“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”
- John Maxwell
I was just reviewing the list of blogs I subscribe to, and ran across the last entry of a writer friend who is no longer with us. If you want to read it, you can find it here. Marsha was thoughtful, a fine writer and teacher, and a good person to have in your life. She brought the pleasures of poetry and literature into the minds and hearts of thousands of students. We all miss her. A lot.
Reading her poignant entry got me to thinking about the idea of a “life well-lived.” Who decides about that? I am agnostic, so I don’t look forward to some Great Beyond. As far as I know, this is it — the whole show, not a dress rehearsal. (Although I generally hate being wrong, I wouldn’t mind being mistaken about that. However, logic prevails.) That being the case, the only life I expect to have beyond the grave is in the memories of people, slowly to fade until the wisps are carried away by the winds of time; incorporated as a tiny part of the whole, but unnoticed down the years by those to come.
So, unless I want to indulge in magical thinking I have to accept that the sum of my life is, perforce, my legacy as well. And I have to ask myself whether I’ve lived that life so as to leave something worthwhile behind, however ephemeral. There have certainly been times when I wouldn’t have wanted to look very hard at that question. However, I’ve managed over the past 22 — almost 23 — years of clean and sober living to amass a record that I can look back on and recognize a totality of which I need not be ashamed. Whether that would be the summation of others is none of my business. We live in our own reality, and what’s going on in someone else’s is not our concern.
However, I think it behooves all of us to occasionally look back and think of our lives to date, and decide if they’re something we can be satisfied with. If we feel as though we’re on the right track, maybe we can attend to the details a bit more closely. And if it seems as though we are a bit short, then maybe we need to sit back and consider how we can re-map our journey. Perhaps our criterion should be something like, “Have I helped others as much as they’ve helped me.”
I don’t know. What do you think?
A recent study has indicated that teen drinking is strongly related to problems in the neural network that controls impulsive behavior. Professionals have long known that the two go together, but had no indication of which came first.
This study settles that, and other questions regarding ADD and drinking.
Faced with a choice about smoking or drinking, the 14-year-old with a less functional impulse-regulating network will be more likely to say, “yeah, gimme, gimme, gimme!” says Garavan, “and this other kid is saying, ‘no, I’m not going to do that.’”
Resentments are the poison that we drink, and then wait for the other person to die.
Think about it. Think about that terrible thing that (insert name here) did to you back in the long-ago. Think about how bad it made you feel. Think about how you’d like to get back at (**), how you’d like to tell them off in words that would make them shrivel and leave them with nothing at all to say.
How often do those thoughts come into your head? Once a week? Once a day? Whenever you think of that person? Whenever you do something that reminds you of them? Whenever their name comes up in conversation? Whenever you’re just feeling sorry for yourself and want to feel better by reminding yourself how terrible someone else is?
I thought so.
Now, while you’re making yourself miserable thinking about how you’ve been wronged, what do you think (insert name here) is doing? Do you think she’s spending her time thinking about the subject? Do you figure they think about it at all? If you confronted him, would he even remember the incident? Would he remember it the same way you do?
See, the thing is, renting out space in your head to that person, that incident, that resentment, hurts nobody but you (and the people you inflict it on from time to time). You’re the one whose stomach is boiling, who gets all tense, who drinks the poison that is meant for that other person. They will never taste it, but you will taste it as long as you keep holding that poisoned cup.
So deal with it. It’s your problem and your misery. It’s only hurting you. That s.o.b. is oblivious, and would probably think you were hallucinating if you brought it up.
It’s up to you whether or not you pick up that cup again. Do you want to be righteous, or do you want to be happy?
Stress: How to Cope Better With Life’s Challenges
Feelings of stress are caused by the body’s instinct to defend itself. This instinct is good in emergencies, such as getting out of the way of a speeding car. But stress can cause unhealthy physical symptoms if it goes on for too long, such as in response to life’s daily challenges and changes….
You know you’re sober when the 12-oz. can that will be the highlight of your beverage day is full of V-8.
A friend is one who sees the pain, while everyone else believes the smile.
(Unnamed website) looks interesting, and I’m glad that you are getting something out of it.
Please understand that my remarks are not specific toward (unnamed website). I don’t know enough about it to judge.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever reviewed or recommended a commercial site. Once that starts, everyone and his brother wants a review, and I’m not able to take the time (nor do I have the expertise) to read books, evaluate programs, analyze philosophies and so forth. In any case, I’ve read too many explanations of karma already — some accurate, and some off the wall — and too many efforts at trying to take millennia-old ideas and wrap them in new paper for the sake of selling what is widely available for free.
But the main reason I avoid recommending programs of this kind is that they are not specifically about recovery, and do not focus people’s minds on the details that are necessary to recover from addiction. Being told that the Universe is watching over us is of little use when we’re jonesing for a drink or a hit, or subtly convincing ourselves that “one or two won’t hurt.” At that point we need people to talk to who will understand exactly where we are coming from, won’t shame us and call us “weak,” and who can share with us the intimate details of how they got through such tough spots themselves. In other words, we need a 12-Step or similar support group of addicts and alcoholics working with other addicts and alcoholics, not spouting lofty philosophy.
Finally, I am convinced that if a person gets involved in AA, NA or the other groups, and really puts his or her mind to it, that it will take all the time and energy they can muster for at least several months. There is no time for distractions. This is a life and death issue. Personally, I almost distracted myself into a major relapse because I thought those folks had nothing to tell me. I was different. I was better-educated. I knew how the world worked. What could that bunch of people have to teach me? Besides, they were too cheerful. Didn’t they know the world was a serious place? Et cetera, et ctera, et cetera…
All they had to give me was a proven way to save my life, that I almost missed.
I don’t push the 12 Steps because they’re a fad, or a religion, or anything like that. I participate for the same reason I’m a Buddhist, because both are based on cold, hard reasoning. They both provide guidelines for emotional, physical and spiritual improvement. They are both specific to me and my life.
But your mileage may vary, and that’s OK. As long as you do the next right thing, and don’t drink, and stay open to change and new ideas (not the strong suit of most alcoholics), you’ll be OK. The key is change. As I’ve said before, if you keep on doing the same old things, you keep on getting the same old results. To quote another philosopher, “You can run, kid, but you can’t hide.”
I was with a group of folks this evening who were discussing the fact that alcoholism is as much a problem of the mind as of the body. Yes, it is a disease — recognized as such by the AMA and APA more than 50 years ago — but it is also a complex of emotional difficulties and turmoil that can ruin a person’s life even after they have put the cork in the bottle (if they manage to keep it there without cleaning up their emotional mess, that is). The same is true of other kinds of addicts who get clean, but fail to make the necessary changes. Call it a “dry drunk, “stinkin’ thinkin’” or whatever you will, it is one of the main things that lead to relapse, or misery while technically still clean and sober.
The subject tonight was stinkin’ thinkin’ — the idea that we have it down pat, and can go ahead and drink socially.
No one there seemed to have been successful at it, and no one said that they knew anyone who had, but that is not to say that those folks don’t exist. If one had wandered by, it’s unlikely he or she would have joined our little discussion.
Everyone in recovery has one of those stories, or knows someone else who tried to go back to occasional drinking with predictable results. It often starts out with a program that has gone smoothly for years. Then the person begins to think that maybe they can “handle it.” Sometimes they try, sometimes not, merely teetering on the edge for a bit. The ones who did try tend to have the most interesting stories, and they all center around the idea that they convinced themselves that they didn’t have to remain abstinent, or that they concentrated on some terrible thing that someone had done to them, fixating on that instead of the good things in their lives, or simply forgot to look for the good and concentrated on the bad — so that drinking or using drugs seemed like a reasonable alternative to the way they were feeling.
Which got me to thinking.
One of the things I’ve learned through years of meditation, both the 11th Step kind and some other stuff I do, is that I do, indeed, have a reasonable amount of control over what I think. When you meditate, you try to concentrate on something without intellectual content — your breathing, say — to the exclusion of outside thoughts. This allows your subconscious to percolate uninterrupted, mostly. To begin with it’s hard. Thoughts about all sorts of things come along, unbidden, and you get really pissed off at your inability to do anything about it. Then someone tells you that such things are a normal part of meditation, and that the idea is not to fight them, but just let them arise and then bring your mind back onto the breathing, or mantra, or Hail Marys, or whatever you’re using as a meditation tool. The key is, I can’t stop thoughts from coming to my mind, even over and over again, but I can control whether or not I concentrate on them.
Instead of drinking the poison of resentment and then waiting for the other guy to die, I can choose to bring my mind to something else. I can do it over and over again, until eventually I’ve distracted myself into thinking about other things entirely. The same is true of other obsessions, like drinking, or unsatisfied sexual urges, or the new toy that I think I need desperately. It is entirely within my power to control those thoughts; not to pretend they don’t exist, or fail to acknowledge them, but to choose not to dwell on them. In doing so, I rob them of most of their power, instead of giving them all of mine.
“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. …”
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!
“…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
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!
A review of patient happiness data shows that four months of therapy, which might run you $1,300, increases happiness as much as a $40,000 raise.