I hit an intellectual wall when I first read Step Three, which I covered already in an earlier post (read Step Three in Everyday Living). I got the concept of admitting powerlessness over addiction (I didn’t actively do it, but I at least understood it), I always intellectually understood the idea of a Higher Power, and His ability to help me. But I really, truly, sincerely did not understand how to practically apply Step Three to any part of my life. I wanted to turn this whole mess over to God, I thought I was attempting to do just that every day, but clearly I had been doing something wrong, because I was still “going the wrong way!” (Any fan of Planes, Trains and Automobiles will enjoy that reference).
Finally, a light bulb went off when it was explained to me this way: imagine your life as if you are driving a bus, and God is your co-pilot. In the same way that you would check in with your co-pilot for directions, check in with God. The more you check in, the better your directions will be. Sounds hokey, but for whatever reason the analogy worked for me.
In terms of recovery, God’s will is obvious: do not drink (or use any mind-altering substances). So the practice is simple: will doing x, y, or z make me want to pick up a drink or drug? If the answer is yes, I don’t do it. If this answer is no, I do it. Simple, right? It sounds simple, but takes a lot of practice to actually be simple. In the months prior to hitting my personal bottom, I was all about, “but I HAVE to go, it’s a family obligation, people will talk if I don’t show up, blah, blah blah…” And that thinking had me relapsing on a very regular basis. So when I hit bottom, I simply stayed away from anything concerning mind-altering substances, if I absolutely had to be there, I limited my time, and I backed it up with a 12-step meeting.
And guess what? The family obligations went on, quite nicely, without my royal presence. And if people talked, well, guess what? I wasn’t around to hear it, so it did not matter anyway.
As time marched on, and I got stronger in my recovery, being around alcohol stopped being an anxiety-producing element of a social gathering. I can actually remember when it turned around… I was about 3 months sober, at a First Holy Communion party for my God Daughter, so it counted as a function I deemed necessary, but might need to limit. And while talking to various family members, I realized, “Wait a minute, I’m doing the exact same thing as every other member of this party (aka standing around, eating, talking, laughing), the only difference between me and them is the type of liquid in my glass!” From that point on, I felt completely comfortable in social situations with alcohol.
In terms of everyday living, Step Three can be a bit more challenging to practice, and is a gradual and ongoing process. God’s will is not always transparent, at least not to me. I ask Him, every morning, to direct my thoughts and actions. In bigger decisions, I attempt to check in with Him, to ensure I am heading in the right direction. For example, situations involving my children crop up on a regular basis, and decisions need to be made… does the behavior require discussion, discipline, both or neither? Frequently my husband and I reach different conclusions, and so now there are two issues, how do I handle each? Prior to Step Three, the answer would have been, react immediately to child’s behavior, with little to no thought if I am teaching the proper lesson, and then argue with my husband that my way of handling it is the right way. Turning these kinds of things over to the care of God gives me the much-needed pause, and allows me to reflect on the most effective way of dealing with everyone involved.
But the biggest use of Step Three in everyday life, for me, is when I am feeling anything less than peaceful. The minute I notice I am feeling “off,” in any way, I take it as a sign that I am not practicing Step Three. So, I check in with Him, and review what’s going on with me… what’s causing distress? Why am I feeling this way? More often than not, when I take the mental step back, I can clearly see where I’ve veered off the “God-centered” path and onto the “self-centered” one. Sometimes it is small enough that a quick mental review and prayer is enough, other times, talking it over with someone is necessary, and, if large enough, sometimes an all-out amends needs to be made, but since that is not until step 9, and we are only on step three, I’ll save that bit of fun for a later post!
This weekend I suffered my first real physical pain since being in recovery: I pulled something in my back (how I did it, I really couldn’t tell you), and I have had difficulty walking for the past 2 days. Multiple “old lady” jokes from my younger husband later…
The story of hurting my back would not be worth writing down, if it were not for being in recovery. It is temporary, and it is not seriously debilitating. It becomes significant, however, because in the past I would have gone running to the doctor’s for a lot less than this kind of pain. So the fact that I made it through without wanting to numb myself… well, it counts for something, anyway.
Having said that, I wouldn’t go out to buy me any trophies. Because now that I’ve had a chance to explore some real pain, and a real response to it, I have to honestly say that pain is not a trigger for me. In fact, it brought to mind a memory from a surgery I had quite a few years ago (and before I was in active addiction). I remember having a prescription for pain medication, and I remember consciously having the thought, “Well, if I take this now, while in real pain, that’s pretty much a waste. Why not suffer through the pain and then have the medication for a time I can really enjoy it?” Remember, that thought was years before active addiction!
That was not a pleasant memory to have, or even to share, but it’s the truth. The difference between then and now is the knowledge I have gained, the ability to identify the irrational thoughts, and the skills I have developed to combat those thoughts when they come my way… namely, to share about them with people who understand.
It is interesting to me that this is all happening as I am winding down the clock on the first year of recovery. Also interesting: as I opened WordPress to write this post, a fellow blogger’s writing caught my eye because she just celebrated her one-year anniversary (congrats Renee!). Towards the end of her post, she wrote, in big letters, “pain must be felt.” So I hope that she does not mind my using her quote for my title, because it sure fits my life right about now!
The support and help from my family, my friends, and the people in my Monday meeting today is nothing less than miraculous. I am truly blessed.
This week the kids and I had the opportunity to spend a few days with some family members that live a few hours away. We had a wonderful time… the house sits on the waterfront, they have a beautiful boat that we were able to take rides in, we caught fresh crab, cooked it and ate it. In short, a lovely family vacation.
For me, the most wonderful part of the experience were the conversations I was able to have with my aunt and uncle. While neither of them are addicts of any kind, they are both very spiritual people, and have the same dedication to their religion as I do to my recovery. These conversations brought me insight into what I can do to enlarge my spiritual life, and thus enhance my recovery.
There were times, however, during the various conversations we had, that I felt almost intimidated by their strong convictions. Momentarily, I felt “less than,” that my progress wasn’t anywhere near where it should be.
And then I mentally slapped myself back into reality. This is classic “old me” thinking, the exact train of thought that ultimately has me giving up on whatever project I have undertaken. I am the typical go-getter in the beginning of any new challenge. Then, the first time the going gets tough, I talk myself into believing that I can’t get it done, or that I just don’t want to, and I quit.
So this time, I consciously thought my negativity through. First, these people have been involved in their spiritual program for 30 years, I have been involved in mine for 6 months. Second, life is not about measuring against other people, it is about measuring yourself in the present to yourself from yesterday, whichever yesterday you want to use. When I compare myself today to myself 6 months ago, I am, to say the very least, quite pleased with my progress.
Finally, their thoughts, ideas and suggestions were just that… theirs. And the beauty of my life today is that I can clearly look at all their ideas, sort out what works for me, what makes sense, and what I can choose to leave with them. And that is a power I’m not sure I ever possessed before in my life!