Tag Archives: aa

Life Outside the Comfort Zone

14 Sep

I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says “Life begins outside the comfort zone”. A very dear friend suggests doing one thing every day out of your comfort zone. I started to think about my journey through recovery and thought about how much of it has been outside what I would consider my comfort zone.

From the very moment when we admit our weaknesses, in my case being powerless over alcohol, we become vulnerable and take a giant leap of faith outside our comfort zone. Alcohol was my comfort zone. I turned to it when I was sad and depressed, I turned to it when I was happy and wanted to celebrate, I turned to it for pretty much everything. Admitting that my life had become unmanageable because of alcohol was step one out of that territory.

The next monumental step for me was walking into the rooms of AA. I’ll never forget how desperate I was for help (often called the “gift of desperation”) but how scared I was to walk into my first meeting. I sat outside in my car on the phone with my friend who told me to go in because I would be with people who understood exactly what I was going through. She was right. Next step out of my comfort zone was saying the words out loud—“my name is Martha and I am an alcoholic”. I could barely get them out of my mouth.

As I continued on my path to recovery, there were several other turns away from what had become my norm. Asking someone to be my sponsor. Sharing at a meeting. Leading a meeting. Working the twelve steps. Surrendering and turning things over to my Higher Power. Asking for the “serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. Making a searching and fearless moral inventory of my character defects. Making a list of all the people I had harmed when I was drinking. Making amends to those people. And now, trying to help others as they go through this process or similar ones. It doesn’t have to be alcohol. Whatever your demons are, having the guts to face them and working to overcome them inevitably takes you out of your comfort zone.

As human beings, familiarity and routine are comforting to us.. Breaking out of those can be scary, sometimes terrifying. But without making a decision as to which path to take at the crossroads, and often choosing the more difficult one, we cannot grow. Another friend of mine often says “Sometimes the only form of transportation available to us is a giant leap of faith”. We can stay on the path of what is familiar and comfortable, even though in my case it could be fatal, or we can take that road filled with potholes and bumps which leads to a better life.

Growth and emotional maturity are the rewards of that step outside the comfort zone. But it takes work. Michael Barbarulo said “God has given you the power and desire to change but you still need to be willing to do the work. Doing the work means facing your fears and getting out of your comfort zone.” It has also been said that courage is not a lack of fear, but rather a mastery of fear with the help of your Higher Power. Although the work can be challenging to say the least, we don’t have to do it alone. We can use the resources available to us to smooth the potholes and bumps in the road and help us along our journey.

“Life is a never ending journey of reaching out of our comfort zone. We can always reach new levels.”
― Matthew Donnelly

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Sobriety in Jeopardy

14 Mar

Sometimes sobriety sucks.

Please remember to respond in the form of a question.

Oh, ok. What is sometimes sobriety sucks?

I’ll take Everyday Battles for $400 please, Alex.

Answer: This term is used to describe 5pm on Friday.

Question: What is Suckfest?

You are correct.

Let’s take a moment to meet our players. Joe Q. is a seventh grade history teacher from Springfield, Illinois. He’s got an interesting story to tell us about his cats.

“Yes, thanks Alex. Well, one time, my cats, Sam and Mr. Mittens, were looking out the window and saw me coming home from work….”

That’s fascinating. On to our next contestant. Sarah W. Sarah, that’s an interesting shawl you’re wearing. Do you want to tell us about it? 

No.

Alrighty then. Our final contestant, Mike S., is celebrating 25 years of sobriety. Can you tell us your secret to staying sober Mike?

Well, Alex, I refrain from drinking.

Excellent advice Mike. Thanks for sharing.

Now back to the game. Mike, you control the board.

Actually Alex, I’m powerless over the board. I’m first-stepping the board.

What the hell does that mean Mike? 

It means that I am admitting I am powerless over the board and that my life has become unmanageable because of the board.

Mike, we’re talking about a game show here. You have control over what category you choose.

Do I really have control Alex? Or do I just have a daily reprieve? Can I actually change the board? Do I have the courage to change the board? Remember Alex: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Ok, Mike, well I have the wisdom to move on to Sarah. Sarah, please pick our next clue.

I’d like to buy a vowel.

Wrong gameshow, Sarah.

O sorry. I’ll take Codependency for $600 please Alex.

Ok, here’s our clue:
Pleasing others and giving up yourself

I think that the answer is what is a sign of codependency? Do you think so Alex, I mean, I think that’s what it is if that’s what you think it is. I’m not sure. But if you think I should guess that then I will. Do you want me to guess that Alex?

Correct. Pick again.

I’ll take Trite AA Slogans for $800 please.

Ok. And that’s a Daily Double. What would you like to do?

I’ll make it a true Daily Double Alex. I don’t know what that really means, as opposed to a false Daily Double, but I always wanted to say it.

Um, great Sarah. You’re betting everything you have then. Ok. Here’e the clue:
This common AA saying rhymes with “Run Way Bat a Dime”

What is First Thing’s First?

Um, No. Mike? Joe? …….. Do either of you want to take a guess?

What is Easy Does It?

Holy cow, what is wrong with you people??? A saying that rhymes with Run Way Bat a Dime? 
One Day At a Time??? Sound familiar??

Don’t judge, just love Alex.

Let’s go to a commercial break…..so I can have a freaking drink.

“Our life is a game, the rules of which are unknown to us.” — Kierkegaard

Sharing the Light

10 Jan

“And when you want to live, how do you start, where do you go, who do you need to know?” – The Smiths, The Boy with the Thorn in His Side.

As you may have noticed by now, I’m very fond of quotes. I usually include at least one with every blog piece. My philosophy is: why not share the brilliant words of others instead of struggling to find a way to say it (less eloquently) myself? I also like to call it “sharing the light”. Some of the best quotes and pearls of wisdom I hear are in meetings. And many of them are said by people who are quoting someone else, or sharing the light. Sometimes I hear the same platitude or trite saying again and again, but for some reason, one particular time, it finally gets through my thick skull. For alcoholics, there are many. But as you can see, they can apply to a myriad of situations, self-helpers and, especially, serenity seekers:

-one day at a time
-let go and let God
-change I must or die I will
-do the next right thing
-but for the grace of God
-the best is yet to come
-turn it over
-keep an attitude of gratitude
-get rid of the stinkin’ thinkin’

But the best by far is the Serenity Prayer. If we can just remember that, things would be much easier. For everyone. Not just alcoholics or addicts. Everyone. When times are tough and things aren’t going your way, simply remember this:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Really think about that. If we learn to accept the things we cannot change, we would take away a huge chunk of unnecessary worry and stress. Courage is something we could all use, especially courage to take control of situations where we have the ability to make things better. And wisdom, well that goes without saying. But wisdom to know the difference isn’t always easy to come by.

Working toward sobriety and a better life, and changing old destructive ways, IS something I have the ability to control. The disease of alcoholism I cannot change. It’s there. I didn’t ask for it but it’s there. And it’s there for good. I accept that. The courage to change how I deal with it and fight it is something I continue to pray for. The wisdom to know the difference comes from those who share the light with me, and of course, from my Higher Power (HP).

As for my Smiths quote above, “when you want to live, how do you start, where do you go, who do you need to know?”—-I loved the Smiths in high school and college. I still do. Many of Morrissey’s morbid and depressing lyrics (like “sweetness I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head” and “if a ten-ton truck, killed the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine”) used to blast from my car radio. They fit in perfectly with my teenage angst and misery of the time. But the quote above always gave me hope. I think it is honestly something that I asked myself deep down many times when I was struggling to crawl out of the terrible dark hole I was in. Now that I have the clarity of my sobriety, I can answer those questions. When you want to live, you start by simply making that choice. That you want to LIVE. In a twelve-step program, that’s always the first step. Where do you go and who do you need to know? Also simple. You need to know where to find those who share the light with you and those who care. You need to know and establish a strong connection to your HP. You need to remember the serenity prayer.

And, that some girls are bigger than others…… (Smiths).

Consider It Pure Joy

22 Jul

I had never even opened a bible. Perhaps I looked at one or two sitting in nightstand drawers at hotel rooms. That’s about it. I participated in my first bible study at the same time I started my battle against alcoholism, a little over two years ago. A friend asked me to join her, thinking it would be a good idea to get me to turn my attention to activities that didn’t involve drinking. While I didn’t know too much about bible studies, I was pretty sure they didn’t involve sitting around doing tequila shots every time someone said the word “Jesus”. It was amazing how much the two things were compatible and reinforced each other. In my twelve-step program I was learning about the need to turn to faith in order to achieve and maintain sobriety. The bible study taught me the need to turn to faith in order to achieve and maintain sanity and grace.

The study focused on the book of James, which has been described by Bible Hub as “a book about practical Christian living that reflects a genuine faith that transforms lives”. A good place for a bible newbie to start, and an excellent place for someone seeking transformative faith to start. I’ll never forget one of the first lines of the book of James: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”. My personal translation was this: “Be glad that you are going through living hell because it will make you stronger.” In other words, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and there is a reason for it. Whatever your struggle, there is a reason behind it and somehow, someway, even though we may have a hard time seeing it or understanding it, God has a plan and will produce some good from it.

With the bible study homework, I did a fair amount of soul-searching. This is going to be great, I thought. I can’t wait to figure out just how the hell my decades of alcoholic drinking, blackouts, falling down stairs, etc., would bring about something good. So far, all I could figure out was that it got me to open a bible and to meet some very interesting women. Not to mention the fact that I went to an activity from which I emerged as sober as I was when I arrived.

But I noticed that while I started to read “the word”, worked on turning my will and my life over to God (Step Three), and simply became more present in my life by being sober, I began seeing “God-winks” all around me. Squire Rushnell has an excellent book called “When God Winks at You”, all about certain “chance” circumstances that can only be explained by divine intervention (God-winks). I started writing a blog about my journey through recovery. The more I wrote, the more cathartic it was, and the more it helped in my soul-searching and self-awareness. People started to comment about my blog, pull me aside and tell me that they shared it with their friend/mother/father/cousin/uncle/aunt/brother/sister/butcher….anyone they knew struggling with addiction. The more I heard, the more I realized how much addiction touches almost everyone in some form or shape, and the more I wanted to help.

There were several other God-winks, but one of the biggest came on a Sunday morning when I grabbed my coffee and turned on the television. I flipped it to the well-known evangelist, Joel Osteen, at the exact time he was saying these words: “God can take your mess and turn it into your message. God knows how to use what you’ve been through. He doesn’t waste any experiences. He can use what you’ve been through to help others in that situation. Nothing is wasted—the good, the bad, the painful.” It was as though he was speaking directly to me. It strongly reaffirmed my feeling that I am supposed to take my mess, my bad, my pain and not waste it, but rather use it to help others in a similar situation. That situation doesn’t have to be alcoholism. It can be whatever trial or tribulation you suffer in your life. It reinforced the fact that it’s never too late to change something bad into something good. To consider it pure joy.

Another major God-wink came in the form of an opportunity a few weeks ago to speak to women in a local jail. It was a small group of women in what they called the “Sober Living Unit”, who had committed to try to live a clean and sober life when they left their incarceration. I had no idea what to expect, and even less of an idea what I was going to say. But somehow, the words just came. God gave me the guidance and the words I needed.

I began by telling my story, and then went on to share two pieces from my blog, which were very well-received. At the end, there was no awkward silence as I feared, but rather an extensive, interactive discussion. Each woman shared some of her story, but not all explained what they had done to land themselves in this dreadful place. Several were there for selling drugs. One woman drank so much that she passed out with her small child next to her, only to be awakened by a police officer and arrested for child abandonment/neglect. That prompted me to share the story of a friend of mine who had relapsed twice after brief periods of sobriety, each time with major repercussions. The first time, she picked up a drink simply because it was a nice, sunny, spring day. She finished a bottle of vodka and decided to drive to the ABC store to get more. She realized she was in no shape to be driving, pulled over and passed out in her car. She, too, was awakened by police officers, and lost her license for a year for driving under the influence. The second time, she drank so much after being upset by an argument that she again passed out. This time she woke up to find police and Child Protective Services at her door because someone had called saying that the children were alone with an incapacitated mother. Two relapses. Two major screw-ups. But her mess turned into my message. God didn’t waste it. Does she consider it pure joy? I doubt it. But perhaps just one of those women will remember it when they return to their normal lives and think twice about picking up a drink or selling drugs.

The entire time, I was well aware of how incredibly blessed, and lucky, I am. But for the grace of God, I could be in there with them myself. Have I driven when I shouldn’t have? Yes. Have I been incapacitated around my children? I’m so incredibly ashamed to admit yes. All the more reason why I feel strongly about my need to make what they call living amends. I have been given the chance to live my life in a much better and healthier way, so why wouldn’t I take that and use it in the best ways I can? I’m in no position to preach or give advice, but I told the women as I was leaving that it was not too late for them to change and turn their lives around. They have to start in there as we do out here, one day at a time.

The book of James also includes what I like to call the “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” message. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” Sometimes it’s really hard to look in the mirror. Often we don’t like what we see. Look. Really look. Listen and act. Read and do. James also says “faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead….Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” I have faith that I can stay sober. But if that faith is not accompanied by action—by hard work, rewiring and praying—it is dead. For a relatively short bible book, James contains so many other powerful messages. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Quick to listen and slow to speak. Advice everyone could benefit from. And “the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark”. There is so much good stuff in here. Why didn’t I pick up this book in the hotel rooms?

Finally, the last chapter of James leaves us with this: “….if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins”. I’m not sure I have the power to bring someone back from sin or wandering in the wrong direction. I have to start with myself. However, I have a friend, an older woman, who is a very nervous driver and gets completely frazzled when people behind her are driving too close. She called me over to her car in the parking lot one day after a meeting and said she wanted to show me something. There, taped on her steering wheel, was a piece of paper with a simple message and reminder to herself: “Consider it pure joy.”

YOU Version 2.0–New and Improved! Free Upgrade Available–Act Now!

21 Dec
 
A good friend of mine calls me “Martha 2.0”.  The new and improved version.  She’s seen the old and helped me through the transition, very rough at times, to the new.  There will be a version 3.0.  And a 4.0….. (eat your heart out Apple).  The goal is to keep evaluating, learning, and improving. Find the bugs and problems and fix them.  It’s a lifelong process.  You can upgrade too.  It’s not exactly free (here comes the fine print):  you have to be willing to work for it.

I wish I could explain how clearly I see things now that I’m not drinking.  When I drank, it was like I was looking through a pair of glasses with lenses that were covered with water.   I could still make things out and see them, but they were usually completely distorted, blurry or just messed up. Occasionally, I would manage to wipe them clean and dry them off, but they would just go back to wet and blurry again.   They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.  When an alcoholic thinks that they can pick up a drink, and that “this time will be different”, they are demonstrating behavior that is, in fact, insane.  Every rational, logical and sensible reason why you can’t drink is right there in front of you, but so is the insanity of the disease, trying to drop your glasses in the toilet to get wet again.

I had what I considered a sizable breakthrough this week.  All it takes is for one person to say something that strikes a chord or zaps a part of your brain to turn a lightbulb on.  I wish I remembered exactly what they said, but the main point was that they realized that they had to stop blaming someone or something for their drinking.   The person, thing or issue didn’t CAUSE the drinking.   They were just really good EXCUSES to drink, or to continue drinking.  I don’t believe anyone can maintain sobriety by just stopping drinking.  You have to completely change who you are and address the excuses that lead you drink in the first place, especially your own character defects.   Work out the bugs.  Most importantly, as another wise friend told me, you can’t move on until you are willing to lay down the sword when it’s time.   Letting go of resentments can free up all kinds of memory.

Think about the vicious cycle.  As an alcoholic, the problems you experience lead you to pick up a drink.  The drinking then, in turn, causes more problems.  Things suck more, so you think that drinking will help.   It goes on, usually, until you hit rock bottom.   Not until you identify and accept the behavior as insanity can you begin to work on improvement. How great would it be if there was some Apple app that “cured” you of alcoholism.  One that took away the compulsion to drink.  An app that let you skip the horrible withdrawal and expedite recovery.  An incredible app that fixed everything you screwed up when you drank.  Unfortunately, there isn’t.  The tools at your disposal are the experience and understanding of those who have been through this before you.  Those who have worked hard to achieve and maintain sobriety.   If you are willing to do the work and use these tools, you too can get your upgrade.  Act now.  It’s vital to be plugged in during the process.  Hooking up to your HP (Higher Power) usually works best.   And there’s also a holiday two-for-one special going on now—help someone else up and you will help yourself at the same time.

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