Recovery is hard, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
“If sobriety were easy, everybody who wanted to be sober would be. The reality is that making life changes is hard—and everything seems more complicated when addiction or alcoholism are in the mix.”
This is N.Y. Times best selling author and recovering alcoholic, Michael Graubert talking in an article, on the Hazelden Betty Ford web site.
“An Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or any other Twelve Step approach to recovery may seem overwhelming to those in early sobriety” Graubert says. The good news is that if we truly want to have meaningful lives, there are just three things we need to focus on. Trust God. Clean house. Help others.
“These three rules are not just Twelve Step slogans or AA jargon,” he says. “They are well-known to many in long-term recovery and can help us set things right. Designed to encourage self-reflection, honesty, and empathy, they have the potential to help anyone whose life feels out of control.
Graubert’s book, “Sober Dad. The Manual for perfectly imperfect parenting” is familiar to many of us who share his point of view, and it is available on Amazon for $10 or less (used).
Also, Graubart has a pre-Christmas column on the Hazelden Betty Ford treatment facility web site that addresses marriage and childrearing and the role of the dad in making it work.
Graubart is long time sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He has also been a member of Al Anon for decades and attends overeaters anonymous meetings.
The Christmas season is a time of high expectations and sometimes horrible results fueled by the abuse of alcohol and other drugs.
You aren’t going to get everything right, Graubert tells dads. Everything isn’t going to be perfect. Perfectly imperfect is okay. Your role as a dad will last a lifetime. You’ll soon see that perfection isn’t the point. Showing up, being present, getting up and trying again without your eyes wide open and crystal clear—that’s what counts.
1 – Have a plan.
“In a lot of family dynamics,” Graubert says, “one of the man’s jobs is to be the ‘Minister of Fun’. That means it’s part of our job to develop, in advance, a possible fun-plan for the family weekend, taking into account already scheduled activities and extracurriculars.
“Depending on the ages of your kids, there may be little league games, practices, rehearsals, or other school- or athletic-related activities. This might all feel like work, but as The Minister, be a dad (and be a partner) who helps bring out the joy—the real purpose—in these activities.
2 – Don’t argue just to argue.
“Here’s the scorecard,” Graubert says, “for measuring how you do in arguments with your wife—if you win, you lose. If you tie, you lose. If you lose, you lose. Any questions? Arguing is about trying to come out on top. That’s not a healthy approach for a relationship (or a family).
“Here I go with my old-school approach: I think men and women have different operating systems. I’m not saying anyone is better, I’m saying we’re different. I’m not going to go into the reasons and causes, that’s not part of the weekend checklist. But part of the checklist is making the most of the time you have with your family.
“To me,” says Graubart, “that means making the most of the time you have. Often that means choosing not to “go there.” Commit to learning a new language, and understand it will take time. It’s not something you are going to master this weekend.
“Until you are fluent in something else, don’t rely on the language of arguing. It’s not doing anything for you.”
3 – Never question her spending.
“Behind every argument about money are issues of power and control. Just let her be. How she sees money was hardwired into her long before you met her. You’re not going to change her patterns, any more than she will change yours.”
4- Don’t just sit there—clean something.
“Ever heard the expression, “A woman’s work is never done”? These words might feel outdated, but look around yourself, buddy. Truer words have never been spoken. Running a home presents an absolutely endless task list.
“Ever been on a Navy ship? You can only get in trouble if you stop doing something. There’s always something to paint or clean, or someone to salute. Take that attitude into your own home. Instead of just sitting there and idly checking your Instachat or Snapface, clean a dish. Pick stuff up and put it where it belongs. Small gestures like that are endearing because they signal your wife that you “get it”—that there’s a ton of stuff to be done, and she’s not the only person who has to do it.”
5 – It’s not your house—it’s her home, and she lets you live there.
“I don’t care if you’re the primary breadwinner. You no longer live in a full-sized Man Cave because of your wife. She is the one who makes the house a home. I’m not saying you don’t (or shouldn’t) contribute, but I am keeping it real (as the kids like to say).
“Remember that when kids are born, a woman’s nesting instinct takes over. This is a good thing. It’s her nest, even if you bring home the twigs, straw, and other stuff the nest is made from. This means that she wants things where she wants them, and not necessarily where you want them.
“I know it can be frustrating, because you want your stuff where you want it. My suggestion: go colonize the garage or a part of the basement. Put down some astroturf and put in a couple of La-Z-Boys. (You can probably find them used for $150 on Craigslist.) Hang your tools on the wall. Have a party. Do whatever you want to do at a corner of your house, and spend some time there on the weekend recharging. But don’t sequester yourself in your man-space.
“You might be saying, ‘That’s not logical.’ Hey, Mr. Spock. Get over yourself. Don’t let your marriage turn into a battle of facts versus feelings.”
6 – Ask for help when you walk in the door.
“I was told that if you bring your higher power with you, it’s now two against one. You’re going to need all the help you can when it comes to being a contributing member of your family. Life is stressful; families are stressful. There’s always a lot going on. When my kids were small, I would take a deep breath whenever I found myself at the doorstep to my house and ask my higher power to accompany me inside.”
7 – Have your quiet time every morning, especially on the weekends when you’re with your family.
“When I was new in sobriety, the old-timers emphasized over and over again the importance of having a quiet time first thing in the morning. This is your chance to have what they call ‘the most important meeting of your day’—the meeting you have with your higher power to go over your feelings, your fears, your concerns, and even your gratitude.
“I mentioned this to a guy I consider very spiritual who is actually not in the program. ‘I don’t get to meditate anymore,’ I told him. ‘I’m watching Goodnight, Moon with my daughter.’
8 – Treasure the moments.
You are on a journey. There will be bumps. There will also be moments of smooth sailing. Along the way, don’t miss out on the beauty, happiness, and charm of being part of a family. Of developing a partnership with your wife. Of being an engaged father. Of showing up to your life.”
9. AA and Al Anon both work
“My Higher Power (MHP) likes to keep me busy with challenges,” my favorite Al Anon writes. “I have learned through the program that it’s not so healthy to create my own chaos, because the challenges MHP provides are quite enough, thank you very much.
“I have heard over and over again, ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle’…blah, blah, blah. Are these people nuts? Have these people seen my credit card bill? Have they walked in my shoes and lived with my attention deficit problems? Have they met my spouse of thirty years, and have they met me? Do they know I get up sometimes three times a night to let my elderly dog out the door?
“Just before the holidays this year, we had a huge drama event at our house. It took me completely by surprise, and sent me into despair. I was calling AAs and Al-Anons all over the state so that I could get guidance and hear God through them.
“One advisor told me to continue being myself, another told me to get to Al-Anon and still another told me I was accepting unacceptable behavior. One Al-Anon even had the gall to tell me to ask myself what was my part in it.
“Wonderful support group I have. No, I’m serious they are! But finally, one morning, MHP actually spoke directly to me. The message was this—it doesn’t matter who you are, you can’t run away from yourself, and you can’t hide from your higher power, no matter how hard you may try by drinking, drugging, making stupid choices, looking for geographic cures, OR, Al-ANONS take note, allowing another human to replace your higher power no matter how temporarily, or obsessively, you indulge in this fallacy.
This “Aha!” moment sent compassion flooding through me, compassion coming directly from my higher power, and for the first time in my life I felt a glimmer of what unconditional love might be like. I was able to forgive myself and the party who had thrown me into such a snit. The program was working for me, and God was doing for me what I could not do for myself.
“We hear about unconditional love a lot. And, to this moment, as I write this, I’m not sure humans are capable of unconditional love, but I know God is. It was a mini miracle for me to feel the compassion that might instead have been well-justified anger, self-pity, or even poisonous self-destructive behavior.”