Each of us experiences the normal challenges that life presents. Whether we are in recovery or have never had any issues with drugs or alcohol, the course of daily living has its proverbial ups-and-downs. This is unavoidable and expected.  We all have gone through periods that are intense, filled with emotion, struggle, fear, anxiousness or just feeling ‘blah.’ In addition, most of us can recall times in our life that are happy, successful, and replete with abundance and joy.

There is a wide distinction, however, between possessing a healthy attitude of acknowledgement towards the variances of life and developing a mindset of victimization. Wikipedia describes this ‘victim’ mentality as an acquired (learned) personality trait in which a person tends to regard him or herself as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to behave like it were the case—even in the absence of clear evidence. It depends on habitual thought processes and attribution. Victim mentality is primarily learned, for example, from family members and situations during childhood. It is clear to any of us in recovery to be aware of these important differences in attitude.

A few weeks ago, I experienced a week that began with an expensive car repair, then out of nowhere the loss of a beloved family pet, a period of more than the usual intensity at work, and nurturing a bad cold. These things could happen to anyone – but they all piled on at the same time and were potentially overwhelming. Hey, it was a tough week, but as someone using the life-tools learned in recovery, I allowed myself to feel and ride through the emotions and knew that this would pass and better days and weeks are ahead – healthy, sober and balanced response.

What should be carefully watched is when usual life-occurrences begin to move toward a recurrent theme of being ‘victimized’ by life and circumstances. There is no clear dividing line here, but we need to sense our inner thinking and feeling as we tread the waters of recovery.  Red flags should immediately go up when our inner dialogue tends towards a rationalization for using or drinking again because we feel ourselves to be a victim of life and that we are no longer in control.

This onset of victim thinking can be subconscious and we are not aware we are actually moving towards a potential relapse with such mental processes. It helps to have professional counselors and fellow recovery friends point out this movement towards a potential relapse, because, quite frankly, we often do not see it coming. We start wondering why so much bad is happening to us now that we are in recovery. We may have imagined that living sober and clean would alleviate life’s woes or at least make negative or challenging experiences occur with less frequency. Why am I trying to recover anyway? What is the use in being sober and clean if bad things keep happening?

I have also noticed that for some individuals in recovery that try to surrender their inner being to God may also question why things happen the way they do. Is God testing me? Is my sobriety being examined by a higher being? And, if so, why? Am I going through a karmic period of having to take ownership of past actions and this explains all that is happening right now – am I paying some sort of spiritual debt? When in the first stages of recovery, such questions can be bewildering and the recovery process will easily perplex us.

These are necessary stages as we distance ourselves from our addiction. Again, this further avows why meetings, professional counselors and therapists are so vital towards acquiring healthy life skills to cope and face life. Our recovery has not just entered a period of giving up our addictive substance and dealing with those issues alone. We are embarking on a journey of discovering and practicing new ways of handling life. The fact is there is really nothing we can do to prevent or avoid some of the things that will happen to us. This is life.  There is very little we actually do have control over in our day-to-day living – it is how we respond to day-to-day living that we do have control over.  The very core meaning of the Serenity Prayer!

However, we can prevent a DWI, a trip to a hospital, destroying our bodies, injuring loved ones, losing our job and a whole list of other trials and tribulations. There is so much we can learn and practice to develop healthy and positive skills when encountering challenges while living sober and clean. Being aware of victimizing thinking is very important. It is a learned pattern of thought capable of instantly negating our ability to handle situations.

When tough things happen to us, while in recovery, it helps to share with others our feelings and experiences. Vocalizing our fears and pain to others can be therapeutic. It helps to remind ourselves that this challenge is temporary. Remember, whatever happens in our life, we are infinitely better going through this experience free from our addictive substance. If we succumb to the relapse temptation and begin to use again, we are not only lost in this self-created abyss of addiction, but we have told our inner self that we cannot cope with life without using or drinking. Nothing is more victimizing than saying this to ourselves. Using and drinking will never and can never help us. We must allow ourselves the determination and courage to cross this chasm. We can, with the assistance of others and the practice of new life skills, cross over this bridge, and live life anew and free. We must want to make this crossing and trust in these words even when those shadowed, victimizing voices attempt to lure us in a different direction. This is an inner thought/state-of-mind bridge we must cross to liberate ourselves from the chains addiction. We do not need drugs and alcohol to cope with life’s challenges.

We need new healthy life skills and a commitment to living clean and sober to keep us from feeling like victims in life, and ensure that we are active participants in life.  We have much to give to ourselves and to the world around us. Have the courage to feel these emotions, but reach out to others, attend a meeting, pick up the phone and call a friend or sponsor, and know that you are not alone.  Until next time . . . stay connected to your recovery community . . . 

I have noticed during group recovery meetings over the years, a very pronounced and similar pattern with people during their check-in round. This is that period, usually at the beginning of a meeting where people spend a few minutes discussing his or her previous week and their current recovery status. Often someone will start-off by saying that they really do not have much to say…the week was good…but, that is about it, I just do not have much to share right now.

We all know that it is sometimes challenging to open up to others in a group setting and share their inner thoughts and feelings, even when we are very familiar with the other people within the group. This is just human nature and part of the recovery process. I would have to say that nine times out of ten, when a person says that they really do not have much to convey, they end up saying quite a lot, if just given the opportunity.  For starters, this clearly shows there is so much a person can share with the group - it just takes a moment to feel safe enough to speak to others about their feelings and experiences.

Once a person opens up and shares with an empathetic and caring group of people, they feel better and will often say that it did them so much good to talk about their past week, their feelings, the urges or no urges, things that occurred at home or at the workplace, and their overall recovery progress. This vocal participation with trusting others allows a person to sort out their thoughts and emotions and integrate it with their own mind and the outer world. This important and vital intimacy is healing to not only the person who shares but also to everyone in the group.

Participation in a group is not only essential to recovery but also maintaining a clean and sober life. The fellowship shared in any recovery group is healthy and enriching. Recovery is not just about giving up an addictive substance and staying away from using it again. It is really more about self-discovery and practicing a progressive and nurturing life-style. Our attendance, our sharing not only assists ourselves, but others. It is time very well spent. Quite simply, these recovery groups are enjoyable and fun. Just search out and discover the one that is right for you. Till next time….share, listen and heal.

Stages of Recovery

At any stage of recovery, most of us will agree that a vital component of this process has to do with inner reflection – reflection upon the person we were when using or drinking, the person we are now in recovery, and the person we would like to be and remain. This contemplation goes hand in hand with meetings we may attend, counseling we may have the opportunity of receiving, and of course our own insightful ruminations about ourselves. This can be a challenging endeavor in that we will pull up in memory the hurtful indiscretions that occurred with those around us and the treachery we exerted upon our self.

Reflection during recovery can also entail recognizing the pathways that led to our addiction.  Each person has their own set of circumstances and life happenings that contributed to their descent into total dependence on a substance. Sometimes this precarious journey entailed a rather sudden episode such as progressing from the use of painkillers to heroin or crack addiction. It can also result from spending a long portion of one’s life drinking alcohol, seemingly innocuously at first – “just on the weekend,” or “happy hour” after work -- then crossing the barrier into routine use, descending into abuse and, finally, full blown addiction.

Remembrances of this segment of time immediately prior to getting into some kind of recovery or detox often do not stop short of recalling total misery. For example – I cannot remember what happened last night. I am shaking and I am nauseous, let me get a couple of drinks in to calm my nerves. Do I have any money left to buy my next fix? Does my spouse know about my addiction, do my kids know, does my employer know? Exactly, what lie or version of a lie did I use yesterday, and which one am I going to use today? I do have to hide this, but where? I do not want anyone finding my private stash or my bottle. These recollections typically lead directly into regret. It is completely normal and to be expected that we feel regret about the agonizing havoc we created through our addiction and alcoholism.

Haunting questions can prevail during this early transition into recovery and detox. How am I going to mend my life? How can I face those people that once loved me but do not trust me anymore. How did I let this happen? Am I weak? Am I selfish? How could I have been one person just a few years ago, seemingly thriving in life, and now only a facsimile of my former self, living in despair? Where would I be now if I had not become an alcoholic or started using drugs? These types of questions can spin through one’s mind and are not easy to answer or cope with. There is immense sadness that surrounds addiction and alcoholism – certainly for us and just as certainly for those important ‘others’ in our life that have suffered greatly. I will never write superficially or frivolously about the pain that surrounds this type of reflection and the subsequent regret that follows. How can anyone address this topic without being completely honest about the dreadful repercussions that accompany addiction and alcoholism? I have said this before and will repeat it - this can be a life or death crossroads in someone’s life.

Once in recovery, how do we begin to feel acceptance of ourselves and live with the memories and regrets? I can start answering this question by first looking at the labels that others may cast upon us even when in recovery. Some will identify you as an ‘only an addict.’ Or, ‘did you hear about her, she had a real drinking problem, I think she’s an alcoholic.’ There is little any of us can do to stop these kinds of comments. Many people simply do not understand (or choose not to understand) addiction and alcoholism. In the course of life, we ultimately have very little say in determining how others will define us. We have this day, this moment, and the actions and thoughts we now embrace – One Day at a Time.  But the one-days build day upon day and we forge a consistent pattern that over time will prove the continued desire to remain clean and sober is really happening – trust is rebuilt over time.  Actions really do speak louder than words and we need patience as our circle of loved ones and people in our lives begin to feel secure around us and trust us. This is vital to repairing the damage our addiction has created. We must endeavor to accept that there will be loved ones, family members, close friends who will have difficulty trusting us and forgiving us for our past transgressions – again, give it time. We simply cannot force the renewal of these relationships. We are working on ourselves now and this takes considerable determination and an unconditional commitment to never using or drinking again.

I believe this process of acceptance in recovery is more powerful than I ever thought it was before I stopped using alcohol. When I used to utter the words, “I accept myself,” it left me feeling flat and feeling insignificant. In fact, I now believe that one of the great underlying causes leading to addiction and alcoholism has to do with forgetting who we are – going off course or not being true to ourselves.  One of the core precepts of AA is “To Thine Own Self Be True.” Accepting ourselves is the beginning to a realization of who we are. Discovering love is what lies beyond acceptance. One can be wealthy, poor, young, old, successful, known to many or barely known outside of one’s personal circle of relations. Addiction and alcoholism crosses over every chasm of life and can hold anyone hostage in a perilous and destructive life.

Acceptance and taking ‘ownership’ and ‘responsibility’ for everything that has culminated from our addiction is a powerful phase in recovery. Please recall the familiar and wonderful phrase - grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change. It is here that we begin to discover what was missing in our own life, missing within our thoughts and emotions. Most importantly, the emptiness we have experienced in our life can never be filled through escaping with an addictive substance. Once we have deeply reflected upon our past, and then acknowledged the list of regrets resulting from our addiction, and accepted them and taken ownership of them, we can truly change. We can now discover new, healthy ways of relating to our inner self. We may need to replace self-condemnation and self-hatred with acceptance and positive assertions as to who and what we are.

The road of recovery crosses many crucial bridges – reflection and the realization of regrets, acceptance through taking ownership of our actions, love, forgiveness, and finally making amends for past actions. This process is completely in line with the steps in AA. In fact, the AA Steps seem to be almost organically based in the real process of psychological recovery and rehabilitation. One does not have to believe in God or wish to accept all of the tenets of AA and the association with a God concept. But, please do not overlook the thoughtful and powerful value inherent in the AA Steps. These Steps can truly work for you.

Real meaning and compassion enters our inner being when we begin helping others in need. This journey takes us from the innermost vestiges of our past and a realization of the many transgressions against self and others. It is in this communion with others in need that we begin to feel that completeness of self. That tenacious and seemingly unescapable void that once existed and defined much of who we were, is finally no longer. Now, look at who we have become in recovery. We have journeyed from a path of selfishness and dysfunctionality to a path of discovery, embracing not only ourselves, but embracing others. What a superb and joyous turn of events. And, this is due to our inner pledge of Unconditional Recovery. Until next time, continue to reflect, be patient, make amends whenever and wherever possible . . .