i’ve recently been anxious and stressed out by others acting out in my real virtual world. The situation has left me incredibly tense and feeling less than adequate.
A few years ago, i would have dealt with this using the only tool i had at my disposal: alcohol. Now it’s more daunting because i still feel the same dread but i don’t have the option of drinking over it.
Fortunately, i have more than one tool in my box now, and i’d like to share them with you here in case they might help you, the next time you get a little wound up.
The Serenity Prayer
i stand by this old standby. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change (which means other people’s behavior), the courage to change the things i can (myself), and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Where are you now?
i say this to myself when i catch myself falling down the rabbit hole of my thoughts, because eventually i get so far deep that my ideas start chasing their own tails and i lose my sense of the real world. Asking myself “Where are you right now?” forces me to focus on the real world and my physical place in it.
Once one of my biggest defects of character, now i let myself postpone worrying. When i notice the anxiety ramping up, i tell myself to put off thinking about the situation until tomorrow. This is nice because i’ve noticed time and sleep have a great way of diluting pressure.
The Happy Ending
When the problem ends–and it has to end eventually, it’s just a question of time–the ending will be happy because i won’t have drunk over the stress. i’ll have won, and that feels damn good.
The easiest hardest thing you’ll ever do is get sober.
The hardest thing an alcoholic will ever do is put down the drink, because recovery means pulling weeds that are deeply rooted in our soul.
Fortunately, it’s the easiest thing we’ll ever do because we just have to
Oh, and also, my sponsor tattooed my brain with one simple thought when we had our fist sit down.
“I don’t drink no matter what!”
“Act as if” is one of the first and truest things i learned in recovery.
If you’re sad, act like you’re happy.
If you’re angry, act like you’re calm.
If you’re afraid, act as though you’re brave.
The miracle of this is that, after acting happy, calm and brave long enough, you’ll become happy, calm, and brave.
Of course it’s not that simple… Except it is.
i got the message. You can stop now.
Al K Hall
PS Let’s do lunch some time.
Here’s my BIG problem. The third time the plumber came he found the leak. He fixed it, left, and… The fourth time the plumber came was the charm.
Two nights ago i found a different leak in a different place from a different source. My Higher Power has a sick sense of humor.
The same two nights ago, the Devil sent her daughter to come upstairs and complain about my son’s practicing guitar at 9:30pm. My plumbing problems are on their way out, so i’ve decided to obsess over the insane woman who lives below me. To make this my BIG problem.
i always have a BIG problem. i used to think it was the problems’ fault, but now i realize it’s my fault. Instinctively, i scan my problems and elect one lucky one to become my BIG problem.
Listening to shares at an AA Meeting last night, everything fell in to place (Thank you, Universe, for guiding me to that meeting). i remembered what i’m forgetting: to let go. To give these problems up to my Higher Power when i have no control over them.
So, i’m giving up. i’m giving up my problems to my Higher Power, giving up the stress, the worry, the obsession to the Universe and i’m going to let the Universe worry about it–or not–if it wants but it doesn’t matter to me because it is not my problem any more. i’ve given them up and given up on them.
Hear that, Universe?
For those of us in AA: This is all 3rd Step stuff.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The good news for us lucky alcoholics in recovery is that “Our Lives” include “Our Problems”. We get to give away all our concerns until the only worry we have left is how to stop worrying over nothing.
In our meeting last week, my sponsor pointed out that the second year of recovery is a real bear.
The first year, all the alcoholic has to do is focus on one concept:
i don’t drink no matter what.
In the second year, sobriety permeates more of our day to day and our lives become larger. With more recovery comes more responsibilities. The trick now is to power through difficult situations and make it through to the other side.
You see the diagram at the top? The Reality line is squiggly, but it still finishes better off and going in the right direction.
When last we met, i described how Step 5 of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps had me detailing my defects and defaults to another human being. This step was key because it forced me 1) to unburden the secrets i used to have to drink to drown and 2) put them out in the open where i could deal with them.
That done, i was ready to move onto Step 6:
[I was] entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
The key to this step, my sponsor explained, is the “entirely ready”. “Entirely ready” means i do not expect myself to become a saint and don’t pressure myself to be perfect. i do not beat myself up for my shortcomings…but i no longer use them as crutches or excuses, either.
It’s all about recognizing patterns. Lately, i’ve been noticing when i get angry or become anxious that it’s like there’s two parts to my brain, the one part that feels and another, distant part that stands off on the sidelines and observes.
In the past, i wasn’t able to distinguish between these two entities, so i thought they were one. If i felt an impulse, i had to act on it because it was valid. The fact it was an urge that came from deep inside of me meant it was good, by definition. Now i understand i need to analyze these urges to see if they’re good or not.
That’s what i mean by “action, not reaction “. Instead of reacting blindly to stimulus, i need to take a step back and act responsibly and consciously. Sometimes the best reaction is no action at all. Sometimes, doing the right thing means doing nothing. Keeping my mouth closed and losing the battle to keep the peace. Or if i’m anxious, “acting” means sitting myself down and for the rational part of my brain to tell the freaking out part, “You go ahead and freak out for as long as you need, i’ll be over here waiting, just let me know when you finish.”
Fair warning, i’m working on Step 6 in Alcoholics Anonymous and so my next few posts will be about that.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
WTH? Defects of character, moi? What defects of character?
One of the things i like most about AA is that there is a clear, practical program to get better. It’s as easy as connecting the dots.
Here’s a short Step By Step refresher course of how i got here.
In Step 1 of AA’s 12 Steps, i admitted my life had become unmanageable because of my inability to handle my drinking.
In Step 2, i said that i obviously couldn’t control my drinking, so a power outside myself was going to have to. My Sponsor and i decided this “Higher Power” was AA Meetings.
In Step 3, i turned over control of my drinking and life to this power.
In Step 4, i made a list of all the deepest, darkest defects of my character and the actions these defects led me to.
In Step 5, i went over this list with another person (my AA Sponsor).
Now, in Step 6, i’m letting my Higher Power know that i’m ready to give these up to him/her/them/us.
i always forget all the magic that hides inside the program.
For the past couple of weeks, i’ve been feeling a little on edge and those dreaded symptoms of poor poor me have been washing over me. Fortunately, i’ve been with the program long enough to know that these are symptoms and the cure is to turn up the frequency on my meetings.
So last week i went to a meeting i haven’t hit for months. They read from Living Sober and the chapter the speaker “happened” to chose from that night was about self-pity. Because, you see, there are no accidents in my program. Coincidence just means my Higher Power has been busy working in my life.
The lesson i needed to learn, the reason i attended that meeting, was to understand that when i begin to feel sorry for myself, i have to remember all that is right in my life. All that i’m taking for granted.
i will add to my Gratitude List every day, being sure to include things i am grateful for that i would not have had if i was still drinking.
Suddenly i realize i’m more blessed than i have ever been.
Tonight in the Rooms, one of the crazies shared. He babbled on about things that were pretty disjointed and i was having a hard time following because, you know me, i have a hard enough time as it is understanding people who make sense. Then, at the end of the share, he was talking about a musician friend of his in AA who went to meetings every day.
“Why do you go to a meeting every day?” my guy asked him.
Because it’s like playing guitar—when I practice guitar every day, I get better.
That was my AA lesson todAAy, and an explanation of why i’m hitting 2-3 AA meetings a week as well as waking up at 5am every morning (weekends included) to work another 12-Step program with a sponsor in the States because they don’t have all the Anonymouses in Yeaman.
When i work it every day, i get better.
One thing i’ve been learning in Recovery is that a lot of my drinking was fear based. i was afraid of being rejected, afraid of looking stupid (which is ironic when you consider how i looked after i’d drunk), afraid of talking, afraid of being judged, afraid of showing emotion… Booze made me brave. Liquid courage. It also made me an asshole. Liquid…asshole? No, that’s diarrhea.
In my 4th Step of the Alcoholics Anonymous program, i listed my wrongs and resentments and people i’d harmed and discovered the source for many of my defects of character were based in the fear i was trying to drown with alcohol. My sponsor told me to write down, every day, the fears i’ve experienced that day.
This is now my nightly routine. In bed, right before sleeping, i list the following things:
- My Fears: what caused them and what the core fear was (like being rejected or health fears or fear of anger…)
- My Esteemable Acts: what did i do that day, especially anonymously, to make my corner of the world a better place
- My Gratitude List: what was i grateful for that day
You know what? i’ve been doing this for about 2 weeks and today i realized i’m a lot less afraid of daily life than i have been in decades. Literally. And i haven’t done anything, except write down 3-4 things at night.
Tastes like Chicken? Not anymore.