A final reflection

What a year! It has been both easy and hard to write a weekly post over the past year to celebrate my 25 years of sobriety.

In early posts, there was so much to write about and so much to remember. It was pretty tough to think back to those very dark days of my early sobriety and the difficult work of getting through the 12 Steps of A.A. for the first time. As the year progressed, finding something new to write about was the harder part, and expressing my gratitude for the richness of my life in sobriety was easy.

In A.A., we talk about sharing our “experience, strength and hope” to help others get sober. I’ve shared some of the ways I coped and learned and made it through another day sober. I hope that my writing this blog has helped some people who are struggling to see that they are not alone, and to get ideas that might work for them. I also hope that my stories have helped some people understand what their partner, their sister, their father, their friend is going through as an alcoholic or addict trying to get sober.

It has been a really great learning experience to reflect on my early days of sobriety. I’ve appreciated the questions and comments from people I know. And I’ve enjoyed and been so inspired by connecting with other people who blog about their own struggles with addiction.

My deepest gratitude to the many people who have been part of my sobriety journey, whether they touched me with a story they shared in an A.A. meeting or on a blog, or worked through the steps with me in my first year of sobriety, or have been supportive people in my life for decades. To all of you, my most humble thanks and appreciation for walking some of this sobriety road with me.

And to the alcoholic or addict who still suffers, I encourage you to get sober any way you can. Try something, try anything to help you get sober. Since I sobered up – 26 years ago tomorrow! – my life has become so much richer and happier and calmer and more joyful. May you find the same contentment and joy – one day at a time.

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The home stretch – my 2nd-last post

One of the rewarding results of writing this gratitude blog has been the conversations with people who are curious about A.A.. Some have questions about the program itself, others want to talk about why they don’t like A.A., and others wonder why A.A. worked for me.

It has been interesting to see why some people can’t connect with the A.A. program. They generally fall into one of three groups:

  1. People who don’t believe they are an alcoholic/addict.
  2. Feminists who struggle with the idea of “forgive and forget” that is often said in A.A. meetings.
  3. People who can’t connect with “God,” perhaps because of their background or their past experience with a formal religion.

If you fit into the first group, you are not yet ready to get sober. Everything I have heard and seen in my almost 26 years of sobriety has made it clear that getting sober starts with the alcoholic. In Step 1, the person has to be ready to admit they are powerless over alcohol (or drugs), and that their life has become unmanageable – that is a big hurdle for many people. I remember going to an A.A. meeting when I was trying “controlled drinking” not long before I sobered up, and being very upset to realize I should have been there for myself, but I was not ready …

I think most people know at least one person they would call an alcoholic, but that person does not acknowledge their problem with drink or drugs. I’ve also seen people come into A.A. meetings who are trying to sober up to save their marriage or for their kids, but it just doesn’t stick if they can’t do it for themselves. As I mentioned in an earlier post, having a baby when I was just over a year sober was a big incentive to stay sober, but it would not have been enough if I couldn’t admit that my life had become unmanageable as a result of my drinking and drugging.

Over the years, I’ve spoken with many women who have trouble with the ideas of “forgive and forget” and “let go and let God” that are so central to A.A. Many who experienced child abuse or child sexual abuse say that they cannot or do not want to forgive the people who abused them, and I think it is important to respect their decisions and what they say about the impact such abuse had on their lives. Some people, like me, can “take what you want and leave the rest” – another A.A. expression I heard a lot – and draw strength and support from A.A. Others might need to find other groups such as Women for Sobriety or other types of support groups or counselling to help with their addiction issues. For anyone struggling to get sober, it is important to seek support, to find what works for you, and to remember that getting sober is what is important.

And the last group are those who have trouble connecting with A.A. because of the central place of “God” in the program. Check out my posting from April 17 (https://thinkingaboutgratitude.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/step-11-attempting-to-live-a-spiritual-life/) for my experience and suggestions about “God” and A.A.

In any case, I’d encourage you to give A.A. a chance because you may find “it works if you work it.” I am so glad and grateful that I did!

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Last but not least … Step 12

The final Step in the A.A. program is:

“12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.”

For me, everything in this step is meaningful:

  • Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps: There is no doubt that working on my sobriety through the A.A. program meant developing more of a spiritual life. As I’ve mentioned in a number of posts, there is a lot of “God” in A.A. For some, that is a difficult part of A.A. For me, I knew my life was crazy and I really wanted to get sober, to get healthy, to be able to make better choices, to be able to live my principles. Turning my “will and life over to the care of God as I understood Him (Her)”, which is Step 3, was the way to get sober and stay sober. Thanks be to my Higher Power!
  • We tried to carry this message to alcoholics: I tried to share my stories – my experience, strength and hope – with other alcoholics/addicts in A.A. meetings, in gatherings with other alcoholics, and in Women for Sobriety meetings. As I got more sober time in, I stopped going to meetings very often, but still thought of the 12 Steps and worked on living a sober life. As I approached my 25th anniversary of sobriety last year, I really wanted to reflect on the changes in my life, and share some of those reflections. This blog has been a way to give back, to carry the message to other alcoholics/addicts and the people who love them.
  • And practice these principles in all our affairs: This how I try to live my life: with intention, with thoughtful kindness, and through ongoing connection to the spiritual. I don’t claim to get it right all the time, but I try, I “practice” these principles. For me, one of the easiest ways to connect with Spirit is to go outside. Just breathing the sweet ocean air and reaching through my feet to Mother Earth connects me to Spirit in a wondrous way – how lucky am I! I could never have found my way to this joy if I was still drinking and drugging.

There is no doubt that working the 12 Steps, and continuing to practice what I learned through A.A. has given me gifts again and again in my sober life. I am so very grateful.

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It’s May again …

What a wonderful time of year! The smells of spring surround me, and I am greeted by birdsong each morning. Even if you live in an urban jungle, I hope that the change of season brings you renewed energy and some of the small joys that so sustain me.

It seems hard to believe that I started this blog almost a year ago. It has been wonderful to share important parts of my sobriety journey:

  • To remember those trembling early days when I barely managed to stay sober for a minute, for an hour.
  • To reflect on the pain, the shame, the hard parts and the small steps forward as I worked through the 12 Steps of the A.A. program.
  • To recognize how important it was to share experience, strength and hope with other alcoholics and addicts in A.A. meetings.
  • To appreciate the support and encouragement from my partner, my daughter, my friends and my family through the days and years of my sobriety.
  • To celebrate how much better my life is. The insanity is gone, I am content, I see the small joys in my daily life, and I can strive to live an intentional, Spiritful life.

What an amazing journey. I am so grateful for my sobriety, and for deciding to take on this year of reflection and sharing.

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Principles before personalities

In working on my blog, I’ve recently been thinking about the 12 Traditions of A.A.. Like the 12 Steps, these Traditions are read out at the start of every A.A. meeting to help us remember how A.A. works.

The 12 Traditions are:

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

These 12 Traditions remind us that A.A. groups are there to support alcoholics/addicts to get sober and stay sober, and as long as you are trying to do that you are welcome. (There are also many “Open” meetings where friends, family members and people who are curious about A.A. are welcome to come and participate.) The Traditions say how A.A. groups are to organize and pay for themselves, and that A.A. groups do not get involved in public issues. And the foundation of a connection to God – as you understand Him/Her – is made clear.

The 12th Tradition has been particularly important to me, for a couple of reasons:

  • First, and most importantly, anonymity.It is very hard to quit drinking/drugging. For sure, there are the physical effects of withdrawl and the low state I was in when I finally decided to get sober. It was also pretty hard to admit I was powerless over alcohol, that my life had become unmanageable because of using, that booze and drugs were making me crazy. I very much counted on the anonymity promise of A.A. when I started going to meetings. I had a high profile in my community and a good job, and I needed to know my anonymity would be protected. Very fortunately, at my first A.A. meeting that day almost 26 years ago, another high profile person was there and he made a point of coming up to me at the end of the meeting to say that my anonymity would be kept by the group. What a comforting welcome and assurance as I started on the long and far from easy journey to sobriety.
  • Another part of the 12th tradition is also very important to me: principles over personalities. What that means to me is that the principles that are outlined in the 12 Steps and that underlie the 12 Traditions are more important than individuals who may be in any meeting room. It is not about who you are, or how much or how little sobriety you have, or whether you sit at the front of the meeting or at the back of the room. What matters is that you are an alcoholic/addict who is trying to get sober, and who is trying to practice the principles involved in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. Knowing that I was welcome at a meeting from my first day, and that other people would be welcome regardless of who they are and how shaky their sobriety might be, has been a consistently powerful part of the A.A. program for me.

My thanks to the people in my home group and the A.A. rooms over many years for keeping that promise – that Tradition – of protecting my anonymity and welcoming alcoholics at every stage of recovery. It is with the support of people working on their recovery in A.A. meetings wherever I went that I have been able to get sober and stay sober. So much gratitude!

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Step 11: Attempting to live a spiritual life

For me, Step 11 of the A.A. program is all about maintaining a a spiritual life. The step reads:

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

I know some people who do not participate in formal religion are put off by all of the “God” in A.A. Although I was part of a religious community at the time I sobered up, I found the “God” stuff hard at first. But then I listened, and read, and listened some more.

Step 3 refers to “God as we understood Him.” I remember many A.A. meetings where someone talked about their struggles with the God part of A.A. They were encouraged to accept anything that they were comfortable with as a Higher Power, even the people gathered in the A.A. meeting. It also meant, at least in theory, that A.A. meeting rooms were an accepting place where you could practice any faith or find your own path and, as long you are seeking a spiritual component, you are working the A.A. program.

Early on in my sobriety – in the first few months, I was able to accept that a Higher Power “as I understood Him” (Her) could help me get sober, and get sane. For me, all parts of Step 11 are about connecting with Spirit and walking a spiritual path:

  • Sought through prayer and meditation: Part of living a sober life is making time for prayer and meditation. I don’t participate in a formal religion anymore, and I don’t have a specific time of day or day of the week that I pray. But I do pray: through attempting to live an intentional, thoughtful, contributing life; in the silent meditative conversations I have with my Higher Power; by the prayers I send out for people I know and people I don’t who need some extra love and support in their lives; and in the incredible, energetic connection I can now easily make with Mother Earth – where I find my centre, my most direct connection to Spirit.
  • To improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him: For me, walking a spiritual path is all about a conscious contact with a Higher Power. Each prayer, each kind act, each careful step on this earth, keeps me on this spiritual path.
  • Praying only for knowledge of His will for us: This is the most difficult part of this step. How do I hear His (Her) will for me? I can only continue to walk a spiritual path, with my heart and my mind and my spirit open (as much and as often as I can), and to try and live my life with intention.
  • And the power to carry that out: Despite my uncertainty about my life’s higher purpose, choosing to be kind, trying to keep my heart and my mind open, and connecting to spirit gives me the power to carry out my life’s purpose, even if that purpose is not so clear.

My spiritual path – as informal and undefined and uncertain as it is – brings me great contentment, and peace, and joy. How thankful am I!

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Do whatever helps

Last week I mentioned that I rarely go to A.A. meetings these days. When I first sobered up, I went to meetings regularly. Some people have found going to 90 A.A. meetings in 90 days a great way to get sober. My work life, including regular travel, was too busy to make a commitment to a meeting every day.

What I did was to go to at least one A.A. meeting every week, and often more. My home group (in A.A., that means the specific A.A. meeting you go to each week) was on Friday night at 8pm. Even if I was on the road for work, I could make it home in time to go to my home group meeting. That was really important in those difficult first weeks and months of sobriety.

When I was drinking and using, I used to look forward to kicking off the weekend by a good few drinks, a party, a long night at the bar. But that led to a lot of crazy behaviour and bad decisions, decisions that hurt other people and definitely hurt me.

Once I started sobering up through A.A., I started to look forward to my home group at the beginning of each weekend. There, I would hear stories from other alcoholics/addicts, talk about my own struggles, work on the A.A. program and share friendship. I started to really enjoy and appreciate my weekends in a new way. And I began to live the thoughtful, Spiritful, intentional life I hoped to have.

However, after three years of sobriety, I moved from one region of the country to another. There, I found that the A.A. meetings were much more Christian-based rather than Spiritual-based, and I found it harder to handle the smoky meeting rooms (I had quit smoking cigarettes in my first year of sobriety). So, to keep working on my path to sobriety and to help other alcoholics/addicts, I helped start and run a Women for Sobriety group (see http://womenforsobriety.org). We met weekly and worked a similar program to A.A. but founded on feminist principles. I was involved in that program for three years, while still going to the occasional A.A. meeting.

After six years sober, with very few people coming to the Women for Sobriety meetings, the group folded. I still went to the occasional A.A. meeting, but less and less often. But that did not mean I was not working on my sobriety. I continue to draw on the 12 steps of the A.A. program, and still go to a meeting once in a while.

Another important and invigorating part of my sobriety has been this past almost-year of writing a gratitude blog. I have been able to reflect on my sobriety journey, acknowledge the important role A.A. has had in my sobriety, and share my experience, strength and hope with other alcoholics/addicts and the people who love us.

My heartfelt thanks to people who have shared some parts of my sobriety journey – in A.A. meetings and elsewhere. I could not have gotten sober and stayed sober without you.

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