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Just Let Go

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Ever heard this little piece of advice?  I’ve heard it over, and over again, and continue to hear it every time I am struggling with a problem I can’t resolve.  Just let go.  Just let go.  It’s like an echo reverberating in a canyon that repeatedly bounces off the walls of my resistance, refusing to be silenced.

 But, just because I hear It, that doesn’t mean I can apply it.  After all, like most alcoholics and addicts, I am a remedial learner. Yes, I understand the concept when I am able to look at it from a cerebral perspective.  But, if my emotions are all tangled up in whatever it is, forget it.  It’s like being strangled by the snarled, twisted roots of a giant tree, as they creep their way across the surface of my sanity. I can’t see the exit sign.  I become a  prisoner to the problem that holds me captive.

 How do I let go of someone or something that I happen to be so deeply invested in?  Would I be abandoning a loved one?  Or running from a situation whose only solution is written in the indelible ink that spells out my pseudonym; the fixer.

 And when should I do it?  Once I’m backed into a corner?   After the problem has beaten me to a pulp and I am struggling to my feet, hoping round thirteen will be the magic number;  deaf to the bell that has already announced my defeat?

 For me, letting go, always conjured up a vision of Tarzan making his way through the jungle, swinging in perfect rhythm, from vine to vine, hand over hand, safe in the knowledge that his mode of travel would never come to an abrupt end because he always had that next vine to hold on to.

 Then one day, when I was really grappling with an issue that was driving me mad, and I was reflecting on that jungle scenario, I asked myself, where is my vine?   And while I was pondering that mystery,  I happened to glance down at the latest issue of one of my favorite magazines laying on the coffee table.  It was flipped open to an article titled, Implementing your Faith. It was not an article that I would normally be drawn to as I am not exactly religious.  I do, however, have a Spiritual connection to something greater than myself.  And in the course of reading that brief article, I came to the realization that I was experiencing what some refer to as a God moment.

That was it, the lightbulb finally went off, and I was nearly blinded by its simplicity. Tarzan never truly let go without grabbing hold of his lifeline.  And we are never urged to simply let go;  but rather to let go and let God.  Difficult as that may be, today when I have given that problem my all, and I am forced to let go, like Tarzan, I instinctively reach for my lifeline and invite God in to resolve the matter.  And before I know it, I am in sync with my buddy, Tarzan, flying through life’s jungle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening the Toolbox

tool set on plank
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I was handed a toolbox to build a new life

A gift freely given to alleviate strife,

It contained all I needed to repair and reclaim

A flickering spirit in search of a flame.

 

How many tools do you have in your toolbox?  Is it time to add a few more?                              

In the beginning, I depended on just three essentials to lay my foundation:

Meetings, sponsorship, and the twelve steps.

 The meetings were the brick and mortar that gave me a sure footing in order to navigate the peaks and valleys that stretched ahead.  They provided a temporary shelter that housed a support system, where my equilibrium could be restored.  Inside the rooms of AA, reconstruction was soon underway.  Old ideas and beliefs that tethered me to my distorted view about the disease of alcoholism were swiftly replaced by new concepts, ones that promised hope instead of damnation.  I learned that recovery, once I put the drink down, would be a choice available even to me.  All I had to do was keep coming back and listen to folks who shared with me, the heartache of their addiction, and more importantly, the miracle of their recovery.

 After several months of trying to determine whether or not I was indeed an alcoholic, I felt I was missing something. Even though I wasn’t drinking, I was becoming stagnant.  Time to pick up another tool.  I needed something, or someone, to erect the scaffolding so I wouldn’t slip.

And low and behold, I looked around the rooms and found a sponsor.  She became the cement that held me together during my transition.  And in my case, it was it was a slow one.

Some days she was a hammer driving it all home, and other days a screwdriver, either dismantling the rusty hinges of negativity or securing the positive nuts and bolts of the program.

 In order to get to the next level, every structure requires a staircase.  In recovery, that ascension is determined by working the twelve steps of alcoholics anonymous.  Little did I realize that when I added them to my toolbox that they would be my forever go to in sobriety.  The steps were the key that unlocked the portal to a life that offered me peace, serenity, and above all the ability to face life on life’s terms without alcohol. 

 Now, I am neither a carpenter nor a builder, but somewhere along my thirty- one -year path to what I hope is quality sobriety,  I have managed to pack into that toolbox everything I need to construct a solid abode.  I’ve added daily meditations, The Big Book, service work, and an overstuffed portfolio of slogans.  My toolbox is bulging at the seams.

 What’s in your toolbox?

 

 

 

Staying Green

scenic view of rice paddy
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My favorite slogan

 

Soon after I found myself inducted into a twelve-step program, I discovered a whole new world of viable slogans.  In the beginning, I thought they were rather corny;  One day at a time, Easy does it, No pain no gain, Live and let live, they seemed to go on forever, a litany of foreign concepts.

But as I progressed in the program, without even noticing it, I found myself slowly incorporating them into my life,  applying them to a variety of problems,  even depending on them to reawaken the way I viewed things.

Recovery was allowing me to see life through a different lens and the slogans not only gave me a new perspective, but they could be quickly retrieved from my new toolbox.  It was like becoming fluent in a second language.

Overwhelmed by what might happen tomorrow?  One day at a time.  Uh oh:  House needs to be cleaned, kids got a ball game, report due tomorrow, fridge empty.  Feel a stroke coming on.  Where’s my Easy does it? 

No pain no gain was a bit more difficult.  As a matter of fact, I cringed every time I heard it.  Why in the hell was suffering of any kind necessary to my recovery?  But after a while, as I stumbled through disappointments and my share of life’s hardships, I realized it was those very upsets that drove me to get off my derriere, pick myself up and work my program.  Did it hurt?  Sure it did.  But if the pain hadn’t had driven me to look for solutions instead of drowning in self-pity, I would either remain stagnant or drift backward.

I had a slightly different version of live and let live.  Believing I was always open-minded,  I didn’t judge others or care what they did.  But buried in that belief, which I often prided myself on, was the mistaken assumption that it would prevent you from judging me.  As usual, I had an agenda.  Today I try to apply it to my inclination to put my nose where it doesn’t belong; like in my children’s business.

My favorite slogan and the one constant that I continually fall back on is Staying green.  It may be the very one that enhances the quality of my sobriety and prevents me from becoming apathetic about my recovery.  There is no graduation in a twelve-step program.  We are continually learning and hopefully improving.  Maintaining sobriety requires effort and a bit of creativity. 

Sticking to the basics; meetings, daily meditations, calling our sponsors and working the steps can sometimes seem so boring that we begin to wilt. So why not change up the meetings, take a road trip, go out of town, meet some new people.  Are your meditation books bound in rubber bands because they have come unglued from their spines?  Visit your favorite book store and splurge on a new one.   Only call your sponsor when you have a problem?  Try calling her with some good news,  or just to say Hi.

Not everyone works the steps the same.  But if it has been some time since you have formally worked them, try putting each one on a small sheet of paper, fold it over and place it in a help jar.  Then, when you are faced with a problem that needs to be resolved, pull one out.  You might be amazed to find that whichever step you selected, it will do the trick.

Staying green will quench your thirst when your program begins to feel a bit stale.  It is as simple as hitting the refresh button on your computer. The only requirement is that you open the browser.

 

Self-Honesty

woman wearing black dress lying on dry grass

“Truth or consequences?”

“Truth.”

“Do you think you are addicted?”

And my response to that question resulted in several more years of me, and the ones that I loved, and who loved me, paying the consequences.  It was not an intentional lie.  Instead, it was a skewed perception I had based on my keen ability to stay afloat in an ocean of denial.

Most alcoholics and addicts, even well into their addiction, sweat bullets as they strive daily to maintain that phony façade that supports their unfaltering battle cry that screams from the rooftops, everything’s just fine:  And let me tell you, I can attest to what a grueling, demanding job it is trying to prove it.

Working on a chain gang would be far less exhausting.  It takes tons of both physical energy and constant mental gymnastics to obscure the truth.   You become the sole performer in a three-ring circus.  One day you might be the clown, hiding your pain behind a twisted rendering of a plagiarized smile, the next day, you might be the elephant in the middle of the living room that your family tap-dances around to avoid looking at a reality no one is equipped to deal with.  Then, there are those days when in order to prove that you are up to the task,  that you become the ringmaster, juggling it all, and micro-managing everything and everyone to perfection, or so you think, just to camouflage what is really going on.

I was so proficient at distorting the truth that I bought everything’s just fine, lock stock and barrel myself.

I couldn’t see that the immaculately kept house was a poor substitute for an environment that ignored my children’s emotional needs.  Or that I was blind to the fact that while I was honing my culinary skills after a hard day’s work, attending P.T.A. meetings, and belligerently hauling my ass to little league games, that my children were wearing terminal frowns and spending most of their time at the neighbor’s house.

 In recovery, I learned that Cash register honesty has nothing to do with self-honesty.  Cash register honesty is not stealing other peoples property, or, if the cashier at the supermarket gives you back too much change, returning it.  Cash register honesty is rather obvious.

Self- honesty, on the other hand, can be quite subtle.  Some of its enemies are delusion, denial, and people pleasing.  Seeing myself as the martyred wife and mother, for example, was one of my favorites ruses.   Or when asked by my sponsor if I was ok, and responding in the positive when I could barely hold it together was another. 

But people pleasing was my number one fix.  I could tell you anything and everything you wanted to hear.  After all,  looking good was my end game.  I thought it belied what was evident to everyone else, that yes, I was addicted.  Truth.

 

 

 

 

Moving Day

 

Many of us lived too long in the slums of our mistakes.  We lived in a gated community, that in the beginning, appeared to be both exciting and appealing.  We roamed about freely in the fog of its deception, oblivious to the cost that it would eventually extract.  In our false sense of euphoric meanderings, we stumbled over our broken promises, inflicted pain, and became burdens to those we professed to love. We abused ourselves and others and continued down a dangerous road without as much as a quick glance in the rearview mirror. We hardly noticed the retreating exits as they slammed shut behind us.  Until that is, we were sealed in.  Suddenly we found ourselves gridlocked, flailing about in our own crap.

 Some of us searched endlessly for an escape route.  We considered a variety of ways out.  There seemed to be many options.  Paths marked:  You can do it alone; drink only on weekends, switch substances; only drink at home.  Some of us traveled down each and every road but to no avail. It wasn’t until we were exhausted and beaten to a pulp that we saw off in the distance, a small crack in what had become our prison.  It was just around the corner from the very last signpost.  Unlike the others, it offered no excuses,  led not to easy fixes, nor did it minimize the situation.  It simply read recovery and attached to it was a key to unlock the gate.

 For those of us who were willing to dump our false pride, box up our misery, and leave it behind in yesterday’s ruins, a new journey began.  The road was less rocky, the scenery was paved with petals of hope, and we were never alone.  Those who had traveled it before dotted each and every turn with outstretched hands and giving hearts.  The journey is not a means to an end, but rather a never-ending path to enrichment that gets better and better, one day at a time.

 Once clean and sober, we learn that in recovery we can participate in creating a brand new environment; one specifically designed to lift us out of the mire of our past and point us in a new direction.  Suddenly, we discover that we have choices.  A new future is spread out before us like pieces of a puzzle waiting to be fitted into the framework of our willingness to move forward.

 Who would have guessed that we could move into a new neighborhood chock full of hope and promise?

Holidays Then and Now.

Celebrating has taken on a new definition since recovery.

Close-up Photo of Leaves

In my using days I approached the holidays with a frenetic search for the wildest parties; where the flow of free booze was bountiful, the company raucous, and the music deafening.  Was I seeking fun and companionship?  Hell, no.  When I was sober,  I was extremely uncomfortable in those surroundings, I didn’t particularly like the people, the boring conversations, or the atmosphere.  So why did I bust my ass to be part of that scenario?   Because during the holidays I deduced that I could drink twice as much as I usually did, and it would be socially acceptable.  That reasoning even spilled over into our family gatherings.  During the Holidays we all trekked to the liquor store to stock up on the fancier pleasures:  Attractively decorated bottles of Vermouth, Brandy, Creme DeMint and good wines were, after all, a step up from the beer and bourbon which was our usual fare.  It mattered little that the irresponsible consumption by some of us would become the portal to heated arguments and the ruination of relationships.  The true meaning of the designated holiday was lost in the shuffle.

In early recovery, the Holidays can be extremely difficult.  A multitude of triggers are just lying in wait to coax the addict and alcoholic back out where their misery will be quickly refunded. Family functions rarely change because one member no longer imbibes.  Christmas parties carry on.  Temptation stocks the shelves of drug stores and grocery stores.  Alluring advertisements of the bubbly stuff blare their invitations a few decibels louder from your T.V.  And tantalizing, large as life figures offer you a few sips from towering billboards. There seems to be nowhere to hide.  Below are a few proven tips that might alleviate the constant bombardment.

1. Pick and choose which functions you are comfortable attending

2.  The same rule of thumb applies to both family gatherings and parties.  If you       must go,  take a recovering friend with you and make sure you are parked so you can make an early exit.

 3.  Avoid the aisles that displays the alcohol.

 4.  Leave the room or mute the commercials. Take that time to make yourself a cup of coffee with a favorite creamer, or savor a cup of tea with spiced mullings.

 5.  Keep your eyes on the road and avoid the temptation to fixate on the billboard splashing the booze from a crystal glass. 

6.  Volunteer, and do something kind for someone less fortunate than you.

7.  And last but not least, think about the true meaning of the holiday, and send up a prayer for the opportunity to redefine your definition of the word Holiday.

                                     Have a safe and joyous Holiday, all.

 

 

 

 

 

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