Gratitude – July 16

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I am grateful to be sober every day, but the last couple of days has me thinking about it a lot more than I usually do.  Austin and I have some friends, a married couple, that we know through the program.  They are both early in sobriety, and trying to start a new life of recovery as a couple.  Last week they relapsed…together.  I guess that is the risk you take when both halves of a relationship are alcoholics.  When one goes down, there is always the potential for the other to follow.  That’s a pretty scary scenario.  It breaks my heart that our friends are going through all of this.  They both want to be sober, and they are committed to getting back on the wagon, but it seems like the road ahead of them is awfully bumpy.  I really feel for them, I hate to see them in pain.  But seeing what they are going through also makes me recognize just how lucky I am to be where I am right now.

Twenty months ago, I was right where our friends are, married to another alcoholic, relapsing and feeling hopeless, not wanting to drink, but not able to cope sober.  I was fortunate though, that Austin didn’t join me in my relapse.  Seeing our friends makes me realize that could’ve easily happened.  Thank God Austin didn’t pick up too.  What would’ve happened then?  I shudder to think.  What would’ve happened if it had been the other way around?  If Austin had relapsed, what would I have done?  Would I have sent him to rehab, like he did for me?  Or joined him in drinking?  I don’t know.  I hope I never have to know the answer to that question.

As I think about all of this, and it has really been on my mind a lot, I am so grateful to be sober.  Sometimes I need to be reminded of how it feels to be in active alcoholism, I need to keep that feeling fresh, so that I never have to go back there.  I have to remember how fortunate I am that Austin and I work our programs both together and individually, that we don’t rely only on each other to maintain our sobriety.  I think that’s the most important thing couples in recovery can do; be supportive, give each other a lot of grace, and allow each other to work their own program.

Today, and every day, I am happy to be in recovery.  I am grateful that I no longer have the desire to drink to cope with life, and I pray that it stays that way forever.

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Please share your gratitude today.

Please share your gratitude today.

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

 

 

 

The difference that made all the difference

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“Get it together, DeLoe!”

That’s what I used to tell myself.  A lot.  I’ve thought it in my head, whispered it quietly, yelled it out in anger, mumbled it through tears, cried it out in frustration.  Whenever I had an overwhelming emotion, that was my mantra.  Fear, anger, anxiety, sadness, grief.  They all got the same response.  Just get it together, DeLoe.  You see, I thought that the best thing to do with those types of feelings was to stuff them down so far that I could appear to have it together.  If I could get it together on the outside, then no one would have to know how messed up I was on the inside.  If I could just “act right,” like my mother used to say, then everything would be alright.  Feeling those negative emotions would serve no purpose.  It does no good to cry over something, it’s not going to change the outcome.  There’s no use being mad, you’re going to get over it anyway.  If you’re frustrated with something, just quit trying.  I heard those types of things all the time growing up.  I was always ‘getting it together.’  What I realize now, that I didn’t know then, is that I was being taught that I had to keep it together on the outside – act right – to get the love and happiness I so desperately wanted.  Whatever was happening on the inside didn’t matter.  I could get what I wanted if my actions were acceptable.

Over time, I became pretty adept at stuffing my emotions.  If it was something that was unbearable, unpleasant, or even just a little bit uncomfortable, it got stuffed away.  Nope, not gonna feel that right now.  I would put on my game face, and suck it up.  I used to think that meant I was just going with the flow; that I was handling things and moving forward.  What I learned is that when you stuff, avoid, or shrug off your true feelings, they have a way of rearing up again later.  There comes a point at which there is no more room for stuffing.  The maximum capacity has been reached.  For me, that happened when I was in my mid thirties.  I found that I could no longer get it together, no matter how hard I tried.  Old feelings, for things that had happened long ago, started to bubble up.  And this time, I couldn’t just swallow them back down.  They were back, and they meant business.  Stuffing and ignoring them was, clearly, no longer an option.  I had physical reactions to the feelings – anxiety, panic, crying jags.  My old way of coping was failing.  Enter booze.  I might not be able to stuff emotions away anymore, but I sure could I drink them away!  And drink them away I did.  For years.  Alcohol was my solution for a long time.  It kept those bad feelings trapped in a place where I didn’t have to deal with them.  If they started to surface, I would have a drink, or two, or ten.  And then, at least for a while, I could be free of the emotional pain.  But then that stopped working too.

What resulted was no longer just the bubbling up of emotions, it was a full-on volcano eruption of my unfelt, unprocessed feelings.  I was angry, sad, depressed, needy, and crazy, sometimes all at the same time.  I was losing control, and I didn’t know what to do.  I had always been able to keep it together, no matter how hard it was.  But I just couldn’t do it.  I was sinking and I knew it.  I drank more and more.  When I had moments of actual clarity, or some form thereof, I would wonder to myself how I would ever have any happiness, serenity, or peace, if I couldn’t get it together.  I mean, how could I have any of those things when I was such a huge mess?!?  Looking back, I can see that at the time, I thought that good things (like happiness, serenity and peace) were only for “good” people, and I most definitely was not “good.”

From there, my life spiraled downward.  My alcoholism became full-blown, I was either drunk or hungover most of the time.  I was depressed and cried all the time.  I had nothing to contribute to relationships with family and friends.  I still had a job, but I was regularly screwing up.  I was just struggling to make it through each day alive.  Though there were many days that I hoped the opposite would happen.  I honestly thought that I was destined, or doomed, to live the rest of my life in that condition.  I didn’t see how things could ever get better, because I couldn’t get it together.  I didn’t deserve for things to get better, I was so broken, I wasn’t worth it.

And then, after thirty plus years of getting it together, trying to do good to get good, wearing a game face and sucking it up even when it felt impossible, something miraculous and life changing happened.  I gave up.  I gave up trying to control every emotion, every situation, every person I met.  I knew that I couldn’t do it anymore.  I was finally waving the white flag.

I found myself in treatment for my drinking.  I was terrified and hopeful, worried and relieved.  My emotions were all over the place and I felt like a bigger mess than ever.

And that’s when I first heard about grace.

I went to a Christian treatment facility and after the first week I attended a bible study each evening.   I had only been to church on a few rare occasions in the past.  I didn’t know what to expect, or how I would respond to what was talked about, but I knew that I couldn’t continue living the way I had been.  I knew that I was missing something in my life that I had tried to find from other things – attention, men, booze, etc.  I was looking for something that would make me feel worthy of love, happiness and peace; something that I didn’t have to ‘get it together’ to enjoy.  It was there, in treatment, that I was first exposed to this message of grace.  I didn’t quite know what to make of it, but I knew it sounded good.

Grace, I learned, is the love and mercy than God bestows on us just because He wants to, not because we have earned it.  It is a free gift given without expectation of good works.  Wow.  I don’t know about you, but I never had that before, from anyone.  And here I was learning that not only did I get to partake in God’s grace, but I didn’t have to do anything to get it!  I didn’t have to ‘get it together’ or ‘act right’ for God to love and accept me.  He loved me where I was, as I was.

It is by God’s grace that I have had so many wonderful things happen in the last two years.  I fell in love with the perfect man for me, and he loves me back.  I have been able to stay sober for coming up on nine months.  I have stronger, more meaningful relationships with friends than I ever had before.  I am able to feel happiness and peace, even when life is challenging.  Those are not things that I could’ve done by myself.  They are not things that I could have ever earned by doing what I used to – getting it together.  They are all things that have been given to me freely by God.  No strings attached.  How awesome is that?  I’m still broken, still a mess at times, and not someone who has it all together (even on a good day!), but despite that, I am loved and accepted, and I feel peace and joy.  I have Someone in my corner who loves me unconditionally, even with all of my jagged edges.

Are there still times that I slip into the ‘get it together’ mentality?  Or times when I try to stuff an emotion that I don’t want to feel?  Of course.  But the truth is, it is far less often than I used to, and it is no longer my answer to every situation.   My husband is always quick to catch me when I’m trying to put on my game face, and he reminds me that I’m a real girl, with real feelings.  That helps me so much to know that it’s okay to feel angry, sad, or depressed.  And we have a new saying in our house.  It’s no longer “Get it together, DeLoe,” (that’s my maiden name, by the way).  We now use my married name:

“Live in grace, Olive!” 

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Grace…even for me.

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I recently read somewhere that recovery is one of the greatest examples of grace.  I have found that to be so true.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think that I even knew, much less understood or felt, what grace was before I made my first attempts at recovery.

When I started trying to get sober by going to meetings, I thought that I would find out the trick to sobriety.  Maybe I would have to be initiated, learn a secret handshake, be sworn to secrecy, but then, I would be let in on the closely guarded secret that would save me from the bottle.  And then, just by having that knowledge, I wouldn’t have to drink anymore.  Well, it didn’t quite work that way.  I was told that I needed to act.  I had to go to meetings, find a sponsor, work (work!?!) the steps, be of service….oh and,  just change everything in my life as it was.  I was overwhelmed.  So, in my typical rebellious form, besides going to meetings, I didn’t do any of it.  It’s no wonder that I continued to drink and ended up in treatment.  That’s where I first started to feel little bits of grace.

I went to a Christian rehab, even though I didn’t identify as a Christian (they were the first one to return my call and they accepted my insurance).  I considered myself agnostic, because I never really heard any argument, for or against God, that resonated with me.  I think though, down deep, I knew that I was missing some integral “thing” and that I was trying to fill up that empty space with booze.  I certainly didn’t think that I would find whatever that “thing” was in rehab, but I was desperate.   My first days there were really difficult, because I was so fearful of everything and everyone.  I questioned whether or not I belonged there, maybe I had overreacted.  Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough on my own.  Was I really like these other people that here?  I couldn’t be, I didn’t shoot drugs into my veins, or crush them up and snort them.  I wasn’t unemployed and homeless.  Yes, I had a DUI, but who didn’t?  That was simply bad luck.  As all of these thoughts were churning around in my head, something amazing happened.  These people that I was having trouble identifying with, that I was feeling apart from, embraced me and included me.  They met me where I was, and didn’t run away screaming.  They listened to what I had to say, even when it didn’t make sense.  They encouraged me to open up, and didn’t blink when I told some of my shameful secrets.  They shared their stories with me, openly and honestly.  I didn’t know it then, but what they were doing was showing me grace.

Looking back, I’m able to see that it wasn’t just my fellow addicts that were demonstrating grace, I was receiving God’s grace as well.  How else could I explain that I was there, safe, sober and trying to get better?  How was it that I wasn’t in jail or dead?  How was it that I finally felt a little bit of hope?  These were all things that I couldn’t have done for myself.  I couldn’t have done them if there was some form of expectation for me to repay those favors.  Those things were free gifts given to me by God.  I knew then, and I know now, that I didn’t deserve them.  It was grace.

It has been over two years since then, and I wish I could say that my first trip to treatment did the trick, but it didn’t.  I returned at the end of last year for another 30 days after relapsing.  Once again, when I showed up, I was shown grace.  The staff was all the same, and they met me with love and compassion.  They told me that they don’t shoot their wounded, that I am not a bad person trying to be good, but instead a sick person trying to get well.  They accepted me.  This time I knew it was grace, I knew what it felt like.  When I returned to my home group after rehab, I was met in the same manner.  No one thought ill of me, no one expressed disappointment or anger.  I was encouraged to keep coming back.  And that’s what I’ve done.

While the examples of grace I’ve written about above are nothing short of miraculous, the most profound and meaningful experience I have had with grace has come to me in my marriage (which, incidentally, is another gift of the program, as I met my husband in the rooms).  Never did I imagine that there could be such love and grace as I have found with Austin.  It’s why we work.  He gives me the grace to be myself, with all of my defects and neuroses.  He loves unconditionally, even when I don’t feel lovable.  When he had to drive me to treatment, he never once complained or acted disappointed.  Even in my misery, I never doubted that I had love and acceptance from him.  I also feel like I give him the same, at least he says so.  Each of us, by understanding God’s grace, can learn to give one another what He first gave us. .  That’s grace.