The Honor of Being Asked in Recovery

dinner

My annual month or so trip to the rural Peruvian Andes usually ends around the time of my sobriety anniversary – August 4, 1984. Given the timing and circumstances, I tend to be reflective about life in recovery during these trips.

The other night my Peruvian colleague Elizabeth and I hosted a small dinner for a family with whom we have become quite close. In a week or so we will serve as Godparents for a baptism in the family and Best Man and Maid of Honor at the parent’s wedding. At the dinner, besides sharing a meal, kicking the soccer ball in the kitchen with the children, and general conversation, we also discussed the wedding and baptism plans.

The father expressed apologies for needing to change the date for the events.  Locating his baptismal certificate proved a problem, taking him to several nearby towns seeking out clergy who might have the record. You cannot be married by the Roman Catholic church in Peru without a baptismal certificate. Turns out that because the father was so ill as an infant he was given an emergency sacrament short of a baptism because he was not expected to live. I don’t get that theology. Ultimately though, a payment to the local clergy of 100 soles (about $30.00 US) was able to secure a baptismal certificate, without the need of the actual administration of the sacrament. I do understand that theology.

The mother who was raised by her grandparents did not remember ever being told she was baptized, nor did the grandparents have any recollection of the event. However, a visit to the church 2 hours away did produce a baptismal certificate for her.

The children’s baptisms and wedding will take place at 8:00 AM on Friday morning –  a convenient time for the clergy. The mother noted the early hour would require leaving the village at 3:00 AM to get to the city in time to get the children dressed and the girls’ hair styled properly. We suggested instead that we go down the night before, pay for a couple of hotel rooms that would have hot water so everyone could be well rested and fully ready for the events. We will make a visit down a few days ahead of time to make all the necessary arrangements for the hotel, clothes, celebration, food, and other details.

Elizabeth and I have expressed and reflected on the honor in the roles that we are invited to play with the family. I have known the family for about 4 years now, more regularly and well for the past 3 – Elizabeth for the past 6 years. Several things about the family stand out to me. The mother and father always have friendly and playful conversations. The children are simply a delight – well adjusted, bright, caring, and friendly little people. Their home is a place of joy and comfort. Both the father and mother work very hard to build a future for their family.

I am honored to play a small role in their lives.

What does all of this have to do with my sobriety anniversary and recovery in general? Thirty plus years ago I was broken – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – I had nothing to give and only sought for my next drink. Were it not for my walking a recovery path, one day at a time, I would never have the opportunities I have today.  I would never have gotten to know Elizabeth or the Peruvian family. I am grateful too, though this is a one-day-at-a-time program, that the rewards of recovery continue to pile up to allow me to participate more fully as a human being in this world. I am blessed with over thirty years of recovery from alcoholism. I just realized that this year at the age of 64, with 32 years of sobriety, I have been sober half as long as I have been alive.  That too is a blessing.

The ultimate relevance of this story to recovery is what I remember reading in the AA Big Book during my 30-day detox program.  The goal of AA was to allow alcoholics to become functioning humans contributing to society.  That is all I ever wanted, and I have gotten that and so much more!

 

From Entitlement to Action in Recovery

entitleagencyEntitlement is “I deserve this just because I want it” and agency is “I know I can do this.”  The combination of fear of disappointment, entitlement, and performance pressure is a recipe for hopelessness and self-doubt.

– Brené Brown The Gifts of Imperfection

Dr. Brown’s quote is quite revealing.  I witnessed a dramatic shift from entitlement to agency in my recovery – and like everything, the shift is a process and not an event.  But I was not a total slouch, born with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth.  In fact, I had my first factory job when I was 16, and have been generally financially self-supporting my entire life – never unemployed for more than a couple of weeks between jobs.  But, I was incredibly resentful of my state in life compared to others.  I had a ready excuse to explain why my relative brilliance was not recognized by the world.  I recollect well, after accumulating a whopping 0.7 GPA during my first try at college, telling my academic advisor I did not need his bourgeois education – I was going to make it on my own.  All of which led me to a detox unit some ten years later.  I have posted about some of this before.

But in recovery self-doubt has remained.  I was about seven-years sober, finally earned BA and MA degrees and was awarded a full scholarship to a PhD program.  I distinctly remember driving across the Indiana cornfields to register for classes and thinking “who am I trying to fool” and “what will happen when they find out.”  As good as I could get on the agency thing at that time was convincing myself that I was going to give this my best shot, and also give myself permission to drop out after the first semester if I was clearly in over my head.

In less than five years I graduated, got my dream job, but again was incredibly concerned about being found out.  Fast forward 20 years and I am now retiring from a different dream job.  Over the years the “I know I can do this” has become a bigger part of my existence.  Take writing.  The “publish or perish” higher education mantra is impressed upon students along with the pecking order of prestigious publications.  I have published well above average over the years, but not until the last five years have I felt I truly found my writing voice.  My best writing is in my “professional blog” that would fill another four or five books but that is considered the lowest on prestige chart.  But I find everything except my blog writing to actually be a rather tedious unenjoyable process.  The only real exception to that has been my last edited volume.  I believe this is the case because the last book is one that most expresses my values and interests.

So, I might add to Dr. Brown’s definition that “I know I can do this and I want to do this

The process of finding and then living into true self has been the most exciting part of my life in recovery.  My “bourgeois education” provided some equipment for that process, but, without question what I have received through the 12-steps and other related recovery is where I have learned how to use that equipment . . . and I am always pleased to know that the process is never done!

Hope in Recovery

hope in recoveryI was shocked to discover that hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process.  Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process made up of what Snyder calls a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency.  In very simple terms, hope happens when:

  1. we have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go).
  2. We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).
  3. We believe in ourselves (I can do this!)

– from The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

I have always counted Hope as an important guiding principle in my recovery.  Brené Brown, in her book the Gifts of Imperfection clarified my thinking on this.  Basically, my adherence to Hope is based in part on a “glass is half full” mentality. I wholly attribute this state of mind to the extent I am living in recovery.  Flowing from the trilogy presented by Dr. Brown:

  1. The one-day-at-a-time, process not an event, approach of 12-step programs has taught me to be proactive and solution oriented.
  2. I have learned to make plans but not be too terribly attached to the immediate results.  However, I also know that I learn from results and am able to alter my plans the next time around.  I ultimately achieve results that are more aligned with my true self.
  3. Belief in self is one of the greatest blessings in recovery.  As I go through time, I am more comfortable in my own skin.  I am also more confident in who I am and the vision to which I aspire.

Without question, this understanding of Hope is integral to my existence today.  Without recovery, Hope goes out the window.  And perhaps most exciting is that my understanding of Hope, leads to new surprises and opportunities as life continues forward.

Recovering from Compulsive Overeating – Five Months In

monkeyHard to believe that it is just a bit over five months since I began to work a 12-step program – Overeaters Anonymous – to begin the recovery process from my compulsive overeating addiction.  So, to date, I have lost a bit over 40 pounds, but more importantly, I know that I have truly begun dealing with my food addiction as opposed to being on a diet.  Besides the simple value of dealing with food addiction as a 12-step program of recovery, as I have discussed in earlier posts, here are some other takeaways 5 months in:

  • in consultation with some basic nutrition information, I am learning a lot.  Knowing what normal food consumption looked like was one of my biggest concerns when I started down this road – that yes, I could lose the weight, like so many times before –  but as in the past, if I only dealt considered coe from a dieting perspective, when I did not need to diet, I would not know how to eat normally, and binges would soon follow. Five months in, because I am working this as a step process, those fears are considerably less.
  • One bit of nutrition wisdom I am following is moderation in what I consume, and staying away from the low-fat diet game.  Here is something of interest to me. For the past few months, I have rigorously avoided dairy products with fat, opting for the 0% fat variety.  Basic nutrition guidance says that we need some fat in our diet, and that nonfat milk is not necessarily a good idea.  And I tend to find that when I use the nonfat, I am left still craving something after.  Of late, I have used reduced fat (2%) milk products and have found they are much more satisfying and filling.  I am not left wanting or craving for more.  A bit of evidence to support that we do need some fat in our diet.
  • The one substance I am not attempting to consume in moderation is refined sugar, as I have discussed before.  I have not consumed any recreational or refined sugar in the past 5 months.  Three times during that period I have gotten a serving of no sugar added frozen yogurt without any cravings or thoughts of follow-up binges.  Ditto, twice my neighbor has made a cheesecake and substituted Splenda for white sugar, with the same results in terms of after effects.
  • I did have an interesting experience of late.  I have read many in OA warn against the artificial sweetener routine as it could lead to relapse on sugar.  Some nutritionists argue that artificial sweeteners are inherently bad because of the chemical additives.  The only time I really miss the refined sugar sweetness is in the very strong Turkish hot tea that I make – and I tended just to stay away from the tea instead.  I decided to give the artificial sweetener a shot with hot tea.  I was quite surprised that although the Splenda did the trick in terms of adding the sweet taste I had previously gotten from refined sugar, I found that after 5 months I really did not like the sweet taste so much any longer.  This is an ongoing experiment, but instead of the one to two packets of sugar I had put in a full cup of tea, I am now putting less than a half packet of the Splenda and only once a day.  Other times I drink tea without any sweetener of any sort. I am comfortable with that.

But mostly, I am not dealing with this issue any longer as a diet.  I am down somewhere approaching an ideal weight and am now beginning the process of maintenance – of balancing food consumption with physical activity with what is healthy overall for mind, body, and spirit.  I am not thinking of when I hit that magic number I will reward myself with a mess of fried chicken or pint of Ben and Jerry’s.  If I choose to eat those things, I need to choose to eat them now and not as a reward for something.

So, this all feels much, much different from any past “diet” as it is something entirely different as well.  Dealing with my compulsive overeating from a recovery perspective, as I do alcohol and drugs, is the foundation.

 

 

Still Missing My Buddy, Buddy

Buddy copyIt has been over one month since we put my buddy, Buddy to sleep.  As I noted in that earlier post, it was time for him to go.  As early as last summer he would go a couple of days without even getting up off of his bed.  I began noticing about six months ago that his vision was pretty well shot and he could only chase thrown toys by following the sound of them hitting the ground.  The last few times I took him for a walk he kept walking into things on the street.  His last walk around the block was clearly distressful for him.  He could physically handle the walk, but was clearly disoriented and unable to really see or sense where he was.  His last few days he got up only a couple of times.  I had waited for my wife to get back home to Memphis so that we could both take him on his last car ride, this time to the vet.

The vet was his least favorite place in the world.  He was scared to death in there.  The first thing he would always do when the vet walked into the examination room was relieve himself out of fear.  He had to be muzzled because he did not want those strange hands poking and prodding.  However, this time, there was no argument from him.  There was no nervous shaking from him, nor did he lose control of his bodily functions.

It was time.

But I am finding that I am missing him even more now than when we left the vets office with only his collar and leash, or when I spread his ashes in our back yard a few days later.  Or when I threw his squeaky toys over the fence for our neighbors dogs, and they promptly took them up.  Our remaining two rescue dogs never got the hang of fetch like Buddy did.

Buddy could be a real pain in the ass.  He was big, too big.  He could not be left around folks that he did not know because he might snap at them.  We could not take him to the dog park because he just did not want to be messed with when other dogs came up to him.  He would go on these incessant barking kicks at 3:00 in the morning for no clear reason.

As we are getting ready to move to New Orleans, it is better in some ways that Buddy is gone.  I knew full well that the unadaptable creature of habit that he was would not have allowed him at his advanced age to adjust to the real deep south.  His last month could not have been much fun for him in any way.  Instead of chasing the little yippie dogs along the fence, when he heard them, the best he could do those last couple of weeks was call it in by barking from his bed in the sun/dog room.

So as I write this, our two remaining rescue dogs – Abbie the aging Irish Setter, and Grace our completely insane three-year old alleged Golden Retriever are lying on the floor by our bed.  They have had a few rough days being locked up in bedrooms and bathrooms while folks painted the inside of our house and worked outside.  They distressed by the fact that most of the stuff in the house is packed up as we get ready for the move.  And today, if Buddy were not just guarding the perimeter with his ashes, he would be completely and totally freaking out.  But I really miss not being able to comfort him today as when he would put his big slobbery head in my lap where he just absolutely never ever got tired of having his ears and head massaged.  I miss that the most.

What does this have to do with recovery?  Living life on life’s terms without drinking or eating over it.  But I sure do still miss my buddy, Buddy.

90 Days of Food Sobriety

IMG_0325So at the Overeaters Anonymous meeting I attended last night I received my 90-day coin for food sobriety.  For me that means that I have not had any sugar, have not eaten more than three meals and an evening snack each day – and specifically, I have not binged on any food at any point in the past three months.

From a food consumption end of things, the past three months have gone well.  Abstaining from sugar has been surprisingly easy.  At first, I was most concerned about not eating ice cream or a birthday cake – coming up in a couple of days – but that has proven largely a nonissue.

Binge eating surprisingly has been less an issue than I thought as well.  I have stayed away from the salty snack stuff that has been my typical downfall.

Some of my plates of food at meals have been slightly bigger than they should.  The eating out issue is a bit less perfect than I would like as well.

In 90 days I have lost a bit over 30 pounds.  But, I have also been quite clear in my head that I am not doing a diet.  I have played the diet weight loss game before.  I know how to lose weight, and in fact have lost it more quickly in the past than this time.

What is different this time is that for the first time I am very much seeing this as a 12-Step recovery process, the same way I have been sober for over 30 years and the same way I have been nicotine free for almost 20 years.

In this way, I treat sugar and bingeing as I would nicotine, alcohol and mind altering drugs.  If I don’t take the first drink, smoke, hit, or whatever, then I can begin to address the issue of living life on life’s terms.  In the same way that one drink, smoke, or hit, is both never enough and too many, so is one candy bar.

I am particularly enjoying in this 90-day period that my working through the first three steps in Overeaters Anonymous has provided me with a more visceral less intellectual approach to 12-Step recovery than in my past 30 plus years of sobriety.  I am not completely certain what that is all about.  I am not certain if it is because food is in many ways more of a core issue for me, as I have posted about before, having picked up sugar long before the alcohol.  Perhaps at the age of 63 I am ready to hear or engage with a deeper level of recovery.  As the title of this blog states, I am committed to the understanding that recovery is truly a process and not an event.

When I first got sober, I clung to my commitment of 90 meetings in 90 days – if after that 90 days I still wanted to drink, the bars would still be there.  I have found the same to be true in OA.  After 90 days, La Sucre and Michoacan, my two favorite sugar stores are still in business, but they are not calling my name these days.  I know that the binge issue is going to be rearing its head and is not permanently put to rest.  But today, it is less the physical, and more the spiritual and emotional recovery as a compulsive overeater that will keep me coming back.  I suppose another way of looking at it is that if I maintain the physical, I will be around to grow in the other.

So, I am launched and committed on another recovery adventure, one day at a time!

Why Food Has Little To Do With My Eating Disorder

uptreeThis past week I remained “food sober” along with having an important learning experience.  I have long understood that my alcohol recovery has little to do with drinking and more with living life on life’s terms.  However, with compulsive overeating (coe) what and how much I am putting in my mouth can take on a greater weight (no pun intended) in recovery, at least early on, than the living life on life’s terms.

I participated in an interesting discussion on FB this past week where folks discussed at what point an abstinence is considered “broken” and one starts counting days over again.  I was pleasantly surprised that the overriding response was that in coe recovery, a person can end up replacing one compulsion (overeating) with another (counting days, weighing and measuring food, counting calories, and so forth).

I find the insights I experience in coe recovery seem at a more core or visceral level than in my previous 30 years of alcohol recovery.  A key lesson I picked up from my past three months of coe recovery is that the cravings to binge eat or consume sugar have little or nothing to do with my hunger, what others around me are eating, and often, how well or not I have planned my food for the day.  Cravings to binge have everything to do with where I am at emotionally and spiritually.

This past week I had a higher stress level than I would like, did not read as much recovery literature, wrote less, and I began to push the boundaries of my plan for eating.  And like in AA recovery, I believe that coe relapse is a process and not an event.  I am grateful to have drawn on that understanding – not just so that I continue toward my goal weight, but to better live life on life’s terms.

I find this understanding particularly important because when I reach my goal weight in the next month, that is where the real recovery will need to engage on a completely visceral and gut level.  Then, weight loss definitely takes the back seat, and even more recovery becomes about dealing with the isms of which coe is only a symptom.