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!
Hoping everyone who celebrated Father’s Day yesterday had a wonderful time doing so.
This morning’s meeting was a powerful one, surprising because summer is when we see a lower attendance. But this morning we had 16 seats filled, and everyone had something to share.
We read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we focused on Step Seven:
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
This is a chapter that focuses on the concept of humility, and its importance in the process of recovery from addiction. Many people equate humility with humiliation, when in fact they are more or less polar opposites. Humility is a virtue and something to which someone would strive; humiliation is a state of abasement, and a negative emotion from which someone would steer clear.
The book we read from today (though not in the chapter we read), defines humility as:
a clear recognition of who and what we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 58
This construct was an eye-opener. I assumed because I lean heavily towards self-deprecation that I had the humility thing all wrapped up. Clearly not when considered through the lens of this definition!
Of course, there’s lots more to this chapter, but I want to get to the discussion that followed. The first person to share did so because she wanted to clear her mind of some dark thoughts that had taken hold. She had been away for a week or so, and there was some stress involved in the trip. She got home and quickly had to dive into the holiday weekend, which also involved a birthday celebration. Out to dinner last evening, she was overcome by a powerful craving for alcohol the likes of which she had not experienced for at least two years. It was strong enough that it made her cry, which in turn made her feel self-pity: why, after several years of sobriety, would this kind of thing still happen?
A powerful share in and of itself, and one to which everyone could relate.
Then the next two people shared. We had two people new to the meeting; everyone else was a regular. The first person shared that this is his first meeting back in over two years. Once upon a time, he was thoroughly entrenched in a 12-step program. Then he moved, and never took the time to find a new set of meetings. The story followed its usual trajectory: the feeling that he could handle a few drinks, which led back to old drinking patterns, and the disease progressed as if he had never stopped drinking.
The story would have been powerful in and of itself, but directly after the share prior, wondering why a craving would hit after years of sobriety, and what giving in to the craving would actually mean, had the room silent for a moment or two.
Then the next newcomer shared, and it was a similar story, though on a shorter timeframe: he had been sober for 63 days, the urge to drink got stronger and stronger, and he actually said to himself while driving to the liquor store, “Well, here I go, on my way to a relapse!” Over the weekend, he was looking through some family photos, and he noticed that in each and every one of them he was drunk. It was the wake-up call he needed to get back to a meeting this morning.
The next share was from a regular attendee with a couple of decades of sobriety. She is not struggling with an urge to drink; rather, she is struggling with life itself: a 20-year old family member died in a tragic car accident over the weekend. She did what she could to be there for her family, but she needed this meeting for herself. She is grateful to have a place to go where she can share for feelings, and find relief in both the sharing and the empathy received.
And all this happened in the first 30 minutes!
The shares that followed all had to do with urges to drink, and how best to handle them, as well as wisdom on how best to recover from a relapse. Two phrases, oft-repeated in the rooms of the 12-step fellowship, were shared:
I. Addiction is cunning, baffling, powerful… and patient
This expression usually ends with the visual that our addiction is doing push-ups in the parking lot of our sobriety. It is a simple reminder to stay vigilant, and avoid the thinking that “you’ve got this” after a period of sobriety. Always great advice.
II. The person with the most sobriety is the person who got up earliest this morning
I used this as the title because it stuck with me this morning, despite having heard it a million times before. The meaning, in case it is not obvious: it does not matter if you are sober 10 days or 10 years, all any of us really has is today. You could broaden the scope to include anything in life, since today is all any of us ever has. I believe the person sharing this meant it as a balm to the wounded souls of the relapsed newcomers… it’s okay, you’re sober today, I’m sober today, we’re all the same.
It’s sticking with me because, if I’m being candid (and I suppose I am since I’m writing a blog), I don’t completely agree with this sentiment. Certainly I agree that all any of us has is the present moment, and I also agree longer time sober does not equate to being “more” sober, there are not placement awards, per se.
My time means something to me personally. I’ve mentioned this many times before, but a turning point in my sobriety came when I chose not to chemically alter myself because I did not want to give up my time. At six weeks sober, I did not want to reset the clock. I am incredibly fortunate that I have not had an urge to “pick up” in a very long time, but I know with certainty that if (when) I do that a huge deterrent would be that I would be giving up my sober time.
Maybe that’s just me, and at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. Whatever tools keep you sober are the ones to keep on hand!
At the moment, blessed silence in the house while kids are at the movies. Silence is golden!
The first week since I re-committed to blogging about my meeting, and I’m late. My apologies for the delay!
The literature came from the book Living Sober; the chapter, “Remembering Your Last Drunk.” An unusual turn of phrase, the title of the chapter refers to our predilection for calling to mind only the happy times. Sometimes this tendency is a good thing; few people would continue to procreate if they recalled the pain of childbirth. But in recovery from addiction, it is imperative that we remember the suffering that compelled us to choose sobriety in the first place.
Here’s the setup: you’ve decided you’ve had enough, you quit drinking. The process can be easy or hard, it’s not relevant. Time goes by, life improves: you feel better, you look better, your relationships are better, you’re more focused, organized, productive. Life is superb!
Then, the nudge to drink comes. It can come from a good place, such as a holiday celebration, personal victory, anniversary or birthday. It can come from a not-so-good place, such as stress, tragedy, disappointment. Either way, the glass of wine/bottle of beer/shot of whiskey seems like the perfect accompaniment/solution to your life situation.
It is that moment to which this chapter refers. Time and again, the mind will jump to the positives: how delicious the drink will taste, how much fun it will be to kick back with friends/by yourself and enjoy the feeling that alcohol provides, how many good times there has been in past moments such as these.
When these thoughts occur, and they will occur, I’ve yet to meet someone in recovery who has not had similar thoughts, the challenge is to play the tape through. Don’t stop at the early moments of your drinking career, but continue on to the bitter end. Because chances are, if you are even considering sobriety, the end of your drinking career paints a different picture than the beginning.
When this happens in my life, it is usually the celebratory times, and it is a glass of Chardonnay that catches my attention. The glass is beautiful, the color of the liquid in the glass is appealing, and I imagine how cool and refreshing the wine will taste.
Then I remember the following:
I have never once, in my entire drinking history, wanted simply one glass of wine. Even when I only drank one glass, I resented having to stop and wanted more.
So if I want more than one glass, already the picture in my head is changed: I’m drinking multiple glasses of wine. And then what? The story writes itself at that point… melodramatic behavior, hypersensitivity that leads to pointless arguments and huge scenes that need to be apologized for later, or, worse still, a blank spot where a memory should be.
In playing the tape through, the decision becomes almost elementary: I’ll take the non-alcoholic beverage, please, and I’ll thank myself in the morning!
The 12 or so attendees shared a bit about their memories of their last drunk. Some were memorable… one gentleman was simply going to take a sip of his friends’ beer, and by the last call ordered two drinks called “lady sings the blues,” with 4 shots in each drink, just to make sure he had enough! Just as many more, though, had lonely, miserable last hurrahs, where the joy was long gone, and drinking had just become a bad habit. Either way, the memory of the bad feelings associated with the overconsumption is powerful enough to remind them never to go back to that lifestyle again.
We had some great anniversaries yesterday: one gentleman celebrated 39 years, another celebrated 37 years and a third celebrated 60 days. There’s an extra energy present when someone celebrates an anniversary; you can imagine how amazing it was to celebrate three times!
The reading touched a nerve for two different attendees, as both had harrowing experiences with what they called their “built-in forgetters.” The first woman to share had 4 years of sobriety, decided she was cured, and then spent the next 4 years trying to find her way back to recovery.
The gentleman who shared a similar story had even more sober time, and he reported that the worst thing that happened to him when he picked up that first drink was… nothing. He had one drink, remained relatively unaffected, and it was weeks before he picked up a second. That was all the evidence he needed to convince himself he could drink again, and it took him close to a year before the drinking became problematic. And it was years before he was able to reclaim his seat in a 12-step meeting.
Both are profoundly grateful to be back; many don’t get the opportunity.
The reading was chosen by one of the attendees, rather than by me. This is relevant because, while I did not choose it, it had significance for me yesterday morning. The night prior, I had a drunk dream, something that occurs very rarely these days. This post is already going long, so I’ll try to write more about it later in the week, but for me the message is clear:
Today’s miracle falls under the “fingers crossed” category: on a night where at least 4 different events are occurring, things are tentatively managed to get kids where they need to be, when they need to be there. Anyone with teenage children will appreciate this miracle!
I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I’ve chaired this meeting, but I’m so happy I’m back. Let’s hope I’m not the only one who’s happy 😉
Believe it or not, it is the fourth Monday of the month… what the WHAT?!? In the rotation is the book As Bill Sees It, and the subject I chose is serenity. After last week’s post, where I disclosed my endless and needless guilt issues (quick note: I was overwhelmed with the incredible wisdom I gained as a result of everyone’s comments, thank you so very much), I figured I would seek a subject that is the opposite… focus on the solution, not the problem, right?
And serenity was the closest I could find in terms of guilt’s opposite. Plus, who couldn’t use a little serenity in their lives, right? Certainly the larger-than-average size group of attendees this morning thought so; all who shared claimed they heard just what they needed to this morning.
Funny how that works.
Two profound things came out of this morning’s meeting for me. First, multiple people disclosed that they are recently back from a relapse. Although the meeting was larger than usual, it is still a small meeting. To have a decent percentage of the crowd (I would guess about a third) to be starting over in terms of sobriety is a first for this particular meeting.
You would think that such a startling trend would be put a damper on the mood of the meeting; in fact, the opposite seemed to happen. Relief and even joy seemed to emanate from each of the individuals who spoke of their troubles. Not joy over relapsing, but joy in the fact that they were back where they needed to be. Some are facing legal problems, some worry that their hold on sobriety is tenuous, one is anticipating an upcoming surgery; his last surgery precipitated his recent relapse. But even with all of life’s issues, each person was grateful for the opportunity to begin again a sober life.
The second theme came from the collection of readings from this morning. Although the topic was serenity, each reading spoke in one form or another of the importance of humility. And each of us marvelled over the impact our humility has on our serenity.
And a quick reminder for those who don’t study recovery literature as those of us in 12-step programs do: humility is not humiliation. Rather, humility is a reasonable perspective of oneself. Bill Wilson, founder of the original 12-step program, defined it this way:
The clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to be what we can be.
-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
Seen from this perspective, it is easy to see why striving for humility might also bring about serenity.
It was in one of the discussions about humility that I had my thunderbolt thought. Let me back up and say that all of the readings had an impact on me, I had chosen serenity due to my recent lack of it. So all of the suggestions and thoughts were helpful. But at one point a gentleman was sharing about the idea of turning everything over to his Higher Power, and in so doing he finds serenity. So I considered this… would turning over these guilty feelings and incessant negative voices over to God help? Immediately the negative thoughts started, it is not even possible to gather and document them all. But the aggregate thought might be:
How do you know these negative voices aren’t God’s way of telling you to do something different? How do you know that the guilt isn’t from God, given as an impetus for change?
With that question came an immediate reply, one that caused all the negativity to quiet down, dramatically. I actually lost track of the conversation in the meeting for a few moments because my mind was so quiet:
Because God would not torture you with needless guilt to get His point across… duh!
And just like that I had an answer that made sense. I can talk back to the nagging guilty conscience, because it’s not some wisdom from above, wisdom from above does not come in the voice of a nagging shrew.
Gotta love those Oprah-style aha moments!
I came in with some pretty high expectations for this meeting, and I left with a peace and serenity the exceeded those high expectations.
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an anecdote that relates to this blog’s tagline, There Are No Coincidences. Guess that means it’s time for one. There’s a bonus, too: this one’s got layers!
Yesterday a series of events led me to searching through an external hard drive. I discovered a Word document with an intriguing title, so I opened it, and found a letter written by me to another family member, dated November 2005. The letter describes my journey to my then current state of being two months sober.
For those reading who don’t know my full back story, my (God Willing) permanent sobriety date is in 2012. What I did not know at the time of writing that 2005 letter was that period of sobriety would only last about a year or so.
I had some mixed feelings reading about that time of my life. On the one hand, I felt pride, because that letter was a surprisingly honest and accurate depiction of the timeline of events that led me to choosing sobriety.
Dismay and shameful feelings upon re-reading events about which I had forgotten.
Feelings of regret when I wrote, even at two months sober, that “AA is not for me, because I can’t really relate to the people I meet there.” I think I stopped attending meetings almost immediately following that letter.
Finally, feelings of curiosity, as I was writing this letter because some family members had questioned my decision to identify as an alcoholic. I concluded in the letter that I was unsure as well, but that for the time being, sobriety seemed the right choice for me.
I wondered ruefully if those family members have changed their minds in the years since.
So yesterday was an introspective day, lots of “what if” scenarios played out in my head:
- What if those family members were right, and I somehow could have figured out a way to moderate drinking?
- What if I had remained sober that entire time period, what would be different in my life?
- And the worst case scenario: what if I hadn’t chosen to get sober in 2012?
The nice part of all this rumination is the conclusion: I needed every part of my journey to get me where I am today, the questioning, the heartache, the trial and error. I’m grateful for all of it.
Long-winded back story, but I promise it’s going somewhere. The scheduled reading for this morning’s meeting was step 8, made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. But at the last moment a newcomer walked into the room and let us know he was a little over 30 days sober; this was his first meeting after rehab.
I made a quick decision, and ran it by the group for agreement: read out of meeting order, and read step one, we admitted we were powerless, that our lives had become unmanageable.
I can remember, even now, how preposterous the later steps sounded when I was in early recovery. I sincerely doubt that this gentleman was ready to hear about the details involved in making amends. The group agreed.
As we were reading the chapter, I wanted to laugh out loud at some of the lines, and how much they related to what I had written back in 2005:
Many less desperate alcoholics tries AA, but did not succeed because they could not make the admission of hopelessness.
Check and check, my conclusion in 2005 that my problem drinking was a result of circumstances, and it was most likely a temporary problem.
The answer is that few people will sincerely try to practice the A.A. program unless they have hit bottom.
Yep, also true for me. I needed that gift of desperation in order to make the necessary change!
I could list a dozen more examples, but the point has been made that reading my 2005 letter, then reading step one, provided the perfect reminder of what happens when you fail to make sobriety a priority.
After I shared all of this, many other meeting attendees with much more wisdom, not to mention sober time, raised their hands to share their insight regarding step one.
One gentleman reminded us that there are two parts to this step:
- admission of powerlessness
- acknowledgement of unmanageably
Often, it’s impossible to tell which comes first, but it is essential to accept both in order to proceed with the remaining 11 steps. The powerlessness and unmanageability are inextricably combined.
Another attendee spoke of alcoholism being the disease of denial. It’s a vicious cycle: the disease has us denying that we have a disease. How to break the cycle? Remove the alcohol from our system, and follow a few simple steps.
Yet another shared the power of two critical lessons from his early days: staying sober one day at a time, and staying away from the first drink. He remembered thinking how ingenious these two simple ideas are, and he has used them every day for the past 38 years!
The next person to share also spoke of how devastating denial can be. She was able to put down the drink, but remained a dry drunk for years because she insisted she “was not like the rest of us.” She finally got to the point where she had to either surrender completely, and follow the instructions given within the 12 steps, or pick up a drink to end the misery. It’s been 24 years, and she’s never looked back. As she puts it, “it’s such a great way of living, why not follow the steps?”
Finally, the newcomer raised his hand to speak. Being unfamiliar with the typical meeting format, he opted to share his history with drinking. Having started in 1958, he could see a steady progression of the disease until he sought some help…
wait for it…
He was able to stop drinking for…
wait for it…
a little over a year before he decided he could drink again.
Crazy, crazy stuff. Our stories deviate in that he kept going past 2012, but he’s here now, and I’m really hoping we see him again next week.
Listening for the similarities, rather than the differences, is a miracle!
I’m listening to a podcast series on a topic entirely unrelated to the general subject matter of this blog. Or at least, it should be unrelated. But like so many lessons I’ve learned in life, the application has a wide net:
In order to bring your dreams to fruition, you must first clean the slate
Anyone who has ever had a bit of sober time before relapsing can appreciate the real estate that regret takes up in the brain. I remember once having garnered a small amount of sober time, then relapsing on and off for a few months. During my sober time, I became friendly with another member of my 12-step program, but since relapsing had lost track of her. I was running errands one day when I saw her across the parking lot. I virtually dove behind a car to avoid her and having to either lie or admit the awful truth. While I managed to dodge the person and the inevitable dilemma, I did not dodge the mental torment:
“If you had done what you were supposed to do, you would have 6 months of sobriety”
“Look how happy she looks, you could look and feel like that if you would just do what you’re supposed to do”
“You’re worthless and you’ll never get your act together”
I can look back on that incident and clearly see how those thoughts were nothing but damaging. They did not motivate me to get sober, I remained in active addiction for another 3 months! All those thoughts did was keep me in a shame spiral that led to more depression, which led to more hopelessness, which led to more relapses.
That negative spiral relates to more than sobriety. Without going into repetitive details, because I have used up my time on this blog talking about diet and exercise, I can easily see the regret over attempts and failures to lose weight morph into feelings of frustration, which morphs into feelings of hopelessness, and the end result is simply a relapse of a different sort.
Interpersonal situations follow this cycle all the time. I am frustrated with the behavior of another, I know the answer is to constructively communicate the frustration, but I project the answers I will receive, which leads to further frustration, which leads to hopeless and the decision not to communicate because, “why bother?” The issue never gets addressed, and thus will recur time and again.
So if living in regret is not the answer, then how exactly does one “clean the slate?” Even though I know that it does no good to wallow in the mistakes of the past, why do I continue to do so and how do I make it stop?
I think the answer here is two-fold. The first is to become aware of the thoughts in the first place. This is an area where I’m just beginning to make some progress. Often I will be deep into self-recrimination before I even realize what I’m doing. So developing an awareness of the thoughts that I’m having, how often I’m having them, is a crucial first step.
Next I have been told by multiple very wise people: Shut It Down. As soon as I know what I’m doing, stop allowing myself to indulge in these negative thoughts. Talk back, yell back, get up and move around, go help somebody else, but cut the thought process off immediately. Though I have no proof, I am told by repeating this two-step process I will decrease both the frequency and the intensity of the negative thoughts.
Here’s where this whole lesson comes full-circle. Regular readers might remember from my last post a woman worried that she needs her painful memories in order not to relapse. If she forgives herself for the pain she caused others, might she then forget how devastating picking up a drink would be?
The title of this post represents a saying that’s been used by the women in my extended family for years. My basic understanding, because of the context in which it’s been said to me, is to stop holding on to anger and resentments. Like a lot of family traditions, I never thought too deeply about the saying itself. Possibly because when it’s being said to me I am full of anger and resentment, and thus don’t give a crap about its origins.
But as I was typing this post, it popped into my head. Curious, I googled the expression, and up popped a whole bunch of links that had to do with catching spider monkeys. Since I always assumed this whole expression had to do with squirrels, I was already delighted.
As the story goes (and believe me, it is only a story, I did not come across any actual proof of its validity), a very simple device is used to catch spider monkeys. Place a nut that spider monkeys like to eat in a heavy, narrow-necked bottle and leave it nearby. The spider monkey will smell the nut, and reach in to grab it. Because the neck of the bottle is narrow, he will not be able to remove the nut because his clenched fist will not fit. Because the bottle is heavy, he will not be able to take it with him. As the story goes, it is then a simple matter of walking up to the monkey and grabbing him, because his desire to have that nut will override his desire for freedom.
So if I know that self-negativity is damaging to the psyche and inconsistent with a peaceful sober existence, but I continue to hold on to the regrets, and the shame, then I am a spider monkey just waiting to be captured. Which just made me laugh out loud, so if nothing else, I’ve amused myself with this analogy!
I guess it’s time to let go of some nuts.
Waking up after a night where everyone in the house slept all the way through, the gift that will keep on giving all day long!
What do you want to hear first: the good news or the bad news?
If you’re like me, you want to get the bad news out of the way, so here it is: addiction is a chronic, progressive, incurable disease. Once diagnosed, you are never healed.
Alright, bad news dispensed, here’s the good, no, scratch that, the great news: the methods employed for managing the disease of addiction are ridiculously inexpensive (read: free), easily accessible, and can be utilized by anyone suffering from it. If used properly and consistently, not only will the addict keep his or her disease in remission permanently, the rest of his or her life will improve dramatically. How many other diseases can make that claim?
So the question for people like myself, with more than a year of recovery, how do you keep on keepin’ on? How can you ensure that you are maintaining your recovery?
As a regular participant in 12-step recovery, nothing scares me more than to hear stories of people with significant sober time come back after a relapse. Sadly, it happens more than one would like to think. I have seen people with 20 years of sobriety “go out,” and come back and report what we all know to be true: it never gets better. Twenty minutes, twenty days, twenty years; pick up a drink or drug, and you have fallen back down the rabbit hole.
Every time I hear that tale, the person says the same thing: “I picked up (meaning either drank again or used a drug again), but the relapse happened well before that.”
And that’s the part that terrifies this addict. Because I can say, with certainty, for today, that I am not tempted to ingest a mind-altering substance. But what worries me is am I heading towards it? Because, as we say in AA, everything you do either takes you toward a drink, or away from it, and the steps towards relapse are small and inconsequential at first…. so have I taken them without realizing it?
Here’s how I’ve solved that problem, for myself anyway, and I figured I could write it out in case it would help anyone else. I’ve developed a checklist to make sure I am staying on track when it comes to my recovery. The list is in reverse order for a reason, for each question that I can respond in the affirmative, I feel that much better.
- Have I maintained my sobriety date?
- Do I wish to pick up a drink or a drug?
- Am I confident that I can refrain from ingesting mind-altering substances just for today?
- Have I prayed today?
- Am I regularly participating in 12-step meetings?
- How is my mental state? If bad, has it been consistently bad? Has there been a pattern of negative thinking?
- When life becomes stressful, do I react in healthy, sober ways, or do I revert to old patterns of behavior?
- Am I maintaining my new, sober healthy behaviors and daily structure, or am I letting things slip?
- Have I been talking about what’s going on with me, or have I been keeping things bottled up?
- Have I been sharing with other people in recovery?
- Have I been giving back (12th step work)?
- Gut check: do I believe that I could pick up, just once, and it would be okay?
I would love to hear what people would add to this list, or how they would modify it!
That I can read this list, and feel pride that I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic/addict!
Spoiler alert: this post may be a bit on the depressing side, apologies in advance.
There’s an expression in recovery meetings, “taking a meeting hostage,” where a person will talk longer than appropriate about personal issues. Today, at my Monday morning meeting, I did a variation, in the sense that I tailored the meeting topic to a situation in my personal life. Probably not the most selfless act of my day, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. For the record, 11 attendees, and, from my perspective, the meeting was exactly what I needed.
Last night I met my sponsee at a meeting so that she could get her 6 month coin, very celebratory in nature, and I am so thrilled to have been able to share in her accomplishment. That’s the good news. The bad: while there I learned about the death of a friend and past Monday meeting attendee, whose name was George. I still can’t believe I had to use the past tense in that last sentence.
I met George about 10 months ago, we were fellow members of a drug and alcohol therapy group. George and I bonded from our very first day together, and anyone that has ever been through an outpatient rehab situation will understand what I’m about to say… George and I were the talkers of the group. What this means, for anyone unfamiliar with group therapy, is that often the majority of people prefer to sit and listen (or not), and do their absolute best to limit their participation. I can’t speak for George, but my philosophy is if I’m there, I might as well participate, plus I do have empathy for a group counselor that has to drag words out of every participant, so I am the one who will jump in and get things started. George seemed to be of the same mind, so many sessions had us gabbing back and forth about our personal circumstances in the moment. Through my time with him in group therapy, I found George to be open, honest, funny, and genuinely motivated to grab a hold of recovery. But, like myself and everyone else in that group, the obsession that goes along with addiction is very strong, and George fell prey to his addiction a few times throughout my time in the group, and so he eventually had to advance his therapy to a more intensive rehabilitation. I was able to let him know about my meeting, which had started right before we parted ways, and, once he got himself back on his feet recovery-wise, he started attending my Monday morning meetings.
And, just like in our group therapy, George was a tremendous benefit to the meeting. His personality is so engaging, and he is so sincere in his desire to stop drinking, that he drew people in every time he spoke. He thanked me profusely every single time he shared, for being an example to him and for having this meeting for him to attend. No matter what was going on in his life, he was able to talk about it honestly, and turn it around so that we could all learn something from it.
In the months that he attended my Monday meeting, George relapsed twice, and twice he came back and spoke candidly about the experience… the thoughts that led up to the decision, the shame and remorse he felt, and the negative consequences he suffered as a result. Always he was hopeful that this was the time he would get it together.
And then… nothing. He simply stopped attending my meetings.
I spoke with several mutual friends who went to other meetings with George, the same thing, they just stopped seeing him and hearing from him. Some of the male friends did reach out and try to call him, to no avail. The unspoken rule in AA is that guys call guys, women call women, so I did not have any numbers with which to reach out to George myself, but every single week in the past 2 1/2 months that he has been missing I have asked the mutual friends, and they all shake their heads sadly and say they have not seen him.
The limited information I received was this: his death was directly related to alcohol, and his wife is devastated. She actually called one of our mutual friends to let us know the news. She wanted to make sure his friends in AA knew of his death, because he spoke a lot about the group he had met and bonded with, and they meant the world to him. She also said he had a special friend during his time in group therapy, and was hopeful that the friend would know how highly he spoke of her. I’m guessing I’m the special friend, and if I’m not, it’s okay, because he was certainly my special friend, and my heart is broken.
This is my first experience of this nature: losing someone close to me to this disease, and, I’ve got to tell you, it sucks. It is going to sound trite, but it’s still the truth: George had so much to offer this world, and his loss is felt by more than he will ever understand. I want to say I am grateful to be sober, and I am, but it truthfully feels almost insensitive to say it in the wake of his death. The best takeaway I got from all the beautiful feedback from this morning is this: his death is a painful reminder that however low my bottom was, there is a much lower, and much more finite, bottom. As for why I was blessed with the gift of recovery and George was not, another question I struggled with last night, I was told that’s God‘s business, not mine, so I should stick to my own, and let God worry about the rest.
So I’m grateful that I am sober, and, just for today, I will stay sober, in George’s memory.
Being able to talk about my feelings this morning, and write about them this afternoon, and know that people care, is a miracle that give me tears in my eyes as I write this.
The theme of the meeting I attended today was “I only have the power to choose the first drink; after that I have forfeited my ability to choose.” Three different people in the meeting I attended today alone could attest to this statement. What they mean is they consciously chose, after a period of sobriety, to believe they could drink moderately. What they discovered was that once they started drinking, they reverted, in a very short period of time, to their past alcoholic behaviors, and they completely lost control of their ability to drink in a controlled fashion.
I have heard versions of this same story countless times before, but the meaning behind the horror stories of relapse, for whatever reason, was lost on me until today. I guess sometimes you have to hear something a hundred times before it sinks in. And what sunk in, today, was really a message of hope. I have the power to choose the first drink. Now, at 121 days clean and sober, the choice is really and truly mine, and, as long as I don’t pick up that first one, I am really going to be okay. And what a miracle it is to have regained this power in such a short period of time… imagine what miracles are yet to come!
A speaker at an AA meeting I recently attended used this expression: “it’s not the bears and the lions that will get you, it’s the ticks and the fleas.” I had never heard it before, and it really resonated with me.
At almost any point in time, if you ask me how I am doing, I will answer that I am doing fine, and I will mean it. Because I know that, on every level, my life is truly blessed, and unbelievably wonderful, by virtually anyone’s standards. And so, when I come across any of life’s trials and tribulations, I tend to think that I should be able to handle things on my own. In other words, what do I have to complain about?
I have come to learn that, in recovery, this mindset is the complete opposite of success. Because the pathway to relapse is paved with stuffed feelings and unspoken resentments, and it is vital to learn how to speak about what is on your mind. The consequences of failing to open up can be life or death. At the very least, the serenity and peace so often heard about in the rooms of AA will be elusive.
For me, articulating what is on my mind is not the problem, it is believing that what is on my mind is worthwhile. In other words, I need to overcome the feeling that I am wasting people’s time with my silly nonsense. Since I have joined the fellowship of AA, I now know I need to fight my instincts, and open up more about what is renting space in my head, so I can repel the ticks and the fleas.