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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.

***************

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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Complacency

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Complacency

 What exactly is it?   The Oxford dictionary’s definition is smug and self-satisfying. The thesaurus suggests a sense of satisfaction or contentment.  Both painfully accurate and potentially detrimental if applied to one’s recovery program.

The synonyms, two seemingly harmless, perhaps relished states of being sound desirable if we are emerging from a background of chaos and addiction. Complacency can evolve into a menacing cancer that eats away, one bite at a time, at all those good, hard-earned habits that took us so long to accumulate.

 But, you ask.  Isn’t peace and serenity our goal in recovery?  And what better way to achieve it than to feel content.  Think about that for a minute.  Let’s take a baby for example.  Once he is comfortable in a fresh clean diaper, and his little tummy is full, and Mommy or Daddy has gently rocked him, what does the baby do?  Hopefully, he goes to sleep, right?  And what happens while he is sleeping?  Nothing.  No progression, no learning, no animation.  The same is true of our recovery program.  We stop growing.

 Complacency crawls up our incentive much like a spider inching its way up the inside seam of our jeans.  We are not aware of it happening until it injects its venom and it’s too late.

 We have all heard horror stories in the rooms of folks who have gone back out.  Complacency is the number one culprit.  It begins with cutting back on our meetings.  The excuses are as varied and contrived as the alcoholic brain can manufacture.  I’m too tired, it’s too cold, it’s too hot, so and so will be at that meeting, I’ve already gone to two meetings this week.  Pick one.  Better yet, throw in a couple originals. 

 None of these excuses ever stopped me from heading to the bar or liquor store. 

 The meditation books begin to collect dust on the nightstand or on the bathroom shelf.  No time, too tired, or I forgot again.  Same thing with our sponsors.  Sure, they are too busy or don’t want to be bothered.  But we will call them if we have a real problem, right.

 These are just some of the danger signs that tell us we might be the next addict or alcoholic to slip on the smooth icy path of complacency.  Complacency is the real problem.

 

 

Birthing the Moment

 

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Dare I feel safe

wrapped in the womb

of the present;

a blackout’s length

away

from yesterday’s

unraveling?

 

Can I hang on to this moment;

savor it

without

being catapulted

into

tomorrow’s projected nightmares?

 

Is this the sought after

gift of my yearning;

the mythical promise

where chaos refuses to be birthed

and

anxiety is aborted?

 

Then tuck me in,

push pause,

and

deliver me the serenity

swaddled

in the heartbeat

of this gifted moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Love

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What is it and how does one achieve it? 

Depending on the person, self-love can mean a variety of things: For those who have been abused, It could be setting boundaries; burying denial in order to reveal the truth, seeking help instead of harboring secrets, and throwing away the cracked distorted image in the mirror of lies that holds one captive.  With a bit of courage and determination, as one begins to apply these actions a gradual metamorphosis starts to occur:  The crusty casing that scarred the soul commences to flake away in barely noticeable increments; one layer at a time, making way for the self- respect that was pilfered by another without knowledge or consent.  The race is on. Coming down the stretch and jockeying for position, self-respect moves ahead, clearing the way for self-love.  And it is a photo finish, leaving yesterday’s scars buried in the dust.

Low self -esteem is yet another culprit that robs one of the ability to acquire and practice self-love:  I’m not good enough, she is prettier, he is smarter, my gums show when I smile, I’m too fat, who wants to hear what I have to say?  This contrast and comparison game can be self-inflicted or learned.  Unreasonable expectations filter down through parents who love us and want the best for us, through teachers who compare us to older siblings, and even by a Society that values intelligence and beauty over heart and soul. Even if these unrelenting messages were hammered into our consciousness by others, we began to believe them internalize them, and over time, exacerbate them.  The best recipe for acquiring self-love due to low self-esteem is to get a new cookbook. Throw out the stale, rancid ingredients that tainted your soul and replace them with fresh new concoctions:  Add that tablespoon of poise to that cup of confidence, throw in a teaspoon each of faith, pride, and courage.  Fold in an abundant supply of risk.  Then sit back and watch a masterpiece as it rises to the occasion.

Two other types of personalities that cannot be left out of the equation are the perfectionist and the co-dependent.  The former is so busy trying to live up to his own, as well as others’ expectations that there is little time for self-love.  This constant striving to never make a mistake, be the best, and succeed at all costs, is not only draining but often conceals a fear that to fail is a death knell.  Perfectionists are intimidating because they usually expect perfectionism from everyone else. Contrary to appearances, perfectionist rarely see themselves as successful; like those suffering from low self- esteem, they never feel quite good enough. Perhaps the portal to self-love for these marathon contenders can be found somewhere in the middle of the race where self- acceptance and a willingness to just be human offers relief.

Like the perfectionist, the co-dependents have neither the time nor the inclination, to engage in self-love.  They are dedicated to lavishing all their love and energy on friends, family, the kindred spirits of friends and family, and anyone, and everyone else they meet.  Before they realize it, patching broken hearts and stitching frayed relationships morphs into a lifelong occupation that leaves them exhausted and resentful.  The only hope for this exhausted seamstress, or tailor, is to shred the crumpled pattern, toss away the needle and thread and seek out that empty fitting room labeled me.

Most of us fall into one, two, or all these categories. And while none of these remedies, are easy, or come with a guarantee, self-love is the byproduct of practice, practice, practice.

 

 

 

 

H.O.W.

photo of woman looking upwards
Photo by Jonathan Andrew on Pexels.com

For those of us who got sober in AA, not only are we familiar with the above acronym, but we did, and continue, to ascribe to the tenets of its wisdom.  It became a prerequisite for our recovery journey and remains the iron-clad handrail that keeps us from falling back into the abyss of our disease.

H=Honesty

O=Open mindedness

W=Willingness.

When I first heard that referenced in relation to getting sober, I thought, no problem.  I’m honest.  Never stole anything, except maybe time. Time from my family, my job, and my friends.  And, occasionally, I guess I robbed them of their trust and peace of mind.  But is that what they meant?

And I have always been open-minded. I didn’t care what other people did, or didn’t do if they gave me the same consideration and kept their nose out of my business.  Isn’t that being open-minded?  I won’t judge you, so you damn well better not judge me. I figured that gave me a free pass to do whatever I wanted without attracting your attention or condemnation.

Willingness.  Well, that was a given.  After all, I walked through those doors of AA on my own, didn’t I?  “But don’t tell me what to do or try to make me a part of your group think tank.  Just let me sit back in the corner and I will decide what I need and what I don’t.  I’ll figure it all out, thank you.”

After a few months of stagnating in my own stubbornness, the earplugs fell out and I began to observe the program through a sharper, unobstructed lens.  I decided I needed to redefine my first impression of H.O.W with just a tiny tweak.  Because I had marginal signs of dyslexia, I decided to approach it backward.  That turned out to be the first good decision I had made in a long time.

 Once I fine-tuned my version of H.O.W, I began to see with greater clarity.

Willingness required more than simply walking through the door, lugging around that know it all attitude that had become my logo. It meant participating:  taking suggestions, sharing, getting a sponsor, and parking that attitude outside the rooms of AA.

 Open-Mindedness:  Being open meant I would have to let go of preconceived ideas about the disease of alcoholism, embrace new ideas from strangers who didn’t necessarily think like me, be willing to adjust my own opinions, allowing for the fact that new information often changes the circumstances and another adjustment in my thinking  may be required.  And most important, though it would take a lot of practice; I had to learn to place principals before personalities if I was to benefit from the hard-learned lessons of others.

 Honesty:  I soon found that the cash register honesty that I so readily ascribed to was just the tip of the iceberg.  No one ever told me that people-pleasing rated right up there, at the top of the list, under the headline dishonesty. Or, that telling everyone what they wanted to hear, often just to keep out of trouble, was another offender.  And how about laughing at inappropriate jokes, when deep down, I felt that I was somehow compromising myself, but was too afraid of offending someone to speak out? 

 Sponsorship was the vehicle that maneuvered me through this web of confusion.  Once I learned that I was in a safe environment, where I could let down my guard and dispense with the old defense mechanisms, I discovered a brand-new template that I soon learned to navigate.  Now, when I feel a pang of jealousy, I can admit it without thinking it makes me a bad person.  Or, when I am feeling low, I no longer must camouflage it behind a phony smile. 

 Self -honesty is a far cry from cash register honesty.  It attacks self -delusion and rips the cover from denial.   It requires self-monitoring and is a lifetime pursuit.

 H.O.W., whether worked backward or forward, is the acronym that will always set me straight.