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M(3), 4/10/2017: Live and Let Live

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On this glorious Spring Monday morning we read from the book Living Sober, the chapter entitled “Live and Let Live.”

Of course, the expression live and let live does not originate in the recovery community.  In fact, the whole lesson today falls into the category of “human problems” rather than “alcoholic problems.”  But still, learning how to focus on our own lives, and refrain from concerning ourselves with the lives and opinions of others goes a long way to a successful sobriety.

I remember reading this chapter in early sobriety and finding it to be an eye opener.  I never thought of my addiction as being in any way related to the people around me.  I would hear people say, “I like to drink at my problems” or “I drank at people, not with people,” and those expressions made no sense to me.

But as the chapter let me know… I started drinking, as most do, with people.  Then, I became resentful when people commented negatively on the quantity I drank, or my attitude after I drank, so I decided to drink alone.  I compared my drinking style to that of others.  I preferred social functions with alcohol, and avoided those events that did not have alcohol.

And in all of those situations, people, and my reactions to those people, were involved.

It was a relief indeed to learn the mantra live and let live.  It reminded me that there is only one set of beliefs, opinions and actions I can control, and so to worry about anyone else’s is not only pointless, but it is counterproductive to my own serenity.

Two corollary philosophies I learned in recovery that go hand in hand with live and let live are:

What other people say about me is none of my business.

Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?

When I am on my game, and embracing these three ways of living, then my life is peaceful indeed.

Like most lessons in recovery, it is one that needs to be reviewed on a very regular basis!  It is supremely simple to forget how good life is when I am living and letting live, and instead I easily fall into the trap of believing I know what’s best for everyone around me.

As always, I am grateful to start my week with positive and healthy ways to live my most peaceful life.

Here are some other great thoughts from this morning:

  • Often the focus is on the second half of this expression… the letting live part.  But equally important is the first half… live!  If we focus on living our own best lives, is is natural to let others do the same.
  • Often figuring out the best way to live takes time.  Early sobriety is confusing in and of itself, so patience is key in terms of figuring out what exactly brings you joy.
  • People who like to control things by nature find the “let live” part of this advice to be extra difficult.  It is a process to unlearn the habit of giving others our take on a situation, or offering our input.  Time and practice will help us strengthen this skill of letting things go.
  • Typically the root cause of our inability to live and let live is our ego… we think we know better, and therefore we insist on forcing our will on others.  Learning to get our egos right-sized will go a long way in learning how to live and let live.
  • It is our job to figure out the best way for us personally to live and let live.  For some of us, the challenge is in figuring out how to keep our mouths shut, and our opinions to ourselves.  For others, the challenge is in asserting our own needs and wants, and learning to live authentically, rather than trying to please those around us.  Either way, it is our responsibility to figure it out and challenge ourselves to living our best life.
  • When in doubt about which is the best course of action…. keeping our mouths closed or open… shooting up a quick prayer can do wonders!

Wishing everyone who celebrates a beautiful Easter holiday!

Today’s Miracle:

Spring, glorious spring!

 

M(3), 1/23/2017: Two Sickies Don’t Make a Wellie

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It is still so strange to write 2017!  I wonder when I’ll get used to it?

Today we finished up the reading we started last week, which is a discussion of

Step 12:

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

I like breaking up the step and discussing it this way.  Last week we talked about the spiritual awakening and carrying the message, this week we discussed practicing the principles in all our affairs.  Today’s topic is the one that has the most universal application, and it’s a reminder that I could benefit from reading daily.

What stood out for me in today’s reading was the reminder of the importance of staying in balance.  It is all too easy to get caught up in the business of life, and forget the basic but invaluable lessons learned in recovery.  I can be reminded of this lesson, and forget all about it again the span of a heartbeat.  As the chapter itself says,

“We found that freedom from fear was far more important than freedom from want.”  -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 122

The next time I start to panic about the job search process, I hope I can remember that line!

In addition to the reminder for balance, I also heard the message of hope within the chapter.  One section reads:

“Service, gladly rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with God’s help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a common effort, the well understood fact that in God’s sight all human beings are important, the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons, the surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes but can fit and belong in God’s scheme of things- these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes. ”  -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 124

Wow is that a run-on sentence!  Grammatical commentary aside, this statement is an important reminder of what we in recovery are working towards.

So I was reminded this morning to work towards balance in my life, and the benefits for doing so are too numerous to count.  Other great lessons learned today:

  • Remembering that “True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God” is the key to this step.
  • Fixing a marriage/relationship damaged by active addiction takes time; both patience and persistence are critical.
  • When it comes to repairing relationships, often the situation gets worse before it gets better.  It’s important to hear that so as not to throw in the towel too early!  Many of us experienced a long period of marital hardship in recovery.
  • Al-anon can be a useful tool for the family member of an alcoholic.  However, not everyone will agree with this notion, so the most we can do is throw out the suggestion.
  • Financial insecurity is another problem that can persist well into sobriety.  It is a process for sure, but the 12 steps teach us how to lose those fears no matter what our financial situation looks like.
  • Step 12, like every other step, is practiced one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time!  We can feel very good about practicing step 12, then a minute later be thrown a curve ball that takes us completely off-balance.  The trick is to keep bringing ourselves back to center.

That’s it for today.  Enjoy the rest of your Monday!

Today’s Miracle:

The title of today’s post… someone said it today while speaking of relationships in recovery.  I had never heard it before, and was so delighted, I had to share!

M(3), 11/10: You Don’t Have to Be Mangled to Be Merry

 

The past few weeks, my Monday morning meetings have been nothing that has lit my imagination on fire.  Not bad by any stretch, there truly is no such thing as a bad meeting, but nothing overly inspiring, which of course makes chronicling it difficult.

I am pleased to report, not so with today’s meeting!

It is the second Monday, so the literature rotation required me to select from Living Sober, the book that gives the practical, easy to read advice for those new to recovery.  There was no hesitation as I opened to the table of contents.  Since I feel we are at the opening of what I like to think of as Drinking Season (Thanksgiving Week through the next working day after New Year’s), I knew to look for a chapter that involved planning around drinking occasions.  And the book did not disappoint.  We read Chapter 26:  “Being Wary of Drinking Occasions.”

What happened at this morning is what I love most about meetings:  newcomers opening up and sharing their fears and worries about staying sober, experienced members sharing their wisdom, everyone leaving with feeling of enrichment and solidarity.  Fortuitously, we had the biggest turnout in weeks (15), and an almost perfect mix of sobriety: about a third with a year or less, a third somewhere between 1 and 10 years, and third with over 20 years.  This variety of experience really helps with a discussion like “how to handle drinking celebrations,” because the perspective on this subject changes over time (thankfully the perspective gets better and better!).

For myself, the biggest takeaway from the reading, and this was difficult to pick, there is A LOT of good advice in this chapter, was simply:  do not worry about anyone’s opinion of your decision to be sober, focus instead on the best decisions you can make to shore up that commitment.  In early sobriety, this lesson can be excruciatingly difficult to adopt, and examples of not doing it are many.  For example, in early sobriety, I was appalled at the suggestion that I skip a drinking function.  I mean, are you kidding?  I can’t skip that party, the whole family will be there!   What will they think if I don’t show up?

Tell people I don’t drink, no way I am going to tell people that…. what would they think of me?

If I don’t drink at the party, people will notice, and then what?

That list of rhetorical questions could go on and on, and I bought into every single one of them.  As a matter of fact, for a long time I lived in defiance of this good advice (you don’t understand my life, so don’t you tell me that I can just avoid drinking situations), and the predictable outcome happened:  I did not stay sober.

So, at least from this recovered person’s perspective, I validate the advice:  worry about yourself during the early stages of recovery.  Worry about one thing about yourself:  staying sober.  And, I’m sorry to say, avoid drinking situations as much as you possibly can.  It will not be the big deal you are imagining it will be, and, even if it is, the drama will be short-lived.

From my sharing, everyone else that shared had fantastic ideas on how to stay sober during holiday gatherings.  Here are just a few, some are reiterated from the book, but all are things these attendees regularly do:

  • Give someone a call before you are heading to the event, and then call them the next morning to debrief.  This piece of advice came from my friend with nearly 30 years of sobriety, she says she still does it.  It helps her to connect with friends in recovery, and, as she puts it, “Alcohol is stronger than my 30 years, and sometimes the emotional hangover is just as bad as a physical one, talking helps!”
  • Another friend, with almost the same amount of sobriety, is a professional with the occupational hazard of regular, mandatory attendance of drinking events.  His trick, employed for so long now that people say it for him, is to deflect:  someone asks him if he wants a drink, he declines politely and immediately starts talking about the upcoming menu, and his hopes for cocktail weenies.  He is now known for his love of them, and that is what they offer him, not a drink!
  • He also gave this great advice:  No is a complete sentence.  If someone asks you if you would like a drink, you are perfectly entitled to say, “No, thank you.”  There is positively no need for further explanation!
  • One attendee says he regularly takes the humorous tack:  someone asks him if he would like a drink, his answer is, “Oh no, you don’t have enough for me.”
  • Another person says she has a lot of success throwing out the “designated driver” card, she finds people instantly respond with understanding to that.
  • I added my two cents to this advice melange:  I am well-known in my circles for my love of fountain sodas (specifically Diet Pepsi in case you are interested).  My strategy, that I still employ to this day, is to arrive at the party with a fountain soda in my hand.  People already know I love it, and convenience stores are always available to assist me in this strategy.  It has been a great success:  no one asks you if you need a drink if you’ve already got one in your hand!
  • Two more reiterated pieces of advice:  showing up a bit on the later side, and definitely leaving on the earlier side, of a drinking event will save you lots of hassles when it comes to being asked what you are drinking and dealing with drunk people.  These are strategies that I continue to use with great success at drinking bashes (which, in my family, are all major holidays).
  • The bottom line with all these great bits of advice:  no matter which path you take, I promise you are thinking about it way, WAY more than anyone else at that social function.  Once you make the decision not to drink, people move on.  The vast majority of people do not care what beverage is in your glass!

So much more great advice was given, so many great questions asked, it would be hard to fit it all into one blog post.  But the best part of the meeting, that has me smiling still:  two of the five or so “newbies” have less than 90 days, and admitted to me that they are really struggling.  As one of them put it, “So many Day One’s, it’s hard to keep track!”  Oh boy, can I remember that feeling.  This is the kind of meeting that serves the newcomer the best, so I am over the moon that they were here to gain all of this wisdom.

Plus I am hoping to try that cocktail weenie strategy and see if it works!

I’d love to hear from all of you… any good holiday survival tips?

Today’s Miracle:

Like the klutz I am becoming in middle age, I sprained my ankle over the weekend.  I am walking so much better today, so the miracle is the appreciation of the ability to walk without a limp!

M(3), 8/11: Best. Meeting. Ever!

Happy Monday, once again!  I really hope I haven’t used this title before, and I am too lazy to search, but even if I did I was incorrect then, because this meeting was truly the best one to date.  I will prove this point right after I give you the nuts and bolts.  Being the second Monday of the month, we read from the book Living Sober, which, as I have written countless times, is a fabulous “how to” book for novices in sobriety.  Each short chapter highlights a different issue with which people in early recovery grapple, and it gives practical sound advice for how to successfully jump that particular hurdle.

As fate would have it, a newcomer to the Fellowship had me beat to the meeting, and was there to greet me at the door.  He had come to the meeting last week, so it’s always good to see someone new two weeks running.  As I was setting up the meeting, I asked if he ever seen or had a chance to read Living Sober before.  He had not, so I explained how useful it can be to those in early recovery, and we discussed different ways for him to purchase the book.  Then the light bulb went off in my head, and I requested that he peruse the table of contents and select the chapter that stood out for him, and we would focus today’s meeting on his selection.  I’m still patting myself on the back for this idea… what’s better than someone brand new to recovery picking out the day’s topic?!?

The meeting was off to a great start, 30 minutes before the meeting actually started!  And it only got better from there.  I will list all the reasons today’s meeting was awesome:

1.  Newcomers

As we like to say in my 12-step fellowship, the most important person in the room is the newcomer.  And boy did we have a lot of VIP’s today!  Besides the gentleman I just wrote about, one of the regular attendees brought a woman to this meeting, and it was her very first 12-step meeting, ever!  Honestly, I had a bit of nerves when I heard that fact, which is totally ridiculous, but true nonetheless:  what if I say or do something that has her writing off 12-step meetings forever?  Thankfully, we had a chance to talk at the break, and after the meeting, and that did not appear to be the case.  Here’s hoping I see her next week!    Besides her, we had 3 others new to both my meeting, and to recovery itself.  All three had less than 4 months.  There were also two others who were new to this meeting, but I did not get a chance to speak with personally, so I am unclear on their length of sobriety.  Which brings me to the second reason the meeting was amazing…

2.  Numbers

We had a record attendance today by a landslide.  I actually stopped counting after 18, but I am guessing we had 21 or 22 attendees this morning.  We filled almost every chair in the room!  Certainly it is quality and not quantity that makes a meeting; I have been at truly fantastic meetings where there were just three of us in attendance.  However, the fact that the numbers are growing can only mean good things for the group and its survival.

3.  The “Magic of the Meeting”

I have spoken of this concept before:  the miracles that happen so often in 12-step meetings.  This morning a woman was at home, newly sober, and her husband was going back to work for the first time since she’s been sober; she will, therefore be alone for the first time in sobriety.  Anxiously crying about it to herself this morning, her sponsor unexpectedly called her to check in, and she shared her fears about being alone.  Her sponsor’s advice:  get to the first meeting you can, which turned out to be the one I run.  The topic that was selected for today’s meeting?  Fending off loneliness.  She cried as she shared this story, she was so overcome.

4.  The Relatability of the Topic

As I mentioned above, the topic was loneliness, which branches in many directions for us alcoholics:  the increased isolation we impose upon ourselves as we sink deeper into our addiction, the general malaise many of us feel our entire lives, thinking that we are somehow different from the rest of humanity, that we were not given the handbook for life that everyone else seems to have read.  Most important, the loneliness we feel in early sobriety, now that our one coping mechanism for life has been stripped away, a coping mechanism that seems to be used successfully by everyone else (seems being the operative word).

There were so many meaningful “shares” after the reading, this post would turn into a chapter if I were to list them all.  My greatest take-away from today’s reading was relating to the feeling of relief newcomers experience when we realize, through the grace of God and the 12-step fellowship, that we are not alone in this disease, that we are not the Worst Human Beings to ever live, that there are people who understand the way we think, and why we act the way we do.  We never have to feel alone again!

The gentleman who selected the chapter said he has struggled with loneliness his entire life; in fact turning to alcohol, and the bar scene, was his way of coping with loneliness.  Now he realizes that in reality, most of his attempts to be social at the bar turned out to be a night solely focused on the alcohol in his glass, rather than the people with whom he was socializing, and often the next day would bring blank spots rather than memories.  He now feels gratitude for the meetings themselves; not only are they a means of connecting with others, but he is connecting with people who truly understand him.  He enjoys meetings both when he is feeling low and needs a lift, and also when he is feeling good and can offer that same lift to others in need.

Another regular, one with almost 30 years of sobriety, said that of all the different components of the 12-step program, the meeting is the most critical component for him.  He said once he found this fellowship, he has never felt true loneliness again.  He is not sure if that is from the support of fellow alcoholics, or finding a Higher Power, but he had felt comfortable in his own skin ever since finding this 12-step fellowship.

A woman with almost 10 years talked about the isolation of active addiction, and how it was hard to break those behaviors even after becoming sober.  It takes time, and repeated use of the new skills we learn in sobriety, but the payoff is great.

A friend I haven’t seen in a while came back to the meeting, and it was so wonderful to see her again!  She has been swamped this summer, and has been unable to attend her regular meetings, so this topic applied directly to her life as well.  She said the advice given at the very end of the chapter stood out the most to her.  The advice is:  as soon as you realize you are starting to isolate, do something about it!  Just the act of reaching out is often enough to dispel feelings of loneliness.  Although unable to connect with her recovery friends, she did reach out to a family member, and the result was the same:  instant mood improvement!

5.  Gratitude

Every single person that shared today spoke of how grateful they are to be present today, how appreciative they are of my service in leading the meeting, and how much they learned themselves from listening to the others.  How often in life are you in a room where every single person is truly glad to be there, and glad that you are there?  It’s impossible to leave without feeling great!

 

 Today’s Miracle:

It seems redundant, but I’ll say it anyway:  having the privilege to experience this kind of life-affirming stuff is such a miracle, and I hope I stay as grateful as I am today!

 

M(3), 2/17: Dissecting Step Two

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:

  1. Belief in a power greater than ourselves
  2. 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.

Today’s Miracle:

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!

M(3), 2/10: Remembering Your Last Drunk

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.

Today’s Miracle:
I am grateful that I still have my seat in my 12-step program, and that I choose to keep it.

M(3), 1/13: The Value of Meetings

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.

Hmmm…

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?

Today’s Miracle:

That I have this support system on which to lean!

M(3), 1/6: Phenomenon of Craving

But what if I’m craving it all!?!

First meeting of the new year!

Because it is the first Monday of the month, we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and in the immortal words of Maria Von Trapp, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start!”  And so we read “The Doctor’s Opinion,” in which Dr. Silkworth gives his seal of approval to the fledgling organization called AA.  A tremendous risk for a medical doctor to do in the 1930’s; the fellowship owes a debt of gratitude to him.

The part of the reading that stood out to me this morning is as follows:

Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol.  The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false.  To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one.  They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks – drinks they see others taking with impunity.  After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again.  This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery.

pp xxviii-xxix, Alcoholics Anonymous

There are many reasons why I, as a woman in recovery from addiction, choose to remain sober, and on any given day the priority of those reasons may change.  On this particular day, the number one reason I choose to remain sober is my fear of the “phenomenon of craving.”  What would happen if I were to have one glass of wine, take one pill?  Would I go immediately back down the rabbit hole of active addiction?  Would I have a moderate experience that would spiral me downwards slowly but surely?  Would it be a non-event and I find that I don’t want to continue?  I don’t know what would happen, and more importantly, I have a healthy fear of the potential outcome, so I choose not to test those waters.

Two days ago I was heading downstairs for my first cup of coffee.  As I descended the stairs, I admired the handiwork of recent vacuuming.  I was so enchanted by their pristine condition that I lost my footing and fell down about 6 of them, winding up with my left leg up at the top, and the rest of me down at the bottom.  Ouch (and, needless to say, Kristen and Christy, I will be putting my “back to fitness” plans on a temporary hold!).  So the rest of the weekend was spent elevating, icing, and scheduling my Advil doses.  By this morning, I realized I would need to have this knee checked out.  So down to the doctor’s I will go.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past where this kind of calamity would have meant, in my addicted mind, a get out of jail free card.  I would have found ways to milk this injury to its greatest mind-altering extent, and would have felt completely justified in doing so.  Thanks to the clarity of sobriety and a new skill set developed through a program of recovery, I now know that there is no such thing as a get out of jail free card, and I am not willing to gamble with the phenomenon of craving.  So instead, I elevate and ice my knee, even when I am sick of doing so, and I remain grateful that I am able to overcome this obstacle and maintain my sobriety.

Today’s Miracle:

That I did not have to go to multiple Doctor’s offices, and no x-rays are necessary, is a miracle.  No tears, nothing broken, just time and patience are needed… God bless my husband and children!

Monday Meeting Miracles: 12/23

I wasn’t sure which way today’s meeting was going to go, attendance-wise, being that we are two days away from Christmas.  At the start, it was just me and two other gentleman, so I thought, “Well, I wasted some baking.”  But ten minutes after the start of the meeting, we were up to 10 attendees, so hooray!

Today’s reading selection was the second half of step 12 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.   For those unfamiliar, Step 12 reads as follows:

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

Step 12 is a great one for sharing at meetings, because there is so much to discuss, and because it encapsulates the 12-step program so beautifully.  One person shared that what he took most from the reading is the importance of staying in good spiritual condition.  For him, that means regular meeting attendance, so that he can be reminded of what is important… and what is not.  A great thought for this time of year!

Another person found his focus on the part of the step that talks about carrying the message, and how much reaching his hand out to another in need enriches his life.

For me, what I took away from the reading selection today is the importance of maintaining the proper outlook.  In any given situation, I can choose to focus on what is going wrong, or I can choose to focus on what is going right, and my mental state will reflect that choice perfectly.

And what another great message this is for the season.  As I headed into the meeting, I was preoccupied with my ever-present holiday to do list:  will I have time to hit all the stores I need to hit?  What chores can I delegate (and be satisfied however they turn out)?  Will the kids manage not to kill each other while I am away from the house?  You get the idea.  And when my mind is going a mile a minute like that, guess where my serenity level is?

Just reading about the idea of changing my thought process was enough to stop the racing thoughts, and by the time I was finished sharing, I truly felt ready to leave the meeting and properly enjoy the holiday season, the school break, and even the shopping, wrapping and baking that still awaited me.

Which, when you think about it, is a miracle!

Today’s Miracle:

I am filled with excitement, not only because I got everything done I needed to today, not only because I am sitting down to write this post (which I never thought I would do), but because I vowed to myself that on December 26th my Christmas present to myself will be an uninterrupted morning, coffee ready and waiting, a comfortable chair, and my computer, and I am catching up on all the brilliant posts I have been missing by my wonderful friends in the blogosphere.  In the meantime, know that I miss you all so much, and I am praying that you are having a miraculous holiday season!

To Amend or Not to Amend, That is the Question

Quick Monday Meeting Recap:

Of course I am biased, but today was a spectacular meeting!  We had 11 people, which is a fine number of attendees:  everyone gets to share, but no one feels pressured to speak.  We had a perfect blend of sobriety (again, I am biased!)… one person had 12 days, one person had 25 years, and lots of time in between.  I like having the mix because it provides such a broad spectrum in terms of perspective.

Today was a Step 8 meeting (made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all).  If you are unfamiliar with the 12 steps of recovery and are interested in a little more background with regard to Step 8, I wrote a post about it earlier this year, check it out!

In my experience, the main topic of conversation at a Step 8 meeting is how detailed one needs to be in terms of making the list of people one has harmed.  Do you need to make amends to the playground buddy you pushed off the swing when you were six years old?

The sub-topic is just how detailed one needs to be while actually making an amends with respect to past misdeeds.  Usually a lively discussion follows, because there are people who will take the amends process to great lengths, while there are others who believe strongly that the intent of steps 8 and 9 (step 9 is actually making the amends) is to clean up your side of the street, but not at the expense of another’s peace of mind.

And then there are the murkier ethical dilemmas, such as:  what if your mistake has legal implications, but many years have gone by?  Do you risk legal consequences in order clear your conscience?  There are diverse opinions on all of these subjects, which is why step 8 is a fascinating topic to explore.

At less than two years of sobriety, all I know for sure is that I have a lot to learn about sobriety, so I don’t feel like I need to rush the amends process.  A friend of mine who happened to attend today’s meeting, a woman with nine years of sobriety, says the longer she stays sober the more she understands all the amends she needs to make.  That makes sense to me, and so I have faith that when the time is right, I will know it, and I will have the serenity, courage and wisdom with which to make amends.

As always, I welcome feedback from my friends in recovery… what are your thoughts on the amends process?

Today’s Miracle:

I have stayed true to the individuals to whom I’ve made amends in the last 18 months, and I have not had to add to my list since becoming sober!

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