Recovery

It’s Okay Not To Feel Okay

We addicts are delicate folks. Things that other people shrug off hit us deep in the gut and stay there. Discomforts that other people find annoying are major issues. An off-the-cuff remark becomes a long-term resentment, minor aches and pains a medical catastrophe, and heaven help us if we have real issues to deal with!

We were people who didn't know that it’s okay not to feel okay, and we knew just what to do about it. We chased okay around casinos, crack houses, malls and singles bars, shooting galleries, sleazy hotels and online porn sites, and into and out the other side of all sorts of jackpots. We messed up our lives and those of bystanders (innocent and not-so-innocent), and we finally reached a point that the alcohol, other drugs, sex, shopping, football pools and what have you no longer did it for us. In the end, we were unable to believe that we were okay, even for a few minutes, no matter what we did.

That’s what got us into recovery: the realization, momentary though it may have been, that if we didn’t get clean and sober we had no chance of feeling okay, ever again.

Then we discovered that early recovery is, to a considerable degree, a lot of not feeling okay. We had to deal with the aspects of day to day living without the cushion of alcohol, drugs and other feel-good behavior. Accustomed to easy, quick answers to troubled feelings, and to easy obliteration of them when we couldn’t find the answers, we found ourselves bewildered when things in our lives didn’t get better right away. Personalities used to popping a pill, downing a couple of beers, hitting the slots or the mall or the back streets suddenly had to face real feelings, and life on life’s terms. At one time or another in early recovery, every single one of us thought that sucked.

But if we stuck with our programs of recovery, we got over it. We came to understand that the changes we made in our view of the world and others by our use of artificial ways of coping with feelings had caused, or were the results of, personalities that needed readjustment. It eventually got through our addled senses that we couldn’t expect bodies — especially our brains — that had been changed by the presence of those artificial ways of coping to get back to normal right away, either. It finally occurred to us that the days of buying answers were over, and that we needed to learn how to live a new way of life without covering up emotions artificially. We took suggestions, and we learned to work through the things that we used to use over. Slowly, we learned how to live without using, and to enjoy it.

Those of us who made those changes in our worldview, who learned that it’s a normal part of being a human not to feel okay sometimes, stayed clean. We learned that it's okay not to feel okay.  We found that feeling okay only part of the time worked just fine for us, because gradually the problems that we were trying to solve with drugs, booze and other behavior just seemed to sort of fade away — and that, sometimes, we were just plain happy, often for no particular reason.

The folks who were afraid to do the work…well, we don’t see them around much any more. And every single one of us thinks that sucks.

Denial on the street: “But officer, I slowed way down!”

There's an old cop joke about the guy who rolled through a stop sign, then complained to the officer who stopped him, “Hey, I slowed way down, what's the difference?” Supposedly the officer says to the guy, “OK, fine. I’m going to take this flashlight and hit you on the head. When you want me to slow down, say ‘Slow down!’, and when you want me to stop, say ‘Stop!’”

I answer a couple of dozen emails and blog comments a week, dealing with various aspects of addiction and recovery. Every now and then it becomes clear that someone wants me to cosign a desire to experiment with using again. Most often it’s folks who want to know if I think it would be OK for them to have a glass of wine at dinner occasionally, or folks who have stopped using some drugs but want to go on using another (usually marijuana). So I think it’s time to write a few words about this particular form of denial.

Of course it’s denial! Here’s someone who has had enough problems in their life from using alcohol or other drugs that they have quit, or are trying to. In most cases it is safe to assume it hasn't been the easiest thing that they’ve ever done. Presumably they went through that for a reason. Yet they come to a website that is obviously about encouraging recovery, and inquire if I think it’s OK for them to mess around with their recovery.

Sure, it’s OK, because there’s no recovery involved. If we aren't convinced that we need to remain clean and concentrate on learning to live in such a way that our desire to use is minimized and hopefully eliminated, then we aren't in recovery — whether or not we’re clean. It’s that simple. No such thing as partial pregnancy, and no such thing as being partially in recovery. It’s quite possible that we don’t need to be in recovery. But, if that’s the case, why did we come to the site?

If you think you have a problem, do whatever you can to solve it. Don’t mess around. If you don’t think you have a problem, then live it up. Eventually things will become clear, one way or another.

But don't tell this old cop that you want to slow down.

Compassion and Forgiveness

There is a well-known Buddhist lesson concerning two monks who were traveling and came to a muddy stream.  There they observed a woman who was hesitating to cross, apparently concerned about soiling her clothing.

The older monk approached the woman, bowed, and then picked her up and carried her across the stream.  He set her down, bowed again, and he and his younger companion continued on their way.

That evening, while they were eating their rice, the younger monk said, “I don’t understand.  As monks, we are to have no contact with women, yet you picked that woman up and carried her!”

The older monk said, “I put the woman down at the side of the stream.  You are still carrying her.”

That’s how we are.  We cling to thoughts and ideas, worrying them and twisting them around inside our heads, causing all sorts of turmoil and accomplishing nothing in the way of our journey toward spirituality.

To me, spirituality is about things of the human spirit: understanding, compassion, forgiveness, love, willingness to contribute our efforts to help others, humility (at which I fear I’m not all that successful) and things of that sort.  Compassion and forgiveness are especially important, because clinging to the resentments that prevent those qualities from shining forth causes us so much unhappiness.

Compassion is, essentially, seeing things from another’s point of view, and being willing to do what we can to alleviate their suffering.  Forgiveness is compassion toward ourselves.  It is not about freeing the other person from anything, but about freeing ourselves of the unhappiness that is caused by being unforgiving.

Like the young monk, we sometimes carry things along with us after the reality has changed and, in our very human way, often blow it up in our minds until it forms a nearly impassable barrier to true spiritual growth.  Not until we realize that forgiveness does not involve condoning a wrongful act, but is simply choosing to accept, and move on with our own lives, can we expect to get beyond it.  That doesn’t mean that we have to invite the person to dinner, but only that we need to learn to put down our own burden after we have crossed the stream.

Shame About Alcohol Use May Increase The Likelihood Of Relapse

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia, shows that behavioral displays of shame strongly predicted whether recovering alcoholics would relapse in the future.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130204114246.htm

Denial Ain’t Just A River In Africa

When we get into recovery, regardless of the path we take, it won't be long until someone tells that us we are in denial about something. In fact, the chances are good that we heard that a number of times before we even thought about recovery. But what is denial?

Actually, denial is an important part of coping with day to day living. If we accepted as fact everything unpleasant that someone said about us, we wouldn’t be able to function very well, if at all. If we weren’t able to put aside the tragic reality of a death in the family and tend to business, we’d never be able to get through it. Denial helps us overlook the rough spots in life so that the immediate impact is lessened, and we can deal with the issues gradually. However, it becomes a problem when we use it to help us ignore important issues.

Denial is of interest to addicts (and therapists) when it gets in the way of our recognition of behavioral problems. We alcoholics and other addicts use denial to smooth the path of our addictions, help us ignore the cold, hard facts, and continue doing what our instincts tell us we have to do. It becomes automatic. In order to recover we need to be able to recognize denial, become able to see the effect it is having on our recovery, and adjust our thinking. As the old 12-step saying goes,

Lying to others is rude, but lying to ourselves is often fatal.

There are many forms of denial, and all sorts of names to describe them. We’ve listed some of the common ones, with examples of how we use them to protect our addictive behavior. There are dozens of other examples and names, but denial generally falls into the following categories.

Normalizing: “Everyone has a few drinks on a weekend” (their birthday, to celebrate, during the game, etc.) “A couple of beers never hurt anyone.” (See minimizing)

Minimizing: “I only had a couple! (Of 6-packs). “I only drink socially.” (Five nights a week) “I might have had a couple more than I should have.” (I couldn’t stand up.)

Rationalizing: “I don’t have a problem, I’ve quit for months at a time. I just don’t feel like stopping right now.” “I have to socialize with people, it’s part of my job!” “It’s a prescription drug; my doctor knows what he’s doing.”  “I deserve it!”

Comparing: “Joe’s been married three times, in jail twice, lost his license and has to go to those meetings. That’s what happens when you drink too much. I’m doing fine.”

Uniqueness: “You don’t understand.” “If I go to treatment now, the business will fall apart and fifty people will lose their jobs.” “My family has an exceptional capacity for alcohol. I never get drunk.”

Deflecting is making jokes, changing the subject, angry outbursts that intimidate the opponent, threats, “important” phone calls, blowups when confronted and similar ways to take the focus off the issue.

Omitting: Leaving out information, or telling just enough of the story to satisfy the other person while leaving out the part that will get you in more trouble. “The doc said my health is great!” (Except if I don’t stop drinking I’ll be dead in five years.) Simply ignoring the other person’s remarks falls under this category as well.

Blaming: “If you had to put up with (my wife, boss, kids).” “I was doing just fine until I found George doing lines in the bathroom.” “The doctor keeps giving me prescriptions!”

Intellectualizing: This is coming up with all sorts of explanations that “obviously” anyone who thinks about the matter has to agree with, in an attempt to make questioners feel off base and uninformed. “The latest studies show that a couple of drinks a day are good for you.” It’s also a good way to fool ourselves.

Poor Me: “I’ve tried and I just can’t quit. I can’t do it no matter how hard I try.” “I give up, I’m just going to die drunk.” “My life’s in the toilet, I might as well….”

Manipulating is using power, lies, money, sex, or guilt to defuse the issue. “Remember who you’re talking to here!” “Don’t talk that way to your mother!” “Would I ever say something like that to you?” “Mommy doesn’t need to know about this. Here’s some money. Go shopping”

Compartmentalizing is doing things that you keep separate from other parts of your life. If you find yourself thinking something like “If he only knew,” or “If anyone ever found out,” then you’re compartmentalizing.

If we're honest with ourselves, it probably won't take us long to recognize some of our old — and perhaps not so old — tricks.  And maybe, just maybe, we ought to pay attention to the next person who accuses us of denial.

 

Beginners’, Gender-Specific and Specialty Meetings

There are a variety of 12-step meetings, in addition to those discussed previously, that are designed to meet the needs of specific populations and purposes.

Beginners’ (Newcomers’) Meetings

Typically held before “regular” 12-step meetings, and often of shorter duration, beginner’s meetings usually concentrate on the first three steps, or on other issues especially affecting beginners.  The effectiveness of these meetings is largely dependent upon the skills and attention brought to bear by the leader(s). Outside speakers are often brought in to talk about their early recovery or other more specific issues. On occasion, a panel of “old-timers” may be convened to answer the newcomers’ questions.

Beginners’ meetings are an excellent resource for newcomers, and are also a wonderful way to become acquainted with others in the group.

Gender-Specific Meetings

The subjects of mixed-gender sponsorship, “13th-Stepping”, newcomers in relationships and other issues of poorly-focused recovery are best left for another time. Suffice it to say that it has been found inadvisable to do too much gender mixing, especially in early recovery. People who don’t know how to have relationships with themselves  have no business in relationships involving lust, sex and whatever they imagine passes for “love.”

There are a number of axioms in NA and AA regarding separation of gender groups in recovery, perhaps best summed up in the popular one used by our women members, “Women will save your butt. Men will just pat it.”  For this and simple reasons of common issues and answers, we have men’s meetings, women’s meetings, gay meetings and trans-gender meetings. Obviously, in most cases, each is limited to people of that gender or gender preference.

“Specialty” 12-Step Meetings

There is a fairly broad range of meetings that need a bit of explanation. Although they generally fall into the category of “discussion” meetings, they have aspects that set them a bit apart.

As Bill Sees It meetings are similar in format to Big Book meetings, but are based on the book of the same name, a collection of Bill Wilson’s writings from various sources. This format lends itself to broad topics that are indexed in the back of the book.

Living Sober­ meetings are also based on a book of the same name. This paperback book, official AA literature, contains 30 short articles on various aspects of the sober life and how to deal with them. The format is generally the same as the other literature study meetings.

Grapevine meetings are based on the AA Grapevine, a monthly magazine published by AA The magazine contains a variety of articles and letters that make excellent topics for discussion, including at least three each issue that are intended to be used that way.

Old Timers’ meetings usually involve a panel of members with a good deal of sobriety under their belts. (No one has actually ever defined “old-timer” specifically. It’s generally accepted that if you have 20 years of continuous sobriety, you are one, and if you have 5 years you probably aren’t. Clearly, there’s a wide gray area.) In any case, these folks answer questions posed by members from the floor.

Askit Basket meetings are similar to Old-Timers’ meetings. Members write questions on pieces of paper, which are placed in a collection basket or someone’s hat. A panel of experienced members answers questions drawn at random, after which there is a general discussion. This format allows shy people to ask  questions anonymously, and is usually quite popular.

Meditation meetings, also called Eleventh Step Meetings, follow a variety of formats, generally centered on a reading or short discussion of a particular idea, and then guided or unguided meditation on the subject. Often there is a period of discussion after the meditation period, as well.

Business and Group Conscience Meetings

Business meetings are for discussing the everyday operation of the group: who will chair meetings, who will find speakers, who will be the General Services Representative, and so forth. Secretaries and Treasurers are elected at these meetings. The twelve-step groups do not have presidents, etc. “Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”

Group conscience meetings are called when needed to resolve non-business issues. They are often held before or after business meetings in order to arrive at a consensus regarding a problem or potential problem that may have arisen within the group. This could, for example, involve whether or not to move the location of meetings, or how to deal with subjects such as discussing other drugs at AA meetings.

It is extremely important that we attend these meetings. They are the primary means by which we may let our ideas about our home groups affect their operation. If we do not attend group conscience and business meetings, we have no right to complain about the way our groups are being run.

Pain In Recovery

This has been an interesting few days.  On Wednesday I felt some pain in the back of my mouth.  I figured it was TMJ joint pain due to tension, since I'd been a bit uptight for a few days while my daughter was in the hospital for a Cesarean delivery.  By Thursday it was clear that it was a tooth, and by that evening, the pain was getting fairly severe.  I began taking prescription strength ibuprofen (Motrin), and called the dentist.  To make a long story short, by the time the penicillin took effect on Saturday morning some time, I'd spent about 24 hours in fairly severe pain, kept partially in check by the pills and swooshing cold water on the tooth.  Missed a night of sleep, but I made up for it later.

I'm okay now, and waiting to make an appointment to see the dentist, who will likely remove the tooth.  Been there before.  No fun, but not a big deal.  I got to thinking, though, about what a dangerous thing it would be to be in a situation like that in early recovery.

I don't know about you, but back when I was active in my addictions I saw every potential malady as a source of drugs or an excuse to hole up and drink.  A cold — no problem!  I knew how to handle that.  Fortunately I never had a problem that required heavy duty painkillers, or I would likely have been able to add that to my list of addictions.  Martial arts bruises, sprains, aches and pains were all chances to get messed up, and excuses to stay that way for a couple of days or more, but nothing ever happened that required opioids, thank goodness!

This toothache episode could have been another example of that trend.  If it had occurred in the first few months of my recovery, I could very well have been off to the races, because back then I really believed that I needed powerful drugs to kill pain.  It had never occurred to me that painkillers, for some kinds of pain, are like hunting rabbits with an elephant gun.  Since dental problems go part and parcel with addiction, it's an issue that all addicts need to consider carefully.

Alcoholics and addicts are, almost by definition, folks who don't know that it's okay to not feel okay.  We start out thinking that every little twinge means terminal pain, and that each needs that elephantine response.  The fact is, most pain can be adequately handled with non-addictive drugs that pose no threat to our sobriety.

We need to find doctors who understand addicts, and what meds are off our list of remedies.  We need to consult with our pharmacists about possible side effects, and  need to research the drugs themselves online and elsewhere.  We need to discuss the matter with our sponsors and significant others.  We need to avoid secrets.  Even if our pain is such that more powerful drugs are necessary — and sometimes they truly are — we need to get others involved who can monitor our use and help us stay on the straight and narrow to the extent possible.  Most importantly, we need to be upfront with all of them about our addiction(s) and our inability to use mood-altering drugs.

There is no reason that anyone who is serious about his or her program of recovery has to relapse because of pain.  We need to be proactive, getting dental and other problems dealt with before they become emergencies.  When emergencies do arise, however, there are tools to handle them without giving up all we've gained.