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.

If 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!


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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It’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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Running on Empty by Ashley N.

On September 8th, 2015, posted in: recovery by

Over the past year I have felt very tired, physically and mentally.  This time last year I threw my back out and the rest of my body hasn’t felt the same since.  I changed jobs at work and was given a lot more responsibility.  I got a new sponsor.  I sought outside help for some things I have needed to get off my chest for 20 years.  I changed jobs again at work.  Needless to say, there was a lot of change going on in my life and I was exhausted.

I began to feel stuck, literally stuck.  Some days I would come home from work and sit in the same place on the couch until I went to bed.  My husband finally told me that I needed to do something different because it was better than being consumed by anxiety, physical pain and stress.

I started thinking about what I could do differently.  I was going to meetings, more than usual, in fact.  I was giving my job everything that I had.  I was going to the gym regularly.  I was seeing a therapist.  I was going to the doctor for preventative care.  I thought to myself, “What is there left to do?”

It is very easy for me to get caught up in self-will.  I have long struggled with turning my will over to the care of something greater than myself for the shear fact that I cannot touch or see said something.  But thankfully my memory works in my favor (my memory is crazy good but my forgetter runs a close second).  I remember many times when I have had no other choice than to ask for help from my Higher Power.  Without a doubt, I know that I have gotten what I needed, regardless of how quickly or how slowly.

I practice daily surrender throughout the day now.  I travel for work so I am in my car a lot and have ample time for conversations with my Higher Power.  Today, life is good.  More change is inevitable and I am likely to struggle with self-will again.  The hope is in knowing that I don’t have to struggle with anything alone.

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I thought to stay home
but it’s only an hour,
So I go for a dose
Of the magical power.

I take a seat
Against the wall,
Next to Bubba
With the southern drawl.

All the regulars file in
There’s Mike and Joe,
Sara and Tim.

Crazy Carl is at it again
Yelling at Bob,
His very best friend.

There goes Len
Across the floor,
Three cups already,
He’s getting one more.

He slides his feet,
He’s got a weird gait,
The Thorazine shuffle,
A term coined by Nate.

I trade smiles
With my friend Gus;
They’re all effing crazy
Except for us.

Margaret and Sue
Are laughing out loud;
They’re having such fun
Up high on their cloud.

The gavel sounds
And so we begin;
Kevin’s in charge,
I get a kick outa him.

It starts with the usual,
So mundane;
The readings, the guidelines,
Not why I came.

Then the big question,
Is anyone new?
We look around;
Tonight there are two.

There’s a big guy,
He’s a marine;
His hands are shaking,
He looks kinda mean.

And a young hot mess,
Says she’s not sure
If she belongs here;
She sits by the door.

We snap to attention,
It’s time to get real;
We think we can help them,
We know how they feel.

Hands go up,
Kevin must choose;
He calls on Sam,
With him we can’t lose.

Sam’s an ex-con
With muscles and tats;
He’s had a rough life,
Not ashamed of his stats.

Searching for words,
He digs deep in his heart,
Inspiring the newbies
To embrace this fresh start.

He recalls from his past
The pain and the gloom,
Then speaks of the hope
that he found in this room.

Next goes Len,
What the hell,
That guy’s nuts;
Can’t Kevin tell?

But there’s more to Len
than meets the eye;
His soulful words
make the big guy cry.

And so we speak,
One after another,
A barber, a cop,
A mom and a brother.

Despite many strengths,
We’ve all been to hell;
Yet, thanks to each other,
We’re here now to tell.

Next thing I know
Up goes my hand,
Compelled to reach out
I might even stand.

Without any planning
The words just flow;
Where do they come from,
I’ll never know.

The hour passes
And so we’re through;
We did the best
That we could do.

The girl is hopeful as she leaves,
The big guy’s shedding big tears of relief;
Maybe they’ll make it, maybe not.
We know in our hearts
We gave all we got.

Once again
I trade smiles with Gus;
We’re all effing crazy,
Thank Howard for us.


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Three Questions by Clara W.

On August 24th, 2015, posted in: recovery by

AA show me how to live bookFor me, all my character defects fall in the area of EGO.  I strive daily to stay out of that neighborhood, but of course I often take a wrong turn and there I am again, usually ending up angry, resentful or hurt.  The following sentence from Step 10 in AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions has been very helpful:  “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.”

So whenever I am disturbed, I have a three-step inventory that I do.  I write the answers to the following questions:  (1) What is “my stuff,” my part, my character defects in this situation?  (2) What is this person or situation trying to teach me? (3)…and this is the killer…What am I grateful to this person or situation for?

By the time I have answered those three questions, I am no longer in the same frame of mind, no longer disturbed or as disturbed.  This practice is the vehicle that drives me out of that dangerous neighborhood of ego and brings me back to the place I want to be, free of anger, resentment, judgment, at peace with the world and myself.  The key to starting my vehicle is this inventory, and the fuel that gets me out of that neighborhood is found in question three:  Gratitude.

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One day at a time craftDuring the years I’ve been in recovery, my attitudes, beliefs, priorities and desires have been altered, and that miracle comes directly from working my spiritual program.  Mother Theresa said, “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.”  If I want to stay in the light of my Higher Power, every day I need to keep refilling the lamp.  Sometimes it’s a matter of just doing the right action regardless of how I feel or what I think, since my “feeler” and “thinker” often need adjusting.  I heard this said years ago and it has been very helpful to me throughout my years in recovery and has played a large part in who I am today:  If I consistently act like the person I want to be, someday I will be the person I act like.

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So I’m trying to take suggestions from my sponsor, so he tells me to be kind and in a store pay for the person’s stuff behind me. So it comes to my mind in Walmart; I look behind me and I thought, hell no! He had a basket full of stuff. So I went to the Dollar Tree and did my kind act. Cost me 2 bucks. I took the suggestion.

My disease was talking to me one day.  It said look at that guy.  He goes to the bar every day.  Has no responsibilities. He has it made. The disease forgot to tell me 2 days prior I got a call from him in the hospital where he got beat up in the bar. Cunning, baffling, powerful.

I put my 4-year-old son up for adoption 25 years ago. I couldn’t take care of him. I carried the pain for years.  I thought I’d never see him again, this was in Michigan. Met up with him in jail 23 years later, had no idea he was my son till he started talking about his past to me. I made amends and prayed together.

My wife found a wallet and it had 7 hundred bucks in it. I put the money in my pocket and said thank you, god, I needed that.  My wife told me I had to find the person it belonged to and give it back. I told her I was not that honest yet and god gave it to me.  A week later I found the guy because it was too quiet at my house for a week and gave the money and wallet back.

I had an amends to make. I owed this guy about 3 grand. I saw him about a year ago and said I’ll pay you back soon.  He said it doesn’t bother me anymore but if it bothers you, you can pay me back.  I said you know, it really doesn’t bother me.  Now with this honest thing I’m practicing, I’ve started paying it off.

They told me I was a career criminal and that I would never stay in society. I was in prison for 19 years and believed them.  Well, I went to AA and did some work on myself. I have been sober for 4 years and haven’t got in trouble one time.  It’s a miracle.  AA has saved my life, God’s mercy and grace.

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So I kept coming in and out of the program relapsing, trying to decide what I needed to work on to stay sober.  What was I missing?  What didn’t I do last time?

I’d go to a meeting and hear someone share something good, where I thought maybe I was lacking, so I would think of plans to go about addressing that.  Then I’d go to another meeting and again hear something I thought was amazing, and “Voila!” another plan would start developing.  I’d read something and think, “That’s it, that’s what I need to work on.” My pride?  Or should I start with spirituality (start going to church)?  How about getting honest with myself more?

I really wanted to work on myself.  My efforts and thoughts were sincere.  I wanted to do it my way!!!  The Steps looked too simple and looked like a lot of work.  I didn’t realize it was not work, but a way of life, a way to live life on life’s terms, to live it happy, joyous, and free.

My sponsor gently said, “Stop trying to figure out what you were missing, or didn’t do the last relapse.  Just concentrate on the Steps, one by one, 1 through 12.  You’ll be amazed before you are halfway through.”

And I was.  Celebrating 17 years of sobriety, happy, joyous, and free!

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I often refer to the voices and the in-decisions in my head as my Committee holding a meeting, or I refer to them all flying in for the convention in my head.  This happens whenever I need to make a decision or I am being challenged with doing the next right thing.

My disease committee comes in with the disguise of glamour sometimes, or threats of fear, sometimes shining and sparkling and full of mischief and excitement. Their voices excite me with selfish thoughts and self-centered ego.  They know my weakness and my pleasure triggers.

They are often loud and demanding.  These voices want me to do the next wrong thing for the next wrong reason.  Why?  Because they want me to suffer.  They fill me with remorse, fear, anger, because my disease wants me dead.

It is that quiet voice, that spiritual voice, that directs me to do the next right thing for the next right, good reason, but because of the loud noise the other voices are making, I sometimes find it difficult to hear and locate the quiet voice.  It is those times I seek the help of my support network; I go to a meeting, I contact my sponsor.

Why?  Because I want to LIVE; I want to enjoy life, not just survive; I want to laugh, love, be responsible, live life on life’s terms. I look for that quiet spiritual voice that guides me to be unselfish, to be giving and loving and kind.  It guides me to seek to be helpful; it tells me to do things unselfish, that I don’t want to do, and it tells me not to do selfish things that I want to do.

When I am able to do this, the rewards are numerous, full of laughter, joy and respect.  When I am unable to follow that quiet voice, I am full of rage, anger, and fear.

Every day, every challenge, I face the Committee, but what I have discovered is that the more I seek the quiet voice, the louder and easier it is to find.  Sometimes the quiet voice and I laugh at the loud voice and the tricks, not treats, offered.

I treat the voices like a meeting – “Thanks for sharing.”  Next!! Challenge the Committee.

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Looking back on my relationship with my first sponsor, there is one thing he said to me that resonates loudest:  “Nothing is more difficult for us, in recovery, than dealing with our families.”  And nothing could be more true.  All the deepest wounds I have are from my childhood. The causes and conditions that led to my active alcoholism originated there.

So, in my experience, those messages we hear in the fellowship are absolutely true. There is nowhere harder to practice the principles than at home.  It’s relatively easy to do at work and in the community, but practicing love and tolerance with the person who took your little red wagon is a whole other story. These people push our buttons like no one else.
Myself, I have to keep unpeeling the proverbial onion, and the deeper I get, the more it hurts.

The good news is that I am more prepared to manage the pain than I have ever been. I have tools. There is hope. I’ve been sober long enough to know that on the other side of the pain is a better, happier person.  I’m reminded of Bill Wilson’s assertion – that pain really is the touchstone of all spiritual growth.

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