Finding Meaning in Life

“What brings meaning to one’s life

is to bring meaning 

to the lives of others”

-Dr. Bob Brooks

When I got sober there waited for me two families with open arms and hearts; my mother who will in time get her own post here and about who I could post endlessly, plus my girlfriend and her two sons. These two families gave me something that I could not give myself in early sobriety which is meaning, aim, hope. The process started with me.  A decision to shift into successful sobriety, to change my life, to move forward, to put myself in the best position to grow,  was made. The loving embrace of family then helped to give me purpose.

While I do not have children of my own and do not try to assume a parental role with the two aforementioned children I have developed a role of mentor with the younger sibling. This has proven to be one of the most fulfilling experiences, gratifying to no end when learning with each other, eye opening while brainstorming on a vexing issue, humbling when apologizing for acting without thinking, exasperating when trying to type and listen to the latest account of heroism meted out in a game of Clash of Clans, heart warming when sharing space on the bed while working side by side on our respective ever-so-important online issues. Sobriety has allowed me to be present for all of the events, good or bad, easy or trying.

I developed relationships with this family while at the tail end of my substance abuse. The tail end, as it is not uncommon, was some of the worst of my use; I had seen worse times that thankfully they were never witness to. Like all of my relationships while active in addiction I was barely present mentally or emotionally, always feeling like I was doing enough by being physically present; even at that I was occasionally absent. I certainly was never fully available.

Thankfully, my girlfriend and her children saw me through the beginning of my recovery which involved jail time and rehab. They made themselves available to me when I went dry and began the path of recovery which, for me, was and is a day by day process of introspection, reflection and a search for a better understanding of myself. This discovery of self is the foundation for being present in my  life upon which I have built the familial relationships that enrich me. Unbeknownst to them they have given my life meaning.

In turn being an active, positive, helpful, caring and mindful mentor has been good for the younger child as well. I have found meaning in finally being something to someone, in being a friend, a teacher, a role model, an honest and forthright contributor to his life. It is reciprocal without discussion. It is an unspoken exchange of life, love and values that encourage personal growth within all of the family. It has given each of us meaning.

This meaning I could not have found without having taken the first step towards recovery and would never have realized without the loving inclusion into this family.

What are some of the ways that you enrich the lives of those around you?

In what ways do you find your life given meaning by the acts and words of others?

Do you find meaning in helping those who you may not know personally?

How do you feel when you can give? when you receive?

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You Are Not Alone

Mindset is everything

Surround yourself with people that believe in you

Weed out those who do not

For years I had filled my head with self-limiting beliefs. It was a struggle to find the courage, the fortitude to finally get sober. There burned within me the flame of freedom that had never died but was lost amid the anger, resentments, expectations and fear. Once I had found that flame, or it found me, I was able to light the way out of the rabbit hole of addiction.

This journey is made possible by a series of decisions that were made by and for me. By evaluating what is important to me, how I had disallowed myself from fully realizing those things and starting the process to correct those missteps I have been able to stoke the flame of freedom into a full-on bonfire (and not the kind in the sandpit as a teenager fueled by confusion, misguided decisions, cheap beer, stolen liquor and pallets). This journey out of the rabbit hole, this fanning of the flames of freedom has also been made possible in large part by surrounding myself with people who believe in me.

This is not an indictment of the many people who I have at one time or another shared oxygen, shared time, shared space with. There are many relationships that were begat of convenience, circumstance and substances but they were passed by the executive branch in my head when they should have been vetoed. However, in order to put myself in the best position to succeed in sobriety, to best improve myself, to grow I had to weed out the relationships built in a life of fear and build relationships in this new life of courage, compassion and conviction.

It is these relationships that I can turn to in darker times when it seems that the fire has grown dim and the rabbit hole is close to foot. It is in these relationships that I can find strength when my own seems to falter. It is these relationships that I can turn to for a hug when all that seems to make anything better is the knowing, understanding, forgiving embrace of a loved one.

Do you have an active support system?

Do you turn to anyone to help you through the darker times?

Do you seek the counsel of mentors? of partners? of family?

Painting Blue Skies and Turning Frowns Upside Down

I recently have spent some time within this community writing and sharing, hoping that someone may find comfort in knowing that they are not alone. There is many a demon of which I may write but to be the only one with them is unlikely.  I am not the most positive story teller; it may be raw; it may be dark but it is truthful.

To keep with the truth, as much as I like to put a positive spin on my message, to show that growth is possible even from the dark, lifeless depths of destructive substance abuse, I still suffer from setbacks, short-comings and plain bad days. Today is one of those days. Regardless of what I can cite as being my responsibility in a particular issue , in order to hold myself accountable for personal betterment,  I can still feel down.

In the spirit of finding the positive spin I present to you something from someone you have never heard of,  John Patrick  McDonald (and I don’t mean the “I liked it before it was cool” kind of obscure).

“When the nightmares ensue
All that you can do is paint your sky
Another brighter shade of blue
Spread your wings you can glide
Above the violent storms
That plague your life
You paint the picture blue or grey
Fly away”

 I ask you, the reader, what do you look to for solace on a tough day?

Who do you turn to to find comfort?

Where do you go to find the quiet to calm your mind?

How do you put a spin on something to find the brighter side?

Keep It Simple

 “Let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple.”

While cleaning in the kitchen I ran across a half-emptied “nip” (50 mL bottle) of vodka. I had used the first half of the bottle a few months ago, which was a little over a year in sobriety, to create an effect on some cookies which, as an aside, were fun but not necessarily worth repeating. Check ’em out… you decide. Anyways, I held the bottle in my hand for a spell turning it over, dusting it off, staring intently and trying to elicit some sort of response.  I experienced something for which I simply cannot nail down a description outside of confusion.

I felt like I was supposed to be in danger, like I was supposed to be awash in a flood of memories, inexorable cravings, maddening , aching thirst for some release from imbibition. This is what has been drilled into me after 18+ months of counseling and 16+ months of AA; always be vigilant, on the lookout for looming triggers, never become complacent, know that my addiction is outside waiting for me doing push-ups, becoming stronger, yearning to have me back in its grasp squeezing the life from me.

I don’t feel these things. I feel great pride (not smugness), great satisfaction (not complacency), and great responsibility (not victimization). I feel strong, I feel well, I feel whole. It is with the nearly indescribable help, for which I will always be grateful, that I received from AA and counseling (which, in my case, has a heavy lean towards AA) that I am where I am in my sobriety. All the information presented in all forms (I have an extensive, sordid past of rehab, counseling, AA and jail) was listened to but not always heard. When I was ready to make a change, when I was ready to shift successfully into sobriety I began to hear and to practice; mind you, with a open but discerning mind. I decided to make a choice. I chose sobriety.

Much of the self-help material that I have delved into is information that is fairly close to common sense and not difficult to wrap my head around. Depending on the presentation, the method of delivery, I find that the same information presented by two different vehicles can resonate with me differently. However, the simple premise of my understanding is this – my life is a series of choices. Where I am today, everything I have, everything I know has been a product of one decision made after the next. I am a victim in nothing and things do not happen to me but instead are there manifestations of my choices or simply things I have done to myself.

On most occasions I can speak openly, passionately and at great length (if given the floor and sets of eyes that do not roll) about my former substance abuse. Such was the case last night when, while in attendance at a holiday gala (I love that word), I enjoyed dialogue with a physician about alcoholism. As a conditioned response I referred to alcoholism as a disease. I flinched. I am not sold on the idea that it is and, in my head, I ride the fence.There are reams of information that one can find that support either side of an argument over whether alcoholism should be called a disease and frankly, I don’t care. This is what I know, I am not a victim and I have and continue to make the choices that are necessary for me to live a happy, healthy life of self-awareness.

Self-awareness, looking into a metaphorical mirror has allowed me accept many teachings. It has allowed me to learn, critically, of myself and what has led me to make destructive decisions in the past. That education has allowed me to move forward armed with the knowledge that best puts me in the position to succeed: I may fail but I will fail forward.

There will be setbacks, trials and tribulations; there will be heartache, sorrow and loss; there will be anxiousness, anger and fear but with my mindset, with my mirror, with my ability to recognize the power that I have within I can move forward, fail forward and live my life closer to my potential than ever before.

With no small amount of irony I must attribute the above quote to Bill Wilson as he visited Dr. Bob right before he died.

Growth Through Accountability

“The only consistent feature of all my past dissatisfying relationships is me.”

The term relationship applies not only to people but to situations, tangibles and ideas. In my former life of substance abuse many were the relationship I had that I looked to blame the other side for my negativity. I would look to blame coworkers for their lack of contribution to the team; I would look to blame circumstance for not providing me what I wanted; I would look to blame the belief in a system for not being able to supply me with a feeling of completeness; I would look to blame my relationship with alcohol for all of my terrible decision-making. Wherever there was a problem I could be certain to find that the fault laid with anything but me.

Getting sober was the first step in self-discovery in which I began to find the truth of the matter. The truth was that I spent years looking to condemn any and everything else for my problems. The truth was that I spent too much energy blaming and not enough energy taking full responsibility for my thoughts, words and actions. When I fully realized the concept of accountability I found the strength necessary to free myself from the shackles of self-pity, self-centeredness, self-doubt and self-limiting beliefs.

A wonderful transition into a new way of thinking occurred. By seeking truth I found my true self. I identified my fears that kept me from growing, from learning, from living a life that I am capable of living. I found a way to live fully with full responsibility and to love fully.

I am still learning to love myself. There is, however, no longer a fear to fully love those in my life that enrich my existence, that compel me to move forward, that help to let me feel whole. I am no longer burdened and broken and looking to blame. I am happy.

Show massive gratitude at all times. I am grateful for my  sobriety.

Resentments and Acceptance

Today I am infected with an aptly named complaint. This is an ailment, of sorts, that is recurring, is self-made (why on earth would I want to lay myself low with a me-made indisposition?), and wholly debilitating. I suffer from myself. I suffer from a resentment.

My resentments used to be plentiful and knew no limits in severity or breadth. I would hold court in my head, using my resentments as the prosecutor, casting judgement on anyone or anything that would not live up to expectations I had created without warrant of any sort.There could be no defense, there could be no reason laid before my feet that engendered empathy on any level. Any case with credibility made would be met with indignation and  spun to create even more ill will.

Resentments have been the creation of my own misgivings and self-limitations. An inability to accept that others cannot or do not view the glass as being in the same state of fullness or emptiness or that there is even a glass has proven to be an irrational source of stress for me. For years I simply could not wrap my head around what I viewed as shortsightedness bordering on inexplicable idiocy. I would dwell for hours, days, weeks on a subject that, ultimately, held little consequence for me but about which I simply had to be right.

This unjustified negativity was a vehicle I used to move myself further from whole and closer to broken. The vehicle was the construct of all the self-doubts I harbored over years of regressive thinking and was fueled by substance abuse. The greater the resentments, the more I filled my head and heart with negativity, the more I judged, envied, doubted, the more I drank. The more I drank the less I believed in myself. The less I believed in myself the greater the impossibility in self-imposed expectations. The greater the failure I had set myself up for the more I needed to impose my intolerance on others, the more I needed to project my disappointment onto someone else.

Once I began to learn more about my regressive thinking, my self-limiting beliefs and the awful effects they have on me the more aware I became that I needed to pay attention to me, to keep my house clean, to mind my side of the street. Acceptance has been a subject of extensive study and I by no means am at the head of the class. However, with gratitude and an open heart I am learning to accept what I need to about myself and learning about what it is I can and should change. By extension, I am learning to accept others, learning to accept actions and ideas that do not belong to me. I am learning that all the energy I used to spend on resenting something or someone that I would not accept acted as an unyielding tide that would ceaselessly erode the foundation of my humanity and threatened to wash away my ability to live freely and simply.

There are things that I can change but those things reside only within me. With a clear and sober mind I can recognize and identify what is within reasonable change, and can  set reasonable expectations. With a clear and sober heart I can breathe freely, I can welcome differing perspectives, I can receive.

Today, however, I struggle with a resentment that rankles within my head, festers and threatens to poison my well-being. I am struggling. I have not forgotten what I have learned to date and am embracing my admission of being human. I will step through this. I will take action to change what I can (that which lies within me) and accept what I can. I will persevere with strength and confidence and release with tolerance and understanding. I will continue to learn.

 

Leave a comment. Share your perspective. Let me know what’s up.

Grateful For Sobriety

I found my reason to be sober every morning when I came to. For what now seems like an eternity but in actuality lasted a mere twelve-plus years at its apex (and carried on for years before), I did not sleep. Almost every night I passed out in a blackout of complete drunkeness.

Mind you, the blackout was intentional. What was thought of as a careful crafting of inebriation which was to end in an intended shutting down of my brain was enacted as often as possible. If I didn’t drink to pass out then I would be up all night in a terrible sleepless drunk, tossing and turning unless I was putting something else into my system to power off. Blackouts became a means of survival; something necessary to reset for another day of self-destruction.

The problem was, when I came to I didn’t want to drink. I didn’t want to feel the pain I was feeling, the venomous, violent disconnect from normal, from reality. I didn’t want to feel the fear of what I couldn’t remember, the guilt of what I thought I could, the anger, resentment, the distance and loneliness. I wanted to feel whole.

It wouldn’t take long. A few hours would go by, slowly, painfully, filled with nearly if not absolutely zero production. Fuzzy and hazy, my uselessness took on the shape of a listless ship. That ship, lacking direction and propulsion, began to take on water; the cold dark liquid of self-doubt, self-loathing, self-pity. Certainly and without failure, with no means or motivation to bail the ship, to save myself, I would sink further and further into a vast body of self-limiting beliefs. Invariably, at some point in the day, I would turn to alcohol to right myself, to buoy myself, to falsely free myself from drowning all the while filling my pockets with the rocks of substance abuse.

It’s tragic, really. Tragic and amazing. Tragic in the wanton waste of life; tragic in the terrifying self destruction. Amazing in that I am still here today to write about my past, to review it, to understand and learn from it. I can now see how I had held myself back from all of my potential to simply be a healthy, loving human being. With this perspective I can now identify when I am  leaning towards old detriments of character like selfishness, apathy, self-doubt, and fear; dark, evil, loathsome, self-limiting fear. With this perspective I can move forward towards finding happiness in myself, finding and realizing new potential, finding courage and strength to take action in all aspects of self improvement, of life. With this perspective I can see that I cannot drink.

It has been a marvelous new direction, this course of recovery. I have found some answers in AA, some answers in counseling, some answers in transparency, full disclosure, some answers in being vulnerable and asking for help, some answers here, in writing. There is a community of people who all share the same problem that alcoholism is a symptom of and that a cure for which can be, in part, found in the relation to one another of experiences. I hope to reach someone who needs it as I read other’s writings that speak to me. Thank you to those who write, to those who read, to those who understand without a word, to those who show support, who listen, who reply, who care. Thank you to those who ask questions, to those who offer opinion, who share personal accounts, who accept. Thank you to those who love me and who I love.

 

Please leave a comment. Good, bad or indifferent I appreciate reading the feedback and your thoughts help me to grow.

Shift Commit Succeed

Whether something I am endeavoring to see to its end is a failure or a success I know that I have succeeded in my commitment to the venture. Not the success when everyone gets a trophy for having shown up to all the practices, once with the orange wedges, or receiving the over-patronizing verbal pat-on-the-back for having done something that truly is, or should be, expected of someone as the most basic of functions for participating in life. The kind of success I am referring to is overcoming self-limiting beliefs to pick a path, take action and fail as often as it takes to realize the positive outcomes for those actions; all the while learning not only from the mistakes but about myself; how I tick, what I am made of, when I am coming up short and what direction to take to improve as a person. The commitment to the process is the key to my success.

Take this blog for an example. A measurement for success would probably be hundreds of views, dozens of comments and scores of followers. Conversely, few views, fewer comments and nary a follower could be seen as this project having failed. However, it is my commitment to the process of fully disclosing the challenges, the trials of living a life in recovery with hopes to reach someone who needs to read it  that rates this action of communication as a success.

There was a darkness that impaired my ability to see how much I hurt myself, how much I hurt the people around me while living a life of substance abuse. It truly was a life that was built around substance abuse. Fear is at the core of my matter. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of being ostracized. Fear of not fitting in. Fear of what I am, what I want, what I think I am supposed to be. The cruelest of ironies is that I abused whatever substances I could get my hands on (alcohol was my go-to on any day) to avoid my fears, to hide from  them, but the abuse of substances and more importantly the mishandling of my self-limiting beliefs exacerbated the problem. It is a frightful, truly frightful, cycle in which to be caught; running to alcohol to remove my self-limiting beliefs only to find that those fears, those beliefs simply remained and in fact grew worse with time. This led to greater abuse of more substances which of course led to an even more fragile mental and emotional being and so on.

It was my decision to exact change, to shift my life to seek a new direction that allowed me to find freedom from alcoholism. Sobriety came at a great cost in more than a few ways but my commitment to the process is what allows me to be a success. Commitment wasn’t easy for me to muster. There seemingly are countless instances over the past year and a half of my sobriety that I have wanted to run and hide, that I have felt myself shrinking away from simply an idea, that self-limiting beliefs, fears have crept into my head reminding me that confidence in myself is not innate. With great effort, not in pushing fears down, but in embracing them, recognizing them and understanding why I have them I find my strength to fail forward. To commit. To succeed.

Of you I ask feedback. Tell me what’s up. Please comment and let me know what you think, good or bad. Your feedback helps me to grow.

Living in Solution

I heard of a hospice counselor offering advice, to the sibling of a loved one lying terminal, in an effort to relieve the upright and concerned of self-imposed expectations in the care for the dying. “Most people die the way they lived.” This statement, while not made to me or about anyone I know, made me sad; sad to think that I, until a year and a half ago, led a trite and meaningless existence; an existence governed by fear and policed by addiction.

Often I have heard of people asking themselves, in order to gauge the worth of their lives, who would be at their funeral. I used to work for a man that was adamant in expressing his belief in the importance of leaving behind a legacy after his death. These mindsets used to strike me as being full of conceit, to be self-absorbed. However when I held in my hands one of the most powerful tools that I possess,  when I forced myself to look in the mirror with sober eyes l saw an empty life; a life without quality, without depth, meaning, direction and action. There were few memories that made me smile, few memories that left me centered, that gave me a sense of being whole. I felt broken.

If I were to be counting the last of my days now I would be terrified that this is how I lived and this is most certainly not the way I would want to die. I am learning to accept my fears, to master my fears, to shift my fears to my advantage. There is an untold amount of strength to be found in redirecting the energy fueling my fears into fueling my will learn, to immerse myself in passion, to surround myself with positivity, with my future, to love and to be loved. A new direction has been born of the marriage of sobriety and recovery. A solution was found and it was found within me. A shift in mindset. Change.

Time is my most precious resource and with it I am learning to be resourceful. Time to laugh and learn, think and do; above all else do. Take action. Move forward and learn to fail well with an open mind and heart. Do this with those I love and who love me. These are the people with whom I am shaping my life, making my memories. These are the people who would find comfort to know that I will die much the same way as I lived.