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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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.

Please like and follow my blog at http://www.recoveryriver.org.

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Managing My Life

When I broke my leg, the mending of the bones was done with a titanium plate, screws and some time for it all to knit together. In seven weeks I was cast free and was hobbling around pretty much normal. However, the process of the healing of the tendons and ligaments that were stretched, ripped and misaligned was a much longer process.  It took several months of physio therapy and exercise to gain back strength and heal the soft underlying tissue. So while it looked like I was healed from my broken leg, no more cast or crutches, there were still a lot of underlying issues that had to be looked after.

When I came into recovery the First Step talked about my need to admit my addiction and that my life had become unmanageable. Cutting out those substances that brought me into recovery was one thing. The process of learning how to manage my life, well, that is still ongoing. The main problem seemed to be solved: I wasn’t consuming, but like the underlying soft tissues, my life was still far from manageable and I needed some more recovery time for that to happen.

For many years leading up to recovery, my addiction was my method of dealing with most everything. I was now without anything to cushion my personality and some unpleasant character traits from an unsuspecting world. My therapy, my work at managing my life, consisted in continuously working the steps, going to meetings and meeting with my sponsor.

Even with a few years in recovery, I still find myself doing things that aren’t responsible management. For example. I procrastinate. I put things off. I don’t take the time to complete the task when it first comes up and it then becomes a mountainous deed that Hercules wouldn’t be able to tackle. I am unsure why I do this. I know–I can see the waste of time. How much time do I waste? Too much. I allow a small item to take up a whole lot of space in my head and waste a lot of time thinking about doing it, not doing it, how to do it, why to do it, when to do it etc. Time I could use in a more productive manner ‘if’ I would only attend to these little items as soon as they come up.

I am grateful that I have a recovery program that allows me to see these faults, shortcomings or whatever you wish to call them. And it gives me tools to deal with them on a daily basis. Sometimes just realizing how much time I’ve already wasted thinking about something I should have done is enough to motivate me to do it. I am grateful that there are fewer things that I procrastinate about. And I’m grateful that my program teaches me to look at other areas of my life that I wish to improve and use what I’m learning to improve those situations as well.

I doubt that I will ever get out of life management therapy. I spent a lot of years in my disease of addiction and it will take many more years of recovery to smooth out the ripples and waves that I made. It’s a task that I take on gratefully because I have seen the results in many areas of my life. It’s still one task at a time, one step at a time and one day at a time.