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Old 10-12-2006, 10:46 PM
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Focusing On Sobriety

By Steve B.


There has been a lot said here lately about sobriety and relapse. A lot of this takes the form of confessions, explanations, and remedies. The remedies I am reading here seem to involve pharmacology, psychology, or the distraction of keeping busy in one way or another.

At the present time, I haven't had a drink for 13 days, and it has been easier than I had expected, so far that is.

I have been reading the posts every day, contributing occasionally, sometimes gathering a few pearls of wisdom from others, sometimes forming some conclusions of my own distilled from what I read as well as from my own experience. I would like to share a few of these.

Sobriety does have a certain momentum once it is set in motion, like a car moving down the road. However, It needs an engine to keep it moving, or it will come to a stop. I reach this conclusion from my experience of relapsing after six month of sobriety that I had initially set in motion through going to AA meetings. When I stopped attending meetings, my determination to stay sober began to weaken.

The support and sharing of thoughts and feelings among alcoholics is the true strength of any recovery group, whatever its ideology or absence thereof. This thought comes from my own experience as well as my noticing of people in this group speaking of needing to go to an AA meeting although they disagree with the most fundamental beliefs of AA.

Whatever we pay attention to grows. Focusing on sobriety, spending time thinking about it, writing about it, and reading about it places an investment in sobriety that makes us less and less inclined to give it up. Focusing on the shame, self-hatred, or helplessness we may feel as a result of relapsing only serves to increase these feelings and does nothing whatever to enhance sobriety itself.

The matter of staying sober is a lifetime commitment, something I will probably never be able to set aside and forget about.
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Old 10-12-2006, 10:48 PM
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There Is No In-Between For Me

By Lisa P.


I have been thinking about my recent problems. I figure that I can either "practice alcoholism" or "practice sobriety." That's really how I feel about it. Both are actually a technique for coping. And I can make the choice, one way or the other. However, all I have to do is consider the option of do I want to make important decisions while: 1) I am drunk, or 2) I am sober - the choice becomes easy. The fact that I choose to "practice sobriety" all the time is really my business. And making that choice makes me feel empowered.

Have I figured out exactly what I am going to do yet? Nope. But will I do it sober? Yup.

Think about it - do you want to drive a car 1) drunk, or 2) sober? Have conversations with your kids, significant other while you are 1) drunk, or 2) sober? In light of our friend Bill's situation, care for an ailing loved one while 1) drunk, or 2) sober? Live life: 1) drunk, or 2) sober?

Seems so basic, but I always try to look at things in that light, because there is no "in-between" for me. I am either drunk or I am sober. Yes, I was always sober at work, but I lived the life of a drunk. However now, life sober has been far, far better -- maybe some rough moments, but in a word, better. And, SO much easier -- and since I am basically lazy, "easy" is a good thing!

Thanks all -- feels good "saying" it out loud -- Lisa
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Old 10-13-2006, 03:55 AM
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"where do I sign up for the get rich in real estate seminar" -- man that one got me

I never could understand the "powerlessness" thing that AA/NA folks go on and on about.

I couldn't understand why there was no such thing as "will power" and it was only the higher power who could get you through(when I was in AA my higher power was a hairlipped sportscaster named Buddy Diliberto then I switched higher powers and the new one was Al Copeland---the inventor of Popeye's Fried Chicken).

Meetings started filling up with court-mandated, very sleepy people.

Meetings actually had me thinking about using again. So much for the sportscaster and the Chicken King helping out. I had to do this myself. I had to bail out of that nonsense.

I do admit that the "fellowship" helped me early on when I was returning to the world of the living very slowly but eventually meetings were a bad thing for me. To me the whole philosophy was flawed....I'm pretty stupid but I could figure that out. It all started to seem really hokey. I found the smug old-timers to be kinda pissy.

Until I came onboard here at SR and found the secular connection I thought I was completely alone in the "recovery community". I thank my higher power for pointing me here and I ask all to rush out and by a Spicy 12-piece box with red beans and rice as a side. My higher power has to make a living, ya know.
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Old 10-13-2006, 04:58 AM
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Thanks for sharing, Windysan!

And, DK, thanks for posting these stories of secular sobriety.
I can relate alot to them, with my quit.

Shalom!
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Old 10-14-2006, 03:16 PM
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Meetings actually had me thinking about using again.
windysan, I had the same experience. I thought I was alone in this, but listening to people there the drugs became the elephant in the room. The cravings after meetings were horrible. Thanks for sharing that, it helped me today a lot.
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Old 10-15-2006, 01:14 PM
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The Power I Have To Deal With

By Dale H.


At the root of any lasting sobriety (in my experience) lies a fundamental self-confidence, usually a product of boosted self-esteem through personal successes.

Whenever a person relies solely on a "power" outside himself, failure is likely to occur. I've seen it within and outside AA.

I had to come to realize that the one person/thing/power/"being" I have to deal with, and come to grips with, is myself.

With a lot of help from other alcoholics and in turn an ability to share my hopes and dreams with another alcoholic I have found joy in life, a joy I never knew existed while drinking.

Well, enough of this sermon ... have fun!
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Old 10-15-2006, 01:38 PM
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I sure don't fit the mold

By John A.


[Michael H. posted: My personal best was listing 12 step meetings as a relapse trigger the last time I was in treatment. My counselor just couldn't seem to get her mind around that concept.]

Dear Michael and all SOSers: My journey in AA and SOS has been anything but normal. I had a sponsor back in '72 who was a hard core atheist. He thought the world of AA but could not get the god concept. He died sober with over 30 years sobriety. He had met the founders and was a very fine man.

There was another man, named Tom D. He is dead now so I can tell the story. He used to be at the AA meetings and was the first AAer who had a coin. He had a silver dollar with holes drilled in it. He had over 20 years sobriety, and that was in '72-'73.

He was a dedicated AAer who was a bible thumper and god fear man. He came off skid row. He got into real estate and became rich. He even was a founder of a bank. His lovely wife Virginia was also in AA and they helped literally 100s of new people.

To make a long story short, I got drunk, and both my sponsor and Tom stayed sober. The next I heard of Tom was his wife had developed a brain tumor. She died a terrible death. He was unable to cope with her death. In 1983 he walked out of his home and stuck a .38 Ruger in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

To say the least AA in the area was shaken to its core, but AA survived. They even named a room after Tom where AA meets.

The gist of what I experienced: I finally got sober over a decade ago and married a wonderful woman. Both our first marriage. We had no children by choice and we had a great sober life. Sober wedding and sober life. In April 1996 my wife developed a tumor on her brain stem. There was nothing Mayo clinic etc. could do. She died in December '96. Seeing that I do not believe in a higher power etc. I could not end up hating god. I went through a lot of emotions that come when your mate and best friend dies. I did not drink.

Here are two non-believers: my sponsor who died sober after 30+ years and me (up to now) who did not throw in the towel. Tom didn't drink, but committed suicide either by choice or by circumstances beyond his control. Where was his god in his true time of need?

When it comes to doing the 12 steps in order or whatever AA preaches, I sure don't fit the mold. When people in AA learn my experience in life, there isn't anything they can say. Basically they leave me alone. Well this thread is a long one for me. Yours in not drinking,

John
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Old 10-16-2006, 02:22 PM
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Diversity Begets Hope

by Roger K.


What I discern as a shared value in SOS is sobriety, not the means to get there, though SOS seems to value pragmatic discourse about what works for various individuals. This diversity of answers begets hope. I am not alone. Others are fighting my fight, and they share what works, without having to posit closed universes of methods, steps, higher powers, or whatever. This takes me out of the corner that I painted myself into with alcohol. Furthermore, I get to share what works for me without suffering the flames and arrows of those who posit singular dogmatic solutions. We each own our individual, possibly dogmatic solution and recognize the validity of other answers without requiring that the answer be valid for all. We don't have to suspend disbelief, pick up a cross, or any particular other thing. What we have to do is not drink today, no matter what.

I feel better now. Whoever's next, the soapbox is yours.
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Old 10-16-2006, 02:25 PM
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The Things I Do

By Linda L.


I used to be a religious person, believed in god and everything. Thought about becoming a rabbi (probably mostly because I like to argue). Then I learned to drink, did it too much, and found AA.

That cured me. First of all, AA is so darn Christian, that I had to question what I heard. I had to learn to filter out Moonies and Jesus freaks in college, and then AA came along and really put me to the test; after all, this was a life-or-death thing.

So, I gotta find Jesus or I'll die? Fat chance, buddy. So I objected, and got the "ketchup bottle" lines in all their myriad variations. Pray to a ketchup bottle? Not likely. After all, what interest does a ketchup bottle have in my sobriety? For that matter, what interest does a god have in my sobriety?

Doubts, doubts, doubts. Read "Came To Believe" and that pretty well trashed my "spiritual journey". Hang in long enough, listen to enough sermons, actively participate in your own recruitment, and eventually you'll agree with us.

But I'd already had a perfectly good religion, and it wasn't theirs, so why was I going along with this? For that matter, if god was so darn concerned about my drinking or not drinking, why did I develop a problem with the stuff in the first place? Maybe, I figured, the whole thing has nothing to do with god, and everything to do with the things I do. Just lil' old me.

So, while I'm still looking for evidence that a god somewhere gives a **** about anything we bizarre organisms do, I have left the search on the back burner, behind the really important stuff, like laundry.
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Old 10-16-2006, 02:30 PM
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Drinking "At"

By CA, Marianne H., Laura L., Marty N., Carol H.


CA began it:

… I couldn't sleep because I thought I was going to have to suspend a student, and ended up drinking. …

Marianne replied:

… Hope that next time someone gets in a jam, you won't punish yourself because of it…

CA responded:

I never thought of it as punishing myself, but maybe that's what I was doing. You've helped me see this in a new way.

Laura joined in:

I had a counselor who referred to this "phenomenon" as "Drinking AT somebody." During the time(s) when I was lapsing like that, it became very important to me to understand the connection between anger, sadness and shame in my own life. Among others, I drank "at" a staff member who was ultimately terminated. I had given her every chance, encouragement, training, threat, cajoling, etc. I was angry that she was "doing this TO ME" I was sad because I knew, eventually she'd be let go, and I was ashamed because I felt that the failure was mine. I drank at other people too, but she really sticks in my mind for some reason; probably because of the fallacious argument within my own mind, and the faulty logic I used to make myself feel even worse. Hope this makes some kind of sense.

Marty chimed in:

Thank you for that expression, Laura. It really fits. I used to do it all the time.

Marianne responded:

Me, too. My prime client paid me up to $650/day, so I thought I couldn't justify turning down the work. However, we did not share the same values, so our relationship over the years was uneasy, at best, and unbearable at worst. So I drank *at* the organization, and particularly at whichever person represented its side of our latest dysfunctional interaction. Did that for nearly nine years, although nothing changed except I dug myself a deeper and deeper hole.

When I quit drinking in November, I began to think more clearly about that working relationship. And decided to wind it down as quickly and as gracefully as I could. To wind it down, "no matter what," to coin a phrase, and even though I had no idea where to find replacement income. The day early in January when I mailed my last invoice was, tellingly, the first day I *knew* I could stay sober. I wouldn't need to drink *at* my so-called "friends" any more.

Of, course, that wasn't the only reason I drank. But it was sure a biggie, and it's nice to have the phrase "drinking at" to remind me that I mustn't get into that ever again.

Carol picked it up:

... Yesterday, I got angry with a friend and the first thing I thought of was having a beer. And then I remembered that someone on the list had said "I had a counselor who referred to this "phenomenon" as "Drinking AT somebody." That helped me and for once I didn't partake of my old friend.

Thanks again.

And CA closed the circle:

Tonight I'm trying Being Sober AT My Students. In other words, I want to be refreshed and clear for them tomorrow.
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Old 10-16-2006, 02:36 PM
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Haiku

by MOG


I look out my window to the southeast on Long Island's far point.

The dark turns to a wide band of red, then apricot.

A herring gull sits in the osprey nest.

He also didn't drink last night.
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Old 10-18-2006, 02:24 PM
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My First Year's Fine Journey

By Ken M.


To all the new people on the list welcome -- this is a good place with some fine support available when needed. Wilkommen till alla nya folk fran Norden som ar pa den har fin Nykterhets listan.

Well it has now been one year today since I last partook in the consumption of Alcohol. And a fine journey on this new road it has so far been. It took 28 years of drinking, some drugging, a bunch of half-hearted attempts at quitting (none lasting better than 30 days) and a whole lot of agony to finally get it. I do not want to drink. It benefits me not a whit. Whatever I got from the high, the buzz, the relief -- it always cost a whole lot more than I finally was willing to pay. It took that final month of binging one pint (vodka) + 1/2 rack (beer) on a nearly daily basis to realize that it was

1. Putting my relationship with my family at risk
2. Putting my job at risk
3. Putting my health at risk
4. Impinging on family finances
5. Killing friendships right and left
6. Endangering myself and anyone within striking distance of my vehicle
7. Taking a real gamble with my continued liberty.
I also have a different take on the 7th line as then I felt that it had already removed my liberty by imprisoning me in my alcoholic behavior. Like the AA heads say--I got sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

With pressure from my wife I called the treatment center that my employer health insurance would cover and made an appointment for an assessment. Gee, guess what? The counselor felt I qualified as an alcoholic. Duh? As I was voluntarily placing myself in a treatment program I had no doubt. Why would he?

Almost walked out of there though. He described the treatment plan and said I would have to go to three AA meetings a week. Nope, not appropriate. Tried that a couple of years before and found I would drink more than prior to going.

I asked if there was something other than AA as it was not for me (I actually was quite adamant about this) and if that was the only choice I was out of there. He then reached into his file drawer and (reluctantly) gave me a four year old RR list of about six meetings in the Seattle area. He said I don't know too much about this group, I have sent clients to them in the past but then would soon stop seeing them (this was a problem?).

Started going to the treatment meetings and found a number on the list that was still valid. Went to a what I understood to be a Friday RR meeting and found that they were shifting away from Trimpey's RR and looking for a different philosophical base. Treatment was a blend of 12-step, some Gorski relapse prevention and a touch of modified RET (the counselors' version cause he has a certificate in counseling from a local Community College). The support meetings were drifting to SMART recovery, which made sense, as the SMART recovery organization was founded by ex-RR board members.

From that meeting found others involved in non-12 step recovery and got a list of a few websites I might find of interest. While in smartrecovery.org found the link to unhooked.com and started reading.

Like those in Casablanca who had to wait and wait and wait, I read and read and read. Here I was most impressed by the Keepers and making a Personal Toolbox for Sobriety. The Sobriety Priority (I will not take a drink no matter what) dovetailed nicely with Rational Recovery's Big Plan (I will not take a drink ever again). Using AVRT I was able to get past the panic of the little ******* on my shoulder (the 'beast') saying I (it) will die without drinking. Just a beer would taste real good right now. Come on a couple of slugs of vodka--no one will know. Well I would know, the aftertaste would be terrible (smells bad too), and no I (though it might) would not die without alcohol.

About 30 days into this the cravings were beginning to diminish in frequency and intensity. Something else started to rear its ugly head. An understanding that liking the 'buzz' was not the only reason I drank. Emotional repression is a big, big deal for me. Swift flashes of anger would also crop up as an issue that had to be dealt with. I found that working REBT's ABCs is an effective way for working through some of these other problems that are also at root to my addiction.

Whether alcoholism should be defined as a disease (along with drug addiction) is cause for endless debate at SMART Recovery meetings. I have no problem with this as the unifying point is that it can be arrested by modifying one's behavior. Found the Saturday Seattle SOS meeting but alas was only able to attend once as Saturday is the busiest day in my business and I must work. I manage a Tire and Auto Service Center for that big rubber company with blimps.

A bit of history--the first AA meeting, where Bill W. met Dr Bob was at the Sieberling estate in Akron, Ohio. Sieberling was the founder of Goodyear. I love useless coincidences -- but I digress.

A few weeks into sobriety I took the plunge into my first e-mail list. This was here; now called SOSmail. It's been great. Marty, MOG, Rex, Lin everybody I can't thank you enough for all of your help. BTW I miss Rex--probably a lot of us do. I don't always agree -- but that would be boring. I like the slight undercurrent of near anarchy -- this is not boring. I do appreciate the general civility of this group, but can handle the slings and arrows when let fly.

Time passed and some clarity kicked in at about 90 days sober. Finished the treatment program at 5 months. Another sense of well-being kicked in at six months. Not to say that all becomes sweetness and light. Many many problems and issues to deal with still -- don't some people call that life?

I created a new non-12 Step Recovery Support Group list for the Puget Sound area which is updated and (re)distributed to hotlines and treatment centers as necessary. This one is done as a tri-fold so it makes a nice handout. If anyone is interested I would be happy to mail out copies if you send me a postal address. I tried to convert it to be e-mailable -- didn't work -- so much to learn so little time. I also have been involved with getting the local SMART meeting facilitators to have separate monthly meetings for mutual support, better communication and improved credibility. While the little ******* on my shoulder still pipes up (albeit rarely) the various tools of support I use:

Unhooked.com website

SOSmail

SMART meetings

My family

My cats

Keepers

Sobriety Priority

AVRT and Big Plan

Running a small meeting list

Shifting Thinking

Focus on Consequences

REBT

provide a fairly solid positive foundation for staying sober. And one more -- I found out I have Hepatitis C -- while I have no symptoms from it (though interferon/ribaviran is a real bitch) alcohol is one fuel I will no longer add to that Dragon's fire. Thank You again for all your support and help -- I hope I can give back just a little of what I have received. You were warned this was long.

Pacem.
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Old 10-20-2006, 07:29 AM
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My SOS One-Two-Three

By Marty N.


Four years ago yesterday I had my last drink. Today, on the fourth anniversary of my sobriety, my wife and two boys and I went out after soccer practice to a local Mexican restaurant and celebrated with lemonades and root beers. Afterwards I cleaned my toolbox in the garage, and then read my youngest a portion of The White Seal by Kipling for bedtime. Now my wife is correcting her Oakland third graders' reading homework, and I'm in bed next to her trying to put the how and why of my sobriety down on my laptop.

I had a lot of help and support getting here. My boys, especially the oldest, helped to get me across the threshold of Kaiser to seek help, and have been enthusiastic supporters of my sobriety all along. My wife and I went through some very rocky times along around year 2 and part of 3, but we have come out on the other side. She considers my sobriety the biggest gift she could have had, and from her I hear a series of stories about other marriages where the man drinks and maybe also abuses the wife and kids, and all the problems they have, that we don't, thanks to my sobriety. She makes me feel good.

My biggest debt, though, is to SOS. SOS showed me the basic human respect of not presuming to know all my problems in advance and of not having a ready-made formula to fix me up. Instead of trying to sell me a panacea or recruit me into a cult, SOS laid back and let me find my own feet. With a cunning that it took me years to discover and to appreciate, SOS understood that the only program for recovery that works for you is the one you fashion for yourself because you really want it. SOS for me has not been a ready-made off-the-shelf treatment program, but rather a safe and rich environment in which I could devise a treatment for my own self. Safe, because I have learned in these meetings that no matter what I say and reveal about my inner hurts, no harm will come to me. Rich, because by listening to the other participants and reading the literature, I have available to me a wealth of insights, tools and methods for overcoming my enemy within, and for leading a sober life.

It probably took me six months of going to two SOS meetings a week, and going to four or five Kaiser meetings on top of it, before the coin dropped in my head and I "got" the fact that I was an alcoholic. Prior to that time I had believed that to be an alcoholic was to be a bad person, or a moral weakling; and this impression was reinforced by my peripheral acquaintance with the literature of AA, with its emphasis on "character defects" and its rituals of blame and shame. As long as this was my concept, I knew I was not an alcoholic, because I knew that I was not a bad person and that I was not a moral weakling, or lacking in will or resolution of character. What I finally got clear is that I was organically damaged, either by heredity or by acquisition, and that my body did not process alcohol the same way as normal people did. My body lacks the "stop" switch that naturally and without effort of will quenches normal people's desire to drink as their blood alcohol levels rise. That limiting circuit is absent or broken in my system. As a consequence, I can never safely drink again. Although I am liable to clean up the messes I made while drunk, like anyone else, I am as blameless for my inability to control my intake as an incontinent is for his inability to control his output. We just don't have the mechanism.

Around the time I came to this realization, I had a client who suffered from Duchenne's syndrome; he was wheelchair bound, unable to control his functions, and most of his bones stuck under his skin at odd angles. Yet, though he could barely write and could not keep his head up for long, and had at age 29 outlasted the average life expectancy of persons with his condition by more than a decade, he had a clarity of mind and a ferocity of spirit that all who knew him admired. In the brief contact we had before he succumbed, following a traffic collision, I came to see that the disability of the sober alcoholic is a feather-light cross to bear, by comparison. All that we cannot do in our lives is drink alcohol or use drugs. How many would gladly trade their disability for ours!

Once I 'got it', once I understood and accepted that I was an alcoholic, the rest came easier. Over the course of the following months, I pieced together for myself a self-treatment program that perfectly suits my individual history and situation. I would like to share it, in a few words, with others on this list, by way of passing along some of the helpful points that others passed down to me.

Number one, I try to do something every day to remind myself that I am an alcoholic and cannot drink or use, no matter what. Jim C. makes a big point of this in all his writings, and his Triumph workshop constitutes the nuclear-strength version of such an everyday denial-buster. (We also have the Journal of Sobriety for those who like to work with pens and pencils.) At first it was drinking decaf in the morning, instead of caf, that reminded me. Then I started taking B-complex vitamins to restore my depleted body chemistry, and swallowing those horse-sized pills every morning definitely jogged my brain. Moreover, the vitamins turned my urine neon-yellow, so that the reminder repeated itself throughout the day. Then I mentally associated tooth brushing with affirming my alcoholism, and that worked for a time. Lately I've been using my participation in this email list as my Daily Do. A few months ago my wife took a weight reduction class, and the instructor there, in a very similar vein, gave them a long list of healthy eating practices and told them they had to do Something Of Something ("SOS") every day. So, having an everyday ritual of affirmation, a daily denial of denial, is a very "SOS" thing to do.

Number two, I try to participate regularly and actively in SOS meetings. Fortunately our meetings are small enough where you cannot sit behind a pole and daydream. This was hard for me at first, as I was not accustomed to revealing feelings or speaking about myself in meetings, and I resisted it. Even after four years it sometimes takes me nearly the whole meeting before I can open up inside and share. One of my Kaiser counselors pointed out once that our feelings are one of the few things in life that we can change by merely talking about them, and this is true for me. If I am feeling lonely or depressed, or stressed, or ashamed, or guilty, I can unload the poison from those feelings by sharing them with the group. This helps to relieve emotional stresses that might drive me to drinking. Sometimes just saying "Hi, I'm Marty, I'm an alcoholic" in front of my friends at the SOS meeting is all that I need to do. Often it's the things that come out of my mouth unsuspected that help me change, more than the things that come into my ears. Participation in meetings also helps me regain basic social and psychological skills, stunted during years where the bottle was my best and only friend. Active participation strengthens my ability to empathize with others, and my ability to ride out and accept my own feelings without panicking and reaching for an anesthetic. In these and other ways that I am only beginning to understand, participation in SOS meetings has helped me not only to stay sober, but also to recover from the damage I did myself during my three decades of active alcoholism.

Three, I've discovered for myself that the famous Sobriety Priority is a hell of a useful way to analyze what I do in life. As Jim C. has written so many times, we prioritize sobriety as a separate issue so that we do not drink or use, no matter what. When I drank, almost everything I did had drinking connected to it as a separate issue. Now that I am sober, almost everything is related somehow to sobriety. I can view the flowchart of my life as a series of decisions, some of whose branches tend to lead toward sobriety and others toward relapse. Tiny decisions, such as whether to look at a highway beer billboard, can involve a battle between my sober self and the addict within me for control of my eye muscle. Which conduct is correct? The Sobriety Priority decides. Big decisions, such as whether or not to encourage that old flame who comes into town, set off the same battle for control of a different part of the anatomy and have to be resolved by the same principle. The Sobriety Priority is a bright line through the blooming, buzzing confusion of life. There are a few days when I find my brain doing this kind of analysis, applying the Sobriety Priority, hundreds of times. You might be amazed at the kind of problems the Sobriety Priority algorithm can analyze and solve!

Taken together, my One, Two and Three form a closely knit matrix of support for my sober life. Both my mind and my feelings are engaged. My personal program involves both my inner and my outer relations. There's something sober I do twice weekly, something sober I do daily, and something sober I can do anytime or all the time. So, as near as I can figure it out, that's how I've managed, after thirty plus years of drinking, to get sober and stay sober for four.

And now I promise to shut up and never again to post a 'share' this long, except maybe on my next anniversary, if I make it that far. Thank you all for your support along the way.
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Old 10-20-2006, 07:36 AM
  # 54 (permalink)  
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The Happy Neurons

by Mark P.


I have been following the literature on chemical dependency for 17 years and always like to get my $.02 in. Especially since this has been a topic of discussion here of late.

The nature of chemical dependency is, to me, one of nature’s really fascinating stories. Why is there such a thing as addiction at all? What even makes such an odd thing possible? If you step back from it, it sure is a goofy-ass thing to have happen to anybody.

"Once upon a time".... roughly 500 million years ago, evolution came up with one of its most elegant inventions. It happened in some fish-like critter since the land wasn't populated yet. It was the evolutionary invention of the self rewarding neuron. Imagine it. A "feel good" neuron. A way to manipulate behavior (in evolutionary terms) by having the organism reward itself!! This is, to me, one of the most interesting moments in all of evolution, because it is what makes complex behaviors possible. So here we are 500 million, or so, years later at the end of an intricate evolutionary shaping process.

What makes you feel good? Sex, obviously. If it weren't for these reward neurons, sometimes called reward centers, there wouldn't be 5 billion or so sapiens sapiens running around the planet. But these reward systems are much more ubiquitous and subtle. They reward us for all kinds of things from eating a good meal to doing a good job to making a friend. They regulate our social behavior in public. They make possible intricate forms of social learning. There are probably thousands of behaviors that are rewarded by our own little brains, and hundreds of reward systems to deal with them.

Remember, this has been going on for 500 million years, enough time to create some pretty evolutionarily crafty stuff. So there you are, your wife has just given birth to your first child and you see it for the first time and are overwhelmed with good feelings. Reward system in action, big time.

So how about addiction? As I mentioned there are probably hundreds of these reward centers in the brain. Certainly trillions of reward neurons coursing throughout most of the brain. When one ingests what we call addictive chemicals what happens to the brain is that most or all of the these reward centers are set off at once. In a way that was never intended by Mother Nature. The addictive chemicals bind to the receptors on these reward neurons and, if you’re on this email list, you know what happens. Especially in the early stages of addiction: Euphoria. An overwhelming sense of wellbeing. No problems. All is well with me and the world. I look in the mirror and I am 2 inches taller and I can talk to girls at the dance...etc. The effect of all this is BAM!…new brain! The use of the addictive substances reconfigures the whole reward system of the brain. In little pieces these reward systems motivate evolutionarily productive behaviors and, as I mentioned, the success is in the pudding. 5 billion or so.

But, now all of Mr. Brain’s reward neurons have been set off at once and focused on the substance that did it! Holy ****, Mary. The use of the substance, because of its effects on the reward neurons, takes on all the characteristics of the strongest biological drive possible. It surpasses even the drive for self-preservation. Why? Because the brain’s reward systems have been reconfigured to support the use of the substance that sets them off, in the same way that they were originally configured to reward certain behaviors, only now they have become overwhelmed, focused on supporting the use of the addictive substance. We all know what happens from that point on.

At this level of organization an addiction is a relatively simple thing to understand. At the neurochemical level it gets a little more complicated. All brains are not the same. All receptor sites are not created equal. Thus, because some molecule in a person’s dopamine receptor hooks a little left instead of right, cocaine is not addictive to that person but might be to the other 80% of the population. Alcohol we know becomes addictive to those whose neurochemistry manufactures a synthetic opiate out of alcohol. We've known this for at least 26 years. Hence the reason alcoholism is hereditary. The possible neurochemistry is coded for in the DNA. It only becomes a problem when it meets alcohol.

So, is this a disease? Certain things are irrefutable. It is organic. It is biologically based. It is a functional disorder of the reward system of the brain. It alters the behavior of trillions of neurons. It causes irreversible damage. You, obviously, can't have the condition without the addictive chemical but then you can't have an allergy without the allergic substance.

I will say that, in my humble opinion, the understanding of the nature of addictions represents the finest of what science can do. Parenthetically, the most significant research wasn't done by people in the alcohol/drug field. As is often the case, old paradigms do not change from within but only change when confronted with new evidence from without.

What is not so nice is what happens in the socio/political world. It has always been difficult for Western culture, particularly American culture, to accept any behavior that is not volitional. We are, after all, captains of our destiny are we not? There is this thing called consciousness and it is the arbiter of all behavior. That's the way it is for me, by God, and that's the way it is for you. If you’re "addicted" to a substance it’s your own damn fault, etc.

Most people in A.A. have no real understanding of the biology of addiction. When they talk about the disease (dis- ease [give me a break!]) they are usually referring to some kind of characterological disorder (addictive personality or somesuch) as the disease entity. It is all very strange and, of course, interspersed with mysticism.

For some reason many individual resent the idea of being "diseased." I have never really understood why. Personally I don't give a tinker's damn that it might be a "disease." What matters to me is that there are behavioral techniques and therapies that can be used to put this thing in remission. I think I am grateful that so many people have spent so much time in trying to understand this thing and uncover its nature. It perhaps, someday, will change the attitudes of the general public toward chemical dependency. But, I'm beginning to ramble. I hope the above gives people a context in which discussion can take place about this crazy, deadly thing called addiction.
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Old 10-20-2006, 07:54 AM
  # 55 (permalink)  
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My Brain Said "Yuck"
By Bill McD.


Went to Lynchburg, VA on a business deal; this pretty much killed off the week. It was also the longest period of time I have lived in a hotel room "on my own" since I quit drinking. I was with two of my installers, both of whom at least know my history, even if they weren't witness to it.

For the most part, things were okay, but the little ******* did speak up a couple of times. The old refrain of "it's been a long and sweaty day and now it's time for a beer" was sung a time or two. It really is quite an enchanting song, when heard at the right-or wrong-time….

So, while my two traveling companions willingly headed for the Siren song, I did an Odysseus thing and plugged my ears by staying in the hotel room and reading.

Interesting thing, though: One night I was, in fact, out with the two of 'em. We were sitting at a table in this place called Mudpuppy's; they were drinking Heineken and I was drinking ginger ale/cranberry. Playing trivia, so my attention was focused on the TV screen. Because of where he had put it down, at one point I picked up Mike's bottle o'beer instead of my own drink.

Didn't drink from it, or really come close. I realized almost at once that I had grabbed the wrong thing. What was interesting about this "event" was the feelings and thoughts that went through me like a freight train, all at once: The bottle felt at home in my hand and the little ******* was yelling, "Awright, dude!" My brain shut down for just a second, deafened by LB's roar. I looked at the comfortable-feeling bottle. My brain came back online and *immediately* said, "Yuck."

Honest to whatever. My brain said, "yuck."

This was one of the cooler moments of the past ten months, if you ask me. I said "yuck" to -- this is the killer part -- A BEER. I used to live for the stuff, breathe it, sleep it, dream it.

As I have said in some post or other, my dreams usually have nothing to do with drinking anymore, but if drinking is "mentioned" it's always me *not* doing it. And now it seems that I've gotten to the point where if I do think about it, it kinda disgusts me.

This is good, I think. Good because it means that I have accepted the fact -- and it is a fact -- that alcohol and I don't get along real well, in the long run. So, yeah, it does happen after a while and life marches cheerily on.
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Old 10-21-2006, 03:51 PM
  # 56 (permalink)  
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The Meaning of Humility

By JCampb1048


I attend a group therapy session which meets before my Thursday SOS meeting. Last week we brought in a new member. As the session drew to a conclusion we were asked to share our favorite meeting with this new guy. Of course, I said, my favorite meeting was the SOS meeting which convened right after the therapy session and invited the newcomer to attend. This rankled one of the staunch AAers who began to proselytize about the lack of "humility" in SOS and how our program lacked "service". I asked this individual if he had any children. He answered no. I told him that I had three and that I was involved with parent organizations, sat on the board of an Education Foundation, was the past president of my homeowners association, that I coached Little League and Soccer teams and that I spend seven to ten hours a week every week working for free for the community. I also told him as an atheist I felt I had less ego than those who believe a Higher Power has time to spend time listening to their prayers and when their lives were over, was going take their spirits to heaven. I have the humility to believe, I told him, that when I die, I will disappear. All that is left is what I have passed on to the people I touched while I was here. Now, who has the inflated ego?
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Old 11-16-2006, 06:26 PM
  # 57 (permalink)  
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Our Drinking Relationship:
A Long Convoluted Story

By Bonnie L.


I have been sober for almost 6 months. My SO drinks and uses. Our relationship has always been affected by drugs and alcohol. We met in a bar. For the first 10 years I don't think we ever had sex sober! It defined our social activities, our circle of friends, how we communicated to each other and how we resolved (or attempted to resolve) our interpersonal problems and relationship/family issues. Alcohol was either the basis of our problems or how we dealt with a problem. We have been together for 16 years.

I started getting sober about 5 years ago. I now have almost 6 months. What I have discovered these past 5 years as I went through many relapses was how much my drinking patterns influenced his drinking/using patterns. We tried to outdo each other it seemed. But, when I'm not drinking, his drinking diminishes so much, I wonder if he even has a problem sometimes (I know he does though).

The first time I quit - I did so for 2 years via AA. I was convinced (thanks to my sponsor and other supportive (?) people in AA that if K. didn't also quit our relationship was doomed. I was told that I needed to go to Al-Anon as well as AA (yikes!!). I agonized over it, I pleaded with him to come to AA, I threatened him that I would have to leave - all the time crying inside because he is my best friend, and I didn't want him out of my life.

This time around, my sobriety feels different. I don't want to dictate to anyone else how they should handle their addiction/problems nor do I want to lay down expectations around when/if alcohol will be allowed in the house. Now, having said that, it's a struggle - Hell, I'm no saint, I get really annoyed if he has been drinking and absolutely intolerant if he can't carry on a conversation with me. But I quit ranting and raving (well, most of the time) about it and now I simply tell him he can't talk properly nor is he making sense and walk away. That has more influence on him than any of my previous pleading, threats, etc.

So, in many ways, it is easier this time around. Because I have changed -- not him. My attitude has changed.

I sincerely hope that K. will also quit and, I kinda think he will, but not because of any rule or threat from me. Anyway, that's my long, convoluted story about drinking and relationships. Now it is time to get out into that beautiful sunshine - what a glorious spring day it is!!
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Old 11-20-2006, 02:32 PM
  # 58 (permalink)  
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The Phantom Strikes Again

By Ward T.


< My first hand experience with AA spans nearly 3 decades. I have seen during that time a significant change in the organization, a move away from a general benevolent tolerance under the influence of the then existing "oldtimers" who had been around in the early years of AA. Today's "oldtimers" have come of age in an established mainstream organization. There is very little tolerance for anything that varies from what they know as the one true way. B. >

I went to an AA meeting the other night and while speaking ended up giving a sort of farewell speech. I explained how I wanted to continue in AA as a supplement to SOS but the cold shoulders I've been receiving lately have led me to drop out totally.

I explained how surprised I was at a lot of the old timers and even newbies at how closed-minded they were to an alternative. Recovery should be our main goal, I continued, and that AA'ers should review all the new alternatives and educate themselves on them so if another person like myself comes to the program you can offer alternatives.

I explained how disappointed I was in the lack of support. I guess it can be expected. As I spoke more there was chattering and some chuckling developing in the back. After I finished and introduced the next speaker some robots clapped (I know it wasn't because my speech was uplifting) and several others including my sponsor didn't.

AA'ers always spoke to me about my fair weather friends when I was drinking -- put down the drink and then see if they still come around. It's so hypocritical now that I'm working my recovery in another direction. I've been hanging with an AA'er for over 5 years and we became pretty close. He was a very good friend of my family. Since I started to work SOS he's been scarce and now I find out he organized a golf trip (we were close golfing partners) of AA'ers and didn't even tell me about it. So much for that.

I'm done with AA. For my own therapy I went out last night to three AA meetings in my area and distributed over 100 flyers under windshields. I made sure I went early to catch the beginners meetings. It felt good to distribute the materials, I feel like such a rebel. I should get a costume with a cape and mask: The Phantom of SOS strikes again! Nah -- too weird.
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Old 11-21-2006, 05:28 AM
  # 59 (permalink)  
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Good job, doknob.

Hey, that rhymes.

I gave up AA too. I couldn't understand how it couldn't be religious. Drug court took it over in my town. Meetings with active drug court dopers made me want to use. I haven't been back to a meeting in over a year and I'm doing well. I never made any announcement though. I just left. My sponsor is a great guy and he really saved my life. He's a bigtime AA guy and he helps lots of people. I haven't told him that I don't get the AA way. Then again, he hasn't come around to see me either. Another screwy AA thing -- not checking on the "sponsee". I lost a brother over the summer and nobody from the non-drug-court AA group even gave me a phone call.

Selfish program I guess.
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Old 11-21-2006, 05:40 PM
  # 60 (permalink)  
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Originally Posted by windysan
I gave up AA too. I couldn't understand how it couldn't be religious. Drug court took it over in my town. Meetings with active drug court dopers made me want to use. I haven't been back to a meeting in over a year and I'm doing well. I never made any announcement though. I just left. My sponsor is a great guy and he really saved my life. He's a bigtime AA guy and he helps lots of people. I haven't told him that I don't get the AA way. Then again, he hasn't come around to see me either. Another screwy AA thing -- not checking on the "sponsee". I lost a brother over the summer and nobody from the non-drug-court AA group even gave me a phone call.

Selfish program I guess.
You could always pay him a visit.

I can handle AA/NA in small doses. Anymore than that, and it starts to become a double edge sword.
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