It’s getting happy, though not quite there yet. It’s sunny, but cold, I am mending from an illness, though not yet 100%. Sorry I missed last week’s post, I missed the meeting as well.
Since time moves along whether I am sick or I am well, this week we covered Step 10 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. For those unfamiliar,
Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
Reading this step is timely, as I have been struggling of late with those self-critical voices that dog all of us to a greater or lesser degree. My voices start out very innocently, and are disguised as The Objective Devil’s Advocate…
Are you sure you’re exercising as hard as you could? I’m sure you’ve got more left in the tank.
Which turns into…
Of course you can do more, if you don’t then you have clearly failed to exercise properly.
Which can easily morph into…
You suck at exercise!
Now, this is one very small example, but multiply that by 1,000 and include every area of life, and you’ve got the inner workings of my negative brain gone haywire.
So reading step 10, and remembering some of its fundamental tenets, was particularly helpful this morning. Things like:
Focusing on nothing but the negative is not the point of any inventory
A true and honest appraisal must, but its very definition, include the good that is happening. It could probably go without saying, but once I start to look at the good that is happening in my life, I realize that it far outweighs the bad, and severely limits the negative chatter.
We need to look at progress, not perfection
This lesson can’t be taught enough for me. It is so easy to wonder why I can’t do more, achieve more, be more, but what about what I’ve done compared to where I was?
In fact, the very nature of my share this morning had to do with the discontent I’ve felt while I’ve been sick… how it messed with my head, made me feel unnecessarily down on myself, and how I am looking to regain my serenity after visiting the doctor and having to take medicine.
A gentleman who shared after me talked about having the opposite experience, how the first time he went to the doctor in sobriety he was elated, because he could actually tell he was sick, since he was no longer self-medicating with alcohol.
Excellent point, one I had forgotten in my low physical state.
After that a newcomer shared, and said she looks forward to the day where she can feel sick in a legitimate way. Currently even if she does feel under the weather, she will lie to her husband and say she feels okay so that he doesn’t question her drinking wine with dinner.
Message received, Universe: there has been progress for this alcoholic!
Courtesy, kindness, justice and love is the way to handle pretty much anybody and everybody with whom we come in contact
Really, enough said here. Well, one more thing… I need to include how I treat myself in that list!
A long-timer talked about how he favors step 10 above all else, because it is one that is so universal, and so easy to make progress. In early sobriety, he could not think of something as daunting as putting pen to paper and writing a lifelong inventory, but he could look at the day and see what he did right and wrong. By starting small, he was able to build up to the other, more labor-intensive steps.
Another attendee focused on the notion of justifiable anger, and whether we in recovery are entitled to it. He has decided that for him, the answer is no… there is no excuse for holding onto anger in recovery. In any situation where he finds himself resentful, he looks to correct his part in the situation, and let go of the parts where others are responsible. Like everything else, this practice takes time and patience to cultivate.
Another gentleman talked about the gift he received from the regular practice of step 10: self-awareness. Knowing when to take action and when to sit back, when to open his mouth and when to keep it shut, when to push himself and when to rest, these are the fruits of the labor involved in a regular self-inventory.
So there’s hope for me yet.
As always, there was so much more shared than I can write down in one blog post. I’m just glad to be back in the saddle!
Sitting upright and writing a blog post after having chaired a meeting. After the past week, I can say that all counts as a miracle!
“You’re being too hard on yourself.”
There was a time, really not that long ago, when the statement above would have been met with resistance on my part. My instinctive response: scoff and declare I was not hard enough on myself.
I know this because it is still the instinctive thought.
Had I taken the time to self-examine, the statement would have seemed complimentary in nature. There is value in being hard on yourself. It motivates you to achieve more, it alerts you when you are wading into morally ambiguous territory, and it prevents you from adopting that godawful victim mentality.
Possibly deeper still: if you are hard enough on yourself, then anyone external being hard on you is likely not to hurt as badly.
All of this is conjecture, of course; introspection was not an activity I placed high on my list until the years following active addiction. Now it seems I am questioning every thought and feeling I have.
And yes, some days the jury is out as to whether or not this is a good thing.
One rather startling revelation has come up in the past few weeks, so revolutionary that I feel compelled to write it out. Through the endless self-examination and awareness of internal dialog, I have reluctantly concluded that perhaps I am more critical of myself than is necessary, certainly more than is effective. This is not necessarily news. What is the newsflash: the Inner Critic manifests itself in a variety of ways, ways I would have previously defended to the death as virtuous.
It has been recently pointed out to me that in describing an event about which I’m feeling badly, I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the other side of things. It could be an argument with my husband, disappointment with my kids, hurt feelings with a family member. No matter what the situation, I am compelled to state their case, project their feelings, or rationalize why I may be overdramatizing the situation.
When this pattern was first pointed out to me, I dismissed it as a non-pattern. When the pattern became too obvious to dismiss, I was defensive, indignant even. This shows my extreme sense of justice, I proclaimed self-righteously. I am a better person for considering all sides, aren’t I?
And then, the question I can’t un-hear: but if you’re spending all your time understanding and appreciating the perspective and feelings of everyone else, then when are you understanding and appreciating your own?
Every once in a while I am asked a question that makes my brain fall silent. Even now, and this is a few weeks later, I think of that question and I mentally blank. Which always, without fail, means I’ve got shift in perspective coming.
So if considering all sides of the problem, all the possible scenarios, all the feelings and thoughts of everyone involved is not the way to go, then what the heck is? Apparently, the answer is to relate the story, and end with how I feel. Period. No explanations, no rationalizations, no justifications.
Even, especially, if I am relating the story to myself:
I feel (fill in the blank), and then refrain from rationalizing the feeling away.
And then, apparently, I am to feel the feelings. Oh, how hard it is to keep the eyes from rolling.
Feel the feelings. Does that sound as inane to the rest of the world as it does to me? Except, ever since discovering this pattern, I have attempted to take the advice. And found it almost a physical impossibility. I will clamp my mouth shut, then open it to say, “But I realize that…” The closest I have come is to say, “I want to say…, but I’m supposed to just say how I’m feeling, so I feel…”
So now I’m in the really annoying stage of criticizing myself for criticizing myself. Exhausting to read? Imagine living it!
At this point someone might be thinking, “How does someone get a few years into sobriety and not learn how to feel her feelings?
I suppose comparing post-recovery life to pre-recovery life, I have made progress with understanding, acknowledging, and even communicating feelings. For example, in the earliest days of sobriety, I needed one of those smiley face charts to even figure out what I was feeling. So there’s been progress in the years since.
What is the endpoint, I demand? Let’s say I figure all this out, and feel my feelings, what then? Do I live happily ever after?
No such luck. What is supposed to happen is a greater sense of peace, of calm, of self-worth. Learning to identify, process, and resolve internal “situations” will create room for positive things like happiness, gratitude, and joy.
Or so I’m told. To say that I am in the experimental phase of this (the world “bullshit” has rolled around through my head several times while writing this post) would be an understatement.
And how does one get started on this magical process? The first step, one in which I am deeply entrenched at the moment, is developing awareness. Every time the negative inner voice speaks up, I take note of what is being said and how it makes me feel. In case you’re interested, my heart picks up a few beats, and there is a small clenching in my stomach.
Now, here is a critical part: don’t get impatient. Don’t criticize the critic! Just take note, become curious, detach as much as possible:
“How interesting is it that you feel anxious about something, but you’re trying to convince yourself why you are wrong for feeling this way?”
“Fascinating… you are angry about a situation, but at the same time worried that you will upset someone with your anger?”
“Isn’t that curious that you just walked by the mirror and told yourself how fat you are?”
It sounds preposterous, I know. But I will say the few times I’ve successfully done this, I usually laugh, and it does seem to break some pattern. I suppose time and practice will tell if there are long-term benefits.
From there… to tell you the truth, I’m not sure. Since I’ve really only gotten as far as awareness, I can’t say for sure what’s next. I find myself pointing out when I’m doing the things I shouldn’t be doing, like making excuses for my feelings. Perhaps that’s another step on the ladder.
In terms of a step-by-step guide to feeling the feelings… well, I’m working on it. So far I’ve learned a few on the “What Not to Do” list:
- Open a bag of chips
- Binge watch a Netflix series
- Name your feelings, then talk yourself out of them
I’ve gotten back into the practice of meditating again. This was no one’s suggestion but my own, because I find that even a small daily practice of sitting still and being mindful tends to increase my ability to detach from my thoughts.
Like most things, it is a work in progress. I am a work in progress. We’ll see if all this awareness results in a peaceful, yogi-like existence, or I wind up talking to the walls…
This post has been rolling around in my head for weeks; the miracle will be, if you are reading, then I have actually published it!
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!
Taking the time to write this post, because I know I am going to get great responses to help me tackle this issue!