Addictionland - Addiction Recover Blog
I'm sure that many of you can relate to coincidences like when you learn about a new word, you find that you hear it more, but when in reality it's just something new that has come into your awareness, it was really there all along. This is of course something that happens to me often, but has certainly been my experience since I have been writing this blog, as it is now always in my awareness to look for opportunities for what to discuss next and they just keep popping into my life!
Working in the addiction field, and the job I have in particular, keeps me very focused but also very isolated. Working in addiction also creates a sort of bubble, being that my clients are all trying to get out of their active addiction, my co-workers are all in recovery, and the doctors are addictionologists. I had been in California for four or five years and didn’t realize that I was protecting myself in a way, by not branching out of my comfort zone. So it wasn’t until about two years ago, that I started to go out to new places and interact with new people that have never struggled with an addiction. (People that experience temporary stress instead of chronic anxiety are still a wonder to me!)
The benefit, however, of the bubble realization was that all of that prep work that I had been doing (working with a sponsor, doing the steps, going to multiple types of therapy to figure out the core issues as to why I was using inhalants, then working on those core issues) was in preparation for returning to the real world and all its challenges and this time having a more positive impact, on myself and on those around me, and it was time to use them! The tools I have learned (especially emotional regulation, coping skills, and trigger identification) and the resources I have developed have been crucial in my relapse prevention, because life sure does throw me some curveballs and when I did come out of hiding, I found that some of my wreckage from my past was still there waiting for me. I am definitely grateful that I was given the opportunity to have a second chance, to get to be the same person, but a better version. By doing the footwork, it allows me to look at the same situations but have different reactions and therefore different outcomes than I would have in the past.
I feel that in order to be effective in communicating with people who are also struggling and/or looking for solutions or education, I need to write about things that truly affect me emotionally, because if what I'm writing doesn't induce some sort of feelings for me, how could it in someone else? So full disclosure in the hopes that someone can relate and hopefully allowing me to be of service.
The reason that the ability to have different reactions that produce different and better outcomes is on my mind is due to some events that occurred in my week. I felt discouraged this week for two reasons, and I feel like they have happened while I have volunteered to write this blog for a reason. I am a person that falls victim to a certain type of mental trap, where your brain immediately jumps into negative thinking or disaster mode when you hear certain things that are not ideal. In the treatment facilities I work with, we refer to it as addict brain....
Even when I was in the absolute worst stage of unabashed drinking and irregular, unhealthy eating habits, very little if anything could have pushed me to seek recovery any sooner than I did.
Those who love me worked tirelessly in the effort to convince me I needed help. Each gesture or suggestion was met with resistance, denial and deflection. Those caring and compassionate individuals had all but prepared themselves to receive the dreaded phone call I’d finally succumbed to the disease of addiction.
The more people tried to persuade me of my destruction, the more my distance from them widened. I wasn’t ready to stop. I liked being able to decide for myself when, where and how much I engaged in what I believed was pure merriment. I’d perfected my silent rationalization to slip into the haze of too much alcohol with little food. When I was in the state of nothingness, life’s emotional ups and downs didn’t matter anymore. I cherished my ability firmly and sternly control what I put my mental energy into and what was erased. As long as I kept my booze supply up and my weight down, all was well in the world. And oh boy, did I love the “high” I felt when the deception, manipulation and lies all fell into place.
Until they didn’t.
When I finally found myself sitting across the desk of an intake counselor at a substance abuse treatment center I still was clinging to the belief I could one day drink again and eat as I saw fit. I vividly remember the woman asking me how much alcohol I drank each day and my response of “oh, not that much” was quickly deflected when she held up my liver count report. I just wasn’t ready to stop believing I could run the show and direct the participants....
I am honored to be the December Expert particularly because this first day happens to be my birthday. Yet the date does not mark the only time I was shifted from a place of comfort to a visceral shock to the system.
I’ve been given the most precious gift of life three times. I was physically born in December of 1961, almost died in 2001 and then tested fate again in 2008. The 46-year journey was a roller coaster of addiction, emotional chaos and nonstop searching for a way out.
Although I can't remember the first few celebrations of the date I entered this world, all accounts indicated they were joyous, happy and fun. I’ve been told people poured attention on me with beautifully wrapped boxes to open and cards read by others with messages for a future far better than their own.
Recently we were asked by a user on Instagram, "How do we know when it's our higher power giving us an intuitive thought?" I believe this question is a reference to page 86 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous where it states, "Here we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision." What a wonderful question. I have had sponsees ask me this same question many times, and I am honestly not sure I can provide a definitive answer to this one. All I can offer my personal experience with it, and what I share with my sponsees.
In order to answer this question for myself, there are two things I must do. First, I must first look at what my Higher Power is, or at least what characteristics it has. I do have a bit of an unconventional Higher Power (the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), but I think this holds true regardless of what yours is. I know that my Higher Power is compassionate, loving, and forgiving. If I receive a thought that has any aspect that is not compassionate, loving, and forgiving, I know it is not from my Higher Power. For example, if the intuitive thought I receive in meditation is to lie to somebody, I know that this is not compassionate or loving and must be my own habit energies, not my Higher Power's will.
Although this may seem overly simplistic, I find it to be a fairly strong course of action. Inevitably, thoughts arise that I am not sure if they are from my Higher Power. Sometimes, I simply cannot tell the source of a thought. In this case, I let the thought go. I don't act upon it. If I do need to take action or make a difficult decision, I remind myself that I don't have to do it alone. Page 60 of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions reads, "The second difficulty is this: what comes to us alone may be garbled by our own rationalization and wishful thinking. The benefit of talking to another person is that we can get his direct comment and counsel on our situation, and there can be no doubt in our minds what that advice is."
For this reason, I think the second thing I must do when receiving an intuitive thought is bring it to a spiritual mentor or sponsor. When I bring the thought to a mentor, I often gain a lot just from saying it out loud. If I am humble enough to truly listen, I often learn a great deal from somebody else's perspective. Because they don't have the exact same mind as me, they may see the though slightly differently. In this way, I am able to see the thought more clearly.
In the end, my heart is my greatest tool. When I perform a good deed, I feel it in my heart. When I hurt somebody, I also feel it in my heart. The more I meditate, the more I find myself connecting with my heart. However, my practice is not perfect, and I am still subject to deception by my own mind. This is why I do these two things when I am confused about an intuitive thought.
Sponsorship is an extremely important part of the Twelve Step programs, both for the newcomer and the sponsor. As the A.A. pamphlet, Questions and Answers on Sponsorship says about the newcomer, "Sponsorship gives the newcomer an understanding, sympathetic friend when one is needed the most. Sponsorship also provides the bridge enabling the new person to meet other alcoholics - in a home group and in other groups visited."
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous points out the importance of sponsorship for the sponsor on page 89, "Practical experience shows that nothing will so much sure insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics." Sponsorship is an integral part of the program for both sponsors and sponsees.
When picking a sponsor, there are many things that people consider: time, involvement, gender, age, similarities and more.
The Pamphlet on sponsorship reminds us, "An old A.A. saying suggests, 'Stick with the winners.' It's only reasonable to seek a sharing of experience with a member who seems to be using the A.A. program successfully in everyday life." When picking a sponsor, this is a very important issue to consider. Is the person we would like to sponsor us using the program wisely? A most beneficial sponsor will work the program in all aspects of his or her life, and be able to offer experience on how the program can work for us.
Often, newcomers look for a sponsor that shares a similar story and have similar hobbies. Although finding a sponsor who you can relate to may be beneficial, it is absolutely not necessary. The aforementioned pamphlet points out, "Often, a newcomer feels most at ease with a sponsor of similar background and interests. However, many A.A.s say they were greatly helped by sponsors totally unlike themselves. Maybe that's because their attention was then focused on the most important things that any sponsor and newcomer have in common: alcoholics and recovery in A.A." Having a sponsor with a different background may force us to really look at the similarities....
Writing a fourth step is an act of courage. It takes immense bravery to write in detail a complete moral inventory of oneself paying close attention to our part. It is important to detail our resentments, because after doing so we can look at how we were affected and what our part in the resentment was. When we break down resentment we learn that we still carry it because it affects a constant fear that we have. Perhaps someone bruised our ego or we felt cheated, we change our perspective to see where we were selfish, dishonest, or afraid. When looking at our fear inventory, we break down each fear and find that most fears are related. Our fears all share the commonality that we are not actually scared of something concrete or material, but of how it will make us feel. When writing our sex inventory it is important to look at how our behavior affected our relationships. Without beating ourselves up, we accept responsibility for how we acted. It is the act of catharsis to write how we feel, and an act of courage to look at our part.
The courageous act of putting this all on paper must immediately be followed with an act of integrity. The catharsis is incomplete if we do not quickly read it out loud, so we can admit to our high-power, another human being, and ourselves, the exact nature of our wrongs. The power of the inventory lies in this confession. When we read it out loud, we take the power away from everything we have held on to. We are finally able to let go of guilt, shame, resentment, and fear.
Recently I went through my steps for the second time with my sponsor, and the difference between my first fourth step and second one was astonishing. After I read my fifth step the first time, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I felt as though everything that I had carried around for all those years finally dissipated. I was expecting a similarly visceral experience the second time. They were roughly equally in length, and both thorough. However, after the second one I wasn’t as emotional or changed. I attribute this to the constant inventory I take. Since my first fourth step I have tried to tell the truth and tell it faster. This means doing a tenth step any time I have a resentment, and reaching out when I am struggling. After some time of doing this I found that I am fundamentally changed. A weight wasn’t lifted the second time because I no longer let the weight of resentment and pain accumulate.