A happy Monday to all! Today we read from Forming True Partnerships, a book that talks about the various relationships and how recovery impacts each. Today’s reading came from the chapter on friendship, and the author wrote both eloquently and compellingly on the friendships formed within the 12-step fellowship, and how that connection keeps her coming back.
This meeting was a celebratory one for me, as I announced my 5-year sober anniversary to the group this morning. The actual anniversary took place a few days before (Friday), and I already received my coin, but I was able to pass that coin around to my main sober network, and get their good wishes instilled into the metal. At least, that’s the tradition in our neck of the 12-step woods.
The reading was a poignant one for me. Nowadays my main network is, as I just mentioned, my Monday meeting group. But since my anniversary was Friday, I had the option of attending a meeting that was vitally important to me in my first year of sobriety. I don’t think I missed more than one or two of those Friday meetings that first year, and I went a heck of a lot in my second year as well. By year three, I was tapering them off, as the commute had become unbearable.
So this year the coincidence of the anniversary falling on the same day the meeting was held had me considering the trek down-county. That particular morning I had a horrible night’s sleep, and strongly reconsidered. I was tired, cranky, I knew I could just as easily celebrate with my Monday peeps, plus there was a fear lingering in the background… it had probably been at least a year since I had seen a single one of those meeting attendees… what if I walk in and I know no one? What if things are intensely awkwards since I had not been around in such a long time?
Finally, the correct thought hit me: I don’t attend meetings so I can be heralded, I go to share my experience, strength and hope. So with a prayer that my anniversary and whatever I was to share might help another, I set out.
Of course, none of my fears came to pass (which leads me to wonder… do they ever?). With the exception of one or two, all the old regulars were there, plus a handful of delightful newcomers (at least, new to me). I happened to arrive on the anniversary of the meeting, which meant good eats were there, and an incredible speaker who shared her story. I left with more energy than I ever would have gotten from sitting around bemoaning my previous night’s sleeplessness. I reconnected with old friends, was asked to speak at a future meeting, and left feeling a renewed sense of the fellowship.
All of which I shared at my meeting this morning, along with my most delicious homemade cake that I make (pound cake with buttercream frosting, my way of thanking this group for all their wonderful support through these 5 years). Here are some other wonderful pearls of wisdom shared:
- The value of the fellowship, and of connecting with other human beings, taps into an essential part of the human condition: the need to be seen for who we are.
- The reading, and the extolling of the fellowship within it, is reminiscent of our program’s 1st tradition. Just like we have 12 steps, we also have 12 traditions. The first one is “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on AA unity.”
- Every aspect of our fellowship is a beautiful experience that is vastly different from the relationships we build in almost any other setting. When we gather at a 12-step meeting, most of the time we are a group that would not interact in the “outside world” by a long shot. We come from vastly different social circles, socio-economic classes, even geographically there can be differences. Yet when we sit down for our 12-step meeting, we are virtually a family. We have an inherent understanding of one another before we speak a word. It is truly a priceless gift.
- One part of the story referenced the television show from the 80’s, Cheers. Specifically, the author writes about when the character Norm walks into the bar and, as the theme song sings, “everyone knows his name.” For many of us, our 12-step group is much like that, where everyone not only knows our name, but pays attention to our innermost thoughts, and sincerely wants the best for us.
- The fellowship is an amazing resource for those of us who consider ourselves introverts, shy, or have a hard time developing friendships. It’s simply a matter of coming back and becoming a regular part of a meeting… the friendships take care of themselves organically.
- The quality of friendships within the fellowship is often markedly better than the relationships formed with our drinking buddies. Some noted that when the drink is taken out of the equation, the “buddies” go away, whereas the friendships within the fellowship have staying power.
- A common expression used in meetings is “keep coming back.” And the reason for that expression is that, in many cases, that is all that’s needed for success… just keep at it, and amazing things happen!
When I said that my Monday meeting peeps are my main source of support, I do my blogging circle of friends a disservice. I started this blog at 3 months sober. It is a freaking miracle that I am still writing this same blog 5 years later, and I owe it all the incredible friends I’ve made in the blogosphere along the way!
Today was one of those days where I took advantage of my “power,” as it were, and selected a reading I hoped would help me personally. We read from the book Living Sober, and I selected the chapter “Easy Does It.”
I actually went in searching for the chapter “One Day At A Time,” only to find it was not in there. I could use that prioritization as well. And a blog post may soon follow on this one, as I find it one of the most useful adages in the 12-step lexicon.
But back to the subject at hand: we read the chapter “Easy Does It.” In terms of recovery, the chapter talks about the common thread of compulsivity that seems to exist in alcoholics. We are the type to rarely let a drink go unfinished (alcoholic or not), we read until the book is finished, and, in a newer twist, and speaking for myself, binge watching television series is a great additional example of pursuing something until the bitter end!
And of course, there’s nothing wrong with many of these compulsive tendencies… most of them are, in fact, preferable to drinking. But the chapter gently asks us to look at this piece of our personalities, and consider slowing down once we realize we are in the grips of this thinking.
Of particular import to me today was this section:
When we do find ourselves uptight and even frantic, we can ask ourselves occasionally, “Am I really that indispensable?” or “Is this hurry really necessary?” What a relief to find the honest answer is frequently no! And such devices actually serve, in the long run, no only to help us get over our drinking problem and its old ways; they also enalbe us to become far more productive, because we conserve and channel our energy better. We arrange priorities more sensibly. We learn that many actions once considered vital can be eliminated if they are thoughtfully reexamined. “How much does this really matter?” is a very good question. -pg. 45, Living Sober
Here’s what’s been the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of my mind for the past solid month… I sit with my boot on, thinking I need to sit in order to get the boot off. Then as I sit I think of the various things that I’m not doing, and feel badly about not doing them. I look around and see evidence of my not doing things… dust bunnies, empty refrigerator, laundry piles, etc. At least this is how things look in my mind. I finally get so agitated I get up and do something, anything, to relieve the pressure of not doing something. Then I recognize that my foot hurts from, you know, walking on it. Then I am depressed anew because all this means is a delay of healing. And I sit down, and the cycle begins again.
- An almost unanimous decision that employing “easy does it” to one’s life is a work- in-progress situation. Some days/weeks/months you’ll have it, and some you won’t.
- Part of the trap of this personality booby trap is the idea that we’ll relax/take time out/start enjoying life once x, y or z happens. I’ll start taking it easy after I get through the holidays, as soon as I get the promotion, once I clean the house. But this logic is inherently flawed, as there is always a new item to get through/achieve/do.
- Making a conscious decision to feed ourselves rather than delete from ourselves is important. Taking time to actually schedule, in your planner or calendar, time each day to nurture yourself, will have untold benefits.
- Claiming that you are too important to employ “easy does it” is a form of self-aggrandizing. It’s especially important to ask the questions listed above (Am I really that important and is this hurry really necessary), as the ego could be at play.
- Often we find a sense of disappointment when we are too goal-oriented. We work and work to achieve a goal, be it materialistic or not, then find said goal did not give us the satisfaction we thought it would. Then life becomes a series of pushing from goal to goal, with little appreciation for the journey that takes us to those goals.
- Though it may be trite, appreciating the journey is as important, if not more important, than appreciating the destination, as so much of life is about exactly that… the journey.
Hope everyone is having an Easy Does It Monday!
True story: one person, in his/her share (remember, trying to make things more anonymous) said the following: “if there’s laundry to be done…. well then, teach the kids how to do it!” It was said lightly, but it should be noted I wrote the paragraph above before the meeting. So I’d say this reminder from someone who did not know I was fretting about this counts as my miracle!
The title of this blog post, which also happens to be the title of the chapter we read in the morning’s meeting (from the book Living Sober) might seem counterintuitive given the endless tasks of the current holiday season. Who has time to take care of themselves when there are gifts to be bought, presents to be wrapped, cookies to be baked, parties to attend, and all of this amidst our daily lives?
And the answer is: make the time. You can’t transmit what you haven’t got. And if you don’t take the time to acquire the holiday spirit, then all the cooking, baking and shopping in the world isn’t going to give it to you.
Interestingly, this reading selection was not picked by me, but by a regular attendee of the meeting. And he did not select this reading in deference to holiday madness; rather, he selected it in deference to my madness, and the madness that surrounds my ongoing foot troubles.
So let me back it up a few steps and fill you in on exactly what’s happening with the foot. For several years now, I’ve had a problem with foot pain. The more I exercise, the worse it gets. Over the summer I joined a gym that is the most intense workout that I’ve personally endured, and so the recurring foot problem reared its ugly head.
Long story short, I finally went and had the problem diagnosed, found out there is a very simple outpatient procedure that can fix the problem, and scheduled to have it done in early November. I was uncharacteristically on the ball with the whole process… asked in-depth questions, looked out in the calendar to get the best 5 day window for the healing process, organized my life accordingly.
And I had the surgery, and was told it was a success. Except… my foot had more pain than before I started. And so the last several weeks have been spent trying to figure out exactly why this is so. This afternoon I have an appointment where the doctor will read the MRI and hopefully give me a firm diagnosis and solution.
This process… and I dislike wrapping it up like this, as if the process is complete, which it by no means is… has been inconvenient, frustrating, anxiety-producing, and has forced me to reach out for help in ways that make me extremely uncomfortable.
So when my friend first suggested the reading, I wanted to roll my eyes to the ceiling. “Being good to myself” is all I’ve been doing, since I don’t have much of a choice to do anything else… my foot won’t let me!
Plus the chapter is all about sobriety, so I doubted it would have much relatability to my current state of affairs.
Then I read this section:
It’s often said that problem drinkers are perfectionists, impatient about any shortcomings, especially our own. Setting impossible goals for ourselves, we nevertheless struggle fiercely to reach these unattainable ideals.
Then, since no human being could possibly maintain the extremely high standards we often demand, we find ourselves falling short, as all people must whose aims are unrealistic. And discouragement and depression set in. We angrily punish ourselves for being less than super-perfect.
That is precisely where we can start being good—at least fair—to ourselves. We would not demand of a child or of any handicapped person more than is reasonable. It seems to us we have no right to expect such miracles of ourselves as recovering alcoholics, either.
Impatient to get completely well by Tuesday, we find ourselves still convalescing on Wednesday, and start blaming ourselves. That’s a good time to back off, mentally, and look at ourselves in as detached, objective a way as we can. What would we do if a sick loved one or friend got discouraged about slow recuperation progress, and began to refuse medicine? -pg. 42
Some housekeeping: apologies for being so absent from this blog. Not only have I not written in a couple of weeks, I’ve also not responded to comments. I will be going back when I hit publish, but it shows a complete lack of appreciation for those who take the time to respond, and the last thing I want to do is to appear ungrateful. I appreciate all comments, and I’m sorry for failing to show my appreciation!
The reason for the absence is due to a recent foot surgery that kept me with my foot elevated for a good number of days. Since I detest using a laptop, this prevented me from my trusty desktop computer. Then we were on a days-long road trip to watch my son race a cross-country course with the best of the best, so again away from my preferred choice of writing.
So now I’m back, and hopefully with some wisdom to share!
Today’s meeting focused on Step Two in the twelve steps of recovery:
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Always a good step for discussion, since so many people come to the rooms of the 12-step fellowship with such a vast array of beliefs and non-beliefs.
As usual, the attendees did not disappoint. One regular, a man whose professional life is based on his spirituality, says he struggles. Not in the sense in believing a Higher Power exists, but in those who judge him for what he does for a living (member of a religious order). Even in the meetings he has found this to be true, and it can be problematic. He reminds himself that the step reads “could,” not “will,” and that his focus should remain on the positive, not the negative. He finds meetings that support him, and avoids meetings that tear him down.
Good advice on a broader scope, not just because he is a religious professional, and advice that I’ll take to heart.
A friend who continues to struggle with the notion of God still struggles with this step, and takes umbrage with some of its wording. She dislikes that they suggest to us that we “quit the debating society” and instead do our best to keep an open mind. She finds this advice somewhat offensive, in that she believes an open mind should question things.
But then she reminds herself that keeping an open mind means remaining open to all suggestions, even the ones that don’t necessarily make sense to her. Plus, all questions about a higher power aside, she firmly believes in the success of the 12-step paradigm, as she’s seen literally hundreds of success stories with her own eyes. For now, this is enough to keep her coming back, and trying to keep her mind open to new possibilities.
Another woman shared that she is the type who believed herself spiritual while continuing to drink problematically. She thought she asked for help numerous times, only to continue to relapse. So she believed in a higher power, but not necessarily in His/Her/Its ability to “restore her to sanity.”
She realized the error in her thinking was that she was asking for help, but not doing her part to make things happen. In working the 12 steps she realized there was real action that needed to be taken by her, and in taking that action she believes her Higher Power removed from her the obsession to drink.
I particularly enjoyed hearing her share, because it clicked with my personal story a bit. I tried and failed to get sober for a solid 8-9 months before I hit my alcoholic bottom. During that time I went to meetings, I had a sponsor, and I prayed all the time, on my knees just as I was told to do. I thought I followed instructions, but I relapsed too many times to count.
Then I hit my bottom, and while fear certainly played into my early days of sobriety, I was more or less doing the same types of things I had done the previous 8-9 months. Over the years I’ve often asked myself: other than the fear and the consequences I was facing, what was so different before and after?
When my friend shared this morning, I remembered that one prayer session that I’ve referenced a few times on this blog. It was on my first night of sobriety, not even morning yet since I surely wasn’t getting to sleep that night. I think the language I used in my prayers was likely a little more (in my head, though I’m not above talking out loud while I’m praying)… sincere, or real, for lack of a better word. But the critical difference was the question I asked of God that night. I said, “Okay, it is clear that I am doing something wrong. Can you please show me what it is?”
From that query came the analysis of what I was doing differently than the other members of the Fellowship. And from that thought process came a blueprint that I thought might help me, or at the very least would be something different to try.
And the rest is history. I believe sobriety, like life itself, is a never-ending process, so I continue to learn and grow, but I’m grateful for the original struggles that started me on a path to a more peaceful, more spiritual existence.
And I’m writing on and on, and never even got to the surgery and all the trials and tribulations that have come with it. I will do my best to get back later in the week to detail!
Logging in. Writing. Hitting Publish!
Suddenly it’s Tuesday morning, and still no wrap-up post from yesterday’s meeting. I’m going to blame the three day weekend, and an aging, limping mess of a dishwasher that needed some funeral arrangements, but the time is coming where I figure out what comes next for this blog.
In other words: sorry again for the delay.
It was a decently sized meeting, considering it to be a holiday. It’s counterintuitive to me that holidays produce smaller sized meetings. I would think more people would show up, since more people have off from work. In any event, we had the usual suspects, plus one or two extras.
We read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”), a chapter entitled “To the Family Afterward.” This is another chapter, much like last month, that deals with topics pertaining to the loved ones of the alcoholic, rather than the alcoholic himself/herself. As I mentioned last month, these two chapters are the prologue to Al-Anon.
According to this chapter, there seem to be two watchwords for the recovering alcoholic and his/her family in the early days of sobriety:
The chapter breaks down a whole bunch of possible scenarios that family may experience as the alcoholic recovers, and how best to handle them.
Attendees in the meeting shared their validation of the various scenarios laid out, and added a few more. One gentleman told an amusing story. He came home the night of his seven year sober anniversary, and proudly presented the coin to his wife. She replied, “Congratulations, these were the happiest six years of my life.” He gently reminded her it has been seven years, not six, to which she replied, “Yeah… I’m leaving out that first year on purpose.”
The expression “it’s a family disease” exists for a reason, I guess.
That illustrates the patience part. The balance concept? Well, those reading this post who are in recovery are likely chuckling ruefully. Alcoholics are known for a lot of things, but balance and moderation are not at the top of the list. Or at the bottom for that matter.
So it follows that in recovery, we can go in a bunch of well-intentioned but over the top directions… we find God, then shove Him down everyone’s throat. Or we lose sight of the friends and family that supported us in favor of our new recovery activities.
So the family reacts, and the cycle of chaos starts all over again.
The solution is for everyone involved to communicate honestly and productively, and bring those two watchwords back to the forefront.
As another gentleman pointed out in the meeting: if you go walking into the woods for three days straight, then finally decide you want out, do you think you’re finding your way back in an hour? It took time to get in, it’ll take time to get out again.
It was an interesting chapter for me to read, given the holiday on which we read it (for those not in the United States, we celebrated Labor Day yesterday). Normally when I read this chapter, I have little to no reaction. I am one of the extremely fortunate ones who had complete family support as I recovered. None of the anecdotes described in the chapter apply directly to my life.
However, Labor Day weekend holds a bi-annual event in my family of origin. We have been holding a family reunion for as long as I’ve been alive. Longer, actually, which makes me want to find out how long it’s been going on. At this point we have about 150 people in attendance, and it is an all-day, much-of-the-night affair.
There have been three so far in my sobriety. I believe I skipped entirely the first one, I attended briefly the second, this past Saturday I stayed the longest.
The days leading up to the event had me in a state of… something along the lines of discontent, I suppose. You see, this is the one situation on which I haven’t readily been able to slap the “sober is better” sticker. The event is largely outdoors, at a time of year where it is humid. I am not the outdoorsy type (understatement). There are tons of people, but these are people I see either at this event, or a funeral, so a catch-up conversation (and sometimes a reminder of names) is required each and every time. The vast majority of these people will be imbibing a social lubricant called beer (or a mixed drink); I will be consuming the social lubricant called Diet Pepsi.
If I’m being brutally honest, I was dreading the event, and then I was berating myself for dreading it. What kind of person does not want to spend time with their family? But the equally brutal truth is that pre-recovery, I couldn’t wait for the event, because it was an all all-day drink fest, and now it’s not. For me, anyway. For many others, it continued to be. So it felt like I had more to dread than I had to anticipate.
Luckily for me, I have tools in the toolkit to use in times such as these, and I had my pre-game rituals in place. The most important of these tools, in my opinion, is to have a quick exit strategy should I become uncomfortable around the alcohol/excessive drinking.
The other tool that I used, and was the turning point in the event, was to remember why I was actually there: to spend time with family, and to participate in a long-standing family tradition. When I kept that in the forefront of my mind, instead of focusing on the alcohol that surrounded me, I was able to relax and enjoy the event.
People still got drunk. In fact, I heard tales of overturned golf carts at the end of the evening (which was really early morning) that had me belly laughing. But the reality is the people who got as drunk as I would have gotten were in the minority. The majority of people were casually drinking, or not drinking at all, and they were a delight. I dragged my feet going to the reunion, but I left with a grateful heart.
And then I got to read and remember why I am so grateful!
Family love and support are perennial miracles
If I get to the end of this post, and I hit publish, AND it’s coherent… that is today’s miracle. I will simply put “enough said.”
Without getting into unnecessary complaining, we are getting to that point in the summer. That and a ridiculously unnecessary, incredibly long and painful dentist appointment makes me less than the happy camper I want to be.
Hopefully blogging will work its usual magic.
Today being the first of the month, we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”), and we are up to Chapter 8: To the Wives.
Come to think of it, this chapter might have sent the ball rolling down the hill of unhappiness, since the meeting was right before the dentist appointment. I shared with the group that this chapter is, hands down, my least favorite in the book.
For those not familiar, “To the Wives” addresses the loved ones of alcoholics, and how best to help them. In answer to your unspoken question, the chauvinistic title is due to the culture in the time it was published (1939).
My share was an honest one: I did not have a whole lot to share, due to my being unable to relate to its contents. I think the closest part of the chapter that spoke to me was the notion that the rebuilding a relationship in recovery is a journey for both parties. Mistakes will be made, patience needs to be plentiful. But the outcome can be a stronger relationship than ever before.
Amen to that part of the chapter!
The rest… not so much. And I was not alone. Others took umbrage with the advice to take the alcoholic behavior with a smile, for attempting to nag or browbeat an alcoholic into recovery is a futile endeavor at best, a nudge towards more drinking at worst.
One regular attendee who has been around the meetings for decades longer than I explained it this way: this chapter is 13 years ahead of the creation of Al-Anon, the 12-step fellowship for families of alcoholics. It is the first stumbling steps in terms of direction; therefore, it needs to be fleshed out a great deal more. For him, his greatest take-away from the chapter is to understand an alcoholic cannot be forced into recovery, at least not into long-term recovery. Willingness must come from within, and no brute force will create it.
One member of the group was a lone wolf. He said the spirit of this chapter was the turning point for his sobriety. For months and months, his wife and he argued bitterly over his drinking, to no avail. It got so bad that he finally decided he needed to end the marriage. He could not stop drinking, despite his best efforts, and he was tired of the endless fighting within his marriage. He made up his mind that as soon as he was done work he was going to tell her the marriage was over.
As fate would have it, his wife went to her first Al-Anon meeting that very same day, and she was taught many of the same lessons discussed in this chapter. When he arrived home that evening, he was met with compassion and understanding, rather than contempt and disgust. They talked reasonably in a way they hadn’t before, and he sat down and read The Big Book for the first time that evening.
And the rest is history.
I believe I said this last week as well: no matter how unusual the message, there is always someone to receive it.
One friend was in the meeting, and I was counting on her to bring enlightenment to me regarding this chapter. She did not disappoint. She thinks the message in the chapter is a sound one with universal application: meet a problem in your life with love, rather than with resentment. If you have an active alcoholic in your life, you are better served treating them with love. She said earlier in her sobriety, both she and her husband attended Al-Anon as well as Alcoholics Anonymous, since they were both in recovery, and those were the best years of their married life. The message is to take care of your side of the street rather than trying to fix someone else’s.
These words spoke to me more than any words in the chapter, and with problems more diverse than addiction. We are currently struggling with an extended family problem, and how best to define our role in trying to resolve it. Bringing love to the problem rather than hate is illuminating, and advice I will immediately be putting into effect!
Enough said! And the blogging has helped me to detach with love from my dentist 😉
The literature in this week’s meeting was Forming True Partnerships. It is the newest book in AA’s conference-approved literature, and it deals with relationships in sobriety. Some of the chapters are universal: family, friendships. Some are semi-specific: marriage, job. And some are puzzling in their specificity (I’m looking at you, chapter on pets).
I have been sticking with the universal ones for the first half of the year; today I challenged myself to delve into deeper waters. The story turned out to be oddly specific, entirely too long and 99% pessimistic. Note to self: fully read selection before choosing!
As fate would have it, the room filled up with people, and each person that shared talked about their difficulty in relating. The very last person who shared, a male (the author of the story was female), redeemed the choice by stating he felt like he was reading his own story. So there you have it… someone is going to relate, no matter how unlikely it seems!
Odd storylines aside, we had a great discussion about relationships, both pre- and post-recovery. Every person in the room agreed that the “blueprint” offered through the twelves steps enriches relationships of all kinds.
One person shared the variety of ways he attempted to feel complete: filling his life with material things, relationship after relationship, and, through it all, alcohol. No matter how many things and people he brought into his life, he could never quite fill the hole, and loneliness was an emotion he could not tolerate. In working the 12 steps of recovery, he is able to be alone without feeling lonely.
Several other people spoke of drinking to avoid the feeling of loneliness. Most of us shared that initially alcohol was a decent working solution to problems such as loneliness, shyness, self-consciousness, and challenging social situations.
It was a solution… until it wasn’t. Then alcohol became the problem; either we drank in isolation and thus compounded our loneliness, or we drank in public and became a detriment to any and all social situations.
As it turns out, putting down the drink solves some of our problems (especially the ones that involve drunken behavior), but not all of them. Getting sober gives us the clarity to see the problems for what they are, and allows us the freedom to deal with life on life’s terms.
The final discussion I’ll share was the comparison of infatuation to intimacy. Once again, the 12 steps of recovery mirror the steps to a lasting, intimate relationship. Infatuation, where a lot of relationships begin, focus on the the ways in which one can take from the relationship. True intimacy, on the other hand, looks for ways in which you can give back. When both partners in the relationship look to be of service to one another… that’s where the magic happens.
A powerful reminder for me as I navigate all relationships in my life!
The reminder that life comes down to a few simple things… get out of my own head, and see what I can do to help others. The rest takes care of itself!
Greetings to all on a hot and muggy Monday morning from my part of the world. The expression meteorologists use, “we are in the soup,” is apt right about now!
Today’s reading came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. We read the chapter that discusses step six:
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
This turned out to be one of those meetings that started with almost nobody, but by the end filled up to our usual number of attendees. A good thing, since step 6 tends to be somewhat of a dry discussion.
I shared my evolution on this step. In my earliest days of sobriety, I assumed step 6 was the easiest of the 12. It reminded me of Catholic confession…just admit you do wrong, easy peasy! Since we all as human beings have character defects, and nobody wants to be defective, how hard can it be to be willing to have them removed?
Later, as I became more familiar with the steps, and the nuances within them, this step seemed the most ridiculous, and thus I disliked intensely discussing it at all. Within the chapter itself, it details some of the “lesser defects,” not as urgent but still in need of removal:
In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticize; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness.
When gluttony is less than ruinous, we have a milder word for that, too; we call it “taking our comfort.” We live in a world riddled with envy. To a greater or less degree, everybody is infected with it. From this defect we must surely get a warped yet definite satisfaction. Else why would we consume such great amounts of time wishing for what we have not, rather than working for it, or angrily looking for attributes we shall never have, instead of adjusting to the fact, and accepting it? And how often we work hard with no better motive than to be secure and slothful later on—only we call that “retiring.” Consider, too, our talents for procrastination, which is really sloth in five syllables. Nearly anyone could submit a good list of such defects as these, and few of us would seriously think of giving them up, at least until they cause us excessive misery.
-pg. 67, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
I read this chapter, and I’ll be honest…calling retirement another version of sloth still annoys me! So I swung the opposite direction, decided the notion of step 6 impossible (and stupid), and simply avoided it as much as I could.
Nowadays, thankfully, I take a more balanced approach. The essence of step 6, to me, is the same as saying there is no graduation from recovery…there is always a way in which I can work on myself. We are all works in progress, and as long as we are attempting to move in a direction of positive growth, we are capturing the essence of step six.
Several others shared about a variety of character defects they find most troubling, and reported mixed success in being entirely ready to remove them.
One of the first paragraphs in the chapter discusses how we in recovery can attest to the removal of one notable character defect…the obsession to drink. One attendee found that part of the chapter troubling, as she has several years of sobriety, yet still thinks about drinking most days. She’s worried she’s doing something wrong, since so many can declare that the obsession has been lifted from them.
This share brought an interesting sideline discussion: does thinking about drinking make your sobriety less sound? Obviously we are a small meeting, so it’s not like I can declare an official consensus, but our group all disagreed with the notion. Each journey to recovery is unique, as is the active addiction story that led up to it. So comparing one person’s sobriety to another is always a bad idea, and for any number of reasons.
When it comes right down to it, I imagine even the way one defines “obsession to drink” varies quite a bit. People have made the statement that the obsession to drink was removed in an instant. I cannot even comprehend how something like that would happen.
If someone were to ask me if I ever get a craving to chemically alter myself, my answer is a firm no. But what does happen is I get lost in the memory of active addiction, and the feelings that surrounded those days are complicated. In the early days of recovery this type of thing would happen many times a day, every day, and would consume me for hours. As the years have passed, the frequency, intensity and duration of those moments have dramatically decreased, but they still happen. So does this mean I still have the obsession? Does this mean my sobriety is weak, and that I am heading towards a drink?
I choose to think no. My take on any thoughts of drinking, or addiction, or anything related to my active addiction, is a normal part of life. A pattern of such thoughts, or an increased emotional reaction to them, is another tool that allows me to check myself and my sobriety: How strong do I feel? How’s my spiritual life? Have I been of service to others? Have I been isolating?
The answers to those questions allows me to move in the proper direction.
The last thing I’ll share is the wisdom I heard this morning that meant the most to me. One long timer talked about the idea of balance with regard to this step. Often people will shoot for perfection, and if they can’t achieve it, they’ll be the perfect opposite. Either way pride is involved, which of course is the opposite of humility, the general end goal of any of the 12 steps.
Balance, moderation, equilibrium…any time I hear them, my ears perk up, because I know they are qualities towards which I should strive.
Air conditioning. Enough said!
Is it wrong that I just kicked a variety of kids out of the house to write this blog post? I am choosing to think not.
In typing out the title I realize it is 7-11 day, which means that particular convenience store will be giving out free Slurpees, so perhaps if I get through this post without interruption I can reward them.
The jury’s out if that can actually happen. Actually, the jury is heavily leaning towards this not happening.
It’s funny that I am about to write a post on gratitude, and, if I’m keeping things real, I am feeling anything but in the current moment. I dropped a weight on my finger during this morning’s workout. At the time, I was grateful it wasn’t my writing hand; now I am realizing in this day and age I need all 10 fingers to write. An extremely frustrating customer service call five minutes ago plays in my head, with no obvious solution on the horizon.
And have I mentioned the variety of kids?
But this is why I love a topic like gratitude; is is a universal tool that any human being can employ at any time, for any reason. Even in the moment, when I don’t know what the next sentence will be, I am 100% sure that by the time I hit publish I will feel better, simply because my focus will be on gratitude.
And with that long intro, this morning’s literature selection came from the book Living Sober, a chapter entitled “Being Grateful.” The chapter describes the various mindsets that a grateful attitude can improve:
- Negative speculations (always assuming the worst)
- The tendency to say “Yes, but…” to anything complimentary or optimistic
- Focusing on (and talking about) the ways in which other people are wrong
- An urgency to be right, and to prove we are right
- An unwillingness to open our minds to the thoughts/beliefs of others
In each of these cases, a simple shift to the perspective of gratitude can make a world of difference.
I shared first, and I spoke of the primary reason I needed to read about gratitude today. A few months back, I submitted a resume for a job, something I have not done in more than 16 years. I found out this weekend that I did not get the job (cue the sad music).
This is the type of news where my mind and my heart are at war with one another. Maybe skirmish is a better fit, since war seems a bit big. On the one hand, I really and truly (and really and truly) know that the job was a bit of a longshot (I was competing with people with years of experience in a field where I had essentially none), it was my first foray into the professional world in a really long time, and that another opportunity will present itself. I am a strong believer that things happen for a reason, and therefore this job must not have been meant for me. I had the most ideal of scenarios in terms of the interview process, as the hiring manager is someone with whom I have a passing acquaintance and so I was able to be my authentic self. So my mind absolutely knows I put my best foot forward and have nothing in which to feel ashamed.
So that’s my head’s side of the story.
My heart has a different version of events. The fact that I can make that statement at all shows the kind of progress I’ve made in recovery. Who even knew that you could think one way but feel another? Certainly not pre-recovery Josie! All weekend long I’d be doing something and then wonder why my stomach felt jittery, or my chest area felt achy, then I’d stop and realize what the problem was… oh yeah! I didn’t get the job! And I’d feel disappointment, and a vague sense of something resembling panic, all over again.
And my mind would reprimand: What is there to feel bad about? And I’d distract myself some more. And so on, for the next two days.
I fessed up to all of this to my group this morning, and as usual they came through for me. According to people much wiser than me, it seems that the feeling of feelings is something that is actually important to do (who knew?). When I expressed uncertainty at what I would have done with this situation in active addiction, they said, “Duh! You would have picked up a drink.”
It also turns out that being hard on oneself is a typical trait of alcoholics. At least, that is the opinion of several in the room with decades of sobriety, so I trust they’ve been around our group long enough to know. This fact illustrates for me, once again, that the real work begins once we put down the drink. I’ve been sober for over four years now, and I’m still working on the self-kindness. Good thing I’m not looking to graduate from this program!
Pushing aside feelings for any reason, telling yourself they are silly or illogical, is denying your value as a human being. Human beings feel a variety of emotions for a variety of reasons; telling yourself you “shouldn’t” feel that way makes little to no sense.
Others spoke of the need to balance their feelings, so as not to wallow too long in something unpleasant or react to something too quickly. The easiest way to do this? Get out of your own head… go to a meeting, call a friend, just do something different. As the saying goes, “move a muscle, change a thought.”
A woman newer to sobriety talks about how focusing on that for which she is grateful is the number one tool she uses daily to help her stay sober. She has found it transformative: good things become great things, and when things are not so great she is able to remember all the other good things, and it lessens the sting of whatever disappointment or irritant is happening for her.
So I guess I need to focus on my nine healthy fingers!
I got one prediction right, and one wrong. I do feel better now that I’ve written about gratitude. Even better, I was wrong about the kids not coming in to hassle me. Looks like everyone’s getting a free Slurpee!
Already we are heading into the month of July… incredible!
Because it is the end of the month, we read from the book Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The story was from the chapter “The Family,” and talked about the author’s relationship with her alcoholic father in three stages:
I. When her father was actively drinking and she was a child
II. When her father got sober and her drinking took off
III. The relationship they were able to build in sobriety.
A fascinating read for most everyone; even the attendees who did not have alcoholic parents could relate, as everyone in the room had someone in their family who suffers/suffered from the disease of addiction.
Part I mirrored my own childhood: the shame that goes along with a parent’s alcoholic behavior, the sure knowledge of a personality change the moment a drink is consumed, the uncertainty of knowing which personality would be walking in the door each evening.
I loved reading about the beautiful relationship the author was able to build with her father once she started getting sober. My father passed away years before even my active addiction, but I have daydreamed often about how he and I might relate now that I am sober. I’d like to think we would have forged a deeper and more meaningful relationship that we ever had.
And I also believe that he is proud of me, wherever he is.
Some of the other members of the meeting touched on childhood shame surrounding parents and alcoholism, and learning how to discern between the person and the disease. Several with alcoholic parents remarked that they were always able to do this; they could love their mother or father but hate the effects alcohol had on him or her.
This point stood out to me, as I recently had a discussion with a close friend about this very idea: loving the person, but hating the disease. It made me wonder if I had been able to make this distinction with my own father.
The truth is, I’m not sure I ever thought consciously about it while he was alive; I just hadn’t developed enough self-awareness at that young an age.
Then I thought to myself: do I make that distinction for myself, and my addiction? I will have to ponder this some more, but I’m sorry to say I’m not sure I do. At this point, a few years into sobriety, I can say I no longer experience the raw shame of my actions in active addiction, but I think that is because I feel like I’ve rectified to the best of my ability by living each of these past 1600 or so days sober. And as I thought about it further, and considered some of the “lesser” demons I’m trying to conquer, I’m not sure I am separating myself from my actions. When I intend to eat well, exercise and drink lots of water, then fail to do so, I feel bad about myself, I don’t separate out the action from the person.
And as I write that I see it for the old thinking that it is, and I realize there is work yet for me to do. Good thing I wasn’t looking to graduate anytime soon.
There were two women new to sobriety present at the meeting, and both are experiencing struggles as they try to navigate life sober. One woman’s story in particular spoke to me. She has less than a month sober, and is battling a few things at once. First, she has adult children living in her home who still drink. So there is the challenge of going into the fridge for a bottle of water, and finding it standing next to a six-pack of beer.
Due to a medical condition, she is responsible for driving her husband everywhere he needs to go, and thus finds social situations that involve drinking to be a challenge.
Finally, her adult children want to know why, even though she has been to rehab, been to outpatient therapy, been to a counselor, and is attending meetings, why would she still be sad and struggling?
I am indignant on this woman’s behalf, which of course does her no good. What I could do, and what a couple of us did after the meeting, is share what worked for us in early sobriety. Probably the greatest piece of advice I can give (completely and utterly from the rear view mirror, mind you) is this: ask for help. Tell people what you need. Set some boundaries. People who aren’t afflicted with the disease have zero concept of its trials and tribulations, and it is wrong for us to think otherwise.
Do whatever you need to stay sober, even if it feels selfish to the extreme. Early sobriety is not a life sentence; you will get more comfortable with time. But to acquire that time you need to put yourself first. Failing to do so puts your sobriety in peril.
I’m hoping to see my friend next week with a report that she was able to negotiate some breathing room for herself.
That’s all I’ve got this beautiful summer day!
I will count mindful organization as the miracle of the moment. There’s a lot going on in my household this week, and what’s keeping me sane is a list, and reminding myself to stay in the moment. It truly is a miracle when you take the time to appreciate the here and now!