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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.