Healthy Habit #1 – A Month of Prayer

In my last post I talked about starting new, healthy habits instead of making new year’s resolutions that I knew I would not keep.  I realized that adding healthy habits into my life would take a change of perspective about the whole clean-slate, positive-change thinking that comes along every January 1st, because when it comes to setting rules for myself, I don’t often succeed.  My thought was that if I changed my way of thinking, and made my new habit a positive, healthy addition to my daily routine, it would be more likely to stick.

So here we are a little over half way through January and I wanted to give you all an update on the new habit that I am working on.  For the month of January, I committed to praying out loud each day with my husband.  It’s not something that we do together very often, aside from before meals; but we both pray often on our own.  My relationship with God has grown so much over the last couple of years, and my faith has increased.  I frequently have conversations with God in my head, and feel like I am continually improving my conscious contact with Him (AA’s 11th step).  Before this month, my prayers were usually one of two things:  I was either giving something over to God that I knew I couldn’t handle on my own, or I was thanking Him for His grace and mercy.  I know that these two things are good, and necessary.  But could I do more to glorify God and bring me even closer to Him and to my husband?  I thought so.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I made some prayer beads.  He was the brains behind the design, and I was the manufacturer.  The idea was to use them to teach people (me, really) how to pray.  Austin put together some carefully chosen scripture that briefly but thoroughly takes us through the gospel as we go through the beads one-by-one.  There is time for extemporaneous prayer, and even the serenity prayer is included.  The whole thing takes about ten minutes.  Here is the set of prayer beads that I made for myself:

prayer bead pic

If you are interested, what we pray is at the bottom of this post.

I love the progression through the gospel in the five small prayer beads and the four larger promise beads.  The five smaller beads, which we repeat five times, remind me that don’t have to work for God’s love, I have what is needed, a broken and a contrite heart.  I love the  progression from “God, have mercy upon me, a sinner,” to “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”  It is at first as though we are asking for something we know we don’t deserve (we don’t), but then we progress to using God’s name (Lord is the English translation for His Hebrew name – Yahweh) and saying, I have faith, but please help me to strengthen it.  At the fourth small prayer bead, the prayer changes to praying for “us” with the  Kyrie Eleison, our mindset changes from help me, to help us all.   And then, finally, we get to glorify God in the throne room with angels and saints, as children of God.  That last bead never ceases to remind me who I am, and the ones preceding it never cease to remind me who I was.  I came as a beggar and became an unconditionally loved daughter.

The four larger promise beads also progress through the gospel.  They start with Jesus’ invitation to us to stop trying to do everything on our own.  We can turn everything over to Him, and instead take His yoke upon us.  What a lightened load!  Then we move to the confession of our sins and the forgiveness that doing so offers.  There is such freedom in that.  We no longer have to be a slave to guilt and shame.  We are forgiven.  The third bead reminds us that we can have confidence that everything according to God’s will is perfect and right.  All things will work together for good if we just turn around and trust God.  That’s it, just turn around and trust Him.  And with the final promise bead, we get to rejoice because the Lord is at hand!  What could be better?!?

The extemporaneous prayer follows.  Austin always does this prayer, but we talk about it beforehand so we don’t leave anything out.  I love the way he prays and I love that he has the words to express just what I feel.  First, we express gratitude for all that God has brought us through, all the joy and peace that He has filled our hearts with, and for His unconditional love.  Then we ask for the things we need.  We pray for our families and friends that are struggling and we pray for ourselves.  We ask for the knowledge of God’s will and the desire to live it.  We ask for the grace that we already know God gives us.  And then, lastly, we express our thanks that we can be confident that God will provide for us, as he has always done in the past.

I haven’t really written posts like this in the past.  I often discount my attempts at anything theological or biblical, because I consider myself a “baby Christian,” since I came to Christianity late in life, and I don’t feel knowledgeable enough about it.  But I do feel confident in these prayers that I have been saying aloud every day for 19 days.  I am reminded every single morning that I am valued, I have a perfect Parent, and that I am not alone.  I am reminded of the big picture every morning.  I don’t have to can’t do everything on my own, but that’s okay, because God can.

I feel like January is having a profound effect on me.  The act of sitting and praying with my husband, going through our homemade prayer beads and reciting scripture, has already made an impact.  I find that I am much less anxious and more mindful throughout the day.  I can almost immediately change my focus when it drifts to the negative, by simply remembering my prayers from the morning.  I can take my beads out of my purse and hold them or set them on my desk as a reminder of the promises that God has made.  I can rest in the knowledge that I’m never alone.

I’m going to update you all on the habit-making part of all of this as the end of the month gets closer, and I will let you know what my plans for February are.

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Prayer Beads

Begin with the Cross:  Gloria Patri

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

Three initiatory beads:

1.God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

2. The Courage to change the things I can;

3.  And the Wisdom to know the difference.  Amen.

Five prayer beads:

1. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.  A broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, you will not despise. (Ps. 51:17)

2. God have mercy upon me, a sinner. (Lk 18:13)

3. Lord I believe, help my unbelief.  (Mk 9:24)

4.  Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.

5. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.  Glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High.  Amen.

Four promise beads

1. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  (Mt 11:28-30)

2.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (1 Jn 1:8-9)

3. We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  (Rom 8:28)

4.  Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand.  (Phil 4:4-5)

Three concluding beads:  Extemporary Prayers

Following this pattern:  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds trough Christ Jesus.”  (Phil 4:6-7)

1. Gratitude  (prayer)

2. Petition  (supplication)

3.  Confidence  (thanksgiving)

Meditate on the crucifix:

1. Crucifix side:  Meditate on Christ who proceeds us into suffering.  “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Rom 7:24-25a)

2. Cross side:  Meditate on Christ who proceeds us into victory.  “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Rom 8:1a)

Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer

 

 

 

Getting better and better

be-better

I am not good with resolutions.  I don’t think that I have ever (ever!) made one that I have kept.  So, for the last few years, I haven’t made any.  There was really no point, I knew that I wouldn’t keep them.  It always felt like too many rules, and, as an alcoholic, it turns out I’m not so great with rules.  Plus, it always seemed to me that resolutions were borne out of negativity.  They were often promises to stop doing things that were bad – stop drinking, stop smoking, stop eating like a big fat hog, stop being a couch potato.  I don’t know about you, but as soon as I feel like I can’t do something that I like, the desire to do it increases to the point of obsession in no time flat.  So clearly, the typical resolutions that people make don’t really work for me.

One thing that I have learned over the past couple of years in recovery is that most negative things (feelings about others, feelings about oneself, regrets, outlook on life) need only a change in perspective to become positive.  I can’t even begin to tell you all of the horrible things that I did when I was drinking.  It is so easy for me to go to a place of self-loathing and self-pity when I think about the regrets that I have.  It can turn me into an isolating lump of self-hatred in a heartbeat.  But I am learning to view those things differently.  When I think about my drinking days, and the regrets start to surface, I tell myself the truth – I would not be where I am today, had I not done those things.  I would never have met my husband, I would never have learned to live life free of alcohol, I would never have become the loving, self-aware woman who I am today, and I would never have found the unconditional love and grace of God.  That switch in my way of thinking has been life changing.  The past didn’t change, the things that I did were not undone, but my view of them is different.  One of the 9th step promises says, “we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.”  A change in perspective makes that promise come true.

I had been thinking about all of this as 2013 came to a close.  I wondered if my new perspectives could help me do the things that resolutions are meant to do – improve oneself physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  Maybe it was time to set some goals and commit myself to stopping the unhealthy things that I still do (at least booze is out of the picture today!).  But I needed a change in perspective.  Deprivation and rule keeping are not things that work for me, so I had to come up with a different approach.  It occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, if instead of trying to break negative habits, I started to incorporate new, healthy habits, it just might work.

I started off my new plan as any modern person would, I googled it.  I found a lot of information about the nature of habits (good and bad), and even more about what has worked for other people when it comes to making healthy habits stick.  Here are the highlights of what I learned:

1. Make a commitment.  Contrary to a lot of what we have heard about habits taking a certain amount time to form (21 days is what I always heard), there really is no time frame for making a habit automatic.  But there is research that shows that making a commitment to try something new for a specific amount of time, and really doing it, improves the outcome.  This makes me think of Belle’s 100-day Sober Challenge.  It’s an attainable goal, with a specific time frame; and from what I see on her blog, it often leads to another 100 days, and another…a beautiful, healthy new habit.

2. Do it daily.  Consistency is the key.  Doing something a few times a week instead of daily makes it harder to lock in as a new behavior.

3. Start simple.  One article that I read talked about starting the healthy habit of running.  As the future runner sought help for ways to move from sedentary to marathoner, a psychologist told her to start off by getting up each morning and putting on her running shoes.  That’s it.  No running whatsoever until just putting on the shoes became automatic.  I’m not sure about that  theory, although it did work for the person who wrote the article, but I do like the idea of keeping it simple.  I tend to want to jump in with both feet, have instant results, and feel great about myself the first time I try something.  When I don’t get what I want immediately, I quit.  So starting simple and taking small, but specific steps, makes sense to me.

4. Form a trigger.  All of us alcoholics understand the word trigger!  Here again, I had to have a change in perspective – having a trigger doesn’t have to be a negative thing.  If we take something that we already are in the habit of doing, and add our new healthy behavior immediately following it, we have created a trigger that will help us make our new behavior automatic.  For example, I am not in the habit of taking my make-up off before I go to bed (I know, gross), but I am in the habit of brushing my teeth.  So, presumably, if I use brushing my teeth as a trigger for taking off my make-up, it’s more likely that I will do it, stick to it, and make it a habit.

5. Journal your progress.  This is important because there will be times that we just don’t feel like doing our healthy habit.  I, for one, know just how easy it is to fall back into old, comfortable behaviors even when it’s not good for me.  Having something concrete that you can look back on to recall your successes will help with motivation in the future.  I sometimes look back at my journal to remember how far I have come in my recovery.  It helps, it encourages, it works.

There are a bunch of other suggestions that I read about, but these are the ones that really hit home for me.  These are the things that I am keeping in mind as I set out to build healthy habits.

I’ve decided to give this healthy habit thing a try.  I am committing to add one new, healthy behavior each month for the year.  I know that my results won’t be 100%, but even if one month’s habit sticks, I will see it as progress.  I will also learn what works for me, how I can improve myself physically, spiritually and emotionally.

As it’s the 12th of the month, I have already been working on my first month’s new habit: daily prayer aloud with my husband.  I’ve had some really great results from doing so already and I am excited to share them with you in my next post….

Bring it on, 2014!

Happy New Year

I wasn’t going to write another post this week, but it seems that 2013 warrants some reflection.  It’s been quite a year, and even though I’m not sad to tell it goodbye, I feel like I have had some victories that are worth celebrating.  I may not have felt victorious then, but hindsight sometimes reveals the silver lining that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see at the time.

The beginning of 2013 was a flurry of emotion.  I looked at my journal from the time to remind myself what I was feeling then.  There was a lot of grief and fear, but what stood out the most in my early 2013 writing was hope.  I was freshly out of rehab, my second trip in as many years, and I was working hard to do things differently so there wouldn’t be a third trip.  My focus was on forgiveness, acceptance and honesty.  I knew that if I had those three things, I might just make it.  So I really worked on them: doing a lot of step work with my sponsor, going to meetings every day, praying, and telling the truth to myself and others.  I had to do those things while I was cleaning up the wreckage that I had caused when I was drinking (legal, financial) and while returning to work after taking a 6-week leave of absence (I was overwhelmed).  But somehow through all of that, I still had a lot of hope.  I was able to see that if I kept doing the next right thing, no matter how difficult, and as long as I stayed sober, no matter what, things were going to get better.  I was going to get better.  I don’t think that I had ever really felt that kind of hope before.  It was new, and it kept me moving in the right direction.  It still does.

This past year I also had to deal with the horrible grief that comes from being separated from one’s child.  The feelings of loss and wanting greeted me every single day, and I don’t see that going away…ever.  What I learned though, is that those feelings can, and now do, peacefully coexist with happiness and joy.  That was a gradual realization for me.  At the beginning of the year I thought that any happiness I felt was in vain.  How could that happiness be real?  How could any feeling other than grief be real?  Surely a daughter-less mother couldn’t have any real joy at the same time her heart is aching and broken.  But somewhere along the way, I came to realize that the happiness and joy I was feeling was real.  And that it didn’t mean that I was missing my daughter any less, or that my heart was less broken.  But rather, it meant that even in its brokenness my heart could be joyous.   I had completely underestimated my capacity to feel more than one emotion at a time.

As the holidays loomed toward the end of the year, I knew that my new realization would be challenged.  And it was.  I’ve written many times about how hard October through December are for me, and 2013 was no exception.  There were down days and tears, days when all I wanted to do was hide from everyone and everything.  But amazingly, as each holiday, birthday, or anniversary showed up, I was able to face the day and make it through.  Not only that, but in most cases, I was able to have really good days, even when bad memories or regret were present.  I also noticed that when I dissolved into self-pity and depression, I bounced back much quicker than I used to, and I was able to remember that the feelings, however real and however strong, would pass.  That is a win in my opinion, no two ways about it!

All of those things make me feel triumphant, but my biggest victory of 2013, by far, was maintaining my sobriety.  It is the first whole calendar year that I haven’t had a drink in a long, long time – maybe even since I took my first drink at 14.  I celebrated a year sober on November 26, and I couldn’t be more proud.  I was successful at making my recovery a priority, and I thank God for giving me that blessing.  Out of the whole year, there was only one day that I really wanted to drink, and I knew that even though I wanted to I wouldn’t.  If that isn’t a hope fulfilled and a prayer answered, I don’t know what is.

I don’t know what 2014 will bring.  Just like any other year though, I am sure there will be challenges, sorrow, and fear.  However, I like to think that there will also be an abundance of peace, joy, and security.  I’m not going to make resolutions, because I never keep them, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that I’m going to make 2014 a year of growing, a year of nurturing better habits and another year of hope.

Happy New Year!