Moving from an Intellectual to Gut Understanding in Recovery

Halloween display on St. Charles Ave & State St., New Orleans.



First we grasp this knowledge intellectually, and then finally we come to believe it in our hearts

Overeaters Anonymous 12 & 12 pp. 6-7

A substantive shift in how I have come to see addiction over the years is the move from an intellectual to a gut understanding.  When I first got sober, I spent a significant amount of time going through library card catalogs and journals in those pre-Google days searching out articles on the genetic predisposition to alcoholism, including twin studies, relapse treatment, and so forth.  One of my favorite books was the hot-of-the-press in 1984, Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism.  Fast forward to 2018, that information is pretty meaningless to me today and has little to do with my recovery.  Rather my understanding has moved from my head to my gut. My recovery has moved from a false self ego that refused to deal with life on life’s terms to one where I strive to move toward my True Self.

As I reflect often in this blog, my experience with an understanding of God similarly moved from the intellectual to the gut.  As a precocious youth, by the time I hit the sixth grade I proclaimed myself an agnostic, and by the eighth grade, an atheist based on my inability to accept a physical heaven, hell, old man with a white beard sitting in judgement, and so forth.  My approach to the spiritual realm has certainly moved from the intellectual to the gut today.

Now that cancer has come along, my intellectual understanding of the disease is of little importance to me beyond how I take care of myself with diet, exercise, maintaining my immune system and so forth.  My oncologist, who always refers to me as Professor Connolly, acknowledging my PhD and profession, is learning that my academic credentials do not reflect my ability to understand the biology of the latest immunotherapy treatments.  In fact, my comprehension level reminds me of being erroneously asked to judge chemistry student projects at Research Fairs on campus.  I could only smile politely, not having a clue at what the students were talking about.

As with alcoholism, I am coming to a gut-level understanding and acceptance of my cancer diagnosis.  I am not really interested in trying to figure out whether my monthly x-geva injections, increased calcium intake, exercise, diet, daily affirmations, weekly centering prayer group and book discussion, service at the Open Table feeding ministry, or any other factor is the primary reason the cancer in my bones is not spreading as rapidly as expected or that I remain reasonably pain free.  Rather, I see it all as a package deal.  I am comfortable leaving the hard science questions to the medical personnel who have proven themselves truly exceptional on those issues.  I am grateful for their expertise and will continue to focus my energies on that path begun many years ago toward true self.


Having Enough in Sobriety

Here is a confession.  For much of my life, I struggled with having enough.  In my addictions to alcohol and food, one drink or doughnut was too many and one thousand were never enough.  Through the 12 Steps in Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous, I address the physical aspects of those addictions.  I have continued to deal with the many other manifestations of having enough.

For example, an area of life I focused on extensively in sobriety was my career.  In early recovery, I went back to school and ultimately earned a PhD.  Over the course of my studies, I received grants and fellowships for maintaining a 4.0 GPA and completing my dissertation in near record time.  But, for a host of reasons, largely related to my insecurity, I did not believe I had really succeeded.

In reflecting on the last 20 plus years of my career, I can say with confidence, I always left the place better than I found it.  But that never seemed enough.  I have published widely in my field, chaired committees for national professional organizations, done all the right things and more, but that too has often left me wanting.

Only in the last 5 years have I come to feel really comfortable in my own skin, as it were – where I have begun to experience having enough.  I had a strong “aha” experience over this Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  Here is some of what happened:

  • Our next door neighbors from Memphis, all of my stepchildren and their children were at our house for Thanksgiving Dinner – 18 total.  We never had so many family at our home for a holiday and I was grateful and appreciative.  I am comforted that I do not need anything else from family or friends to demonstrate our mutual commitment and love.
  • A dear friend drove from Austin, Texas to our home in New Orleans for Thanksgiving dinner.  We sat on the back porch after dinner and talked about how we met when she was a Team Leader for AmeriCorps NCCC, and how our relationship grew and continued over the years.  After our conversation, I do not need anything else to validate the value of my career.
  • On Saturday, I received a package from Suzanne Henley a good friend of my wife.  Inside was a creation and card titled Prayer Beads in Thanksgiving for Robert.  The card described the prayer beads (above photo) that contain pieces from Ethiopia, the Afgan Silk Road, Brazil, China, the Dead Sea, and more.  The prayer beads are now a very regular part of my guided imagery and centering prayer life.  After receiving these beads, I do not need any other material object to make my life complete.
  • On Friday evening, Emma and I strolled with our Memphis friends through the French Quarter.  Emma reminded me that such walks along Chartres St., through Jackson Square and beyond were how we spent our earliest days together as a couple.  After that walk, I do not need any more memories to know how wonderful my life has been.

The often quoted “page 449” of Alcoholics Anonymous statement on Acceptance is complimented well by Brene Brown’s understanding that:

Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.

Today, I have enough.  If I remain active in my recovery program, I am always rewarded with such profound understandings that enhance my life.  For this I am truly blessed, and grateful.


Waking up Sober, Waking up with Cancer

Our rescue dog Grace when we first got her and today

Years ago when I first got sober, after a couple of weeks in detox, on waking up in the morning, I was filled with energy.  The same is not true today with cancer diagnosis.  I certainly don’t bounce out of bed and am now more apt to roll over for another fifteen or thirty minutes to doze.

When I first got sober, upon waking I would immediately read the daily devotionals at my bedside and perhaps an article out of the Grapevine magazine, just to get my head in a good space for the day ahead.  Today, I have a different routine but with the similar results:

  • The very first thing I do after, brushing my teeth, taking my morning meds, starting a pot of coffee and feeding the Grace is to write morning pages – a sort of stream of consciousness narrative meant to clear my head and get me rolling into the day.  I notice particularly of late the pages are more uplifting and affirming and focus on the goodness of life and the day ahead – less complaining and more gratitude.
  • I next respond to a question in my Overeaters Anonymous 12-Step Workbook.  I am now on Step 11.  This morning’s question was “In what ways does God speak to me?”  This is another activity that leads me in a solution-driven recovery direction.  As I only have about 3 weeks left of questions in what has been a six-month exercise, I am not certain what I will replace this activity with when I finish Step 12.
  • I then write a note to someone as described in an earlier post.
  • Next, I get a cup of coffee, take my laptop, and along with Grace, move my operation to the back porch where I post three things for which I am grateful to an OA Facebook group.
  • I am then mindful and prayerful and ask for the guidance on a path toward true self in the day ahead.

Then the rest of life begins.  There is a continuity in my waking up activities from the early days of sobriety to today – though the tools have changed over the time and I am certain will continue to change in the future.  I enjoy that every day, I start off by reminding myself that I am an addict walking a recovery road.  I am not certain where each of my current morning “rituals” developed, but I am incredibly grateful that they have been with me over the years, morphing to meet new circumstances and needs, but always there.  To me, this is just another example of how my past years in addiction recovery has prepared me to face my new life with cancer.

Today, although I do not jump out of bed with the same enthusiasm or as early as I did even just five years ago, I am grateful that ultimately, I am able to start my day with the same drive toward living into a solution on our never-ending path toward true self.

90 Days of Food Sobriety

IMG_0325So at the Overeaters Anonymous meeting I attended last night I received my 90-day coin for food sobriety.  For me that means that I have not had any sugar, have not eaten more than three meals and an evening snack each day – and specifically, I have not binged on any food at any point in the past three months.

From a food consumption end of things, the past three months have gone well.  Abstaining from sugar has been surprisingly easy.  At first, I was most concerned about not eating ice cream or a birthday cake – coming up in a couple of days – but that has proven largely a nonissue.

Binge eating surprisingly has been less an issue than I thought as well.  I have stayed away from the salty snack stuff that has been my typical downfall.

Some of my plates of food at meals have been slightly bigger than they should.  The eating out issue is a bit less perfect than I would like as well.

In 90 days I have lost a bit over 30 pounds.  But, I have also been quite clear in my head that I am not doing a diet.  I have played the diet weight loss game before.  I know how to lose weight, and in fact have lost it more quickly in the past than this time.

What is different this time is that for the first time I am very much seeing this as a 12-Step recovery process, the same way I have been sober for over 30 years and the same way I have been nicotine free for almost 20 years.

In this way, I treat sugar and bingeing as I would nicotine, alcohol and mind altering drugs.  If I don’t take the first drink, smoke, hit, or whatever, then I can begin to address the issue of living life on life’s terms.  In the same way that one drink, smoke, or hit, is both never enough and too many, so is one candy bar.

I am particularly enjoying in this 90-day period that my working through the first three steps in Overeaters Anonymous has provided me with a more visceral less intellectual approach to 12-Step recovery than in my past 30 plus years of sobriety.  I am not completely certain what that is all about.  I am not certain if it is because food is in many ways more of a core issue for me, as I have posted about before, having picked up sugar long before the alcohol.  Perhaps at the age of 63 I am ready to hear or engage with a deeper level of recovery.  As the title of this blog states, I am committed to the understanding that recovery is truly a process and not an event.

When I first got sober, I clung to my commitment of 90 meetings in 90 days – if after that 90 days I still wanted to drink, the bars would still be there.  I have found the same to be true in OA.  After 90 days, La Sucre and Michoacan, my two favorite sugar stores are still in business, but they are not calling my name these days.  I know that the binge issue is going to be rearing its head and is not permanently put to rest.  But today, it is less the physical, and more the spiritual and emotional recovery as a compulsive overeater that will keep me coming back.  I suppose another way of looking at it is that if I maintain the physical, I will be around to grow in the other.

So, I am launched and committed on another recovery adventure, one day at a time!

The Sweetness of Mangos & Yucca

elizAs a compulsive overeater, I have been food sober since December 20, 2015.  Today, what that means for me is I am eating three meals per day, one snack sort of thing in the evening, and fruit and vegetables during the day if biking/hiking and a commitment to no refined sugar.  I have relayed in the past how I have come to understand that I used sugar to escape long before I picked up my first drink and was off on my active career as an alcoholic.

Over the past several weeks, I had several “aha” experiences with foods I have eaten and not eaten:

  • I have been a bit nervous about the long-term abstinence from sugar.  But one day at a time, I have not had a craving for the substance in the past few weeks.  In fact, I am surprised at the incredible natural sweetness of other foods, like mangos.  When eating boiled yucca the other night, I had a similar experience.  I am pleased that to the extent “sweet” is a taste I am after, I can get it from something other than refined sugar.  In the same way, “thirst” can be addressed with liquids other than beer.
  • In general, over the past several weeks I have enjoyed the taste of foods like never before.  I attribute this largely to not simply eating till the food was gone.  I have enjoyed cooking and have taken care to do it right, and not just get the food cooked or fixed so I could eat.
  • For the first time in I don’t know when, at supper last night, despite being very intentional about the amount of food I was putting on my plate, I was struck that the amount was perhaps too much.  When in restaurants of late, I have not judged the wisdom of my order based on the volume on my plate compared to others at the table.

Here are a couple of other changes in the past few weeks:

  • In attending OA meetings online or listening to speaker podcasts, when folks qualify as “compulsive overeaters” there is a more visceral or gut recognition on my part – that yes, I am too.  I am not just a recovering alcoholic with food issues.  In fact, the overeating as early as I can remember came before my first experience with getting an alcoholic high at the age of 10.
  • Perhaps most significantly, although I would certainly describe myself as an adherent/member of Alcoholics Anonymous in the past 30 plus years of continuous sobriety, the Twelve-Step program have taken on a more profound and heartfelt meaning for me in recovery from my compulsive overeating.  A point of departure for me is moving from the intellectual to the visceral.