Life Solutions in Recovery

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We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.  AA Promises

I enjoy that in recovery, the right response to a whole range of life situations becomes more clear.  Through the simple experience of acting from the perspective of recovery, I learn how to handle a variety of situations – something as simple as going out for an evening, enjoying myself, and coming home sober and at peace with myself.  When actively living into my addictions, I play out a range of possible scenarios of what could happen, running through an array of possible outcomes.  In my mind, these outcomes are totally dependent on how I arrange the actors on the stage of life.  Today, if I just worry about my side of the street, the complexity of my day-to-day existence is greatly reduced.  I am reminded of the simplicity of a poem I memorized in elementary school over 50 years ago –  If by Rudyard Kipling.  I take much of this as simply putting one foot in front of the other and living into the solution.  To actively live into my addictions is a conscious decision to abstain from life and live in an anesthetized state of nonbeing.

Does Prayer Work?

St. LouisSince being in recovery, I have not been a big fan of intercessory prayer.  The idea of pleading to some entity to somehow listen to my selfish needs and produce a result that is favorable to my will is problematic.  The most obvious example is that praying for a specific circumstance (job, victory, decision, etc.) will result in someone else being on the losing end.  Doesn’t quite make sense.

But at the same time, I am profoundly moved by the importance of a prayerful and mindful reflection.  In the religious tradition to which I belong, there is a “Prayers of the People” in every service.  I think of these prayers not that if the reader is particularly enthusiastic in the reading, or the congregation is particularly fervent in the listening, that there is a greater chance of the prayers being “answered” favorably.

I think instead of the power when the community raises their collective need or circumstance that it becomes elevated in the consciousness of the community’s Luminous Web of interconnectivity.  The same is true on an personal level.  I find often times that through prayer and meditation, that which has always been in front of my face, becomes more visible to my conscious self.  For example, before I walk into a classroom to teach, I stop for a few moments and reflect that the next three-hour period is not about my performance but about the needs of the students.  I consider this a form of prayer.  When I do so, the class goes well because I am able to get out of self and consider the needs of others.  Those needs are always there, but I do not always choose to be aware of and act on them.

So, does prayer and meditation “work” for me?  Always, when I choose to take advantage of that opportunity.

Many Addictions, Same Recovery

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Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.  Step 12 Alcoholics Anonymous

An incredible blessing in recovery

I have long believed that addiction is addiction whether alcoholism, gambling, sex, an eating disorder, and on and on.  In the same way, I view the basics of recovery and moving forward to be similar, regardless of the specific addictive behavior.  The idea of hitting a bottom, getting sick and tired of being sick and tired, surrender, dealing with reality, seem common requirements for recovery regardless of the behavioral details of the addiction.

My primary addictions are alcohol and an eating disorder.  I have never written that before – that alcohol and eating are both primary – though I have over 25 years of sobriety from alcohol one day at a time.  I have intellectually realized that I use food in the same way that I use alcohol. My practices with food started long before I picked up the first drink.  As a pre-teen I stole money and shoplifted but never for anything other than food.  And that list of behaviors goes on.

For quite a few years now I have recognized that recovery from alcohol or drug addiction has a distinct advantage – you just don’t put the substance in your body and you can call yourself sober.  With eating disorders, the issue seems more complex.  My trigger food for my eating disorder is simply food, and it really matters little whether it is bread, candy, rice, . . .   In recovery, I must continue to consume food, but in specified amount and way.

But I also find that if I am truly living in recovery, and “practicing these principles” in all of my affairs, and not just abstaining, my eating disorder is as readily handled as my addiction to alcohol.

Sharing My Experience, Strength, and Hope

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A valuable lesson I learned in recovery is sharing based on my experience, strength, and hope.  When speaking with someone struggling with addiction there is a huge difference between saying “you should . . . ” and “when x happens in my life, I have learned to . . . ”

The immediate difference is that the fellow addict feels less lectured at and more in conversation with another addict about solutions.

But another aspect of this approach that is of particular value is that reflecting on my experience requires me to look within and at my path in life.  This approach keeps my recovery process fresh in my mind.  As I encounter similar situations today in life, the solutions that worked in the past are more fresh in my present thoughts.

The understanding that I need only share my experience, strength, and hope, is something I enjoy about recovery meetings.  My natural inclination is not to speak at such meetings, yet if called on I rarely pass.  But as the discussion goes around, I listen intently to what others have to say to compare with my experiences, seek the common thread, or how my story compliments that of others.  This process is a fantastic opportunity for self-reflection whether in a formal recovery meeting or informal conversation.

Like so much in recovery, the more we give, the more we get back!

Live and Learn, Learn to Live

Cafe TriesteA bunch of years ago I was waiting for what I perceived to be a critically important phone call.  In hindsight, the call really pretty unexciting.  Regardless, as the minutes passed and I waited for the phone to ring, I became more stressed.  I thought about how in the past I would have a bottle of beer or a glass of wine to take the edge off, relax myself a bit, followed by another, and another . . .  But I also made a firm choice that I was not going to drink that day.

And then something hit me – I thought that I had never in my life sat quietly, gone for a walk, taken up another task, or something similar while waiting.  Whenever I became impatient, angry, sad, happy, or just about any other human condition, consuming alcohol or food was my response.

And so on that day a bunch of years ago while waiting for the phone to ring, I very intentionally thought “I have never just sat and waited before.  I am going to grow from this experience.  The next time I have to sit and wait for a phone call, it will be easier.”

That was a wonderful “aha” moment when I was just over one year sober.  Since then I have applied that logic when faced with a new challenge or experience.  I am often surprised in recognizing how my knee-jerk reaction to most situations in the past, whether good or bad, was to numb myself with my addiction so that I would never have to truly experience the life situation.

I am grateful today for the opportunity to truly live and learn and in so doing truly learn to live.

True Self in Recovery

jeepcloseRecovery has allowed me the best opportunity to be true to myself in all aspects of my life.  When actively practicing my addictions, I measure my successes and failures by the standards of others.  I find this true in everything from body image to what I considered a successful career.  The goals or roads I traveled were those set by others.  For me,  this inattention to true self results largely from never simply sitting with myself and asking myself the hard questions.  Rather than go on that route of self-discovery, I chose to abstain primarily through numbing my existence in alcohol.  In so doing, I realize that many of my decisions were in response to actions taken by others.

In recovery, I experienced for the first time the full opportunity to take a drive down the road toward true self.  “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I ask this question of 20-something students today, I preface the statement by saying that at the age of 62, I continue to ask myself the same question as well.

I write these words today as I make a decisions today about what to focus my attention on in the career activities of my life’s work.  I enjoy that on our AA anniversary coins is the line “To Thine Own Self Be True” and that I can act on that mandate on a daily basis.

Attitude of Gratitude

laptopHaving an attitude of gratitude is often used as the recovery antidote for all of life’s problems.  The cliché is often used along the lines of – it could be worse, be grateful that you are sober/abstinent today and not laying in the gutter.  Another way of viewing this concept is from the perspective of the glass is half-full instead of half-empty.  These are all valuable and important understandings of having an attitude of gratitude.

For me, a very important aspect of this gratitude is in the form of experiencing an entire psychic change in recovery.  My gratitude list for today includes:

  • I am grateful for the very concept of hope – that life can change and move in a good direction.
  • I am grateful for opportunities – that I can choose to live life on life’s terms and take advantage of all the possibilities that brings.
  • I am grateful for redemption, and a second chance – that despite my years of active addiction where I should have/could have been dead, incarcerated, disabled, I live today only with self-imposed limitations.

All of these go away if I choose to actively live into my addictions.