I’d go to meetings and hear people say that they were looking forward to or are now, recovered, happy to be the productive members of society. I must say that never has been my concern. I never cared to be a productive member of anything. Perhaps it sounds egocentric, but when I entered recovery stage, I wanted to have peace in my mind all the time, not matter what. Sure, I am glad to lead a meaningful life while helping others, but it wasn’t ever “I want to help others and then I’ll have a good life.” It was more of “I’d like to have a good life and help others in the process, and then, maybe, it would get even better.” My well being was most important.
Face it – when they call AA way, the Twelve Step way, a selfish program, there is a large seed of reason in that expression. You first need to take care of yourself to be helpful to others you meet on your path. You need to go through personal healing first before you stretch the helping hand to others. Unless we re-build our minds, we can throw ourselves to the garbage bin, and with that any hopes of caring for others.
We, the individuals, the persons, we matter first.
Of course, there is always a danger of falling too much into ourselves. That possibility of egocentrism I mention earlier – it can unravel into a true problem. I keep seeing ads and slogans that scream of wanting to help you to celebrate your uniqueness by using their products. Some people fall for it. They start believing in the power of their uniqueness through the support of the goods they are talked into purchasing. And what are they in the end without the help of the things they bought? Things others promise them?
With that in mind, what about holidays, so called loving life through celebrations? What about birthdays? Why do we celebrate it? Is it to postulate that we are here, and therefore important? That the world is ours today? Seems like people embrace it that way often. To some it is important to have parties or receive best wishes, I think, because that way we show that they are important to us and that we remember of them.
So I feel important on my birthday only because others make it that way and feeling that is amazing. Still, I try not let it get too far in my head. I have to remember that my true religion is walking one step at a time, enjoying life one day at a time. Those steps taken forward and not aside is most important to me and while making those I am the most important person on the road (though I sure need to watch the traffic and be respectful to the others passing.)
This importance I am talking about is more about awareness. Don’t get selfish beyond the wise “selfishness” of the Twelve Steps. Don’t get too full of yourself and your accomplishments. There will be the day when we’ll have to give it all away. Life until that day shouldn’t be an all burning party, unless of course we don’t care to keep falling face into the mud.
Still, however, do remember you are the most important in your life, just like the newcomer is the most important person in the AA meeting. Be aware of what can happen, of what you’ve seen happening to you and what you heard of others. Know your weaknesses and remember that just like you have a right not to explain why you are not having a drink with the others, same way you have a right to walk your own path even if it is not along the path of everybody else. Take care of your own business, but not blindly, and not in the expense of others. That is the most important thing.
Great picture on Facebook the other day. “I am not fucking stupid. I mean, I used to, but we broke up.” I laughed at it. Then I went to the meeting and we shared about taking action and changing attitude and I recalled the picture, and this time it made me think.
I used to be rather stupid in the ways of insobriety. OK, people in recovery prefer not to call themselves stupid when relating to the ways they ruined their lives when referring to addiction, though. They prefer saying “been in denial” or “being insane.” That works too. I was insane for sure.
These days I could still be stupid from time to time, or should I say “weird,” “illogical”, etc. But it is all much better and more responsible than I ever was when active in addiction. In the times of insobriety I’d either believe in the same thing even though it’d hurt me on a regular basis, or I’d do the same thing over and over again and see no result from it, yet still try to prove something to myself and others and keep at it. That is truly crazy.
As well, I’d invest an hour into recovery and wait to be cured for life, as I went to AA meetings once in two weeks and talked to no one. When I didn’t go, I suffered from voluntary isolation and contemplated suicide or running away to the woods. In all of the pain and alienation I listened to no one, and couldn’t see that instead of banging my head against the wall, I could’ve walked around and looked for a new door.
Somehow I managed to make myself listen and pay attention. Now, ten years sober through AA, I observe my good friend doing the same thing I used to. Half a year ago, witnessing his trying to put a couple consequent sober days in, I snapped: “Twelve Step recovery is not a program of going to meetings. Your going to meetings is a vital part of it, yes, but you need to put more action into it. You need to chat to people after the meetings, exchange phones to call them. You need to do Steps.” He managed to clue in finally. We started doing Steps and he got a month of sobriety for the first time in ages. They he messed up again, and is still trying to get back. No matter how much I am trying to be there for him, nothing I can do until he accepts help. But the good thing I can learn from that. I used to do this, now he does it, and I can learn from it again. I know what not to do.
I am not fucking stupid. Not all the time. That other stupid I used to be in relationship with (me?) is done with. This is a new era in progress and I am taking action to make it work well for me with action being a key word, because without it everything else fails.
[the front picture was copied from ‘ere]
When time comes to face the fact that we, the addicts, cannot control our lives and look for something that could bring us to serenity (AA Steps One and Two), we find ourselves at the crossroads. Western world brood, we are raised to be responsible and self-sufficient. Even if many of us addicts were taken to church at the early age, plenty of these folks haven’t developed a meaningful relationship with our spirituality.
Eventually, in our own special ways, we all have succumbed to the addiction of our doom and lost all faith and hope, our spirit rotting away. And yet, while watching our lives and sanity crumbling, we’re still not ready to allow something greater than ourselves to bring us to any kind of balance. Our pride, fears, distrust, suspicion, and subconscious desire for chaos don’t let us embrace what other folks in recovery talk about: this power that strengthens us and opens a true new meaning of life.
In my case, alcohol was my higher power. Its effect on my mind was profound in its force of illusion. I loved what it did to me in the first several drinks. I was amazed at how the next several drinks enslaved me, broke my will and yet still made me like what I saw. My desire for more alcohol grew exponentially. After just several months of having an occasional beer on the weekends I didn’t just want more of it – I required it to get through the working/studying weeks. On the weekends I needed it to fill the day’s emptiness, caused by my inability of making friends or keeping them. My daily actions, minus work, school, and visiting family became a ritual of alcohol worship. Thus, alcohol was not just a substance – it was a supreme being and my thirst for it was undying.
All these unhealthy things considered, to beat alcohol, to banish it out of my life, I needed something that would replace it. When I came to AA to stop drinking, I started smoking cigarettes again in order to concentrate on something different than overpowering chemical intoxication… well, with another, but weaker, chemical intoxication. Still, if I needed a healthy life, I shouldn’t have kept tobacco around for long either.
So going back to AA Steps One and Two, when we face our one unmanageability and look for help, concept of a Higher Power of our own understanding comes into play, we stumble. We know we need something, but what is it? How we do we define it? Some of us dread the idea of getting on our knees (although addiction already brought us there), some others hate the idea of praying (even though we already did it many times, mumbling “God please help me”, facing the havoc of a life we lead). Thus people start making other people their Higher power: their children, or their sponsors. Some others put their trust in a light bulb over their heads that literally gives light and literally is higher up there than you are. And some put their trust in the diseased relatives that used to inspire them,
Here’s what I have to say about that. First of all, folks! By all means do your own things and believe what you prefer, yet if keeping the ones you’ve lost as spirit of guidance and eternal love makes sense, putting your trust of recovery into fellow humans is a mistake. They are (we are!) not perfect, they got their own agendas and plans in life, and they may not be there for you when you need them most, simply because they got their own paths to walk in life. Their walking their own road in disregard for you one day would make you feel you trusted the wrong person and make your world crash down. People also die, usually when you are least ready for it. Another crush of hopes! And the light bulbs are easy to turn off or smash.
Having said all that, the best way I can explain this Higher Power thing is it should be bigger than us and bigger than our addiction of doom. If you feel like you can’t possibly believe in a being in the clouds ruling your life, fine. Believe in the power that runs the Universe, light that brings flowers to bloom, the breeze that refreshes you in the days of heat. Finally, how about the recovery group spirit? There is a true power in the rooms of Twelve Steps: you see a bunch of people that have failed in many terrible ways and yet there they are, sober and clean for another day, positive, helping one another in altruistic manner. Don’t they possess a force you wished you could have one day? Hold on to that, that spirit of them all sharing it freely. Be one of them to share it. If one person leaves and screws up, the Spirit still stays. The Spirit is so strong that even just two people at a meeting keep it alive.
It is something bigger than us and our addiction, compulsions, obsessions, our call for self-destruction. Don’t look too far. It is right here. Just choose well, don’t abuse the trust you gain from it, and it will always be there for you, as long as you keep watching and listening to what it has to say.
[the pictures were copied from there. thank you!]
Alcohol was my demon, my primary addiction of doom. I drank from the age of 15 until I turned 26, and through this time my life in many ways was an absolute disaster. There were good times, yes, but the bad ones overshadowed those.
I didn’t see it right away. I don’t know how, but I managed to miss the forest for the trees and I was oblivious to the crap I unleashed on myself. I was revelling in my bullshit to the point I believed in it! There were other people, however, who could see through it and see my becoming worse. My family members talked to me about my problematic attitude to alcohol, but I didn’t listen at first. They’d remind me of my grandfather dying from drinking excessively. All I’d say to that was Grandpa was an old man drinking vodka and I was much younger and drank beer. After all, what damage could a can or two of beer do?! Which reminds me of this joke I read online the other day.
From the latest news: most of the Russians still don’t consider beer an alcoholic beverage. A cop stops a driver on the highway: “have you been drinking anything?” – “no, just beer.” (c)
Each time I’d realize I spend too much money on booze, I’d slow down and cut to cheaper stuff, or quit smoking for a while. I knew how to deal with hangovers. And when I failed to do that properly, I’d dismiss it by a wave of hand and say that “OK, I’ll watch it.” I’d fail with that one too, but I didn’t worry then.
Things became worse in several years and I finally started to pay attention to my worsening moods, classes, jobs. By this time I’d be seeing psychologist on a regular basis. My girlfriend was concerned, so were my parents and instructors. What they had to say about the effects of alcohol on mental and physical health, their points on my losing jobs and failing classes made sense by then, and I was eager to take some kind of action, but it didn’t work for too long. I’d either think that I was OK after a month of sobriety and screw up when I got too cocky or I’d collapse as often as I would when learning to walk for the first time. All the rational seeds of their arguments would dry up and fade away as soon as an opportunity to have a beer after a hard working day. Same way, a necessity to push away unpleasant and worrisome thoughts would ring and I couldn’t resist drinking.
So I “journeyed joylessly” for a while and I kept making a lot of mistakes. Each time I drank, or was faced with an idea to go drink, hopelessness and loneliness would beat me into realization that I couldn’t master alcohol and my life was crawling to a ditch. There was an ever present thick black wall of depression (not clinical, but still deadly alcohol-induced depression) that hung over me like a cloud of radiation, and seemed to be dropping seeds of terror and damnation everywhere I went. Suicide attempts are hardly signs of positive living, aren’t they? Getting fired from jobs and letting relationships falling apart wasn’t fun either. The bottle was always around, with every year more explicitly. Days were becoming darker and longer, full of temptations. Night time dreams were becoming more nightmarish. Eventually all these factors finally started knocking on my head, as if saying “Have you had enough yet? Don’t you feel like kicking booze goodbye?”
It was hard to even start thinking about quitting, though, because for a very long time alcohol seemed to be all around me. For a very long time alcohol was my magic potion, an answer to the world craziness and the load of responsibilities. So by the time I got to the stage I had to quit or else, it seemed like I constantly had to have battles with myself. Should I or should I not? You say I can’t handle the drink? Well, hey, I am so much better than others! Then again I couldn’t understand how others could drink responsibly and I kept making a fool of myself.
My mind was still raging and didn’t feel like giving up, but my body was taking toll. I’d have minor tremors, my fingers would be shaking, I’d be having cramps in the morning, and hangovers were just terrible. So finally I came to the realization that I couldn’t drink anymore. Because you see, when you go around your apartment in circles, speaking it out like a mantra, “can’t take no drink, can’t take no drink” it’s no fun. Life starts looking like a retarded conversation with yourself that starts with: “Which part of NO don’t you understand? Is it N or is it O?”
When I came to AA and listened to the people in there, there was a quite different technique of persuasion at play. Here is another, a bit grim, joke I remember from back home.
A mother brings her six year old to the store and he starts crying about having one toy or dessert or another. The mother has none of that, so the kid starts having a fit. The mother just stands there, shaking her head. A clerk comes over and says, “You know we have a highly trained psychologist on staff, do you want me to call them to deal with this, convince you child to calm down?” The lady is happy for the opportunity, so she says yes. Couple minutes later a young man comes over, looks around, accesses the situation and sits down next to the kid and says something in his ear. The kid immediately gets up, shuts up, and quickly comes over to his mother. Hand in hand they walk out of the store. Surprised mother asks the child: “What did that man tell you, sweetie?” The kid says: “He said that if I didn’t shut up and get out he’d cut my throat from one ear to another!”(c)
Brutal! I know. None of the psychologists I knew used that technique. And yet the way members of AA had their message to me was very close to what happens in that joke. They said to me: “You heard our stories. We heard yours. Sounds similar, doesn’t it? Well, if you keep drinking like that, here’s what’s going to happen to you: liver failure, heart attack, loss of everything you have and mental institution or incarceration possibly await you. You also will be trapped in your spinning mind, knowing that all your misfortunes are the results of your own action. But if you stick with AA, you’ll have a huge chance to experience none of that and get back to life full circle. All you have to do is not take the first drink and come to meetings. If you’ll stick around, you’ll learn how. Would you like that?”
It was blunt. It was a hit right between the eyes. And that sold AA for me immediately. I was tired of the crap I was feeding myself. I wanted peace of mind and I needed a break. In front of me was the best power of persuasion. These were the people who not only knew what massive and repetitive alcoholic intoxication does to people. They lived it. They suffered it. They spent years and some of them decades in mental, spiritual, and physical pain and despair over their addiction to drinking. Their stories were true and I believed them. These people were very similar to me. My parents, friends, partners, instructors, employers – their stories about harms of drinking weren’t their own. That fact doesn’t take away a single bit of the fact that they were great amazing people who cared, but I couldn’t relate to them.
I could relate to the AA people. All of them were strangers to me for a while, but at the same time, these drunks in active sobriety made a world of difference to me while all I knew was wallowing in my own bullshit and my fear of the world, responsibility, and inability to hold it together. And in the long run they not only persuaded me to stick around and do the homework, but also to stay around for years, sober in body, spirit, and mind, for my own sake and for those around me. Stories of a bunch of strangers in strange rooms did for me what I couldn’t even dream I could do for myself.
This weekend I celebrate ten years sober. There is absolutely no way I’d do it without taking in AA wisdom. Thank you all for welcoming me, letting me learn, being persuasive, inviting me back, and being there for me for all this time! Thank you for my good life!
[as for the picture, I didn’t really get that medallion yet, but maybe I will :)]
I didn’t touch a cigarette for six years. And then yesterday I picked it up again. Was it worth it?
By Winter 2009 I made it through the motto attributed to Mark Twain (“Quitting smoking is easy, I did it hundred times!”) and had smoking gotten to me in such degree that I was oh so ready to quench the addiction. Having poisoned myself enough, as well as educated myself on the contents of the so called tobacco, finally quitting felt like such a relief. I prided myself with quitting smoking in a most smoked atmosphere I ever knew: we had a smoke room in the work building. My girlfriend smoked and my roommate kept failing quitting. Relief became a true sense of victory. I didn’t try to push it on others, but warmly greeted others’ victories over nicotine.
Eventually it became me against the dirty smokers. I knew it was an addiction, I knew it was hard, but I started to forget about the obsession part of it. So I was forgetting at times how hard it was for people to kick it.
Anyway, I went through some changes in the workplaces recently and having a cigarette started to become a bit of an obsession for me. All my clients smoked at one work place, and so they do at the other. My girlfriend and her family kept smoking, so the cigarette smoke and packs were all over the place wherever I went. It seemed every second person smoking on the street was trying to walk my way. I felt like I couldn’t win.
Last night I was sitting at my future in-laws place, watching them all smoking, and no matter how courteous they usually were, trying not to smoke around me (and thank you so much for trying all this time, really!), it felt like some stress and anger wave was rising inside me. I couldn’t get over it. I knew what I’ve accomplished, but it felt like it didn’t mean anything anymore. Once I thought that I could have just one, the thought wouldn’t leave. I went in my head through all the reasons why I shouldn’t smoke, and they all rang true, but the obsession wouldn’t leave anymore. It persisted in my mind through everything.
Finally I picked up a cigarette in the evening after dinner. It felt good. Yes, I said it, it felt good. I thought it would give me this “hammer to the head” blow. It didn’t. I was sitting on the terrace and felt reasonably safe. So I had another one. This one was not so good. I got up and walked around and felt a bit dizzy. The taste of trash in my mouth wouldn’t leave. I told myself that was a dumb idea and agreed with myself, but the obsessed part of my mind kept mumbling that it wasn’t all that bad. I had a third with a coffee half an hour later. My moustache smelled of filth, so did the fingers. I also felt more dizzy and I gagged a couple times. Chemical warfare was in progression and my body wanted to have nothing to do with it. Good times, no? I was watching the smoke dissolving slowly in the air over the yard and recalled how they called a cigarette an idle killer. It is. I inhale smoke slowly, lazily, and it does it’s poisoning work gradually, until it is so hard to kick away. The only drugs that I allowed to get inside me on voluntary basis for several years were caffeine, melatonin, and Tylenol. So the war was not welcomed.
I spoke to my girlfriend of the reasons that made me smoke this time, but I also said I may have a cigarette in the morning. To see where it would get me. Dumb? Maybe. I keep hearing these folks in the meetings every once in a while saying they needed that relapse to see where their substance abuse addiction would get them, because they were starting to forget. I couldn’t relate then. Now I can. Picking up is easy. Justifying it is even easier. But staying away…
I slept less than usual last night. I woke up at 4:30am. I still had a smell of tobacco on my hands. I made some coffee and had a smoke on the balcony. I gagged more and felt dizzy immediately. Chemical warfare was working right. I felt like crap. Now I could see much better how it worked. I could see that obsession was so easy to kick in and take over me. I could see how much my body got intoxicated after all these years of me keeping intoxication at bay, focusing mostly on the damages of alcohol drinking. It may sound strange, but I was thankful that my body hated this shit so much. I didn’t get too far with this. I didn’t do too much damage. I am having slight stomach cramps now that I am writing this. Dizziness is walking away. I praised my Higher Power for that. That was a gift of the day. I really needed that.
So no, it wasn’t worth it, but it was a very good lesson. For several years I didn’t even feel like I needed to include non-smoking in my morning prayers. I didn’t feel threatened in any way. Now it came this close to falling really hard. I am not having another one for the whole of the day. Let’s hope I’ll get through another six years nicotine free. One day at a time. One morning prayer at a time.
Thanks for listening. Have a glorious free day.
I keep reminding myself that people are always just people, not gods. We are all vulnerable and weak, no matter how strong and wise we think we are. I kept (and still sometimes do) idolize men and women who I follow, love their books or music, but when they act weird or do something stupid, and it goes online, I feel like I was betrayed in a sense.
I have to remember none of us perfect and never will be, neither will I be. No matter how smart and intelligent we are, some things people make me wonder, get angry, freak out even. People are strange creatures, and even though we think we know our loved ones very well, we will never know everything, even if we communicate very well. We are very impatient, intolerant, and very not sober at times.
Those are exactly the qualities we need to keep a relationship alive, whether romantic or not. So if someone runs away on you after promising you mountains of gold for eternity, no matter how painful it is, life has to go on for the sake of your finding what you need, want to accomplish, how to be yourself in the first place. Sure, another person in our life compliments our living, colors it a bit more, but we first need to have something of our own to get it complimented. I guess we look for it all of our life.
I think I’d speak for everybody that we prefer to remember the good times over the bad ones. It makes sense – why look at the experiences that are hurtful, embarrassing, and disgusting?! Things we prefer to forget or erase from our memories – let them be gone, right? Let the memories of the parties enjoyed overshadow the disasters!
It happened too many times that I remembered good times drinking over the bad ones. Bad ones that makes me shake my head at myself. Bad ones that I can’t shake my head at because of the memories of how my poor head ached then. Bad ones that I couldn’t even remember, just bits and pieces, resulting from a black out or whatever else. On the whim of the memory of good times drinking I’d go for another bottle of vodka, not worrying about the memories of total disasters of having vodka driving me to the edge.
Man, I wish I could forget some of those ones. But the paradox is that I realize I have to remember the bad ones. Here’s a tip: “remember”, not “concentrate”! Not focus and dwell on shit and get all depressed from that, but remember the mistakes in order to avoid making them again. If I remember and remind myself on a regular basis what kind of a mess I made every time I picked up a drink, I’d keep it in my memory for a bit longer that every next time could be just the same, or worse. I am not getting any younger, so my body will respond to abuse through alcohol in a raging way.
“On regular basis” for me personally doesn’t mean that I meditate on the terrible intoxication experiences recollection every day. Instead, every time I see a person passing with a beer box in a plastic bag in their hand, each time I see an alcohol billboard, each time I see a bar and hear people yelling inside, each time I see the poorly clothed and poorly behaving people sitting by the liquor store, – each of these times I recall why booze is not an option for me. I recall the dark, the despair, and near killing myself experiences and instead of crying out “Alcohol is coming to kill me!” I say a “thank you” and sometimes a prayer. It works much better that way than being paranoid and wondering when I will stumble next time.
The “good times” are memories that can play as illusions of what my drinking “really” was. Deep inside I want to believe them, because some part of me still craves alcohol. I can’t let it break through. So although I often laugh at the fun time I had drinking, and some I recall with endearment, still I have to remind myself: there were plenty of experiences that I am not proud of and that drinking chapter of my life is over. I cannot afford going back to it. The price is too high, because I most likely will mess it all up.