Today was one of those days where I took advantage of my “power,” as it were, and selected a reading I hoped would help me personally. We read from the book Living Sober, and I selected the chapter “Easy Does It.”
I actually went in searching for the chapter “One Day At A Time,” only to find it was not in there. I could use that prioritization as well. And a blog post may soon follow on this one, as I find it one of the most useful adages in the 12-step lexicon.
But back to the subject at hand: we read the chapter “Easy Does It.” In terms of recovery, the chapter talks about the common thread of compulsivity that seems to exist in alcoholics. We are the type to rarely let a drink go unfinished (alcoholic or not), we read until the book is finished, and, in a newer twist, and speaking for myself, binge watching television series is a great additional example of pursuing something until the bitter end!
And of course, there’s nothing wrong with many of these compulsive tendencies… most of them are, in fact, preferable to drinking. But the chapter gently asks us to look at this piece of our personalities, and consider slowing down once we realize we are in the grips of this thinking.
Of particular import to me today was this section:
When we do find ourselves uptight and even frantic, we can ask ourselves occasionally, “Am I really that indispensable?” or “Is this hurry really necessary?” What a relief to find the honest answer is frequently no! And such devices actually serve, in the long run, no only to help us get over our drinking problem and its old ways; they also enalbe us to become far more productive, because we conserve and channel our energy better. We arrange priorities more sensibly. We learn that many actions once considered vital can be eliminated if they are thoughtfully reexamined. “How much does this really matter?” is a very good question. -pg. 45, Living Sober
Here’s what’s been the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of my mind for the past solid month… I sit with my boot on, thinking I need to sit in order to get the boot off. Then as I sit I think of the various things that I’m not doing, and feel badly about not doing them. I look around and see evidence of my not doing things… dust bunnies, empty refrigerator, laundry piles, etc. At least this is how things look in my mind. I finally get so agitated I get up and do something, anything, to relieve the pressure of not doing something. Then I recognize that my foot hurts from, you know, walking on it. Then I am depressed anew because all this means is a delay of healing. And I sit down, and the cycle begins again.
- An almost unanimous decision that employing “easy does it” to one’s life is a work- in-progress situation. Some days/weeks/months you’ll have it, and some you won’t.
- Part of the trap of this personality booby trap is the idea that we’ll relax/take time out/start enjoying life once x, y or z happens. I’ll start taking it easy after I get through the holidays, as soon as I get the promotion, once I clean the house. But this logic is inherently flawed, as there is always a new item to get through/achieve/do.
- Making a conscious decision to feed ourselves rather than delete from ourselves is important. Taking time to actually schedule, in your planner or calendar, time each day to nurture yourself, will have untold benefits.
- Claiming that you are too important to employ “easy does it” is a form of self-aggrandizing. It’s especially important to ask the questions listed above (Am I really that important and is this hurry really necessary), as the ego could be at play.
- Often we find a sense of disappointment when we are too goal-oriented. We work and work to achieve a goal, be it materialistic or not, then find said goal did not give us the satisfaction we thought it would. Then life becomes a series of pushing from goal to goal, with little appreciation for the journey that takes us to those goals.
- Though it may be trite, appreciating the journey is as important, if not more important, than appreciating the destination, as so much of life is about exactly that… the journey.
Hope everyone is having an Easy Does It Monday!
True story: one person, in his/her share (remember, trying to make things more anonymous) said the following: “if there’s laundry to be done…. well then, teach the kids how to do it!” It was said lightly, but it should be noted I wrote the paragraph above before the meeting. So I’d say this reminder from someone who did not know I was fretting about this counts as my miracle!
And a happy Monday to all! We had an astonishingly large attendance at this morning’s meeting, I stopped counting at 18, though I’m relatively certain one or two more came in later.
Today’s reading selection came from Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The essay came from the chapter “Friendship,” and discussed the writer’s relationship with a woman named Pat who would eventually guide her to sobriety. Although Pat herself was not an alcoholic, she was a member of the 12-step group Al-Anon, so she guided the author of the story using the common tenets of both programs: one day at a time, the Serenity Prayer, honesty.
The long and short of the story is that everyone would be blessed to have a “Pat” in their lives, a friend who listens attentively, who shares wisdom without being bossy, who walks their talk.
I shared about the many “Pats” I’ve met in the rooms of our fellowship, and how many of them were sitting with me this morning! One part of the story reminded me acutely of early sobriety: the author was frantic because of all the chaos in her life, and proceeded to list all the crises… a possible pregnancy, relationships in distress, house a disaster, and depression so deep she felt unable to tackle any of it. Pat listened attentively, and remarked that most of the problems were future ones, but the one that could be handled was the dirty dishes in the sink. She suggested that the author go home and clean them. At the time the author was highly offended, and felt dismissed. But after she went home and washed those dishes, she felt that sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something productive. And to this day she remembers that lesson Pat taught her, to do what you can that day to improve something in your life.
I remember learning those same types of lessons, though I was not nearly so open-minded about it. I remember being outraged at this type of suggestion… how dare you tell me to clean my house! But as I started creating the routine of handling the problems directly in front of me, rather than obsessing about the myriad of perceived disasters in my life, the result was nothing short of amazing.
You might even say miraculous.
I actually spoke less than I typically do in deference to the crowd, but for some reason the crowd was slow to share. A few piggybacked on the importance of routine; creating order in the world around you helps to create order in your mind. One woman shared the expression that helped her was move a muscle, change a thought. She gets easily caught up in worry and future projection, and it was suggested when she catches herself in the cycle to do something different… go make a bed, wash a dish, take a walk. In making a physical change you will necessarily effect a mental one.
Several attendees spoke about the Bible verse referenced in the story, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of discipline, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.”
Side note: I did not understand that verse at all. I thought it had to do with being able to discipline effectively, which of course made no sense at all. Which once again proves how lucky I am to have such wise people attend my meeting.
The people who commented on it said it reminded them of our literature, which references the benefit of having “restraint of pen and tongue.”
Another person put it this way: say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.
Now that I understood!
Just as the shares were starting to fizzle out a newcomer shared. And when I say newcomer, I mean new to me, several people in the room seemed to know him so I assumed he’d been around for some amount of time.
Turns out I was wrong. He has less than 2 weeks of sobriety, a terrible case of “the shakes,” which he knows full well a drink will calm, and he craves alcohol intensely every moment that he is awake. Between the shakes and the terrible depression he feels, he does not know how much longer he is going to last before he picks up (a drink). People are telling him he looks better and is doing great, and he is angry… he does not feel better, and he doesn’t know how much longer he can take it.
The reticence I experienced from the group evaporated in an instant. Virtually every hand in the room shot up in the air after the newcomer finished speaking. And each piece of wisdom shared was better than the last: advice on the ways to minimize the jittery feeling, suggestions on how to distract yourself in the early days, similar past experiences and how long it took to overcome, reminders that all of us have been there to one degree of another, and how miraculous it is once over the hump of early sobriety.
I watched carefully as the gentleman considered each anecdote or piece of advice, and actually saw tension leave his body. We spoke after the meeting, and he seemed ready to face the rest of the day.
And really, is there a greater miracle than that?
I hope your Monday is as filled with Springtime hope as mine is… we are looking to hit 70 degrees this week in my part of the world!
Today we read chapter 2 in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (colloquially referred to as The Big Book), entitled “There is a Solution.”
A chapter that is chock full of hope, “There is a Solution” breaks down misconceptions of what an alcoholic is and isn’t. More importantly, however, the chapter provides optimism for those who feel like they are out of options in terms of quitting drinking.
We had a large group this morning, and a lot of different viewpoints on what stood out most in the chapter. The first gentleman to share talked about how he related to the notion of giving up alcohol first, personal growth second. He was directed to our 12-step program years ago by a therapist who told him, in no uncertain terms: no real growth will commence without first giving up drinking. He found that to be true for him.
Another attendee related to the open-ended concept of spirituality that is laid out in the chapter. There is no one definition of a Higher Power. Each individual’s conception is unique and personal, and all versions are welcome. He was able to commit fully to our fellowship because there was no “one right way” forced upon him
Another woman found most compelling the image that we are like survivors of a shipwreck: we come from all walks of life, and would likely not fraternize under regular circumstances. But because we all share a common peril, we relate to one another, and we celebrate together the victory that is freedom from the obsession to drink.
Another regular talked about the miracle involved in Atheists entering our program and finding their way to a Higher Power. Even if that Higher Power is nothing more than the power found in the group itself, that discovery is enough to give them a foothold in the program. No matter which way you go about finding a power greater than yourself, be it within conventional religion, unconventional spiritual practice, or the simplicity of using the 12-step group as your higher power, the ultimate goal is the same: self-transcendence. Finding your way out of egocentric thinking and into thought of how to help another.
A newcomer to the meeting talked about the power of one alcoholic helping another, and the magic that happens as a result. How many of us try for years to find our solution in the office of a therapist or doctor, only to find that we don’t believe they understand what we’re going through? But the minute we are able to connect with someone who’s experienced the same thoughts and feelings that we’ve experienced… that’s where the miracle begins!
What stood out most for me in today’s reading was something I actually read out loud:
The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. -Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 25
While this is a fact that is true for me, I wish the paragraph would add a little footnote:
You won’t know this up front!
There was a newcomer to this morning’s meeting, 6 days sober. Whenever that happens I automatically read with my mind in newcomer mode. I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that when I read those words at 6 days sober, I would have been obstinately resistant to the concept. And I was/am a Theist… I can’t even imagine how an Atheist newcomer would treat that paragraph!
My point in my share this morning is that some miracles that take time and patience. Some miracles you can only see in the rear view mirror. Sobriety is often exactly that type of miracle: you get started without any real sense of permanence, or even belief that any good will come of it. You’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, and you’ll give any idea a go.
That’s all you need to get started, really and truly. You don’t need to be committed to sobriety forever, just for today. You don’t need to believe in God, just that you are willing to consider practicing some open-mindedness somewhere along the way. You don’t need to commit to anything, just inclined to listen to the suggestions of others who have what you want.
If someone told me at 6 days sober that I’d be doing any of the things I’m doing now, 4 years later… well, you know how that sentence ends!
My miracle for the day is the reminder of how grateful I am to have suspended my disbelief just long enough that it became belief!
Happy Leap Year 2016!
Today’s meeting was a study in contrasts: at the start of the meeting we had 3 people, by the end we had twelve. A variety of interpretations of each reading, yet each person’s viewpoint became the springboard for the next person to share. A tremendous disparity in sober time (one gentleman celebrating 34 years, another one celebrating 21 months, a woman with a few days under her belt), yet the appearance of complete understanding of one another’s viewpoints.
If only the rest of the world could work this way.
We read from the book As Bill Sees It, and the theme of each reading was growth. To tell the truth we only read about two paragraphs; today was more about sharing, less about reading. Which is pretty much my favorite kind of meeting.
The first point to which everyone agreed: growth cannot begin until active addiction is arrested. In other words, getting sober is priority number one. It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people attempt to put the cart before the horse, and think that the work of recovery can be done while still drinking.
Several attendees shared their “most essential tool” used in getting sober. One talked of the value of the fellowship in teaching him how to get and stay sober… as he says, “My broken brain couldn’t fix my broken brain!”
Another attendee found great comfort and logic in the 12 steps of recovery. He needed something to replace his drinking, and found the work of doing the steps to be a healthy alternative.
Although agreeing that the need to get and stay sober is a critical first step, most of the shares went in different directions after this point. One attendee said that once she got sober, her growth came in the work she did on finding balance in her life. While drinking, she lived in an all-or-nothing state. In sobriety, she had to learn to live in the middle, and it is an ongoing process.
Another gentleman found his growth in learning to find assertiveness outside the bottle. For years the only way he could speak up and voice his own opinions was while drunk. In sobriety he had to learn to articulate his resentments, decide which were important to address, and which were okay to let go, and, most important, speak his mind in a productive manner. Sober for 38 years, he still considers this an lifelong journey!
Another member of the group shared his growth will be in addressing those character defects that led him to alcoholic drinking in the first place. Because it is not conditions that cause us to drink, but rather our reaction to the conditions in our lives. He thinks in many ways the work he is undertaking now is more challenging than it was to put down the drink in the first place.
Another woman who recently celebrated four years of sobriety shared her struggle with trying to stay focused on the present when friends and family remind her of her actions in active addiction. She would prefer to leave that chapter of her life behind her, and wishes others would too. The growth she seeks is in learning to accept that which she cannot change with her loved ones so she can enjoy the serenity that she’s earned in these past four years.
One attendee spoke of the blessing of active addiction. Without it, he would not have the gift of recovery; without recovery he feels certain he would not have lived up to his potential. For it was the skills he learned within the fellowship of our 12-step program that allowed him to achieve all his greatest successes. It is because of the gift of sobriety that he holds the unshakeable belief that all things are possible now that he is sober.
As always, everything that everyone shares is meaningful to me, and relatable in some fashion to my life experience. What stood out most, in the readings and shares, is the notion that an awakening is an ongoing process. There’s no finish line, no graduation ceremony, no box to check off. It seems counterintuitive, really: aren’t you done if you’re sober? What else is there to do, really?
I see sobriety similar to an ongoing housecleaning. Did you ever decide to clean out a drawer, and in finding homes for all the miscellaneous items, discover a whole new set of cleaning and organizational projects?
That’s the way I’m finding sober life to be. Sobriety has opened my eyes to all the different areas in my life I can choose to improve, as well as give me the confidence to let go of the things that no longer serve me.
And of course it’s not always fun. In fact, often it feels like I’m wearing an itchy wool sweater in the heat of summer. But as my friend above stated so eloquently, there’s a profound sense of hope that all things are possible in sobriety!
A friend from the beginning of my journey to recovery is back in our fellowship; seeing her her this morning, hearing her share about the profound changes that commitment to sobriety has brought, reaffirms my own recovery!
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!
“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!
It seems almost absurd to say this, but today we celebrated the 3 year anniversary of my Monday morning meeting. I know it’s trite but… where the heck did the time go?
Plus over the weekend my husband and I celebrated 16 years of wedded bliss, so it’s been a commemorative few days!
Due to the celebratory nature of the meeting, and possibly because there were copious baked goods, the mood was festive this morning, with a nice sized crowd to boot.
Because it is the first Monday of the month, and because we are commemorating the birth of this meeting, and because I personally can’t read it often enough, I selected the story Acceptance is the Answer from the Personal Stories section of book Alcoholics Anonymous. If you’ve ever read this blog before, then you know this is my favorite story in the Big Book; I’d read it every Monday if I could get away with it. Which I wouldn’t, because the meeting regulars would vote me out if I did. It was the very first reading I selected 3 years ago, and I get something new out of it each time I read it.
For those unfamiliar with the story, here is the seminal paragraph. Most 12-step regulars will know the page on which to find it:
And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.
What’s so great about this story, and the reason I go back to this particular well time and time again, is that the message is universal. On any given day, there are no less than a dozen things I am struggling to accept: how my children are behaving, the weather, why some electronic device is not working correctly, traffic, how my clothes fit, someone who calls too much, someone who doesn’t call enough, the state of the world, the state of my house.
All the tremendous energy it takes me to worry, complain, be irritated, plan out the various scenarios by which I make the world as I see fit… where does it get me? Almost without fail, it gets me to the same spot I was in before I started. That is to say, I am left with the same children misbehaving, poor weather, faulty electronics, and so on.
And so, acceptance is the answer.
Anniversaries provide the opportunity to reflect back through the time they are commemorating. I can say, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the happiest time periods in the last three years were those spent consciously practicing acceptance on a regular basis. Conversely, the periods filled with the most strife were the opposite: I was railing against something or someone who I believed had done me dirty.
The lack of acceptance which has proved the most challenging for me personally has been self-acceptance. Again, I can look back on times when practicing self-acceptance has brought about miracles in my life, sobriety being the most obvious. The simple acceptance that chemical alteration does more harm than good allowed me to live in the solution, rather than living in the problem of active addiction.
This blog in an ongoing testament to the power of living in the solution.
Yet even with this knowledge, wisdom that has been almost beaten into my head, I am still erratic with both acceptance in general, and self-acceptance in particular. Why is it so? I’m sure there’s a variety of answers, both psychological and practical, that would account for lack of consistency. I guess I just need to practice acceptance that it takes me so long to practice acceptance!
As is the case every time I select this reading, a woman sat in amazement today, because this story was so timely for her. This story is the gift that keeps on giving!
Like I’ve said so many times before, sometimes I write just to sort things out in my own head, and hopefully in that sorting I will feel better and also possibly help someone else. This is one of those times.
In the broadest of explanations, I am out of sorts, and it’s a state from which I can’t seem to extricate myself. As I pause to reflect upon the why’s and how’s of this out-of-sortness, a few of the usual suspects rear their ugly heads (kid aggravations being one such example), but when I really burrow deep, I think the root of this issue lies in the conflict between standing my ground and my people-pleasing tendencies.
For a really, really long time, maybe even for as long as I can remember, there would be no conflict… I would inevitably revert to people-pleasing. I may bitch and moan about it, I may seek passive aggressive means of standing my ground in future situations as a form of revenge, but ultimately, in the moment of conflict, I deferred in favor of making the other person happy.
As I work on becoming a more honest and authentic version of myself, I have become aware of the conflict, and wonder whether the path of least resistance is doing anyone any good. At the bare minimum it makes me feel not quite honest, and not quite authentic! This certainly does not mean that I choose the right action every time, but I am getting better and better and saying what I mean, and meaning what I say. If I don’t actually assert myself or voice my own feelings, at the very least I can choose to do or say nothing, so at least I’m not practicing dishonesty.
Old Me: “Of COURSE it’s not a problem! No worries! That will be fine/I am fine/You are fine!”
Current Me: (silence)
Hopefully Future Me: “The truth is that I’m feeling…”
Sometimes though, when you are seeking honesty, there is simply no way around a conflict between two people. As humans we each have our unique thought processes, opinions, and strategies for handling life, and my way of doing things does not always mesh with the way others do things.
And then there’s the moment of truth: stand my ground, or defer in order to smooth out the rough edges of the situation.
Of course, anyone reading knows the obvious answer is if you believe in yourself, your stance, you stand your ground. I knew that even when I wasn’t doing it.
The trick isn’t even in the standing of ground (although that’s certainly not fun). The real trick is living inside of my own head in the days that follow.
I am in perpetual awe of people who can take a stand, face their adversaries gracefully, and then let the situation go. I simply do not know how to do that. Even when I believe in myself, even when I have no regrets in any decision I have made, my people pleasing tendencies make me twitchy in wanting to correct, to soothe, to make everyone in the world happy again.
So what to do in this situation? Well, historically the simple investigation and acknowledgement of such feelings goes a long way, as does writing about it and seeking empathy. It’s always a great thing to know I’m not alone.
But the further work for me is in the practice of letting go… letting go of my expectations of how things should have been, or how things should be currently. Letting go of the worry of the future. Letting go of my projections as to how the rest of the world is thinking and feeling. Full disclosure: that last one’s the toughest!
I just exhaled deeply in re-reading that last bit. Yep, the cathartic writing exercise works again! Now, the next post will be when and how I figure out the “letting go” part! Advice, as always, is welcome!
Not including an image from the movie Frozen, since I’m sure you’re all humming that song right about now!
Can you guess what kind of weather we are experiencing in my part of the world?
Today’s reading, selected as a nod to New Year’s resolutions, is entitled “Letting Go of Old Ideas.” For most of us choosing the journey of sobriety, putting down the drink or drug (or both) is really just the first step in the process of recovery. A monumentally arduous and often painful one, but a first step nonetheless. The truly meaningful work begins when we examine the lifelong thoughts and beliefs that led us to the bottle in the first place, and then decide, with the clarity only sobriety can bring, if these thoughts and beliefs are serving us well. If the answer is no, as it often will be, then we must figure out a way to release them.
Here are some bona fide ideas I held before I chose recovery. This list is completely, 100% true, and not exaggerated for effect:
- Alcohol is a requirement at a social event. If an event has no alcohol, I can assume the people making these choices are either restricted by something not of their own volition, or they are people with whom I do not want to relate.
- It is inconceivable that I will abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life.
- If I must abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life, I will eventually lose the companionship of everyone currently in my life.
- If I must abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life, I must not, under any circumstances, let this be known to anyone; keeping this secret is paramount to my happiness.
- A social life without alcohol will necessarily be less interesting and fun than a social life with alcohol.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. Happily, through the process of testing the old ideas, discovering they no longer serve me, and discarding them, I find myself at peace in a way I did not believe possible.
Of course, I hold many more old ideas that need to be re-assessed as my journey continues. In times of distress, my instinct to project and interpret the emotions of others, and then believe these projections as if they were handed to me by God Himself, is an old belief that does me an incredible disservice. Fortunately, recovery is a journey rather than a destination, and I have a lifetime to figure things out.
Rather than go point by point over the various pieces of wisdom gleaned from today’s meeting, I want to share a miraculous story that happened this morning. I have had an issue with my daughter, one with which I’ve been dealing all weekend, and it’s affecting me enough that I felt like I needed to share about it at the meeting this morning (more to follow at some point). In so doing, I received some amazing support and wisdom, all of which I hold in my heart even as I type. But one fellow in particular stood out, he shared almost immediately after me; he related to what I was going through, and he shared some of the experiences he is having with his daughter.
Since this gentleman has been an attendee of my meeting for some time, I was well-acquainted with stories about his daughter, as he has shared his concerns about her for months now. He is currently in a place of relative peace with her, but re-telling the tales of some of his troubled times did remind me that I am not alone, and also that things could always be worse. Of course his daughter is 21 and had moved across the country for a time, my daughter is 14 and lives with me, so the situations are not identical by any means. On the other hand, the simple act of sharing our troubles with one another gives us both an opportunity to feel less isolated, and, as a result, feel better about our situations.
Possibly ten minutes after he shared he got up abruptly from his chair and left the meeting. He did not return for several minutes, and when he did he raised his hand to request a “double dip.” In other words, could he share again even though he had already shared once? And since of course the answer is always yes at my meeting, he let us know he left the meeting because he received an urgent text from his daughter that she needed to speak with him as soon as possible.
Turns out, she’s been thinking a lot about all the issues she’s been facing, and she’s been reading some of the literature her father has suggested, and she thinks it’s possible that she has a problem with alcohol. She would like him to take her to a 12-step meeting.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the entire room sat in silence for a full minute. I finally broke it by saying that I don’t know what to say. It’s one thing to feel a miracle taking place within yourself, it’s another to experience it with a room full of people!
And if, after all that gentleman has gone through with his daughter, this can be the end result, then surely my “privilege problems” with my daughter are going to work out just fine. At least, that’s the message I received!
I’m pretty sure I’m not getting a better miracle than the one I just described.