Recovery is Like a Baby Elephant

xing

As I approach fifteen years of continuous sobriety from alcohol (still, always, one day at a time and glory to God)  I find myself in a pensive mood…going through old writings from earlier recovery and taking a deeper look into the challenges and triumphs of a life where my drug of choice doesn’t call the shots.

This is a journal entry from my 22nd month of sobriety.

Although YouTube didn’t exist at the time (or if it did, I surely didn’t know it) I’ve added some adorable videos to illustrate each point.

Just for fun (because recovery IS fun!)

I pray it blesses you today. As always, feel free to share the link.

God bless us, every one.

I just love elephants.

Before the first elephant had been brought into America, legend says that the gentleman importing it tried to describe the animal to his community. If you’ve never seen an elephant, it would be hard to picture one in your head from someone else’s description.

People simply could not comprehend that such a thing existed before they saw it themselves. I just couldn’t imagine a recovery life existed.

I have 22 months of sobriety today – exactly as long as it takes a mother elephant to gestate and deliver a brand new elephant into the world.

Yes, recovery  is like a baby elephant.

It needs it’s unit to survive, others of its tribe. It has a tendency to wander, but must not separate from the herd for it’s own safety.

There are threats to its very life, but staying with it’s tribe helps ensure it will grow up healthy and strong.

 

It requires nursing and attention. Not giving it adequate care increases the chances that it will follow in its brethern’s deep footsteps… the “Elephant in the Living Room” that I walked around and pretended wasn’t there in active disease.  That elephant’s name is Denial. It left piles of shit for me to clean up or step over.

It tried to trample my dreams of writing. Of hoping. Of living.

 

It comes into the world larger-than-life, and keeps growing:  Recovery must take up a lot of space in my life, that’s just the nature of countering the disease. Go big or go home.

Before you know it you’ll have the brawn and tusks and wisdom to live life on life’s terms.

 

It is a little clumsy and awkward at times: Who cares? We all stumble! It’s all part of learning.

The more you stand back up, the more balance you invite, and the steadier you get on your feet.

 

It’s playful: The thing I didn’t expect about sobriety is that it is FUN. It likes to be silly and whimsical. Alcohol deadened my playfulness, and stifled my big personality. Recovery meetings are sometimes somber affairs, but they shouldn’t be only somber.

Being clean and sober is a special opportunity to channel your inner youngster – the one you tried so hard to numb.

 

It is sensitive and tender: Elephants are one of the only animals that cry actual tears. From my expertise (which consists completely of watching  a lot of nature documentaries) the mighty beasts are very sentimental.

They are very emotional, especially when SET FREE from a lifetime of bondage!

 

It is also STRONG and able: A healthy one can come up against almost any obstacle and display appropriate assertiveness to protect it.

 

Yep. Recovery is a lot like a baby elephant.

Before we experienced recovery, people tried to describe it to us. But if you’ve never endeavored on the road yourself, it might be hard to picture it from someone else’s description.

Can you comprehend that such a thing exists?

It does.

Oh, and your new recovery is also full of surprises …

Radical Acceptance – Tolerating itchy distress

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By: Jana Greene

I came across the funniest thing on Pinterest today. It was a pin picturing a 50’s housewife smiling absently with the caption “Some days, I’m the Queen of Serenity – and other days separating coffee filters pushes me over the edge.”

I “lol’d.” Hard.

Oh the truth!

I once participated in a group therapy exercise in which Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) distress tolerance skills were addressed.

Sometimes I think we addicts and alcoholics have a super high threshold for substances to soothe our distress (it takes so much), and super low tolerance for dealing with distress without those substances (it takes so little.)

That’s kind of addiction in a nutshell.

Fifteen years into this lifestyle called recovery, I am still learning so much. I have not ‘arrived’ – not even close. But I am alive to keep learning, and that’s everything.

I’m still amazed at people who can simply shrug off very distressing issues. How do you DO that?

I’m learning, but it’s a process. I’ve let the tools I learned get a little rusty.

Distress tolerance is the idea that some of us find certain emotions overwhelming and unbearable.

And how well does that jibe with our drinking and using? It is such a natural FIT, so convenient…

“Oh, I feel THIS way and it’s uncomfortable. I will do anything to stop feeling this distress. ANYTHING rather than FEEL it.”

That is the road that leads to destruction. That is the road that leads to death.

And there is so much to be distressed about in our world. Separating coffee filters not-withstanding. So many heavy things, like refugees and war…and health issues and job issues. You know, life stuff.

I’m dusting off my years-old practice of distress tolerance now, because the negative is starting to be awfully prevalent in my life.

No matter what length of time of sobriety one has, it the absolute tolerance is breached, we are not safe from our prior way of doing things.

If life gets too itchy, we want to scratch it.

“People with a low tolerance for distress can become overwhelmed at relatively mild levels of stress, and may react with negative behaviors…

Many traditional treatment approaches focus on avoiding painful situations, but in the distress tolerance module of DBT….people learn that there will be times when pain is unavoidable and the best course is to learn to accept and tolerate distress.

A key ingredient of distress tolerance is the concept of radical acceptance. This refers to experiencing the situation and accepting the reality of it when it is something the person cannot change.

By practicing radical acceptance without being judgmental or trying to fight reality, the client will be less vulnerable to intense and prolonged negative feelings. Within the distress tolerance module, there are four skill categories:

  1. Distracting
  2. Self-soothing
  3. Improving the moment
  4. Focusing on pros and cons

These skills are aimed at helping individuals cope with crisis and experience distress without avoiding it or making it worse.”

– GoodTherapy.org

Wait, doesn’t ‘radical acceptance’ mean denial? On the surface, it may seem so

But just under the surface, when we really explore the concept, it becomes apparent that it is the balm for that terrible itch of distress.

It’s the okay-ness of feeling whatever we feel, while acknowledging that feelings are not facts.

I’m going to intentionally work on the four skill categories. I hope to share my experiences here on the blog. I hope I can be brave enough to do that.

God bless us, every one.

 

 

 

Why Does Everything Have to be About Recovery?

serenity

By: Jana Greene

There are some things that normal people just don’t understand … like an active recovery life.

You can’t really blame them. If I hadn’t the experience with making everything about drinking, I wouldn’t understand either. Recovery Warriors are a hard-core bunch, making everything about getting and staying well.

Recovery, recovery, recovery.

I’m absolutely certain that many people – even those who love us dearly – harbor the secret thought “Get over it, already! You’re sober now….why the obsession with recovery?”

What they don’t know and cannot understand is that we addicts and alcoholics have two speeds only: Active disease or active recovery.

Those are our two only choices.

Yes, you can stay sober without putting a recovery spin on all areas of your life. You can be dry and clean. But in order to grow and thrive in a spirit that you’ve previously pickled and poisoned, you need to find alternate ways of dealing with Life on Life’s Terms, which I think we can all agree is brutal.

Our disease affected everything!

Because everything was about alcohol when I was active in my disease and something had to fill that empty space when I left it’s sorry ass.

Every day you wake with breath in your body, you have two choices.

ONLY TWO.

You can:

A) Obsess about your drug of choice – Keep everything about your addiction.

If you are drinking or using and are an addict, this is your default setting. You do it without thinking, even though it’s all you think about. Woven into choosing this choice are the possibilities of destruction, irreparable shame, sickness, and self-hatred. It is too often the route to death, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and even physically.

Most every minute of the day is spent either partaking in your drug of choice, feeling shame for having partaken in your drug of choice, and spending all available energies on obsessing about when you can do it again, which you swear you will never do again each and every time. And then you wake up the next day obsessed with doing it again.

B) Obsess about Recovery – Keep everything about becoming WHOLE

When you make the right choice, you lose your relationship with the abusive spouse of drink or drug. But that is ALL you lose, and when you get far enough away from it, you will more clearly see how abusive your default setting really was.

Doing the work of recovery is a life-long pursuit – just as active addiction was.

It is not a 90-day long stint in rehab, or an event you can attend and then move on to other things. If your sobriety is not nurtured and tended to, your spirit will turn back to it’s default setting of using.

In a victorious recovery life, most every minute of the day is spent maintaining that beautiful gift, learning new and healthy coping skills for dealing with issues, celebrating your clarity and ability to appreciate who God has truly intended you to be. It is time well spent, I promise.

Gratitude fills the space shame used to occupy. Clarity spills into the cracks where denial used to reside.

Recovery affects everything!

There is no magic pill to fix addiction. But there is an antidote to it:

It is active recovery.

It has to become what you are all about.

Life instead.

Who in their right mind would bring their deepest, darkest secrets out into the light for all to see?

Someone who has a story to tell that might help others out of the pit of despair that is obsession with using.

And somebody somewhere needs to know about your recovery story, Recovery Warrior.

What will be your obsession?

12 Step booklet to be released in November

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Hello, readers!

I’m working on releasing a collection of essays exploring how the 12 Steps have played out in my own life and how to apply them to life in a practical manner.

It will be a very informal booklet – easy to read one bite at a time – and includes the biblical comparison for each step, a study verse for each, and a simple prayer at the conclusion of each essay. Just something simple to bless you on your own recovery journey…whether you are recovering from alcohol or substance abuse, co-dependency, or any other hurt, habit or hang-up (I think that’s just about ALL of us!)

“Practical to Tactical – Lessons from a 12 Step Life” will release on Amazon and for Kindle in November.

I will post more details when it is published.

A thousand thank-yous to each of you for your readership.

God bless us, every one.

“If you don’t Understand” – A ballad from the hurting ones

God moves all obstacles between Himself and His children

By: Jana Greene

Every once in a while I come across a post on one of the many recovery boards I follow that just blows my socks off. A piece that is more than words, but a declaration and plea – a raw and personal effort to help normal folk who do not suffer addiction or mental illness to understand what it’s like to walk around in the skin of an addict or person struggling.

When I find that post (and get over wishing I’d written it myself!) I get excited about sharing it.

This is that post. And with the author’s permission, I am sharing it here.

I hope this post, with its’ chewy center of wisdom, goes viral. I hope Ashleigh Campora’s words echo in the minds and hearts of those who ‘don’t understand,’ and gives comfort to those who woefully DO understand, and need encouragement.

“If you don’t understand mental illness, good. Good for you. You shouldn’t have to understand. If you don’t understand why some people can’t get out of bed in the morning, good. I hope you jump out of bed every day, ready to take the world by storm. If you don’t understand how someone could drag a blade across their skin, good. I hope you’re never that desperate to feel something. If you don’t understand what drives someone to continually starve themselves despite everything they’ve lost in the process, good. I hope you stay heavy and present and real. If you cant understand why that woman avoids mirrors; why she just stares blankly, in anger. I hope you never look at yourself with such disgust. That you always see yourself for what you really are: which is beautiful. If you don’t understand why he won’t just go to church or rehab or find someone who can help him, good. I hope you always have somewhere to turn. If you don’t understand how someone can keep swallowing bottles of pills; tying knots in ropes; or standing at the tops of bridges, good. I hope you are never that desperate for relief. If you don’t understand, good. You’re not supposed to. It’s all f#cking sick.” – Ashleigh Campora.

The very definition of ‘stigma’ is “A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.” Those of us who suffer addiction and mental illness? We ARE that ‘something.’ And we know that we make no sense to those of you who do not walk in our shoes.

The only way to make stigma get up off it’s ass and move far away is by spreading these stigma-killing messages:

You are not alone.

You are worthy to be free of the oppression that binds you.

People can (and DO) recover.

God bless you, Ms. Campora.

God bless us, every one.

Recovery Memoir Giveaway – Enter to win an autographed copy of EDGEWISE

Edgewise

By: Jana Greene

Greetings and Salutations!

I’m giving away two autographed copies of my recovery memoir, “Edgewise, Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God” now through Sept. 16th.

There is no obligation whatsoever to enter. It just blesses me to share my story with people who are looking for hope.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER

(Scroll to the middle of the page and fill out the fields under “WIN A COPY OF THIS BOOK”)

Can a believer in Christ also be an addict or alcoholic? On the edge of active disease and surrender, Jana Greene shares her recovery journey in a collection of raw and honest essays. Somewhere during the process, she let God get a word in edgewise, and plunged into a spiritual awakening that she could not have had any other way. D.T. Niles is famously quoted as having described Christianity as “One beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” This book is a telling of Jana’s journey to find food for the spirit, and inviting others to follow. “Because,” she says. “When I couldn’t love myself enough to lift myself up, I crawled to Jesus, and he said, “You look hungry … come to the table!” Redemption is the best feast ever.

Feel free to share the contest link, and God bless us, everyone.

Recovery Option “B” – Have Faith Anyway

bBy: Jana Greene

Very recently, I came across the prayer journal that I  kept before I got sober on January 3, 2001. That is my D.O.S. (date of sobriety) which has become far more meaningful to me than my birthday or any other anniversary.

In this particular journal, the entries began about a month before my D.O.S. (the date in which my sobriety ‘stuck’) and continues only through about six months into recovery. There are about ten entries, total. It would not seem to be a very in-depth journaling exercise if, say, I were being graded on it. But I wasn’t being graded on it, of course. The number one key to keeping a journal, in my humble opinion, is remembering that nobody is going to grade you on it. It is for the benefit of you own tender spirit, and no one else.

I sat down with a cup of coffee to read my old, cringe-worthy journal just the other day.

On an entry dated December 11, 2000 – about three weeks before I came to the end of myself in my addiction – I am hopeful at the top of the page:

Reflections/notes: “I am saving this space to write in tonight when I am tempted to drink.”

And then scrawled in the center of the page many hours later …

Drank anyway.

Even today, nearly 15 years later, I can feel the collapse of my heart as if it just happened. Oh how vividly I remember that sensation of disappointment. I hope I always remember it, it helps keep me sober today.

In between those two writings, a full-on war was going on inside of me. Picking up a drink was, for me, setting down a portion of my faith that God was in control and could handle my problems. Drinking was my way of sitting out the game. Not only did I relinquish my part in saving my own ass, but I was shaking my fist at God for not helping me save it. By continuing to pick up, I was in essence tying the hands of God. He is a gentleman, you see, and will coerce by force. There must be surrender.

I don’t know why it took so long for my sobriety to become ‘sticky,’ I only know that it took what it took. And I know that I had to do the work to put my disease in its place. Meetings. Prayers. Surrender every minute of the day. Strategy. Every war requires expert strategists or it is doomed to fail.

Part of the strategy in very early sobriety was to give myself only two choices. Any more than two were completely overwhelming.

Today will be challenging in the same old ways. It will also be challenging in some brand-new ways. You have a choice. You can …

A) Drink/use anyway.

or

B) Have faith anyway.

The latter is so much more difficult than the former. But choosing the second option saved my life.

“Having faith anyway” looks messy! It means believing that which seems completely impossible. It means accepting THIS, one day at a time, one hour at a time, one SECOND at a time, if need be.

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:28 (MSG)

It’s interesting to read the journal entries that followed. They were desperate. Here is the entry from five days sober:

“I cannot drink today, not today. Maybe not ever again. Nobody knows the extent of my disease. My hands are trembling, holding this pen. I feel toxic, inside and out. The alcohol is bad for my body but worse for my soul. It’s like acid and sweet nectar of oblivion, all in one. I cannot serve two gods anymore. I can feel the hand of Jesus reaching to me, I know He is with me, even now. I used to boast that Jesus was my crutch. I used to be embittered by all that happens in life, and talked to him every day. Over the years, the wine instead became my crutch….just a ‘little something’ to relax me, and then a few more, and then I don’t even remember, until an empty bottle or box. And so here I am on this cool January morning, trembling and calling out the demon. I want God back at the helm, and it’s not because I ‘deserve’ it, but because of this amazing, impossible-to-comprehend gift of Grace. I don’t want to feel the constant shame, the uneasy and bewildering guilt anymore. I’m ready to change, with His help.”

Lots of other notes in the journal follow.

“Okay, God….what is the DEAL with my LIFE?”

and …

“Help me, God, I cannot do this!”

But I COULD choose option B…Have faith that if I surrender to the will of God, I will survive it – and thrive, even.

And so I chose Recovery Option B, no matter what.

Is everything falling apart and you can see no possible resolution? Choose faith anyway. He’s Got this, if you only surrender your will to His.

Are you hurting – mind, body, and soul?

Choose faith anyway. NOTHING has ever been healed by drinking / using the toxins.

Angry, bitter, fed-up?

Don’t pick up and HAVE FAITH ANYWAY. Have faith that your D.O.S. – that glorious, meaningful GIFT of a date – is yours to keep, but you’ve got to work to keep it.

And surround yourself in a healthy recovery community. Journal, if it helps, and remember nobody is grading you! Don’t sit out the game of your own life. Don’t tie the hands of God. He has SUCH good plans for you. He knows you far better than you know yourself. And He is madly in love with YOU. When you get tired, ask for His Spirit to help you along. It’s a messy thing, recovery. But oh how your tender spirit will rejoice on the journey, one single day at a time.

It can save your life.

It saved mine.