Drug-free

K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Sweetie

_DSC0862One of my early recovery mentors was a diminutive woman named Shirley Rapp who lived and breathed the 12 steps.

Shirley, who died a few years ago, wrapped her recovery around me when I was new and scared. She’d say, “Now honey, you’re gonna be alright. All you have to do right now is stay sober and God will take care of everything else. Just keep it simple, sweetie.”

An acronym of love

I don’t think KISS–originally known as Keep It Simple, Stupid–is talked about much anymore. I never liked that version of the acronym anyway. Shirley’s version–Keep It Simple, Sweetie, is much gentler and more loving.

When you’re new to recovery, keeping things simple is a really, really good idea (not a bad plan for long-term recovery either!) but attaching a derogatory term like stupid only emphasizes a recovering person’s low self-image and esteem.

Instead, using sweetie eliminates the negative connotation. It’s softer and helps me take it easy on myself.

Most recently, Keep It Simple, Sweetie has opened my eyes to the beautiful surroundings of working the 12 steps all over again with a woman who reminds me a little bit of Shirley.

Step One: Powerlessness and Unmanageability

Working through the steps with a couple of decades of sobriety is an interesting proposition. For instance, I didn’t really understand that honesty is involved in becoming aware of my lack of power and seeing how my life is unmanageable.

Digging into what honesty means is daunting. Think about this one: Dishonesty includes the delusion of control.

Being honest implies telling the truth which is fairly easy until you begin to consider all the lies we tell ourselves, like: we’re happy when we’re not, we’re satisfied when we’re not or we’re okay when we’re not.

So, are you completely honest today?

Acceptance is the key

The trick is to do this work with no judgment. Any thought I have like, I should know this already with 24 years in recovery needs to exit the head space.

Instead, I keep it simple, sweetie. Go easy, be loving, be gentle. Listen to the words of Melody Beattie as you say then aloud:

We do not move forward by resisting what is undesirable in our life today. We move forward, we grow, we change by acceptance.

And these words:

Overcome not by force. Overcome by surrender.

Just as I never really thought about Step One including honesty, I also didn’t realize that it included acceptance.

I’ve always just plowed through the first step as it’s written: I am powerless over alcohol and my life is unmanageable.

There’s a fairly famous story in the book Alcoholics Anonymous called “Acceptance Was the Answer” (fka “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict”) in which the author describes finally getting to the core understanding of how it is possible to stay sober.

Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept my life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

Indeed, acceptance is the necessary response to  all my problems–real or perceived–today.

Now that’s what I call keeping it simple, sweetie.

Photo courtesy of scottsann

Surrender to Recover; UNITE to Face Addiction

5057210527_b5d69ae811_zHave you ever wondered why some people “get” recovery and other people–actually, most people– don’t?

I’ve asked myself that question for years. Come to find out, so has my dear friend and recovery mentor, John.

Don’t you love honest and transparent conversations with people you love?

Miracles and a servant’s attitude

I’ve known John for more than 20 years. I’ve always appreciated his direct, often matter-of-fact way of looking at recovery from alcoholism and other addictions.

He’s the one who taught me about the ickiness of self-pity (“Sometimes we sit in our own s*&t because it feels warm.”).

I’ve admired his compassionate nature and his dedication to the active growth of his spiritual life.

Last week, I learned something new about John, and it’s a biggee. I learned that as a man in long-term recovery, he never gives up on people who are so very sick with addiction, even when their lives are at risk. He never lets go of hope.

“How can I?” he asked me. “I don’t know when God is done with them.”

John believes in miracles and in being a servant of God.

The gnawing, haunting question

So, why do some people stay in recovery while a majority of people don’t?

John and I drilled deeply into the why behind never drinking or using drugs again. Or maybe a better question is why do some people surrender completely and some never do?

For me–and for John–the willingness to surrender our lives every day is a beacon that guides our travels. Oh, we continue living as willful, bull-headed people, but we make sure that the Power that guides us is bigger than our wills.

People who surrender are willing to change, to accept new ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions. They stay open to learn new things. Perhaps above all else, they are honest with themselves.

Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness–those are the essential elements that drive my life in recovery. Millions of people never reach the H.O.W. of recovery though. I believe the layers of fear, shame and self-loathing are wrapped too tightly, making it hard to break free.

Society doesn’t help–doesn’t do a very good job of ripping those layers away from the outside. If it did, maybe my brothers and sisters who struggle with addiction would find the inside work easier.

We’re working on it, though. There’s a nationwide campaign underway to help people understand why it’s necessary to treat everyone with addiction with the same love and hope that John shows his friends.

UNITE to Face Addiction

Lapel StickerUNITE to Face Addiction is a grassroots advocacy initiative that is demanding solutions to a national health crisis that impacts more than 45 million people directly.

On October 4th, the group will mobilize on the National Mall in Washington, DC to let the nation know that addiction is preventable and treatable, that far too many of those affected have been incarcerated and that people can recover.

We can eliminate the shame and stigma that can keep people with addiction trapped in a cycle of self-destruction. It’s not their fault . . . finding fault is not the point. Finding solutions is the point.

We have to make recovery mainstream so that more people and their loved ones have a welcome and broad entry point. It’s about time, don’t you think?

I’ll be on the National Mall the first weekend in October. I’d love to see you there too.

We are–and will–UNITE to Face Addiction.

Photo courtesy of Portland Prevention

Unite To Face Addiction is Recovery’s Moment

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Here’s a startling image: Every four minutes, someone (usually a young person) dies as a result of addiction–the equivalent of a jumbo jet falling from the sky every day with no survivors.

Tragically, as we’re all too aware from scenes of the crash of Lufthansa Airbus A320, airplane passengers have no control in situations like what happened in the Alps.

But addiction deaths are preventable. That’s right. No one has to die from addiction.

Yet, the leading cause of death among young people is accidental overdose, surpassing car fatalities and homicides.

Everyone knows the war on drugs failed.

America tried everything. We passed tougher laws. We built new prisons for drug offenders. We repeated the mantra, Just say no.

Fortunately, there is a solution. When it comes to preventing and intervening in addiction and in supporting treatment and recovery, lots and lots of good things are happening.

Here are three:

1) After nearly a decade of battling for a sober high school in New York City, actress and activist Kristen Johnston’s SLAM organization (Sobriety, Learning, and Motivation) finally gets its wish. SLAM recently announced a new collaboration with a public school in Staten Island “to take the extraordinary step of implementing an intensive recovery program specific to the many teens in NYC seeking recovery from drugs or alcohol.”

2)  Mainstream media is calling out alcohol advertisers, saying they should self-regulate advertising just as the tobacco industry does. A report in JAMA Pediatrics concluded that seeing or watching alcohol ads helps move kids toward their first experiences with alcohol. Can you just say, NO!

3) More bloggers and online journalists are telling incredible stories of recovery, like my friend Cathy Taughinbaugh. Cathy recently published a guest post by Elizabeth Garrison who lived through teenage addiction, faced prison time and now has a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

There are hundreds of thousands more stories of grand accomplishment. Unfortunately, most of these stories are minimized rather than celebrated, but then addiction is often minimized even as our kids and young people are dying in droves.

Unite To Face Addiction

We need an alternative. We need a sweeping, new approach of EPIC proportions. 

Praise God, there is one on the horizon.

With a little luck and a whole lot of elbow grease, you’ll hear about Unite To Face Addiction in the coming months. Here are the Cliff Notes:

A new collaborative group called Facing Addiction has developed a pretty incredible strategic plan, comprehensive in scope, to address the nation’s addiction crisis. Facing Addiction consists of members from the worlds of business, science, public policy, medical and community leaders.

Their kick-off event is Unite To Face Addiction–a major musical celebration and rally that will happen on The National Mall in Washington, D.C. during the weekend of October 3-4. They’re expecting more than 100,000 people and, knowing some of the principle partners of Facing Addiction, I have no doubt  those numbers will swell.

I know I’ll be there. You won’t be able to keep me away. Why?

Because I’ve never felt such hope that we’re teetering on the tipping point of solving our nation’s Number One health crisis of addiction.

Remember the AIDS Quilt and what it did for changing the perception around HIV/AIDS?

The AIDS Quilt was displayed on The National Mall in 1987. Since then, billions of dollars have changed the course of the movement and people today live much differently with the disease than they did in the 1980s.

This is the recovery movement’s Quilt Moment. Won’t you join us? Receive updates by signing up here and check out Facing Addiction on Facebook and Twitter. And please, share with your friends!

Accept the Guilt, Then Surrender and Recover

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Please welcome today’s guest post writer Amy Baumgardner, co-author of From This Day Forward, A Love Story of Faith, Hope and Forgiveness with her husband Matt and a freelance contributor to In Recovery Magazine. Amy was a guest on Oprah’s Winfrey Lifeclass where she learned healing and forgiveness from Iyanla VanZant. Watch the YouTube video of Amy, Oprah and Iyanla below. Links to her websites and how to order her book are below. One reader will be chosen to receive an autographed copy of From This Day Forward by leaving a comment below.

Guilt is strong. It’s ugly and it’s complicated.

I should know. There exists this crazy tug of war inside my head between what my addiction wants me to do and what I should do. Alcoholism is relentless. My disease does not rest.

Guilt’s role in addiction

Guilt played a major role in my addiction for a long, long time. As a newly sober person five years ago, I made the mistake of letting guilt set up camp in the back of my mind. I now know that I was afraid to let it go. If I did, how could I atone for what I had done?

The booze and self-hatred controlled my life. You’re a lousy mother, you’re a spiteful wife, a bitter drunk, a no good piece of garbage unworthy of any second chances or saving graces, my mind’s voice continually cried. I was so out of touch with reality that I believed the voice.

I refused to forget. I refused to let go. I was stuck on January 10th 2010, the day I drove drunk head first into a tree going 60-miles-per-hour with my children in the back seat.

I was haunted by guilt. And who wouldn’t be? For years I have asked myself the same question night after night, “Why didn’t I see the signs?”

And now, after the accident, there was no other way to prove that I was sorry. I had to hold on to the guilt and shame of that moment when I put the key into the ignition, that second it took to completely lose all trust in my ability to be a good mother and thus negate any possibility of denying that I am an alcoholic. Why did it have to come to this? I would always wonder.

I spent 21 days in a facility getting treatment for my alcohol addiction and learning the tools to I needed stay sober.  I drank 30 days after the near fatal car accident that put me in there. I had been given all the tools, knew all of the steps to take, who to call and where to go for a meeting.

I relapsed eight days after leaving rehab. I let my fear consume me and totally swallow up any confidence I had that I could live a happy life. But sobriety was daunting. It was too much to handle and I quickly found myself seeking refuge in a bottle of Captain Morgan.

Watching for the turning point

I thought of my children. If I was going to survive this and if they were ever going to have a chance with me as their mother then I had to turn my will over to a higher power, something greater than myself, whatever was out there and was willing help me, guide me, save me from myself, from my drinking.

It wasn’t easy and I certainly struggled with the idea of NEVER having a drink again. I slowly and gracefully let the idea of living sober take shape in my life. I took baby steps and constantly reminded myself of my new mantra that Living sober is the best amends!

I started writing, journaling, listening to others and paying attention to the whispers of my life. Eventually, my fears and guilt began to fade. The chatter filling my head with negative thoughts began to fade as well and I was able to start moving forward.

I realized that all of my guilt was wrapped up with my drinking, the accident included. Can I give up this guilt so I can move forward? Was I willing to surrender the guilt so I could live my life freely and faithfully?

Through my struggle I have found strength. All of the blocks I spent decades building were replaced with wisdom. Being active in my recovery and searching for a softer and easier way lead me to the Oprah Winfrey show with Iyanla VanZant. Sharing my struggle with guilt and hardship of letting it go as a guest on her show opened up enough space in my mind to believe that change is possible and to make that change.

Then I needed to give myself permission to surrender and move forward. I alone held the key and I was the only person who could unlock—then release—my burden of guilt.

My life was waiting.

Amy and her husband Matt have formed a foundation called 4-give.org to help other families remain together as they recover from addiction. Their website is Mattandamyb.com and Amy can be found on Twitter @AbaumAmy. Their book, From This Day Forward, can be found on Amazon.

Photo courtesy of greyerbaby

Meet Recovery Carrier Becky Vance

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When it comes to recovery-related issues, Becky Vance is one of the most passionate people you’ll ever meet. We met nearly 10 years ago while working on the field services team for The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, then known as The Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Our lives have changed drastically since 2005: while neither of us works at The Partnership any longer, we still live and work and breathe recovery–as a couple. Having Becky as the November Recovery Carrier not only honors the professional work she does, but expresses my loving gratitude for the many ways she models recovery for me in our daily lives together.

This is the 11th post in this Recovery Carrier series.

William White defines recovery carriers as “people, usually in recovery, who make recovery infectious to those around them by their openness about their recovery experiences, their quality of life and character, and the compassion they exhibit for those still suffering.” (www.williamwhitepapers.com, 2012)

When you hear the term “recovery carrier,” as it relates to addiction, what does that mean to you? Do you think you’re a recovery carrier?

A recovery carrier is someone who is not afraid to share the miracle of her own recovery with anyone. In fact, she is always looking for new opportunities to share her story withBvanceRally others, because she knows others will pass it on. Yes, I believe in my heart that I am a recovery carrier. People often tell me that my passion for recovery is infectious and I love that! I even joke that I am the poster child for recovery; if you think about it, that’s really true, at least to the people I meet that haven’t been exposed to recovery.

What makes you uniquely qualified to do the work you do?

It may sound kind of weird but I believe that God selected me to share this message of recovery. I did not wake up one day and say “I think I’ll share my recovery story at a breakfast of 100 corporate leaders to help promote the value of drug-free workplace programs.” Not at a time when I had a huge fear of public speaking! That particular event, which we called “Sex, Lies and Drugs in the Workplace,” turned out to be a sentinel event for me, and was the launching pad for the work I do today.

As a result of saying “yes” to sharing my story outside of a 12-Step meeting, which was absolutely terrifying to me at the time, I’ve been able to touch more lives than I could ever imagine.

Tell me how your personal story fits into why you do your work.

Maybe a better question is, How do you carry the message of recovery in your work life? I have been truly blessed for the past 26 years to have jobs that allowed me to share my recovery story with literally thousands of people.

(To read more of Becky’s interview, click Becky Vance 11-14)

Photo courtesy of AcrylicArtist