Category Archives: 12-step stuff

(She’s) Just Curried

“The sun finally shone in Southern California…
…and like they say without the rain, there can’t be rainbows.
They were a tough couple of days earlier this week. Raining outside, raining tears on the inside. Bewildered. Why was I feeling so sad? Why couldn’t I snap out of it?
I did the only thing I could do. …”

The Rose and the Sledgehammer

I heard a gal tell a judge in court she was clean and sober, and he said she was clean but not sober. What does that mean? What is the difference between clean and/or clean and sober?

We are clean when the drugs (including alcohol, which is just another drug) are no longer in our system.  But there is a whole lot more to sobriety than simply being drug-free.  I sometimes tell people that I’ve been clean for over twenty years, but sober for only about eight or ten.  That’s sort of a joke, but the thought behind it relates exactly to your question.

There are many issues involved in recovery, and only a few of them are directly related to whether or not we have drugs in our bodies.  To understand this, you have to understand that addiction occurs because semi-permanent (sometimes permanent) physical changes occur in our brains that cause us to believe, on a level below that of conscious thought, that we must have our drugs or our very being is threatened.

This imperative changes our lives:

  • The way we relate to situations (Can I use?);
  • Time (When can I use?);
  • People (Will they try to keep me from using?);
  • Society (Using is more important than participating);
  • Money (How can I get more drug(s)?);
  • Ethics and morals (What do I have to do to keep myself supplied?)
  • Religion and spirituality (I’m a bad person; God doesn’t love me, how could He?)
  • …and life itself (If I don’t get my drugs, life is not worth living).

By the time we have lived under those conditions for a while, our entire way of thinking and outlook is seriously skewed.  Add to that the terrible physical and emotional traumas to which we are prone while using, and we may well suffer from post-traumatic stress and other emotional disorders as well.

There are three aspects to sobriety:

  • Physical sobriety, where we are abstinent for a long enough time for our brains to begin to recover so that we can think more clearly and make decisions based on reality instead of confusion and fear;
  • Emotional and spiritual sobriety, where we come to terms with who we are, what we have done, and what we must do to right the wrongs we have perpetrated (to the extent possible), learn to re-connect with other people, and begin to get comfortable in our own skins; and
  • Social sobriety, where we re-enter the world by actually making things right with others, and develop socially so that we are re-integrated with the world outside the recovery community.

These things take time.  Physical recovery alone can take a couple of years, depending on the damage we’ve inflicted on ourselves, and sometimes it takes months before we can even begin to think straight.  We may need help from friends, counselors, even physicians, in order to get our neurological system and lives back in order.  We need to be working on our attitude toward life and toward ourselves and the things we have done. (This is where the support groups like AA, NA and the others can be of profound importance.)  And we need to become employed, make amends for the past, renew our relationships and grieve those that are not, for one reason or another, renewable; to remember — or perhaps learn for the first time — how non-addicts live and relate to each other, their jobs, their spirituality and the world at large.

As you can see, looked at this way, there is a HUGE difference between “clean” and “sober.”  Sobriety is a continuum, that begins the moment we decide that we can no longer live the life of an addict and continues to where we are again a part of society.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t easy.  It isn’t even especially simple — but it is possible.  Millions of us have gotten sober in the past, and millions of us will in the future — as long as we stick with the process until it is finished.  If we forget our goals, or fail to continue to reach for them, we are soon on the way down the slippery slope of addict thinking that leads to that first drink or drug.  It is frequently a one-way slide.

The judge knew that, and that is what he meant.

Thanks for a great question!

Stuck On The Bridge?

“…There is a mountain of difference between worshiping the Big Book and adopting the Twelve Step design for living that is its message. You may have experienced with folks so focused on THE BOOK and THE INVENTORY that they never seem to get unstuck from that ‘mid-span’ of the bridge — over to God and maximize their usefulness through continuous spiritual growth. …
One Day at a Time

Hosting an Addict or Alcoholic

Social occasions that involve people in recovery—especially early recovery—can pose some perplexing problems for the hosts. On one hand, a host who is aware of a guest’s need to avoid mood-altering substances may wish to do what is possible to keep from exposing them to temptation. On the other hand, social drinking is a part of everyday American culture. Most social gatherings involve some drinking by some of the guests. A host may be at a loss as to how she ought to deal with guests in recovery — especially those only a short way along on their journey.

There are some simple things to remember…. MORE>>>

What do cross addiction and cross dependence mean?

All addictions work in the same parts of the brain, by modifying or imitating the production of neurotransmitters that cause pleasant feelings. This is as true of shopping addiction as it is of heroin. Thus, people who have taught themselves that their moods and feelings can be altered by certain actions or chemicals, have a very good chance of cross-addiction to chemicals and actions that have similar effects. Gambling, for example, is the number two substitute addiction for alcoholics and addicts, after relationships.

In a slightly different sense, the actions of some chemicals are so similar that a person addicted to one will almost automatically become addicted to the other. Alcohol and benzodiazepine tranquilizers are one example. Heroin and other opioid drugs are another, as are alcohol and heroin.

Cross addiction and cross dependence are the same thing, really. “Cross dependence” is just a way of saying it that makes it sound less important. Thus the term is much favored by drug companies.

How long does it take to recover after you quit smoking?

Most people find that they are reasonably comfortable after a couple of months.  It is the readjustment of your brain to living without foreign stimulation that takes a long time. Experts believe that it never completely recovers, because a very few cigarettes years later can result in a full-blown addiction very rapidly.

The nicotine leaves your system within 24 hours, unless you are using replacement therapy (which I highly recommend — the patch in particular, since it does not support the oral habit).  There is no point in suffering through nicotine withdrawal during your first few weeks of not smoking.  It does not build character; it simply invites relapse.

There are habits that take a long time to get over, as well, such as reaching for a cigarette at certain times: on the phone, after a meal, with a drink, while driving, etc. I was appalled to find myself reaching toward my breast pocket for a smoke during an argument with my wife — more than 10 years after I had completely quit.

Perhaps the most important advice is to keep in mind that EVERY reason you come up with for having a smoke — now, or after you quit — is simply an excuse to feed your addiction. There is no good reason. The weight gain can be dealt with by exercise, and depression and other emotional symptoms, if present, can be supported by Nicotine Anonymous and counseling if needed. (See the link in the sidebar.)

Romancing the Stoned

I was at a meeting this evening that bothered me a lot.  Several of the members, most of them relative newcomers, including a couple with only two or three months, commented in their sharing about what kinds of wine they used to enjoy with what dishes, each succeeding one remarking about their preferences and then going on to share about how much they valued their recovery.

Another guy shared about how much he valued his two months, which he’d struggled so long to get, then proceeded to comment at some length about how great it was to be going to parties, fraternal organizations, etc., where people are drinking and “not have the urge to drink.”  He talked for about three or four minutes in that vein, all the time shaking visibly.  It was scary!

I call this Romancing the Drink, or Romancing the Drug.  People in recovery DO NOT NEED to be talking about how much they enjoyed drinking, nor do they need to be hanging out with drinkers — certainly not in early recovery.  I’m twenty years sober, and I don’t hang out with people who are drinking.  Why?  I find them embarrassing, because they remind me of how I used to act.  But it’s different when you’ve thoroughly learned new ways of behaving.  Early on, being around people who are doing what we used to do is liable to seem so familiar and comfortable that we just naturally slide back into doing it, and end up getting what we got.

Another thing that bothered me was that the old timers in the meeting did nothing.  I don’t mean that they should have confronted these folks, but there are ways to redirect a meeting when you share, so that the talk returns to the solution, rather than the problem.  That didn’t happen.  I’m not one of those mystical pollyannas who believes that “everything in a meeting happens for a reason,” or that “whatever is said in a meeting, someone needed to hear.”  That’s simply New Age b.s.  Meetings are so that newcomers can learn how to stay sober and recover, and so that old timers can help them learn, and when the folks with the skills abdicate their responsibility, I have a real problem with it.

After a while I shared that I found in early recovery that I needed to avoid my old ways of doing things, both in deed and in association, because I didn’t have the new habits thoroughly in place yet.  I mentioned a few things about how long it takes for our brains and bodies to repair themselves, and how vulnerable we are until we are well on the way to physical and emotional recovery.

I don’t know if I did any good or not.  I firmly expect to go back to that meeting after the holidays and find some folks with hangdog looks picking up white chips.

Or not there at all.

Hosting People In Recovery For The Holidays

Social occasions that involve people in recovery—especially early recovery—can pose some perplexing problems for the hosts. On one hand, a host who is aware of a guest’s need to avoid mood-altering substances may wish to do what is possible to keep from exposing them to temptation. On the other hand, social drinking is a part of everyday American culture. Most social gatherings involve some drinking by some of the guests. A host may be at a loss as to how she ought to deal with guests in recovery — especially those only a short way along on their journey.

There are some simple things to remember….

Hosting People In Recovery For The Holidays

I was just thinking about spirituality…

In a recent conversation, I spoke about what I perceive as the differences between the spiritual life demanded by our program of recovery, and religion.  The guy I was talking to remarked, “Well, I don’t see why we have to have spirituality in the program at all.”

I got to thinking about it, and here’s my take on that.

We need to see how our relationships with others — our actions, words and the way we live our lives — influence the lives of everyone around us and, through them, the others in our world. We reach this understanding by expanding our human spirit: our acceptance of others, our willingness to allow them to pursue their own happiness, our sense of responsibility, tolerance, patience, compassion, love, contentment and joy.  These things of the human spirit are what make up the spiritual aspects of our program.  They connect us with others, and renew our membership in mankind.

The extent to which we consider ourselves separate, different, or unique in some way, is a measure of our lack of recovery.  When we can look at our neighbor, our spouse, our employer and, most of the time, try to see things from her point of view instead of thinking only about ourselves and our wants, imagined needs, and fears, then we are well on the way to both spirituality and recovery.

Happy Thanksgiving…and enjoy all those gratitude meetings!


Sought, through prayer and meditation…

Step 10.  Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

Step 11.  Sought, through prayer and meditation, to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Step 12.  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to (alcoholics, addicts, whatever), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Many a slip

These are the “maintenance steps” of the 12-step programs, the steps that we practice every day in order to remain clean and sober.  I’m frequently bemused by the number of people in the rooms who claim to “practice these principles in all [their] affairs” but who, when asked, will tell you that they do not meditate: “I don’t have the time; I don’t believe in prayer; I tried it, but it isn’t for me,” and so forth.

What is ambiguous about the 11th Step?  Why do so many folks seemingly overlook the concepts of prayer and reflection embedded therein?

Actually, I’ll be the first person to admit that I don’t pray, because God as I understand Him/It, isn’t listening and wouldn’t answer.  Nonetheless, I use a vehicle very much like prayer to articulate what’s happening in my life and organize my thoughts before I meditate.  Then, when I meditate, sometimes answers pop up, and sometimes they don’t.

My personal theory about this (and about praying for guidance) is that, in a manner similar to therapy or talking to a sponsor, speaking my thoughts as if someone were listening forces me to organize them in my own mind.  Then, while I meditate, I believe my subconscious processes the issues and often kicks them back with solutions, either then or later.

But that’s only my theory.  If you talk directly to God, and if it works for you, there’s no way I’m going to argue with that, but I know one thing for sure: if we ask God for answers, we have to keep still and listen for them.  If we ask for knowledge of His will for us , it’s not going to arrive while we’re reading, or in a podcast, or a sudden comment from smoldering shrubbery.  If we aren’t quiet, if we don’t open our mind, we will get no useful input until our next lesson comes along (as in, “OK God, what do you want me to learn this time?).  Better to avoid the examples, and go with preventive maintenance.

That’s what the last three steps are, after all.  They’re the tuneup — the periodic checks that keep our program humming along reliably.  Steps one through nine are for getting us through most of the crap, teaching us how to deal with what’s left, and moving us along into real recovery, but it’s ten, eleven and twelve where we “practice these principles in all our affairs” and continue our recovery and development as adult human beings, one day at a time.

Personal inventory, admitting when we are wrong, improving our contact with our program and ethics (if we’re not into religion), carrying the message, and practicing all the principles in all our affairs: that’s the program in a nutshell.  Meditation is an integral, essential part of it.

So maybe we ought not be claiming to work a good program and be making the steps a part of our lives unless we’re willing to go all the way.  We may fool others, but remember: in this game, fooling ourselves is frequently fatal.

Sharing at Meetings: Keeping it in the “I”

None of us — especially alcoholics, addicts and codependents — like to be told what we “should” be doing. We’ve been working on this problem for (hours, days, weeks…decades) and some clown thinks all the answers can be found in three minutes of listening and a few minutes of uninformed advice? Bullshit!

Keeping It In The “I”

“Undrunk” Is A Really Good Read…however…

I’m just finishing Undrunk – A Skeptic’s Guide to AA, by A. J. Adams (Hazelden, 2009).  Undrunk may be the most lucid explanation of what AA is (and is not), how it functions and “how it works” that I’ve ever read, including all of the AA-Approved literature.  It is at once a primer for the reader who just isn’t quite sure, an explanation for newcomers, and a great narrative of a personal journey, written with eloquence and wit.  Along with being funny (at least to those of us who have been there), it’s almost never boring.

Still, as impressed as I am by the book’s content, style and presentation, I have to worry about the writer just a little.  Why?  Because when he wrote the book, published this year, he was just one year sober.

I know a little bit about writing, and about the research, proofreading, editing, re-writing and so forth that’s involved in birthing a book of any kind.  I know that producing a good book — and this is a good book — can pretty much consume a person.  I also know, from personal and painful experience, how analyzing AA and becoming a self-made guru can mess with a person’s own development in early recovery.  I’m not accusing A. J. of this; I’m just sayin’.

These three things: research, analysis and immersion, create a two-edged sword.  On one hand, you have the potential of creating a know-it-all attitude that can seriously hamper your ability to listen, learn, and apply the collective wisdom of the fellowship to your own life.  On the other, by immersing in the pool of experience and tradition that is the essence of a 12-step group, there is the potential for deeper understanding and application to self, if approached with a major dose of good ol’ humility.

I like the book.  I really, really like it.  But I hope things work out better for the writer than they did in this scribe’s early recovery.  I’m sure that much of Undrunk’s appeal is due to the enthusiasm of the newcomer who did such a fine job of writing it.

I just hope he’ll be OK.

Q&A: Is it harder for a smoker to give up smoking than for an alcoholic to give up drinking, and are the two comparable at all?

It is obvious to those of us who have worked in the addiction field, especially we who are in recovery ourselves, that the degree of desire is a key factor in recovery from any addiction. To put it simply, people who truly want to stop have an easier time of it than those who are not completely convinced that they need to do so (who, in fact, rarely do stop).

In the case of alcohol and most other drugs, their devastating effects create conditions that sometimes break through the denial of the addict and give him or her the moment of clarity needed to make a real commitment.

With cigarettes and other nicotine vehicles, there is the issue that it will probably not Continue reading