joy or misery – it’s a choice

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Let me repeat that.  In this new day we can choose to be joyful or we can choose to be miserable.  Within each of us is the power to wallow in this world’s drudgery or soar on wings of joy – and it is possible without the use of pharmaceuticals, alcohol, or any mind-altering substances.

“…..we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness….we will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace…”  from the promises, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

The promises listed are not just fancy ideals written by a successful recovering alcoholic.  They are reality for millions of alcoholics who choose to follow a program of sober-living earnestly and honestly….“are these extravagant promises?  We think not!”  That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of our lifestyle.  Today, we have choices which were dismally not available before.  Joy or misery is one of those choices.

Alcoholism is a disease of the mind, of the body and of the soul.  It is cunning, baffling and powerful.  It wants to see you and I either in a mental institution or in the grave and it will not rest until it destroys us.  But, we have resources available that can conquer our disease.  For some it is Alcoholics Anonymous, for others it is Celebrate Recovery, still others discover sobriety through numerous spiritual programs.  They all present to us a way of changing our lives and living victoriously as new men and women.  They rebuke the power of alcohol in our lives and replace that demon with the power of choice.

The joy of living soberly is directly linked to an attitude of gratitude.  What is on this morning’s gratitude list?  Nothing?  Let’s think again.  Did we sleep in a warm, comfortable bed last night?  Do we remember this morning where we were last night, what we did?  Do we suffer from blackouts?  Are we filled with self-loathing because of what we did last night?  Were we unfaithful to our spouses?  Did we spend the family’s grocery money on booze?  Are we calling the boss and lying about why we will not be at work?  Yeah, we have much about which to be grateful, don’t we?

I suffer varying degrees of arthritis pain on a daily basis.  Many of us endure medical and physical conditions that limit activity.  Are we going to allow these maladies to diminish joyful living?  Absolutely not.  The pain I feel this morning is a reminder that my body is still alive and functioning.  When the day arrives that this body is not responsive to stimuli, good or bad, then I shall likely be dead.  And although that is neither good nor bad, I am not yet ready to be dead.

So let’s make our choices.  Will that choice be a joyful interaction with all that has been restored to us through the grace of recovery or will it be a miserable day of drudgery wallowing in the pit of negative thoughts and behavior?  Which will we choose?

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specks and logs

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
step 4 – ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

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Don’t know about you, but I hate turning the critical eye inward.  Presumably you will ask, “Why is that, Larry?”

Up until I had several years sobriety behind me, LarryPaulBrown was the world’s foremost expert at condemning himself.  “You never do anything right, you are a failure,” were my life’s defining words.  “Why can’t you be more like Joe, the school sports jock, or Mary, the class valedictorian, or Pastor Jones, the community rock?  Why, why, why?”

Doing an honest 4th step, a searching and fearless assessment of me was a daunting task until my spiritual advisor set before me on paper two columns – one for the negatives and one for the positives.

“But,” I protested, “I can’t think of any positives.”  Thank God for the patience and insight of our sponsors who guide us through these growing pains.

Even today it is infinitely more comforting to look at you and take your inventory.  Yes, old habits die hard.  The ego loves this – ‘I’ and ‘me’ become bigger and superior – it creates separation and otherness.  My defects are not as severe or humiliating as yours.  “Well, I never did that. Tsk, tsk.”

Ultimately an overly active ego, a continual subversion of one’s inner truth to ‘I, I, I and me, me, me’ creates violence between individuals and warfare between nations.

Verse 41 in the 6th chapter of Luke says, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

What’s in my eye today?  What’s in yours?

UNSHACKLED 2

 

control freak – who, me?

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, wisdom to know the difference.”

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Most of us in recovery are failed control freaks.  Read those words again.  You and I have been miserable failures at controlling our lives. Lord knows we did our damnedest to cajole, manipulate, wheedle, urge or threaten loved ones, family and friends to think and do the ‘right way’ which, of course, was always our way.  I see some of you out there denying it, but let us just take a moment of truthful inventorying our past behavior before claiming innocence.  Yeah, just as I thought.  Guilty as charged!

Sometimes our game of controlling others actually worked and we felt victorious.  But our success came at the expense of ruffled feathers, resentments, anger from our victims.  The end result was that we distanced ourselves from those around us who loved us the most.  Ultimately, through the progression of our disease, we reached a point where, in the depths of our self-imposed exile from reality, we could not even control ourselves.  In those depths, alcohol was the victor controlling every aspect of our being.

Enter sobriety and the grace of a Higher Power.  We repeated in the recovery rooms of AA the Serenity Prayer.  Sometimes our discussions centered on the words of the prayer analyzing each word and each part of the three statements.  What do they mean?  What do I control?  What can I not control?  And when does the wisdom appear in my life?

Sobriety is not a commodity to be purchased at the recovery store.  It does not happen miraculously on the first day of not drinking.  We hang out with others like us, we listen to the wisdom spoken in the rooms, we take our thoughts to the quiet space within and begin to process what sober-living means.  Contrary to the previous drinking before which carried us to the depths of our personal hells, sobriety becomes our beacon of hope, our lifestyle resurrecting us to a purposeful place in society.

And eventually we discover the truths of control.  I accept that I control no other human being on earth, I control no other entity on earth, I control no political undertaking, no politician, no corporate CEO.  I do not control my spouse, family nor friends.  I don’t even control Max, the cat.  Lastly, I do not control the recovering friend who decides to go back out and do some more ‘field research’ on drinking.

“Pheeeew!  What a relief,” we exclaim, “I am not responsible for anything.”

Whoa, not so fast.  Yes, we are responsible.  “Whenever anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to be there.  For that I am responsible.”

“Courage to change the things I can.”

In order to be a helping hand, I must change the only thing I can…and that is me.  I must change my thinking, my attitudes, my responses to others, my behavior, my prejudices, my lifestyle.  I must change myself to reflect the grace freely given on that first day of recovery when I walked into my first AA meeting a scared, hopeless drunk.  And therein is the wisdom to know the difference.  Today, I know how and when to surrender Larry, the control freak.  Not always easy, not always first choice, but always the path to serenity.

UNSHACKLED 2

“you said come just as you are”

 

photos by LARRY PAUL BROWN

There’s a place I go where the eagles fly high, the rivers run deep, the grass is lush.  In that place it is peaceful and kind, no violence nor intolerance.  Wildflowers wave in the gentle breezes as the freshness of nearby pine forests fills the air with breath after breath of luxurious serenity.  I sit in the grass, admire the beauty of the flowers and  marvel that truly there is a heaven on earth.

And then, when that which is called reality reins in this escape to a quiet place, I return reluctantly and sadly.  But, I know that someday this kind and peaceful place will be a permanent home where I also shall soar with the eagles breathing in the freshness of eternity.  Come with me, won’t you?  We can go there just as we are.

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Every one of us has a story to tell.  It usually reflects on the brokenness of a past life which carried us to places that were more like a living hell than heaven.  Sometimes it involves drug addiction or alcoholism. Often it is a story of abuse and deprivation at the hands of someone whom we trusted.  Or we may return to the horrors of sex abuse and physical assault when telling our story.  The common thread with each one of our stories is the final surrender of the pain and suffering to an unseen, unfamiliar power.  We somehow, miraculously, discovered healing and acceptance.  We recognized and embraced our inner beauty and greatness.  We became willing to believe that our past lives, though never to be forgotten, should no longer be baggage to slow down our journey through sobriety.  And with each passing clean and serene day we discovered a special place where eagles soar, water runs deep, and grass is green, a place where peace and kindness greet our morning sun.

Drunk and reeking of alcohol, I met my unseen, unfamiliar Higher Power in a bar room as I staggered past a man who grabbed hold of me and said, “Son, do you want to be free?”  My blurred vision couldn’t really focus on the man and upon finally making my way to the door, turning around to see who had spoken to me, he was gone.  I demanded of the bartender,

“Who was that man that just grabbed me by the shoulders?”

“Sir, it’s just you and me in this bar room.  Nobody else has been here in the past hour.”

Do you want to be free?  Free of substance addiction, free of behavior addictions, free of self-imposed hell?  Lean into the Master and receive your miracle.   Matters not whether we name it Higher Power, the Source, God, or Spirit, the salvation we seek will welcome us with open arms and a hearty,

“Welcome home, son.  I have been waiting for you.  Now, come just as you are; sit with me for a while.  We have some catching up to do.”


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IT’S A GREAT DAY! – success

“To leave the world a bit better, whether by healthy child, a garden patch, or redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you live – that is to have succeeded.” RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Do you compare to others?  Car?  House?  Money?  Designer clothes?  Do you base your personal success on that comparison?

STOP!  Just stop.  Our Western culture has fed all of us a pack of lies regarding success.  As a result you probably work more than you need in order to buy things you don’t really need.  And whom are you impressing?  The Joneses most likely don’t give a hoot about that shiny new car or your spouse’s wardrobe.  In the end when one makes an accounting of one’s life, all of us, yes every single one, will go wherever we believe we are going without a stitch of designer jeans, no fancy ride, and not one of those gleaming diamonds purchased with hard work and sacrifice.  Nada, zilch, nothing!

Then what will we take across into the next phase?  Perhaps integrity, compassion, stewardship, honesty, conscience?  How about selflessness?  What good have we done for this creation?  The preservation of natural habitats, the protection of wildlife, the concern for the homeless, the compassion for immigrants, the love for the arts,  the kind word to a lonely man, the dedication to peace, the restrictions on personal consumption are all ways to view our lives as astonishing successes no matter how small or how grand.

Don’t fall for the world’s allure.  It is fleeting and destructive.  It will not satisfy your need to feel successful.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  It’s a great day whether spent in an elegant mansion or a modest apartment, whether the ride to town is a limo or a bicycle, whether the jeans are Jordache or WalMart.  Stuff does not matter.  Repeat that a dozen times as you compose today’s gratitude list.

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IT’S A GREAT DAY! – intentional living

 

old codger

“I am going to have a horrible day today.  It’s raining, my joints hurt and my muscles ache.  The cat spit up on my bedcovers and the roof is leaking.  I forgot to get eggs yesterday at the grocery store, so now I must settle for a PB sandwich for breakfast.  Worst of all, that lazy, newspaper delivery man forgot my paper and I have nothing to read with my boring PB breakfast sandwich.  Life is really going to suck today.”

or

“Oh, what a relaxing, drizzly day!  I won’t be doing much outside today, so I’ll be able to catch up on reading.  The cat is sprawled out on my bed and enjoying his first nap of the day.  Yes, I forgot to get eggs yesterday, but a bowl of creamy, hot oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar sounds delicious.  Maybe I’ll go online to read my newspaper since I don’t have a morning paper in the driveway.  Lord, thank you for another day of lungs breathing and heart pumping.  Today will be a spectacular day.”

What will be your day’s intention?  Glum and gloomy or special and spectacular?  It’s a choice you make each morning upon arising.  Don’t just accept what life throws at you, create the life you want to live.  It’s an amazing choice that greets the day and sets the stage for the next 24 hours.  Be intentional!

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poor, poor me

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“I am much better, thank you.”

“What’s that you say?  Larry, were you ill?”

“No.”

“Were you in an accident?”

“No, but thanks for asking.”

“Have you suffered a loss?  Did your cat die?  Have you become homeless?  Was your home burglarized?  Did a stray dog bite you?  Was you truck stolen?  Did your best friend desert you?  Have you switched political affiliation?  Is the devil sitting on your left shoulder?”

“No, no, no.  Nothing like that?”

I awakened this morning with an attitude that could have turned sweet milk sour and sent the sun in the sky ducking for cover behind the nearest clouds.  My mindset upon crawling out of bed was one that would not be coddled by cheery verses of inspiration or a breakfast of pancakes with fresh strawberry topping.  Nope, don’t bother me.  I am going to be miserable today, mope around the house and probably take a nap before noon time.  Then I will vegetate in front of a baseball game on TV all afternoon and I will probably not get out of my pajamas until supper time.  Heck, why not just stay in PJs until bedtime?

But, I am better now, thank you.

“Why is that, Larry?”

Nobody came to my party.  Pity parties are lonely affairs with no cake and ice cream nor gaily wrapped presents.  There is no music to dance to and the conversation is boring.  I choose to slouch in the chair with my chin drooping to my knees.  Between sobs and sighs of “I am so lonely, I am so unlovable, I don’t have enough, I am stupid, I am worthless,” my pity party just drags on ad nauseam until the last bag of Cheetos is gone and all the Twinkies are history.  Bingeing seemed like a great idea, but then I hate myself for breaking my diet and being such an emotional wimp.

Sound familiar?  Well, congratulations to me.  I did not stay at my own party.  The Cheetos and Twinkies are still on the cupboard shelf.  Today I shoved all those negative thoughts into the category of drinking thinking  – “poor me, poor me, yeah why don’t I just pour poor me another drink?”

Drinking thinking is akin to stinking thinking – 1st cousins, I believe.  Both will get any recovering addict into a world of do-do if he/she doesn’t take remedial steps pronto.  Do a gratitude list, call a friend (no, not a drinking buddy), start a housecleaning project, take a walk, do some exercises, find a meeting. Sometimes just moving to a different room in the house will get us over that initial “poor me, woe is me.”

“This too shall pass.”

Fighting those negative feelings without a drink or a drug was always challenging.  We are not normal people with normal emotions, probably never will be.  It is of utmost importance to keep our battle armor nearby – a plan, a chore in which to engage immediately, an inspiring book, the list of phone numbers, an escape route from social situations that tempt.  How about the easiest of all – a prayer to the God of our understanding?  Talk to him/her/it as if you are the best of friends because, whether you believe it or not, that God always has been, always is, always will be waiting to caress you and me, hold us in loving arms and get us through the “poor me” moments.

I will walk through the valleys of darkness, because that’s what humans must do to get to the light beyond the horizons.  Our God will guide us and protect us so that we can walk fearlessly on paths of comfort and blessing.  Over that next summit is an overflowing cup of joy and peace.  Go for it!  We are worthy and loved. UNSHACKLED 2

I claimed my miracle, have you?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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“I’m sorry, we are out of wine.  Would you like a cup of water or perhaps fermented goat’s milk?”

“Noooooooooooooooo.”  Undoubtedly, the scream echoed through the hills and valleys of Galilee as the feast master in charge of the wine supply realized his calculations for the wedding’s needs were misjudged.  His reputation throughout Israel would be ruined.  Nobody would hire him to cater their wedding after this fiasco at Cana.

And then Jesus, having been summoned by his mother, saved the day by turning six stone pots each filled with 20 to 30 gallons of water into vessels filled with wine.  When the wine was tested by the ruler of the wedding feast he went to the bridegroom saying, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”  (John 2:10 NIV)

The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reveal to us the miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in the ancient manuscripts.  Turning water into wine was the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry occurring three days after Nathaniel became a follower.  John 2:11 tells us that this “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed him.”

“He did whaaat?”  Had I lived then and one of my neighbors who attended that wedding at Cana told me about some yahoo preacher man turning about 150 gallons of water into wine, I am certain my doubting Thomas nature would have replied, “You’re out of your mind.  What were you smoking up there at Cana?”

Many people today say they don’t believe in miracles.  They also deny Jesus, God, and eternity.  Years ago I was one of those people.  I wanted to be an atheist, tried to be an agnostic and failed miserably at both.  If God did not exist why was I on my knees in a drunken stupor begging God to heal me?  If Jesus was just a myth like Santa Claus why did I talk to him like a friend when I wanted to end my life?

Yes I believed, but I refused to accept my miracle.  It was right there in front of me for years , but I was not done with the pain and self-loathing.  I wanted to beat up on myself for a while longer.  It gave me satisfaction to be a victim.  The floor of my bottom had a trap door that I wanted to explore.  Let’s kick me around and refuse my miracle a little bit longer.

But, you see, the God which I rejected did not give up.  Every night on my knees in a drunken stupor, God held my hand listening to me, comforting me, showing me the way to accept grace and mercy.  I tearfully forgave myself and accepted life, eternal life.  Miracles still happen today.  I claimed mine.  Millions of others like me, addicts and drunks clean and serene, are each and every one the story of a miracle.

“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed him.” (John 2:11 NIV)

I believe him too.

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hell & damnation

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I am an avid reader.  In my mind I see myself reading the great classics, the newest block-buster sci-fi, the works of great thinkers, etc.  I stop by my local library and check out 4 or 5 selections anticipating spending an evening wrapped up in one author’s adventure or another’s philosophy.  At home in my favorite recliner, I open the book, read the intro and within 15 minutes I am snoozing.

Yeah, in my mind I’m an avid reader.  I suppose that I am doing a service for my local library by increasing their weekly circulation statistics, but, do I read much? No.  However, I did find a book that aroused my interest more than most books do.  Settling down to once again “practice” reading, I scanned the table of contents.  “Oh, there’s a chapter that looks interesting, I’ll just peruse it before starting.”

The first paragraph of that one chapter, chapter 14, saved me several hours of reading chapters 1-13.  It told me that, although an inherent alternative sexual orientation was not in itself a sin, practicing it was.  “Ah,” said I to myself, “perhaps I am reading it incorrectly.”

No, I did not misinterpret the words.  With closed book in hand, I then contemplated what was being proposed.  A man is not to be judged for his inherent disposition as long as he abandons himself to lifetime denial, gives up truthful relationships, lies to potential partners, and lives in a world which certain religious philosophers have deemed as moral.

Hmmmm, sure sounds like ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin.’  I vividly remember those words from the times of morality preaching leveled on me.  Shake my hand, hug me, welcome me, preach at me and then judge me behind my back with others in your church.  Sorry, that hypocrisy doesn’t float my life anymore.  Anybody wants to be a part of my life, well, I come as a package deal.

Some may ask why I’m so jazzed up over this.  A judge in a nearby city overruled the city’s ban on conversion therapy.  If you don’t know what conversion therapy is, you need to jump on Google and educate yourselves.  The judge sided with Christian leaders who stated the ban on conversion therapy, which in some cases employs electro shock therapy on minors who professed to be gay, was an attack on their religious rights to raise their children within the moral laws of the church.

Aw, I’m over all that crap that forged my life for too many years.  My buddy Gabby would say, “If y’all ain’t got nobody else to saddle up with judgement and damnation, then go for it.  I’ve got broad shoulders and I ain’t afraid of your burning hell fires.  EEEEEEHAW.”

But I pray for the kids.  You should too.  And if you agree with the judge that Tampa’s city-wide ban on conversion therapy is illegal because it infringes on your freedom of religious expression and it’s OK to use humiliation of kids as a form of treatment, and if you believe that shock therapy is a legitimate deterrent for your children, then send up a prayer for yourselves too.  You’re the ones who need to worry about hell fires, not me.
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me worry? never

Youth in D.C. march video denounces ‘outright lies’ about him

 

The next possible victims of the shutdown: Your food, flowers and toys

 

Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria after missile fired at Golan Heights

 

Islamic State targets US convoy in northeast Syria

 

Honestly, I did not need to look far on my MSN homepage to gather these news headlines.  If I were a journalist or a reporter for the major news media, I would likely be on a diet of pharmaceuticals – some to keep me happy, some to keep me relaxed, some to keep me sane, some to keep me awake, and then a few to help me sleep.  All this activity in the world about which I should worry.  Yeah, let’s add some Xanax to the menu.

Tell me again how all of you maintain a sense of composure in the heat of national and international news flashing up-to-the-minute headlines on your media screens.  Which drugs (or alcohol) work best for you?  What?  You’re clean and serene?  Hmmmm, let’s talk.

I have a confession to make.  I am absolutely controlled by a situation that does not involve sex, alcohol or drugs.  Aw c’mon, please don’t run away.  I need to talk.  Every weekday night after supper I plan my evening before bedtime.  Read that great book I’ve been wanting to dive into, write another chapter in the short story I am composing, listen to Beethoven and Mozart, get a sheet of paper and do that letter to my aunt, find an interesting episode on PBS, get into Netflix and rent a great movie.

It is all for nought.  Around 7 PM, I am magnetically drawn to the TV remote, although I swear that remote somehow magically finds my hand.  “I’ll just see what’s happening on Family Feud.  Eh, boring.  Ok, how about ESPN?  Shoot, nothing but basketball.  Well, just a quick view of CNN.  Wow!  Did Trump really say that?  Got to go to MSNBC to verify and get details.”

I am hooked.  More powerful than any bottle of scotch.  Four hours later finds me wrapping up with Lawrence O’Donnell and deciding if I should keep on watching Brian Williams just to be sure I did not miss anything important.  I know, I know.  Where’s my willpower?  Am I not bigger than MSNBC?

Ooooh, please don’t think less of me.  Deep down I am a good person.  I remember the days when I read the morning newspaper for my news and watched “I Love Lucy” before going to bed.  I was a God-fearing Christian man who worked on the assembly line for a 10 hour shift, stopped for a beer with the boys, went home for supper and snuggled with the little lady to watch Johnny Carson.  I was not addicted to instant news.  Whatever world catastrophe was pending, it could wait until morning.

BINGO!  There have always been pending world disasters and we survived without 24/7 news coverage.  How was that possible?  Back then we cared just as much about the riots in China and the tsunami in Indonesia as we would today, but we allowed those news events to unfurl at our leisure.  We did not allow the networks to interfere with our daily routine.  We had more important things happening with the job, the wife, the kids, their school, Pastor Johnson’s dalliance with Mrs. Brown, the YMCA, the local library, the latest cops and robbers story.

That’s the answer.  Back then, my waking hours were not trespassed upon by images and stories over which I had no control.  Watching 4 hours of cable news tonight will not give me 1 second of measurable control over what is happening.  I can sleep like a log ( I was going to say baby, but we know babies keep us up all night) and catch up on headlines in tomorrow’s newspaper with a cup of coffee.  That’s much more civilized, don’t you agree?

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I should, and wisdom to know the difference.”