Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Nobody likes step four, in fact, more people quit the steps because of fear of step four and most people relapse because they are not doing a portion of step four that is found in a later step. Step four, like it or not, is an essential part of the recovery process. Without it, the steps just don’t work. Step four is where the rubber meets the road so to speak. It’s the step where you find out if you truly want recovery and the new life it brings. The funny part is that step four does not live up to the fear surrounding it. There are different ways to do step four, but most of them involve a chart where you list your grievance, why it bothers you, how it affects you and that column where you state your part in it. Ouch! Right? A good sponsor will give you a pre-determined amount of time to come up with a list. Note: you will most likely do many fourth steps in your life so don’t freak out and try to tackle everything in your life at once. Don’t get upset if you can’t remember everything and for crying out loud, don’t worry about forgetting something because it will not destroy your recovery. That little voice that is telling you that you can’t move forward until you have everything written down is actually your addiction trying to stall you so it can get out of this recovery thing! Don’t listen to it!
What you should do is make the list the best you can. Ask your Higher Power to bring out the important things and trust that what comes out is what you are supposed to hash over with your sponsor at this time. I can tell you that my first fourth step was definitely not all - encompassing. I left a lot of stuff off by accident. Some of it, I believe, was because I needed to deal with certain stuff before I could deal with the rest. I also believe that as we grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually.. we begin to see things that we couldn’t see back at the beginning of our journey which makes it impossible to get every person, place and thing in one swoop. Whatever your Higher Power brings to mind during your fourth step time frame - write it down on the chart, work it out, hash it out and learn from it. Don’t worry about what you can’t remember and trust that what you do remember is there for a reason.
I would also like to remind you that you get out of the steps exactly what you put into them. The same is true with everything in life, whether it is your on-going recovery, a relationship or a job - you get out what you put into it so do your best with the steps, but don’t get paranoid about it. Keep contact with your Higher Power trusting He or She to guide you along your recovery journey. Step four is where it all really begins…. Steps 1 through 3 were prep work for what is to come. Stay the course and keep your why in the front of your mind. And get excited… Everyone says the magic happens somewhere between step four and step 12…
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous says that the first requirement of Step 3 is nothing more than being convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. It goes on to say that when running on self-will we almost always find ourselves in collision with something or someone even though our motives are good. We have to stop playing the role of CEO in our lives and understand that we are merely subjects of a CEO who knows best. Instead of trying to get what we can out of life, we need to start looking for what we can contribute to life and therein lay the dynamic shift that makes life worth living again.
Step 3, like the majority of the steps, is as simple as it is complex. The founding principle is the mere recognition that we don’t know what is best for us. This sets us up for the idea that someone outside of ourselves might be smarter and wiser and able to steer us into a better life. It is easy for me to look back at some of my grand decisions and ask myself why in the world did I make that decision. I can look back at several cross roads in my life where I was sure that I was making the right decision, but now believe I was throwing opportunity after opportunity away. In fact, most of my big life decisions have been wrong. Moreover, many of my inconsequential decisions have also been wrong. How many times has the decision on where to eat fallen on my shoulders and how many times I have selected the worst place the group could have gone? In each of those circumstances, I had a still small voice prodding me to go somewhere new or that place I went to once and loved, but I was trying to make a decision that was equal in distance and had something for everyone and as a result we all ended up hating our lunch. I didn’t listen to the still, small voice whom I call my Higher Power.
Turning our lives and wills over to the care of God as we understand Him is nothing more than choosing to listen to that still, small voice and choosing to do what it says. Turning our lives and wills over to the care of God as we understand Him is also inviting our Higher Power into our daily decisions, daily struggles and daily mental chatter. It is taking to time to speak to, pray to or meditate on our Higher Power. It is simple and complex at the same time. Simple to do and hard to carry out in all of our affairs. But this one step is the foundation for all the steps to come so take time to get this one down. The good news is there is no right or wrong way to really do Step 3 as it involves inviting in and listening to your Higher Power and trying to follow its lead in all areas of your life.
If you don’t yet have a Higher Power of your understanding you can create your own Higher Power. It is recommended that your Higher Power be an all-knowing entity that loves you and only wants the best for you. This makes it easier to invite Him or Her into your life. If it helps you can think of your Higher Power as an all-knowing mentor who just wants to help you be the best you that you can be. The idea of yielding to someone can be hard for some of us, but I think of it like yielding to a paramedic after a crash. We are flailing around trying to figure out what happened and fighting off anyone who comes near us, but then a smiling paramedic shows up and grabs us and tells us to stop fighting and to stop moving. It’s not safe since we don’t know what might be happening to us on the inside so we stop moving and allow the paramedic to do a scan of our injuries, ask us questions and tell us what he or she recommends next. We allow ourselves to be placed on a board, secured and then placed on a gurney and lifted into an ambulance. We allow that ambulance to take us to a hospital where we are greeted by nurses and an ER doctor who asks us more questions and we allow them to do whatever they think we need because we are operating under the assumption that they are working to make sure we are okay. Working with and yielding to a Higher Power is one in the same. We listen for guidance and follow promptings or proddings knowing that our Higher Power is working to make sure we are okay now and in a future that we cannot see. This is essentially, step 3.
Step 2: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Principle 2: Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.
I have to admit I didn’t have a hard time with this step. I came into the rooms of AA with a solid awareness of who my Higher Power was and is… but I was not so sure that He wanted to help me recover. I did have one of those crazy spiritual experiences, but I thought it was either sobriety or death and I wasn’t sure which was better. I entered the rooms of AA very reluctantly. On the one hand, I was desperate to learn how to be sober, but on the other hand I thought my life was over. I was an anxiety ridden introvert inept at pretty much everything life required of me unless I had alcohol in my system. I assumed that while God was giving me a chance to not die at that moment, He would not be doing anything further. I assumed I would live out my days in misery and solitude to make up for all the mistakes, failures, and downright refusals on my side of the street. Up until that moment, I had chosen alcohol over everything: over a career in the music industry, over family, over friends, over my health, over my faith, over my own self respect, over my finances, over relationships… I chose alcohol over everything and I assumed it was my turn to chose God over everything thereby having a horrible, but sober life from that moment forward. Luckily, I had some great sponsors in the beginning and they told me one very important thing: If your God stepped in to stop you in your tracks then He must care about you. Then they had me make a list of all of the things I was so lucky to have not had happen to me…. Like that night I couldn’t even sit up in my jeep, got pulled over and somehow managed to persuade the officer to let me drive home since I only lived a few blocks away. A DUI during college would have seriously hampered my otherwise stellar academic achievements. I continued to list all of the times I had blacked out and one of my friends got me home like that night I passed out at the Cheryl Crow concert (in the front row) because I drank a pint of JD in the restroom. I never woke up. The concert was at Mud Island Amphitheater meaning one of my guy friends had to carry me on foot back over to dry land, down a bunch of stairs and across a giant parking lot to our cars. I am very lucky nothing happened. There was also the night I had the grand idea to drink Captain Morgan and chase it with 99 Bananas before a George Clinton concert. I got left in a crack house with a friend of a friend to sleep it off and was picked up later and taken home. Again nothing happened to me. While I was not spared every time,I was spared most of the time. It turns out what my sponsors and accountability partners said was true: I must matter to God or He wouldn’t keep bothering with me.
I don’t think I ever really thought about being restored to sanity. I just knew I had to get sober and I was lucky to be desperate enough to get a sponsor, go through the steps and do everything that was asked of me. I think that is why I have stayed sober - I still have that gift of desperation six years later. Going off track here - But, the number one reason I have seen people relapse is because they push back while doing the steps. They want to do the steps their way and not the way their sponsor is insisting they do them. Again, I didn’t ask questions or argue. I did what I was told for the first time in my life and it worked. I am still sober today. That’s incredible considering I used to add vodka to pretty much every meal including breakfast.
If you are not one of those who came into the rooms with a sense of your Higher Power - don’t freak out. You don’t have to prescribe to any specific religion nor do you have to have an all knowing being in the sky. I once knew a lady whose story is terrific and horrible at the same time. She was so fried mentally (from drugs and alcohol) that she could not remember anything anyone told her. She got court ordered to attend rehab after rehab and would get kicked out of every single one until one lovely rehab center professional realized what was wrong. She was given a person to shadow while in rehab. In other words, whatever this other person did - she did the same. With her shadow leading the way she was able to make it to all of the group sessions and no longer got in trouble for not showing up. This same recovery center got very creative when it came time for her to have a Higher Power of her understanding… They got her a giant white bear and she took that bear with her everywhere and she talked to it like it was her Higher Power. At some point down the road she was able to identify a new and more logical Higher Power, but the bear worked. It was an outside entity that cared about her and wanted the best for her and she treated it as such and it worked. That lady is now a drug and alcohol abuse professional living and working in Los Angeles. She is an amazing person and her story is proof that your Higher Power can be anything you are comfortable with - just don’t let the “God” thing stop you. The steps work. Period. This story kind of leads into Step three so I will pick up the trail on the next post…
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Principle 1: I realize I am not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.
I took the above step and principle from Celebrate Recovery since it allows for any habit as opposed to just mine. The notion that one must admit defeat before one can rise in triumph is not new. Many heroic stories follow the same notion where the lead character must hit bottom, before he or she is able to to start on a new path and slowly rise to a new life full of love, friendship and success. The movie I watched last night on Hallmark even followed this notion! A young woman had dreams of opening a business with her soon to be finance who was away for a period of time. Upon his return, he broke things off ending her dream of launching their business and leaving her futureless. She accepted defeat and continued working where she had always worked until she met someone who helped her realize she could start the business on her own via a chance to do work for the town’s most notable resident. And yes, in true Hallmark fashion she ended up with a successful career and a sweet, gorgeous mate to boot.
While life may not always resemble a Hallmark movie, it does parallel many of the themes. I guess we cannot make room for the new in our lives until we relinquish some of the old. I was lucky when I entered the rooms of AA. I already knew I was an alcoholic - I actually had zero doubts about that. I did not, however, see why it was an issue until I was penniless and almost dead. My drinking had taken its toll on my body and my career and I was unknowingly at a dangerous crossroad when my Higher Power stepped in. I knew that alcohol wasn’t working for me anymore and that in my condition, any drug would kill me. I also knew that I couldn’t keep going - my road had turned into a dead end with a brick wall that extended into the heavens. I knew my life was a wreck. I knew that my life was unmanageable. I knew that something had to change… and so I entered the rooms of AA …
Admitting defeat is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. It’s important to know when you can handle a situation and it is equally important to know when you need to ask for help. We do it all the time in other areas of our lives so why not with our mental, emotional and spiritual well being? If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired - you only have one of two options: You can admit that your life has become unmanageable because of your drug or mental issue and accept that you have to change OR you can keep trodding down the road you are on knowing that nothing will ever change.
I admit that I am an alcoholic. I admit that I have amazing self control in almost every other area of my life, that I am intelligent, self-sufficient, resourceful and reliable - except when it comes to alcohol. I take one drink, I will eventually take a million and loose everything including my life. It was scary to admit this, but in admitting this truth I opened the door for a new path to unfold before me.
“I don’t drink these days. I am allergic to alcohol and narcotics. I break out in handcuffs.” - Robert Downey Jr.
“I realized that I only had two choices: I was either going to die or I was going to live, and which one did I want to do? And then I said those words, ‘I’ll get help,’ or, ‘I need help. I’ll get help.’ And my life turned around. Ridiculous for a human being to take 16 years to say, ‘I need help.’” - Sir Elton John
Happy New Year! Congratulations to everyone who made it through another year. Take a moment and pat yourself on the back for just being a living, breathing participant in this thing called life. Next, take a moment to write down some things you did right this year. Did any of your decisions pan out for the better? Did you learn anything from this past year? Did you grow on a personal or professional level? Are you the same you from January 1st of 2018? If you’ve changed, how so and in what areas? Did you change for the better or for the worse and why? Ouch! I know, but growth comes from seeing both the good and the ‘needs improvement’ in ourselves. Did you realize any internal or external goals from last year? If not, why not? Did your goals change? Did you change? Or Do you still have the same goals?
There are many sober people who are not fond of goal setting, I just don’t happen to be one of them. I think it is important to set goals for yourself so that you can make things happen in your life. The trick, of course, is to take those big lofty goals and break them down into small steps that can be easily accomplished over time… kinda like the twelve steps. The twelve steps as a whole seemed scary and insurmountable when we were new in sobriety, but most of us should have had a sponsor who broke each of the steps down into small, doable action steps that eventually led to achieving the whole. We also did not focus on everything we had to do for the rest of our lives; instead, we focused on the next action steps for that day or that week. We just kept breaking everything down until we got it into a size we could bite off and chew and we should be doing the same with the internal and external goals in our lives.
I can say that I did reach a couple of financial goals this year. (INSERT GIANT PAT ON BACK). I moved home with one goal in mind - to erase my debt, build up my credit score, buy a new MacBook and buy a new car and worry about the next steps afterwards. And, I did just that! I erased my debt (okay I have a wee little bit left that will be gone soon), but I did build up my credit score, buy a 2017 MackBook and I just bought a slick 2015 Hyundai Sonata that I absolutely love! I’m kinda battling the I feel like my car is too good for me syndrome, but I know I will push through it. Sometimes it takes a little time to get used to what you deserve.
As for 2019, I am clear on my internal goals: I want to live a service minded lifestyle. I don’t know about you, but I am one of those alcoholics/addicts that seem to think the rules apply to everyone else, but not to me! I do my work and I get it done and I meet deadlines, but I should be able to come and go as I please and should not have to partake in any extra activities even if “the team” is doing it. I am not the team - I am me. Ugh… I am so bad about pulling my own weight on someone else’s terms. I am all about pulling my own weight on my terms, but what does that get you in life? Not much. A guy in the rooms recently talked about how he has trouble doing anything anyone asks of him and it is also the reason he cannot seem to get through the steps and stay sober. His comment made me think about my own life and how AA is the only thing I have ever completed on someone else’s terms. I did what I was told and I got through the steps and I have stayed sober. This recent conversation is what led me to decide to make living a service minded life a priority for 2019. If I am trying to live in service to others then I am more apt to be helpful, instead of unintentionally hurtful; a part of the team, instead of recoiling to my corner; being used by God to impact the world around me, instead of being used by someone at my own soul’s expense.
In close relation to this goal is my priority for my program in 2019. In the same meeting we were asked by the Chair, “What do you want to do differently in your program from this past year?” My answer was clear - I want to do more service work. It has been over a year since I left Florida and thereby left my Celebrate Recovery leadership team position. I have been enjoying being fed by others and doing a bit of feeding myself in meetings, but I have not really been active in any service positions. In 2019 I am going to seek out service opportunities both in AA and in my local church and I am going to show up do the work. So far, I have signed up to Chair a local meeting for the month of January and I have signed up to bring communion to the homebound through a ministry in my church. I know that there are other service opportunities both in the local AA intergroup and in my church and I will be looking into those after I complete my chairing commitment for January.
Externally, I am unsure what 2019 will bring and what I want it to bring for that matter. I would like a job that is more in line with who I want to be and what I want my life to be like. I also know I feel called to complete a certificate program and I will be doing research on available programs this month.
Lastly, I believe everyone should have some fun stuff on their goals list. Whether it’s centered around a hobby, a pastime, or a heart’s desire. I have a list of some trips that I would like to take. Since I don’t get much vacation with my current job it will most likely have to be long weekends…. But I still want to take some time for me this year: A trip to see family in SC, a yoga/nature retreat, an excursion of some sort, and if my favorite band does any shows or camps in the US this year - I definitely want to go see them. I am going to start researching in February and see what I can make happen trip-wise for 2019.
Goals shouldn’t be these things we detest. They should be these pointers that help guide us on how to spend our time, energy and money so that we can achieve some of our wants, some of our dreams and some of our hearts desires. What about you? If you don’t know what you want - try answering the questions from the beginning of this post and see if it sparks anything. Seeing where you’ve come from and what you’ve come to can sometimes help you see where you might want to go next.
You can make a wish or you can make it happen - Unknown
Happy Holidays!… Everyone seems to be saying this with giant grins on their faces, but for many of us, the holidays can be very tough. Whether you find yourself alone for a myriad or reasons, or find yourself surrounded by way too many people… The holidays can just be tough. From financial stress to already packed schedules getting bombarded with more activities to having to be nice to that one relative that always enjoys pushing your buttons…to the parties and family dinners where everyone is having a glass of something bubbly… except for you. The holidays are a great time of generosity and gathering with loved ones, but for us alcoholics/addicts the holidays can be a time of great stress - emotional, physical and spiritual stress at that! So what do you do? I’m going to share some of the things I do for myself to keep myself semi - sane and fully sober during the holidays.
#1. I stick to my rules - Mainly, I stick to the rule that says I don’t go anywhere when I know in advance that I will be the only one not drinking. Even if it is family. (if I show up somewhere and find I am the only one not drinking - I leave - gasp!) And I know other people who stick to this rule too! It can be hard because sometimes it means spending time alone or it can mean sitting in on several meetings in a row or it can mean curling up on the couch to some of your favorite holiday movies - the ones that make you really happy and not the ones that make you sad. It can also mean making those sobriety check calls - you know the ones where you’re the one who needs help, but instead you call and check on others to make sure they are okay? Service work does wonders which brings me to the next point….
#2. Service Work - I find that the holiday season is a great time to take commitments in meetings and in the greater metro area. This season I have commitments in AA and at church. I am serving in some of my church’s Christmas Eve services and I have signed up to take 12 step calls on the weekend before Christmas. The 12 step call commitment has me brushing up on my AA knowledge and I have picked up some more meetings to be prepared for what my come my way on my weekend to receive calls from those who feel their sobriety is in jeopardy. Another commitment I picked up is chairing a local meeting in January. Obviously, I have to make it through the holidays and stay sober to chair a meeting in January and I have to start going to that meeting so I know a little bit about the people who tend to show up there. All of this service work is helping me to feel useful, purposeful and it gives me a sense of belonging to my local community.
#3. Keep the emotional boundaries Up! - Oh it can be so hard, but one of the many blessings of my addiction is the ability to recognize when something is really aimed at me and when I am just someone’s target for the night. Family members all mean well, but they don’t always treat us well all of the time. Whether it is someone going off on you for something you did or did not do ten years ago or whether it is someone repeatedly dogging you for an area of your life that you are trying to work on… these conversations always seem to show up whenever relatives are around. I always try to listen to the person and ask my Higher Power if there is anything I need to take and chew on from the altercation. If so , I do just that. I take it and I chew on it and I learn from it. What I do not do is cry my eyes out and allow the other person to make me feel small, worthless and helpless because I know how far I have come from the person I used to be.
#4. Give yourself room to breathe. - Recognize when you need a minute or an hour to two. Allow yourself time to recharge whether that means retiring to your room and a good book, taking a long walk alone or taking yourself to the movie theatre and getting lost in the story on the screen. Everyone has limits and it is important to recognize your own limits and honor them. If you do, you will return from your break recharged and ready to enjoy the rest of the festivities for that day or night. If you don’t honor your own limits you might end up in an argument or fight and nobody wants that!
So those are my go-to’s for surviving the holidays. I really do enjoy this time of the year as I am a big gift giver and this year I can actually afford to spoil my family with some much needed gift-love. This hasn’t been the case in the past so I am especially joyful this year. But even with all my extra joy - I am still enacting all of the above because I know that I have to keep my priorities in order: God, Sobriety, Everything and Everyone else!
It is not always easy to be thankful for your current circumstances. Trust me when I say that I have had and am dealing with my fair share of unwanted situations. Unfortunately, the outcome of my effort is not up to me. If it was, I would have a very different life than the one I am living, but that does not mean that I cannot find joy even when in a season of discomfort.
It has been said that much of our well being as well as our sobriety hinges on our ability to surrender to the situation at hand… to recognize and accept the things we cannot change – whether it is for a season or for a lifetime… and the courage to change the things we can – also for a season or for a lifetime.
I had a hard time when I returned to my hometown as a sober person. I enjoyed living the coastal life and I enjoyed having ample opportunities for hiking and climbing. The area of the country that I moved to is rather flat with extreme weather swinging from bone-chilling cold to life threatening heat. I admit that I went through a season of complaining. I complained about everything I could until I finally got sick of hearing my own broken record. I decided to heed my own advice and do what had worked for me in other cities I had moved to in the past. I got active in researching and reaching out to groups I could find through online and social media channels to create opportunities for myself. As a result, I have spent the past two months of Saturdays on day-hiking trips to neighboring states. I’ve also expanded into canoe and kayak trips and I have to say that I forgot how much I love paddling down a river! In short, the place I hated so much, doesn’t seem so bad anymore. The reason being that I stopped complaining and started trying to find a solution to my madness. I may not have giant mountains to hike and a beautiful ocean within 30 minutes of my current city, but I have found that day trips aren’t so bad. It’s actually quite nice to get out of town even if for a day for some exploration with other nature/outdoor enthusiasts. And I am continuing to find new groups and opportunities for adventures… It’s like that saying in AA… just show up and the rest will take care of itself…
Another area that was a big problem for me was a lack of a good church home. I visited a church with my mom one Sunday and I’ve been going back ever since. I have had to really trust my Higher Power on this one because from the outside – this church didn’t appear to have anything for me. I just knew that I had an overwhelming sense of peace every time I went to the contemporary service and so I continued to go back. Once again, I had a decision to make… keep going to a church that I don’t know why I am going to or find out if there is a reason I keep getting called back. I again, took action…. I signed up for a Newcomer class, found out about volunteering in the church and found that there are classes and groups for people my age along with subject based classes I am interested in… And again… that just show up thing worked and the rest took care of itself.
I mentioned that I got tired of hearing my own broken record earlier in this post. I had a heart to heart with my Higher Power. I told Him the things that I needed to be happy here like regular opportunities for outdoor adventures, a good church home and good friends and/or a significant other. So far the first two have been checked off! But, they would not have been checked off had I chosen to continue to complain instead of choosing to seek out ways to meet my must-haves for a happy Jessica. I had to do the work. I had to reach out. I had to try new things. I had to put myself out there, be willing to drive a couple of hours to hike with people I didn’t know… I had to show up.
If you’re in a season of complaining right now, I challenge you to sit down, grab some tea or coffee or whatever you enjoy and take some time to think about what you can change about your life right now. Maybe you are like me in that you have to find a way to be happy where you are even though it’s not where you want to be. Make a list of your must-haves and then brainstorm things you can do to try and cultivate more of your must-haves in your life. Regardless of your location, interests or schedule… there is a way to get more of what makes you happy in your life… You just have to be willing to do the work… and to show up….the rest will take care of itself.
Some of you might be asking, ‘”What? No spiel on counting your blessings?” No, because I find that when you leave complaining behind and move into the act of solving your problem – you eventually find your blessings and you tend to start counting them too.
I have to admit that I have not been following my own advice as of late. I haven’t really been to an AA, CR or any other type of addiction support meeting in a few months. I watch the TV show Mom a lot, but I can’t count that as a meeting even though it does deal with addiction on a regular basis… I know I need to go, but I have been letting my job situation (see last post) become the only focus in my life. And to be truthful, it is that much harder to make myself go to a meeting when I’ve been home all day job hunting and cleaning stuff out. I give myself the ‘why put clothes and makeup on if I don’t have to’ speech and I am pretty convincing. Plus there is that dread of having to replay the broken record of ‘I lost my job again’ to the good ladies of Alcoholics Anonymous. I can become reclusive at the drop of a hat and I am becoming aware that I am doing so right now!
A funny thing happened this morning as I was making my morning cup of tea. I recalled that my brother said the best way to get Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar in your system is to take a shot straight. So I took the shot straight and I really enjoyed the slow burning sensation that traveled down my esophagus and into my stomach and I immediately wanted to take more shots. I loved the feeling and quickly realized that’s how it used to feel when I would take shots of liquor! Only an alcoholic/addict would take a shot of Apple Cider Vinegar and have that reaction! I don’t know what to say other than it was another reminder to get my ass back in meetings. I mean I have no reason not to go. It doesn’t cost money and if Hercules is acting up I can always go down the list of numbers and have someone come get me. I might do that anyway because then you know… I have to get in the car. Tearing off the band-aid is always the hardest part… What comes after is easy.
I have been mysteriously sick this week, but I am going to make myself return to meetings next week. I might even make myself go to some not so familiar morning meetings to ease my way back in… you know tell my broken record story of job loss yet again to someone who might not have heard it yet. I am also making myself do some stuff outside of the house! I am volunteering at my church and going to a class on Sunday mornings so I have to show up. I also have some hikes lined up for the remainder of October, which will get me back to one of my favorite places – discovering new ground on a trail in the woods. I am hopeful that the activities of the next few weeks will get me back to my normal self and I am of course hopeful for either a temporary or permanent job to come through to allow me to finish paying off my debt this year (again, see last post). One thing I cannot afford to do is to recoil into a little ball and suffer alone. My health is coming back and I am going back out there to experience life in community, which is how I believe it was intended.
I’m curious… what do you guys do when you feel yourself recoiling? Or when you become aware of the fact that you haven’t left your house in a week? (work does not count) What are your action steps? Feel free to share below!
I have learned in AA that any time I find myself acting out there must be an emotion lurking underneath that is causing the outburst. Before recovery I never questioned those instances where I found myself vying for best temper tantrum with any two year old sprawled out on the floor of any store isle in the country. I just went off and wreaked havoc on every one around me like a hurricane tearing through an unsuspecting coastal town. I never thought about the why behind my outbursts, I just figured I was angry and I was… but there is always something else behind anger. No one is ever just angry. Pride and fear are the top two contenders for me. Food and sleep are always there too, but that type of anger seems to be of a more superficial type. Today I am talking about real, scary, out of this world anger that erupts from deep in your soul.
I had this type of anger come upon me this past week. I was at work, sitting in my office just fuming. If I could have been foaming at the mouth, I would have been. I was that angry. I was literally spewing vile words from my mouth. I just kept going off to no one in particular, after all, it really wasn’t about them was it? No, it was about me. At first I thought I am angry because my co-workers don’t respect me now that they are going on to new jobs with the company that took over our office. How were they not respecting me you ask? Well, they had the absurd notion to give me work to do that fell within the boundaries of my job title! I mean come on! How rude of them!
As I continued to spew foul frustrations from my mouth, I had said co-workers come to my office to see if I was okay. I told one of them that I had a lot hitting me that day. I hadn’t really emotionally dealt with the fact that I had to have some skin cancer removed from my leg and how it sucks to know that 11 years after detecting my first Melanoma that it was still coming for me. I also told this co-worker that I couldn’t get my job hunting done because I was having to do so much work for other people and that those other people should understand my situation and not give me work to do even though it is my job to do such work. That last bit had some actual truth to it…
I knew my behavior was just uncalled for and so I turned on my favorite band and sat and my desk and got busy doing the work I did not want to do and then I paused. I asked my Higher Power why I was behaving this way, feeling this way… I finally asked the real question that needed answering… What emotion is underneath this outburst? What am I really upset about?
The answer came quickly. FEAR. I was afraid! I was afraid of loosing all of the financial ground I had worked so hard to gain this year while living at home. It was really hard for me to come back to the Memphis area and equally as hard to admit that I needed to stay at home for a couple of years to get myself back on track financially. It is hard for any grown adult to do this and after 5 years of sobriety and bouncing around the country in dead-end jobs trying to make something of myself somewhere – I was forced to go home after staying in friends homes for a few months at a time because I couldn’t afford a studio apartment and I couldn’t find a decent roommate situation. I eventually tired of living out of boxes and having all of my stuff crammed in my car all of the time. I eventually went home. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom and my brother and I love spending time with them….
Anywho, back to where I was going – FEAR. I was trying to make it about pride, but it was all really about Fear. I was afraid for my future. I was afraid of what might be around the corner EVEN THOUGH my Higher Power had recently given me a thought that I wrote down and kept with me. I actually woke up with this thought in my head, “All is well, you just can’t see it yet.” These are the words given to me a couple of days before my meltdown. My Higher Power, whom I choose to call Jesus was intervening on my behalf. He knew the weight of the circumstances would crush me and so He gave me a word. The problem was I didn’t take it to heart. I didn’t let it seep into my soul as truth. I chose to look at the giant cloud looming just ahead of me and make that my truth instead and I was crushed.
As soon as I realized that fear was causing my outburst, I prayed and relinquished that fear to God. I chose to read that word He had given me and make it my truth. If He says all is well, but I just can’t see it yet, then I have no reason to worry. I am doing my part and applying to jobs like crazy. I am also reigning in my funds and moving to more of a rationing budget. I am hoping for a job in October so that I can use my stay bonus as a down payment for a new car (but that’s another story because I am going to have a hard time letting go of Hercules) instead of using it to pay off the remainder of my debt. Either way, I will still be debt free by the end of this year.
The magic of AA is that I no longer just have outbursts. I don’t live on an emotional roller coaster anymore. I now know how to handle my emotions. I know how to look underneath and find out the real cause to my actions. Whatever issue comes up first is usually the secondary issue with a primary issue lurking just a little further down. In my case my secondary issue was pride with my primary issue being the fear of the future. Once the issue was named, it lost a lot of its power. Once I knew what I was fighting, I knew how to attack it. In my case, I turned my thoughts around by taking my truth back, which is the real truth. Even if I do loose some ground financially and cannot use the bonus to buy a new car, I will still be debt free by the end of the year and I will have a roof over my head and food to eat since I am staying at my mom’s house. Everything will be okay no matter what happens. The weight that was crushing me wasn’t even my weight to carry. I gave that to Jesus and meditated on the words He gave me a couple of days prior, “All is well, you just can’t see it yet”.
“I got new rules, I count ‘em.” – Dua Lipa
Rule #1: One Meeting a Week at Minimum.
Truth is life can and does get busy. There have been plenty of weeks that required me to work late on the night of one of my home group meetings. I find that if I start letting weeks get in between my meetings, I unknowingly become a dry drunk. I start building resentments, staying in my head more and withdrawing from the right people in my life. Life is just better if I make my meetings and so I make them a priority and if I can’t make one of my go-to meetings then I search for another meeting to fill the gap and I go.
Rule #2: Know Your Warning Signs & Respond Accordingly.
I call it getting squirrelly; you may call it getting froggy or some other term. Whatever you call it – it means the sirens are roaring. For me, it often means I am uncomfortable in my own skin and just plain irritated and unhappy. Some of my warning signs are being uncomfortable and irritable when in meetings and in church, craving vast amounts of sugar or ginger – anything that gives me a perceived “intoxication or high”, hating work and coworkers and anybody who represents the status quo, picking fights with well… everyone, judging everyone around me and the onslaught of extreme mood swings. At some point, I usually realize I am craving hard and then I put my program into action. I liken my addiction to a green monster in a locked cell. Every once in a while that sucker wakes up, stretches, realizes where he is and starts banging on the walls and bars. He starts kicking, jumping and screaming at the top of his lungs and just when I think I can’t take the craving anymore – he begins to tire and he lays back down and he goes back to sleep. The trick is to not give in to his antics while he is in his temper tantrum because if I feed him, I will make him larger and I sure don’t want him busting out of his cell and overtaking me. As long as I don’t feed him, I can have peace knowing that he will eventually tire and go back to sleep and leave me alone. He will stay this small little monster that occasionally bothers me and I will stay in control.
Rule #3 Try to Live the Program of AA All the Time.
You might ask what do you mean by all the time? Well, I mean when I am doing well and when I am doing really not well. But I especially live the program of AA when I am bat shit crazy with cravings or depression or fear and anxiety. This means I go to extra meetings, I call those people I am close to in AA and CR and let them know that I am not okay and I let them be there for me even if it feels uncomfortable. I raise my hand and tell the truth during the burning desire time even if I feel stupid doing so. I call my sponsor or accountability partners and tell them I’m not okay. This can be so awkward, but I tell people when I don’t need to go home, when I need someone to hang out with, when I just need to be somewhere doing something and I find that someone is always up for the challenge! I also implement the 10th stepping daily inventory if I am not already doing it. It is a great way to start seeing reality for reality’s sake because my reality is somehow always worse than the real reality. I use the program of AA for what it is – a way of living for those who aren’t so good at living life on life’s terms.
Rule #4: I NEVER go anywhere if I will be the only non-drinker/user.
No Exceptions. Ever.
This is a huge one for me. And it is my personal rule. Every alcoholic/addict has to create their own boundaries based on what they feel is safe for them. I drank from age 9 to age 32. If you drink alcohol around me two things are going to happen: (1) I assume you are becoming someone else like I did. (2) I am going to stare longingly at that glass of red wine or vodka in your hands while my social anxiety builds to the point that I am either crying or staring at you like a deer caught in headlights. Therefore, I just don’t go out with a group of people if I am going to be the only one not drinking. I also cannot and will not date people who drink or do any drugs and yes I mean pot too. While any future significant other or close friend doesn’t have to be in recovery, they also can’t be using period. There are people out there who don’t drink or use drugs for reasons other than addiction and it is these two groups of people that I focus on building friendships and relationships with.
Rule #5: Be Adventurous by actively seeking out non-drinking activities.
I don’t know if this is actually a rule, but I do force myself to do it from time to time when I find myself either stuck in a routine or becoming more and more introverted and reclusive. Like right now for instance, I am living in an area where I cannot do many of my favorite pastimes and I don’t really have any friends in the area so I find myself spending more and more time alone. I know that ‘s not good for a normie much less an alcoholic-addict. So I am forcing myself to seek out non-drinking and non-drugging opportunities. I am joining a bunch of Meetup groups and Facebook groups and church groups that are activity based. I don’t even go to the church that has all the fun activity groups, but since I know there are people there my age I might as well see if I can strike up any friendships with people who aren’t regular drinkers! Being adventurous and seeking out new activities for non-drinkers is how I fell in love with the outdoors so I know what amazing changes can come out of being willing to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Rule #6: Prayer, Meditation, Chakra Cleansing and Daily Release/Inventory.
I start each morning with a thank you to God for bringing me back because He didn’t have to! I also keep a daily morning yoga practice and after which, I perform a chakra cleansing and a meditation. In my morning meditations I strive to focus on a thought or phrase – sometimes the phrase enters my mind immediately, but other times I ask God “What is my thought for today?” or “What truth do I need to meditate on today?” I find that the yoga wakes me up, the chakra cleansing balances and grounds me and the meditation provides a truth to focus on for my day ahead. I even follow this morning ritual when on vacation. It’s a must in my world. I also say a prayer at the end of my morning ritual where I generally remind God of things that are worrying me and ask Him to take care of those things and I end with asking for a good day with good communications, safety and the ability to ascertain His promptings throughout the day and the courage to act on them. I also end my day with a meditation where I clear my chakras and reflect on the events of that day asking God to bring to mind anything I might need to improve upon or be enlightened about for the following day to come.
Rule #7: Keep a Daily Exercise Routine to Stay Grounded.
Besides yoga, I find that a good work out after work gets rid of excess energy and stress. I love walking and hiking for their grounding qualities, but I also love kickboxing, dancing and weight lifting and I mix all of these up in my weekly workouts. Everybody has a different time of day that works for them, but like I said, I prefer right after work. I find it’s a great way to let go of the day and prepare myself for a relaxing evening afterwards. I also find that the more I work out, the healthier my food options tend to be. Being an alcoholic, I can eat and I do often crave vast amounts of sugar, but the workouts keep me on the healthy end of the sugar scale and as a byproduct, limit any negative side effects like depression and anxiety from repetitive unhealthy over eating.
Rule #8: Make Time for What Makes You Happy!
Taurus’s are typically grounded individuals, but I swear I gallop in the air and am always craving something grounding and fun to spend my time. For me, my number one happy place is the ocean or any large body of water. The waves just wash a peace over me that I cannot wash over myself. A close second is hiking. I love hitting a trail and venturing off into the woods or the mountains. It can be 112 or 12 degrees outside – I don’t care – I will still go adventuring. I can’t explain what it does for me except to say that I am the best version of myself when I am hiking, kayaking or climbing. Another favorite past time is anything creative I can make with my hands. I find that keeping the hands busy is a form of meditation in and of itself. Even if it is the very mundane task of filing papers – it lifts the mind off of whatever it is concentrating on and allows the mind to go elsewhere – it is great. As for creative pastimes, I prefer coloring and painting. I also love photography and pottery. I think the common denominator in all of these pastimes is that the experience consumes me allowing my mind to drift somewhere lighter. I’ve never been depressed or upset on a hike, on a paddle board or while painting a canvas. These activities take my mind and soul somewhere I just can’t go without them.
Rule #9: Stay Active in a Church/Spiritual Community.
Jesus is a central part of my recovery. For you it might be another Higher Power. I think it is important to surround yourself within a spiritual community that you agree with and with which you find support and encouragement. I know that I do better when I regularly attend church and am active in a women’s group or Bible study where I can get spiritually fed and have spiritual support in the form of prayer or close spiritual friendships. I guess it goes along with the idea that whatever you are feeding yourself mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually – you become. Those you surround yourself with are your future… so make sure they are going where you want to go or becoming the type of person you want to be!
Rule #10: Let go of Those who Endure Me & Embrace Those who Appreciate Me.
This is something God has actually been working with me on. I have had a lot of people in my life that I called friends that endured me. I actually think the reason I miss Los Angeles so much is because of the friendships – those people appreciated me and they basically taught me the difference between being appreciated and being endured. When you are endured, people may invite you out and want to spend time with you, but you often find that you are somehow causing the group or the other person problems by just being who you are. The people who appreciate you on the other hand, make plans with you knowing full well any special needs or personality quirks and make accommodations for them during the making of plans. They basically consider you in advance and are considerate of you while enjoying your company. I am going to write a post on this very topic so I am not going to dive too deep right now. I am learning to identify friends who are enduring me versus friends who are appreciating me and I am not letting the enduring friends have much say in my life because they are always going to be negative since I don’t stack up to whatever version of a friend they have created in their mind. ***Note – I’m speaking of things you can’t help about yourself like in my case sun sensitivity, heat sensitivity and dietary issues. Or major personality traits like say being a photographer!
Rule #11: Stay Positive – Always Admitting It Can Always Get Better.
Another thing God has really been working with me on is my level of positive thinking. Of course, when one is in a bad depression the positive thinking goes out the window, but I find that I am one of those people where everything is possible for everyone else except me and so my inner thinking can often match this outcome. Not only am I being preempted, so to speak, when it comes to my thoughts of myself, but also to my thoughts of others and the world in general. It is like God is reaching down and holding my tongue when I am about to say something that does not align with what He says about me or the person or situation I am thinking about…. And if you are not aware, while God might not celebrate all of our decisions and actions, He also never speaks ill of us! He continually sees what we can become with Him and not what we are when we are operating on our own.
Rule #12: Allow Others to Speak into My Soul.
There have been so many times when life wasn’t making sense, but then I heard a sermon or a podcast or read an article or a blog post and the light turned on inside my head. I believe that we should make room for those who tend to speak into our souls. When I was living in Los Angeles, I became a part of Mosaic in Hollywood. To this day Erwin and Joe can speak into my soul and change my perspective at the exact moment I need them to and so I keep tabs on their sermons and podcasts via their YouTube channel. I also read a lot of books and it is through one of those books that I came across the teachings of the Christian Scientist church. While I am not a Christian Scientist, I do relate to many of the teachings. I have even used some of their sayings as mantras to help get myself out of a recent depression. Consequently, I am subscribed to their super short daily podcast called the Daily Lift. I listen to it every morning while having tea and it serves as a daily morsel of positive food for my mind. The reality is that each of us has people who speak into our soul, make us shift our perspective in a good way and help us to make sense of our world… Each of us should be making room for these people in our lives so that we can stay grounded, stable and focused on what really matters.
These are my rules for healthy sober living regardless of circumstances… I'm curious to know... What are your rules?