who’s been taught the 12 steps… you get the picture. So the way I learn it, the lesson that are highlighted for me, are dependent upon my teacher. Someone else will claim their seat in the rooms of the fellowship, but have a very different slant on how things work.
One of the critical lessons I learned early on, and in fact served me very well the first year of my sobriety is this:
It doesn’t matter why you are an alcoholic, why you choose to chemically alter yourself, it just matters that you realize you do make this choice, and that you need to make a different one TODAY.
Here’s what that meant to me early on, and why I think I was able to stay sober in the earliest days: stop agonizing over how this could happen to you, or why it happened to you, or if it’s really true, and get your focus where it needs to be: figuring out how to stay sober. I can remember actually feeling lighter, lifting this load of angst off my back, and I believe in lifting it I was able to do what it took to get and stay sober.
Here’s the problem: I do not think this is effective for long-term recovery. Let me reword that to be more clear: I no longer think this is an effective strategy for my long-term recovery. I think I do need to get down to the question of why, because if I don’t the problem will continue to resurface.
If we accept the premise that addicts use their substance of choice for escape, whether it be alcohol, drugs, food, or even social media, then the why’s are two-fold:
1. Why do you want to escape?
2. From what are you escaping?
Some recovered people are reading, nodding their heads and saying, “Yes, that’s true, and here’s what I was escaping and why.” The answer comes very easily to them.
For me, not so much. Which is why the pattern of addiction has followed me, in lesser and greater forms, for as long as I can remember.
So while I am still a card-carrying member of my 12-step program, and I will still highly recommend it as the best chance at recovery the newly sober person’s got, I am questioning this particular bit of the wisdom I’ve learned “in the rooms.” I shall not be throwing the baby out with the bath water by abandoning what is working for me; instead, I am going to explore this need to understand and see where it takes me.
While rainy, the temperature in my part of the world is predicted to reach SEVENTY DEGREES. I will take the rain, scratch that, I will celebrate the rain if it brings this balmy temperature!
M(3), 11/17: See God in the Response, Not the Disaster
My Monday morning meeting had a wonderfully large turnout (15) on a day that almost demands one to stay inside due to cold, dreary, pouring rain. I hope the weather is better wherever you may be in the world!
This week’s literature selection came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and covered the topic of Step Eleven in our 12-step program:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
In essence, the chapter’s purpose is to describe to a newcomer what prayer and meditation are, why they are important to cultivate in our lives, and the benefits that are derived from the implementation of these practices. This is one of those chapters that applies to the whole of the human race, not just those of us who identify as alcoholics.
I am fortunate to have held a belief in the existence of God prior to joining my 12-step program; therefore, when it was suggested that I start each day, on my knees, in prayer, I did not balk, and have continued the practice to present day. The ease with which I was able to incorporate prayer into my life is not universally true, as many who join our Fellowship consider themselves atheists and agnostics. For them, step eleven is another hurdle to jump, but the good news is that many who came before them have successfully cleared the hurdle, and provide practical ideas to make it easier.
Meditation, on the other hand, is a practice with which I struggle mightily. I have written, on numerous occasion, about my battle to control the monkey mind that slips into high gear at the mere mention of the word “meditation.” And although I firmly believe in the benefits, and although I have had some limited success with practicing it, for some reason I have failed to make this part of my daily routine.
But the bottom line, for me, with regard to step eleven: no matter what form my conscious contact with God takes, be it morning prayer, mid-day “pulse checks,” meditation attempts or evening inventories, the results are invariably the same: the answer to the questions I am seeking lies in looking outward, rather than inward. In other words, what can I do to help another? The possibilities are endless: I can reach out to the still suffering alcoholic, I can help a friend or family member in need, I can assist the person in front of me in the supermarket line, I can drive with patience, rather than with road rage. The point is my focus is on helping others, rather than myself, and it is in this shift from self-centered thinking to a more benevolent thought process that I find my peace and serenity.
From my share a regular attendee, one with decades of sobriety, remarked that he remembers well my struggle with meditation (hmmm… perhaps I am a bit repetitive?!?). He said he learned very early in sobriety the simplest definition of prayer and meditation is the one he carries with him to this day:
Prayer is talking to God
Meditation is listening to God
So, to him, when he is saying a formal prayer like the Prayer to St. Francis (Make me a channel of thy peace prayer), he is praying. When he studies the prayer, and breaks it down line by line and figures out what that would look like in his life, he is meditating. This particular attendee happens to be a priest, so I take his suggestions on prayer and meditation very seriously!
I absolutely love this idea, because it is something I put into practice pretty regularly: I see something profound, or wise, and I try to see how I can apply it to my life. If this is a way of meditating, I’ll take it!
Other people focused on the idea of meditation as being present in whatever you are doing; consciously appreciating your present situation. You can meditate doing just about anything: walking, cleaning, washing the dishes. I informed that friend that I had a sinkful of meditation waiting for me at home!
A gentleman new to my meeting but sober since 1981 said that throughout his sobriety, every time he got into a funk, it was because he failed to work on his conscious contact with God. Each time, he said, his ego got in the way and he became complacent in his prayer and meditation practices, and each time he wound up feeling down and out for no discernible reason.
Finally, a woman who considers herself agnostic is able to practice prayer and meditation by virtue of science: there have been many studies which prove measurable benefits of meditation, mindfulness, and incorporating spirituality into one’s life. She is unable to refute the results, so why not try to improve her own life? When she struggles with the concept of God, she remembers the expression I used in the title of this post: see God in the response, not the disaster. Rather than focus on the question, “Why would a God allow bad things to happen to good people,” my friend instead focuses on the caring and compassionate response to the tragedies, or disasters, or hard times.
The blessing of being allowed to absorb the collective wisdom of these Monday meetings, plus the added blessing of being allowed to share them with you!
M(3), 11/10: You Don’t Have to Be Mangled to Be Merry
The past few weeks, my Monday morning meetings have been nothing that has lit my imagination on fire. Not bad by any stretch, there truly is no such thing as a bad meeting, but nothing overly inspiring, which of course makes chronicling it difficult.
I am pleased to report, not so with today’s meeting!
It is the second Monday, so the literature rotation required me to select from Living Sober, the book that gives the practical, easy to read advice for those new to recovery. There was no hesitation as I opened to the table of contents. Since I feel we are at the opening of what I like to think of as Drinking Season (Thanksgiving Week through the next working day after New Year’s), I knew to look for a chapter that involved planning around drinking occasions. And the book did not disappoint. We read Chapter 26: “Being Wary of Drinking Occasions.”
What happened at this morning is what I love most about meetings: newcomers opening up and sharing their fears and worries about staying sober, experienced members sharing their wisdom, everyone leaving with feeling of enrichment and solidarity. Fortuitously, we had the biggest turnout in weeks (15), and an almost perfect mix of sobriety: about a third with a year or less, a third somewhere between 1 and 10 years, and third with over 20 years. This variety of experience really helps with a discussion like “how to handle drinking celebrations,” because the perspective on this subject changes over time (thankfully the perspective gets better and better!).
For myself, the biggest takeaway from the reading, and this was difficult to pick, there is A LOT of good advice in this chapter, was simply: do not worry about anyone’s opinion of your decision to be sober, focus instead on the best decisions you can make to shore up that commitment. In early sobriety, this lesson can be excruciatingly difficult to adopt, and examples of not doing it are many. For example, in early sobriety, I was appalled at the suggestion that I skip a drinking function. I mean, are you kidding? I can’t skip that party, the whole family will be there! What will they think if I don’t show up?
Tell people I don’t drink, no way I am going to tell people that…. what would they think of me?
If I don’t drink at the party, people will notice, and then what?
That list of rhetorical questions could go on and on, and I bought into every single one of them. As a matter of fact, for a long time I lived in defiance of this good advice (you don’t understand my life, so don’t you tell me that I can just avoid drinking situations), and the predictable outcome happened: I did not stay sober.
So, at least from this recovered person’s perspective, I validate the advice: worry about yourself during the early stages of recovery. Worry about one thing about yourself: staying sober. And, I’m sorry to say, avoid drinking situations as much as you possibly can. It will not be the big deal you are imagining it will be, and, even if it is, the drama will be short-lived.
From my sharing, everyone else that shared had fantastic ideas on how to stay sober during holiday gatherings. Here are just a few, some are reiterated from the book, but all are things these attendees regularly do:
- Give someone a call before you are heading to the event, and then call them the next morning to debrief. This piece of advice came from my friend with nearly 30 years of sobriety, she says she still does it. It helps her to connect with friends in recovery, and, as she puts it, “Alcohol is stronger than my 30 years, and sometimes the emotional hangover is just as bad as a physical one, talking helps!”
- Another friend, with almost the same amount of sobriety, is a professional with the occupational hazard of regular, mandatory attendance of drinking events. His trick, employed for so long now that people say it for him, is to deflect: someone asks him if he wants a drink, he declines politely and immediately starts talking about the upcoming menu, and his hopes for cocktail weenies. He is now known for his love of them, and that is what they offer him, not a drink!
- He also gave this great advice: No is a complete sentence. If someone asks you if you would like a drink, you are perfectly entitled to say, “No, thank you.” There is positively no need for further explanation!
- One attendee says he regularly takes the humorous tack: someone asks him if he would like a drink, his answer is, “Oh no, you don’t have enough for me.”
- Another person says she has a lot of success throwing out the “designated driver” card, she finds people instantly respond with understanding to that.
- I added my two cents to this advice melange: I am well-known in my circles for my love of fountain sodas (specifically Diet Pepsi in case you are interested). My strategy, that I still employ to this day, is to arrive at the party with a fountain soda in my hand. People already know I love it, and convenience stores are always available to assist me in this strategy. It has been a great success: no one asks you if you need a drink if you’ve already got one in your hand!
- Two more reiterated pieces of advice: showing up a bit on the later side, and definitely leaving on the earlier side, of a drinking event will save you lots of hassles when it comes to being asked what you are drinking and dealing with drunk people. These are strategies that I continue to use with great success at drinking bashes (which, in my family, are all major holidays).
- The bottom line with all these great bits of advice: no matter which path you take, I promise you are thinking about it way, WAY more than anyone else at that social function. Once you make the decision not to drink, people move on. The vast majority of people do not care what beverage is in your glass!
So much more great advice was given, so many great questions asked, it would be hard to fit it all into one blog post. But the best part of the meeting, that has me smiling still: two of the five or so “newbies” have less than 90 days, and admitted to me that they are really struggling. As one of them put it, “So many Day One’s, it’s hard to keep track!” Oh boy, can I remember that feeling. This is the kind of meeting that serves the newcomer the best, so I am over the moon that they were here to gain all of this wisdom.
Plus I am hoping to try that cocktail weenie strategy and see if it works!
I’d love to hear from all of you… any good holiday survival tips?
Like the klutz I am becoming in middle age, I sprained my ankle over the weekend. I am walking so much better today, so the miracle is the appreciation of the ability to walk without a limp!
Clarity in Goal Setting
I have said this before, but I’m going to say it again: at least from a goal-setting standpoint, sobriety is actually easier than a lot of other life-enhancing goals. There is almost a wistfulness to looking back to the first few months sober (alright, not the first month, that was just plain awful): I had one goal for my day: stay sober. I had a simple 4-point “to do” list that I believed would allow me to achieve this goal, and each night I went to bed satisfied that I achieved my goal. And as it got easier, and things started getting done on top of staying sober, it felt like a heavenly chorus was playing, I felt so accomplished.
Other goals are not so simple. We’ll take the obvious one: diet and exercise. Each day I wake up determined to make progress in the goal, but the bottom line is that the goal seems to be a fluid one. Some days I think I just want to get to a certain weight, other days I want to stay within a caloric range, still others I want to eat healthfully. With exercise, do I want to increase the overall number of steps each day, do I want to increase the amount of miles logged on the treadmill, or do I want to complete the regimen best for my overall health? And God help us all if it is that last one, because the how’s and why’s to accomplish that makes my head spin.
Then there’s this little blog I’ve got going on. Sometimes, when the monkey mind is working in overdrive, I will whine (to myself or to anyone who will listen) that I feel like I’ve said all there is to say. Worse still, I will compare myself to other blogs and find mine wanting. To which complaints my husband calmly replies, “What specifically are you looking to achieve?” So is my goal to reach a certain pinnacle in terms of metrics? Is it to win some kind of accolade? Is it to provide a service to others? If so, exactly who are the others: the newly sober, my blogging friends who “grew up” with me, lurkers who are considering getting sober, or my family and friends who are actually my longest and most loyal readers?
So I read back and I think, “Welcome to the human race!” And of course I realize this is mundane “life gets life-y” stuff that is, in fact, a blessing of sobriety. In active addiction most of these things would take a back seat, if not a dark corner of the trunk, as I pursued my real goal: altering myself chemically so I did not have to deal with anything at all. But now that that party is over, I would like to come to a peaceful conclusion with some of these issues, and I am realizing that the solution lies in creating clarity in terms of my end game.
A recent example: the first marking period just closed, and the biggest academic issue in our household was forgetfulness, the consequences of which were “0” scores that caused the overall grades to plummet from an “A” to an “F” within 24 hours several different times (there is a definite downside to having instant access to your children’s grades). This would drive me wild, and no resulting conversation (yelling) seemed to correct the problem. For the most part, the situations worked themselves out, but the internal angst I experienced as a parent was wildly disproportionate to the urgency I attempted to convey.
My husband and I are at cross-purposes on the solution. He believes the answer is to micromanage: she has proven she does not have the proper skills to manage her time, and therefore she needs someone to do it for her. I say poppycock! She is in high school, I have given copious tutorials on how best to get homework done, she is at a point in her life where if she needs me standing over her as she does homework, then I have failed as a parent (you should be reading that last bit in a Beverly Goldberg tone of voice. If you have not yet watched the sitcom The Goldberg’s, stop reading this, head to your television, and hit the On Demand button. It will be worth it).
So today is Day One of the new marking period, and I had one more “discussion” on this subject with my daughter. I explained the problem as I saw it (for what feels like the millionth time), but this time I defined the goals in a more specific way: grades are to be no lower than a certain number, there are to be no more “missing” or “late icons” found on the website that gives grades. The first time any of these objectives are missed, life outside of academic and athletic will come to a grinding halt (and, believe me, this threat is a big one for a high school freshman).
I’m not sure how effective this goal-setting clarification will play out for my daughter, but I’m telling you, it has played out wonderfully for me so far. I feel lighter when it comes to this issue, because I have defined the goal, I have set the expectations, and I can manage the consequences. I am genuinely hopeful that the first time one of these things appear (because I am, if nothing else, a realist with regard to my daughter’s academics), I will calmly employ the consequence without going ballistic.
I guess I just need to get some clarity in the other areas of my life where I’m feeling unsettled, and peace will once again reign all over my personal kingdom.
In my FedEx-imposed house arrest that lasted more than 6 hours (but only half of their preposterous 12-hour window), I managed to make a challenging to-do list, and get every bit of it done. Thank you, FedEx (but not really).
A Confession of Infidelity
I have been hanging on to this blog by my fingernails of late.
It started out as a rationale: I re-started a new fitness/weight loss/get healthy challenge a few weeks back, and I swore I would not bother the blogosphere with this nonsense again. I barely want to hear it myself, how could anyone else?
On the other hand, I have come to a point in my blogging where I write twice a week: one that wraps up the wisdom I glean from the weekly meeting I run, and the other where I release whatever is running around inside of my brain. If I am involved in a diet and exercise challenge, then guess what is the only thing running around my brain?
And then another thought occurred to me: many of the recovery bloggers I read credit their sobriety to immersing themselves in the recovery blogging world. It was not my path, but it has always intrigued me. Perhaps I can employ that same mindset and immerse myself in the diet and fitness blogs of the world.
So that’s where I’ve been. Instead staying on top of my WordPress reader, I have been branching out to MyFitnessPal forums, and the top rated diet and fitness blogs of recent years. It has been an interesting experience, but I’ve got to say it: not the same, not the same at all. There is something very unique, and very special, about our community. I certainly did not find it in the diet and fitness world, that’s for sure!
So that’s where I’ve been. And here’s why I’m back, and it has to do with a valuable lesson I learned from all the mini-challenges I did this year: consistency.
I have been working on improving my fitness for about 14 months, working on losing weight for about 7 months, and working on my overall health for 6 months. For a large majority of that time, I was looking at the glass half empty. No matter what I did, my focus was one what I hadn’t done, or what I still needed to do, or how much better I could have done it. It all came to a head for me a few weeks ago. I had started this challenge on September 12 (2 months before my birthday), and I had just had my first very successful weigh-in. My husband was congratulating me, and I could not see it. You see, that weight I lost that week I have been losing and gaining all year, give or take a few pounds. So while the number sounded good (I honestly can’t remember what it was, something close to 10 pounds I think), all I could see was the number I should be at, since I had already lost those 10 pounds 2 or 3 other times this year. And the more I tried to explain my thought process to my husband, the more he looked at me like I was speaking another language. I wound up in hysterical tears by the end of it; not because he wasn’t understanding my point, but that I was not understanding his.
This is a nod to my recovery tools: I can see now when I’m thinking like “Old School Josie” by watching the reactions of others. I may not be able to stop Old School Josie Thinking entirely, but I can at least recognize it and correct it.
So my mini-meltdown was the start of a slow new understanding: this is a process, not an event with a start and end point. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But when you’re in the thick of it, it’s anything but.
Next lightning bolt: each failed attempt, and that is probably not even an apt description, but let’s roll with it… each failed attempt was some kind of lesson learned that helped me the next go-around. Every subsequent challenge I have undertaken (I would say there have been four in all) has shown me greater and greater results. The most concrete example I can give: this most recent one had me going strong for three weeks, and I got to the lowest number on the scale that I have seen in my adult life, when I hit the all too familiar roadblock: a celebration of some sort. This time, it was my wedding anniversary, which turned into a 4 day free-for-all in terms of eating. It has been slow going this week, but I am slowly getting myself back on track. So here’s the progress:
1. I am back on track, normally a celebration derails me for weeks
2. My high number on the scale since resuming is the previous challenge’s low number
Even Old School Josie Thinking can’t argue that this is progress!
Last valuable lesson learned, and now I will finally tie this all back to blogging: Consistency is key. It is true in my sobriety, it is true for my diet and fitness, and it is true for blogging. If I don’t keep myself to a schedule, then I will fade away into the blogging sunset. I know it. Just in the few weeks I took off, the monkey mind was getting louder and louder: enough is enough, you are getting too repetitive, who gives a crap about what’s going on in your life? On and on.
Here’s my response back: nothing but great things have happened with respect to the blog. So I guess I’ll keep writing!
Through the orthodontic process, we discovered an abnormality in my son’s mouth, and we have been anxiously awaiting results of the oral surgery he had as a result of that discovery. Results are in, and it was the best possible news. So the miracle is: the good health of my children is now something for which I am consciously grateful each and every day!
Second miracle: surgeons who take their job seriously, and go the extra mile to ensure the best possible results. I’m telling you, there’s no feeling like knowing you can trust your child’s medical professional!
M(3), 10/6: Life Beyond Compare
Is it Monday again already? Small(ish) meeting today, only 10 attendees, but a delightful newcomer (to my meeting, not to the Fellowship) that I will talk about in a bit. As it is the first Monday of the month, today’s reading was selected from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book), entitled “The Housewife Who Drank at Home.”
Often I say that stories in the Big Book are relatable to me in terms of the feelings behind the nuts and bolts of the story, rather than the story itself. Most of the personal stories were written by men over 50 years ago, so day-to-day life experience is not something I would typically share with the authors of most of the stories. With the exception of this one. So much of the story parallels mine, it would be difficult to list it all: an alcoholic who drank by herself, at home, who knew she had a problem but tried to distract herself with various interests in the hopes the problem would go away, who did not understand the concept of a middle ground. Relatability was not an issue for me with this story.
The standout point, for me, came right at the beginning:
At one time, the admission that I was and am an alcoholic meant shame, defeat, and failure to me. But in the light of the new understanding that I have found in A.A., I have been able to interpret that defeat, and that failure, and that shame, as seeds of victory. Because it was only through feeling defeat and feeling failure, the inability to cope with my life and with alcohol, that I was able to surrender and accept the fact that I had this disease, and that I had to learn to live again without alcohol. -pg. 296, Alcoholics Anonymous
Even when I knew, deep down knew, that drinking (and other substances) was a very serious problem, I still did not want to accept the label alcoholic. When I first attended 12-step meetings, I would be outraged by the people who identified themselves as “grateful, recovering alcoholics.” I mean, get serious, why in the world would you be grateful to be an alcoholic?!?
As it turns out, it makes all the sense in the world. Had I not suffered from this disease, I would have had no reason to join this group of individuals who figured out how to live life without chemical aid. Had I not joined this happy, joyous and free group, I would not have met the people who taught me a whole new set of skills, skills that enable me to not only live life sober, but also to be a significantly improved version of myself… a better mother, wife, family member and friend. And had I not learned these skills, I would not have used them to build a life beyond my wildest dreams.
So, yes, I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic, and I’m damned proud of it!
Other parts of the story that stood out for the group was the idea of the all or nothing approach to everything that we alcoholics seem to embrace. People with 30 days to 30 years in the meeting this morning had this personality trait in common. Also in common: the amazement that we all felt that we kept our lives together the way we did in active addiction. The story talks of how the author would take all the cleaning supplies out, but they would sit for hours as she distracted herself with drink, only to rush around right before anyone was to come home and make it appear as though chores had been accomplished. Several in the group this morning, myself included. could relate.
A final thought from one of the attendees: coming into the Fellowship to figure out how to stop drinking, but leaving with so much more: a feeling of community, the spirit of true understanding, and real camaraderie. His gratitude list is never complete without including “finding the rooms of our 12-step program!”
A final thought from me: I had a mini-God moment that I’d like to share. This past weekend, my husband was reading an article online that had to do with asking your 12-year old self what she thinks of how you turned out (hopefully that makes sense, it was entirely confusing to create that sentence). This is the exact kind of exercise that could get my eyeballs stuck in the back of my head from rolling them so hard, but we proceeded to have a conversation, which ended with his suggestion that I write about it. I dismissed that thought entirely out of hand, and life proceeded.
Fast forward to this morning’s meeting. I mentioned there was a newcomer today. She was from a town about 30 minutes away, and, through the course of her sharing, I gather she has close to 40 years of sobriety under her belt. Needless to say, she was an absolute font of wisdom, and I am so grateful to have gotten to listen to her share. In the midst of speaking, she offered this: if she had had the foresight at a young age to write down what she would have liked her life to be, even her greatest fantasies would have paled in comparison to the life she had the opportunity to live as a result of making the 12 steps a part of her life.
And I thought to myself: that’s why I didn’t want to write about what I said, because I was to meet the woman who would sum it up so much more perfectly than I!
After a weekend of enjoying my 15-year wedding anniversary (which was Thursday, so not sure why I needed to celebrate it for 4 days straight), getting up and getting back on track with diet and exercise counts as 2 miracles!
M(3), 9/29: How Big of a Deal is an Alcoholic Slip?
Polarized would be the word I choose to describe this morning’s meeting, and never before have I had a chance to do that!
This being the fifth Monday in the month of September, I did a little research and came up with an unusual article to use as this morning’s reading selection. Originally published in 1947 in the AA magazine Grapevine, “Slips” was written by Dr. William D. Silkworth, an American medical doctor who was tremendously influential in the founding of the 12-step program Alcoholics Anonymous. Silkworth’s position in this article is that a relapse, or “slip,” to an alcoholic can be compared to the cardiac patient who, after time spent abiding by the rules of his condition, slowly but surely reverts to his old lifestyle that caused the heart attack. In other words: alcoholics are human beings first and foremost, and the poor decisions made by an alcoholic are often the result of flawed humanity, rather than by the condition of alcoholism.
I picked this reading because of its provocative nature. The 12-step program to which I am accustomed tends to teach a bit opposite this idea, and yet one of the players instrumental in the development of this very program is stating otherwise. Parts of the reading that spoke to me personally is the idea that alcoholism is a disease, but one that does not define me as a person:
Both in professional and lay circles there is a tendency to label everything than an alcoholic may do as “alcoholic behavior.” The truth is it is simply human nature. It is very wrong to consider many of the personality traits observed in liquor addicts as peculiar to the alcoholic. Emotional and mental quirks are classified as symptoms of alcoholism merely because alcoholics have them, yet these same quirks can be found among non-alcoholic also. Actually they are symptoms of mankind, ORDINARY PEOPLE.
-Silkworth, “Slips,” Grapevine magazine
This part made sense to me, especially as I mature a bit in sobriety. As I observe the world and the people around me with the clarity of sober eyes, I realize that my character defects are common to those around me, whether they are alcoholic or not. Remembering that to err is human calms the perfectionistic thinker who dwells within.
And yet, I had the vague sense that a critical something was off in this article, but, truth be told, I just figured my comrades on Monday morning would help me figure it out, so I put it aside until today. And my friends did not disappoint!
The first several to share their opinion on the article viewed it favorably. They liked the idea that we are human first, alcoholic second. And each of the people who enjoyed the article emphasized the importance of remembering that relapses, or slips, happen long before the first drink or drug in ingested. A relapse starts the moment we begin sliding back into old ways of thinking and acting. If we continue down that path, the return to alcohol is inevitable.
The next group of people to share had a different opinion. And while they used words like feeling “ambiguous” and “ambivalent” about the article, it was clear to me that they in fact disagreed with Silkworth’s opinion. As one attendee put it, Silkworth is a doctor and therefore looks at it from a physical point of view. Alcoholism, however, is a three-pronged disease: physical, mental, spiritual. When you consider the totality of the condition, alcoholism, and the effects of a relapse, are quite different that a cardiac patient who reverts to his previous unhealthy lifestyle.
The next attendee to share had even stronger feelings about it: the article completely disregards the foundation of the AA program; namely, the need to discover and rely upon a power greater than oneself. In no way does this correlate to a cardiac patient. In addition, there is simply no comparison to the repercussions of an alcoholic “slip” and that of a cardiac one. A cardiac patient can smoke one cigarette with minimal consequences, but there is no telling what may happen when a recovered alcoholic takes that first drink.
There was also an animated discussion on the use of the word “slip” when describing an alcoholic relapse. On this point everyone seemed to agree: a slip implies something accidental, whereas a person with sober time who chooses to drink does so with absolute premeditation.
There was a lively debate back and forth about some of the semantics of the article, but everyone seemed to enjoy reading it and, more importantly, considering his or her own feeling on the subject. Another general consensus reached is that a healthy fear of picking up a drink is not a bad thing, in the same way that a healthy fear of getting burned by a stove, or being hit by erratic drivers is not a bad thing; both keep us safe.
I encourage readers who are in recovery to take a second a read Silkworth’s article… I would love to know your thoughts on the subject!
Participating in such a lively discussion, and taking that energy with me as I continue my day!
Some People Are Sicker Than Others
Today was the day I was going to, after spending a quiet reflective week, write my follow-up post on the gains of my all-or-nothing behavior.
I will most definitely be writing that post, but it’s not going to happen this week. End-of-school-year craziness, combined with some run-of-the-mill family decision/discussions/debates, made this a busier than normal week. Which still would not have prevented me from taking the time to write that post.
Except for another situation that had me thrown off for a solid 24 hours. I have (for the most part) processed the incident and put it in its proper place, but I figured it was big enough that I could put a pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) and hash it out once and for all.
If nothing else, the following story should provide some soap opera-like entertainment for you!
To start the story, a little background: my 11-year old son, who is graduating from elementary school, came to me several weeks ago asking if he could have some friends over on the last day of school. I say yes, but I give him a limit on the number of kids. He gives me the list of names, I email the parents, we’re all set up for an 3 pm get-together on a Friday afternoon. I mentally pat myself on the back for being such a nice Mom, that is that.
Two days ago, I am at school to watch my son perform at the talent show (which, by the way, he did FABULOUSLY…. wrote and starred in his own comedy sketch!). As I’m making my way to my seat a Mom stops me and says, “Hey, did you ever decide to have the kids over on the last day of school?” This is a Mom I see at the bus stop, and had mentioned it to her the day I sent out the emails. We discovered through the course of the conversation that I have an incorrect email address for her, I get the correct one, and promise I will fix the problem as soon as I get home. There were a couple of people around her I said a generic hi to, end of story there. That was in the morning.
That night I receive an email from another Mom in the neighborhood. To sum up my relationship with this woman: I know her to say hi or have polite conversation when I see her, that’s it. Her son and my son are friends in school, ride the bus together, that’s it. Never been to each other’s houses, never been invited to one another’s parties, you get the idea. She was apparently sitting close to the Mom with whom I conversed at the Talent Show in the morning. She sends me the following email:
> I just have to ask, did you forget to invite G to D’s end-of-
> the year party or did he not receive an invitation on purpose?
> I was quite put-off today when u asked E in front of me for her
> email address to invite V.
> I know G considers D a friend & he is both hurt & angry to
> learn about it…
So I could possibly write a series of post to describe all of the emotions that played out for me that night, but let’s umbrella it with the label Very upset. My husband and I spent some time hashing it out, I called a family member who lives in our neighborhood to see if she could shed any light on this woman’s state of mind, and I spoke with another friend who I thought might help navigate these murky waters.
Because, miraculously, in the 14 years I’ve been a parent, nothing even remotely like this situation has ever come up. In case my feelings are not plain, I am highly offended by this email. I would think this impolite of a close friend to draw such ridiculous conclusions, but a virtual stranger? Outrageous. Not to mention that you were eavesdropping on a conversation, and questioning my decisions on whom to invite to my home.
On the other hand, responding to aggressive behavior such as this is not in my wheelhouse, plus even through my red haze of anger I had genuine sympathy for a child that is feeling left out. After thoroughly discussing the options with my husband, we decide the let the guest list stand as is. He thought replying to her would just incite her more, but I found it unacceptable to leave some of her outrageous remarks unanswered.
So in the morning, I replied to the email. It was a little long (concise is not a word that applies to me), so I won’t cut and paste like I did above, but I simply went point by point and responded to each of her sentences. I was matter-of-fact, no emotions whatsoever. It was my goal to keep things civil, but to answer her truthfully.
Apparently she did not share my goals, and within an hour I received a second, much lengthier email from her. To say it was aggressive would be an understatement. She called me a liar, she accused me of punishing her son because she is not able to host play dates due to her schedule (what the what?!?!), she told me she “has my number,” and she says now her son knows what kind of person my son really is (did I mention these are 11-year old boys)?
The icing on the cake: I received this email right before I was heading to the fifth grade picnic, where I knew I would see her.
My body was going numb as I read the email. Honestly, fear is now competing with the anger for top emotion. At this point, I recognize that I have two options to consider, ignore her or write back. Truth be told, there is no way the first was a viable option for me, it is almost a physical impossibility for me to let that kind of injustice slide by. Plus, I rationalized to myself, I really want to put into words that I desire no further communication from her. Fortunately no one was around to see my hands shaking as I typed the email, but I did it, again taking the tack of going point by point and refuting her accusations, or explaining the intention behind the decisions she was questioning. In addition, I added two additional sentences to the point by point response:
1. I told her I was stunned and disheartened by her aggressive email, that I would find it unacceptable from someone I knew, but that it was wildly inappropriate for as casual a relationship as we had
2. I told her that I would appreciate no further communication from her, and, while I can’t control her behavior, I notified her that I would not be opening nor responding to any further emails from her address.
In the spirit of full disclosure, when I was replying to her accusation that I was punishing her son due to her challenging schedule, I did write that I find the notion insulting and a bit narcissistic. In Monday morning quarterbacking myself I regret writing that, because that kind of incendiary word opposes the idea of being civil. I do not, however, regret it enough to apologize for it!
She, of course, ignored my request to cease and desist and sent one more email. I tried to hold true to my vow and not open it, but there was no way. It was brief, and a slight bit calmer in tone, but continued to assert her wild accusations that I was lying about things and that my son was being deliberately mean to her son. I did not, and will not respond.
What, exactly, is my point in relaying this story, other than the satisfaction of venting it? I’m not sure there really is a point, it’s certainly not a story with a happy ending. There are at least three more end of the year events where I know I will see her, not to mention she lives in my neighborhood, so there’s no telling where I might bump into her. I have serious concerns about what vicious rumors a person that clearly unstable will be spreading about me. I am disheartened to realize that my son has lost a friend for no good reason.
On the other hand…
I am relaying this story, a mere 24 hours after the event occurred, in a calm state. I slept well last night, and I awoke peaceful. This is the polar opposite of how pre-recovery me would have handled this situation. Pre-recovery me would have made up a silly lie about his invite getting lost in cyber space, I would have kissed the woman’s rear end to make her happy with me, and I would have allowed the boy to come, all the while resenting every moment of it. I would have gossiped viciously about her to every person I could get my hands on, all the while being falsely nice to her face. I would have driven my husband crazy for weeks on end dissecting every participle the woman wrote, and speculating wildly on every next possible move she might make.
Today, I can calmly respond to her unreasonable accusations with the truth, and I can feel pride in doing so. Even though I am still offended by her behavior, I can also feel sorry for her, for surely her behavior is representative of internal angst, and I can pray for her well-being, and the well-being of her children. I can remind myself that what other people think of me is none of my business, and let go of the worries of the rumors she may or may not be spreading.
Of course, me being me, I can also pray that I avoid her like the plague for the rest of my life!
So many miracles: surviving this insanity, co-existing with her at the fifth grade picnic, and having a sense of calm rather than a sense of anxiety, is all miraculous!
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:
- Belief in a power greater than ourselves
- 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.
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!