Sobriety, yoga, and the art of looking like a fool.
I’ve been working on getting back in here and writing again, but it’s funny how the longer you put something off, the more excuses you seem to find not to do something. Today I finally decided to sit down and do a bit of writing. My goal is to hopefully get back on here and do this a little more often, let’s hope I can stick to it.
So I consider myself to be a pretty fit person. I run, go to the gym regularly, eat healthy and pretty much strive to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. This isn’t always something I’ve done, especially during my years of drinking, but as I continue in sobriety I’m beginning to see the importance of taking care of myself in all areas of my life. Right now my schedule consists of weight lifting and/or cardio 4 days a week with a fifth day, usually devoted to a light jog followed by about 30 to 40 minutes of yoga/stretching. Now, I should mention, I work out at the base gym, on an Air Force Base. Typically I plop a mat down on the side of the basketball courts - as much out of the way as possible - and start my routine. As a 30(ish) year old man, in the middle of a military gym doing poses with names like downward dog, crane, warrior pose (which sounds fitting, but really looks a bit goofy) and a myriad of other seemingly embarrassing stuff… you can probably imagine the kind of looks I get. This often leads me to questions like:
Why do I do it?
Why not just say “forget it” and go hit the weight room for day number 5?
There’s a couple obvious answers to these questions.
1) We’ve all heard about the benefits of stretching and flexibility and how they are supposed to keep us feeling healthy and young.
2) We’ve also heard about what a great work out yoga is and how it can help to lose weight, relieve stress, etc. etc.
The obvious rebuttal to answer number 2 is in my second question: “why not just hit the weight room again?” I mean, if the goal is to trim down and build muscle, weights and cardio seem like a better way to go, and a hell of a lot less embarrassing. Answer number one is a very valid point when it comes to a yoga practice and it’s one that gets many folks to try yoga that would otherwise never try it. But I think if that’s the only reason you do yoga, you may get some benefit from it; and yes you will definitely gain some flexibility, but this - to me - is a somewhat superficial and empty approach to yoga. If you do yoga merely for the benefit of flexibility, you’re only scratching the surface of what this awesome practice can do for you. This leads me into answer number 3, and the reason why I maintain a yoga practice:
It’s a form of meditation. In fact, the lotus pose - which is used by many as the ideal pose for sitting meditation - is a yoga pose. If the lotus pose is a meditative pose, than why not warrior, or downward dog, or tree, or any other pose for that matter? While sitting meditation is a great way to work to quiet the mind, some of the more difficult moving poses, balance poses and the like, are great ways to reconnect with the body. We are as much our own body as we are our own mind, and yet we seem to focus all our attention on meditating the mind that we forget the rest of our parts. As I do yoga I bring that attention and awareness from sitting meditation into the body as I hold each pose. In downward dog, I focus on the stretch of the hamstrings and the flexing of the shoulders as I hold the pose. When I move into warrior variations, I focus on the strain in my thigh as it works to support the weight of my upper body. When I move into balance poses, such as dancer and tree, I focus on all those muscles in my legs fighting to keep the rest of my body in balance.
The point; and the most beneficial aspect of maintaining a yoga practice is: I train myself to be more calm in tense situations. I’m able to stop, take a breath and look inward for calmness, stability and even serenity; which is something I could never count on during my days of drinking and chaos. Or, to put it in AA talk, I’m able to “… think, think, think…” and I’m more equipped to “Live life on life’s terms”.
Life sucks, and then you die. So why would anyone want to stay sober?!
I’ve wrestled most of my life with bouts of depression. I don’t think this qualifies me for any type of special treatment or circumstance, but it is a fact none the less. I’ve never been to a doctor to be diagnosed, but the symptoms are always there, and I can pretty much draw my own conclusion; it’s not that hard to do. When I came into AA “the fog had been lifted” - a colloquialism I here often around the rooms - and I began to feel some relief from the depression I realized I felt most of the time. As time went on, the haze began to settle. I stepped down from on top of cloud nine and began to try to make my way in life as a sober, recovering alcoholic. I began to do step work and work with a sponsor. I took on commitments and started giving back; like the book tells us to. My life grew calmer. I began to rebuild relationships that I demolished in my past, and left as smoldering ash. I became the person I always thought I could be, and the person those around me wanted me to be. I started to become that “potential” that everyone saw in me back in middle and high school, and would tirelessly try to pound into my head trying to get me to see it too. I started to feel so “cured” by AA that I figured I didn’t need it anymore. I had everything I wanted in life and I no longer had the craving to drink so why bother with a program anymore? I was cured!
Well, as the story often goes, it wasn’t long after leaving AA for greener pastures that I drank again. I rationalized it by drinking cough syrup because I figured: “Hey! It’s not booze.” A stupid proclamation I know, but at the time it seemed like sound enough logic; and off I was again. Fortunately it only took me the one slip up to realize my mistake and get back into AA. Upon my return, I started identifying myself as a newcomer again. I took a new 24 hour chip, 30 day, 60 day, and so on. I felt the “fog being lifted” again just like the first time I walked into the rooms; and yet… something was different this time. I realized that through the haze of cloud nine, the “re-grounding” once the haze lifted, and the working of the steps and sponsor mentorship, two things remained true: I was still an alcoholic and I was still apt to depression. Even now with almost 4 years in the program -for the second time- I am still an alcoholic and I’m still apt to depression. AA doesn’t cure us. There is no magic pill that makes us better, and no matter how long you work the program, the person you are now is still the same person that walked through the doors on that first meeting.
However, I have found that it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is a silver lining to this whole thing, and it’s actually quite simple to accomplish and maintain sobriety. One: is to accept who we are. All of it, exactly how it is. All the good, the bad and the ugly. How can we even make a beginning at looking at our character defects if we cant even take an honest look at ourselves and acknowledge that we have any? Number two: is to be forgiving. I relapsed. I had a moment of weakness and I made a mistake. That’s all it was, and it happened. We’re only human and we’re going to make mistakes. I can either spend my time regretting the mistake I made, or forgive myself and move forward. Those are my only two options and it is entirely up to me which one I choose. The point I’ve found thus far is: life is tough. It’s bittersweet sometimes, but more often it knocks you on your ass and then spits in your face. When I was depressed and drinking life was challenging. It was a roller coaster of emotions followed by many things I can’t remember. Now that I’m sober life is still tough. I still battle with depression, and life knocks me on my ass on a regular basis. The difference now is the roller coaster has gotten much smaller. I also remember every minute; which isn’t so much a good thing when times are hard, but there are moments… little glimpses into those things that make every knock down drag out totally worth it. That is the reason why I continue in AA. That is why I continually work a program, everyday. And that is why today, I choose not to drink.
When it’s time to stop living in AA, and start living in recovery.
Its been quite some time since I’ve posted anything on here, and if you’ve been awaiting an update from me then I apologize. Life gets busy and writing has to take a back seat once in a while. But my hiatus has raised a couple questions in regards to my sobriety as well. How often does life get in the way of our sobriety? How often do we put off til tomorrow those things we could be doing today? I’ve been meaning to write on here for a while now but its taken me this long to actually sit down and put my thoughts to paper (or in this case “computer”).
I’ve often heard it said around the rooms of AA that newcomers should do “90 meetings in 90 days”, which is great for the first 90 days, but then what? What do you do on day 91? Chances are if you’ve stuck with the 90 day meeting routine, you’ll be heading to another meeting. But I’ve found we get to a point in our sobriety when a meeting or two or three a day is no longer necessary to maintain long term sobriety. Some have found this to be the case for them and if that works for you then I have no quarrels with it, but in my opinion it’s unnecessary. The whole point of recovery is to learn to live life on life’s terms, not to run and escape from life by spending your whole life in meetings. AA is nothing but a tool box that gives us a compass by which to live our lives, not a way to retreat from life. That’s what I used to do when I was drinking and If I’m going to learn how to live sober, I need to do more than just replace alcohol with something else. That just seems counterproductive - and a big part of working steps six and seven, but I’ll save that for another post.
When I first got sober I went to one or two meetings a day. At the time that is what I needed, but now I attend about two meetings a week. I’ve found that to be a good balance in my life. Just because I’m not in a meeting, does not mean I’m not working on my recovery. Recovery is something we do everyday, not just in meetings. If you’re going to a meeting in the morning and pushing yourself through the day, just looking forward to that next meeting, I’m sorry but you don’t have the “serenity” that the “ninth step promises” promise. Whether you have 20 years or 20 days, that isn’t living in recovery; that’s just living. Scraping by from one moment, waiting for the next in the hope that maybe someday you will find peace? That’s no way to live. Peace is here, now, in whatever activity you are doing. Chasing some better future is exactly what led me to AA in the first place.
If you’re new to the program let me tell you now: the future doesn’t get any better. That doesn’t mean that where you are now is where you will be in the future; it can be, but that’s entirely up to you. AA doesn’t replace our crappy life with a better one, what it does is teach us to realize that our life wasn’t all that crappy in the first place. It teaches us that we’ve had serenity all along, we just never learned how to tap into it. Life in recovery is just life, with a little bit of AA here and there. It isn’t life in AA, with a little bit of recovery here and there. If that’s how you’ve been looking at your sobriety, then I urge you to step back and take a look at where you are now and where you’d like to be, because serenity IS here NOW. All you have to do is accept it, let go and be happy.
"We realize we know only a little." - Letting go of ego…
Many faith traditions speak about selfishness and the ego, and in this respect AA is no different. We often find ourselves walking into the rooms of AA because of our ego, but what do we do with it once we get there? How often do we speak ill of another member’s idea or interpretation of the steps, simply because he or she didn’t do things the way we did? What makes us the authority on what does or doesn’t work in AA?
These aren’t easy questions to answer. It’s often quite hard to step out of the shadow of our ego and truly accept what those around us are trying to offer. Whether we agree or disagree with what is being said, there is always something we can take away from the teaching’s of those around us, but we must first be willing to empty the cup of ego and selfishness enough to let new ideas and information in.
With this being said, I’m not just talking about the beat up and worn out new-comer. If anything the new-comer is about as empty as he or she is going to get; the program is designed to deflate the ego of the person just walking in the door. But somewhere between sitting in our first meeting, and getting a little sober time under our belt, we begin to have this perceived sense of authority. Like we are now allowed to talk and no longer need to listen. This is a very slippery slope indeed, for just as much as deflated ego brought us into AA, inflated ego will drive us right back out.
If you find yourself being overcome by ego during a meeting, and want to speak out against another member’s idea of what AA is to them, I invite you to remember these passages from “A Vision For You” and “The Promises” (Respectively):
"Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little.”
"No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away.”
These are the words of Bill W. and the founders of AA. They understood the importance of remembering the deflated ego that brought us into AA and never forgetting it. Your sobriety is your experience alone. No one can tell you how to stay sober, they can only suggest to you what worked for them. So long as you’re staying sober, working to keep “your side of the street clean”, and trying to benefit others, you’re working the program as it is intended. But of course, that’s just my opinion…
Honoring & forgiving our defects of character
"…any person capable of enough willingness and honesty to try repeatedly Step Six on all his faults - without any reservations whatever - has indeed come a long way spiritually…” - 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, page 63
While many of the 12 Steps are riddled with religiosity and their talk of “God” and “a higher power” none are more guilty of this than steps 6 and 7. This can be somewhat disheartening because, regardless of their wording, these are important steps to take. So how can we as skeptics, atheists and agnostics, make sense of what Step Six is asking us to do? The truth is, it’s not that hard at all!
"…we try as best we know how to make progress in the building of character." - 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, page 65
If we look at the paragraph leading up to the quote above, we see a lot of talk of “God”, and how “He” asks us to look deeply into ourselves, but do we really need “Him” to ask? By the time we reach Step Six, we have enough sobriety to begin to feel the change promised in Step 12; we aren’t there yet, but we are beginning to feel like it is possible. All Step Six is asking is that we be willing, not only to look at ourselves, but that we also are open to what those around us are telling us as well. How often have those around us tried helping us by pushing us back toward the straight and narrow? And how many times did we ignore this help from others? How often did we spit in their faces, only to continue on our self destructive path?
If we truly examine Step Six we can see that it is really laying the foundation for our later work in Steps 8 and 9. How can we truly seek amends from others when we aren’t even able to look critically at ourselves with an open mind and a forgiving heart? After all; we are only human. Even more importantly: how can we seek forgiveness for character flaws that we aren’t willing to look at or attempt to change? If we aren’t willing to change our behavior, and look deeply into the nature of our character, than we are doomed to repeat our same mistakes again and again; thereby making any amends utterly useless.
Stuck in the alcoholic loop; powerless & insane.
"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."
"Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."
"Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over…"
Last night I attended my weekly “12 and 12: step study” group, and the topic was on step three.
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
This step has been a battle for me since I first walked through the doors of AA. I even relapsed at one point, because of my misunderstanding of step three. It has taken me a long time to learn what step three really means and what it is really asking me to do. My misgivings with step three start in the wording of the step itself. Many AA’s say we are able to choose a higher power of our own understanding, but then we read the writing on the wall (literally) and can’t help but notice that “God” is capitalized and he is referred to as “Him”, and that “Him” is also capitalized. But when I really look deeply into the resistance I had to step three, it had more to do with me “holding on to my old ideals”.
To make a beginning at step three, we need not look any further than the 12 & 12 itself:
“Once we have placed the key of willingness in the lock and have the door ever so slightly open, we find that we can always open it some more. Though self-will may slam it shut again, as it frequently does, it will always respond the moment we again pick up the key of willingness.” 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA, page 35
All the talk of “God” aside, all this is asking is that we become willing. Willing to make a change in our lives. Willing to accept the fact that our lives had become unmanageable through our own self will and self interest. If we’re able to look at our lives and say that we are “willing” to admit and change, then we have already made a beginning at step three. So often we as alcoholics and addicts like to over-complicate the simple things just to have an excuse later on as to why we couldn’t achieve something. It’s sort of like tying a rock to your ankle, jumping in a lake and then saying “I’ll never swim again; it’s too hard!” Of course it’s too hard because we made it that way. Later on in the 12 & 12, it reads:
“Every man and woman who has joined A.A. and intends to stick has, without realizing it, made a beginning on Step Three.” 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA, page 35
“Each of us has had his own near-fatal encounter with the juggernaut of self-will, and has suffered enough under its weight to be willing to look for something better.” 12 Steps and 12 Tradition of AA, page 38
When we walk into the rooms of AA we are broken down, tired, and ready for a change. Just by walking through the doors we have admitted willingness to do something different. We have gone against everything our self will has told us to do and reached outside of ourselves for help and acceptance. This is all step three is about. It’s only as complicated as we make it and it took me quite some time of trying to swim with a rock tied around my foot before I realized swimming is much easier without it, and I untied the rope and let it go. At the end of the chapter on step three (pg 41) the “Serenity Prayer” is written, but I’d like to end by offering an alternative that has helped me as much as that prayer has helped others. It’s called the “Serenity Statement” and it can be found here.
“May I find serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”