Out with the old, in with the new

happy-new-year-banner-graphic

I love the feeling that comes along with the new year.  It’s a feeling of being given a clean slate, an empty canvas, a fresh start.  I don’t know why on January 1st it seems easier to let go of the past than any other month of the year, but it does.  For me, the past few days have been filled with looking back at 2014, remember all of the happy, joyful times with a smile, and letting go of the negative stuff that crept in from time to time.  It’s also been about looking forward to the new year with hope and optimism, more than I have had in a very long time. 🙂

This new year started differently than any of my previous 43…with snow!  In Tucson!  I rarely stay awake until midnight to welcome in the new year.  This year started out to be no exception, I was asleep before ten o’clock.  Then, a little while before midnight, Austin woke me up to tell me to look outside.  It was snowing!  We went out onto our little patio and watched the big flakes float down.  It was so beautiful and peaceful, it even sounded calm outside…I don’t know how to describe it, but the acoustics were different, more serene than usual.  I’ve always lived in the desert so this was a special treat ushering in the new year.  Maybe it’s a sign that the 2015 will be filled with peace and serenity.  That’s what I am choosing to believe.

snow2015

 

This year I am not making any resolutions.  I didn’t last year either, instead I tried adding Healthy Habits (you can read about them in earlier posts) into my life by trying something new each month with the hope that the habit would stick, and I would end up healthier at the end of the year.  Overall, I think that approaching something healthy, new, and different each month was a success.  I learned that I like yoga and meditation, and that when I focus on prayer and gratitude, I feel better spiritually and emotionally.  I learned that it’s not as hard as I thought to pack my lunch for work every day, and to get away from my desk to eat it, taking a real lunch break.  I learned how to find joy in the ordinary, and even in the adverse.  I learned that I am still lazy when it comes to exercise and that I am going to have to continue to struggle to get over that hurdle.  But I’ll keep trying.

So, what are my plans for 2015?  Well, I met with my sponsor today and we talked about it.  Our conversation wound its way around to the difference between completing tasks and working toward goals.  I realized that I am not keen to make 2015 about checking things off of my to-do list.  For me, it has to be more about working toward goals…some being measurable, but most being things that can’t be quantified.  They are things that I already do, that I already know bring me joy and feed my soul.  They are things that 2014 showed me I love, but that I feel I need more of in my life.

These are a few of the things that I am thinking about:

  • Read more.  I often let silly time-wasters get in the way of my love of reading.  Toward the end of the year, I got way behind on my blog reading and I am still working finishing the same book that I started in October.  That’s just sad.  I love reading, it brings me joy.
  • Write more.  A while back, I decided to write a memoir…so far I’ve only written an introduction and half of Chapter 1.  I have pages of recovery-related topics that I would like to blog about.  I’ve also been asked by a few different bloggers and recovery websites to write something to contribute to their sites.  I’ve yet to work on any of those, even though I know that writing is something I’ve come to treasure and that is good for me.
  • Connect with others more.  The connections that I have with my friends is absolutely what feeds my soul.  I feel like I have the most wonderful friends, and that my relationships are more meaningful than those I have had in the past.  The lack that I am feeling about my relationships is completely on me.  I am not good at keeping in touch.  There! I’ve said it!  I always have the best intentions, but I’ll talk to a friend about meeting up for coffee…and then six months go by.  Or someone will call me and leave a voicemail, and it takes me a week to call them back.  I don’t know what it is other than life getting in the way, but I want to get better about growing the relationships that I have.  I am blessed with great friends that never make me feel less-than for taking so long to make it to coffee, or for waiting for their second call to actually talk.  They deserve better.  So I am going to work on that.
  • Pray more.  Prayer works.  It’s a fact.  And yet I still don’t think about doing it as much as I should.  I would really like for it to be my go-to response to all things, good and bad, for supplication and for thanksgiving.   When my conscious contact with God is increased, my acceptance, serenity and joy are increased.  I learned that last year, and I’m putting it into action this year.

I’ll probably write more about each of those things in the months to come.  They’re simple goals, really, but they seem so much better than items on a to-do list.  They aren’t things that I can complete…they are the things that will complete me.

I’m looking forward to a peaceful, happy year, and I hope you have one too!

 

 

 

Making Prayer a Habit – Healthy Habit #1

February is here, so it is time for me to give you all an update on Healthy Habit #1 – Prayer.  As I wrote in my last post, I made a commitment to praying out loud each morning with my husband using our prayer beads.  My hope was that our daily prayer would become a habit and that we would continue to grow in God, and closer to one another.  I started off by doing some research about the benefits of couples praying together and I was immediately happy with the healthy habit that I chose.  Here are some things I found out:

  • Prayer Unites Couples.  Praying with your spouse provides spiritual unity through God, and spiritual unity is a tie that binds us to one another and is not easily broken.
  • Prayer Promotes Emotional Intimacy.  When couples pray together, they are not only inviting communication with God, but also with one another.
  • Prayer Keeps You Humbled.  Praying together is a humbling experience.  It’s easy to be humble before God when we pray on our own, but being able to ask for help, or strength, or mercy while praying together requires humility and vulnerability.
  • Prayer Gives Hope.  When your hearts are in unity with God’s good and perfect will, then your prayers will always be answered.  Regardless of you actually getting what you prayed for.

After reading these things, I was all in, and, after a month of daily prayer, I have to say that I experienced all of those things.  My husband and I have a very strong, fulfilling, happy marriage.  That said, I did (do) experience a stronger sense of unity and humility when we pray together.  The act of sitting together, heads bowed, eyes closed, approaching God as one instead of individually, was extremely intimate.  Talking about what we wanted to pray about extemporaneously before getting started was definitely an act of humility.  Being able to tell one another, “here is what I need help with today,” or, “I need to pray about (fill in the blank), because I am really struggling,”  is much more difficult than baring our souls to God on our own.  All in all, it has been a beautiful experience…one of growing in God together.

Another benefit that I have found is that when we pray together, we remember to pray for others.  I’ve heard it said that the biggest lie that comes from Christians is, “I’ll pray for you.”  I have said it before myself, and then forgotten, or just thrown up a few words to God in passing.  This month, whenever I said that phrase to someone, I was able to keep my word because Austin and I talked about who and what we were going to pray for beforehand.  The prayers were more thoughtful and thorough than they would have been otherwise.  That’s a blessing, for sure.

As far as it becoming a new, healthy habit…it has!  I don’t know how the experts judge whether or not a behavior has become a habit, but I think that once something is truly a habit, you will feel it’s absence when you don’t do it.  For example, I am in the habit of getting to work earlier than I have to be each work day.  On days when, for one reason or another, I have to get to work at my actual scheduled time, I feel like my whole day has been thrown off.  It’s like forgetting to kiss my husband good-bye in the morning.  Not doing it doesn’t ruin the day, but it makes the day (or morning, at least) feel like something’s missing.  That’s how I felt on the few days that we didn’t get to pray in the morning.  I think that there were four days that we didn’t pray together before work.  On a couple of those days we did end up doing our prayers later in the day, but on a couple, we didn’t.  One day in particular I remember that we didn’t have time in the morning (I overslept but still had to be at work an hour before I was scheduled…I know, I have issues), and all day long I thought “we need to do our prayers,”  but the evening came and we just didn’t get to it.  I felt the lack.  I felt like something was missing.  I was so happy the next morning when Austin said, “are you ready to pray?”

I am going to call Healthy Habit #1 a success.  We are going to continue to pray together every morning, using our prayer beads, and growing closer to each other and to God.

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Healthy Habit #2 – A Month of Meditation  

I’m going to need your help on this one.  I haven’t really ever had any success with meditation, but I’m going to give it another go.  I started this morning and will post about it in the next couple of days.  In the meantime, I would love to hear from any of you that find meditation helpful.

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 Day After

Ornament

Well, I made it through Christmas.  It has been a crazy month, with lots of ups and downs.  I haven’t written for a while, partly because it’s been a busy month, partly because I haven’t felt like it.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I suffered through some days of depression and self-pity.  As you know, I am estranged from my family and typically the holidays are tough times for me.  This one was no different when it comes to that.  But in other ways it was different, better even, than the last few years.

Going into the season I expected to have some sad, reflective days and I thought that there would be times in which I was hard on myself, remembering and reliving the ugly moments when I was drunk and self-absorbed, wishing that I could go back and change them.  Or, at the other end of the spectrum, remembering the happy holidays that I spent with my family.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, that there weren’t as many of those thoughts popping up as I expected.  While I found it hard to get into the Christmas spirit until a few days before, I didn’t spend nearly as much time and energy on negative thoughts as I suspected I would.  And when the thoughts did come up, I was mostly able to just sit with them.  I’m not saying that it was a completely pleasant experience, it wasn’t, believe me.  But as they came up, it was more like watching a movie than being the actor in one.  As the good memories of holidays past came up, I was able to smile and just remember without romanticizing and longing.  I felt a sense of gratitude that I was able to experience good times with my family.  Nothing can take those memories away from me.  When the bad thoughts came up it wasn’t as easy to remain a member of the movie-watching audience, my nature is to jump in as the star of the show.  But I was able to remind myself that those days have already happened and I can’t change their outcome, no matter how much I want to.  That made it easier to handle.  One thing I didn’t do is push the thoughts away.  I know that when I try to do that, it works for a little while, but then it doesn’t.  And when it stops working, the thoughts come back with such an overwhelming vengeance that I don’t have the capacity to handle them.  It’s an ugly mess and I know that’s not good for me.

All of that said, we had a beautiful Christmas.  It started very early – my stepson was up at 4:01 a.m. (I told him that anything before 4:00 a.m. was too early) to open presents and he was so excited.  It was really nice to see Christmas through a child’s eyes again.  Last year I got out of rehab a few days before Christmas, so we didn’t celebrate at all and I didn’t get to see him open any presents.  We had a nice, lazy, lego-filled morning, eating the homemade cinnamon rolls I made, and then headed off for a nap.  It was a relaxing day, I spent all of it in my pajamas, and I was happy.

Until the evening.  That’s when sadness crept in.  I miss my daughter.  A lot.  Even though I miss her every day, special days are harder to handle than the rest.  I spent some time in bed crying and feeling down, remembering holidays in the past and wondering what her Christmas was like this year.  I let the thoughts bounce around and I prayed, with fervor.  My prayers are usually either quiet and thoughtful, or they are more like conversations that I have with God.  The prayers I prayed on Christmas were passionate, emotional, demanding, almost aggressive (it’s ok though, God can handle my aggression).  I don’t know what will happen, but I know that after I prayed that way, I felt better.

So here we are the day after.  It was a nice holiday, but I’m glad that Christmas is over and I am looking forward to seeing what the new year brings.  I hope that all who read this had a wonderful holiday, full of peace and love.

Merry Christmas!

240 Days

Today I made 8 months sober. I posted this morning on my Facebook page that these past 8 months have been the best I’ve had in a long, long time, and that they have, by far, been my best months of sobriety. This isn’t the first time that I have had this many days, but it’s the first time it’s felt like real physical, emotional, and spiritual sobriety. The longest stretch of sobriety that I had since I started trying was was nine months, I drank on the day after getting my 9 month chip.  So I have been asking myself why this time feels so different.

The difference certainly isn’t because these last eight months have been uneventful.  I have gone through more stress, anxiety, grief, and the like, since last November than I went through in the year prior.  I have had to deal with some really difficult feelings and situations.   Things that, not too long ago, would’ve sent me right back out boozing.  But I haven’t had a drink.  In fact, there was only one exceedingly crappy day in the whole eight months that I even wanted to.  I wrote about that day in an earlier post.  But even on that horrible day, I didn’t pick up.  Why is that?

As I’ve thought about it, there seem to be three major changes I have made that are helping me stay sober.  Number one, I finally got honest.  I practiced varying degrees of selective honesty for 40 of my 41 years.  When I was drinking I lied to everyone about everything, it didn’t matter who it was.   As I got into recovery, I think I really tried to be more honest, but I omitted a great many things.  If it was something that was going to cause me feelings of guilt or shame, or if it was uncomfortable or unpleasant in any way, I would almost always leave it out.  It wasn’t until my second trip to treatment that I was able to be honest about the ugly stuff, all of the ugly stuff.  It was the first time that I told the whole truth to a therapist, to my fellow addicts, to myself.  I had the gift of desperation, and I was finally willing to go to any lengths to get sober, and to not die.  For me that meant being honest.

Number two, I learned to forgive.  I struggled with resentments for so long.  I’ve realized that while I could (and did) act like I forgave people that I thought had wronged me in some way, deep down I held on to those resentments like a security blanket.  I wrapped myself up in them and they actually gave me comfort.  They gave me a reason for my drinking, I had someone other than myself to blame for it.  If I hadn’t been so heinously wronged by others, I wouldn’t have to self-medicate all the time.  Once I came to the realization that not only was I holding these grudges, but I was reveling in them, I knew that something had to be done.  I talked a lot about how to forgive with my husband (he’s a pastor after all), and I talked about it with a therapist, with my sponsor and with other alcoholics.  I read books about forgiveness, I read the Bible, I prayed, I journaled about it.  I can’t tell you when the switch was flipped, it was a gradual thing.  I started off by praying just for the willingness to forgive, the actual forgiving seemed a long way off.  Somewhere along the line, I started to let go of my security blanket, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I did have the capacity to forgive.  I kept praying, and writing, and talking, and something happened.  My anger lessened.  I learned that to forgive doesn’t mean to forget, and it doesn’t require reconciliation. I started to let go, to truly forgive.  Some transgressions were easier to let go of than others, and some I am still working on, but I have much more peace now.

The last biggie was acceptance.  Oh, have I fought with acceptance.  I have always loved the story in the Big Book called Acceptance is the Answer.  And I knew that accepting that things were what they were, would make life easier.  I just didn’t know how to do it.  So I got the words ‘It is what it is” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder.  I tried to just intellectually accept things, just tell myself that I had no choice but to accept it, and that would work for a while, but it never lasted.  I said the Serenity Prayer over and over.  But true acceptance only came to me when I was able to turn over whatever seemed unacceptable to me, to God.  I have written about laying down my rock, surrendering my problems to God, and how, for me, it often involved the literal laying down of a stone.  I don’t usually carry rocks in my pockets these days, but when something that I can’t change is bothering me, I write it down on a piece of paper, and I put it in my God box.  I give it up, and become willing to accept it as it is.

There are a number of other things that I do differently to stay sober now.  I journal like crazy, I chair meetings, I reach out to others in and out of the program when I need help, I take care of myself whether it means a nap or a good cry or a hot bath, I know my strengths and I know my liabilities and I plan accordingly, I call my sponsor almost every day.  My recipe for sobriety has changed, there are a lot more ingredients.  But the main ones are honesty, forgiveness, and acceptance.  And they make life pretty delicious.