Girl jumping with rose petals in air

I have changed many things in my life, including myself, since I began my 12-Step journey in 1987, but one thing has never changed.  What best defines my recovery is still this:  abstinence is the most important thing in my life without exception because it is the doorway to my Higher Power.

Although my abstinence today looks very much like it did 28 years ago (sugar/flour-free, weighed and measured), my food plan has undergone some changes over the years.  I don’t make changes to my food plan without first talking to my sponsor and often my nutritionist.

The first few years of my recovery, I was very rigid with my abstinence and I needed to be.  I found something that was working for me and I was holding on tight.  I’ll never forget visiting my brother and sister-in-law during the first year of my abstinence.  We were fixing dinner and I was standing at the counter measuring green peas into a cup.  Fran, my sister-in-law, was standing beside me at the sink.  As I was pouring the peas out of the cup measure onto my plate, a couple of them fell onto the counter and Fran moved her hand to swipe them into the disposal.  Well, I yelled and grabbed her wrist as if she were going to throw away a priceless heirloom or something.  Those peas were part of my portion and I wanted them.  They WERE priceless to me.  Of course, she looked at me as if I were crazy!

I’m happy to report that I’ve loosened up some since then.  Over the years I’ve been able to safely add more flexibility.  I’m still sugar/flour-free and l still need clear boundaries with my food.  I weigh and measure when I’m home and I usually weigh and measure my protein and starch in restaurants.  I no longer call in my food to my sponsor but I still write it down daily, and if I make any changes during the day, I make note of it.

At the beginning of my abstinence I needed to fit my lifestyle around my food plan.  Now I can fit my food plan into my lifestyle pretty easily most of the time.  But if it’s ever a choice between the two, my abstinence will always win.

I love my abstinence.  I love the freedom I feel by surrendering to my food plan.  I love the Steps and this program.  They have given me life, a wonderful life.  They have given me my relationship with my Higher Power.  I existed before recovery but I didn’t start living until I admitted my powerlessness, came to believe, and made a decision, a decision that opened heaven to me.

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not a care in the worldIt was probably about 18 months into sobriety.  It was a beautiful day.  I was writing in my notebook outside the coffee shop; a light breeze, hot, but not too hot.  I breathed in and was compelled to stop for a second and look around.  Friends, each sober, each absorbed in an activity of relaxed importance.  These beautiful people, and at this moment all of us, not a care in the world.  Peaceful.  Grateful.  Productive.  Happy.  When was the last time I wanted to get drunk or high?  I couldn’t remember.  I couldn’t remember the last time I wanted to get drunk or high.  And everything was fine.

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Denial by Susan A.

On November 16th, 2015, posted in: recovery by

state_of_denialIn my early twenties I tried to go a whole week without a drink, and that taught me a lesson.  Never Do That Again.  And I didn’t, for another twenty-five years.  I’d decided I wasn’t going to be an alcoholic, that just wasn’t going to happen.  And somehow, I managed to believe it for a long time.  Talk about denial.

After I’d been sober for a few years, I was still saying, and believing, that I’d never lost a job or lost my family or been arrested because of alcohol.  Then, one day when I was preparing to tell my story at a meeting, it hit me out of the blue that none of that was accurate.

True, I wasn’t fired from a job, but after I got involved with my boss, along with lots of alcohol, he dumped me for someone else in the office, and I couldn’t face him or the job every day, so I quit.  At the time, I was a single parent with three children and had no other way to support us.

I’m a member of a large extended family who, for decades, got together three times a year.  I enjoyed the gatherings, but at the same time I dreaded them because I knew everyone looked down on me.  I was the only one who wasn’t married, I had the most children, and I made the least money.  After I was sober, I discovered that they had never felt that way.  They hadn’t looked down on me.  I had pulled away from them.

Although, technically, I never got arrested for drinking, on my wedding day (how could I have forgotten this?) my new husband and I were drinking champagne (after finishing a few bottles at the reception) as we drove from Houston to Corpus Christi for our honeymoon.  We might have gotten away with it if I hadn’t been distracting him, causing him to weave all over the road.  As it was, we were stopped by the Highway Patrol, and I spent three of the longest hours of my life drinking strong, bitter coffee in the waiting room of a police station in Ganado, Texas.  Today we’d have been arrested for that, and rightly so, but they let us go when we were good and hungover and miserable.  Not a great way to start a marriage.

Even today, after twenty-six years of sobriety, I sometimes think of all the energy I wasted, denying that I was an alcoholic; and as the years went by, it got harder and harder.  The way I feel today, clean and sober, is the way I wanted to feel when I drank.  But to get here, I had to stop denying what I knew in my heart to be true and accept the fact that I was an alcoholic.  And not to just say it, but to accept it down to my toes.  Only then, was I ready to do something about it.  The freedom and self-respect it has given me is a wonderful thing.

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heartbeatHaving the opportunity to sponsor women in this program is pretty cool.  Knowing that another person trusts me enough to guide them through the Steps, and help them along their journey, helps me realize that all of my work in this program is paying off.  Before recovery, I am not sure that anyone would want my phone number, let alone my suggestions or guidance.  Sponsoring women has led me to seek the guidance of my sponsor on many occasions, and for them I am grateful.

I have had 3 sponsors since I got clean, each of them very different from one another, but perfect for me at the time.  My first sponsor instilled in me many of the beliefs that I have about my disease, the most important being that if I use again, I will die.  She was straightforward, never sugarcoated anything and truly cared about my recovery.  My second sponsor had a lot of experience with life, showing up in the ways that life was showing up for me at the time.  She was kind, loving and serene and I wanted what she had.  My current sponsor is a woman that I knew of but had never spoken to until about 2 days before I asked her to sponsor me.  It still sounds silly to me to say that I was drawn to her before I had even spoken to her, but it’s the truth.  The moment we chatted outside of a meeting, I knew my journey was about to take a much-needed fork in the road.

Sponsorship is the heartbeat of my program.  The longer I stay here, the more I realize how important sponsorship is to my recovery.  I cannot work the Steps alone.  I need guidance (although most days I could convince you otherwise).  Today I am grateful for my sponsor.

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glass of waterLately it seems like I have been going out to dinner and lunch more than usual.  Last week I was out to lunch with a work colleague just after 11 a.m.  When the server approached the table, she listed off the daily drink specials.  It was 11 a.m.  I wanted to say, “Geez, what do you think I am, an alcoholic or something?”

I thought back to the previous week when I was out to lunch, again with work colleagues, hearing the same list of drink specials.  We were all dressed in casual business attire, which in my mind would make the server think “this table is obviously here for a work lunch, they probably aren’t getting hammered on drink specials and going back to the office.”  Again, the “do you think I am an alcoholic” question was on the tip of my tongue.  But, alas, I digress.

Sometimes I think that people are mind readers.  I get hemmed up pretty quickly when people can’t feel me out and just know that I am in recovery and I don’t drink.  Maybe I should just buy a shirt that says, “I don’t drink; I’ll just have a water.”

Thankfully I have learned in the program that my first thought is usually wrong.  Thankfully, I have been in the program long enough, doing the deal, to know that my expectations are unrealistic.  Thankfully, I have accepted that I will always have more work to do. Thankfully, I didn’t just order that drink.

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Freedom by Stephanie B.

On October 26th, 2015, posted in: recovery by

freedomAddiction – such a bad word, connoting images of paper bags, dirty men under the bridge and bottles of cheap wine.  In reality, however, it is more likely the middle-class, middle-aged man or woman sipping, gulping, hiding, working and striving to cover up their daily struggle of keeping up the façade of “I’m okay.”  The disease weaves in and out of their daily lives, whispering, lying and stealing, until there is nothing left but despair and death.

This is not written in stone, however.  Nowhere does it say that this conclusion is inevitable.  What will it take to beat the demon, pin it down and gain control?  It takes acceptance and surrender.  Accepting your powerlessness and surrendering to your Higher Power.  It means totally and completely working towards recovery and freedom.

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build-better-relationshipsRelationships for me were always a difficult thing. Major lack of trust because of past unpleasant experiences, and my own infidelities, drunken and drugged-induced affairs, created a record of mishaps, pain, distrust and disharmony, betrayal, fear, and anger.

Either I took people hostage or they took me hostage. I had, at one point, consigned myself to a life of noncommittal one-night stands, or relationships that were called free-fall. I was NOT a happy person. I wanted love, to be loved, to give love, to be committed, but I was so afraid of getting hurt, used, disrespected.

I was riding on about 6 months of sobriety, working a good program, feeling more at ease with my recovery program, and building a little self-esteem, concentrating on the suggestions being offered.  The one that stood out around this time was the one about not getting into any major relationship during the first year.

I was somewhat okay with that because I was still afraid of being hurt, but as my health got better, I started dressing better and feeling more comfortable in recovery. I started noticing how well the ladies in recovery were looking, and my eyes started wondering with appreciation. I remember being in a meeting, looking across the room and catching a lady looking at me, and by the end of the meeting, in my mind we had gone on vacation, spent a romantic evening together, made passionate love under the stars, and I was now planning and saving for the kids’ college fund.

One day my sponsor came to me and said, “Eugene, I’ve been noticing the progress in your recovery, and I think it is time for you to maybe start a relationship and I think I have the right person in mind to introduce you to, if you’d like?”

“Wow,” I said, “that would be great,” but first I asked, “Do sponsors do that, you know, hook you up? If so, this is a great sponsorship program AA has.”

He smiled and said, “Yeah. I imagine you want someone you would love to go to the movies with?” I said, Oh, yeah.” He said, “I imagine you would want someone to spent a quiet, loving dinner with, have a meaningful special moment with?” “I said, “Oh, yeah, Sponsor, you know me very well.”

“Someone you would love to introduce to friends, family and co-workers, and be proud of the relationship.” “You’ve got it. I am ready for you to introduce me to this special person,” I said, with a broad smile on my face, trying to figure out who in the rooms he was talking about.

My sponsor said, “I can introduce you now if you’d like.” I said, “Yeah! Yeah!” almost slobbering out of my mouth. It had been quite some time since I had enjoyed the pleasure and company of a female. Coming into the program, I was not the catch of the day and had not been the catch of the day for quite some time; I’m talking years.

My sponsor said, “Eugene, I’d like to introduce you to Eugene,” as I stood looking dumbfounded. He explained, “I want you to get to know Eugene, build a relationship with Eugene, find a fondness and loving appreciation with Eugene yourself, take yourself out alone, to movies, to dinners, spend time meditating, and find comfort with being alone with Eugene, building a strong, loving relationship with yourself. This will invite a higher power into your life and thus give you the opportunity to build a relationship with your higher power and yourself.

So I took myself on long walks on the beach, out to dinner, and events that I used to like. I went on AA functions, without thinking and hoping to get lucky. I just wanted to enjoy the friends around me and the joy of being accepted. I went bowling, to movies and luncheons with AA friends, both male and female.

I had found an opportunity to learn about myself, my fears, to accept me for myself, my past and present faults and assets. I learned to laugh at myself and feel a little more comfortable in my own  skin. I learned to laugh with others and at myself. I began to let go of the past and start looking toward the future without having to have someone in my life to define me. I stopped judging others and I stopped judging myself. My higher power and I were more than enough.

I must have stopped looking desperate. Close to the end of my first year, I started dating, and it felt good to make decisions about who I would see, to be honest in my interactions, and to enjoy the company, pleasures, and love of another. By accepting myself first, I now could accept others and share honestly with another.

Today I am committed first to the program and my higher power, secondly to myself and the lady my higher power has placed in my life, to enjoy, be committed, and share special moments. I am a married, committed, honest, loving person today.

So if your sponsor ever tells you that he or she has a match made in heaven for you, beware, it only gets better.

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Facing FearMy sponsor once told me that fear, like any other gift, is essential and if used properly can be the spiritual connection to guide me in living life on life terms.

In any meeting, people often express “fear” as a negative feeling that only hinders their recovery. I had so much of it in my life, I thought, “Oh God, I am doomed.” I was afraid of everything and everybody.

But my sponsor pointed out that fear sometimes alerts us to danger. It can also rally me to action when threatened or needing to move, make a decision.

Fear can guide me to seek new friends in recovery and turn away from those who would cause me harm, or return to my addiction. Fear can move me to practice the Steps because I don’t want to repeat the life I once lived.

Negative fear is easy to sight; it whispers thoughts of doubt, regrets, envy, resentment. I know that when what I’m feeling is heavy, it’s usually negative fear. But when I am putting on my “Big Boy Pants” and moving and feel exhilarated, it usually is positive fear that is rallying me to action, to move, to speak, even dance and not care how I look.

I no longer battle fear; it is a thing of the past. I now try to handle fear, embrace fear, as I embrace gratitude, love, learning, to navigate living life on life terms. This is a lifelong endeavor, I know, but I am worth it today; I am up for the challenge.

I try to embrace all gifts from my Higher Power. Learning to get the most benefit from them can be rewarding and exciting.

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A New Perspective by John

On September 21st, 2015, posted in: recovery by

My sobriety date is October 17, 1984, which means that in just about 4 weeks from now, I will have 31 years of continuous sobriety.

distorted thinkingIf I don’t drink, that is.
Or hurt myself.
Yes, indeed. Life is truly good.
No, seriously! It is good……now.
Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I suffered some serious emotional pain that I was not ready for or equipped to handle.  See, I had just been coasting along for while…  Anyway!  This pain was serious, and it came down the pike at me at, like, a 150 miles an hour!  At least 150, maybe more!  Sure, now that I think about it, coulda’ been more!

Whatever.

It was the usual crap: job stuff, relationship stuff, you know.  Oh yeah, all that and a big, huge side-order of bat-shit CRAZY, “to go, please!”

Anyway, the point is, it ate me up whole.  I could not think of ANYTHING ELSE all day!  Ruminated about my failure(s), then went to a meeting (because it was better than SITTING ALONE WITH MY HEAD), then ruminated some more.  Hell, I marinated in it, this gooey, stinky stew of fear, self-loathing, shame and guilt.  All day and all night; it was huge fun!

And yes, I admit it, fear and self-loathing, shame and guilt are my strong suit.

But this?  Seriously, this was off the scale.  I actually thought about doing a back flip off of a tall building.  And I am afraid of heights.  But it sounded like a reasonably good plan for a little while, anyway.  What an accomplishment!  Thirty years of working on myself, going to meetings, sharing, writing, working with others, and now this?

So, self-pity oozing from every pore, at least I kept going to meetings (and ruminating); talking to program friends on the phone (and ruminating); then home for more ruminating!!

But, as we know, all good things must end!

And then, s-l-o-w-l-y, ever so slowly, I began to get my emotional equilibrium back.  (I love the word EQUILIBRIUM because it has the word LIBRIUM in it!!  A good addict to the end…)

I saw a therapist, learned to acknowledge that just MAYBE my thinking could be, dare I say it, distorted?  What, me?  Distorted thinking?  No way.  Way! Funny story.  Turns out I make my everyday reality using a sick brain that relies on distorted thinking!!!  Ha!

Earlier today, as I was journaling (a really, really great tool!) and writing about my angst, it suddenly became apparent to me that my pain and suffering was possibly somewhat self- centered! I mean like, who would ever…? And then, unbidden, came this thought:  “There are at least one million human beings on this planet RIGHT NOW, that are unsure how, or even IF, they and their families will be able to survive the next 24 hours!!!”
Yes, survive. No room for any more self-centered bullshit than that, just raw survival.

So, I ask you, how NICE is it that I have the LUXURY of worrying about my little feelings and can endlessly obsess over some small insignificant failure.  A failure that I have blown way, way out of proportion, because that IS WHAT I DO.

How good is my life now, you ask?
It’s frikken Tony-the-Tiger GGGGRRRREAT!! That’s how it is!
How about you? How you doin’?

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MondayIt’s Monday, and I always have an opportunity to work my program, with black belt efficiency or not, on a Monday. I’ve said in the past that if I ever relapsed, it would be on a Monday. I have an aversion to the day. When I was drinking, I rarely ever saw a Monday. Anyways, back to reality. I need to make sure I start each day by reading my meditation books, followed by a prayer to my Higher Power that includes the quick run-through of the first three Steps. The first Step, I am powerless, has many more items listed than just alcohol. Over the years things seem to get added. Recovery becomes interesting after you are sober awhile. I become more and more aware of character defects that I’m still dragging with me that need to be removed. So as a result, I still need to keep working my program like I am a newcomer. Meetings, sponsorship, service work and working with another alcoholic are the first order of business to maintain my emotional sobriety.

Sometimes there are additional things that need to happen to maintain emotional sobriety. Like finding my business and minding it. Knowing where I stop and you start. Do I want to be right or happy? I cannot tell you how many times I have chosen to be “RIGHT” instead of happy. The “RIGHT” choice has a whole special inventory dynamic that involves more journaling, character-defect inspection by me and my sponsor, extra meetings, and several phone calls with trusted friends in recovery, and a mega dose of prayers to my Higher Power. After all of that and becoming willing to see my part, generally an amends will take place. Not sure “RIGHT” was worth it. Letting go and being happy is so much easier. So I am halfway through Monday and I have survived, and so have the people around me; no amends to make at this time. Yea me! (Let’s not get over-confident).

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