Updated: Mar 21, 2019
I didn’t really know what it was called at the time, I just knew I was miserable and I had arrived at a place where something had to give. I knew my toes were touching the threshold of a doorway where everything changed and I didn’t know what was on the other side, but I believed it had to be better than the place where I was standing. And it was scary.
I had grown up in this place in many ways. My dad was a drinker who never self-identified as an alcoholic. He was not an angry drunk most of the time, he just wasn’t available for us. He stopped drinking on his own in his later years before his death; we all wish we could have redeemed those earlier years. My father-in-law was an alcoholic, he did self-identify, even going to meetings on many occasions and getting coins for sobriety, but he never remained sober long term. The point is, I grew up with alcoholism as a way of life. I’m sure I had heard the term, but our gentler euphemism was “problem-drinker”.
Twenty-five years later I became aware that I was still living with the affects of alcoholism, and I was a full-blown co-dependent. Alcoholism has many faces, and they are not often living under the bridge, holding a brown paper bag of their favorite whiskey. They are every age, race, religion, gender and from all socio-economic situations. Addiction doesn't discriminate, and it can take many forms; alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, other people, food, shopping, gaming, self-harm, etc...
The dictionary includes enslavement as a synonym for addiction.
What does it look like when we realize we might be enslaved to something without even knowing it? Are we restless, irritable, and discontent. Sometimes we can put our finger right on the source of this misery. Other times the reasons are more elusive. With some work, we often discover that what we thought was the source of the angst was only a cover, a disguise hiding what the real issues are. It takes work to unearth some of the issues, but it helps just acknowledging that we are feeling this way.
Restless - unable to rest or relax as a result of anxiety or boredom. Offering no physical or emotional rest; involving constant activity or motion.
You know when there is that nagging thought in the back of your brain that just won’t go away, but you can’t pinpoint it clearly? It’s like a fog is keeping it just beyond our mental reach. It sucks our energy (and can even make us physically ill) because it demands our attention and yet it doesn’t clearly reveal itself. Sometimes we know what the source is, but many times we don’t unless and until we take time to process and get honest with ourselves. Sometimes being honest with ourselves is just too brutal to do it alone. The value of sharing our burdens with a trusted friend is often under estimated.
Irritable - having or showing a tendency to be easily annoyed or made angry. Abnormally sensitive.
In comes irritability - when the nagging feeling of restlessness makes a home in our thoughts and emotions, it follows that we get moody, snappy, unkind even with those we love most and who have nothing to do with the source of our poor state of mind and emotion. Ever find yourself wanting to run down the guy who cut you off at the last light or took that parking spot before you could get back around the lane to claim it? Things that shouldn't be a big deal become a mine field of raw emotions? Yeah, that’s not normal.
Discontent - lack of contentment; dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances.
The opposite of discontentment is contentment;
Contentment - a state of happiness and satisfaction.
Synonyms - fulfillment, peace, serenity, tranquility…
There are a lot of ways we allow discontentment to settle in - our material possessions or lack thereof, our relationships, jobs, reputation, validation, use of time, jealousy. The list is long. Anything that doesn’t happen according to our plans and desires has the potential to cause discontentment. Sometimes even when things go our way, we discover that we are still discontent. Maybe what we wanted wasn't the best thing for us. They say be careful what you pray for…
I have found the oft quoted saying that contentment isn’t having what you want, but rather wanting what you have is just so true. Most tools of recovery programs are simply changing our perspective. It’s learning to have a new attitude towards ourselves, our circumstances, and other people and their choices and behavior, and discovering that we can choose to be content. We can create and maintain healthy boundaries so we can love and accept others right where they are, and stop trying to control them or change them. This frees us to rediscover who we are, to begin accepting ourselves, loving ourselves, and to seek growth in areas of our lives that have been grossly neglected.
The opening statement read at the beginning of most al-anon meetings says this;
“ We, too, were lonely and frustrated but in Al-anon we discover that no situation is really hopeless and that it is possible for us to find contentment and even happiness, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not”
Program tools can work for everyone, we don’t need to be an addict or have an addict in our life to make these skills applicable. It's really about being intentional in how we live and learning ways to embrace the very best version of ourselves and maintaining our own peace of mind and heart. It’s a journey, one that takes time, intentionality and hard work. The results are often a life richer and deeper in meaning than most of us thought possible before encountering this transformation. It's been said, " God leads us to program, and program leads us back to God."
Awareness - just becoming aware that the sense of unrest is real and it can be addressed is a small step toward freedom from the things that are enslaving us. There is hope for a better life and we have the power to make it better; even if those around us are not willing or ready to acknowledge that there is even a problem - whatever it may be. We can feel better and live better even if those around us don’t change.
God, I surrender my life and my will to you. Please help me do what I cannot do for myself today. Thank you for your mercy and grace. Amen.