I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: writing is a muscle, and when you don’t exercise the muscle, you lose it, rapidly! It’s easier to stay in the rhythm of writing than in trying to resurrect it.
But try I must, since my life is vastly improved when I use this outlet. There’s been a lot going on, and so the unmotivated side of myself seizes upon these life issues and uses them as a handy excuse, a get out of jail free card, if you will.
And now, lo and behold, it is January 1st. The last day of the holiday season (for the most part), and a time to look ahead and focus on self-improvement. For the past few years I have participated in the WOTY theme (Word of The Year, an anchor to remind yourself of the priorities you’ve set for yourself in January); this year, given my pulling away from the blogging world, I was sure I would not participate again. In fact, I wasn’t 100% sure I remembered 2016’s word of the year.
Then I woke up this morning, and a word popped into my head, and I can’t seem to let go of it. And I haven’t found a whole lot of those lightbulb-y, aha! experiences of late, so I need to grab hold of them while I do.
So methinks I will be participating in the fun again this year. But first, because I hate to do things out of order, I want to write a bit on where I’ve been and what’s been keeping me from the blog.
I’ve referenced the most obvious of problems a few times in the past 2 months, and that is an ongoing podiatric issue. I elected to have a minor corrective surgical procedure in early November, and somehow I wound up with a fractured heel. That sums up in one sentence something that, had I kept my writing muscles in shape, a subject matter that could have entertained you for hours. Sadly, I did not, and I believe I am at last at a stage of acceptance about the whole issue. My heel is fractured, it is a long and slow recovery (made longer and slower by my non-compliance, but give me a break, it was the holiday season), and there are worse things in life. End of story. Simple to say and write out now, but the mental process took some time.
A second issue took place since I’ve last written, and if I do what I should be doing, I will sit down in the near future and make a full and proper post about the experience. I had another job opportunity come and go in the past few weeks. This is not the first opportunity (or the second for that matter), but it was by far the most painful loss I’ve experienced in a long time. I believed in my heart and soul that this job was meant for me. Simply put, I was wrong. Or at the very least someone of importance disagreed with me, because they chose someone else.
I know many will be reading this and thinking “Oh boo hoo, you didn’t get a job? Sing it to the choir, sister!” Or maybe your thoughts have trendier expressions than mine, who’s to say? But what I’ve learned about myself through this process is how far I go to protect myself from disappointments such as these. I assume failure before every new experience, so that if it happens I am not too shocked or upset. I let my guard down this time, and ooh baby did it hurt. And the timing of it was either awful or perfect… I had house guests arrive one hour after I received the news. Not sure if this was a good distraction, or it prolonged the healing process, but as they say, it is what it is. I believe there is more processing to come.
Finally, and possibly most irritating, was an incident that occurred a few weeks back directly after the weekly meeting I run. A bit of backdrop: I started the meeting 4 1/2 years ago, at the request of people who were starting a brand new clubhouse. The goal of the clubhouse was to be a safe space for 12-step program members of all kinds to recover and support one another in recovery. At the time I was horrified… I had only 6 months or so sober myself, who am I to start a meeting? But I was convinced, and the rest is history. The meeting is going strong, and in fact is one of the more well-attended ones in the club house.
Since that time I’ve backed out of most involvement in the clubhouse; once upon a time I attended their business meetings and social events, now I am almost exclusively using the space to run the Monday meeting. I imagine it’s an evolution, and there are ebbs and flows, and I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about.
But in the meantime all sorts of political changes have taken place, throughout all of which I’ve minded my own business. I recently heard they elected a new president, and thought nothing of it until he introduced himself to me. And something in my gut told me, at that very moment, that something was going to happen. And I can tell you I don’t often get gut feelings.
And please do not get me wrong, the new president is a wonderful gentleman. He introduced himself as though he did not recognize me, but I certainly know him, and respect his sobriety greatly. And I stand in awe of his service… it is a huge undertaking to lead a clubhouse, and I respect his decision to do so.
A few weeks later he arrived oddly late to my meeting… there was at most 10 minutes left to go. I did not think a thing of it, until he hung around waiting to speak with me. My radar picked up the signal of distress, and I waited patiently through the “how’s your foot?” questions to see what was up.
And my radar was correct, he was coming to me with a problem that was brought to him. He understands I write a blog. He has not read it himself, but somebody in our local community has, and they are concerned that I am breaking the anonymity of a specific person, and that if this person were to find out, he/she would be devastated and leave my meeting.
So let’s back up here: the person coming to me with the problem has yet to read the blog himself, and the person coming to him isn’t concerned with his or her anonymity, but someone else’s. And they’re not speaking on behalf of that person, they’re just projecting a potential problem.
My defenses register all of this immediately. But first, this is on the heels of a recovery meeting, second, the newly elected president is saying all of this in the gentlest of ways, so it’s not liking he’s “coming at me,” per se, and third, I detest all forms of confrontation and thus will always want to consider all options before I respond. One last factor that I’m ashamed to include but will for the sake of honesty: at the time of this discussion/suggestion, I truly believed I would be employed on a full-time basis in a matter of weeks. If I’m working full-time I am no longer chairing this meeting, and this becomes a non-issue.
In the moment, I politely thanked him for the feedback. He had expressed which individual was the concern, and I assured him that I do not think such an issue exists, but I will make sure to find out, as the individual and I are very close. I then wished him a good day, and I actually have not seen him since.
Then the stupid job fell through, and I realized that I never actually dealt with the issue. And I have been mentally blocked ever since.
To be fair, it was a busy holiday season, and all of the things I wrote about above were happening, and I’ve already declared how easy it is to make excuses.
So here is my vow: I will get to the bottom of this issue, because I do completely respect the person in question. As it happens circumstances prevent me from doing this for a few weeks, but I will get to the bottom of it.
In my heart I do not believe I have broken anyone’s anonymity. The vast majority of the readership live nowhere near me. If there is the smallest handful of local people reading this blog, and they put two and two together, it is because they attend the same meetings I do, and hear the same things I do. I don’t use names, and only occasionally use gender. I don’t talk give physical descriptions, or anything else that might directly point the finger to a specific individual.
But if the
busybody source is correct, I will take immediate steps to back it down even further.
And now I have written a novel, and never even gotten to my Word of The Year. I will leave you with the word, but will save the rationale for another post, since nobody has time to read any more out of my brain. My Word of the Year is:
And I have much to say about it, what that word means to me, and how I came to determine that I need this in the forefront. I will also look back and see how 2016’s word impacted my year as well. Until then…
Writing. On a Sunday. Out of schedule. With a house full of people. Enough said!
The title of this blog post, which also happens to be the title of the chapter we read in the morning’s meeting (from the book Living Sober) might seem counterintuitive given the endless tasks of the current holiday season. Who has time to take care of themselves when there are gifts to be bought, presents to be wrapped, cookies to be baked, parties to attend, and all of this amidst our daily lives?
And the answer is: make the time. You can’t transmit what you haven’t got. And if you don’t take the time to acquire the holiday spirit, then all the cooking, baking and shopping in the world isn’t going to give it to you.
Interestingly, this reading selection was not picked by me, but by a regular attendee of the meeting. And he did not select this reading in deference to holiday madness; rather, he selected it in deference to my madness, and the madness that surrounds my ongoing foot troubles.
So let me back it up a few steps and fill you in on exactly what’s happening with the foot. For several years now, I’ve had a problem with foot pain. The more I exercise, the worse it gets. Over the summer I joined a gym that is the most intense workout that I’ve personally endured, and so the recurring foot problem reared its ugly head.
Long story short, I finally went and had the problem diagnosed, found out there is a very simple outpatient procedure that can fix the problem, and scheduled to have it done in early November. I was uncharacteristically on the ball with the whole process… asked in-depth questions, looked out in the calendar to get the best 5 day window for the healing process, organized my life accordingly.
And I had the surgery, and was told it was a success. Except… my foot had more pain than before I started. And so the last several weeks have been spent trying to figure out exactly why this is so. This afternoon I have an appointment where the doctor will read the MRI and hopefully give me a firm diagnosis and solution.
This process… and I dislike wrapping it up like this, as if the process is complete, which it by no means is… has been inconvenient, frustrating, anxiety-producing, and has forced me to reach out for help in ways that make me extremely uncomfortable.
So when my friend first suggested the reading, I wanted to roll my eyes to the ceiling. “Being good to myself” is all I’ve been doing, since I don’t have much of a choice to do anything else… my foot won’t let me!
Plus the chapter is all about sobriety, so I doubted it would have much relatability to my current state of affairs.
Then I read this section:
It’s often said that problem drinkers are perfectionists, impatient about any shortcomings, especially our own. Setting impossible goals for ourselves, we nevertheless struggle fiercely to reach these unattainable ideals.
Then, since no human being could possibly maintain the extremely high standards we often demand, we find ourselves falling short, as all people must whose aims are unrealistic. And discouragement and depression set in. We angrily punish ourselves for being less than super-perfect.
That is precisely where we can start being good—at least fair—to ourselves. We would not demand of a child or of any handicapped person more than is reasonable. It seems to us we have no right to expect such miracles of ourselves as recovering alcoholics, either.
Impatient to get completely well by Tuesday, we find ourselves still convalescing on Wednesday, and start blaming ourselves. That’s a good time to back off, mentally, and look at ourselves in as detached, objective a way as we can. What would we do if a sick loved one or friend got discouraged about slow recuperation progress, and began to refuse medicine? -pg. 42
Without any further ado, my word of 2015 was:
And I wrote a lengthy post as to its possible manifestations about a year or so ago.
I just re-read the post, which was full of all sorts of good intentions, and considered if I got the job done. Did I successfully commit 2015 as the year of energy?
It’s a tough question to answer. On the one hand, the Inner Critic wants to yell no, and for one very good reason. The bottom line for me was, at the time, I wanted energy to mean, first and foremost, some pretty specific things:
- lose weight
- increase fitness
- bonus if the entire basement was purged and organized
So if you take that fairly specific list, then no, energy was not very well spent… I did not lose weight, my fitness level has had starts and stops, just as it’s had in the past 3 or so years, and considering the basement as it is right now, after Christmas decorations have been more or less thrown down there, would drain the energy right out of my body.
So I’m not going to consider that.
Here’s the thing, though. My journey to achieve some of the things on the list above has taken me in directions heretofore unchartered: real, honest therapy, meditation classes and practice, a variety of fitness routines, books read, podcasts heard, and thousands of words journaled on mind-expanding subjects.
And through it all I’ve learned a heck of a lot about myself.
The best part of all: I have not given up. Another first in the life of this 46 year old. My modus operandi has always been if I can’t do it perfectly in an extremely short period of time, then I’m not doing it at all. This includes the horrific game Words With Friends, but excludes Candy Crush… I’m still plugging away at that one, and I’m the only one I know who’s sticking with it!
So I’m going to continue on self-development this year and see where it takes me. So far it has taken me to some interesting places, given me a life-changing new friendship, and the possibility of substantial change in the coming year.
So, considering all of that, I’m giving energy a thumbs up, even if my basement’s still a wreck. There’s always 2016 for that one. Plus, I’m currently reading Marie Kondo, so I expect to find the inspiration very soon.
Moving on to this year, my word for the year came a day or two before the year began. As many of the blogging friends have shared, this word chose me rather than me choosing it. And this word has challenge etched into every letter. My word for 2016 is:
The idea came to me while watching the movie The Intern with Robert DeNiro. The movie itself was so/so, but I adored everything about the character he played in that movie. I even said to my husband at the end, “That character is everything I want to be when I grow up.” No matter what life threw his way, no matter how anyone treated him, he responded evenly, thoughtfully, politely.
The story line, in case you have not seen the movie, is the character deciding after a few years of retirement and living the life of a widower, that he had more to offer this world, so he applied for a senior intern position at a start-up internet company. He was overlooked, condescended to, and largely misunderstood, and yet remained unflappable. In the end, of course, everyone adored him.
Which is not the part I’m looking to emulate.
I don’t think.
Seriously, I just love the idea of remaining calm in the face of anything.
This, it should go without saying, is an uphill battle. I have friends that try to provoke me because they so thoroughly enjoy my somewhat excitable reactive nature. Those friends are going to be disappointed this year.
Now, I will say, I picked this right away, it is currently January 8, and I have done very little in terms of making headway with this goal. In fact, it almost seems like I’m moving in the opposite direction so far: big yelling matches with a family member, ongoing frustrations with a moody teenage daughter, impatience with customer service representatives.
All I can say is: Rome wasn’t built in a day. And the fact that I’m noticing is progress. Maybe.
So there you have it. Calm for 2016. Bring it on!
How about this… TGIF, the miracle of the weekend and sleeping in!
I walked into my Monday meeting this morning with only a few minutes to share, and there were only TWO ATTENDEES! My heart, I must admit, sank, because I haven’t seen those kinds of low numbers for a long time. Then I remembered it was summer, plus, it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality! And before we got to the reading itself we had 6 more join us, one carrying a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie, so life is good!
Being the second Monday of the month, we read from the book Living Sober, the book I recommend for anyone new to sobriety, whether or not you choose to participate in a 12-step fellowship. I selected the chapter a bit selfishly, in deference to my new commitment to self-acceptance (see last post for details): Being Good to Yourself.
As we read the chapter, I mentally switched gears to apply the chapter to my sobriety. Either I never read this chapter before, or I did not take it seriously, but I completely disregarded these suggestions when I first got sober. I was shocked as I read, then I laughed at my shock. If I need to work as hard as I am on this endeavor more than 3 years into sobriety, then it should come as no surprise that I didn’t learn it along the way!
So I admitted to the group that:
- I picked this selection for selfish reasons
- I had nothing meaningful to contribute from my own personal experiences
Luckily the group had my back, and had some wonderful insights that really helped me:
- The biggest take-away I received, and this was really from every member of the group (because every member had a chance to share, this is the great part of a smaller meeting): the tendency to be hard on oneself is a common trait among alcoholics. We have shame that we drink, we don’t like that shame, we drink to escape the shame, we feel bad physically, we drink some more. Getting off the alcoholic merry-go-round does not necessarily mean we take away the tendency to be hard on ourselves, we just find different means with which to perpetuate the cycle. Yet another reminder why self-care is so important to cultivate.
- The second most important insight: self-care is another arena in which the phrase “progress, not perfection” applies. Consider the self-care of active addiction versus the self-care of sobriety. I will speak for myself when I say there is no comparison! Not only was I ingesting substances that essentially poisoned my body, those substances caused insomnia, loss of appetite, and created a complete lack of energy. I had no meaningful connection with other humans, since I was always in some state of denial, and I had no remote thought of a spiritual life. By comparison, my self-care of today is exemplary. Good to remember next time I’m beating myself up for beating myself up!
- One attendee (the baker of the strawberry rhubarb pie) believes the most important thing he does everyday towards self-care is not drink. No matter what else, this act must come first.
- Another friend remembered well the feeling of perfectionism being a catalyst for his addiction: “Well, I can’t seem to do anything perfectly, might as well drink and not bother at all!” In recovery, he works hard to strike the balance between trying his hardest and fighting his tendency towards perfectionism.
- The struggle against perfectionism came up with every person who shared this morning. One person shared he strives for excellence rather than perfection; for doing his personal best rather than “the best.”
All great stuff, as usual, now I need to take it out my pocket and put it to good use. Happy Monday!
After a fairly long hiatus from getting all my morning “good for you” stuff done (exercise, meditation and the like), this Monday I checked every item off the list. Not surprisingly, I feel good about being good to myself!
When I first started attending 12-step meetings, I benefitted from every word out of every mouth. The lessons were almost endless: from the wisdom of the long-timers to the familiar pain of the fellow newcomers, I needed to hear it all. Possibly most important, however, in the earliest days of sobriety, what I needed to absorb from my daily AA meetings was the hope that resided there. In the beginning of recovery, I had precious little of that particular commodity, and so I needed to drink it in every day from my fellows in recovery.
Eventually, the seeds of hope within me began to bloom, I was taken through the 12 steps of my recovery program, and I began to have confidence in myself, my recovery, and my ability to give back what was so freely given to me. I then added another dimension to my meetings: sharing my own experience, strength and hope, and the experience deepened. I developed deeper relationships, I helped newcomers, and I strengthened my commitment to sobriety.
After a year of continuous sobriety, I began to question the need for so many meetings, which made me wonder: exactly how many meetings is enough? The answer, of course, is completely individual. I know people with 25 years of sobriety who still attend a meeting every single day, I know people with a year or two of sobriety that attend one meeting a week, if that. But through this questioning process I discovered a very important truth: meetings are an important part of recovery, no matter how much time you have, because they help remind you of the pain of early sobriety. Every time I listen to a newcomer talk about how devastated his or her life is due to active addiction, I am reminded of my own personal bottom, and how much easier it is to stay sober than it is to get sober. No matter how many years of sobriety with which I am blessed, I will always need to be reminded from whence I came.
Recently, I’ll say within the past 2 weeks, I have discovered a new function that meetings serve for me in my recovery. I’ll use a real life example that I received in the meeting I run on Mondays (which, by the way, was a pleasant surprise this week… 9 attendees, and it was Labor Day! Really decent numbers for a holiday meeting). A woman attended my meeting that I know in a somewhat peripheral manner. I have not seen her in months, and this is the first time she has actually attended “my” meeting, so it was great to re-connect with her. When she shared, she admitted that she was in emotional turmoil. While she has not relapsed, she feels emotionally bankrupt, and she is having a difficult time getting back to the peace and serenity she once had. She realizes that a key component to this anguish is her feeling of disconnect with her program of recovery. While she was once an avid meeting-goer, she has let that part of her life lapse of late, and she believes it is in that lapse that she has lost her way.
This woman has about 5 years of sobriety. Interestingly, in the past several weeks I have heard 2 other women speak of similar issues; all three of these women have been in recovery anywhere from 4 to 6 years.
What this means to me is the point of this post. A new element to my meeting experience is hearing these stories, and filing them away under the category “What To Look Out For.” I feel very fortunate, at 19 months and change, to still feel daily gratitude for my sobriety. But I would be foolish not to hear these stories and use them as cautionary tales… things that could happen to me if I take my sobriety for granted.
At my home group this morning, a gentleman with decades of sobriety finished sharing by saying, with tears in his eyes, “I woke up sober this morning, and that made me happy. And it made my wife pretty happy too.” This brought to mind last night, when my husband came home from work and said, “What should we have for dinner, frozen pizza?” To which I smiled from ear to ear, because I am currently obsessed with Kirkland frozen pizza. I replied, “You know, I think I have a low-level addiction to frozen pizza.” He stopped what he was doing, walked over to me, grabbed my shoulders, and said, “We can have frozen pizza every night for the rest of our lives, and I would be happy.” That kind of love and support… well, it’s a miracle, and one I hope I never take for granted.
Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great. –Niccolo Machiavelli
Step one usually involves a moment of surrender, another topic discussed quite a bit in the month of January. I hear about all different types of surrender… some just reach an internal decision that they have had enough, others drag themselves to it because of the prodding of others, still others have to hit a crisis point in order to finally give in to the premise that they cannot do it on their own. Finally, each person turns to a power outside of themselves.
Once in recovery, it is easy to see that many solution to life’s problems lie in the same basic format. Healthy lifestyle changes, other addictions, even removing irritating personality flaws can be accomplished by simply turning it over to a power greater than oneself, and working on it one day at a time.
But what if you know all this, and you want the end result, but simply don’t feel like making the effort? I wrote earlier in the week about my struggles with exercise (I did, by the way, get to the gym that day, and I even went today, twice in a week is a record for me at this point). So I know it is a healthy lifestyle change that would bring untold benefits, I absolutely want the end results of becoming more physically fit, and I can even appreciate the feeling I get when I have accomplished even a small amount of exercise. But still I struggle with that final surrender. What to do?
My personal experience with surrender was at a moment of personal crisis. But I don’t ever want to get to that point again, with anything… I don’t want to have some health crisis drive me to the point of surrender, so how do I get the mind shift without the crisis?
And back to the value of regular meeting attendance, and sharing internal struggles. The feedback I received was instantaneous, and the advice made perfect sense: if you know you want something, but can’t get motivated enough to take action, pray for willingness. Eureka! This simple suggestion is why I am so grateful to friends in the Fellowship. Just that little bit of wisdom had me motivated enough to drag my sick rear end to the gym immediately following my meeting. And, believe you me, when I hit my knees tomorrow morning, the request for willingness is going into the routine!
The gift of giving and receiving that takes place within any 12-step meeting is an absolute miracle.