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!
So much to say, so little time!
Today’s meeting was jam-packed, both with people (I stopped counting at 15) and wisdom. Today’s literature was Living Sober. As is my custom, I asked a woman who I know is in early sobriety (the woman I mentioned had 6 days last week, she is back and now has 13!) to select the chapter. She chose Chapter 3: Using the 24-Hour Plan.
Talking about “the 24-hour plan,” also known as the “just for today plan,” brings back vivid memories of early sobriety. When I was drinking addictively, the pattern was depressingly repetitive. Drink too much, go to bed, and, like clock work, wake up in the 2 to 3 am range. Heart racing, I would spend the first several moments in the oh-no-I-did-it-again stage. Next was the frantic attempts at recollection: what did I do last night? In front of whom? Did I drunk dial anyone? Did I fight with my husband? Next came the shame and remorse, a period which could take an hour or more, woefully listing all the ways in which I was a horrible person. Finally, some attempt at logic would take over: how did I get to this place again? More importantly, how could I stop repeating the same mistake?
Then, the lightbulb moment, where I reach the brilliant conclusion. Just don’t drink anymore, and this won’t happen anymore! Suddenly, I am full of resolve, because this time I’m going to do it! Those motivating feelings, after several hours of horrific feelings, is usually what allowed me to drift to sleep for the 30 or so minutes left of the night.
But no matter, I still felt good upon waking: today is the day I am going to put this plan into place. Excited and resolved, the intention stayed strong throughout the morning and most of the afternoon.
Then 4 o’clock rolled around, my personal witching hour. And it was like a magic trick, how quickly the resolve vanished, and how delightful a glass of Chardonnay seemed.
Over and over again went that sad cycle.
Finally, I started on the road to sobriety. And even then, the “one day at a time plan” offended my sensibilities. You may fool others with that nonsense, but you’re not fooling me! You ask me “can you not drink, just for today?” I say yes, then I come back tomorrow and you ask me the same thing? Give me a break… I’m smarter than that. Dammit.
However, I had already been given the gift of desperation, and therefore I did not feel I had another choice but to give sobriety my best shot. So I just ignored that particular tool, for several months.
Within the first 6 months, though, the time had come for me to use it. Truthfully, I don’t remember the specifics of the mental tizzy in which I found myself, but I know it was full-blown, and I was panicking about everything. At the time, when that would happen, the next logical thought process would be: do you really think you can do this for the rest of your life? What if someone dies? What about weddings? What if… the questions could go on indefinitely.
And for some reason, the question came to me: do you feel like drinking right now? No. Do you think you can make it through the rest of the day without drinking? An even stronger no. Then does any of what you’re worrying about matter? It doesn’t… Thank God!
To this day that remains a pivotal moment in my sobriety.
Nowadays, I am blessed to have had the obsession to drink removed, and so thinking about the 24-hour plan is not something I do daily. But one of things that I am practicing is meditation. And guess what the primary goal of mediation is? Mindfulness, bringing you back to the present moment, and reminding you that life can only be lived in the moment. Anxiety about the future, regret about the past, all take you away from the present moment, and thus take you away from your life.
Which to me pretty much sums up the 24-hour plan, so I’m not as far removed as I would have thought!
Several people talked about the illogical ways they denied the need to stop drinking: picking “meaningful” future sobriety dates, then letting them slip by. One woman thought that instead of stopping drinking, her goal would be to keep a stocked bar. Of course, the perpetual trouble with that plan was that she drank her way through it too quickly!
The woman that chose the reading did so because she is currently struggling with the desire to drink. She has to break down time into smaller chunks than 24 hour ones. She plans out her day as best she can, and when the cravings strike, she attempts to distract herself one hour at a time. For 13 days, it’s been working well, and I’m hoping I get to congratulate her next week on 20 days.
The absolute best share of the morning, at least in my opinion, came from one of my best friends in recovery. She said early on she learned that the 12 steps are a way of building the best relationship possible with your Higher Power. When you spend your time worrying about the future, or wallowing in the past, then you are not in that relationship… your Higher Power is in the present moment, which is your life! So if you’re wasting your time in the past or the future, you are going it alone, without the benefit of that Higher Power. Such an interesting perspective, but one that makes a lot of sense.
Everyone who shared agreed wholeheartedly on one thing: using the one-day-at-a-time approach is beneficial not only to quitting drinking, it’s an effective means of living life.
The energy that came of this morning’s meeting was so positive, so powerful, I am still feeling it sitting at home typing on my computer… that is an amazing miracle!
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!
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.
It’s getting happy, though not quite there yet. It’s sunny, but cold, I am mending from an illness, though not yet 100%. Sorry I missed last week’s post, I missed the meeting as well.
Since time moves along whether I am sick or I am well, this week we covered Step 10 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. For those unfamiliar,
Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
Reading this step is timely, as I have been struggling of late with those self-critical voices that dog all of us to a greater or lesser degree. My voices start out very innocently, and are disguised as The Objective Devil’s Advocate…
Are you sure you’re exercising as hard as you could? I’m sure you’ve got more left in the tank.
Which turns into…
Of course you can do more, if you don’t then you have clearly failed to exercise properly.
Which can easily morph into…
You suck at exercise!
Now, this is one very small example, but multiply that by 1,000 and include every area of life, and you’ve got the inner workings of my negative brain gone haywire.
So reading step 10, and remembering some of its fundamental tenets, was particularly helpful this morning. Things like:
Focusing on nothing but the negative is not the point of any inventory
A true and honest appraisal must, but its very definition, include the good that is happening. It could probably go without saying, but once I start to look at the good that is happening in my life, I realize that it far outweighs the bad, and severely limits the negative chatter.
We need to look at progress, not perfection
This lesson can’t be taught enough for me. It is so easy to wonder why I can’t do more, achieve more, be more, but what about what I’ve done compared to where I was?
In fact, the very nature of my share this morning had to do with the discontent I’ve felt while I’ve been sick… how it messed with my head, made me feel unnecessarily down on myself, and how I am looking to regain my serenity after visiting the doctor and having to take medicine.
A gentleman who shared after me talked about having the opposite experience, how the first time he went to the doctor in sobriety he was elated, because he could actually tell he was sick, since he was no longer self-medicating with alcohol.
Excellent point, one I had forgotten in my low physical state.
After that a newcomer shared, and said she looks forward to the day where she can feel sick in a legitimate way. Currently even if she does feel under the weather, she will lie to her husband and say she feels okay so that he doesn’t question her drinking wine with dinner.
Message received, Universe: there has been progress for this alcoholic!
Courtesy, kindness, justice and love is the way to handle pretty much anybody and everybody with whom we come in contact
Really, enough said here. Well, one more thing… I need to include how I treat myself in that list!
A long-timer talked about how he favors step 10 above all else, because it is one that is so universal, and so easy to make progress. In early sobriety, he could not think of something as daunting as putting pen to paper and writing a lifelong inventory, but he could look at the day and see what he did right and wrong. By starting small, he was able to build up to the other, more labor-intensive steps.
Another attendee focused on the notion of justifiable anger, and whether we in recovery are entitled to it. He has decided that for him, the answer is no… there is no excuse for holding onto anger in recovery. In any situation where he finds himself resentful, he looks to correct his part in the situation, and let go of the parts where others are responsible. Like everything else, this practice takes time and patience to cultivate.
Another gentleman talked about the gift he received from the regular practice of step 10: self-awareness. Knowing when to take action and when to sit back, when to open his mouth and when to keep it shut, when to push himself and when to rest, these are the fruits of the labor involved in a regular self-inventory.
So there’s hope for me yet.
As always, there was so much more shared than I can write down in one blog post. I’m just glad to be back in the saddle!
Sitting upright and writing a blog post after having chaired a meeting. After the past week, I can say that all counts as a miracle!
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!
Today’s larger-than-average meeting (We had 15 today!) focused on the book Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. We read the first story from the chapter “On the Job.”
Since I have not worked outside the home for a number of years, I was uncertain how I might relate to any story in this chapter. As always, 12-step literature has come through, and I found a number of points within the chapter that relates not only to work, but to family relationships, friendships, and even some auxiliary relationships. For example…
We have been dealing with a minor family drama involving my son and what he considered unfair treatment by his coach. Ultimately, in the practices and games that followed, my husband and I have come to agree with our son’s assessment that he has been singled out, and no explanation has been given.
This sounds like a relatively minor situation, and of course in many ways that is exactly what it is, but the ripple effects are noteworthy: our son’s anxiety/angst/anger affects the entire family dynamic, my husband and I spend entirely too much mental energy trying to “figure things out,” which often leads to points of contention between us. Further, there are all sorts of corollary decisions that need to be made: talk to the coach or don’t talk to the coach? Support the team or stand up for your own rights? Use aggressive techniques, passive techniques, or my old standby, passive-aggressive techniques to make a point with the coach?
Here’s the bottom line: it is a serenity thief, and the quicker it is handled, the better off we are.
Back to today’s reading, the point to which I related the most was the author’s assertion that she behave out in the world the same way she behaves within her 12-step fellowship. And the first tradition of the fellowship is that group welfare comes before self. In other words: consider what is good for the group before you consider what is good for you.
That notion gave me pause in terms of how to handle the situation with the basketball team. I can look back over my decisions and actions over the past few days and see where I might have made different decisions, had I kept in mind the greater good of the team, rather than the greater good of my son. I will have to file that away under “lessons learned,” and try to do the next right thing, I suppose.
Another gentleman shared a hilarious work story where he had been the boss, and therefore was used to being treated deferentially. Years went by, and he returned to school to receive his degree; an assignment was given to reach out to past co-workers for an anonymous assessment of what it was like to work with him. Needless to say, the results of the survey were eye-opening! It’s been a few years since that assignment, but he holds on to it as a reminder to be mindful of how you come across to others.
His share was also the inspiration for the title of this post. He went on to talk about his gratitude for our fellowship, in particular because he recognizes the ongoing need for feedback. Left to his own devices, his brain will lead him in some crazy directions, so he needs the objective guidance of other sober individuals to keep him on track.
Another woman shared how much the reading will help her with a few irritating work experiences. As a nurse with the most seniority on her staff, she periodically has a generational disconnect with some of the newer members of her profession: the training is different, priorities are different, work ethic is different. It would be easy to insist the her way is the right way, and refuse to change or compromise. But in reading the story, and considering the notion of what is good for the group versus what is good for her, she can see a whole new side of things.
She also spoke of the idea of bringing troubles to the group and getting advice on how to best handle them. She said her inclination is to fix problems from the outside in, whereas the 12-step solution is almost always to fix things from the inside out. She needs to keep coming back as a reminder on how to best solve life’s problems.
There were many other great shares, with a whole range of issues, from very early sobriety to those with decades of sobriety, but this post would run way too long if I wrote down every pearl of wisdom! One last thing that one of my favorite attendees shared what I’ve come to recognize as a theme. The entire notion described in the story, putting the group before the self, is really just another way of describing self-transcendence: getting out of your own head to help another. Every time we do this, without fail, we are bettering ourselves as human beings.
And you most certainly don’t have to be an alcoholic to reap these benefits!
Although chilly, the sun is so bright in my part of the world that I just get the sense that Spring is around the corner. The lightness that brings to my day, in typically dreary February… well, that has to count for some kind of miracle!
Another Monday, another round of craziness. I’m not even going to detail it this time, I’m sick of hearing myself talk about schedules-gone-haywire. I suppose serenity will come when my schedule gets comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Interestingly, this is a lesson I learned from one of the wise regulars in my meeting this morning. We were back to a group of the usual 12 attendees, and we read the chapter “Changing Old Routines” in the book Living Sober. The chapter gives a plethora of ways in which the newly sober can tweak their daily schedule to maximize their chances of staying sober.
As someone who struggled with staying sober for a solid nine months before I actually got sober, I can attest to each and every one of the ideas in the chapter. Here are some of the best ideas:
- Get up earlier or later
- Do the opposite of what you normally do in terms of eating breakfast before or after you get dressed for the day
- Take a different route to work
- Avoid drinking buddies, at least temporarily
- Avoid drinking haunts, such as restaurants and bars, at least temporarily
- Change routine when you come home from work… come in a different door, immediately fix yourself a non-alcoholic treat, take a relaxing bath, lay down for a nap
- Change up evening activities, to the extent of changing which room of the house you occupy
- Start an exercise program
- Keep sweet treats on hand
- Change up vacations that used to center around drinking in favor of something new to you
These are just some of the great ideas shared in the chapter. I will say, as I do each time I write about the book Living Sober... if you are new to sobriety, buy yourself a copy of this book. It is chock full of practical wisdom for surviving the early days!
Back to the gentleman to whom I referred to earlier, he said the biggest change he made in his routine was attending a meeting each day (in early sobriety). Having already been convinced of his need for recovery, he chose to attend meetings every day as a way of cementing his decision. The biggest hurdle he had to overcome was the notion of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. His only tool for dealing with discomfort had been drinking, so now the challenge was to simply feel the feelings until they passed. Thirty six years later, and he feel quite comfortable being uncomfortable!
A friend of mine shared that in early sobriety she used many of the techniques listed above to cope with giving up the routine of drinking. Now that she is more comfortable with sobriety, she finds she needs tools like these to change her routines in terms of emotional upset. Prior to recovery, her tools involved:
b. stuffing down, which ultimately led to
Since she no longer has access to option c, she needs to change the routine of using a. and b. to deal with difficult situations. Things like giving herself permission to feel feelings (I’m beginning to sense a pattern with us!), setting boundaries to take time for self-care, and letting go of expectations all help her in the same way the tools above helped with putting down the drink.
Several people talked of specific strategies they used early on: taking up jogging, finding a new set of people to replace drinking buddies, creating accountability by acknowledging the need for help.
In other words, rather than simply giving up the habit of drinking and all it entails, replacing it with people, places and things to ease the transition to sobriety.
Finally, a woman shared something that served as my personal take-away for the morning. She has been sober for some time, but this chapter still spoke to her. She believes that while she is no longer a product of her alcoholism, she is a product of her choices. In other words, while she no longer struggles with the desire to pick up a drink, she still struggles, from time to time, to live life on life’s terms. When she is feeling out of sorts for reasons such as an erratic schedule, or an inability to get to her regular meetings, she can play the victim, or she can use the tools she’s been given to make a healthier choice. She woke up in just such a mood, and wanted nothing more than to wallow in it. Instead, she made the choice to attend a meeting.
I let her know that I benefitted greatly from her choice!
Recognizing that I too have a choice!
Up until about 30 minutes before the start of my meeting, I assumed a snow day was in effect. Having just weathered a blizzard 48 hours ago, I concluded there was no way the parking lot of the building had been plowed, and I started to craft an alternate post in my head.
Which, I need to write this down now so I commit myself: I will get back to writing that post. I swore I’d pen more posts this year, and I’m slow to fulfilling this promise. Yet since my WOTY is calm, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.
Here is some pictorial evidence of our the blizzard, as documented by my daughter and featuring our dog Dimple:
When I received the text that the parking lot had been plowed, I have to admit to a pang of disappointment… now I had to get out of my pajamas! Why I would ever begrudge attending something that always makes me feel better than when I started I do not understand, but there you have it.
Today was the first entrance of the new book I have introduced into the literature rotation. It is Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The book is a collection of articles from the AA magazine Grapevine that document how members use the principles of the 12 steps to improve all the different relationships in their lives. There is a chapter on pets that has me question the sanity of the publishers, but I’m keeping an open mind.
Fully anticipating sitting solo, I did not plan one iota, and was pleasantly surprised to see 9 hardy souls make their way out in this weather! Luckily, one of my favorite “regulars” has a passing acquaintance with this book and suggested a reading from the chapter on Sponsorship.
I am always happy when someone else voices an opinion on meeting subject matter, but I had a bit of apprehension on this particular subject. While everything about the 12-step program is a suggestion, and of course there are as many ways to get sober as there are sober members, conventional wisdom strongly suggests availing yourself of a sponsor as soon as possible, and maintaining that relationship throughout your recovery.
It now occurs to me that perhaps readers may not understand what I even mean by the term sponsor. From the AA pamphlet Questions and Answers on Sponsorship:
An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through A.A.
Here’s how the process of obtaining a sponsor was explained to me:
- go to meetings, listen to people
- when you hear a woman speak (sponsor/sponsee should be same sex) who seems to “have what you want,” ask her if she would be willing to take you through the 12 steps of recovery
- follow her suggestions
A little vague, I know… it was for me too! I had transitioned through a few sponsors before I found the relationship that would work in getting me through the labor of the 12 steps. That experience, documented fully in earlier blog posts, was nothing short of transformational.
Here’s where I get apprehensive: in the years since, I have, no better way to say it, fallen off the suggested path of the traditional sponsor/sponsee relationship. It has been many months since my sponsor of record and I have communicated, and even before that, our communication was more on the social side and less on the business side of recovery. A few months back I reached out to another woman, but our schedules just did not gel, and I’ve done nothing about it since.
As far at the other side of the coin, my sponsoring another, the anxiety grows: I had two attempts at sponsoring other women, and if you judge success by actually working through the 12 steps, then each attempt was not successful. Both of these experiences are at least two years old, and there has been no further attempts by me since.
Therefore, the thought of having to comment productively on the subject of sponsorship had me flummoxed. I shared very little, and opened it up to the group.
Turns out, they had quite a bit to say, thankfully. The gentleman who selected the reading believed it to be an apt description of a sponsor: one drunk helping another drunk to stay sober by showing him/her how he/she did it. A sponsor is not your friend or parent; he or she is not there to hold your hand or make you feel better. A sponsor is going to show you how the same failed logic that had you drinking problematically is present in many other areas of your life. It’s often not an enjoyable process, but it’s possibly the most rewarding experience within the 12 steps of recovery.
A second “long-timer” echoed these sentiments, and recalled fond stories of how sponsorship was done “in the old days” (for him, the 1980’s): calling sponsees “pigeons,” setting up rules and tests for the sponsee to pass before he was eligible to sponsor others, speaking in shockingly appalling manners to get their points across.
I’m not thinking I would have done so well getting sober in the 80’s.
A woman new to my meeting raised her hand and said she did not like this topic, and did not want to talk about sponsors. She compares her sponsor/sponsee relationship to those around her, and finds hers coming up short. She spoke for a bit about the different ways she believe it to be true, growing agitated as she compiled her list of grievances. As she wound down, she mentioned she had a habit of placing expectations on relationships, and speculated that perhaps this tendency was contributing to her problem. Finally, she concluded that she might try a little harder to open up more to her sponsor, and in that self-disclosure she will develop the kind of relationship she thinks she ought to have.
Listening to this woman speak, I was reminded yet again of the value in shining a light on the dark thoughts in our heads. In one share she identified, defined and solved a problem, all by opening her mouth. Miraculous.
Finally, a woman shared who is normally reticent. I think I wrote about her recently, for regular readers… she is the one who lost a friend and opened up for the first time at that meeting. I wish I could do justice to the power of her speech. It is so painfully clear how difficult this kind of sharing is to her that there is a magnetic quality to her words. At least that is my experience each of the few times she’s spoken. The part of her share that hit me right between the eyes:
A sponsor is only as helpful as the sponsee is honest
That statement brought back some painful memories. The summer before I got sober I availed myself of a sponsor, went to meetings with her, went to her house, socialized… all while continuously relapsing and refraining from telling her. Thankfully, she stuck with me through it all, and was around in my darkest hours of early recovery.
So I can attest to the truth of the statement above, and its more universal application:
a relationship is only as healthy as the people in it are honest
The last thing she mentioned… she has a skeptical nature, and early on she told her sponsor she felt like she was being brainwashed.
Her sponsor’s response: that’s right, you are, because your brain needs a good washing!
I had a regular attendee call to tell me his driveway was blocked by 3 1/2 feet of snow, and therefore he could not attend the meeting (he is an older gentleman and could not climb it safely). I told him no problem, and he said, “It is a problem, I have not missed your meeting since I got sober, and I’m distressed I have to miss it today.” Heartwarming, and a little guilt-producing, since I was hoping for a snow day!
The first week since I re-committed to blogging about my meeting, and I’m late. My apologies for the delay!
The literature came from the book Living Sober; the chapter, “Remembering Your Last Drunk.” An unusual turn of phrase, the title of the chapter refers to our predilection for calling to mind only the happy times. Sometimes this tendency is a good thing; few people would continue to procreate if they recalled the pain of childbirth. But in recovery from addiction, it is imperative that we remember the suffering that compelled us to choose sobriety in the first place.
Here’s the setup: you’ve decided you’ve had enough, you quit drinking. The process can be easy or hard, it’s not relevant. Time goes by, life improves: you feel better, you look better, your relationships are better, you’re more focused, organized, productive. Life is superb!
Then, the nudge to drink comes. It can come from a good place, such as a holiday celebration, personal victory, anniversary or birthday. It can come from a not-so-good place, such as stress, tragedy, disappointment. Either way, the glass of wine/bottle of beer/shot of whiskey seems like the perfect accompaniment/solution to your life situation.
It is that moment to which this chapter refers. Time and again, the mind will jump to the positives: how delicious the drink will taste, how much fun it will be to kick back with friends/by yourself and enjoy the feeling that alcohol provides, how many good times there has been in past moments such as these.
When these thoughts occur, and they will occur, I’ve yet to meet someone in recovery who has not had similar thoughts, the challenge is to play the tape through. Don’t stop at the early moments of your drinking career, but continue on to the bitter end. Because chances are, if you are even considering sobriety, the end of your drinking career paints a different picture than the beginning.
When this happens in my life, it is usually the celebratory times, and it is a glass of Chardonnay that catches my attention. The glass is beautiful, the color of the liquid in the glass is appealing, and I imagine how cool and refreshing the wine will taste.
Then I remember the following:
I have never once, in my entire drinking history, wanted simply one glass of wine. Even when I only drank one glass, I resented having to stop and wanted more.
So if I want more than one glass, already the picture in my head is changed: I’m drinking multiple glasses of wine. And then what? The story writes itself at that point… melodramatic behavior, hypersensitivity that leads to pointless arguments and huge scenes that need to be apologized for later, or, worse still, a blank spot where a memory should be.
In playing the tape through, the decision becomes almost elementary: I’ll take the non-alcoholic beverage, please, and I’ll thank myself in the morning!
The 12 or so attendees shared a bit about their memories of their last drunk. Some were memorable… one gentleman was simply going to take a sip of his friends’ beer, and by the last call ordered two drinks called “lady sings the blues,” with 4 shots in each drink, just to make sure he had enough! Just as many more, though, had lonely, miserable last hurrahs, where the joy was long gone, and drinking had just become a bad habit. Either way, the memory of the bad feelings associated with the overconsumption is powerful enough to remind them never to go back to that lifestyle again.
We had some great anniversaries yesterday: one gentleman celebrated 39 years, another celebrated 37 years and a third celebrated 60 days. There’s an extra energy present when someone celebrates an anniversary; you can imagine how amazing it was to celebrate three times!
The reading touched a nerve for two different attendees, as both had harrowing experiences with what they called their “built-in forgetters.” The first woman to share had 4 years of sobriety, decided she was cured, and then spent the next 4 years trying to find her way back to recovery.
The gentleman who shared a similar story had even more sober time, and he reported that the worst thing that happened to him when he picked up that first drink was… nothing. He had one drink, remained relatively unaffected, and it was weeks before he picked up a second. That was all the evidence he needed to convince himself he could drink again, and it took him close to a year before the drinking became problematic. And it was years before he was able to reclaim his seat in a 12-step meeting.
Both are profoundly grateful to be back; many don’t get the opportunity.
The reading was chosen by one of the attendees, rather than by me. This is relevant because, while I did not choose it, it had significance for me yesterday morning. The night prior, I had a drunk dream, something that occurs very rarely these days. This post is already going long, so I’ll try to write more about it later in the week, but for me the message is clear:
Today’s miracle falls under the “fingers crossed” category: on a night where at least 4 different events are occurring, things are tentatively managed to get kids where they need to be, when they need to be there. Anyone with teenage children will appreciate this miracle!