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.

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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.

Relapse

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On ballerina slippers, temptation sneaks up from behind. Dressed in our disease, she does a silent soft-shoe, enticing us to turn around: to wallow in past mistakes, to bury ourselves in regret, to pull her out of the rearview mirror sheathed in the glamor of alcohol’s good times.

As temptation turns on her charm, she reaches into her bag of tricks and pulls out euphoric images of that first high.  The one we could never recapture, no matter how hard we tried. Feeling little resistance, perhaps because we have become lax in practicing our program, she continues to entice us.  Revving up her engine, target in sight, she takes dead aim at our vulnerabilities.  If we start to feel edgy, she gives us a nudge, reminding us of that momentary relief that a shot of Jack Daniels gave us. Engaging our ego, she replays those feelings of superiority, lust, and pseudo-independence that were as fleeting as they were fallacious.

And before we know it, that I don’t give a shit attitude emerges and we have played right into the hands of our disease.  Tottering on the edge, her claws digging into our fragile armor, our shield crumbling, we are faced with a choice:  A life of sobriety or the hell of addiction.

 Below are just a handful of relapse warning signs:

  1. Believing we will never drink again.
  2. Defensiveness
  3. Compulsive-Impulsive behavior.
  4. Immature wish to be happy.
  5. Irregular eating habits.
  6. Irregular sleeping habits.
  7. Loss of daily structure.
  8. Decreased attendance at AA or treatment meetings.
  9. Self -Pity.
  10. Thoughts of social drinking.

 If you are experiencing any of the above, consider using these tools to get you turned around.

  1. Serenity prayer
  2. Meditation books
  3. Increase meetings.
  4. Turn it over.
  5. Reach out, call your sponsor.
  6. Look at your halts.
  7. Lighten up.
  8. Cry if you need to.
  9. Find your sense of humor.
  10. Make a gratitude list.
  11. Use the steps to climb out of it.

Although relapse does occur, it is not a prerequisite in attaining and maintaining sobriety.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus Sobriety & Boredom

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Anger and resentments aren’t the only deadly triggers for alcoholics and addicts.  One of the others that comes to mind, thanks to this Pandemic, is plain, old fashioned boredom.

I have always found it particularly problematic because it sneaks up on us when nothing else of major significance seems to be going wrong in our lives.  Unlike a real or imagined crisis that sends us into panic mode, boredom doesn’t drive us into that escape lane where the only relief waiting at the finish line is calamity dressed in our drug of choice.

No, boredom whispers a malleable hint of discontent into our sobriety.  It isn’t something we can easily identify like anger or depression.  It becomes one of those phenomena that is so vague you can’t quite put your finger on it.  And that is what makes it so dangerous.  If we can’t name it, how can we combat it?

In early sobriety, there were times when boredom seemed to literally smother me.  I would become so discombobulated that I would grab my car keys, head out the door, and have no idea where I was headed.  Often, I simply drove around the block. But most of the time, I intuitively ended up at a meeting.  That had to be God doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself.  When I was bored, I was on a slippery slope and didn’t even recognize it.

So, right now, the coronavirus is placing us all in that hazard zone.  And who knows for how long it is going to last?  Now is the time for us to familiarize ourselves with the feelings of boredom.  Recognize the symptoms.  And determine how it manifests in each of us individually.  This is a period of self- introspection.  We must take this opportunity to name it, claim it, and find ways to combat it.

Now, is when we can take the initiative and look for innovative ways to spend time with our families.  After all, we are going to be stuck with each other for a while.  Get out the cards and board games.  Give the kids an extra hour or two on their Xbox.  Sort through the cookie recipes and turn the kitchen over to our future chefs and homemakers.  Never have enough time to organize those old photo albums.  Here’s your chance.  The kids will love it.

 Hey Mom, is that really you and Dad?  You’re bound to get a giggle or a belly laugh.

And, if you have no kids in the house or live alone:  How about those outdated magazines you never got around to reading, or some of those great books collecting dust on the shelves?  If you haven’t experienced binging, give it a shot, a relatively safe addiction, unless, of course, you are binging on the current news.

The aforementioned are just a few ways we can suit up.  If you have a few unique ideas of your own, how about sharing them via messenger with your friends, or posting them on Facebook?  Let’s boot boredom in the ass before it kicks ours.

 

 

Attitude Adjustment

 

In 1984 when Hank William’s song Attitude adjustment was gaining ground, my son Rick, with his son Justin in hand, translated its value in a quick trip to the restroom of Perkins Family restaurant. And guess what?  Justin ended up wearing its lesson for the rest of that day.

It was a rare family visit. At the time they lived in Utah, which is more than a hop, skip, and a jump from Wheeling WV.  Justin was the first grandchild, and of course, Grandma thought he was simply the cutest, smartest, and most loveable little kid in the universe.

I had spent the two days since they arrived lavishing Justin with my undivided attention, waning energy, and bright ideas of how to ensure that he was having the best time of his life.  I did everything but stand on my head and walk a tight rope to keep the circus going.

So, when Rick suggested we go out for breakfast that Sunday morning, I was all in.

Perkins was packed with Churchgoers and there was a fifteen-minute wait.   Rick gave me a should we stay look and I nodded yes, figuring it would be the same no matter where we went.  We took a seat in the alcove.  As soon as I lifted Justin up on my lap he began squirming and whining.  When he began tugging at his father’s coat sleeve, Rick picked him up and patiently whispered something in his ear.  Seconds later all hell broke loose. Justin wriggled out of his grasp and took off screaming down the center of the restaurant.  He collided with a server and damn near caused an elderly couple to wear, instead of ingesting, their breakfast.

Shocked, I watched in awe as my little angel transmuted into a bratty monster.  Rick took off after him and swooped him up before he did any real damage.  Onlookers, wearing a variety of expressions were sizing up the situation and forming their opinions about the lack of parental discipline.

Instead of joining me on the bench, Rick brushed by and calmly announced they were heading for an Attitude Adjustment, then disappeared around the corner and into the restroom.

I have no idea what transpired in those next three minutes, but whatever it was, I am guessing someone’s bottom could tell the story.

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Years later when I was introduced to a twelve-step program and became reacquainted with the phrase attitude adjustment, I was reminded of that incident in 1984 and understood its significance.

But how to achieve, and when do I need, an attitude adjustment can still be a real dilemma.

When I checked Merriman-Websters definition I found this:

A mental position with regard to a fact or state.

A feeling or emotion toward a fact or state.

Okay.  Is it helpful or destructive?  Is it negative or positive?  How does it affect me or you?

These aren’t easy questions since my emotions are usually enmeshed with my belief system, which isn’t always authentic.  Many of my opinions and beliefs are derivatives of parental and society’s influence and often override my sense of right and wrong.  Often, they are knee-jerk responses.  So, once I have wrestled with and untangled these elements, and am able to determine that an attitude adjustment is in order, how do I change it?

The miracle of twelve-step programs is that they give us little morsels of wisdom that leads us much like Hansel and Gretel to solutions that used to baffle us.   The avenues open to us are countless.  Attitude adjustments can be found buried in any one of the twelve steps.  Sponsors, who can be found either in person or by simply punching in a number on the keypad of our cell, can guide us.  And many of us have developed our own small library of daily meditation books that literally spell it out for us.  Finally, when all else fails, we each have a Higher Power who is always just a prayer away.

While others are likely to profit from my changed attitude on occasion, the primary beneficiary is always me.  And today, someone tells me I need an attitude adjustment, I usually succumb to their recommendation.

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