The Spiritual Angle: Making Connections

Today’s reading from Daily Reflections of AA literature (Feb. 9) talks about the ‘spiritual angle’ of the recovery program and how many people find this to be one of the most difficult parts of the program to accept and integrate into their lives. For many the term ‘spiritual’ is synonymous with God and religion and brings with it a whole basket full of snakes.  A basket they’d rather keep well sealed. I know that the preconceived ideas I had about the program and religion kept me out of the rooms for several years because I thought that recovery would turn me into a bible thumping fool. And yet I finally came, despite my misgivings, because I couldn’t do it on my own.

And that’s really the key to the ‘spiritual angle’: I couldn’t do it on my own. In my disease I had dug my hole so deep that I had isolated myself from everyone and everything. Now here I was in a recovery meeting surrounded by others who could relate to me, and, more importantly, I found I could relate to them. I was impressed that these people seemed happy. I heard laughter. I was invited back. In a few days I knew I had found my tribe and that my preconceptions had been incorrect.

Slowly I started making connections. First to the others at the meeting. Then I started connecting to myself. I fount that I could actually get through a day without altering my personality. I didn’t know it then, but I still had a long way to go. And I learned a new trick, or so I thought of it that way: one day at a time. Every day at the meetings I was deepening my connection to others, to the program and to myself.

In that process I started to develop my spirituality, which I believe is, stated simply, making connections. I was seeing first, that I wasn’t alone. Then I started seeing that it wasn’t all about me. I started being less selfish with my time and my talents. I started listening. Not only was I learning that I couldn’t do it all by myself, I was also learning that I didn’t have to, nor was there ever a ‘rule’ that I had to do it alone.

The connections to myself and to other people then broadened my mind to realize that we are all connected in a manner much deeper than a ‘hello, how are you?’ kind of way. I had a renewed sense of being a part of something. I was breaking out of my isolation, breaking out of my ego and entering into the ‘realm of the spirit’ as it is sometimes called. For me, it is the ‘realm of connections’ where I am no longer alone.

I see myself today as connected to myself in that I take responsibility for my actions, realizing that I’m the only one I can control. I am connected to others: not just the folks in the recovery rooms but also with my family, people I work with and interact with everyday. And I believe that I have a connection to everything. There is something greater at work here. Something I still can’t put my finger on but which connects me to everything else.

That is my understanding of the ‘spiritual angle’ of the Twelve Step program of recovery. I have connections I didn’t have before. It doesn’t matter what I call it or how I understand it. I just have to recognize that it exists.

I am more than self and selfishness: I am connected.

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Acceptance is the Starting Point

In my addiction I would often scold myself and tell myself when I came to in the morning that I wouldn’t do that ever again. But by noon, all bets were off; my head was clearer(?) and I could tell myself with just enough conviction that it wasn’t that bad and I would do better today. Of course, during the last few months of active addiction, there was no morning regret. I had no dignity. I had little emotion. I had but one goal: the continual desire to seek and find oblivion.

I knew before I arrived at my first recovery meeting that I needed help. I just couldn’t stop on my own any more. I figured that if I could use the meeting to keep my head on straight for one day, then perhaps I could quit for longer. I thought that I just needed that push to get me up onto the ‘wagon’ and I would be able to handle it by myself.  After all I had quit on my own in the past for fairly long periods of time. I could lick this on my own.

A member of the group invited me to return to the meeting the next day and since I wasn’t doing much of anything and perhaps because no one really wanted me around any way, I took her up on the offer. And I kept going back. I started reading Twelve Step literature. I started counting my clean and sober days. Time in the program because important to me. I always chased the gold star in school; now I was chasing the 30-day chip, then two month and so on. I stayed. I began to work the steps and my life began to change.

Why did this work for me? I think that when I came into the program I was finally ready to accept that I was powerless and that I needed help. I was ready to surrender. My acceptance of the situation that I found myself in (and which I know was of my own making) became the jumping off point into recovery. The evidence of my addiction was before me. I could no longer deny it. I couldn’t pass it off as a bad night or a difficult week. There just wasn’t an end to what I was going through. Once any of us decide that we have hit our bottom, then we can start moving forward again.

I’ve learned since I’ve been in Recovery that what I resist will persist. As long as I was resisting my disease, fighting it, not acknowledging it, I was giving it the upper hand. The heroin addict, the compulsive gambler or the two liter a day alcoholic are doing the same thing: fighting against the facts, denying that they have a disease which keeps them in their addiction. Admission and acceptance are the foundation of  recovery. Once I accept, I’m saying to myself that there’s nowhere else to go. I have to deal with the situation or it is not going to change. Acceptance of the situation made me willing to do the work to move forward.

And I am learning that this applies to all situations in life. Once I accept a that I cannot control persons, places or things, then I can work on the one thing that I can control: ME.

I am grateful.

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Dealing with the Blues

I am grateful to be living in an area where I no longer experience winter. However, the post holiday season can be a difficult time for many of us. We spend so much time preparing for Christmas, Hanukkah or special days as well as the New Year and suddenly, it’s all over. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you suddenly notice that daylight is short and there are three to four more months of winter to deal with. The January Blues are very real for many people. Seasonal Affective Disorder may also play a part in our sense of depression.

I have dealt with depression for far too many years. Sometimes I have been able to manage on my own, or with the help of a friend. At other times I’ve taken natural medications such as St. John´s Wort. For about five years I took prescription antidepressants. Clinical depression is very real and most of us experience it at some point in our lives. Some of us are able to come out of it without taking anything and others need varying degrees of assistance to deal with the depression. Everyone is different and so it is important not to compare with others but to treat it properly.

Since I have been in recovery dealing with depression has become easier. After a few years in my program and, with my doctor’s advice, I was able to slowly wean myself off of the medications for depression. However, that doesn’t mean that I am ‘cured’. I still have to be conscious about how I am feeling.

So what do I do when I feel myself spiraling down? There are a number of things that help me. I get my butt to a meeting. When I am down, I don’t want to see anyone. And that’s probably the worst thing for me. I need to get out of my head. Going to a meeting helps me to get out of myself and engage with others. A meeting also reminds me that I am not alone in all of this. I do have a lot of support. After the meeting I can talk to my sponsor.

Exercise also works. It doesn’t have to be a three hour marathon at the gym. A walk to the store instead of driving, or taking the dogs for a extra walk. Getting the body moving releases endorphins which help to regulate our mood. There’s a very steep path near my home up to the top of a mountain that doesn’t take more than ten minutes to climb, but it leads to a great view, it’s good exercise and my dogs love the run.

As much as I griped about it when I was first in recovery, I now often write a Gratitude List. There are always at least three things that I can be grateful for. Again, writing this list takes my focus away from those things that I find depressing. How can I be depressed when I have been given so much?

Clinical depression is very serious. If none of these suggestions help to alleviate your depression, seek professional help as soon as possible. There may be a chemical imbalance in your body and like I did, you may need to take a medication to help correct the imbalance.  It may be that you need to talk to someone who is a professional and has more experience than your sponsor or your friends in the meeting rooms. In the same way that if you had a bad head ache lasting a week without seeing your doctor, don’t let depression go untreated when it lasts a week.

We all have down days. It’s normal. But remember that the better days are on the way. We don’t have to remain down. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve often shared that even in Recovery, I still have ups and downs in my moods and how I feel, but the extremes of feeling really good or really sad now seem to be gone and for that,  I am grateful.

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