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The Narrow Path

As anyone who reads my blog regularly already knows, I am a big believer that the 12 steps of recovery apply to a lot more than just getting sober, they are the foundation for a better life. Therefore, I look for ways to include the steps in my life, and, conversely, I take note when things in my everyday life run parallel to the 12 steps of recovery.  For example, when I hear someone talking about “one day at a time” on television, I stop and listen.  Or when I read about a celebrity using rehab as a hotel, I heed this as a cautionary tale.

So when I went to Mass this weekend, and listened to the gospel, and the homily following the gospel, it got my attention.  Long story short, in the gospel Jesus is telling his congregation how to get into heaven:

Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.  –Luke 13

There’s obviously more, but the part I focused on was travelling the narrow path, and staying on the narrow path.  The priest went on to elaborate, and talk about the ways we can start out with the best of intentions, but the wider path is just so much easier, so much more tempting, that it is very easy for us to veer off the narrow path.

This spoke directly to me in terms of my recovery from addiction.  Let’s face it, the widest, simplest path to follow is to drink.  Everyone does it, it is more socially acceptable than not drinking, and it is fun to feel inebriated.  For an alcoholic/addict, there comes the point where the drinking becomes socially unacceptable, and there is the first choice to get on the narrow path.  It took me quite some time, and a lot of fighting, to make this choice.  The wider path, for me, was looking around and seeing so many people “drinking as I did or worse,” and so I actually fought to stay on that wider path.  Ultimately, there comes a time (God willing), when you are at the ultimate fork in the road.  When I made the choice to get on that narrow path, at first the only thing necessary to keep me on that path was to not pick up a drink or drug.  Simple sounding, but boy did that path look narrow at the time.

By doing that, I was finally heading in the right direction.  As I trudged onward, choices came up, not exactly forks in the road, but more like small bends to the right or left:  should I continue to attend AA meetings, or can I do this on my own?  Shall I take the opportunity to do the steps with a sponsor, or should I take my time with it?  Do I continue to follow the principles that AA has taught me, and reach out my hand in sponsorship, or should I just focus on myself and my recovery?

Each question I answered, each choice I made, either kept me on the narrow path, or led me slightly off it.  And so that will continue for the rest of my life.  Sometimes that seems like a depressing thought, “why do I have to continuously make these difficult choices, when it seems like the rest of the world doesn’t even think about it?”  But most of the time it seems like a gift: I can walk through my life with my head held high, knowing I am on the right path, the narrow path, and what better feeling is there than that?

Another bonus feature:  when I took my first steps on the narrow path of recovery, it appeared almost impossible to navigate.  But as time goes by, as I am challenged to make seemingly difficult decisions to stay on the narrow path, all I have to do now is look behind me… the path that once seemed impossibly narrow now appears quite wide, and almost ridiculously easy to navigate. And that lesson holds true throughout any new venture:  exercise, diet, staying organized, keeping a schedule… all things that seemed insurmountable at first become so much easier with time and dedication.  And the payoff to the effort?  To quote the famous ad campaign… priceless.

Today’s Miracle:

This is going to be a long one.  The topic of the blog also happened to be the topic I chose for my meeting this morning, I found AA literature to correspond to it, and I explained honestly how I came to choose the topic.  I had some reservations about this, because I try to discuss my spirituality in a universal way, out of respect for the AA program, but this required me to speak of Catholicism, so I worried a bit that I might offend my fellow attendees.  As I sat before the meeting, still debating how to go about discussing the gospel reading, I glanced out the window, and saw a man approaching who I thought to be a newcomer.  And he was a newcomer,to my meeting anyway, but I knew him from earlier in my sobriety, when I attended meetings closer to my Mom’s house.  I have not seen this gentleman in close to a year, and he had told me back then that he tends not to go to “club house meetings,” as he is not particularly comfortable there, but his schedule was such today that he wanted to attend a meeting, and this was the only one he could get to.  Why would this story fit in the category of today’s miracle?

The gentleman is a Catholic priest.

I still have goosebumps!

The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Three

Step Three:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

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!

Pain Must Be Felt

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. –C.S. Lewis

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!

Today’s Miracle:

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.

Comparing Self to Self

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!

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