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M(3), 3/20/2017: The Benefits of Self-Inventory

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Woo Hoo!  Enough said.

Today’s reading came from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and focused on:

Step 10:

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

This was the first step where I realized these tools could be used for more than just staying sober… they were tools for a better way of life.  It’s such a simple thing, self-inventory, but it brings truly powerful results.  The kind of inventory this chapter talks about is a spot inventory, where you stop and consider what is going on, and your part in it, during times of distress.  There are more in-depth inventories as well, but the Step 10 is one you perform on a daily basis.

Every part of this chapter is incredibly useful, but what stood out the most to me this morning is the idea of an emotional hangover:

But there is another kind of hangover which we all experience whether we are drinking or not.  That is the emotional hangover, the direct result of yesterday’s and sometimes today’s excesses of negative emotion- anger, fear, jealousy and the like.  -pg 88, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

I wrote last week of a variety of life issues that were causing me discontent.  I predicted that they would all resolve by the same time the following week, though I doubted any of them would settle to my satisfaction.  And I would say, by and large, that I was right on the money.  It is one week later, and my part in those issues is done, none of them turned out the way I would have liked, and life is moving on.

When I was living in the throes of the negative emotions associated with the issues, I experienced emotional hangovers as a result.  I did not sleep soundly, I was irritable, and I had a vague sense of discontent.  But when I took the time to analyze the problem, figured out my part and acted accordingly, I felt better.  Most important, at least most important for me, I determined where my part ends and I did my best to let it go.  In taking the time to do this self-earching I more quickly move through the negative emotions, and am better able to let go of the resentments that develop as a result.

And since we all know that life issues rotate on a pretty regular basis, it helps to develop the practice of self-inventory.  Like any ability, the more we practice, the better skilled we are!

Today’s meeting was a large one, close to 20 attendees, and everyone who shared agreed that this is one of the best steps for improving our daily lives.  Here are some other great shares from this morning:

  • Another great take-away from the reading this morning is the notion that every time we are disturbed, there is something wrong with us.  This is a hard concept to grasp initially, but the more you ponder, the more sense it makes.  If we are involved, then we play a part.
  • Justifiable anger and justifiable resentments can be the downfall for many an alcoholic.  We are best to leave the justifiable stuff to people who can handle it.  Life becomes a lot simpler if we stop having to decide if a resentment is justifiable or not.
  • The step does not say to make amends when we get around to it, it say to make amends promptly.  When we take inventory and decide we’ve done wrong, we must make that amend as soon as possible.  This practice leads to a greater sense of inner peace.
  • The beauty of the 12 steps is in their simplicity.  For a lot of us, the directions we’re given in early sobriety need to be as simple as possible for us to comprehend them.  Luckily, there are wonderful people who have gone ahead of us who know how to tell us what to do in the simplest language possible.  Keeping things simple is the key to success!
  • This chapter emphasizes that learning the skills of effective self-inventory is a process, sometimes a lifelong one.  The knowledge that we need not be perfect in figuring out our intentions and motives is a relief, and allows us to be gentle with ourselves as we learn.
  • Another key point in the chapter is learning to restrain ourselves from impulsively taking the first action that occurs to us.  Almost without fail our first response is not our best one, so cultivating the skill of restraint is incredibly important.
  • Asking the very simple question, “Am I doing to others as I would have done to me?” is a simple and effective way to take self-inventory.

I hope everyone is enjoying this first day of Spring!

Today’s Miracle:

That my first day of Spring actually feels like Spring!  After last week’s snow storm, I wasn’t sure it would ever warm up again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

M(3), 8/29/16: Back to Business

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Wow, does this feel weird.  It’s been weeks since I last logged on.  There’s been a hundred and one reasons for my absence, all of which I hope to be writing about as time goes on.  It’s been a turbulent summer, though I suppose turbulence is relative.  We’ve been dealing with stuff that is unusual for us, and I’m hoping to be able to hash it all out within the blog eventually.

In the meantime, I’m so sorry for my absence in reporting my Monday meeting updates!  We’ve been having a grand time, as usual.  In fact, last week was a record high in terms of attendance.

Today’s reading selection(s) dealt with the topic of resentment (for those who follow along with the actual literature, we read from the book As Bill Sees It).  If you are unfamiliar with 12-step philosophy, the language surrounding resentments is strong, and it is negative.  The main text, Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”) contains countless warnings regarding the dangers of cultivating and holding onto resentments.

On second thought, “countless” is inaccurate.  Of course I could go line by line and count the number of references, or I could Google it, but it’s the first day back to school, and I’d rather just enjoy the peace and quiet of this house.

In any event, we are warned from almost the first second we enter the doors of a 12-step meeting to let go of any and all resentments, or else (cue the ominous music).

Or else what?  In terms of recovery, or else you may drink again.

I remember thinking two things when I first heard this kind of dire prediction:

  1. That’s stupid
  2. It doesn’t matter, since I don’t have any resentments anyway

In the years since, I’ve learned that I did not have a broad enough understanding of what falls into the category of resentment.  I’ve also learned that I needed to learn a lot more about myself and my feelings.

As for my first judgment, that it sounds a bit melodramatic to say that by nursing a grudge I’ll soon be nursing a drink, I’ve learned enough to say that I have a lot more to learn.  But here’s what I do know about resentments:  they are a colossal waste of time, and they tend to pull me into a downward spiral.  The quicker and easier I can resolve my feelings of resentment, the more peaceful and joyful my life is.

As usual, many excellent shares in this morning’s meeting, all of which helped elevate me.  It is an amazing thing to sit and listen to someone’s story, and from it gain wisdom that I hadn’t realized I needed.

The main share from which most others followed came from a woman who struggles in setting boundaries with a family member.  Her story is an extreme one, but the question she must answer is familiar to many of us:  how do you distinguish between setting healthy boundaries and “being the bigger person?”

On the one hand, our 12-step program focuses on changing ourselves.  We look to see our part in any situation, and we seek to be of service, rather than asking people to serve us.  Very noble aspirations.

But in my friend’s case, she has a person in her life whom she defines as toxic.  Her question is:  how many times should she go back to the same well, knowing that the outcome will be a negative one?

Her share was met with a lot of empathy and support.  When I first heard her story, I listened with sympathy.  But when I listened to the wise responses and follow-up shares, I listened with empathy.  Because all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, have areas in our lives where we struggle with where to draw a line between what is good for us and what is good for the people we love.  I imagine in virtually every relationship such a question exists.

The best advice I heard given was this:  rather than focusing on “doing the next right thing,” a phrase which is tossed around a lot in the 12-step rooms, perhaps we should focus instead on doing the next healthy thing.  In defining “right,” we can get into some murky waters… who defines right?  But in deciding what is the healthiest thing to do, you are ultimately creating an environment to be your best possible self.

Of course, it is important to seek feedback.  In our program sponsors and trusted members of the fellowship are excellent sources of guidance, but at the end of the day we must make decisions for ourselves.  The back of sobriety coins handed out at anniversaries reads:

To thine own self be true

Apropos to this conversation, for sure.  And we did get to hand out one of those coins this morning for someone celebrating her nine month anniversary!

One last thought, and then I’ll stop rambling.  At the end of the meeting someone came up to me and shared a lesson she learned regarding resentments.  The first time you feel angry or resentful towards someone, the blame is on them for whatever they’ve done to cause your reaction.  But each and every time you revisit that feeling, or relive that experience, whether it’s in your own head or complaining about it to someone else… that’s on you.

That alone tells me I’ve got some work to do on handling resentments!

Today’s Miracle(s):

  1. I’m back writing
  2. Kids are back at school (see video below)

 

M(3), 6/6/16: Back to Business!

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Many apologies for the unplanned two-week hiatus.  Week one saw me with a dental crisis; the worst is over, but follow-up visits abound (cue the sad music).  Week two saw me preparing for my first job interview in 17 years (cue the horror music).  Both of these situations deserve completely separate blog posts, which I will hopefully get to sometime this decade, but in the meantime, let’s return to our regularly scheduled program.

This week’s reading came from Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.”  We read one of the quintessential chapters, entitled, “How It Works.”  This is the first in a three-chapter overview of the 12 steps; specifically, steps one through four.

A newcomer reading this chapter is likely to be overwhelmed, as there is a lot going on in these four steps!  We had two women in the meeting today that, by my definition, would count as newcomers:  one having recently completed rehab, and one that indicated she was a newcomer, but did not elaborate just how new she is.

First-time readers of this chapter might be alarmed at how often the words “self-centered,” “egotistical,” “resentful,” “self-pitying” and “fearful” are peppered throughout.  Indeed, the entire premise of the twelve steps (at least in this writer’s humble opinion) is based upon the notion that the alcoholic life is run on self-will and self-seeking.

And so the answer to the alcoholic dilemma is a paradigm shift:  instead of thinking the world is out to get us, we choose instead to look at our part in any situation.  Instead of considering what the world owes us, we look to see what we can contribute.  Instead of dishonesty and deception, we opt for transparency.

Instead of thinking we are running the show, we now seek a Power greater than ourselves, and we turn our will over to the care of that Power.

As always, when newcomers attend the meeting, I read and consider how I felt as a newcomer.  I know when I first started paying attention to this reading, I considered myself an exception to most of the generalizations:  I did not feel particularly angry or resentful, I didn’t consider myself to be (overly) selfish, and I believed I put the needs of a great many others before my own needs.

I remember thinking, “Wow my inventory is going to be so small, since I have no resentments whatsoever!”  I can’t remember exactly, but I believe my inventory ran upwards of 6 handwritten pages.

Now I read the chapter and consider how my life has changed since first starting the road to recovery.  The most fundamental change would be awareness, and the ability to feel my feelings.  Sounds ridiculous, but it is a change that words cannot sufficiently capture.  In addiction, I self-medicated so as not to feel anything.

So now I feel, and I’m aware that I feel.  I can define the emotion, and the corresponding physical sensations.

“Why is this a big deal?” someone may wonder.  Awareness allows for the processing of emotions, particularly negative ones.  If I’m stuffing down feelings, I’m not processing or releasing them.  So there they sit, swirling around and ready to wreak emotional havoc at any point in time.

Awareness is just one part of the puzzle.  That same awareness had me realize that all my resentment-free days were just a facade designed to keep me from feeling.  I had a lot more resentments than I ever realized I had, and a lot more fears as well.

In fact, I believe I am a work in process in the arena, and likely will be for some time.

In getting more self-aware and more honest about my part in every resentment-filled situation, I am better able to handle new challenges.  Now when a resentment pops up, I am able to:

  1. recognize it
  2. define it
  3. look at my part in it

All of which allows me to

4.  handle it

Above all, the peace that comes from a reliance on a Higher Power is the gift that keeps on giving.

Having this before-and-after experience upon which to draw was especially helpful this morning when one of the newcomers expressed confusion… she does not think she has any anger, or even much fear, so she’s not sure where she would even start with such a process.

Today’s Miracle:

The ability to pay it forward!

 

M(3), 3/28/16: Is Dysfunctional Family a Redundancy?

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A damp, drizzly Monday in my neck of the woods, hope the weather is better for everyone else!

This morning we read from the book Forming True Partnerships:  How AA members use the program to improve their relationships.  I selected a reading from the chapter “The Family.” Since it is the day after a holiday I figured people could use some inspiration.

Myself included.

The author told the story of a 24-year old resentment she held against her sister-in-law.  A resentment she thought she resolved in early sobriety, but found out, 13 years later, that she did not.  She learned that forgiveness is something she needs to do with her heart, not just with words.  She found joy in being the agent of positive change in her relationship with her sister-in-law.  Finally, she realized that she is only given challenges in life when she is able to handle them.  Clearly, she needed to be further along in sobriety before she was able to tackle the challenge of her problematic familial relationship.

Many times the subject matter of my weekly meetings covers topics that fall under the umbrella “life problems” rather than “alcoholic problems;” family resentments most assuredly counts as one of them.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say all human beings have a tricky or troubled family relationship to which they lay claim.  So it was unsurprising to find that every member of the meeting today had their hand raised to talk about a resentment with which they are struggling.

Some of the resentments are long-standing ones.  For example, one woman identified almost to the word with this morning’s reading, in that she has a resentment with a sister-in-law that spans her entire married life… almost 50 years!  She had a situation with her sister-in-law in early sobriety that she felt justified in handling somewhat aggressively.  However, she finds as time goes by she is better able to see the gray in what she once thought to be a black-and-white issue.

Some of the resentments have cropped up within sobriety.  One woman spoke of an issue with her sister, who continues to drink in ways which are painfully familiar.  On the one hand, it is difficult to watch… why does she get to drink that way and I can’t?   Can’t she consider my feelings, even just a little?  On the other hand, it is easy to remember the feelings that go alongside that kind of drinking, and the behavior that accompanies it.  She can easily find empathy to replace the resentment when she considers that not too long ago she was in her sister’s shoes.

Some resentments are easy to examine and identify the solution.  One gentleman, sober for decades now, describes his personality in active addiction to be sarcastic and intimidating.  He has done his best in sobriety to correct this tendency, but he found family memories to be long… it was many years before people trusted his sober personality to be the authentic one!  He is grateful that he was given the opportunity to prove himself.

Other resentments are less clear-cut.  One gentleman spoke of a resentment he has with his mother and brother.  It is clear through his telling of the situation that his resentments could be justified.  It is equally clear, however, that for the sake of his serenity, and possibly his sobriety, that he finds a solution that brings him peace.

For myself, I shared of an ongoing situation that causes me angst, one in which I am resentful of someone else’s resentment… if that makes any sense at all!  Like most of the stories shared this morning, I imagine the situation would exist whether or not I was sober.   The difference for me is two-fold.  First, because I use the 12 steps of recovery as a blueprint for living my life, I find it more difficult to ignore or avoid resentments, because I have been taught that resentments are a tremendous roadblock to a peaceful existence.  So when I realize that one of my relationships is in turmoil, I consider what is my responsibility in repairing the problem, even if the turmoil is not mine.

Second, and more important, I look to clean up my side of the street.  Now, in a situation where the resentment is mine, it is simple enough to do:  I either confront the problem, or I work it out myself by remembering there are two sides to every story, and that my viewpoint is often not shared by others.

It gets more difficult to resolve when the resentment is not really of my doing.  On the one hand, I think:  not my problem to fix.  If someone has an issue, that’s on them.

On the other hand, I consider that I am part of a relationship.  If I know someone is in distress, don’t I have a responsibility to help them with their distress?

But if I am the distress… then what?

No easy answers for me this morning, but what I can take away is considerable.  First, I feel less isolated; everyone has a troubled relationship with which they struggle.  Next, I am a deep believer in the notion that when the time is right, the opportunity to resolve problems will appear.  If I remain confused, then I can trust that the time is not right.  Finally, I will be mulling over the idea of forgiving with the heart versus forgiving with words.  That popped up a few times in the shares this morning, and I’m thinking that is some thing to examine in my own life.

Today’s Miracle:

The reminder that everything happens for a reason, even when I don’t understand the reason.

 

Intermediate Recovery: Guilt

It’s been awhile since I’ve written in this category, I’m not sure why that is.  But since I’ve missed another Monday post, now’s as good a time as any to write one.

I missed this past Monday because I didn’t attend the meeting; I asked a regular attendee to cover for me.  I didn’t attend the meeting because I have been feeling under the weather for past 10 or so days, whatever’s got me has really grabbed hold!  I have been through all the regular permutations of an infection… sore throat, cough, aches, chills, and I’d say for the most part they’ve come and gone.  What’s lingering now, and has been for at least 5 days, is this unrelenting lethargy… it feels like I’m moving through water, and I could sleep at any moment.

It’s bad enough that I actually went to the doctor, which may not mean a lot if you don’t know me, but says something significant if you do.  I intensely dislike going to the doctor’s.  He gave me an antibiotic, and paperwork to get my blood tested, and told me the exhaustion is normal; since my body is fighting an infection, it is working overtime, so it’s tired!

Problem solved, case closed.  For what possible reason would I be writing about such an inane subject?

Answer:  I have uncovered an interesting mental side effect of this physical illness, and that is guilt.  I feel guilty for feeling sick.

Illogical, irrational, and most likely makes me sound unbalanced, but it’s the truth.  I have no energy, and I berate myself for getting nothing done.  The monkey mind creates a laundry list of things I should be doing to get well:  exercise more, fight through the exhaustion!  Drink more water, eat healthier, meditate harder, snap out of it.

“You’re not that sick,” says the monkey mind.

I do try to talk back to criticism, but suffice it to say the circular argument is exhausting to think about, let alone write it out, let alone have it in the first place.

And even when I’ve completed the laundry list, there is always, always another item added for which to feel guilty because it has gone uncompleted.

Three days ago, I awoke from a disturbing dream.  All I can remember from it is that I was diagnosed with cancer.  The disturbing part was the emotion I experienced, which was guilt, because I was convinced that the cancer was my fault for something I had done, or something I had failed to do.

When I realized that was my take-away from the dream, I knew I was troubled.  And I examined where guilt was infecting my life, and was startled to discover how pervasive it was.  Truly, it is egotistical how much responsibility I give myself.

So my inflated ego… something else about which to feel guilty.

While the illness is the catalyst for this self-examination, I believe I will find that, even as I heal, even as I become more active, take on more responsibility, and so on, guilt will still be playing a role.  My best guess is that it’s always been there, I’m just painfully aware of it now that I’m sober.  I’m still not sure what that is, if it is:

A.  connected with addiction

B.  residue from being raised in an Irish Catholic household

Or maybe it’s

C.  all of the above

And more important, here’s the essay question that needs to be answered:

How the heck do you overcome an addiction to feeling guilty?

Feel free to respond, especially if you’re in recovery… from guilt!

Today’s Miracle:

Taking the time to write this post, because I know I am going to get great responses to help me tackle this issue!

M(3), 6/22/15: Bungee Jumpers, Horses, and Recovery

This is what it was like inside my brain Saturday night!

So it’s officially summer, and the meeting attendance has dwindled.  Incredibly, though, we ran out of time today for discussion, even with only 8 people sharing.  I’m thinking that this post might be continued into another, because I am sure that I will be unable to tie into one post all the insights shared in today’s meeting.

There was so much, in fact, that we read only two chapters from the literature selection.  For the record, we read from As Bill Sees It, and the topic was acceptance.  I jokingly chose the topic because I walked in on the dot of the meeting start time, which is late for the chair of the meeting to arrive.  So I selected it lightheartedly, hoping the group would accept my tardiness, but it seemed to touch a nerve with all present.

The first topic of discussion centered around the feeling of anger, and how to satisfactorily handle angry feelings in sobriety.  I’ll give the example I threw out to the group:  this past weekend I travelled out of town with my daughter’s basketball team for a weekend-long tournament.  The weekend, overall a wonderful time in a beach town spent with delightful people and watching my daughter socialize and challenge herself athletically, had some issues common to travelling with a group.  Specifically, finding the balance between going along with the group decisions in terms of eating and recreation (much more on the latter in another post) and doing what we as a family wanted to do.

As an aside, I would often watch the other parents and wonder if they were struggling with all this togetherness as much as I was.  Is it possible to want to do things as a large group every minute of the day?  If so, I must be an introvert, because I was getting a little nuts in the head by Sunday.

The culmination of my angst played out over the last night (for my family, some of these other diehards were extending it into a mini-vacation where they could spend even more time in one another’s back pockets).  We were on the boardwalk of the beach town, which of course is a wonderful place for all of these teenage girls to be, but not so much for the parents.  We had all gone out for a team dinner beforehand, and due to alcohol consumption by some of the parents, my husband and I volunteered to split up and be designated drivers.   A job I was happy to do, in driving from the restaurant to the boardwalk.

Fast forward a few hours, and I was not nearly so happy, because now it’s 10:30 pm, we’ve been milling around this sensory overload of an environment aimlessly for hours, plus we had decided as a family to go to an adorable ice cream parlor near the motel.  But we can’t leave the boardwalk without taking people with us, because we are part of a caravan. I tried everything I could imagine to coax enough people to come home with me; not a single plot succeeded.  It was only at the point that I was sulking like a 4-year old, on the verge of a tantrum, when my husband looked at me with disbelief and says, “You’ve got to get a grip,” that I recognized I was truly about to have meltdown, the likes of which I have not had in sobriety.

To my credit, I will say that I simply got quiet (ish) after his remark, breathed for a few moments, and finally took back what little power I thought I had by walking to the car and waiting for the group to be done milling around aimlessly.

Overall, though, I was displeased with my emotional reaction to the situation:  shouldn’t I be better than this?  With a few years of sobriety, shouldn’t I be better able to deal with these situations as they arise?

I will again rave about the power of finding the right 12-step meeting as a saving grace.  Although I told the story this morning more or less to confess a situation I wish I had handled better, I wound up receiving more than I could ever write down in  blessings from my group.  Each person that shared after me told a story where they felt intense anger on the inside, which is why the title reads as it does!  The ultimate point each person had, though, in sharing their most recent experience with a similar situation was this:  our sobriety does not make us superhuman.  Resentments will pop us, as they do for every human being on the planet, but in sobriety we now have a choice:  we can handle it the way we have in the past, the kind of decisions that ultimately led us back to bitterness, anger, and ultimately, to drink, or we can choose a healthier option.

One attendee who related his recent story of inner turmoil spoke of the discomfort of knowing there is a choice:  we see the 2 paths clearly, and it’s almost painful turning away from the choices to which we’ve become so accustomed.  And when he said it, I pictured myself stiffly walking off the boardwalk that night, and discomfort was exactly what I was feeling!  I wanted so badly to lash out and argue with my husband why it was okay for me to be self-righteous, as I had a laundry list of reasons to be angry.

That same attendee spoke of giving ourselves the proper credit we deserve.  In his story, he griped and complained about his situation… in his mind only.  He rose above his resentments and did what he needed to be done.  So while he would have liked to have thought more gracious thoughts, the reality is he did what needed to be done.   I wish I could say I only complained in my head.  However, the only person with whom I vented was my husband, and even then I cut it off light years more quickly than I would have in the past.  Progress, not perfection.

And that was one story, one small set of exchanges!  There is more to tell, but I am on summer schedule, so I’m going to get back to this more later in the week.  To be continued…

Today’s Miracle:

Still marvelling at seeing Paul McCartney last night in concert… that’s man’s talent and energy is a miracle!

M(3), 4/13/15: Anger, and Resentment, and Fear, Oh My!

Eighteen:  That’s the number of people in attendance at this morning’s meeting!

Exciting stuff, especially because several regulars were missing; this means we had quite a few newcomers, plus a bunch that have been MIA.  It’s always energizing to have a larger, more diverse group.

Today we covered chapter 15 from the book Living Sober, entitled, “Watching Out for Anger and Resentments.”  My goal for this month was to select readings whose subject matter centered around fear; not readily seeing one in the table of contents, I figured this must be closely related.  Plus the facial expressions of several in attendance had me believing this was a subject that needed to be discussed this morning.

As I started reading about the chapter and reflecting upon what I might share, my heart began to sink.  You see, I’m not sure how much progress I’ve made in the area of dealing with anger and resentments.  In active addiction, I would have told you I had none at all.  Then again, in early recovery, I was the person who needed to look at those charts with the smiley faces to figure out how I was feeling at any given moment:

I wish I was kidding, but I am not.

So the progress from then until now is that most of the time I can, when I take the time to consider, name how I am feeling without the aid of a graphic.  The problem is that most of the time I don’t take the time to consider, and my anger or resentment winds up getting more time than it should picking up steam.  Before you know it I’m fixing my hair and having imaginary conversations with people that have no idea I’m even upset.  And how could they?  I didn’t even know!

So a bit more progress to mention would be that when it gets to that point, I can stop myself (literally, the last time it happened I put down the brush and stared at myself in the mirror), and I talk back to the craziness.  I also realize that some mental housekeeping is in order, and that usually starts with sharing whatever the heck is going on in my head.

Not having much more to contribute in terms of how to deal with anger and resentments, I shared with the group all that I just wrote above.

As always, I get so much more out of these meetings than I could ever contribute, because all that followed had direct application to my life.  Here are just some of the highlights:

Reciting the Serenity Prayer

Multiple people shared that this is a technique that works for them.  Repeat it like a mantra, even (especially) when you don’t think it will work.

Talking it Out

Another commonly used technique by the group.  This various members that shared about this specifically stated that talking to someone else in the 12-step fellowship is helpful to get a better perspective.

This Too Shall Pass

When all else fails, remembering that feelings are temporary, and that it is possible to wait things out, often can diffuse the tension within.

Time and Space

Removing yourself from the situation helps to redirect your anger.  At the very least, it restricts your ability to act impulsively on the anger, which almost certainly will lead to regret (and, in the case of 12-step members, another amends that none of us wants to have to make!)

Distraction

Giving yourself something else to think about gives you less opportunity to brood, and more opportunity to clear your head, both of which give you the best chance of productively resolving your anger.

Acting As If

One of the techniques described in the chapter is to ask yourself what a well-adjusted person might do when handling anger and resentment, and then to attempt to act as if you are that well-adjusted person.  This section of the chapter never fails to get a laugh out of the group, but I actually have tried this, and it does work!  One person shared that he struggled with this idea in early sobriety, as he thought it seemed insincere, and really just a form of repressing angry feelings.  It took him time to balance the idea of “acting as if” in an authentic way.  When he can find that balance, he finds he is very effective in dealing with his resentments.

The one point with which every member of the group agreed:  bottling up anger and resentment is the quickest way back to a drink.  Any technique at all is better than repression.

I would love to hear from all of you… what is your go-to method of dealing with anger?

Today’s Miracle:

Besides 18 attendees, gorgeous spring weather, and coming off a weekend where both kids set personal records in their respective sports… I got my butt back on a treadmill, and I went faster than a walk.  I’m not sure it actually classifies as jogging, but dammit, I’ll take it!

Monday Meeting Miracles: 12/2

I would like to note:  my recent holiday was absolutely, miraculously, stress-free, a fact for which I am truly grateful, because I know that many cannot say the same.

I have been absent from WordPress for close to a week now, there is lots going on, much to write about, but for continuity I want to recap yesterday’s meeting.  I am hopeful to be back on track now that the kiddies have gone back to school (are my kids the only school district in the universe to have off  Thanksgiving Monday?  Is Thanksgiving Monday even a thing?).

Yesterday’s meeting, in the rotating literature format, was a Big Book meeting.  I selected the very last personal story in the book, entitled “AA Taught Him To Handle Sobriety.”  This selection was a deliberate one that relates directly to events in my personal life, which I will write about in the upcoming weeks, but the main take-away that I received from the story is this:  it is no great feat to stop drinking, quite probably most of us who call ourselves alcoholics have stopped drinking at various points in our lives.  The real challenge for an alcoholic is to stay stopped. So how does that work?  To use the author’s words:

By learning- through practicing the Twelve Steps and through sharing at meetings- how to cope with the problems that we looked to booze to solve, back in our drinking days. -Pg. 559, Alcoholics Anonymous

There is, of course, so much more to this gentleman’s story, I would encourage anyone to read his message of experience, strength and hope.

The shares that followed took an interesting turn into the trials and tribulations that come with being part of a family unit.  I believe I am correct in assuming that the recent American holiday of Thanksgiving, and the subsequent family rituals that go along with the celebration, played a direct role in the angst about which people were sharing.  All sorts of different issues were discussed, but the bottom line for each person was this:  resentment is the end result, and resentment is the one thing an alcoholic cannot afford to cultivate.

Even though this holiday is over, the next one is on the horizon, so how does someone in recovery handle it?  The first step is to talk about it, get it out, shine a light on the dark thoughts racing around the mind.

The next, and somewhat illuminating, message that came out of the meeting (at least for me, anyway):  spin the resentment around, and look for that which you are grateful.  If nothing else, if every person in your life is doing you wrong, and you feel that you are the only person doing right, then be grateful that:  you are handling yourself with dignity and grace.  Could you have made that statement in active addiction?  God knows I couldn’t!

Get out of victim mode and see what you can do to better the situation; if you can’t find anything to do, then find a situation you can make better.  This last piece comes with a lifetime guarantee:  if you get out of your own head long enough to help somebody else, you will go a long way to feeling better about the resentment with which you started.

Today’s Miracle:

So many to choose from.. how about this:  it is December 3rd, my Christmas cards are out, the house is decorated, and the bulk of my shopping is done.  I can tell you, in my 44 years, I have never been able to string those words together, and have them be true!

Straining at Gnats and Swallowing Camels

I am getting quite the late start in writing this post, to the point where I almost opted not write it, but we had such a good meeting this morning, I wanted to share it with all of you.

I wrote last week that a newer attendee of my meeting was celebrating 26 years of sobriety, and opted to share her celebration with my Monday morning group.  I was both honored and humbled by this decision… I would imagine that after 26 years of attending meetings, there are all sorts of options available to her, so it means a  lot to me that she chose my itty-bitty meeting!  She brought some people with her, which will hopefully mean more future attendees!

So, first, there is always such joy in announcing an anniversary.  You can feel the collective pride in the room, as if it were a separate entity, and it never fails to amaze me. I asked her to select the reading for this week, and she selected a chapter entitled “Watching Out For Anger and Resentment,” a topic that any alcoholic/addict should contemplate/read/discuss on a regular basis.

Now the only catch in her selection is that we had read this exact chapter last month when it was time to read from this particular book, so we all heard each other’s thoughts on the subject.  For me, especially, as the first to share, I struggled to find something new to say that I hadn’t talked about 4 weeks ago.  But, as in all recovery literature, something new pops out each time I read it,and, as usual, I gained some new insight on the chapter that I shared with the group, as did every person in the room (which is the best part of the smaller meeting!).

The best takeaway for me came from a gentleman who just returned to the meeting (he had been taking an academic course on Monday mornings, and now the course is over).  He has a decent amount of sober time, and he shared that what he looks out for the most in this stage of his sobriety is not the large, dramatic resentments, but the small, petty little annoyances that come up with a much greater frequency.  If he does not handle them, promptly and effectively, they will pile up and disrupt his serenity as surely as one rage-producing issue.   At this point he referenced a bible passage, reportedly quite common (although you can’t prove it by me, I’ve never heard of it!), which is the title of this post.

This share hit me like a ton of bricks, because it describes me perfectly.  Most of the other people at the meeting talked about starting their road to recovery with so much anger they couldn’t see straight.  But this idea of straining at gnats but swallowing camels… this is something to which I can relate.  The big giant issues in life, the crises, the dramatic moments, I can be as cool as a cucumber.  But put me behind a driver who is breaking the “Road Etiquette According to Josie,” and I completely lose it.  Prior to this morning’s meeting, I would just shrug off the road rage as one of my peccadilloes, but now I will look at it in a new light, and do my best to improve my reactions.  Because enough frustration at the idiot drivers on the road, enough disgust at the flawed customer service in any given store, enough annoyance at the repeated mistakes of my children, could lead me back to a mind-altering substance.  When viewed from that perspective, it seems almost ridiculous not to get a grip!

Today’s Miracle:

Well, technically it’s not for a few hours, but what the hell… Happy Birthday to me on the 12th, and what a miracle it is to be celebrating another sober birthday!

The Topic is Resentment, and Boy Does That Tick Me Off

I don’t think I’ve done a Monday meeting wrap-up in a while.  We have been holding steady… today we had 9 attendees, and several are newer “regulars.”  One gentleman had been with us a while back, and is now resuming his attendance.  People who come back to meetings after having been absent always provide excellent insight, at least to my way of thinking, so I got a lot out of today’s experience.

Today I selected a reading called “Watching Out for Anger and Resentments,” from the book Living Sober.  I had a specific reason for picking this chapter.  Over the past week, I have had 5 very different, very disturbing dreams that, one way or another, referenced my time in active addiction.  What’s most troubling to me about these dreams, other than that they are recurring, is that I have no conscious disturbance in my life.  Each morning that I woke up from one I spent time reflecting on what can be causing the subconscious turmoil, and I have yet to pinpoint a reason.  Life is still really, miraculously good… so what is the problem?

In AA, we are taught that resentments are “the number one offender,” so I picked that chapter from the book, and we had a meaningful discussion after the reading.  Here is what I uncovered for myself at the conclusion of the meeting:

  1. As always, I have more resentments than I realize.  After reading all the different ways resentment can manifest itself (hostility, contempt, rigidity, cynicism, to name but a few), I have more going on than I realize.  What’s been missing from my personal equation is taking the time to figure out all that is going on in my head, talking about it, praying on it, and listening for His answer.
  2. Bringing a resentment to a final conclusion.  It is not enough to just figure out, “oh yeah, I have a resentment about that.”  I have been doing that with certain things in my life for months on end now.  Once I figured out that I have a resentment, I need to Let.  It.  Go!  And that is the one I thing I have refused to do on a number of issues.  I guess there is some progress in acknowledging the resentment, for most of my adult life I did not have the skill set to do even that.  But now I need to take the next logical step, and remove the resentment from my life.
  3. A woman in my meeting was telling me how much her marriage has improved.  She said to her husband, “What made you change?”  He replied, “I didn’t change, you did.”  So we talked about how his behavior had really stayed constant, but her acceptance had increased, and thus the entire relationship improved.   Kudos for her!  Unfortunately, the same thing can happen in reverse, and I’m afraid I am guilty of it.  One small example:  my son has been severely testing my patience for close to two weeks now.  It seems as if there is an argument of some kind at least once a day.  In reading the chapter today, and digesting the sharing afterwards, I realized that his behavior has been consistent, it is my attitude that has changed.  So until I can get my head on straight, he is going to drive me crazy.
  4. Finally, and this is an off-shoot of point #2, I need to take the time to figure out how to resolve the resentments in my life.  There were several alternatives discussed in today’s reading, but the one that resonated most with me was:  ask yourself how a reasonable, well-balanced person would solve this problem, then act as if you are that reasonable, well-balanced person.  This made me laugh out loud, because I can’t tell you how many times I have said exactly that to myself… “how would a normal person handle this?”  Where I fall short is the acting as if part, and I realize, yet again, it is not enough to think my way into right acting, I need to act my way into right thinking!

Today’s Miracle:

It is a picture-perfect fall day here on the East Coast, and I am grateful for the beautiful season we are having!

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