New research is starting to explore how gratitude works to improve our mental health…. many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.
Reservations are little ideas, beliefs and loopholes that we leave for ourselves. We reserve the right to hang on to them, not realizing that we are really protecting some aspect of our addiction. Most of us started recovery with some reservations. They may have gone like this:
- Opiates are my problem, a little drink now and then won’t hurt me;
- Alcohol just about ruined my life. I don’t ever want to drink again–of course, I’ll still smoke a little weed when I’m feeling stressed;
- I don’t relate well to other women, so I’ll need a male sponsor;
- If my mother died, I don’t see how I could handle it without picking up;
- They say we’re as sick as our secrets, but they can’t mean everything. I’ll never talk about that!
- They say no relationships for the first year, but a hookup isn’t a relationship!
- But I’ve found my soul mate! (Another one?)
We may be sincere about wanting recovery, and may be working diligently toward it: going to meetings, doing step work, and almost giving ourselves fully over to the program’s recommendations. But as long as we hold reservations, consciously or unconsciously, we are fooling ourselves.
One of the worst effects of reservations is that this kind of thinking keeps us from bonding with other recovering people. Recovery works because we are a fellowship with a common purpose: to stay clean and sober, and learn how to live that way. We do this by accepting that we can’t do it on our own, and that we need the guidance and support of others who have been successful at what we want to do. Reservations prevent us from developing the close, trusting relationships that make those things possible.
Fighting is so much a part of addiction—fighting for the next fix, the next drink, the time to use, protecting our ability to keep getting high—that we forget how to stop fighting. When we are able to relax and stop struggling, we begin to gain the benefits of our recovery program, along with a huge sense of relief.
The problem is that we may still be trying to control our addiction, when what we really need is to let go of that control, let go of our reservations, accept the reality that our addiction is far more powerful than we are, and that we must move away from our addiction, not stay and fight.
Once we are able to surrender, the feeling of relief is amazing! We are no longer forced to twist our thinking around so that we can try to have things two ways at once. We no longer push, push, push back against our program. We no longer have to deal with the stress of always trying to be right in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. We are, at last, able to relax and recover.
We must surrender before we can win!
Addiction is all about secrets. By the same token, recovery is about letting sunshine and fresh air into the hidden corners of our souls. In addiction we build ourselves a little fantasy world, a totally imaginary place where we go to hide when we act out. Continue reading “As Sick As Our Secrets”
Most of us wouldn’t stick our hands into a bag of rattlesnakes to find out if they’d bite.
If you don’t want to slip, stay out of slippery places.
Heard around the rooms
No plan survives contact with the enemy.
Ageless Military Adage
It is in the nature of human beings to try out new things. We hate change, but we love discovery. While this has led us to great advances, it can also get us into big trouble. Another adage that comes to mind is “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Continue reading “Slippery Places”
Taken down to its bare essentials, recovery is remarkably simple: replacing the habits and thinking of an addict with those of a physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy person. The key is “replacing.” If we remove a bad habit and leave an empty spot, it’s likely that other bad habits will slip into that space. Substitute addictions are an excellent example: eating, sex, gambling, excessive exercising, working, smoking and so forth. Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum — and so do addicts. Didn’t we spend a great deal of time and effort trying to fill our empty spaces?
It’s a good idea to start the day with healthy ideas and thoughts. I have two books that I read from each morning, meditating briefly on the ideas they bring. I’m on my second trip through one, and my first through the other. They help me start off in a recovery frame of mind, and with healthy ideas in my head that I can try to implement in my life throughout the day. I make notes of passages that particularly catch my eye, and ideas for things to write about. Often I’ll read a passage in the basic text of one of my recovery fellowships. The idea is to at least begin the day with my head in the right place.
Daily contact with other recovering people is another must for me. Texts don’t count. I need tones of voice and nuance, and my supports need to hear me. It’s easy to hide feelings in a text or email, and I need my supports to know the reality of what’s happening in my life, and as far as possible in my head. I have a core group of folks that I’ve been talking to regularly for years, and they can generally tell when I’m feeding them a load.
Addicts are loners. Even those of us who used around others never let our companions see who we really were, and heaven forbid anyone else should find out! In the process of supporting our legend, we got further and further from the reality of who we were in our own minds. People with poor self-esteem have to protect themselves, and there’s no such thing as an active addict with good self esteem. Which brings up supports.
As recovering people, the most important thing (after abstinence) is learning to trust others. We can’t get the unconditional love that we need without first trusting without conditions. This extends beyond the 4th and 5th Steps; it has to become a part of our daily lives.
We learn to trust by trusting. First, just a little bit: testing the waters. If that goes okay, then a little more, and then a little more. Eventually we learn who we can trust, but we can’t do that without taking at least a little chance. We do that by getting to know our peers in the program: first maybe a couple of people who sound like they know their way around sobriety, along with a couple of folks at our own level of experience. We make phone calls, talk after meetings, maybe go out for pizza. As we get to know them, we develop feelings about who we want for our “core group.” Those are the folks who go on speed dial, that we learn to turn to when things are bothering us. We need three or four of these folks.
We don’t develop relationships like that without trying. I tell the guys I sponsor to call me and three other people every day, and to note it in their journals. (At least they’ll have to open them for that, if nothing else.) My reason for insisting on that is simple: if we don’t get in the habit of calling our supports when we feel good, we’re not going to call them when the crap strikes the propeller. Instead, we’ll recoil back into our addict shells, and that’s the most dangerous place we can be when we’ve got trouble in our lives.
Meetings are a must. They’re available online, by phone, and obviously in person. There is absolutely no excuse for blowing off meetings. Newcomers need one every day. We spent far longer on our addictions than we’ll ever spend on our programs, so we need to knuckle down and take our medicine. I’m diabetic, so I take my metformin every day and watch my diet. I’m also an addict, so I go to meetings, talk to my supports, and watch out for people, places and things. Same difference.
There are dozens of other healthy things to add to our toolkit: meditation classes (I recommend at least a few), yoga, regular get-togethers with supports for fun and games or a movie, reading, bird-watching, hiking and other exercise (always in moderation), classes in all sorts of things — all the stuff that would have interfered with our acting out is now open to us. Some of us enjoy keeping a written record of what we’ve done, so we can go back and remember things we enjoyed (another new experience: wanting to remember).
The important thing is to do it! Leaning on our shovels and telling everyone how some day we’re going to own the company is no way to get long-term sobriety. Active addiction was the worse job we could ever have. Compared to that, a little work to get better is no big deal.
Scary, maybe, but no big deal.
When we first get into the rooms of recovery we hear lots of suggestions. Some of us take them seriously. Others see them as simplistic, and not applicable to people with experience/education/intelligence like ours. I plead guilty to a prolonged membership in that category; it didn’t help my recovery at all. I discovered, after paying a high price, that those suggestions definitely apply to me, and I’m still taking them.
It seems to me that people “in recovery” can be divided into two classes: recovering and getting by. I avoid “drunk”, “relapsed”, “dry drunk” and similar put-downs. While they’re useful in their way, they’re weighed down with derision and emotion. What I’m referring to here is folks who may be abstinent, but who aren’t getting all they could out of recovery. Continue reading “Building A Recovery Toolkit (Part I)”
I just celebrated my 28th year sober from alcohol and drugs. I write that only to indicate that I know something about this thing we call “recovery”, even if I haven’t done it perfectly.
Over the years I’ve heard and read many times that AA and the other 12-step programs don’t really work very well; that they are effective for only a relatively small percentage of people; that the statistics show — blah, blah, blah. Putting aside the fact that since those programs don’t keep statistics (So from whence came that so-called data?), I’d have to say that I agree with them, but only with a major qualification. Continue reading “It works, IF….”