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M(3), 10/10/16: Out With the Old, In With the New

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A special day indeed… the four year anniversary of my Monday meeting!

Lots of people (22, which I insist is a record high but others insist we’ve had more), a lot of great food, and, as always, tons of great wisdom and camaraderie.  Two “soberversaries” (16 years, 3 years) added to the jubilation.

Today’s reading selection was the chapter “Letting Go of Old Ideas” from the book Living Sober.  Reading it reminded me of how I came to start this meeting…

I was about 6 months sober when a new AA clubhouse opened up about 5 driving minutes from my house.  A daily meeting attendee at the time, I was thrilled.  One meeting in particular was perfect for my schedule, and so I started attending faithfully.

The woman who ran the meeting told me the clubhouse needed a lot of support in order for it to remain open, and suggested I start a meeting of my own.

Are you kidding? I am only 6 months sober; in no way am I qualified to start a meeting.  Who’d even think of coming to any meeting I ran?”

She said I’m more qualified than people with years of sobriety, and that people would come, I just had to show up.

I remember very clearly my thoughts on her ideas:

crazy-sketch

For two months, she continued to badger me about this, and had others get on me too.  In the end, they wrangled me into doing it using my inbred Irish Catholic guilt… the club house needs loyal people!

The underlying fear, the absolute disbelief that I was capable, was a theme in my life.  That black and white thinking was pervasive, and allowed for no other possibilities; either I believed I could do something, and therefore I would, or there was no chance in hell I believed I could do something, and nothing anyone said or did would convince me otherwise.

Four years later, I get to tell that story to a roomful of people and laugh ruefully at my closed mindedness.

As it relates to sobriety… well, you can imagine some of the unmitigated thoughts I had.  I remember saying to someone, “Wait, are you saying I can never have a sip of alcohol again?”  And my mind rejected that thought as if the suggestion was I couldn’t drink water again.

Or when I first started attending meetings and people would identify as grateful recovering alcoholics, and I assumed there were either pathological liars, or just pathological.

Or when someone would share they’ve been faithfully attending meetings for decades, and I’d feel sorry for them, thinking they must have nothing and no one in their lives and therefore just spent all day in the rooms of a 12-step meeting.

Yes, I would say there were one or two old ideas of which I was wise to let go.

Nowadays, I am working on letting go of more elusive ideas pertaining to myself, limiting beliefs that I’ve held for so long they feel like they’re almost part of the fabric that is me.  I’m a work in progress, but I’m grateful for every bit of that work, as it means I’m heading in the right direction.

Others shared about their “old ideas.”  Most were slow to recovery because they rejected the label of alcoholic.  As one person shared, “My father was in recovery for 30 years, and all I could think was, ‘I don’t want to be an alcoholic and have to go to meetings all the time.’  Meanwhile, I was chained to my living room sofa polishing off bottles of wine each night.  By the time I went to rehab I finally considered that maybe my thinking was backwards!”

Others stayed in denial because they did not fit the image of an alcoholic.  They still had their job, their home, their spouse.  Surely they were not an alcoholic if were able to hold on to all these things!

As the chapter says:

It is not a question of how much or how you drink, or when, or why, but of how your drinking affects your life—what happens when you drink.  Living Sober, pg. 72

Some resisted sobriety due to old fears of what sober life would look like… humorless, lackluster, tedious.  Life without alcohol = life without fun.  Again, the choice in most of our cases was to continue on a path of known chaos and misery seemed better than the uncertainty of a life without alcohol.

One gentleman said his sponsor put it bluntly,  “Just try it our way for 90 days.  We can always give you back your misery if it doesn’t work out!”

Meetings that remind me of how far I’ve come in my thinking, my actions and my very way of life are the best kind, as they bring to mind how grateful I am for the life I live, and validate why sobriety is a priority!

Today’s Miracle:

Four years, and people are still coming back… I’ll take it 🙂

M(3), 9/5/16: To the Family Afterward

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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:

  • patience
  • balance

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!

Today’s Miracle:

Family love and support are perennial miracles

 

 

 

M(3), 9/14/15: Staying Away From The First Drink

Happy Monday to all!

We finally, after what feels like ages, had a decent sized crowd this morning, a sure indication that fall is here.  Not entirely sure why the summer brings smaller meeting attendance, but 3 summers into running this meeting, and the fact remains the same.

The stunningly perfect fall day in my neck of the woods could have gotten people out of their houses as well.

In any event, big crowd, and my favorite book in the literature rotation, Living Sober.  And the icing on the cake:  two newcomers, one of whom had never heard of the book before!

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, Living Sober is the only book in the 12-step literature selection that made even the tiniest bit of sense to me in early sobriety.  It is like a manual on how to get and stay sober.  It is easy to read, and chock full of practical, relevant advice if you are just starting on your road to recovery.

Come to think of it, it’s relevant even if you’re further along that recovery road!

Today we read the chapter entitled “Staying Away From The First Drink.”  It goes on to describe the benefits of focusing on not picking up the first drink when trying to get sober.

Most people, myself included, read this advice and thought, “Well, duh!”  It sounds oversimple, almost a waste of paper and ink writing a chapter on something so obvious.

But for those of us who have tried and failed to stop drinking, we need to think harder about this advice before we toss it aside.  How many times have we gone into an evening promising ourselves that we’d just have one, and then wound up drinking more than we could even remember?  Or swearing we would go an evening/weekend/month without alcohol, just to prove to ourselves that we could, and wind up giving in at the first possible opportunity?

In giving up on sobriety, the process is usually the same:  I’ll drink, but I’ll do so moderately.  I’ll set a limit, I’ll drink water in between drinks, I’ll drink as slow as my moderately drinking friend X, I’ll only drink beer.  This list could go on for quite a bit.

Sometimes these strategies work, which proves to us even more conclusively that we weren’t that bad.  Look… I went out for the evening and only drank 2 glasses of wine… what problem drinker can say that?

The person in denial of problem drinking will keep that 2-glasses-of-wine-night in his or her back pocket for a long, long time.  It will be pulled out as evidence any time the threat of being called an alcoholic is near.

The chapter goes on to describe how much simpler it is to stay away from the first drink.  Rather than obsess over counting how many, how drunk, how fast you’re imbibing, how much alcohol before you’ve crossed the line, keep your focus much narrower, and simply avoid the first drink.  In so doing, you take off the table any concerns about every one of those other issues.

I remember thinking this was the most annoyingly obvious piece of advice that did me no good, and I remember when I decided it was the most ingenious bit of wisdom that anyone ever conceived.  Often, the simplest things are the most inspired.

This advice took on new meaning for me in later stages of recovery.  If you attend enough meetings you will surely hear a long-timer sagely intone, “You are either moving towards a drink or away from one.”  It drives me crazy when I hear it, and sets my monkey mind into overdrive:  oh no!  I might be heading towards a drink right now!  I might have been heading towards one for hours/days/weeks/months!  Maybe I will relapse, and look back and realize the relapse started right this very second!!!

If you wonder if I’m exaggerating for effect… I am not.  If anything, I’m understating.

The advice “just stay away from the first drink” is the antidote to this mental madness.  If I do nothing else right, and everything else wrong, as long as I stay away from that first drink, I am sober.

Whew!

Today’s Miracle:

In honor of National Recovery month, I wrote a few lines for the website addiction.com.  Check it out!

M(3), 6/1/15: DENIAL (Don’t Even Know I Am Lying)

Another Monday, another Monday morning meeting.  The magic number of 12 attendees today made it a lively group with lots of discussion, which is miraculous given the dreary weather conditions in my corner of the universe.  As it is the first Monday of the month, we read a personal story from the “Big Book” (Alcoholics Anonymous) entitled “Student of Life.”

Quick sidebar, one I’m sure I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the other fact a new one.  The author of this story, Jane D., is local to my area, and several in my meeting this morning have had the pleasure of meeting her.  The story is extra-special to us for that reason.  Second fact, given to me this morning by an attendee who knows her:  Jane wanted to title the story S.O.L., for the regular reason people use that acronym (shit out of luck), but of course was denied that title.  She settled on Student of Life, figuring it had the same letters!

The focus of our discussion following the story was denial, as the author stays stuck in addiction for a good number of years because she focused on all the things that “never” happened to her:  she never lost a job, a spouse or any material possessions as a result of her drinking, so she concluded that she must not have a problem with alcohol.

Most of us in the room, more than likely anyone at all who has chosen recovery, can relate to the notion of comparing ourselves to people “worse off” than us, then feeling better about our own choices.  The very first meeting I ever attended (years before I got sober) scared the absolute crap out of me.  It wasn’t that I felt superior or judgmental, just that I did not belong there.  As time went on and my list of “I Never’s” became shorter (coincidentally, as that list was dwindling, my list of reasons that included me in a 12-step meeting was growing longer), I would stubbornly cling to the reasons I didn’t belong:  “See how bad off that person is, I’m not that bad!  How am I supposed to learn anything from someone who is so much worse off than I am?”

Cautionary tale was not a concept of which I could grab hold back then.  Not surprisingly, hanging on to this mindset had me on the relapse merry-go-round for quite some time.  Fortunately, the gift of desperation had me at the spot I needed to be to recover:  focusing only on what I needed to do, one day at a time, to stay sober.

The first gentleman to share described how denial of his disease slowly but surely stole interest in any activity outside of drinking.  Once a high school wrestling champion, he found that once he started drinking he lost the desire to continue with the sport, due to its interference with his new hobby.  Although he tried many different treatment centers and programs, he finds the support and true understanding in our 12-step fellowship to be the only “medicine” that works for him.

Another person related to the author’s relationship with alcohol.  He recalls, just as the author had, how that first drink had a transformative effect on his personality:  all his anxieties went away practically from the first sip of a drink.  He also related to the author’s description of someone’s addiction “bottom.”  In the story, the author worries that she had not yet hit her bottom, because she had not lost anything significant in her life.  A recovering alcoholic told her:  “You reach your bottom when you stop digging.”   My friend relates to this:  he had not lost a whole lot either, but he simply made the decision to put down the shovel, and in the almost 30 years since, has never felt the need to pick it back up.

Another regular at the meeting said his denial was so deep that he drank for almost a whole year after identifying himself as an alcoholic.  Why?  Because he figured that’s what alcoholics do, they drink… so he drank some more!  Only after he experienced the magic of one alcoholic talking to him in a way that he understood was he able to choose sobriety, and he is another who has not regretted this decision for more than a quarter of a century!

Another friend focused on the magic of service, she believes getting out of your own head and into helping another to be the most important part of the 12-step program.  In the early days she was taught to do whatever could help the meetings she attended:  make coffee, greet newcomers, put out the books for people to read.  Nowadays, having been through the steps more times than she can count, service in the form of helping the newcomer is what keeps her sober and at peace.

Here’s hoping all of you reading are at peace, and enjoying your Monday!

Today’s Miracle:

After a week and weekend of on-the-go activity, a day of (relative) peace and low activity is a miracle I am consciously enjoying!

M(3), 5/25/15… Even Though It’s Almost 5/27!

Better late than never!

Crazy few days in my corner of the world, with still a teensy bit more to go, but I wanted to recap yesterday’s meeting, for the sake of continuity, if nothing else.

Yesterday, as the fourth Monday of the month, we read from the book As Bill Sees It, the topical compilation of AA literature.  I selected the topic freedom, in honor of our American holiday Memorial Day.

I will be honest and say that the topic in and of itself did not fill me with excitement, but the readings were interesting and the conversation lively.  I was also impressed to have an attendance of 10, which is pretty good for a holiday.

Of course, the first point that hits home with anyone in recovery when the topic of freedom arises:  the freedom experienced when released from the obsession and compulsion to drink or use drugs.  After I selected the topic but before we started reading, my eyes fell upon the travel coffee mug I bring with me to the meeting.  It is the type you get through a website like Snapfish, a mug personalized with a photograph.  Mine has a beautiful photo taken of my family when we went on our one and only trip to Disney World, almost five years ago.  I suppose because the topic of freedom was already on my mind, I thought back to that trip through that perspective.  I looked at my own face in the picture, and I could remember, vividly, my mindset at the time. While I was generally able to control myself in situations like a family vacation, my mind would anticipate the time when I did not have to control myself.  I remembered all too well anticipating the end of that vacation, where I could then end my control.

Who does that… in The Happiest Place on Earth no less?

Here’s the good news, and what I shared at Monday’s meeting:  those days are a thing of the past.  The past 4 days of my life have been dedicated to celebrating my daughter’s 15th birthday, which happens to be today.  Friday we brainstormed a list of all her favorite food (an extensive and varied list, she will bankrupt her future boyfriends with her culinary taste).  Saturday through Monday I baked/cooked/prepared every single item on the list (technically one item we ate at a restaurant, but still).  We had her closest friends over for dinner, took them to a movie, then had them back for a sleepover.  Sunday we went shopping for clothes and makeup.  Monday she went out for a practice drive in anticipation of next year’s being able to apply for a driver’s license (all my husband, no way am I rushing that life event), and Monday night we had the family over to eat pie (no store-bought cake for this one!) and ice cream, and sing happy birthday.  One more mini-event tonight with her basketball team, and I will go to sleep tonight feeling good that I celebrated my daughter’s birthday right.

Comparing that trip to Disney to this past birthday weekend… that’s freedom to me.

Even better insights came out of the meeting:

  • One gentleman shared his thoughts about freedom versus responsibility.  Some people think freedom = I can do what I want.  For us alcoholics, that thinking did not equate to much freedom at all, quite the opposite.  But thinking of doing “what I ought” instead “what I want,” ultimately provides us the greatest freedom that exists, the freedom that is peace of mind.
  • Another friend at the meeting talked about the idea of dependence upon a Higher Power giving independence, and she felt that to be very true for her.  For years, she admitted, she relied far too heavily upon her family for many of her needs, not the least of those being sobriety.  Now, in relying upon a power greater than herself, she finds she does not have to rely upon her family to remain sober, she can manage her recovery with without them.
  • In a discussion of the never-ending chatter of our minds, and that chatter hindering our ability to make calm and clear decisions, one “long-timer” share an acronym I heard for the first time on Monday:

EGO:  Edging God Out

I love it!  The more I go round and round in my head about a decision, the more I think and out-think and over think, the less I’m turning it over to God, and the more I’m turning it over to my ego.  I’m keeping that one in my back pocket for the next time my monkey mind starts up!

There was, I’m sure, tons more great stuff, but the problem is the longer I wait to post, the less I can retain, so I’ll end here. Hope all my American friends had wonderful, sober 3 day weekend!

Today’s Miracle:

The awareness of how much better, richer, and more fulfilling a sober life is.  So grateful to celebrate such a special day, so grateful that I will remember it tomorrow!

10 Rebuttals to 12-Step Naysayers

 

So here we are, mid-January.  For those of us who made resolutions, this is right about the time the wheels fall off the wagon.  If your resolution was to stop drinking,  and you have made it this far, you are surely having some of the following thoughts:

“Well, I made it two weeks, so I’m sure it will be okay to just have one now and again.”

“I made it two weeks, so clearly I am not an alcoholic.”

“I made it two weeks, and there is no way in hell I’m doing this for the rest of my life!”

If you are going it alone, the journey can be quite a bit tougher than for those who choose a fellowship of some sort.  If you have read my blog for any period of time, you know that I am a regular participant in a 12-step program, and that is has helped me tremendously, not only in helping me to get and stay sober, but also in improving most areas of my life.  However, I am aware of many who are against meeting attendance, and the reasons are varied.  Today I am going to tackle some of the most common ones I’ve heard or read, and give my perspective on each:

 

1.  I cannot attend meetings because I don’t believe in God

At no point in the 12-step program is a belief in God a requirement.  However, in the long-term, if you wish to work the steps of the 12-step program, a belief in a power greater than yourself is required.  For many people, that power is the power of the Fellowship, but there are endless variations on what people choose to call their Higher Power.

Having said all of that, the idea in the beginning is to get connected with a group of people who are trying, or have gotten, sober.  There are no requirements at all for this, except for you to find a meeting, drive to it, sit down and listen.

2.  I won’t participate in a group whose doctrine forces me to admit powerlessness

I can relate to this one somewhat, it was hard for me to understand the concept of being powerless over alcohol.  I would argue, “Alcohol is an inanimate object, how I can I be powerless over an inanimate object?”  Powerlessness was then explained to me like this, which better resonated with me:  powerless over the effect alcohol has on me once I take that first drink.

The bottom line for me with this debate, and, frankly, quite a few of the others, is that arguing over semantics is a waste of time.  If I’ve considered the idea of attending a recovery meeting at all, then I am clearly dissatisfied, on some level, with my relationship with alcohol.  Until I’ve given it a real shot, I won’t really know if it can work for me.  I only know that what I have done so far to address the problem is not working.

3.  I experience too much anxiety to sit in a room full of strangers

Anxiety is a real issue; I’ve experienced my fair share of it (large crowds, not meetings, but I get it).  Of course, if you worry about experiencing anxiety in a meeting, surely you’ve experienced it elsewhere.  How have you dealt with it then?  Can you apply those same solutions here?  Can you sit in the very back of the room?  Can you negotiate with yourself that you will walk in and try it for 5 minutes?  There are probably loads more solutions to explore, but the idea is that you acknowledge what’s holding you back, and attempt to find a solution.

4.  I do want to stop drinking, but I don’t really think I’m like those people, so there’s nothing for me to gain by attending

Well, obviously I don’t know you, so I don’t know how our addiction stories compare.  But let’s leave the addiction story out of it for a minute.  I am a middle-aged, stay-at-home mom of 2 reasonably well-adjusted children.  I am 15 years married to my husband, and I am also a member of a large, close-knit, Irish Catholic family.  I hold a Master’s degree, and I have the same circle of friends that I did in college.  I run a weekly 12-step meeting, whose regular attendees include men and women, some retired, some white-collar, some blue-collar, some stay-at-home like myself.  There is a priest, there is a professor of english, there is a music instructor, there is a yoga instructor, there is an auto mechanic.  Some are married, some are divorced, some are widowed, and some are gay.  I would know none of them if I were not a 12-step meeting attendee, but I count each of them among my friends.  The group I just described is a small one; others that I attend with 50 or more people have still more occupations, and cultural backgrounds, and personalities.  Still think there is no one like you in a recovery meeting?

5.  AA is a cult

This one is tough for me to refute, as someone who believes this also believes that I’ve already “drunk the Kool-Aid.”  I will debate using Google’s definition:

cult
  1. a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
  2. a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister

So, by definition, AA (or any 12-step program) is not religious, there is certainly no leader (or any governing body whatsoever), it is by no means a small group, and I can’t think of one practice that would be considered strange or sinister.  Pretty much everything you hear, every piece of instruction or advice you receive at a 12-step meeting, is a suggestion.

6.  12-step people think EVERYBODY is an alcoholic; I don’t want to turn into that kind of extremist

In the spirit of honesty, I will acknowledge that sure, I have run into some right-leaning personality types within the Fellowship (or would it be left-leaning?  I’m not sure, but you get the idea).  But for every one extremist, I have found literally a dozen or more quality, salt-of-the-earth people who are just looking to stay sober and increase the peace and serenity in their lives.  When I do run into that stray extremist, I simply walk away, or I attend a different meeting.  The absolute beauty of the 12-step Fellowship is the quantity and variety of meetings available.  There are gay meetings, there are atheist meetings, there are young people’s meetings, there are women’s meeting, men’s meetings, and probably a bunch more that I’m not seen myself.

7.  I don’t think I’m bad enough to qualify

This again goes back to the comparison of each other’s drinking stories.  I had very similar thoughts after I attended my first meeting.  The people there were talking about these crazy extreme things that happened to them as a result of their alcoholism, and nothing even close to that had happened to me.  Then, as my disease progressed, I came back, and now I had the same issue in reverse:  these people don’t understand me, they don’t have the specific issues I’m having, so these meetings can’t possibly help me.

Both trains of thought kept me in active addiction.  Here’s the bottom line:  deep down, are you concerned/uncomfortable/fearful of your relationship with alcohol, and do you desire that relationship to end?  Then you possess the sole requirement of attending a 12-step meeting.  The specifics of the individual stories are irrelevant, how we feel about alcohol is the only thing that matters.

8.  I don’t want people telling me what to do, telling me how I’m wrong, insisting I change my life around

Again, to keep things real here, there are certainly going to be individuals who, though well-intentioned, come off with a dictator-like attitude.  I remember my very first week, maybe my 4th meeting, this woman giving me a laundry list of things I “needed to do.”  I could barely get myself to the meeting, and now here’s this stranger giving me an impossible to-do list 4 days into recovery!  She meant well, as probably most do, but I was in no way ready for the things she was throwing at me.  I have since learned the phrase, “take what you want, and leave the rest” really applies.  If the idea of sponsorship scares you, again, we are only talking about giving recovery meetings a shot, and seeking out some group support.  Things like sponsors, and practicing the steps, all come at your own pace.

9.  I am an introvert, and I am terrified that people will hound me the second I’m in the door

I see introverts all the time, and I recognize them, because I was one in the early days.  I would say the majority of newcomers are shy; after all, the idea of sitting down with a group of strangers and admitting something that feels shameful would make almost anyone feel a bit nervous!  The truth is that every one of us has been there, in the seat of the newcomer, and every one of us empathizes.  You will in all likelihood have people come up to you and say hello, but if you make it clear (either verbally or non-verbally) that you wish to keep to yourself, it is my experience that the group will leave you alone to sit, listen and absorb.  If you choose to reach out and ask questions, more power to you, but if you want to simply observe, you are welcome to do so.

10.  But then I’ll have to stop drinking… forever

This may sound like a ridiculous statement for someone considering a 12-step meeting, but for those of us who struggled with the idea of “forever,” it makes perfect sense.  Attending meetings only means you are exploring the idea of sobriety.  There are no Breathalyzers, no contracts to sign, and you can change your mind about sobriety anytime you want (and we will cheerfully refund your misery is how that AA-ism ends!).  Technically speaking, you can be drinking and still attend meetings; as I mentioned earlier, “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” so there’s nothing stopping you from leaving the meeting and hitting the closest bar (though I surely hope no one decides to do that if you’re attempting to get sober!).

 

What arguments have I missed?  What are the other stumbling blocks to checking out the group support of a recovery meeting?

 

Today’s Miracle:

Writing posts like this one, and reminding myself of where I’ve been mentally, and the progress I’ve made, is a miracle that I hope all who are struggling get to experience for themselves!

 

 

M(3), 12/29: Acceptance Does Not Mean Approval

Happy holidays to all!  Although I’m still in the active throes of holiday madness, and will be dashing off to another celebration momentarily, I wanted to write about all the wonderful insights gleaned from this morning’s meeting.

It was a larger crowd than I expected, and we had two brand-new to the meeting, one from out-of-state and six months of sobriety under his belt, and one just looking to try a new meeting, with several decades of sobriety under his belt.  Plus we had two people who used to be regulars show up because of the holiday schedule, and we once again had a pretty full house.  Meeting newcomers and reconnecting with old friends alone would have made this morning meaningful, but, as always, the shared experiences of the group give me so much more than I ever bargain for.

Today’s reading came from an older issue of Grapevine:  AA’s Meeting In Print, and the central topic of the article was the benefits of practicing acceptance in your life.  I shared that it is only in recovery that I even grasped acceptance as something desirable.  Pre-recovery, I was Billy Joel’s proverbial Angry Young Man, and I truly believed that my righteous anger was an admirable quality.  Slowly, with the help of the 12-step principles and lots of advice from friends in my 12-step program, I learned that my anger at slights, perceived or real, my indignation when things didn’t go the way I believed things should go, was doing nothing more than causing me needless discomfort.  Practicing acceptance with things out of my control is the equivalent to putting down a boulder I’d been carrying for most of my life.

The next several people who shared talked about the idea that accepting a situation does not mean you approve of it, only that you acknowledge it is not in your power to correct.  When someone is behaving badly, you can accept that behavior without condoning it.  I had referenced a situation I experienced lately that spoke directly to this issue… I felt that acceptance could be interpreted as approval, and I was genuinely unsure of the next right steps.  The advice I received made me want to smack myself upside the head:  pray the serenity prayer, because there are two more important points after accepting that which you cannot change, there is also courage to change what you can, and, perhaps most important, wisdom to know the difference.  It seems I forgot to use some pretty basic tools!

A woman, and regular attendee of the meeting, shared that after a long painful battle, her dog and faithful companion of more than 13 years, lost his battle with his illness yesterday.  Although she knew his time was coming, she is still struggling with the loss, and she shared about the steps she was taking to compensate for it.  She’s staying at her daughter’s house, she is reaching out to friends in out 12-step program, she is increasing her meeting attendance, and she’s sharing about what she’s feeling.  She reminds herself regularly that drinking will not make the loss any less painful, but it will throw away 3 hard-fought years of sobriety.

From there one of the newcomers, the one with decades of sobriety, shared, and his story actually took my breath away.  He talked about acceptance in terms of loss, because he experienced a very painful one.  Ninety days prior, his 40-year old daughter committed suicide.  The daughter, and his granddaughter, lived with him, and he said the change this loss has brought to his life is overwhelming.  Rather than driving a wedge between him and his Higher Power, he reports that he has experienced miraculous things in the past 90 days, things which convince him that his prayers are being heard.

The out-of-towner with only 6 months talked about practicing acceptance in terms of having the disease of alcoholism, that once he accepted that he had this disease, the solution for dealing with it became so much simpler, and his understanding of why he drank became clearer.

Finally, a gentleman shared his analogy of acceptance, and figuring out what he can change and what he can’t.  The weather, he explains is out of his control.  However, his reaction to the weather, is completely within his control:  he can carry an umbrella, wear a coat when it’s cold, where short sleeves when it’s warm.  In a similar manner, while he cannot control that he has the disease of alcoholism, he can control how he deals with it:  he can attend meetings, avoid people, places and things that trigger him to drink, and he can cultivate a relationship with a Higher Power.  Putting the focus on the things he can control makes the practice of acceptance much easier for him.

And since I cannot control the start time of the next celebration, or how long it takes to drive there, I will control what is in my power, and end this post!

Today’s Miracle:

The privilege of hearing the powerful stories shared at today’s meeting is a miracle I will be carrying with me for some time.

M(3), 12/15: The Beginning of the End

Today’s reading in the literature rotation for my Monday morning meeting was the first half of step 12 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  Step 12, the final piece of the 12-step program’s puzzle, is:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the results of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

Of all the steps, twelve is the longest in terms of reading, mainly because it has three “sub-points” that lie within it:

1.  Defining a spiritual awakening, and describing what it looks like

2.  Discussing the various and sundry ways in which to carry the message

3.  Identifying the various parts of our lives in which the 12-step principles can be practiced

The sharing from today’s half-chapter focused quite a bit on the spiritual angle of the 12-step program, and the benefits the conscious contact with a Higher Power brings to daily life.  We had a pretty decent mix of spirituality in the meeting this morning:  some find it almost childish to pray to a Higher Power, some consider themselves alternatively spiritual rather than the more classical definition that involves organized religion, and then we have a professional clergyman in our group.

And although every person who shared defined their Higher Power differently, had different interpretations of the term “spiritual awakening,” and had different manifestations of spirituality in their daily lives, all agreed upon this premise:  the spiritual component of their recovery not only helped them to get and to stay sober, it enriched their lives in ways they couldn’t have possibly imagined.

For me, step 12 is the one that has been the most transformative, and is the one I reference most in my daily life, so a step 12 meeting is always one I enjoy.  But today’s meeting had a special element about which I will share.  First, however, I need to lay some groundwork:

This past weekend, which I will write more about in a different post, my husband and I had a delightful “adults only” trip to New York City, where we stayed with one of our best friends in the world.  More on the weekend later, but there was one miniscule moment, where through the course of dropping items in the subway station (yuck), I reached in to the pocket of my very old jeans and discovered a hole.

Which then led me down the rabbit hole of a memory from active addiction that included that same hole in the pocket of those same jeans.

In the immediate moment, I was able to shake it off by practicing mindfulness:  getting out of my own head and being present in my current circumstances.

On the drive home, however, the debilitating thoughts came back, and I knew the best course of action was to talk about them, to shine some light on the memory in order to dispel it.  However, the only available resource was my husband, and my general policy with this type of issue is to avoid burdening him with these thoughts.  After all, my bad memories are usually his too, and it is not right to create a memory burden for him in the interest of unburdening myself.

On the other hand, I know he appreciates when I am open with what is on my mind.  Back and forth the volley went in my head, and I finally decided to proceed in sharing my inner turmoil.

He did not appear troubled; in fact, he expressed gratitude in my trusting him with these thoughts.  When I asked if my reliving this particular experience bothered him, he replied that it made him grateful for the progress that has been made in the years since.

All positives all the way around, because I was able to shake the malaise, although in the back of my mind I did marvel at this ability to compare then and now and feel the difference.  I concluded that because I was the centerpiece, I am too close to it to have that particular viewpoint.

Short story long, today’s reading includes the following passage:

When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone.  He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being.  He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead-end, not something to be endured or mastered.

-Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 107

Honestly, even while we read it, nothing really hit me about this section, until a friend re-read it and shared what it meant to him.  And then, like a thunderbolt, I had a memory from active addiction, where I consciously thought about life as something to be endured until I was able to alter myself chemically.  The meaning of life, while in active addiction, was to hang on until the next time I could drink or ingest something to make it livable.

And the difference between how I lived life then, and how I live life now, was so startling, and so crystal clear, that tears came to my eyes.  And in sharing this bittersweet realization with the group, I felt the full power of step twelve in my life.

Love those full-circle moments!

Today’s Miracle:

Two weeks ago the regular attendees of the meeting decided to throw together a “causal luncheon” for after the meeting.  The “causal luncheon” turned into a feast with homemade lasagna, cakes and cookies, and much more… how lucky am I to know these amazing chefs and bakers?

M(3), 12/1: The Keys to the Kingdom

Holy mackerel it’s December!!!  I bet if I look back, I write something like this every month, but still… it’s December!

Being that it is the first Monday of the month, today’s reading selection came from the book Alcoholics Anonymous.  The personal story is called “The Keys to the Kingdom,” and was written by Sylvia K., who was instrumental in bringing AA to the Chicago area.  Although written 75 years ago, Sylvia’s story of active addiction is as relatable today as any you would hear in the blogosphere, in the rooms of a 12-step meeting, or in a rehab:

…through a long and calamitous series of shattering experiences, I found myself being helplessly propelled toward total destruction. I was without power to change the course my life had taken. How I had arrived at this tragic impasse I could not have explained to anyone. I was thirty-three years old and my life was spent. I was caught in a cycle of alcohol and sedation that was proving inescapable…

-pg. 304, Alcoholics Anonymous

Sylvia’s path mercifully led her to the founders of AA, and from there her life changed dramatically:

It has been so many years since I had not relied on some artificial crutch, either alcohol or sedatives. Letting go of everything at once was both painful and terrifying. I could never have accomplished this alone. It took the help, understanding and wonderful companionship that was given so freely to me by my “ex-alkie” friends. This and the program of recovery embodied in the Twelve Steps. In learning to practice these steps in my daily living I began to acquire faith and a philosophy to live by. Whole new vistas were opened up for me, new avenues of experience to be explored, and life began to take on color and interest. In time, I found myself looking forward to each new day with pleasurable anticipation.

-pg. 310-311, Alcoholics Anonymous

An incredible message of hope, Sylvia’s story is one I would recommend reading.

Two messages stood out for me personally while reading today’s story.  The first was Sylvia’s personal physician who never gave up on her, and eventually led her to the founders of the AA program.  Without this man’s perseverance and guidance, Sylvia would not have had the introduction into this new and incredibly improved way of life.

Education about alcoholism and recovery have come a long way since Sylvia’s story, and we are blessed to have many resources at our disposal when we seek to find an answer to our addiction.   But there are still those angels in our lives that help us along the way.

I remember once, the summer before I hit bottom, I was attending a 12-step meeting, but was still deep in the throes of active addiction.  A woman who I recognized but did not know personally, came up to me and told me a story about herself which, at the time, seemed almost strange:  why is she telling me this?  The details of the story are unimportant, but two things stuck with me.  First, her challenges in sobriety so closely matched mine that I was amazed.  Up to that point, I had yet to find someone “just like me,” and I believe that feeling of “terminal uniqueness” kept me in the rut of active addiction.   Second, this woman had more than 5 years of sober time.  So, again, eye-opening:  here is someone just like me who is managing to stay sober.  It took several months more, and several more “angels,” but that moment represented a turning point in my thinking.

The second message that jumped out at me in Sylvia’s story was her belief that recovery is an ongoing process:

A.A. is not a plan for recovery that can be finished and done with. It is a way of life, and the challenge contained in its principles is great enough to keep any human being striving for as long as he lives. We do not, cannot, out-grow this plan. As arrested alcoholics, we must have a program for living that allows for limitless expansion. Keeping one foot in front of the other is essential for maintaining our arrestment. Others may idle in a retrogressive groove without too much danger, but retrogression can spell death for us. However, this isn’t as rough as it sounds, as we do become grateful for the necessity that makes us toe the line, for we find that we are more than compensated for a consistent effort by the countless dividends we receive.

-pg. 311, Alcoholics Anonymous

Sylvia writes it better than I ever could:  recovery is an ongoing, limitless, boundless journey.  There is no graduation, and no ceiling on the joy it brings!

I also asked for help from the very large group (we had 16 attendees today!) in an upcoming project of mine.  I asked them to share their best strategies for staying sober through the holiday season.  Some are tried and true, some really surprised me, but all were great tips.  There are so many that I will be compiling them into a separate post.  You can’t have enough tools in your sobriety toolbox!

Some other points shared by the group:

  • Recovery is a “we” program, not a “me” program:  whether you choose a 12-step program, reading and connecting with bloggers, or some other way, sobriety is so much easier with the support of like-minded people.
  • Alcoholic triggers do not have to be alcohol:  a friend just came home from a vacation with a large group of people.  None drank, but my friend’s anticipation of having to deal with alcohol gave her drunk dreams 3 nights in a row.  She has been sober for decades!  The message is clear:  alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful, and it is important to stay vigilant.
  • Keeping sobriety first despite holiday stress:  a friend found herself surviving Thanksgiving with a bit of white-knuckling.  She had plans to do something else this morning, and it finally dawned on her:  she needs to put sobriety first because of holiday stress, or the holiday stress will do her in!  She cancelled her appointment and instead came to the meeting.

I’m hopeful everyone had a joyful Thanksgiving (well, I hope my American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I hope my international friends had a wonderful November 27th!).  For those choosing sobriety, I hope you found success in this endeavor, and enjoyed yourself while doing so.  More to follow on holiday survival strategies!

Today’s Miracle:

Today I agreed to speak on The Bubble Hour, an internet talk show about recovery from alcoholism and addiction.  We will be discussing sober survival strategies for the holiday season this Sunday, December 7th, at 9 pm EST.  I’m not sure which part is the miracle, being asked to participate, agreeing to participate, or both, but I’m pretty sure there is a miracle in there somewhere!  Here is the link if you are interested in finding out more information:

http://www.thebubblehour.com/

M(3), 11/24: Gratitude as a Verb

The topic of my Monday meeting was gratitude, and yet I am fighting the urge to sit down and start complaining.  Why?  Because, despite a solid two years of avoidance, my meeting was subjected to a dreaded business meeting, insisted upon by someone who seems energized by complicating simple matters.  What a completely annoying way to finish out an otherwise delightful Monday meeting experience.

But I digress.  Now, where was I?  Oh yes, gratitude!

Today is the fourth Monday of the month, which, in the literature rotation, is “chairperson’s choice.”  Because this is the week of the American holiday called Thanksgiving, I thought it apropos to use gratitude as the subject matter, and so this morning we did a series of readings on that subject.

I was a bit nervous at the start of this meeting, as there were very few attendees.  Mental note:  the more I prepare for a meeting, the less attendees there seems to be.  I’m not sure why it works out that way, but it has been pretty consistent throughout these 2 years, today there wound up being less than ten of us at the meeting.  The combination of a low turnout, along with an unfamiliar anthology, left me uncertain as to how this topic might resonate with the group.

The first couple of passages were met with some awkward silences, but soon enough the small group got into the swing of things, and the sharing really took off.  Whew!  I did not have to sit and ramble on for 60 minutes by myself!

Of all the different things that were read, two really stood out to me in a powerful way.  First, the idea of gratitude as a forward-paying action, rather than a passive thought process of things received.  For those of us involved in a 12-step fellowship, gratitude as an action means reaching out our hand to the still-suffering alcoholic in the same way a hand reached out to us when we needed help.

But that concept can extend to so much more than the disease of addiction.  Instead of writing down “I am grateful for the love of my family,” I could instead pay that love forward and show them that I am grateful for their love.  Gratitude should be active, not passive, and the reading reminded me to be conscious of that, particularly with the holidays so rapidly approaching.

The second reading that stood out talked about people in AA considering themselves privileged, for the misfortune of the alcoholism turned into the good fortune of living in recovery.  Boy does that hit home for me.  For a very long time I bemoaned the fact that I could not “drink like normal people.”  The holiday season in particular was a great time for the pity party to rage on, as I watched what seemed like every person on the planet drinking merrily.

Now that recovery from addiction and a sober lifestyle has taken root, I have a completely different outlook on abstaining from alcohol.  I see how being sober allows me to be present in a way I never was before sobriety; how working the 12 steps of recovery has allowed self-transcendence and a new way of living life on life’s terms, and how embracing sobriety has brought a whole new network of people into my life, people whom I never would have met if I was still drinking.  I can say, sincerely, that I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic.

Other people spoke of their plans for the holidays, and the preparations they are making to ensure their sobriety (bringing their own car to a function, arriving late, leaving early, planning to attend a recovery meeting, planning to spend time with other sober people).  They spoke of holidays where they did not make these plans, holidays where they chose instead to drink, and how those holidays inevitably wound up being about the alcohol, rather than about family or friends.

In the midst of this sharing, a regular attendee raised her hand and said she would be speaking off-topic, because she needed to share a situation with friends who would understand what she was going through.  This week she is hosting her in-law’s who have traveled from Europe to spend the holiday with her, her husband and her daughter.  Having been sober for over a year, she said her in-law’s know something of her alcoholism, but not all the details:  they know that she had decided to stop drinking, and that she attends support groups in the effort to not drink, but that is about the extent of it.  So within the past year, they have drunk in her presence but have not pressed her on the subject, and all in all it has worked out satisfactorily for all.  This visit, however, the in-law’s did something a bit different:  they presented my friend and her husband (not an alcoholic, but a rare drinker… due to acid reflux, he will rarely consume more than half a glass of anything) with NINE BOTTLES of wine and a bottle of single malt scotch.

My friends in recovery reading…. can you seriously imagine?  And this was the good stuff, by the way!

My friend handled it the best way she could:  she had her husband remove the alcohol from plain sight for while the in-law’s are still visiting, and she had made plans for a non-alcoholic friend to take whatever is remaining as soon as the in-law’s return home.   She just needed to share this story with people who would understand her plight, and, in this understanding could she finally find some peace with the subject.

Everyone who shared after her spoke of understanding, told stories of a similar vein, and how they handled similar issues in their own lives.  By the end of the meeting, my friend had a new point of gratitude:  the empathy of others in this meeting.

For anyone out there struggling with added stress of less-than-supportive family and friends during this holiday season, please know that you have us in the sober blogosphere, people who have been there, who understand what you’re going through, and will lend our support any way we can.  You just need to reach out, and you can survive the season with your sobriety intact.  If all else fails, this is a song I have used to amuse and empower myself when the going got tough, imagine all of your sober friends disco dancing with you through this holiday season:

Today’s Miracle:

The weather in Pennsylvania today definitely falls into the miracle category… it feels like summer today!  You’ve got to appreciate these days when you get them, especially in November!

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