A bleary Monday morning (afternoon, by the time I will be finished) in my part of the world, but always bright for me personally, because of my Monday morning meetings. The format for this meeting is called rotating literature, which means the first week of each month I read from one AA book, the second week a different book, and so on. The fourth week I set up as “chairperson’s choice.” Since I am the sole chairperson at this point in time, I generally search for older pieces of literature within the confines of “AA approved,” usually early articles written by the founder of AA, Bill Wilson. Every 4 months or so, there is a fifth Monday in the given month, which means I need to come up with some other random thing from which to read. This weekend I had the idea that maybe I could set up a speaker for the 4 months or so a year where we have 5 Mondays in a month, today being the first of this particular series. And since I came up with this idea so late, I figured I would book myself as the first speaker.
This is not the first time I have shared my story, but it is the first time I have shared it with the group that I started. You would think it would get easier to tell your own story, especially if you have done it with the regularity I have (I am sober 15 months, and I have shared my story at a meeting about a dozen times). Sadly, it does not get easier to share the shame, and the downward spiral. I guess, technically speaking, it gets easier in the sense that I have the timeline down pretty well, and I can pinpoint various highlights (or, in this case, lowlights!) in my personal journey with greater ease. But the actual act of opening up, and disclosing such personal information… well, that remains a leap of faith each time I do it.
But if I want this meeting to succeed, and I want people to believe in me, in my recovery, and my message of hope, I need to share what brought me to this point, and so share I must.
From the other side of the table, it is easy to see what can be gained by attending a speaker meeting, and listening to someone else’s experience, strength and hope. You can hear what mistakes were made, the progressive nature of addiction, and what led the individual to the doors of AA. You can find elements in the story that you can relate to your own life, and make connections that you did not know existed. Age, gender, race, religion, career path… none of these things matter when the story of recovery is told… there is always something that resonates with another alcoholic, and it is in that resonance that the magic of AA resides.
But what about the other side… what benefit is there to the story-teller? What is gained from the exposition of pain, in reliving the worst moments of your life? For this recovering addict, the benefits are many. First, telling my story reminds me from whence I came, and keeps fresh in my mind where I never want to return. Revealing my personal truth, disclosing the worst parts of me, connects me to my friends in recovery in the deepest way possible. It keeps me in the heart of the AA Fellowship, which is exactly where I need to be to keep my life in balance.
And, of course, it fills up the gap of the 5-Monday month!
Getting positive feedback, and true gratitude from my fellow attendees, makes the reliving of my personal demons completely worthwhile!
I have written quite a bit about my time in active addiction, and this blog is a journey through my recovery, from about 6 weeks in to the present day, but the time frame I have omitted, for no real reason, is that first 6 weeks when I put the brakes on ingesting addictive substances, and began the road to recovery.
I can tell you about my daily schedule during that time pretty concisely: get up, pray, hang out with my Mom, go to a meeting, hang out with my Mom, spend a few hours with my children, hang out with my Mom, go to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. The to-do list was short, but the mental chaos was long, and difficult. To those reading who are new to recovery: I feel your pain, I remember it like it was yesterday. You go to meetings and try to emulate what you see happening around you, but your mind is racing so much, and there is so much personal damage, that it is incredibly difficult to focus on what is important. Hang in there, I promise it does get easier!
During that time, there is one aspect that, in retrospect, is a blessing: there was really no thought on my part that I would not “get it.” I knew it was possible for me to recover, it just took me time, and trial and error, to get it right. I hear many people say their plan was simply to die a drunk or addict; that was never for one moment a thought in my head.
On the other hand, during the earliest days, I did believe, in the deepest way, that life as I knew it was over. I was certain my marriage was over, and I was almost as equally certain that any remaining friendships would choose my husband over me. The silver lining in this cloud was that my head was so full of craziness, I just didn’t have room to imagine the future… I couldn’t picture it, so I didn’t even try.
My primary group of friends have been around for 20 years. We met in college, and, for me, I realized that I found the best group of people in the world, so why let them go? When I hit my bottom, these friends would fall into two categories: those who knew of my addiction, and so therefore I have actively lied to them, telling them I was recovering when in fact I was not; and those who knew nothing about my addiction. Either way, I figured I would lose them all. Devastating, to be sure, but then again there was so much devastation who had time to process it all?
Two of this long-time group reached out to me in those early days. I will devote a separate post to each, they deserve it. Today I am going to focus on my friend Joe.
Joe falls into that first category about which I spoke: I let him believe I was recovering, and so therefore I actively lied. And I knew, when the bottom dropped, that Joe was possibly the first friend my husband went to and shared all the gory details. So, imagine my surprise when, while sitting with my Mom (see my daily schedule above), I received a voice mail from my friend Joe. He sounded about as far from happy as you can get, but he was reaching out, and he wanted me to know he was still there for me. I am feeling the elation all over again as I am typing. This voice mail came about 2 weeks into my recovery, and I believe it was the first glimmer of hope I received that life may in fact become happy again.
And so began the new leg of our decades-long relationship. Joe has an exceptionally busy career, a wife and two small children, but he took time, almost every night, to talk to me into the wee hours of the morning. He insisted I text him every morning with the day count of my sobriety. He talked me off too many ledges to count. He gave me a reason to smile when I thought I would never smile again. All this from a friendship I was certain was doomed.
So now, it is a little over a year later, and life is amazing. All the relationships I thought I lost forever are back, and better than ever. And while Joe and I see/talk to each other as much as we can, life gets busy, so it is certainly not as much as I would like. Recently Joe had a series of things happen to him, coincidences like the ones we have always joked about, and debated whether or not they were meaningful. Miracle of all miracles, he actually came to me for some perspective, rather than the other way around. It is nothing short of amazing… I can use the tools that I very likely would not even have if not for him, and I can help him find his way. If you had told me that would happen a year ago… that I would have any kind of positive life experience to share… I would have laughed, and laughed and laughed.
Joe is not an alcoholic or an addict. He is just a guy trying to be the best person he can be. And because he believed in me, he now has a friend with a set of tools not found in the “regular” world, tools that just may be able to help him live a more joyful life. Seriously, does it get any better than that?
Friends that stand by you during impossibly tough times is a miracle. Remembering that, and having gratitude for it, is priceless. And I am already mentally writing the future posts for all the great people in my life!
Recovery is a journey between two stations. One station represents total chaos, and the other represents total serenity. What is important is not where you are, but what direction you are facing. -Unknown
I have written several times in the past few months that I have been semi-haunted with memories from the past. I have also written that it is very difficult to describe why these memories are troublesome. Mainly because, until today, I did not fully understand why the memories have been bothering me. Up to today, I assumed the angst generated from these memories was caused by guilt, shame and remorse. Like I have said in the past, here is how it goes: something in the present triggers a memory of a time when I was in active addiction, my mind will go back to those times, and I will feel disturbed. Depending on the situation, I will deal with it by either talking about it, writing about it, or praying, it goes away, and life moves on. But I have always had a niggling sense that there was something more that I couldn’t quite grasp, and that I needed to figure it out in order to move past it, but what it was and what I needed to do was not apparent, and so I just kept plugging away.
So this morning I get up, and, in the course of my morning routine, vaguely recall a dream I had that involved a time in my active addiction. It wasn’t a drunk dream, no drugs or alcohol were involved, but it did remind me of past events in my life. I recalled it, but was busy getting kids ready for school, so I figured I would get back to it at some point. I then connected with a friend in the program, and we agreed to see each other at a morning meeting. It was a Big Book meeting, where we read a story from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and a couple of lines from today’s story stood out for me as if in bold print:
There have also been numerous times when I have thought about taking a drink. Such thinking usually begins with thoughts of the pleasant drinking of my youth. I learned early in my AA life that I could not afford to fondle such thoughts, as you might fondle a pet, because this particular pet could grow into a monster. Instead, I quickly substitute one or another vivid scene from the nightmare of my later drinking.
I swear, I read those words, and if my life were a cartoon, a giant lightbulb would have gone off over my head. This was the missing piece of the puzzle for me with these memories… yes, there is absolutely guilt, shame and remorse, but there was also an element of nostalgia, and a memory of when I received pleasure from my addiction.
I know this is tough for the non-addict readers to understand, or even hear (especially family), but, let’s face it: if active addiction was always terrible, then no one would be an addict. At some point in time every addict enjoyed their drug of choice, or else they wouldn’t have wound up abusing it. As much as I wish it weren’t true, the memories of when it was “fun” are still in my subconscious, and they still surface from time to time. And when I read those lines from today’s story, I realized that the dream was exactly that: it was reminding me of when I (thought) I was having fun.
You would think I would be incredibly depressed with this thought, but, actually, I was relieved. I honestly could not get what was bothering me about these memories, but now that I feel like I can explain them, and the subsequent feelings, I know what to do with them. For me, it was like have a box of tools that I knew how to use, and having a problem that required tools, but until I knew the specific problem, I didn’t know which tool to pull out and fix the problem. And now, when a nostalgic memory pops up (wasn’t it fun the time when I…), I simply have to acknowledge it, and then play the tape out (maybe that time was fun, but how about the following 300 times, when it became less fun, more dangerous, more isolating, and ultimately, nearly destroyed my life?). When I finish the thought, the answer becomes very clear: my worst day sober is 1,000 times better than my best day drunk.
That my worst day sober is better than my best day drunk!
Be who you are and say what you feel,
because those who mind don’t matter,
and those who matter don’t mind. -Dr. Seuss
Like anything in life, sometimes recovery work sucks. Going to a meeting every single day can feel like drudgery. There are people who like to start their “shares” in the exact same way, and I tense up, because I’m already aggravated by the repetition (there is this one guy that says every single time he raises his hand, “I got sick and tire of being sick and tired.” Insightful the first time you hear it. Cute the 100th time. Beyond aggravating the 1,000th time.). And, no surprise here, my attitude going in has a lot to do with what I take out of each meeting.
And then there are those surprise a-ha moments…
Today my mindset was somewhere in the middle of “I can’t wait to see what I experience” and “Dear God let this go quickly.” A woman was sharing about her feelings of isolation because no one in her “regular” life knows she is in recovery. When I say no one, I mean no one… not even her husband. He thinks she is at work when she is doing things for her recovery. We had the opportunity to talk a bit, and I was able to share with her the benefits of just letting the cat out of the bag. But that is not the point of this post.
The point is in that conversation, I was able to remember what it was like trying to be serious about a recovery program when few people in my life knew about it. Keeping the two worlds…. recovery and regular life… separate was like a job. Coming up with excuses for where I was going, remembering what to talk about and what not to talk about, keeping track of my stories… what an exhausting waste of time.
Today there is only a handful of people who do not know I am in recovery, and those people are mostly peripheral to my daily life anyway. Obviously, the initial conversations (or, more accurately for me, the follow-up conversations because someone had beaten me to the punch) are painful on many levels. But, my God, the rewards of simple honesty are so much greater, and so far-reaching, than those few uncomfortable moments of disclosure! I am so grateful not to be where this woman is, or where I once was.
If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people. -Virginia Woolf
Man, did I have a crazy AA experience today. I attended a meeting that was like a second home to me in my earliest sobriety (come to think of it, it was actually more like a first home at that point in time!). I try to get there once a week these days, and today was the day. Which was extra nice, because I celebrated 10 months yesterday, and was able to do it with my original clan today. But I digress…
A woman I know well was there, and, to put it bluntly, seemed stoned in every way… her words were slurred, her gait was off-balance, her eyes unfocused. That fact alone is upsetting enough, but to add to my alarm is that I know her personally, she actually has about a month or so less sober time than I do, and I met her at her very first post-rehab meeting. Now, a person in recovery who has potentially relapsed is, sadly, not a new story, but here’s the twist: She was chairing this particular meeting, and she was not acknowledging her altered state in any way. This led to all sorts of difficulties within the meeting… it was difficult to understand her, she “held the group hostage” with her speaking, and, therefore, by the time she opened it up to the group for sharing, there were only 8 minutes left in a 60-minute meeting.
And here’s where the drama begins… an agitated member spent the remaining minutes yelling and cursing about how angry he was at this situation. I have honestly never felt as uncomfortable in an AA meeting as I did today. While he certainly had a right to his frustration, he (in my opinion) exacerbated an already tense situation.
So, what do I take and what do I leave? Whatever the opposite of “strong suit” is, that is my relationship with confrontation, I am impossibly bad at it. And yet, I was legitimately concerned for her well-being. A friend and I tried to speak with her after the meeting, she claimed she was exhausted and nothing more. She had sober women who were driving her, so the immediate safety concern was resolved.
I guess what I can take from this morning’s adventures is “there but for the Grace of God go I.” I am so grateful to be sober today, and for there to be no question of my sobriety. I can also use this as an example of what NOT to do. When you chair a meeting, you have an extra responsibility to the group, and this morning was a big reminder of that fact. And I will leave that man’s agitation, and his judgments, behind… I am responsible for my own recovery, not anyone else’s, and if someone is unwilling to be honest and reach out for help, then there is not much more I can do except be there if and when the time comes.
Life is all about timing… the unreachable becomes reachable, the unavailable become available, the unattainable… attainable. Have the patience, wait it out. It’s all about timing.”
― Stacey Charter
I have learned two distinct, and, in my opinion, opposite, schools of thought. The first involves things happening in their own time, and that it is not up to me to force it. Time takes time, as the saying goes. The second school of thought is being responsible for yourself, for your actions, doing the next right thing, cleaning up your side of the street.
To me, these two different philosophies can be completely contradictory. At the very least they are confusing… how do you know which one is the right one?
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have two different relationships in my life that remain unresolved in terms of my “wreckage from the past.” For the past several months, I have been operating under the first school of thought… I would attempt to have patience, and work on my own life, and eventually God would let me know when it is time to deal with each of these relationships.
But time is marching on, and no progress (at least, in my opinion) has been made in either of these situations. Further, I have external circumstances entering into the picture that are forcing me to reconsider my “patience” route, and now I am wondering if I should be using my other option… making something happen.
Here’s the bottom line: as much as I have heard God speaking to me through various people and events in the past 6 months, He is not always as forthcoming as I would like Him to be! Let’s hope I walk out the door this morning and there is a sky writer telling me what to do…