Staying Sober

Step and Tradition, Big Book and Basic Text Meetings

Step (Step and Tradition) Meetings

The Twelve Steps, as originated by Alcoholics Anonymous and adopted by more than 100 other fellowships, are the basis of most programs of recovery. We need to understand them thoroughly, and we ave meetings dedicated to their study. There are also meetings that discuss the Twelve Traditions, which guide members' conduct within the fellowships.

These meetings usually follow a format that involves reading some or all of an article about the step or tradition from the appropriate source. Often the reading duties are shared around the room in succession. This is done in two distinct ways, and it is up to each group how their meetings are formatted. In one case, the entire selection is read and then discussed. In the other, each person reads a paragraph, which is then discussed by all until the topic “runs out of steam,” at which time the next paragraph is read and discussed. Although it takes much longer to get through all the steps and/or traditions in this way, it makes for an exhaustive and illuminating study.

The text for step and tradition meetings in AA is usually the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written by Bill Wilson over several years time and based on the input and experiences of AA members. Narcotics Anonymous uses its Basic Text (see below).

Big Book and Basic Text Meetings

The book Alcoholics Anonymous, written in the late 1930’s by William (Bill) Wilson (with input from the first 100 members of AA), is the ancestor of all Twelve Step programs. Were it not for this book, millions of alcoholics and addicts—not to mention codependents and others—would still be suffering today. The “Big Book,” as it is affectionately known, has been on nearly every list of “Most Important” books of the 20th Century.

Big Book and Basic Text study meetings are generally carried out in the same manners as Step and Step/Tradition meetings. Some AA meetings concentrate on only the first 164 pages of the Big Book, the “instructions” section of the volume, while others consider not only that portion, but the 410 pages of personal stories and appendices that follow.

Narcotics Anonymous has seen fit to put into one volume, the information that AA has put into two, the Big Book and the “Twelve and Twelve.” Thus, the Basic Text contains most of the material used for literature study.

Looking Ahead To A Sober New Year

Now that we’ve had a Merry Christmas, let’s look ahead to the start of a sober New Year: the last day of this year and the first few hours of 2013.  Back in The Day, we used to call New Year’s Eve “Amateur Night.” Be that as it may, there is no question that December 31st and the early hours of the following year are the premier venues for chemically-enhanced “fun.”

Traditionally, on New Year’s Eve the rules are loosened up a bit and behavior that would be looked at askance (at best) on other occasions is tolerated and even encouraged. That being the case, it’s a minefield for people in recovery, especially newcomers. So we here at Sunrise Detox thought we’d share some of the strategies that have helped us have a sober new year, year after year.

First of all, we heartily recommend the alkathons that are held at recovery clubs, meeting halls and some treatment centers. These are usually a string of meetings throughout the day — often for 24 hours — on occasions deemed especially hazardous to us recovering folks. Not infrequently they include a dinner at some point, but they always include fellowship and the assurance that it’s really possible to have fun on holidays with our brain chemistry intact. NA has similar meeting marathons, and perhaps other fellowships do as well. These are almost always open meetings, and addicts of all stripes are welcome.

We don’t recommend private or public celebrations outside the rooms for the first couple of years at least, but if we feel we must expose ourselves to temptation, there are a few safeguards that we must not bypass:

  1. Always go to a meeting first, or plan on one afterward — and keep the commitment.
  2. Always take another sober person along to share the merriment. (It's more fun watching drunks when you have a sober companion.)
  3. Always make provision for your own transportation. If you’re riding with someone, have enough money for cab fare if needed. One of you might not make it through the night.
  4. Arrive late and leave early.
  5. Always have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand. It keeps well-meaning revelers from pestering you to let them get you a drink.
  6. Always prepare your own drinks, or watch closely as they are prepared.  Even if you say you aren't drinking, some well-meaning bartender or friend may decide you need  a snort to loosen you up.  You don't know how you would react to a mouthful of alcohol.  Don't take the chance.
  7. Always watch your drink. Never set it down and turn your back. You might confuse it with someone else’s when you reach for it, or someone may have added a little surprise. Pocket flasks, roofies and other equipment are not uncommon on New Year’s Eve.
  8. If you do accidentally take a swallow of booze, or think you may have ingested a drug, leave immediately!!!  Alcohol and other drugs make us stupid.  You need to get to a place where your have fewer harmful decisions to make.
  9. Always have an agreement with your sober companion that if either party is uncomfortable both will leave immediately. You are there to support each other, not to hang out until someone finds a hookup.
  10. Always stick together unless someone relapses. If that happens, the sober person needs to get out of Dodge. It’s not your job to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. You’re not that powerful. If you were able to keep someone else from drinking or drugging, your buddy wouldn’t have relapsed. It’s not your responsibility. Get to a safe place and call someone in the program.
  11. Mind your own business!  Don't lecture others about their drinking.  It wastes your time, and it annoys the drinker.  Be an example, not a pain in the butt.
  12. Don’t forget the meeting afterward, even it it’s just a couple of drunks or druggies in a coffee shop. It’s the best way to keep our primary purpose in mind.

With a little planning, it’s possible to have a safe, happy and sober New Year. Don’t let some silly nostalgic idea that you have to be messed up to have fun cause you to blow it. Trust us — it won’t be fun when you wake up in 2013.

If you do wake up.

Hosting An Addict At A Holiday Party

If you're wondering how to deal with a loved one's addiction issues while still making them welcome at a holiday party, this previous post by blogger Bill W. may provide some help and assurance.

Folks in the addiction and alcoholism treatment fields are often asked about how a host should handle a holiday party attended by recovering friends. Social occasions that involve people in recovery, especially those in early recovery — can pose some perplexing problems for a host.

On one hand, a host who is aware of a guest’s need to avoid mood-altering substances may wish to do what is possible to keep from exposing them to temptation. On the other hand, social drinking is a part of everyday American culture. Most social gatherings involve some drinking by some of the guests, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, for some of us, it might not be the healthiest of environments, and a host may be at a loss as to how she ought to deal with guests who are in recovery. Here are some pointers on how to handle this delicate situation while, at the same time, being fair to all.

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Sorry to tell you this, but time takes time.

We addicts love our instant gratification, and one of the places it really shows up is in our seeming conviction that we ought to get better right away.

(c) DigitalZen — used with permission

Let’s face it: with virtually no exceptions, we spent months (at the least) and years (far more likely) using alcohol and other drugs. We took all that time to mess up our brains and bodies to the point that we were miserable enough to decide to do something about it. Then we got clean, and suddenly we were amazed that we still felt like crap, and that our minds were still running off in all directions at once.

For goodness sake, why wouldn’t they be? We aren’t addicted to substances, per se, we’re addicted to the changes they make in our brains. Doesn’t it make sense that those changes, created over months or years, should take a while to repair themselves? Of course we continue to think about our drugs. Of course we feel like crap. Of course our bodies — suffering from malnutrition and who knows what other problems — take six months to a year to get back to something like normal. If we took a bulldozer to our house  we wouldn't expect to put it back together into livable condition right away, with minimal effort and attention, would we?

We think in the short term: how long until the next chance to have a drink, shoot up, meet with the guy on the corner, pop that pill. We’re used to doing our thing and feeling more or less instant results. Changing that way of thinking around, accepting that not everything we want comes exactly when we want it, takes time.  Time takes time.

Left to our own devices, we’ll try to find short-term solutions. There aren’t any. Recovery is physical and mental healing, and doesn’t happen overnight. If we don’t take our time and put in the work, if we give in to that short-term addict thinking again, we’re not going to make it.

That’s why we need programs, folks. That’s why we need the guidance of others. We’re in no condition to figure these things out for ourselves.

Some Brief Thoughts About Gratitude

It's sort of customary this time of year for folks who write about recovery to do an article on gratitude. You can relax, though. This one will be short and sweet.

I like the the definition of gratitude in Psychology Today's “Psych Basics” series best:

“…an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has — as opposed to, say, a consumer-oriented emphasis on what one wants or needs.”

We don't get recovery by osmosis. I'm thankful that I worked hard on my sobriety, and grateful that I'm still sober. I'm thankful for the folks who encouraged and guided me, and grateful that many of them are still part of my life. I had a lot of help — but I did the work.

That's the point. Recovery is work, and if we don't put in the effort, it doesn't stick very well. So when we make our gratitude list, let's look at the present.  And if we don't have that much to be grateful for in our lives today, then maybe we need to work a little harder.

From A Drunk Who’s Ready To Dump Alcohol

On a different site, I often get comments and letters from folks with questions about alcohol and their recovery.  The one I'm reproducing below, along with my answers, was especially interesting.  Since the writer gave me permission to use it, in the hope that it might help others, I answered with publication here in mind.  As they say around the Interwebs, “I hope it helps!”

Bill: Dear Joy,

Thanks so much for writing, and for your thoughtfulness in specifically making your letter available to others.  It is so long, and so chock-full of commentable (word?) material, that I’m departing from my usual format of simple Q&A and will address each paragraph or so as they come.

Joy: I’m a 38 year old female with a long history of being a drunk. I started drinking in college and it was often binge drinking. After college, I continued to drink, sometimes binging, but usually mostly on weekends. I was in a bad relationship for 2 years and drank more often than that. Then my relationship after that was better, but I still drank. This was still weekend binges and sometimes during the week as well. My next relationship was with a non drinker, so my drinking was cut way down, but that was only for a year. Then for the next 2 years (about age 26-28), I was more of the weekend binge drinker with sometimes some drinking during the week.

Then from 28-38 (now), I’ve basically drank every night. My boyfriend of a decade is also a drinker. The first 5 years it was mostly beer (5-6 a night), with some hard liquor on the weekends. Some weekends I would drink more than 5-6 a night. Then I developed a wheat allergy (so bloated and horrible stomach and digestion problems, as well as infections), and switched to vodka about 5 years ago. I also have a history of bladder and yeast infections. I would have 6 or 7 shots a night, pretty much nightly (often mixed with club soda because it’s without calories). Sometimes I would take 1 or 2 days off and felt even worse, so started drinking again. I continued to have bad digestion and stomach problems, but not as bad and the bloating went away quite a bit. But I continued to have infections, and almost 4 years ago was sick with one for 2 months. They think it was my colon. No antibiotics worked and I got a yeast infection in my mouth. I should also mention I had infections even as a kid (ear and acne) and was frequently on antibiotics. So that history mixed with the booze equals disaster.

Bill: Your progression down the road to alcoholism closely parallels my own, except that it took me about another five years to catch on to the fact that I had a problem. That’s not unusual, BTW. Alcohol damage progresses more rapidly in women, because you don’t produce as much of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. Your BAC rises faster, and the drug stays in your system longer.

Four things: [Read more…]

A Brief Outline Of The 12 Steps — Step 8

This is the eighth in a series of posts in which we hope to acquaint our readers with some of the details surrounding the programs that we recommend. There are a variety of other programs, but because we and most other facilities shape our treatment plans around the 12 Step fellowships, those are the ones on which we will concentrate.

Photo (C) Sunrise Detox

The purpose of a recovery program is not to sober us up. That comes first. The purpose of the program is to help us stay clean and sober, and to become functioning members of society again.

In order to do that, we need to clean up what program folks refer to as “the wreckage of the past.” Shame is one of the big causes of relapse, and one of the big causes of shame is the knowledge that we did things that hurt other people. We may have hurt them emotionally, physically, economically, socially, or in combination. We may have done those things on purpose, or without realizing. Maybe we didn’t see our faults at the time, or maybe we just didn’t care — or maybe we simply couldn’t force ourselves to look at them. It is practically impossible to get rid of that feeling of being a bad person with those things hanging over our heads. The drugs helped, and there is great danger that we might seek that escape again.

The most important thing that we need to remember when contemplating Step 8 is that it is only a list. The idea of amends, once so overwhelming, becomes far more manageable when reduced to the size of a sheet or two of paper. And when we take the time to write things down, the unseen becomes seen.

We need to be honest when we make our lists. We don’t say, “Well, I did (whatever), but Joe did (whatever) to me, so I don’t owe him amends. That’s self-serving hogwash. We look at our part in the matter, and write down what we did. We take responsibility for our own actions and words. Joe’s actions and words are Joe’s problem, not ours. This process becomes easier if we remember that it is all we have to do right now. All we have to do is write. We will take action later, but right now is a time for reflection and self-honesty.