Holiday Parties in Sobriety

IMG_0059Year two of holiday parties in sobriety, and a perfect opportunity to put some knowledge into practice.  A few tips I learned from trial and error last year but many were learned right here from my fellow sober bloggers.  Each and every one of you are deeply appreciated.   Hurrah for collective wisdom!

December 2014 saw quite a few holiday celebrations right here at home including a staff party, book club dinner party, Christmas  Eve dinner with extended family, and a three family Christmas dinner fete.  Home was a good place to be.  For one, hostessing kept me busy taking care of others.  The other key to celebrating at home is that it allows me to envision and carry out a plan without many curve balls thrown in.

The 3 keys to hosting parties and having great fun while sober this year turned out to be:

1.  Have a plan.  In early sobriety we spend a whole lot of time making plans.  What time will people arrive and leave? What will I drink?  What will others drink? Where can I get away for ten minutes from time to time to read recovery literature and refocus? Who is my support team at the event? Have I clarified their roles with them? Which AA meeting will I attend the day of the event?

2. Have another person handle the alcohol.  Don’t play the part of the suffering hero.  Just have someone else be the bartender.  At the end of the event, have the bartender pack up the bar and toss out the half finished drinks laying around. That person will be glad to help.

3.  Have fun.  Taking the time, making the time, to celebrate with friends is a new concept in my life.  Focusing on others helps me get out of my head which would normally be focused on the alcohol with laser vision, and opens up the world to the people in my life. Turns out my world was so small when drinking and I missed out on the amazingness around me.  Its time to enjoy friendship again.

Coming soon: the backstory of these keys. Because we all know, there’s always a backstory!


New Holiday: Step Day

Our fearless Nano Poblano leader Mark suggested some, um, interesting topics for the peppers.  While some are tough to incorporate into a recovery blog, there is one that we can toy with today: 14. Today is National Make Up a Holiday Day. Make it a good one.

Here’s the plan: take a few, thoughtfully selected, steps from AA and tweak it into a holiday.  Let’s get started!

Step 1: We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Holiday: Letting Go Day / Freedom Day

This holiday is built around the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. Each of us decides on something to let go of and we have water cooler discussions, and Facebook threads and Instagram posts about said plans. Resolutely letting go of things we’re powerless over will give us incredible freedom. For example,

  • I give up on getting that clueless jerk in front of me to turn off his blinker signal.
  • I let go of the embarrassment of singing off key and will still belt out my favorite songs just because I like them.
  • I admit that I’m powerless to get people off their phones when dining together and actually have a conversation.

Just let it go people.  Trust me, it feels good.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Holiday: List Day

Once each year, preferably after a big party kind of holiday, we each write an honest list of our shortcomings.  Everyone posts a list (could be the real one, or a fake one that makes you appear to be the next Mother Teresa) on social media and then burns them in a neighborhood bonfire.  The sooner we know our cr*p, the sooner we can clean it up and move on.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Holiday: Hug It Out Day

The day before Thanksgiving, everyone gets in contact with each person they have hurt, lied to, stolen from, messed with during the last year and owns up to their actions. Get it out.  Don’t let it fester. The momentum created with everyone having these conversations will make them that much safer for everyone.  On Thanksgiving everyone gives thanks for new beginnings with friends and family and its all hunky dory.

In the Stuck for the Second Time

stuckPeople giggle when I tell them that I love to be second. Second to try out some new technology. Second time in an exercise class. Second hike along a trail. Second meetings with old friends so we can move past the surface stories and get to the good stuff. Second visit to just about any place or event is better than the first because I can better navigate the situation. Number 2 is my number 1.

Of course the huge exception to this is sobriety. Knowing now what it took to get through those first few months, I’m not sure that I’m tough like that to do that again.

The past few days I’ve been in the Stuck. Just hanging out here, looking around, knowing that it isn’t a healthy nor safe place to relax. There are clear signs: dawdling, excessive time lurking on Facebook, isolating, noticing the places where I bought alcohol in the past, noticing the places where I hid it, and getting completely rattled by any talk of God in AA meetings.  Its as if my senses have all returned to where they were 14 months ago. Familiar territory is not a supportive place in this mind space.  But, I recognize it this time around.  What a relief!  Today I took an inventory of my thinking and clearly saw it for what it was, which is darned close to the thinking that had me convinced it was brilliant back before sobriety became the new norm. To simply recognize this Stuck for what it is gets me on the road to moving beyond it.

1st time in the stuck: 2 weeks to realize where I was.

2nd time in the stuck: 3 days to realize where I was.  The point goes to 2nd time!

The first time in the Stuck, getting out was so many levels of miserable.  A few actions were simple and had an immediate and strong effect: change driving patterns, keep forcing myself to physically move and not sit still.  Changing driving patterns was a tactic that helped me more than would seem reasonable in the first two or three months of sobriety.  By driving in different patterns, it forced my mind to think and see things differently.  The payoff for this simple change was significant.  By keeping myself moving, regardless of whether or not something actually needed to be accomplished, kept me from dawdling and lurking, which kept me in the moment.  Again, a fairly simple tactic that paid large dividends.

The huge hurdle to get out of the Stuck the first time around was dealing with the God thing in AA.  Or more specifically, the way I chose to interpret the spiritual portion of the AA program.  In this state of mind, I can talk myself into crazy states based solely on the second step: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to
sanity. And here’s how the crazy starts and spirals out of control:

  • Since I don’t personally believe at this time that a power greater than myself dabbles in individual people and their individual challenges
  • Then I cannot turn my will over to a higher power
  • Which puts me firmly in control
  • The same need for absolute control that contributed to my drinking getting so out of hand
  • The same control I am not willing to give up at this moment
  • Which means that AA is not for me
  • Because I am terminally unique and all of those people who got sober working the 12 steps are full of hog wash.  All of them.
  • Because I am the only person who could ever come up with the correct answer to these big questions
  • Which means that I’m going to go this alone
  • While all of those ignorant people keep sitting in AA meetings

To which all I can ask myself is, “Really?!” The first time in the Stuck, that line of seemingly reasonable thinking had me riled up all day and tossing and turning all night. Now, the second time around, I realize that a different approach is needed.

An entry point is all I need to get back on track, and being an overachiever, I found two. The first is in step 1, I admit that I am powerless over alcohol. At the very core of my being I know for a solid fact that no alcohol at all can enter my body with any hope of me retaining my sobriety. The possibility for moderation is nil. It is strangely soothing to know this is a 100% truth and need not be tested. The second entry point is from further down the list in step 11, meditation. Meditation practice to be more precise. I practice meditation more and more often because in my experience, when my mind is clear and calm, the walls come down, thinking clears, and personal relationships thrive. Through meditation practice I am able to pull myself out of the Stuck.

1st time in the stuck: 3 weeks to pull myself out.

2nd time in the stuck: 2 days to get back on track. Again, the point goes to 2nd time!

It is my hope that by sharing my story of recovery, it will help others who walk this road by my side, and give hope to those who are ready to begin.


30 Day Challenge Challenge

30 day challengeStarting projects is one of my favorite pastimes.  New projects, fun projects, useful projects, whimsical projects are each such a thrill in their own rite.  The followthrough, of course, is the challenging part. The very challenging part. Same with the cleaning up afterwards part.

Matt Cutts’ TED talk taught me 2 things: the variety of possible 30 day challenges is beyond imagination, and after completing one challenge, we can do another.  Gasp!

NaBloPoMo is a 30 day challenge shared by thousands.  The discipline of posting daily is already getting challenging, but building community is a huge pay off.  My hope is that by sharing my experiences, others will find strength and hope on their own journey or to better understand friends or family members.

Along with this, because one 30 day challenge simply isn’t enough, my sponsor and I are doing a 14 day challenge.  But, we keep missing a day here and there, so it may take us 30 days to get 14 consecutive days strung together.  Hint: setting an alarm on our phones to remind us to do our 4Gs is proving helpful.  The 4Gs reflection is to simply give an example of each of these 4Gs each day:

  1. Good: what was good about today?
  2. Grateful: what are you grateful for today?
  3. Glitch: what didn’t go well or could have been handled better today?
  4. Goal: what is a goal for tomorrow?

Stopping each day to reflect about where we are and where we want to be has been a positive influence and tends to keep the lists from running through my head at night.  So, my 4Gs for today are:

  • Good: laughing with coworkers at lunch, talking about the amazing dancing in Chicago
  • Grateful: Jeanne and the meditation classes we attend together
  • Glitch: Slept through spin class this morning
  • Goal: Make time for one person I don’t talk with often

I’d love to hear your own 4Gs in the comments below.


The Science of 12 Step Programs

auto-cookies-flow-chart-201002Logic and order make my brain happy.  Math and science were always my favorite subjects in school.  Reading Supreme Court rulings just for the fun of following the logic is a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.  Oh, and flowcharts!  The flow chart at the end of each Wired magazine is just like that hit of chocolate at the bottom of a Drumstick ice-cream cone.

Taking a brain like this to three AA meetings each week can be a bit of a carnival ride.  On “off days” it would be easy to prove all of AA completely false and useless before the steps and promises have been read at the start of the meeting.  If they only knew what I knew!!!

Enter Dr. John Kelly, professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital and a guest of the Bubble Hour podcast.  Their discussion on the topic of the science of 12 step facilitation was so utterly fascinating that I’ve listened to it three times already.  If your brain rationalizes everything, if you can write formulas and proofs as to why 12 step programs are a bunch of hooey, do yourself a favor and make some time to listen.  As a bonus, there is some Jungian philosophy thrown in.

My takeaway is that 12 step programs may not work quite in the way they think they do, but they do work in a way that science can substantiate.  And that is something I can wrap my brain around.




Building Habits, Building Community

Sometimes the universe whispers in our ear.  When we don’t hear the gentle message, she sends the message amplified just a bit so we can hear it.  And fortunately, when we don’t hear the message for quite much too long, she sticks with it until we think we’d had our own “a ha!” moment.  This is my spot today.

Each week, I read through recovery blogs to see how everyone is doing.  Staying connected is important, so I read.  But I haven’t been contributing, and that’s just not right.

Connections are something I’ve actually been working on.  Like after meetings when it feels like everyone has someone to talk to and a spotlight follows me as I try to slip into a conversation until that awkwardly occurs.  But I’m working on it.  Slowly, over time, the conversations are starting to come more naturally and the connections are being made.  But here online, I’ve let it become a one way street.  How can I work on regaining that habit?

Last month I heard about the National Novel Writing Month.   Writing every day for a big project.  Wow.  Sharing that process with others on the same path.  A community of writers – imagine that!

The TED talk Try Something New for 30 Days recently came across my desk and I’ve watched it multiple times.  He also mentions NaNoWriMo.  Such a coincidence.  Matt Cutt’s observation that when he takes part in 30 day challenges, time is savored more fully.  That is certainly something to strive for.

WordPress is advertising for their current 30 day writing and photography courses.  I tell myself that sometime I should do something like that.  It would help get me back on track with my blog, encourage me to respond to what you are sharing.  As a bonus, there would be a budding community of bloggers to work with.  What a grand concept!

It turns out that BlogHer runs a blogging version of NaNoWriMo cleverly called NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month.  One post per day plus involvement with fellow bloggers accepting this 30 day challenge.

All right already, count me in.

Doing the Work

23217301-work-word-on-vintage-broken-car-license-plates-concept-signIn September 2014 when I was completely beat down and knew that my drinking days were finally over, knew that the gig was up and that serious consequences were about to break down my door and decimate life as I knew it, when I picked up the phone and called the chemical dependency number at my medical group, I thought quitting drinking would be like removing a sliver.  Once that little sliver was out, that the pin prick of a hole it had made in me had healed, everything would be perfect.  Little did I know.


This morning in my AA 12 by 12 meeting, I was asked to read the promises.  What a coincidence.  The last line has been on my mind lately.  “They will always materialize if we work for them.”  A robust proclamation by the fellowship of “work, work, work!” follows.


My guess is that I’m not alone in working to fortify my strengths and let other areas of my life languish.  For example, exercise in the morning is key to keeping good physical and emotional energy throughout the day.  My legs are strong and my core is weak.  So what do I do?  Go to spin classes 3 mornings and jog 2 mornings.  At my job, I work to be a reliable specialist within my company and always stay a few steps of the others in the most current technical advances.  Expanding on that, I’m working to put myself out there at professional conferences.  Physically and professionally I’m making progress.  I guess that my comfort zone is large enough to handle taking healthy risks.


At home, somehow I figured that the relationship with my husband would magically be amazing again.  I envisioned long talks, laughs, shared moments.  But the magic isn’t happening.  The work needs to take place.  I need to do this work without the comfort zone of experience, but with the knowledge that with 22 years of marriage, we can handle this.


With recovery, yes, going to meetings helps my recovery.  Yes, meeting with my sponsor and doing step work helps my recovery more than ever imagined.  Reading your blogs online helps me grow and reminds me that we are kindred spirits.  But lately I feel that I’ve just been making appearances.  And lately, I feel flat and emotionally unattached.  And no, I’m not drinking, but I’m not feeling like myself, or like anything.  And maybe writing these thoughts out has made them real.  Let the work resume.