Recovery is More Than a Bumper Sticker
We’ve all seen the slogans, signs, and bumper stickers. “One Day at a Time,” “K.I.S.S.,” “I’m a Friend of Bill W.,” and dozens more. What do they mean to folks in recovery? Kathy Reiley, a retired attorney and a person with an alcohol use disorder, talks about the meaning of the recovery slogans so frequently seen. One of the keys to recovery is finding a community of like-minded people to connect with. As an attorney, Kathy wants the legal community to know confidential recovery resources are available through the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Helpline that can be reached at (800) 543-2625. You can also find a directory of AA meetings here: https://www.aa.org/find-aa and NA meetings here: https://www.na.org/meetingsearch/
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome, everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by Westwords Consulting and the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan.
Mike: You know, we've all heard the slogans, we've read the bumper stickers, you've seen them, "One day at a time", "Let go, let God", and so on. But what do they mean? And how are they used in the recovering community?
Mike: Our guest today is Kathy Reiley, a retired attorney, a person with alcohol use disorder, and someone in long term recovery. We talked to Kathy a couple of years ago and thought this would be a fun conversation to have her back for.
Mike: Welcome, Kathy.
Kathy: Hi, thank you for inviting me again, Mike.
Mike: Well, thanks for doing this. I immediately thought of you when I came up with this topic. You know, do you remember, now I know what you, how long has it been, Kathy? You've been in recovery?
Kathy: 32 years now.
Mike: Okay, that's, that's about as longer term as you can get, right? (laugh) Do you remember back when you first started and hearing and seeing all the slogans and what you thought of them?
Kathy: Not only do I remember them, I remember my reaction. I thought they were stupid. I thought they were banal. I thought they were schmaltzy. I hated them. That would be the reaction.
Mike: Well, that's why I wanted to do this. I do not think, I think that's everybody's reaction, don't you think?
Kathy: I don't know. I mean, everybody's really different, right?
Kathy: I have to tell you the picture I had. Everybody's in a lifeboat when they come into AA. It's not like you sign up and go, "Hey, I think I'll be an alcoholic and join AA." But I got to tell the people listening, that the lifeboat, the one I'm on now is a luxury yacht. And I get to go to cool ports and I am surrounded by good stuff.
Kathy: So the early stuff is hard and difficult. And if you stick around long enough, the good stuff happens.
Mike: Well, that's a really good analogy, and I think that part of the reason the slogans exist is to keep the early part relatively simple and memorable so that you can, you know, it's, if you're in the lifeboat, it's important to know where the oars are.
Kathy: Well, yeah, I really, I mean, and you know that I, my, my opinion about the, the the slogans has changed. I mean, they're pithy now and they have meaning and there are shortcuts to remember. There's one I only got, I figured out though, in about 25 years. And that's the "The further away you are from your last drink, the closer you are to your next drink."
Kathy: "The further away you are from your last drink, the closer you are to your next drink." And I did not get that for the longest time. And it's like, oh yeah, now that I've been sober about 32 years, right? In a little few months, I get it now. It's real easy to get complacent.
Mike: And, and part of the slogans is don't get complacent, right?
Kathy: It is. So, you know, a bunch of slogans to talk about and I just rapid fire some slogans out there and then we can pick up.
Mike: All right.
Mike: That sounds good. You know, when I was much younger, much younger, and I'd be driving down the road, I'd see these bumper stickers. And I remember the 1 time I saw, I saw it several times.
Mike: And then you catch up to the car. And I looked at the people in the car. I thought they're really old. I mean, this was back in the day, and I said, aren't they a little too old to be fans of the rock group Kiss?
Kathy: Right. Keep it simple. And some of the old guys I used to know would say, "Keep It Simple, Stupid."
Kathy: And then other people who are usually women would say, "Keep It Simple Sweetie". But keep it simple.
Mike: And why? Why is that?
Kathy: Well, now, they told me when I went to outpatient treatment that I wasn't going to get sober because I was too smart. They charted it because I went and got a copy of it, right? And it's like, if you overthink and you're good with the T I O N words, right?
Kathy: Rationalization, justification, all those things, if you keep thinking about that, you're going to talk yourself into why it's okay to drink and why it's okay not to do whatever you have to do to not drink. Yeah.
Mike: You know, I used to have counselors who would come to me when I was running the hospital and they would say to me "So and so doesn't want to go to a meeting" or "It'll be hard for them to get to a meeting after treatment."
Mike: So what can we tell them to do since they don't want to go to the meetings? And I'd look at the counselors and say, so what you really are asking me is, what can we give them that they think might work besides what we already know that works because they don't want to do the simple things.
Kathy: Right. It's, it's simple.
Kathy: It's not easy.
Mike: Oh, great. Perfect. Well, I, all right, I got to tell you, as long as I'm looking dumb here and naive, I thought the same thing when I passed bumper stickers and I, I must have seen dozens of these before I asked somebody this. I used to see the bumper sticker. "I'm a friend of Bill W."
Kathy: Well, that's not secret anymore, is it?
Kathy: Bill, Bill Wilson was one of the original members of AA, and he helped write the book, and he yeah, his experience as a white, middle aged, Christian male from the 1930s, turns a lot of readers off, you just have to look for the gold in the nuggets, you know, but that's Bill W.
Mike: I remember saying this guy's really popular.
Mike: How have I never heard who he is? But yeah.
Kathy: So they'll say friends of Bill W meetings. Oftentimes there will be enough people to have meetings on cruise ships, you know, which are filled with alcohol.
Mike: Funny you should say that. When I was in Seattle visiting my brother a long time ago, the Worldwide AA Convention was out there and I didn't know it.
Kathy: They're a blast.
Mike: Yeah, we took a ferry across to Whidbey Island and a meeting broke out, several of them, right on the ferry because there were so many recovering people.
Kathy: Seriously, we just break out everywhere. We're everywhere.
Mike: Well, let's talk about one that's, I think, really important. " One day at a time."
Kathy: That one's important. That one is collapsible. Okay? So that one day at a time is too much and you cannot make it sober for a day at a time, you can break that sucker down into half a day at a time, into an hour at a time, into 15 minutes at a time. And if you're really struggling that much, it's time to get to a meeting. Right.
Kathy: And it's time to call somebody. It's time to do something to get the help that you need to make it one day at a time, because if you can make it to bedtime, go to bed, get up the next morning, you're not going to be hungover. You're not going to not know what you did the night before. So that's critical.
Kathy: And when you go in, it's tempting to say, "Oh my God, I can't not drink for the rest of my life!"
Kathy: Do not do that to yourself. One day at a time.
Mike: Well, and, and I've spent my life working with young people. When you're 17, 18 years old, to say the rest of your life, that's, that makes it daunting to say the least.
Kathy: It is daunting. So, you know, one day at a time is collapsible. It's usable. It's available. And everybody needs it.
Mike: Well, has your one day at a time changed over the years, like how you make it from one day to the next, like the tool, the tools that you used?
Kathy: You know, the one day at a time still applies on other things.
Kathy: You know, right now I'm not eating sugar. Okay. And I use that. It's like, so my tools are different at this amount, but I mean, one day at a time matters. You know, the halt is another one and, and where I came from, they added an S okay as a slogan "Halt hungry, angry, lonely, tired, safe."
Kathy: All right. That's one that matters all, all of the time because it can keep you off your serene center. Okay, if any of those happen if you're hungry, angry, lonely, tired, not safe. The urge to go do something chemical about it to not feel that is there. I think, you know, I think it's not called alcoholism anymore, whatever.
Kathy: Alcoholism is a disease of feelings I think. You know, alcoholics, drug addicts have nerve endings that are about a quarter inch out of the skin. We're really sensitive.
Kathy: We pick it up and we want to do something not to do that to feel it. So.
Mike: Well, and I think that it changed, you know, if you just take the last one you said. Well, if you are hungry or angry, then you need tools to deal with your anger, right?
Mike: Lonely, tired.
Kathy: And there's lots of tools and they're not only within AA. Okay. Exercise, walk, take a bath, take a nap, run the dog, play with the cat pick up weaving, do yarn, do something physical to get your, your mind out of its neighborhood where you're alone. Go to a meeting. 90 meetings in 90 days, right?
Kathy: That's a slogan. "Go to 90 meetings in 90 days". Go every day to a meeting. Get your patterns, get your habits stacked so that you're safer against alcohol, then you are more susceptible to it. Okay.
Mike: Well, why is that routine so important?
Kathy: Well, because when you do come up against something that's really difficult, where you're, where you're presented with an opportunity to drink, where you're presented with at the intersection of opportunity and desire, if the alcohol is there, you're more at risk of picking it up. Okay.
Kathy: And so if you build in you know, some insurance, some spatial insurance and some emotional insurance. You're going to be safer not to pick up when, when that sounds good to you because it might sound good to you for a while because your brain's recovering.
Mike: I love the people that say, "Oh, I can't get to a meeting every day" who are using every day.
Kathy: I know.
Kathy: And now because of COVID, right, we also have Zoom meetings everywhere all over the world, including in English, you know, you're up at night, hop on New Zealand, okay?
Mike: I've had people tell me that they've had a blast doing that. Listening to different accents, feeling a sense of community that people across the world are celebrating in the same way they are.
Mike: That's kind of, that's a cool outcome of something that was pretty nasty.
Kathy: It is cool.
Mike: I want to talk about one that I think people struggle with or maybe that's a bad way to put it. People will use as a reason for, you know, throw it up as a rationalization. And that's "Let go, Let God". So many people will throw up, "Well, I'm not religious" or "I don't like this religious part of this program". But it's more than just religion.
Kathy: It is. It's not relying on your own ego and not relying on your own self sufficiency, which is, you know, many of us, I certainly, if I could have read a book and not been and gotten sober, I would have done that. One time in a meeting, some woman called me and says, "You know, you say let go, but you never add the Let God".
Kathy: And it's like, yeah, you know what? I'll let go and I'll keep that sucker close enough so I can grab it back and take charge again because, you know, just step aside, God, I'm in charge. I got it. And, you know, whatever it is that is not you, it universe or energy or you're aligned higher self is what you need to let that go to.
Kathy: It's not your calendaring, mega controlling self.
Mike: Yeah. It doesn't matter what it is, right?
Kathy: It doesn't matter what it is. Just so you know, it's not your rational ego brain. It is something higher than that. And if you're completely, do you not believe in God? Fine. It's your higher brain. It is something though.
Kathy: There's there is mystery. If you don't like the word God, use mystery, because, you know, really, let's face it, we don't, nobody knows what God is, really. Really.
Mike: I'm not bright enough to know.
Kathy: Right, so I mean it's, anything that works for you is good, and if you don't like the word God, do something, some people use "Good orderly direction", okay, for God, that's another slogan, "Good orderly direction", that never, I mean God for me is a, is a shortcut to mystery, that which is energetic balancing.
Kathy: It's the juice of life. It's something. It's not me.
Mike: Yeah, and I think the letting go part is really important. It's like, I can't do it. I can't do it alone.
Kathy: Again, physically, if you need the boost to get to the place emotionally, you can do sit there and let your belly muscles just completely relax. I mean where the flab hangs over the belt, belly relaxing, okay?
Kathy: That is, in fact, a physical letting go. If you start breathing into that flabby belly then, when you start breathing, it sends your body the signal that you're okay. That is letting go. When you're, when you tell your brain through breath that you're okay, that's, this is science, okay? This is not, I'm not making this shit up.
Kathy: Physically, you can tell yourself to let go and it will help you. Sitting there and opening your hands and saying to yourself, I'm letting go and actually opening your hands can give you the visual to your brain of helping them. You know, doing the yoga position the child and just putting your forehead on the floor, and just saying "I give up".
Kathy: That's letting go. And it is such a remarkably freeing experience to have once you've had it once and then you wonder why you don't do it more often. So in, here's another one for you. "You can get off the dump truck before it gets to the dump". Okay. So you can hang onto something. When you know how to surrender. Okay. And you simply will not. You get to go to the dump. You do. Okay. But if you don't, you can, we know how to get off with surrender and it's not giving up. It is not, it's not losing efficacy. Okay. It's not, it's, it's getting your power back.
Mike: Getting your power back. That's an interesting one in a program that talks about powerlessness, but your powerless over the addiction.
Mike: There's so much you're powerful with.
Kathy: Oh, much more. Not only that, I always wondered what I was going to do when I got sober, you know. I mean, I couldn't believe how many more things I did when I got sober. I didn't realize how much time I had sober, right?
Mike: And how much more fun the things were that you were doing.
Kathy: Oh my God, yes.
Mike: Well, you alluded to it, but look how easily these come to your, your thoughts. Why are they so important in recovery? Why are the slogans so important?
Kathy: It's a shortcut to refocusing your, your thinking. Okay? So if you're thinking about nasty, awful things, it's what you're going to see and experience.
Kathy: And if you can remind yourself of the good stuff, it's going to help you experience that. It's just a matter of where you put your attention and intention, right? So, when you get yourself all worked up, you can say "Rule 62". What is that? "Don't take yourself so damn seriously". Oh, we get in big trouble with that don't we? " Progress, not perfection". That's a slogan. For women, men who are terribly perfectionistic. That is caustic and painful. It does not help anybody around you or you. And it's, it hurts. Progress, not perfection. It's like, right, right, right. Come back to, come back to center, come back to serene. That's what all these help us do is get back to serene.
Kathy: "Don't think, don't drink, go to a meeting". Right? " Easy does it". Oh man.
Mike: Oh, I forgot that. I can't believe I didn't list that among the ones we would talk about.
Kathy: Perfectionists amongst us. Oh man, easy does it. I'm still working on that. 32 years. "Take what you need and leave the rest". Take what you need and leave the rest for meetings.
Kathy: Okay. So if somebody's out there and they're pounding hard on a particular religion, that's not you. It's not AA. Okay.
Mike: Well, wait, wait, wait with that one because that one is the... talk about that for a minute. That's the last thing that you hear in a lot of meetings.
Kathy: Okay. I mean, the point is, is that a lot of us when we come in are looking for a reason to not fit and not stay because we don't, I mean, look, that's the alcohol talking in it.
Kathy: And so, if you really find somebody objectionable. Fine. If you find some word or the use of God, fine, fill in your... My sponsor from what she said, scratched out all many, many words and rewrote pronouns and things in her big book, like through the whole thing. I didn't get there, but you know, it's like, do what you have to do.
Kathy: There's, there's gold in it. And, and the community is what is going to keep you sober and the, the connection to getting to your center is going to keep you sober, but you got to get to the community.
Mike: It's funny when I was doing a lot of counseling, people you'd bump into and they'd say, well, "What is your counseling philosophy?" "Who do you follow?" Whatever. And, and I never knew how to answer that because it was like, well, I've read a lot of people. I've studied a lot. I like this from this person, this from this person, this from this methodology. I never followed anything a hundred percent.
Kathy: You do great, right? People who who get reestablished in their childhood religion and have a much more meaningful, that is beautiful, and it's theirs.
Kathy: It's not AA right. One thing I tell people about is AA cannot disappoint you. It cannot disappoint you. It cannot fail you. Individuals we can. So what you make of AA is going to see you through.
Mike: One of the ones I heard recently was "If you sit in a barber chair long enough, you'll get a haircut".
Kathy: Oh, that cracks me up. I hadn't heard that one (laugh).
Mike: You know, if you keep working it, eventually you're going to say, yeah, I think I'll give this a shot.
Kathy: And that goes both ways, right?
Kathy: If you keep hanging out in bars with your old drinking friends.
Kathy: It's high risk.
Kathy: You know, if people do it, people can stay sober and you've got to decide that if that's a risk that you're willing to take, mmm, okay.
Kathy: But just know that people do die with this, we do, you know.
Mike: Do you have little favorites?
Kathy: Well, of course, "Keep coming back". Right. " You're not alone". It's somewhere in the [inaudible] of the big book, it talks about the whirling dervishes, which is actually a Sufi practice, the spiritual Sufi practice, but we had them first in Judy Jay, she died sober would say, well, you know, let the whirling dervishes whirl.
Kathy: And she would use that when there's problems, which was a misuse of actually what it is, but I loved it. So let the whirling dervishes whirl. She, she's just now watching our, our podcast. To keep what you have, you've got to give it away.
Kathy: Well, if you've had good sobriety and a good meeting be available, be available to somebody to ask you for help in a meeting or something, you know.
Kathy: It gets confusing with boundaries and stuff. Different, different topic, different day. A lot of [inaudible] drinking is not an option, right? Drinking is not an option. Whatever else you do about your problem, that's not an option. And really adopt that one, right? "Meeting makers make", now some people I know just hate that one, but for me, meetings have made a difference.
Kathy: Let's see. Can you think of any more that I'm not thinking of?
Mike: Well, I, I think what's interesting is what, what you said earlier. It's almost, it's not tricking your brain. It's retraining your brain. And we've talked a lot on these podcasts about what you think, what you say, what you feel, the power of positivity, the power of gratitude, right?
Kathy: Gratitude is one of those things for me that it's like a, it's sometimes a river that's on the surface and sometimes it's subterranean that is always with me and it's always flying. Gratitude is a good, good tool.
Mike: Yeah, it's, it's so easy. I don't want to be negative, but it seems so easy for a lot of people to find the worst in something rather than the best in something.
Mike: You know, If I go to the grocery store, I can see tons of stuff. I, I can't stand to eat. But there's tons of stuff I do like to eat and they're all there. So it's what I choose to put in my cart. Makes sense.
Kathy: Yeah, I mean, where we put our focus really is what we're going to see. If you think you're going to see, pick your favorite pejorative word, on the road, you'll see all of those people.
Kathy: Road rage and stuff. And if you, if you're looking for some of the sweet stuff, the little bluebirds of happiness are just everywhere. Honestly, they are. You just never know where you're going to see them.
Mike: Isn't that true? And we were talking about the last thing, you know, if you ever go to a meeting, those of you who have never been, just go, you can go to an open meeting anytime you want.
Mike: That's a, an open meeting is a speaker meeting where somebody is telling their story. Those are open. But the last thing you hear in a lot of meetings is "Keep coming back". "It works if you work it".
Kathy: Yeah, I love that phrase all.
Mike: Yep. What's it mean?
Kathy: Those of us who've been sober for a while realize that something happens in AA that is not really very explainable. It's really not very explainable. And you get connected and you, many of us lose the desire to drink very quickly. Some, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. The [inaudible]. Don't let the God, don't let religion, don't let somebody else's fervor about their own spiritual program drive you away, but it does work.
Kathy: It does. Two of my siblings have died from alcohol or alcohol related things, two of us have stayed alive. I don't know why I got to be the lucky one. I know that I, I do work it. I mean, I do, I think this, the steps are very worthwhile. I think they're worthwhile to work with someone. You know, for women, a woman's way through the 12 steps is sometimes just more palatable in the way of language.
Kathy: It's the same stuff, though. It's the same principle, same program. It's the same steps. But it's a grace thing. I am so very fortunate to be alive and to have have the people in my life that I have and to remember (laugh), to remember the last 32 years.
Mike: Well, and when you've reworked the steps, there's 12 of them, right?
Mike: So when you rework them, go back over them after you've been through all of them. Is it a different experience?
Kathy: It is a different experience. The things that used to eat your lunch when, you know, when you came into the program, you've made peace with them and you've made peace with a lot of the people around 'em.
Kathy: If I died today, I would die at peace with everybody that's in my life. Mm-hmm. Or whoever has been in my life. Right. Just the universe knows I'm not ready to check out yet. But you know. It's good. It's, it's a good feeling to have made peace with, you know, stuff. You know, there's always this, the whole onion layers, right?
Kathy: Peeling layers of an onion. There's still pieces of me that still are really, really solid, like being hypercritical, like psychocritical of myself. I can really rub that right up. Progress, not perfection.
Mike: Isn't that amazing how we do that to ourselves?
Kathy: Oh, yeah.
Kathy: And then, of course, you're not in your family and you're, all of a sudden, you're immediately 15 years old, [inaudible]
Mike: I always ask, I ask people when I do presentations and trainings, how old are you when you walk into your, to your family reunion? How old does your family let you be or treat you as?
Kathy: And one of my class reunions, I actually asked how many lives everybody has lived, right? You know, you talk about past life, but in this life, I've had several lives, really, and, and none of them recently have involved alcohol or drugs, so there's that.
Mike: Oh, that's great, actually. I, I love that.
Mike: I had to remind my mom when she was, she would constantly apologize. She'd be doing amends all the time and she'd be like, I'm so sorry about this. And I, at one point I had to say to her, you do know that I've now known you longer sober than when you were using and it stopped her in her tracks.
Mike: I don't, she hadn't thought about it.
Kathy: I was pretty ecstatic when I hit the number of years sober that I had been, that I had spent drinking.
Kathy: It was, it was, it was a wonderful thing.
Mike: That's great. Well, Kathy, this has been, I love doing this, and this was kind of a fun topic to do, and I knew just the right person to ask to do it.
Mike: This has been a blast. Thanks for joining us on a less than maybe a deep topic, but it can get pretty deep. It depends on where we take it, right?
Kathy: Keep you alive. I've heard people say that. It can keep you alive. Right. So yes, we can laugh at them and yes, we can hate them, but you know, don't drink, go to a meeting just, just for 24 hours, just for 24 hours.
Kathy: Don't drink. This stuff can keep you truly alive. So yeah.
Mike: Well, as those of you listening know, there's links to resources at the end of the podcast. And if you need help, I think both of us would say it's as close as a meeting. And there's one happening right now. Kathy, a huge thanks for being with us today.
Mike: We invite all you to listen in next time. Until then, please stay safe and read more bumper stickers.
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