What is a grief letter and why should I write one?

“Yet why not say what happened?”  –  Robert Lowell

Grief has many forms we do may have not considered yet.  We can grieve a death, a relationship, a lost job, lost time, even objects like a car or a home.  Grief has no limits and is personal to each one of us.  Grief is defined as “deep sorrow especially that caused by someone’s death.  It is a noun which means grief itself is at the root a person, place, or thing.  When I think about grief as a noun I am reminded of the many forms and applications this word has.

AA17.4.24.2018

In my addiction, I went through much grief.  I did not realize it at the time, but I was grieving the loss of control, loss of myself, loss of friends and family I was pushing away and hurting.  I was grieving the life I had lived, the life I wanted so badly to live, and the joy I once had.  My grief was not limited to those people and objects around me, it was bigger than those things.

In a brilliant article “Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later,” John James and Russell Friedman compare the heart to an auto engine. It’s an imperfect world, despite the fantasies of perfectionists, so loss and hurt often start at an early age.  “You might recognize the title from an advertising slogan for an automotive product several years ago,” they write. The idea was that if you spend a little money on maintenance now, you might save a tremendous amount replacing an entire engine later.”

“In the auto commercial it was failure to change the oil filter which led to a build up of crud, which clogged and eventually destroyed the motor. Thus, buy an inexpensive filter now or buy a whole new engine later.”

As we go through life, they say, stuffing when we’re hurt instead of grieving, this “crud” builds up around our hearts and thickens year on year. “Grief is negative, and cumulatively negative,” they say, in a key insight.

Then a serious tragedy hits, like a death or divorce, and we don’t realize it, but it triggers all those past hurts we never grieved. Our hearts are breaking inside – but our heart is so hard outside, due to the thick crud, that we can’t see out, so we go into a tailspin.

Now we’re in big trouble and with decades of crud around our hearts.  I have heard, seen, and felt the pain of others while they were sharing their own grief letters and 100% of the time, afterwards, they all felt a sense of relief and healing.

AA2.4.24.2018While writing my first grief letter during treatment I joked that I would be writing a “grief book”.  This is so true for me and I am sure it is true for many of us in recovery.  As we move forward and continuously revisit some of the 12 steps, we can also find it helpful to continuously put pen to paper and add to our “grief book”.  Some write a letter to their addiction, to alcohol, or to their parents and other loved ones.  While some write an autobiographical story about their past traumas or hardships and what led them into the entangling web of alcoholism and addiction.

Each one of us have a different experience with life and the triumphs and challenges.  I believe grief letters are extremely important to flush out these emotions and finally find freedom from the weight we carry.  We must admit, with brutal honesty, those decisions and choices we have made and the painful outcomes resulting from them in order to grieve, accept, and release.

I have included my first grief letter, on a separate page, written in treatment earlier this year.  I hope you find some inspiration for your own.  Please share any thoughts with me in the comments section.  I look forward to hearing from all of you.

Why is a Relapse Prevention Plan Important?

A few things to consider for yourself and those in your recovery prevention plan.

  • Confrontation does not work.
  • We are skilled at dealing with confrontation and being backed into a corner.
  • We are harder on ourselves than anyone else.
  • We are familiar with many programs and forms of recovery.
  • We have wanted recovery, have been highly motivated to stay sober, been through counseling, but still chose to drink.

How can someone committed to sobriety and knowledgable about alcoholism return to drinking?

Perspective.  Opportunity is no where and now here.  Our circumstances will constantly change.  Sometimes for the better and sometimes not.  Our perspective and our choices when dealing with these changes is key.  Have your circumstances caused you to forget any of your dreams and aspirations for recovery and life?  If so, you may need to “fake it until you make it”.  Sitting down, jotting down ideas on how you will be living your sober life is essential.

“If you don’t design your own life plan chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan.  And guess what they have planned for you?  Not much.”   – Jim Rohn

Those I have known to be successful in recovery have an ability to accept circumstances as they come and simply adapt their mental perspective and attitudes toward life.  We all have internal triggers and when dealing with those there will always be difficulty.  Anger, depression, frustration, excitement, and joy can all be common internal triggers.  We must find a way to distract ourselves, talk it through (alone or with another), challenge yourself to overcome this moment of craving, and use positive self talk to come back to the positive and recovery minded state needed to get through this day.

Abstinence alone is not enough.

If not picking up a drink again was the sole answer, recovery would be 10 times easier.  The harsh reality is alcoholics must learn to cope with life in a non-addictive manner.  Some use many other forms and ways to replace and quench the thirst for alcohol including nutrition, exercise, relaxation, and other sober activities.  These have all been shown to reduce stress hormones and encourage healthy feelings physically and mentally.

Cravings come quickly, but go quickly too.  They usually last a few minutes to hours at most and will peak during the first few minutes before subsiding as the time clicks away.  Cravings are uncomfortable but not unbearable.  They are usually triggered by things you see around you whether that is a place you used to drink at, a familiar face, even a song or a movie that reminds you about using.  They are felt physically and rooted psychologically in our memories.

Do not be discouraged.  Sometimes we have to go minute by minute to get through these difficult times and that is okay.  If you feel that you absolutely can not make it go to a meeting.  If you can not make it to a meeting, pick up the phone.  Grab a book and tell yourself to make it through the next page without drinking.  Now can you make it through the rest of the chapter?  Then read another and another until the feeling disappears.

Who is in your circle?

We have all heard change your playground, change your playmates but what then??  Who are my new playmates?  Where is my new playground?  I have been fortunate to have some of those choices made for me.  I had to change my playground and playmates to adhere to a restraining order.  With that said, it was the best thing for me.  I am in an environment away from my triggers.  Unfortunately my drinking and cravings were fueled by those I love the most – my husband and my children.  While it is painful to be away from them, it is what HAD TO HAPPEN for me to maintain my sobriety.

They say “It takes a village”.  No statement speaks louder to me when forming a relapse prevention plan.  Reach out to recovery supporting friends and family members.  Build your list.  Set up your village.  Talking to someone else that has quit using and is in recovery has been helpful for me along with meetings.  I know several of us in recovery that have lived through times they had to be at a meeting every day, while others needed a meeting every few hours.  Those times are crucial and those relationships formed with other alcoholics are crucial.

If you do not have a group of friends and family that can offer support, introduce yourself to the internet again in a recovery driven way.  There are hundreds of facebook groups with thousands of members who are active all day every day and eager to give and receive support to those in need.

 

People with an addictive disease experience abnormal reactions not only to the use of the addictive chemical but to NOT using the chemical.

Think about the situations that trigger cravings for you.  Consider the emotions that have triggered cravings for you.  Make a list of distractions/activities that can help you cope with cravings.  I have included a basic list of suggestions.  I have done some of these things and you would never catch me doing others, but it is a start if you don’t know where to begin.  Now, make a second list of people you can talk to about your cravings and those who will join you in sober activities.

I spent so much time in my addiction, convincing myself no one cared and it wasn’t worth reaching out to anyone for help or to spend time with because the answer would be “No”.  Oh how wrong I was.  This is something I had to learn and it is still uncomfortable for me to ask for help now.  But, I have never had anyone refuse to give me a ride somewhere, refuse to take my phone call, or refuse to hang out and join me for a movie, bite to eat, or anything else.  We might have to reschedule for a different time, but in that case I just move down the list to the next name and make the call.

1. Throw a sober dinner party.

2. Rejuvenating Spa Day at home, solo or with friends.

3. Guys Night Out/Girls Night Out

4. Exercise

5. Bubble baths are NOT just for women!

6. Play a game of golf or practice your swing at the driving range.

7. Go for a drive.

8. Meditate

9. Read a book.

10. Go see a movie.

11. Volunteer your time and services.

12. Play basketball.

13. Go swimming.

14. Go for a walk and smile at every person you pass by.

15. Write in your journal.

16. Create a new playlist for yourself or as a gift for someone else.

17. Plant a garden.

18. Organize and clean out your closet and donate at least ten items.

19. Call your parents or grandparents.

20. Meet a friend for lunch and sit outside.

21. Go on a hike

22. Visit a museum.

23. Invite a friend to play tennis with you.

24. Stress relieving coloring books

25. Redecorate a room in your home or office. 

26. Host a sober game night with a group of friends.

27. Plan an adventure day with a friend and take countless random and fun photos of your day.

28. Host a sober karaoke night with a group of your fun and sober friends. 

29. Organize your life. 

30. Have a date night with your love bird.

 

Why do alcoholics need AA meetings?

This is a question I have heard often from those who have not had the experience, fortunately, of being an alcoholic or addict.  Simply put, there is no way to explain alcoholism to a “normal” person because they just haven’t been where we have been, done the things we have done, and felt the way we have felt.

I am proud to have a wonderful home group and equally enjoy visiting other AA groups wherever I am.  I am truly grateful for the support, stories, laughter, and love I have received within the walls of the halls of AA.  “Keep coming back, it works if work it” is nothing to be taken lightly and is a true as anything could be said.

There are so many reasons to keep going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings throughout the course of your recovery. Here are just a few reasons to stay involved in the 12-step community, in no particular order.

  • Most of us lived in isolation, chosen or not and you would never want a newcomer to show up to a darkened room or a locked door.

The first meeting really is the most important.  Try and remember your very first meeting, or just before that meeting – baffled, frightened, angry, desperate, lonely, hopeless, confused, and yet somehow sitting within seconds and inches from where willingness and clarity met. And you walked into that room – perhaps after a couple of drive-by or walk-by passes to check it out. There were all these people, some ignoring you, some reaching out to you, but almost all looking a little happier than you felt and a little more comfortable in their skin than you ever dreamed possible.

…you felt a moment’s safety, and like perhaps you could exhale, and that maybe you weren’t alone.-JAY WESTBROOK

You sat through the meeting, and whether your initial reaction was “oh my God, I’m home,” or “what a bunch of losers,” or “this’ll never work for me,” or “this makes no sense,” you felt a moment’s safety, and like perhaps you could exhale, and that maybe you weren’t alone.

Now imagine going to that same first meeting and the room being dark and nobody being there. How different would your experience have been? Would you have called to see where another meeting was, or just returned to your home and your disease?

If people showed up at your first meeting, you get to repay that debt by continuing to show up at meetings so another newcomer can have the chance you had.

  • Alcoholism/addiction is a disease of loneliness and isolation; meetings overcome loneliness and isolation.

It is said, again and again, that the gazelle that is eaten is the one outside the herd or at the edge of the herd, not one in the middle of the herd.

The addict’s thinking can be so self-sabotaging, telling the person with the disease that they don’t have the disease, or that they no longer need meetings because they’ve got time, got the girl or the guy, got the house, or got professional success.

Once isolated and alone, there is a much greater chance that the disease, or the thinking that characterizes it, will convince the addict that they are well, they can have just a little, have just one, have a different mind-altering substance than the one which originally brought them to meetings.

…the shared experience and wisdom of the group has an opportunity to serve as a counter-balance to that delusional and self-destructive thinking.-JAY WESTBROOK

However, when that thinking occurs – and is shared at a meeting – the shared experience and wisdom of the group has an opportunity to serve as a counter-balance to that delusional and self-destructive thinking.

  • For many, God or a Higher Power is most visible and tangible at meetings.

On the one hand, in a world that seems as violent, unfair, and random as ours, where life is both brief and fragile, it can be difficult for some to maintain an awareness of and conscious contact with a Higher Power, let alone a faith in that Higher Power.

On the other hand, in a country with as much relative abundance and real opportunity as ours, the striving for and/or attainment of financial, professional, and romantic success may distract us from an awareness of and conscious contact with a Higher Power.

That being said, it is at meetings that we are least likely to be overwhelmed with doubt about a Higher Power, or so taken with ourselves that we commence to believe we are our own Higher Power. I always say, “if you have any doubt about the existence of a Higher Power, or of miracles, just look in our mirrors and our meetings, and there you will see both.”

  • Meetings provide the opportunity for connections of depth and weight.

Researchers are accumulating evidence to support a theory that substance abuse is caused by, more than anything else, either a lost sense of connection or never having been able to find a sense of connection. Meetings provide the perfect vehicle for establishing those connections and the sense of connectedness that grows from cultivating the relationships that occur as “a spiritual Fellowship springs up about us.”

[Meetings] provide the chance not only to get to know others, but to truly be known by others, and both are equally important to sobriety and a sense of being connected.-JAY WESTBROOK

They provide the chance not only to get to know others, but to truly be known by others, and both are equally important to sobriety and a sense of being connected.

There’s a great story about a young woman alcoholic in Vermont. She got sober in the middle of winter and went to morning meetings every day for her first year. After taking a one-year cake, she stopped going to meetings and stopped calling her sponsor, although she did not drink.

One night, she was sitting at home, in front of a roaring fire, when there was a knock at her door. It was her sponsor, who came in, hugged the woman, sat down and watched the fire, but never said a word.

After a few minutes, she arose and picked up the tongs. She lifted a piece of wood that was in the middle of the fire, glowing orange and giving off warmth, with flames dancing along its length. She set it to the side of the fireplace, and very quickly it turned from glowing orange to ashen gray, giving off no warmth, and with no flames dancing on it. The sponsor sat back down, continuing to silently watch the fire.

After a few more minutes, the sponsor stepped back to the hearth, lifted the cold ashen piece of wood, and set it back in the middle of the fire. Almost immediately, the wood commenced to glow, the ashen appearance gone, and flames danced along its length, and it gave off great warmth.

The sponsor slipped on her coat, and as she walked out the door, the sponsee said, “thank you so much for the fiery sermon, I’ll see you at the meeting in the morning.”

  • Meetings are instrumental in helping keep one sober and preventing relapse.

Again and again, people who relapse and then return to meetings, when asked what happened, say “I stopped going to meetings.” Meetings can provide that important opportunity to be of service, and that, in turn, can create both a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging.

Further, not just going to meetings, but going to the same meetings regularly, gives the alcoholic/addict a way to know others and to be known. And, being known takes away the ability to use the “F” word – not that “F” word, the other one: FINE (Feelings Inside Not Expressed).

Maybe the alcoholic/addict can convince themselves or even strangers that they are “fine,” but at a meeting where they are known, it will be easy for members of the meeting to spot problems that the FINE person is either trying to hide or is actually unaware of. “You don’t look fine; you look like you’re ready to burst into tears,” or “you look terrified and cornered,” or “you look like you’re lying – what’s going on?”

People don’t know what they don’t know, and regular attendance at meetings allows others to see and identify what the person in the midst of a situation may not be able to see or be willing to admit.

…attendance at meetings allows others to see and identify what the person in the midst of a situation may not be able to see or be willing to admit.-JAY WESTBROOK

Finally, it is only at meetings that the alcoholic/addict can consistently hear and share experience, hear and share tools, and hear that they are not alone, not the only one to ever deal with a given situation, and that getting loaded is not a solution. There’s no situation so good, that it can’t be destroyed by getting loaded; there’s no situation so bad, that it can’t be made worse by getting loaded.

Conclusion

Meetings are the place where joy is multiplied and pain divided, where whatever one might be going through – good or bad – another can be found who has previously navigated and survived that experience. Meetings are where a Higher Power is most likely to be found and experienced, and where alcoholics/addicts are right-sized, neither better than nor less than anyone else. They are the venue where one’s experience is valued, one’s aging is respected, one’s relapse is most likely to be prevented, and where the miracle of service is most easily practiced and received. Please, go to meetings; you are needed.

When You Love An Addict

(This wonderful poem was shared with me when I was in a treatment program.  I believe the poetry originated from one of the inmates in a Women’s Prison in Missouri.  I along with my fellow “clients” in treatment really enjoyed the words and I hope this is something I can share to give a perspective that might not have been considered before.)

I am not an alcoholic or addict, but try and love one, and then see if you can look me square in the eyes and tell me that you didn’t get addicted to trying to fix them.

If you’re lucky, they recover.  If you’re lucky, you recover too.

Loving an alcoholic can and will make you the most tired insomniac alive.  You will stand in the doorway of their bedroom and pled with them that you “just want them back”.  If you watch the person you love disappear right in front of your eyes long enough, you will start to dissolve too.  Those not directly affected won’t be able to understand why you are so focused on your loved one’s well-being, especially since, during the times of your family member’s active addiction, they won’t seem so concerned with their own.

Don’t become angry with these people.  They do not understand.  They are lucky to not understand.  You’ll catch yourself wishing that you didn’t understand either.

What if you had to wake up every day and wonder “if today was the day your family member was going to die?” will become a popular, not so rhetorical question.  Drug and alcohol addiction has the largest ripple effect that I have ever witnessed firsthand.

It causes parents to outlive their children.  It causes jail time and homelessness.  It causes sisters to mourn their siblings and nieces to never meet their aunts.  It causes an absence before the exit.  You will see your loved one walking and talking, but the truth is, you will lose them far before they actually succumb to their demons; which if they don’t find recovery, is inevitable.

Addiction causes families to come to fear a ringing phone or a knock on the door.  It causes vague obituaries.  I read the papers and I follow the news; and it is scary.  “Died suddenly” has officially become obituary speak for “another young person found dead from a drug overdose or an alcohol related death”.

Drug and alcohol addiction causes bedrooms and social media pages to become memorials.  It causes things to break, like the law, trust, and the “tomorrows”.  It causes statistics to rise and knees to fall.  Now, praying seems like the only thing left to do sometimes.

People have a way of pigeonholing those who suffer from addiction.  They call them “trash”, “junkies”, or “criminals”, which is hardly ever the truth.  Addiction is an illness.  Addicts have families and aspirations.

You will learn that addiction doesn’t discriminate.  It doesn’t care if the addict came from a loving home or a broken family.  Addiction doesn’t care if you are religious.  Addiction doesn’t care if you are a straight A student or a drop out.  Addiction doesn’t care what ethnicity you are.

Addiction will show you that one bad decision and one lapse in judgement can alter the course of an entire life.  Addiction doesn’t care.  Period.  But you care.

You will learn to hate the drug but love the addict, hate the drink but love the alcoholic.  You will begin to accept that you need to separate who the person once was with who they are now.

It is not the person who drinks, but the alcoholic.  It is not the person who steals to support their habit, but the addict.  It is not the person who spews obscenities at their family, but the addict.  It is not the person who lies, but the alcoholic.

And yet, sadly, it is not the addict who dies, but the person.

Monday Music Therapy

How music and recovery go hand in hand

Music allows us to express feelings we can not otherwise express.  Music has a sense of anonymity because no two peole have to feel or think the same thing when listening to a piece of music.  Music is powerful.  It stirs up hidden emotions,  brings forth memories, and allows us to process and release aggression, grief, desperation, and joy.  Music has increased recovery from addiction and various mental illnesses as well as aiding those suffering from Alzheimers, Parkinsons, strokes, and other medical ailments.

Many treatment centers have turned toward incorporating music and art therapy into their standards with positive results.  The specific treatment center I attended in January and February of this year utilized music therapy.  Each one of us “clients” had different reactions to different music and we were all able to relate to each other in some way.  The lyrics always opened up new dialogue and allowed all of us to see new perspectives and learn and grow.

Music therapy works in addiction recovery through a therapist developed treatment plan. This includes music making practices along with counseling, psychotherapy, and other forms of evidence-based treatments, to ensure a well-rounded approach to the recovery of addiction.

Hearing the light

Music is a form of creative self-expression and often allows the user to communicate in a non-conventional manner. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics are often filled with shame and guilt and have years of built up blockages that prevent them from positively expressing themselves.

Music therapy helps users, especially through music that is nostalgic for them, identify and cope with any past emotional trauma, and process it with a therapist or group facilitator. It allows users to:

  • Examine emotions and self-esteem.
  • Enhance positivity.
  • Empower themselves through success.
  • Improve self-awareness.
  • Increase attention and concentration.
  • Build coping and problem-solving strategies.
  • Enhance mindfulness and relaxation techniques.
  • Improve interpersonal skills.

To the beat of a different drum

Here are a few selections to enjoy.  Please comment below with suggestions for the next Monday Music Therapy post and include any comments of what these songs mean for you.