Monthly Archives: June 2018

Keep It Simple

For some of us, overthinking things is easy. Getting caught up in our thoughts and living in our heads comes naturally. Besides, the longer I spend thinking about things, the more time I am able to dedicate to not taking action, not doing anything, not stepping into new/different/uncharted territory, not making a change.

I can, with very little effort, go around and around on something in my head for so long that what I’m pondering on could have been dealt with already. It could be behind me. I could be stepping outside my comfort zone and working toward a better life, but instead, I’m living in my head.

Part of the reason we live in our heads, part of the reason we refuse to take action, has to do with being comfortable. We’re comfortable in our chaos and confusion and poor choices. They are familiar. They might hurt us and they might hurt people around us, but it’s easier to continue living this miserable, comfortable life than it is to venture into the great unknown. There’s a reason we fear the unknown – it’s unknown.

Who in their right mind wants to journey into a place where nothing is familiar? Where life is uncertain? It’s a crapshoot. There are risks. But there are also rewards. We’ll never figure out what those rewards are, though, if we don’t take the risk of doing things differently.

And don’t tell me you don’t fear the unknown. Yes, I hear you. Some of you don’t fear the unfamiliar, per se. You’re perfectly fine taking a new job or moving to a new city or leaving your friends and support group behind, but the one thing that goes with you wherever you are is YOU.

Change your surroundings. Change your job. Change your people. Buy a new car or a new outfit or an entirely new wardrobe. Change every circumstance of your life if you want, but real transformation is never going to occur if you don’t change yourself. And that’s where fear of the unknown kicks into overdrive.

I don’t want to get better because I don’t know what I’ll be like without drugs. I don’t know how to go to work everyday without my liquid courage. I don’t know how to enter that boardroom and give my presentation without relieving the anxiety and the pressure before I step into the room. I don’t know how to watch the big game without knowing who I’m supposed to be rooting for based on they payout I might receive.

This crutch that I’ve lived with for so long helps me be who I am. It defines me (because I let it define me). I rely on that fix just to get through the day. How am I ever going to get through the day without it? How am I ever going to know who I am without it? How am I going to hang out with my “friends” if we’re not busy chasing the next hit? (You’re not! Sorry, not sorry). What do I do when I don’t recognize myself anymore?

These are valid questions. They have answers. Many of the answers will come only when we face life without our disease riding shotgun (or, more accurately, when we make it stop driving the car). Some of these answers will be found in the experience, strength, and hope of others who’ve gone before us. They’ve been giving us these answers in meetings, if we’ve been attending them. Chances are we just haven’t been hearing them because we weren’t yet ready to hear them.

One of the other big pushes for not addressing our own crap is that it’s so much easier to tackle the flaws which are SO apparent in others.

Jesus said it like this: “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a long in your own?…Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3, 5

The Big Book says that, “we are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell [another] what he should do.” – 77-78

What it ultimately boils down to is actually quite simple. There’s nothing we desire more than to be in control. Fear of the unknown is about control. Our inability to cope is about control. All of our addictive tendencies and our inability to give them up can be linked back to control. We want control, or at the very least, perceived control. But when we have the power, when we are in control, our lives go horribly wrong.

That’s when we need to turn to the steps and turn to God. I know it sounds crazy that the solution for getting control of our lives rests in giving control over to a higher power, but look at where you are now. You’ve given control to your addiction – to your disease – to something outside of yourself which isn’t capable of making you happy. Perhaps it’s time to give control to somebody who can make you happy.

And so we turn to the first three steps. If we fail to understand and achieve the first three steps, we will ultimately fail to master any of the subsequent steps. These steps are about coming to a place where we find peace with God through the disciplines of submission and conversion.

When we live into these steps we have the opportunity to move from powerlessness and brokenness into honesty. From self-reliance, doubt, and shame to dependence on a power greater than ourselves and hope for the future. From playing God in our lives and the lives of others to letting God be in charge of our lives and trusting that God is more than capable of making our lives better if we’ll let that happen.

These steps are the basis of a program of change, of transformation, of surrender. We work these steps not only to discover who God is and what role God can and should play in our lives but also to figure out who we are. And then, as we progress through the steps and work to live a new life, we reflect on these three steps in our morning meditation and whenever hardships arise. These three steps act as a simple reminder of the order life should take.

I can’t.
God can.
I think I’ll let him.

That’s it. In their simplest form, those are the first three steps. Those are words to live by.

Whenever life is overwhelming. Whenever you’re faced with more than you can handle. Whenever you don’t know what to do. These things will all happen – more frequently than any of us would desire. When they do, rather than turning back to unhealthy coping mechanisms and diseases which keep us wrapped up in a warped sense of reality, turn to that simple mantra.

It won’t fix everything. It’s not magical. But it is a good reminder that my own best thinking has been the bane of my existence, and it’s high time that I recognize my inability to effectively control and manage my life.

When life seems unmanageable or confusing, many of us unknowingly complicate matters even further by trying to anticipate everything that could go wrong, so that we will be prepared to respond. [Keep it simple] reminds us that we can’t control every possible outcome to ever situation and that trying to do so makes our lives more difficult and more stressful than they already are…We can relax and try to be more gentle with ourselves, trusting that by putting one foot in front of the other, we will eventually get where we are going. – How Al-Anon Works, 66

Never worry about anything. But in every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks. Then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6

I can’t.
God can.
I think I’ll let him.

– Alex Walker

Q&A Part 6: How Long?

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part six of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

How long does it take?

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!”
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.

Psalm 13:1-3

How long will I have to be in rehab? How long will it take me to get sober? How many meetings do I have to go to?

When faced with the prospect of sobriety, time suddenly becomes a priority. Out of nowhere, time miraculously becomes valuable to us like it never has before.

You see, in active addiction time was important, but it had a completely different value. All I wanted to know was how long I had to myself because knowing that would allow me to maximize my priorities and minimize my necessities. Let me explain.

In active addiction, my propensity for and proclivity toward procrastination paid off tenfold. I figured out how to wash dishes or do laundry or run errands as quickly and efficiently as possible so as to not raise suspicion and allot the most time possible for acting out. Everything was about how much time I had to feed my addiction. That was more important than anything, and it only mattered minimally to me what suffered as a result thereof.

My need to seek and gain approval from others helped to keep some of that caring in check, but it’s fair to say that most, if not all, of my ‘free time’ was consumed by addictive and compulsive behavior. It would be difficult for me to quantify the hours, days, weeks, or months (at least) of my life that I sacrificed at the altar of escape or gratification or seeking something different or self-pity or affirmation or whatever.

And then, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a place where we’re seeking help. We want to change. We want to be different. Maybe someone gave us an ultimatum, or we watched one of our friends die, or we’ve lost everything. No matter how we got to that point, we find ourselves there – often wallowing in feelings of shame, guilt, doubt, and a milieu of other overwhelming emotions. And we want to know how long it’s going to take to get sober.

Never mind that time wasn’t a priority while I was getting high. Time wasn’t a priority when I was drinking to blackout on a regular basis. Time wasn’t a priority when I was neglecting my relationships, my job, my obligations, my health, and anything else in life that got in the way of my next hit.

No, all of a sudden my job matters more than my sobriety. My ability to hold onto a failing relationship or step into a new relationship matters more than my sobriety. My kids getting to bed at a reasonable hour or having me at home with them suddenly matters more than my sobriety, but it didn’t matter at all when I was out on a bender or running out to buy or bingeing until the sun came up. Can you imagine how far along in recovery we’d be if we spent nearly as much time and money and effort working on our recovery as we did working on getting that next fix?

Many of us come into recovery with the idea in our heads that any habit can be broken in 21 days. That’s part of our sickness – the desire to find an easier, softer way. Well there isn’t one. 21 days is barely enough time to get clean, let alone sober.

The 21 day theory was first postulated in the mid-twentieth century by a plastic surgeon based on simple observation. First of all, what he actually said was that “it requires a mimimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.¹” A new study indicates that it takes an average of 66 days for a new habit (or behavior) to be formed.

A) That’s an average. It took some people as little as 18 days and others as long as 254 days. B) We’re not really talking about breaking a habit. We’re talking about a lifetime journey. We’re talking about rewiring your brain, restructuring the way you think, reprogramming the wants and desires and neural pathways that take us back to our drug of choice time and time again. That’s not gonna happen overnight, it’s not gonna happen in 21 day, and it’s not gonna happen in any set amount or length of time.

How long does it take? It takes however long it takes. We are not cured or healed or changed significantly over a specific length of time. It takes time, but it also takes hard work and dedication. It takes a good network of support. It takes a relationship with our creator. It takes an understanding of self-worth – knowing that you matter, you have value, you are loved.

“Well, I don’t know. Will a 28 day stint in rehab get me sober?” No. If you’re lucky, you’re gonna come out of short-term treatment clean, but you won’t be sober. 28 days or 30 days or 60 days isn’t going to cut it. That’s the start; it’s just the beginning. That graduation certificate you received upon release from treatment is bunk. It means nothing. You finished a program. Good job. You worked hard, maybe. But you also had limited choices. You had limited options. You could either finish the program or drop out and continue making bad choices.

But how many among us go right back to using after a stint in treatment? How many people do we know who’ve been to treatment a half dozen times or more because they don’t really want to change? They’re just going to appease someone else. And they know all the right things to do – the right things to say – so they get through with flying colors only to come out and head straight to the liquor store or trap house.

It takes however long it takes. Courts and recovery programs recommend 90 meetings in 90 days because early recovery is a critical time for most people. Those meetings are places where we find support, hear our story from others, give of ourselves, celebrate early milestones, and instill recovery principles. Going to regular meetings also helps to foster the idea that meetings are a priority.

Just remember that you didn’t become an addict overnight. Getting sober takes time and effort and dedication. Most of us slip, stumble, and fall along the way. Do not be discouraged. Just don’t expect immediate results. Instant gratification is a huge part of what got us into this mess in the first place.

Patience. Patience is something a lot of us don’t have in spades, but it is a huge part of being successful in recovery. I understand as well as anyone that once you’ve made the decision to get sober, you want to do it right now. Take your time. Be responsible. Know that sobriety requires sacrifice. Sobriety is hard. The success rate is lousy. Some of us are still going to die.

But stepping into a new life. Being around for friends and family. Learning to love again. Discovering who you really are. That’s all worth it. Overcoming fear of the unknown is difficult, but it’s worth it. With the proper support group and spiritual grounding, it gets a lot easier over time.

How long does it take? I don’t know. But I do know that “if we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.²” I know that we only accomplish any length of sobriety one day at a time. I know that if we spend less time focused on how long it will take and more time focused on doing the work, the work of the program will help us make progress. That’s all we’re shooting for: progress, not perfection.

So give it your best shot, stop worrying about time, and start stepping into the first day of the rest of your life.

– Alex Walker

2. The Promises – AA