When does it stop being a party and start becoming a problem? Is there a way to steer clear of addiction? Every Wednesday, Mike McGowan, host of the podcast "Avoiding the Addiction Affliction," explores substance use disorders with expert guests. The podcast series is sponsored by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Original cover art created by
Kelly P. of Kenosha, Wisconsin
Beth, Nanci, and Sharon
Spirituality plays a large role for many individuals in recovery. Three women, Beth, Nanci, and Sharon, talk about the importance of spirituality in their lives, their recovery, and how they stay connected to that power greater than themselves. If you or a loved one has a substance use disorder, help is available. Locally, resources can be found at 211 Wisconsin: https://211wisconsin.communityos.org. You can also find AA meetings here: https://mtg.area75.org/meetings.html?dist=7 and NA meetings here: https://namilwaukee.org/meetings/
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Music]
[00:00:11] Mike: Welcome everyone to Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, a series brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan. You know, one of the topics we've heard mentioned again and again on these podcasts when we're talking to recovering folks, is spirituality. We wanted to make that the central topic for today's conversation.
[00:00:31] Beth, Sharon, and Nanci are all recovering folks and have been kind of to have a round table discussion with us on the role spirituality has played in their recovery. Welcome ladies.
[00:00:44] Guests: Good to be here.
[00:00:44] Mike: Well, I'm not going to, we're not going to call each other by names. So this is just like jump in. So any one of you can start this, but, um, you know, I talk a lot about this when, when people are talking about spirituality, we're not talking about religion, right?
[00:00:57] Guests: Right.
[00:00:58] Mike: Well, how's it different?
[00:01:02] Guests: Religion is typically, um, something that is manmade. Um, in other words, there is, there are lines around a box and you have to stay in that box when you're, when you're part of a religion. Spirituality is something that, um, is personal and is unique to each individual. Um, I would say the three of us each have a different spirituality, if you will. Um, we each have our own, um, they probably don't look alike. Um, and each of us has happy with what we have.
[00:01:55] Mike: Can you, can you be spiritual without being religious?
[00:01:58] Guests: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I think that it was one of the things that drew me into a 12 step program was the idea that I didn't have to follow a particular religion or faith.
[00:02:14] And that the concept of spirituality was so much broader. Um ya.
[00:02:20] Mike: I like what you said about boundaries, you have to follow. I remember the first time a friend, when I was a teenager, took me to a Catholic church. I thought I was getting a workout in a number of times I was up down on my knees, which is totally different than the church I went to.
[00:02:33] Right. You're all different religions. Right?
[00:02:37] Guests: I was brought up Southern Baptist. Um, which is probably unheard of in this area. Well, I grew up in the south in North Carolina, so, um, but yeah, for, you know, for religion on my part, um, you know, you have this thought of this man in a big chair, white, you know, white hair and a beard, and he's basically there to determine, you know, your fate after if for the afterlife..
[00:03:07] And so you follow these rituals to make sure that you have a good afterlife, um, And so I, you know, I can add that in recovery, they suggest that, uh, that you do find a higher power. And so in the beginning I thought, you know, step three, um, was going to be really easy for me because I was brought up in a church.
[00:03:31] I considered myself a Christian and I did have a connection to a God, but it was the God of my childhood. And I was finding it really difficult to make that connection again. And so, um, when I was struggling with that, I, I started referring or trying to think back about my, uh, one of my grandmothers who was like a really like, as good as you can get type good person.
[00:03:57] And so my trying to find guidance was thinking, well, what would my grandmother say? Or what advice, what advice would she give me? Or how would she have handled this? And so then by using that, I could broaden it out to where. that I did come to believe in a higher power that was greater than me.
[00:04:19] And, but that, I was also a part of that greater thing as well.
[00:04:23] Mike: So when you think of higher power, do you see your grandma?
[00:04:27] Guests: Sometimes I can.
[00:04:28] Mike: Well, that's kinda awesome.
[00:04:29] Guests: Yeah. But then there's also, um, I, I see a higher power in everything and that's where mindfulness comes into play as well. I like to take a lot of photographs, especially of flowers and things like that.
[00:04:42] And so, you know, you see the beauty of creation. And if I were to say, you know, show this picture of this flower and say, here's a picture of my higher power.
[00:04:54] He's not just sitting up in a chair somewhere and I don't have to make an appointment to have a conversation with him. You know, the higher powers is there all the time and you know, in everything.
[00:05:07] Mike: Yeah. You know, and obviously we're talking about the steps, right. In AA, and working a recovery program. And since you're all in AA, are there people who come into AA, but they don't believe. They're non-religious they don't. So over the years I've worked with a lot of young people in particular who have trouble with the whole God, as I understood him in higher power.
[00:05:33] How do you, how do you address that with a newcomer?
[00:05:38] Guests: They, they can make the group, their higher power. It just has to be something that isn't, that's a power greater than yourself. And, you know, That just takes a little wind out of your sail, a little bit of your ego to go away. Um, but that's what it was for me when I first came in.
[00:06:02] It was the group.
[00:06:03] Mike: The group was a higher power?
[00:06:04] Guests: Yeah. Because I could see that the group could stay sober and I couldn't. So. They obviously knew something I didn't know.
[00:06:13] Yeah. I, um, recently had a conversation with a young person who was really struggling with the whole God thing. And I talked about how the concept of a power greater than ourselves can be as simple as you know, we look around at nature, we can see it happening, but I don't know anybody who can create a tree, who can create um, clouds. I mean, we've learned some things we can do with technology, but that's the idea that there's something that's making all this happen. The Earth's rotation, um, the stars, the universe, all of that is something that's beyond us. So get away from the God label and just think about there's stuff that is far beyond any of our control and that we don't understand.
[00:06:58] Mike: Well, is part of it then sort of tied to.
[00:07:02] You know, you gave your life over to drugs and alcohol. So you know, that wasn't exactly a higher power, but it sure took over your life right? And so maybe by turning something over to something else, you can sweep away the drugs and alcohol.
[00:07:19] Guests: Yeah. You're just switching it up, but
[00:07:23] Mike: I'd rather have your grandmother than a good vodka, right? [laugh]
[00:07:30] Guests: You're asking the wrong person. [laugh]
[00:07:36] Um, well, and I think part of my issue and a lot of, uh, people to other people is that when, when you're struggling, it's because you're, you're living in self. You think you're in charge, you know, that you're directing everything, um, that you can get yourself sober. And you come to realize you can't, you know, and no other human person can help you either.
[00:08:04] You know, they could do everything they can in their power to try to get you sober, but it's not going to work. So if you can't do it because you know, you keep trying and you keep ending up in the same place, you know, that Einstein's theory of insanity. And then you kind of realize that there's something out there you've got to surrender to, which doesn't mean give up.
[00:08:27] You're just saying I can't do this way anymore. I need a new way. And that's when you give into a higher power.
[00:08:35] Mike: How have you ever been in a meeting and totaled up a number of times, people in the meeting that they've all tried to quit?
[00:08:42] Guests: No, I never done it, but we had, we probably touched on it in today's meeting, you know just reflecting back on the number of times that we tried or somebody was talking to me about being in a dry drunk, you know, that we're not consuming alcohol, but we're sure not looking at changing our behaviors.
[00:09:02] Mike: Well, because we're thinking about young people again, how many parents hear from there I'll do this. I can do this by myself. And what you're all saying is until you surrender that you're not really going to be that successful and parents want to believe that, right?
[00:09:16] Guests: Right. And actually the idea of turning it over and surrendering is like you said, it's not about giving up, but it's the idea that.
[00:09:27] Um, we're going to need to allow some things to happen without us trying to be in charge all the time. It's when we try to control everything. Um, I can think of examples where I was really digging my heels in thinking I've got this, I know exactly how this should play out. And when, and I started to not like myself, because the way I was behaving and when I let go and said, okay, let's just see how this plays out.
[00:09:52] No, it worked out.
[00:09:54] Mike: You know, that's, I'm grinning because I'm thinking about my mom who people now know was recovering and she was, uh, more than a bit of a control freak, you know, in the rest of the parts of her life. So to turn it over, it had to be very difficult if you're used to controlling so much.
[00:10:11] You know, one of the other things I want to talk to you all about is I think separately, I know you have together gone to silent retreats without being silent. Cause this is a podcast. [laugh]
[00:10:27] For those who've never done it. Can you just tell us what that's like?
[00:10:32] Guests: Oh, that's awesome.
[00:10:34] Um, we were just talking about how terrified we were and I didn't go until Beth went. She was a Guinea pig. Um, but there is something about turning off. You know, we don't realize how little quiet we actually have. We get in the car or the radios on, or, you know, we're, um, in the TVs out in the background or we're talking to people or the phone rings and to get into complete silence where you actually can let your thoughts flow.
[00:11:05] Instead of being chunked out is really powerful and it's very relaxing to not be distracted to. Well, things flow all the way through.
[00:11:16] Mike: How long is it?
[00:11:18] Guests: Three days.
[00:11:19] Mike: Three days?
[00:11:19] Guests: You go on a Thursday night and you leave Sunday afternoon. So it's a little more than three days, a little less than four, but you've done one. But I've done a five day one.
[00:11:32] Mike: And you don't speak at all?
[00:11:35] Guests: Well in the evenings after dinner, they have 30 minutes of recreational time.
[00:11:42] If you want to. [laugh] Ya, if you want to. And that's your opportunity, the recreation is talking.
[00:11:47] Mike: Does everybody talk at once?
[00:11:49] Guests: Yeah. And actually you can build resentments, because somebody will talk and talk and talk and you don't get your opportunity to talk. [laugh]
[00:11:58] Well, I've found that in the last couple of years that I've avoided those because we really didn't want to break the silence so you can opt out.
[00:12:06] Mike: So you haven't avoided the retreats?
[00:12:10] Guests: No, no, no. Just the recreation part. In fact we've been known to find our own little escape. [laugh] Shhhh.
[00:12:17] Mike: Rule breakers.
[00:12:19] Guests: Yes, absolutely.
[00:12:21] Mike: Well, this is that's got to be okay. Let me send you were the guinea pig Beth.
[00:12:26] Guests: I was the guinea pig.
[00:12:28] Mike: How long into recovery before you did a silent retreat?
[00:12:31] Guests: Um, it had to have been at least 10 years.
[00:12:36] Mike: OK. Were you ready?
[00:12:39] Guests: I was ready.
[00:12:39] Mike: OK because I'm thinking that being alone with your thoughts in recovery is not always, that's gotta be scary.
[00:12:48] Guests: It was, it was very scary at first and it, and it took me, um, and it's still can take me the first full day for my head to quit talking to me.
[00:13:02] Mike: Huh.
[00:13:03] Guests: Um, and then I go into pure silence where I'm not thinking about work. I'm not thinking about home. I'm not thinking about family. Uh, I'm just kind of streamlining what my higher power is trying to tell me, or, or I'm totally silent and listening a minute more of a listening mode.
[00:13:27] Mike: Sharon, you talk about mindfulness before. Is it similar to that?
[00:13:31] Guests: Oh, in my opinion, spirituality and mindfulness go hand in hand.
[00:13:35] Mike: And so being silent just puts you right there.
[00:13:38] Guests: Yeah, it does because you're in the moment. And, um, funny thing is when. And you, and you get messages even, but you know, when you're mindful and I mean, the message can be come through music or conversation you have. Not at retreat obviously, but, um, and then sometimes the message is no message. Um, the first time I went to the retreat, I had an agenda of what I was going to think about. [laugh]
[00:14:08] Mike: Well, that's the control right there, isn't it?
[00:14:12] Guests: I was only eight months sober at the time. But I had two situations going on in my life that were just going over and over and over my head and I was trying to fix it. You know, how could I do this? I'm going to do that. And so going to retreat, I'm like, ah, I've got the opportunity to finally just sit and think about this. And I find myself not thinking about it and I have to remind myself, okay, let's work on this.
[00:14:38] Let's think about this. And it wouldn't come. And so finally it dawned on me that the message was no message that I was done. There was nothing more to do with these situations.
[00:14:51] Mike: So you did, so the agenda was just don't have the agenda.
[00:14:58] Guests: Right. Let it go. Yeah. And I let it go. And, I've lived without it since then.
[00:15:04] Mike: Well, part of the reason I'm asking this is, okay, you're talking about isolation in your own head, right. And, and over the last two years of the pandemic, People have not handled that particularly well. And that's not being silent. That's just being isolated from one another. Um, since you're all women, female drinking went up 40% or 40%.
[00:15:26] I should let me correct that, 40% of American women increased their excessive drinking over the last few years. 410 women. So that's how well we handle being alone with our thoughts, I think. Right?
[00:15:38] Guests: A huh.
[00:15:39] Mike: So what, what, what happens when you're alone with your thoughts? I mean, what, what comes out of that?
[00:15:45] Guests: I think it's an opportunity to sort through things like, I remember going to one retreat and really wanting to work through some very painful things from my past that I just had been shoving aside, like it's long ago, don't want to deal with that.
[00:16:01] For me. Um, I'm not a big journaler, but I journal and I wrote out, um, my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, I cried a lot. I was just remember being really emotionally exhausted, but it was a good, exhausted where I was working through it to let it go. And by the end of the retreat, I was ready to say, you know, I can really close the chapter on this.
[00:16:26] It'll always be a part of my past. I'm not going to have it keep poking its elbow out and messing with my head.
[00:16:36] Mike: Have you all gone to one during, in the last two years?
[00:16:39] Guests: Uh huh, ya, we just went last November.
[00:16:42] Mike: I've been really focused on overall people's negativity during the last couple of years, there's a lot of negativity out in the ether somewhere, right. Or I've noticed that it's not that you had that, but did you find that it helped you get more into more positive frame of mind?
[00:16:58] Guests: I see the retreat as a opportunity to recharge and to make me, um, more positive.
[00:17:08] Mike: And you don't get bored?
[00:17:09] Guests: No, no. There's so many things that you can do. Like there's a labyrinth that you can walk it's, you know, in the carpeting, um, and some information on how to do that, but, you know, it's a way for you to just sort of quiet the stuff. There's an art room, so you can. Cuts around. I'm not artistic, but I've done a few things.
[00:17:30] Um, the grounds are beautiful. It's right on a lake.
[00:17:32] There's trails to walk on
[00:17:35] Water nature. Um, those are very soothing and some people go and they sleep a lot. It's a chance to get caught up on sleep or to just sit, um, curled up by a fireplace and just watch the flames. You know, we don't allow ourselves to do that.
[00:17:53] If I'm at home. No, I got about eight things that I'm thinking I should get done.
[00:17:59] One of my favorite places to go is the St. Mary's Chapel, the [inaudible] on the basement. It's really beautiful, a very small quiet, and, you know, they keep the lights down low. Um, people come in and like candles, but it's just really, I find it a very comfortable, comforting place to just sit there.
[00:18:21] And not many people know about that one. Cause I go there too. [laugh]
[00:18:25] Ya, and I've never seen me [inaudible]
[00:18:29] Mike: Do you slip? Like, "Hi."
[00:18:36] Guests: No.
[00:18:37] [inaudible] Yeah. It, the quiet is so prevalent that you'd almost, I think you would feel really uncomfortable, you know? We'll nod to somebody. Um, when we went last time we had masks on, so we couldn't really smile, but you could still, and there's something very powerful. Just that warm eye connection. Yeah. We're all here. We're all women in recovery and we're here to support each other, even just in our presence.
[00:19:07] There's puzzles you can do. And I remember doing one and another person came up and were just silently working on the puzzle and there was a connection and yet, being in my own space.
[00:19:18] My first experience that reminded me of like not saying hello or whatever, you're walking around and you see somebody and you nod or whatever.
[00:19:27] But what I did notice is that when I would see Beth or Nancy is like, my heart just wanted to bust, you know? And it was just that, um, love through emotion and not verbal.
[00:19:43] Mike: But, but if you're quiet and in touch with your thoughts, not all thoughts are positive. Okay. So then how do you, what, what do you do with the things you have to, or feel like you have to work on, the regrets, the anxieties that you're experiencing,
[00:20:04] Guests: They offer spiritual guidance. To talk things out.
[00:20:09] Yeah. They're like 15 minute sessions. You can sign up with the spiritual director and I have, um, they're all either, um, nuns or priests and you know, I'm not Catholic, but I'm feeling very welcome to do that. So I have one person that I was the person I signed up with every retreat. And so I will often go and say, you know, this is something that's really been heavy on my heart.
[00:20:34] Um, [inaudible]..
[00:20:35] Mike: Well, I talk a lot, especially when I'm talking to kids about anger, never comes along and to identify those feelings deep down, that you're experiencing, and then to look for solutions around those, helps you be a happier person and we have so much noise. That people don't go anywhere near the depth.
[00:20:55] They get real shallow. It's like, well, I don't just feel angry. I feel frustrated too.
[00:20:58] Guests: [laugh]
[00:20:59] Mike: And, and, you know, we never get to the disrespected or abandoned or not worthy parts of it. Um, and I would think that it would help you get in touch with that stuff and then find your way out of that.
[00:21:14] Guests: Yeah. I, I definitely agree. I can think of one time. I, um, Went to see one of the spiritual directors that I go to see, um, every time I'm there. Um, and she and I have been carrying a load for a very, very long time. Um, and she worked with me on that and, um, gave me an exercise to do and I promptly left and went and did it, and it involved some walking, um, and then some sitting by the lake and thinking about what had happened, um, in my life and, um, some praying.
[00:22:03] Um, and that was okay with me because I, I do also believe in prayer, um, as a form of healing and I was able to release. All that pain and anger and, um, for lack of a better word to say it ickyness inside me. Um, and every time I go back to the retreat house, I go and do that same ritual, um, and it has become a ritual.
[00:22:38] Um, and I think it's a way that I can keep myself, my insides clean. Uh, so I do think they are trained spiritual directors. They know what they're doing and they, you know, they can give you an exercise to work out what you're dealing with.
[00:22:59] Mike: Well, then bring that together. And how does that, how does your spirituality, and just being alone with your thoughts, how does that help you with like forgiveness and especially like self forgiveness since that's a huge part of recovery?
[00:23:14] Guests: I think that was the word compassion, self-compassion, as well as compassion for others. So getting away from the blame and the, um, the shame, um, being alone really pushes me to grow and being comfortable with myself. And I think that's the shame piece that, you know, we have things in our past that we aren't proud of and that we can get into that loop of beating ourselves up.
[00:23:42] So if I become comfortable with being alone, it's like, well, I get to like myself, I get to forgive myself. I get to forgive other people, which, you know, the program teaches us that forgiveness is just about. You know, letting go of drop the rock, there's a book about that, but you know, how long do I want to carry around this rock of resentment that's just dragging me down. So I don't know how to do that if I'm not quiet, it just, I think it would, it's a lot harder.
[00:24:10] I was going to say what the forgiveness and the spirituality is like. I needed to learn to love myself and forgive myself as well. And it's important because, um, you can't allow your past to continue to control you kind of like touching a hot stove, you know? It burns.
[00:24:30] But you don't want to forget about it because you don't want to touch that hot stove again, you do want to try to have some memories, so you don't continue to repeat those same mistakes, but then the, the spirituality of itself, it gives me a sense of either being better than, or less than, you know, it's walking that middle road of some sort of humility and.
[00:24:55] Keeping myself right-sized, I'm not letting my ego take over again, which would take me right back to the same place. I would either think I'm greater than, or less than in which people don't realize that self pity is a form of ego. Just as much as feeling like you're better than everybody else.
[00:25:16] Mike: So there's a huge sense of humility in it all.
[00:25:20] Guests: Uh huh.
[00:25:20] Mike: So let's, we may let you do your poem that you have.
[00:25:25] Guests: [laugh]
[00:25:25] Mike: But let's, let's let's first come up with a bumper sticker because AA, the program talk a lot about, you know, I do see them all the time. I'm a friend of Bill W and, you know, KISS and all that. So the one I see a lot is "Let go and let God", but, you know, so it's connected to the spirituality part.
[00:25:43] If you come up with a, like, you have your own bumper sticker, you know, like what would your bumper sticker be? I know it's putting you on the spot, but.
[00:25:52] Guests: No, I have one.
[00:25:53] Mike: Do you really? That's awesome.
[00:25:57] Guests: No, I don't have it. I thought of it.
[00:26:00] It's on your car. [inaudible] Yeah. Um, my heart, um, "Bless them. Change me."
[00:26:06] Mike: Oh I like that. Wow. That applies to a whole lot of stuff.
[00:26:13] Guests: Uh huh, It works too. It works as a little prayer when you're, um, Really frustrated.
[00:26:21] Mike: I was just going to say, that's connected to anger big time.
[00:26:26] Guests: Uh huh.
[00:26:26] Mike: Do you have one?
[00:26:27] Guests: Yeah. Mine's radical acceptance, which is just the idea that if there's something that's really not within my control, can I accept it? Don't have to like it, but I'm going to stop putting energy into trying to fight it because I'm just basically setting fire to a $20 bill. I'm just burning my energy and it's going nowhere.
[00:26:47] Mike: I think it'd be, do make a bumper sticker. It says radical acceptance. You should misspell it. [laugh]
[00:26:55] See how many people get it. Do you have one. [laugh]
[00:27:01] Guests: I guess mine would be, uh, for like a, like, God would be like, "Keep the faith". And I just want to point it, you know, when you say like, God, it doesn't mean that you're just going to kick back and relax and let God take every, you know, take it over, do everything for you. It just means to, you know, have faith that everything's going to work out, but you've got to do your part, you know, there's still an action to it.
[00:27:26] You just look for the guidance of which way to go. The right way.
[00:27:31] Mike: Why don't you take us out of here with, uh, your, your poem that you said capsulizes all of this.
[00:27:38] Guests: Yeah, I, in my opinion, it does, but, um, there's someone that I like what he writes, um, by the name of John Roedel he does this one thing on, uh, one book that he's done.
[00:27:51] It's "Hey God. Hey John". And he shares this conversations between himself and between his higher power. Um, but for this particular podcast...
[00:28:03] My brain and my heart divorced a decade ago over who was to blame about how big of a mess I had become. Eventually they couldn't be in the same room with each other.
[00:28:14] Now my head and heart share custody of me. I stay with my brain during the week and my heart gets me on the weekends. They never speak to one another. Instead, they give me the same note to pass to each other every week and their notes they send to one another always says the same thing. This is all your fault.
[00:28:36] On Sundays, my heart complains about how my head has let me down in the past. And on Wednesday, my head lists all of the times, my heart has screwed things up for me in the future. They blame each other for the state of my life. There's been a lot of yelling, incurring, so. Lately. I've been spending a lot of time with my gut who serves as my unofficial therapist.
[00:29:00] Most nights I sneak out of the window of my rib cage and I was psyched down my spine and collapse on my guts, plush leather chair that's always open for me. And I just sit, sit until the sun comes up. Last evening my gut asked me if I was having a hard time being caught between my heart and my head.
[00:29:20] I nodded, I said, I didn't know if I could live with either of them anymore. My heart is always sad about something that happened yesterday. While, my head is always worried about something that may happen tomorrow. I lamented my guts, squeeze my hand. I just can't live with my mistakes in the past, but my anxiety about the future, I sighed, my guts smiled and said.
[00:29:43] In that case, you should go stay with your lungs for awhile. I was confused. The look on my face, give it away. If you're exhausted about your heart's obsession with the fixed pass and your mind is focused on the uncertain future, your lungs are the perfect place for you. There is no yesterday in your lungs.
[00:30:05] There's no tomorrow there either. There's only now there's only inhale. There is only exhale. There is only this moment. There is only breath. And in that breath, you can rest while your heart and head work the relationship out. This morning while my brain was busy reading tea leaves in while my heart was staring at old photographs, I packed a little bag and walked to the door of my lungs. Before I could even knock. She opened the door with a smile, and as a gust of air embraced me, she said, What took you so long?
[00:30:42] Mike: Oh, that's great. That's terrific. That's a great way to take us out of here. Ladies, thank you so much for doing this today.
[00:30:50] Guests: Thank you for inviting us.
[00:30:52] Mike: It's great. We can do this again. I thought of about nine other topics.
[00:30:55] While we were talking about this. [laugh] For those, for those of you listening, you know, the drill, uh, we appreciate you listening. We invite you to listen in next time and until then, please stay safe and maybe be quiet with your thoughts and let your lungs take over.
[00:30:56][END OF AUDIO]
The Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition’s mission is to support networking, encourage education, explore gaps, and realize solutions to improve treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse in our community with a primary focus on families.