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.

Right where I need to be

You are here

The other night my husband and I had our friend over for dinner.  Halfway through the meal my husband said, “I was thinking that you should tell our friend your story.”  My response was, “What story?  My AA story?”  Yes, that was what he was talking about.  At first I hesitated…why on earth would I want to do that?  But then I started to think about it.  Our friend is looking to go into the ministry with my husband as we are preparing to plant a church.  The type of people that we are hoping to attract and share the Gospel with are people just like me; people who have been previously unchurched, who have been looking for something to fill the God-shaped void in their heart for much of their lives, but who have tried to fill it up with all of the wrong things.  We would like to show the hopeless, as both my husband and I have been in our lives, the hope that Jesus offers.  So, I thought, if our friend is going to teach and preach to people like me, then maybe me telling my story and him listening to it would be good for both of us.

So I started my story, and I talked, and talked, and talked.  Our friend listened intently, nodding and asking questions occasionally.  Talking about the past and my relationships with both alcohol and God was exhausting.  And exhilarating.  I realized as I was telling my tale, that I really have had a major heart change.  It’s hard for me to even recognize the drunk, lost, angry, hurting person that I was just  a few short years ago.   As I described my old behaviors and feelings, it almost felt like I was talking about someone else.  Surely, the Jami of today wouldn’t do those things, but the Jami of yesterday did.  I had mixed feelings about that too.  On the one hand, it was wonderful to be able to tell my story without the self-loathing and regret that I used to wrap myself up in.  But it also caused me to really think about where I am now.  And then the questions started swirling around in my head:

Am I really that much different than I used to be?

If I’m doing so well, why does my daughter still want nothing to do with me?

Why are there still days that I want to stay in bed all day and isolate?

Why do I still struggle with turning my will over to God?

Why is my first inclination still to avoid difficult situations and conflicts?

Am I really where I should be in my recovery,  after 3 years in the program, and 17 months sober?

 

I felt a little bit of doubt sneaking into my thinking.  It wasn’t a lot, but it was lurking there and causing me to wonder if I was doing this whole sobriety thing right.  Have I really changed?  I know I don’t drink now, but what about my feelings, my values, my beliefs?  Have they really changed that much?

After quite a bit of thought I came up with an answer that I truly believe.  Yes.  That’s it.  Yes.  I have changed a lot.  I am much different than I used to be.  I have learned to be honest, when I used to lie at the drop of a hat.  I have learned to forgive, but not to expect forgiveness in return.  I have learned to accept that I am not in control of the universe, God is.  I have learned that there is such a thing as unconditional love, and I am fortunate to both give and receive it.

The answer to my second question is simply, I don’t know.  I don’t know when or if there will ever be a reconciliation between me and my daughter no matter how long I am sober and how well I am doing.  I pray that there is…everyday I pray.  But I have to accept that if there is, it will be in God’s time not mine.  Until then, I can and do love my daughter without expectation and without condition.

Why do I feel like isolating sometimes?  Because I’m human, and sometimes humans need a break.  The difference between then and now is that I don’t let that feeling overwhelm me.  Sure, there are times that I choose to stay home, lie in bed and watch 5 episodes of Nurse Jackie in a row.   But I don’t do that often, and I don’t neglect my responsibilities to do it.  I’m really starting to understand that self-care doesn’t always mean doing what feels the best at the moment.  Sometimes it means doing the things you need to when you would rather be napping.

When it comes to turning my will over to God, I just don’t think that it’s an easy thing to do.  It’s hard…sometimes it feels downright impossible.  But now, I realize when I’m holding on to something that isn’t mine to control much faster than I used to.  I may have to remind myself a thousand times to give it to God, but at least I can recognize it, and keep trying.  I’m telling you, I think the 3rd step is the hardest.

I am an avoider by nature.  So it’s no wonder that when something difficult or upsetting comes along, I prefer to do the ostrich thing and just bury my head in the sand.  My first inclination is to avoid, then maybe whatever unpleasant thing it is will go away.  I know that doesn’t work.  And so, these days, even when my instinct is to avoid, I do my best to face things head-on.  It doesn’t always work, and sometimes I have false starts, but I’m better about it than I used to be.  And honestly, I don’t think that my first inclination is something huge to worry about.  It’s my first action or reaction that counts.  I may not have gotten to the point where my immediate thought is to be brave and face the situation, but I am at the point where I face them anyway, brave or not.

So, after 3 years in the program and 17 months sober, am I really where I should be in my recovery?  Hell, I don’t know.  I have no idea how to judge that.  Sometimes it feels like I am, and sometimes it feels like I’m not.  I know that the path I’m on now has gotten me much farther in the direction that I want to go, and each thing that I have gone through has served some purpose in getting me where I am now.   So as I think about all of the changes that I’ve gone through, I have come to one conclusion.  I may not always be where I think I should be, but I am always exactly where I need to be.

Where I Need To Be