Today is the first meeting in a long time where I found myself looking at the clock and wishing it would move a bit faster. Attendance was on the lower side, but it was also that people were unwilling to share. It happens from time to time, but it doesn’t get less uncomfortable each and every time it happens.
And the reading was a solid one… we read a personal story from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It was called “Women Suffer Too,” and it was written by one of the first female members of our 12-step program. Her tale is a compelling one, and inspirational to boot.
If nothing else, I can speak to what I personally took from this morning’s reading. While the timeline of her progression through alcoholism and recovery did not resemble mine whatsoever, I could relate to the emotions behind her drinking and subsequent sobriety.
Most notably, she wrote of the diminishing returns of alcohol, despite the increasing quantities she drank. Almost everyone in the room could relate to that. As time goes on, it becomes a chase… drink/ingest more and more in the hopes of recapturing the glory days when drinking/altering yourself was fun! Soon it becomes a situation where you know you are never going to recapture the nostalgia, and yet you can’t envision a life where you simply refrain. A dark place, but ultimately a hopeful one, as it usually the starting point of recovery.
The second part of the story that spoke to me this morning is the feeling of camaraderie she found within the fellowship. She found, through gathering with a group of like-minded individuals, that she no longer felt that she was alone in her troubles, or that she was morally depraved, or irreparable. She found that in allowing acceptance of her less than ideal but still human qualities, she found the motivation she needed to improve herself… and found peace within to boot.
The group that did share focused on some of the “before” parts of the story… specifically, the blackouts that the author was able to describe in colorful detail. A lot of us can relate to this unfortunate part of alcoholic drinking…. the absence of memory for certain parts of the night, and the discomfort that causes the next day.
That’s all I’ve got for today. Better than nothing, I suppose!
Heading out to celebrate my husband’s birthday!
On this glorious Spring Monday morning we read from the book Living Sober, the chapter entitled “Live and Let Live.”
Of course, the expression live and let live does not originate in the recovery community. In fact, the whole lesson today falls into the category of “human problems” rather than “alcoholic problems.” But still, learning how to focus on our own lives, and refrain from concerning ourselves with the lives and opinions of others goes a long way to a successful sobriety.
I remember reading this chapter in early sobriety and finding it to be an eye opener. I never thought of my addiction as being in any way related to the people around me. I would hear people say, “I like to drink at my problems” or “I drank at people, not with people,” and those expressions made no sense to me.
But as the chapter let me know… I started drinking, as most do, with people. Then, I became resentful when people commented negatively on the quantity I drank, or my attitude after I drank, so I decided to drink alone. I compared my drinking style to that of others. I preferred social functions with alcohol, and avoided those events that did not have alcohol.
And in all of those situations, people, and my reactions to those people, were involved.
It was a relief indeed to learn the mantra live and let live. It reminded me that there is only one set of beliefs, opinions and actions I can control, and so to worry about anyone else’s is not only pointless, but it is counterproductive to my own serenity.
Two corollary philosophies I learned in recovery that go hand in hand with live and let live are:
What other people say about me is none of my business.
Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?
When I am on my game, and embracing these three ways of living, then my life is peaceful indeed.
Like most lessons in recovery, it is one that needs to be reviewed on a very regular basis! It is supremely simple to forget how good life is when I am living and letting live, and instead I easily fall into the trap of believing I know what’s best for everyone around me.
As always, I am grateful to start my week with positive and healthy ways to live my most peaceful life.
Here are some other great thoughts from this morning:
- Often the focus is on the second half of this expression… the letting live part. But equally important is the first half… live! If we focus on living our own best lives, is is natural to let others do the same.
- Often figuring out the best way to live takes time. Early sobriety is confusing in and of itself, so patience is key in terms of figuring out what exactly brings you joy.
- People who like to control things by nature find the “let live” part of this advice to be extra difficult. It is a process to unlearn the habit of giving others our take on a situation, or offering our input. Time and practice will help us strengthen this skill of letting things go.
- Typically the root cause of our inability to live and let live is our ego… we think we know better, and therefore we insist on forcing our will on others. Learning to get our egos right-sized will go a long way in learning how to live and let live.
- It is our job to figure out the best way for us personally to live and let live. For some of us, the challenge is in figuring out how to keep our mouths shut, and our opinions to ourselves. For others, the challenge is in asserting our own needs and wants, and learning to live authentically, rather than trying to please those around us. Either way, it is our responsibility to figure it out and challenge ourselves to living our best life.
- When in doubt about which is the best course of action…. keeping our mouths closed or open… shooting up a quick prayer can do wonders!
Wishing everyone who celebrates a beautiful Easter holiday!
Spring, glorious spring!
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:
- That’s stupid
- 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!
- I’m back writing
- Kids are back at school (see video below)
Is it wrong that I just kicked a variety of kids out of the house to write this blog post? I am choosing to think not.
In typing out the title I realize it is 7-11 day, which means that particular convenience store will be giving out free Slurpees, so perhaps if I get through this post without interruption I can reward them.
The jury’s out if that can actually happen. Actually, the jury is heavily leaning towards this not happening.
It’s funny that I am about to write a post on gratitude, and, if I’m keeping things real, I am feeling anything but in the current moment. I dropped a weight on my finger during this morning’s workout. At the time, I was grateful it wasn’t my writing hand; now I am realizing in this day and age I need all 10 fingers to write. An extremely frustrating customer service call five minutes ago plays in my head, with no obvious solution on the horizon.
And have I mentioned the variety of kids?
But this is why I love a topic like gratitude; is is a universal tool that any human being can employ at any time, for any reason. Even in the moment, when I don’t know what the next sentence will be, I am 100% sure that by the time I hit publish I will feel better, simply because my focus will be on gratitude.
And with that long intro, this morning’s literature selection came from the book Living Sober, a chapter entitled “Being Grateful.” The chapter describes the various mindsets that a grateful attitude can improve:
- Negative speculations (always assuming the worst)
- The tendency to say “Yes, but…” to anything complimentary or optimistic
- Focusing on (and talking about) the ways in which other people are wrong
- An urgency to be right, and to prove we are right
- An unwillingness to open our minds to the thoughts/beliefs of others
In each of these cases, a simple shift to the perspective of gratitude can make a world of difference.
I shared first, and I spoke of the primary reason I needed to read about gratitude today. A few months back, I submitted a resume for a job, something I have not done in more than 16 years. I found out this weekend that I did not get the job (cue the sad music).
This is the type of news where my mind and my heart are at war with one another. Maybe skirmish is a better fit, since war seems a bit big. On the one hand, I really and truly (and really and truly) know that the job was a bit of a longshot (I was competing with people with years of experience in a field where I had essentially none), it was my first foray into the professional world in a really long time, and that another opportunity will present itself. I am a strong believer that things happen for a reason, and therefore this job must not have been meant for me. I had the most ideal of scenarios in terms of the interview process, as the hiring manager is someone with whom I have a passing acquaintance and so I was able to be my authentic self. So my mind absolutely knows I put my best foot forward and have nothing in which to feel ashamed.
So that’s my head’s side of the story.
My heart has a different version of events. The fact that I can make that statement at all shows the kind of progress I’ve made in recovery. Who even knew that you could think one way but feel another? Certainly not pre-recovery Josie! All weekend long I’d be doing something and then wonder why my stomach felt jittery, or my chest area felt achy, then I’d stop and realize what the problem was… oh yeah! I didn’t get the job! And I’d feel disappointment, and a vague sense of something resembling panic, all over again.
And my mind would reprimand: What is there to feel bad about? And I’d distract myself some more. And so on, for the next two days.
I fessed up to all of this to my group this morning, and as usual they came through for me. According to people much wiser than me, it seems that the feeling of feelings is something that is actually important to do (who knew?). When I expressed uncertainty at what I would have done with this situation in active addiction, they said, “Duh! You would have picked up a drink.”
It also turns out that being hard on oneself is a typical trait of alcoholics. At least, that is the opinion of several in the room with decades of sobriety, so I trust they’ve been around our group long enough to know. This fact illustrates for me, once again, that the real work begins once we put down the drink. I’ve been sober for over four years now, and I’m still working on the self-kindness. Good thing I’m not looking to graduate from this program!
Pushing aside feelings for any reason, telling yourself they are silly or illogical, is denying your value as a human being. Human beings feel a variety of emotions for a variety of reasons; telling yourself you “shouldn’t” feel that way makes little to no sense.
Others spoke of the need to balance their feelings, so as not to wallow too long in something unpleasant or react to something too quickly. The easiest way to do this? Get out of your own head… go to a meeting, call a friend, just do something different. As the saying goes, “move a muscle, change a thought.”
A woman newer to sobriety talks about how focusing on that for which she is grateful is the number one tool she uses daily to help her stay sober. She has found it transformative: good things become great things, and when things are not so great she is able to remember all the other good things, and it lessens the sting of whatever disappointment or irritant is happening for her.
So I guess I need to focus on my nine healthy fingers!
I got one prediction right, and one wrong. I do feel better now that I’ve written about gratitude. Even better, I was wrong about the kids not coming in to hassle me. Looks like everyone’s getting a free Slurpee!
Another Monday, another round of craziness. I’m not even going to detail it this time, I’m sick of hearing myself talk about schedules-gone-haywire. I suppose serenity will come when my schedule gets comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Interestingly, this is a lesson I learned from one of the wise regulars in my meeting this morning. We were back to a group of the usual 12 attendees, and we read the chapter “Changing Old Routines” in the book Living Sober. The chapter gives a plethora of ways in which the newly sober can tweak their daily schedule to maximize their chances of staying sober.
As someone who struggled with staying sober for a solid nine months before I actually got sober, I can attest to each and every one of the ideas in the chapter. Here are some of the best ideas:
- Get up earlier or later
- Do the opposite of what you normally do in terms of eating breakfast before or after you get dressed for the day
- Take a different route to work
- Avoid drinking buddies, at least temporarily
- Avoid drinking haunts, such as restaurants and bars, at least temporarily
- Change routine when you come home from work… come in a different door, immediately fix yourself a non-alcoholic treat, take a relaxing bath, lay down for a nap
- Change up evening activities, to the extent of changing which room of the house you occupy
- Start an exercise program
- Keep sweet treats on hand
- Change up vacations that used to center around drinking in favor of something new to you
These are just some of the great ideas shared in the chapter. I will say, as I do each time I write about the book Living Sober... if you are new to sobriety, buy yourself a copy of this book. It is chock full of practical wisdom for surviving the early days!
Back to the gentleman to whom I referred to earlier, he said the biggest change he made in his routine was attending a meeting each day (in early sobriety). Having already been convinced of his need for recovery, he chose to attend meetings every day as a way of cementing his decision. The biggest hurdle he had to overcome was the notion of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. His only tool for dealing with discomfort had been drinking, so now the challenge was to simply feel the feelings until they passed. Thirty six years later, and he feel quite comfortable being uncomfortable!
A friend of mine shared that in early sobriety she used many of the techniques listed above to cope with giving up the routine of drinking. Now that she is more comfortable with sobriety, she finds she needs tools like these to change her routines in terms of emotional upset. Prior to recovery, her tools involved:
b. stuffing down, which ultimately led to
Since she no longer has access to option c, she needs to change the routine of using a. and b. to deal with difficult situations. Things like giving herself permission to feel feelings (I’m beginning to sense a pattern with us!), setting boundaries to take time for self-care, and letting go of expectations all help her in the same way the tools above helped with putting down the drink.
Several people talked of specific strategies they used early on: taking up jogging, finding a new set of people to replace drinking buddies, creating accountability by acknowledging the need for help.
In other words, rather than simply giving up the habit of drinking and all it entails, replacing it with people, places and things to ease the transition to sobriety.
Finally, a woman shared something that served as my personal take-away for the morning. She has been sober for some time, but this chapter still spoke to her. She believes that while she is no longer a product of her alcoholism, she is a product of her choices. In other words, while she no longer struggles with the desire to pick up a drink, she still struggles, from time to time, to live life on life’s terms. When she is feeling out of sorts for reasons such as an erratic schedule, or an inability to get to her regular meetings, she can play the victim, or she can use the tools she’s been given to make a healthier choice. She woke up in just such a mood, and wanted nothing more than to wallow in it. Instead, she made the choice to attend a meeting.
I let her know that I benefitted greatly from her choice!
Recognizing that I too have a choice!
“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!
You know how a friend will tell you she just ate something that you’ve never heard of before, then the next day you will see an ad for that same product, then the next day that product will jump off the shelf at you in the grocery store? Then you figure with that many signs, surely you were meant to try it?
Well, that’s what’s been happening with me lately regarding the ways in which negative self-talk, a lack of self-worth, and harsh self-judgment can be damaging. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say: something in the Universe wants me to look at this issue.
And I’m fighting it. A lot. And it is so reminiscent of early recovery that I figured I’d write about it here.
So here’s just one example, I could give you a dozen, just from the last week alone. I am talking to my therapist about some self-directed frustration I am experiencing, and as an exercise she forces me to look at the opposite side of the coin, and list out the things I am doing well. I resist this exercise with an energy I am not used to feeling, but my people-pleasing ways win out over my stubborn ways, and I do as she asks. But I do it while rolling my eyes, and ready and waiting to argue my counter points, confident that I will win her over to my side.
And my side is to criticize me.
Silly, illogical thinking, but as much as I cringe at that last paragraph, I can’t take it back, because it’s the truth.
The session goes on from there, and I am forced to admit that perhaps I am a bit hard on myself, but I want to tie this back into recovery. Believe it or not it does intersect.
I remember, very clearly, my mindset those first few 12-step meetings. Yes, I knew logically that I had an issue with which I had to deal. Yes, some of what I was hearing in those meetings made some sense. Craziest still, yes, these people seem to be very comfortable in these meetings, they seemed very happy (almost suspiciously so, my critical mind judged) and, if they are to be believed, voluntarily come back to this forum years after the problem has been solved.
I sat in that position, showing up, listening, speaking when forced, for a long time. At no point did I let go of my cynicism, and at no point did my critical mind stop judging.
And at no point during that time period did I stop relapsing.
So last week, when my therapist said to me, “At some point, Josie, you need to trust the process, because really this entire thing is a leap of faith,” I was immediately transported to that moment in time. I was on my knees, in the dark, praying as I had never prayed before. And when the critical voice showed up to say, “Puh-lease! You’ve tried this a hundred and one times, why would this be any different?” I didn’t agree or disagree, I kept on praying.
And when somebody suggested going to a meeting every day, and the critic showed up to say, “Do you know how many meetings you sat in and then went out and relapsed?” I didn’t agree or disagree, I just kept on showing up.
And when I was told to chair my first meeting, share my personal story, sit down one-on-one with another woman to go through the steps, I did it. I had no idea if the process would be effective long-term or not, I had no basis of comparison really, so I need to take the leap of faith, and I needed to trust the process.
And boy, oh boy, 3 years later, I am so grateful I did.
So I guess it’s time to trust the process again, and start talking back to the critical voice. Here’s hoping the results are as miraculous as the last time.
The miracle of the normal school day schedule. This will be going away very soon, and so I must, with mindfulness, feel the pleasure of routine while it exists!
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!
So here we are, mid-January. For those of us who made resolutions, this is right about the time the wheels fall off the wagon. If your resolution was to stop drinking, and you have made it this far, you are surely having some of the following thoughts:
“Well, I made it two weeks, so I’m sure it will be okay to just have one now and again.”
“I made it two weeks, so clearly I am not an alcoholic.”
“I made it two weeks, and there is no way in hell I’m doing this for the rest of my life!”
If you are going it alone, the journey can be quite a bit tougher than for those who choose a fellowship of some sort. If you have read my blog for any period of time, you know that I am a regular participant in a 12-step program, and that is has helped me tremendously, not only in helping me to get and stay sober, but also in improving most areas of my life. However, I am aware of many who are against meeting attendance, and the reasons are varied. Today I am going to tackle some of the most common ones I’ve heard or read, and give my perspective on each:
1. I cannot attend meetings because I don’t believe in God
At no point in the 12-step program is a belief in God a requirement. However, in the long-term, if you wish to work the steps of the 12-step program, a belief in a power greater than yourself is required. For many people, that power is the power of the Fellowship, but there are endless variations on what people choose to call their Higher Power.
Having said all of that, the idea in the beginning is to get connected with a group of people who are trying, or have gotten, sober. There are no requirements at all for this, except for you to find a meeting, drive to it, sit down and listen.
2. I won’t participate in a group whose doctrine forces me to admit powerlessness
I can relate to this one somewhat, it was hard for me to understand the concept of being powerless over alcohol. I would argue, “Alcohol is an inanimate object, how I can I be powerless over an inanimate object?” Powerlessness was then explained to me like this, which better resonated with me: powerless over the effect alcohol has on me once I take that first drink.
The bottom line for me with this debate, and, frankly, quite a few of the others, is that arguing over semantics is a waste of time. If I’ve considered the idea of attending a recovery meeting at all, then I am clearly dissatisfied, on some level, with my relationship with alcohol. Until I’ve given it a real shot, I won’t really know if it can work for me. I only know that what I have done so far to address the problem is not working.
3. I experience too much anxiety to sit in a room full of strangers
Anxiety is a real issue; I’ve experienced my fair share of it (large crowds, not meetings, but I get it). Of course, if you worry about experiencing anxiety in a meeting, surely you’ve experienced it elsewhere. How have you dealt with it then? Can you apply those same solutions here? Can you sit in the very back of the room? Can you negotiate with yourself that you will walk in and try it for 5 minutes? There are probably loads more solutions to explore, but the idea is that you acknowledge what’s holding you back, and attempt to find a solution.
4. I do want to stop drinking, but I don’t really think I’m like those people, so there’s nothing for me to gain by attending
Well, obviously I don’t know you, so I don’t know how our addiction stories compare. But let’s leave the addiction story out of it for a minute. I am a middle-aged, stay-at-home mom of 2 reasonably well-adjusted children. I am 15 years married to my husband, and I am also a member of a large, close-knit, Irish Catholic family. I hold a Master’s degree, and I have the same circle of friends that I did in college. I run a weekly 12-step meeting, whose regular attendees include men and women, some retired, some white-collar, some blue-collar, some stay-at-home like myself. There is a priest, there is a professor of english, there is a music instructor, there is a yoga instructor, there is an auto mechanic. Some are married, some are divorced, some are widowed, and some are gay. I would know none of them if I were not a 12-step meeting attendee, but I count each of them among my friends. The group I just described is a small one; others that I attend with 50 or more people have still more occupations, and cultural backgrounds, and personalities. Still think there is no one like you in a recovery meeting?
5. AA is a cult
This one is tough for me to refute, as someone who believes this also believes that I’ve already “drunk the Kool-Aid.” I will debate using Google’s definition:
- a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
- a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister
So, by definition, AA (or any 12-step program) is not religious, there is certainly no leader (or any governing body whatsoever), it is by no means a small group, and I can’t think of one practice that would be considered strange or sinister. Pretty much everything you hear, every piece of instruction or advice you receive at a 12-step meeting, is a suggestion.
6. 12-step people think EVERYBODY is an alcoholic; I don’t want to turn into that kind of extremist
In the spirit of honesty, I will acknowledge that sure, I have run into some right-leaning personality types within the Fellowship (or would it be left-leaning? I’m not sure, but you get the idea). But for every one extremist, I have found literally a dozen or more quality, salt-of-the-earth people who are just looking to stay sober and increase the peace and serenity in their lives. When I do run into that stray extremist, I simply walk away, or I attend a different meeting. The absolute beauty of the 12-step Fellowship is the quantity and variety of meetings available. There are gay meetings, there are atheist meetings, there are young people’s meetings, there are women’s meeting, men’s meetings, and probably a bunch more that I’m not seen myself.
7. I don’t think I’m bad enough to qualify
This again goes back to the comparison of each other’s drinking stories. I had very similar thoughts after I attended my first meeting. The people there were talking about these crazy extreme things that happened to them as a result of their alcoholism, and nothing even close to that had happened to me. Then, as my disease progressed, I came back, and now I had the same issue in reverse: these people don’t understand me, they don’t have the specific issues I’m having, so these meetings can’t possibly help me.
Both trains of thought kept me in active addiction. Here’s the bottom line: deep down, are you concerned/uncomfortable/fearful of your relationship with alcohol, and do you desire that relationship to end? Then you possess the sole requirement of attending a 12-step meeting. The specifics of the individual stories are irrelevant, how we feel about alcohol is the only thing that matters.
8. I don’t want people telling me what to do, telling me how I’m wrong, insisting I change my life around
Again, to keep things real here, there are certainly going to be individuals who, though well-intentioned, come off with a dictator-like attitude. I remember my very first week, maybe my 4th meeting, this woman giving me a laundry list of things I “needed to do.” I could barely get myself to the meeting, and now here’s this stranger giving me an impossible to-do list 4 days into recovery! She meant well, as probably most do, but I was in no way ready for the things she was throwing at me. I have since learned the phrase, “take what you want, and leave the rest” really applies. If the idea of sponsorship scares you, again, we are only talking about giving recovery meetings a shot, and seeking out some group support. Things like sponsors, and practicing the steps, all come at your own pace.
9. I am an introvert, and I am terrified that people will hound me the second I’m in the door
I see introverts all the time, and I recognize them, because I was one in the early days. I would say the majority of newcomers are shy; after all, the idea of sitting down with a group of strangers and admitting something that feels shameful would make almost anyone feel a bit nervous! The truth is that every one of us has been there, in the seat of the newcomer, and every one of us empathizes. You will in all likelihood have people come up to you and say hello, but if you make it clear (either verbally or non-verbally) that you wish to keep to yourself, it is my experience that the group will leave you alone to sit, listen and absorb. If you choose to reach out and ask questions, more power to you, but if you want to simply observe, you are welcome to do so.
10. But then I’ll have to stop drinking… forever
This may sound like a ridiculous statement for someone considering a 12-step meeting, but for those of us who struggled with the idea of “forever,” it makes perfect sense. Attending meetings only means you are exploring the idea of sobriety. There are no Breathalyzers, no contracts to sign, and you can change your mind about sobriety anytime you want (and we will cheerfully refund your misery is how that AA-ism ends!). Technically speaking, you can be drinking and still attend meetings; as I mentioned earlier, “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” so there’s nothing stopping you from leaving the meeting and hitting the closest bar (though I surely hope no one decides to do that if you’re attempting to get sober!).
What arguments have I missed? What are the other stumbling blocks to checking out the group support of a recovery meeting?
Writing posts like this one, and reminding myself of where I’ve been mentally, and the progress I’ve made, is a miracle that I hope all who are struggling get to experience for themselves!