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M(3), 3/20/2017: The Benefits of Self-Inventory

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Woo Hoo!  Enough said.

Today’s reading came from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and focused on:

Step 10:

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

This was the first step where I realized these tools could be used for more than just staying sober… they were tools for a better way of life.  It’s such a simple thing, self-inventory, but it brings truly powerful results.  The kind of inventory this chapter talks about is a spot inventory, where you stop and consider what is going on, and your part in it, during times of distress.  There are more in-depth inventories as well, but the Step 10 is one you perform on a daily basis.

Every part of this chapter is incredibly useful, but what stood out the most to me this morning is the idea of an emotional hangover:

But there is another kind of hangover which we all experience whether we are drinking or not.  That is the emotional hangover, the direct result of yesterday’s and sometimes today’s excesses of negative emotion- anger, fear, jealousy and the like.  -pg 88, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

I wrote last week of a variety of life issues that were causing me discontent.  I predicted that they would all resolve by the same time the following week, though I doubted any of them would settle to my satisfaction.  And I would say, by and large, that I was right on the money.  It is one week later, and my part in those issues is done, none of them turned out the way I would have liked, and life is moving on.

When I was living in the throes of the negative emotions associated with the issues, I experienced emotional hangovers as a result.  I did not sleep soundly, I was irritable, and I had a vague sense of discontent.  But when I took the time to analyze the problem, figured out my part and acted accordingly, I felt better.  Most important, at least most important for me, I determined where my part ends and I did my best to let it go.  In taking the time to do this self-earching I more quickly move through the negative emotions, and am better able to let go of the resentments that develop as a result.

And since we all know that life issues rotate on a pretty regular basis, it helps to develop the practice of self-inventory.  Like any ability, the more we practice, the better skilled we are!

Today’s meeting was a large one, close to 20 attendees, and everyone who shared agreed that this is one of the best steps for improving our daily lives.  Here are some other great shares from this morning:

  • Another great take-away from the reading this morning is the notion that every time we are disturbed, there is something wrong with us.  This is a hard concept to grasp initially, but the more you ponder, the more sense it makes.  If we are involved, then we play a part.
  • Justifiable anger and justifiable resentments can be the downfall for many an alcoholic.  We are best to leave the justifiable stuff to people who can handle it.  Life becomes a lot simpler if we stop having to decide if a resentment is justifiable or not.
  • The step does not say to make amends when we get around to it, it say to make amends promptly.  When we take inventory and decide we’ve done wrong, we must make that amend as soon as possible.  This practice leads to a greater sense of inner peace.
  • The beauty of the 12 steps is in their simplicity.  For a lot of us, the directions we’re given in early sobriety need to be as simple as possible for us to comprehend them.  Luckily, there are wonderful people who have gone ahead of us who know how to tell us what to do in the simplest language possible.  Keeping things simple is the key to success!
  • This chapter emphasizes that learning the skills of effective self-inventory is a process, sometimes a lifelong one.  The knowledge that we need not be perfect in figuring out our intentions and motives is a relief, and allows us to be gentle with ourselves as we learn.
  • Another key point in the chapter is learning to restrain ourselves from impulsively taking the first action that occurs to us.  Almost without fail our first response is not our best one, so cultivating the skill of restraint is incredibly important.
  • Asking the very simple question, “Am I doing to others as I would have done to me?” is a simple and effective way to take self-inventory.

I hope everyone is enjoying this first day of Spring!

Today’s Miracle:

That my first day of Spring actually feels like Spring!  After last week’s snow storm, I wasn’t sure it would ever warm up again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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M(3),2017: From Your Mouth To God’s Ears

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A very happy Monday, and a happy President’s Day to my American readers!  I’m hoping you are having as beautiful a day as I am having.  It feels more like spring than it does late February in my neck of the woods!

Today’s reading was from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we studied:


Step Eleven

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.


There was a great crowd this morning… just enough people that everyone had a chance to share, a nice mix of long-timers and those with a smaller amount of sober time, a group of regular attendees and those who were new to the meeting.

When I read this particular step, I break it down and look at prayer and meditation as two distinctly separate things, though I suppose in an ideal world they would be connected.  As for prayer, the chapter defines prayer perfectly:

Prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God.  -pg. 102, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

My prayer life, or ritual of praying, has evolved quite a bit over the years, and I imagine will continue to do so for the rest of my life.  I am currently at a point where the bulk of my praying is conversational in nature… I talk to God, express gratitude, ask for intentions, in much the same way as I would talk to another human being.  I shared as much with the group this morning, and I wondered aloud if I am missing something important by not including more formal prayers in my daily practice.  I invited anyone in the group that might be willing to share with me the benefits they receive from praying in a more formal manner.

As is always the case, my fellow Monday meeting attendees did not disappoint.  Each person shared with me the various ways they pray, and how their prayer rituals help them.  Unsurprisingly, the list was a diverse one:

  • Morning prayers said immediately upon waking
  • Morning prayer said over coffee
  • Morning prayers said on the commute into work
  • Reading from a daily devotional book
  • Listening to Christian radio
  • Formal meditation
  • Yoga as a form of prayer
  • Chanting and singing prayer

Believe it or not, I’m not sure I listed them all!  In every case, the benefits received were the same, no matter what type of prayer is uttered:  a deeper relationship with one’s Higher Power.  In deepening the relationship, each person reports receiving a deeper sense of gratitude, a feeling of connection, and an overall sense of peace that, prior to a prayer life, had not been experienced.

Most important, not a single person could list a negative side effect to prayer.  There simply is no downside!  Even those who fall on the spectrum of agnosticism did not find a drawback in attempting to pray.

The group did not speak as much on the meditation piece, so it is hard to try to write a consensus.  Speaking for myself, and I know I’m repeating myself from past blog pieces, meditation is a practice I dearly wish to master.  Hell, I’d settle for being able to claim that I am half-assed meditator!  Sadly, I can make no such proclamation.  Here’s what I can say:  when I have been able to meditate on a regular basis, I am able to draw upon a reserve of calm that I don’t otherwise have.  That calm allows me to pause in stressful situations, and thoughtfully consider the best way to react.

Regular meditation also deepens my sense of gratitude, and allows me to be more present in my daily activities.

Finally, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment when I engage in a regular meditation practice.   Similar to when I exercise, I feel empowered by the regular practice of something I know is good for me mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

Maybe, just maybe, now that I’ve written all this out, the fire will be lit, and I will restart my meditation practice!

Today’s Miracle:

Writing a post when everyone is home from school/work.  Usually people around means I am anywhere but in front of the computer!

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), 1/16/2017: Carry the Message

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Today we read step 12 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  For those not familiar with the 12-step program:

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.

As this step is lengthy, we divided the reading over the course of two weeks.  This week we read the first two prongs of the three-pronged step:  the part about spiritual awakenings, and the part about carrying the message.  We’ll read about practicing these principles in all our affairs next week.

Spiritual awakening as a concept is a tricky one to explain, as the meaning differs from individual to individual.  It is especially hard to grasp or appreciate when one struggles with the concept of a Higher Power.

From my experience, a spiritual awakening was one I could see happening after the fact; I was by no means aware of an awakening as it was happening.  But when I look back over the course of my sobriety, I could see critical junctures where I allowed for faith to enter, and the miracles that resulted from the decision to trust in a Higher Power.  And that kind of positive energy builds upon itself.  The more you are aware of it, the more it seems to happen!

Carrying the message pretty much sums up what I have been talking about with respect to my WOTY.  Service is the foundation of the 12-step program; the more you give, the more you get back.  The other nice reminder I got from today’s reading is that any and all service is beneficial.  You don’t have to chair a charity organization to make an impact.  Simply making the coffee for a meeting is service, and it is invaluable.

Other valuable takeaways from this morning’s meeting:

  • The spiritual awakening happens as a result of the steps, so there should be no pressure to have a spiritual awakening… just do the steps to the best of your ability, and good things will happen
  • When you are attempting to carry the message to another, it is easy to feel bad if the message is not received, or is rejected.  Carrying the message is about you, not the recipient.  Give to the best of your ability, and leave the results up to God.
  • Spiritual awakenings have a lot to do with emotional sobriety.  It’s not enough to put down the drink and achieve physical sobriety.  Finding a balance so life is not all about the high’s and lows’s… that’s the goal.
  • It’s great to talk the talk, as we often do in our meetings.  But step 12 is about walking the walk.  Our program is one of attraction, not promotion.  Therefore out very lives, and the way we carry ourselves… that is the message.
  • Step 12, as it reads in this chapter, is a nice snapshot of the whole program.  It takes you through step by step and shows you what the program has to offer.  If you are interested in learning about the 12-step program, flipping to this chapter is an excellent starting point.
  • Developing a spiritual life inside the 12-step fellowship is an excellent start, but to truly embrace step 12, it is critical to take the lessons learned here and carry them outward to life outside the fellowship.

For those in the US, hope you are enjoying the holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Today’s Miracle:

Kids are home from school, and so far chaos has been kept to a minimum.  Here’s to the rest of the day remaining as calm as the first half!

 

M(3), 11/21/16: I’m Back!

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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!

Today’s Miracle:

Logging in.  Writing.  Hitting Publish!

 

M(3), 9/19/16: Willingness is the Key

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Today’s meeting, and its subject matter, was so spot on for me that it gives me the chills just thinking about it.  Then again, I feel that way pretty much any time we talk about…

Step Three

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him

I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again:  step three is my favorite of the 12 steps of recovery.  It has universal application, and applies to every single human on the planet.  Maybe animals too.

We had an interesting turnout today.  For the first time in years, maybe ever, there were more strangers in my meeting than there were regulars.  This increase in diversity resulted in a wider array of wisdom and shares, which can only be a good thing.

One of the regulars, a man who I quote virtually every week in this blog, started our meeting off right with the announcement that he is 30 years sober as of this past weekend.  This announcement elevated the collective mood of the room big time.  He talked about a particular section of the reading:

…He might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from self-sufficiency.  Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking up into warring fragments.  Each fragment says to the others, “We are right and you are wrong.”  Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough, self-righteously imposes its will upon the rest.  And everywhere the same thing is being done on an individual basis.  The sum of all this mighty effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before.  The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off.  Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin.  -pg. 37, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

He said the first time he went to a Step Three meeting, an argument broke out over what the word “juggernaut” means.  Each of the multiple people involved insisted they knew the correct definition.  Finally, someone suggested pulling out a dictionary; someone did, and the definition was/is:

Juggernaut:  a literal or metaphorical force regarded as mercilessly destructive and unstoppable.

Once the irony settled in that they were acting like juggernauts while arguing about its meaning, everyone laughed and moved on to more productive conversations.

Humorous anecdote aside, my longtime sober friend went on to talk about what an apt description the word juggernaut is when describing self-will.  How often do we, in the zest to prove ourselves right and another wrong, get so deep into a debate that we lose sight of the original issue?

Or the times when we pursue a goal, something we justify as a “single-minded passion,” to the exclusion of everything else of value in our lives?

Or when we want something so badly we rationalize every questionable decision and action so that it fits our current needs and wants?

The list is endless, as is the specific list of ways we alcoholics misused our self-will:

  • “I’m an adult, and nobody is going to tell me what I can or can’t drink!”
  • “How dare they tell me I drink too much, when they fill in the blank.”
  • “I need this drink now, since life is so stressful.  Once life gets calmer, I will think about cutting back.”
  • “How can I not drink when it is such a part of my life?  Everyone I know drinks!”
  • Ad infinitum…

If we accept that relentless self-will is counterproductive, and we are intrigued by the idea of turning said will over the care of the God of our understanding, the next question becomes how exactly do we pull off such a feat?

Many people shared in the meeting this morning regarding the ways in which they went about this process; the underlying theme throughout was willingness.  The key to turning things over is simply to be willing to do so.  The minute we start arguing about the different reasons why our way in the right way, we have closed the door to willingness.

This is exactly why I love Step Three so much; it is a lesson that I need to learn over and over again.  I suspect for the rest of my life I will be remembering that I need to display some willingness.

I have an ongoing situation that has created some intermittent periods of anxiety in my life.  I have a strong suspicion that if I could go back and create a timeline of when I was feeling the most stress regarding this issue, and chart my feelings and subsequent actions during those period of angst, I would find that I decided to take back my self-will and force the solution of my choosing.  Therefore, just reading this selection brought instant relief:

The more we become willing to depend on a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are.  -pg. 36, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

When I am taking back my self-will, my logic screams out, “So what does that mean, you sit around and wait for God to hand things to you?”

And of course that’s not the answer.  The answer lies in yet another tool of recovery I love but conveniently “misplace” in times of stress:

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Today’s Miracle:

Rain, rain, don’t go away!  We just got rain in our area for the first time in forever, and never have I been happier to deal with gray skies! 

 

M(3), 7/18/16: Defective Characters

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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.

Today’s Miracle:

Air conditioning.  Enough said!

 

 

M(3), 6/20/16: The Person with the Most Sobriety Is the One who Got Up the Earliest this Morning

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Hoping everyone who celebrated Father’s Day yesterday had a wonderful time doing so.

This morning’s meeting was a powerful one, surprising because summer is when we see a lower attendance.  But this morning we had 16 seats filled, and everyone had something to share.

We read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we focused on Step Seven:

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings

This is a chapter that focuses on the concept of humility, and its importance in the process of recovery from addiction.  Many people equate humility with humiliation, when in fact they are more or less polar opposites.  Humility is a virtue and something to which someone would strive; humiliation is a state of abasement, and a negative emotion from which someone would steer clear.

The book we read from today (though not in the chapter we read), defines humility as:

a clear recognition of who and what we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be -Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 58

This construct was an eye-opener.  I assumed because I lean heavily towards self-deprecation that I had the humility thing all wrapped up.  Clearly not when considered through the lens of this definition!

Of course, there’s lots more to this chapter, but I want to get to the discussion that followed.  The first person to share did so because she wanted to clear her mind of some dark thoughts that had taken hold.  She had been away for a week or so, and there was some stress involved in the trip.  She got home and quickly had to dive into the holiday weekend, which also involved a birthday celebration.  Out to dinner last evening, she was overcome by a powerful craving for alcohol the likes of which she had not experienced for at least two years.  It was strong enough that it made her cry, which in turn made her feel self-pity:  why, after several years of sobriety, would this kind of thing still happen?

A powerful share in and of itself, and one to which everyone could relate.

Then the next two people shared.  We had two people new to the meeting; everyone else was a regular.  The first person shared that this is his first meeting back in over two years.  Once upon a time, he was thoroughly entrenched in a 12-step program.  Then he moved, and never took the time to find a new set of meetings.  The story followed its usual trajectory:  the feeling that he could handle a few drinks, which led back to old drinking patterns, and the disease progressed as if he had never stopped drinking.

The story would have been powerful in and of itself, but directly after the share prior, wondering why a craving would hit after years of sobriety, and what giving in to the craving would actually mean, had the room silent for a moment or two.

Then the next newcomer shared, and it was a similar story, though on a shorter timeframe:  he had been sober for 63 days, the urge to drink got  stronger and stronger, and he actually said to himself while driving to the liquor store, “Well, here I go, on my way to a relapse!”  Over the weekend, he was looking through some family photos, and he noticed that in each and every one of them he was drunk.  It was the wake-up call he needed to get back to a meeting this morning.

The next share was from a regular attendee with a couple of decades of sobriety.  She is not struggling with an urge to drink; rather, she is struggling with life itself:  a 20-year old family member died in a tragic car accident over the weekend.  She did what she could to be there for her family, but she needed this meeting for herself.  She is grateful to have a place to go where she can share for feelings, and find relief in both the sharing and the empathy received.

And all this happened in the first 30 minutes!

The shares that followed all had to do with urges to drink, and how best to handle them, as well as wisdom on how best to recover from a relapse.  Two phrases, oft-repeated in the rooms of the 12-step fellowship, were shared:

I.  Addiction is cunning, baffling, powerful… and patient

This expression usually ends with the visual that our addiction is doing push-ups in the parking lot of our sobriety.  It is a simple reminder to stay vigilant, and avoid the thinking that “you’ve got this” after a period of sobriety.  Always great advice.

II.  The person with the most sobriety is the person who got up earliest this morning

I used this as the title because it stuck with me this morning, despite having heard it a million times before.  The meaning, in case it is not obvious:  it does not matter if you are sober 10 days or 10 years, all any of us really has is today.  You could broaden the scope to include anything in life, since today is all any of us ever has.  I believe the person sharing this meant it as a balm to the wounded souls of the relapsed newcomers… it’s okay, you’re sober today, I’m sober today, we’re all the same.

It’s sticking with me because, if I’m being candid (and I suppose I am since I’m writing a blog), I don’t completely agree with this sentiment.  Certainly I agree that all any of us has is the present moment, and I also agree longer time sober does not equate to being “more” sober, there are not placement awards, per se.

However….

My time means something to me personally.  I’ve mentioned this many times before, but a turning point in my sobriety came when I chose not to chemically alter myself because I did not want to give up my time.  At six weeks sober, I did not want to reset the clock.  I am incredibly fortunate that I have not had an urge to “pick up” in a very long time, but I know with certainty that if (when) I do that a huge deterrent would be that I would be giving up my sober time.

Maybe that’s just me, and at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter.  Whatever tools keep you sober are the ones to keep on hand!

Today’s Miracle:

At the moment, blessed silence in the house while kids are at the movies.  Silence is golden!

 

M(3), 5/16/16: Better Late Than Never!

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Oh boy, this will, of necessity, be short and sweet.  Time (and fundraising snafus) have gotten away from me today, and a track meet is an hour from now!

Today we read Step 8 from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  Step 8, for those unfamiliar with the 12 steps of recovery, reads:

Made a list of all the people we harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step eight can be challenging to discuss in and of itself; it is tempting to mention it as a passing reference to a more substantial discussion of the meatier step 9 (the actual making of amends).

For my part, I shared how creating my eighth step list was much easier than I anticipated, because much of the work had been done in my fourth step moral inventory.  I also shared that considering the harms I had done to others gave me a deeper gratitude for the relationships I held dear.  In that deeper gratitude came an easier time accepting the character defects in others, since I could so clearly see how they had been accepting of mine.

We had an interesting mix of people in today’s meeting.  The first group that shared had a significant chunk of sober time.  The kind of time that can be measured in decades, as a matter of fact!  From that group I heard a lot of wisdom that I honestly cannot hear enough:

  • Step 8 has 2 distinct parts to it:  the first is making the list, the second is finding the willingness
  • Step 8 is truly a lifelong process, and there is no need to add stress by imposing deadlines
  • It takes time to discover that for which you need to make amends
  • The heart and soul of step 8 is forgiveness:  forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, and God willing, others’ forgiveness of you
  • The longer one stays sober, the more clarity one gains in the amends process
  • If the amends process is overwhelming, start simply, and stop doing that for which you need to make amends.  If you’re sober, chances are you’ve already made a step in the amends process with many people in your life

The next group to share was the group with a relatively small amount of sober time (2 months, 3 months, 10 months).  Their take on step 8 was just as fascinating, because they’re reading it and wondering at how such a thing works:

  • Do you list someone if you can’t get in touch with them?
  • What do you do if you made amends for something but you were not in recovery… do you do it over again?
  • How can you even think about these kinds of things when your brain still feels likes it not clear?

Of course, the great thing about having a meeting with a mix of people is to share wisdom, and the long-timers were able to give out advice that they had been given in earlier days.

One really interesting and new bit I was able to take away came from a question from a newcomer:  what if you want to make amends to someone who has died?  The standard advice I have heard in response to this question is to write the deceased a letter, visit the gravesite, or visit your place of worship.

But today the advice given was to find a living substitute.  Let’s say, for example, that you were selfish with your time and thus missed out on the last years of your grandfather’s life because you were too busy drinking.  Now you’re sober and you want to make amends to him, but he is not around.  Find someone meaningful, either to you or someone who would have been meaningful to your grandfather, and give the gift of your time and attention to him or her.

I had never heard that particular piece of advice, but it struck me as a wonderful way to pay forward the blessings of sobriety.

As always, tons of good stuff.  For all my fellow 12-step readers, please share any nuggets of step 8 wisdom in the comment section!

Today’s Miracle:

Having to wrap this up to watch my son run track is a miracle on every level… he is doing what he loves, and I get to witness it!

 

 

 

M(3), 2/15/16: It Works If You Work It

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A meeting chock full of great thoughts and ideas, at least there was for this participant!  This morning we read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and focused on Step Eleven:

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

The chapter that covers this step talks in depth about the many benefits of prayer and meditation.  In addition, it discusses methods to overcome agnostic/atheistic mindsets, as well as easy pointers on how to get started praying and meditating.

The first person to share talked about how he almost walked out of his first meeting because it talked about prayer and meditation.  Agnostic by nature, he was sure that the end of the meeting would be asking for money and/or a signed contract.  When neither happened, and he realized that he was in charge of his conception of a Higher Power, he stuck around and followed the suggestions given to him.  Thirty-six years later, and he considers prayer to be an essential component of his daily life.  He knows prayer and meditation works because he’s experienced the positive effects.  He realized early on that he did not have to know how something works for it to work; therefore, he stopped questioning the mechanics behind the power of prayer.

His last point, and the one that stuck with me the most:  he has learned through his years in recovery that it is not enough to ask for something through prayer, then sit back and wait for it to arrive.  He must be a participant in the process, and do his part to make things happen.

Another gentleman with long-term sobriety shared his prayer life journey.  I was trying to calculate his years of sobriety by following the story; I got up to 34 years before I got confused.  Regardless of the actual number, suffice it to say he’s been sober a long time!  He considers his prayer life an unfolding story, one that has developed slowly over time, and one he imagines will continue to evolve as long as he’s alive.  He said he started the way most of us do… a daily prayer book that asks you to read something small each day.  He said for years that is what his prayer life involved… reading, with not a whole lot of engagement on his part.  Over time he noticed that quite often the reading for the day would correlate precisely to something that was troubling him.  From there he learned to participate more in the process, rather than by simply reading a daily paragraph.  Finally, through a series of chaotic events, he lost track of his prayer routine, and found himself out of sorts with no real reason as to why.  He went to a retreat where the leader posed the following question:

If you find yourself in a state of discontent with no discernible cause, think back… was there something you were habitually doing that you stopped?

Bingo!  He realized he was missing his time spent in prayer and meditation.  He went home, fished out his “little black book,” and now makes sure he stays in practice.

A few attendees shared of their struggles with making prayer and meditation part of their daily routine.  All recognize the benefits of such a practice, but, like any new habit, it can be a bumpy road getting started.

Finally, a friend of mine shared her thoughts on the subject of prayer and meditation.  She is sober about 2 1/2 years, but I know from spending time with her that acceptance of a Higher Power has been her biggest struggle.  Turns out she is actively working on this aspect of her recovery; she remarked that the shine is off the penny, so to speak, in terms of meeting attendance, step work, and the various readings.  She knows she needs a deeper connection in order to sustain her sobriety, and she is seeking spirituality to fill that need.

She said she is learning, through her research and reflection, that attachment is the origin of suffering.  In other words, if she is suffering, then she has an expectation of an outcome.  Either she is trying to control what happens, or she is trying prevent something from happening.

As she was speaking, I recalled a conversation I had with my husband not an hour before.  I was explaining to him the root cause of some internal angst I have been experiencing, and seeking his advice on how to proceed.  His suggestions were, at first blush, unimaginable, and I told him so, and my defense of my opinion.  His face has that look that tells me I need to stop and rewind, but I was unable to fully decipher what specifically I had said to cause his expression.

So I ask him to please just tell me what is causing the pained look, since I have tried to decipher with no success.  He considers for a moment, then says, “Everything you’ve said since we’ve started this discussion, from you thoughts about what is causing your discontent to your reaction to my advice… that’s all Old Josie talking.”

And it was a light bulb moment… every single moment of disquiet I have experienced with regard to this issue, every quick fix action I’ve taken, and every subsequent action to correct the quick fix… all seen through the lens of pre-recovery thinking.  It stopped me in my tracks.

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Whenever I have found myself in the past heading down the path of old thinking, my correction has always been to deepen my efforts at prayer and meditation.  So it was crazy enough that this step was the one we were discussing.  A coincidence that is never a coincidence.

But then to hear my friend describe in layman’s terms a basic tenet of Buddhist thinking in a way I could understand, a concept that applied so directly to the discussion I was having with my husband, was the breakthrough I needed.

Attachment to an outcome = suffering

Yep, that pretty much sums up in a nutshell the source of my suffering.

So I got the wake-up call I needed this morning.  Of course, like my friend above said, the wake-up call is not enough.  I need to be a participant in the process.  The good news is that you can start just where you are when it comes to prayer and meditation!

Today’s Miracle:

Coincidences-that-are-never coincidences will always be a miracle to me!

 

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