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Monday Meeting Miracles: 12/30

The last meeting of 2013!  Attendance was lighter than usual (8 people), but I attribute it to holiday commitments (at least, I hope so!).

Today being the 5th Monday of the month, I selected a group of readings from the book As Bill Sees It.  This book is set up topically; today I selected the topic “temptation,” mainly because this time of year presents many temptations for the recovering alcoholic.

The lines that stood out for me in today’s readings were:

…any scheme of combating alcoholism which proposes wholly to shield the sick man from temptation is doomed to failure. If the alcoholic tries to shield himself he may succeed for a time, but he usually winds up with a bigger explosion than ever. We have tried these methods. These attempts to do the impossible have always failed. Release from alcohol, and not flight from it, is our answer.

~Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 101

It stood out to me because of my recent experiences, which I wrote about here.  As much as I mentally prepared for the holidays, being back with the people, places and things that I associate with my active addiction had an impact on me.  Temptation might be a bit stronger of a word that I would use for my personal circumstances, but it did affect me, and I was grateful to have a new set of skills with which to cope.

So for me, the words above hold true:  I did not, and I do not, need to avoid alcohol, because I have been blessed with release from the obsession.  Of course, that release is wholly dependent upon my maintaining my spiritual fitness, but what a blessing it is to be able to be with family and friends, eat at restaurants, shop in stores, and feel comfortable that I can remain sober!

It is hard to describe what the release feels like.  Possibly the best example I can give is the thought process, so let me set the stage:  a celebration attended by family and friends, all people with whom I once drank.  Most of them are drinking, a few (including myself) are not, but when the thought occurs, I am noticing only the people who are drinking.  So the thoughts would go something like this:

“Isn’t that drink pretty?  I bet it’s delicious.  Remember what that used to taste like?  Remember how it used to feel?  Wouldn’t it be fun to feel that way again?”

…Or something to that effect.  Truthfully, the thoughts are way too fast for me to really record them properly.

In the past, the old me would have done one of three things when these thoughts arose:

  1. Drank, because dammit, I’m an adult and no one is going to tell me what to do
  2. Not drink, but be miserable for the rest of the celebration
  3. Not drink, but let those thoughts linger until a time arose when I could chemically alter myself in private

Here’s how the thought process ends for me now that I have been given a release from the obsession:

“The drink is pretty, but, let’s face it, you never drank for taste.  It may have felt good for an extremely short period, but you ALWAYS drank past that, and the bad feelings were more intense, and lasted way longer, than any good feelings that might or might not have been produced.  Finally, and most importantly, you will give up your sobriety.”

It is the last part of playing the tape through that seems most miraculous to me.  Whereas I once lived by the motto, “tomorrow is a new day,” now the thought of giving up my sober time genuinely twists my stomach.  I believe this shift in perspective is God-given, and I am grateful for it every day.

Another attendee had a spin on the readings that fascinated me, and has me thinking about my own choices.  For her, the temptation is to remain set in restrictions she put upon herself in early sobriety, because it has been effective in keeping her sober.  But she realizes now that in limiting herself, she is denying personal growth, and so she needs to push herself to reach out more to family and friends, so that she can continue her journey of self-development.  It was a perspective on temptation that I never considered… the temptation to grow complacent, and I will be taking some time to consider how I have given in to that temptation.  Probably more to follow on this subject as I ponder!

Everyone else had insightful things to share, from tips on refusing alcohol at parties, to dealing with the stress of family during the holidays.  As always, I leave the meeting a better person than when I walked in!

Today’s Miracle:

The joy I feel in wishing all my friends in the blogosphere a wonderful, miraculous New Year‘s!  I look forward to learning from all of you in 2014!

7 Sober Suggestions This Holiday Season

So here we are, in the final stretch of the holiday season, which brings with it, for most people, additional responsibilities, many opportunities to celebrate, and general chaos to the normal routine.  If you are in recovery, this is, without question, a trying time.  Although I am relatively new to sobriety (less than two years), I have had multiple opportunities to succeed in staying sober in the midst of alcohol-fueled merriment, so I thought I would write about the methods that have worked for me through holidays that not only allowed me to stay sober, but also provided me the means to enjoy the holidays in a way I had not previously done.  So without further ado, here are my top 7 tips for actually enjoying a sober holiday!

1.  Practice Self-Care

If you are like me, you are thinking, “Good idea, I’ll get to that after I bake some cookies, wrap some gifts, go shopping…”  Turn that thought process around!  The kind of self-care of which I am speaking must come before any of the holiday activities, and in practicing self-care all of those activities will become, if not enjoyable, then at the very least less stressful.  I am speaking of starting the day with a few minutes of getting centered.  For me, that means getting out of bed, getting down on my knees, and connecting with my Higher Power.  That’s what works for me, but a few minutes of any centering activity… meditation, simple deep breathing, thoughts of gratitude for all that is good in your life, and a commitment to yourself that you can make it through the day without picking up a drink or a drug, helps get the day off to a calm and peaceful start, and gives courage and confidence that the day can and will go well.  The last part of that process is so important, it becomes the next tip…

2.  Commit To Sobriety For One Day Only

And, of course, that one day must be the one you are in.  Remember, you don’t need to worry about staying sober for the next 30 years, just the current day.  So when your mind starts racing, ask yourself, “Can I stay sober, just for today?”  Chances are, the answer will be yes, so relax, and move on to…

3.  Organization

There are all types of helpful organizational tips for the holiday season, but the type of organization I refer to here is mental:  take some time to figure out all of the upcoming holiday drinking temptations, and then decide what you can and cannot do.  If you are early in sobriety, the less alcohol-filled social events you attend, the better off you are.  There were many events I simply turned down in my earliest days because I chose to put my sobriety first.  On the other hand, I have smaller children, and a large, Irish Catholic family, so there are always certain obligations that I feel I must attend, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling.  So step 2 is all about narrowing down the situations where you will be tempted, and then move on to…

4.  Set Your Parameters Within the Celebration

There is a multitude of ways to do this; the point of step three is to determine which will work best for your particular scenario.  Some examples include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • arriving late
  • leaving early
  • steering clear of the location of the alcohol
  • bringing a delicious virgin cocktail with you so you are enjoying a beverage
  • having a sober companion with you
  • figuring out who at the party will be like-minded in enjoying the party, rather than the beverages consumed at the party
  • keeping your cell phone in your pocket with a list of sober supports to call
  • disclosing to a few or all of the guests your intention to be sober

And I’m sure there are many more options, so take some time before the start of the party to decide which ones will be most effective.  And of all the ideas on that list, one stands out…

5.  Stick With The Winners

This has been a particularly beneficial strategy for me personally.  Again, I come from a large Irish Catholic family (read:  heavy drinkers), so at first I believed I would never again enjoy a family gathering.  As I gained some sober clarity, I realized that while the majority of my family drinks, not everyone does, and of those that do, only a small handful over-indulge.  So I started looking more closely at the non-drinkers, and even the moderate ones, and guess what I realized?  They are having just as much fun, and, I would assume, feel a hell of a lot better in the morning.  Chances are, whatever drinking celebration you are attending, there are many such people… choose to spend time with them.  And, while you’re at it…

6.  Act As If

Find someone who is not drinking and is also having a good time.  What are they doing, and how can you be like them?  For me, I found that they are usually much more interested in conversation and people than they are in the beverage they are consuming, and when I emulated them, not only did it take my mind off alcohol, I was able to actually have fun!  Take a look around, find some sober (and if you really can’t find sober, then at least someone who is a moderate drinker) people, and do what they do.  Last, and most important…

7.  Stay In The Present

This can be the most challenging for me, but has the most benefit when I put it into practice.  Stop thinking about the last holiday when you got trashed and embarrassed yourself, stop worrying about 4 hours from now when everyone is slurring your words and how you are going to handle it, stay in the actual moment:  you are at a party with family and/or friends, celebrating a festive season.  I’m sure that wherever you are is beautifully decorated, there are probably loads of great food choices, and many opportunities for interesting discussion.  Perhaps there are children around, observe the fun and joy they are experiencing, engage with them and see if you their joy isn’t contagious.  Keep coming back to this every time your mind wanders to the bar, and I know it will help you have a joyous holiday.

So those are my “Best of”  for sober holiday success.  What’s on your sober checklist?

Today’s Miracle:

The realization that I have a sober checklist, and the hope that sharing mine helps someone else.

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!

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