Letting go of Old Familiar Faces and Places

In the rooms of recovery, it is often suggested that a person seeking sobriety may have to refrain from old friends and old activities, even jobs, if they truly want to be sober. This can be difficult. Marriages have been broken because a spouse can’t stay sober around their partner while the partner continues to drink. I have known people to refrain from attending a family wedding or reunion because they so wanted to be sober. Many people have to change friends. For these the people in their support group will help fill their need for fellowship and socializing.

Habits may also have to change. I know alcoholics who have told me they had to change their route home from work because the old bar or liquor store would tempt them. If a sport was an occasion for drinking, people in recovery have had to give golf, fishing trips, or football games with family or friends.

When a person gets on their sober feet and they have fully benefited from living the program, they can usually return to some of their old activities and spend time with friends even when their friends are drinking. But abstaining from these early on is important if they take their sobriety seriously.

The above applies to any of the well known addictions: drugs and alcohol, compulsive gamblers, and sex addicts. But there are other things that can be addicting in the sense that they create a certain “high” that a person craves. Nowadays, we realize computer games or any electronic forms of communication, shopping, cleaning, hoarding, hobbies, working, hoarding, even other people can be addicting.

I think that when a person comes to realize that too much of a good thing is causing problems in relationships, effecting their health, creating an imbalance in their lives, or is causing them to withdraw from life in some way, they may want to consider looking at this “good thing” as addicting to them. If that is the case, it might be a good idea to consider the above suggestion, as well as other tools that have worked for those recovering from addiction. Perhaps they have to back off of people, places or things that trigger their “addiction”.

The idea I have shared works because people in addiction programs have an ongoing-support system to help them. The support of trustworthy people who know and are honest with you is the key to success with any change that is difficult.

All About Us

An insightful comment in a reading from one of the little mediation books I read each day: “Preoccupation with self is not self-love.” Somehow, I thought it was. At least one time I did. I thought I had some sort of responsibility to fix myself up until I became perfect. I attended workshops and read self-help books. If coming to know myself and fix myself isn’t self-love, what is?

The reflection begins with a quote by David Frost: “Love is when each person is more concerned for the other than for one’s self.”  Self-absorption, it is suggested, is forcing our personal selves into the center of every experience. I know how it feels to be talking about some experience and have another person take a piece of my story as a cue to share their experience, leaving my story dangling and unfinished. I want to say to this person, “It isn’t all about you, ya’ know.”

But I have to confess that I have done the same thing. Even if I hold my tongue, I may make another’s story all about me in my mind. Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa. The author suggests to instead “look…with compassion upon the needs and frustrations of those sharing our experiences. (This will )usher in solutions and will invite an exchange of gratitude which makes all expressions of love easier.”

I think the shift here is in seeing, not that the life experience being shared is “all about me”, but it is “all about us.” My story is worth presenting if I can use it as an offering to the other that will help them feel the “usness” of life. Deep listening, and when take a parcel of their story to share a piece of mine, I quickly return their story to them.

(Reflection on a reading from The Promise of a New Day by Hazelden)

Memories, Dreams, and Reality

I created a phrase once about certain behaviors in people I knew. I called it “soap opera mentality”. These were folks who always had dramas going on in their lives, at least from their point of view. Sometimes, the drama was a situation occurring in my own life but I wasn’t all bent out of shape about it. I have learned another thing about these people. They are among those who think life is all about them.

One situation I remember is when a woman trying to stop drinking told me about a couple of friends who were having marriage problems. She was in so much pain over these friends’ troubles that I remember wondering if her friends were suffering as much as she. She was excellent at suffering in her own problems, too, but it especially startled me that she did the same with other people’s problems. It was almost as though she so enjoyed suffering that when she’d run out of things in her own life to suffer over, she looked to other people’s problems for excuses to suffer.

Anyone in serious recovery would say that this woman was just looking for an excuse to drink. I get that. But Adyamashanti in his book Falling into Grace offers some insight into this business of suffering.
Suffering is a fact of life, but “Why is it,” he wondered, “that human beings have such a hard time putting their suffering down? What is the reason we often carry it around, when it becomes such a burden to us?”

Ady (my nickname so I don’t have to write his name out) suggests that the primary reason we suffer is because we believe what we think.” The truth is, he says, “the thoughts in our heads come uninvited into our consciousness, swirl around, and we attach to them.” The woman I spoke about may have a thought about her friends with marriage problems and she invites it to linger. Then she plays with it a while and it begins to make her feel good. Yes, good. Her thinking about it affirms to her that she is a caring person. She is bolstering an idea that she wants to believe about herself. It doesn’t matter whether she does anything to help her troubled friends. Just holding onto their pain is enough.

Buddhists talk about the things we experience as being an illusion. It took me a long time to get this. I mean, this computer that I am using to write this blog is real. At least I think it is. My fingers are touching it. I am looking at it. But when I walk away from it and think about it…that is the illusion. My thoughts are not real. They are only representations, memories of the past  or imaginings about the future. In the case of this woman, the marriage problem is real for the couple in it (we assume), but it is an illusion for the woman. She is only thinking about it and she is believing what she is thinking. She believes that the illusion is the reality.

When I pray in the morning, I often pray for people I care about who I’ve learned are having some problems. The truth is that I am remembering something they or someone else told me. By the time I pray, the problem may be no more. Any belief I have about them right now is a figment of my imagination. It is fine. Using my imagination gives meat to my prayer. But if I really want to pray, the best thing I can do when a thought about a person comes to mind is to let go and let God. God, after all, is privy to the real situation right now.

More illusion than we think. When someone shares with me their problems, they are sharing their beliefs about their situation, another illusion. The words about the situation is not the situation itself. It is all an illusion, the Buddha says, because anything we think is about the past or the future. The only thing real, the Buddha teaches, is in the present, right now. Oops, that slipped away. It is right now, no, now! Oh, what a dilemma! The moment keeps slipping into the past and what was in the future suddenly becomes now only to slip away again. (I have to stop thinking like this or I’ll never get this blog written)

Reading what Ady has to say about our thoughts, I began to wonder about patterns of thought. An example might be paranoia – when a person always thinks others are trying to hurt them. This thinking is based on illusions. Even if someone is trying to hurt you, not everyone is trying to hurt you. Here the thought about someone trying to hurt you is not just an illusion but it has become a habit of thought. I think PTSD may be a bit like this. One may have been hurt one time or witnessed a hurt, but they then create a habit so that of when something similar occurs, the hurt returns, at least on a feeling level. It is all in their imagination, of course, but very real to them.

I remember listening to an author being interviewed on MPR one day. He’d written a fiction, but it was based on his own life. He was asked about his portrayal of the mother in his book who was supposed to represent his own mother. Was his mother was upset?  “Not at all,” he said, “She doesn’t even connect with her.”  Even among his own siblings, he said, each has a different story to tell about the same events he tells in his story. I found this hysterical as I thought about a gathering of my cousins a few years ago where we told stories of our lives growing up together. We not only remembered different events, but we remembered them totally differently. Sometimes I wondered if we were really all living in the same place at the same time.

So, it is all an illusion, this world of thoughts. But don’t despair. Thoughts are good and helpful, especially the fun or sunny ones. Even the dark ones can be stepping stones to deeper understanding of things. So don’t stop thinking. Just don’t be fooled into believing that they are the same as reality.

Battle of the Cheetos

In my personal journal this morning I griped about the fact that, after 5 days of really good eating, I stopped and bought a bag of Cheetos which of course I ate. Did you know they come in larger bags now? There are actually 3 servings in one bag which I treat as 1 serving so they don’t go bad.

I am reading a book that my son gave to my husband, Fully Alive by Ken Davis. I would recommend it especially for men who need to think about their physical well-being. Almost any books I have read on this topic were clearly designed for women. Ken is a great story teller and inspirational. But what I like best is his ability to get to the core of things. His humor makes facing the truth about our excuses palatable.

The chapter I read today is entitled “From Pole to Pole”. It is about taking our goals and breaking them into little manageable pieces. He told the story of a friend who is in recovery who called him one night in a panic because he was alone in a motel room on a business trip and had an incredible desire to have a drink. “I don’t know if I can do this the rest of my life,” his friend said. Ken told him, “You don’t have to do it the rest of your life. You just have to do it tonight.” His friend made it to bed and in the morning his urge was gone.

I thought about the Cheetos. I realized that I was between events with only about 20 minutes of time on my hands when I pulled into the parking lot of the convenience store. It is only 20 minutes of self control I would have had to exert. Then I would have been at my next appointment where I would have forgotten the Cheetos. Thanks, Ken. I hope I remember next time your excellent advice.

My New Addiction

Four years ago I found myself addicted to the presidential campaign. What an emotional roller coaster that was! Since then, I have taken on a new addiction to channel surfing. I realized the other night that there are perhaps 3 regular TV shows that I enjoy watching. In addition, I like to watch specials that PBS offers most often on their fundraising nights. Bernie and I watched a concert by Jackie Evancho the other night that was amazing. I said to Bernie, “This time we will NOT order the DVD!” We have ordered program DVD’s during their fundraisers before and we never watch them again. We have also ordered tickets to performances only to discover that we are too old to drive to St. Paul to a concert late at night and drive home at midnight.

What I am getting at, in a round-about way, is that there is rarely anything worth watching in the evenings on TV. So what I have been doing is cruising the 500 plus channels looking for something. It takes a long time to do that and I usually end up occupying a good hour with this activity. Another alternative is to go to bed at 7 pm which is a mistake I always realize at 2 am. A better choice would to read. I am half way through a history book and I intended to put the remote down last night and read it, but my addiction won out. This morning my intentions are fresh. Any of you that understand the nature of addictions know what will happen tonight.