So much to say, so little time!
Today’s meeting was jam-packed, both with people (I stopped counting at 15) and wisdom. Today’s literature was Living Sober. As is my custom, I asked a woman who I know is in early sobriety (the woman I mentioned had 6 days last week, she is back and now has 13!) to select the chapter. She chose Chapter 3: Using the 24-Hour Plan.
Talking about “the 24-hour plan,” also known as the “just for today plan,” brings back vivid memories of early sobriety. When I was drinking addictively, the pattern was depressingly repetitive. Drink too much, go to bed, and, like clock work, wake up in the 2 to 3 am range. Heart racing, I would spend the first several moments in the oh-no-I-did-it-again stage. Next was the frantic attempts at recollection: what did I do last night? In front of whom? Did I drunk dial anyone? Did I fight with my husband? Next came the shame and remorse, a period which could take an hour or more, woefully listing all the ways in which I was a horrible person. Finally, some attempt at logic would take over: how did I get to this place again? More importantly, how could I stop repeating the same mistake?
Then, the lightbulb moment, where I reach the brilliant conclusion. Just don’t drink anymore, and this won’t happen anymore! Suddenly, I am full of resolve, because this time I’m going to do it! Those motivating feelings, after several hours of horrific feelings, is usually what allowed me to drift to sleep for the 30 or so minutes left of the night.
But no matter, I still felt good upon waking: today is the day I am going to put this plan into place. Excited and resolved, the intention stayed strong throughout the morning and most of the afternoon.
Then 4 o’clock rolled around, my personal witching hour. And it was like a magic trick, how quickly the resolve vanished, and how delightful a glass of Chardonnay seemed.
Over and over again went that sad cycle.
Finally, I started on the road to sobriety. And even then, the “one day at a time plan” offended my sensibilities. You may fool others with that nonsense, but you’re not fooling me! You ask me “can you not drink, just for today?” I say yes, then I come back tomorrow and you ask me the same thing? Give me a break… I’m smarter than that. Dammit.
However, I had already been given the gift of desperation, and therefore I did not feel I had another choice but to give sobriety my best shot. So I just ignored that particular tool, for several months.
Within the first 6 months, though, the time had come for me to use it. Truthfully, I don’t remember the specifics of the mental tizzy in which I found myself, but I know it was full-blown, and I was panicking about everything. At the time, when that would happen, the next logical thought process would be: do you really think you can do this for the rest of your life? What if someone dies? What about weddings? What if… the questions could go on indefinitely.
And for some reason, the question came to me: do you feel like drinking right now? No. Do you think you can make it through the rest of the day without drinking? An even stronger no. Then does any of what you’re worrying about matter? It doesn’t… Thank God!
To this day that remains a pivotal moment in my sobriety.
Nowadays, I am blessed to have had the obsession to drink removed, and so thinking about the 24-hour plan is not something I do daily. But one of things that I am practicing is meditation. And guess what the primary goal of mediation is? Mindfulness, bringing you back to the present moment, and reminding you that life can only be lived in the moment. Anxiety about the future, regret about the past, all take you away from the present moment, and thus take you away from your life.
Which to me pretty much sums up the 24-hour plan, so I’m not as far removed as I would have thought!
Several people talked about the illogical ways they denied the need to stop drinking: picking “meaningful” future sobriety dates, then letting them slip by. One woman thought that instead of stopping drinking, her goal would be to keep a stocked bar. Of course, the perpetual trouble with that plan was that she drank her way through it too quickly!
The woman that chose the reading did so because she is currently struggling with the desire to drink. She has to break down time into smaller chunks than 24 hour ones. She plans out her day as best she can, and when the cravings strike, she attempts to distract herself one hour at a time. For 13 days, it’s been working well, and I’m hoping I get to congratulate her next week on 20 days.
The absolute best share of the morning, at least in my opinion, came from one of my best friends in recovery. She said early on she learned that the 12 steps are a way of building the best relationship possible with your Higher Power. When you spend your time worrying about the future, or wallowing in the past, then you are not in that relationship… your Higher Power is in the present moment, which is your life! So if you’re wasting your time in the past or the future, you are going it alone, without the benefit of that Higher Power. Such an interesting perspective, but one that makes a lot of sense.
Everyone who shared agreed wholeheartedly on one thing: using the one-day-at-a-time approach is beneficial not only to quitting drinking, it’s an effective means of living life.
The energy that came of this morning’s meeting was so positive, so powerful, I am still feeling it sitting at home typing on my computer… that is an amazing miracle!
This is the time of year that we talk a lot about how to handle holiday celebrations sober (I will be doing just that on The Bubble Hour in a few short days!), but I think just as important is to talk about managing the daily stress that comes along with the holidays. Holiday shopping, decorating, baking, and increased family interactions all conspire to make that glass of wine at the company holiday party/cookie exchange/family gathering look extra inviting. So what can we do to manage the extra work and emotional holiday load? I have found that many of the skills I acquired through recovery from alcoholism serve me wonderfully in dealing with holiday stress:
1. One Day At a Time
In early sobriety I could emotionally derail myself with thoughts like, “Am I really not going to drink for the rest of my life?” The anxiety over that question would quickly escalate and soon I would be in a funk that took a Herculean effort to resolve. Until I learned to stop that question, and ask a different one: “Can I manage not to drink for the rest of the day?” The panic dissolved when I learned to ask that question instead.
Often in these stressful holiday times, we will be chugging along, and some wrinkle pops up and disrupts our day: we remember a gift that needed to be ordered three days ago, we realize we double-booked ourselves, an item for which we’re shopping is sold out. Once that happens, the wheels have a tendency to fall off the wagon, and suddenly all is lost. We will never get everything done in time! This is all too much! What’s the use?
One day at a time works quite nicely in these situations. Take a calming breath, remember that the past is done, and tomorrow’s not here yet, so what can we do, right now, to help alleviate the current stress? If you can’t do something until tomorrow, then put it aside until tomorrow. If the stress is angst over something in the past, leave it in the past, where it belongs. Staying in the present moment has a miraculous way of relieving stress.
2. Acting “As If”
There was a point in my recovery that I resented both praying and 12-step meetings. At the same time, I knew I had to give both an honest try to get serious in recovery. That’s when I learned this tool: act as if you are a devoted meeting attendee, act as if getting down on your knees and praying is something that comes naturally to you. So I did, and it was incredibly awkward… at first. Over time, it became not only easy, but I got it, and gained much more than I could have ever hoped for.
So you’ve got a family function that you are dreading with every fiber of your being? Do you want to be a part of the holiday spirit, but every annoying little thing in life is dragging you down? Act as if… you want to be celebrating, you are into the holiday spirit, you have the patience of a saint. Whatever it is you wish you were, act as if you are already there. Which brings the corollary tool:
3. Fake It ’til You Make It
This tool comes in supremely handy while parenting excited children throughout this season. How often do I find myself wanting to bite their precious heads off, when all they want to do is add another item to the Christmas list? Just like tool #2, fake the excitement, and, before too long, it won’t be fake (or, with this example, they will at least go to bed at some point!)
4. People, Places and Things
One of the first things you learn in recovery circles is to avoid people, places and things that you associate with drinking. If frequenting a certain restaurant harkens memories of the “good ol’ days,” then the solution is simple, do not visit that restaurant.
Likewise, if you review your history, there are surely patterns in your past holidays that you can observe, and avoid repeating. If you know that each year you visit the Mall Santa the week before Christmas, and everyone has a meltdown due to the long lines, then either pick an off time, or find a different tradition that everyone enjoys. If shopping crowds fill you with terror, commit to online shopping. The key with this two is to take the time for some introspection, pick out the pitfalls, and make the plans to avoid them this year.
For those unfamiliar with the acronym, H.A.L.T. stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. People in recovery are cautioned strongly to avoid reaching any of these emotional states, for they trigger us into falling into old patterns.
Realistically, nothing positive comes out of any of these states for anybody at all, but the chances of negative consequences to being hungry, angry, lonely or tired go up quite a bit during the holiday season. Staying up all night getting the cookies baked might mark one thing off your checklist, but then when you’re falling asleep at work, or screaming at your husband because you’re exhausted, you will create a whole new set of issues for yourself. Make sure that you’re eating regularly, getting as much sleep as you can, and dealing with emotional issues in the moment, so that you’re not dealing with huge issues later.
Please share your own tips: which recovery lessons help you stay sane during the holidays?
Thanks to all of these tools, I am uncharacteristically ahead of the Christmas shopping and decorating game, it’s unheard of for me to be almost done shopping in early December!
In the literature rotation of my meeting, the fourth Monday is labelled “chairperson’s choice.” This week, I chose a selection from a book not used very frequently these days, entitled Alcoholic Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A. The book gives an account of the historic 1955 St. Louis convention, at which the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous assumed full responsibility for all its affairs. It contains the lectures of many of the notable speakers throughout the convention, as well as discusses the three principles of the fellowship: recovery, unity and service.
This morning we read the chapter entitled, “Medicine Looks at Alcoholics Anonymous.” In this chapter we read the speech from a distinguished member of the American Medical Association, Dr. W. W. Bauer. Dr. Bauer, in his address to the assembly, compares the societal view towards alcoholism to that of tuberculosis: both are diseases that afflict people through no fault of their own, and yet at one time those afflicted with either illness were regarded shamefully. He notes that same stigma was once attached to those afflicted with cancer. Happily, though, both the medical establishment, as well as society itself, is slowly coming around to regarding these diseases objectively, without assigning disgrace to those who carry them.
He praises AA for its use of “group therapy,” as he calls it: gathering support, sympathy and guidance from one another as each attempts to dispel the obsession to drink alcohol. Many of the treatment options the medical profession offers the sick and suffering alcoholic was learned from cooperating with the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. The partnership of the two – medicine and AA – is a mutually beneficial one.
By and large the group enjoyed the reading, although the glad handing that went on as one speaker introduced the next proved to be a time waster. The standout of Dr. Bauer’s lecture, for me, occurred when he touched upon the importance of our attitude:
“Illness of the emotions is no more something to be ashamed of than is illness of the body. We should no more hesitate to consult a psychiatrist than we should hesitate to consult an orthopedist for a sore foot.”
-pg. 240, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
It took time for me to stop feeling ashamed of having the disease of alcoholism; for a long time I could not let go of the idea that I should just be able to control myself. Letting go of the shame felt as though a load was lifted off my back. To borrow an idea from another 12-step fellowship: I didn’t cause my alcoholism, I can’t control whether or not I am afflicted with it, and I cannot cure it. One day at a time, however, I can do a few simple things that will remove the obsession to drink right out of me!
Other talking points, as shared by the various attendees of this morning’s meeting, included:
- Our program of recovery has three legs upon which it stands firmly: physical, spiritual emotional. Today’s reading touched upon the physical leg, and it is so important, especially in the earliest days of sobriety. Learning proper nutrition, what vitamins and minerals support healthy recovery, and touching base with a medical professional for any prescriptive needs all provide a sound foundation upon which we build our sober future.
- In the last paragraph of his lecture, Dr. Bauer says:
“I am no psychiatrist, but I have confidence in saying this to you as I have said to thousands of patients, that the thing we need most of all in this world today is tranquility of mind. Various names have been given to it. Some books about it have been very popular. Some call it the power of positive thinking, some call it peace of mind, some call it peace of souls, but I’m inclined to along with Billy Graham and call it peace with God. Those are the things that we need. And an organization like yours, in a world that seems to have gone materialistically mad, gives us courage to believe that there is still hope, that there is still idealism, and that we are going to win out over many, many of our problems, one of the most serious of which is alcoholism.”
-pg. 244, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
This paragraph stood out to a number of us today, in that we are so grateful to be part of a fellowship whose very goal is to achieve this peace for ourselves, and to have the honor of helping others do the same.
- Finally, and this was echoed by almost every attendee who shared, was the appreciation of the “group therapy” component of our fellowship. As one member put it this morning, “Putting a dollar in a basket to sit here and share my troubles, and have all of you help me, is a real bargain compared to the thousands I have spent in therapy!” Another put it this way, “No matter how I feel, good or bad, I have never left a meeting disappointed… I am always in a better mental place leaving the meeting than when I went in.” A friend who we have not seen a few weeks berated herself on her absence: “I feel the difference when I stop going to meetings, just coming here and seeing all of your friendly, supportive faces brightens my day, and when I don’t go I feel like I’m missing something in my life!”
Sometimes it takes the miracles of others to become conscious of your own. Hearing how much everyone gets out of meetings helped deepen my own appreciation!
I feel inadequate.
As hard as I try, I do not feel like I can ever really convey the camaraderie, the empathy, the shared pain and shared joy that comes out of the simple 60 minute gathering of individuals every Monday morning. But, of course, I will continue to try…
Today’s meeting focused on the tenth step in our 12-step program:
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
In practical terms, this step asks you to look at your thoughts and behaviors on a regular basis, and correct as needed. The most common application of this step occurs at bedtime, looking back at the day and seeing what went well, what went wrong, and what needs to be fixed. Certainly, though, self-examination can occur at any point in a day, as many times a day as needed. In times of emotional distress, a quick “spot check” can often be the perfect remedy.
Step 10 is my personal favorite, and the regular practice of step 10 has yielded one of the best gifts in my sobriety: the gift of honest introspection. One of the simplest ways I put step 10 into regular practice is what I call the common denominator theory: if I am aggravated with 3 or more people/situations at one time, then I am the common denominator, and therefore I am the problem. I am also fond of pointing out the common denominator theory when it applies to others (especially my children, and you can imagine how much they love this).
A newer way of looking at step 10 has presented itself to me through a series of events: the idea of starting in the present and moving forward, rather than feeling like every past situation needs to be resolved before I can find peace. This is a concept that intrigues and excites me: imagine if you could just take a relationship that you value but is fractured or filled with resentments, and simply start fresh at this very moment with a clean slate? All past resentments and issues are wiped clean, and you have nowhere to go but forward? For an Irish Catholic grudge holder like myself this is a novel concept, and one that will take much effort to put into practice, but the various God moments that have happened for me surrounding it make is a worthwhile project, and I will let you know how it goes for me.
From here the meeting took a number of personal turns: a woman with a year of sobriety shared her story for the first time at a meeting. She expected to feel empowered by this; instead she felt insecure and wobbly, and found her thoughts turn to alcohol. She was so distressed by this thought process, she needed to share it with people who understood, and therefore came to the meeting today to “tell on herself.” Happily, she was with a group who understands, and had a line of people waiting to speak with her at the meeting’s end.
Another woman, this one with decades of sobriety, has a speaking engagement of her own upcoming, and even after all these years, sharing her story, and public speaking, remains the most terrifying aspect of our 12-step program. No matter how far along she has come, that negative self-talk rears its ugly head when it comes time to share her experience, strength and hope, and that negative self-talk tells her she has nothing of value to say. The good news is that she knows what to do with these feelings, and that is to come to a meeting and share them with us, and in shining the spotlight, the dark thoughts are forced into the light and exposed for the fraudulence they are.
From these two stories all the following attendees piggy backed, and talked of the various insecurities they have that relate, and how talking about them helps to dispel the power those insecurities hold.
A few seasoned veterans brought it back to talk of the personal inventory, and reminded all of us to focus not only on what we need to fix, but also on all that we have done right in a given day/week/month. We are often too quick to look at our mistakes, but what about all the wonderful things we have improved upon in our recovery?
That being said, I will focus on all the great stuff I am able to share with you, rather than bemoan all that I may have missed. Hope everyone is having a wonderful Monday!
I promised some pictures of my son’s birthday dinner, and then I got too busy serving and forgot to take any really good shots. The first two show the set-up of the rooms before the crowds descended, and the last is one puny shot that fails to convey the delicious glory that was fried chicken! Everyone left with a full belly, and my son had a fantastic birthday weekend!
Two weeks ago I wrote a rather despondent post bemoaning my relationship with food. As always, shining the light on my fears and troubles diminishes them. The comments I received turned my negativity around almost instantaneously, and the support from my “in person” friends was the icing on the cake (the cake, of course, being gluten-free, sugar-free, and calorie-free). I came to find out, once again, that I am indeed not alone in my troubling thoughts, and that, sharing the load truly lessens the burden.
One friend and I, who both have a trip booked for roughly the same time frame, have concocted a plan: let’s grab some of the most effective tools from the recovery toolbox with which I have been blessed, and put them to work in constructing a healthier lifestyle. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far:
Goal: Take the next six weeks, and make small, incremental changes to our current diet and fitness lifestyle, and see if we can’t feel and look better in time for our trips.
Okay, so there’s the big picture goal, how will the next 6 weeks play out? One of the biggest “tricks” to my success in recovery, especially in the early days, was that I had a to-do list of four things, and only four things, that I needed to accomplish in any given day, and if I went to bed having accomplished them, the day was a success. I’ve written about this ad nauseam, no need to revisit the specifics. So what I hope to do is use the same blueprint for improving my health. I took a long, hard look (cringing A LOT) at all my bad habits, and I concluded that, to start, I could commit to 4 things each and every day, and I was (am) hopeful that in time, I can add/modify/eliminate as needed to continue on a positive path. But for now, forget everything else, and commit to the following:
1. Eliminate the 4 worst foods in my current diet that lead to binge eating (again using the number because it worked so effectively in the past for me)
2. Commit to replacement foods that are healthier than existing foods
3. 20 minutes of dedicated physical activity
4. Communication/progress reports each evening (She has her own four, and reciprocates with her own progress reports)
That is it. Here’s what I am NOT going to do: beat myself up over anything else that I do or don’t do during a given day… if I go to bed having accomplished those four things, that day is a success.
Saturday, February 22nd was our start date; today is March 6, roughly 2 weeks in. How is it going?
Week one had its emotional ups and downs, but I successfully completed the week as laid out above. Each day I would wake up, absolutely convinced that I would not, could not, make it through the day without giving in to one temptation or another (sound familiar, friends in recovery?). Each night that I made it through, the exhilaration was palpable.
A surprising tool from recovery came in very handy during the first week. Each time I refrained from eating something, or chose something healthy, a pessimistic voice in my head would taunt me, “Big deal… you made it through this one, tiny hurdle? Do you REALLY think you are going to spend THE REST OF YOUR LIFE doing this?”
Here’s the surprise answer I had at the ready, and it comes directly from all the lessons learned through recovery: “Who cares about the rest of your life? Can you make it through the rest of this day?”
And would you believe that response was as calming, as soothing, and as positive, as when I used it in the early days of sobriety? So that was a really fun bonus. And the voice has since quieted down, it’s almost inaudible!
Other positives: the exercise thing, having committed to it effectively about 6 months ago but have since lapsed, was like riding a bike, in that making it a part of my daily life became routine fairly quickly. Without getting too far ahead of myself, I do find myself pushing myself a bit further, here and there, and I suspect that as time goes on I will continue to do so.
The regular “checking in” process has loads of benefits, the main one being accountability. There were several days that I turned away from one bad choice or another for the simple reason that I did not want to report I ate it.
Another huge milestone for me: sharing about the foods that tempt me. In the past, I would have been as secretive about this information as I was with every part of my active addiction. I attach shame to eating certain foods, and thus do it privately, and fail to disclose it to anyone. In order to have this communication with my friend be meaningful, I had to get real about the temptations in my life. Unsurprisingly, my revelations did not raise an eyebrow, and since that time I’ve opened up with more people about it, getting similar results.
I did not recognize this shift until a few days ago. I am a Catholic, and Lent is currently underway. In preparation for this religious event, I was contemplating what I would sacrifice, and decided that it would be one of the foods on my list above… Lent would simply give me a few added weeks of abstinence. However, tradition would have it that on “Fat Tuesday,” you celebrate with one last hoorah, and so I made the decision that I would break one of my four commitments. I communicated this to my friend, in advance, explaining what I was going to do, and how I intend to not let it derail me permanently (as has so often happened in the past). I finished explaining it in email, and when I sat back to review, I realized what an amazing accomplishment that was for me… that kind of unreserved honesty, as far as eating habits are concerned, is a first for me, and it felt really good to see the progress as it’s happening.
Last but not least, I am experiencing tangible results: my clothes feel a tad looser, the numbers on the scale are down, 10 pounds the first week! I am actually going to talk a little more about that, but it will have to wait for another post, since this one is running too long as it is! Finally, my mood overall is more positive and optimistic.
All great stuff, and I will post again in two weeks on this subject and let you know where I’m at!
Having good news of any kind to report is a miracle!
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!
Despite yet another bout of snow (for those keeping score… yes, my school district did decide we needed a two-hour delay), we had a great turnout for the Monday meeting. The literature for week two in the monthly rotation is Living Sober. Having been reading/watching about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I chose two chapters to read: “Remembering Your Last Drunk,” and “Staying away from the first drink.” The discussion was lively enough with the first chapter that we never got to the second one; I couldn’t ask for anything more in terms of sharing!
The point of this chapter is simple, but critical: it is crucial for anyone choosing recovery to keep fresh in their minds the negative feelings, circumstances, and, most important, consequences of the last episode of mind-altering ingestion that brought him or her to the conclusion that sobriety is necessary. The authors of the book choose the words “last drunk,” rather than “last drink,” deliberately. A “drink” connotes, for most of us, happy memories, celebration, joy. Drunk, however, brings more realistic, and more graphic, images to mind: erratic behavior, harsh words that we couldn’t be paid to say to another while sober, life-altering decisions we wouldn’t dream of making while not under the influence. Most important, at least for this alcoholic/addict, “last drunk” brings to mind the vicious, hopeless, cycle that was my life while in active addiction. The antidote is so simple, it’s almost laughable, and it’s the name of the second chapter we did not get to read this morning: “Staying away from the first drink.”
I mentioned Philip Seymour Hoffman as the reason for selecting this chapter, because I have drawn the conclusion that he must have forgotten his last drunk, as has anyone who picks up a drink or drug after significant time in recovery. How can this be? How could someone forget something as critical as this? Sadly, it is all too easy to do. It’s just how life works: we clean up our acts, remove the addictive substance from our lives, life gets better, and it becomes far too easy to lose the intense feeling of our need for sobriety. The memories of how bad it was become hazy as time passes. Life comes at you, as life does, and the overwhelming solution presented by society is to take a break from reality, cut loose. Life coming at you can be catastrophic, or it can be celebratory, the societal solution is the same: have a drink, kick back, relax!
When that solution is so omnipresent, and the memories of the negative consequences of addiction are so fuzzy, it is not difficult to see where someone, even someone with significant sobriety, can get off track. And for those of us that call ourselves addicts, it is, without a doubt, a huge gamble. From all accounts, Mr. Hoffman lost his sobriety date sometime in 2012, by 2014 he no longer has the opportunity to regain his seat in a 12-step meeting.
For the record, my last “drunk” was monumental in its mundane-ness: I did that day what I had done almost every day for the 8 months that preceded it (the worst of my active addiction). What’s monumental about it would impress only me. First, I had the realization, so strong I actually said it out loud to myself: “there is absolutely no part about this that is fun anymore.” I had never drawn that conclusion before that day. Second, the aftermath of my “bottom:” husband confronting me, resulting consequences, dealing with family and friends, cement for me every second of that last drunk in a way I hope I never forget.
Because, like Mr. Hoffman, I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to reclaim my seat, so I choose not to vacate it today.
I am grateful that I still have my seat in my 12-step program, and that I choose to keep it.
I will say, for the record, there is nothing I want to do less than write this post. We have had another 8 inches of snow dumped on us, kids are off for what feels like the 1,000th day, and I barely made the trek to the building where I run my meeting to find the parking lot unplowed. It took me and the meeting attendee I pick up over an hour of shoveling to get me back out of the parking lot. All of this to realize that the only two maniacs that would head out in this type of weather to attend an AA meeting are the two of us!
On the other hand, honoring a commitment, even (especially) one made to myself, is a well-used and effective tool in my sobriety toolkit, and so I shall write today. Today’s meeting would have been a reading from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, but with only the two of us present, it turned into more of a casual topic meeting, and we discussed several: fear, the length we go to in sobriety (as in attending this particular meeting), the length we went to in active addiction, and service. All great topics, and all relevant to both sobriety, and life in general.
Since I could seriously use an attitude adjustment, I will also write about last week’s meeting, which I did not do because I wrote a special post for my “soberversary.” When I left the meeting last Monday, I had this fluttery feeling in my chest, almost like I was nervous, yet I had no reason to be nervous. So I checked in with myself, to name the feeling (a skill achieved in sobriety, I had neither the ability nor the inclination to check in with myself in active addiction), and I realized it was excited happiness. I had a record attendance of people last week, mostly so they could commend me on achieving two years of sobriety. I received cards, hugs, and so much appreciation I was overwhelmed (hence the fluttery feeling, I guess). To say it was a special meeting would be a gross understatement.
I picked a selection from the book Twenty Four Hours a Day. This book has a thought, meditation and prayer for every day of the year, I read from January 27th, and we all shared. The general theme of the three readings was how different we are in sobriety in terms of our honesty. Very relatable material for this alcoholic, and for those present in the meeting! There was one woman in attendance relatively new to sobriety, and had come to the meeting upon the advice of a mutual friend. She was able to open up about her shame regarding her dishonesty in a way she was not able to previously, and her message was a powerful one for the whole group. I had the privilege of speaking with her after the meeting, and sharing with her some of my experience, strength and hope, and is there a better anniversary gift than that?
Alright, deep breath, I feel better… thanks for letting me share 🙂
About an hour after I survived the harrowing parking lot incident, and was back home with the kids, the power went out, and I had visions of Hurricane Sandy (without power for 8 days). The miracle is that the outage lasted less than 30 minutes (I will take any miracle on a day like this one!).