Going into an AA meeting is like an orgy…You don’t know who or what did it, but you come out feeling better.
Going into an AA meeting is like an orgy…You don’t know who or what did it, but you come out feeling better.
I base someone’s trustworthiness within the first 30 seconds of interaction. My immediate reactions are either a) you don’t like me so I don’t like you, or b) I trust you with my life let’s be friends forever. Lots of room for let down in there.
This past week I’ve been lost in my mind in regards to whom I should trust, who I shouldn’t, and how to decipher the code of human conduct. Last night my mom called me “guarded.” This got me thinking…am I guarded or smart? Am I my own worst enemy? Am I being rational or are most people shit heads?
My thoughts can spin in circles faster than a neurotic hamsters on wheels, so I turned to my friends for help. As usual, getting outside my head was the best place to find clarity. I asked them what trust means to them; its basic definition, if it comes naturally, if it’s easy to come by or hard to come by, how you know you can trust someone, etc…The responses have helped immensely. Here they are, and I’ll keep them coming:
1) “Hmmm…Never had to put it into words. I guess it involves a bit of surrender, some blind faith, some experience.” -Anon 1, sober 3 years
2) “I threw trust in the garbage disposal a while ago.” -Anon 2, sober 30 days
3) “Going on a bender…knowing there is someone who will always pick up your call if you’re in trouble.” -Anon 3, not in the program
4) “When you’re willing to let go…just because someone tells you it’s okay…that’s trust.” -Anon 4, not in the program
5) “Trust is the outcome and peace of mind of a relationship completely fear-free.” -Anon 5, 1 year
6) “Woof. I may not be the most intuitive when it comes to that.” -Anon 6, not in the program
7) “I boil trust down into faith overcoming fear. And my struggle comes down to internal/external fear/trust. External trust is believing that others can know who I am and accept me for me. That if I admit that I am struggling that they can and will help. That if I expose where I am weak I won’t be betrayed. Internal trust is what eludes me the most because I have lied to myself more than I have ever lied to other people. I struggle in trusting my thinking, my emotions, and my motives. That’s the shit that blocks me from opportunity to put in my trust in others. I do not trust myself.” -Anon 7, newcomer
8) “I read somewhere ‘trust no man, fear no bitch.’ I think that’s my motto from now on.” -Anon 8, 41 days
Last night I went to a much needed meeting. I hadn’t been to one since Saturday, and it’s amazing how quickly my thinking turns. There was no impending doom of drinking, but when my thoughts turn more selfish less selfless I know it’s time to get my butt to the rooms.
The best part about the meeting was that someone else got me there. All it took was one text message: Is there a meeting at 5:30. I was promptly and positively informed of the time and location of a group I’d never visited.
There were familiar faces in the room and the chairs formed a circle. I always like when the chairs are in a circle. It feels personal. It also feels like a stereotypical 12-step meeting…like in FightClub. Or 28 Days.
It started with a 5 minute meditation. I used to think meditation was hocus pocus stuff–seriously. It was a firm belief of mine that anyone who practiced meditation was full of “it,” or slightly mad as a March hare. Now, it’s a practice I value, respect, and work on daily.
The lights in the room were turned off and a candle sat in the middle of us on the floor. There’s something undeniably magical about candlelight. Meditation is not something I’ve “mastered,” (if that’s even proper mindfulness terminology) so I keep it real simple; usually breathing in love and breathing out patience. Anyway..the lights turned on the leader read from the 24 Hour book. The gist of the reading was “welcoming difficulties.” At first, I thought, huh? Then I realized that sobriety has completely redefined my idea of difficult, and there are two forms.
1) The ones I bring upon myself — I can take a traffic jam and turn it into a catastrophe. I can launch a diatribe against one person for several no good reasons. It’s not difficult to make a situation even more difficult. It’s actually my nature to take aspects of life and transform them into obstacles…but the program has given me tools to counteract the titanic thoughts. Perspective…that’s the tool I’m thinking of. It allows me to realize that some situations in my head are just not true.
Life on life’s terms, however, is full of uncontrollable adversities. This is difficulty type 2:
The world can be a cankerous cold habitat…and/or completely laden with challenges. I don’t welcome anyone dying. That goes without saying, but I said it anyway. I do, however, welcome difficulties that give me strength, and those difficulties take form in infinite numbers of ways. Yesterday I went in for a follow up on a job I’m thrilled and nervous to start. Holding my own in terms of wages and displaying my knowledge without panicking was difficult! I made it. I made it through friends’ deaths and family illnesses and times where my heart feels like it’s going to drop out the bottom of my chest. I’m not saying that life gets easier, but I read a quote once that said:
“Hope is the key that unlocks the door to discouragement.”
For Difficulties type 1, I need to recognize my own defects. For Difficulties type 2, I need to remember and hold onto the message above.
April 29, 2013
“I’ve been rethinking California. I don’t want to live in fear of a bad “relationship” that I’m not even in, and I don’t want to live in fear of a drinking problem I may not have…I just want to live.
I want to make money to travel. The ranch = funding for my passport. It’s not backwards, it’s just going back so I can move forward.” (The ranch = the pot farm.)
Today: Day 326
The entry above was written seven months ago, at three months sober. Reading passages like this make me smile, because I feel like I’m in on a secret that my past self didn’t know. The writing reveals notions that were oblivious to me then; and I’m sure in months when I read this, I’ll see what’s oblivious to me now.
If I could go back in time and tell myself what I know now, I wouldn’t; the lessons I’ve learned have been hard earned. I feel a confident sense of accomplishment reading old thoughts, like, “I need money,” or “I don’t want to live in fear.”
I was living in fear, especially of what others thought. My insecurities were so intensely binding because everyone surely had the same opinion of myself as I did. If I felt stupid, they thought I was stupid, too. I felt ugly, therefore everyone else saw me as ugly, too. When I felt isolated, it was because no one was letting me in…It’s a huge relief to know that the world doesn’t revolve around me.
My fear of financial unsustainability was pretty sad, to be frank. The amount of money in my pocket determined my worth because I couldn’t find valuation anywhere else, certainly not from my “relationship.” The man in my life used me like a doormat and I made it easy; his negative attention was better than his indifference. The weight of my importance was weighed by everyone but myself.
In the “grand scheme of things,” (I don’t really like that phrase) ten months can be considered the blink of an eye, but the past 10 months have been the most literal a “journey” has ever felt to me, and it’s been by physically staying in one place.
My mind, on the other hand, has come light years further. Recently I haven’t been bound by negativity, and I’m less afraid of the “uncomfortables.” (Scientific term there). I have unguarded moments all the time, and they’re okay. I haven’t fallen apart at change or lost my mind in monotony. I’ve coped at the loss of life; I’ve gotten better at recognizing which lives I need to walk out of. I respect myself by doing estimable acts. I’ve also learned that my self-development comes most from helping other people, which is the backbone of my growth and destroying self-centeredness.
I hope the old Faith doesn’t hijack my brain, and I know it’s possible. I’ve learned these lessons but I know I can forget as soon as tomorrow. My recovery relies on living in faith, not fear. Staying sober means knowing that I’ll never stop learning, that I need to keep going to meetings, help others, ask for help, and writing down where I am on the “journey.”
I need decent chunks of time for my blog posts, which I haven’t been able to find until now. Writing for me is like exercise, and I’m out of shape creatively. (Bear with me.) The good news is I’m in shape spiritually.
Spending nearly three weeks in Argentina for my best friend’s wedding was…como si dice…fantastico? Life changing? Super cool? I can’t find the words in English or in Spanish to describe the past twenty days.
My flight got in Tuesday morning and I’ve been to a meeting here in Connecticut everyday since. At a speaker meeting last night someone said, “The first year of sobriety lays your foundation for the life ahead.”
There’s no way I can make promises that I’ll never drink again, but by staying clean in a country abounds with wine, cocaine, and discothèques, my foundation does feel stronger than before. Ten months in AA has taught me that cockiness is a dangerous sentiment; I’m wary of over boldness, but I don’t want to deny or forget the growth through my experiences abroad.
The people who I traveled with taught me about myself through their openness, and supported me without question. Gratitude from their behavior alone was enough to make me see the bigger picture…whatever that is. Maybe the “bigger picture” to me is The Promises. All the bullshit’s disintegrating and the good shit is emerging. My outlook is changing.
I was able to help everyday; uselessness disappeared. I lost interest in myself; remembering the priority in my life is to help others. I found my attitude shifting and uneasiness disappearing. There were a few times when I wanted to retreat during events, but for the most part I’d stick it out long enough to enjoy company and think, holy shit! I’m having a conversation!
Despite seeing the parties, the flowing wine, the free drinks and dozens of opportunities to rage, I want all of them less. I have come back from Argentina with more self-assuredness than when I arrived, and 100% certainty that I had an amazing time because I didn’t waste one minute disconnecting from reality with drugs and alcohol.
Que freakin’ bueno.
Day 274: 9 MONTHS TODAY!
To lessen the pain of my first sober Halloween in over a decade, I impressed myself by coordinating and purchasing tickets for an event called “The Blaze.”
I proposed the idea to fellow sober-rovers, and some asked if it was a weed convention; why else would “blaze,” in the title? I told them no, it was a pumpkin extravaganza, with over 5,000 hand-carved jack-o-lanterns. Despite not knowing any details about the thing, several of us RSVP’d and began planning our Halloween costumes.
My getup consisted of rainbow suspenders, combat boots, a white tutu, and an electric blue wig over two and a half feet long. In case there was any confusion about what I was supposed to be (a rainbow) I bought 3 boxes of Skittles and shook them vigorously.
Batman aka my partner in crime arrived at my house in a Patagonia jacket and jeans; not exactly the Batman costume I was hoping for. He said his Bat-suit had turned into more of a sweat suit, but assured me he would change at the event. I would’ve protested longer but there were 150 pieces of candy in the Bat mobile.
Thirty chocolate bars and 45 minutes later we arrived, parked, and within seconds realized we were the only adults dressed up—actually I was the only adult dressed up, because my friend Batman was still a version of “Bruce Wayne” from the suburbs. He opened the trunk and looked at his bat-armor reluctantly.
“You have to wear it,” I said, as a family not sporting any Halloween-wear walked by.
We struck a deal that made me feel better. He wore just the Batman head and black rubber gloves with his regular attire, and held a light-sabor that made noise like a broken barcode scanner. While walking with the rest of the foot traffic, laughing at the sheer ridiculousness, I had a perplexing moment of clarity; I didn’t care what anyone else was thinking…which was good, because of what happened next.
Half-assed Batman and I got in line behind an array of teenagers waiting to enter The Blaze. As the laws of waiting in lines go, we idly moved forward even though no one had advanced. Our friends hadn’t showed up, but we were anxious to get going since it had started raining. People in line kept glancing at us, probably because we looked like challenged adult-children, who got lost trick-or-treating. Also I figured my wig was probably pretty straggly at that point.
Finally folks started moving, but not forward…everyone was dispersing; suddenly Batman and I were standing on a cleared patch of grass, facing a plastic orange fence between the event and the woods.
We hadn’t been waiting in a line at all, just standing awkwardly close to a group of strangers who were all friends. No wonder they were looking at us! I bet they went through a round of, “Do you know that guy with the batman head and toy light-sabor? No? Why is that girl shaking a box of Skittles?”
Once the situation dawned on us, we doubled over in laughter. Batboy had to rip off his mask and I just about passed out from laughing so hard; I’m almost certain that any and all bystanders perceived us as wasted or on drugs.
The rest of the night was equally as comical and disastrous. By the time we met up with our friend (dressed as an astronaut), found the real line, and entered the much anticipated Blaze, half the jack-o-lanterns had been snuffed from the rainstorm and the path was jam packed to a standstill with normal folks who had enough foresight to bring umbrellas.
After a unanimous “let’s come back next year” we retreated in high spirits.
The best part about last night was that our plans totally failed, but Halloween was still a complete success. Blow and whiskey were my short cuts to feel self-assured, and converse “normally” without my thoughts interjecting doubts every two seconds; last night I stuck out like a sore thumb with complete confidence, and had a blast.
For the first time since God knows when, my mind wasn’t littered with unfounded suspicions about what “everyone” was thinking. I don’t have to point figures in unnecessary self defense. Who knew wearing a tutu could be so freeing.
This morning I woke up with a raging hangover. Sugar hangover that is. I’m going to revisit step one and add candy to my list of powerlessness…and The Blaze will go on my list for next year.
“If you ever want to be unhappy, just sit down and think about yourself all day.”
When I heard this in a meeting it resonated, but it’s amazing how quickly I forget.
Living in a pre-Copernican state of mind where the universe revolves around my life is the fast track to going nowhere. Self-talk makes my world so small; there’s no room for growth, and there’s certainly no room for anyone else.
In trying to obtain what I “needed” this past week to make me “happy,” I made myself extremely unhappy. What I was seeking most vehemently was validation from others to placate my own insecurities.
If permitted, unrestrained self-centered fears will throw raging pity parties in my head; I’m not smart unless someone says so, I’m ugly until someone tells me I’m not, I’ll buy clothes to make me feel pretty, then traffic on the way home from buying clothes I couldn’t afford becomes the biggest inconvenience on earth. Then after wasting so much time on myself, an AA meeting becomes burdensome and I grow resentful of the meeting and everyone involved. (Not me…everyone else.)
This cycle has run me around before and it will run me around again, anytime I fail to see people beyond my vision of falsified self-importance.
A wave of relief washed over me when I received the opportunity to help someone today–it was like a spell being broken. Oh yeah, I thought, this is what it’s all about.
There’s that cliché saying, “It doesn’t matter what’s on the outside, it’s the inside that counts.” And that’s true…in terms of appearance, but not in the cognitive sense. Sometimes I need the outside to fix the inside, so I can spend the day standing up to help others, not sitting down and thinking about myself.
When in doubt, I scroll up in my sobriety archives. If I’m denying how far I’ve come entries from the first 90 days reassure me of my progress. Here’s an entry from March 8; I had just over one month.
March 8, 2013
“i cannot stop eating. I’ve been having chocolate pudding for breakfast, I wake up and the first thing on my mind is, cookies. sweets, candy. my mom hid the chocolate bars from me; i am actually being rationed. my mom has said, just have one piece of chocolate, and i have said, that means nothing to me. instead of thinking rationally about the situation, oh i need to eat healthy, i think, i just need to starve myself a little. healthy thoughts, by….”
…by Faith Anonymous…well, Faith Anonymous 7 months ago, anyway. Reading entries such as this one give me hard evidence that I sometimes need to carry on for morale’s sake. I can read the ways in which I’ve grown. Don’t get me wrong–I still love any and all forms of sugar, but today there are healthy solutions as opposed to self imposed starvation.
Healthier options have derived from a healthier mind. Now I workout, and then chow down on a candy bar. Sometimes I have to ardently force myself to drive past that Crumbs Bakery place, aka my heaven and nightmare on earth, but that’s because I’m still learning moderation, and sometimes I walk out of there with three trays of cupcakes.
So I have a sweet tooth on steroids; at least the sugar I consume for sober sanity isn’t nose candy for my addiction. See? Healthier Options.
1. You have best friends but you don’t know their last name, and you know their sobriety date; not their birthday.
2. When you refer to the Big Book, you’re not talking about the bible.
3. What’s moderation?
4. You can relate to meth heads and heroin addicts more than you can your own mom.
5. Spending $20 on candy for yourself on a Friday night is completely justifiable because, “you’re not consuming all those calories you would if you were still drinking.”
6. You find yourself standing around in a lot of parking lots.
7. Over half your friends live with their parents.
8. You just found out that you’re selfish.
9. Being spiritually fit is more important than being physically fit.
10. Beer commercials have ruined football, forever.
11. You can’t help but grin manically at people suffering from a hangover.
12. Holidays are the leading cause of isolation.
13. You feel like you’re growing up, and down, at the same time.
14. You have to be reminded to sleep and eat and ask when you need help.
15. Almost everything is your sponsor’s fault.
16. You probably already hate your first sponsor.
17. You’re still a little embarrassed to admit that you pray.
18. There are probably a dozen other addicts and alcoholics in your family.
19. When you tell people you’re going to a meeting and it has nothing to do with work.
20. You’re sick of phrases like, Let go and Let God.
21. When going to a meeting is more important than saving yourself from the apocalypse.
22. You are strongly suggested to stay away from the opposite sex, so naturally you are extra tempted to gravitate toward the opposite sex.
23. Seeing someone from the program around town makes you feel like you guys should have a secret handshake.
24. There is never a time you don’t smell like coffee grounds or cigarettes.
25. You are becoming increasingly okay with going to bed at 9:30.
26. You have some sober friends who don’t understand, and say things like, “it’s all about will power,” referring to your addictions and alcoholism.
27. Everyone is out to get you.
28. If a door is closed, the people on the other side are definitely talking about you.
29. Salt looks like cocaine. Ice water looks like vodka on the rocks.
30. V8 will never not smell like a bloody mary.
31. You often feel like you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
32. When a friend switches home groups, it’s like he or she has died.
33. Your conversations consist of everything from crack cocaine and death to rainbows and butterflies.
34. If you go through the day without making a gratitude list you feel like you’re on the brink of relapse.
35. You can probably relate to everything on this list.
The leaves are falling like multicolored raindrops, pumpkins are perched on porches, and that candy-corn crap that tastes like chalk is on sale; all telltale signs of October, yet I woke up this morning having no idea what month we’re in. I mean I really had to think, which was initially unsettling. Aren’t I supposed to be restoring my sanity, not losing it?
It turns out there is a simple explanation; time flies. What a relief, I’m not crazy…okay I am a little crazy, but this sensation is normal; it’s just something I have not experienced in a very long time. My life is full again and it’s moving faster than that starship in Star Wars. I wish I had an ewok as a pet…Anyway…
Time in early-early sobriety moved slower than a three-toed sloth, probably because I was in so much pain; every step was excruciating, and I fought practically every inch of the way. I wish someone had told me sooner that alcoholism is 90% thinking and 10% drinking; maybe it would’ve made those days easier. Probably not. Fighting is inevitably painful and drawn-out whether it be against time, people, or Alcoholics Anonymous.
I have documented almost everyday of sobriety since my first AA meeting, and sometimes when I feel like I’m the same person who walked through the doors 253 days ago; all I have to do is scroll up. Entries in the beginning had a common thread of agonizing resistance, and skepticism that almost took me out one hundred times.
Maybe I read too much Carl Sagon as an undergraduate, but I wanted to question everything about this program. I wanted answers to the reasoning behind all steps and suggestions. I wanted to debunk the theory of AA. This skepticism, coupled with a yearning to bolt back to California made life drag on for a while.
By the grace of my Higher Power, I have stayed long enough to accept what I do not understand. Acceptance has allowed me to let go; letting go let me surrender. The moment I stop resisting the pain starts subsiding. I’ve learned in the rooms that to surrender literally means to go to the winning side; surrender is what has saved my sobriety, it’s given me a life so full I can barely keep up, and an awareness of what I need to keep going.
Time is flying because I have willingness to be a better person tomorrow than I was today. The days are packed because I have accepted that I don’t know much, and there’s a lot more to learn. Today, for example, I have learned that we are in the month of October, which means I must accept that I am approaching my first sober Halloween. Weee. Maybe I’ll dress up as Bill Wilson.