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), 4/3/2017: A Life-Long Plan
This morning we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I selected the reading “The Keys to the Kingdom,” written by a woman instrumental in starting the Chicago chapter of our 12-step program.
As always, there is loads of great stuff within the reading, but one paragraph in particular stood out to me:
A.A. is not a plan for recovery that can be finished and done with. It is a way of life, and the challenge contained in its principles is great enough to keep any human being striving for as long as he lives. We do not, cannot, outgrow this plan. As arrested alcoholics, we must have a program for living that allows for limitless expansion. Keeping one foot in front of the other is essential for maintaining our arrestment. Others may idle in a retrogressive groove without too much danger, but retrogression can spell death for us. However, this isn’t as rough as it sounds, as we do become grateful for the necessity that makes us toe the line, for we find that we are more than compensated for a consistent effort by the countless dividends we receive. -pg. 311, Alcoholics Anonymous
This is a great reminder for me to keep active in my own journey of recovery. And when you think about it, it is counterintuitive to most things in our lives… if we are on a diet we restrict calories to lose weight, get to the desired number on the scale, and then set out on a maintenance plan. Or we decide to stop smoking, and put a tremendous amount of effort into that process until it becomes more natural to not smoke than it does to pick up a cigarette, then we can more or less hit cruise control. Even expanding out further, we work towards a retirement, we raise our kids until they are able to take care of themselves. In most areas of our life we are working towards a goal that allows us to “graduate” in one way or another.
But this is not so in recovery. Here we seek to grow, endlessly. And sometimes this feels like the biggest curse in the world. I’m guilty of these thoughts myself, on numerous occasions. I’ve even said it out loud, “How come I have to always be the bigger person? How come that someone gets to be a jackass without repercussion just because they’re not an alcoholic?”
But in reality this program is far more a blessing than it is a curse. Because for the minimal amount of work it requires, if offers blessings a thousandfold.
Here are some other excellent points made this morning:
- Not only are we lucky to have a lifelong program of learning, we are even luckier to have a fellowship of people on the same path. These people are the foundation that keep us sober.
- In the story the author talks about coming into the program and wishing for only a part of the peace and happiness she saw displayed among its members. That sentiment is true for so many of us… we come in and think we’ll never be as happy as the members we see, but if we can be half as happy, and stay sober, we’ll be satisfied. And of course the dream becomes a reality for a lot of us.
- The story talks about the many ways the author attempted to control her drinking, to no avail. Most of us in the meeting this morning could relate to the various ways someone can try to control drinking. And in most cases, once you start planning ways to control your drinking, you’ve already lost control!
- The story talks about the many blessing sobriety brings. All of us present this morning have blessings we can list, but none so great as the blessing of healing a fractured relationship with your children. It is the greatest gift of sobriety to be present and engaged in the lives of your children.
- Some of us marvel, like the author, at how competent we were while in active addiction. And if you can accomplish so much while not sober, imagine how much more productive you can be once you’re sober? Active addiction takes mental time and energy that could be put so so much better use!
Sitting down and writing. I know I’ve used that one before, but it still counts as a miracle to me!
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), 2/27/2017: It’s a Family Disease
I’m not sure I’ve ever been more excited for a month to end… it’s so exciting to write that date out. We are almost there!
Today’s reading came from the book Forming True Partnerships, and this morning’s chapter concerns the family. The author is an alcoholic in recovery, but her story focuses on the way she handled the alcoholism she found in three out of her four children. She learned early on that the most effective way she could help her children was to let go of the need to fix them, and to be a good example of sober living. The story has a happy ending in that all four of her children find sobriety (even the one that did not become a full-blown alcoholic), and together they have 73 years of sobriety. Inspirational stuff for sure.
My first reaction to reading this story was horror. I have a healthy fear of even one of my children having to grapple with this disease, and how I will handle that issue should it arise. To have three children suffer, and to know that powerlessness, would seem too much to handle.
The silver lining I heard in this cloud is that she got to experience the miracle of recovery over, and over, and over again. By doing what she had to do to stay sober herself, she was able to be there for her children when they needed her, and she got to see them recover. What a blessing that must have been.
The larger message I read, the broader issue that impacts each of us, is learning to let go of the need to control and fix our loved ones. Even if it is not as serious as the author described, three children facing the crisis of full-blown alcoholism, virtually all of us struggle with the need to “fix” people in our lives. It is so easy to see the problem when we are outside of it… surely people would be happier if they just did what we can so clearly see they should be doing! But of course we are powerless over the actions of others, as well we should be. This lesson is an important one for me to hear on a regular basis.
And that was only what I got from the reading! Here are some other great insights:
- This message applies to all sorts of family issues, and it is all too easy to get sucked into the drama of a family member’s life. A 12-step program is a true gift in times of family crisis, because it is a reminder that we can only control ourselves.
- Even without children, we all experience the situation where we are asked to fix someone else’s problem. When this happens, it can jeopardize our own sobriety. It is important to remember to put our own recovery first. We are of no help to anyone unless we are on solid sober ground.
- There are so many side benefits to a 12-step program besides helping us get sober, and this reading touches on an important one: using the tools of the program to more effectively parent our children. So many of the pithy expressions we take for granted in our fellowship are useful messages for our children. Take things one day at a time, do the thing right in front of you, first things first… these are not just ways to stay sober, they are ways to live the best life you can live.
- This story is more common than you think. An alcoholic parent of multiple children is likely to go through this, and it can rip a family apart. It is so useful to read a story such as this, and learn the things the author did to keep herself sane and sober, and to put yourself in the best position to help your children. The biggest piece in the puzzle, and the most challenging part, is to learn to let go and let God.
- One of the sneaky ways to parent a child that you worry might have some of the characteristics of a potential alcoholic, is to let them see how your recover. Let them read the things you are reading, let them help you get sober, and hopefully a seed has been planted should the problem surface for them later in life.
- It is frightening as the parent of small children to spot the characteristics that could lead to the disease of alcoholism, so it is important to learn how to detach from this fear and live in the present. Again, we have no control over this type of outcome, or of the future itself. We only have today.
- When caught in a situation where you feel like you need to fix someone, it is critical to share what’s going on with someone you trust. For those in a 12-step program, a sponsor is critical… make sure you are bouncing your thoughts, feelings and actions off someone who has an objective view of the situation.
- This whole reading seems like it is about setting boundaries, something that is tricky for almost all of us to do, especially with our children. An expression that is helpful when trying to create healthy boundaries is “let go or be dragged.”
Hope everyone is enjoying seeing February end as much as I am!
My initial reading of today’s story did not do a whole lot for me. But thanks to the miracle of the wisdom of the group, I gained a wealth of ideas and perspectives that really helped me appreciate the story. I am so grateful for my Monday morning peeps!
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), 12/5/16: Acceptance is the Answer
It feels good to be writing on this blog, I can’t seem to string two weeks together here!
This is the Monday I’ve been waiting for all year. When I chose the new format of the Big Book readings back in January, I realized that December would be a free pick month, and I didn’t need two seconds to consider what reading I’d select.
Normally I choose this reading at least two times in a calendar year, so I’m overdue for this topic!
The reading is the title of the post. It is in the personal stories section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and is one of the most popular ones in the fellowship. If you say to a member of the 12-step program, “what is the significance of page 417?” they will likely have the answer. It is the seminal paragraph in Dr. Paul O’s story:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
I’ve told, possibly a dozen times or more, the significance of the story in my own personal journey of sobriety (here’s one example if you haven’t read). And there hasn’t been a time I’ve read the story that it doesn’t help me gain perspective in some way.
The main reason I took the blog in the direction I’ve taken it… writing about the lessons I’m learning within the fellowship of the 12-step program… is that I find so many universal lessons within the program, lessons that teach me so much more than just how to stay sober. This story, and the enlightenment we in the meeting rooms receive, is possibly the best example I can provide.
As usual, the story did not disappoint. We had a large group this morning, and the positive reaction was unanimous. In fact, a bonus treat was introducing the story to a woman for the first time. She was familiar with the paragraph I have above, but not with the story itself. Even more amazing, she shares the same profession as the author of the story, and the profession plays a huge role in his recovery story, so it held special meaning for her.
For people unfamiliar with 12-step meetings, books are typically kept in the meeting room, then shared by all. The first person to share this morning said what stood out most to her about the story was how the author was able to improve his marriage by using the principles of the program at home. Coincidentally, in the book this woman was reading from this morning, someone wrote at the end of the chapter: “portrait of a marriage.” So someone else agrees that reading this story can help to build bridges with your spouse!
Another long-timer shared that would stood out most to him was the idea that “serenity works in inverse proportion with expectations.” In other words, the more you expect out of people and life, the less peaceful you are likely to be. Another universal concept that everyone could use in their lives, especially around the holidays!
A friend shared that what struck her this morning was how she related to the author’s sense of self-deprecating humor. Because he wrote so humorously and compellingly, she was able to relate to his story, despite having little in common with him in terms of logistics. She especially related to the way he described chemically altering himself to achieve unconsciousness. She found that even though she merely drank wine at night, the end result was the same. It’s reassuring to read that the basic principles of the program work despite the substance of choice.
Another gentleman shared that he used to read this story with a sense of self-righteousness, as he too only drank alcohol, and refrained from any kind of drug use. But he is starting to come around to the idea that at the end of the day, the underlying issues are the same for all of us, and comparisons, good or bad, are detrimental. We all only have today in which to stay sober.
I of course got an absolute ton out of the reading itself and from the wisdom everyone shared. As I mentioned earlier, this reading applies to all areas in my life:
When I criticize a person, or judge them:
“When I complain about me or about you, I am criticizing God’s handiwork. I am saying I know better than God.” -pg. 417
If I’m frustrated that people aren’t taking my advice:
“And if I don’t know what’s good for me, then I don’t know what’s good or bad for you or for anyone. So I’m better off if I don’t give advice, don’t figure I know what’s best, and just accept life on life’s terms, as it is today – especially my own life, as it actually is.” -pg. 418
When I am angry that my husband won’t see my point of view:
“… in AA I was told… ‘the courage to change’ in the Serenity Prayer meant not that I should change my marriage, but that I should change myself and learn to accept my spouse as she was.” -pg. 419
When I am fearful and anxious that my stupid foot is taking too long to heal:
“Acceptance is the key to my relationship with God today. I never just sit around and do nothing while waiting for Him to tell me what to do. Rather, I do whatever is in front of me to be done, and I leave the results up to Him; however that turns out, that’s God’s will for me.” -pg. 420
I’m already sad the meeting is over and I won’t be able to pick this selection for a while!
The reading, and the insights is never fails to deliver, count as my miracle!
M(3), 11/21/16: I’m Back!
Some housekeeping: apologies for being so absent from this blog. Not only have I not written in a couple of weeks, I’ve also not responded to comments. I will be going back when I hit publish, but it shows a complete lack of appreciation for those who take the time to respond, and the last thing I want to do is to appear ungrateful. I appreciate all comments, and I’m sorry for failing to show my appreciation!
The reason for the absence is due to a recent foot surgery that kept me with my foot elevated for a good number of days. Since I detest using a laptop, this prevented me from my trusty desktop computer. Then we were on a days-long road trip to watch my son race a cross-country course with the best of the best, so again away from my preferred choice of writing.
So now I’m back, and hopefully with some wisdom to share!
Today’s meeting focused on Step Two in the twelve steps of recovery:
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Always a good step for discussion, since so many people come to the rooms of the 12-step fellowship with such a vast array of beliefs and non-beliefs.
As usual, the attendees did not disappoint. One regular, a man whose professional life is based on his spirituality, says he struggles. Not in the sense in believing a Higher Power exists, but in those who judge him for what he does for a living (member of a religious order). Even in the meetings he has found this to be true, and it can be problematic. He reminds himself that the step reads “could,” not “will,” and that his focus should remain on the positive, not the negative. He finds meetings that support him, and avoids meetings that tear him down.
Good advice on a broader scope, not just because he is a religious professional, and advice that I’ll take to heart.
A friend who continues to struggle with the notion of God still struggles with this step, and takes umbrage with some of its wording. She dislikes that they suggest to us that we “quit the debating society” and instead do our best to keep an open mind. She finds this advice somewhat offensive, in that she believes an open mind should question things.
But then she reminds herself that keeping an open mind means remaining open to all suggestions, even the ones that don’t necessarily make sense to her. Plus, all questions about a higher power aside, she firmly believes in the success of the 12-step paradigm, as she’s seen literally hundreds of success stories with her own eyes. For now, this is enough to keep her coming back, and trying to keep her mind open to new possibilities.
Another woman shared that she is the type who believed herself spiritual while continuing to drink problematically. She thought she asked for help numerous times, only to continue to relapse. So she believed in a higher power, but not necessarily in His/Her/Its ability to “restore her to sanity.”
She realized the error in her thinking was that she was asking for help, but not doing her part to make things happen. In working the 12 steps she realized there was real action that needed to be taken by her, and in taking that action she believes her Higher Power removed from her the obsession to drink.
I particularly enjoyed hearing her share, because it clicked with my personal story a bit. I tried and failed to get sober for a solid 8-9 months before I hit my alcoholic bottom. During that time I went to meetings, I had a sponsor, and I prayed all the time, on my knees just as I was told to do. I thought I followed instructions, but I relapsed too many times to count.
Then I hit my bottom, and while fear certainly played into my early days of sobriety, I was more or less doing the same types of things I had done the previous 8-9 months. Over the years I’ve often asked myself: other than the fear and the consequences I was facing, what was so different before and after?
When my friend shared this morning, I remembered that one prayer session that I’ve referenced a few times on this blog. It was on my first night of sobriety, not even morning yet since I surely wasn’t getting to sleep that night. I think the language I used in my prayers was likely a little more (in my head, though I’m not above talking out loud while I’m praying)… sincere, or real, for lack of a better word. But the critical difference was the question I asked of God that night. I said, “Okay, it is clear that I am doing something wrong. Can you please show me what it is?”
From that query came the analysis of what I was doing differently than the other members of the Fellowship. And from that thought process came a blueprint that I thought might help me, or at the very least would be something different to try.
And the rest is history. I believe sobriety, like life itself, is a never-ending process, so I continue to learn and grow, but I’m grateful for the original struggles that started me on a path to a more peaceful, more spiritual existence.
And I’m writing on and on, and never even got to the surgery and all the trials and tribulations that have come with it. I will do my best to get back later in the week to detail!
Logging in. Writing. Hitting Publish!
M(3), 11/7/16: Coincidence? I Think Not!
I keep staring at the blank screen expecting a lightning bolt of creativity to hit me, and it doesn’t appear to be happening. Now I’m going to try the “just start writing” approach and see where that gets me.
I’ll start with the meeting and wind round to why my thoughts are scattered. Our reading selection today from the the book Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the “Big Book.” This year I tried something different in terms of this book. For the 3 years prior to this one, I selected readings from the second half of the book, the part that contains all the personal stories. To mix it up, in the year 2016 we read from the first 164 pages, which most consider to be the heart and soul of the 12-step program. There are 11 chapters in this first part of the book, so today marked the end of this cycle.
I have been waiting, practically since January, to get to this month, because by leaps and bounds my favorite chapter is the one we read today. It is called “A Vision for You,” and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you have heard me wax rhapsodic about it. It is so uplifting and energizing, I wish the book started with this chapter.
I’ll start with my share, as the reading of this chapter reminded me of a story from my early days of sobriety. The chapter speaks of the serendipitous circumstances that connected the co-founders of the fellowship, their meeting with the third member, and the growth of the program that came from these meetings. It brought to mind a not quite so miraculous, but still noteworthy story of my own:
When I first got sober, I went to meetings daily. Specifically, I attended the same 10 am meeting that took place every day of the week. In so doing, I got to know all the other regular attendees. I happen to hit the 90-day mark on a Friday, at which point several of the long-timers announced that since I have my 90 day coin I am eligible to chair meetings, and so no time like the present. Then they erased the chairperson for Monday and put my name in his or her place.
I can’t specifically recall, but I imagine I sweated out the weekend worrying about how I was going to pull off this responsibility. Thankfully the chair rotation was different on the weekends, or I would have had to do it the very next day.
So Monday comes and I couldn’t be more nervous. That meeting was significantly different than the one I run now in that it is a much larger crowd… figure 50 to 60 on average. I start the meeting, and I suppose I do okay. The break comes (halfway through the 60-minute meeting) and a gentleman comes up and introduces himself as Jim, tells me this is his very first meeting, and asked me a question. I wish I could remember the question, but I’m pretty sure my abject fear at having to answer a 12-step question when I had 90 days of sobriety under my belt must have blocked it out. I’m sure I said something, though I can’t remember specifically what, and as soon as was politely possible I connected him with the regulars in the group that I felt could give him the information he needed.
The rest of the meeting proceeded, and that was that.
By the time I hit the six-month mark, I was still attending daily meetings, but I was branching out and rarely got back to original meeting place. However, for the milestone of 6 months I wanted to announce it there; it was a Sunday, and the only time I could get there was the 6 pm meeting. I anticipated not knowing too many people, as I tend to hit daytime meetings.
To my surprise and delight, I knew the chairperson of the meeting: my friend Jim, the one who had just started 3 months ago! I marvelled at the fantastic coincidence, and I could not wait to share with him. In fact, I raised my hand and shared out loud the story of how nervous I was, and congratulated Jim on achieving 90 days and chairing the meeting. At the end of the meeting Jim found me and said he could top my story with one of his own from that day:
It turns out that his wife had dropped him off at that meeting 3 months ago, but he had no intention of staying. He figured he’s stay to the break, but he had just enough money in his pocket to head out to the nearest open bar as soon as the halfway point came. Something had him ask me a question, he has no idea what… his best guess is he wanted to be polite to me since I was leading the meeting. My response was so kind that he figured he owed it to me to stay. And afterwards when those gentlemen with whom I connected him were so kind, he figured he could give this a try.
And three months later, still sober, he was chairing meeting.
The moral of the story, of course, is that no matter how little you think you know, how little you think you have to give, it just might be the world to someone else. I don’t remember what I said, but I know for sure it wasn’t anything profound or wise. It couldn’t have been… I didn’t know squat! And his taking the time to fill me in on that backstory made all the difference to me. It was at that moment everything crystallized for me that when I pay attention, amazing things happen, all around me, every day.
From my share a few other people had similar tales of amazing coincidences-that-are-never-coincidences. And a secondary theme of this morning’s share was gratitude, a most fitting theme for a November meeting!
I went a little long with my personal story, but today’s miracle for me is getting what I needed from that meeting today, as I usually do. Even if I have to relearn the same lesson a dozen times, there is always someone there to teach me. And for that I am grateful!
Additionally, the miracle of unscattering my thoughts via writing should be noted!
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), 9/19/16: Willingness is the Key
Today’s meeting, and its subject matter, was so spot on for me that it gives me the chills just thinking about it. Then again, I feel that way pretty much any time we talk about…
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again: step three is my favorite of the 12 steps of recovery. It has universal application, and applies to every single human on the planet. Maybe animals too.
We had an interesting turnout today. For the first time in years, maybe ever, there were more strangers in my meeting than there were regulars. This increase in diversity resulted in a wider array of wisdom and shares, which can only be a good thing.
One of the regulars, a man who I quote virtually every week in this blog, started our meeting off right with the announcement that he is 30 years sober as of this past weekend. This announcement elevated the collective mood of the room big time. He talked about a particular section of the reading:
…He might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from self-sufficiency. Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking up into warring fragments. Each fragment says to the others, “We are right and you are wrong.” Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough, self-righteously imposes its will upon the rest. And everywhere the same thing is being done on an individual basis. The sum of all this mighty effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before. The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off. Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin. -pg. 37, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
He said the first time he went to a Step Three meeting, an argument broke out over what the word “juggernaut” means. Each of the multiple people involved insisted they knew the correct definition. Finally, someone suggested pulling out a dictionary; someone did, and the definition was/is:
Juggernaut: a literal or metaphorical force regarded as mercilessly destructive and unstoppable.
Once the irony settled in that they were acting like juggernauts while arguing about its meaning, everyone laughed and moved on to more productive conversations.
Humorous anecdote aside, my longtime sober friend went on to talk about what an apt description the word juggernaut is when describing self-will. How often do we, in the zest to prove ourselves right and another wrong, get so deep into a debate that we lose sight of the original issue?
Or the times when we pursue a goal, something we justify as a “single-minded passion,” to the exclusion of everything else of value in our lives?
Or when we want something so badly we rationalize every questionable decision and action so that it fits our current needs and wants?
The list is endless, as is the specific list of ways we alcoholics misused our self-will:
- “I’m an adult, and nobody is going to tell me what I can or can’t drink!”
- “How dare they tell me I drink too much, when they fill in the blank.”
- “I need this drink now, since life is so stressful. Once life gets calmer, I will think about cutting back.”
- “How can I not drink when it is such a part of my life? Everyone I know drinks!”
- Ad infinitum…
If we accept that relentless self-will is counterproductive, and we are intrigued by the idea of turning said will over the care of the God of our understanding, the next question becomes how exactly do we pull off such a feat?
Many people shared in the meeting this morning regarding the ways in which they went about this process; the underlying theme throughout was willingness. The key to turning things over is simply to be willing to do so. The minute we start arguing about the different reasons why our way in the right way, we have closed the door to willingness.
This is exactly why I love Step Three so much; it is a lesson that I need to learn over and over again. I suspect for the rest of my life I will be remembering that I need to display some willingness.
I have an ongoing situation that has created some intermittent periods of anxiety in my life. I have a strong suspicion that if I could go back and create a timeline of when I was feeling the most stress regarding this issue, and chart my feelings and subsequent actions during those period of angst, I would find that I decided to take back my self-will and force the solution of my choosing. Therefore, just reading this selection brought instant relief:
The more we become willing to depend on a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are. -pg. 36, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
When I am taking back my self-will, my logic screams out, “So what does that mean, you sit around and wait for God to hand things to you?”
And of course that’s not the answer. The answer lies in yet another tool of recovery I love but conveniently “misplace” in times of stress:
Rain, rain, don’t go away! We just got rain in our area for the first time in forever, and never have I been happier to deal with gray skies!