I was draggin’ my wagon to the meeting today. It was a busy weekend, and I’m not feeling 100%. It is dreary and cold, which is atypical (I think, maybe not) for late April. I slept well, but could definitely use some more. It’s a very busy week coming up, and downtime is always a good thing.
The actual only thing that kept me from finding a substitute is that I had to miss last week, since braces came off my son. And I just didn’t have the heart to miss back-to-back meetings. It’s a freaking hour out of my life, time to pull up the boot straps.
And, as always, I’m so glad I did, and for a variety of reasons.
It was a larger than usual group of late, closer to the high of 20 than it was the average of 12. There were at least 3 people I have never seen before, and new blood is always a good thing for meetings. A regular that had been missing was back, and that’s always reassuring.
Most importantly, the shares that came out of today’s reading took an unexpected and positive turn that I would have never predicted.
Every once in awhile I post about meetings that have more to do with “life” issues than with alcoholic ones; today’s meeting was that to the extreme. The word alcohol rarely even came up in today’s meeting. I love this kind of meeting the most, because it reassures me of what I’ve believed (and written about) for a very long time: the 12 steps do more than keep you sober, they help to improve your whole life.
The reading, taken from the book Forming True Partnerships, is a tale about a husband and wife who got sober together, and weathered 17 years of a sober marriage, after 4 years of an alcohol-fueled one. As I was reading the story, I was a bit concerned, as the story takes some dark turns. I was concerned it would negatively affect the mood of the group. I could not have been more wrong, which shows I should possibly stop worrying so much, and trying to think for other people so much 😉
For the record, what I got out of the reading was this: applying the 12 steps to your whole life works. It helps you get through challenging times, it improves relationships, it creates a peace that otherwise would not exist.
The author writes of her various attempts at controlled drinking prior to sobriety, and describes these attempts as similar to “switching seats on the Titanic.” That not only made me laugh, since I had not heard that before, it made perfect sense to me.
She writes about how sobriety positively impacted both her marriage and her parenting skills; I can relate to that as well.
Finally, the author shows a remarkable ability to turn tragedies into learning experiences that make for a better future. It was inspirational to read such a tale, and I am energized to put things into better perspective as a result.
Rather than make a bunch of bullet points as I have been doing all year, I am going to sum up the groups’ shares as a generic whole. Because it was in listening to the various members of the group that I was enthralled. Every person focused on the fact that our lives are comprised primarily of relationships. In the case of the reading it was a husband and wife, but the truth is our happiness, or lack thereof, is almost solely based on the quality of the various relationships we hold. If we are married, then the primary one is often a spouse, but just as easily it could be a significant other, a child or children, a parent, even the relationships formed in the rooms of our 12-step fellowship.
It would stand to reason then, that learning the proper care and maintenance of these relationships is paramount to our happiness. And once again, the 12 steps play a huge role. By applying the 12 steps, we look to clean up our side of the street, and focus on that which we can control… ourselves. As soon as we make this important shift, absolute miracles happen all around us. We feel happier, more settled, more confident. We make better decisions, we are less impulsive, we pick less fights. We are so much quicker to acknowledge our part in any situation.
As a result, we earn respect in a way that is unprecedented. People see and feel the shift within us, and we get positive reinforcement. And so the upward spiral begins.
And of course, we are human, and as such we are prone to error. But the 12 steps take that into account as well… we look for progress, not perfection. And we take things one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time, so now’s a great time to restart. And if not now, a minute from now. And so on…
Hopefully someone was as slow to read this post as I was to go to my meeting, but has read it through and feels better for having done so!
The reminder that life is a journey, and not a destination. I am given what I need, both in terms of blessings and challenges. It is my choice with what to do with each!
It’s getting happy, though not quite there yet. It’s sunny, but cold, I am mending from an illness, though not yet 100%. Sorry I missed last week’s post, I missed the meeting as well.
Since time moves along whether I am sick or I am well, this week we covered Step 10 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. For those unfamiliar,
Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
Reading this step is timely, as I have been struggling of late with those self-critical voices that dog all of us to a greater or lesser degree. My voices start out very innocently, and are disguised as The Objective Devil’s Advocate…
Are you sure you’re exercising as hard as you could? I’m sure you’ve got more left in the tank.
Which turns into…
Of course you can do more, if you don’t then you have clearly failed to exercise properly.
Which can easily morph into…
You suck at exercise!
Now, this is one very small example, but multiply that by 1,000 and include every area of life, and you’ve got the inner workings of my negative brain gone haywire.
So reading step 10, and remembering some of its fundamental tenets, was particularly helpful this morning. Things like:
Focusing on nothing but the negative is not the point of any inventory
A true and honest appraisal must, but its very definition, include the good that is happening. It could probably go without saying, but once I start to look at the good that is happening in my life, I realize that it far outweighs the bad, and severely limits the negative chatter.
We need to look at progress, not perfection
This lesson can’t be taught enough for me. It is so easy to wonder why I can’t do more, achieve more, be more, but what about what I’ve done compared to where I was?
In fact, the very nature of my share this morning had to do with the discontent I’ve felt while I’ve been sick… how it messed with my head, made me feel unnecessarily down on myself, and how I am looking to regain my serenity after visiting the doctor and having to take medicine.
A gentleman who shared after me talked about having the opposite experience, how the first time he went to the doctor in sobriety he was elated, because he could actually tell he was sick, since he was no longer self-medicating with alcohol.
Excellent point, one I had forgotten in my low physical state.
After that a newcomer shared, and said she looks forward to the day where she can feel sick in a legitimate way. Currently even if she does feel under the weather, she will lie to her husband and say she feels okay so that he doesn’t question her drinking wine with dinner.
Message received, Universe: there has been progress for this alcoholic!
Courtesy, kindness, justice and love is the way to handle pretty much anybody and everybody with whom we come in contact
Really, enough said here. Well, one more thing… I need to include how I treat myself in that list!
A long-timer talked about how he favors step 10 above all else, because it is one that is so universal, and so easy to make progress. In early sobriety, he could not think of something as daunting as putting pen to paper and writing a lifelong inventory, but he could look at the day and see what he did right and wrong. By starting small, he was able to build up to the other, more labor-intensive steps.
Another attendee focused on the notion of justifiable anger, and whether we in recovery are entitled to it. He has decided that for him, the answer is no… there is no excuse for holding onto anger in recovery. In any situation where he finds himself resentful, he looks to correct his part in the situation, and let go of the parts where others are responsible. Like everything else, this practice takes time and patience to cultivate.
Another gentleman talked about the gift he received from the regular practice of step 10: self-awareness. Knowing when to take action and when to sit back, when to open his mouth and when to keep it shut, when to push himself and when to rest, these are the fruits of the labor involved in a regular self-inventory.
So there’s hope for me yet.
As always, there was so much more shared than I can write down in one blog post. I’m just glad to be back in the saddle!
Sitting upright and writing a blog post after having chaired a meeting. After the past week, I can say that all counts as a miracle!
You know how a friend will tell you she just ate something that you’ve never heard of before, then the next day you will see an ad for that same product, then the next day that product will jump off the shelf at you in the grocery store? Then you figure with that many signs, surely you were meant to try it?
Well, that’s what’s been happening with me lately regarding the ways in which negative self-talk, a lack of self-worth, and harsh self-judgment can be damaging. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say: something in the Universe wants me to look at this issue.
And I’m fighting it. A lot. And it is so reminiscent of early recovery that I figured I’d write about it here.
So here’s just one example, I could give you a dozen, just from the last week alone. I am talking to my therapist about some self-directed frustration I am experiencing, and as an exercise she forces me to look at the opposite side of the coin, and list out the things I am doing well. I resist this exercise with an energy I am not used to feeling, but my people-pleasing ways win out over my stubborn ways, and I do as she asks. But I do it while rolling my eyes, and ready and waiting to argue my counter points, confident that I will win her over to my side.
And my side is to criticize me.
Silly, illogical thinking, but as much as I cringe at that last paragraph, I can’t take it back, because it’s the truth.
The session goes on from there, and I am forced to admit that perhaps I am a bit hard on myself, but I want to tie this back into recovery. Believe it or not it does intersect.
I remember, very clearly, my mindset those first few 12-step meetings. Yes, I knew logically that I had an issue with which I had to deal. Yes, some of what I was hearing in those meetings made some sense. Craziest still, yes, these people seem to be very comfortable in these meetings, they seemed very happy (almost suspiciously so, my critical mind judged) and, if they are to be believed, voluntarily come back to this forum years after the problem has been solved.
I sat in that position, showing up, listening, speaking when forced, for a long time. At no point did I let go of my cynicism, and at no point did my critical mind stop judging.
And at no point during that time period did I stop relapsing.
So last week, when my therapist said to me, “At some point, Josie, you need to trust the process, because really this entire thing is a leap of faith,” I was immediately transported to that moment in time. I was on my knees, in the dark, praying as I had never prayed before. And when the critical voice showed up to say, “Puh-lease! You’ve tried this a hundred and one times, why would this be any different?” I didn’t agree or disagree, I kept on praying.
And when somebody suggested going to a meeting every day, and the critic showed up to say, “Do you know how many meetings you sat in and then went out and relapsed?” I didn’t agree or disagree, I just kept on showing up.
And when I was told to chair my first meeting, share my personal story, sit down one-on-one with another woman to go through the steps, I did it. I had no idea if the process would be effective long-term or not, I had no basis of comparison really, so I need to take the leap of faith, and I needed to trust the process.
And boy, oh boy, 3 years later, I am so grateful I did.
So I guess it’s time to trust the process again, and start talking back to the critical voice. Here’s hoping the results are as miraculous as the last time.
The miracle of the normal school day schedule. This will be going away very soon, and so I must, with mindfulness, feel the pleasure of routine while it exists!