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Let’s face it – when endeavoring to distance ourselves from any substance addiction we simply do not want to go backwards. Yes, individuals do relapse while in recovery and such an event should never be viewed by anyone as a failure. However, it is a setback and can have painful consequences. I, for one, have never seen nor heard of an individual that had a happy or good relapse experience. How could it be so? The opposite occurs and the ramifications can be costly in so many ways. Usually, when a person starts using or drinking again, they quickly descend back to the level of drug or alcohol abuse they reached prior to attempting recovery. Moreover, one can easily plunge deeper into their addiction, prolonging this critical relapse period and making another attempt at recovery that much more trying than before.  

There is excellent material offered by highly reputable recovery organizations such as AA and Kolmac addressing this critical concern of the ‘relapse.’ Kolmac offers quite an insightful diagram called the ‘Relapse Sequence.’ It begins with how one can set up a rationalization process for using again, followed by behavior that surreptitiously brings one closer, physically and mentally, towards their substance of choice. A simple example of this is picking up some coffee or cigarettes close to a liquor store you once frequented. This is what AA refers to as a “slippery slope” – repeating patterns of behavior through location-triggers. Then the triggers ensue and intensify the cravings. There is a real snowball effect during this phase. 

Unfortunately, many succumb to the addiction’s siren-like calling, and exhibit a sudden inner decision, quite automatic and subconscious, that they must have a drink or use again. Usually, the rationalizing within kicks into high gear and offers many justifications. Familiar examples: I am just going to dabble this one time and then cut myself off immediately and get to that AA meeting. I cannot get through another day without using. Life is just not worth living without a drink or a fix. I know I can get off it again. I can have just a couple of drinks, no one will know. Hey, I just sobered-up this last month or two, didn’t I, that wasn’t so hard – I can do it again, right after I have a beer or two. I do not really have a problem. If I had not gotten that DWI I would be back at a bar this very evening drinking with my buddies. If my parents had not gotten back from dinner so early, I would not have been caught. If my co-worker had not reported me to my supervisor, I would still have a job and everything would be okay. We know the rap very well indeed, don’t we? The sad outcome is we nose-dive further and further into the relapse. 

Let us right now call a spade a spade; we did this to ourselves. We chose to relapse. It is our responsibility, our decision. But, we know this and somehow this realization did not prevent us from returning to our unfortunate state of servitude. Like it or not our reciprocating inner dialogue now chastises us for our relapse. Examples of this: Are we that helpless in life even with assistance all around us? Do we not care at all about our life and others? Am I that stupid, that weak? Is it really possible to live clean and sober? Do we like waking up in the morning chained to a substance, fully knowing how that substance is destroying everything in our life? Do we enjoy the looks and responses we get from our loved ones or coworkers when we relapse and see the mistrust in their eyes? 

People who have never experienced alcohol or drug abuse/addiction will most likely not understand what a person goes through during a relapse - the bleak consequences of a recovery gone awry. But we do. It is indeed a very harsh reality to face. Moreover, for what – a lousy moment with a drink or two or more consumed, or pills swallowed, toxic smoke inhaled, or an injurious and noxious substance shot into a vein. It just does not add up and it never will.

There is little disputing that the pressures of life can become intense. Stress, anxiety, and depression can overwhelm people with or without addiction issues. However, for someone trying to get free of their addiction, the strains and worries of life are more amplified and overwhelming beyond reason and control – so it seems. Challenges in life will appear insurmountable and perplexing. The relapse succession of events resulting in this inner upheaval is not to be underestimated. The unfortunate setback begins and we are using and drinking uncontrollably. Many of us will attest to falling prey to this multifaceted relapse sequence and this is why so much effort is offered by recovery organizations to assist at just such a crossroad.

Please explore the wonderful research that is available to us. Trained and caring professionals have devoted a lot of effort and time over the years to help us understand the very complex mental and physical components that occur beforea relapse. One of the aspects I would like to address here in this blog concerns the thought process itself. For starters, each moment that a person has a thought, there is a correlative and complex inner response to that thought. Often, we do not even notice the reaction to a singular thought because so many thoughts pass through one’s mind at any given time. However, repeated thoughts tend to gather force and momentum forming subconscious units of orb-like energy. For instance, you are having anxious thoughts regarding a project at work – each time attention focuses upon this impending project, these thoughts converge inside and continue to activate the neurological and chemical responses described as anxiousness.

We know that attempting to dismiss such kinds of thoughts is not easy, sometimes ostensibly inconceivable. For example, when we try to ‘stop’ our thinking process about having a drink, we often end up thinking about that drink even moreso. Our desire to negate the thoughts regarding drinking or using can produce the opposite effect. We inadvertently energize that part of the brain that invokes our desire to imbibe our substance of choice. Moreover, usually we remember only the ‘good’ parts of past use.

A gentle and mindful approach to the thinking process has been proven more effective when trying to dissuade undesirable thoughts from having power over one’s mind. Conversely, this more congenial practice to how we think can more easily allow the entry of positive, healthy thoughts. When a thought runs through our mind urging us to have a drink, for instance, instead of giving it more power than it deserves, simply recognize the thought. Take a deep breath or two and allow the urging thought to have its moment of recognition. Then, with attentiveness, let the thought float away. Wait a moment, take another deep breath, and invite in other, healthy thoughts. Think of your gratefulness for being sober or clean. Consider the health and well-being you now have in your recovery. Feel how wonderful it is to wake up and remember last night and to have no remorse for giving in to your addiction. Take a walk or a jog and breathe in that nourishing air. Allow yourself to experience caring and loving thoughts about who you are. Read some inspirational material. Take in some passages from the Big Book. Think about the other people you have met in recovery and how they have given to you and how you wish to give back.  Pick up the phone and call your sponsor.  Get up and go to a meeting.  You know what to do.

This is a simple beginning to mindful thinking. Another excellent way to understand this practice and not get caught into that pretentiousness that sometimes surrounds such exercises is to recall that wonderful quote from Diana Robinson. “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you listen to God.” I truly love this quotation. When you allow yourself to ‘listen’ there are so many magnificent and loving thoughts one can draw into their inner being. Mindfulness takes practice. Allowing yourself to gently dismiss those undesired relapse thoughts, and with compassion, calm and patience invite in those healthy thoughts of sobriety and living clean, you will continue to avoid the treachery of the relapse sequence. It is another excellent tool for our Unconditional Recovery - our eternal pledge to live free from alcohol and drugs. Until next time....be kind to yourself, attend meetings


 
 
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Our internal dialogue can end up determining so much of our entire outlook on life. Often, we do not even know where these inner thoughts come from - or - what is the source of the emotion that make us feel the way we do. Many of us are not aware of this almost subconscious self-conversation since our thoughts speed along at such a rapid rate, and can layer on top of each other or collide together into an indiscernible ‘mood.’ Sometimes we may feel blue or upbeat, or just indifferent, not really knowing exactly why. Our nervous system and chemistry can certainly play a role in determining our ever-changing emotional states. Conversely, these inner thoughts can set off an array of chemical and neurological reactions. It is a bit like the proverbial – what came first, the chicken or the egg? There are so many contributing variables to how we feel in any given moment. However, I would like to direct the purport of this blog to deciphering this inner dialogue, particularly how it may relate to defining who we are and how we feel about our own self in the world we live in.

I recently heard a young teenage girl, struggling with overcoming an ongoing addiction to opiates, express out-loud that she felt she did not matter. “Why should I matter, no one cares about me, no one knows who I am. I am just a nobody. Hell, I don’t even care about myself. I’m a nothing.”

Powerful and painful words to hear from anyone and yet, quite similar to the victimizing words uttered by anyone going through addiction or alcoholism. The more you drink, the more you hate yourself. The more you use, the more you lose yourself. The vital reasons for living become obscured from your inner field of vision. Unfortunately, the muffled cries of your inner self, trying to escape the addiction prison, often fall upon your own listless perception.

What does make us matter? Do I matter in this world, and why? There are some very interesting, yet varied social factors that are applied today both directly and indirectly when determining the ‘value’ of any human being. Let’s explore this more. If I am wealthy, certainly this can influence many aspects of my life – the kind of area I live in, the schools I may attend, the opportunities I may acquire simply because of my wealth. If I am an attractive, good-looking person, this can play an important role in my self-identification, depending of course on how great a value and importance I place on this outward perception of my body. If I have the opportunity of being educated and suited to learning in school, I then have yet another component influencing my self-perception and mental development. Certainly, if I am popular and people tend to like me, again my inner self may absorb this feedback, and in fact, may come to rely on its continuation. This kind of list can go on for pages, of course.

Now, let us flip or reverse these assertions. If I am born poor, and grow up in a struggling, destitute environment, how does this affect the vital perceptions of myself? Suppose I am not very competent with my studies, then what resulting consequences am I looking at? Suppose I am not physically attractive, perhaps awkward in my movements, what will happen in my life as I grow older? And, if people do not seem to like me and I become isolated in life at an early age and become an outcast or retreated loner – well, we can easily surmise the kind of resulting inner dialogue that may perpetually fill my mind to where it is the only awareness of myself. 

Fortunately, there are many ingredients influencing our lives that shape us. One of the most important of these is love. If we are cared for, nourished with love and healthy affection, we may overcome many of the peripheral aspects of our environment. Look at the shining examples throughout history that have worked and grown through seemingly insurmountable obstacles only to achieve not just great personal success but also contribute so much to others. I often think of Helen Keller, who despite her blindness and deafness emerged as a force of love and beneficence to others as well as a wise and prolific human being.  Most importantly, she did not do it alone.

If my internal dialogue becomes filled with critical or demeaning thoughts about others, or myself certain states of consciousness will overtake me. It is no surprise that people who are highly critical of others are hiding their own internal criticism. Imagine a parent always criticizing their child’s physical appearance while not providing unconditional love and acceptance. Underneath this veil of contempt and lashing out is the parent’s own highly critical dialogue regarding their own self. What is often done to us in early life can be easily passed on to our own children if we have not sorted out the falsity that surrounded us and decide we are not going to repeat those negative patterns.  The same is true with addictions – we know that it often ‘runs in families’ – an environmental, social influence.

So, does each one of us matter? The answer is yes. However, this answer can be carelessly rejected by our own mind. It is so easy to accept our insignificance more than our significance. Are we not just one person in a world with billions of people – a minute cog spinning in the wheel of life? And, if we do not lay claim to any notoriety, fame, wealth, beauty or success – how easy it can be for one to begin to utter those self-destructive internal thoughts – “I don’t matter, no-one knows who I am, no one cares about me, I’m just a nothing.” Over time, these messages to ourselves become a pernicious habit. We can in fact, lay claim to an internal dialogue that creates our own adopted inferiority complex regardless of whether we are born into a family where every seeming benefit is laid before us or whether we are born into a family struggling to meet daily needs.

It is important to reject these negative messages about our own self. We do not have to lay claim to fame and wealth to find love for ourselves. Often those who have achieved much in the world, be it fame, success, notoriety, become chained to such accomplishments and rely heavily on their continuance. We are all aware courtesy of the news of the countless celebrities and prominent people who have entered rehab for their addiction. In addition to facing their addiction, they are forced to deal with it in a very public way. Their internal thought processes of determining their self-worth was lost in their own eyes and the important value of seeing themselves separate and removed from those outer labels became overwhelming and the 'need' to turn to alcohol and/or drugs ensued. Essential to living a healthy life, physically and psychologically, is the ability to balance our own egos with an honest integration of knowing who we really are and how we treat others and our self through the course of daily living.

One moment of contemplation about the magnificence of a single human being, in this case, our own self, will dignify what our creation is. This can be and should become our meditation about who we are. The miracle of a single eye, our heart, our brain, our lungs, the feelings we have, our memory, our ability to think – is this not something wonderful and amazing and truly uplifting? Isn’t the phenomena and marvel of a single human being – the body, mind and soul – enough to establish our significance in the world? It should be and it can be, if we allow it to be so. Our perception can open up to a renaissance of what we regard as valuable and important. Listening to the kinds of thoughts we have internally about ourselves and others is a beginning. Rejecting many of the self-destructive and highly critical thoughts we can possess in any given day is like breathing in fresh air and drinking fresh water. Allowing thoughts of love, peace, nurturance, and compassion for ourselves and others can become a positive practice that will eventually become a habit that will affect our entire outlook on life. Self-esteem, self-actualization and love gains force as we practice it.

In any given moment, when the negative messages start pummeling our self-concept, causing a mood swing towards being down on ourselves, or feeling that we do not matter in this world – take a deep breath and allow these messages to have their moment. Start a practice of accepting such negative thoughts as simply a temporary and habitual chorus that will take some practice and time to leave. Do not attribute any more to such negative thoughts. Then, with your full concentration, say something to yourself that is caring and nurturing. I particularly like when I utter to myself, “I am a loved creature in this universe and I can be happy in this moment. I deserve to be content and stable. I accept myself for who I am in this moment.” These are positive, concise, straightforward messages to one’s self. The only thing to remember is that it takes practice. Over time, you will find that those nagging, disagreeable internal messages will be replaced by approving, loving reflection. You must try at first to believe in the possibility of what you are pronouncing to yourself – there obviously has to be some element of truth to your internal commentary.

For instance, if you really are a nasty, disagreeable person, and you utter that you are a good person – well, suffice it to say, you can say this message to your own mind a thousand times, but will you really come to accept it? Of course not. Better yet, if you are an alcoholic and you attempt to dupe yourself by continuing to affirm that you are not an alcoholic – no amount of habitual, repeated dialogue will convince your inner self. Our deepest consciousness can discern truth from fiction. A person can develop and foster this pre-disposition to replacing old behaviors with healthy ones. In order to accept these newer, positive thoughts and forms of conduct, one simply needs to believe in their honesty and truthfulness and accept them as a new standard of how to live with yourself.

It takes patience and diligence to change the kinds of thoughts we have. Replacing the negative inner dialogue with positive, loving thoughts will bring forth a new you.  Until next time . . . keep the inner dialogue positive!



 
 
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It is April and although spring has officially arrived, there continues to be those customary cycles of winter imposing upon our weather, reminding us all of the previous season. Nature has assured us, however, that there is no holding back of the splendor and renewal this time of year brings. The word ‘equinox’ means equal and night, or on the edge between night and day. The earth’s tilt is steadily moving the Northern Hemisphere toward the light and with this celestial magnificence, we experience the grand renewal of life.

The season of winter can be challenging with its shorter days, the cold, naked trees and an overall barren display throughout nature. I have learned to enjoy each season and during the course of my own recovery, I have noticed so much more than I used to. The gray days of winter could often depress me and I would drink to feel better. Of course, my drinking did not help with that depression, worsened it immensely, and those gray days felt bleak and lifeless. As I continue to practice deep breathing and mindfulness in my sober years, I have come to be more patient with not only the tides of the seasons, but the constant changes within and I now experience the quiet beauty of the gray days of winter.

Being unconditionally committed to living a life free from alcohol and drugs has given my own soul a chance to emerge and reveal to my inner self that I am patient, that I am capable of living through the ups-and-downs that life presents. I do not live in a continual rosy cloud of bliss, none of us do. However, I do have wonderful, ‘rosy’ days that are filled with gratitude, peace, and love. Each day, regardless of the conflicts or pressures that may arise, I begin with a prayer/meditation of gratitude. I focus on the wonderful people in my life – my wife, friends, the special people I meet in recovery, co-workers, my loving pets, the home I live in, my health, my sobriety, my renewed faith in God and myself. The list can go on and some days I have longer periods to spend giving thanks for all that is in my life and consciousness. Being grateful is such a key to living a full life. Being thankful and grateful for my own recovery is paramount.

I have such faith in the ability of anyone to free themselves from addiction, and I mean anyone. If someone has been addicted to alcohol and/or drugs for a perniciously lengthy time – they can, if they want and so choose, and reach out for help – they can enter on the pathway of recovery. There is nothing in nature stopping or preventing a person from experiencing the healing powers that life can provide.  Moreover, I personally know this, because I was an individual that went to the depths of addiction and my ‘rock bottom’ was a near-death experience. It is with confidence and love I can now say and write these words without any embarrassment or shame. I became lost in alcohol abuse, did not know how to pull myself out of the downward spiral. In fact, the nature of addiction had overtaken me to that dreadful point in which I did not wish to pull myself out of anything. I lost faith in God, in myself and was losing the will to live. I only have sympathy and love for any soul that has descended to such a treacherous and painful level. The world can be a tough place, and it is easier than some may think, to lose oneself on the pathway of life.

With spring’s arrival, the most stunning and powerful example of transmutation occurs. From what appeared as dead or dark, literally blossoms into a fragrant, glorious show of the force and beauty of nature. I know there are some people, enveloped by the tentacles of addiction, even while attempting to read these words who may wish to shut them out and deny them. Let this season of spring sprout that infinitesimal seed lurking within that core within you. There is help for you and you must let this seed grow. It does not matter the duration of your addiction. If you let some light enter, and provide some care and consideration, you can find yourself again in a renewed life free from addiction.

I cannot speak of this season upon us, without expressing that I feel God, or the Universe, or the Cosmic, is clearly bestowing us with love and the opportunity of renewal and forgiveness. The experience of winter and its grayish bareness is a part of life, just as death and loss is a part of life. As I stay on my own path of Unconditional Recovery, I am able to live through these ever-changing occurrences, with all the sorrow and grief that some experiences cause, and all the happiness and success that other ventures will bring.  It is not a matter of 'strength' or 'will', but more a belief in the 'steadiness' of life, the 'flowing currents' of life and the acceptance that this is just the way our birth and existence was intended to be. Faith and confidence in my own ability to live through these cycles and stages of life without moving towards a drink or a drug is wonderful.  As I let the ‘light’ in and feel the energy that this season emits, I am moved by the poignancy of this love and the glorious beauty that exhibits itself each day.

The greatest examples of love and renewal that transpires throughout the universe is apparent in a simple blade of grass, or a budding tree, or blossoming flower being touched by a bee.  This love is there for us as well and all we must do is invite it in and feel it. It takes courage to love, to bring love and healing into our life. It is never too late to change. The seasons of the earth have existed for millions and millions of years. Each year spring descends upon us granting renewal. Let this light of life and love become a prominent part of Unconditional Recovery. A step towards realizing and feeling this rejuvenation is just like taking that first step towards recovery. One moment of realizing that you can change, that you are not predestined to remain a victim of alcoholism and addiction, will allow the universe a chance of entering your soul and being and plant that seed of healing. And from any seed, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it may appear to be, can grow renewed life. You can choose life and decide to nurture that seed of change, renewal and healing.  Until next time, feeling grateful . . .


 
 
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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 . . . 


 
 
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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.

 
 
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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 . . . 


 
 
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There are so many terms and labels used to differentiate one person from another or one group of people from another, and these objective labels are used millions of times each day all over the world. Examples: male, female, man, woman, girl, boy, straight, gay, lesbian, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Caucasian, Latino, Asian, Afro-American, American, Canadian, Syrian, French, German, Italian, President, Senator, CEO, Manager, Assistant Manager, short, tall, skinny, fat, obese, in-shape, alcoholic, addict, recovering alcoholic, sane, insane, bi-polar … you get the idea. The list could take up many pages. Suffice it to say we have so many of these terms to differentiate one person from another, some are labels we accept in common dialogue but some terms are disparaging and offensive.

What surprises me when I think of this endless list of words we use to describe ourselves, is the general failure to identify our similarities. Often the seemingly endless terms of distinction unwittingly separate all of us from seeing ourselves as part of the human family and if all these linguistic means of describing people are used as often as they will be used on any given day, are we not in fact enforcing the countless ways to separate us from one another? We may in fact be objectifying ourselves so often that as a society, many have lost their way and have become blind to that which unifies us.

Walt Whitman asserts this timbre of meaning in his poem, I Sing the Body Electric, describing a slave at auction:

Gentlemen look on this wonder,
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it,
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one animal or plant,
For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll’d.
In this head the all-baffling brain,
In it and below it the makings of heroes.
Examine these limbs, red, black, or whTite, they are cunning in tendon and nerve,
They shall be stript that you may see them.
Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,
Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs,
And wonders within there yet.
Within there runs blood,
The same old blood! the same red-running blood!

These few words from Walt Whitman speak volumes. One of the great lessons I learned very early in my sobriety while detoxing in a hospital, was embracing a genuine sense of humility. I no longer felt differentiated from others. I felt grounded and all the things I had ever been or accomplished were not important anymore. I was discovering something else. Yes, I was around ‘all kinds’ of people who were in the hospital with me for various, yet similar reasons – addiction and alcohol issues. And, yes, I was experiencing great pain withdrawing from alcohol while simultaneously realizing the tremendous harm and pain, I had inflicted on others. This may sound peculiar to people that have not gone through a detox, but, ironically, this is where I first discovered my true self and was able to see this certain key facet present in all of the individuals I shared this hospital ward with.

This unveiling of my true self continued for the next several days, weeks, months and now years and continues to this day. Previous outward accomplishments, awards, recognition, promotions, job titles -- those labels again -- that I had ever garnered during the course of my relatively ordinary life became insignificant and lacking real meaning. Before sobriety, I had let these external designations define who I was. I had become separated from that universal bond, that union with humanity and life and most especially, with myself. All of those labels and distinctions fell by the wayside. I am a person.

So many of the challenges we face in the world today have to do with the objectification of people and attaching that same shackle upon ourselves. External accomplishments and the winning and losing that go on in our competitive world can be just fine. But, losing sight of the real, true measure of ourselves as people can only create havoc in life and dismantle our awareness. Just as an individual that is in the midst of their addiction or alcoholism is unable to see their true self or have love and empathy for others, so too can the way we think of others perilously influence our own life. What really defines us has to do with our daily thoughts and actions. Quite simply put, how we treat ourselves, how we treat others. Look beyond the appearances . . . until next time. 


 
 
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Imagine a pendulum as it swings back and forth. As it sways to the left, we have a person using drugs uncontrollably. As it swings to the other side, this same person is in recovery. What are the determining factors that motivate an individual toward the direction of recovery and allows that person to remain in recovery and what are the elements that contribute to a person swinging back into the direction of relapse and addiction – sometimes, over, and over again. This analogy of the pendulum and its oscillation from one pole to the opposite pole speaks volumes when addressing the issue of recovery and relapse because the extremes of these pivotal axes can actually be life on the one side and death on the other.

One of the key components that will always support a person during recovery is their own insistence and determination to remain clean and sober and ultimately forever change their life. This desire to change the direction of their life is an absolute – it must be unconditional. Without this inner commitment, a person can remain on a perilous path towards continual relapses. Another factor is undoubtedly the kind of help and support one receives when embarking on this new path. When the real work gets underway, the person that embraces these steps will most definitely have a far better chance at remaining clean and sober. Honesty is vital – honesty with oneself and with others. Equally important is being truthful enough to identify the signs that have camouflage and excuse-making written all over them. Seeing these warning signs and acknowledging them immediately is crucial towards avoiding relapse. Taking responsibility and ownership of your actions is a fundamental ingredient in sustaining the journey of true rehabilitation.  All of these elements contribute towards pulling this pendulum towards the side of clean and sober living.

I know in this moment that I do not desire to drink again. And unless I am researching material regarding addiction or speaking to others about alcoholism or writing about it, like in this blog – I never think about using alcohol, or go through my day thinking about drinking, or what I may be missing from having some drinks at a bar or the ‘feeling’ I got from drinking, or my former circle of so-called friends. There is not one shred of romanticizing my former use of alcohol – I have closed the door on consuming alcohol. Simply put, the desire to drink alcohol does not occupy my mind. I begin each day with my personal mantra, and it goes something like the following. I am present and conscious in this moment. I am free today. I love and care for myself today, and will offer love and compassion to others. I choose to live fully and freely, one day at a time.  Within this state of being, I am free from addiction. If, however, I were to sabotage this current state of sobriety, and take a drink, I am instantly no longer free. Therefore, that is why I unconditionally accept that I am and will forever be an alcoholic. This is why I will not let my guard down and become complacent or fool-hearty. I readily desire to attend AA and Smart Recovery meetings and other types of recovery groups for the rest of my life. I enjoy my time spent with these groups and never walk away without some wonderful realization or insight and sometimes was able to help another person. More especially, I love the fellowship I share with others – people in recovery mean so much to me.

Stay vigilant and compassionate toward yourself as you continue to live in Unconditional Recovery . . . until next time . . .




 
 
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People can get hung up is on the label ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic.’ There will be people we encounter in life that do not understand the nature of addiction and they may want to point their finger, judging and categorizing because it’s the easy thing to do (or through fear or denial). Perhaps these people are family or colleagues who knew the ‘before’ you – before recovery. These characterizations can potentially set you free in stripping away all pretence or hinder your recovery because you too may actually be defining your entire self through your addiction.

I remember with clarity when I first uttered the words, “I am an alcoholic.” It was actually freeing. All the shame or embarrassment that I thought I would feel, simply didn’t happen. The people attending that same meeting accepted me. I fully embraced this admission within myself. I was being honest. I was taking ownership of my dependence on alcohol. I am an alcoholic. It was enlightening and uplifting to my heart and I felt whole again, and such a sense of tremendous peace.

In accepting that I am alcoholic, that I am currently an alcoholic and will always be an alcoholic, it has not constricted me or how I see myself. My decision to be sober is an unconditional one and it explains the freedom I feel as I enter my fourth year of recovery. As one begins the journey of sober and clean living, the question foremost in their mind is:  can long-term – life-long freedom from addiction really happen and how does a person reconcile the word ‘freedom’ with the label – ‘alcoholic’ or ‘addict?’ 

Being free does not mean you are no longer an addict or an alcoholic. Being free means that you have chosen to live unconditionally -- free from your addiction.  We are all far more than ‘just an addict.’  Don’t let a label define you except as a tool to keep you honest and accountable.  It’s a choice -- one day at a time.  Until next time . . .


 
 
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Let’s face it – when endeavoring to distance ourselves from any substance addiction we simply do not want to go backwards. Yes, individuals do relapse while in recovery and such an event should never be viewed by anyone as a failure. However, it is a setback and can have painful consequences. I, for one, have never seen nor heard of an individual that had a happy or good relapse experience. How could it be so? The opposite occurs and the ramifications can be costly in so many ways. Usually, when a person starts using or drinking again, they quickly descend back to the level of drug or alcohol abuse they reached prior to attempting recovery. Moreover, one can easily plunge deeper into their addiction, prolonging this critical relapse period and making another attempt at recovery that much more trying than before. 

There is excellent material offered by highly reputable recovery organizations such as AA and Kolmac addressing this critical concern of the ‘relapse.’ Kolmac offers quite an insightful diagram called the ‘Relapse Sequence.’ It begins with how one can set up a rationalization process for using again, followed by behavior that surreptitiously brings one closer, physically and mentally, towards their substance of choice. A simple example of this is picking up some coffee or cigarettes close to a liquor store you once frequented. This is what AA refers to as a “slippery slope” – repeating patterns of behavior through location-triggers. Then the triggers ensue and intensify the cravings. There is a real snowball effect during this phase.

Unfortunately, many succumb to the addiction’s siren-like calling, and exhibit a sudden inner decision, quite automatic and subconscious, that they must have a drink or use again. Usually, the rationalizing within kicks into high gear and offers many justifications. Familiar examples: I am just going to dabble this one time and then cut myself off immediately and get to that AA meeting. I cannot get through another day without using. Life is just not worth living without a drink or a fix. I know I can get off it again. I can have just a couple of drinks, no one will know. Hey, I just sobered-up this last month or two, didn’t I, that wasn’t so hard – I can do it again, right after I have a beer or two. I do not really have a problem. If I had not gotten that DWI I would be back at a bar this very evening drinking with my buddies. If my parents had not gotten back from dinner so early, I would not have been caught. If my co-worker had not reported me to my supervisor, I would still have a job and everything would be okay. We know the rap very well indeed, don’t we? The sad outcome is we nose-dive further and further into the relapse.

Let us right now call a spade a spade; we did this to ourselves. We chose to relapse. It is our responsibility, our decision. But, we know this and somehow this realization did not prevent us from returning to our unfortunate state of servitude. Like it or not our reciprocating inner dialogue now chastises us for our relapse. Examples of this: Are we that helpless in life even with assistance all around us? Do we not care at all about our life and others? Am I that stupid, that weak? Is it really possible to live clean and sober? Do we like waking up in the morning chained to a substance, fully knowing how that substance is destroying everything in our life? Do we enjoy the looks and responses we get from our loved ones or coworkers when we relapse and see the mistrust in their eyes?

People who have never experienced alcohol or drug abuse/addiction will most likely not understand what a person goes through during a relapse - the bleak consequences of a recovery gone awry. But we do. It is indeed a very harsh reality to face. Moreover, for what – a lousy moment with a drink or two or more consumed, or pills swallowed, toxic smoke inhaled, or an injurious and noxious substance shot into a vein. It just does not add up and it never will.

There is little disputing that the pressures of life can become intense. Stress, anxiety, and depression can overwhelm people with or without addiction issues. However, for someone trying to get free of their addiction, the strains and worries of life are more amplified and overwhelming beyond reason and control – so it seems. Challenges in life will appear insurmountable and perplexing. The relapse succession of events resulting in this inner upheaval is not to be underestimated. The unfortunate setback begins and we are using and drinking uncontrollably. Many of us will attest to falling prey to this multifaceted relapse sequence and this is why so much effort is offered by recovery organizations to assist at just such a crossroad.

Please explore the wonderful research that is available to us. Trained and caring professionals have devoted a lot of effort and time over the years to help us understand the very complex mental and physical components that occur before a relapse. One of the aspects I would like to address here in this blog concerns the thought process itself. For starters, each moment that a person has a thought, there is a correlative and complex inner response to that thought. Often, we do not even notice the reaction to a singular thought because so many thoughts pass through one’s mind at any given time. However, repeated thoughts tend to gather force and momentum forming subconscious units of orb-like energy. For instance, you are having anxious thoughts regarding a project at work – each time attention focuses upon this impending project, these thoughts converge inside and continue to activate the neurological and chemical responses described as anxiousness.

We know that attempting to dismiss such kinds of thoughts is not easy, sometimes ostensibly inconceivable. For example, when we try to ‘stop’ our thinking process about having a drink, we often end up thinking about that drink even moreso. Our desire to negate the thoughts regarding drinking or using can produce the opposite effect. We inadvertently energize that part of the brain that invokes our desire to imbibe our substance of choice. Moreover, usually we remember only the ‘good’ parts of past use.

A gentle and mindful approach to the thinking process has been proven more effective when trying to dissuade undesirable thoughts from having power over one’s mind. Conversely, this more congenial practice to how we think can more easily allow the entry of positive, healthy thoughts. When a thought runs through our mind urging us to have a drink, for instance, instead of giving it more power than it deserves, simply recognize the thought. Take a deep breath or two and allow the urging thought to have its moment of recognition. Then, with attentiveness, let the thought float away. Wait a moment, take another deep breath, and invite in other, healthy thoughts. Think of your gratefulness for being sober or clean. Consider the health and well-being you now have in your recovery. Feel how wonderful it is to wake up and remember last night and to have no remorse for giving in to your addiction. Take a walk or a jog and breathe in that nourishing air. Allow yourself to experience caring and loving thoughts about who you are. Read some inspirational material. Take in some passages from the Big Book. Think about the other people you have met in recovery and how they have given to you and how you wish to give back.  Pick up the phone and call your sponsor.  Get up and go to a meeting.  You know what to do.

This is a simple beginning to mindful thinking. Another excellent way to understand this practice and not get caught into that pretentiousness that sometimes surrounds such exercises is to recall that wonderful quote from Diana Robinson. “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you listen to God.” I truly love this quotation. When you allow yourself to ‘listen’ there are so many magnificent and loving thoughts one can draw into their inner being. Mindfulness takes practice. Allowing yourself to gently dismiss those undesired relapse thoughts, and with compassion, calm and patience invite in those healthy thoughts of sobriety and living clean, you will continue to avoid the treachery of the relapse sequence. It is another excellent tool for our Unconditional Recovery. Till next time . . .