teacher Marion

When I was in 5th grade at Leck Kill Elementary School, my teacher was Marion, my grandmother’s sister-in-law. Much to my amazement during one of her classes, Marion declared in response to a classmate’s answer to a question, “I’m from Missouri, I don’t believe that. Prove it!”

I was astonished because, as far as I could determine at that young age, all my relatives were native born Pennsylvanians, all of German heritage. Troubled for the rest of the day I made Marion the primary topic of discussion at the supper table with my family.

“Why no, Marion is from Trevorton (a nearby town), ” responded my mother and grandmother, “why would she say that?”

When confronted by her lie, Marion laughed while explaining the meaning of Missouri, the ‘show me state.’ Lesson to be learned was this: don’t believe anything alleged, whispered, declared as truth or seen without ample proof. And even then, ask questions.

Applying this to my recovery, to my commitment to sober living and to the entirety of my faith walk, I would like to believe that when I walked into the rooms of my first AA meeting, listened to the people tell their stories, and wished for the sobriety which they had, I thought, “Yes, this is for me, this is what I want, this is something I can do.”

But that would be a lie. I was a scared drunk simply wanting relief from a life which had put me on the doorstep of suicide. I did not know what I wanted. I was 34 years old feeling like an old man with nothing to live for. And I certainly did not believe that I could do what these sober alcoholics had done…..5, 10, 15 years of sobriety and they had survived without the crutch of alcohol which had carried me for so many years.

“Lord, I can’t do this,” I cried out when I left the meeting and returned home.

“Yes, you can, and here is how you will do it. Surrender your life to me and turn it over to my care.”

“But, Lord, you don’t know. The things I have done, the people I have hurt, the heartaches I have caused those who love me. You just don’t know.”

“I do know. And even so, I never stopped loving you. You are one of my Father’s children. Walk with me. ‘One day at a time’, ‘easy does it’, ‘let go and let God’…..it’s all there in the meeting rooms.”

Yes, those damned placards on the walls attempting to encourage me. Many nights, I sat quietly listening to others share their stories staring at the sayings on the walls while continuing to think, “Lord, I can’t do this.”

Those nights turned into years until finally through faith in a Higher Power, I realized that “Lord, I can’t” turned into “Lord, by your grace, I will.”

In a nutshell that’s my story and it can be yours also. There are no secrets to sobriety. Walk by faith as long as necessary until you can say, “Yes Lord, I will.”

And you are asking, “Larry, what does teacher Marion have to do with this story?”

Show me; prove it; I don’t believe it. Some of us are sicker than others and some of us need to live by faith until we can see clearly the promises of sobriety.

2 Corinthians 5:7 “We live by faith not by sight.”

Cunning, baffling, powerful

Time to revisit a life changing story because it is especially relevant today in my sobriety journey. Well-meaning friends who don’t understand the significance of sober living or the insanity of alcoholism suggest, “Larry, you’ve been sober 41 plus years. Surely, you’re no longer alcoholic. A beer or a glass of wine won’t hurt.”

Perhaps not.

But why take a chance? My friends who do drink alcohol, when they drink to excess, remind me that the same insanity and heartbreak is still out there waiting for me. And I always drank to excess. Social drinkers were out of my league, I liked to get down there in the gutter with the drunks and derelicts.  My drinking buddies never understood, my family and lovers never understood; but I, Larry Paul Brown, could not sit down and have just one beer or one drink.  For me, one was too many and ten were never enough.

Alcoholism has not changed; but I have changed, and I know today that it is a disease of the body, mind and spirit. Only a Power greater than I can relieve me of my alcoholism and I will not be cured of this disease until I die. What happens after death is the mystery which God, as I understand God, will unfold.

“Cunning, baffling, powerful” is my disease. 

This is my story.

If you are one who remembers the music, sit back and reminisce. If you don’t remember it, that’s OK also. My point in composing this page is to remind myself and other recovering addicts that not always in our addictions was life unbearable. There were good times interspersed with the horrible episodes of drinking and drugging. We had great music and most often loyal friends. Many of us were functional alcoholics with relationships and families. Until recently I painted those years as absolutely dark and void of any joy. I refused to entertain the thought that remembering those times could be therapeutic and possibly uplifting. Faith in an unfailing God has strengthened and encouraged me to revisit those days. Of course, today it is not the same. I don’t fill my head with a steady diet of rock and my predominant interest now is contemporary Christian music.

I celebrate a sober life, clean and serene, remembering some of the great artists of the time who suffered through their demons and did not make it to a time of recovery. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison are just a few who died. They made great music.

The music of our generation defined who we were. The 1960’s rocked. We rebelled, we protested, we despised the hypocrisy of our government, our parents and our society. We embraced the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan sweeping into the 1970’s a newfound freedom in drugs, sex, rock and roll. The Vietnam war and Woodstock showed the world how polarized we had become. Most of us survived and matured to become upstanding citizens and family people just like the generation before us. Some of us stayed in the 1960’s drinking and drugging ourselves into oblivion. Many died.

The music is epic. Only recently have I been able to listen and reminisce comfortably. It no longer takes me to a dark time. It’s merely part of my journey.

‘Nam was a huge part of the late 1960’s for young American men. The government conscription which was in effect struck many of us as discriminatory and unfair as evidenced by the large numbers of draftees who were poor, unable to obtain deferments, and African-American. It seemed that a disproportionate number of men from those groups were drafted into the Army and trained for Vietnam.

It has been argued that indeed a large number of those sent to Vietnam were from these groups; however, not because of discrimination in the system but because they lacked the skills and education for employment in the States. Vietnam looked like opportunity to improve their lives.

Whatever the circumstances were, many young men succumbed to a habit of alcohol and drugs in the jungles to combat loneliness and fear. Those of us who managed to serve in other foreign countries and the States were not immune from the effects of war. My service in the hospital corps put me in daily contact with amputees returning for rehabilitation and with emotionally debilitated soldiers and marines. There were also numerous drug and alcohol abuse casualties.

I also relied on alcohol to combat my fears and insecurities. My disease was rampant and easy to conceal because nearly everyone in the Navy drank, most of us to excess. That was simply the Navy way of life. However, the difference between my fellow corpsmen and I was that I was much more comfortable socializing with my patients than with my peers. I and the men and women to whom I ministered belonged to the same brotherhood of brokenness.  Music was a huge part of our lives.

1968 to 1970 were very tumultuous years.  My insanity and my drinking had resulted in an AWOL, a captain’s mast, a demotion and threats of time in the brig for behavior unbecoming a military man.  Yes, yes, yes, I am guilty; just put me away to wallow in my miserable existence.  But a compassionate LTJG law officer, apparently recognizing that the problem was not a discipline problem but rather a drunk out of control, went to bat for me and subsequently the Navy gave me an honorable medical discharge.

Free at last!  No more military regimen, no more uniforms, no more Navy Chiefs telling me what to do and when to do it.  Free at last.  My demons pursued wherever I went, no matter how far I tried to run or where I tried to hide.  They were beside me, in front of me, behind me and within me.  The insanity and the drinking became an acceptable part of my everyday life.  Everybody lived this way, didn’t they?  This was a new age, a new creed, a new way of living.  Family ties were broken, lovers were trashed, old traditions were discarded.  The almighty god of alcohol filled the God-hole meant for honesty, truth, virtue, fidelity, spirit and integrity.  And yes, my demons and I were free at last to live in an alcoholic chasm void of love or compassion or anything remotely human.

And so it continued for 10 years.

Then in January of 1981 God was looking at me, a sorry example of his creation, and decided to put it on the road to sobriety.  At the time I was unsure of his decision but did not have many options.  Honestly, I didn’t know it was God’s decision because I didn’t know God. Oh, I had some carryover from childhood of the vindictive, judgmental entity my family’s religion force-fed me.  But I decided at a young age that no god was better than their god.

What I did know was that my life had dead-ended and I needed to find a change or kill myself.  It was that simple.  Of course, in my estimation, being the alcoholic that I am, my excessive drinking was not the problem .  Other people, the job, my boss, money problems, my lover, my upbringing, etc. were the reasons I hated myself so much.  I could never come up with an honest appraisal of me.

I decided that I needed counseling to learn how to deal with the issues and people that were creating my unhappiness.  On the way to my first session with a psychologist at the hospital’s mental health center I stopped at a favorite watering hole for some fortification.  I sincerely believed my drinking habits were normal and ridiculed those who did not drink.

After just one minute of baring my soul to the psychologist he simply asked, “How much do you drink?”

“Oh, maybe a few at night,” I lied.

The incredulous look from that man behind his desk was worth more than a thousand words of professional counseling.  We both knew at that precise moment, “Bingo.”

That was my day of reckoning.  God had decided to take me out of my miserable existence and in the beat of a heart I became willing.  It all played out so clearly in that moment of acceptance.  It was a light being turned on in a darkened room.  I didn’t at that time know who or what it was that had opened my eyes.  God’s revealing of himself then was just a twinkling and has been an ongoing experience, which continues to this day.

I did know that my drinking habit had destroyed much of my life since that first beer at age 17.  From day one of my career in alcoholism I was addicted to a potion that made me fearless, charismatic and good-looking.  I was so cool sitting up there at the bar with a cigarette dangling from one hand and a beer or a scotch in the other.  I could do anything and be anybody I wanted.  I was intelligent and funny.

On that day in January of 1981 God crushed me. I said to the psychologist, “Yeah, let’s try it your way because my way just doesn’t work anymore.”

I was 34 years old and I had not an inkling of the road ahead.  If I had known what was in store for me, I probably would have said, “Know what? Maybe we can try this another time.”

I spent 2 weeks in detox, another 3 months in a counseling program and introduced myself to Alcoholics Anonymous.  Life since than has been one helluva ride.  Calmness and serenity interspersed with absolute, sober terror and suicidal moments convinced me that my alcoholism was indeed just a symptom of deep underlying emotional issues just as my AA friends always said.

My road to recovery has been unconventional and probably not completely AA approved. However, I find myself with substantial continuous sobriety and have been prodded to share my experience, strength and hope with others who may gain an insight into their own struggles.

Who prods me to do this? God, of course. Who else?

It’s what I have to do

Second only to politicians, we alcoholics are probably the most selfish people I have ever known. Not that I know many politicians (thankfully), but I have met and loved a number of alcoholics in my lifetime.

They, and I include myself, seem to be lacking the gene that turns off the “I” button and concentrates more on the “you” default. Was it environment, upbringing, mental deficiency or truly a physical and emotional condition that laid waste to so many of our years while maturing?

Please note I said maturing and did not say while growing up because many of us just never grew up. We stayed in that age group when we first began our careers in alcoholism, that age group when our peers were educating themselves, raising families, focusing on relationships, starting careers…….yeah, getting responsible for themselves. Some of us missed out on those milestones in life and, unfortunately, never caught up to the rest of our siblings and friends.

So, is it too late now? Oh, hell no. We just have to try harder, put in more effort, appreciate sober-living more than most because sobriety is not a lifestyle for wimps. It takes great courage to turn it over to a Higher Power every day thus giving up control of our lives. It takes great courage to surrender it all to an entity which most of us cannot or will not define in the terms of this world.

What are your stumbling blocks? What were mine? We discovered them in our 4th Step inventory and, shared them with another person and with God as we understood God. And we did not stop there. Sober time convinced us that more inventories, more thoroughly exhaustive were necessary, more honest maybe.

It didn’t all happen in one day, it was not a ‘once and done’ effort. Meeting after meeting, night after night with a sponsor, sharing when sharing was difficult and uncomfortable, thinking of others when that was still unnatural – it all finally led to a moment of epiphany, that breakthrough when we could say with heartfelt thanks, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

No, it was not an easy path. But, we had no choice, did we? The alternatives were jail, a mental institution or death. It’s been years since Day One for me, but I must reaffirm my decision to follow sober-living everyday. I have no choice, do you?

If you’re sober today, give yourself and your HigherPower a hand.

ANOTHER CHOICE

“The big problem with death is not only that it puts an end to life, but it also echoes that our existence is a kind of failure: all that we do, or suffer, or work at, and all we have loved, experienced, or endured has been useless and seems to affirm death. The resurrection, life that is no longer subject to death, gives a fullness of meaning and beauty to the day-to-day nature of our existence; every effort, hope, suffering, and desire finds its true significance.”

from the book, ENCOUNTERING JESUS: A HOLY LAND EXPERIENCE by Vincenzo Peroni

“O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

1 Corinthians 15:55

What’s my choice – resurrecting with Christ or dreading the future? What’s yours?

me, a hoarder? (part 1)

When I was about 37 years old my maternal grandmother, Goldie, suffered a massive stroke resulting in her final years living in a nursing home. At the time I considered it an honor that the family asked me to handle her final affairs including preparing for an estate sale to settle her financial obligations.

Goldie was a hoarder unlike any I have ever known. She filled her house, the same one I grew up in as a young boy, from cellar to attic with STUFF. Grandma Goldie’s house was a generational house, one in which great-grandparents, grandparents, children and assorted aunts lived harmoniously (most of the time). To accommodate all these relatives, a large house was necessary. My memories include two living rooms, two dining rooms, two oversized kitchens on the first floor, seven bedrooms and two closets that could easily convert to bedrooms, and a single bathroom on the second floor. Additionally, we had a basement and ground cellar which was great for storing the year’s harvest of potatoes (not talking about bushels; rather, tons of potatoes) and bushels of cabbage. Oh yes, I almost forgot the attic. This was where Grandma kept all the stuff that she might need someday.

In the attic, shared by bats and wasps alike, I stumbled upon various treasures along with miscellaneous junk. Goldie cut into snippets old coats for area rugs, old dresses for patching and quilts and other scraps which only God knew how Grandma had planned to use. I sorted through all her treasures and created two piles – truly trash for the burn pit and other stuff that fools at an estate auction might buy. Both piles were huge.

The day of the estate auction arrived. It was a beautiful Saturday in April. The crowds began arriving early, lined the highway for miles on either side with their cars and pickup trucks. One would have to be raised in an old Pennsylvania Dutch community to understand the significance of an estate auction. Not only neighbors who were mostly curious, but also family members who hoped to snag a family momento and antique dealers from as far as Philadelphia and New York City would attend these events to buy things for other folks to fill their houses.

Only a few family members knew that I, the grandson Larry, had spent a full week of 12-hour days sorting through Goldie’s stuff, cleaning it and arranging it in the downstairs rooms on tables for pre-auction viewing. I, the grandson Larry, also arranged for security on the day of the sale. Not all the attendees were honest, virtuous people and many of the smaller items were worth hundreds of dollars.

Two auctioneers were contracted to conduct the sale. They began at 8 o’clock sharp, pounded the gavel for the final item at 4:30 that afternoon. Undoubtedly, those fellows earned their commission that Saturday in April. And I, the grandson Larry, learned a valuable lesson about hoarding. At some point in a man’s life, he has to be accountable for all the stuff he chooses to store in his house.

Therefore, to answer the question posed by the title of this post. “Hell no, I am not a hoarder. If it doesn’t have a purpose and a use in this house, it will be donated to the thrift store.” A bit of wisdom, certainly not from Grandma, said, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

Words to live by.

stretch-h-h-h-h-h

We have learned that our successful recovery is directly linked to our willingness, have we not? Willingness to give and receive love, willingness to sacrifice our wants to the needs of others, willingness to spend time with another recovering man/woman, willingness to forgo comfort in the face of another’s discomfort.

“Dear Lord, I am willing, but how far must I stretch?”

“Son, do you remember my body stretched upon my cross? I gave everything for you.”

“Depart from me ye cursed………for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.”

They asked when they had done this.

Jesus replied, “Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” MATTHEW 25:45

Uncle Willard

A front-page story in my local newspaper today detailed the DUI/manslaughter charges against a 38-year-old man in a nearby community. His life undoubtedly changed forever when he opted to get behind the wheel of his pickup truck and drive drunk. The driver of the car he hit head-on is dead, several others in another involved vehicle are injured.

1966-1968 were my hell-raising years. A college drop-out pumping gas at a local Gulf station, I was entirely rudderless. My day consisted of working my 3-12 shift, getting together with buddies after work, buying a couple six packs at a bar which accepted my bogus ID (I was 18 and the legal age in Pennsylvania was 21) and heading out to a few favorite spots in the woods where we weren’t bothered by the law. We all thought we were so cool, and we thought we were having fun. Didn’t matter that I lived about 25 miles from my party spots, and I had to drive frantically to get home before daylight when Grandpa got up to start the farm chores. Mom had already left for work and several times we passed on the winding country road leading to my home. Several ‘alcohol – related’ mishaps did not deter me from my nightly adventures.

Nobody could talk any sense to me, “Aww hell”, I would lament, “just out with buddies having a few beers.”

In later years with a bit of sobriety behind me, I was told that angels were riding with me on those tire-screeching, engine-roaring trips back to the house. “No,” I replied, “it was God Himself riding with me, my angels were too scared.”

So, you are asking what this has to do with my Uncle Willard. First let me say that the front-page story in the Sunbury Daily Item back in 1966-68 could have been a story with my name and my picture detailing the underaged drinking and DUI/manslaughter charges against a good boy just having a few beers with his buddies,

Uncle Willard was one of 10 children, my father Paul being the oldest. Due to family dysfunction, I did not meet Willard until one summer afternoon as I was finishing up on chores behind the barn. I was probably 18 years old. A car drove by, the driver tooted its horn and then turned around and returned to park along the highway. The man who emerged was unknown to me.

He civilly introduced himself as “Willard, your dad’s brother. I’m your uncle.” (No, at age 17-18 I did not know any of my father’s family). “I heard you wrecked your car last week, are you OK? “

He then proceeded into an ass-chewing that would have made any Army drill sergeant or Navy petty officer proud. Attaboy, Willard, you tell it how it is. I was speechless, but I knew dang well that I deserved every word and more.

He had his say, shook my hand, patted me on the back saying, “Straighten up, son, before you kill someone.”

That’s my Uncle Willard story – the only time we ever spoke.

stairway to heaven

Yeah, I know. Your mind probably zipped back to the iconic rock classic from Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven.” Me too. I still love that song and always crank it up when I hear it.

But this is about another stairway to heaven. As a young boy I was totally taken by a painting I saw which pictured angels climbing up and down a stairway presumably to be with God Almighty on His throne in heaven. Back then God was an old, snarling, bearded, gray haired man breathing fire from his nostrils and throwing lightning bolts from his hands. It was indeed a very intimidating depiction of our Father, but it kept us young hooligans in line here on earth. The message: don’t piss off the Father or the consequences at judgment day will be dire.

Fast forward to a young man about 38 years old with several years sobriety under his belt and pretty damn sure about everything spiritual. That stairway became an escalator with signposts along the way: read the Bible every day, memorize a verse today, pray ceaselessly even when you don’t want to, love your neighbor as yourself, go to church every Sunday, give up ********for Lent (you fill in the blanks), don’t lie or cheat or steal, throw 10 % to the collection plate, don’t blaspheme and don’t swear oaths. The list went on and on riding that escalator to heaven. Then one day I met a stranger going the other way. He was going down on the up escalator. Why on earth, thought I to myself, would someone be going in the opposite direction from heaven?

“Sir,” said I concerned about his misdirection. “You are going the wrong way, heaven is up, not down.”

“Son,” bellowed the stranger, “I am going down to be with the people who need me; the hungry, the poor, the oppressed, the sinners, the lonely, the homeless, the friendless. There amongst them I shall do the work of my Father.”

“Oh, and who are you?”

“I have many names, but you should call me Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. Follow me and I shall make you a fisher of men. I shall show you heaven on earth.”

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” LUKE 9:23

41 years

I am 74 years old and have enjoyed continuous sobriety for 41 of those years. Eureka, I have been sober more years than under the influence. January is my celebration month. No, I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember that it was ungodly cold at my first AA meeting in the social hall of a local church. And, I can still see the faces of those sitting at that table, what they said and the love which they extended to me. Praise God for those AAers. Down through the years I heard one after another proclaim that were it not for the AA program and the people, they would be dead or institutionalized, another casualty of “self will run riot”.

Trust me, it is not always a cake walk. Life’s challenges can gang up mercilessly during the course of a day and each one of us must surrender self-reliance to the grace of a merciful and loving God. Where we go and whom we go to during these times will determine a life of ‘clean and serene’ or a life filled with the same old rot we had before only now without our crutch alcohol/drugs. Insanity waits outside the door to overtake us once more if we cannot or will not surrender to that Higher Power.

Thankfully, we know where to reach for strength and hope, don’t we? It is no longer about drinking or not drinking. The obsession is past and, on a daily basis, God puts into our day reminders of what life used to be as active alcoholics. Can we sincerely say that we would sooner die than return to the hell of our past? What are we willing to give up today to stay sober?

A friend is in jail tonight, I am not. I shall keep him on my heart while thanking God for another lesson in sober-living. It could have been me….or you…. put in lock-up. Please, for the sake of family and loved ones, talk the talk of sobriety and learn it well, but then get out there in life and walk the talk. Make it part of everyday. People will turn their heads in amazement, “Isn’t that Larry Brown, the drunk? What in God’s name happened?”

Indeed! In God’s name comes healing and restoration.

John says in chapter 8, verse 36, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

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