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Loss of Spirit

August 19th,1987.  Day one of a seven-day voluntary (well, kind of voluntary) stay at Chit Chat Rehab in Reading, Pa.  I wasn’t there, mind you, because I was addicted to anything:  I was there at my sister’s persuasion, whose monetary generosity made it possible.  The program was geared to those affected by a relative’s or loved one’s addiction.  That included spouses, significant others, children, parents, and everyone ese in between.

I qualified on at least two levels.  My oldest son had graduated three months before my arrival at Chit Chat from their thirty-day drug and alcohol program.  And, I had been attending, reluctantly, at my sister’s insistence again, support meetings for adult children of alcoholics.  Oh, and did I mention the fact that she herself had attended the thirty-day drug and alcohol program in 1984? 

I was feeling akin to the three river tributaries in Pittsburgh, all emptying into the same ocean of addiction and dysfunction.

The newbies were arranged in groups of ten and herded into a classroom.  We were seated facing a large chalkboard. I didn’t know about the others, but I was edgy as hell.  I could feel the corners of my mouth turn down succumbing to the familiar nervous twitch beyond my control.  A photographer was sandwiched in between two female counselors, serving as bookends.  The counselors flashed us a conciliatory smile and proceeded to introduce themselves.  We later learned that the function of the photographer was to capture and compare our morale before and after our shared experience at Chit Chat.

After the photo shoot, our attention was directed to a large white banner draped over the chalkboard.  Beneath the heading Alcoholic vs Co-dependent were two columns with words in bold black letters that literally mirrored each other. The counselor who introduced herself as the Flying Nun, used a long pointer for emphasis.  “These are losses attributed to both the addicted, and the co-dependents in their lives.” 

She paused, allowing enough time for what she had just said to sink in.   I scanned the expressions on the faces of those around me, unable to read what was going through their minds.  So, I focused on my own response to the list.

Loss of Trust.                          ‘Hm, trust in what or who?’

Loss of honesty.                     ‘I wasn’t dishonest, never stole anything.  My lies were just little white ones.’

Loss of faith.                           ‘Not sure about that since I had so little to begin with.’

Loss of integrity.                    ‘Don’t think so.’

Loss of self- respect.              ‘Maybe.’

Loss of hope.                          ‘Not sure.’

And so, it went. Until the flying nun, targeted her pointer on the final most egregious

deprivation, I wasn’t convinced that any of them applied to me.  Then thud.

Loss of Spirt

The impact was like a flashing neon sign, surging before it shortens out.  Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe.  The anxiety that so often drove me to drink gripped me.  I felt like someone had just plunged a serrated knife into my ribcage and was slowly twisting it, gutting my insides.

The lens through which I viewed the following seven days was drastically altered by a lingering ache produced by that revelation.  Had I lost my spirit to some kind of dysfunction I wasn’t even aware of?  Or did I ever possess one to begin with?   Did alcohol, manifesting a strong presence in our family dynamics, play a part?  I had a million questions.  The curtain had been parted and I needed to see what lurked behind it.

The program was intense. And by the time I left, I was willing to take a look at my own drinking patterns and incorporate AA meetings into my A.C.O.A schedule.  But As I progressed in recovery, I was continually haunted by that nagging need to quantify loss of spirit

The longer I grappled with the dilemma the more confused I became.  What I didn’t realize was that while I was busy spinning my wheels, my Higher Power was reconstructing what alcohol had impelled me to misplace.  He sent me a sponsor who stoked the dying embers of self-love, self- respect, and trust.  AA gave me a design for living.  Through working the twelve steps with that sponsor I was able to shed the cloak of shame that blocked the sunshine and fed the storms that defined me.   I began taking responsibility and accrued smatterings of hope. I made amends to people I had harmed and developed faith in the process of recovery.  In tiny increments I began to relax and become comfortable in my own skin.

By the time I celebrated three years sober, I realized that my spirit had been reconstructed.  It had developed from a tiny seed that was fed by the love, acceptance, and disciplines of the AA program.  And, like a giant sunflower, my spirit towered high above the many imperfections in the fabric of my alcoholic past.  Loss of spirit, though it no longer applied, was the impetus that began this phenomenal journey called recovery.

And Then One Day.

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And Then One Day.

In order to acquire a new perspective, I’ve come to the conclusion, that for me, it is only possible through retrospect.  That priceless lens that enables me to weigh and slowly absorb new truths.  Especially when it applies to my addiction and how it emerged, why I failed to recognize it, what I did to conceal it, and why I battled so hard to deny it.

I don’t believe I made a conscious decision to pull the curtain down on the truth.  Early on, I just wasn’t capable of looking at it honestly.  I doubt that anyone just entering recovery is able to penetrate that heavy blanket of fog that shrouds us from an ugly reality that we aren’t yet prepared to deal with.  The fog is a smoke screen, it conceals a world of pain and shame that we tried to suppress and couldn’t face alone. 

Like so many of us, when I walked through the doors of AA, I was clueless about every aspect of my disease, as well as recovery. I was told that recovery was a process, and as the physical effects of the drug or alcohol left my system, that the fog would slowly begin to lift, and the process could begin, if I chose to stay. 

Can’t say that I was convinced.  But I did stick around until little miracles began to happen and I was ultimately convinced that I wanted to stay.  Every day, and every effort made, to seek a patch of sun beyond the fog, revealed startling truths.  And many of those scenarios that flashed across the screen of my past were not only uncomfortable, but painful.  They often materialized out of the blue, and without warning.  I certainly did not voluntarily summon them.    And thank God, they weren’t revealed all at once.  That would have been too overwhelming.  A few are so vivid that they have stuck with me for over 30 years.

For instance.  Whenever I would hear about mothers abusing their children, I would assume my mantle of righteousness and be the first to judge and condemn them.  And then one day, early in sobriety, I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor and feeling fairly good, when I was suddenly hurtled back to another day when I was doing the same thing, but not feeling so good.  I had a headache that nearly blinded me, and I was shaking inside.  As I waited for the clock to mark that pivotal moment when 12:pm separates morning from noon, and I could, in good conscious, pop the lid on a beer to alleviate my hangover, my son decided he wanted lunch and stepped on spot that I had just waxed.  The ugly, cacophonous expletives that spewed from my tongue that day were nothing short of abuse. 

My sister and I lived together for a short while after her divorce.  We both were working two jobs.  Our evening routine, after we finished up our second job, was to pick up a half of gallon of Chablis at the local drive thru and drain it dry before retiring for the evening.  For the longest time I was under the impression that she out drank me. Because she drank out of the largest wine goblet I had. And then one day, both of us in recovery, were discussing those days and I brought that little fact up.

“So,” she said. “You thought I was pulling one over on you by drinking from the larger glass, huh?  Were you keeping track of how many small glasses you were belting down to my one?”  And yet another truth revealed.

My youngest son was the only one left at home during my heaviest drinking days.  And my awareness of how it affected him was soaked in a bottle of amber colored denial.  There were, even during my addiction, opportunities to face the truth, but because I was so steeped in denial they evaporated as Suddenly as they appeared, allowing me to seemingly go unscathed.  And then one day, it was a few years into my sobriety, I was slammed with an ugly truth that I had been suppressing for years.  Randy, my son, was sixteen.  I was at one of my favorite drinking events, the Italian Festival, with a friend from my office.  The Italian Festival was an outdoor yearly occurrence.  It was a three- day drunk fest, at least for those of us who on rare occasions liked to drink with complete abandon.  I was well on my way to dropping all inhibitions when I spotted the man I was seeing, prancing down the street with my son’s teacher hanging on his arm.  And fast approaching from the opposite direction was my son and a group of his friends.  The timing couldn’t have been worse.  I was shooting darts and spewing some colorful language at the couple when my son and his group spotted my friend trying to calm me down. 

“HI Mrs. B.  How are you doing?  Anything wrong?”  Not exactly sure of what was going on, but sensing the situation, they formed a circle around me and my friend, and I immediately settled down.  But it was too late.  Randy, trying to divert their attention, shot his friends this stupid laugh, sluffing it off.  He eyed me with concern. 

“You okay, Mom?  I could hear the anxiety in his voice as his eyes darted nervously back and forth, from me, to the teacher and my secret lover, who by that time were on their merry way.  And If I had recognized that inappropriate laugh at the time, for what it really was; a mask to hide his embarrassment and shame, I ignored it.  Another layer of fog lifted.

After about eight months into my Twelve step program, I was still identifying myself in the meetings as an adult child of an alcoholic. I had an impressive list of arguments, rambling around in my head, that would prove I wasn’t an alcoholic. And then one day, I decided to share that list with my sponsor.  We met at Howard Johnson’s, a favorite hang- out for recovering souls where we gathered for coffee and ice cream following meetings.  I was confident that she would no doubt concur. 

Committed to paper the night before, I proceeded to share it.  In the left-hand column, I gave examples of what might appear to be a problem, and opposite that, my rationale that disputed that perception.

Yes, I did drink every day.  But during the week it was only two or three beers, just to unwind.

Yes.  The weekends were all -nighters and I Ieft my teenage son home alone.   But my mom and dad lived right next door, and, I would usually call Randy at home to check on him.  I was, after all, only a ten- minute drive away.

I would pause periodically to allow my sponsor for a response, but nothing was forthcoming.  Her silence was deafening.  My confidence was being peeled way by the cacophony of my own assertions.  If there was chatter going on around us, I couldn’t hear it.  The only voice in the place seemed to belong to me.

Rather timidly, I continued with the did nots.  I was never arrested.  Maybe, because that night when I revved up my car on a chunk of ice and slammed It into downspout on the school gym, the priest didn’t press charges. 

I never blacked out.  I just couldn’t remember driving my friend’s car home to check on my son, or how I got back to the bar. 

And of course, I never had withdrawals.  They were just really bad hangovers.  Doesn’t shaking on the inside, headaches, and agitation define a hangover?

And still, Jean Anne, my sponsor, said nothing.  She just looked at me with an undecipherable expression and allowed the lunacy of what I just said penetrate my denial.   I dared not ask her for a response at that point.  We parted, and at the following Thursday night meeting, when it came round to me, I said, with conviction, “I am Alice, and I am an alcoholic.”

And then on that day,my recovery began in earnest.

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