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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

HAPPY LENT!!!

Tomorrow, February 10, is Ash Wednesday.  It is also payday which, while not planned by the Church, somehow seems apropos - if there is anything to remind one of suffering and sacrifice it has to be looking at how much money is taken out in taxes from my paycheck.  However, I know it is important to pay my part for the greater good.  I just wish the potholes would be fixed faster and that public schools did not seem to be some sort of training ground for either the MMA or the WWE.

I have my Lenten sacrifices planned - one I will keep to myself, as suggested by our Pastor at St Joseph's, Father Mark Wagner.  The others I will share.  Sharing allows me to keep myself honest.  If you know what I am going to try to do it holds me accountable.  I have a better chance of meeting my goal.

Sacrifice #1  No Starbucks Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte for Forty Days

This is not as easy as it seems.  I get up to go to work every morning at 3:15 and stopping halfway to work to get this giant cup of strong coffee helps to keep me from driving into the ditch while on a long stretch of back country highway.  So I make it very clear - I am not giving up coffee, I am giving up buying coffee from Starbucks.  I will make plain old regular coffee for myself and probably just stop there to use their bathroom.  It is okay - I told the baristas this morning that they will not see me for 40 days unless I have GOT to use the bathroom.  They understood....I am not real sure they cared but they definitely understood.

Sacrifice #2  Meatless Wednesdays

During Lent the Church requires all Catholics to give up eating red meat on Fridays - thus the proliferation of Knights of Columbus Fish Fry Dinners and the origin of the Macdonalds Fish Sandwich.   The Church also requires all married couples to refrain from sexual relations on Fridays as well.

I am not married, so no big deal.  I already keep the meat fast on Fridays as my regular way of reminding myself that Friday is a special day for Catholics - it is the day the greatest evil known to mankind was committed:  the murder of God by His own creatures. 

I decided to add a day to this fast this year because I want to remind myself that Jesus went a lot more than just an extra mile for me.  I love my steak, I love my ham and I love my other meat.  This will allow me to stop midweek, think for a minute of all the love that Jesus has poured out on me since the moment of my conception.  It is a small sacrifice to make but it will keep me thinking about Him.

Sacrifice #3  Extra Prayer Time

Being a commuter, active in my Parish and my 12 step program and trying always to be an attentive and loving daughter I don't always get time for extra meditation and prayer.  I have a set routine and I stick to it because without that daily connection to God I get lost in the world like a toddler in the woods.

I am blessed in that my Parish provides ways during Lent to add to my spiritual communion with God - most notably in that the family gathers on Friday nights to pray the Stations of the Cross.  My goal this year is to attend as often as I can, hopefully after my Friday night 12 Step meetings.

Finally, there is my quiet Sacrifice...the one I will keep in my heart and share only with my confessor and with my God.  Suffice to say I dedicate this one to the Holy Souls in Purgatory and to a very special intention.

Every day I will walk through this time and keep in front of me the goal of getting closer to my Higher Power.  Every day I will try and remember what the Holy Father has proclaimed this year to be and I will try to practice the Works of Mercy to everyone I come in contact with, whether I like them or not, whether they respect me or not and whether I see them or not.

Please keep me in prayer - I promise to pray for you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Can You Turn Around Depression?

I believe that one of the symptoms of the disease of Alcoholism is being prone to bouts of depression.  They come out of nowhere.  I go to bed feeling pretty darn happy only to wake up 6 hours later dreading the day and wishing everything in my life was radically different because the very life I had 6 hours ago is now horrible.

In the past I have tried various ways to combat this symptom.  Denied medication because "it is not chronic" or "it is not that bad", I have had to face this in ways other people do not.  As a result I have acquired some level of self-knowledge and awareness.  It has come in handy.  I only wish I had figured out a lot of this stuff earlier - it would have saved me and my loved ones a lot of heartache.

In the not-so-distant past my depression would manifest as aggression and anger.  I would look at the actions of others, in particular the actions of my family, and take great offense at  perceived  slights and then chastise them for it - usually in public, on social media.  Because I did not understand my what was going on with me I could not see why they would be as angry.   After all, I was right and they need to be told how bad they are and how bad they are treating me - right?   By the time I did understand my emotional problems it was too late.  I have irrevocably lost people.  I have only myself to blame and can hope someday they forgive me.

 I know that the depression is just another part of the disease I battle.  It is not linked to anything in particular, though when I am overly tired or fighting a cold or really stressed out over something at work or home it can hit harder.  Recognizing that no one, including myself, is to blame makes my ability to recognize the negative thoughts and feelings for what they are - manifestations of the disease.  That knowledge helps me to combat the darkness, to walk through it until it is over with minimal to no damage to others.

It requires me to make deliberate and intentional decisions and take specific actions.  I very, very deliberately interrupt my thought pattern and start talking honestly with myself:  "Leslie, this is not like you.  You do not feel this way normally and you know that the actions of (insert name here) are not really bothering you.  It is just one of those days.  You have an amazing life, a gift from your Creator.  You have job, you have a car, you have a nice house, you have a fantastic dog and two silly cats and when you walk into a room people smile.  There is nothing really wrong.  It is okay".

Please notice I do not demand of myself to "get over it".  I used to do that and then, when I kept feeling bad would also begin to feel guilty for not 'getting over it".  That may work for some - I call it deploying your inner drill sergeant - but it makes things worse for me.  Neither do I scold myself or give myself advice.  I don't take advice during this time from anyone other than my sponsor or my spiritual director either - most people say the wrong thing (or write the wrong thing on social media) but that's not their fault.  See, what they don't get is NOTHING they say to me during this time will be 'right' (unless they are someone who also successfully battles the disease of alcoholism...for some reason the principle of 'One Alcoholic Talking to Another' does work when one CATHOLIC talking to another will not - sorry, Catholic Friends...but it is a truth of my disorder.).

I also make it a point to really drill down on my prayer life during this time - maybe even up the ante on my Sacramental Life.  Get in an extra trip to the Confessional, slip into Daily Mass instead of going to the gym so I can receive Him in the Eucharist, make a clandestine and quiet trip to the Adoration Chapel.  Being honest with my Lord and telling Him I need help is essential for me to combat this symptom.

The most important thing I have to remember is to not dwell on what might have been - something that is really tough for me.  I am a real Monday Morning Quarterback when it comes to my own life and while I do not wish to shut the door on my past I can jump into regretting it with both feet if I am not careful.  Drowning in Self Pity and Despair is a real thing and can lead to jails, institutions or death for someone like me.

In conclusion (and yes there is a conclusion) I can answer my original question with a resounding "YES".  I can turn around my depression without medication or a doctor's help (for now) only because I no longer fear it, no longer deny I have it and no longer expect YOU to fix it.  It is another symptom, a manifestation of my primary disease and if I am not going to treat the whole person I might as well get drunk today.

And I do not want to get drunk today....bottom line.....

Thank you for letting me share.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Step Nine - Just in Time

This morning, at work, I was dressed down by another supervisor in front of the staff.

Both hands on her hips, an imposing 6 foot 1 in tall, she proclaimed in a loud and aggressive voice, "Didn't you tell me so and so would be in Pod 60?".  She glared at me as my staff got very quiet, watching tensely to see how I would react.

As always when confronted in a loud and aggressive manner, I froze.  The difference today from when I was an 8 year old (or 15 year old or 22 year old) is that I freeze NOW for only an instance.  I stammer for only an instance.  I state my case and then back it up with facts and then get very stern in my delivery of information to that person, shutting them down effectively and without rancor.

I went into my office, shut the door, got the record of the information I had sent her and resent it.  I then wrote this to her in a private email:

While I appreciate your hard work, please do not dress me down in front of the staff again.  That is not acceptable.

I share this with you as I prepare to speak to Step Nine for a reason.  I firmly believe I would not be able to stand up for myself today if it was not for good sponsorship and the 12 Steps.

Step Nine is as follows:

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.


I have had to make many apologies over the years as well as many amends.  I have tried, to the best of my ability, to limit this by policing my behavior.  I have not always been successful and there are, I am sure, many people who would tell you I owe them amends or apologies that have not been offered.  They may be right, I don't know.  I believe my conscience is clear and I do believe I have always been able to take responsibility for my behavior.  It might take awhile for the wrong I have done to sink in but when it does I am always willing to go to my brother/sister/friend and 'be reconciled' before offering my gift of self at the altar.

Besides teaching me humility and reminding me that I am far from perfect, it has allowed me to be kinder to those who injure me.  I have been able to adopt the attitude (not always but I am trying) that they are not waking up in the morning and starting their day with a plan to make me miserable.  While I would like to think I am that important, the truth of the matter is this:  very few people are thinking about me.  This is true no matter what so when I am embarrassed as I was this morning I can take comfort in the belief that she was angry, she was confused, she was looking for someone to blame and decided it must be me.  Why?   Well, let's face it.  Most of us would rather blame someone than entertain the idea that just maybe there was an honest miscommunication. 

Part of that, I think, is the rejection of our society of 'it was a mistake' being a complete explanation for something going wrong.  There has to be an underlying reason:  lack of training, espionage, stupidity - pick one.  The fact that maybe something happened because there was just a 'brain fart' (as my late husband used to say) offends our neat and tidy sensibilities.  WHY did it happen?  THAT'S the question we must root out and you cannot do that without someone, ultimately, being found at fault.

By taking responsibility for my actions and making direct amends when I am honestly wrong, I can learn the difference between aggression and accident, between sabotage and error.  Through self-examination I can discover that sometimes there is no motive for a harmful act - there is just the act itself, taken in error, and the best someone can offer to me is "I am so sorry this harmed you.  I will try not to do it again".

This became truly apparent to me when I began to make my first direct amends.  Blessed with good sponsorship, I was guided to not go to my abusers of the child I had been and say, "I am really, really sorry that your poor behavior when I was six caused me to steal from you when I was 20".  I don't get to do that - I just get to take responsibility for my part and go forward...one day at a time.


SO - today, I am able to say to the person who dressed me down in front of my staff that I am not happy with that behavior and for her to not do that to me again.  I do not need to get in a fight with her in front of people, I don't need to file a formal complaint or burst into tears.  Instead I get to tell her, "No, you do not get to do that again" and do so with grace, dignity and my head held high.

Thank you for Step 9.  It allows me to be a grown up.



Friday, January 15, 2016

Facing My Behavior - Step 8

Made a list of all those we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.

"Do to others as you would have them do to you."
(LUKE 6:31)

I have been sober longer than I drank.  

This does sound fabulous, right?  And it is, truly, a great gift from God.  The woman who was not assured of living longer than 40 is now 60 years old.  She has outlived Michael Jackson and David Bowie and has been sober longer than she drank and did drugs.

I did not start drinking until I was 17 so if I look at my life as blocks of sobriety I had 17 years, found the solution to my inner turmoil and descended into alcoholism.  I sobered up at 36 so now, after 23 years of continuous sobriety (hopefully 24 in May!) I can say the majority of my life has been spent without alcohol or other drugs.  

On the up side, I am in active recovey.  On the down side, most of the stupid things I have done have been done stone cold sober.  I have hurt people I love, I have made really poor choices, I have lied and cheated and manipulated to get my own way.  It wasn't until, at two years of sobriety, I had a spiritual awakening around the Third Step that my life started to change for the better.

Oh I still made mistakes.  Ask anyone who dislikes me and they will be happy to share all those mistakes with you.  However with hardly an exception I have been able to repair my relationships and the two I have not chosen to repair (both members of the 12 step program to which I belong) I did so because they are a danger to my family.

One of the ways I repaired relationships was the 8th step.

It is very difficult to separate the 8th Step from the 9th - in fact, my experience has been that when we try to have a discussion about the 8th Step in a meeting people inevitably share about the 9th.  

I have been blessed in that I was taught very early on that making a complete list of all the people I have harmed would be ego busting and harrowing.  When I make that list, I write next to each name exactly what I did.  Even if I think I did nothing wrong, I pretend I am that person and I write down what they would more than likely say I had done wrong.  It's not easy - I can never really know what another person is thinking - because I also have to explore how my actions affected them.  Did it affect their self-esteem, their security, their peace of mind?  Did I cause them to doubt their own senses or their own eyes?  How did I HARM them?

Having to face the pain I cause allows me, as a Catholic, to look more deeply at how my character defects have shaped my actions.  I have to be willing to admit those defects are still running the show. Once I do that, this Catholic takes herself to the Confessional before any other action is taken.

I believe that Step 8 is one of the most difficult steps to do in the 12 step process.  I believe that Step 8 truly clears the wheat from the chaff and only those who are truly committed to the type of life 12 steps can offer are going to give it their best shot.  

My experience is this:  Step 8 has been the hardest  and there are times I want other people to do it, not just me.  Sometimes I want to hear someone else admit they have hurt me and whenever I get stuck in that loop it is dangerous.  To spend my time waiting for others to work a program is pretty silly.  It might be nice - but it is foolish to wait on it's happening.  

Today I find the 8th Step to be that which allows me to be the grown up I always wanted to be when I was a kid.  I get to walk with grace and dignity.  I get to do that no matter what is happening around me and even when I would give my right big toe to hear a sincere "I'm Sorry' from someone else.

I do the 8th Step because it gives me the tools necessary for self examination at a deep level.  I am grateful for the 8th Step because it helps me develop true empathy for those humans coming into my sphere of existence.  I teach the 8th Step to others because I want them to achieve the goal of independence from the fear of never being able to say I'm Sorry and have it accepted.

For those who have not started this process....please know, I understand....but get to it.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Way of Thinking - Steps 6 & 7

The book Alcoholics Anonymous shares with the world steps 6 and 7 in the process of healing from the disease of alcoholism.

Step 6 is:  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Step 7 is:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Over the years I have heard some amazingly wise things in the meeting rooms of my 12 step program regarding these two steps.  What I have learned is a combination of what has been shared and my own personal experience.

I have learned that Steps 6 and 7 must shape my thinking in order to be effective in my life.  I have heard this expressed as "I live in Steps 6 and 7 today" and my own experience has born this out to be true.  However, like most of my life, this was and continues to be a gradual growing into an attitude and outlook that requires me to stop and look first at me when something goes wrong. 

Let me pause here for a moment for a disclaimer.

In no way or shape will I or any other responsible member of any legitimate 12 Step group hold someone responsible for criminal behavior perpetrated upon them.  If you have been attacked, abused, robbed, swindled, assaulted, raped, or otherwise been a victim of someone else's psychotic or irresponsible behavior you are NEVER at fault!

I want that made clear - taking responsibility for my life and my behavior does not excuse the men who ganged raped me when I was unconscious or the vicious verbal abuse I endured from a damaged parent.  My character defects do not okay someone else's bad behavior.

That being said, I know I would not have been unconscious behind that dumpster in the back of the bar in San Francisco if I had not been drinking and snorting cocaine.  While I absolutely understand that I could have been gang-raped after leaving Bible study, I also know the life style I was leading put me at greater risk.  It does not mean I deserved it and it does not mean the perpetrators had a right to hurt me.

To live today in Steps 6 and 7 means that I have to be willing to walk hand in hand with God and work with Him on the ever unfolding miracle that is His creation - ME!  I have to take that admission I made in Step 5 and deepen it.  I have to be willing to say to God, "I know there are some things I cannot remove from me without Your Divine Help and I am asking You, here and now, to please give me that Help".

My part, as I see it therefore is three fold:

1.  I have to acknowledge
2.  I have to ask
3.  I have to take the Help

Martin Luther never thought it was possible to be transformed by the Grace of God.  Catholics believe that it is entirely possible and that this transformation is open to anyone who is willing to try, one day at a time, to grow closer in communion with the Source of all Power and Truth.  We do not think we have to work for our salvation (and let me say right now that anyone, ANYONE, who tries to tell you we DO believe that is either ignorant or a liar) but we do believe that we have to take action in order to facilitate our growth.  We express our belief in His Saving Act through our works, and we can actively participate in our salvation as well as in the salvation of others.

Steps 6 and 7 helps us walk more firmly towards heaven, because if I can remember that no matter what is going on in my life I do have a part in it, I am an active member of the world and I do impact others by my thoughts, words and deeds then I will have a better chance of making it to heaven.  If I sit on my laurels and think I am all done, I am in trouble - either in this world or the next.

Every morning I pray for God to take my life as an offering and then I ask Him to remove those defects of character that stand in the way of my being useful to Him.  Every night I review the actions I took and ask myself, "Did I walk towards Him or away from Him today and if so how?".

This willingness to make this walk is firmly rooted in Steps 6 and 7...and I am grateful that God walks with me, one day at a time.


******************
 
Let me take the time to offer prayers for the repose of the soul of David Bowie.
 
Thank you for the music.