Meetings

How Did I Get This Far?

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Two days ago my sister sent me an early Happy One Year message to say congratulations. I’ve been silent on this blog for a couple of months because my mind and heart were filled with unanswerable questions every time I tried to write a new post. As my anniversary approached I really had no idea how I would feel on the day itself.

Would I feel a sense of accomplishment? Or would I feel strange and a bit directionless as I usually do after a very rewarding experience? A tiny part of me even speculated that I’d feel sorrow or a sense of loss as I would no longer be a ‘newbie’ with all the gentleness, kindness and kid-glove handling that usually comes with being at the beginning of any journey that is deemed difficult. And then of course, there was the part of me that was a little freaked out by the big “So What Now” question. I even felt a bit guilty because, while my first year has been an intense emotional journey, for me it has not been particularly challenging physically or mentally (aside from the over-thinking). I know of so many others who are really struggling and I wish I could help. I’m not certain of what is different about my journey so far that has allowed me to reach this milestone, but I can tell you what has helped me:

CRAWL AROUND IN YOUR WOUNDS, SO YOU CAN HOPE AGAIN

In the first few months learning to recognize and understand what my triggers were helped me a lot.  Learning to accept and gently face my own personal issues has become invaluable to my growth. It’s not easy and sometimes I want to damn it all to hell. Believe me, I miss the abandon that can come from giving in to the madness. Sometimes I miss not caring so much. But, the trade-off is worth so much more to me than giving in. I have embraced walking around in my wounds, hand in hand with my dark side, and facing the shadows together, and I have to say, some days I actually enjoy exploring this new territory because I know that I’m wiser, tougher, and more whole because of it.

“As frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have, and it comes from the most human part of us: Hope.”  Professor X, X-men: Tales of Future Past

UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE NOT BROKEN

In the beginning I worried a lot about what people would say. I was ashamed and felt dirty, broken, unattractive. I thought that having a problem meant that I was a problem. Of course, I was wrong and even now, I still have to remind myself often. It’s takes a lot of work to change self-defeating habits into self-appreciating ones but it IS possible. You are not broken. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Making the decision to give up drinking is a big step in itself, one you should be proud of. Trying every day is also another.

“I stand firm in my belief that anyone who has repeatedly demonstrated that they do not posses an off switch would be far happier if they stopped trying to locate one. Stopping drinking for such people equates to the beginning of self-love, contentment and living a full life. Freeing the mind by calling it a day on the fight with alcohol is a true gift.” Soberistas

FIND A COMMUNITY

In the beginning I went to a few AA meetings because that was what was expected. I found a greater sense of community and healing here however, on the Sober Blogging Network. I could relate better to fellow writers and bloggers. No matter what “our drug of choice” is, or the level of our addiction, the struggles we face are the same. We all endeavour to value ourselves enough to take care of ourselves. We all face demons and dark sides of our past in the first few months of sobriety, and we all have to find the tools to deal with them and heal. We all have to come to an understanding about our triggers. We all want to feel better and be proud of our accomplishments. We all want compassion. We all want to be understood and to believe that we are not alone. Whether that sense of community comes from the Sober Blogging Network or from AA Meetings, it is invaluable to have. Find a community that feels comfortable for you and say Hi. You’ll find that there is always someone willing to smile back at you.

IT’S OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP

Trust me when I say that it is okay to ask for help. Whether you ask members of your AA group, the Sober Blogging Network, your friends, the higher power you believe in, or even me, you will find peace in asking. This is not a journey you have to undertake alone.

BE OF SERVICE

On the days when I feel at my lowest and the most disconnected from myself are the days when I feel purposeless. Those are the days when I stay under the blanket and binge watch TV series like Vikings or Games of Thrones, or Harry Potter movies, just to disappear into a another world. But, once I get tired of hiding, (and feeling sorry for myself), I get to work. I look for ways to be of service. Trust me, helping others, helps you in so many ways too. I have found so much of myself by being compassionate and caring when I can. The big and the little things do make a difference.

STRUCTURE

I figured out what worked for me and what brought me dangerously close to the edge. I changed my socializing habits and my diet. I made lists of what was important to me, pinned them to the fridge and stashed them in my wallet. I made a commitment to this blog. I focused on making the creative pursuits I enjoy a greater part of my life. I made a commitment to healing myself, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. What worked, I kept. What didn’t, I tossed (without looking at myself as a failure). Different methods suit different people. Figure out what suits you and makes YOU happy.

“Part of recovery is structure: Recognizing what is working and sticking with it.” Sherlock, Elementary

NOW, TODAY IS THE DAY

I have officially been sober for 365 days. Yay me! I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of emotion I felt when I received my sister’s message that day. For the rest of that day, I was one of those people you see walking around with little smiles tugging at the corners of their lips. I was happy with ME. I was proud of myself, finally. And I still am.

Love and light to you all,

Phoenix

28 and Curious

Today is my twenty-eighth day of sobriety. It has been a pretty interesting four weeks filled with curiousities, insight and their fair share of annoyances too.

Mind Matters:

The foggy daytime mind present in the first two weeks is clearing rapidly while at the same time, that galloping horse of a nightime mind is moving faster than ever pulling a cartload of dreams behind her. I wake up at all hours of the night to scribble images and words into the little notebook on my bedside table. One day I’ll make sense of these tales.

Sleeping to heal:

That being said, I’m sleeping a helluva lot more which I’m taking as a sign that my body is working overtime, healing my liver, heart, lungs, tummy, brain, sanity.

Eating to heal:

As we’re onto the topic of healing i have noticed myself sheepishly admitting to organic store owners that I’ve quit drinking. Why sheepishly? I think it has something to do with a ‘should’ve known better all along’ type of thing. The owners I’ve known for a while have been very encouraging and are happy for me. We have long discussions about which fruits vegetables, herbs and spices have anti-oxidant, detoxifying and healing properties. It feels good to have such support from the right places.

The early bird catches a different worm:

Waking up earlier is also an added plus. It helps me to develop a productive morning routine the discipline of which stays with me for the day. I’ve been more creative, focused and positive, and the clarity of thought is pretty cool. Teeny downside: the over-thinking is too much sometimes, and the lists! OMG the lists! I was a list maker to begin with. The upside to all this clarity is actually setting get-able goals. I’m excited. I actually find myself planning for the future and saving money toward something instead of saving money because I ‘should’.

First cravings and a ‘first’ date:

I had my first craving last weekend, but it was not for alcohol – it was for the familiar. For the ease and ‘natural’ flow of a date. I didn’t know what to do with my hands at first and felt unsettled because I thought I looked uncomfortable which made me think I was making my host uncomfortable. He was pretty awesome about everything though: a tiny smile and a nod when I arrived at his house and handed him a box of green tea and a large bottle of water instead of a bottle of wine; allowing me to select music which would make me feel comfortable; kissing my pout away and pulling me to dance when I said I was feeling a little lost. The truth was I felt like I lost a way to connect. Our love of food and shared interest in food pairings, (usually with wine or beer), we had in common. This time I had tea instead of chardonnay with my sushi and thankfully the food critic in me was more interested in the difference in taste than the absence of wine. I guess this will take some adjusting to, but thankfully we have lots more in common and I’m game.

Judgment calls:

People keep asking me if i’m alright and I fly off the handle about it. This is typically how the conversation goes:

People: How are you?

Phoenix: I’m good. Doing fine actually: writing, de-cluttering and redecorating the apt, exercising, going to class.

People: That’s good but how are you doing with the…um… with everything?

Phoenix: Why does everyone keep asking me that? I’m fine!

I know. I’m sensitive. Yes, *pat pat* Phoenix , it is genuine concern on their part and not judgment and I shouldn’t take it as such. But whenever I hear that ‘concerned, not sure what to say’ tone, my inner Judge rears her ugly head. I am also aware that in the past I’ve been ‘superwoman strong’ and reluctant to turn to others for help,

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so it’s understandable that others might assume that I won’t ask for help this time too. But while I have made this necessary change in my life and going through the process in the best way I can, I’m the same person. I’m not fragile. Not broken. Not irreparably damaged. I’ve always been a good listener and a shoulder for others, which I love being. I’m highly empathetic and I like being there for others. But I get the feeling that people are seeing me differently now. My sister confided in me about something important to her and then said she didn’t want ME to take it on and worry. As if stress and worry will make me start drinking again.

I find myself reminding people that I never craved that first drink. Sometimes I had trouble stopping once I started but I never pined for a glass of wine. It’s been over a year of sticking to that rule: Don’t drink when worried, stressed or angry. So it’s been quite a while since I wanted to drink when the going got tough. But all that aside I’m working to understanding that people are genuinely concerned and cutting them some slack. There are a lot of preconceived notions about the nature of alcoholism and most people just don’t understand what the nature of my relationship with alcohol is.

It really is like an abusive ex-boyfriend: Once you finally see who you are, what you deserve and find the strength to walk away, it is for good. I’m never going back to that place.

Meetings

I’m still going to the Robert Paulson meetings and checking in at least once a day with you folks in my Sober Blogging Network.

On being around the Stuff.

I still have my boyfriend’s bottles of wine and my sister’s beers in the fridge for when they come over and I still hang out with my friends who drink. Little by little it’s becoming less noticeable to them when I order my soda water with mint and lemon and them noticing is becoming less important to me.

I’m awesome in the grocery store and while I do feel a little daring walking down the alcohol aisle and shaking my head at the little hairs standing up at the back of my neck, (not unlike seeing a dangerous ex), there are no feelings of loss, no FOMO, no urge to hide a bottle of wine in my basket and run for the hills. I like having more money and treating myself to US$30 worth of strawberries and blueberries instead of a US$30 bottle of wine, or calling up my favourite sushi restaurant on my way home from work and ordering sashimi to go. The same money I would’ve spent at the watering hole after work I use to treat myself with stuff I love. I gotta tell yah, the little rewards make this so worth it.

The Other Side

All that being said, I am not and will never underestimate alcohol again. It is and never will be something I can have a relationship with. Understanding acknowledging this fact was the first thing I had to do. Making the choice to stop drinking was the second. Understanding this ongoing process is what I’m doing now and I must say, it’s a good thing that psychology, philosophy, sociology and human development are some of my favourite subjects. I am understanding so much more about myself by acknowledging my triggers and coming to terms with their source. As Lisa Neumann says: I don’t choose to try drinking anymore. I tried it for a long time. It didn’t work. There is no secret to sobriety. Those that choose it, have it. So here I am at my Day 28 and very happy to be exactly where I am.

Phoenix

His name is Robert Paulson

A word or two about meetings. And a question.

I’ve attended a few meetings to date and while I do understand where they can be effective I’m yet to see what I can gain.

This is the format for a typical meeting: We show up at the designated hour; exchange pleasantries while waiting a respectable number of minutes for latecomers; then hold hands while we recite the first few lines of the serenity prayer. (Yes, I googled and the prayer is actually quite longer than most folks are aware.)

Continuing: The meeting chair introduces herself and asks if anyone would like to share anything specific; if not, we move onto a suggested chapter in The Big Book and we take turns reading and commenting if we are moved to do so. Then, a daily affirmation is read out loud from The Little Book; and we close with the Lord’s Prayer, (which somehow always sounds to me a little like “His name is Robert Paulson.” But that just might be because at my first meeting, there was another group in the next room which wrapped up before we did. I could’ve sworn their muffled words through the wall sounded exactly like the Project Mayhem tribute.

Robert Paulson

His name is Robert Paulson.
His name is Robert Paulson.

Perhaps I’ve watched so many movies with these sort of scenes that the whole group thing seems cliche to me now. Why do we have to sound like a bunch of broken desperate souls wanting to be reassured all the time? Yes, I know it is very difficult for some and meetings are their only outlet, but shouldn’t we also be accountable when we mess up? The whole “Would you like to share your story?” with the automatic assurances that “You’re ok, we’ve all been there, everything will work out.” seem a little too much like a Catholic confession ritual: if you sound sorry enough you’ll receive absolution.

(Please know that I’m not trying to offend anyone and I respect every person’s right to practice what they believe in.)

Maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I haven’t found my group yet. Aside from the fact that I don’t drink anymore, I have little else in common with the folks I’ve met. But I’ll keep looking. There are dozens of meeting groups in my area so I’m hopeful. In the meantime, I’m sticking with my online group. You guys have helped me in so many ways, without opening and closing rituals. 🙂

Oh! I almost forgot my question: Have you found meetings to be helpful?

Phoenix

Does that happen to you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird?

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All of us need to feel a sense of love and belonging. We’re hard-wired to want to be connected to others – that’s what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. (Brené Brown)

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A few days ago in my human development class we were talking about what drives our need for human connection, which led me to thinking about why those of us in recovery attend meetings. According to Gerald May, meaning comes to us through our relationships in life. He says, the three facets of human spiritual longing are the desire for belonging and union, the desire for loving and the desire for just being.

Even though we seek these three we are constantly frustrated because at the same time, usually out of habit, we protect ourselves against being rejected, or being found wanting, or not measuring up. We hesitate to open up completely and allow ourselves to be truly vulnerable. We have a false perception that to express any vulnerability is a sign of weakness. We hold back because of this ‘perfection culture’, fearing rejection or a sense of shame.

But we don’t have to hold back. We connect by mutual understanding and truth in life’s experiences.

Whether it makes you smile or cringe, a truth spoken is a healing thing.”(Jennifer DeLucy)

Our most fundamental sense of well-being is derived from the conscious experience of belonging. Relatedness is essential to survival. This is the underlying reason why we attend meetings or visit each other’s blogs on the sober blogging network.

We do it to connect with others who can identify with our experiences and who we can learn from.

“We are all wonderful, beautiful wrecks. That’s what connects us–that we’re all broken, all beautifully imperfect.” (Emilio Estevez)

Our feelings are our great connectors. Experiences and expressions of our feelings about those experiences allow us to connect and remember that we are not alone in this.

“Can I be honest with you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird? I mean, really, really, really honest? Sometimes I get sooo scared! I’ll wake up in the middle of the night all alone, hundreds of miles away from anybody, and it’s pitch dark, and I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen to me in the future, and I get so scared I want to scream. Does that happen to you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird? When it happens, I try to remind myself that I am connected to others—other things and other people. I work as hard as I can to list their names in my head. On that list, of course, is you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. And the alley, and the well, and the persimmon tree, and that kind of thing. And the wigs that I’ve made here with my own hands. And the little bits and pieces I remember about the boy. All these little things (though you’re not just another one of those little things, Mr. Wind-Up Bird, but anyhow…) help me to come back “here” little by little.” 

Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

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Phoenix