Do you feel that you are lost in the dark? Do your fears become larger and more real in darkness? Can darkness ever provide comfort and peace?
My musings on darkness were inspired by but don't really follow this outline:
End of the year
Shortest day / longest night
Darkness -> fear/anxiety
We light candles, fires, or decorate trees and houses with lots of lights to drive away the darkness.
We also find comfort and peace in the quiet dark.
We sleep in the dark.
Darkness of the tomb.
Darkness of the womb.
When do we fear the dark?
We can’t see what is around us, threatening us.
We can’t see the way out/forward.
Shadows and shapes become monsters.
When is darkness welcomed?
When we want to sleep.
To hide away the annoyances of our life.
So we can see the stars.
We close our eyes to meditate or pray so we are not distracted.
I can open myself up to others because I don’t have to see their reaction and they can’t see mine.
When I was living with alcoholism but without recovery, life seemed very dark. I could not see a “way out”. And in the actual darkness, in the quiet of the night when I couldn’t sleep, my problems, my anxieties, my fears, my hopelessness were magnified. They were monsters coming out from under the bed, from the closet, to attack me. In that time of my life, darkness was not a friend, darkness was to be feared.
What trauma has alcoholism brought into your life? How are you healing from it?
I didn’t realize it, but by the time I came to Al-Anon, I had been traumatized by the disease of alcoholism. Al-Anon is helping me to heal from this trauma. I recognized recently that it’s not over, even almost 16 years later.
Recently, I heard of 3 simple steps that can help us to heal from traumatic stress. (Simple, not easy!) I have to admit that I don’t completely understand how to apply them, but what I know is that my progress in Al-Anon has followed these 3 steps. They are:
I came to Al-Anon. I wasn’t sure why I came, except that I didn’t know what else to do.
I kept on coming, just because each time I felt a little better.
I listened and identified with what members said in meetings.
I read Al-Anon literature (this was huge for me in reducing anxiety and enabling me to sleep.)
Act with others.
I can’t do it all by myself. That is the essence of Steps 2 and 3:
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
I asked another member to be my sponsor. This was my first step to acting with others. I didn’t use my sponsor very effectively, but I did call when I didn’t know how to act or deal in a situation.
I met with other members and formed a step study group (AWOL = A Way Of Life). We met weekly for about 2 years, working through the 12 steps together.
Working through Step 4, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”, with others helped me to see that I am not uniquely broken, and that other people have suffered similar trauma.
Step 5, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”, has been essential in healing my guilt and shame over my past actions. Until I open up to another person, I am not relieved of my pain. In this way, Acting with another is essential to my recovery.
Act from your wise mind.
The concept of “wise mind” comes from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). It has been described as the combination of intellectual thought and emotional thought. OK. What’s that mean for me?
One way I see this action in my program is in Steps 6 and 7. In working Step 6, I try to reach a fullness of understanding and acceptance of my “shortcomings”. Some shortcomings are easy to accept intellectually — I can see the negative effects of my procrastination — but hard to accept emotionally — I am somehow driven to procrastinate but I don’t really know why. Practicing mindfulness can help here. By letting my thoughts just pass by, I start to find acceptance of what is true rather than what I want to be true.
Other shortcomings are obvious emotionally but not so much intellectually. My fear of financial insecurity is/was one of these. I knew I was afraid, but I didn’t know what I could do about it. I couldn’t get out of it by reasoning. In fact, my reasoning mind told me that I should just do the things I was afraid of: check the bank balance, pay the bills on time, make a budget. I had to bring the emotion and the reason together to accept that I needed to ask for help.
When I have reached intellectual and emotional acceptance of a shortcoming, then I am entirely ready to have it removed, and I can move on to Step 7 where I ask for just that.
Many of the components of the Al-Anon program help me to act from my wise mind, by reaching understanding and acceptance of what is true.
The disease concept of alcoholism was foreign to me and I rejected it at first. I had to learn about how addiction affects the brain, and I had to listen to lots of other people’s experiences to really accept it. (From both alcoholics and Al-Anon members.)
I came to see that I truly could not “fix” my loved one. By “accepting the things I could not change”, I could seek “the wisdom to know the difference” and the “courage to change the things I can.” When I kept on trying to do the impossible, I did not see what I could change to make my life better.
Tools and slogans that help me to “act” rather than “react”.
I recently heard a story of a person who was working to make change in their life. It was hard, and most days they weren’t sure they could do it. On the way home each day, they would walk through a park. In the park was a bench, and sometimes they were so overwhelmed that they would just sit on the bench and cry. After a time, they found the energy and the will to get up and continue the journey home. Until the next day…
I’ve been on that bench at times in my life. When I said to myself “I can’t and yet I must”. And I just cried from the seeming impossibility of my task.
Al-Anon helped me to get up from the bench, to start to act for myself. Other members shared their experience, strength, and hope with me. And also shared their pain, so I could know that I was not alone. They showed me how they had found the strength to get up from the bench, and I saw that I could do the same thing. If only for an hour or a day. And that was enough for then.
So if you’re sitting on the bench, crying, not knowing how to heal your trauma, come to us. Act. We will welcome you into our fellowship. Act with us, and start to find your wise mind. You are not alone. Al-Anon is a community where we don’t have to pretend everything is ok. You can find healing, but you must act. You can take one small step and reach out for help.
Upcoming topics include freedom and parenting. Please call us at 734-707-8795 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or experience, strength and hope. Or just leave a comment right here.
Step 3 asks us to “make a decision” to turn our will to the care of a higher power. Why is this so hard for many of us?
I looked back over 15 years at the 3 times I have worked step 3, and found the answers I wrote in 2002, 2011, and 2017 for these questions about making a decision.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
How do I feel about turning my life over to a Higher Power for guidance?
How do I know who or what my Higher Power is?
Am I willing to turn my problems over? What could help me be willing?
How can I stop thinking, trying, and considering, and actually make a decision?
Have I had a problem making decisions in my life? Give examples.
If I am unable to make a decision, what holds me back?
How would you answer these questions? Share your responses so we can read them in a future episode.
Upcoming are two more parent episodes. For one episode, please share your experience, strength, and hope about being the parent of an alcoholic or addict. For the other, how has recovery changed the way you are a parent? Please call us at 734-707-8795 or email email@example.com with your questions or experience, strength and hope. Or just leave a comment right here. Continue reading “Making a Decision – Episode 233”
How has recovery challenged me to articulate my values and my purpose?
What is the purpose of “purpose”?
Give direction and meaning to my life
Articulate what matters to me
Creating my life vs taking life for granted.
Live a longer and healthier life?
“So let’s imagine a drug that was shown to add years to your life; reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke; cut your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by more than half; help you relax during the day and sleep better at night; double your chances of staying drug- and alcohol-free after treatment; activate your natural killer cells; diminish your inflammatory cells; increase your good cholesterol; and repair your DNA. What if this imaginary drug reduced hospital stays so much that it put a dent in the national health-care crisis? Oh, and as a bonus, gave you better sex? The pharmaceutical company who made the drug would be worth billions. The inventors of the drug would receive Nobel Prizes and have institutes named for them! But it’s not a drug. It’s purpose. And it’s free. Oh, and the side effects? More friends. More happiness. Deeper engagement in life. And did I mention better sex?”
Eudaimonic (self-transcending) vs Hedonic (self-enhancing) pleasure.
Eudaimonic pleasure: Connecting with our (inner) divinity, living in harmony with it.
Hedonic pleasure: gratifying short-term desires.
How do we do this in recovery? Step 11!
How do I find and describe my purpose?
Consider my different roles? Do I have a purpose in each of those roles?
What do I want written on my headstone? (“Mentor, Husband and Father”? Or “Highest score in Candy Crush”?)
What are my values?
From episode 101: Integrity, Commitment, Acceptance, Love
How do these drive my purpose?
What other values might be part of my purpose?
What are the values of people I admire? How do they live their purposes?
Affirming values as a reason for behavior change enhances the ability to make that change. (Connecting to Steps 6 & 7.)
A positive approach to behavior change.
From AA Big Book: “On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives.”
And “When we retire at night, we constructively review our day.”
What are my goals (based on my values)? (Statements starting with “To…”)
To lead others into recovery. (Community)
To create software that makes a difference in people’s lives. (Work)
To be a loving and committed husband, father, and son. (Family)
To be fully present and to enjoy life. (Personal)
Step 3 – Living according to my Higher Power’s will.
“Make the other band members look and sound good. Bring out the best in them; that’s your job.” – CHRISSIE HYNDE
Find a self-transcending “why” for what I do, and I will do better!
But also: set good boundaries!
Time management or Energy management?
It’s really about energy management.
Positive affirmation of values and purpose can increase energy. (also “gratitude list”)
But not just energy – it needs direction. Without a direction, all the energy in the world is unlikely to accomplish something.
Roughly two thousand years ago, the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, “When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”
Sources of energy
Positive emotions or actions.
Doing things for myself
“Now don’t say you can’t swear off drinking; it’s easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” W. C. FIELDS
Positive energy, affirming values, and considering purpose increases will power. (Also SPACE.)
“ psychologists have found that willpower acts in a similar manner to a muscle: it can be depleted after mental exertion, it can be strengthened, and it can be fueled.”
Using and achieving purpose
“The life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it.” SENECA