Thoughts on Gratitude and Acceptance

I used to hate when the topic of gratitude came up in meetings, and it seemed to come up all the time. Early in my sobriety I had two feelings about the topic of gratitude.

  1. I’ve got little to be grateful for because I can’t drink alcohol like a normal person. I’m going to miss out on so much.
  2. I’m not the one who should be grateful. I’m making a sacrifice so that everyone around me is better off.

Talk about some clouded thinking.

The truth was that I had a lot to be grateful for when I quit drinking. I hadn’t lost my job. I hadn’t lost my family. I hadn’t had a DUI. I hadn’t severally hurt myself (I came close a few times with a kitchen knife and my index finger, and nearly fell into a fire pit once). I hadn’t drank to the point that I’d done physical damage to my body (though I was well on my way I believe).

I had pretty much come out of it unscathed. I still had a great job, making good money. I still had my house and car. I was living very comfortably in a nice neighborhood. And yet, I longed for more.

And then there was the whole martyr syndrome. I’m not the one who should be grateful, I quit drinking. Holy shit is that delusional. No one owed me anything and my sacrifice, was really just me admitting that I had a problem, needed help, and getting it. But the mind of a person in the throws of withdrawal doesn’t work very well.

I had to rebuild connections in my brain before I’d begin to understand how clouded my thinking had been. Though I don’t know when it all changed, it was well over a year before I started to grasp the meaning of being grateful. Time brings clarity, and eventually, I understood that I have a lot to be grateful for in my life, and that nobody needed to be grateful that I got sober, except me.

We live in a society that is fundamentally based on false promises. Capitalism is based on a theory of perpetual growth. Growth comes in the form of products and services sold for cash. We are groomed from an early age to be consumers. The disease of wanting more is built into our systems.

And so I find myself wanting more. I find myself feeling dissatisfied with what I have. I forget that I need to be grateful for what I have instead of grasping at what I don’t. I spent a fair amount of time today, thinking about what I don’t have in this material world. Thinking about what I want to buy, the lifestyle that I want to live. I want to be independently wealthy and have a winter house in Charleston, SC and a summer house in Camden, ME. Oh, and I don’t want to work anymore.

Here’s the reality. With hard work and good fortune, I’ll be solidly middle class for the rest of my life. I’ll never be independently wealthy. I will probably never have two houses, let alone in two gorgeous towns on the Atlantic coast. And that’s okay.

What I do have is a very comfortable life in a comfortable house with a family that loves me. I’ve got my health and I expect to live to a ripe old age if nature takes its course and I’m lucky. And for all that I’m grateful.

I can visit these picturesque Atlantic coast towns on vacations. And it’s okay to have the fantasy, but it’s not okay to let the fantasy bring on a case of the “I don’t have its”.

Having Fun in Sin City, in Recovery

Vegas is not my favorite place. I didn’t like Vegas when I was drinking and I find it overwhelming now as a sober guy. It’s really more about being an introvert than it is about the drinking, drugs, and debauchery that are on public display. I am sensitive to being overly stimulated and Vegas is a constant buzz of activity, blinking lights, and noise. And yet, I’ve found ways to go to Vegas and enjoy myself.

It took me a long time to get here though. In my first few years of sobriety, the trips to Vegas felt like a burden. I felt like I was being tested — put in an untenable situation. How could a guy in recovery be expected to go to Vegas?

I get to go to Vegas roughly twice a year for my job. Usually for one technical conference and for my company’s sales kick off. Both are grueling events that start at 8 AM with sessions until 5 or 6 and corporate “fun” events in the evening. Corporate “fun” is code for drinking. For the first several trips, I would grind through the days, make an appearance at the corporate event, and then retreat into my room. It was a strategy, but probably not the best strategy.

Last summer, I tweeted my dread about going to Vegas and a fellow technologist who is in recovery responded with a tweet that reframed my perspective. He said, “Vegas has great food. It’s a Fat Boy’s dream. Let me know where you’re going and I’ll give you some restaurant recommendations.” Now, I’m actively working to not be a fat boy, with some success, but I love food and so this resonated. I got some recommendations and made some plans.

Previously, going to Vegas and partaking in the drinks at the corporate events meant that I didn’t spend any of my money at these events. I ate what they offered, which is generally garbage, because I really didn’t care since I was getting loaded. But now that I’m sober, I really do care about the quality of the food on offer. And the company has policies about not expensing food at these events. Since they are paying for all the catering — I get it, even if I don’t like it — I’m not allowed to expense any meals that I get on my own.

Vegas is expensive. The same cup of coffee that I get for $3.13 at my local Starbucks is over $7 in Vegas. Lunches, a sandwich and fries, are over $25 in the hotels. I don’t like it, but I have reconciled that I am making a choice that helps me to stay sane and sober in Vegas. So I spend my own money and don’t worry about it.

I’ve also learned that I don’t need to be at every corporate event. This past trip, I didn’t attend a single corporate party. And guess what? No one noticed and no one cared. It helps that I’m open about my recovery. My management knows that I don’t drink and so the expectation that I’ll hang out at a drinking event isn’t there.

Since I got sober, I’ve been going to a lot more concerts, and guess what you can find on pretty much any given night in Vegas. That’s right, a concert. And not just a local musician busking on the sidewalk. I now make it a point to look for an act that I’d be interested in seeing when I go to Vegas. Last summer, I saw Jackson Browne one night in Vegas and this past week I caught Aerosmith. I’ve gone by myself, and I’ve invited members of my team to join me.

Again, it’s money out of my own pocket on a business trip, but it’s worth it to keep me sane. I’ve also realized that I used to spend more on booze in a week than the price of a ticket to a show. A ticket to see a band is money well spent when I put it in that light.

And so, my perspective on Vegas is changing. Whereas I used to say, “I have to go to Vegas twice a year for my job.” Now I can honestly say, “I get to go to Vegas for my job.”

Do you travel for business? If so, how do you keep yourself busy when the corporate parties get rolling? Drop me a line in the comments with any additional ideas.


Having Fun Sobriety, as an Introvert

Earlier this week, I was at a discussion meeting where the topic was “having fun in sobriety.” Very quickly there were a number of shares that centered around making friends and doing activities with other members of a home group. Stories about coming into the rooms and quickly developing friendships with people who had common interests came up. People talked about going to a variety of activities including football games, movies, dinner, dancing, etc.

Very quickly, I felt uncomfortable as the tone of the meeting seemed to be moving towards two fallacies common in the rooms — the only people who you can be good friends with in recover are other people in recovery and the only way to have fun in recovery is by making friends with others in recovery and doing lots of social things with them.

I’ve heard versions of these two myths over the years. Here’s a common story I’ve heard over and over again in the rooms that encompasses both:

“When I came into the rooms, I had a lot of friends, but they were all drinkers. Today, I don’t associate with them anymore, I found out that they weren’t really friends. Today, all my friends are in the program. We do a lot of things together that I might have done with my drinking friends in the past, but we just don’t drink.”

There are two things that make me uncomfortable with these two myths. Firstly, some in recovery conflate introversion and/or social anxiety with isolation. And secondly, some in recovery seem to advocate that it’s important to have friends in recovery to the exclusion of friends who are not in recovery.

I sometimes think that because addiction leads to isolation in many cases, we mistake introversion for isolation in the recovery community. Introversion is a personality trait and it is defined not by whether or not someone is outgoing or social, but rather by whether or not one gets their energy by being around people or not. There are many introverts who are outwardly social, but who find that they are worn out after socializing rather than energized by it.

As an introvert, I find getting together with a group of people tedious and tiresome. I would prefer to meet up with a few good friends in a small intimate setting rather than go to a large party or sporting event. Don’t mistake me, there’s nothing wrong with a party or a sporting event, I take part in them from time to time, but I know that the social dynamics of these events aren’t best for me.

We also tend to conflate introversion with social anxiety. Whereas introversion is a personality trait, social anxiety is a mental health condition. At the same meeting, I heard a woman talk about how she suffers social anxiety and that this was not looked at as isolation by her sponsor. She told us that her sponsor made her attend Christmas parties and actually timed her attendance with a stop watch. I was horrified. No one should be forcing another person to do anything that they aren’t comfortable with in the name of recovery.

Introversion is not a “bad” thing that need to be corrected. While an argument could be made that social anxiety might be treated as a mental health issue, it is not something that we need to “fix” in others. Most of us in recovery are not medical or mental health professionals. Still, I sometimes feel that there is a sense in the recovery community that both are problematic “character defects.”

I believe this stems from the fact that connection between humans is so foundational to recovery. It is fundamentally true that we need connection in recovery, but connection comes in many forms. It doesn’t always look like a group of people doing something together. Sometimes it’s a one on one meeting over a cup of coffee. That’s the way this introvert prefers his connection.

Secondly, I find it disturbing when I hear people say that the only friends they have are in recovery. While I can certainly understand the rationale behind the old adage of giving up “people, places, and things,” one isn’t required to abandon their old lives when they enter recovery.

To be fair, there are some people who one may not associate with after getting sober — I have a few of those friends of convenience myself who I no longer see. I suppose that if all of my former friends fell into the category of being friends of convenience (just drinking buddies), then, perhaps, I’d feel differently about this. But I also know that my life would be forever changed if I’d abandoned all my friends who are still drinkers when I got sober.

I have some very good friends who are not in recovery. Friends that I’ve known for more than half of my life. They are just as capable of listening to me when I have a tough topic that I need to talk about as a friend in recovery. I think my life is richer for the fact that I am able to have good friends who are in recovery as well as good friends who still drink.

I enjoy hanging out with my long time friends from my college days and I’m comfortable with them drinking beers around me. I’m also conscious of the fact that there are limits and at a certain point, it’s time for me to check out and leave the party. It’s all about boundaries that I’ve set.

All of this is to say that it’s not only possible to have fun in recovery, but that having fun in recovery can and will look different for different people in recovery. How an extrovert chooses to have fun will necessarily look different from how an introvert has fun.

What are your thoughts on this? Do we conflate introversion and social anxiety with isolation in the rooms? Do you have friends in and out of recovery?