I mentioned in my last post that I just returned from a family vacation. It is an annual trip, taken with my husband’s entire family, and has been going on for longer than I’ve appropriated their last name. This year there were almost 50 of us clogging up the beaches of Southern New Jersey, and the kids in particular have the vacation of a lifetime each and every August.
My husband’s side of the family is actually not challenging at all in terms of sobriety: absolutely none of them overindulge, and many of them choose not to drink at all. Truth be told, until the moment I am about to describe, alcohol consumption and my personal recovery were as much on the back burner as they ever have been while on vacation.
So here’s the set-up: a sun-drenched late afternoon on the beach, lifeguards are getting ready to pack it up for the day. All but a few of us have headed home to rinse the sand toys, and out feet, before the evening shift to sweatshirts and figuring out the best take-out to order for dinner. My husband and myself were giving our kids one last boogie board session of the day while we languished in our beach chairs, and my husband’s parents decided to stick it out with us. So there we were, sitting and chatting, and my father-in-law says, “Can you hold this for me?” while simultaneously thrusting his bottle towards me and rising from his beach chair. Reflexively, I take the bottle, and about a millisecond later I realized that the foil-covered bottle was, in fact, a beer.
It probably took twice as long to read that paragraph as the actual act of what I just described played out. On the other hand, the time I spent holding the beer was a great deal longer. Obviously I did not have a stopwatch going, but I’m telling you no one has ever taken so long to rearrange a beach chair as my father-in-law did on that afternoon. I know this for two reasons: first, once I realized it was beer, I, in what I now realize was melodramatic and probably comical, chose to hold the beer at arm’s length, and I’m telling you, my arm was getting tired before I was able to hand it back. Second, my husband agreed that it was quite a long time (more on his perspective in a bit).
Here’s how this event played out in my mind:
Holy shit, this is a beer, does he even realize who he just asked to hold his beer?
Wow, maybe that’s how far I’ve come in recovery, that I am to be trusted with a beer!
For God’s sake, don’t be an idiot, he’s not even thinking about the fact that it’s a beer, or that he asked you to hold it, get a grip on your ego.
….feeling palpable tension from the chair next to me, which happens to be occupied by my husband…
Alright, Dad, please get yourself situated, so your son does not flip his lid!
What seems to be the hold-up in getting the chair situated, anyway?
Jeez Louise, my arm is getting tired, can I just casually put it down in the space between his chair and mine? No, don’t draw any more attention to this.
…glancing over at the beer…
How insane is it that I am holding something that I can never let cross my lips again?
Alright, that thought process is going nowhere good, think of something else. Hope the angry person in the chair next to me is settling down, but something tells me he’s not.
For God’s sake, sit down and take this beer!
There were probably many more random thoughts going on in the monkey mind, but I think I hit the highlights (lowlights?).
To be clear, this non-event that I’m describing took place entirely between my ears. If passers-by on the beach witnessed this scene, they would have seen a man hand a bottle to a woman to hold while he slowly rearranged his chair. The man then sat down, reclaimed his beverage, and the group continued to talk for another decent length of time before packing up and heading home. The incident was never discussed. Well, never discussed between me and my father-in-law, anyway.
Later that evening, I did get a chance to debrief with my husband, and I’m glad I did. Turns out he needed to process the incident a bit more to put it in a proper perspective. By the end of our discussion, though, he was feeling much better about it, and he was able to give me a perspective I would never have considered on my own: that it shows the progress of my relationships in recovery. Two and half years ago, I’m not sure anyone would have opted to even sit with me on the beach, much less feel comfortable doing so with a beer in their hands. Meanwhile on this trip, I can say that I was able to sit down, one-on-one, with every adult member of the family in the house I lived for the week, and I was able to have honest, real conversations, conversations where people discussed their issues with me, and seemed interested in my perspective. Two and half years ago? Not so much.
Finally, and perhaps most important, was the change in the relationship with my husband. First, that I have the sense about me to be attuned to his feelings at all, then to have the confidence and compassion to seek him out and talk to him about it. That he has the confidence in me to confess his feelings, and that I can hear them without judgment, without defensiveness and with the willingness to talk things out. That he can see progress in me that in a thousand years I would not see in myself, and his generosity in sharing it.
To answer the question: yes, I’ll hold it, but only if you hurry up with what you’re doing!
Spoiler Alert #1: I normally will not write a post until I have some semblance of a solution worked out. Absolutely not the case with this one, read on at your own risk
Spoiler Alert #2: I have a lot to say, this will be longer than usual
I’ve spent some time recently contemplating the various ways I am an all-or-nothing gal. Turns out, there’s almost no way I’m not all or nothing. In other words, I’m all or nothing about being all or nothing. I do not have to search far to give you an example, this is how my day went yesterday:
I have a general cleaning routine that has been disrupted by recent life events, and I realized yesterday that I need to clean all the major areas of the house (probably the minor areas too, I just don’t care about them). So I pick the area I think needs it the most, which is my bathroom, and figure I’d get that knocked out with no problem. So I go in, gather the rugs to bring to the laundry room, and I realize that the towels probably need to be done too, which of course means the kids’ towels need it as well. Which leads me to the conclusion that sheets must need to be washed, and now I’m realizing I am starting to grow this project bigger than I originally intended. Then again, all of these things do need to be done. So all of that goes downstairs, and I start cleaning the bathroom. I realize some of the cleaning supplies I need are in the kids’ bathroom, so I go into a cabinet to retrieve them. To my dismay I uncover a nightmare of things thrown into that cabinet, which knocked over cleaning supplies, which created a huge mess (my reaction to that is for another post). I clean that up, and now I am significantly behind on a project that I’ve made bigger than I intended in the first place, but I’ve started, so simply stopping this process is inconceivable. I am back and forth between laundry and the bathroom, now my sheets are done, and I’m thinking I can’t possibly put clean sheets on a bed (with surrounding furniture) that hasn’t been dusted, so out comes the Pledge. This project takes very little time, and then I make the bed. I realize at this point my bedroom is all but clean if I just vacuum, but I can’t do that if there are clothes in a basket on the floor, so I quick fold them up and put them away. Then I vacuum, but really, the carpet doesn’t end at my bedroom, right? There’s a hallway connected to it, and, connected to that hallway are three other rooms. Finish that up, feeling good about how the upstairs looks, and then take a look around my downstairs. I am appalled by the difference. It’s as if I did nothing at all! So, guess what happens? You got it, room by room, the exact same process.
Now, I’m re-reading the paragraph above, and I feel like I am #humblebragging. Let’s round it out with another story:
It’s the middle of April. Through a series of events, I have embarked on several adventures that I think will all work towards the same goal of improved fitness. I have joined Weight Watchers online with my cousin, I have purchased a Fitbit to track my activity, and I am training for an upcoming 5K. Healthy goals, practical tools, lots of accountability, teamwork and support. In the first 10 days, I have an absolutely banner week, lost an incredible amount of weight, exercised every single day, and improved my Fitbit stats each day I used it. I was also pretty early into my self-directed smoking cessation program as well.
Anyway, weigh in day falls on a Thursday (although who am I kidding, I was checking myself at least twice a day every day), which also happened to be my husband’s birthday. So I happily report the good news to my cousin who is doing this with me, and I let her know that I will be having a “fun” day since it is his birthday. Which I did.
The next day, a Friday, my husband took off work and we went and got spa treatments and had a nice lunch. I guess two days of not tracking are okay, right? And exercise, well, I’ll just get back on it over the weekend.
Except that I didn’t, and the eating continued to devolve. Points counting is a thing of the past, as is exercise. Monday rolls around, and this happens to be the biggest trigger day of the week for me to want to smoke. But there is no way I am backtracking on that progress, so I think that I will give myself one more free-for-all day so that I don’t smoke. Here’s what a free-for-all day looks like:
First off, I will plan for my favorite food in the world: a soft pretzel. Where I like to buy pretzels you save money by buying two. And while I’m at it, better pick the saltiest ones they’ve got, in case the salt falls off in the bag (which I will wind up eating anyway). Round that off with a 32 ounce soda.
Once I’ve eaten all of this, is there really a point to stopping? I might as well go for all my favorite foods, which tend towards crunchy and salty. Eat them as the mood strikes.
If I’m eating like this, do I really feel like moving at this point? Let’s just make it a fun day all around, and watch some mindless television. And so that day continues on, with very little productive to show for it.
So there’s the other side of the all or nothing lifestyle. Of course, I could paint a much grimmer picture, were I to go back a few years and describe a day in the life of active addiction.
And it’s not just about eating, exercising and cleaning. Here are some other categories:
Television: It is a point of pride that I have never missed an episode of Survivor. My husband will corroborate this story… he did not watch it with me Season one, in fact mocked the concept, and I remind him on a very regular basis of this fact. There have been something like 28 seasons of this show, and I will watch it no matter what.
Reading: I am either obsessively reading, or I cannot locate my electronic reader. Absolutely no middle ground. I am on the latter side right now, and yet I still go to my book club lunches (they should excommunicate me right about now).
Apparel Shopping: if I find something I like, I need it in every color. That or I’m wearing the same pajamas like it is my uniform. Seriously, I will wait for the dryer before I get changed for the evening.
Organization as it Relates to the Basement: I am either all about it, and the basement looks like it did last summer after the garage sale, or I abandon it and the basement looks like it does right now (Editorial comment: I do not live alone in my house, and I REFUSE to take sole responsibility for the state of the basement. On the other hand, it seems to bother only me, and my choice when I’m on this end of the organizational spectrum is to just avoid it at all costs. But I digress…)
Free Refills: If I dine at a restaurant that offers free refills of my favorite beverage in this world (Diet Pepsi)… well, I’m sure I don’t have to finish this sentence!
Don’t Touch My Pitcher: Last summer I wrote about a plan for improving my fitness by introducing things into my life, rather than taking things away. Interestingly, these things have managed to hang around for what’s coming up on a year now (if interested, read here). One of those things was increasing my water intake. Now, believe me, there are days when I drink none (of course, all or nothing, right?), but most days I am habitual about drinking 10 glasses of water. The process has evolved to the point that I bought my own pitcher with one of those cages in the middle that I can put lemon and lime in to infuse the water, and I drink it until it is gone, then refill it for the next day. Great practice, right? Until another family member attempts to drink from this pitcher, then all hell’s breaking loose. Because I am selfish and don’t want to share? Not a chance… because then I can’t keep track of my water intake!
So obviously I could add to these categories ad infinitum (I’m sure it feels like I already have), but I think I’ve made my point.
I am sure that, if you could, you would finish reading this, walk over to me, give me a hug, tell me I am not alone, and that I just need to work towards finding some balance in my life. And I would sincerely agree with you, but if you looked closely into my eyes, you would see somewhat of a vacant stare. Not because I’m ignoring your great advice, but because those words truly mean nothing to me.
As in, I get it theoretically, but have no idea how to practically apply the concept to real-life scenarios. Curiously, I remember having similar thoughts about some of the steps in my 12-step recovery program.
My good friend Lisa over at Sober Identity once posed to me this challenge: Figure out what you are gaining from holding on to a behavior you wish to change. Because you ARE gaining something from it, whether you want to admit it or not. If you can figure it out, you can work to meet this need in more positive ways.
So what is the gain to living my life like this? To be continued in The All or Nothing Lifestyle, Examined…
Who knew I had so much to say on this subject? Not me!
This is the next progress report in my 6-Weeks-Until-I-Am-On-A-Tropical-Vacation-So-Let’s-See-What-Physical-Improvements-I-Can-Make Challenge (should I trademark that winning title?). For a recap, read Honesty, Hypocrisy & Me and Progress Report.
So the progress is pretty much 110% good. When I started, I made a commitment, both to myself and to the blogosphere, to complete some simple, daily activities, all designed to eradicate the four worst food items in my life. To date, those foods have been banished, but, like so many recovery-like activities, my progress has far surpassed the initial goals. Over the course of the past 5 weeks, I have not only abstained from those foods which I compulsively eat, but I have also managed to acquire a daily eating routine that is about a million times healthier than my diet 7 weeks ago. So by any standard I have far exceeded my goal, in terms of eating.
One of the simple daily tasks has been to re-incorporate a small amount of physical activity, which again has been a great success, and again has far exceeded my initial expectations. I have been able to increase, either by time or intensity, each week since I began.
Mentally it has been a bit of a roller coaster. Weeks one and two were a breeze, and I was given an almost daily reassurance from my scale… getting on the scale was in fact fun! Of course, every party has its end, and week three was a complete meltdown. I had eaten better and exercised harder than the first two weeks, yet still managed to gain a pound. Despite all logic and common sense, which would tell a sane person, “then just stop getting on the scale,” I actually upped my visits to my bathroom, sometimes weighing myself as much as 3 times in a day. You would think I’ve never been on a diet before! The absolute miracle of it all is that I persevered… in my entire life, I have never had that kind of negative feedback and continued on a diet. It worked itself out by the end of week four, but I’m still trying to understand and correct my mental process on the scale obsession. I have managed to eliminate the behavior of actually stepping on the scale, but the idea of what the numbers may be is never very far from my thoughts, and I am trying to figure that one out.
And then there’s other numbers… I find myself mentally calculating and re-calculating my daily caloric intake, and comparing it to the day before. The idea is almost laughable… I am the least qualified to judge some of the things I am assigning numbers to, and yet I can’t seem to stop myself.
And then, the biggest numbers game of all… the treadmill. I am obsessively checking the miles I am completing, mentally calculating how much it will be at the end, comparing it to the times in the past, and striving to beat each time. Now, for sure, some of this is to the good: I am getting faster almost every time I am on the treadmill. But I know, I know, that this kind of obsessing is fundamentally wrong, but I can’t seem to overcome it. Sure, I could cover up the panel, but I’m pretty sure I would have to spray paint it black or figure out a way to run backwards for me to avoid peeking.
So, the good news: I am down 15 pounds, have lost 4 inches from my waist (the only part I measured, I am an apple shape and my mid-section is the area I most desire to decrease), and my treadmill workout is back to when I was at my peak last summer. My diet is the healthiest, by a significant amount, in a solid 5 years, maybe even longer. Water consumption up, Diet Pepsi consumption down. My clothes feel looser, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment. All super exciting stuff.
The not-so-good news: I am a work-in-progress in the mental game of dieting. The idea of moderation and balance, in terms of time spent thinking about diet and exercise, is completely foreign. I need a better perspective in how I am spending my mental energy as it relates to this issue. And, truthfully, I’m not really sure how to achieve this particular goal. As, shockingly enough, moderation in anything has not been my strong suit.
Is this problem sounding familiar to anyone? Am I alone in the numbers obsession? Any words of advice on how to get a grip?
Perseverance in this challenge is a miracle. Seriously, a miracle.
The literature for today’s meeting was chapter 2 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and discusses in detail the thinking behind Step 2 in the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous:
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
This meeting, for me personally, was chock full of interesting shares, but before I venture into what I learned I will write about my experience with Step 2. Step 2 can be broken down into two parts:
- Belief in a power greater than ourselves
- Belief that this power can restore us to sanity
I took no issue with the first part of this step, as I had a core belief in a Higher Power. Having sat in a meeting or two, I have come to hold an immense gratitude for this core belief, as I know this is a major hurdle for many to jump.
The second part of this step, I have come to realize, was a stumbling block. While I believed in a God of my understanding, I held tight to the belief that “God helps those who help themselves.” In placing the emphasis on “helping myself,” I was giving myself all the power, and blocking His ability to help me. Consequently, it took many months before I could finally let go of the belief that I had to do this on my own. Since that time, my concept and my relationship with my Higher Power has deepened and grown, and I believe will continue to do so for the rest of my life…. good stuff!
Okay, onto to the wisdom I have gained from my fellows:
One gentleman, who has almost 3 decades of sobriety, made the following statement: “The longer I stay sober, the less interested I become in defining my spirituality.” This idea rocked my world… the idea that I can be less precise about my spirituality as time goes by. I’m not sure where I got the idea that the more time sober I have, the clearer picture I should have of a Higher Power, but this man’s simple statement opened my mind in a way I hadn’t even realized was closed. It is enough to know that there is a power greater than me, and that power is helping me to live, day by day, a better life. Enough said. Brilliant!
Another man, sober for eleven years, talked about Donald Rumsfeld, and the quote attributed to former Secretary of Defense: “the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns.” The gentleman this morning attributes his participation in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous with his ability to deal with those “unknown unknowns” of life. Because this fellowship teaches us an assortment of new skills, skills we either never possessed, or which we could never master, we now have an ability to deal with life in a way which previously eluded us. I could not agree more.
Another woman whose sobriety date is close to mine, talked about how often this chapter discusses the importance of humility. She quotes a line in the chapter:
“…humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we place humility first. When we began to do that, we received the gift of faith, a faith which works.”
-page 30, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
As she spoke, I had the clearest vision of getting down on my knees and asking God for help that night a little over two years ago, and asking in a way that I had never asked before. And since that time, I have come to understand my Higher Power in a way I hadn’t before. So for me that sentence rings true… I truly became humble, and only then did I truly receive faith.
There was some dissention with step 2; for example, one gentleman took exception with the term “insanity.” He felt it a little extreme, but has come to accept that he need not argue every period and comma put forth in order to reap the benefits of the 12-step program. By accepting the 12 steps as a whole, rather than nitpicking his way through the verbiage, he was able to, as he put it, “put the skid chains on his thinking, which allowed him to stop drinking, which in turn allowed him to improve all different areas of is life.” I had never heard the 12 steps described in quite this way, and I love the idea of putting skid chains on my thinking… it sums it up perfectly for me. It doesn’t stop the extreme thoughts, but it allows me time to process them so I don’t react as quickly as I once did.
All in all, lots of sharing, lots of different experiences, but everyone agreed on one point: it was in acceptance of a power greater than ourselves that we found true freedom.
I came home from my meeting to find that, while I was gone, husband and son decided to surprise me by tackling some long overdue projects. It really doesn’t get any better than this kind of homecoming!
Despite yet another bout of snow (for those keeping score… yes, my school district did decide we needed a two-hour delay), we had a great turnout for the Monday meeting. The literature for week two in the monthly rotation is Living Sober. Having been reading/watching about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I chose two chapters to read: “Remembering Your Last Drunk,” and “Staying away from the first drink.” The discussion was lively enough with the first chapter that we never got to the second one; I couldn’t ask for anything more in terms of sharing!
The point of this chapter is simple, but critical: it is crucial for anyone choosing recovery to keep fresh in their minds the negative feelings, circumstances, and, most important, consequences of the last episode of mind-altering ingestion that brought him or her to the conclusion that sobriety is necessary. The authors of the book choose the words “last drunk,” rather than “last drink,” deliberately. A “drink” connotes, for most of us, happy memories, celebration, joy. Drunk, however, brings more realistic, and more graphic, images to mind: erratic behavior, harsh words that we couldn’t be paid to say to another while sober, life-altering decisions we wouldn’t dream of making while not under the influence. Most important, at least for this alcoholic/addict, “last drunk” brings to mind the vicious, hopeless, cycle that was my life while in active addiction. The antidote is so simple, it’s almost laughable, and it’s the name of the second chapter we did not get to read this morning: “Staying away from the first drink.”
I mentioned Philip Seymour Hoffman as the reason for selecting this chapter, because I have drawn the conclusion that he must have forgotten his last drunk, as has anyone who picks up a drink or drug after significant time in recovery. How can this be? How could someone forget something as critical as this? Sadly, it is all too easy to do. It’s just how life works: we clean up our acts, remove the addictive substance from our lives, life gets better, and it becomes far too easy to lose the intense feeling of our need for sobriety. The memories of how bad it was become hazy as time passes. Life comes at you, as life does, and the overwhelming solution presented by society is to take a break from reality, cut loose. Life coming at you can be catastrophic, or it can be celebratory, the societal solution is the same: have a drink, kick back, relax!
When that solution is so omnipresent, and the memories of the negative consequences of addiction are so fuzzy, it is not difficult to see where someone, even someone with significant sobriety, can get off track. And for those of us that call ourselves addicts, it is, without a doubt, a huge gamble. From all accounts, Mr. Hoffman lost his sobriety date sometime in 2012, by 2014 he no longer has the opportunity to regain his seat in a 12-step meeting.
For the record, my last “drunk” was monumental in its mundane-ness: I did that day what I had done almost every day for the 8 months that preceded it (the worst of my active addiction). What’s monumental about it would impress only me. First, I had the realization, so strong I actually said it out loud to myself: “there is absolutely no part about this that is fun anymore.” I had never drawn that conclusion before that day. Second, the aftermath of my “bottom:” husband confronting me, resulting consequences, dealing with family and friends, cement for me every second of that last drunk in a way I hope I never forget.
Because, like Mr. Hoffman, I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to reclaim my seat, so I choose not to vacate it today.
I am grateful that I still have my seat in my 12-step program, and that I choose to keep it.
An interesting thing happened to me yesterday. I was reading a beautiful post by my friend Karen over at Mended Musings, and a line she wrote stood out:
I don’t usually post until I’ve come to some sort of conclusion that I (and hopefully others) can learn from.
It struck me because I often feel the same way: if something is bothering me, I generally don’t like to write about it until I’ve gotten some kind of answer. But I considered it more and realized that, in fact, many times I will write so that I can find the answer. Countless times I will sit down to write about a problem, and by the end of the writing session I realize the answer is there, a resolution to which I would not have come unless I took the time to put pen to paper (or, more accurately, fingers to keyboard). I can remember at least one post very clearly (Sticks and Stones) that helped me figure out the problem as I was writing about it!
Later the same day I came across some library books I checked out 2 weeks ago, then abandoned to the dining room, never to be open (and a good thing I did come across them, I’m sure they need to be returned). I decided to give one a cursory glance, the title of which is 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, by Richard Wiseman. The premise: a psychologist gives “a myth-busting response to the self-help movement, with tips and tricks to improve your life that come straight from the scientific community.”
In the section I read, the author disproves the notion that talking about traumatic events (to an untrained person, he is not bashing counseling by any means) yields significant results in the way of increased happiness. However, an exercise he calls “expressive writing” has been proven to boost both self-esteem and happiness. As he writes:
From a psychological perspective, thinking and writing are very different. Thinking can be somewhat unstructured, disorganized, and even chaotic. In contrast, writing encourages the creation of a story line and structure that help people make sense of what has happened and work toward a solution. In short, talking can add to a sense of confusion, but writing provides a more systematic, solution-based approach.
Bingo! This was exactly what I was thinking while pondering Karen’s post! I couldn’t count the number of times the simple act of re-creating an event in my life for this blog has helped me to make sense of it, to put it into perspective, and to resolve whatever was left rolling around in my brain. I can say, without fail, that I feel happier every time I hit publish on this blog. Whether it is happiness at the mere accomplishment of writing a post, or the feeling of resolving an issue, or satisfaction from sharing my experience, strength and hope, or a combination of all, I feel good when I am done writing.
My husband surprised me with some of my favorite Italian delicacies the other night, and there is enough to eat again tonight. Not having to plan dinner + a second night of rarely eaten treats = miracle!
Here’s the question I am pondering today:
When is it acceptable to be outraged when someone accuses you of not being sober?
A bit of a loaded question, for sure, and probably needs some clarification before I continue. First, the question is most likely provocative only to those of us who label ourselves recovered addicts/alcoholics. Second, some further definition of the terms in the question might be in order:
When: at what time
Acceptable: suitable; I can validate myself
Outraged: grossly offensive, and definitely a broad term; when push comes to shove, so many more words can be added to it… hurt, offended, worried, confused
Accuses: seriously wonders to the point of questioning aloud
Here’s the set-up, which, to point out the obvious, is told from my perspective: I am living my life, feeling as normal as can be expected, when wham! Out of the blue, the question is posed: is there something for which I should be feeling guilty in terms of my sobriety?
Since the answer to that particular question is a heartfelt NO, the immediate reaction is outrage (hence the word choice at the outset). However, since I have vowed, both to myself and to those closest to me, to always, always, take that question seriously, I make every effort I can to assure my sobriety date has remained intact.
This incident, as it were, has been resolved, and the case has been closed, for a few days now. But what I want to explore, in this post, is the residual feelings that such an encounter engenders.
So, as I mentioned, the first reaction is outrage… how dare anyone think that I am not sober? Of course, the same monkey mind that chatters incessantly has a quick and annoying response to that question: umm, because you spent years of your life doing the complete opposite of how you are living your life now? Is the world supposed to clear the hard drive of their memory because you’ve manage to scrape together just shy of two years of sobriety?
Well, alright, so maybe outrage is too strong of a feeling. Let’s downgrade it to a stunningly hurt confusion. Is that allowed? I mean, I can’t point to one thing I have done, either that day or any of the days preceding, that would validate such a question. Can I be hurt and confused?
The monkey mind is not as quick, but the general argument is: well, just because you feel fine, does not mean you are presenting fine, plus who’s to say what might be going on in the mind of another? Any number of things completely unrelated to the incident, completely unrelated to YOU, might have lined up like a row of dominoes, ultimately crashing down to the scenario which brought about the question “are you guilty of breaking your sobriety?”
Okay, fine, I can see that to be a sensible argument, and I can play it back to myself, but how do I internalize it, really feel it, so I can let the negative residual feelings go?
Because, and here’s what the non-recovering individual can never understand… there will most certainly be residual, negative feelings. The need to justify and explain behavior, the helplessness of not being able to just be believed, the resulting memories of all the past conversations… they linger, far past the resolution of the incident.
Particularly when there is some sober time in the equation. True, two years does not win me any lifetime achievement awards, but it’s considerable to me. The only other time in sobriety that I have been accused of such wrongdoing happened when I had 4 days sober. It was another false accusation, and other than the helpless feeling of not being able to convince someone of my innocence, the similarities end. Of course someone would question my sobriety four days in; hell, even I questioned it! But now, two years later, and in the absence of any physical evidence, it just feels wrong.
So what’s a recovering girl to do? All I can think to do, at this juncture, is to talk back to the feelings, remind myself that I am, in fact, sober, and that I don’t need the validation of another to feel good about it. I also remind myself that we are all human, and thus prone to make mistakes, and to let. it. go. Because holding on to a resentment is the quickest way to making the accusation a reality.
Therefore, the answer to the question above: Never. Outrage, hurt, confusion, necessarily implies a lack of acceptance of the situation. If it happens, it happens for a reason, even if the reason is not readily apparent. Move on, do the next right thing, this too shall pass, and every other proverb that seems annoying in the moment but also happens to be true!
On a lighter note, for those living in the Northeastern section of the United States, today’s miracle should be obvious… back to some sort of normalcy after the snow storm.
On a more philosophical note, the ability to talk back to the negative feelings, rather than muck around in them, is a bona fide miracle.
First, a sincere and heart-felt thank you to all who responded to my post on Monday: your words truly inspired and motivated me to do the next right thing, and I so I shall update you on the following 36 hours after the incident that I wrote about Monday morning.
So, here’s what I have as facts:
- We have a serious security issue at the clubhouse where I run my meeting
- This issue can be easily resolved by a simple decision to lock a door
- It is up to me to bring up the issue, as the incident largely happened to me
So, simple enough… go to the officers of the clubhouse, explain the situation, and get the problem resolved. Here’s where my brain can complicate even the simplest of tasks, and I need to explain (re-explain, for regular followers, I know I talked about this some months ago) some background. The clubhouse is primarily run by about 5 very dedicated people. At least 6 months ago, maybe more, the officers approached me and asked if I would be the director of the club. At the time I was flabbergasted, as I can’t imagine the thought process that would lead to such a request. I thanked them profusely for their belief in me, but explained I simply did not have the time for such an undertaking. For whatever reason, several of them did not seem to hear my rejection of this offer, and any time that they came across me would refer to me as Madame Chairperson. This was obviously said in a light-hearted manner, but said on enough occasions that I quickly inferred that the goal was to railroad me into the position. Since I truly have neither the time, nor honestly the inclination, to assume this role, I found myself slowly withdrawing myself from any type of business meeting. In retrospect, it was not the most up-front way to deal with the issue, but at the time I did not feel I had too many options.
So, long story short, I have not attended a business meeting at the clubhouse for several weeks. My role has been nothing more than running my Monday meeting, and volunteering to make food items for the various events that have been held. Again, not ideal, but it had been a working solution for me, until the incident on Monday.
So here’s where my monkey mind takes over: “Now you’re going to sashay into a meeting that you’ve all but abandoned, and demand that the clubhouse make changes because you say so?!? They will laugh you right out of the meeting!” I can, of course, play Devil’s Advocate to myself, and argue back, “You’re not doing this for yourself, you’re doing it for your meeting attendees, and for the good of the clubhouse, they will thank you for this.”
To give you a play-by-play of this internal debate would take more time than it’s worth, so let me wrap it up and say I went back and forth along these lines, until, I kid you not, 7:10 pm last night (the business meeting started at 7:15 pm). At one point I actually sent an email to one of the officers, explaining the situation, thinking I could just give them the scenario and let them take over, and then got so mad at myself for not being more assertive, that I sent another one saying I will be there to tell the story myself.
So I attend, and I am completely prepared for every argument that I firmly believe I will hear: “that guy is harmless, don’t worry about it,” “the door is broken, and we don’t have the money to fix it,” and, the most troubling one I was waiting for, “who do you think you are coming in here after all this time?”
I sat through the regular format, Old Business, Committee Reports, Events Planning, and finally it came time to address New Business. I raise my hand, everyone looks surprised (I am guessing that the officer I sent the email to never had a chance to read it). I calmly (or, at least, as calmly as I could manage) explain the incident, and express my concern for the ongoing safety and security of the clubhouse.
Take a wild guess what the reactions from the officers were?
Complete and total empathy. A stunned realization that an off-handed decision to make it easier for people to attend meetings could have a consequence such as a homeless person taking advantage. A firm resolution to contact all meeting leaders and explain the new policy that the building is to remain locked at all times when meetings are not in session. And, last but certainly not least, gratitude that I would take the time to bring the issue to the attention of the officers.
If only I had an “on/off” switch for my brain, I could save myself a lot of trouble!
The strength and courage the readership of the blog gave me to tackle a problem that the old me would not have touched with a 10-foot pole, my gratitude is immense!
I want to write about an experience I had at my meeting this morning, but first, for the sake of continuity, I will write about the meeting itself, which was, as usual, a great one. Eleven attendees, and the reading was a chapter from the book Living Sober, “Going to AA Meetings.” The chapter breaks down for the newcomer what an AA meeting is like, the different formats that AA meetings follow, and the many benefits that can be gained through regular meeting attendance. The group had some laughs reminiscing about our first meeting experiences, and how we have evolved through our various lengths of sober time. All in all, it seems like everyone gained insight and wisdom from one another, the goal of any 12-step meeting.
Here’s the other part of the meeting I wanted to share, and hopefully I can describe it effectively. My meeting takes place in a “clubhouse” of sorts. For those not familiar with the term, a clubhouse refers to a facility that is used exclusively for 12-step fellowships. Some are specific, such as an AA Clubhouse, which will run meetings several times a day, every day, and is usually open between meetings for people to socialize. The clubhouse that houses my meeting is available for any 12-step fellowship, although in reality it mostly holds AA meetings. It is a relatively new facility, less than 2 years old, and is struggling, both financially and in terms of actively involved members, and the future is uncertain.
One more piece of information to set the scene for this morning’s adventures: it is a large and unsecure building. At some point, the front door was permanently unlocked, and I have never sought out the reason for why this is so. Since I am (more or less) only in the building during daylight hours, I have never thought much about this fact.
Back to the present: I arrived, as I typically do, about 30 minutes prior to the start time, and I happen to pick up a gentleman who does not drive on his own. Normally, he and I are the first to arrive, as luck would have it, another regular attendee was there early, and he brought someone with him. I knew this because I saw his car in the parking lot. The gentleman I drive and I walk in through the front door, and walk the short hallway to the meeting room we use. To the right of the meeting room is a long dark hallway, which leads to other rooms. As I’m opening the door to go into the room, I hear, from the dark hallway, a tentative “hello.” Thinking it my friend, I say hello back, and continue into the meeting room. Imagine my surprise when I see my friend already in the meeting room, so I walk back out to the hallway to see who was in it. From the darkness a disheveled looking man appears, holding the clubhouse phone in his hand. He launches into a story asking if there was going to be a meeting, because he had been here on a Monday before hoping to find one, and finding the clubhouse empty. By this point, both the mystery man and I are back in the well-lit meeting room with the other meeting attendees. I cautiously explain that I run the Monday meetings, and I am always here, and he begins backpedaling, saying maybe it wasn’t a Monday, but in fact some other day of the week. Everyone, of course, welcomes him into the meeting room, and we all begin the process of setting up for the meeting, which includes starting coffee, passing out books, and setting up several free-standing heaters to warm up the room. In the course of this activity, we realize that one of our units does not appear to be there, at which point the mystery gentleman goes back down the darkened hallway, and reappears with a heater, saying he saw it in one of the other rooms.
So here’s the conundrum for me as the meeting leader: our traditions state, unequivocally, that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. On the other hand, this behavior is extremely unusual, and it was uncomfortable for me personally. It would appear that perhaps he was setting up shop somewhere in the building.
How I resolved the issue of how to handle this gentleman, for the short-term (aka today’s meeting): one of the attendees present is also on the board of the clubhouse, so I took my cues from him. He shook the man’s hand, engaged him in conversation, and did not appear ruffled in the least that the heater was temporarily “misplaced.” I watched this officer go back down the hallway, and I can only assume that he checked things out, and the mystery man did stay for the entire meeting. The officer returned to the meeting, and, again, did not appear concerned, so I proceeded as I normally do. At the end of the meeting, the mystery man left before me, and everything appeared intact. The officer of the clubhouse left before I had a chance to speak with him privately.
So why am I sharing this story? Because it was unsettling, for one, and this is where I can let out uncomfortable feelings. For anyone reading who may be considering a 12-step fellowship, please don’t let this story discourage you… I have been a regular attendee at 12-step meeting for over 2 years now, and this has NEVER happened before. Really, it is a strange set of circumstances, most buildings would be secure for this very reason.
I guess the other reason I am sharing it is to ask for advice… what kind of follow-up should I do? Should I be fighting for more security in the building? Should I be thinking about taking my meeting to a more secure location? I would feel badly about this second option, for my meeting is one of a small handful that has stuck with it, and has regular attendance. I don’t want to abandon these people, but… I don’t know. It’s a strange and uncomfortable situation.
So, I would love some feedback: how would you have handled this situation, and, more important, how would you handle it going forward?
That I have this support system on which to lean!