Time for confession

untitled (2)

Step 5 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

Although it’s been a while since I posted about the steps, I am still working them with my sponsor as we both agreed at the beginning of the year that it would be a good idea.  I’m up to my 5th step which is all about confessing our wrongs to God, to ourselves, and to someone else.

When I started trying to get sober and attending AA meetings, this step was by far the most daunting to me.  I wasn’t anywhere close to the state of mental health that made telling all of my secrets seem like a good idea.  As I’ve written about before, I come from a family that clings tightly to presenting a good face, while secrets upon secrets live just under the skin where no one can see.  I simply couldn’t see how admitting my wrongs to another person was going to make anything better.

I think I understood the psychology of being honest with oneself and acknowledging, to myself, that I had done many, many things wrong and that I had caused a lot of pain to others.  I figured that it was important to understand where I was and what got me there in order to not repeat my past mistakes, and that meant getting honest with myself and acknowledging those things that I had struggled to hide away from my consciousness.  I got that.  I had to do that.  It made sense.

It also made sense that I had to confess my wrongdoings to God.  When I first attempted a fifth step, I was still a very new Christian.  I knew about God’s grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love, but I had yet to feel it.  It was still kind of an abstract idea to me; something that I wanted, and that I knew was out there, but I didn’t yet know how to accept for myself.  Consequently, when I did my fifth step and sat down to present it to God, it went something like this:  “Dear God, I have done so many things wrong.  I could list them all, but you already know what they all are, because you are all-knowing.  I am doing my best not to repeat those mistakes and I need your help.  Thank you.”  Over and out.  That was it.  Not quite explaining the “exact nature” of my wrongs, but it was a start.  At that time, talking to God felt appealing, yet still uncomfortable and new at that time, like a pair of beautiful new shoes, pleasing to the eye, but not broken in and therefore a little pinchy to the toes.  I had a feeling that at some point I would get comfortable talking to God, that I would be able to slip into it like I slip on my favorite pair of worn out black heels, but I wasn’t there yet. That was okay though, I had made a first attempt.

What didn’t make sense at the time, was why I had to tell all of my closely held secrets to another person.  How exactly was that going to help me?  Unless I presented my story to a therapist that was prepared to offer advice, or to a minister that was going to offer me God’s absolution, and I wasn’t going to do either of those, then what was the point?  Wasn’t I just opening myself up to fear and judgment and giving myself more ammunition to continue on with my self-loathing and low self-worth?  I knew deep down that if I ever told anyone everything about myself and what I had done, that I would lose my relationship with them.  How could they remain in my life when they knew the real me?  So, armed with those feelings and beliefs, when I sat down to do my fifth step with my first sponsor, I left a lot out.  I talked about some of my bad behavior while drinking, and I talked a lot about feelings of powerlessness and unmanageability, but when I look back at that conversation, I can see that it was very, very incomplete.  I told just enough that I thought my sponsor would believe that I understood that I was an alcoholic and that I wanted to get better.  But I didn’t tell her the things that I thought would make her look at me with disgust and drop me like a hot potato.  I was still holding on to secrets and trying to save face.  It’s no wonder that I ended up drinking again shortly after that.

After I went to treatment the second time, and really started to get honest with people other than myself, I began to understand the importance of admitting my wrongs – telling my story, honestly and completely.  I had a new sponsor, a new level of surrender, and I think a new willingness to do whatever it took to get better.  So when I sat down to do my fifth step again, I didn’t leave anything out.  Nothing.  It was a long, tiring, telling of my relationship with alcohol and everything that I was using the booze to get away from.  I think that conversation was a turning point for me.  As I told my story, my sponsor interjected from time to time telling me how her own story was similar to mine.  She related her own tales of bad behavior and insanity.  She smiled and affirmed me, she quietly and without many words let me know that I was not alone.  And you know what?  She didn’t judge me.  I never once saw a look of disgust on her face.  I never once felt like she wasn’t going to like me when I got to the end of my story.  And when I was done, I didn’t feel like I thought I would.  I had imagined feeling embarrassed and vulnerable and maybe a little bit like one would feel if she was required to run through the halls of high school  completely naked.  But I didn’t.  I felt good.  I felt lighter.  I felt like I had finally been completely honest with another person and she didn’t hate me!  In fact, she hugged me and thanked me for trusting her.  What a wonderful feeling.

Over the years, I have gotten so much better at admitting my wrongs.  I know that I have done really thorough fifth steps, and I know the feeling that comes with being able to share my story with others.  It’s so liberating.  It takes a lot out of a person to try to hold on to old secrets and keep up appearances.  I have found that it takes far less energy to be honest and open.  And the rewards of doing that are exponentially better.

So if you are at a point in your recovery where you are going to be doing a 5th step, find someone who you trust and relate to, and put it all out there.  Chances are, the person hearing your story will identify and affirm and love you unconditionally.  Accept it as a gift of sobriety and Alcoholics Anonymous.

 

 

Healthy Habit #9 – A month of brown bagging it

brown_bag_lunch

I know I’m a little late on this post, it’s already the 6th of the month, but for the month of September my Healthy Habit is taking my lunch to work instead of buying fast food every day.  It goes hand in hand with my healthy habit from last month, which was to actually take a lunch break away from my desk at work.  That, by the way, has been a great success.  I’ve enjoyed my lunch breaks and getting away from my desk, and I’ve noticed that my afternoons go faster and I am actually more productive.  So the time that I was “saving” by eating at my desk wasn’t really time saved after all.

Back to this month’s plan, though.  The idea is to take my lunch to work and not run to the Subway next door or the pizza place at the end of the complex.  Those two places have become my solution to being lazy in the morning and not wanting to fix a lunch before I leave for work.  It’s relatively cheap and it’s very convenient.  That said, I know that I consume more calories than I should and I know that fast food can’t be that great for me.  So if I take my own healthy lunches I can avoid those negatives.  All of that sounds great, right?  But there is a drawback.  And for me, it’s kind of a big one.  This whole taking my lunch every day is going to require some planning on my part.  I’m not so great at this planning stuff.  I tend to more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl when it comes to planning those kinds of things.  But, I’m going to do my best to prepare the night before and pack my brown bag each day.

If this healthy habit is successful I might just feel better and lose a little bit of weight…sounds good to me!

 

My Story

blah

So here it is.  I just received the audio of me telling my story at the Payson Roundup last weekend.  I just listened to it with my husband, and I feel good about posting it for everyone to hear.  You can tell that I am nervous at the beginning, please ignore all of the ‘ums’, but after I settle into it, I think it’s ok.

The recorder wasn’t working properly at the start of my talk, so it starts about 10 minutes in.  I chose to read the introduction to the memoir I am working on at the beginning, both to show the kind of drunk that I was, and to calm my nerves.  The recording starts in the middle of my reading, I will post the whole thing below, if you care to read the whole thing.

Here is the link to my book introduction:   Prologue

Here is the recording (I hope this works!):  Jami D. Payson Roundup

 

 

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

change

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about change.  I’m not talking about the sixty-seven cents that I have in my wallet, but the kind of change that transforms someone.  The kind of long-lasting, sustained change that reverses our self narrative, that alters our perspectives and improves our lives.  I’m talking about heart-change.  Do we humans have the capacity to change those parts of us that make us sick, hold us back, or limit our happiness?  Does it ever happen?  Can we take what makes us “bad” in the eyes of others or ourselves, and mold it into something “good”?

My immediate response to those questions is yes, of course people can change.   I see it all the time in meetings – people who once were down and out, drinking alcoholically, losing all of the things that were important to them, incapable of living life on life’s terms, now sober with new, richer lives in which they not only don’t regret their pasts, they use their own experiences to help others.   But then I see it.  Or hear it.  Someone says or does something that is inappropriate, hurtful, or insulting to someone else at the meeting and I start to wonder…have they really changed from who they were before?  Or have they just changed some of their behaviors, like choosing not to drink anymore?  Is their motivation for living a life of sobriety a desire to avoid the negative consequences that their active drinking caused, or have they truly had a heart-change?

I guess that’s where the waters get a little bit muddy for me.  I really do think that people have the capacity to change, I’ve seen it and lived it myself.  When I look back at the me of 5 years ago, it is drastically different from the me of today.  Not  just my behaviors and actions, but also my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and values.  I honestly believe that I have had a heart-change about a number of things, and that those changes have gotten me to where I am today, which is a much healthier, happier place.  Even so, at times, I still feel my old ways of thinking trying to worm their way into my head.  I have to consciously speak my new truths to myself, otherwise I would be right back where I was before.  It would be so easy.  Is that what happens to the people who I see in meetings acting like dry drunks?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  I guess we’re all on our own paths.  Whether that path leads to real, meaningful and sustained recovery is up to each individual.

I’ve heard it said that the two reasons that people really change are:  they have learned enough to want to change, or they have been hurt enough to want to change.  When it comes to getting sober, for me it took both.  I had been so hurt by others, but more so by myself, that I had to change or I was going to drink myself to death.  I had also learned enough about sobriety and people living sober successfully, that I knew it was possible, if it worked for them, it might work for me.  Making the decision to change was the easy part though.  It took me a really long time to realize that just not drinking wasn’t going to be enough to make me happy and healthy.  I had to make some big changes, practice open-mindedness, and realize that my way of thinking wasn’t the only way.   It was hard at first.  When you go along living for almost 40 years, it feels impossible to let go of some of the things that you held onto as truth, even when you have evolved enough to know intellectually that they are false.  But, I guess that’s where the process begins.

And it is a process.

A long, long process.

But it’s a process worth undertaking.

Change

Telling my story

One of the really great things about Arizona is that in just a few hours you can go from this:

tucson

To this:

Forest lakes

That’s what we did this weekend.  We spent the last two days up near Payson, Arizona attending the annual Payson Round-up.  It’s a huge camping trip that is organized by a local Payson homegroup every year for the last twenty-something years.  This is the first time that we have gone, and we had a great time.  Recovering alcoholics and addicts are my favorite people to hang out with, and there were plenty!  It was a true blessing to see so many people whose lives have been changed by the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Just awesome!

It was so nice to get away from home, even for a short trip.  I had an extremely busy week at work because we had classes that started on Monday.  Start weeks are the busiest for me, and I was tired and burned out from working four 10-hour days so that I could take Friday off.  Our four-hour road trip started on Friday morning.  I love road trips!  Especially when I get to travel with my husband, Austin.  We have the best time, laughing and being silly, searching the iPod and the radio for songs to sing along to, telling each other stories from our pasts, and just being tuned into each other.  I will never turn down a road trip with my Honey.

This trip wasn’t a spur of the moment, let’s get out of the heat and see some trees, decision.  We’ve been planning on it for a few months now, because earlier in the year, I was asked to be one of the speakers at the round-up by one of the Payson homegroup members who attends my homegroup when he’s in Tucson.  At these kinds of AA events, there are usually a few members chosen to stand up and share their experience, strength and hope with the other attendees.  At this event, there were four AA speakers and one from Al-Anon.   I really don’t know how I got thrown into that handful, but I did, and I was really honored to be asked.

I have told my story, briefly, a few times at meetings.  But when w arrived on Friday, the organizers told us that they were expecting 350 people on Saturday!  I was speaking at 10:00 Saturday morning, and I was slated to speak for an hour!  And just so you know, I am one of the 75% of people who fear public speaking more than death.  I didn’t know what I gotten myself into.  Standing in front of that many people, baring my soul, was something that I never thought I would volunteer for, no matter how passionate I am about recovery.  Writing this blog allows me to hide behind a computer screen, without worry about judgment or dealing with people face-to-face.  Speaking at regular meetings (which, if I’m honest, I don’t do as often as I would like) isn’t as scary because I know the other members.  But on Friday night, as the nerves set in, I knew that I was in for something that was way out of my comfort zone.  I had trouble getting to sleep that night, which is something that very rarely ever happens to me.  I prayed, as I tried to go to sleep, that God would give me the strength that I needed for the next day, and that He would somehow give me the right words to reach those that needed to hear.

Saturday morning I woke up early and sat outside in the cool mountain air to write in my journal.  I felt surprisingly peaceful and ready for the day.  My fear and nervousness wasn’t gone, but I had faith that things would go well.  We got to the campsite and spent some time drinking coffee and visiting with some of the folks there, the meeting before the meeting, as it’s called.  Then, as the chairman if the event read the AA preamble and everyone started finding their seats, I felt a few pangs of anxiety.  What if I didn’t make sense?  What if I lost my place in my notes?  What if I talked too fast and finished too early?  What if everyone thinks I’m too new in sobriety to offer experience, strength and hope?  My thoughts were all over the place, but focused on me screwing up.  The gentleman that invited me to speak walked up to the mike…oh my gosh, I’ve never used a microphone…and introduced me to the group.  I walked up…

“Good morning, my name is Jami, and I’m an alcoholic….”

I confessed right at the beginning that I was nervous, that I was feeling a little bit pukey, and that I probably should’ve gone pee before getting up there.  That got a laugh, and I felt better.  I started to speak and I was ok, no one was booing, and everyone seemed to be engaged in what I had to say.  And you know what?  I made sense, I didn’t even look at my notes after the first couple of minutes, I spoke for nearly an hour, and I had so many people come up after to thank me and tell me that they identified with my story.  I was able to tell my story, completely and honestly, and I received so many kind words after.  I felt so blessed.

It was an amazing weekend of conquering my fears, trusting God, and carrying the message to other alcoholics.  I can’t imagine anything better.  :)

P.S. My story was recorded, so as soon as I get the recording, I will post it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy Habit #8 – A Month of Breaks (and an update on gratitude)

At the beginning of the year, I decided to try to add healthy habits instead of making resolutions, hoping that at least a few of them will stick and I will end the year healthier than I was at the beginning.  So far, there have been a few that have stuck, and those have made my life healthier and happier.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk at work, scarfing down a piece of pizza, trying not to get grease all over a report I was working on, and it hit me –  working through lunches, eating at my desk and not really paying attention to what I was chewing, cannot be healthy.  I had already decided what my healthy habit for August was going to be, but in that moment, I decided to put that one off and remedy my unhealthy lunchtime routine this month instead.  So for this month, the new habit I am going to try out is taking a break.  I am going to actually leave my office and eat my lunch without trying to multi-task my way through it.

This is what I look like at lunch time.

This is what I look like at lunch time.

It turns out that there is a lot of information out there about the benefits of actually stepping away from the office for lunch, and an equal amount of studies and statistics that show just how many employees are not reaping those benefits.  Here is some of what I’ve learned:

  • the typical American lunch break is less than 30 minutes
  • up to two-thirds of workers skip lunch or eat at their desks
  • depending on which study you look at, 18-34 percent of workers always eat at their desks and 16-31 percent reported that they almost always skip lunch in favor of continuing to work
  • the reason that most people cite for not taking time out for lunch is that the demands of work are increasingly high and workplaces are increasingly understaffed

I fall into the eating-at-my-desk category.  Sometimes I pack a lunch, sometimes a coworker runs out and gets us lunch, and sometimes I run next door to Subway, grab a sandwich and settle back in at my desk to eat while I continue to work.  Not stepping away for my break and taking a break from my computer screen makes the day long, and I often feel tired and grumpy in the afternoon.  I may get a couple of extra things done, but am I really more productive than if I took some time out to recharge?  Studies say no. Here are some of the benefits to taking a lunch break:

  • Taking a break restores your psychological resources.  It is a proven way to increase productivity and decision-making and actually improve your mood in the afternoon.
  • It improves your physical health.  There is a lot of medical mumbo-jumbo to support this finding, but what it boils down to is this:  taking a break lowers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn, lowers your risk of high blood pressure, insomnia, and other related illnesses.
  • Taking a lunch break away from your work surroundings decreases fatigue.  Getting up and walking away for a bit, eating something healthy, and taking some you-time is like pushing a natural reset button.  It revives you for the afternoon, giving you more energy to tackle work issues.

For the past week, I have taken a lunch break each day, and gotten away from my office to do it.  I have noticed that I have more motivation and energy after doing so.  So far, it seems like my productivity has remained the same, but my mood in the afternoon is improved and I don’t feel as worn out by the end of the day.

So for the rest of the month, I am going to make sure that I take a break for lunch each work day, and I will let you know how it goes.

Print

*************************************************************

Update on a month of gratitude:  By far, July’s healthy habit of gratitude is the one that has made the biggest difference for me.  I am continuing to write down the things for which I’m grateful every day in my journal, and doing so has added loads of peace and joy to my life.  Anytime I need a quick change of perspective about a situation, my mind now automatically goes to seeking out the things that make me thankful.  It’s a practice that is definitely becoming a habit.  I call that a win!

Um, yeah…so that happened.

This is not me...it is obviously a much younger, firmer behind than you will find under my skirt.

This is not me…it is obviously a much younger, firmer behind than you will find under my skirt.

 

So today I walked down the hall at work (I work at a college) with my skirt tucked into my underwear.  I was meeting my husband, who is a teacher there, in the student break room for lunch when I made a quick pit-stop to tinkle.  I guess I was in such a hurry to eat that I didn’t do the standard turn-around-and-check-out-my-butt-in-the-mirror that all girls do in the bathroom, and I walked out with half of my butt and my bright green underwear exposed for all the world, or at least anyone in the hallway, to see.  When I got to the break room, I knew something was wrong because as soon as Austin saw me, he started telling me to turn around.  Vehemently and repeatedly.  Now I didn’t know why he was telling me that, but being the obedient wife that I am, I obliged and turned a full circle, ballerina style.  He just kept telling me to turn and I had no idea what he was talking about until he started gesturing at his own butt.  Then the light bulb went on.  Shit.  I reached behind me and, sure enough, my skirt was tucked in my undies.

There was a nano-second of panic as I realized what happened:  I just walked down the hall with my ass hanging out, and then I spun around to make sure no one missed it.  But, as I fixed my wardrobe malfunction, I started to laugh.  And I sat down to post about my hilarious tale of woe on Facebook.  Now this may not seem like a big deal to you, but to me this is close to really freakin’ awesome.  You see, up until just a couple of years ago, this kind of thing would have had me so embarrassed and upset that I’m not sure how I would’ve made it through the rest of the work day.  And one thing I know about the situation is that inadvertently flashing my goodies at people would have definitely been a reason for me to drink.  That sounds silly, I know.  But, believe me, I drank over far lesser things.

So, I’m quite happy about my scandalous, unintentional, flashing.  Not only was it good for a laugh, but it showed me that I am, indeed, making progress in my recovery.  So what if I had to give a few people a sneak-peek to recognize that?  ;)