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!
My head is still spinning a bit from the animation and wide array of shares from this morning’s meeting. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re approaching Halloween or what, but man were things interesting this morning!
And so I don’t forget, apologies for the missing post last week. I missed the meeting as well, since I had another job interview! Fingers crossed that this is the one that gets me back in the workforce!
Back to today: we read from the book Forming True Partnerships, which is a compilation of articles describing how people in recovery navigate their various relationships. Today’s reading focused on a relationship specific to 12-step programs, sponsorship.
I imagine most reading this blog have at least a nodding acquaintance of the concept of sponsorship. At the most basic level, a sponsor takes his or her sponsee through the 12 steps of recovery. From that foundation, the relationship can move in as many directions as there are people in the roles of sponsor and sponsee. The expectations from both sides of the sponsorship coin vary widely. Like most pieces of the 12-step puzzle, how you sponsor and how you are sponsored is entirely up to individual interpretation.
The story we read this morning detailed a woman’s account of being “dumped” by her sponsee. The author sponsored this woman, successfully in her opinion, for about a year, during which time she took the newly sober woman through the 12 steps of recovery, spent many hours on the phone with her, went to meetings together, and introduced her to a new network of sober people. Not long after a year into the relationship, the sponsee slowed down her phone calls, started ignoring texts, and finally sent the author an email that stated she did not feel she needed her anymore.
After concocting several snarky email responses in her head, the author did what she considered the next right thing to do, which was contact her sponsor for advice. Her sponsor had a similar tale of woe, and advised her to respond in honesty. The author replied to the email and let her know she was hurt by the decision to “fire” her over email, and left it at that.
From there the author describes several great things that came out of the situation. First, she was able to identify and sit with the feelings of sadness and hurt… a novelty for her. She recognized that she had placed quite a bit of value in the relationship, and it distressed her to realize that the reverse wasn’t quite the same.
The hurt and sadness caused the author to look at the relationships central in her life, and discover ways to deepen them. She reached out more to her family and friends, and especially to other women in recovery. She found that being a better friend was the best remedy for the hurt she was feeling.
That was the synopsis of the story, and the crowd (which in this case was about 18 meeting attendees) went wild with their interpretations of the story. Several in the crowd were almost offended by this woman’s sensibilities. For them, the relationship of sponsor/sponsee is a sacred one, and there are no room for hurt feelings within it. If the sponsee needed to move on, either to another sponsor, to try the fellowship without a sponsor, or even to go out and drink again, then that is their decision, and a sponsor’s hurt feelings should not come into play. No email back talking about hurt feelings should have happened.
A few thought expressing her feelings was the right thing to do, as it allowed the author to be true to herself, rather than cultivate a resentment which could lead to a relapse.
Others took a middle-of-the-road stance, and agreed that hurt feelings shouldn’t come into play; then again, sponsors and sponsees alike are human beings, and feelings come with the package.
Most who shared loved that she reached out to others in the program, rather than using hurt feelings as an excuse for isolating. One or two who shared related it to the expression “when God closes a door, he opens a window.” The author had to feel the pain of sponsee rejection to realize that her life would be fuller reaching out more to others, both in the program and outside of it.
The title of the post implies that there were a few shares that were difficult to put in the framework of this post. I’ll just chalk it up to the season of spookiness and leave it at that. I’m always grateful that people feel free to share and express themselves authentically!
It’s funny, the part everyone was debating in the story was the part I glossed over as I was reading. I’ve had several people fade out of my 12-step life, as I imagine people would say I’ve faded out of theirs. I believe I have a somewhat open-minded thought process about the relationships within the fellowship.
Two things did strike me as I read this woman’s account of her life in recovery. First, she explained at the start of the story that she considered herself a “fringe” member of AA. Meaning that she worked the 12 steps, attended meetings, and had congenial relationships, but she also had a very full life outside of AA. When she was asked to be a sponsor, she was frankly surprised, as she thought that generally happened for the “in” crowd.
While I’ve never considered there to be “in” or “out” crowds within the fellowship, I was grateful to read of a woman staying sober and having a rich life outside of the program. Sometimes it’s daunting to hear of people who, years into sobriety, continue to go to meetings every day, sponsor dozens of people, plan vacations and retreats with other folks in recovery, and do so with ease. It would appear as if their entire lives revolve around recovery.
So it’s a relief to read there are people out there like me, finding a balance between recovery life and non-recovery life that works.
The second part that stood out is the wisdom she gained, and the actions she took as a result of the hurt and sadness. Like the author, I am relatively new to feeling my feelings, and if I’m being really honest I’m not sure I’ve gotten to the point where I can learn the necessary lessons. I’ve had recent experiences involving similar hurt and sadness, and so far the most I can say is that I’m learning how to sit with the feelings, rather than berate myself for feeling them. Reading how she turned around those feelings into something good was inspirational.
Finally, something that my very wise regular attendee said struck home for me, albeit in a slightly off-topic way. He said what he is reading in the story is the grief process… the author is grieving a relationship that meant a lot to her. He said at the root of all grief is love, for you would not grieve something if you did not love it in some way. And for those of us who used to drink our feelings a way, isn’t feeling grief really a blessing, because we are acknowledging our love for another?
This brought me back immediately to a funeral I attended this weekend. And yes, 2016 remains the Year of Funerals for me. Too many to count at this point. This woman was very important to me in early sobriety, and she died with 40 years of recovery under her belt. I started crying before the funeral started, and I don’t think I stopped the entire Mass. At one point I looked around and, I kid you not, I am the only person crying in the place! This woman was older, and her health had been failing, so I assume her friends and family were relieved she was no longer suffering. So then, true to form, I berated myself: “For goodness sake, you are least important person in the room, quit crying!”
When my friend shared today, I felt better about my tears, for I truly loved this woman, and will remain forever grateful for the lessons she taught me. I will cry all I want from now on!
As I glance up at the length of this post, I wonder if the miracle is that I’m about to stop typing 😉
The literature in this week’s meeting was Forming True Partnerships. It is the newest book in AA’s conference-approved literature, and it deals with relationships in sobriety. Some of the chapters are universal: family, friendships. Some are semi-specific: marriage, job. And some are puzzling in their specificity (I’m looking at you, chapter on pets).
I have been sticking with the universal ones for the first half of the year; today I challenged myself to delve into deeper waters. The story turned out to be oddly specific, entirely too long and 99% pessimistic. Note to self: fully read selection before choosing!
As fate would have it, the room filled up with people, and each person that shared talked about their difficulty in relating. The very last person who shared, a male (the author of the story was female), redeemed the choice by stating he felt like he was reading his own story. So there you have it… someone is going to relate, no matter how unlikely it seems!
Odd storylines aside, we had a great discussion about relationships, both pre- and post-recovery. Every person in the room agreed that the “blueprint” offered through the twelves steps enriches relationships of all kinds.
One person shared the variety of ways he attempted to feel complete: filling his life with material things, relationship after relationship, and, through it all, alcohol. No matter how many things and people he brought into his life, he could never quite fill the hole, and loneliness was an emotion he could not tolerate. In working the 12 steps of recovery, he is able to be alone without feeling lonely.
Several other people spoke of drinking to avoid the feeling of loneliness. Most of us shared that initially alcohol was a decent working solution to problems such as loneliness, shyness, self-consciousness, and challenging social situations.
It was a solution… until it wasn’t. Then alcohol became the problem; either we drank in isolation and thus compounded our loneliness, or we drank in public and became a detriment to any and all social situations.
As it turns out, putting down the drink solves some of our problems (especially the ones that involve drunken behavior), but not all of them. Getting sober gives us the clarity to see the problems for what they are, and allows us the freedom to deal with life on life’s terms.
The final discussion I’ll share was the comparison of infatuation to intimacy. Once again, the 12 steps of recovery mirror the steps to a lasting, intimate relationship. Infatuation, where a lot of relationships begin, focus on the the ways in which one can take from the relationship. True intimacy, on the other hand, looks for ways in which you can give back. When both partners in the relationship look to be of service to one another… that’s where the magic happens.
A powerful reminder for me as I navigate all relationships in my life!
The reminder that life comes down to a few simple things… get out of my own head, and see what I can do to help others. The rest takes care of itself!
Up until about 30 minutes before the start of my meeting, I assumed a snow day was in effect. Having just weathered a blizzard 48 hours ago, I concluded there was no way the parking lot of the building had been plowed, and I started to craft an alternate post in my head.
Which, I need to write this down now so I commit myself: I will get back to writing that post. I swore I’d pen more posts this year, and I’m slow to fulfilling this promise. Yet since my WOTY is calm, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.
Here is some pictorial evidence of our the blizzard, as documented by my daughter and featuring our dog Dimple:
When I received the text that the parking lot had been plowed, I have to admit to a pang of disappointment… now I had to get out of my pajamas! Why I would ever begrudge attending something that always makes me feel better than when I started I do not understand, but there you have it.
Today was the first entrance of the new book I have introduced into the literature rotation. It is Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The book is a collection of articles from the AA magazine Grapevine that document how members use the principles of the 12 steps to improve all the different relationships in their lives. There is a chapter on pets that has me question the sanity of the publishers, but I’m keeping an open mind.
Fully anticipating sitting solo, I did not plan one iota, and was pleasantly surprised to see 9 hardy souls make their way out in this weather! Luckily, one of my favorite “regulars” has a passing acquaintance with this book and suggested a reading from the chapter on Sponsorship.
I am always happy when someone else voices an opinion on meeting subject matter, but I had a bit of apprehension on this particular subject. While everything about the 12-step program is a suggestion, and of course there are as many ways to get sober as there are sober members, conventional wisdom strongly suggests availing yourself of a sponsor as soon as possible, and maintaining that relationship throughout your recovery.
It now occurs to me that perhaps readers may not understand what I even mean by the term sponsor. From the AA pamphlet Questions and Answers on Sponsorship:
An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through A.A.
Here’s how the process of obtaining a sponsor was explained to me:
- go to meetings, listen to people
- when you hear a woman speak (sponsor/sponsee should be same sex) who seems to “have what you want,” ask her if she would be willing to take you through the 12 steps of recovery
- follow her suggestions
A little vague, I know… it was for me too! I had transitioned through a few sponsors before I found the relationship that would work in getting me through the labor of the 12 steps. That experience, documented fully in earlier blog posts, was nothing short of transformational.
Here’s where I get apprehensive: in the years since, I have, no better way to say it, fallen off the suggested path of the traditional sponsor/sponsee relationship. It has been many months since my sponsor of record and I have communicated, and even before that, our communication was more on the social side and less on the business side of recovery. A few months back I reached out to another woman, but our schedules just did not gel, and I’ve done nothing about it since.
As far at the other side of the coin, my sponsoring another, the anxiety grows: I had two attempts at sponsoring other women, and if you judge success by actually working through the 12 steps, then each attempt was not successful. Both of these experiences are at least two years old, and there has been no further attempts by me since.
Therefore, the thought of having to comment productively on the subject of sponsorship had me flummoxed. I shared very little, and opened it up to the group.
Turns out, they had quite a bit to say, thankfully. The gentleman who selected the reading believed it to be an apt description of a sponsor: one drunk helping another drunk to stay sober by showing him/her how he/she did it. A sponsor is not your friend or parent; he or she is not there to hold your hand or make you feel better. A sponsor is going to show you how the same failed logic that had you drinking problematically is present in many other areas of your life. It’s often not an enjoyable process, but it’s possibly the most rewarding experience within the 12 steps of recovery.
A second “long-timer” echoed these sentiments, and recalled fond stories of how sponsorship was done “in the old days” (for him, the 1980’s): calling sponsees “pigeons,” setting up rules and tests for the sponsee to pass before he was eligible to sponsor others, speaking in shockingly appalling manners to get their points across.
I’m not thinking I would have done so well getting sober in the 80’s.
A woman new to my meeting raised her hand and said she did not like this topic, and did not want to talk about sponsors. She compares her sponsor/sponsee relationship to those around her, and finds hers coming up short. She spoke for a bit about the different ways she believe it to be true, growing agitated as she compiled her list of grievances. As she wound down, she mentioned she had a habit of placing expectations on relationships, and speculated that perhaps this tendency was contributing to her problem. Finally, she concluded that she might try a little harder to open up more to her sponsor, and in that self-disclosure she will develop the kind of relationship she thinks she ought to have.
Listening to this woman speak, I was reminded yet again of the value in shining a light on the dark thoughts in our heads. In one share she identified, defined and solved a problem, all by opening her mouth. Miraculous.
Finally, a woman shared who is normally reticent. I think I wrote about her recently, for regular readers… she is the one who lost a friend and opened up for the first time at that meeting. I wish I could do justice to the power of her speech. It is so painfully clear how difficult this kind of sharing is to her that there is a magnetic quality to her words. At least that is my experience each of the few times she’s spoken. The part of her share that hit me right between the eyes:
A sponsor is only as helpful as the sponsee is honest
That statement brought back some painful memories. The summer before I got sober I availed myself of a sponsor, went to meetings with her, went to her house, socialized… all while continuously relapsing and refraining from telling her. Thankfully, she stuck with me through it all, and was around in my darkest hours of early recovery.
So I can attest to the truth of the statement above, and its more universal application:
a relationship is only as healthy as the people in it are honest
The last thing she mentioned… she has a skeptical nature, and early on she told her sponsor she felt like she was being brainwashed.
Her sponsor’s response: that’s right, you are, because your brain needs a good washing!
I had a regular attendee call to tell me his driveway was blocked by 3 1/2 feet of snow, and therefore he could not attend the meeting (he is an older gentleman and could not climb it safely). I told him no problem, and he said, “It is a problem, I have not missed your meeting since I got sober, and I’m distressed I have to miss it today.” Heartwarming, and a little guilt-producing, since I was hoping for a snow day!
For those reading on the day this is published, a sincere thank you for taking time out of your Cyber Monday online shopping to read 😉
Today is one of the infrequent five-Mondays-in-a-month situations that leave me scrambling for a new type of literature to read in my Monday morning meeting. I had something ready to go that was okay, if not a bit irrelevant to the time of year. Then, a few minutes before the meeting started, a new opportunity presented itself: I was able to obtain a copy of a new book that is conference approved for 12-step meetings. Entitled Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships, it is a collection of stories from the AA Grapevine, the magazine put out by the Fellowship. The stories are divided into 7 categories; we started at the beginning, and read the first story under the category “Family.”
I forgot to take a headcount, but it was a decently sized meeting; most of the usual suspects, plus 3 additional new faces. The story was compelling, telling of a family with more than a half dozen family members who got sober through our 12-step program. If someone doubts the concept of the genetic component of the disease of alcoholism, the story provides some powerful proof!
A few parts of the story stood out to me. First, it was uplifting to read of a family who was able to role model for one another what it takes to get and stay sober. Often the reverse is true: it is easier to stay stuck in alcoholic thinking and behavior because that is the family norm.
Next, the author of the story used the word “surrender” quite a bit, and suggested that surrendering was the key to sobriety for his family. For all of his family success stories, there were two that resisted the need to surrender, and both died from the disease as a result. For some reason, the notion of surrender was calming to me this morning; as long as I cease to resist that I have this disease, and then I can do what it takes to stay sober today.
Simple, but of course not easy, especially if you are still in active addiction. One of the newcomers is just a little over 24 hours sober. She had time in the program previously, but stopped attending, and eventually picked up again. She is back, but it is clear from her sharing that she is struggling with the idea of surrendering to the disease. She wants to be sober, she says, but she doesn’t want anyone to tell her what to do. She knows she has made mistakes, but so have all the people around her. She knows she has some work ahead of her, so for now she is just going to keep coming back to the meetings.
A few people shared their family trees as it relates to alcoholism. Not surprisingly, everyone has multiple people, spanning multiple generations, that are or were alcoholics.
Another one of the new faces this morning revealed that he is 9 months sober, and so all of these holidays are sober firsts for him. He really appreciated the recently celebrated Thanksgiving holiday. He used to dread holidays, because they were free passes to overconsume, which for him inevitably led to disagreements and family chaos. He appreciated not being the center of family drama this holiday, and he looks forward to an equally peaceful Christmas.
Another woman spoke at length of her family tree as it relates to alcoholism. She is one of 11, her Mom is one of 14, and her Mom’s mom had 14 children. I suppose with those kinds of numbers an alcoholic or two is bound to come out of the mix! She has 25 years sober, several of her brothers and sisters have sober time, and they are currently dealing with an actively alcoholic brother. She says her mantra is the phrase “cunning, baffling and powerful.” Each time she observes a new iteration of the disease, she is reminded of her mantra.
As soon as she said this, two long-timers held up their hands: “you forgot to add patient!” they exclaimed simultaneously.
Cunning, baffling, powerful, and patient. Words to remember as I navigate the holiday season!
Taking time out of my online Cyber Monday shopping to attend a meeting, and then write about it 😉
I have been procrastinating with writing this installment of the series (series in my own mind, anyway) about my friends who have been so instrumental in my recovery. Why am I dragging my feet? Because some friendships are so special, so rare, that when I try to describe them with my limited mind and vocabulary, I fear I will never do justice to the importance of the person, and of the friendship that means so much to me. And yet, I started this series, and I have done so in a certain order. You know how at the end of movies they list the cast “in order of appearance?” Well, that is how I have been ordering the posts in this series… the friends that came back into my life from the starting point of recovery.
Which, of course, brings me to my friend Jim. While Jim is third on my list in this particular series, he is first and foremost in my life in terms of friendships. He is my longest and most enduring friendship. We have been close since 1987, back when The Cosby Show ruled the airwaves and Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were battling it out on the radio. We met very early on the first semester of college, and were completely inseparable from that time on. I have almost no college memories that don’t include him, and there are stories that are still in active rotation in my life today, over 25 years later.
Jim is the friend that challenged me to be more… more than I was, more than I thought I could be, and he did it with such grace that I was unaware of the push I was getting. Silly things… “of course you can go mule-riding” when every part of my mind insisted I was not capable (and might I add at this point that it was not me, but the damn mule, that was incapable… that thing knocked both of us into every tree we went past!). Or, “why don’t we just try climbing into that hole, what’s the worst that can happen?” As it turns out, getting stuck in a hole for hours was the worst that could happen, and did happen, in the middle of the night.
Of course, I’m noting the fun stuff, of which there are hundreds more such stories, but I mean it in the serious sense as well. Any major life decision I have made was done with the advice and counsel of Jim. That’s not to say I took every piece of advice, but I certainly respected it.
My friendship with Jim, as it relates to my recovery, is much more difficult to write. Because Jim was and is such an integral part of my life, it should go without saying that he was present for every part of my descent into addiction. Which in turn means that I broke the trust of our friendship over and over again, almost to the breaking point.
If I were to attempt to chronicle the events involving Jim during my active addiction, this post would run the length of a novel. And yet, it feels unjust not to include some events that led to my ultimate bottom, and Jim’s involvement. I have mentioned, on numerous occasions, that there was about an 8 month period of time when I was confronted about my addictive behavior, and strongly encouraged to get help. That period saw me through outpatient rehabs, inpatient rehabs, counselors, 12-step meetings, and a couple of sponsors. Through that entire 8 month period I lied with the intent of convincing everyone (myself included) that I was okay, that the fuss everyone was making did not need to be made. Especially in the first half of that period, very few people in my personal life had any clue what was going on. This was, of course, at my insistence… the less people who knew, the less stories I had to invent, the less accountability I needed to have. It really came down to my husband, my Mom, my siblings… and Jim. Again, I am glossing over the years prior, simply in the interest of blog post length.
So, long story short, I lied to Jim on almost a daily basis. Every time he called to check in, every time I told him that things were going well, I damaged the friendship a little bit further. And each time I was “caught” in a lie, there was that much more damage to repair. When I hit my personal bottom, I believed with absolute certainty that I needed to resign myself to the ending of what I always assumed would be a lifelong friendship.
Imagine the flip my heart did in my chest when I listened to a voice mail, on Valentine’s Day, no less, from my friend Jim. This would have been somewhere around 18 days sober. Listening to his voice telling me that he loves me, and is thinking of me, was one of those very rare bright spots in my otherwise very dark existence during that time.
This is not to say that the rebuilding of our friendship was easy. Those first few phone conversations were so difficult, so painful, it hurts my heart a little right now just remembering them. I could feel the hesitation right through the phone wires, he just didn’t know if he could ever trust me again. And why should he know that? I had given him no reason whatsoever to do so. But somehow, he found the courage to believe in me again, and his friendship became as important as it ever had been, through the next crucial stages of my recovery. And, of course, he continues to be my rock, my cheerleader, my confidant, and the first one that can find something humorous in a situation that needs it.
Friends like Jim, friends who are willing to take that leap of faith and trust again, there should be a special honor bestowed upon them. I don’t know if I could be as strong as he was, and is, but I really hope that I can be half the friend to Jim that he has been to me.
Having friendships that span decades, with all the memories that accompanies them, is a blessing for which I will be forever grateful.
Truth is not determined by the number of people who believe it. Truth just is. -Lisa Neumann, Sober Identity
I had an interesting experience this morning. I was sharing some less savory details of my legal consequences with a friend in a meeting, and I began my story with “I am embarrassed to say…” He responded by asking me if it was embarrassment or shame. The question stopped me, because I had not really differentiated between the two words.
So further research revealed that embarrassment is more external, while shame is internal. At the time, my response to my friend was that I was experiencing both embarrassment and shame. His quick response was “Really? At a 12-step meeting you are embarrassed by your circumstances? Think about your audience!” Immediately I felt better, but I continued to think about the distinction, and to try think both feelings entirely through.
And, like fear, anger, many other strong emotions, embarrassment and shame can be removed when fully examined. I was feeling both ashamed and embarrassed by the external factors of my legal consequences from my addictions. Things that, at first blush, feel like they rob me of my dignity. But as I really think through what I am doing, the truth is this: I have an addiction, I have made mistakes in the past, and now I am doing all the right things that are keeping me sober one day at a time. The truth is that I am proud of the actions I am taking daily, and the icing on the cake is that these particular circumstances, which have a pretty short time frame, will ultimately give me complete legal freedom, on top of the freedom I am experiencing as a sober woman.
There is nothing in my current life about which I should be ashamed, or embarrassed. That is the truth.
Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. –Elbert Hubbard
Yesterday I stumbled upon some disturbing information. Quick background: I have lived in my neighborhood for 6 years, and I really love my neighbors, they are a wonderful group of people and I have had some really fun times with them. I have been sober for 232 days, so you can imagine how my neighbors know me. Fortunately for me and for them, they know me more as the fun gal who likes to drink rather than the alcoholic I am. For that reason, I made the decision, relatively early on, that my recovery is my personal business and I would only share the information if it becomes absolutely necessary.
Which, apparently, now it has.
So yesterday I am talking to a family member who also happens to be a neighbor, and she mentioned that one of our group believes that I no longer like her. She has had two parties in my recovery, and both times I have consciously chosen to leave early due to the alcohol present. I believed at the time that I had made gracious exits, and I have seen her since, so I was completely unaware that there was any trouble brewing.
The interpretation of my early exits from her parties? She now believes I am a racist. I actually laughed when I found this out, thinking I was being punk’d, but no, she really thinks I have difficulty being in a room with different ethnicities (my neighbor is in a mixed-race marriage, so I am unclear if she thinks I don’t like black people, Indian people, or just anyone other than myself).
Of course, I was horrified, and I will attempt to right this wrong thinking as soon as I can. In my meeting today, the topic was about finding humor in our past addictive behavior, and being able to laugh at ourselves. Normally, I have little to share at these types of meetings, but today I did, because, really, it is just comical! I left a party early to help my recovery, and now I have to decide which is the lesser of two evils… letting them think I am a racist, or admitting I am an alcoholic?
You just can’t make this stuff up…
Everyone thinks about changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. –Leo Tolstoy
Early in recovery (earlier, since it is still early), a wise, old friend compared the changes I am making in my life to creating a new groove in a piece of wood. It would be much simpler to go into an existing groove, since the old groove took time to create, and since the default is to slide into the existing groove. So, in the beginning, creating a new groove takes effort and time, but eventually will become as easy as the existing groove is now.
Hopefully that makes sense. Oddly enough, it does to me, since this wise friend rarely makes sense (just a joke, I believe the wise friend will be reading). At the time we were speaking of recovery from substance abuse, and how day-to-day life can be so difficult. But, almost 8 months later, those words make sense in many areas of my life.
Interpersonal relationships, for example. I am just starting to notice that the “groove in the wood” theory applies just as aptly to relationship issues. Have you ever gotten in a fight, that, upon reflection, is a repeat of 1,000 fights before? I am trying as best I can to practice the principles of the 12 steps in all areas of my life. So, when fights erupt between anyone and me, I am trying harder to look at my part. I am also trying to focus on what I can control, and let go of what I cannot.
Here is what I am figuring out about myself… I have made a habit of believing that I can say and do what I want when I feel like I have been provoked. Apparently the “two wrongs don’t make a right” rule does not apply to me. I am also figuring out that nothing changes if nothing changes. If I am disturbed by how someone speaks to me, if a negative behavior is repeated in a relationship of which I am a part, then what is my responsibility? Rather than react badly because I am hurt (the whole 2-wrongs-making-a-right thing), then why not behave correctly, the way I myself would like to be treated, and then address the problem in a rational way?
If I could just learn that, my need to apologize would diminish drastically!