Thank God for Progress

One of the things that is talked about a lot in the rooms of recovery is that we need to strive for progress, not perfection. It’s not about becoming the perfect ideal of ourselves that should be our goal, instead, it’s just that we continue to get better over time. Whatever that “better” means to each individual is up to them–maybe it’s in how self-aware they are, how they react to difficult situations, how much time they spend thinking about drinking, or whether their relationships are growing as they want them to. We look for progress in the areas of our choosing and we celebrate our personal growth.

I think that paying attention to progression is huge in recovery. In fact, my husband and I make it a point to talk about the progression that we have both made since becoming sober and taking care of our mental health. We both have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression, in addition to being alcoholics in recovery. That’s a long list of issues, yet I think that to most people who we meet, we seem pretty “normal.” Of course, those who know us know the truth–we’ve worked really hard to get where we are today. So when we are able to actually see the progress that we’ve made, it’s a victory.

Today, I got to see our progress in action, both in our recovery from drinking and in how we deal with challenging situations. We got into a car accident. It wasn’t serious, no one was injured, but it left our car undriveable. This may not seem like a big deal to many of you, perhaps just the type of inconvenience that occasionally comes up in life. But just a few short years ago it would have been a disaster of catastrophic proportions.

Let me explain.

First of all, had it been five years ago, chances are good that I would’ve been drunk at the time. That means that when the nice, older lady smashed into our car I would’ve either dissolved into a puddle of tears believing that the end of my world was upon me, or I would’ve been so angry that I would have yelled profanities and punched her. And even if I wasn’t drunk when the accident happened, I definitely would’ve been after.

If it had been just three years ago, I would’ve been sober but still cleaning up the wreckage of my past–and my husband still working on his too. That means that we likely wouldn’t have had insurance, a valid registration, and maybe even a valid driver’s licenses. That alone would’ve been enough to throw me into a downward spiral. While I wouldn’t have gone out and gotten drunk, the reality is that I would’ve had a meltdown and catastrophized the whole thing, become anxious about how the car would get fixed, how we would get to work, and every other car-related thing you can imagine. Not to mention the fact that we would’ve been cited for our irresponsibility with licenses, insurance, and registration. It wouldn’t have been pretty.

In either of those scenarios, I would’ve been in meltdown mode for a good long while, then in isolation mode, and then finally depression about my horrible misfortune. I would have been in a tailspin for who knows how long.

Today however, it was much different. I didn’t meltdown, I didn’t want to drink, I was nice to the poor lady who hit us, and I didn’t have to be afraid of getting into trouble when the police came. It was so much different than it would’ve been only a short while ago.

It was actually just the type of inconvenience that occasionally comes up in life. Imagine that.

I call that progress.

Advertisements

Some Basics For Building A Spiritual Practice To Support Your Recovery – Guest Post

I’m excited for you to read this guest post from a fellow recovery writer, Rose Lockinger. Every piece of her writing that I have read has been an inspiration to me; I think it will be for you, too.  Enjoy!

~Jami

praying

When I first got sober I was so confused about spirituality and religion. Having grown up with parents who were missionaries I was introduced from an early age to a religion that I didn’t understand and a God that I felt was rather impersonal to me. I thought that most religious people were hypocrites and at the time I had trouble separating the idea of religion from God. I had finally hit my bottom both emotionally and spiritually and for me rock bottom was a beautiful place to start my new life.

To me God, and religion were synonymous and to separate the two was blasphemous and impossible. But then I was introduced to some simple ideas when I first got sober that really helped me to get over a lot of my resentments towards God and start to build a spiritual practice of my own.

The first thing that was introduced to me that was revolutionary to my way of thinking was that I could have my own relationship with God. This relationship meant that I could relate to God the way that I wanted to and that I didn’t have to talk to him, or her if you like, in thousand year old prayers that I didn’t understand. I could talk to God the way that I wanted to.

I was also introduced to the idea that no two people can have the same relationship with God, so any way that I chose to partake in this relationship was fine. I remember the first time that I heard this, I was blown away. The person said to me, think of it this way. You have a relationship with your mother and your father has a relationship with your mother as well. Your mother is the same person, but the way that the two of you relate to her is very different. This was something that I could get behind and it helped me to break some old thoughts that I had about God and create new ones that made more sense to me.

One of the first spiritual practices that I started to do was prayer. In the beginning they were very simple prayers and that was all that was needed. I would wake up in the morning and ask God to help keep me sober throughout the day and when I went to bed at night I would say thank you God for keeping me sober.

My sponsor told me that was all that was necessary for me to make a start. I didn’t have to have long drawn out conversation with him, or speak in tongues, but rather I could just say please help and thank you.

From this point my prayer life has evolved over the years but the basics remain the same, I speak to God like he is a friend and I don’t make things too formal. Sometimes I get on my knees to pray but most of the time I do not and I believe that God is okay with that.

Another spiritual practice that I began to integrate into my life was meditation. I will admit that I am not the best with this one and my meditation practice is sporadic at best, but when I do meditate I once again try to keep it simple.

In the beginning I could not sit quietly for very long and so I would try to meditate for just 5 minutes at a time. I would go on YouTube and find five minute meditation music and then I would sit and focus on my breathing. This is a very simple practice to incorporate into your life and the benefits of meditation are widely documented by psychologists and doctors.

Another great spiritual practice to help support my recovery is journaling, or inventory taking depending on how you look at it. On the surface this may not seem like a spiritual practice, but I assure you that it is. Not only does journaling act as a form of meditation, because writing actually slows the mind down, but the basis behind journaling is self honesty, which is among the most basic of spiritual principles.

The ability to accurately see yourself and your actions is a great way to grow as a person and in your relationship with God, because I believe that we cannot relate to God as someone other than who we are. This is why for so many years I could never feel his presence because I was always attempting to be someone else. I was dishonest and caught up in my addiction and so I couldn’t see to find him.

Lastly, and this is an important spiritual practice to try to incorporate into your recovery, is helping others. Helping other people, whether that is in recovery or out of recovery is just about the most spiritual thing that a human being can do. The act of giving of yourself not only makes you feel good, because altruism does feel good, but it also gives you purpose and direction. Purpose and direction is something that many of us lacked when we were in our addictions, and I found mine in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous by helping other people. Helping others makes me feel closer to God and I always sleep better at night when I know I have helped someone that day.

If you are just making a start in your recovery and you are worried about building a spiritual practice of your own, remember to just take it easy and keep it simple. Spirituality does not need to be complicated. You don’t need to meditate for an hour a day and perform rituals to talk to God, but you can simple just talk and sit quiet for as long as you can. These are the things that I did in the beginning and they really work, so give them a try and you’ll be surprised at the outcome.

                                           _____________________________________________

roseRose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

You can find Rose on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram

 

A Must Read for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

A must read for survivors of childhood sexual traumaI read another great memoir, and I want to tell you about it. Hungry for Touch, A Journey from Fear to Desire, by Laureen Peltier, is a book that chronicles Laureen’s treatment for PTSD. Let me start by saying that this is not an easy book to read. In fact, some parts are just downright heartbreaking and painful. I found that I had to read it in small doses, and still I became emotional while reading it, more than a handful of times.

So you might be wondering why I am recommending this book, if it’s such a difficult read. The reasons are many: it’s real and honest; it gets to the heart of what sexual trauma, PTSD, and therapy feel like; it’s relatable; and ultimately, it’s hopeful. Those things outweigh the tough time I had reading it, by far.

“How does it make me feel? The memory is so old, almost thirty years have gone by, but it still seems like yesterday. It’s the kind of memory I store in one of those chests at the bottom of my mind, but now I can’t seem to put it back.”

The way that Laureen describes the memory of her childhood trauma, and subsequent breakdown, is so familiar to me. I also had a long period of time where I was able to stuff negative memories far away from my consciousness, and then, all of a sudden I couldn’t do it anymore. That’s when the wheels came off for me, when I absolutely had to deal with the past or let it slowly suck the life out of me.

Laureen’s story is different from mine, she became unable to allow any man to touch her as a result of her abuse. In my own story, I ended up at the other end of the spectrum–promiscuity. Both results stem from a need to feel in control, I think; something that neither of us had previously. But both are destructive to the soul and needed treatment.

Hungry for Touch takes us through Laureen’s treatment, alternating with her memories of the past. Reading of her abuse was disturbing and saddening. No one should have to go through what she did, especially a young child. Her treatment was a mix of traditional EMDR therapy along with some unconventional therapies that she and her doctor collaborated on. It wasn’t an easy road to get started on, despite Laureen’s desperate wish for healing and mental health. In the beginning she said this about not being able to let go:

“But I don’t know how to let go. I only know how to hold on: hold onto the pain, hold onto the fear, hold onto the lies. This is the cage I’ve built for myself. It’s a safe and secure cage. I know every corner of it, and I know I can’t be harmed in it because I won’t let anyone inside with me.”

That fear of letting go is often so strong that keeping ourselves imprisoned in it seems like a better option than risking dealing with it and having an unknown outcome. But, with hesitation at times, Laureen presses on and continues her treatment, striving toward her goal of completing it and letting go of her fear of physical touch.

As I said, this is a book that ultimately offers readers hope. It’s tough to read, but it’s definitely worth it. Keep in mind that it may bring up emotions and triggers if you are a survivor of this type (or any, really) of trauma. Read with care–for yourself and for all of the others who have gone through sexual abuse.

You can buy Hungry for Touch here.

Getting Through Brief Dips

A couple of weeks ago I had a week that really sucked. Ok, not the whole week, but at least a few days. I was grumpy with PMS, I screwed up some writing I did, my house was a mess, and I was having a lot of anxiety. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and my inclination was to close the blinds, shut down, and hide. That’s not what I did, but it’s what I wanted to do.

I was in a “brief dip,” and I was uncomfortable.

My stepson’s counselor introduced me to the term “brief dip” a while back. It refers to when you’re facing some sort of challenge to the status quo and you have to deal with the discomfort of negative emotions. It’s learning to sit with those feelings, and feel them, without trying to stuff or ignore them. The counselor was talking about them in reference to my stepson, telling us how important it is to allow him to go through these brief dips without us intervening to fix things or telling him to get over it.

The concept of sitting with negative feelings and dealing with them rather thanDip sign stuffing, isn’t new to me. I learned a lot about it in treatment, and I have gotten better about putting it into practice. But, as I sat and listened to the counselor talk about it, I realized that the reason I had so much trouble with it (enough that it contributed to my active alcoholism) was that it was something I never learned when I was my stepson’s age.

When I was a kid, brief dips weren’t really allowed in my house. Either my parents fixed things for us kids, distracted us so we were able to ignore negative feelings, or told us to get over it. Any of you who read my blog regularly know that I don’t have a relationship with my family at all now, and that my relationship with my mom growing up was always contentious. However, I think that she did the best she could with the knowledge she had at the time; she just didn’t want any of us kids to be uncomfortable–ever. I get that now. That doesn’t mean that I don’t wish I had been taught to deal with my negative feelings earlier, but I don’t blame my mom for wanting her kids to feel happy all the time, I think that probably all parents want that.

That fact is though, that we can’t be happy all  the time, and I certainly wasn’t a couple of weeks ago. It was a crappy week, and I wanted to check out. The only upside was that now I have a name for times like that–brief dips. I like that because it reminds me that it isn’t permanent, or even long-lasting. It’s brief. And it’s just a dip, it’s not bottomless. I just had to deal with the feelings, continue to put one foot in front of the other, and keep going, and I would emerge on the other side. And that’s exactly what happened. Did I suffer a little while I was down? Yes (and I’m sure my husband and stepson did too). Do I wish that it hadn’t happened at all? Yes. But I’ve noticed that my brief dips are not as bad as they used to be, and I never stay down and depressed like I used to. That tells me that I am making progress, and that’s what counts.

 

 

Recovering, or Recovered? Which am I?

It’s been nearly four years since I took my last drink of alcohol, and since that time I have been to literally hundreds of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. It’s customary to introduce yourself before you speak at a meeting. I always say, “Hi, I’m Jami and I’m an alcoholic.” Some people introduce themselves differently, but it’s usually something close to that. A handful of times over the years, I have heard people refer to themselves as a “recovered alcoholic,” and my first thought is usually that they just don’t get it – no matter how long they have been sober. I’m probably wrong about that in some cases, they may very well stay sober and happy until the day they die. I know that people practice recovery differently, and that what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Even my husband and I have a different way of approaching the program, and we’re both still sober.

The problem that I have with using recovered instead of recovering is that it makes it Unending Roadsound final, like it’s done and over and can no longer affect me – like the chicken pox: I had it once, I recovered, and I’ll never get it again. It implies that you can be returned to the person you were before, and for me, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

You see, being a recovering person instead of recovered one, hasn’t returned me to who I was before alcoholism, and it isn’t something that has ended and no longer affects me. It is something that goes on. Forever. I will always be in recovery, and I’m good with that, for several reasons.

One, I know that I am not cured of alcoholism. I’ve been given a daily reprieve and I have to remain diligent to not return to where I was when I was drinking actively. I know that if I grow complacent, and think that I am recovered and that alcohol no longer poses a risk to me, I’m in danger. While I no longer worry day-to-day that I am going to relapse, I am very aware that booze is still out there and that if I have even one drink it’s game on. Recovering, rather than recovered, keeps me on my toes.

Two, recovering means that I am a work in progress and that I have the luxury of continuing to work on myself, strengthening those things about me that are positive, and improving the things that challenge me. Believing that I am still recovering fosters my desire for self-awareness. It keeps me engaged in becoming a better person, not just a sober one.

Three, recovering rather than recovered keeps me right-sized. As long as I remember that I am not over this alcoholism thing, and that I am no better or worse than every newcomer and old-timer, I don’t run the risk of self-righteousness or self-loathing. Those are two things that plagued me when I was drinking and recovering keeps me away from them.

Lastly, recovering rather than recovered reminds me that I don’t have all of the answers. I still need help no matter how many days I put between me and my last drink. It’s what makes it more comfortable than it used to be to ask for help when I need it. It’s why I have a sponsor and go to meetings. It’s what makes me part of a huge fellowship of strong and courageous people.

I think, what it boils down to is that recovering, instead of recovered, is what works for me. It may just be semantics, but it puts me in the right mindset to continue on the path of sobriety and recovery. I find joy and strength and health in the process of recovering.

So, I think I’ll stay right here recovering. Forever, God willing.

Every Moment of a Fall – A Review

I love reading memoirs. I would say that they make up about 90% of the books I read. I think I love them so much because, since being in recovery, I’ve learned the importance of sharing stories. Hearing the stories that others have to tell helps me heal, and I hope that others hearing mine helps them in the same way.

I recently read Carol E. Miller’s Every Moment of a Fall, A Memoir of Recovery Through EMDR Therapy, about her PTSD recovery, and I am again amazed at the relief and healing that EMDR offers. It immediately took me back to several years ago when I was going through my own round of EMDR therapy to help with my recovery.

Although Carol’s story of trauma and mine are completely different, there is still a lot that I can relate to as she goes through the process of recovery. Her trauma was caused when the airplane being piloted by her father, and carrying her family, crashed. Carol was the only one to go unscathed physically; her mother and father were badly injured, and her sister was killed. She suffered a lot of guilt and shame being the only one uninjured, and even blamed herself for the crash for a long time.

The trauma that caused my PTSD was rape and physical abuse, so like I said–completely different from Carol’s. The feelings that we both had after are surprisingly similar though. We both suffered with our feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. We both tried to self-medicate to control the symptoms of PTSD that we were experiencing without knowing or understanding what was causing them. And out of sheer desperation, we both turned to EMDR skeptically because we didn’t know what else to do.

Every Moment of a Fall takes you through Carol’s experience with PTSD and EMDR therapy. She briefly talks about the mechanics of how EMDR works and what happens in the brain, but through her narration, you are able to see and feel what it is really like to go through the process. Little by little, as Carol works on healing, you can see the positive changes that are taking place in her–self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-worth. Her accounting of her EMDR work is honest and real, and she demonstrates that while it is possible, recovery isn’t something that happens overnight, that it takes time, patience, and perseverance.

This isn’t just a book for people with PTSD (although it will undoubtedly help them), or people considering EMDR. It’s a book for anyone who wants to find comfort and hope in the stories of others. I highly recommend it.

You can buy Carol’s book here.

A New Freedom

Happy 4th of July! It’s a day that we celebrate freedom, and for me that means reflecting on the things that used to enslave me, from which I’m now free. The biggest of which is active alcoholism. Issue-17-Final-Cover-244x300

I wrote an article for Step 12 Magazine, which they were kind enough to make their cover story for the July/August edition. You can download the issue for free and read my article “A New Freedom”(pg. 6) here. Step 12 Magazine is a publication for people in recovery, and it’s been helpful to me–it might be for you too.

Today, as you spend time with family and friends, and tonight as you watch fireworks exploding into beautiful bright shooting stars, take some time to remember what freedom means to you.

Surrender to Win

There is a paradox in Alcoholics Anonymous that tells us that we must “surrender to win.” When I first entered AA, I thought that it seemed kind of crazy that I would have to surrender, or give up, in order to get better. Wasn’t that was I was already doingSurrender? I sure felt like I had given up. Everything. That was where drinking had gotten me to. Like lots of things in AA though, surrendering to win started to make sense once I started to practice it.

It was when I was working my first step, looking back on all of the things that I had said and done while drinking, the things that showed (rather obviously) that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable, that I caught my first glimpses of what surrender might look like for me. I finally was able to see that what I was doing wasn’t working and that I had to find another way to do things, or I was likely going to die. I had to throw in the towel, or it was going to be thrown in for me. I had to surrender. I had to stop fighting, hiding, and resisting because I knew that I could not win or succeed doing it my way.

I had to surrender to the fact that I was an alcoholic. I could no longer hang onto the idea that maybe there was something I could do to manage my drinking, or that maybe, if I just quit for a while, that I could go back to being a normal drinker one day. I had to surrender to the fact that I was different from normies, and that I would never be able to be one.

I had to surrender to the fact that I couldn’t stay sober alone. I had tried so many times, yet I always failed. Sure, I could make it a day or two without drinking…maybe even three. But anything could and did send me right back to the bottle and I picked up right where I left off. Even when I didn’t want to! That’s the craziness of alcoholism, I didn’t want to drink anymore, but I couldn’t stop. I had to surrender to the idea that I needed help to get sober, and that I would find that help in God and in other alcoholics.

I had to surrender to the program. I know that there are people who get sober without a 12 step program, but AA is what saved my life. So I had to stop resisting working the steps, and stop resisting taking suggestions, and stop resisting living the principles of AA to change my life. This was big for me because I wanted to think that I was different from others in the program – clearly, none of those people had the problems and traumas that I had. Ha! It’s actually funny to think about now…because every alcoholic that I meet thought that way at one time.

I had to surrender to the idea that there was hope for me. Before I got into the rooms, I had thoughts that the way my life was (a great big effing mess), was just the way it was going to be until I died. I was stuck. My life was hopeless and I was irredeemable. In order for me to surrender to all of those other things, I had to believe that there was hope. For me. For my future. Thank God I saw hope in the faces of my fellow alcoholics at every meeting I went to. That hope is what encouraged me to grasp hold of my recovery and hang on.

So, “surrender to win?” Yeah, I get it now. And I am thankful for it every day.

 

 

 

 

Sober, Not Perfect

ugh2

Have you ever done something that you knew would have negative consequences and then instantly regretted it? Recently, I did that. I used to do that a lot – when I was drinking. Admittedly, the regret usually came later then, not right away. This time though, I wasn’t drinking, I had my wits about me, and I still did it. What’s worse is, I did it out of anger.

Ugh.

We’re not supposed to behave that way once we get sober, right? I mean, I’ve been sober for over three years, I’ve worked the steps many times over, I have a sponsor who I talk to all the time, I do the maintenance steps (10-12) every day…I have really changed the way I live. And yet, I really screwed up and impacted other people’s lives, and I may have lost one of the closest friendships I have.

I’ve been doing a bit of wallowing about this whole thing for the last few days, self-loathing and self-pity joining me in the mire. It hasn’t really been a very good time, and I’ve been wondering what I should do. The thing is, I know what to do. It’s just hard doing it. I have to make amends, sooner rather than later. I will. It may not save the friendship that I cherish so much, but I have to clean up my side of the street.

This whole situation has taught me a few things – or maybe it’s just reminded me of a few things. One, reacting out of anger is not the way to go. Often times, my first inclination is to lash out when I’m hurt or scared. Over the years though, and through working the program, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t act on my first inclination. It’s that “first thought wrong,” thing that I’ve learned in AA. The second thing is that even though I am sober, with a good program and lots of support and wisdom from those around me, I am still going to screw up sometimes. I’m human, and that’s what humans do. Which brings me to the third thing: what I do now is what matters. Taking responsibility and trying to repair what I’ve broken is what I have to do. I could leave this whole thing alone, wait for it to fade away into the past, but the guilt I have over it wouldn’t go away, and a place of guilt is a dangerous place for me to hang out in.

So this weekend, I will put on my big girl panties and try to make things right. We’ll see what happens.

Blessing or Curse? I Get to Decide

Today is my birthday, and birthdays always seem to invite a certain amount of looking back, reminiscing about the past, wondering how I got to where I am…if I’m even where I should be. I have been doing my fair share of thinking this week, leading up to today, about the things that have shaped me into who I am now at 44 years old.

On paper, my life may not look so great. I’m an alcoholic with PTSD, estranged from my family. I’ve been raped, beaten, arrested, to the psych ward and to rehab. I’m sometimes depressed and anxious, and I struggle with self-esteem and self-worth. That doesn’t sound so good, right? It would be easy for me to wallow about all of those things, to think of them as some cosmic curse that I am just destined to endure. But the more I look back, look at now, and look forward, the more I am able to see them as they really are — blessings.

It might be difficult to believe that any of the things I listed above are blessings, but In-Every-Trail-There-is-a-Blessingthey truly are. The traumas that I suffered, the ones that caused my PTSD, have made me strong. Surviving the big things, has made it easier to make it through the small things. I don’t worry nearly as much as I used to. I have a good track record of making it trough difficult times…why should I question whether I will make it through any of life’s struggles. Don’t get me wrong, I still worry, but when I remind myself that I have been through much worse, and made it to the other side, it gives me comfort.

Becoming an alcoholic was awful. It was a horrible time in my life, and I had many, many dark days. It’s also one of the best things that ever happened to me. I say that because hitting bottom in my alcoholism gave me the opportunity to learn to live life differently. Had I not become an active alcoholic, I would never have taken the time or made the effort to get to know myself. I would never have been as self-aware as I am now. I think I would’ve just muddled through life, never seeing things as they really are, never seeing myself as I really am. My recovery has given me so much. I have learned what unconditional love and true compassion are, and how to give and receive both. I have learned to not judge anyone, that everyone is a work in progress, and that I don’t always know what they are going through. I’ve learned that honesty, forgiveness and acceptance are my friends, not something to hide from as I used to. I’ve learned that I’m not a bad person because of the things that I have done, and that every step forward is proof of that. With all of that, how could I possibly believe that becoming a drunk was a curse and not a blessing?

The biggest blessing that has come out of my life’s challenges is that I have been able to help others. I have been able to tell my story, here on this blog, at 12 step meetings, and in my daily life, and others have heard it, identified, and felt comfort. I love that. It makes all the bad times worth it, and it makes the good times even better.

So today, as I celebrate another year of life, sobriety, and recovery, I am grateful for the life I have had, and I feel blessed.