Valentine’s Day – A Recovery Check and A Reality Check

Souvenir Foto School: Day 19 - D for Dying Flowers
Souvenir Foto School: Day 19 – D for Dying Flowers (Photo credit: Creature Comforts)

Valentine’s Day – A Recovery Check and A Reality Check

It was a devastating blow to my pride. I, who had thought so well of myself and my abilities, of my capacity to surmount obstacles, was cornered at last. Now I was to plunge into the dark, joining that endless procession of sots who had gone on before. I thought of my poor wife. There had been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends. But that was over now.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 78)

As we head towards Valentine’s Day, we should all stop and ponder those we care about and those that care about us.  Many alcoholics/addicts are like Bill W. was doing in the passage above and wait until the point where everything seemed doomed and hopeless before even having time to even give any thought to those people.  In other words it’s time for a Valentine’s reality check and a Valentine’s recovery check.  We must look at the people we interact with or should be interacting with and be willing to do whatever is right.

Some of us claim that the people we care about and those that care about us do not exist.  Some of us have reasons (real or imaginary) to be so mad at these people that we forget that we care about these people or that they care about us (that means also forgetting that “resentment is the number one offender pg. 64).  Some of us are so busy being pitiful and feeling sorry for ourselves that we come across as liars or wishy-washy whenever we try to talk to these people.

Whatever the distorted reasons, this is a time of year where there are expectations that true feelings will be shared.

Each of us needs to take this opportunity and be honest to ourselves and to those who care about us as well as those we care about.

That means taking an inventory of our treatment of those who care about us or those we care about.  This also means getting others of more wisdom involved that can help determine what actions to take immediately, but make sure those are people who are truly wise and are not just the “yes-man” (or woman) who repeatedly nods and directs towards the softer easier way which is to avoid dealing with the issues.

There is something I call “The Rule” when it comes to recovery and how we must relate to others if we are to have any hope of recovery:

The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 74)

Way too many people (and way to many of them who call themselves sponsors or recovery experts) think the rule is that we are hard on others while always being considerate of our own comfort levels.

The fact is that you need to be hard on yourself and considerate of others.  That also means that the people who you enlist as guides on your journey towards sensibility and recovery need to be on that page also.  They nee to be the types of people that are hard on you while also giving you direction that is always considerate of others.

It is surprisingly easy to find so-called experts or iffy sponsors that will tell you; “Oh, you don’t have to do _____ , that’s too much” etc.  These people are often doing more to damage your recovery than to help whether they mean to or not.

Founding member, Bill W. was plugging right along until he thought the end was near and then he wished he had done all of this differently now that it seemed to be too late.

This all falls into the area of making amends.  Let’s look at a couple of definitions from the dictionary for “amends”:

1.  reparation or compensation for a loss, damage, or injury of any kind; recompense.

3.  make amends, to compensate, as for an injury, loss, or insult: I tried to make amends for the misunderstanding by sending her flowers.

One thing that obvious is that using these definitions of “amends”, it would be incredibly rare that just saying that you are sorry would qualify as making amends.

The question in this context is how do you make amends for not showing appropriate emotions towards someone who has been caring towards you are someone who you really do care about (like a child that you are the parent of who you love deeply, but they do not seem to see it or know it)?

Saying how you feel is a great starting point, but it is definitely by no means an amends or simply put it is definitely not enough.  It takes a lot of work to repair the hurts of the past.

I know that there are a few out there reading this who are thinking:  “I have done enough that that person should have gotten over it by now and what about my hurts from them.”  Before going on in that conversation I would like to refer you back to what I call “The Rule”:

The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 74)

Before you begin, start with the expectation that there will be far more work and struggling to make amends on your part than on the part of the other people involved.  This is just a part of what it takes to overcome the damage you have done to yourself and others through alcoholism/addiction.  IT IS WHAT IT IS!!!

Not to be rude about it, but if you didn’t want to have the pain and suffering that it takes to repair everything when working recovery than maybe you shouldn’t have started using alcohol and drugs in the first place.  This sort of attitude is necessary to create the change in your world that can facilitate and sustain your sobriety.

Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past. We are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell him what he should do. His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 77 – 78)

There is no focusing on what is wrong with the other person or on what they need to do first before I would consider being open and honest with the person, there is just the need for you to do the right thing no matter what the consequences and no matter what the other person’s response.

I understand that there may be a few incredibly extreme cases where a person is physically abusive, or a murderer etc. where the situation would call for this to all be looked at differently and some of these interactions may require the assistance of a professional counselor, but the norm is the direct route with careful consideration for how the other person would be affected.

This may need to be an inventory of its own each year or a part of your other inventories (or both), but Valentine’s Day seems like an excellent time to look at the people that care about you and who you care about (whether secretly or openly) and do something about it.

This is not limited to people you date, are married to or having some kind of intimate relations with; this is for all of those who care about you or who you care about at all.  Use this time of year as a recovery check and a reality check.

Do not wait until you are finished to mirror the words of founding member Bill W.:

There had been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends. But that was over now.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 8)

AND DON’T FORGET TO SHOW APPRECIATION TO ALL OF THOSE WHO CARE ABOUT YOU OR WHO YOU CARE ABOUT NO MATTER IF YOU NEED TO MAKE AMENDS OR NOT!!! (or you will owe an amends the day after Valentine’s Day).

Stay Sober my Friends;

Wade H.

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Holiday Gatherings: Explain or Avoid

Holiday Gatherings:  Explain or Avoid

Why sit with a

Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New ...
Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New Orleans. Shown are Clive Wilson, trumpet; Tommy Sancton, clarinet; Seva Venet, guitar, and Lawrence Batiste, drum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

long face in places where there is drinking,

sighing about the good old days. If it is a happy occasion, try to increase the pleasure of those there; if a business occasion, go and attend to your business enthusiastically. If you are with a person who wants to eat in a bar, by all means go along. Let your friends know they are not to change their habits on your account. At a proper time and place explain to all your friends why alcohol disagrees with you. If you do this thoroughly, few people will ask you to drink.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 102)

This passage demonstrates an important point that we all need to keep in mind during the holiday season, all the way from Thanksgiving in the United States, to Hanukkah, Kwanza and so on all the way through New Years Day.  This concept is that we need to be open and truthful about our condition to others and to ourselves.

This passage applies to being around alcohol (assuming you are far enough along that you can be around it for periods of time without issue) and does not apply that the crack addict should spend Christmas at the local crack house, with a group of celebrating (yet nodding off) heroin addicts, or at a bar full of strangers trying to fight off the urge to relapse.

If there is a family gathering and a few people having a few glasses of wine with dinner, you may be able to handle the situation with the proper precautions in place.  On the other hand, if ten minutes into the gathering everyone breaks out the one hundred and ninety-five proof moonshine and begin passing the crack pipes it may not be a good idea to visit.  If you feel you need to go then a ten minute visit may be all you can do.

Either way, openness and honesty are a must!  Not only in terms of appropriately telling the friends, family and others you will be with.  This means being open and honest enough to ensure that a couple of people that will be in attendance are enlisted to watch you and make sure you do not use.

If you are of the impression that feeling like you wont use or that having been abstinent for some amount of time guarantees you will remain abstinent, you might not be ready for these kinds of gatherings.   If you think you will be safe if you use just a little bit and stop:  PLEASE DO NOT GO, YOU ARE IN GRAVE DANGER IF YOU DO.

The bottom line is that you are either abstaining or not, you are either sober or not, you are either in recovery or not.  If you are planning to drink or use some other possibly intoxicating substance you have simply planned your relapsed and somehow convinced yourself that doing the same thing you and others have done before which ended in misery will somehow end differently this time.

Think of yourself as a person making the decision on holiday gatherings like a person who cannot swim being invited on a small boat.  It is dangerous, but can be managed.

  • If the person is sensible, wears a life-jacket, and makes sure there are others aboard the boat that can swim well enough to save him/her and are informed of the fact he/she cannot swim, it should be okay.
  • If this person not only cannot swim, but keeps jumping in the water when nobody is looking to the point of having almost drowned several times before, then the boat trip is probably an incredibly horrible idea.  Especially if the person says that he/she plans on jumping in for a swim again this trip:  “but, only a little one.”
  • If the person goes on the trip, but nobody on the boat knows that he/she cannot swim then why would anyone think it important that this person is not wearing a life-jacket and is sitting on the rails at the back of the boat?
  • If the person is invited aboard small boat in incredibly rough waters where everyone must work on the deck through the storm, it is probably too dangerous for a person who cannot swim and will probably cause more problems for everyone else by being there.

I’m sure many of us get the symbolism here, but for those who don’t.  The sensible person is the person who let’s everyone know and takes precautions like staying away from drinking games, beer runs etc.

The person who will keep telling himself/herself that it will be okay to swim when nobody’s looking even though it is ridiculous in light of past experiences is the person who feels the same way about using just a little.  That person is an unnecessary risk just by thinking about drinking or using, much less by being around it.

The person who goes on the boat, yet tells nobody and doesn’t use a life-jacket is the person who goes to gatherings, but is afraid or uncomfortable telling anyone about his/her alcoholism/addiction.  That person puts himself/herself in undue risk that could be easily eliminated by just being open to others and really to himself/herself.

The people inviting the person who cannot swim to a small boat in incredibly dangerous waters are like the friends and family that use and abuse alcohol/drugs that are inviting you to party with them.  That kind of gathering is the kind of gathering that should probably be avoided at all costs.  There is way too much at risk and way to little to gain to make the whole thing worth while.  If you have to go to this boat stay on the shore and see them off.  In other words say your hello’s and then when the alcohol, pipes and needles come out say your goodbye’s.

The bottom line is that it is possible to go to gatherings if you are far enough into your recovery, if you take the right precautions and if you are open and honest with others and yourself.

To truly know if you are ready for this in any particular situation you will need to consult your sponsor, your, counselor or clinician, members of your recovery support community, your friends and family etc.  But, do not just trust your own judgment as our own judgment as alcoholics/addicts has show the possibility of breaking down (or just not working at all in some cases).

So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary whoopee parties. To a person who has had experience with an alcoholic, this may seem like tempting Providence, but it isn’t.

You will note that we made an important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?” If you answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 101 – 102)

An important final note from this passage:  If you are in recovery or were at some point in your life an alcoholic/addict then you cannot afford to go to a gathering to just think of having fun, because this is not really the proper venue for your fun.  Don’t get me wrong there will be fun at such an event for you, but a part of the focus has to be how you can be helpful to others.

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

Don’t only look at what you can take out the gathering but also focus on what you can contribute to the lives there and how that can best be done.  The counterintuitive part is that if you do this (once you get used to it) you will, in most cases actually find the gatherings more enjoyable.  More important, you will be more likely to keep your sobriety intact.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!! Part – 2

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!  Part – 2

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)

If you are in recovery self-centeredness is a challenge that needs to be overcome.  As I stated in the previous post (To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!) I personally define selfishness and self-centeredness as:

The erroneous idea that I must be comfortable at all times or must do everything in my power to be comfortable. If something makes me uncomfortable, something must be wrong with that thing.

If you are the friend or loved one of a person in need of recovery you are probably well acquainted with the fact that that person is concerned with his or her own comfort at the expense of others including you.

In the last post we explored that self-centeredness, but what does the desired objective look like.  What does a person free or well on the way to being free of self-centeredness look like?

Here is a conversation from the “Working With Others” chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous book instructing us how to describe this to a potential newcomer:

Outline the program of action, explaining how you made a self-appraisal, how you straightened out your past and why you are now endeavoring to be helpful to him. It is important for him to realize that your attempt to pass this on to him plays a vital part in your own recovery. Actually, he may be helping you more than you are helping him. Make it plain he is under no obligation to you, that you hope only that he will try to help other alcoholics when he escapes his own difficulties. Suggest how important it is that he place the welfare of other people ahead of his own. Make it clear that he is not under pressure, that he needn’t see you again if he doesn’t want to. You should not be offended if he wants to call it off, for he has helped you more than you have helped him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 94)

Notice how unselfishness is the message.  The person trying to work with the potential newcomer first describes how unselfishness actually is a huge part of helping yourself.  Then that person describes how the biggest reward he or she is looking for is for that potential newcomer to get better through gaining the same unselfishness. 

In other words the message is that if I want to help myself I have to get you to get it and to help others in the same way.

Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 89)

Notice the words “to see a fellowship grow up about you.”  The “host of friends” and the people you will watch recover are the people you work with.  Getting outside of yourself and helping others to recovery becomes “the bright spot” of your life.

Working with others is not the only evidence of unselfishness, but it is a very key one.  That is why this statement is true:

Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 20)

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 89)

I understand that there are people who do not get the unselfishness aspect of all of this and do some attempts at working with others (usually because he or she feels forced).  What I am talking about looks and sounds more like this.  (if it is you going through recovery this is a feeling you should experience that becomes a part of who you are):

While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn might work with others.

My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of demonstrating these principles in all my affairs. Particularly was it imperative to work with others as he had worked with me. Faith without works was dead, he said.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 14)

It was a feeling and thought that Bill W. had and his sponsor reinforced.  Working with others is one of the key evidences that a person is at least growing in unselfishness.  For those of us who have traveled Alcoholics Anonymous circles we are probably at least somewhat familiar with what are known as “The Promises.”  Listen to this part of “The Promises”:

No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)

The death of selfishness is a huge goal in for all of us looking to remain sober.  As we come to see that our experience can benefit others we “lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.”  Then “Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)

If you think you have reached some major milestone in recovery (finishing a program, someone says you have finished all the steps, you are abstinent currently and feel fine) and you do not feel or think in the manner described here, there is much more to do.  You seem to have missed something.

If you are the friend or loved one of person who has reached one of these milestones and that person has no desire to reach others, that person is in deep trouble.

Here is an end note for the friends and loved ones.  If the person does get this change of focus and begins to focus on working with others be as supportive of those efforts as you can.  Do not hinder their work with others or you may be choking the life out of that person’s recovery.

The following passage was written “To Wives” bit applies to all friends and loved ones:

Still another difficulty is that you may become jealous of the attention he bestows on other people, especially alcoholics. You have been starving for his companionship, yet he spends long hours helping other men and their families. You feel he should now be yours. The fact is that he should work with other people to maintain his own sobriety. Sometimes he will be so interested that he becomes really neglectful. Your house is filled with strangers. You may not like some of them. He gets stirred up about their troubles, but not at all about yours. It will do little good if you point that out and urge more attention for yourself. We find it a real mistake to dampen his enthusiasm for alcoholic work. You should join in his efforts as much as you possibly can. We suggest that you direct some of your thought to the wives of his new alcoholic friends. They need the counsel and love of a woman who has gone through what you have.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 119)

Wade H.

Are You Willing???

Are You Willing???

Your candidate may give reasons why he need not follow all of the program. He may rebel at the thought of a drastic housecleaning which requires discussion with other people. Do not contradict such views. Tell him you once felt as he does, but you doubt whether you would have made much progress had you not taken action. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 94)

This is not just a possibility in is a probability.  Most newcomers have some problem with some part of the program.  Drastic housecleaning is something many never do.  Those are the people who go to meetings and share etc. but never really do any recovery work or the they just leave (unless court ordered). 

This is not cause for a person more advanced in recovery, a friend, or loved one to freak out, it is normal.  If you are this person who has a problem with some part of the program however, you are at a huge crossroads.  It’s an all or nothing proposition.  You don’t have to accept all of it this minute, but you will have to accept it all in time.

The truth is either a person is willing to do whatever it takes to get recovery or not.

Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

It’s not really important if you understand everything yet or totally agree with each aspect, the question is:  “How serious are you about recovery?”  In other words; “are you serious enough to do a few things you don’t yet understand or agree with?”

For those who are the friends and families of the addict or alcoholic in question, you have an important role in this also.  At the time the book was written it was you who found out if the person was that serious before even being introduced to recovery.

Then let his family or a friend ask him if he wants to quit for good and if he would go to any extreme to do so. If he says yes, then his attention should be drawn to you as a person who has recovered. You should be described to him as one of a fellowship who, as part of their own recovery, try to help others and who will be glad to talk to him if he cares to see you.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 90)

If you are the person, just think of doubt, discomfort and fear as part of the recovery process.  These feelings are some of the obstacles that must be overcome.  Think of what the authors were trying to do:

To show other alcoholics PRECISELY HOW WE HAVE RECOVERED is the main purpose of this book.  (Alcoholics Anonymous – Foreword to First Edition)

You are trapped somewhere you do not know how to escape from and someone has given you a precise map of escape to follow.  It really doesn’t make sense to only follow the parts you like and ignore other important details of the map or to throw out the map and go it alone.  The escape map is precisely made so it can be precisely followed.

The idea of us as addicts or alcoholics only doing what we are comfortable with and calling it recovery is thoroughly ridiculous.  Just the abstinence required to work recovery is uncomfortable as a starting point.  If we only did what we felt comfortable with; WE WOULD NEVER STOP USING BECAUSE IN OUR MINDS IT IS MORE COMFORTBLE.

If you are ready, just follow the detailed map in detail or don’t be surprised if you get lost.  You can do this, but just keep the short phrase; “ALL OR NOTHING” in the back of your mind.

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

ARE YOU WILLING???