From my vantage point at the bottom of the trail, the goal rivals Mt Everest. Mary’s ascension into heaven was certainly more plausible than my ever realizing the halfway point. That stupid slogan I keep hearing around the tables, (you’ll be truly amazed before you are halfway through) keeps ringing in my ears. AA has a phrase or slogan to fit every situation imaginable. And even though I may be taking this one out of context, it sure fits my frame of mind today. The path is full of twists and turns, and who knows what other obstacles, as it wends its way into the unknown. Those who have gone before me insist that the rewards along the journey, far outweigh any scrapes or slips I might encounter along the way. Dare I believe them?
Several months later
Beginning to understand the importance of journaling. As I flip through several pages, I can literally see a changed perspective that must have been lurking beneath my inability to reflect on the positive. But, here on these pages, it jumps out at me in a beautiful bold font that spells progress.
The one year mark
Wow! Can’t believe I’ve been documenting this awesome experience for over a year. Page after page of blended successes, disappointments, and mini-failures. Mini, simply because they didn’t take me back out. Tear stained entries that led to frantic calls to my sponsor, just a page behind a smiling emoji that commits to memory a joyous recollection that begged to be penned.
Now the real work begins. Hope I’m ready. Finally, comfortable with the program, trust my sponsor, and am ready to work the steps. Fear and uncertainty be gone. I refuse to be discouraged. The proof is in the rooms of AA. My life will continue to improve as long as I am willing to move forward. God knows, I never want to go through that first year of sobriety again.
Journal number three
But who’s counting? My life is a wonderful conglomeration of gifted treasures, blundering missteps, serendipities moments, heartfelt experiences, lessons learned, and divine intervention. And lest I ever forget, it is readily available at the turn of a page. My journal, my life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Manyof 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?