Rituals and Recovery

 

Rituals, especially for those of us in recovery, can impact the quality of our sobriety.  Established early on, mine has remained basically the same throughout the years.  They require minimal effort on my part and include prayer and reading my daily meditations.  They are my number one priority every morning.  No matter how lackadaisical I might be in other areas of my life; no matter what kind of a mood I wake in, or no matter that I might be running late, I rarely leave the peace and quiet of my home without taking the time to gear up for the day ahead.

 We can’t live in the safety of meetings all day or be constantly attached to the umbilical cords of our sponsors, so establishing a healthy sobriety routine is monumental to our recovery.  Most of our lives are spent out there in the real world where there are not a lot of safety nets, so suiting up for whatever kind of foul weather might be lurking around the corner, is pretty damned important.

 I probably started out with two or three books, which were more than enough in the beginning.  Early on it was hard to focus.  I chose them according to what I happened to be working on at the time.  One of my favorites was a meditation book for Adult Children of Alcoholics.  I finally gifted that one to one of my children and moved on to a variety of others.  Some I have read so many times that they are not only dog-eared but are bound now with rubber bands.  Good thing they are dated and numbered as I have had to scrape them up off the floor and put them back in order more than once.

 Some days I can recall what I have read and others days they are relegated to the furthermost corners of my subconscious where they provide little more than an aura of comfort.  I used to worry about that, not being able to retain those pearls of wisdom, thinking that perhaps I was reading too many meditation books.  But then I decided that those lost words of wisdom are simply being saved for some future crises.  Not to worry.  In another 365 days the same message will pop up again and maybe I will grasp it then, in its entirety.

 My morning prayers consist of entreaties for the health of loved ones;  gratitude for all I have, wisdom for our world leaders, and prayers for everyone in the path of Mother Nature’s disasters.   Then last but not least, I shoot up a special request that my Higher Power might bless me mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. 

 I am well aware that these all require a conscious effort on my part.  Mentally might entail reading something worthwhile, multitasking at work, working a puzzle, painting, or in my case sitting down to a keyboard.  There are hundreds of forms of mental stimulation but I have to seek them out and apply them.  Even when I don’t want to.

 Physically, is the most challenging for me.  I am naturally a bit lazy. I sit at a desk all day and have arthritis, so while going to the gym may not be at the top of my list of things I enjoy, it has become a necessity.  I am a firm believer in self- talk and mind games, as long as they aren’t detrimental to me or anyone else.  So what do I do?  I developed this really short prayer:  God, please kick my ass over to the gym.  Weird, huh?   But it works and when I have finished my workout I say, Thanks, God for kicking me in the ass. The way I see it I have no choice, I have to go.   Otherwise, I would be setting God up, right? 

 Spiritually, has never been a problem for me because I continue to attend meetings where I get Good Orderly Direction (GOD).  And of course, my daily meditations set the stage for even my imperfect Spirituality. 

 And last but not least is emotionally, which for me, has become a pleasant surprise because I realize that it is a by-product of the other three.

 The rituals of sobriety can be as autonomous as any one of us choose.  The important thing is that we make them our own by practicing them on a daily basis until they become an integral part of our recovery.  So if you haven’t crafted any for yourself yet,  get busy.  All it takes is practice, practice, practice.

 

Dallas H

 

 

 

 

 

 

The three deadly D’s

Delusion=Denial=Deception

 

 Delusion:      A false belief or impression.

 Denial:         The refusal to accept something unpleasant.

 Deception:  Deceiving.  A trick, or a ruse

 

Most of us alcoholics and addicts, at one time or another in our bourgeoning desire to appear ok, have practiced all three of these self-destructive, sleight of hand ruses.  It’s how we coped with a life, out of control.  Like a chameleon, at the drop of a hat we could change our personas by slipping in and out of a variety of roles, as well as beliefs, that we thought would make us acceptable.  I, personally, had delusion down to a fine art.

 Four years into recovery, I fell in love with a Viet Nam Vet who was plagued by combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and was hauling around plenty of other baggage.   I had witnessed, time and time again, the manifestation of that P.T.S.D.  The off the chart anger that could skyrocket from zero to ten in a heartbeat:  The trigger could be anything from a loud noise to an inconsiderate driver, to a humid rainy day that catapulted him back to the Jungles of Viet Nam. 

 But it was the periodic, unannounced, dashes cross country that rattled me the most.  They were erratic and unpredictable.  The first time it happened, I received a call from one of the salesmen at the Buick dealership where he was the manager.  It was 8:00am.

 “No, Randall’s not here.”  He cupped his hand over the receiver, but I distinctly heard the remark made to another employee.  “What do you mean he’s on the run again?”

 “Sorry, ma’am.”  His tone was conciliatory.  “I just meant this isn’t the first time Randall has left us in the lurch.  When we came in this morning his keys were hanging on the rack but not a trace of him anywhere.  The last time this happened he ended up in North Dakota.”

 That was his response to overload.  Pack up Old Blue, (the fifteen- year old station wagon) and disappear for weeks at a time, often to wherever his daughter and ex-wife resided. His nickname at the dealership was Ramblin Randall.

 As the relationship deepened, I sought all of the information I could garner about P.T.S.D.  I joined Vet support groups,  spent hours on-line researching, and prayed for understanding.  But the behaviors continued.  Then one evening, fraught with confusion, as I  wrestled with the decision of whether or not to jump in with both feet and tie the knot, I took the dilemma to an AA meeting, and shared what was ballooning into a gnawing fear, with the group.  An older member, a preacher who I admired very much, and in fact, I was going to ask him to officiate, approached me after the meeting.

“Dallas, his voice was brimming with concern, “You’re not assuming that you can fix him, are you?”

I flinched at the mere suggestion.  Surely, my friend realized that I had four years of sobriety and therapy under my belt.  How could he suggest such a thing?  Wasn’t I exhibiting the very essence of emotional maturity and recovery by sharing my concerns?

 Years later, when I reflected back on what transpired that night, and my bizarre response to that question, I’m not trying to fix him, I’m just going to provide an atmosphere where he can feel safe,  I came to understand the power of denial, delusion and deception.

 In the first place, I minimized the situation by avoiding some of the major issues and inserting all of those tricky little words intended to downplay and excuse his behavior.  Words like: if, only, but, and because drove my narrative that evening.

 And yes,  you guessed it.  I married him anyhow, just as I had intended to do all along.  Our marriage lasted a total of two and a half years.  And the only person I managed to deceive, was me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elephant in my Living Room.

Denial runs to the shadows to protect itself.

 

Darkness protects us from seeing things we would rather not see.  It provides a hiding place for all of those painful emotions and glaring character defects that we refuse to ferret out by shining the light of truth and courage on what may at first appear to be just a tiny bump in the road.

The darkness is not an ebony hue in a box of crayons or a shadow cast by the slant of the sun.  It is something far more pervasive that plays hide and seek inside our emotional sobriety.  It might begin as a benign tumor (a tiny remark intended to discount us) one that our trusty broom of denial swiftly sweeps under the carpet one crumb at a time.  Or, maybe it is that first fist in the face that a vase full of roses, issuing an apology, erases from our common sense.

Our instincts are to protect our fantasies at all costs.  For many of us, who have stumbled down that twisted path of perfectionism, ignoring the truth is preferable to disclosure.   After all, what would people think?

Throughout much of my married life, I overlooked inexcusable behavior.  I tucked it away in a skewed definition of the word understanding; that misconstrued concept that allowed me to become a martyr and prolong the practice of self- deprecation.

Warning signs were everywhere, but I became quite adept at ignoring them.   I was quite defensive when trusted friends attempted to strip me of my illusions.   What I failed to understand, was that by failing to admit that there was an elephant in the middle of my living room, I had taken three innocent children hostage in a maze of madness.

Opening the shades and inviting the truth in didn’t happen overnight.  It was a slow process that was dependent on outside help.  But eventually the blanket was lifted, and that space once occupied by the elephant became a harbinger of full disclosure.

Denial is the blindfold we wear to our own execution.  Bring it out into the light of day.  It can only thrive in the seductive shadows of our own insecurities.

Pt 4 Interview Shaking the Family Tree

Eric:  What can addicts take away from the book?

Ans:   In addition to the aforementioned, perhaps a better understanding that  escape isn’t the answer.  That recovery requires courage, a desire to rejoin the human race, and the willingness to make the effort.  And, that the rewards of sobriety far outweigh those temporary highs that eventually turn on you and rob you of your family, your friends, and any values you may have had before entering the bleak world of addiction.

Eric:  Do you remember when you finally started to get in control of the alcoholism and how did that differ from the other times you tried?

Ans:  With the exception of one instance about three years prior to my putting it down for good, I wasn’t convinced I had a real problem, so I guess that struggle, that tug of war, didn’t apply to me.   That instance was just a little test I gave myself.  I decided to quit for a week, and it lasted all of three days.   When I quit for good, it was a combination of the educational aspect of the disease and the lifting of the denial that I experienced in my short, but intense rehab stint.  I guess I was finally willing to commit.  I think my Higher Power was doing for me, what I could not do for myself.

Eric:  In your opinion, what makes AA work to help people?

Ans:  It is definitely the fellowship.  The support of those who not only understand but who are truly rooting for you to succeed.  For me personally;  meetings, sponsorship, working the twelve steps on a daily basis, and reading my meditation books are the bricks and mortar that got me sober and continues to keep me sober today.

Eric:  Looking back at your past in your book, what do you think is the most important thing alcohol took from you?  

Ans:  The gift of choice, which in my case was tied to my inability to face life on life’s terms.  Every time that I was presented with an unpleasant situation that required making a decision, I took a drink, hoping and even expecting, that tomorrow everything would be different, no action required.  And of course, it wasn’t any different, nothing ever changed.  Alcohol was the loophole I used to escape taking responsibility for everything.  I drank to escape all of life’s uncertainties and remained in a cell of my own inertia.

Eric:  What’s the biggest difference between life with alcohol and life without it?

Ans:  I can sum that up in two examples:  When I was still drinking, I had this big black coffee mug that had my attitude about life inscribed in bold gold letters:  It said, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”  I coupled that with the philosophy that this is the hand you were dealt, now deal with it.  Today, if you would happen to be tail-gating me, take a look at the bumper sticker that reflects my life today.  Happy, Joyous and Free.

Eric:  What is your advice for someone who is struggling with addiction?

Ans:  I would tell them to reach out.  We only get to go through this thing called life once.  Don’t short-change yourself.  There are people you don’t even know yet waiting for you with open arms.

pt 3 Interview Shaking the Family Tree

Eric:  How hard was it reliving certain moments while writing this book?

Ans:  It was quite difficult.  I was revisiting a lot of pain.  Pain that is especially raw when faced sober.  Most of the time I keep all of that in the rear-view mirror; not to be forgotten but at a safe distance.

Eric:  One of my favorite parts of the book is the part where you talk about the collage.  What does the collage mean to you?

Ans:  Working on that collage was definitely a pivotal point in my recovery.  I had only been sober a few months and was enrolled in group therapy sessions for Adult Children of Alcoholics.  One of the assigned tasks was to create a collage of photos that expressed how we felt about ourselves and our lives.  Since I had been a flat-liner most of my life and had chosen to drown all of those scary, unwanted feelings with alcohol, I had a hard time wrapping my head around that assignment.  I gathered up all kinds of periodicals: National Geographic, Psychology Today and my art magazines, and began cutting and pasting.  The process was transformational.  I would work on it at intervals, and when it became too painful, and I could no longer see through the river of tears, I would set it aside for a few days, but never out of sight, and return to it when I felt strong enough to deal with what it revealed.  I discovered that I did have feelings after all.  And I began to understand why I stuffed them.  They were all negative.  The finished product was a huge poster-board full of fear, anger, and sadness.  The only sliver of hope was a small section dedicated to my grandchildren.  I still have it.  faded and tattered as it is I use it once in a while when telling my story.  And when I look at it today, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that it is a relic that belongs to yesterday.

Eric:  What can non-addicts take away from this book?

Ans:  Hopefully a little better understanding of the disease.  The knowledge that no one is immune.  That it can strike anyone, at any time regardless of social status, gender or age.  And that not everyone has to ride the elevator of addiction, which only goes down, to the bottom.  That some are lucky enough to get off on another floor.

 

What drove me to write Shaking the Family Tree. Part 1.

I will be posting excerpts from my interview with Eric Bergstrom, the DJ at Bay Cities radio in  Marinette/Menominee, Wisconsin.  It pretty much explains it all.

Eric:  Your new book Shaking the Family Tree is about your life.  How does it feel to lay your life out on paper for all to see?

Ans:  Because it is written anonymously, it was not a big concern.  Even though the intent was to protect the anonymity of those who are part of my story,  I’ve come to understand through recovery, that my story is not so different from that of many other alcoholics.  The element of shame and guilt that I experienced early on has dissipated over the years, thanks to the fellowship and support of a couple twelve-step programs.

Eric:  What does writing mean, and do for you?  Is it a therapeutic exercise?

Ans:  Writing, putting it out there in black and white where it can’t be denied, or you can’t take it back, can be both painful and therapeutic at the same time.  It filters and helps put in some kind of order,  a lot of the confusion about events, and the feelings that accompanied those events.

Eric:  What led you to the writing of this book?

Ans;  In the beginning, I was simply going to write a chapbook of poetry that focused on alcoholism because I felt I knew a little bit about it.  When I approached my author, Brittiany Koren, she posed a simple question.  She said, “Why don’t you give us some examples from your own life that will help us understand?”  And it ballooned from there. The memoir was not the original intent.

Eric:  What were you hoping to accomplish with the book?

Ans:  There are two very specific things:  First of all, I wanted to be able to leave my children and grandchildren something useful.  Something tangible and from my heart.  Once I was in touch with the direction that this endeavor was headed,  I wanted to impress upon them the knowledge that this predisposition for alcoholism is part of their legacy, and just where it could take them, once unleashed.  And I wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t come across as preachy or threatening.  I guess you might say I had a hidden agenda.  Secondly, and equally important. my hope is that by sharing my story, which really isn’t so unique, that those afflicted, their families and loved ones, will come to understand that no one has to go through this alone;  that there help out there, in a variety of forms.  And above all, that there is hope.

PART TWO TO FOLLOW SOON.