Sometimes the really simple stuff is the hardest to get my hard head around… How is it, for example, that I can have a goal and know what it is and face no real impediments—yet it doesn’t materialize? When there’s not some external obstacle, why don’t I get that goal accomplished?
Well, it all comes down to ME, doesn’t it? But knowing that doesn’t magically move my goals to the “achieved” column—I still need to take action or make changes.
I was in a group therapy session last night where we were talking about changes. In this Season of Resolutions, it’s an apt topic. I tend to avoid “resolutions” with almost superstitious fervor, and even the list I made the other day was composed quickly and carelessly, comprised of things I’d already intended to be doing…
What’s on the horizon for 2017? I’m going to learn fly-fishing and rapelling, courtesy of my husband. I’m going to read a lot (as always). I’m going to keep writing, now that I’ve started again. I’m going to do some scuba diving in Idaho lakes. I’m going to enjoy hundreds of miles more on the motorcycle. I’m going to pray, and live Sober. I’m going to get new tattoos. I’m going to grin a lot.
Those hardly count as resolutions, do they? Resolutions are supposed to be game-changers, not stuff I already planned and am sure of crossing off. I don’t “do” resolutions… And yet, here I am thinking of the fresh calendar, the fresh journal I just started, the fresh opportunity to say, “THIS year I”…)
It IS seductive, thinking of a fresh start at things.
It’s probably one of the reasons why I never completely fill up a journal before I jump to the next, new one. There are always at least a few blank pages at the end of the “old” one because I’m that impatient to start writing in the new one. Yes, something seductive about fresh starts…
The evening’s discussion has me thinking. I DO tend to hit-and-miss on more important goals, making impulsive decisions for the short-term that are counterproductive to the Big Picture. My addictive tendencies certainly fall in that category!
One of the guys in group shared about the year he lost a hundred pounds. “Once I got momentum going, it turned into the easiest Hard Thing I’ve ever done.” Our counselor Amy observed that if your goal is to lose a hundred pounds, you have to LIVE like someone who’s healthy and losing weight. (Forehead slap. Did I mention that it’s simple stuff that I tend to make difficult?)
Dr. Phil is another guy with a knack for making the obvious sound profound—he was on TV yesterday talking about how we end up NOT doing what we want to be doing, because our “default setting” is to do whatever it was that we did yesterday. Unless we hit a Reset Button (make a change) we get stuck in patterns we didn’t intend.
How does all that apply to me? Another of the guys in my group talked about how he’s still trying to fill the “hole” that he used to fill with alcohol. That really resonates with me. Alcohol often didn’t work the way I wanted it to, but whatever it DID, it did immediately. I could alter my mood just by taking the drink, which is a heck of a lot quicker and easier than finding something to be happy about, or (even more work) doing something to be happy about. Take away the alcohol-option, and we junkies are still looking for a fix. Of anything. All the time.
If I don’t manage to keep my head in some kind of happy-land, I’m in danger. And keeping up the “feel-good” incessantly is, of course,
unrealistic impossible. As Carrie Fisher wrote in Wishful Drinking: when asked (after rehab) if she were happy, she replied, “Yes, among other things.” Among other things, I can be happy. So I’m thinking I have two things to do here: I need to be AWARE of my happy (and appreciate it), and I need to accept the “other things” too.
Quick note: addicts are not known for their skills in that latter area. I’ll speak for myself, anyway; I’M not good at feeling uncomfortable. (On some level, I’m not good at feeling.) I’ve shoved grief and trauma under the carpet so quickly I could almost pretend it never existed… At least until it starts oozing out from under the rug where I stowed it, and I ultimately find I have to address it after all.
That’s a lot of what I’m doing in this group, and in individual counseling sessions, and in A.A. meetings and church, and with the psychiatrist who’s still working on adjusting my pharmaceutical help… Alcoholism was my first identifiable issue, but it’s truly a symptom rather than a cause of my deeper dilemmas.
My first sponsor told me that when my A.A. “Big Book” was falling apart, my life might be coming together. There has been truth to that—but I also know that pure knowledge-of-the-contents won’t keep me sober. (I’ve proven it. I can quote whole pages of this book from memory, and I’m still struggling with getting wholly back into an emotional place of Recovery after my 2015 relapse.) Just like making a goal, even clearly knowing what it is—that goal still doesn’t just magically happen. I still need to take my own actions.
The magic will only happen with actions. So here I am thinking seriously about resolutions, goals, changes… Actions. As much as I hate to get cliché at New Year (or any time) maybe the better part of “rebelling” is knowing when NOT to.
We talked last night about SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable, Time-Based. My 2017 list has some easily actionable and measurable items, and I can already say I’ll experience some happiness (and likely some adrenaline) on the back of the motorcycle, on the face of a cliff, below the surface of an Idaho lake, in my tattoo artist’s chair… Some of my other items are actionable but not so measurable, at least not as I’d been thinking of them so far. “Pray.” “Live Sober.” “Smile.”
Living Sober needs its own whole handbook. Oh wait, I have one. We call it the Big Book. But since I need to do more than just know it, it’s time to return to that “keep writing” item on my list, and get back to writing out the Step-work my Sponsor gave me a few months ago. Actionable. Measurable. Let’s get it done!
I’ve already started something that helps with the smiles (and that earlier idea of “appreciating the happy”)… I started a separate journal where I’m spending a page-a-day on that day’s “best thing.” It’s kind of like the written version of BlipFoto, where (unlike Instagram) you can only upload one photo per day, so you pick through all your photos and choose carefully. Or in my case, start paying attention to things and taking photos in moments I might otherwise have missed. In my head, I’m often calling the day’s-best-thing my Sacred Moment, or sometimes it’s the “passport-stamp” I collected to mark an experience that day.
Last weekend it was my daughter’s eyes for a couple hours of lively conversation. When we returned from our Christmas trip, it was the joy of being back in our own home. One evening at church it was Jon’s laugh echoing in the hallway and making me smile from the inside out. Sunday it was the moment our worship leader launched into “How Great Thou Art” (to the accompaniment of full-body goosebumps for me). Photos from his adoptive mom of the baby-I-grew opening the book I sent him for Christmas, and snuggling into the blanket I made for him. Holding my friend Pat’s hand on his deathbed. (For those of you who read about him that day, Pat passed away shortly after my visit.)
So OK, not all the Sacred Moments are happy ones, but for me that’s a form of progress in its own right, to be celebrating things even when they aren’t “comfortable.”
And in paying attention to all my moments with an eye toward filling that page, I am actively appreciating moments in the day that I might otherwise have let pass by unnoticed. It’s a small thing making a big difference, and now I’m looking at what other small things I might undertake.
I avoid feeling uncomfortable. I go to extreme lengths to avoid feeling uncomfortable. (As I said, that’s where my extreme drinking often came in). So an actionable item for me is to practice pushing outside my “comfort zone.” One example that comes to mind is praying aloud. Jon and I pray together every night—by which I mean that HE prays for us every night, because I keep refusing to do it. Even with an audience as familiar and comfortable as husband-and-God, I’m just not comfortable. Taking my turn? Well, there’s a way to practice letting myself be uncomfortable (hopefully as a transition to becoming comfortable), and making “prayer” on my earlier list a more measurable item into the bargain.
After I turned their toy T-rex into an emotional mascot, my counselors Amy & John expressed their amusement by buying me a roll of T-Rex Tape (“Works Longer, Holds Stronger”)… I bandied jokes about whether I’m supposed to “tape myself together”—or maybe my mouth shut some days?—but as I did with the dinosaur itself, I see a little symbolism. Changes have to stick to have an effect.
Amy said last night that we each have the power to change our own story.
That’s really powerful. I can look back already at a lot of corners I’ve turned in my life, a lot of times I’ve tossed the script and started a new one. And then another. But many of those have been reactive rather than proactive changes; I was only adapting to what life threw at me.
Now, for the first time in a long time, I’m not living in a state of current crisis. And I’m thinking THIS is the time to think about the story I want in my life, and take the actions that create that story. It may look like one of the less dramatic changes in my life, but it might be the most life-changing. Taking measurable steps to notice my happiness. Taking measurable steps toward letting the UNcomfortable happen. Those are things that can change me, can change my story for the better. And with a little T-Rex tape in my arsenal, here’s to those changes sticking!