Why a Chip isn’t ‘just a Chip’

By: Jana Greene

Greetings, readers – I want to wish each of you a very happy new year!

Earlier this week, something earth-shattering happened. I attended my 12-step home group and picked up my 16 year chip. Sixteen years! I didn’t even know they made chips in that denomination, but alas, here it is. It’s made of metal, even. Isn’t it beautiful?

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To others, it may look like a regular token, but it’s actually much more than that. In the 16 years I’ve been in recovery from alcoholism, I cherish picking up every single one each year. From the blue, plastic surrender chip that began the whole journey, to all of  the AA and Celebrate Recovery chips collected in between. You might wonder – what’s the big deal about a little chip?

Let me just boast about my weakness for a moment:

A chip represents an entire 365-day span of time in which I felt every single one of my pesky feelings without reaching for a drink.

It’s a keepsake that reminds me to boast on my weakness, because God’s grace is enough; it’s all I need. HIS strength comes into its own in my weakness.

It commemorates another entire trip around the sun in which my craziness did not defeat my sobriety. And my craziness can be very persistent, believe you me.

It is a tangible totem of what the Grace of Almighty God looks like.

It’s a little, round harbinger of possibility. I made it another year without picking up. I can do it again.

It’s a metal manifestation of tribal-ness. Picking up a chip is cause for rounding applause from others in the meeting (who are also feeling every pesky feeling and understand, but are doing it one day at a time, too.)

It’s a trophy for devil-slaying. And no, I don’t think I’m being a drama queen by making that statement. Seriously, ya’ll.

It’s a souvenir of a life led a little more manageably.

It is a reminder that God is still in the miracle business, because in some of the tougher years, I held on by the skin of my teeth.

What might appear to be a silly little token is so much more.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 [Full Chapter]

“Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

I may have wanted to drink several times over the past year, but as I hold this chip in the palm of my hand, I’m so glad I didn’t. I’m so glad that I asked God for help. I’m especially grateful that I have learned not just how to ask for help, but to ACCEPT it, as well.

It’s a big deal because it represents hope and accomplishment and another solid year of learning, and lurching, and learning again. A year of (largely) moving in a forward direction.

I am praising God for this little chip that’s not JUST a chip. Grateful.

And grateful to share these musings with you, dear readers.

God bless us, every one.

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Self Care in the New Year

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This week, I would love to explore the oft-overlooked issue of Self-Care, and what it really means to care for yourself in the tenderest way. I welcome all comments, as I’d love to start a conversation about how God figures in  your journey. Taking care of yourself isn’t just for those in recovery – I think all of us struggle with it at times. Women especially – the mothers and grandmothers and caretakers – are often expected to put their needs last. It may not be an audible and clear message, but the societal expectations buoy it up all the same. When we don’t self-care, we have nothing to pour out. God bless you in this new year!

 

By: Jana Greene

Have you ever just gotten lazy about something? Like really taking care of yourself – Mind, body and soul?

This time of year, we are all thinking about priorities. That’s all New Year’s resolutions are, right? Putting priority on one healthier endeavor and maybe letting other, less healthy habits slip down a notch or two.

For me, going to 12 Step meetings is my re-boot.

When I say I don’t have time to go, I’m suggesting to myself that I’m not worth making the time.

When I say I’m too sick or tired to go, I am opting out of an experience that may not heal my body, but will certainly be a salve to my soul.

When I want to hide away under my duvet cover and eat a box of Thin Mints instead of going to a meeting, well …. that should be a big, red flag.

I was raised with the notion that you don’t want to think too highly of yourself, and I get that. I understand why that is a slippery slope – God is God and I am not. I’m not talking about being self-righteous or pious. Any righteousness I might have certainly doesn’t stem from my own actions, but by the willingness to surrender my will to God’s. That’s not what I’m talking about at all.

I’m talking about how easy it is find your own heart and mind and spirit on the bottom rung of the priority ladder. You may not even notice the slippage happening. You may have been too busy caring for everyone else to see it. You may have stacked up box after box of codependency to reach your top priorities. Without a basis of loving self-care, it will topple and take you with it.

I’m terrible at self-care, true self-care. I’m really good at showing myself love by giving into it’s appetites. Isn’t that what care is about? If I want a cookie, I want the box. If I want to treat myself to something on Amazon, 10 things end up in my basket. Stay up late to watch “Call the Midwife” on Netflix? ALL NIGHT LONG.

Somewhere my psyche learned to equate moderation with deprivation.

If one is good, twelve is better. Except for that’s hardly ever true.

“Self-Care” that makes you feel awful afterward is not self-care. This may seem rudimentary, but this morning as I write this post, it’s kind of an epiphany to me.

I’ve gotten lazy with self-care, cheapening it. Worse, when someone I love needs help or care, I’ve got only a dry well to draw from.

This January 3rd, I will celebrate 16 years of consecutive sobriety. For my Recovery’s Sweet Sixteen, I’m going back to the basics. Because that’s where I find God most of the time. Like most teenagers, my recovery often likes to think it knows everything. But oh how wrong that mindset is!

I still have SO much to learn!

So, as we enter a New Year, I’m going to try to take better care of myself and re-arrange the rungs on the priority ladder. If you’ve forgotten how to truly self-care, join me on the intentional journey to care for yourself. Take time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write out some self-care statements. Here are mine:

I will seek out one-on-one time with my Heavenly Father. That doesn’t mean carving out an Instagram-worthy devotional time, but authentic conversation with God. (Authentic conversation means listening, too. I forget that.)

I will not apologize for showing myself the same level of kindness as I would a friend, or even a stranger.

I will not call myself names, deriding myself for being ‘so stupid,’ for example. Even when just kept in the confines of own mind, putting myself down takes a toll.

I will make the time and effort to make at least one Celebrate Recovery per week. I will ask God to help me out of the rut of making excuses to avoid going. At the meetings, I will LISTEN and learn, and love on my tribe.

I will make a sincere effort to consider that moderation and deprivation are not the same thing. I need Holy Help on this one, because it is ingrained very deeply. Honestly, it stems from a place of fear, of being without. And that isn’t what faith in the Lord looks like. It’s what trusting in only this world looks like.

I will get up and walk at least once every day. Jesus, walk with me and talk with me as I strive to make the changes my physical health so badly needs implemented.

I will listen to my body, and try to heed what it’s telling me. I have limitations that I’ve been fighting against for years. Maybe it’s time for acceptance.

I will maintain boundaries to protect my sobriety.

I will become more intuitive about what I REALLY need, and feed myself that which cares for it best. The Word of God. Spending time with friends. Investing in my marriage. Bringing my anxiety straight to Jesus instead of rolling around in it first.

I will give myself permission to enjoy life. And I will rely on God to help me do that. All evidence points to doom in the worldly estimation, but all truth says that He has already got this. He’s GOT it, already.

I will make the cup of tea the right way, not the microwave way.

Take the bubble bath.

Enjoy the funny cat memes.

Sometimes self-care is so simple.

Father God, praise to you for my sobriety, and for my tribe of recovery warriors. Thank you for friends and readers, and family. In this new year, reveal yourself to us in our ordinary days and through extraordinary circumstances. We need to feel your presence. Help us to actually BELIEVE that we are worth the care, the way YOU say we are worth caring for.

Amen.

What Trumps the Bump? Getting Flooded by the Spirit.

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Note: this post has nothing whatsoever to do with Donald Trump. Or politics, for that matter. Well, I suppose it could, if politics make you want to drink / use … I totally get that, if they do. In which case I highly recommend fasting the news entirely. Is it important to be up on current events? Sure. Is it worth you sobriety? No freaking way.

By: Jana Greene

Just a little bump. That’s all I need.

A little something to get through this feeling of pain / elation / worry / regret / boredom. (Really, any strong feeling will do.)

Feeling are so…I don’t know…FEEL-FULL.

I never used street drugs, and I’m not bragging about that. It is purely by happenstance that I didn’t go that route. I do love me a good high. Alcohol was my drug of choice. But its a drug nonetheless.

A bump can be anything, really.

A drink. A pill. A random sexual encounter. A binge at a slot machine.  An impulsive buy on Amazon to make yourself feel better. And then another. And then another and another. Anything to distract you from All The Feels.

Trading endorphins for guilt later is never a good deal.

The only thing I’ve ever known to trump the bump is a prayerful flooding of the Holy Spirit.

I have a theory, but it’s a working theory. And it goes like this:

High is the state in which we were born and built to function.

But not on drugs or drink, which are counterfeit, temporary conduits of “high.”

Kind of like the Texas saying, the higher the hair, the closer to God? I like to think “the higher the propensity to use drugs and alcohol, the more desire to be close to God.”

I’ve seen it too many times for it to be coincidence. The people most entrenched in addiction are the most sensitive to feelings and thought. They are usually Seekers. The hungrily fill the void with all manner of self-soothing behaviors.

Just a bump, you see. It always starts out with just a bump. And that’s the first lie to oneself, that shortcoming.

The thing about seeking is, there’s nothing wrong with it. We were born to seek, born to crave the high. The problem comes in when we use our own wits to fabricate it. It’s called “sin” in the Bible, but we don’t like to cal it that anymore. In truth, it doesn’t matter what you label it, so long as you realize what it is.

This is also known as Step 7 recovery work:

“Humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.”
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

My default setting is to numb out in lieu of asking for help to overcome my shortcomings. As an alcoholic, that’s what my body and mind want to do. I would love to say that after 15 years of sobriety, drinking never crosses my mind, but that would be such a lie. It’s sneaky, that addiction. Much like a computer that has been programmed to ‘default’ to a certain setting, something in me – the genetics for addiction? – There is a pattern of negative thinking that leads to default. I’m just wired that way.

But that’s not a mistake. I am also wired to bask in the presence of the Creator. That’s why ‘high’ is our preferred state, and that’s my story – I’m stickin’ to it.

I have to change the settings, ‘manually’ – reprogram.

The best high I’ve ever known has been Holy Spirit high. For those of you who are unchurched (or Baptist…a little humor there, I was raised Baptist, so I can joke….) there is this perfect state of nirvana that comes from being filled with the spirit of God.

Religion may be the opiate of the masses, as Karl Marx is famous for having said. But RELATIONSHIP with God is the Ultimate High.

God is, simply put, Love Incarnate. Jesus Christ came as God in a human body to show us how to do life on life’s terms – and with victory, even!

When you are too busy trying to figure God out or justify reasons not to believe, there is no room for the Spirit. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way.

Throw everything that turns you off to God from the table. It’s probably man-made anyway. The cheap stuff. Do yourself a favor and:

  1. Go ahead and feel your feelings.
  2. Ask the living and loving God of the universe for a little something to get through this feeling of pain / elation / worry / regret / boredom. (Really, any strong feeling will do.)
  3. Leave room for the Spirit of Love to move into the spaces that counterfeit, temporary ‘highs’ leave empty.

Lather, rinse, repeat … as often as your brain tries to default to numbness through any number of destructive behaviors.

SUCH PEACE can overcome you in God’s presence. Almost like you were MADE to seek it.

The thing about seeking is, there’s nothing wrong with it. We were born to seek, born to crave the high. The ultimate Good News is that it was planted there by a Creator who loves us more than anything, and who poured Himself over bone and under flesh to prove it.

Ain’t no high like the Holy Spirit High. Trumps the ‘bump’ every time.

Go ahead and be FEEL-FULL. It’s alright. No numbing agent required.
I’m so grateful for that.

15 Years Free – A Look Back at Me

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The “AFTER” Me, imperfect but FREE

By: Jana Greene

I never smiled with teeth showing before I got sober.

When you are trying to shrink back into yourself, your smile can’t be genuine.

For a while, every photo album I had seemed to have this ONE photograph of me from the year 2000. It was taken at work, and as my job was in an elementary school, it was quite literally an awkward school picture for the directory.

On the cusp of my 32nd birthday, hair bleached blond, face bloated, eyes downcast, and a slight close-lipped smile for the camera. The whites of my eyes were slightly yellowed. I was afraid of my own shadow; afraid of myself.

It was taken two weeks before I got sober and stayed sober.

For years, every time I’d come across a copy of that one picture, I’d throw it out. It brought up such primal feelings of disgust. Now,  I wish I could find it to share with you.

The image is burned into my brain. I’m not disgusted by that young woman anymore. I just feel sad for her. I know she is me, but she is also kind of a stranger.

I want to reach back in time and hold my active-in-addiction self. Tell her she will be okay.

“You wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose right now,” I’d say.”But one day you will be wild and free. And smile with TEETH showing, even.”

I would tell her that she will not drink herself to death. That she doesn’t need alcohol to function. That the drug is LYING to her.

I want to tell her that its LIBERTY to be free of protecting secrets.

I want to let her know that she will feel like she is dying when she divorces the drink, but she won’t die.

I would implore her to go ahead and FEEL all of those feelings instead of numbing them. They have a right to be felt.

I would tell her that major boundaries are going to have to be built, but that she will survive the fortifications.

I would tell her she will one day be okay with being fully HERSELF – crazy and silly and ridiculous. And that the people who really love her stick around are not repulsed by the real self, but drawn to it.

I would tell her that her daughters will not be ashamed of her. That she isn’t a terrible mother, just a sick one. That one day those children would be proud of her sobriety.

I would tell her that life doesn’t get easier, but she gets more able to deal with life on life’s terms. For real.

I would tell her that she would experience a happy marriage – something recovery would make directly possible. That there is so much to GAIN from living a life free of addiction.

I would tell her to cut herself a freaking break, already. (And that she would be working on this one for quite some time…and that’s perfectly okay.)

I would tell her that God is more than capable of getting her through a recovery life. So capable, in fact, that she one day will not SHUT UP about Him and His infinite goodness and GRACE, and that grace will become the platform of her entire life. A good life, made possible by active recovery.

I would tell her she will smile with teeth, genuine-like.

And I would tell her she is loved. That I love her.

I forgive her.

I cannot find a single copy of the ‘before’ picture, but I can show you the ‘after.’

I can assure you that all of the things I would tell my old self are also true for you, that recovery is there for the taking. That God’s grace is available in the the same measure to you, no matter where you are on your journey or what you are recovering from.

God bless us, every one.

 

Celebrating 15 Years Sobriety

By: Jana Greene

Hello, Dear Readers.

I don’t really have a story or a pithy piece of sentiment to accompany this blog entry. That will come later this weekend, God willing and the creek don’t rise…

But I’m so excited to share my evening with each of you. What a supportive, amazing, wise and compassionate group of readers God has blessed me with.

So it will be short and sweet.

Earlier this evening, I attended my  Celebrate Recovery home-group at a meeting to pick up a chip.
My 15 year sobriety chip.
Fifteen years of recovering from alcoholism.

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I never thought my recovery would ‘stick,” but I keep surrendering my will to God’s (it is sometimes still a struggle), and He keeps bolstering me in supernatural ways, and somehow….here we are. If I am not vigilant and committed, it could become un-sticky. I respect my disease.
Had I not gotten sober, I would be dead. No doubt about that.

But through Christ, I am an OVERCOMER.

Not only was I given a lovely 15 Year chip commemorating my continuous sobriety, but this nifty bracelet (read the backstory, it is SO cool….) – THE JESUS NUT. Yep, that’s me!

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I keep sobriety by letting others know it is available to them, too.
One day at a time. Still, always…one single day at a time.

Thanks, Jesus.
I’m so grateful.

God bless us, every one.

And THANK YOU for your readership.

Happy New Year!

A Christmas Carol Redux – In Recovery Magazine

This piece ran in last winter’s edition of In Recovery Magazine.

I pray it blesses you, and as always – feel free to share the link.

Merry Christmas!

 

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By: Jana Greene

In the Twelve Steps of Recovery, my Higher Power gave to me . . .

There is something cool about the number “twelve.” It makes me think of the number of recovery steps; a dozen fresh, hot doughnuts; the number of beloved disciples of Jesus; and the Twelve Days of Christmas (even though that never made much sense to me – having little appreciation for a Partridge in a Pear Tree or Lords a-Leapin’).

But I do have all the appreciation in the world for addiction recovery. In my twelfth year of active recovery and in celebration of the Twelve Steps, I composed a “Twelve Days of Christmas” redux.

In the First Step of Recovery, Higher Power gave to me – a serving of humility.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.

It was difficult to admit that I had zero power over a silly substance – alcohol – truly humiliating, but in the best way possible. I had to learn how to bite off one single day at a time without drinking, then another and another – in complete surrender to God. I continue to approach sobriety this way.

….to read the article in its entirety, CLICK HERE

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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.