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!
I’m sitting here debating whether or not to even continue typing. Yes, I did just return from my Monday morning meeting, and yes, people had great stuff to share, but I’m not sure I’m in a calm enough headspace to transmit the messages I received.
I mentioned last week that a lot of stuff is going on, and that stuff continues. I’m in the midst of three separate kid issues, which is strange since I only have two children! I am still recuperating from a fractured heel that I thought would be long over by now, and I’m hoping against hope a car repair is done before we are hit by the Blizzard of 2017.
I should really stop typing now.
No, I really shouldn’t. Maybe if I repeat all the great stuff I heard this morning, it will seep into my scattered brain.
The reading on which we reflected on this morning is entitled “Easy Does It,” something I picked haphazardly as I was late this morning. Turns out to be a good pick, since my head is in the opposite space of being easy. Here is a line I read out loud this morning:
If a strong inner core of peace, patience and contentment looks at all desirable to you, it can be had. -Living Sober, page 46
I laughed as I read it, then of course had to explain myself in my share. If I took the time and explained each of my various issues, they’re not anything out of the ordinary: teenage mishaps, car trouble, slow-healing body parts. But the theme that’s running through all of them is they require me stepping out of my comfort zone in some way, shape or form and confronting someone. Any kind of assertive conversation (and in some cases I’ll go ahead and upgrade it to aggressive) makes me uncomfortable in the extreme.
And in virtually all of the issues where I am required to assert myself, I have very little hope of swaying the opposing party to my side. Which of course leads to feelings of frustration before I even assert myself.
Some of the issues have been dragged out for ridiculous reasons, which leads to impatience.
So, to sum up:
Anxiety + Frustration + Impatience = Scattered and Lacking Peace
Here’s what I can say: I know, even at the worst of my negative feelings, that sooner or later all will settle down. Sooner or later each of these issues will resolve, and a whole new set will crop up. I know this, and at times this knowledge can settle my nerves.
In the meantime, I talk about my feelings, and I get advice from those that have been there and done that. From this morning’s reading, the greatest take-away I got was the importance of asking the question:
How much does this really matter?
If I ask that question for each of my various issues, often the answer is a fairly simple “not as much as I’m making it matter.” Some of the kid issues my Devil’s Advocate can argue are important based on principle, or could potentially be stepping stones to bigger issues, but even in those cases, if I take a wide-angle view, these things are blips on the screen of life.
So if I find out I can’t pick up my car today, how much does it really matter? I will likely pick it up the next drivable day after the snow storm. In the case of my foot, if I’m in the boot a month longer than I thought I would be, in the span of my life how much does it really matter? The kid issues… well, I suppose I can simply do my personal best, and leave the results up to God. As much I wish I could, I have control over one person in this life, and it’s all I can do to control myself!
Here are some other great thoughts from this morning:
- Everyone with children has issues with children. It is the nature of the beast of parenting!
- Sharing with people who understand helps, as does listening to people who have what you want. If you are lacking peace, go talk to someone you feel has a good sense of peace about them.
- Slowing down the process of anything helps to do it better, more thoroughly, and with less mistakes.
- Taking time each morning in quiet reflection helps to make the entire day a calmer experience.
- Remembering that for which you are grateful helps to alleviate the stressful parts of your life.
- The theme of humility runs through this morning’s reading. It is important to remember to keep our egos in check when trying to fix all the world’s problems.
For those of you who are getting hit with bad weather, I wish you safety and warmth. For those of you in warm, sunny climates, I’m jealous!
The hope that I’m back next week with fabulous resolutions to all the issues I’m complaining about this week 🙂
Somebody astutely pointed out this morning that last night’s Super Bowl excitement took a good chunk out of our usual attendance. It was strange at first to see such a low number of meeting attendees, but by the end of the meeting I was grateful. I forget the intimacy a smaller meeting brings. Every single person got to share on his or her take on the reading, and a few of us shared twice. It was a lovely, nostalgic hour for me.
Being the first Monday of the month, we read a personal story from the book Alcoholics Anonymous entitled “Crossing the River of Denial.” A compelling tale of a woman whose ability to deny her alcoholism knew no bounds, this story touched a nerve with each of us in the meeting this morning.
I was hooked from the synopsis of the story, located directly below the title:
She finally realized that when she enjoyed her drinking, she couldn’t control it, and when she controlled it, she couldn’t enjoy it. – pg. 328, Alcoholics Anonymous
That line took me back to the thick of active addiction. Many a time I convinced myself that I had no problem, because when I chose to I could control how much I drank. What I failed to notice that on those occasions (that, by the way, became less frequent as time went on) when I controlled my drinking, I was generally not enjoying the occasion at all. I was too focused on keeping my drinking at pace with someone else, or counting the drinks I had, or making sure I drank water in between glasses. It’s fairly difficult to stay present when you are that preoccupied with the amount of liquid you are consuming.
Another theme of the story is the depth of denial one is capable of experiencing. The author suffered rather dire consequences, and hit lower and lower “bottoms,” and continued to deny her responsibility for her behavior. It was always someone else’s fault, there was always someone whose problems were worse than hers, there was always a justification for her actions.
Again, this theme brought back painful memories for me, as I was an expert at dodging blame. Either it wasn’t as bad as you were making it out to be, it wasn’t your business to be noticing, or why are you talking to me when you should be talking to (fill in the blank, someone whose behavior was far worse than mine).
Of course, all personal stories in the Big Book end happily, and this one was no exception. Once she was able to hear for herself that she was not alone in her thoughts and feelings, that others had gone before her and changed the course of their lives, she knew she wanted what they had. She jumped in with both feet, and her life is dramatically different today. She’s not sure which part of her 12-step work is keeping her sober, and she doesn’t really care. All she knows is that it works, so she keeps at it, one day at a time.
What a message of hope, and a great reminder not to get too caught up in the “why’s” of any given situation. Do what works, and give the result up to the Universe.
Some other great insights from this morning’s meeting:
- One of the great lines from the reading speaks to the idea of doing the next right thing:
“… the Big Book had no chapters on “Into Thinking” or “Into Feeling” – only “Into Action.” -pg. 336, Alcoholics Anonymous
- Some of us think that the great hope is to control our drinking, but upon further investigation we realize it’s not that we wish to control our drinking, but to drink as we wish and escape consequences. And when we are able to honestly acknowledge that, we are well on our way to choosing sobriety.
- The story is a good reminder of the value of keeping things green. It is easy to forget, as time goes by, how difficult and painful active addiction truly is. By reading the depths this woman experienced before choosing sobriety, we remember ourselves how painful it was for us.
- The unacceptable becomes acceptable is yet another theme of the story that is poignant for those of us in recovery. Almost all of us can point to a time where we said that we are not alcoholic because we didn’t (fill in the blank). As time went on and we continued to drink, those same statements became null and void. Because this is a disease of progression, all those things we claim we haven’t done become a “yet…” things that will eventually come true if we continue to live in denial.
- The word denial itself can be used as an acronym:
Happy Monday to all!
Learning from, and being inspired by, a small group of trusted friends!
I keep staring at the blank screen expecting a lightning bolt of creativity to hit me, and it doesn’t appear to be happening. Now I’m going to try the “just start writing” approach and see where that gets me.
I’ll start with the meeting and wind round to why my thoughts are scattered. Our reading selection today from the the book Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the “Big Book.” This year I tried something different in terms of this book. For the 3 years prior to this one, I selected readings from the second half of the book, the part that contains all the personal stories. To mix it up, in the year 2016 we read from the first 164 pages, which most consider to be the heart and soul of the 12-step program. There are 11 chapters in this first part of the book, so today marked the end of this cycle.
I have been waiting, practically since January, to get to this month, because by leaps and bounds my favorite chapter is the one we read today. It is called “A Vision for You,” and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you have heard me wax rhapsodic about it. It is so uplifting and energizing, I wish the book started with this chapter.
I’ll start with my share, as the reading of this chapter reminded me of a story from my early days of sobriety. The chapter speaks of the serendipitous circumstances that connected the co-founders of the fellowship, their meeting with the third member, and the growth of the program that came from these meetings. It brought to mind a not quite so miraculous, but still noteworthy story of my own:
When I first got sober, I went to meetings daily. Specifically, I attended the same 10 am meeting that took place every day of the week. In so doing, I got to know all the other regular attendees. I happen to hit the 90-day mark on a Friday, at which point several of the long-timers announced that since I have my 90 day coin I am eligible to chair meetings, and so no time like the present. Then they erased the chairperson for Monday and put my name in his or her place.
I can’t specifically recall, but I imagine I sweated out the weekend worrying about how I was going to pull off this responsibility. Thankfully the chair rotation was different on the weekends, or I would have had to do it the very next day.
So Monday comes and I couldn’t be more nervous. That meeting was significantly different than the one I run now in that it is a much larger crowd… figure 50 to 60 on average. I start the meeting, and I suppose I do okay. The break comes (halfway through the 60-minute meeting) and a gentleman comes up and introduces himself as Jim, tells me this is his very first meeting, and asked me a question. I wish I could remember the question, but I’m pretty sure my abject fear at having to answer a 12-step question when I had 90 days of sobriety under my belt must have blocked it out. I’m sure I said something, though I can’t remember specifically what, and as soon as was politely possible I connected him with the regulars in the group that I felt could give him the information he needed.
The rest of the meeting proceeded, and that was that.
By the time I hit the six-month mark, I was still attending daily meetings, but I was branching out and rarely got back to original meeting place. However, for the milestone of 6 months I wanted to announce it there; it was a Sunday, and the only time I could get there was the 6 pm meeting. I anticipated not knowing too many people, as I tend to hit daytime meetings.
To my surprise and delight, I knew the chairperson of the meeting: my friend Jim, the one who had just started 3 months ago! I marvelled at the fantastic coincidence, and I could not wait to share with him. In fact, I raised my hand and shared out loud the story of how nervous I was, and congratulated Jim on achieving 90 days and chairing the meeting. At the end of the meeting Jim found me and said he could top my story with one of his own from that day:
It turns out that his wife had dropped him off at that meeting 3 months ago, but he had no intention of staying. He figured he’s stay to the break, but he had just enough money in his pocket to head out to the nearest open bar as soon as the halfway point came. Something had him ask me a question, he has no idea what… his best guess is he wanted to be polite to me since I was leading the meeting. My response was so kind that he figured he owed it to me to stay. And afterwards when those gentlemen with whom I connected him were so kind, he figured he could give this a try.
And three months later, still sober, he was chairing meeting.
The moral of the story, of course, is that no matter how little you think you know, how little you think you have to give, it just might be the world to someone else. I don’t remember what I said, but I know for sure it wasn’t anything profound or wise. It couldn’t have been… I didn’t know squat! And his taking the time to fill me in on that backstory made all the difference to me. It was at that moment everything crystallized for me that when I pay attention, amazing things happen, all around me, every day.
From my share a few other people had similar tales of amazing coincidences-that-are-never-coincidences. And a secondary theme of this morning’s share was gratitude, a most fitting theme for a November meeting!
I went a little long with my personal story, but today’s miracle for me is getting what I needed from that meeting today, as I usually do. Even if I have to relearn the same lesson a dozen times, there is always someone there to teach me. And for that I am grateful!
Additionally, the miracle of unscattering my thoughts via writing should be noted!
Suddenly it’s Tuesday morning, and still no wrap-up post from yesterday’s meeting. I’m going to blame the three day weekend, and an aging, limping mess of a dishwasher that needed some funeral arrangements, but the time is coming where I figure out what comes next for this blog.
In other words: sorry again for the delay.
It was a decently sized meeting, considering it to be a holiday. It’s counterintuitive to me that holidays produce smaller sized meetings. I would think more people would show up, since more people have off from work. In any event, we had the usual suspects, plus one or two extras.
We read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”), a chapter entitled “To the Family Afterward.” This is another chapter, much like last month, that deals with topics pertaining to the loved ones of the alcoholic, rather than the alcoholic himself/herself. As I mentioned last month, these two chapters are the prologue to Al-Anon.
According to this chapter, there seem to be two watchwords for the recovering alcoholic and his/her family in the early days of sobriety:
The chapter breaks down a whole bunch of possible scenarios that family may experience as the alcoholic recovers, and how best to handle them.
Attendees in the meeting shared their validation of the various scenarios laid out, and added a few more. One gentleman told an amusing story. He came home the night of his seven year sober anniversary, and proudly presented the coin to his wife. She replied, “Congratulations, these were the happiest six years of my life.” He gently reminded her it has been seven years, not six, to which she replied, “Yeah… I’m leaving out that first year on purpose.”
The expression “it’s a family disease” exists for a reason, I guess.
That illustrates the patience part. The balance concept? Well, those reading this post who are in recovery are likely chuckling ruefully. Alcoholics are known for a lot of things, but balance and moderation are not at the top of the list. Or at the bottom for that matter.
So it follows that in recovery, we can go in a bunch of well-intentioned but over the top directions… we find God, then shove Him down everyone’s throat. Or we lose sight of the friends and family that supported us in favor of our new recovery activities.
So the family reacts, and the cycle of chaos starts all over again.
The solution is for everyone involved to communicate honestly and productively, and bring those two watchwords back to the forefront.
As another gentleman pointed out in the meeting: if you go walking into the woods for three days straight, then finally decide you want out, do you think you’re finding your way back in an hour? It took time to get in, it’ll take time to get out again.
It was an interesting chapter for me to read, given the holiday on which we read it (for those not in the United States, we celebrated Labor Day yesterday). Normally when I read this chapter, I have little to no reaction. I am one of the extremely fortunate ones who had complete family support as I recovered. None of the anecdotes described in the chapter apply directly to my life.
However, Labor Day weekend holds a bi-annual event in my family of origin. We have been holding a family reunion for as long as I’ve been alive. Longer, actually, which makes me want to find out how long it’s been going on. At this point we have about 150 people in attendance, and it is an all-day, much-of-the-night affair.
There have been three so far in my sobriety. I believe I skipped entirely the first one, I attended briefly the second, this past Saturday I stayed the longest.
The days leading up to the event had me in a state of… something along the lines of discontent, I suppose. You see, this is the one situation on which I haven’t readily been able to slap the “sober is better” sticker. The event is largely outdoors, at a time of year where it is humid. I am not the outdoorsy type (understatement). There are tons of people, but these are people I see either at this event, or a funeral, so a catch-up conversation (and sometimes a reminder of names) is required each and every time. The vast majority of these people will be imbibing a social lubricant called beer (or a mixed drink); I will be consuming the social lubricant called Diet Pepsi.
If I’m being brutally honest, I was dreading the event, and then I was berating myself for dreading it. What kind of person does not want to spend time with their family? But the equally brutal truth is that pre-recovery, I couldn’t wait for the event, because it was an all all-day drink fest, and now it’s not. For me, anyway. For many others, it continued to be. So it felt like I had more to dread than I had to anticipate.
Luckily for me, I have tools in the toolkit to use in times such as these, and I had my pre-game rituals in place. The most important of these tools, in my opinion, is to have a quick exit strategy should I become uncomfortable around the alcohol/excessive drinking.
The other tool that I used, and was the turning point in the event, was to remember why I was actually there: to spend time with family, and to participate in a long-standing family tradition. When I kept that in the forefront of my mind, instead of focusing on the alcohol that surrounded me, I was able to relax and enjoy the event.
People still got drunk. In fact, I heard tales of overturned golf carts at the end of the evening (which was really early morning) that had me belly laughing. But the reality is the people who got as drunk as I would have gotten were in the minority. The majority of people were casually drinking, or not drinking at all, and they were a delight. I dragged my feet going to the reunion, but I left with a grateful heart.
And then I got to read and remember why I am so grateful!
Family love and support are perennial miracles
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)
The literature in this week’s meeting was Forming True Partnerships. It is the newest book in AA’s conference-approved literature, and it deals with relationships in sobriety. Some of the chapters are universal: family, friendships. Some are semi-specific: marriage, job. And some are puzzling in their specificity (I’m looking at you, chapter on pets).
I have been sticking with the universal ones for the first half of the year; today I challenged myself to delve into deeper waters. The story turned out to be oddly specific, entirely too long and 99% pessimistic. Note to self: fully read selection before choosing!
As fate would have it, the room filled up with people, and each person that shared talked about their difficulty in relating. The very last person who shared, a male (the author of the story was female), redeemed the choice by stating he felt like he was reading his own story. So there you have it… someone is going to relate, no matter how unlikely it seems!
Odd storylines aside, we had a great discussion about relationships, both pre- and post-recovery. Every person in the room agreed that the “blueprint” offered through the twelves steps enriches relationships of all kinds.
One person shared the variety of ways he attempted to feel complete: filling his life with material things, relationship after relationship, and, through it all, alcohol. No matter how many things and people he brought into his life, he could never quite fill the hole, and loneliness was an emotion he could not tolerate. In working the 12 steps of recovery, he is able to be alone without feeling lonely.
Several other people spoke of drinking to avoid the feeling of loneliness. Most of us shared that initially alcohol was a decent working solution to problems such as loneliness, shyness, self-consciousness, and challenging social situations.
It was a solution… until it wasn’t. Then alcohol became the problem; either we drank in isolation and thus compounded our loneliness, or we drank in public and became a detriment to any and all social situations.
As it turns out, putting down the drink solves some of our problems (especially the ones that involve drunken behavior), but not all of them. Getting sober gives us the clarity to see the problems for what they are, and allows us the freedom to deal with life on life’s terms.
The final discussion I’ll share was the comparison of infatuation to intimacy. Once again, the 12 steps of recovery mirror the steps to a lasting, intimate relationship. Infatuation, where a lot of relationships begin, focus on the the ways in which one can take from the relationship. True intimacy, on the other hand, looks for ways in which you can give back. When both partners in the relationship look to be of service to one another… that’s where the magic happens.
A powerful reminder for me as I navigate all relationships in my life!
The reminder that life comes down to a few simple things… get out of my own head, and see what I can do to help others. The rest takes care of itself!
Already we are heading into the month of July… incredible!
Because it is the end of the month, we read from the book Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The story was from the chapter “The Family,” and talked about the author’s relationship with her alcoholic father in three stages:
I. When her father was actively drinking and she was a child
II. When her father got sober and her drinking took off
III. The relationship they were able to build in sobriety.
A fascinating read for most everyone; even the attendees who did not have alcoholic parents could relate, as everyone in the room had someone in their family who suffers/suffered from the disease of addiction.
Part I mirrored my own childhood: the shame that goes along with a parent’s alcoholic behavior, the sure knowledge of a personality change the moment a drink is consumed, the uncertainty of knowing which personality would be walking in the door each evening.
I loved reading about the beautiful relationship the author was able to build with her father once she started getting sober. My father passed away years before even my active addiction, but I have daydreamed often about how he and I might relate now that I am sober. I’d like to think we would have forged a deeper and more meaningful relationship that we ever had.
And I also believe that he is proud of me, wherever he is.
Some of the other members of the meeting touched on childhood shame surrounding parents and alcoholism, and learning how to discern between the person and the disease. Several with alcoholic parents remarked that they were always able to do this; they could love their mother or father but hate the effects alcohol had on him or her.
This point stood out to me, as I recently had a discussion with a close friend about this very idea: loving the person, but hating the disease. It made me wonder if I had been able to make this distinction with my own father.
The truth is, I’m not sure I ever thought consciously about it while he was alive; I just hadn’t developed enough self-awareness at that young an age.
Then I thought to myself: do I make that distinction for myself, and my addiction? I will have to ponder this some more, but I’m sorry to say I’m not sure I do. At this point, a few years into sobriety, I can say I no longer experience the raw shame of my actions in active addiction, but I think that is because I feel like I’ve rectified to the best of my ability by living each of these past 1600 or so days sober. And as I thought about it further, and considered some of the “lesser” demons I’m trying to conquer, I’m not sure I am separating myself from my actions. When I intend to eat well, exercise and drink lots of water, then fail to do so, I feel bad about myself, I don’t separate out the action from the person.
And as I write that I see it for the old thinking that it is, and I realize there is work yet for me to do. Good thing I wasn’t looking to graduate anytime soon.
There were two women new to sobriety present at the meeting, and both are experiencing struggles as they try to navigate life sober. One woman’s story in particular spoke to me. She has less than a month sober, and is battling a few things at once. First, she has adult children living in her home who still drink. So there is the challenge of going into the fridge for a bottle of water, and finding it standing next to a six-pack of beer.
Due to a medical condition, she is responsible for driving her husband everywhere he needs to go, and thus finds social situations that involve drinking to be a challenge.
Finally, her adult children want to know why, even though she has been to rehab, been to outpatient therapy, been to a counselor, and is attending meetings, why would she still be sad and struggling?
I am indignant on this woman’s behalf, which of course does her no good. What I could do, and what a couple of us did after the meeting, is share what worked for us in early sobriety. Probably the greatest piece of advice I can give (completely and utterly from the rear view mirror, mind you) is this: ask for help. Tell people what you need. Set some boundaries. People who aren’t afflicted with the disease have zero concept of its trials and tribulations, and it is wrong for us to think otherwise.
Do whatever you need to stay sober, even if it feels selfish to the extreme. Early sobriety is not a life sentence; you will get more comfortable with time. But to acquire that time you need to put yourself first. Failing to do so puts your sobriety in peril.
I’m hoping to see my friend next week with a report that she was able to negotiate some breathing room for herself.
That’s all I’ve got this beautiful summer day!
I will count mindful organization as the miracle of the moment. There’s a lot going on in my household this week, and what’s keeping me sane is a list, and reminding myself to stay in the moment. It truly is a miracle when you take the time to appreciate the here and now!
Many apologies for the unplanned two-week hiatus. Week one saw me with a dental crisis; the worst is over, but follow-up visits abound (cue the sad music). Week two saw me preparing for my first job interview in 17 years (cue the horror music). Both of these situations deserve completely separate blog posts, which I will hopefully get to sometime this decade, but in the meantime, let’s return to our regularly scheduled program.
This week’s reading came from Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.” We read one of the quintessential chapters, entitled, “How It Works.” This is the first in a three-chapter overview of the 12 steps; specifically, steps one through four.
A newcomer reading this chapter is likely to be overwhelmed, as there is a lot going on in these four steps! We had two women in the meeting today that, by my definition, would count as newcomers: one having recently completed rehab, and one that indicated she was a newcomer, but did not elaborate just how new she is.
First-time readers of this chapter might be alarmed at how often the words “self-centered,” “egotistical,” “resentful,” “self-pitying” and “fearful” are peppered throughout. Indeed, the entire premise of the twelve steps (at least in this writer’s humble opinion) is based upon the notion that the alcoholic life is run on self-will and self-seeking.
And so the answer to the alcoholic dilemma is a paradigm shift: instead of thinking the world is out to get us, we choose instead to look at our part in any situation. Instead of considering what the world owes us, we look to see what we can contribute. Instead of dishonesty and deception, we opt for transparency.
Instead of thinking we are running the show, we now seek a Power greater than ourselves, and we turn our will over to the care of that Power.
As always, when newcomers attend the meeting, I read and consider how I felt as a newcomer. I know when I first started paying attention to this reading, I considered myself an exception to most of the generalizations: I did not feel particularly angry or resentful, I didn’t consider myself to be (overly) selfish, and I believed I put the needs of a great many others before my own needs.
I remember thinking, “Wow my inventory is going to be so small, since I have no resentments whatsoever!” I can’t remember exactly, but I believe my inventory ran upwards of 6 handwritten pages.
Now I read the chapter and consider how my life has changed since first starting the road to recovery. The most fundamental change would be awareness, and the ability to feel my feelings. Sounds ridiculous, but it is a change that words cannot sufficiently capture. In addiction, I self-medicated so as not to feel anything.
So now I feel, and I’m aware that I feel. I can define the emotion, and the corresponding physical sensations.
“Why is this a big deal?” someone may wonder. Awareness allows for the processing of emotions, particularly negative ones. If I’m stuffing down feelings, I’m not processing or releasing them. So there they sit, swirling around and ready to wreak emotional havoc at any point in time.
Awareness is just one part of the puzzle. That same awareness had me realize that all my resentment-free days were just a facade designed to keep me from feeling. I had a lot more resentments than I ever realized I had, and a lot more fears as well.
In fact, I believe I am a work in process in the arena, and likely will be for some time.
In getting more self-aware and more honest about my part in every resentment-filled situation, I am better able to handle new challenges. Now when a resentment pops up, I am able to:
- recognize it
- define it
- look at my part in it
All of which allows me to
4. handle it
Above all, the peace that comes from a reliance on a Higher Power is the gift that keeps on giving.
Having this before-and-after experience upon which to draw was especially helpful this morning when one of the newcomers expressed confusion… she does not think she has any anger, or even much fear, so she’s not sure where she would even start with such a process.
The ability to pay it forward!
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!