Left For DeAAd.

Mindfulness Meditation in Recovery

It is always great when people get in touch having read the site and identify with some of the things on it. It is even better when they want to write a piece for you! This is by Jay. I have used mindfulness a lot myself over the years and feel it has really helped me. It is great to see other people doing well using meditation as part of their day. Hopefully we will do a podcast about meditation in recovery soon.

Left For DeAAd.

My introduction to twelve step programs was at the age of 19, after a suicide attempt had landed me into a psych hospital. Heavy hearted and devastated by surviving and my inability to kill myself, I was loaded up with medicine and given strict instructions to follow up with an out-patient program. I did, and discovered that at the time, the only program offered with my school schedule was the night-time 35 years and up Chemical Dependency program. This was okay, I thought, I loved drugs and alcohol, but I didn’t necessarily want to quit. I would go for the psychiatrist and the free pizza, and they’d fix me.

Arriving my first day, stupid and clueless I sat in the circle of an aged to perfection concession of lies and resistance. I introduced myself as Jay, 19 and here for depression. “Aren’t you here because of alcohol? Didn’t you drink the night you tried— ended up in the hospital? You’re here because you’re an alcoholic.” The counselor broke the ice and there it was, there was my first time hearing the word alcoholic attached to my story. I of course tried to defend myself and had not an inkling of a clue that there were pages in the big book designed to ridicule folks like myself who were “only fooling themselves”– the dishonesty of an alcoholic is one beyond measure and all things Holy! The room erupted in laughter– egg headed ego-maniacal middle aged men unified in a relief in my misfortune. “Keep coming back!” One man in the group yelled in his hands with his head down, and then threw his head back and roared.

This is how things went for the three months of my out-patient. I went to meetings and even helped set them up, I spoke to folks outside of the meetings and smoked cigarettes– gave rides to those who couldn’t drive, and even shared openly about my feelings in my outpatient. But, my reluctance to get a sponsor or take the steps was the catalyst for my outpatient graduation recap. The room went around and one by one told me how I wasn’t finished, that they’d pray for me, and there would be a seat left for me in any meeting I decided to crawl back to– if i I were lucky enough to make it back.

These were the friendly faces I was introduced to the 12 steps by, and this was the proverbial taste left in my mouth after my first impression of a program I hated by default. For years following I did try to force myself out of desperation and ignorance to finish– oblivious to any alternative methods, brainwashed by the messages of “this is the only thing that works,” “last house on the block,” etc..

meditation

For over 7 years I had tried to do things the “AA way,” and failed each time after just a few months of abstinence. I began questioning the theory behind abstinence. I decided that I could take benzodiazepines because I was a heroin addict and it wasn’t my drug of choice. I also retreated into a program for Buddhist drug addicts founded on the principles of Buddhism and addiction as a form of suffering. I began to believe that I could get clean and stay clean without the help of a twelve step program. Unfortunately, I began cheeking my medication and taking it all at once with a mix of herbal enhancements to accentuate the calming sedating effects of the medicine I was taking. Within a month I was shooting heroin again and now shooting other drugs like Meth to mix with it. I found myself on the street, Sunset Blvd in Hollywood sleeping on the same stretch of sidewalk I would beg for money on.

Intuitively, a thought was planted within the confines of my suffering mind. The thought began to sprout slowly that the power to change was inside of myself. This didn’t mean that I had all of the answers, it simply meant that I didn’t actually need a program to dictate how to live my life if I didn’t believe in the program. The message behind AA was beautiful once, and I believe if I were alive in the 30’s during the beginning I would have been one to shake hands with James Burwell, the man who added “as we understood him,” next to the word God on the steps. This, this thought, this random fact that I had held onto found its usage in my new outlook and determination to get clean without AA. In fact, the program I managed to escape into was founded by a man who had gotten sober through AA and now helps folks to find other means of recovery, stating the focus of AA has become increasingly to shame and control the newcomer; in older times the men who suffered and women who suffered were embraced. These days are over, so my friend now says, and I tend to agree.

I found my way into a program, I kicked cold turkey on a psych ward floor, and began being embraced by the kind folks who owned the treatment center I was lucky enough to have been accepted into. They kept me for many months, they helped me find a job, and they allowed me to search for purpose and meaning in my life. I chose meditation and Buddhist principles.

The principles, the 8 fold path, the 4 noble truths, as elementary as they are to Buddhism began to help me see my life as an obstacle course I didn’t have the slightest idea how to navigate. It began to make sense in a less religious and more spiritually guided view-point. Meditation helped me to become mindful and sit through feelings of discomfort or wanting to flee from the slightest thing that went wrong. Over 13 months later, meditation has taken so many different forms in my life. My meditation is gardening; my meditation is music; my meditation is being with my girlfriend; my meditation is driving and acknowledging my small place in this universe; the ability to help as many around me as I am able to help. Sometimes I help people because I’m selfish and I want validation, but most times I’m helpful because I remember the way backs were turned on me when I needed somebody to hug me and tell me everything was going to be okay in spite of how I felt.

The idea of a god now is becoming more and more relevant in my meditations; the empty space that fills my eyes mixed with a sensation of peace I’m starting to find more and more frequently throughout my life. This feeling I could allow to be called God, if somebody so wanted, and not be offended or resistant. I’ve lost the opposition in even the word God. I’ve even lost my opposition to the steps and encourage people to experiment with AA or any other twelve step program, because my journey has been one for myself. It wasn’t always this way. There were many times I had gotten injured or sick this past year, had my heart broken or was let down in some way and thought about turning back to heroin. There’s a place I can reside in my mind that never really wavers if I practice meditating frequently.

I’ve been to one meeting in the past 6 months because somebody who was newly getting clean had asked me to take them to their very first one. I did. I didn’t object, I didn’t identify as an alcoholic or an addict, I identified as support. I was embraced respectfully as somebody who wouldn’t “turn.” I like meetings, in the sense that I like the idea of a community of people much like myself, the problem is that the likeminded ones are a needle in a haystack and its so important for me to find the other lost ones– the other ones who have a glimmer of hope that is extinguished within a rigid structure that was never intended to be so rigid. The old days– the glory days of offering your couch to somebody who was in need– of buying somebody a meal and telling them to return the next day because you loved them and you were them once. Those are the nostalgic feelings I feel when I think of the way AA was probably intended. I grieve those days as a lost dream I had maybe dreamt in a stream of dreams universal. But I also know that my own journey is my own journey, and I take refuge in the peace that I’ve found knowing that I’m allowed to walk my path the way I wish to walk it.

To summarize. My name is Jay, I’m 27 years old. I haven’t done heroin, any other drugs or alcohol in over 13 months. I meditate on a daily basis, sometimes guided, sometimes not guided, and I have a code that I live by that helps me to be a better person. I talk about my feelings to professionals and friends, I never trust a man who tells me how good of a person they are, and I encourage anybody anywhere to find a way of life that works for them, program related or personal quest, and to believe whole hearted that no matter how they decide to change their lives or find recovery, that it will work and they will be happy so long as they try their hardest to change. I changed my life without AA, and I beg you not to go back to the way you were living just because you hate the twelve step model. There are so many ways to get off drugs and stop drinking, you only need to find one for yourself.

Jay

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  1. That is just spot on for me. Glad to read of another “needle in a haystack”. This is kind of close to where I am at and thank you for writing it Jay and posting it Michael. A comfort to read.

  2. I discovered this website months ago, and found it very much reflected my own emerging feelings at the time..that recovery was ironically keeping me from progressing forward in my own life. Unfortunately, as I’m sure is the experience of many others, I did not have too many people to bounce these feelings off of, as nearly all of my social contacts had become people in the rooms of AA who were not interested in challenging the ideology all that much. However, I did have a few like minded individuals in my life, so I wasn’t completely alone in my own perspective. I suppose I had to “hit bottom” with the rooms. I frequented other 12 step fellowships which emphasized other brands of so called “addiction”..some of them I went to with a friend at the time who was absolutely convinced that 12 step fellowships would fulfill him at some point. This man was, the way it seemed to me, absolutely miserable, and his misery reflected my own. The difference was that I was willing to challenge and spite the 12 step model, refraining from totally believing that I just needed to “work the steps” and my problems and “addictions” would be resolved. I knew this wasn’t true. I distanced myself from this person. I went through a number of sponsors, still wanting to maintain contact with AA, believing I could at least contribute even if I couldn’t buy into all of it..(the concept of powerlessness seemed finally to be anything but a helpful idea to me..I believe it kept me emotionally sick on some level..). My most recent sponsor told me I would relapse, as I expressed my disbelief in the steps, and basically refused to express the kind of standard, (what I would call superficial) statements people in recovery often make. “My life is a success as long as I don’t pick up that first drink or drug.” “I’m either moving toward a drink or away from it.” “The solution is in the steps.” I maintained my resistance to simply repeating slogans and catchphrases, or even simply rehashing ideas that were not my own but from the Big Book. He told me he thought I was showing “red flags.” This to me was pretty much the last straw. I fired him and realized this was a case of him lacking insight, not of me lacking “willingness”. I knew he was wrong and I know it now without shame. This has been a longwinded process, but I’ve decided to truly walk away from AA. I’m not without support. I see a therapist. I’m also a Catholic (which sounds perhaps ironic..given my resistance to the group norm..but it works out for me..). I attend Mass once a week. I read. I write. I connect more so to friends from childhood and people basically outside of recovery than I do with anyone in the rooms. This has nearly always been the case. I just want to be myself. I don’t want to live in some self induced stigma by proclaiming that I’m an alcoholic or an addict all the time. I’m a person. I don’t revolve my life around being sober. I just reached four years sober, but I live my life in order to be happy and content, just like anybody else, indoctrinated or not. I would appreciate any feedback from like minded individuals. Thank you.

    • Thanks Matthew,
      I think quite a few people move on from AA at about the 4 year mark and still do well if the have sorted out the problems that lead to the drinking in the first place. AA was a sober community that helped me in my early days, but I wanted to move on from spending a huge amount of my time dedicated to recovery. I am still careful, but have exploded other methods which give me the tools to keep away from drinking. There are some great books on the subject listed her https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/book-reviews-recovery/

  3. I really enjoyed reading these blog posts and comments. I’ve been sober for over 32 years. I did not come into AA to get sober. I was already 16 years sober when I went to my first meeting. I went because I happened to be speaking with my father (oldtime sober guy) and mentioned that, for whatever reason, I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin (totally abnormal for me) and he said, “maybe try a meeting”. Well, I think it was God-inspired as I actually took that suggestion and went to meetings for the following twelve years. I was kind of a fixture in the rooms, if you will. I had a sponsor and had sponsees (never did like having sponsees…had a bit of fear of giving wrong suggestions, and, on the flip side, had a couple freaking crazy ones that I let go of). When I would share that I did not come into the rooms to get sober and had been sober, already, for 16 years, people would approach me saying, “oh…you were ‘white-knuckling it’ all those years” and I would say, “no….not my experience” and they would be rather insistent about it. I completely understand the concept of white-knuckling but it simply wasn’t what happened to me. I truly believed God just removed it from me (although, back then, I would basically tell you how great I was for having quit – geez how people must have been rolling their eyes behind my back! haha!. I used to drink and smoke pot every night after work and on the weekends. We had lots of fun back then because all of our friends did the same thing and we had great fun and lively conversation. I had been introduced to AA at the age of 10 in 1964 when my father got sober. When I was “in my disease” I knew instinctively and absolutely there was a problem when I polished off a bottle of wine one night, pulled trash out of the can, put my bottle inside and then covered it with the trash in my hand. I can remember so clearly standing there thinking, with the trash in my hand, “this is not right…” and I proceeded to quit drinking shortly thereafter. I continued to smoke pot, however (I really did think I was sober when all I did was stop drinking, haha!), and quitting that took some doing. I loved pot. It took me getting on my knees asking God to please relieve me of that obsession and He did on the spot. I was stunned! But I knew it was exactly what I’m saying it was here. God. I’m grateful. Anyway, I spent a decade in AA going to mostly women’s meetings, reaching out my hand, etc. One night I found myself in one of my favorite meetings. This night was very, very different. When the sharing began, and this was a pretty large meeting, I realized that the same women, who had some years under their belts, would JUMP in to speak. There were the same 5-7 we’d have to hear again and again. I started becoming resentful. I started looking at my watch. I started realizing, almost in a flash, that the meetings simply were not ministering to me any longer. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen people come in who you would never in your life think had a chance, and they sobered up and became super productive and caring people. I learned so much about MYSELF in AA and for that I am forever grateful. I have never laughed harder at anything more than in an AA meeting. Alcoholics are supremely funny and intelligent (well…wait….not ALL of them – some, even after 5-10 years of sobriety, are still the biggest a-holes I’ve ever come in contact with). Anyway, I quit going to AA. My husband, who has a bit more time that I have, was worried. After not going for about 3 years, we were having a conversation and something made me ask him, “Are you worried that I don’t go to AA?” and he said, “Yes.” I said, “Have I changed in any way, shape or form in the past 3 years?” He said, “No.” Now, sometimes he gets sick of the meetings haha. But, I don’t care. My life, my preference, still sober and I truly enjoy my great life. One interesting thing to me…..you hear constantly in the meetings to reach your hand out to people. I used to call ladies who would not show up after awhile. I wouldn’t call them to lure/force them back. I called them because I missed them and just wanted to let them know I was thinking about them. Isn’t this what you do in AA? Well, after I left, the only call I ever got from anyone was from a woman who told my husband (after he said to her I don’t go to meetings any longer), “I’LL make her come back!” She called me and tried. You would have thought I was speaking to her in a foreign language when I told her why I stopped. She was to busy trying to force me to “do the right thing”…. I’m still sober and have a very happy life. If I were to go back into a meeting now, I would not want to identify as an Alcoholic, although I do have the disease (which is all over my family tree). It just keeps you in “that place”. I’d prefer to identify as someone who, up to 32 years ago, had a problem with alcohol. I’m sure that would freak a few people out. Doesn’t matter because, for now, I’m not going back. But, I’m grateful for the years I spent in the rooms as I would not know myself, or about myself, as well as I do, thanks to AA. Loved stumbling across this blog site. THANKS FOR LETTING ME SHARE! haha

  4. And….oh, my LORD, I didn’t realize that post I just left was so long!

    • I like long comments Carol, thanks for leaving it. I think there are good and bad things about AA and I have talked about them in some of the podcasts. Anyway I chose to move on and have done well without it and have heard from lots of other poepl who have great lives after AA. I think it is important to share our experiences as there are some people who feel trapped in the fellowship, and who are frightened to leave or do not know about alternatives. Anyway thanks again for commenting.

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