12/12/16: Be Good to Yourself
The title of this blog post, which also happens to be the title of the chapter we read in the morning’s meeting (from the book Living Sober) might seem counterintuitive given the endless tasks of the current holiday season. Who has time to take care of themselves when there are gifts to be bought, presents to be wrapped, cookies to be baked, parties to attend, and all of this amidst our daily lives?
And the answer is: make the time. You can’t transmit what you haven’t got. And if you don’t take the time to acquire the holiday spirit, then all the cooking, baking and shopping in the world isn’t going to give it to you.
Interestingly, this reading selection was not picked by me, but by a regular attendee of the meeting. And he did not select this reading in deference to holiday madness; rather, he selected it in deference to my madness, and the madness that surrounds my ongoing foot troubles.
So let me back it up a few steps and fill you in on exactly what’s happening with the foot. For several years now, I’ve had a problem with foot pain. The more I exercise, the worse it gets. Over the summer I joined a gym that is the most intense workout that I’ve personally endured, and so the recurring foot problem reared its ugly head.
Long story short, I finally went and had the problem diagnosed, found out there is a very simple outpatient procedure that can fix the problem, and scheduled to have it done in early November. I was uncharacteristically on the ball with the whole process… asked in-depth questions, looked out in the calendar to get the best 5 day window for the healing process, organized my life accordingly.
And I had the surgery, and was told it was a success. Except… my foot had more pain than before I started. And so the last several weeks have been spent trying to figure out exactly why this is so. This afternoon I have an appointment where the doctor will read the MRI and hopefully give me a firm diagnosis and solution.
This process… and I dislike wrapping it up like this, as if the process is complete, which it by no means is… has been inconvenient, frustrating, anxiety-producing, and has forced me to reach out for help in ways that make me extremely uncomfortable.
So when my friend first suggested the reading, I wanted to roll my eyes to the ceiling. “Being good to myself” is all I’ve been doing, since I don’t have much of a choice to do anything else… my foot won’t let me!
Plus the chapter is all about sobriety, so I doubted it would have much relatability to my current state of affairs.
Then I read this section:
It’s often said that problem drinkers are perfectionists, impatient about any shortcomings, especially our own. Setting impossible goals for ourselves, we nevertheless struggle fiercely to reach these unattainable ideals.
Then, since no human being could possibly maintain the extremely high standards we often demand, we find ourselves falling short, as all people must whose aims are unrealistic. And discouragement and depression set in. We angrily punish ourselves for being less than super-perfect.
That is precisely where we can start being good—at least fair—to ourselves. We would not demand of a child or of any handicapped person more than is reasonable. It seems to us we have no right to expect such miracles of ourselves as recovering alcoholics, either.
Impatient to get completely well by Tuesday, we find ourselves still convalescing on Wednesday, and start blaming ourselves. That’s a good time to back off, mentally, and look at ourselves in as detached, objective a way as we can. What would we do if a sick loved one or friend got discouraged about slow recuperation progress, and began to refuse medicine? -pg. 42
M(3), 12/5/16: Acceptance is the Answer
It feels good to be writing on this blog, I can’t seem to string two weeks together here!
This is the Monday I’ve been waiting for all year. When I chose the new format of the Big Book readings back in January, I realized that December would be a free pick month, and I didn’t need two seconds to consider what reading I’d select.
Normally I choose this reading at least two times in a calendar year, so I’m overdue for this topic!
The reading is the title of the post. It is in the personal stories section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and is one of the most popular ones in the fellowship. If you say to a member of the 12-step program, “what is the significance of page 417?” they will likely have the answer. It is the seminal paragraph in Dr. Paul O’s story:
“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.”
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
I’ve told, possibly a dozen times or more, the significance of the story in my own personal journey of sobriety (here’s one example if you haven’t read). And there hasn’t been a time I’ve read the story that it doesn’t help me gain perspective in some way.
The main reason I took the blog in the direction I’ve taken it… writing about the lessons I’m learning within the fellowship of the 12-step program… is that I find so many universal lessons within the program, lessons that teach me so much more than just how to stay sober. This story, and the enlightenment we in the meeting rooms receive, is possibly the best example I can provide.
As usual, the story did not disappoint. We had a large group this morning, and the positive reaction was unanimous. In fact, a bonus treat was introducing the story to a woman for the first time. She was familiar with the paragraph I have above, but not with the story itself. Even more amazing, she shares the same profession as the author of the story, and the profession plays a huge role in his recovery story, so it held special meaning for her.
For people unfamiliar with 12-step meetings, books are typically kept in the meeting room, then shared by all. The first person to share this morning said what stood out most to her about the story was how the author was able to improve his marriage by using the principles of the program at home. Coincidentally, in the book this woman was reading from this morning, someone wrote at the end of the chapter: “portrait of a marriage.” So someone else agrees that reading this story can help to build bridges with your spouse!
Another long-timer shared that would stood out most to him was the idea that “serenity works in inverse proportion with expectations.” In other words, the more you expect out of people and life, the less peaceful you are likely to be. Another universal concept that everyone could use in their lives, especially around the holidays!
A friend shared that what struck her this morning was how she related to the author’s sense of self-deprecating humor. Because he wrote so humorously and compellingly, she was able to relate to his story, despite having little in common with him in terms of logistics. She especially related to the way he described chemically altering himself to achieve unconsciousness. She found that even though she merely drank wine at night, the end result was the same. It’s reassuring to read that the basic principles of the program work despite the substance of choice.
Another gentleman shared that he used to read this story with a sense of self-righteousness, as he too only drank alcohol, and refrained from any kind of drug use. But he is starting to come around to the idea that at the end of the day, the underlying issues are the same for all of us, and comparisons, good or bad, are detrimental. We all only have today in which to stay sober.
I of course got an absolute ton out of the reading itself and from the wisdom everyone shared. As I mentioned earlier, this reading applies to all areas in my life:
When I criticize a person, or judge them:
“When I complain about me or about you, I am criticizing God’s handiwork. I am saying I know better than God.” -pg. 417
If I’m frustrated that people aren’t taking my advice:
“And if I don’t know what’s good for me, then I don’t know what’s good or bad for you or for anyone. So I’m better off if I don’t give advice, don’t figure I know what’s best, and just accept life on life’s terms, as it is today – especially my own life, as it actually is.” -pg. 418
When I am angry that my husband won’t see my point of view:
“… in AA I was told… ‘the courage to change’ in the Serenity Prayer meant not that I should change my marriage, but that I should change myself and learn to accept my spouse as she was.” -pg. 419
When I am fearful and anxious that my stupid foot is taking too long to heal:
“Acceptance is the key to my relationship with God today. I never just sit around and do nothing while waiting for Him to tell me what to do. Rather, I do whatever is in front of me to be done, and I leave the results up to Him; however that turns out, that’s God’s will for me.” -pg. 420
I’m already sad the meeting is over and I won’t be able to pick this selection for a while!
The reading, and the insights is never fails to deliver, count as my miracle!
M(3), 7/18/16: Defective Characters
Greetings to all on a hot and muggy Monday morning from my part of the world. The expression meteorologists use, “we are in the soup,” is apt right about now!
Today’s reading came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. We read the chapter that discusses step six:
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
This turned out to be one of those meetings that started with almost nobody, but by the end filled up to our usual number of attendees. A good thing, since step 6 tends to be somewhat of a dry discussion.
I shared my evolution on this step. In my earliest days of sobriety, I assumed step 6 was the easiest of the 12. It reminded me of Catholic confession…just admit you do wrong, easy peasy! Since we all as human beings have character defects, and nobody wants to be defective, how hard can it be to be willing to have them removed?
Later, as I became more familiar with the steps, and the nuances within them, this step seemed the most ridiculous, and thus I disliked intensely discussing it at all. Within the chapter itself, it details some of the “lesser defects,” not as urgent but still in need of removal:
In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticize; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness.
When gluttony is less than ruinous, we have a milder word for that, too; we call it “taking our comfort.” We live in a world riddled with envy. To a greater or less degree, everybody is infected with it. From this defect we must surely get a warped yet definite satisfaction. Else why would we consume such great amounts of time wishing for what we have not, rather than working for it, or angrily looking for attributes we shall never have, instead of adjusting to the fact, and accepting it? And how often we work hard with no better motive than to be secure and slothful later on—only we call that “retiring.” Consider, too, our talents for procrastination, which is really sloth in five syllables. Nearly anyone could submit a good list of such defects as these, and few of us would seriously think of giving them up, at least until they cause us excessive misery.
-pg. 67, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
I read this chapter, and I’ll be honest…calling retirement another version of sloth still annoys me! So I swung the opposite direction, decided the notion of step 6 impossible (and stupid), and simply avoided it as much as I could.
Nowadays, thankfully, I take a more balanced approach. The essence of step 6, to me, is the same as saying there is no graduation from recovery…there is always a way in which I can work on myself. We are all works in progress, and as long as we are attempting to move in a direction of positive growth, we are capturing the essence of step six.
Several others shared about a variety of character defects they find most troubling, and reported mixed success in being entirely ready to remove them.
One of the first paragraphs in the chapter discusses how we in recovery can attest to the removal of one notable character defect…the obsession to drink. One attendee found that part of the chapter troubling, as she has several years of sobriety, yet still thinks about drinking most days. She’s worried she’s doing something wrong, since so many can declare that the obsession has been lifted from them.
This share brought an interesting sideline discussion: does thinking about drinking make your sobriety less sound? Obviously we are a small meeting, so it’s not like I can declare an official consensus, but our group all disagreed with the notion. Each journey to recovery is unique, as is the active addiction story that led up to it. So comparing one person’s sobriety to another is always a bad idea, and for any number of reasons.
When it comes right down to it, I imagine even the way one defines “obsession to drink” varies quite a bit. People have made the statement that the obsession to drink was removed in an instant. I cannot even comprehend how something like that would happen.
If someone were to ask me if I ever get a craving to chemically alter myself, my answer is a firm no. But what does happen is I get lost in the memory of active addiction, and the feelings that surrounded those days are complicated. In the early days of recovery this type of thing would happen many times a day, every day, and would consume me for hours. As the years have passed, the frequency, intensity and duration of those moments have dramatically decreased, but they still happen. So does this mean I still have the obsession? Does this mean my sobriety is weak, and that I am heading towards a drink?
I choose to think no. My take on any thoughts of drinking, or addiction, or anything related to my active addiction, is a normal part of life. A pattern of such thoughts, or an increased emotional reaction to them, is another tool that allows me to check myself and my sobriety: How strong do I feel? How’s my spiritual life? Have I been of service to others? Have I been isolating?
The answers to those questions allows me to move in the proper direction.
The last thing I’ll share is the wisdom I heard this morning that meant the most to me. One long timer talked about the idea of balance with regard to this step. Often people will shoot for perfection, and if they can’t achieve it, they’ll be the perfect opposite. Either way pride is involved, which of course is the opposite of humility, the general end goal of any of the 12 steps.
Balance, moderation, equilibrium…any time I hear them, my ears perk up, because I know they are qualities towards which I should strive.
Air conditioning. Enough said!
M(3), 7/11/16: The Gratitude Advantage
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!
M(3), 5/9/16: Figuring out HOW to Live and Let Live
Spoiler alert: so much good stuff at today’s meeting that my mind is still reeling. This might ramble a bit.
Today’s reading came from the book Living Sober, which I’ve described a hundred times so won’t bore you again, except to say it is an easy-to-read book with practical advice on how to get and stay sober.
Typically before the meeting I take time to prep a little bit, read through a book and thoughtfully select the reading. However, a case of the In-My-Headedness had my mind occupied, and I wound up spending time emailing with a friend to help me figure things out (which she did, and I am grateful, friend who reads this blog!)
And yes, In-My-Headedness is a real condition. Or if it isn’t, it should be.
All that said, I had to select a chapter in a hurry, so I picked Chapter 5, “Live and Let Live.” It vaguely applied to my crisis du jour, and every chapter in this book is a good one, so why the heck not?
It’s crazy how things work out. The chapter selection brought back to surface a very brief, and relatively minor brush with alcohol I experienced recently. Since I assume the memory was brought into consciousness for a reason, I shared the experience, not so much for myself, but for anyone else that it might help.
And for the rest of the meeting we talked about brushes with alcohol, and how it affects us. My conclusion is that where you are on your recovery timeline is the most critical component of how intensely if affects you. As I mentioned, mine was brief, and it did not affect me in a lasting way.
And I will pause here to comment how incredibly grateful I am to make the last statement.
A friend of mine with similar sobriety time to mine shared two stories of brushes with alcohol. The first was brief, and her choice to accept or decline was taken away by a well-intentioned friend announcing (loudly) that neither of them wanted alcohol because they are sober. So the issue there was less with alcohol, more with mixed feelings of someone choosing to take her anonymity away from her.
But her second incident was one that affected her more intensely. Here’s the scene: out to dinner at a chain restaurant with booth seating, she is trapped next to an enthusiastic beer drinker. Not wanting to call attention to her vexation, she endured the affair, but grew increasingly uncomfortable as the smell of beer became more and more pungent. By the end of the night, she felt like a wreck, and escaped as quickly as she felt socially correct to do so.
She considers it a valuable learning lesson, and an event she will never repeat. She will either opt out of such occasions, or she will see to it that she puts a healthy distance between her and the more-than-casual drinkers in the group. Her sobriety is too important for her to take chances like this one.
A few others spoke of more and less harrowing experiences that involved exposure to, offers of, or temptations with alcohol.
Then my friend in early sobriety raised his hand. I have referenced him the past few blog posts, feel free to refer back for more information. My guess is that he has almost a month of sobriety at this point.
He shared a very recent and poignant story of being offered a beer on Mother’s Day, which happened to be yesterday. He is at a point in sobriety where he not only craves alcohol intensely, he believes strongly that it would be a temporary salve to some of the more troubling physical consequences of his excessive past drinking.
On top of all this, he was feeling emotionally low; it was Mother’s Day and he has no mother. He did not go into further detail than that.
He shared that he said no to the offer of a beer, and had to walk outside to try to get a hold of his emotions. He was angry, and he is fearful: sure he refused this time, but what about the next time? He doubts his ability to stay strong as he did yesterday.
As is always the case, a newcomer’s share is always powerful stuff.
My experience, my story of addiction, my life, is as different as night is from day to this gentleman. Yet he shared this story, and I am transported back…
…Back to days of trying and failing at recovery, when even if I did manage to abstain, there was a very conscious voice in my head shouting, “Why bother? You know it’s just a matter of time before you pick up, might as well do it now!”
…Back to days in earlier recovery, when less intimate friends would be asking in astonishment why I was drinking soda, and convincing me that it was okay to drink. And my feeling of intense discomfort and painful self-awareness.
…Back to days when, comfortable with saying no to a point, then spending enough time around alcohol to where I started considering things like… Wow, am I really never going to have a sip of beer/wine/gin and tonic ever again?
…To current time, when someone offering me a cocktail is no more than a blip on the screen. Talk about gratitude.
There were some powerful other issues discussed, more in line with the topic of the chapter. Several of the group, and I will count myself among them, have a hard time figuring out the boundaries of the “let live” part of live and let live. At a bare minimum, it is certainly easier said than done!
All agreed that when we make even the most minimal effort at staying in the moment of living our own lives, and letting go of that which distresses us, we are living our most peaceful and fulfilling lives. The expression live and let live is timeless for a reason!
A day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, sending out love to all those who mother or who are mothered. Hope you had a wonderful day!
M(3), 5/2/16: All Gods Are Welcome
Another Monday, another great meeting!
Today reading came from Chapter 4 in Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book), “We Agnostics.” I’m too lazy to go back and check, but I’m fairly confident I have never selected this reading from the book in the 3 1/2 years I’ve been running this meeting!
But it’s a great one to read for anyone struggling with the concept of a Higher Power. I will sheepishly admit this is not a chapter to which I have paid great attention through the years; never having considered myself an agnostic, I generally thought my time was better spent on other chapters.
But in reading this morning, I related to the idea of the rewards of open-mindedness. The chapter speaks of ways in which history has proven the benefit of considering all possibilities, rather than assuming your way of thinking is the only way of thinking.
It reminded me of a time, years before I got sober, I bemoaned my inability to control my drinking. “I just want to drink like normal people!” To which the counselor replied, “Do you realize that ‘normal drinking’ for many people means not drinking at all?”
I may as well have walked out the office for as much attention I paid after that comment.
Because for me, at that time, there was no conception of a life without alcohol. So if I can go from that mindset to the one I possess today? All bets are off… anything I consider a given is up for debate. It’s a life-altering shift in thinking, I can tell you that!
There were two attendees who considered themselves agnostic prior to 12-step recovery. The first who shared recognizes that her spiritual path is still in the developmental stages, as she is still fleshing out a concept of a Higher Power that works for her. When she reads and finds references that smack of traditional Christianity-based imagery, she simply looks for the relatable part of the story, rather than reject the information because it’s not her concept of God.
The second once-Agnostic said she was anxiety-ridden when she realized that a belief in a Higher Power is a requirement. She thought that meant she had to hurry and “catch up” to all those who had an “edge” by having religion. Her sponsor quickly assured her by saying all those religious folks drank enough to earn a seat in the rooms, so how much of an edge did they really have?
What made her more comfortable was the knowledge that the development of a spiritual life in an ongoing process, and the only thing you really need to get started is, well, a willingness to get started!
The rest of the attendees who shared all came into the fellowship with a belief of some sort. Most were raised within an organized religion, but opted out once they were of an age to make decisions for themselves. One gentleman described it this way:
I believed in belief, now I just believe
That may sound confusing, but it made a lot of sense to me.
Everyone in the room agreed that the greatest selling point of 12-step spirituality is its inclusiveness: any concept of a Higher Power is welcome. Secular, non-secular, completely original and unique point of view… all ideas are welcome here, and all will get you where you need to go!
The gentleman I wrote about last week, the newcomer who was suffering from so many physical symptoms, was back this week and looking and feeling better!
M(3), 4/4/16: How to Decide if You’re Really an Alcoholic
For my friends with me in the Northeastern corner of the United States… where the heck did Spring go?
Fantastic meeting despite completely dreary weather, I stopped counting after 14 attendees. Several new to the meeting, one new to sobriety, and one I used to see at meetings in my first year of sobriety.
Today we read Chapter 3 from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, “More About Alcoholism.” This chapter speaks primarily to the person who is still on the fence about whether or not he or she is an alcoholic. The chapter gives a variety of examples of people who believe they could control their drinking, to no avail. As one of the attendees this morning remarked, “Chapter 3 is all about the disease of denial.”
I would contend that this chapter applies to anyone considering recovery. I have yet to meet, either in person or in the blogosphere, a sober person who did not live through some period of denial. The intensity of denial fluctuates, as does the duration, but at some point before every sober person stopped drinking they wondered whether they actually needed to stop, like, forever.
Any time I read the first half of “The Big Book,” I do so with two mindsets. First I remember how I read it when I first started attending 12-step meetings. At the same time, I read it and attempt to apply to what I know about myself today. As you might expect, the two experiences are startling in their disparity.
Active Addiction Me read this chapter and scoffed at all the extreme examples of alcoholism illustrated. She would have resisted strongly the notion that I am somehow different from other drinkers, or that I have progressed to the point where I am powerless over alcohol. In fact, Active Addiction Me wouldn’t really understand the notion of powerlessness at all. She would have chuckled ruefully at the paragraph that lists the dozens of ways alcoholics try to control their drinking (limiting the number of drinks and switching to a drink with a lesser alcohol content in particular, these were perennial favorites).
At the same time Present Day Me reads the chapter and marvels at how closely my story mirrors the tales, at least in spirit, described in this chapter. There is a story about a man, attempting sobriety, who concluded that adding a shot of whiskey to his milk after a full meal would do no harm. Thinking that logical sounds preposterous, but I could give a half dozen examples of decisions I made in active addiction that seemed entirely reasonable at the time, but now take my breath away with their absurdity. Or the illusion that someday, somehow, I would be able to “drink like normal people.” I spent the last 4 years of my drinking career hell bent on proving this statement to be true. And I got about as far as anyone else has, I suppose… which means nowhere.
Everyone else enjoyed the chapter as well. One woman talked about the story of “Fred,” and announced that she is Fred: completely logical and moderate about almost everything in her life, she loses puzzling control when it comes to alcohol. For years she assumed she could think her way out of the problem, as she had every other problem in her life. It wasn’t until she acknowledged her powerlessness, and applied the skills she learned through the 12 steps, that she was able to dissolve the obsession to drink.
Another gentleman added to the list of ways he tried to control his drinking, an exercise I’m sure all of us could do. He believed he could control the amount he consumed by keeping the swizzle sticks from the drinks he consumed. You can imagine how that story ends… a gigantic pile of swizzle sticks and no real memory of how he got them!
Another friend spoke of how she read this chapter in early sobriety, and did not enjoy what she read at all. You see, she was thinking she would just take a break from drinking, and come to a few meetings to see if she could learn to drink like a lady. Once she read the section of the chapter on conducting experiments on controlled drinking, she realized her plans might have a few holes in it. She realized she had been trying controlled drinking for quite some time, with no success.
The newcomer to sobriety shared how much this chapter applied to her, and used recent real-life examples to prove it. She said she knew she was an alcoholic when she observed her pattern of drinking one way with friends and family, but an entirely different way when alone and “safe.” As with most of us, the pattern has been progressing, and she wants to arrest the behavior before she loses it all, the way some of the tales in the chapter end.
As I say quite a bit in this blog, there is so much more to share, and not enough time to share it! I encourage anyone reading who still wonders if all this “sobriety stuff” applies to them to give chapter 3 a read!
Today my son receives the sacrament of Confirmation. He kept telling me he needed an entire day off to reflect on his last hours of religious childhood, but I decided that he could make do with a half day!
M(3), 3/28/16: Is Dysfunctional Family a Redundancy?
A damp, drizzly Monday in my neck of the woods, hope the weather is better for everyone else!
This morning we read from the book Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve their relationships. I selected a reading from the chapter “The Family.” Since it is the day after a holiday I figured people could use some inspiration.
The author told the story of a 24-year old resentment she held against her sister-in-law. A resentment she thought she resolved in early sobriety, but found out, 13 years later, that she did not. She learned that forgiveness is something she needs to do with her heart, not just with words. She found joy in being the agent of positive change in her relationship with her sister-in-law. Finally, she realized that she is only given challenges in life when she is able to handle them. Clearly, she needed to be further along in sobriety before she was able to tackle the challenge of her problematic familial relationship.
Many times the subject matter of my weekly meetings covers topics that fall under the umbrella “life problems” rather than “alcoholic problems;” family resentments most assuredly counts as one of them. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say all human beings have a tricky or troubled family relationship to which they lay claim. So it was unsurprising to find that every member of the meeting today had their hand raised to talk about a resentment with which they are struggling.
Some of the resentments are long-standing ones. For example, one woman identified almost to the word with this morning’s reading, in that she has a resentment with a sister-in-law that spans her entire married life… almost 50 years! She had a situation with her sister-in-law in early sobriety that she felt justified in handling somewhat aggressively. However, she finds as time goes by she is better able to see the gray in what she once thought to be a black-and-white issue.
Some of the resentments have cropped up within sobriety. One woman spoke of an issue with her sister, who continues to drink in ways which are painfully familiar. On the one hand, it is difficult to watch… why does she get to drink that way and I can’t? Can’t she consider my feelings, even just a little? On the other hand, it is easy to remember the feelings that go alongside that kind of drinking, and the behavior that accompanies it. She can easily find empathy to replace the resentment when she considers that not too long ago she was in her sister’s shoes.
Some resentments are easy to examine and identify the solution. One gentleman, sober for decades now, describes his personality in active addiction to be sarcastic and intimidating. He has done his best in sobriety to correct this tendency, but he found family memories to be long… it was many years before people trusted his sober personality to be the authentic one! He is grateful that he was given the opportunity to prove himself.
Other resentments are less clear-cut. One gentleman spoke of a resentment he has with his mother and brother. It is clear through his telling of the situation that his resentments could be justified. It is equally clear, however, that for the sake of his serenity, and possibly his sobriety, that he finds a solution that brings him peace.
For myself, I shared of an ongoing situation that causes me angst, one in which I am resentful of someone else’s resentment… if that makes any sense at all! Like most of the stories shared this morning, I imagine the situation would exist whether or not I was sober. The difference for me is two-fold. First, because I use the 12 steps of recovery as a blueprint for living my life, I find it more difficult to ignore or avoid resentments, because I have been taught that resentments are a tremendous roadblock to a peaceful existence. So when I realize that one of my relationships is in turmoil, I consider what is my responsibility in repairing the problem, even if the turmoil is not mine.
Second, and more important, I look to clean up my side of the street. Now, in a situation where the resentment is mine, it is simple enough to do: I either confront the problem, or I work it out myself by remembering there are two sides to every story, and that my viewpoint is often not shared by others.
It gets more difficult to resolve when the resentment is not really of my doing. On the one hand, I think: not my problem to fix. If someone has an issue, that’s on them.
On the other hand, I consider that I am part of a relationship. If I know someone is in distress, don’t I have a responsibility to help them with their distress?
But if I am the distress… then what?
No easy answers for me this morning, but what I can take away is considerable. First, I feel less isolated; everyone has a troubled relationship with which they struggle. Next, I am a deep believer in the notion that when the time is right, the opportunity to resolve problems will appear. If I remain confused, then I can trust that the time is not right. Finally, I will be mulling over the idea of forgiving with the heart versus forgiving with words. That popped up a few times in the shares this morning, and I’m thinking that is some thing to examine in my own life.
The reminder that everything happens for a reason, even when I don’t understand the reason.
M(3), 3/7/16: There Is A Solution (even if you think there’s not)
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!
M(3), 2/29/16: Growing Pains
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!