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 🙂
We are almost a whole week into the season of Fall, and, other than my home decor and decreased sunlight, you would never know it in my area of the world. I say if I can’t have the long summer days, then I don’t want the summer humidity! Hopefully the rest of you are enjoying seasonal weather.
Today’s reading selection comes from the book As Bill Sees It, and the topic was “open-mindedness.” I selected it because I have been struggling of late to cultivate this trait… with myself. And I’m frustrated at how tedious and seemingly ineffective it is to try to change my own stubborn mind. The last time I had to engage this kind of shift in perspective it took hitting an alcoholic bottom to do so. I’m hoping that the wisdom gained in sobriety affords me the opportunity to develop the open-mindedness I need without the “benefit” of a personal low such as that!
So my sharing had to do with the broad concept of open-mindedness, but from my sharing the group took a decided turn towards open-mindedness as it relates to the belief in a Higher Power.
In fact, the next person to share after me revealed a multitude of points at which she finds herself stuck in developing a prayer life. She has classified herself an agnostic for most of her adult life, so the concept of a Higher Power at all is a new one to her. She finds it difficult to ascribe human qualities to an entity about which she is uncertain, so having a daily conversation makes little to no sense.
She has grown up with family that treated the God of their understanding as a Santa Claus God; if you ask nice enough you will get whatever you want. But praying for anything stumps my friend; isn’t that reverting to self-will again?
From her disclosure, each person shared about his or her journey to spirituality, and all agreed that it is a journey rather than a destination. Another prior agnostic said what appealed to him about the 12-step program is their refusal to define the term Higher Power. Thirty six years later, he still refuses to define it. But the benefits of following the simple suggestions of asking a Higher Power for help had immediate, practical results for him, and so he continues to keep it as simple as possible. That simplicity has kept him sober and happy for a very long time.
Another long-timer, a clergyman by profession, admits to having a more conventional concept of God. What he appreciates, however, and has deepened his spirituality, is sitting in the rooms of our 12-step program and hearing all the different constructs that people have in terms of their faith. No matter which way you go about developing your relationship with a Higher Power, this gentleman believes the ultimate goal is self-transcendence: getting out of our own heads, and developing a broader perspective. However you get there is up to the individual.
Another attendee has a hard time sticking to one definition of a Higher Power, so for him it varies. He has a picture of Christ in his car that brings him comfort, but he also feels God in nature. He finds it simpler to not ask too deeply, because his experience was rather dramatic: the first time he got down on his knees and asked to have the obsession to drink removed, it was removed. In over 25 years, it has not returned. So for him, there is surely a power greater than himself, because he could not quit drinking on his own. The details simply don’t matter to him.
Another woman spoke of all the manifestations of prayer life she has been through in her many years of sobriety. Come to think of it, most of the people who shared today have decades of sobriety. This usually means they’re doing something right! Anyway, this woman had a confusing childhood of mixed spiritual messages, then she disconnected completely from spirituality for the decades she drank.
So when she committed to getting sober through a 12-step program, she took every suggestion given to her, and the first was: pray for sobriety! At first, that was all she could do… start every morning asking God to keep her sober, then finishing each night with a thank you prayer for another sober day. Over the years, she has tried all kinds of conventional prayers, and a variety of meditations; the format of her prayer life is an evolution. But the one constant is that she asks God for help, and she remains as open as she can for the answer. And she has found incredible answers over the years, from all sorts of unlikely sources.
I had to jump back in and second that notion. I learned through this program that prayer is asking for God’s help, but meditation is listening for the answer. So the notion of a “Santa Claus God” is something I engaged in for years… I would desperately ask for something, then become aggravated when I didn’t get exactly what I wanted in the time frame I wanted.
But in the application of both prayer and meditation, I too have found answers in unusual circumstances. I may not always like the answer, and sometimes I wonder if in fact it is the answer, but the coincidences-that-are-not-coincidences happen too often to not be something greater than myself. The trick, of course, is cultivating the open-mindedness to receive them!
So many other great moments, but this post is turning into a book, and I’m late for an appointment…
Finally, after 2 1/2 months, I am getting my hair done this afternoon. Why I waited this long is anyone’s guess, but the skunk streak of gray is about to be banished from my head 🙂