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M(3), 1/5/15: Silence is Golden

 

Holy moly, that was the first time I typed out  a date with the new year!  I hope 2014 closed peacefully, and 2015 is off to a marvelous start for all of you!

Sad news from my part of the world:  I have an extremely annoying ailment that has me sounding like a seal when I talk too much.  The upside, for me, is that I got to take a seat in the attendee chair at my Monday meeting this morning, and I was able to simply soak in the collective wisdom of the group.

This week’s literature selection comes from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.”  My friend who pinch hit for me this morning selected the chapter at the start of the book, entitled “The Doctor’s Opinion.”  This chapter is the equivalent to medical seal of approval for the fledgling 12-step program, and it was a risky business, professionally speaking, for the author of the chapter (Dr. William D. Silkworth) to give his endorsement to such a revolutionary solution for the disease of alcoholism.

Had I been able to share with the group without embarrassing myself with my hacking cough, I would have talked about the importance of his term “phenomenon of craving.”  Here is what Dr. Silkworth writes:

We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action
of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an
allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and
never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types
can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having
formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost
their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their
problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to
solve. Frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices. The message which
can interest and hold these alcoholic people must have depth and
weight. 
-pg. xxviii, Alcoholics Anonymous

Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect
produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they
admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true
from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal
one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can
again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at
once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking
with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as
so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass
through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful,
with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and
over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change
there is very little hope of his recovery.
-pg. xxviii-xxvix, Alcoholics Anonymous

I am sure I have said this before, and I am equally sure that I will say it again:  the concept of the phenomenon of craving is a major motivator in keeping me sober.  Anytime I have even the most fleeting of thoughts that I could have “just one, what would be the big deal,”  I immediately consider the idea that I could be opening a Pandora’s box that is the phenomenon of craving, and I consider what my life in active addiction was like, and the mere possibility of that allows me to easily shut down the desire for “just one.”

Most of the rest of the group focused on Dr. Silkworth’s description of alcoholism as a “manifestation of an allergy.”  Apparently there has been some debate on whether alcoholism is a disease or an allergy, and people can become quite passionate about defending their particular conviction.  Most of the group this morning liked the description of alcoholism as an allergy.  After all, the definition of the word allergy is an abnormal reaction of the body to a substance, and most of us who identify as alcoholics can certainly attest that our reaction to drinking, even if it was simply our preoccupation, was abnormal.

One attendee shared that she truly thought she was insane while in active addiction.  She observed that, while hungry, she would eat until satiated, and then her eating would slow down.  With drinking, however, the complete opposite occurred; the more she drank, the more she wanted.  And it seemed like she was the only one in the world who drank like this.  An isolating, anxiety-ridden way to live, until she found this 12-step program and learned that she was not crazy, nor was she alone.  Now, almost 30 years later, she believes that even if someone offered her a way to “drink like a lady,” she would decline, because then she would have to forfeit all the amazing benefits she realizes from her participation in our program of recovery.

A few members talked about dealing with drinkers during the holiday season.  The general take-away from these experiences:  create the boundaries you need to protect your sobriety.   People generally speaking are not considering what you need while they are drinking, so you need to do this for yourself.

As always, there is so much more to share, but it’s time to prepare some hot tea and honey!  Hopefully next week I will be back to normal…

Today’s Miracle:

After a 12-day holiday “staycation,” husband and kids are back to school and work.  The complete silence of the house is today’s miracle!

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M(3), 12/15: The Beginning of the End

Today’s reading in the literature rotation for my Monday morning meeting was the first half of step 12 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  Step 12, the final piece of the 12-step program’s puzzle, is:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the results of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

Of all the steps, twelve is the longest in terms of reading, mainly because it has three “sub-points” that lie within it:

1.  Defining a spiritual awakening, and describing what it looks like

2.  Discussing the various and sundry ways in which to carry the message

3.  Identifying the various parts of our lives in which the 12-step principles can be practiced

The sharing from today’s half-chapter focused quite a bit on the spiritual angle of the 12-step program, and the benefits the conscious contact with a Higher Power brings to daily life.  We had a pretty decent mix of spirituality in the meeting this morning:  some find it almost childish to pray to a Higher Power, some consider themselves alternatively spiritual rather than the more classical definition that involves organized religion, and then we have a professional clergyman in our group.

And although every person who shared defined their Higher Power differently, had different interpretations of the term “spiritual awakening,” and had different manifestations of spirituality in their daily lives, all agreed upon this premise:  the spiritual component of their recovery not only helped them to get and to stay sober, it enriched their lives in ways they couldn’t have possibly imagined.

For me, step 12 is the one that has been the most transformative, and is the one I reference most in my daily life, so a step 12 meeting is always one I enjoy.  But today’s meeting had a special element about which I will share.  First, however, I need to lay some groundwork:

This past weekend, which I will write more about in a different post, my husband and I had a delightful “adults only” trip to New York City, where we stayed with one of our best friends in the world.  More on the weekend later, but there was one miniscule moment, where through the course of dropping items in the subway station (yuck), I reached in to the pocket of my very old jeans and discovered a hole.

Which then led me down the rabbit hole of a memory from active addiction that included that same hole in the pocket of those same jeans.

In the immediate moment, I was able to shake it off by practicing mindfulness:  getting out of my own head and being present in my current circumstances.

On the drive home, however, the debilitating thoughts came back, and I knew the best course of action was to talk about them, to shine some light on the memory in order to dispel it.  However, the only available resource was my husband, and my general policy with this type of issue is to avoid burdening him with these thoughts.  After all, my bad memories are usually his too, and it is not right to create a memory burden for him in the interest of unburdening myself.

On the other hand, I know he appreciates when I am open with what is on my mind.  Back and forth the volley went in my head, and I finally decided to proceed in sharing my inner turmoil.

He did not appear troubled; in fact, he expressed gratitude in my trusting him with these thoughts.  When I asked if my reliving this particular experience bothered him, he replied that it made him grateful for the progress that has been made in the years since.

All positives all the way around, because I was able to shake the malaise, although in the back of my mind I did marvel at this ability to compare then and now and feel the difference.  I concluded that because I was the centerpiece, I am too close to it to have that particular viewpoint.

Short story long, today’s reading includes the following passage:

When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone.  He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being.  He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead-end, not something to be endured or mastered.

-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 107

Honestly, even while we read it, nothing really hit me about this section, until a friend re-read it and shared what it meant to him.  And then, like a thunderbolt, I had a memory from active addiction, where I consciously thought about life as something to be endured until I was able to alter myself chemically.  The meaning of life, while in active addiction, was to hang on until the next time I could drink or ingest something to make it livable.

And the difference between how I lived life then, and how I live life now, was so startling, and so crystal clear, that tears came to my eyes.  And in sharing this bittersweet realization with the group, I felt the full power of step twelve in my life.

Love those full-circle moments!

Today’s Miracle:

Two weeks ago the regular attendees of the meeting decided to throw together a “causal luncheon” for after the meeting.  The “causal luncheon” turned into a feast with homemade lasagna, cakes and cookies, and much more… how lucky am I to know these amazing chefs and bakers?

M(3), 11/24: Gratitude as a Verb

The topic of my Monday meeting was gratitude, and yet I am fighting the urge to sit down and start complaining.  Why?  Because, despite a solid two years of avoidance, my meeting was subjected to a dreaded business meeting, insisted upon by someone who seems energized by complicating simple matters.  What a completely annoying way to finish out an otherwise delightful Monday meeting experience.

But I digress.  Now, where was I?  Oh yes, gratitude!

Today is the fourth Monday of the month, which, in the literature rotation, is “chairperson’s choice.”  Because this is the week of the American holiday called Thanksgiving, I thought it apropos to use gratitude as the subject matter, and so this morning we did a series of readings on that subject.

I was a bit nervous at the start of this meeting, as there were very few attendees.  Mental note:  the more I prepare for a meeting, the less attendees there seems to be.  I’m not sure why it works out that way, but it has been pretty consistent throughout these 2 years, today there wound up being less than ten of us at the meeting.  The combination of a low turnout, along with an unfamiliar anthology, left me uncertain as to how this topic might resonate with the group.

The first couple of passages were met with some awkward silences, but soon enough the small group got into the swing of things, and the sharing really took off.  Whew!  I did not have to sit and ramble on for 60 minutes by myself!

Of all the different things that were read, two really stood out to me in a powerful way.  First, the idea of gratitude as a forward-paying action, rather than a passive thought process of things received.  For those of us involved in a 12-step fellowship, gratitude as an action means reaching out our hand to the still-suffering alcoholic in the same way a hand reached out to us when we needed help.

But that concept can extend to so much more than the disease of addiction.  Instead of writing down “I am grateful for the love of my family,” I could instead pay that love forward and show them that I am grateful for their love.  Gratitude should be active, not passive, and the reading reminded me to be conscious of that, particularly with the holidays so rapidly approaching.

The second reading that stood out talked about people in AA considering themselves privileged, for the misfortune of the alcoholism turned into the good fortune of living in recovery.  Boy does that hit home for me.  For a very long time I bemoaned the fact that I could not “drink like normal people.”  The holiday season in particular was a great time for the pity party to rage on, as I watched what seemed like every person on the planet drinking merrily.

Now that recovery from addiction and a sober lifestyle has taken root, I have a completely different outlook on abstaining from alcohol.  I see how being sober allows me to be present in a way I never was before sobriety; how working the 12 steps of recovery has allowed self-transcendence and a new way of living life on life’s terms, and how embracing sobriety has brought a whole new network of people into my life, people whom I never would have met if I was still drinking.  I can say, sincerely, that I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic.

Other people spoke of their plans for the holidays, and the preparations they are making to ensure their sobriety (bringing their own car to a function, arriving late, leaving early, planning to attend a recovery meeting, planning to spend time with other sober people).  They spoke of holidays where they did not make these plans, holidays where they chose instead to drink, and how those holidays inevitably wound up being about the alcohol, rather than about family or friends.

In the midst of this sharing, a regular attendee raised her hand and said she would be speaking off-topic, because she needed to share a situation with friends who would understand what she was going through.  This week she is hosting her in-law’s who have traveled from Europe to spend the holiday with her, her husband and her daughter.  Having been sober for over a year, she said her in-law’s know something of her alcoholism, but not all the details:  they know that she had decided to stop drinking, and that she attends support groups in the effort to not drink, but that is about the extent of it.  So within the past year, they have drunk in her presence but have not pressed her on the subject, and all in all it has worked out satisfactorily for all.  This visit, however, the in-law’s did something a bit different:  they presented my friend and her husband (not an alcoholic, but a rare drinker… due to acid reflux, he will rarely consume more than half a glass of anything) with NINE BOTTLES of wine and a bottle of single malt scotch.

My friends in recovery reading…. can you seriously imagine?  And this was the good stuff, by the way!

My friend handled it the best way she could:  she had her husband remove the alcohol from plain sight for while the in-law’s are still visiting, and she had made plans for a non-alcoholic friend to take whatever is remaining as soon as the in-law’s return home.   She just needed to share this story with people who would understand her plight, and, in this understanding could she finally find some peace with the subject.

Everyone who shared after her spoke of understanding, told stories of a similar vein, and how they handled similar issues in their own lives.  By the end of the meeting, my friend had a new point of gratitude:  the empathy of others in this meeting.

For anyone out there struggling with added stress of less-than-supportive family and friends during this holiday season, please know that you have us in the sober blogosphere, people who have been there, who understand what you’re going through, and will lend our support any way we can.  You just need to reach out, and you can survive the season with your sobriety intact.  If all else fails, this is a song I have used to amuse and empower myself when the going got tough, imagine all of your sober friends disco dancing with you through this holiday season:

Today’s Miracle:

The weather in Pennsylvania today definitely falls into the miracle category… it feels like summer today!  You’ve got to appreciate these days when you get them, especially in November!

M(3), 11/17: See God in the Response, Not the Disaster

My Monday morning meeting had a wonderfully large turnout (15) on a day that almost demands one to stay inside due to cold, dreary, pouring rain.   I hope the weather is better wherever you may be in the world!

This week’s literature selection came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and covered the topic of Step Eleven in our 12-step program:

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

In essence, the chapter’s purpose is to describe to a newcomer what prayer and meditation are, why they are important to cultivate in our lives, and the benefits that are derived from the implementation of these practices.  This is one of those chapters that applies to the whole of the human race, not just those of us who identify as alcoholics.

I am fortunate to have held a belief in the existence of God prior to joining my 12-step program; therefore, when it was suggested that I start each day, on my knees, in prayer, I did not balk, and have continued the practice to present day.  The ease with which I was able to incorporate prayer into my life is not universally true, as many who join our Fellowship consider themselves atheists and agnostics.  For them, step eleven is another hurdle to jump, but the good news is that many who came before them have successfully cleared the hurdle, and provide practical ideas to make it easier.

Meditation, on the other hand, is a practice with which I struggle mightily.  I have written, on numerous occasion, about my battle to control the monkey mind that slips into high gear at the mere mention of the word “meditation.”  And although I firmly believe in the benefits, and although I have had some limited success with practicing it, for some reason I have failed to make this part of my daily routine.

But the bottom line, for me, with regard to step eleven:  no matter what form my conscious contact with God takes, be it morning prayer, mid-day “pulse checks,” meditation attempts or evening inventories, the results are invariably the same:  the answer to the questions I am seeking lies in looking outward, rather than inward.  In other words, what can I do to help another?  The possibilities are endless:  I can reach out to the still suffering alcoholic, I can help a friend or family member in need, I can assist the person in front of me in the supermarket line, I can drive with patience, rather than with road rage.  The point is my focus is on helping others, rather than myself, and it is in this shift from self-centered thinking to a more benevolent thought process that I find my peace and serenity.

From my share a regular attendee, one with decades of sobriety, remarked that he remembers well my struggle with meditation (hmmm… perhaps I am a bit repetitive?!?).  He said he learned very early in sobriety the simplest definition of prayer and meditation is the one he carries with him to this day:

Prayer is talking to God

Meditation is listening to God

So, to him, when he is saying a formal prayer like the Prayer to St. Francis (Make me a channel of thy peace prayer), he is praying.  When he studies the prayer, and breaks it down line by line and figures out what that would look like in his life, he is meditating.   This particular attendee happens to be a priest, so I take his suggestions on prayer and meditation very seriously!

I absolutely love this idea, because it is something I put into practice pretty regularly:  I see something profound, or wise, and I try to see how I can apply it to my life.  If this is a way of meditating, I’ll take it!

Other people focused on the idea of meditation as being present in whatever you are doing; consciously appreciating your present situation.  You can meditate doing just about anything:  walking, cleaning, washing the dishes.  I informed that friend that I had a sinkful of meditation waiting for me at home!

A gentleman new to my meeting but sober since 1981 said that throughout his sobriety, every time he got into a funk, it was because he failed to work on his conscious contact with God.  Each time, he said, his ego got in the way and he became complacent in his prayer and meditation practices, and each time he wound up feeling down and out for no discernible reason.

Finally, a woman who considers herself agnostic is able to practice prayer and meditation by virtue of science: there have been many studies which prove measurable benefits of meditation, mindfulness, and incorporating spirituality into one’s life.  She is unable to refute the results, so why not try to improve her own life?  When she struggles with the concept of God, she remembers the expression I used in the title of this post:  see God in the response, not the disaster.  Rather than focus on the question, “Why would a God allow bad things to happen to good people,” my friend instead focuses on the caring and compassionate response to the tragedies, or disasters, or hard times.

Today’s Miracle:

The blessing of being allowed to absorb the collective wisdom of these Monday meetings, plus the added blessing of being allowed to share them with you!

M(3), 10/27: The Medical Profession and AA

 

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!”

Today’s Miracle:

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!

Results of “The Talk”

 

You know, it occurs to me as I sit down to type this, I really don’t have any sense of what I’m about to write.  A strange feeling, because usually I have the skeleton created in my mind before I even sit down.  So I guess, look out, because here comes a lot of rambling…

I should probably also add, in case you are new to this blog, I’m about to talk about the results of sitting down with my kids and talking about my recovery from addiction.

I would love to sum up the conversations with a nice neat label, but, like most things in life, there are shades of gray, and loads of second guessing, so I’m unable yet to give myself a grade on this particular test.  Let me give you some back drop on my goals beforehand.  First, I was determined to speak with each child individually, in a neutral location, so that they are able to give me their honest feedback without undue influence of other people, or even familiar surroundings.  Plus, if it did not go well, I didn’t want them to forever think of, let’s say the kitchen table, as the place where the family fell apart (no, I do not think melodramatically at all).   Second, it was important for me to impart to them a more realistic view of the “illness” from which I suffer.  Up to this point they have only been given a broad, almost pg-rated definition of why I go to meetings regularly, and I have never used the “a” word to describe myself.  Next, I wanted to gauge what, if anything, either child knew or figured out on his or her own, and here I was specifically thinking of my extremely perceptive son.   I would have bet a lot of money that he knew pretty much everything by this point.  Finally, and most importantly (truly the whole reason I’m doing this at all), I wanted them to know and understand that I know and understand a lot with regard to drugs and alcohol.  With both of them making big transitions in terms of schooling, I wanted them to know they have a resource very, very close to them, should they need information, guidance, or advice.  And, also, sideline goal: not to have my children disgusted with me, or filled with shame that I am their mother.

It might be easier to break it down conversation by conversation:

Conversation #1 (my 11-year-old son):

I made this decision much more spontaneously than I ever typically do with these types of things, so I was flying blind as I introduced the subject.  A possible mistake, although who’s to say for sure?  A second, and in my mind, more concrete mistake:  I assumed he knew more than he did.  My son is extremely nosy, one of those kids that has his ear to the door of every adult conversation, phone call, etc.  So I figured in 2 1/2 years, he has definitely figured some things out, if not everything out.  Not the case, and so the beginning of the conversation was stilted and full of dead-end questions and answers while I tried to get my conversational footing.  Finally, we got to a jumping off point:  he said he assumed I went to meetings because I used to smoke, and that since cigarettes are drugs they are hard to stop, so I went to meetings with other people who are also trying to stop smoking.

Alright, we’ve got something to work with.  So I explained that some of that is true:  cigarettes are addictive, and while they have the drug of nicotine in them, they are different in that they are not mind-altering.  I then took some time to explain what I meant by mind-altering, and together we listed out all the different types of mind-altering drugs.  And from there I explained that while yes, I used to smoke and now I don’t, the reason I go to meetings, and sometimes meet with other women, is because I need to stay away from all mind-altering drugs and alcohol.

His reaction was surprise, then his perception kicked in and he had all sorts of detail-oriented questions (“wait… is that why we don’t have alcohol in the house?”).  I answered every one honestly, and it was clear from his questions and his reaction that he truly did not know anything at all regarding my recovery.  He told me he remembered when I used to drink, but only in the context of larger family functions when every person at the party was very, very drunk.

I will admit to feeling deep relief at this point, because I was terrified of what I would hear out of the kids’ mouths when I asked them if they remember when I drank.

We were winding down, and there was a pause in the conversation; when I looked at him again, he had tears in his eyes.  That is probably the moment I have relived the most through the whole experience, and the reason I will forever wonder if I did the right thing.  He never fully cried, and it took some time for me to get the answer of why he had tears in his eyes out of him.  Finally, he admitted that “it’s a lot to take in, finding out that my Mom is an alcoholic.”

Another low point of the conversation.  I considered that for a moment, told him I understood, and that he is not alone in feeling overwhelmed by that label.  We talked about why that word is so scary, what he thought it meant versus all of this new information.  I explained that lots and lots of people in the world misunderstood what it means to be an alcoholic.  Finally, he has a couple of friends who are diabetic, so I asked him:  would you gasp and point your finger at your friend and say, “Oh no, YOU are a DIABETIC?!?”  Of course he laughed, but then I compared the two diseases:   both are not the fault of the person who has them, both are lifelong conditions, but are easily managed by doing a few simple things, and you can live a long and happy life despite having either of them.   He seemed to feel better after this, and asked a few more questions, but the conversation mostly wound down after, and he genuinely seemed fine afterwards.

Conversation #2 (my 14-year-old daughter):

I’ll make this recap a lot shorter, because it went a lot easier.  I was more prepared, and had no thoughts that she knew anything beforehand, so I used my conversation with my son as the starting point, about his assumption about cigarettes, and went right on from there.  She reacted a lot less surprised, although she insisted she had no idea.  She just said, “I had no idea, but it’s not like you’re telling me something that’s crazy,” which of course prompted me to list all sorts of new revelations, but we quickly got back to it.  She asked questions that were more intuitive than I would have thought possible of her: When exactly did it become a problem?  Is it hard to watch different family members drink, and does it make you want to drink?  Will you ever be cured?  All her questions were springboards for great further conversation, and at no point was she agitated or distressed.

In the interest of balancing the low point, right as we were wrapping up, my daughter touched my arm, and as sincerely as you can imagine, said, “Mommy, I’m so glad you’re better now.”

So there’s the deets, folks.  I did attempt to have a “family follow up” three days later.  We were out to dinner, and I said, “Since we are all here I wanted to give anyone and everyone an opportunity to talk more about this.  Have you thought about it and do you have more questions?”  My daughter did not, my son only said, “I did think about it more, and I thought more about the diabetic thing and that made me feel a lot better.”  They both continued to eat, laugh and bicker for the rest of the meal, so I will take all of that as a good sign.

The reason I feel like I can’t call this a failure or success is this:  the whole point is to give them information so that they can make good decisions down the road, and to let them know they have a ready and willing resource. Time will tell, I guess, but so far, a week later, there has been no fallout, and everyone seems to be living their lives as they did before.

I started this post saying that I have no idea what’s about to come out of my head.  I think the reason is I’m writing from two distinct points of view:  getting this out of my own head, and also sharing this experience in the hopes of helping someone else in my shoes.   For the former, as I mentioned, only time will tell if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

In terms of the latter, here’s my advice concerning talking to your kids:

  • Really assess if they are emotionally ready for this kind of information
  • Have a starting point for the conversation so that you are not fumbling for words straightaway.  You can’t prepare for every direction the conversation might take, but you can control the opening
  • Have a good purpose for the talk, so you can remind yourself why you are doing it if the going gets rough
  • Prepare mentally for curveball questions, and resolve to be as honest as possible

Hope this helps someone if they are looking to sit down with their kids!

Today’s Miracle:

It’s only now, as I hit publish, that I am feeling a sense of accomplishment in getting this task completed (and, might I add, completed with days left before the end of summer, it’s like two miracles!)

The All or Nothing Lifestyle, Examined

Finally, after much procrastination, I follow up on my previous post, The All or Nothing Lifestyle, Defined.  Hit that link if you need some backdrop!

 

So where last we left off I was to go quietly to the top of a mountain and meditate on what perceived benefits I gain from living my life with no balance.  Did not quite get to the mountain, as end-of-school-year events abounded, but dammit, I made a commitment to follow through on this, so I’m following through!  I just re-read back through that post myself, and methinks I need the aid of a therapist to truly work through some of these issues, but what the hell, here we go.  In no particular order, here are some thoughts on why I continue to live the all-or-nothing lifestyle:

1.  The first thought that jumped into my mind as I considered the gains of the all-or-nothing lifestyle is the exhilaration I feel when I am in my “all” state.  Easiest example of this is diet and exercise, and I’m sure everyone can relate to that feeling, when you just had a banner day:  ate healthfully, avoided temptation, and managed a strenuous workout.  It’s such an intense feeling of pride, and it definitely falls into the “plus” column of my current behavior.

 

2.  The next thought that came almost as quickly to my mind is, for the most part, this mindset allows me to set low expectations for myself, and by low expectations I mean almost no expectations.  Prime example of this concept relates, once again, back to fitness, and this is the God’s honest truth:  every time I fall off the fitness wagon, the thought that motivates me the most in getting back on is the idea that I only have to do a little each day.  If that is seriously motivating, then its no wonder why I habitually fall off the fitness wagon:  I get to the point where exercise takes real time and real effort, so all I have to do is give up, then I can start over at square one. This thought process may make sense to no one in this universe but me, and it’s actually embarrassing to admit, but it’s true, and it’s been a perpetual cycle for me for as long as I can remember.

As I consider it, this mindset is not exclusive to the fitness arena.  If I have been criticized for the way I perform a task, my default is “then you do it.”  Obviously there is some pride thrown in there, but really, isn’t just the all or nothing thinking at work?  If I can’t do a job the best, then I’ll leave it for someone else to do.  The gain in this case is, well, not having to do whatever task it is!  I have been mocked often (and rightfully so) for my lack of navigational sense (I truly don’t know how I left the house before the GPS was invented).  As a result, I make zero effort to cultivate this skill.  If I am with someone who knows better (and, at this point, a 3-year old toddler would count as one who knows better), I leave all directional decisions up to him or her.

 

3.  Maybe this point should be first, and God knows I have no concrete evidence of this, but this behavior seems ingrained.  There have been numerous tales of my excitable personality from my youth (I was about 6 years old when I was asked to put my tongue on the table so that it would stop talking, and I did it ) that lead me to conclude I have been an “all in” person forever, so it would follow that the benefit to the current behavior is that it is easy, it is what I’m used to doing, and it’s easier to go with the existing groove in the wood than to make a new groove.

 

4.  There is certainly an ego component to this behavior.  If I’m in the “all” state, then I’m full of pride (see point #1).  If I’m in the “nothing” state, then it’s ego in reverse:  if I can’t play my way, then I’m picking up my ball and going home.  Just writing this very post is unnatural, as I’m venturing into mental territory that is entirely new to me, so my instincts are screaming to back away from this issue, that since I don’t know what I’m talking about, I should leave the topic alone.  Luckily, the idea of leaving that last post unfinished is more distasteful to me than risking sounding foolish, or this post would never get finished.

 

5.  I suppose that there is some entertainment value to this behavior, and I do enjoy giving people entertainment.  You will only see me dancing at an event when I am all over the dance floor, I won’t be the one half-heartedly shuffling back and forth.  If I’m not doing it for entertainment, then I won’t do it at all.   Conversely, when I am not good at something, I am loudly and boisterously regaling people of how terrible I am at a given task.  So either way, I am enjoying notoriety.

 

So there you have it.  I have to say it:  this post was the mental equivalent to racing that 5K a few weeks ago, and I’m sure there is more digging to be done.  For anyone that can relate to this mindset, I’d love to hear from you:  what are some gains that you experience?  What have I missed?  I’m guessing that if I understood the motivation than I would be better equipped to change the behavior.  Let me know what you think!

 

Today’s Miracle:

For sure, hitting publish on this albatross of a post is a miracle!

 

 

 

 

Progress Report

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!

Today’s Miracle:

Having good news of any kind to report is a miracle!

To Spy or Not to Spy: That is the Question

I haven’t done a parenting post in a while, and I could use some advice from my amazing friends in the blogosphere!

Quick refresher:  I have 2 children, an almost 14-year-old girl, and an 11-year-old boy.  I am blessed that they are extremely healthy, reasonably well-adjusted, intelligent beings who (for the most part) make good choices.  The bad choices they make are largely commons ones to their respective age brackets.

That said, I had a troubling conversation with my daughter that has not been far from my thoughts in the week since we’ve had it.  My daughter, in my opinion, is one of the most rigidly honest people I know, she will not lie when I ask a direct question.  However, upon entering the turbulent teenage years, it has become a dance for me to ask the exact question to get the information I am seeking, because she does possess the ability to evade questions, quite skillfully.  So she has a friend that I worry is not the best influence, she knows this and has subsequently limited the particulars she will give me about the girl in question.  Without going into unnecessary detail, through trial and error (correction:  many trials, many errors), I finally ferreted out some information:  the girl has been transferred to a school that specializes in mental health issues, as she has apparently attempted suicide on more than one occasion.

My reaction, thankfully, was calm and supportive.  I explained to her how sorry I am for her friend’s troubles, but I am equally concerned that my own daughter has been walking around with such a heavy burden, and with no one to help her process.  She admitted that she worries I may judge, so we worked out a system whereby she can use a special code word with me, and I promise to withhold all judgment.  This then led to even more admissions, friends who engage in the activity known as “cutting,” friends who are chronically depressed, friends who question their sexuality.

Okay, lots of new information to process, and I pray that I did the best job that I could.  I continue to ask regular questions, both about the various friends, and about my daughter’s emotional state in dealing with these friends.  As traumatic as the conversation was, the end result was a positive one, in my opinion, because my daughter unloaded some pretty heavy stuff.

So here comes the question to which I am seeking an answer.  When I asked her how she has been processing all these feelings, she indicated that writing in her journal helps.  I asked if she would share some of her entries, she indicated maybe, but was afraid I would be upset by her use of language, and upset about entries in which she was angry with me.  I could tell that she was reluctant to share, and I have not pressed the issue.

But I want to read this journal, to ensure that there is not even more damaging stuff going on in her world outside of my control.  I did make a cursory glance through her room, figuring if it was easily found, then I would read it (I did not find it).  But all the while, I felt horribly guilty about looking, because I felt like I was invading her privacy.

On the other hand, if I had knowledge of the issues she is facing, I know I could better guide her through them.

What do parents in these situations do?  I am sure there are people who are firmly in both camps, but I am genuinely curious on majority opinion… would you actively seek out her journal?  How about cell phone investigation… would you feel comfortable scrolling through texts?  In theory, I understand that cell phone investigation is necessary, as bad choices made online could have horrific consequences (a boy at my daughter’s school was recently suspended for posting naked pictures of himself), but, then again, I leave that cell phone investigation to my husband, so I am really just passing the buck, not the fairest of ways to handle the situation.

I think I would be more comfortable if I could just make a decision, so that’s why I’m writing and reaching out to all of you sage, wiser-than-I-will-ever-be parents:  how do you handle the privacy issue with your children?

Today’s Miracle:

Hope that the comments I receive will help me get comfortable with a decision on how to proceed!

M(3), 2/17: Dissecting Step Two

The literature for today’s meeting was chapter 2 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and discusses in detail the thinking behind Step 2 in the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous:

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

This meeting, for me personally, was chock full of interesting shares, but before I venture into what I learned I will write about my experience with Step 2.  Step 2 can be broken down into two parts:

  1. Belief in a power greater than ourselves
  2. 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.

Today’s Miracle:

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!

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