This is starting off as an interesting and different holiday season. For the past few years my wife and I have not really done much at our home in the way of Christmas decorations because we spend the holiday heading south to family in New Orleans where we will retire in the near future. But this year is different. My wife retired in November and now is “transitioning” to life in New Orleans about 18 months ahead of me. She has opened up a store on Magazine St. called Uptown Needle and CraftWorks, where among other things she sells very cool “recovery scrolls” pictured here. (Great last minute gift idea for the addict in your life. Three feet of steps, traditions, promises, and affirmations. A shameless plug.) So for the immediate future we will have long weekends once a month together until I join her full-time in 2016.
This year, instead of us both getting out of town and heading south for a bit of relaxation, she will be heading north and I will be staying put for the holidays. So last night I got all the Christmas decorations out of the attic, and will have them up by the end today – in a spirited competition to outdo with my next-door neighbor.
The last few weeks of reasonable isolation in our up north house with just me and the dogs has been interesting. In the past during our times apart, my wife and I keep up a reasonably regular email/phone conversation. We now find that Facetime is the better tool so that we can actually see each other.
I find that the being apart has been a lesson in how much we really enjoy being together – not taking each other for granted – my understanding of how our mutual passions, interests, lives, do form a greater whole than our two parts.
While going through the attic pulling out the Christmas stuff, I came across the shoe box labeled “our wedding” that contains the extra service bulletins, bookmarks, wedding cards wishing us well from the event some 15 years ago.
I think too of how none of this would have come to pass were I not sober. And I recollect how some of our first conversations when we met over 15 years ago included me being upfront about my alcoholism and that I had been in recovery for some 15 years by that point. In response, she told me how she had started the first Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting in the state a bunch of years before.
So, this year we will start a new tradition – and remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I spend about one hour each day in some combination of reading, commenting, or writing on/about recovery blogs. It’s generally the way that I start out each day. I have come to realize how integral blogs are to my recovery. For many this realization might sound like a pretty ridiculous statement. I realize that for many folks blogs have been integral since the first day of their recovery process. For me, that has certainly not been the case, as blogs and the internet were unknown back when I first got sober in 1984.
What got me to thinking about recovery blogs more was some recent conversation with folks struggling in their early recovery from Thailand, to England, to California, where I am able to comment and say – Yes, I can completely relate – and then share my experience, strength, and hope. As in an AA meeting, the approach is not – here is what you need to do. Rather comments on blogs are from a “carrying the message” and “practicing these principles in all our affairs” perspective that I learned early on in Alcoholics Anonymous.
In 1997 I was living in a rural northeast Louisiana in the U.S. where the nearest AA meeting was about a 20 mile drive. During this period I went many months and even years without attending an AA meeting. But during this period, I was on a quest for something, I am not certain what, and was doing an incredible amount of searching. I also quit smoking during this period following a twelve step program. In previous years I had attended two Smokers or Nicotine Anonymous meetings, in one case driving 90 miles to the nearest gathering. In 1997, I logged in daily to an IRC channel whose name I have forgotten but was something like Smokers Anonymous or Stop Smoking. For an extended period, this became my Twelve Step meeting to become abstinent from nicotine. That tool launched me into my now 17th year of abstinence from nicotine.
I mean this post not to be a walk down memory lane of my recovery tools and changing technology. Rather, I have profoundly come to believe that every day I must be actively mindful that I am an addict in recovery with choices to make. I have sometimes thought that my approach was rather fickle and that I should have a consistent “recovery tool” I could point to. But I also reflect on a comment Joe Iverson, my detox counselor made in 1984: “Alcoholics want things not to change, to be stable and flat. However, the only time you get a flat line is when you are dead.”
The punch line for me becomes that the consistency in my recovery is the daily and intentional choice to live in recovery and not active addiction. The tools are plentiful and evolve. What I must remember is that if the tool I am using is not working, then it is time to get another tool from recovery kit.
I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail – Abraham Maslow (ref)
I have not been to an AA meeting for about six weeks, and I am not feeling bad about that. My recovery is based in trying to live the Twelve Steps of AA – none of those steps mandate regular meeting attendance. Yet I also know that in the future, I will attend AA meetings, perhaps with a good bit of regularity, as I have done in the past.
I view AA meetings as a recovery tool. Other recovery tools include writing this post, commenting on other folks blog posts, being of service to other addicts, being of service to non-addicts, reading recovery literature, reading non-recovery literature, being accountable for my actions on a daily basis, being mindful and intentional, going to church, not going to church, writing a gratitude list, to name a few. A common theme I find in all of these recovery tools is that they allow/force me to get out of myself.
I enjoy knowing that there are many tools that are essential for my recovery. On my recovery road there are many that are tried and true, like:
- Whenever I go to a recovery meeting, I learn something, whether for the better or worse, that is useful in my life.
- Whenever I have perform any type of “service work” my recovery is enhanced.
- Whenever I start reading the Twelve and Twelve on page 1, the solution to any issue I face is addressed before completing the Twelfth Step reading.
- Whenever I write anything, whether a gratitude list, blog post, comment on a blog post, journal entry, essay, or fiction I receive insights on my recovery path.
- Whenever I share my experience, strength, and hope, whether directly in recovery, or simply living life on life’s terms, my recovery is enhanced.
Sometimes the hammer works, but sometimes another tool is needed. What are your go to recovery tools?
I very much enjoy the diversity of perspectives/resources available in the printed form to folks in recovery. I don’t buy into a single canonical document, whether the Talmud, New Testament, Qu’uran, AA Big Book, or Magna Carta as a be all source for living. Within the addiction field, the Hazelden Bookstore aims to be a one-stop place for all of your recovery needs. But there are many other resources that I find integral to my recovery. Some of my favorites include:
What books do you find enhance your recovery?
Sometimes I get it into my head that if I stay busy doing stuff, that will keep me on the straight and narrow vis my addiction issues – primarily around eating. But I know that is really not a solution at all. I played those games for a long time with alcohol and drugs. In fact, one of my last drunks occurred by following exactly that logic. I had been working on a writing project for about two weeks. I had amazed myself (and others) by my enforced abstinence from drinking during the entire period. I told myself, and rightfully so, if I had one drink, I would be shot for at least the rest of the day, and perhaps longer. The project I was working on was critically important for me to complete.
I reached the final day of my enforced sobriety. I knew that if I worked about five hours that day, the project would be complete and I could drink all I wanted, having proven to myself that I could in fact abstain if need be. Therefore, surely I could not be an alcoholic, went my logic.
So that final day, I got up, drank a pot of coffee during the first couple hours of work, comfortable that I was nearing the successful completion. I had just a few hours more work to go. I decided that the pot of coffee had put me a bit too much on edge. I had three bottles of beer in the refrig, certainly not enough to be too much of a distraction from my work. I reasoned I was entitled to a small celebration. I quickly drank the three beers, and all thoughts fo the project were gone. So . . . you can guess the rest of the story. The last thing I remember was walking down the street to the liquor store. I woke up the next day about 8:00 AM with my head throbbing, and realizing that once again I had blown it. So much for another attempt at demonstrating to myself that I was somehow different, and not an alcoholic. I never did finish the project.
I continued drinking for another 4 or 5 months after that event. I made no attempts to limit or control my drinking during that time period. I knew what I was, I just had to make a decision what I was going to do about it. When I made that final decision, not drinking was the easiest thing in the world – the living life on life’s terms was the hard part I had to learn.
Moderation has never worked for me with alcohol or drugs.
New Orleans is my favorite city in the world. I lived here for a couple of years in the 1970s during some of the absolute worst of my alcoholism. It was then that I learned that, yes, you can hallucinate with alcohol. I remember running down the street one Mardi Gras night chasing my brain that had left my head. I could not stop running because I knew if I did, I would never find my brain again. Amazingly, I still had another near decade of drinking and drugging yet to do!
Over the years since getting sober, New Orleans has taken on a different role. Here is where I have come for “retreats” for reflection. Typically I stayed in a hotel with no phone, tv, or internet access. I simply walked the streets for a few days, writing, reading, and thinking.
On a very hot August evening during one retreat about ten years ago, I was leaning up against the closed gates of the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. I tried to find the wall I used to lean up against drinking myself into oblivion after climbing over the gate with a bottle of wine all those years ago. On that August night, someone came up behind me and asked for money for beer. I turned to see a young man who could have been my mirror image from the 1970s. We went back and forth for a bit. I told him I would not give him any money, told him my story of the cemetery, and offered to go to take him to an AA meeting. He told me why AA would not work for him, thanked me, and he turned away. I then heard his voice hustling some others, but when I turned back, he was gone. I never was quite certain if this was a sober hallucination on a sweltering evening in what I describe as the most magical city on earth.
Fast forward to 2014, this weekend we drove a truck down from Memphis packed with my wife’s 18 sewing machines, hundreds of bolts of fabric and stuff, as she starts into her next phase of life, in which I will have the monthly 4-day weekend until I join her full-time in less than two years. (Shameless plug for her new store.) So yesterday, after unloading the truck, I road my bike all over my favorite city in my typical retreat of today. Interestingly, and perhaps somewhat prophetically, when I stopped for coffee and to watch some videos on my iPad for the MOOC I am taking called How to Change the World, I nodded off to sleep!
I am grateful that recovery has allowed me a second chance in my favorite city in the world.
In my recovery, primary addictions I deal with are alcohol, mind altering drugs, and nicotine. The common reckoning of success is either I consumed or I did not consume the substance. And with that form of reckoning, I am successful in my sobriety/abstention from these addictions.
Over the years, two other addictions I continue to face are compulsive overeating and workaholism. I am not someone who wants to get “holy” as it were, and achieve some altered state nearing perfection in all that I do. For me, that is a certainly a losing battle, as my family and friends will certainly attest. But I also know that for those issues, like food and work, that continually manifest themselves in the same way as did alcohol and drugs – escape and not dealing with life on life’s terms – I am compelled to address them. As I often share with others – if I am as satisfied as I want to be with my existence, then there really is no need to change – but I cannot complain about that existence either. That seems to be the key.
And without change, there is no change. I learned that very early on with alcohol and drugs. I made radical changes in how I deal with life. I need to keep in the forefront of my understanding this basic fact in all aspects of recovery.