Archive for the ‘Twelve Step Programs’ Category

In early recovery, I was angry, bitter, confused and stark raving mad but knowing that now didn’t help me much then.

Sometimes, a simple saying that I heard in a Twelve Step meeting might set me off, quotes like ‘stinkin thinkin’ for instance. Whenever I heard this I’d imagine myself as a cartoon character from Looney Tunes, Wile E. Coyote sticking dynamite in his ears and Road Runner lighting the fuse. I didn’t want to hear it! It really bugged the shit out of me – stinking thinking? I stink not!

Another thing I heard said often was this zinger: “It’s easy to stop drinking, it’s staying stopped that’s hard”, hearing that one sent the barometer in my brain shooting through the top of my head. The first thing that came to mind was,  “If it was so fucking easy to stop drinking why are all you nut jobs sitting in this room talking about it? Shouldn’t you be getting on with your perfect alcohol free lives and leaving us losers to it? In fact, hearing this made me think I was in the wrong place or at least the wrong meeting; all these folks obviously didn’t have a problem like mine, because it seemed that when they wanted to stop drinking, they just stopped!

I couldn’t relate at all because once I started drinking I couldn’t stop until I passed out. When I came to, either the next day or in a few hours, I’d start drinking again immediately to block out the guilt, dread and eventual withdrawal symptoms. In fact I’d only stop when my body physically rejected the alcohol. Whenever this happened – which was often – I’d take sips, throw up, take more sips, throw up until somewhere along the way I’d pass out in a pool of puke. That was how I stopped drinking; it wasn’t because it was easy, it was because I had lost control over my bodily functions.

Another saying I heard was, “Stick around for the miracle to happen” – Hmm, I’d hardly say any of the people I saw in those meetings qualified for the Vatican’s  ‘Call-in a miracle line”. Nope, I didn’t see any miracles going on there and definitely no images of religious icons in the tossed out coffee filters. Thankfully, I was desperate enough to want to know why these people stuck around, why did they quote all these useless sayings and why did some of them look so happy? At first I thought it was because they came to gloat, “Look at me, you poor bastards, I don’t have a drinking problem and you do”.

Turns out, I was more like Wile W. Coyote than I realized because no matter how much he got hurt, blown up or tossed into a bottomless canyon in his attempts to catch the Road Runner, he always tried again, trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That is exactly what I did with my drinking, I drank and drank, hoping that this time, I could just have one drink and stop, or this time I could control my drinking and drink like other people.

Thank God I stuck around and took the dynamite out of my ears and starting listening. I realized what these people were actually saying was that it wasn’t necessarily easy to stop  drinking,  it was just a little easier than staying stopped.  Because the truth is, most of us will swear off the booze time and time again only to pick it up a day, week, month or even a year later. I was one of these people, and the only thing that stopped this nightmare cycle for me was to commit to a program of recovery and in my case it was Alcoholics Anonymous.

After a few months in AA, the sayings didn’t bother me as much, if people got something out of them and they stayed off the sauce for another day, who was I to judge? Plus I began to see the miracles they were talking about, whether it was someone opening up and sharing for the first time or a milestone celebrated by someone who was clearly a different person than they were when they first walked into the rooms. And yet another saying I heard began to ring true whereas before when I heard it, I almost lost the plot completely. This I had heard many times,  “There’s good news and bad news, the good news is there is a solution to your problem, the bad news is, we are the solution”.

They were right about that one too.



authentic-drama-queenMy Sponsee has gone off the radar, I’ve not heard from her in 2 weeks. She was working on the 4th Step – although ‘working’ might not be the right word, I think balking might be more fitting. I’ve tried to call her, but she’s not returning my calls.

It’s not the first time a person has gone MIA while on the 4th Step and it certainly won’t be the last. When I was new in recovery, I heard from other people that so many of us fall off the wagon when we do the 4th Step, “Oh it’s so terrible, really intense, it brings up all these bad feelings”. Well, that’s all my inner drama queen needed to hear and I started to see a way out – if the 4th Step was so bad and all these people drink because of it, then it won’t be such a surprise when I drink – I mean, no one could blame me right?

Armed with this positive attitude, I started writing my first inventory and after a couple of weeks of doodling broken hearts and dead flowers, I came to the conclusion that it was way too much hard work and I didn’t need to do it. Thinking about all this stuff from my past made me want to drink (just like all those people said it would – hee hee). I’d put the 4th Step down, keep going to meetings and I’d be okay.

Needless to say, listening to my own advice (or the advice of my disease)  wasn’t the best thing I could have done at that time and a month or so later, I’d completely lost the plot, the animals were running the zoo and I was well and truly ‘barking’- enough so that I picked up a drink.

It was back to the drawing board and the realization that I would do ANYTHING not to drink again – including the dreaded 4th Step. That’s when I picked up a pen and truly wrote. I made a commitment to write once a day, even if it was for only 15 minutes. What usually happened, was when I got going, I forgot about the time and before I knew it, I was getting through it. The best part was that once I stopped making excuses and actually got down to work, I could no longer hear my disease, telling me that I didn’t need this shit, I was on a mission.

My Sponsor and other people had told me how it was for them when they were done with writing their 4th Step, but I didn’t realize what a feeling of accomplishment it would be. That feeling paled in comparison to the utter freedom I felt after I read the inventory to my Sponsor. If you are like I was and are feeling like the 4th Step is not worth it or it’s too much hard work, my experience taught me that it really was worth everything and more than I ever thought it would be (although as you can see from this last sentence, I still have some residual drama queen in me). 


black-sheepLike most of us and definitely for me, the road to recovery was a long one and along the way I always had a feeling of being ‘less than’ and it only intensified with every failed attempt. I didn’t believe that I could get sober, in fact the only thing I believed without a shadow of a doubt was that I was going to die a drunk. 

When I got to the rooms of recovery and I saw the word ‘God’ plastered all over the walls, reading ‘Let Go Let God’ and that I needed to turn my will over to God, just reiterated that I was well and truly screwed. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, I just thought the God that I had grown up with didn’t believe in me because of all the lies and the crap I’d told. The only time I ever prayed was when I was trying to get out of something, “Please God,  just let me get away with this ONE thing and I’ll never drink again, I promise“, then sure enough once the crisis was averted I had forgotten my solemn promise and was back on the booze again.

So when I saw all this God talk in the recovery rooms, I was right back to that place of feeling ‘less than’, like an outsider – definitely not one of the chosen few. I had always thought of myself as the black sheep, always on the outside and never part of the ‘flock’, whatever flock that was, be it school, family or work. 

I’ve never felt comfortable in church and as a child, it just was a no brainer, given the choice of hearing about going to hell as a sinner or playing outside on the swingset, I was going to choose the playground every time.  And I figured that the God they were talking about in these rooms was the same God as I had when I was a kid and that was going to be a problem – because just talking about that kind of stuff made me want to think about something else, kind of like being in church. 

The great thing about Twelve Step programs is that my story is not unusual, in fact there are many people who go in with the same preconceived ideas that I had. Thankfully these ideas and beliefs are discussed a lot in meetings and thats where I heard some things that got my attention, such as the Higher Power concept. I didn’t even need to call it God, my Higher Power was something that I came up with and imagined, that I constructed in my mind, the only requirement was that my Higher Power was more powerful than I was so that I could ask for help when things went to shit – which being in early recovery, they very often did.  

Once I got past all the baggage from my past experiences with church and religion, I realized that finding a Higher Power wasn’t about finding religion, it was about looking for a spiritual path to help in my sobriety. Having a sense that there was something out there bigger than me that I could turn to for help gave me a feeling of relief that I didn’t have before. I was always trying to run the show, do things on my own, control other people and situations and when I finally let go and stopped doing all of those things, I managed to stay sober – go figure.

tantrum1 Working with my sponsee, who has almost 70 days sober, I’m reminded of how frustrating early sobriety can be. Things were going along fine; we were working on the Third Step, when out of the blue she  received a letter from a family member that got her all twisted up.   We talked about the contents of the letter  at length and I suggested that she leave it alone until she was in a better place to deal with it as this type of thing can be addressed in the 4th Step, which we would get to before long.

She agreed and told me that she would be able to leave the issue alone until the time was right. Her disease, however had a different idea and started attacking her with obsessive thoughts and anger.  She couldn’t understand why she was unable to stop thinking about it. Unfortunately, as alcoholics, that’s what we do,  we take something and run with, if we do not get the results we want, or if people do not behave in a manner that suits us, resentment rears its ugly head and our minds are off to the races.  

It’s hard at first, trying to understand that we can’t control another person, we can’t make them feel a certain way towards us, we can’t make them do what we want and it’s drives us nuts. It’s made harder when people suggest that  we keep working the Step we are on and trust in a Higher Power to get us through the tough times. It’s not easy, especially in early recovery, we get hurt and we want to retaliate, we want to have our say and fix it! We don’t want to trust God to take care of it because we want it done our way and preferably NOW, in our time, not God’s time.

I learned the hard way that I have to trust God with everything, I don’t get to pick and choose, turning over bits of my life but keeping hold of my self-will in other areas –  there can be no half measures in my recovery, God is either everything or God is nothing.  My sponsee is stuck,  she can’t concentrate, she’s not reading the big book, she’s not calling me and she’s cancelling our meetings.

I’ve turned this situation over to my Higher Power, now if only I could get my Sponsee to do the same… (She has to do what I want dammit!)

toolkit As a newcomer, I recall sitting in a recovery meeting and hearing someone say, “No matter what  happens, you don’t have to pick up a drink or drug today.”

 I remember thinking to myself ‘Why don’t you go and shove that golden nugget of wisdom up your ass.’ I  couldn’t understand how someone could say that, I was a total mess, physically, mentally, spritually and financially and the way I looked at it, my life couldn’t possibly suck anymore than it already did and if it got any worse there was no way I could not pick up a drink. This person was full of bullshit as far as I was concerned and obviously not a real alcoholic.

As with many of my opinions and observations in early recovery, I was proved wrong as I spoke with the person who said these words after the meeting. They told me a little bit about their drinking career, how far down they had gone and what happened. They told me when they came into recovery and the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous; they had been given a set of tools to use and suggestions from people who’d been where they were at. And now, when the going got rough, instead of picking up a drink or drug, they picked up their tools.

So, what were these tools? (I was thinking a hammer had to be one of them, that way I could bash my hands with it so I’d be physically unable to pick up the drink.) Again, my line of thinking proved to be a little skewed as this person went on to explain that the set of tools they were referring to were the Twelve-Steps of Recovery. Working on these Steps allowed them to live a life free from booze and drugs, but they didn’t stop with the Steps, they also had a Sponsor, a home group, went to regular recovery meetings, were developing a relationship with a Higher Power and also volunteered to do service work within the Twelve Step community.  All these things combined gave them a solid recovery foundation that was not easily shaken by the stresses of day to day life and of living clean and sober.

Up until this point, I had been staying sober using willpower, so I took this person’s advice and I got a sponsor, began working on the Twelve Steps and went to lots of meetings. I also volunteered to make coffee at a recovery group that I liked which later became my home group.  When things got rough in early recovery, I turned to these tools like my life depended on it (because it did) and miraculously on a day to day basis I didn’t pick up a drink. As I continue one day at a time in sobriety, I still have these tools and when I hear someone say that there’s no need to pick up a drink or drug today, I don’t respond angrily anymore, because I’ve got a glimpse of what they are talking about.

If you would like more information on Twelve-Step Recovery Groups, click here

rockTo me, the saying that someone is ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’ sums up perfectly my addiction to alcohol because I couldn’t live with it and couldn’t ever imagine a life without it.  Needless to say, it’s not a great place to be. I met with a new sponsee today, she has 35 days sober and she’s in that place.  The fog is beginning to lift and she’s very nervous, anxious and desperate.  

It was our first real chance to get to know each other as we just met 3 days ago. It’s truly amazing how the program of Alcoholics Anonymous works, that by one alcoholic talking to another about  how it was for us when we were drinking, what happened and what it’s like now, – we have the ability to make a connection. By telling someone what a complete and total f**k up we once were (and sometimes still are) we can let a person know that if we can get sober there’s no reason why they can’t either.

We talked about our drinking histories – she started very late in life and I started very early. We talked about how each of us drank -she was a maintenance drinker, drinking every day and I was a binge drinker – holding off for a few days at a time until my body screamed for alcohol. There were other differences too, she has grown up children who have left home and I have an eight year old son who is very much in my face on a daily basis. None of that mattered though because we found that even though there’s a 2o year age difference, when it comes to our disease – there really is no difference.  

For both of us, we got to a place where we were physically unable to stop drinking once we had started. We had both tried at many different times to control our drinking, only to get to a place of complete and incomprehensible despair.  It was obvious when we were done talking that our disease isn’t choosy – it wants the same thing for all alcoholics and addicts and that is death – the slower and more painful, the better.

I didn’t tell her that it’s probably a good thing that she has got to this place. Because for me at least, the more desperate I was, the more willing I became to try anything to stay sober – even AA.  Sometimes, being stuck between a rock and a hard place can be right where we need to be in order to get us started on the journey of recovery.