Category Archives: codependency

Thought for the day: 02/04/2023

Each Step, first taken in our conscious minds, has to be absorbed to take hold. Absorption happens during rest and play. Some describe being kind to ourselves in thoughts and actions as reprogramming our subconscious minds. If we want the benefits of the work to last, we have to concede that (a) we can’t get it all done in one sitting, (b) we will never get it 100% right all of the time and (c) being gentle with ourselves is part of Healing. Sponsors tell us to go meditate on this fact because, after all, meditation comes so easily to restless addicts. Sponsors are such comedians.

C., Joe. Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life (pp. 100-101). Rebellion Dogs Publishing.

Here Comes The Judge

no-finger-pointingHow judgmental am I?  Plenty.  It’s a character defect that I’ve worked hard to change, with only limited success, ever since I’ve been sober.

It runs in the family. My granny was one of those old French women who could never give a compliment without modifying it with a matching put down.  “She’s pretty, her, but look at that dress!”  My mom was the same way.  She’d drive down the road commenting on every fool that came across her path.  An otherwise quiet, gentle soul, she never missed a chance to point out a shortcoming.  Thankfully, that didn’t carry over to her kids, but any relative beyond her own siblings, or other passersby, was fair game.

So I came by it honestly, and I reveled in it.  There’s nothing like the ability to look at others and see their faults to perk up the spirits of a kid with chronically low self-esteem.  We won’t go into detail.  Suffice it to say that by the time I was a full-blown alcoholic, I was also skilled in letting you know that I knew — as Rush Limbaugh titled his book — “The Way Things Ought To Be.”

In all fairness to me, I was as hard on myself as I was on others.  For many years (sixty or so) I never measured up to my own standards.  An uncommonly handsome young man, I always thought I was skinny and gawky, with a big nose.  It wasn’t until 15 years into recovery when I saw a yearbook photo of myself that I was able to get my head around the fact that I had been a good looking kid.

As a writer, for decades I stayed away from anything that wasn’t cut and dried.  I wrote technical articles and manuals, and eventually edited the work of others, because I believed that — even though I had a passion for writing — I wasn’t good enough to do “that other stuff.”  Those ideas and feelings carried over into the rest of my life in ways too many to count.

Yet I was always ready to point out where you were wrong, where he had screwed up, where she could have done better — anything that would let you know that I was on top of things, knew how it was, and that you’d better work hard if you wanted to measure up.  I was the guy who damned you with faint praise; who, when offered by a wife a choice of a special meal, would say “Yeah, that would be OK,” instead of, “Oh, wow honey!  What a great idea!”  Who would tell a child, “Nice job on the picture, honey, but wouldn’t it have been better if you had….”  (I still get tears in my eyes when I think of that stuff, and believe me I’ve made amends to both my daughters.  But it didn’t fix all those years.)

And why did I do those things?  Simply because my own opinion of myself was so low that I couldn’t let anyone else excel. Pointing out people’s so-called defects made me able to feel better about those I imagined were mine.

As a drunk, it got worse.  I was a bombastic pain in the ass.  I alienated people right and left.  Simply didn’t know how to act — and didn’t care.  I was the smart guy.  I was the cop.  I was the martial artist.  I was the Mensa guy (another shot at proving I was as good or better than you).  I was the one who knew The Way Things Ought To Be.  I was the asshole.

Anyone relate?  A lot of you should….

Years in recovery have helped.  Meditation has helped.  Therapy has helped.  Living with a woman who tells me when I need to pay attention to my thinking has helped.  But I still have the days, especially when I’m driving (of course, I used to be a driving instructor, chauffeur, blah, blah, blah…) when there are far greater numbers of jackasses out there with me than one would reasonably expect.

I’m not, by any means, the guy I’d like to be.  But I’ll tell you this: every time I catch myself doing the judgment thing, it reminds me of how much worse it used to be, and that I can move onward, become more skillful, and that the program I’ve been trying to live by all these years really does work.

Sometimes I have to ask myself, “Just how big a jerk do you want to be today?”  That, and the fact that I’ve come to realize that it makes me look really bad, keeps me trying.

Journaling In Recovery

I’ve been journaling for going on sixty years, off and on. During that time I’ve filled up ledgers, spiral notebooks, diaries, the back pages of pilot logbooks, and several megabytes of disk space. My current drug of choice is the pocket-sized Moleskine notebook with the graph paper pages, or a similar one sold by Target for about half the price. Over the past few years I’ve started putting everything in it: shopping lists, notes to self, jotted addresses and phone numbers, the better to create a true daily record.

I say “drug of choice” because journaling has become an ingrained habit with me, if not actually an addiction. (Writing, on the other hand, qualifies fully, including withdrawal symptoms.) I’ve lost most of the journals I kept in my youth and through the years of my addiction; a shame, really, since if I had those I could actually write a book, although I can’t help thinking that the embarrassment factor might be seriously off-putting. Anyway, that doesn’t matter.

I do have my jottings for virtually all of the years I’ve been in recovery, and it has been highly instructive to go back and check out the cringe factor in those. When I read something and find it makes me squirm, I become aware of one more way that I’ve changed — or not changed — and it shows me a lot about my successes and also the areas where I need more work.

I consider my journals an integral and essential part of my recovery. For a couple of years I tried keyboarding, and it just wasn’t the same. I have to put pen to paper and actually write things down. My-wife-the-shrink informs me that physically writing things engages different parts of the brain, and the inability to make changes easily causes us to think more deeply and carefully about what we’re recording. I agree with that. I find that my handwritten musings have far more gut-level effect when I re-read them, so I have to assume that I’m digging deeper to begin with.

I require those I sponsor to journal, as well — those who know how to read and write. (The others go to literacy classes.) I give them each a notebook, so they’ll have no excuse for procrastinating. I don’t demand to read them, but when we meet I expect them to show me that they have been writing. Those who have remained sober and in contact often mention that they have continued to do so, and remark how much they get out of looking back at who they were early on. Some have remarked how much it helped them when they got serious about a 4th Step.

Try it. You may not like it, but you’ll benefit. The rules are simple: use the same book, use ink (no erasing), and write something every day — even if it’s just the date. No one but you will be reading it, so you have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Sometimes I do this…

Some of you will remember George Carlin. For those who don’t, he was a stand-up comedian (one of the best) back in the days when we still hitched our chariots to dinosaurs. In one of my favorite Carlin gags, he would walk onstage, stand in front of his stool and do a funny little wiggle and jerk, saying,

Sometimes I do this…(pause)

…and then I wonder why!”

When I was still acting out in my various addictions, I just thought that was funny. Carlin, who passed away in 2008, had his experiences with some of the issues I struggled with. He was no stranger to the world of doing strange things and then wondering why. Now that I’m a bit more introspective, I can see how George’s shtick totally applied to me then – and how it still does now, from time to time.

I suspect all alcoholics and other addicts can relate. Often we do impulsive things and then wonder why – especially in early recovery, but (in my case) pretty often even “a few 24 hours” in. I tend toward verbal gaffes myself, being now of an age when free-fall parachuting and extreme banjo-picking aren’t really practical, but there have been times when the credit card was smoking a bit for what later proved to be questionable reasons. The phrase “It seemed like a good idea at the time” still applies more often than I’d like.

As for early sobriety, I clearly recall an endeavor when I blew a lot of money on a pyramid scheme that I never came close to recouping. I think there are still a couple of water filters around here someplace.

When we’re active in our addictions, especially the chemical variety, the parts of our brains that control our decision-making are suppressed. When we start getting sober, it takes them quite a while to come back to normal (if they ever were normal to begin with). Some of us never completely develop those internal controls, and continue to experience impulsive behavior. Let’s not even talk about substitute addictions and continued suppression of our control functions.

I need to remember that. I was “in recovery” for a long time, and then I dropped my hidden addiction and started getting truly sober about 23 years later on. My thinking was that of an addict for probably more than 60 years, because my dysfunction began early. I still get those “wonder why” moments occasionally, and they rarely enhance the quality of my life.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe we aren’t checking out our bright ideas with supports. Perhaps we’re (still) not pausing to think for a moment before we speak, especially when we’re angry or frightened. I’m not suggesting any cures for that except mindfulness, working our programs, and generally checking in with our sponsors, therapists, and other supports – maybe even our partners – to talk about our issues and get some other folks’ perspective.

I realized some years ago that I was nowhere near as sober as I thought I was, and sometimes the unskillful ways slip back in. I still need to be careful. Do you?