Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I've been thinking

Lately I've been thinking...and that's not necessarily a good thing. One of the things that sets human beings apart from all other creatures is our ability to think about how we think. I may have shared this in an earlier blog. Once I got into recovery I discovered that my thought processes have been corrupted by my addiction. I've always valued my thoughts and opinions more highly than most anyone else's. It's been a real struggle for me to understand and admit just how messed up my thoughts are. One of the most troublesome things is how much of my thought life revolves around me. This is a sure sign of addictive behavior. Addiction, for me, is a manifestation of self-protection. It's a lack of faith or trust in anyone or anything. I hate to admit it, but this includes God. I love God and consider myself a follower of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it's very easy to get caught up in thinking about how to take care of and protect myself. This at the exclusion of all others thereby destroying my ability to be in relationships. This further isolates me increasing my felt need for self protection. It's a vicious cycle that will eventually plummet me back into full blown addictive behaviors. This damaged thinking that urges self protection is, in reality, the speediest path to self destruction.

So lately I've been thinking. This morning I realized that more and more of that thinking has been about myself. A very old thought process resurfaced and suddenly I realized just how dangerously close I've come to disaster. My thoughts turned to how much I'm getting paid. It began to unfold in an all too familiar pattern. Am I getting paid enough? Am I doing more work than others who are getting paid more than me? Am I as high up the ladder as I should be? Is there someone above me who is not as gifted as I am? This self destructive thought process has to stop immediately if I'm to keep my sanity and sobriety. It's only one indicator that the addiction is surging. It's important to look for other indicators now that this one has been uncovered. See, if this thought stream is allowed to continue I'll become dissatisfied with the best job I've ever had. Then I'll begin to resent the people I work with. Next, I'll begin to seek the spotlight for myself to gain recognition and reward for how great I am. Then I'll become frustrated because no one could possibly value me at the level I'm truly worth. Eventually I'll alienate good people and avoid any meaningful relationships with them. All the while, as the addiction grows in strength, I'll be blinded to the fact that I've created all these problems in my own head with my rotten thinking.

This is a path I don't ever want to go down again. Addiction is a sneaky, powerful, cunning and deadly force. It truly never rests and is always looking for a break in my resolve. For today it's been caught sneaking in. For today I'll do the next right thing to shut it down. For today I'll continue recovering life.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

On the road...really

I'm traveling this week. This blog is coming from a hotel room in Port Jervis, New York. Road trips used to be really dangerous for me. Especially trips like this one where I'm solo. Alone in a strange town a thousand miles away from anyone who knows me, it's the perfect scenario for the addict to rise up and wreak a little havoc. This is when all the work in recovery starts to pay off. The healthy tools I've been developing can be pulled out of the bag and used to pound the addict down. It's sort of like the "Whack-A-Mole" game at Chuck E. Cheese. The addict pops up and I use my recovery tools to smack him back down. But, just like the game, there are lots of other holes he can pop out of so I have to keep on whacking.

This blog is one tool to help me. I brought my Bible and journal so I can keep up with that, too. I have my phone and friends have promised to call. If they don't, I can call them. I have plenty of work to do that's interesting and exciting so that's another tool I'll be using. It would be nice if, someday, I could leave my tools in the bag and the addict never came around again. Based on some of my friends in recovery who've been sober 20+ years and are still going to meetings, I'm guessing I should always keep the tool bag handy. Maybe the biggest tool of all, prayer.

The guys in my 12 step group have promised to pray for me while I'm on the road. That means a lot. That's a tool being used on my behalf. It's also a reminder that no one succeeds in recovery alone. This is a team effort and I love my team. People just like me who've been dragged into the darkness by their obsessions and addictions. People who've found the light of recovery and the genuine support of a fellowship. People who've given everything up to God because we know that, left to our own devices, we'd be lost. We know that because we've been lost. And I, for one, don't ever want to be lost like that again. So, even though I'm on the road, by God's strength I'll also stay on the road...recovering life.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

In jail

Last night I was reminded what the earliest days of recovery are like. After the realization of what addiction had done to my life there was the abject fear of losing everything. Life as I knew it needed to change but I had no idea what the changes would look like. Beyond that, the motivation for change seemed connected to a lot of outside influences. I didn't want to lose my marriage. I didn't want to ruin my relationship with my kids. I didn't want to be disgraced publicly by being found to have this awful weakness. Initially, getting into recovery was a way to stop these things from happening. The urge was to solve the immediate problem and stop the immediate pain. There's nothing wrong with that. When an arm gets severed you stop the bleeding first you don't think about what prosthetic you'd like to have fitted on your stump!

This morning I woke up thinking about Glen. Years ago, as a struggling teen, he found himself in jail on Christmas Day. I don't remember the offense, but I do remember my visit with him. He kept asking, "What do I need to do to get out of here?" I kept telling him that was the wrong question, but he just didn't get it. When you're in jail you just want to be out. But, to stay out, you have to understand what got you there in the first place. The question Glen should have been asking was, "What changes have to happen in my life so I never end up here again?"

Once I realized the jail my addiction had put me in my very first reaction was to want out. If that meant attending meetings, so be it. If it meant therapy...okay. If there were books to read, I'd read them. Over time it became clear that just stopping the immediate pain of my situation was insufficient motivation for a lifetime of recovery. Slowly, the realization came that addiction wasn't just about acting out. In fact, that was just the very tip of a very large iceberg. It might sound odd, but I'm thankful for the pain that forced me into recovery. It's not something I'd ever want to repeat, but it was necessary to put me on the right road. But once the intensity of that initial pain subsided the iceberg that needed to be dealt with started to become clear.

Today the struggles are still there. I have much better tools to deal wih the struggles and my motivation is different. I love my wife and children but I'm not doing this for them. I appreciate the respect of the community, but pretending I'm okay when I'm not just to keep it isn't worth it anymore. I'm enjoying a much healthier life from the perspective of someone who has lived a very unhealthy one. I thank God for each new day. I'm learning to ask, "What are the best choices I can make today so that I never end up in jail again?"

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A little appreciation

My recovery is going really well. So I have to be extremely careful. It's times like this, when everything is humming along, I'm going to meetings, my prayer and journaling time is strong, that I'm most at risk. My sponsor once said that while I'm in a meeting my addict is out in the parking lot doing push-ups! That's so true. My addiction has grown up with me. Its roots go deep into my personality and my history. I've been in recovery now for over two years. That means I've been working on living a healthy life for only a small fraction of the time I lived an unhealthy life.

A friend of mine went through a divorce. It was painful and bitter. There were days when, I'm sure, he didn't think he'd survive it. During that time he changed his life. He worked out like a mad man. He ate healthy and dropped an amazing amount of weight. He saw a therapist, sometimes twice a week. He did a lot of really good healthy things. Then he fell in love. Before his new habits could take hold in his life he had remarried and, pretty quickly, fell back into old habits. Long hours at work, eating too much, too often and too fast. Working out fell out of his routine. He's gained back all his weight, plus some. He's working late nights and weekends again. He's still married and I think this one will make it, but his patterns don't bode well for success.

I share this story as a cautionary tale for myself as much as anybody else. I can feel the tug of my old addictive self every once in a while. I catch myself thinking old thoughts and letting my eyes and my mind wander farther than is safe. More than anything I'm finding I allow myself little appreciations. By that I mean, I let myself linger over a look or a thought with a level of appreciation for it that isn't safe or healthy. These little appreciations can quickly turn into really big problems. I need to see them for what they are. My addict wants me to come out and play. Each day I give that up to God and seek his strength. This isn't something I can fight on my own, so I keep going to meetings, keep journaling, keep working the 12 steps and keep writing in this blog. I don't ever want to stop recovering life.