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Category Archives: Recovery Journal

2012 Was Awful. 2011 Will Be Better.


There is no finer way to drive oneself to drink–or insanity–than by trying to improve the past or condemn the future.

There is no more perfect day on which to do it than December 31st.

Drinking is only one of the many temptations I must eschew on this last day of the year.

I am, like many people, a tragic but true believer in psychic time travel. What Might Have Been is the thing I love most in the world. Woulda Coulda and Shoulda are my BFFs. I also enjoy the company of Wishing, Hoping and Just Knowing what’s going to happen. On gloomy days I keep company with Dread and Anxiety and dwell in what the Twelve Step program calls “the wreckage of the future.”

It’s a crazy, painful way to live, and I try to remind myself of this on a daily basis.

New Year’s Eve is a teachable moment.

I try to imagine, for instance, what it would be like if today’s newspapers and blogs carried lists of the Best and Worst of 2012. What if we mapped out the whole year and looked back on it before it even began. For anxious control freaks like myself it would be a dream realized.

What if, at the same time, we looked ahead to 2011 as an opportunity for change, renewal and new beginnings?

Now that for me, and perhaps for you too, would be nirvana.

It would be also insane and impossible.

Of course many of us want to manipulate our past and future–and obviously we can not. You don’t have to be smarter than a fifth grader to know that humans are not capable of fixing history nor looking back wisely on what lies ahead.

Living with the past, we learn in recovery, is about doing our best to find acceptance and make peace with our regrets and mistakes. Facing the future is about courage and openness.

Tonight, I hope and pray I will stay steady and sober, neither falling forward nor staggering back in the darkness.

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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Recovery Journal

 

Getting There

The man in the cafe car orders a double whiskey with his morning muffin. A few feet away another fellow peruses the Canyon Ranch website on his laptop. I am buried in a book of sober meditations, hoping to morph into a saint before the Acela reaches New York, praying that I will stay straight and behave myself at Thanksgiving dinner. If I have learned anything at all in recovery it is to focus on getting my own act together and not worry about what others will do. There is plenty of work to be done.

This will be my first holiday season without alcohol. I am five months sober.

Thanksgiving is, above all, about showing up. That’s what all of us on this train are doing. Whether we’re drinking or sober, anxious or calm, angry or contented, dreading the family reunion or anticipating it with joy, we have decided to show up somewhere and connect with our fellow humans on this day dedicated to gatherings of relatives and friends.

Showing up is the first step in behaving well. Showing up is where the healing begins with other people. You can’t make friends if you don’t show up. You can’t mend fences without showing up. You cannot feel the growth and change in yourself and others if you don’t show up.

The first thing anyone said to me at an AA meeting was: “Keep coming back.”

That advice saves lives. Alcoholics don’t like to show up. We tend to fear other people. We are afraid they will hurt us or that we are not good enough. We fear shame, embarrassment, hurt feelings, anger, resentment. We fear bad interactions. We fear our own weaknesses and shortcomings, especially our addiction, and the trouble they cause. So we isolate, we give excuses, we avoid the people who could take away our loneliness and help us. We drink, become increasingly morose, and isolate even more.

Showing up is the antidote: Taking a train, a plane, a car, a bicycle, or our own feet out of the house and into the larger, livelier, warmer world.

When we show up, we give ourselves the chance to be courageous, be loved and be truly grateful.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Recovery Journal, Uncategorized

 

In My Head

I think I am trying too hard today.

I think I will try to not try so hard.

Should I try to not try at all or try to try a little less?

How much trying is too much? How much is too little? I want to try to get this trying thing just right.

I want to try to figure out the signs that I am trying too much or too little.

I want to try to perceive things correctly.

I want to try to understand why all my efforts to not try too much or too little appear to be fruitless.

I want to try to do all of this without trying.

I think I should try to keep my head from exploding.

Maybe I should try to give up trying.

I think I will try that for a while.

Should I try to give up completely or just a little?

I will try to figure out how much giving up is just right.

Then I will try to give up just that amount.

Maybe I should try to create total silence inside my mind.

If I try really hard will my mind be totally quiet?

Or does quieting the mind require trying less?

Maybe I should try to let go completely.

If I let go does that mean I have to stop trying altogether?

How do I try to stop trying altogether?

Maybe I need to try to stop this chatter.

How do I try to stop this chatter?

I think I am trying too hard to stop this chatter.

I think I am starting to lose my mind.

I think I should try to start praying.

I will start now:

Dear God.

Is that an OK way to begin? Of course it’s OK.

Dear God, I humbly ask you…

Should I say ‘beseech’. Aren’t you supposed to say ‘beseech’ in a prayer?

Does it matter?

OK, Dear God, I humbly beseech you to…

What am I asking for?

Now I’m stuck.

Help!

That’s it.

Dear God, I need help.

Please help me.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Recovery Journal

 

Circling

Someone told me once that the Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous works because you can make it into whatever sort of healing experience you need.

For me, Twelve Step is bearable group therapy. Within its usually gentle, nonjudgemental rooms, I have found space to examine and begin to exorcise the worst of my self-sabotaging social behaviors.

In my experience, alcoholism is not so much a psychological disorder as a relationship malaise. It evolves, at least to some degree, out of a damaged ability to become close to others.

It is a truism of human interaction that liquor, when consumed modestly, can be a social enhancement. Small amounts of alcohol imbibed by non-alcoholics can loosen inhibitions fairly harmlessly, making certain gatherings more agreeable and festive.

When one drinks to excess it is often because one’s shyness cannot be cured by the temporary blurring of social boundaries. One feels the need to down cocktail after cocktail in order to connect.

It stands to reason that when one seeks to recover from alcohol abuse one not only needs to repair the damage to the body, and break free of physical addiction, but also heal oneself as a social being.

For me, and I am sure for many, this growing sense of a saner connection to others is one of the miracles that occurs over time as one sits in the circles of the Twelve Step program, listening and telling stories about recovery.

At first, trying to bond without the crutch of alcohol is a frightening reminder of how socially vulnerable one is. When I first started going to AA meetings, all my awkward feelings surfaced and spilled over. I experienced suspicion, fear, attraction, jealousy, anger, competitiveness, love, rivalry, triumph and defeat. Oh, and embarrassment about being such a Drama Queen. There was plenty of that. Sometimes I felt so hyped up after a meeting that I had to hasten home, lie down and just try to get my heart to stop pounding.

Over time I have realized that most of these dramas are of my own making–not pure invention but inflation, enhancement and neurotic reenactment of the past. When a powerful feeling emerges, I try to explore what I might be projecting or replaying out of my own personal history.The most important thing for me to remember is that revisiting these scenes and feelings helps me get better.

I am so grateful to the God of my understanding for leading me to this place. For years I ran screaming from the idea of a support group. Now, no matter what happens, I follow the AA adage to “keep coming back.” I have managed to hang in so far–and feel better for it. I look forward to the lessons still to come.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Recovery Journal

 

Mirror Mirror

My son is fascinated by astrophysics so lately we’ve been watching reruns of The Wormhole, a television series about quantum mechanics and the nature of reality.

I was intrigued by the episode on the fourth dimension. While I’m no spatial genius, it did get me thinking about the metaphorical possibilities of the concept.

Here’s what came to mind:

When I dive deep into my head–a psychic soup of mood swings, memories, obsessions, compulsions, fears and fantasies–I put myself into a sort of fourth dimension.

Being in my own parallel universe is scarier than any science fact or fiction.

Peering out from my little world, I’m convinced my perceptions are accurate. Truth is, I’m encircled by a fortress of mirrors. Everywhere I look I see only me: my thoughts, my feelings, my projections. My defensive reflections show me what I already know. They confirm my worst fears. I’m trapped inside the dimension of me. I cannot see past my own psyche.

Nothing sends me into my citadel more swiftly than a new relationship. From the moment I meet someone, my projections block the view of my prospective mate, covering his face with every other man in my memory. When he speaks, his words become speeches I have heard before. His actions are indistinguishable from scenes I’ve played previously. I react to him as if he were every man who disappointed or wronged me. I accuse, I cower, I run, I weep, I rage.

I am deep in my head and out of my mind. It’s a great way to lose a guy. Who would put up with such nuttiness? Hallucinations haven’t been hot since Woodstock.

How to escape the Moi Dimension and return to everyday Earth?

Part of recovery is learning to get out of our heads and live happily among other creatures, see the lovely unexplored paths, the spiritual richness of our lives.

We strive to separate projection from truth, I from Thou. We learn to dismantle our defenses and allow enough space around us to permit other people to teach and love us. We start to see and hear and discover things that are not of our own making. We move away from the mirrors.

We begin to live once more in a three dimensional world we can savor with our senses and our hearts.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Recovery Journal

 

Baited Part II: Keeping Yr Cool



There’s a saying in the Twelve Step program that goes something like this:

“When you’re an alcoholic many drinks are not enough and one drink is too many.”

An essential piece of AA wisdom is to never take the first drink. These words are not as DoYaThink obvious as they seem.

For a problem drinker one modest beverage too often mushrooms into a monstrous binge. Alcoholics can’t stop at one or two the way other drinkers can; usually we can’t stop until we pass out. That is why one is too many.

There is a another step in this sequence: a toxic draught that often precedes the first drink and must be avoided if one is to stay straight.

I’m talking about emotional triggers for drinking and, in particular, troubled encounters with loved ones.

We can not control the hurtful behavior of our nearest and dearest. We don’t want to stop loving them. We can, however, protect ourselves from other people’s craziness by not rising to the bait.

It is much easier, as we know, to not bite in the first place than to try to unhook oneself later. It is amazing how quickly a provocation will dissipate, even from someone with the power to Punk us till it hurts, if we do not allow ourselves to overreact.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to free yourself once baited? How tough to calm down once you have unleashed feelings provoked by someone you love who is acting out?

It makes sense that civilization’s most memorable myths include tales of wicked genies swirling out of bottles and primordial evil pouring out of Pandora’s box. There is ancient wisdom in the ubiquitous advice to “keep a lid on it” “rise above it” or “take it easy”.

My favorite variation on this theme: “Don’t give it energy.”

The question is, how to stay above the fray? To be truthful I don’t always stifle myself. This week, for instance, I dodged two fights only to slam into another provocation and completely lose my cool. I ran screaming through my house begging God to put me out of my misery with one of the lightning bolts igniting the summer sky, then spent several hours explaining to my stunned 19-year-old that Mom was just being a Drama Queen and wasn’t going to jump out of the second story window (there’s a roof outside the second story window).

On other occasions, I have been more successful at taking a pass on the gleaming hook just barely covered with my love-junkie’s favorite bait, which is, of course, delicious affection.

Here are a few things that have worked for me. Perhaps they can help you, too:

*A brilliant life coach once advised me to imagine a pause button in my hand. Other mental health gurus speak of visualizing a stop sign. When I feel a reaction coming on, I use these tools to simply stop myself.

*Instead of verbal expression, I endeavor to fall silent, stay calm and breath deeply. I try to focus on how to take care of myself rather than how to punish or change someone else.

*I hang up the phone or if the encounter is live and in person I find a way to absent myself. Remember: powder rooms are meant to double as emotional bomb shelters. That’s why they have fans loud enough to mask heavy sobbing and guest towels strong enough to remedy the worst makeup malfunction. Also bear in mind: A hand-carved custom-milled mahogany front door is not just a status symbol. It is meant to be used, preferably after telling an ingenious whopper and offering a chipper adieu.

*I pray like hell to my Higher Power to help me slow my pulse and unclench my jaw. Removing the focus from the other person and myself and placing both of us into the hands of God offers immediate relief. Secondly, it helps me rise above the situation and stay there until it’s safe to come back down.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Recovery Journal

 

Drowning Revisited

Alcoholic diva Amy Winehouse sings a beautiful ballad called “Love is a Losing Game.” I adore the song but disagree with it. I don’t think love is a losing game. I know that drinking is a losing game. Combining the two is the lamest game of all.

Yet how easy it is to blend love and liquor. How romanticized and entrenched it is in our culture. For me, as for so many others, the two activities have too often become entangled–with disastrous results.

When I was drinking, I usually did it to deal with trouble in my love life or in other relationships. Alas, alcohol did nothing to solve my issues. It made them a million times worse.

Often I became inebriated when I was trying to convince myself that someone loved me who didn’t or make myself love someone for whom I had no feelings. Drinking allowed me to mute uncomfortable or intense sensations. It also, I failed to recognize, dampened the best feelings, and destroyed essential defenses and boundaries.

The result almost invariably was that I allowed myself to be abused. Forget date rape drugs. I did not need them. Half a bottle of wine would induce me to submit to things that made me shudder with self-hating shame the next day.

The saddest part is that I drank in a twisted quest for genuine affection, real connection. You have heard of the angry drunk. Well, I was the opposite: the yearning burning love sick drunk. Drinking unleashed all the repressed longing to express and receive love, physical and emotional. Moreover, I seemed invariably drawn, while drunk, to seek affection from other alcoholics: usually angry, abusive, or emotionally distant men.

These days, in my recovery, I still feel the vestigial impulse to order a festive vial of champagne or amusing new fad martini when out on a date. I try not to. One recent tumble off the wagon, which led me to the brink of a creepy, denigrating close encounter, frightened me sufficiently to discourage future lapses.

Sometimes I long for that sweetly dizzy, light and lofty, soft and fuzzy feeling that used to overtake me when sharing a bottle of wine or a shaker of cocktails with a new and promising swain. Knowing where it will lead, I try to focus on the beauty of sober intimacy.

Here’s what I keep in mind:

The most passionate, transcendent, intimacy will occur only when my reasonable defenses and boundaries are functioning, when I am fully alert and aware; when my senses, emotions and intellect are magically alive and blissfully present to the extraordinary, exquisite moment.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2011 in Recovery Journal