M(3),2017: From Your Mouth To God’s Ears
A very happy Monday, and a happy President’s Day to my American readers! I’m hoping you are having as beautiful a day as I am having. It feels more like spring than it does late February in my neck of the woods!
Today’s reading was from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we studied:
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.
There was a great crowd this morning… just enough people that everyone had a chance to share, a nice mix of long-timers and those with a smaller amount of sober time, a group of regular attendees and those who were new to the meeting.
When I read this particular step, I break it down and look at prayer and meditation as two distinctly separate things, though I suppose in an ideal world they would be connected. As for prayer, the chapter defines prayer perfectly:
Prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God. -pg. 102, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
My prayer life, or ritual of praying, has evolved quite a bit over the years, and I imagine will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I am currently at a point where the bulk of my praying is conversational in nature… I talk to God, express gratitude, ask for intentions, in much the same way as I would talk to another human being. I shared as much with the group this morning, and I wondered aloud if I am missing something important by not including more formal prayers in my daily practice. I invited anyone in the group that might be willing to share with me the benefits they receive from praying in a more formal manner.
As is always the case, my fellow Monday meeting attendees did not disappoint. Each person shared with me the various ways they pray, and how their prayer rituals help them. Unsurprisingly, the list was a diverse one:
- Morning prayers said immediately upon waking
- Morning prayer said over coffee
- Morning prayers said on the commute into work
- Reading from a daily devotional book
- Listening to Christian radio
- Formal meditation
- Yoga as a form of prayer
- Chanting and singing prayer
Believe it or not, I’m not sure I listed them all! In every case, the benefits received were the same, no matter what type of prayer is uttered: a deeper relationship with one’s Higher Power. In deepening the relationship, each person reports receiving a deeper sense of gratitude, a feeling of connection, and an overall sense of peace that, prior to a prayer life, had not been experienced.
Most important, not a single person could list a negative side effect to prayer. There simply is no downside! Even those who fall on the spectrum of agnosticism did not find a drawback in attempting to pray.
The group did not speak as much on the meditation piece, so it is hard to try to write a consensus. Speaking for myself, and I know I’m repeating myself from past blog pieces, meditation is a practice I dearly wish to master. Hell, I’d settle for being able to claim that I am half-assed meditator! Sadly, I can make no such proclamation. Here’s what I can say: when I have been able to meditate on a regular basis, I am able to draw upon a reserve of calm that I don’t otherwise have. That calm allows me to pause in stressful situations, and thoughtfully consider the best way to react.
Regular meditation also deepens my sense of gratitude, and allows me to be more present in my daily activities.
Finally, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment when I engage in a regular meditation practice. Similar to when I exercise, I feel empowered by the regular practice of something I know is good for me mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
Maybe, just maybe, now that I’ve written all this out, the fire will be lit, and I will restart my meditation practice!
Writing a post when everyone is home from school/work. Usually people around means I am anywhere but in front of the computer!
M(3), 11/21/16: I’m Back!
Some housekeeping: apologies for being so absent from this blog. Not only have I not written in a couple of weeks, I’ve also not responded to comments. I will be going back when I hit publish, but it shows a complete lack of appreciation for those who take the time to respond, and the last thing I want to do is to appear ungrateful. I appreciate all comments, and I’m sorry for failing to show my appreciation!
The reason for the absence is due to a recent foot surgery that kept me with my foot elevated for a good number of days. Since I detest using a laptop, this prevented me from my trusty desktop computer. Then we were on a days-long road trip to watch my son race a cross-country course with the best of the best, so again away from my preferred choice of writing.
So now I’m back, and hopefully with some wisdom to share!
Today’s meeting focused on Step Two in the twelve steps of recovery:
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Always a good step for discussion, since so many people come to the rooms of the 12-step fellowship with such a vast array of beliefs and non-beliefs.
As usual, the attendees did not disappoint. One regular, a man whose professional life is based on his spirituality, says he struggles. Not in the sense in believing a Higher Power exists, but in those who judge him for what he does for a living (member of a religious order). Even in the meetings he has found this to be true, and it can be problematic. He reminds himself that the step reads “could,” not “will,” and that his focus should remain on the positive, not the negative. He finds meetings that support him, and avoids meetings that tear him down.
Good advice on a broader scope, not just because he is a religious professional, and advice that I’ll take to heart.
A friend who continues to struggle with the notion of God still struggles with this step, and takes umbrage with some of its wording. She dislikes that they suggest to us that we “quit the debating society” and instead do our best to keep an open mind. She finds this advice somewhat offensive, in that she believes an open mind should question things.
But then she reminds herself that keeping an open mind means remaining open to all suggestions, even the ones that don’t necessarily make sense to her. Plus, all questions about a higher power aside, she firmly believes in the success of the 12-step paradigm, as she’s seen literally hundreds of success stories with her own eyes. For now, this is enough to keep her coming back, and trying to keep her mind open to new possibilities.
Another woman shared that she is the type who believed herself spiritual while continuing to drink problematically. She thought she asked for help numerous times, only to continue to relapse. So she believed in a higher power, but not necessarily in His/Her/Its ability to “restore her to sanity.”
She realized the error in her thinking was that she was asking for help, but not doing her part to make things happen. In working the 12 steps she realized there was real action that needed to be taken by her, and in taking that action she believes her Higher Power removed from her the obsession to drink.
I particularly enjoyed hearing her share, because it clicked with my personal story a bit. I tried and failed to get sober for a solid 8-9 months before I hit my alcoholic bottom. During that time I went to meetings, I had a sponsor, and I prayed all the time, on my knees just as I was told to do. I thought I followed instructions, but I relapsed too many times to count.
Then I hit my bottom, and while fear certainly played into my early days of sobriety, I was more or less doing the same types of things I had done the previous 8-9 months. Over the years I’ve often asked myself: other than the fear and the consequences I was facing, what was so different before and after?
When my friend shared this morning, I remembered that one prayer session that I’ve referenced a few times on this blog. It was on my first night of sobriety, not even morning yet since I surely wasn’t getting to sleep that night. I think the language I used in my prayers was likely a little more (in my head, though I’m not above talking out loud while I’m praying)… sincere, or real, for lack of a better word. But the critical difference was the question I asked of God that night. I said, “Okay, it is clear that I am doing something wrong. Can you please show me what it is?”
From that query came the analysis of what I was doing differently than the other members of the Fellowship. And from that thought process came a blueprint that I thought might help me, or at the very least would be something different to try.
And the rest is history. I believe sobriety, like life itself, is a never-ending process, so I continue to learn and grow, but I’m grateful for the original struggles that started me on a path to a more peaceful, more spiritual existence.
And I’m writing on and on, and never even got to the surgery and all the trials and tribulations that have come with it. I will do my best to get back later in the week to detail!
Logging in. Writing. Hitting Publish!
M(3), 2/15/16: It Works If You Work It
A meeting chock full of great thoughts and ideas, at least there was for this participant! This morning we read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and focused on Step Eleven:
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.
The chapter that covers this step talks in depth about the many benefits of prayer and meditation. In addition, it discusses methods to overcome agnostic/atheistic mindsets, as well as easy pointers on how to get started praying and meditating.
The first person to share talked about how he almost walked out of his first meeting because it talked about prayer and meditation. Agnostic by nature, he was sure that the end of the meeting would be asking for money and/or a signed contract. When neither happened, and he realized that he was in charge of his conception of a Higher Power, he stuck around and followed the suggestions given to him. Thirty-six years later, and he considers prayer to be an essential component of his daily life. He knows prayer and meditation works because he’s experienced the positive effects. He realized early on that he did not have to know how something works for it to work; therefore, he stopped questioning the mechanics behind the power of prayer.
His last point, and the one that stuck with me the most: he has learned through his years in recovery that it is not enough to ask for something through prayer, then sit back and wait for it to arrive. He must be a participant in the process, and do his part to make things happen.
Another gentleman with long-term sobriety shared his prayer life journey. I was trying to calculate his years of sobriety by following the story; I got up to 34 years before I got confused. Regardless of the actual number, suffice it to say he’s been sober a long time! He considers his prayer life an unfolding story, one that has developed slowly over time, and one he imagines will continue to evolve as long as he’s alive. He said he started the way most of us do… a daily prayer book that asks you to read something small each day. He said for years that is what his prayer life involved… reading, with not a whole lot of engagement on his part. Over time he noticed that quite often the reading for the day would correlate precisely to something that was troubling him. From there he learned to participate more in the process, rather than by simply reading a daily paragraph. Finally, through a series of chaotic events, he lost track of his prayer routine, and found himself out of sorts with no real reason as to why. He went to a retreat where the leader posed the following question:
If you find yourself in a state of discontent with no discernible cause, think back… was there something you were habitually doing that you stopped?
Bingo! He realized he was missing his time spent in prayer and meditation. He went home, fished out his “little black book,” and now makes sure he stays in practice.
A few attendees shared of their struggles with making prayer and meditation part of their daily routine. All recognize the benefits of such a practice, but, like any new habit, it can be a bumpy road getting started.
Finally, a friend of mine shared her thoughts on the subject of prayer and meditation. She is sober about 2 1/2 years, but I know from spending time with her that acceptance of a Higher Power has been her biggest struggle. Turns out she is actively working on this aspect of her recovery; she remarked that the shine is off the penny, so to speak, in terms of meeting attendance, step work, and the various readings. She knows she needs a deeper connection in order to sustain her sobriety, and she is seeking spirituality to fill that need.
She said she is learning, through her research and reflection, that attachment is the origin of suffering. In other words, if she is suffering, then she has an expectation of an outcome. Either she is trying to control what happens, or she is trying prevent something from happening.
As she was speaking, I recalled a conversation I had with my husband not an hour before. I was explaining to him the root cause of some internal angst I have been experiencing, and seeking his advice on how to proceed. His suggestions were, at first blush, unimaginable, and I told him so, and my defense of my opinion. His face has that look that tells me I need to stop and rewind, but I was unable to fully decipher what specifically I had said to cause his expression.
So I ask him to please just tell me what is causing the pained look, since I have tried to decipher with no success. He considers for a moment, then says, “Everything you’ve said since we’ve started this discussion, from you thoughts about what is causing your discontent to your reaction to my advice… that’s all Old Josie talking.”
And it was a light bulb moment… every single moment of disquiet I have experienced with regard to this issue, every quick fix action I’ve taken, and every subsequent action to correct the quick fix… all seen through the lens of pre-recovery thinking. It stopped me in my tracks.
Whenever I have found myself in the past heading down the path of old thinking, my correction has always been to deepen my efforts at prayer and meditation. So it was crazy enough that this step was the one we were discussing. A coincidence that is never a coincidence.
But then to hear my friend describe in layman’s terms a basic tenet of Buddhist thinking in a way I could understand, a concept that applied so directly to the discussion I was having with my husband, was the breakthrough I needed.
Attachment to an outcome = suffering
Yep, that pretty much sums up in a nutshell the source of my suffering.
So I got the wake-up call I needed this morning. Of course, like my friend above said, the wake-up call is not enough. I need to be a participant in the process. The good news is that you can start just where you are when it comes to prayer and meditation!
Coincidences-that-are-never coincidences will always be a miracle to me!
M(3), 11/9/15: Prayer is Talking, Meditation is Listening
Today was a slooowwww meeting…. the type of meeting that has you staring at the clock, and wondering if the battery has died.
Strange, really, because today we read a relatively long chapter from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve traditions, so there was less sharing time, rather than more. Plus the step we covered,
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, asking only for His will for us and the power to carry it out
is one that typically has people lined up to share their experiences with both prayer and meditation. Not so today, which makes for a slightly uncomfortable meeting. Well, uncomfortable for the chairperson, at least… nothing makes me squirm more than protracted silence in a meeting!
So I possibly talked longer than necessary about my experience with prayer and meditation, as it relates to both recovery and, well, just life itself. Coming into recovery I has no fundamental issue with the concept of a Higher Power, or praying to a Higher Power, but I suppose I had significant skepticism that my Higher Power would listen or respond. To my way of thinking at the time, I had prayed about a gazillion times for Him to help me stop drinking. What makes my current prayers easier to hear than those in active addiction?
And while I’ll never know the official answer, my best guess is the quality of the prayers, rather than the quantity. When I hit my alcoholic bottom the prayer wasn’t urgent, with a time stamp on it… “God, help me out of this crisis and I’ll never drink again!” There was no bargaining; I had no chips left to use. There was nothing left but a hopeless sincerity: I need help, I’m out of answers.
For whatever reason, it worked. And continues to do so, in matters both large and small.
So prayer has been a regular part of my life for as long as I’ve been sober. Meditation, not so much. I’ve had small periods of maintaining a daily practice. Regular readers probably remember I took a course on meditation, and got a heck of a lot out of it. In fact, my longest stretch of daily meditation came right after completing that course.
Then summer came, and there went the practice.
I am now a few weeks into a short, but daily, meditation practice. And while I’m not going to say I’ve been transformed, I can say I notice some distinct benefits. Probably the main difference I notice is my ability to detach from the fun house that can be my thought process. It doesn’t stop the craziness, but it most definitely slows it down. More importantly, I am aware that the thoughts and feelings are not facts, and I can disengage from them, rather than allowing them to swallow me whole.
When that happens, my friends, it is a freaking miracle!
Other than my rambling about prayer and meditation, I was able to eke out a few pearls of wisdom from the various attendees:
One regular attendee also claims religious ministry as his profession. He says there are a multitude of ways in which to practice both prayer and meditation; whatever works is a great way to go. For him, prayer is talking to God, whereas meditation is listening for God’s answer.
Another regular had a very difficult time with the concept of prayer in early sobriety, but after trying it with a simple, “God, please keep me sober today,” he found himself a believer because of its effectiveness. Thirty six sober years later, and he still prays that simple prayer daily!
A woman shared how difficult the practice of meditation continues to be for her. She finds she has to concentrate so hard, the meditative quality seems to vanish! She knows, though, when she even makes the effort, she is better able to slow her thoughts down for the rest of the day.
Finally, a gentleman raised his hand and shared he had relapsed a few weeks back, and is currently fighting his way back to comfortable sobriety. He said the first things to go when he picked up a drink were prayer, meditation, and 12-step meetings. His lapse lasted about 2 months, but the picture he painted of his emotional state during those two months was grim, the kind of wake-up call every recovering alcoholic needs to hear before they decide to pick a drink again. Despite the hardship he enjoyed, his faith has not wavered: he feels profound gratitude to be sitting back in the seat of a 12-step meeting again. He believe he has been given a gift, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober.
As always, I am humbled and grateful when a person has the courage to share with all of us his story of relapse, for it gives the rest of us a reason to stay sober today.
After an excellent weekend of kids’ athletic triumphs (my son qualified for a NATIONAL cross-country meet!), I am reminded this morning how blessed I am to be sober, today and every day.
M(3), 11/2/15: Finding the Common Solution
And just like that, it’s November!
Since it is the first Monday of the month, we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous; I selected the chapter entitled “There is a Solution.” A hopeful title if ever there was one, the chapter is as optimistic as it sounds…. it is possible to rise from the depths of alcoholic despair to “a fourth dimension of existence of which we had never dreamed.” (pg. 25)
Big promises in this chapter, and for untold numbers of recovering alcoholics, promises that have been delivered!
We were on the low side of normal in terms of attendance this morning; however, I heard exactly what I needed to hear. Two things stood out to me in this morning’s reading. The first was the description of a necessary spiritual experience: huge emotional displacements and rearrangements (pg. 27). When I look back on my mental state of mind before I hit my alcoholic bottom and compare it to sobriety, that description is an apt one.
In 12-step meetings before sobriety I would catalog all the ways I was different from everyone else in the room; in sobriety I marvel at all the things we have in common.
In active addiction, my first consideration was where you were wrong and I was right; in sobriety it is acceptable to agree to disagree.
Prior to getting sober there was no middle ground things were black and white. Today I can see the shades of gray in between.
The second concept that stood out to me in the reading is the idea of clinging to solution offered by the 12-step program, and thinking it flimsy at first, but soon enough realizing how strong it is. I read that paragraph, and was immediately transported back in time, starting my days in prayer and thinking how ridiculous I felt. Day after day, I continued a ritual that seemed so hokey, so preposterous, and in my wildest dreams I could not imagine anything meaningful coming of it. How about all those times I prayed in the past… why would this be any different?
Until, slowly but surely, I stayed sober. Not only did I stay sober, but I started noticing other changes as well. Coincidences that were too good to be coincidences, calls and emails just when I needed support, inspirational readings that would seem to land in front of me when I was ready to read them.
Now, if something happens and I don’t start my day with a prayer… that would be preposterous.
Others in the meeting spoke of their emotional displacements and rearrangements; some were dramatic, most were incremental and not truly recognizable until well after the fact. All agree that using the simple tools that we were taught within our 12-step program help us not only to stay sober, but also to live peaceful, joyful lives.
Last, but most certainly not least, one of my favorite meeting regulars shared what she loves most about this chapter: the hopefulness of finding a common solution. It’s not her solution, or my solution, but it’s our solution. Unlike those bonded together by a crisis like an earthquake or a fire, this is a bond that continues well past the crisis, because it is in seeking out one another that we recover.
Finding people who understand you = a miracle
Finding people who understand you and can offer you a solution to your problem = an even greater miracle
The ability to give that solution to still others = the greatest miracle of all
M(3), 6/29/15: Loneliness Vs. Solitude
Today is the fifth Monday in the month of June, and I am at a point with my meetings that I dread months with 5 Mondays. Which, when you think about it, is beyond silly, since I am the only person that pays attention to the literature rotation from one Monday to the next.
So I stress about choosing a reading selection each time a fifth Monday pops up, I change my mind a whole bunch of times, and it always works out okay. Just like today, when I switched at the last-minute and read from the book Came To Believe, a collection of stories, written by members of Alcoholics Anonymous, that describe how they came to find a God of their understanding.
A few things made the meeting exciting. First, a gentleman who has come to be known as a regular attendee celebrated 90 days of sobriety, a huge milestone in this writer’s opinion! Second, although we were on the low side of normal in terms of attendance, we ran out of time in terms of sharing. Always the sign of a good meeting.
The topic that seemed to grab the attention of the majority was loneliness, and it’s counterpart, solitude. By the chapter’s definition solitude is the joy of being alone, whereas loneliness describes the pain associated with aloneness. Two sides of the same coin. Most recovering alcoholics, at least most of whom I’ve heard share on this subject, directly relate the pain of loneliness to their drinking activity. They experienced loneliness, whether by themselves, with family, or in a crowd of people, and so they drank to escape that feeling. Initially, the effects of alcohol worked for a time, but in most cases wound up creating the isolation they drank to escape in the first place. Many who shared today claimed this vicious cycle as their own, and added further that the lonely feeling was a lifelong one.
The chapter read this morning speaks of using alone time to our advantage rather than fearing it: quiet reflection, taking our inventories, prayer and meditation. In time, the author reports, we will anticipate with relish our solitude.
In the meeting, most reported a turnaround in thinking with respect to alone time. Once a time to be restless and discontent, all who shared now look forward to quiet time to do all the suggestions listed above.
The 90-days-sober-attendee said he vacillates in his perspective of his alone time. Some days, he can have a bad attitude about it, and reflect miserably that it’s another night spent alone while all of his friends are out socializing and doing all the things in which he used to be able to engage. When his perspective is such, nothing makes him happy. Other times, he looks forward to his alone time as a way to decompress and shut down his overactive brain. He is hopeful that over time the latter attitude will come more naturally than the former.
Another gentleman, a 12-step long-timer and a religious professional, cites his lifestyle can be the perfect balance of both: he is required to spend time in prayer and meditation, and can head to his room anytime he needs solitude. Conversely, his weekends are filled with hundreds of people when all is said and done, as he performs his ministerial duties. Of course, he is human, and so once in a while the balance tips in favor of one or the other, but he is careful to keep that balance in check.
Another long-timer shared that he has a similar set of issues as the 90-days-sober attendee. As a single man, some days he feels very alone, with no one to care for him. Other days, he is deeply appreciative of the people who are in his life. The important thing for him is that when he is feeling the pangs of loneliness, he must acknowledge and take action to correct so that it does not drag on indefinitely. His active alcoholism, he remembers, was mired in loneliness, and he consciously drank to fill that hole of loneliness in his life. His best remedy to correct? A gratitude list, so simple and yet so powerful. He reminds himself of how many good people are in his life, and that usually does the trick!
A sideline discussion came about in terms of whether you can feel connected in terms of computer usage; specifically, online connection. Some felt that the connection derived from the internet is not an authentic one, and we are better served with live interaction, others felt that connecting anonymously with others is just as beneficial to their sobriety.
As a blogger for over 3 years, I imagine you all can guess which side of the debate I land. Happy Monday to all!
The honor of handing the 90-day coin out this morning is a miracle I hope I never take for granted!
M(3), May 4, 2015: The Most Hopeful Passage In AA
Happy Monday to All! It is a glorious one here in the Northeastern corner of the United States, spring has most definitely sprung!
Today at a fairly crowded Monday morning meeting (15 attendees), we read from the primary text of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, and I selected what I consider to be the AA reading filled with the most hope for the alcoholic wishing to recover. I am inspired each and every time I read it; today was no exception. In fact, I have a phenomenal “coincidence that of course is not a coincidence” that I will share after I talk about the reading itself.
Alcoholics Anonymous, also referred to as “The Big Book,” is divided into two sections. The first 164 pages is considered the basic text, the “how to” manual for the 12-step program. The second part of the book is a collection of personal stories, in which alcoholics tell their stories of addiction and recovery. The last chapter in the first section, entitled “A Vision for You,” offers a summary of the 12-step program, along with plenty of inspiration to get you started on the journey of sobriety, and it is the chapter we read this morning.
After sharing the different parts in the chapter that spoke most to me this morning, we had no shortage of people willing to share. The first, a regular attendee who celebrated his 2-year anniversary this morning, talked about learning how to “get out from under” the influence of alcohol, as is referenced in the chapter. He shared his stories of trying to failing to stay sober, primarily because he believed he could handle it on his own. Two years ago, he tried a different strategy by walking into the rooms of our fellowship, and he hasn’t looked back since.
A long-time member of the program finds the chapter’s “practical approach to problems” the most enticing element of both the chapter, and the 12-step program itself. He maintains that the 12 steps do a great deal more than keep him sober; they are his personal “how to” manual for living the best life he can live.
Another attendee related to the part of the chapter that describes the alcoholic staying dry on willpower alone, as he was able to do that for many periods of time within his active addiction. But, just like the chapter predicts, each time he used willpower as his method of recovery ended in failure. Now sober for a quarter of a century, he worries more for the people who boast to him that they had a problem with alcohol, but figured it out on their own than the person in the meeting who shares that he is thinking of drinking. Usually the simple act of attending a meeting and sharing what’s going on will dispel the craving, whereas the person doing recovery on their own has nowhere to turn.
Another friend, an infrequent attendee who surprised us by showing up, told us that she found, at long last, the job of her dreams. She insists that she is living proof that the promises we read at every meeting (the 9th step promises, for those who want to look them up online) really do come true.
Then a newcomer to the meeting raised his hand to share. He was not planning on coming to meeting this morning, but something within prompted him to do so, and he is glad he did. He related to a few things that a couple of us shared already, but he particularly related to the attendee who talked about being honest at meetings, and how important it is for sobriety. He said he really struggled this weekend, and those around him attended Cinco de Mayo celebrations. He got through Saturday by isolating in his house, watching movies and such, and then he had to assist a family member who did not make the same choice. Waking up Sunday, he was glad he did not drink the day before, but by the afternoon those old feelings came creeping back. He handled them and is happy to be sober on this Monday morning, and he was grateful to have a place to share this difficulty.
Finally, a regular attendee of the meeting, and one whose wisdom I share regularly on this blog, raised her hand to share. Before I talk about her take-away from this morning’s meeting, I want to share another story of my own, seemingly unrelated to the morning. Last Wednesday, I met a friend in the fellowship for a meeting and lunch; this friend has a sponsor I know very well and is a regular attendee of my meeting. At lunch we are discussing one of the trickier subjects within the 12-step program (who and who not to make amends), and she references her sponsor. I am amazed at her sponsor’s wisdom, I say as much, and I off-handedly comment that maybe it’s time for me to go back through the steps, and resolve some of the unresolved issues I feel I have. Immediately after speculating, I shut down the idea, because this woman is very busy, has lots of sponsees, and it’s not like I’m profoundly suffering and am in desperate need. It was a 3 second asked-and-answered thought process, and our lunch proceeded delightfully.
Back to this morning: my friend who shared this morning is the sponsor of the friend with whom I had lunch last week. I haven’t had a chance to see her in several weeks, just getting a chance to connect with her was blessing enough. She also loves this chapter, and is always grateful to have the opportunity to read it, but what stood out most to her in it is the concept of service, and helping another alcoholic. She then proceeded to share, in as eloquent and persuasive a way as I have ever heard, how much of an honor and privilege it is when she is asked to sponsor another woman in the 12-step program.
I know I’ve said this before, but, really… I can’t make this stuff up!
Of course, I did approach her after the meeting, I did recount my tale from lunch the week before, and that I had considered asking her to take me back through the steps, but felt like it would be asking too much, and that her services would best be served with the still suffering alcoholic, and she more personally explained to me how much she feels strongly she would get more out of the experience than I would (for the record, I don’t believe that, and yes, I did tell her so).
So, short story long, the fates have me going back through the steps, and I am both excited and nervous all at the same time, which I’ll take as a good sign. I’m imagining I’m going to have lots more to write about in the upcoming months. Requirement number one from my new sponsor: call her every day. Friends reading this are doing a sharp inhalation right about now, as the phone and myself do not have a very strong relationship.
To be continued…
As if this morning’s miracle isn’t enough, I am starting a 3-day course on meditation tonight as an early Mother’s Day gift. Oh the things I will have to write about!
M(3), 11/17: See God in the Response, Not the Disaster
My Monday morning meeting had a wonderfully large turnout (15) on a day that almost demands one to stay inside due to cold, dreary, pouring rain. I hope the weather is better wherever you may be in the world!
This week’s literature selection came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and covered the topic of Step Eleven in our 12-step program:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
In essence, the chapter’s purpose is to describe to a newcomer what prayer and meditation are, why they are important to cultivate in our lives, and the benefits that are derived from the implementation of these practices. This is one of those chapters that applies to the whole of the human race, not just those of us who identify as alcoholics.
I am fortunate to have held a belief in the existence of God prior to joining my 12-step program; therefore, when it was suggested that I start each day, on my knees, in prayer, I did not balk, and have continued the practice to present day. The ease with which I was able to incorporate prayer into my life is not universally true, as many who join our Fellowship consider themselves atheists and agnostics. For them, step eleven is another hurdle to jump, but the good news is that many who came before them have successfully cleared the hurdle, and provide practical ideas to make it easier.
Meditation, on the other hand, is a practice with which I struggle mightily. I have written, on numerous occasion, about my battle to control the monkey mind that slips into high gear at the mere mention of the word “meditation.” And although I firmly believe in the benefits, and although I have had some limited success with practicing it, for some reason I have failed to make this part of my daily routine.
But the bottom line, for me, with regard to step eleven: no matter what form my conscious contact with God takes, be it morning prayer, mid-day “pulse checks,” meditation attempts or evening inventories, the results are invariably the same: the answer to the questions I am seeking lies in looking outward, rather than inward. In other words, what can I do to help another? The possibilities are endless: I can reach out to the still suffering alcoholic, I can help a friend or family member in need, I can assist the person in front of me in the supermarket line, I can drive with patience, rather than with road rage. The point is my focus is on helping others, rather than myself, and it is in this shift from self-centered thinking to a more benevolent thought process that I find my peace and serenity.
From my share a regular attendee, one with decades of sobriety, remarked that he remembers well my struggle with meditation (hmmm… perhaps I am a bit repetitive?!?). He said he learned very early in sobriety the simplest definition of prayer and meditation is the one he carries with him to this day:
Prayer is talking to God
Meditation is listening to God
So, to him, when he is saying a formal prayer like the Prayer to St. Francis (Make me a channel of thy peace prayer), he is praying. When he studies the prayer, and breaks it down line by line and figures out what that would look like in his life, he is meditating. This particular attendee happens to be a priest, so I take his suggestions on prayer and meditation very seriously!
I absolutely love this idea, because it is something I put into practice pretty regularly: I see something profound, or wise, and I try to see how I can apply it to my life. If this is a way of meditating, I’ll take it!
Other people focused on the idea of meditation as being present in whatever you are doing; consciously appreciating your present situation. You can meditate doing just about anything: walking, cleaning, washing the dishes. I informed that friend that I had a sinkful of meditation waiting for me at home!
A gentleman new to my meeting but sober since 1981 said that throughout his sobriety, every time he got into a funk, it was because he failed to work on his conscious contact with God. Each time, he said, his ego got in the way and he became complacent in his prayer and meditation practices, and each time he wound up feeling down and out for no discernible reason.
Finally, a woman who considers herself agnostic is able to practice prayer and meditation by virtue of science: there have been many studies which prove measurable benefits of meditation, mindfulness, and incorporating spirituality into one’s life. She is unable to refute the results, so why not try to improve her own life? When she struggles with the concept of God, she remembers the expression I used in the title of this post: see God in the response, not the disaster. Rather than focus on the question, “Why would a God allow bad things to happen to good people,” my friend instead focuses on the caring and compassionate response to the tragedies, or disasters, or hard times.
The blessing of being allowed to absorb the collective wisdom of these Monday meetings, plus the added blessing of being allowed to share them with you!
M(3), 11/3: A Vision For You
I know I say this at the start of every month, but… I can’t believe it’s already November!
Today’s reading selection was the final chapter in Part I of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (aka The Big Book), entitled “A Vision for You.” This chapter more or less encapsulates the entire 12-step program, and does so in a beautiful, profound, and energizing way; it is regularly regarded as the most inspirational chapter of the book. The image above contains the last two powerful paragraphs of the chapter, I get goosebumps every time I read it! And I am not alone, this same sentiment was shared by nearly every attendee this morning. This chapter reinforces for those of us lucky enough to call ourselves members of this 12-step fellowship, why we go to meetings, why we work the 12 steps, and why we are always ready to help the next suffering alcoholic. The answer is that by doing these simple things, we are given a life that exceeds our wildest dreams.
I selected this chapter because if aligns with the feelings I experienced as a result of some events from yesterday. A friend asked me if I would join her at a meeting she attends; she thought I might enjoy it too. I agreed, and it wasn’t until that morning, when I mapquested it, I discovered a personal significance: it is the very first meeting I attended after I hit my alcoholic bottom.
When I realized it, I almost called and cancelled. What possible good could come of reliving that horrific weekend? I could just as easily attend another meeting with her later in the week. However, remembering that my going may very well be helping my friend, and it would be pretty darn rude to cancel that late, I decided to thumb my nose at these feelings and soldier on.
The ride to the meeting was chock full of unpleasant memories, and landmarks of active addiction. Walking in to the beautiful stone church which housed the meeting, I passed the area where, on that frigid Sunday in January, I smoked probably a half-dozen cigarettes, still in so much shock that I had no real appreciation for the complete mess my life had become.
These unpleasant thoughts are rolling around my head as the meeting starts and the chairperson announces that the format is something called the “ask it basket.” She explains that as this is a newcomer’s women’s meeting (both of which are facts that escaped me 3 years ago), they offer this format as an opportunity to ask questions in an anonymous way, and see how other women are handling/have handled said situation. This turns my mood around quickly; this is a new format for me, and I’m always one to be captivated by shiny, new objects.
There were a bunch of really interesting questions, but the one that enchanted me, and the one I chose to use as the springboard for my sharing, was:
Why do we have to go to so many meetings?
I love this question, because it is absolutely one I was asking on a regular basis when I dragged my hours-sober-self into this very meeting! I explained to the group the circumstances of my last encounter with this meeting, and how for the 8 or 9 months prior to it I had been attending meetings, but was anything but a true member of the fellowship. Up to that point, I attended meetings because I was satisfying somebody else’s idea of how to get sober.
And on that day, I’m fairly certain I left the meeting the same way I entered it… shattered, heartsick, terrified. But that night, praying to God in a way I hadn’t before, I considered those kind women who took time out of the meeting to show me some helpful sections of the Big Book, sections that are important to my sobriety even today. I considered those women and realized they go to meetings because they want to, not because someone else wants them to. They go even though they have years, some even decades, of sobriety. Those women seemed happy and peaceful in a way that my brain could not begin to comprehend.
And on that night, I resolved to go to a meeting every day, and pray like crazy that I could get what those women have. Failing that, I prayed that the obsession to drink and use drugs would be lifted.
That day, almost 3 years ago, I was awoken to my husband telling me to pack my bags, he was taking me to my Mom’s, he did not want me around him or the children anymore. I arrived like the unwelcome surprise that I was on my Mom’s doorstep, and was met with horrified disbelief that I would be taking up residence there. I was taken to the meeting, and I could feel the disappointment from my sponsor. I left that meeting to go start my new life without my husband and children.
Yesterday, I woke up, gloriously refreshed due to the extra hour of sleep permitted. I sat with my husband enjoying our morning coffee, and we watched our favorite Sunday morning program. I drove myself to the meeting to spend time with my friend. I went home, picked up my son, and together we celebrated a successful cross-country season with his team mates. We returned home to get organized for the week ahead while my husband put the finishing touches on his world-famous chili, served in bread bowls that he picked up at the bakery while I was at the meeting. We sat down as a family to devour the feast, then cleaned up and quietly ended our weekend in the family room in front of the fire.
It may seem counterintuitive to remind ourselves of our painful past mistakes and horrors, but, for me anyway, it keeps my blessings fresh, and reminds me of the progress and growth I’ve made. It is absolutely worth it.
Two newcomers to my meeting today, and three anniversaries celebrated (3 years, 5 months, and 4 months). In a group this small (13 people), that is amazing!
Awkward God Conversations
Is it just me, or is it incredibly uncomfortable to have conversations involving a Higher Power?
I just had one of these conversations the other day. It was not my first, and, since I assume it will not be my last, I figured why not explore this self-consciousness a bit and see what I discover? The conversations of which I speak are when I am trying to explain the evolution of my spirituality, which should, in theory, be a point of great pride. And it is, between me, myself and I, but whenever I try to speak of this topic, I convince myself that I sound like a cross between Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
What’s important to note is that the general audience with whom I converse are believers: folks in AA generally have some sort of spirituality, my family are all born and raised Catholic, and, come to think of it, so are all of my friends. Quite the homogenous world I live in; nonetheless, the “God” word is offensive to no one in my orbit. I do not personally know a single atheist or agnostic, and how weird is that?
So why the discomfort?
The best I can come up with is not wanting to scare people off by sounding too Holy Roller-ish. I went to a small, Catholic college, and there was a group known as the God Squad. Suffice it to say that they were not the Cool Kids, for sure.
But this self-consciousness also makes me guilty. If I believe in God, if I love God, if I am grateful for all the miracles He has bestowed upon me, then why be shy about it?
This is a post with more question marks than periods. In fact, I am really hopeful that something in the comment section illuminates a light bulb in my head with regard to this subject.
These conversations are uncomfortable all across the board. I remember once when going through the steps with my sponsor, she suggested I get into the ritual of saying prayers with my husband. First thought: Absolutely. No. Way. Second and third thoughts: I agree with the first. Needless to say, I never took that suggestion.
My Mom is a devout Catholic, and, while it’s probably the least awkward with her, it’s still feels funny to me.
This could be one of those issues where the best advice is not to over-analyze, just accept the feelings as they are, and trust that in time these conversations will get easier.
Let’s keep this one short, in the hopes of generating further discussion: for you God believers, is it weird to talk about it? If so, how do you handle the weirdness?
Not being struck by lightning after admitting I don’t like talking about God?