One step at a time…again.

Steps

I talked to my sponsor this weekend and we agreed that now seems like a good time for me to go back through the 12 steps of AA.  The decision is not based on anything bad happening or any negative thoughts (at least no more than usual) on my part.  It’s just because a lot has changed since I went through the steps last year, and while I continue to do the maintenance steps (10, 11, and 12) each day, I don’t ever want to take it for granted that “I’ve done” the steps of the program.  In my experience, it’s when I think that I have something figured out and that I no longer need to work on it, that trouble appears.  And these days, I really try not to invite disaster into my life.

The first time that I began the steps of AA, I was terrified.  I was in treatment and I was told that we had to complete steps one, two, and three before we left.  That seemed very daunting when I read the steps, and that was only the first three!  I wasn’t even close to ready to entertain four through twelve.

The first step talks about admitting powerlessness and unmanageability.  I knew that things in my life had become unmanageable, but was I really powerless?  I was weak, for sure, but wasn’t I just lacking self-control and willpower?  And couldn’t they just teach me those things?  The step seemed almost contradictory to what I thought it should be.  Shouldn’t the first step build us up?  Teach us to be strong?  It seemed like strength is what we needed.  But no, instead the first step forced us to look at just how weak we really were.

Then there’s step two, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  So that meant that I was currently insane and that I had to trust someone else to fix me.  Obviously, I knew that I had issues, I was in rehab after all.  But isn’t the word “insanity” a little bit strong?  Also, at the time, I didn’t think that there was anyone that I could trust.  There wasn’t really anyone in my life who hadn’t hurt me or let me down.  So, I didn’t know how in the world I was going to get past this step.

Step three was the killer though:  Made a decision to turn our lives and our will over to the care of God as we understood Him. Ugh.  I didn’t even know where to begin with this one.  Again, I was not even sure what I believed, and I sure didn’t want to turn my will over, to anyone.  It felt, at the time, like that was what I had been doing for the previous 39 years of my life, turning my will over to someone else.  I wanted to be in control of my own will, the maker of my own destiny.  That sounds a little (a lot) cliché and silly, but that’s really what I wanted.  I still thought that I could handle things on my own, if only someone would teach me not to drink so much.

It’s so crazy to remember how I felt back then.  I thought that I was willing because I knew I needed some help, but really I fought every step of the way.  I realize now that my therapist was an angel with an extraordinary amount of patience.  Thank God she was a recovering alcoholic too, and she knew what to expect from drunks like me!

This time, I am looking forward to going through the steps.  What a difference a couple of years makes!  I understand the program more now and I am much more honest and open with my feelings.  I also have a little bit of sobriety under my belt and am thinking clearly.  I thought that as I go through the steps this time, I would blog about it.  I won’t bore everyone with all of the gory details of each step, but I think it will be good for me to write about how I feel, and how things are different this time, as I go through them.

I will meet with my sponsor this week, so Step One starts soon…

Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water

baby

On Sunday mornings I chair my home group’s AA meeting.  I just started doing so at the beginning of this month, and it’s a three month commitment.  Other than showing up for meetings, occasionally sharing, and talking program with other alcoholics, this is my way of doing service.  It is outside my comfort zone though, because I don’t usually like to call attention to myself, and I am generally pretty quiet in big groups.  Just sitting up at the front and reading the AA preamble is a fairly big deal for me, so each Sunday morning I am a little bit anxious that there will be some issue that I have to handle  as the ‘host’ for the hour.  Up until today my worries had been unwarranted.  Aside from having to cut-off one particular old-timer a couple of times, my job had been easy.  This morning was another story, and I left the meeting with some resentments.

We have a fairly large home group, there are usually about 50 or 60 people there.  The back corner seems to be reserved for the old-school members who have 30+ years of sobriety.  They tend to be kind of a harsh, tell-it-like-it-is, sit-down-and-shut up sort of bunch.  They quote the Big Book in every share, tell newcomers exactly what they need to do, and pass judgement on those that don’t do sobriety their way.  They are Big Book bullies.  I am not saying that they don’t have good things to say.  As I mentioned, they have decades of sobriety, so they are obviously doing something right.  But I do think that their approach, especially when it comes to newcomers, is sometimes way too far into the tough love category.

This morning when I asked if anyone had a topic for the discussion, a young man with around a month of sobriety spoke up.  He has been really struggling with getting sober and he was full of emotion and confusion.  Yesterday he went to an old girlfriend’s house and ended up drinking an O’Doul’s beer.  He didn’t know if that meant he had a slip or not (in my book, it does, near beer is still beer).  He told his story, and began to talk about his regret and confusion, obviously upset, when one the old-timers in the corner yelled out “shut the fuck up.”  Several seconds of cross-talk, cross-yelling really, ensued as people in the group told the old-timer that everyone has a right to share, and that he needed to be quiet, and he told everyone that the newcomer needs to shut up at meetings and talk to his sponsor.  I invited the newcomer to continue sharing and, thankfully, he did.  The rest of the meeting revolved around the slippery slope of drinking the low-alcohol beer substitutes and the like.  Most of the people that shared were in agreement that the newcomer had a slip and should change his sobriety date.  The other old-timers echoed their loud, confrontational buddy’s sentiment and spoke with raised voices, rather angrily, as they thumped their Big Books and barked out orders.

As I sat there and listened, I became more and more resentful.  I thought about my first months in the program, and what I needed at the time.  Having someone yell at me to shut the fuck up was not what I needed.  I needed to know that I wasn’t alone, that there were people that were just like me that had made it to a sober way of living.  I needed to know that I had a place where I could fit in and not be judged.  I needed to know that there was a solution, and there were people that could help me learn what it was.  That old-timer gave none of that to the newcomer, and that really made me mad.  Had I not been chairing the meeting, I probably would have walked out.

I know that each newly sober person has different needs, and that some do need a stronger push to get going in the right direction.  I know that when you go to treatment the main focus is on loading you up with information and changing your behaviors through routine and structure.  Lord knows I needed that when I went to rehab.  There had to be rules, and I needed the keep-’em-busy-every-second structure.  But even that was administered with a gentle hand.  What I don’t agree with is trying to bully someone into sobriety.  I don’t think that someone can get you sober anymore than they can get you drunk, but I do think that it’s the old-timers’ responsibility to help the newcomers, to offer encouragement, to show them the way, to lead by example.  To share their experience, strength and hope.  Isn’t that the mission of AA?

By the end of the meeting, things had settled down.  Both the old-timer and the newcomer apologized to the group and to each other as we gathered for the closing prayer.  Even though I’ve only been around the rooms for a couple of years, I know that once in a while, things happen at meetings that leave a bad taste in my mouth.  I think that what happened this morning sucked, and I hope that the newcomer won’t go out and drink, and that he’ll be back tomorrow morning.  I will definitely talk to my sponsor about the whole thing, to get her perspective on what happened.  But you know what?  By the time 6:15 a.m. rolls around tomorrow morning, I will happily head to my home group for a meeting, because I know, without a doubt, that AA has saved my life.  The steps and the traditions have taught me a new way to live my life, and the fellowship has given me people who understand me to live it with.   I won’t (can’t) let what a select few do or say keep me away from something that I know works.  There’s no throwing the baby out with the bath water here.  I’ll keep coming back.

Choices

good-choice-bad-choice-sign

Yesterday was quite a day.  The early morning went well, it seemed like a good start.  Then, on the way to work, everything hit the fan.  The details aren’t really relevant, so I won’t write about them.  Suffice it to say, there were a couple of hours that were pure chaos, drama, flashbacks to the past.  I was so quickly sucked into my old, alcoholic way of thinking and feeling, that I’m surprised my head didn’t spin.  I was in sheer panic, heart racing, cold sweats, shallow breathing.  I was sure that the end of the world, at least my world, was eminent.  It had been a while since I felt so much anxiety so fast, and then I heard it.  It was that little voice that I hadn’t heard from for over seven months.

You know how to make these feelings stop….

And just like that, I wanted to drink.  I didn’t romanticize or justify it the way I used to.  It wasn’t that I suddenly thought that I would be able to control it like a normal person this time, or that I was just going through so much stress that I would just have one drink to “take the edge off.”  No, I knew exactly what my wanting to drink was – I wanted to shut off every thought that was going through my mind.  I felt a deep need to change every feeling I was having at that moment.  There was nothing that could be misconstrued in what I was thinking.  Did I think that drinking would improve the situation?  No.  Did I think that I would create more wreckage by drinking?  Yes.  Did I realize what giving up my sobriety would mean?  Yes.  Did I still want to drink?  Yes, so very much.

That solution to my problems hung out in my head for a while.  I was aching for the relief of that first drink.  Then something crazy happened.  Those thoughts quieted down and were replaced by new ones.  What I heard was:  You don’t have to drink.  You can make it through this, and anything else that happens.  You are under God’s care, and He doesn’t screw up.  You are not alone. 

Now I am not going to lie, those two contradictory reactions fought back and forth for a while.  I was really waffling on which one to believe.  I knew which was the right way to go, but I also knew which would give me relief faster.  In the past, I wouldn’t have even entertained anything besides the drink.  I would’ve been hammered before those other thoughts even had a chance to make themselves known.  But yesterday, fortunately, I was able to make the right choice.  I didn’t drink.

I am certainly not going for sainthood here, had there been a bottle of vodka right in front of me this whole thing could’ve turned out a lot differently.  But with yesterday’s realization that even if I have the craving, I don’t have to give in, I feel like I reached a milestone.  I had been pretty damn lucky that for the past seven months I hadn’t had one inclination to drink.  But I honestly didn’t know what would happen when that luck ran out.  Now I know.  I can choose.

Weekends

HAPPY FRIDAY

I made it through the week.   I can’t even begin to explain how happy I am that it is the weekend.  I love Friday nights because I know that I have two whole days ahead of me to do the things that I love – read, hang out with my husband and stepson, relax, watch the TV shows that I save all week (I call them “my stories”), take naps, visit with my sponsor and do step work, go to church and/or bible study – all of the things that there isn’t time for during the week.  It’s a time for me to recharge physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Weekends are when I am able to do the things that bring me joy and feed my soul.  It’s when I get to slow down and take care of me.

I sure haven’t always felt this way.  It’s crazy because, for the most part, I used to dread the weekends.  I think I started to dislike the weekends when I started drinking alcoholically.  At that time, I knew that I had a problem with booze, but I couldn’t stop drinking no matter what I tried.  So the weekends, when I didn’t have the responsibility, and distraction, of going to work, would end up being just awful.  I would start out trying not to drink, but knowing that I would.  I would eventually get blackout drunk, do dumb and dangerous things, sleep fitfully, and wake up to go through the whole ordeal again.  I was constantly thinking about drinking, planning how to drink without getting caught, actually drunk off my ass, or trying to recover.  It was absolute hell.  So Monday coming around was a little bit of a reprieve.  I knew that I had to go to work, and I had to act like I had it together.  It allowed me to distract myself from the mess that was my life.

When I first got sober, I still hated the weekends.  Again, I had no distraction, so I had plenty of time to wallow in self-pity, guilt and shame.  I had way too much time to think.  And way too much time to feel all of those emotions I drank to get away from.  I was still so happy when Monday came around and I could go to work and pretend that everything was okay, that I was loving sobriety, when, in reality, I wasn’t.

I’m not sure when exactly my aversion to weekends turned around.  I think it happened gradually.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that I met Austin and had someone to spend time with.  But I really think that the shift happened when I began to have a heart change about taking care of myself and letting go of the past.  Until I accepted my past for what it was, and truly believed that I, with God’s help, never had to go back to that way of living, I couldn’t be alone with my thoughts and feelings.

Now, I look forward to the weekends.  I know that I will have time to just be still and to stay present.  I don’t have to deal with the hectic pace of my job, I don’t have to feel like I have to constantly be doing something productive.  I can just be, and that’s a pretty awesome feeling.

I’m off to start my weekend.  I hope you enjoy yours!

This is my Monday now...

This is my Monday now…