Step 8 : Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
The word “willing” is the key word in Step 8 just as it is a key word in all of the steps. You don’t necessarily have to want to make the amends; you just have to be willing to do so. The willingness comes from humbleness, determination and the desire to do whatever it takes to stop drinking or drugging or cutting or sexing or whatever it is for you.
So what does it mean to be willing? According to the folks at Oxford, Willing means to be ready, eager, or prepared to do something. Another definition goes as far to say given or done readily as in the phrase “it’s a given”. An example would be: it’s a given that she will move out of the house once she has obtained a stable job. Another way to look at it is it just being something you do. It just is. Some could say that the regular men and women who make up the now renown Cajun Navy see it as just something you do because why would you not? They may not always be up for everything water rescue involves, but they do it any way because of the strong desire to help or make a difference. Being willing to make amends is not all that different. You may not be up for everything that the act of making an amends entails, but your desire to beat your addiction and your desire to grow and to become a better version of yourself outweighs any negatives and so you make the amends.
Another way to look at making an amends is to remember that the amends is not for the person you harmed. Let’s face it. Some of the people on your list might deserve to be harmed. And that’s okay. It’s just not your job to do it. As you progress through the steps you learn about keeping your side of the street clean and not worrying so much about your neighbors yard. You can’t control them anyway. All you can control is your own yard. Step 8 is a precursor to keeping your side of the street clean. Doing what is right. Keeping a clean conscience. Stacking up good karma. It is all the same thing. AA and the 12 steps believe that if you keep your side of the street clean then all will go well with you - that you will be taken care of when in need. Making the amends isn’t for the person you harmed although some of them might benefit from it. Making an amends is for yourself. You are clearing your conscience, tidying away the cob webs and starting on a new path where you are responsible for your actions. It is the embarking on a new journey to a new you.
All you have to do is be willing. If you aren’t willing you cannot get through the steps. And it you can’t get through the steps how can you expect to stay sober? Are you willing?
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
Principle 5 from Celebrate Recovery: Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life…
A lot of people cover steps 6 and 7 together so I thought I’d do so here as well. The funny thing about step 6 is that we don’t always know if we are entirely ready until after we complete step 7. We might think we are ready to shrug off destructive patterns, unhealthy relationships and insufficient coping mechanisms, but we don’t always realize the price of what we are asking. I say this, simply to say that no one is ever fully ready. This readiness the steps speak of is more of a decision on our part. We have to decide that we are done with our drinking or drug of choice or issue of choice and all of the baggage that helped create it and all of the baggage that is attached to it.
Once we have made this decision and humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings we typically continue to work with our sponsor on what is safe for us and what is not safe for us. We invite God into our lives and ask Him to help us make wise choices and to alert us to what we need to change. Most of us are doing daily inventories and these dailies can provide priceless information for us and our sponsor or accountability partner. I can recall reading back through a week’s worth of entries and having several light bulbs come on in terms of stressors I needed to rid myself of as well as friendships that weren’t serving me anymore.
I included a portion of Celebrate Recovery’s Step 5 Principle above because I love how it reiterates that this whole process is a decision on our part. An Active Decision, at that. One that we must continue to make over and over again throughout our days and throughout our lives. The words “voluntarily submit to the changes God wants to make” are the foundation of lasting recovery. We have to choose to submit to the changes God brings to our attention. We have to choose to end an unhealthy relationship because we know it is taking us away from sobriety and away from God. We have to choose to end an unhealthy friendship because that person is just not who we need to be around right now. We even have to sometimes choose to leave a stressful job for one that allows us more room to breathe even if it means having to curtail some of our spending habits. Truth be told - our choices got us into our messes and it is our choices that will get us out of our messes and into a healthy and thriving life.
Step 6 and Step 7 are all about the power to choose. Many of us may have forgotten that we have any power at all, but we do. We have the power to listen to God, to listen to our sponsors, to listen to our accountability partners and we have the power to choose to make the suggested changes. We have the power to choose better for ourselves.
In my case for example, I have had to find completely new hobbies and interests and friends because sitting on a patio drinking all night is no longer a part of my life. In recovery, I have developed a love of the outdoors and photography! I discovered the world of hiking and rock climbing and paddle boarding and kayaking and I have made friends who have similar interests. I have also recently taken up golf and am loving every minute of that too. In recovery, I continue to surprise myself with the things I like to do now that I don’t drink! As for friendships and relationships, I only have a couple rules. They can’t create a desire for drinking in me and they can’t lead me away from my Creator. This basically translates to rare drinkers or non-drinkers who live out their faith instead of just talking about it. And trust me, being a thirty-something who is unmarried in the south - I have to continue to make these choices everyday. Yes, I could have more friends and go on a lot of dates, but none of it would be healthy for me so I choose to pursue only the right friendships and the right relationship because it is my choices that will keep me sober and healthy and happy. Happy choosing ya’ll.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Well, I guess, the one thing that is worse than the making of the list is the confessing of its contents out loud to another human being. One of the many great secrets of the steps is learning that being open and honest in the naming our faults, resentments and fears is the key to removing their power over us. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem so big and so damaging once it is out in the open. More often than not, we find that the person listening to our list of complaints against ourselves and most, if not all of humanity, not only understands us, but has either had similar feelings, been through similar situations, or have done the very thing we thought would ensure our rejection. There are a lot of people in AA who fear that once they spill their beans that the organization will kick them out. That their sponsor or accountability partner will smile and nod and then not return their phone calls. All sorts of wild scenarios occur in the minds of those who haven’t completed the 5th step.
The thing is we do this to ourselves in our own lives all of the time. Well, at least I do. One of the many pieces of wisdom I learned from my own journey through the steps is that I have this pattern of pre-determining anyone’s reaction to anything I have in my past, present or future (including my own reaction). I already know how person A, B & C are going to respond to this information so why even go there? Why be vulnerable? Why even start this friendship or this relationship? Okay, so maybe you’re not as bad as I am, but we all do this to a certain extent in out lives. And yes, there is a healthy and helpful version of this pattern that we also use, but when we take ourselves out of the game based on our presumptions about how other people might respond - we are definitely on the unhealthy side of the spectrum.
Doing the 5th step taught me that I am not as alone as I once thought. Other people have similar feelings, fears and insecurities. The 5th step also taught me that some of the things that were done to me have also been done to others. And that some of the things I have done that I prefer to never speak of again - have also been done by other people on this planet. We sometimes get it in our head that no one will ever understand or that no one has ever gone through what we’ve gone through or done what we’ve done, but the simple truth is - they have! We aren’t as alone as we think we are and this is a gift from Step 5.
In my personal step five journey, I learned that some of the events I was holding myself accountable for had to go off my list because they belonged on someone else’s list and in turn, I learned that I needed to put my reaction to those events on my list because that was the part I was responsible for. Step five, for me, was the beginning of the healing process. I learned about myself, I learned about my sponsor and I learned about how the events in my life had shaped me for better and for worse and I learned that the ones that shaped me for worse didn’t have to stay that way. I could learn to let the bad experiences shape me for the better. But it all started with the decision to be vulnerable and confess my past and present to my trusted sponsor and be willing to dive in and discuss as my sponsor deemed necessary.
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.