Who Am I?

(Discovered in the Twelve Steps.)

I found myself asking that question repeatedly as I worked the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Addressing it, to both myself, and my new- found Higher Power. Why was it suddenly so important?  Was it because the steps were constructing a path designed to lead me in a new direction; a road that would take me through a dense forest of denial, confusion, and one peppered with bits and pieces of a stranger that should be left behind? Could it be that I was developing a curious interest in myself?  One that was no longer garbed in familiar shades of self- contempt and condemnation?

I rarely bothered with these kinds of ponderings when I was drinking.  Perhaps I didn’t want to know because I wouldn’t like the answer. I spent a lot of time escaping that assessment. Because, Intuitively, I was, and had always been, aware of my character defects. I drudged them up almost every day, then tried to wash them down with another drink.  I had a damned good idea of who I was.

So here is how it worked for me through the steps of alcoholics Anonymous.

Step one: Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.

This was a concept that took some getting used to. But eventually, my rebuttal to where I had ended up in life began to dissolve with that indisputable knowledge.  And by repeating the words “I’m Dallas and I am an alcoholic” at every AA meeting, I became more and more convinced of the noose alcohol had tied around my emotional development and my ability to choose not to hide in the bottle.

Step two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

This one was a bit more difficult.  I wasn’t insane.  I was still working, taking care of my responsibilities, at least most of the time, and was never in jail or a mental institution.  And I had yet to be introduced to whatever, or whoever, that power greater than me was.  Could it be that the insanity was my addiction?  Not an excuse, to be sure, but a little insight into what influenced my behavior.

Step three: Made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

This step took me a while.  Not because I didn’t believe in some kind of a higher power, but because I thought he was too busy to bother with someone as tainted and inconsequential as me.  Thankfully, expediency is not a prerequisite in AA.  Eventually, with the help of my sponsor and the program, I got it.  And once I figured it out, decided that it didn’t matter if I trusted God.  He trusted me.  And as important as He Is, He wouldn’t be wasting his time on a low life. 

Step four:  Made a searching and moral inventory of our selves.

Unlike many who bulk at this step, I wasn’t hesitant.  I was ready to jump right in.  like I said, I knew all of my character defects and was ready to face them, if it meant I was heading in the right direction.  What I didn’t realize was that an inventory meant taking stock of my assets as well as my defects.  It was during the working of this step that I began to realize that beneath the refuse pile, there lurked a glimmer of hope.  Something worthwhile, was waiting in the shadows to be excavated.  And I was accumulating the tools to do just that.

Step five: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

“Whoa,” I said.  “Let’s put on the brakes.”  But the train had already left the station I’d made a commitment.  I had already fed my sponsor crumbs, a few bits, and pieces here and there of my past.  And there had been no recriminations. As a matter of fact, she had neither criticized, nor turned her back on me.  So, with fear and trepidation, in a three-hour window, I began to shed my burden.  Page by page I read my fourth step aloud and she listened with an expression of love and acceptance.  And for the first time in my life, I felt safe and unashamed.  On that afternoon, she told me something I have held onto for years.

“Dallas, you are becoming the person God has always intended you to be.”

And that declaration became the framework that inspired me to begin the odyssey of discovering just who Dallas was. The steps leading up to that moment, and the ones that followed, helped me peel away the damaged fabric, layer by layer, that no longer served a purpose. 

Step six:  Were entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.

By this time, I had somewhat reluctantly allowed God into my life.  And I was cognizant enough to realize that I could not achieve this on my own.  That cocky self-reliant attitude that I shoved in the face of those who tried to help or guide me in the past was slowly dissolving.

Step seven:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

The defining word here is humbly. Without false pride or a puffed- up ego.  I was learning a lot about ego and the seductive ways it worms itself into our behaviors and our personalities.  And I knew that it would require a lot of restraint to subjugate that ego.  Visions of a new me were beginning to cumulate.

Step eight:  Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

I began to stall on this step.  Fear started to creep in.   But then my sponsor reminded me that this step was simply to make the list.  I could draw on my fourth step for help.  So, I did as was suggested, a remarkable occurrence to say the least. Who was I?  At that point, someone willing to take instruction.

Step nine:  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.

I really didn’t need to use the fourth step as a template, I knew damned well who I needed to approach.  My three children were at the top of that list, and that was what was causing me so much angst.  Could they ever forgive me for not being there for them emotionally because I stuffed every problem I ever had into the bottle, thinking it would somehow magically disappear? 

“Dallas,” My sponsor took my hand, “This step was not designed to solicit forgiveness.  It is about becoming accountable.  Taking ownership of our actions.  How it is received, is not the point.”  Then she added, almost as an after-thought, “There is another person you need to put on that list.  Someone you have been beating up for a longtime.  Because if you don’t, it will stand in the way of your becoming that person you want to be, one free of the weight, that bogs you down.” I gave her a quizzical look.  “You have to forgive yourself.”

Once I tackled this step to the best of my ability, those that remained were enhancements that offered so much more than just relief.  They gave me the structure that lends impetus to my daily effort in becoming a better version of myself.

Step ten:  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

I’ve heard many say they do this every night by reviewing their day and reexamining their responses to situations that may have been uncomfortable.  And if an apology is required, doing so.  What seems to work best for me is to try and be alert, and aware of my faux pas as they occur and remedy them on the spot, so I don’t have to worry about making a formal apology.  Still have a way to go on this becoming the kind of person God intends me to be. 

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

Today, I incorporate six meditation books into my morning prayer routine.  Though I may not be able to recall the text in each message, the gist of these positive inspirations seems to have an inherent influence on my day. 

Step twelve:  Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principals in all our affairs. 

My spiritual awakening has been an ongoing metamorphosis, a shedding of beliefs and behaviors that are no longer conducive to my growth.  The steps have given me a sense of who I am, and as long as I do the best that I can on any given day, I no longer have to grapple with some unattainable image of perfection or Sainthood.  I can simply continue to become…?                                                                    

Feeling Despondent

Feeling despondent is foreign to me.  So, when I was contemplating writing about it, I had no idea what direction it would take.  I’m not even sure that is what I am feeling, but despondent is close enough today.

I am, by nature, a relatively positive person.  I am sure there are some who may view that as me having a Pollyanna disposition, and that’s okay.  I’ve probably been called worse in my lifetime.  But that really does not apply.  I am not naïve. Beneath the smile and what may appear to be an irresponsible attitude, an underlying current of foreboding swells and flows in my invisible ocean of fear.  Does that require me to adopt negativity as my companion?  No.  Nor does it obligate me to don a menacing mask that drags others down.  Misery loves company need not apply.

So, I am aware of concerns and consequences.  And today I am weighed down with the reality of the pandemic to which the entire world has been subjected.  To date, only one family member has contracted COVID-19, and he is on the road to recovery.  Maybe this tug on my normal resilience is embedded in that “Who’s next?” And when is the other shoe going to drop syndrome?

If you’re wondering why this nagging pondering was deemed fitting for a recovery blog, it’s because it is.  Addiction, whether to drugs or alcohol, tends to exacerbate all of our fears, our inadequacies, (imagined or not} and a host of other negative emotions. So how do we overcome these damaging anxieties?

In our twelve- step programs we learn that acceptance is the key to all of our problems.  That doesn’t mean we have to like the situation, but before we can deal with it, we must at least acknowledge it.  And today I’m doing that by putting down the word despondent on this stark white sheet of paper where it can no longer be denied.  I might even go to rhyme zone, look up the synonyms and see how many apply and which ones do not.

By parsing it, I am likely to get in touch with how I really feel.  This is part of my acceptance process.  I get to decide that yes, perhaps I am sad, glum, and weary.  But I am not hopeless, heartsick, or disconsolate.  So many descriptions; each word carrying so much weight.  If they all applied, I would be overburdened to the point of true despair. 

The good news is that already I am beginning to feel better. This one little exercise has helped to lift me out of my predicament.  And even if it is only temporary fix, it gives me an opportunity to apply the other tools available to me;  remembering to stay in the moment, picking up the phone and sharing my feelings with another alcoholic, or going to a meeting.  My toolbox is brimming, full of instruments at my disposal.  All I have to do is unlock it.

“I’m Dallas, and I’m an alcoholic.” Admitting vs Accepting

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What Self-Love Means 20+ Ways to be Good to Yourself

Two of the most difficult hurdles I had to overcome in my recovery journey were admitting, and then accepting, the fact that I was an alcoholic.  In my case, it was a three-year odyssey that ushered me through a maze of novel experiences, confusion, and a few subtle awakenings before I understood the difference.

Like most of us in recovery, I have one of those minds that incessantly craves answers.  And I seldom rest until I get them.  Back in early sobriety, every question mark became a signpost pointing me in the direction of yet another mission.  What, I pondered, was the difference between admitting and accepting my disease?  The mystery loomed heavy in my mind as well as in my heart.  It lurked in my angst and gnawed at the tiny bits of serenity that I was managing to accumulate.

When I checked the dictionary and thesaurus for definitions of both, I concurred with everything I found describing admitting:  Acknowledging, confessing, disclosing, declaring, and divulging seemed indisputable.  Every synonym hit the nail on the head.

But as I perused the same reference books for the word acceptance, I was given pause.  A few of the definitions made me uncomfortable. What I found was:

Verb: tolerate or accommodate oneself to.

Verb:  react favorably to; consider right.

Neither sat well with what acceptance meant to me.  I have always viewed the word tolerate to have a negative connotation.  It seems to insinuate allowing something offensive to be forced on me.  And then to consider, right, all things that must be accepted, I could never digest.

More palatable were some of the following synonyms:  to consent, yield, undertake, assume, bear and shoulder. 

Today, my view of acceptance means absorbing reality, allowing it to enter my very being without resistance, permitting it to become a part of my whole. It means giving up the fight in a tug of war, avoiding those painful rope burns I once wore like a badge of courage.

 What does it take for someone to accept those blemishes they consider to be major flaws?

For starters, courage, trust, and risk are required.  And the only way I acquired them was by believing in the process of recovery, putting one foot in front of the other, taking suggestions, and being patient in the interim.

Once I quit questioning everything, my focus could return to what was transpiring on a daily basis.  I was attending meetings, reading my meditations, working the steps with my sponsor, and learning the meaning of fellowship.  And on those days when moving forward meant two steps forward and one step back, I was ok with that.  Time passed, as time does, and before I realized it, I had gathered an arsenal of tools along the way.  And I began to feel better, not only about myself, but about the world in general.

Meeting after meeting, those words” I’m Dallas and I’m an alcoholic,” rolled off my tongue as natural as my morning prayers.  Readily divulged with no qualms because I knew in my heart it was true.  Then one Friday night, on the third- year anniversary of my sobriety date, those words took on an entirely different meaning.  Awestruck, I was powerless to describe what had happened, but I knew I had just experienced some kind of an unexplained phenomenon.

 The following morning as I brushed my teeth, I found myself staring in the mirror as unfamiliar words played over and over in my head.  Unable to turn away, my eyes glued on the reflection in the mirror, I began to reiterate a silent addendum that has become my silent mantra:

“I’m Dallas, and I’m an alcoholic; I’m a mother, a grandmother, a dependable employee, a devoted daughter, and an okay child of God.” 

 The odyssey had finally ended.  The road to acceptance of my disease ran parallel to the path of self-acceptance, warts, and all.  The two were now conjoined at the heart and soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Self-Love Means 20+ Ways to be Good to Yourself

 

In search of Happiness

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In search of happiness

I found

Contentment

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Back in the day. The word happy had nothing but negative connotations for me.  Even as a child I didn’t think it was really attainable, at least not for me. I believed I was born a flat liner, bereft of those feelings experienced by others. 

My perception of happy was the carefree attitude of my younger sister and too many others like her.  Those who were not tethered to low self-esteem and were free from the nagging constraints and insecurities that plagued me.  I’ve often thought I popped out of the womb an adult, albeit not a very mature one.  In middle school, I can remember thinking how silly and what a waste of time it was to get excited over after school activities, boys, or even engage in innocent girlie gossip. I considered myself above those childish pursuits.  Even then, I suspected that that kind of thinking was not the norm.

I struggled for a lot of years trying to figure it all out, especially after I entered AA and the fog lifted.  My go-to: That this was the hand I was dealt, so play it, was beginning to grow old. The temptation to blame it on the genetic predisposition for alcoholism manifesting itself in early isims didn’t hold water because my happy freewheeling sister shares the very same disease.    I wondered if my birth order played a part.  After all, I was the oldest and assumed the role of the responsible sibling, allowing Sissy to delight in her role.

The bottom line is that what contributed to it, whether it was a warped personality or another genetic curse, didn’t matter. It was what it was.

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One of the gifts of a twelve-step program is that if you hang around long enough you will be provided an invaluable new dictionary.  One that transfigures old perceptions about useless, worn-out beliefs embedded in the language we often used to describe ourselves.  Maybe the notion that I would never be happy was a myth.  Perhaps I had been looking for it in the wrong places; like the bottle, and romantic relationships.  Both of which had failed and abandoned me every time.

Needing to focus on my sobriety that first year, I put the search for happiness on hold and concentrated on working the steps with my sponsor and going to meetings. Eventually, I incorporated prayer and reading daily meditation books.  As the clock ticked away some of my anxiety for at least that one hour spent in the meetings, and the pages of the calendar flew by, a transition was silently occurring. 

Without even noticing it, I had become less self-absorbed.  Instead of begrudgingly making a gratitude list, at the urging of my sponsor, I put it at the top of my daily agenda.  It was called to my attention that I was smiling more.  I was becoming less defensive.  And brick by brick, I was taking down my wall.

I began to notice the cleansing scent of a morning shower, the splendor of a sunset, the magnificence of a single rose.  I found myself tearing up at the drop of a hat as the beauty that surrounded me every day, tugged at my heartstrings. 

God had opened my new dictionary and bookmarked the feeling I had been searching for all my life.  It was the preamble on my journey to serenity.  And it was spelled CONTENTMENT.

 

 

No pain-No Gain

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 Say what?  Early on, when I would hear that somewhat perverse phrase being bandied about the rooms of my twelve-step program, I would cringe. Why, in order to move forward, would anyone be required to experience pain?  It made absolutely no sense to me at all.  And it certainly was not a philosophy I subscribed to. 

The import of those four words, however, did ring familiar. My sister who beat me into recovery by three years never tired of trying to impress upon me that the only way to get to the other side of pain was to go through it, rather than walk around it.  And I always thought she brought that little gem home from her therapy sessions: Interesting analogy.

Pain was my justification for diving into the sacred font of alcohol.  Not only was alcohol a rational choice, but It was convenient and accessible.  It was an escape hatch that I was familiar with, long before my own baptism into this disease.

Growing up in an in environment where alcohol seemed to provide relief from the day to day stress of life in general, I viewed it as a miracle elixir; a cure-all for most of life’s problems. I remember when my dad wanted to escape my mom’s nagging, a trip to the corner bar seemed to work.  Hours later when he returned, he would be all smiles, the tension siphoned into that second or third, or maybe the fourth, draft beer.

But, before he took off his jacket, the fireworks would begin. Arguments often ensued for hours, and by the end of the evening, his stress was two-fold, as was mine, my mom’s, and my sister’s.  But I did not see that, then, nor later, when I was in my own addiction.

The reality was, instead of issues getting resolved, the pattern of using alcohol to escape life and its pain, and the ensuing consequences were repeated again, and again.  The can was kicked down the alley and solutions were sacked on the forty-yard line.

                                                               **********

From the beginning, my drinking career was based on escape.  Whether from feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy, fear of people and social situations, or emotional abuse; I seemed to be aimlessly drifting downstream into the ocean of alcohol.  That temporary life-raft became a ton of bricks weighing me down in my own passivity.  Without realizing it, I had voluntarily submitted to true powerlessness.

I finally had to ask myself:  Did alcohol miraculously instill in me the confidence I envied in others?  Did it really put me at ease with people and situations where I could carry on an intelligent conversation without the nagging butterflies and sweaty palms?  It may have allowed me to hide in the corner, or prompted me to make an ass out of myself, but it did not attain that burning desire to fit in.  And whatever payoff I thought I had netted; it was not sustainable. 

Then there was the emotional pain I lived with for years.  The abuse, that was as loud as thunder and as oppressive as an onerous gray sky forcing me to my knees; that pain that I saw, heard, and felt, yet was invisible to the world.  Invisible, because shame prompted me to hide it behind a phony smile and an everything’s fine response.

In my addiction, I did not realize that I had choices.  Every time I was faced with an opportunity to make a troubling decision or turned my back on the fact that my children were as threatened by my domestic situation as me, I hid in the bottle, thinking tomorrow everything would be better.  But nothing ever changed; nothing ever got better. My husband had taken me hostage, but it was my inability to act, that took my children hostage.

Coming to grips with that reality was equivalent to being hit over the head with a sledgehammer. It was devastating.  The escape hatch slapped shut, and I was forced to sit with the pain, like it or not.  And the most valuable lesson that I have learned in recovery is that action is the antithesis of escape. 

Today, when I am sponsoring other women: no pain-no gain is my little tagline after the twelve steps.