closing out 2017

Those of us in recovery are famous for our inventory-taking.  Step 4 of our 12 step program is all about a fearless, thorough inventory intending to clear out the many years of baggage accumulated in our hearts.  Then Step 10 urges us to continue that process ofCANDLE inventorying on a daily basis.  This process is a cornerstone of a content and joyous sober life.

Approaching a New Year is a great time to survey the past year recognizing achievements that stand out as highlights.  It can also be a time to admit responsibility for the lesser moments when our character defects took center stage and attempted to recreate the chaos of our addictions.  The good and the bad, when viewed together, will give us a healthy assessment of our previous year.

“We should make an accurate and really exhaustive survey of our past life as it has affected other people.  In many instances we shall find that, thought the harm done others has not been great, we have nevertheless done ourselves considerable emotional damage.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT, pg 111

This passage leads to the realization that what I have done is usually of greater significance to my spiritual stability than that of another.  Many years ago, in making amends, the person to whom I was apologizing profusely for a perceived unforgivable action responded with, “Really?  When was that?  I don’t remember it.”

Yes, the great “me” harbored this indiscretion for many years building it into an earth-shaking occurrence which nobody remembered.  Therein lies a secret to living clean and serene.  My inventorying, my amends, my spiritual program is all about making me more like the Higher Power which governs my life.  In the process I will become a messenger calling out to the world’s darkness.  When my slate is clean, that message happy new year 2018turns into sobriety-driven action.

Happy New Year to all of you.  Thanks for traveling with me in 2017 on this highway called life.

 

repentance & new beginnings

I’ve never had a problem with the concept of ‘repentance’.  I remember repenting many times at the altar of the toilet.  “Oh, Lord, get me through this night and I promise to never drink again.”

Years later, I followed the exhortations of my Christian brothers who recited the verses in the Gospel’s plan of salvation, I knelt at the sanctuary altar, and I called myself ‘born again’.  That was simple.  I immediately knew that I would spend eternity with them in heaven sitting atCANDLE the feet of Jesus. Or, at least, I hoped so.   Unfortunately, it was a brain job, not a heart job.  My character defects were still there, my old self was still there, my heart remained stone cold despite being born again.  The promise of a new beginning was not the miracle which I expected that would change me in an instant, in a heartbeat, in a brilliant flash of divine renewal.

After many years of stumbling within my own self-will and pretending to understand  renewal, regeneration, and rebirth, I once again found myself at the altar begging my Higher Power, Jesus, to clean up the mess I brought with me to kneel at his feet.  “Just as I am, Lord, take me and fix me.”

There were no bursting fireworks, no hallelujahs, no light shows to welcome me; instead there was a simple peace, a knowing that this time I was sincere in my plea and I now had the work of engaging in a new beginning.  I had to do the leg work, I had to do the soul-searching, I had to do the inventory of character defects, I had to make the amends necessary to cleaning up my mess.  I was finally serious about that decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood God.  But, I found great comfort knowing without question that God would walk with me every step of the way.

“17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17 

This verse from the author of James in the New Testament is often quoted in recovery programs to teach us that our sobriety is dependent upon working the 12 steps and extending ourselves to encourage other drunks like us to attain sustained sobriety.  Faith is fine and absolutely necessary, but, for a recovering alcoholic, works are equally important.

The same is true when I apply this inwardly to my own soul.  I believe that I have always had faith; however, I was never able to follow through with a plan of self-renewal.  I was weak and unwilling to give up my favorite character defects.  I prayed, bowed, meditated and then prayed some more, but never developed a sustained plan of action.  Oh yes, the New Year’s resolutions were always written on paper and the desire to live by them was there on January 1st, but the action to follow through was missing.

Today, I do my best to live by my Higher Power’s plan.  As a result life is more than I everchristmas emoji 3 expected, better than I deserve.  I am an unworthy Jesus freak who knows that each day is a new beginning underscored by a mindset of repentance.

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Puerto Rico

The news coming from the ruins in Puerto Rico is not encouraging.  Last report which I read says 50 % of the island continues without power, over 200,000 have moved to the mainland.  Hurricane Maria not only devastated the resources of the tropical United States territory, she also brought pain and misery to millions of citizens.  Whether our government’s response has been appropriate and adequate or an abject failure continues to be debated.  However, we do know with certainty that a large segment of humanity, American brothers and sisters, suffer through a long and tedious restoration.

Israel in 722 B.C.E. also suffered a national tragedy with the fall of its Northern Kingdom leading the psalmist to write:

“Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” Psalm 80:3CANDLE

Throughout recorded history the world’s peoples have endured unfathomable misery either from natural disasters or man’s depravity.  The Israelites of King David’s time, whether praying to God for relief or cursing God for his anger, acknowledged that a power greater than themselves had the capacity to restore or punish.  We have that same choice today.  Do I pray to God for deliverance or curse God for hardships?  Do I honor God for mercy and goodness or blame God for pain and misery?

Therefore, when I say, “Restore me, God; let your face shine, that I may be saved,” I have chosen to embrace the power of a restorative, compassionate, saving God instead of a vindictive, harsh, wrathful God.  My choice, my free will, has enabled a power greater than myself to enter Larry’s world and perform the miracles of restoration upon a lost and wretched scrap of humanity rescued from the seas of addiction.  Certainly God was waiting in the wings for the opportunity to take center stage, but, Larry had to raise the curtain.

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” AA, twelve and twelve

It all makes sense.  It is a choice; so, why would anyone choose an angry God over a loving God?   Ultimately, why would anyone choose to live without the comfort and grace of a Father who is readily available to whomever would ask?

“Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7smiley 3

 

self-will run riot

When all the arguments are vented, when all the opinions are expressed, when all the chatter is expended, then is when I look at myself questioningly wondering what all that hullabaloo was about.  Why was so much energy necessary attempting to prove that my version of all things holy is more accurate than yours?  God needs my defense.  I have more insight than you do.  I am more level-headed, more sincere, more open-minded, more knowledgable,  more socially aware than you.  I, I, I,….me, me, me.  It’s like a broken record from the golden oldies.  Only difference today is that the old me does not control my life.  It merely stops by to visit sometimes like a recurring bad dream.

The old me shone brilliantly in the delusions of self-importance relating to religion, politics, society, and philosophy.  The old me sat high atop that bar stool explaining to whomever was unfortunately sitting nearby the theories of a drunk man trying to make himself feel like he truly mattered in the worldly realm.  The old me convinced himself that all the personal problems, the brokenness, the failed relationships, the financial chaos, the self-loathing were the results of friends and family who did not understand me or appreciate me.  The old me drank alcoholically because he was a weary and broken vessel in need of a spiritual fix.  The old me was ‘self-will run riot’.  Then, by the grace of a loving and compassionate Higher Power, the old me found the humility to surrender to a better way, a new way of living.

“Made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood God.”  Alcoholics Anonymous – step 3CANDLE

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  John 3:3

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

Jesus went to his cross a broken and weary man having surrendered to the will of his Father.  The ultimate reality of his sacrifice is that I also must sacrifice, have the willingness to be crucified to the ways of this world in order to realize  a new existence resting in the truth of the One who assumed my weariness and my burdens.  My life today is not measured by worldly victories.  I don’t need to win the arguments anymore because I know that I am a simple messenger carrying the greatest, most important message to mankind.smiley 3

 

 

the angry tongue

CANDLEWorking with a new guy in the fellowship is a privilege never to be taken lightly.  I have been blessed many times with this challenge sometimes successfully, other times not so successfully.  Having pulled back in recent years from a rigorous association with Alcoholics Anonymous and focusing on a church affiliation, I was somewhat cautious about once again extending myself to a young, homeless man who chose me to help him.  In retrospect I know that it was God leading this broken man to me.  In all the times of reaching out to another alcoholic, it was I who received the blessing and it was I who stayed sober regardless of what my newbie did.

I am not a young man full of energy these days.  My afternoon naps are important to me and bedtime seems to crawl upon me earlier in the evening.  Habits and routine have made life more manageable.  Therefore, adjusting my schedule to meet the needs of someone who believes I can guide him through the craziness of early sobriety does not come easy.  I still remember the powerful healing days of early AA fellowship, meeting new friends, giving up old friends, doing 90 meetings in 90 days, and forging a life which before was unimaginable.  But then that voice from within said, “Larry, it’s time to refresh yourself in Alcoholics Anonymous, to recommit to the program.  Do 90 in 90.”

“Oh no,” was my first response.  ” I don’t have the time.”

“Really?  I gave your life back to you when you were a basket case.  I sat up with you when you spent nights in sheer terror afraid you were going crazy.  I brought you through the valley of the shadows.  And you don’t have time?”

My Higher Power settled that argument without further dispute.  Now, you all need to understand that although patience is a virtue, it is not always readily available.  Sometimes, especially for an old man, it is in short supply.  My new protégé is someone I have known for several years who recently suffered reversals in life which, hopefully, brought him to his ‘bottom’.  And because we have been friends, the conversation is usually free-flowing and lively.  Sometimes it gets out of hand.  As most of you know, I am still a broken vessel needing a lot of healing and mending.  My mouth still opens before the brain is engaged and, as happened a few days ago, words which were not of a spiritual nature flowed freely.  Ouch!

After a few solitary hours in my private attitude adjusting cubicle, I offered a sincere apology, a hug, and a promise to count to 10 before offering my lame – brain diatribes.  It is once again “well with my soul” and peaceful in my household.  But, that’s the beauty of sober living.  We can be honest, we can argue, we can disagree, we can yell and then promptly make amends.

It’s the yelling part that concerns me because that was a strong feature of my active alcoholism.  Just flying off the handle over stupid stuff, being irrational and abrasive is not who the sober Larry wants to be.  Wisdom gleaned from the literature of AA and Christian scriptures warns me of the consequences of a mouth which spews indiscriminately.  I believe during the next few months of readjusting my life to the needs of someone who is reaching out, I will need these readings more often.

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”  James 3:10-12

“He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”  Proverbs 13:3

“A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.”  Proverbs 18:6  

“If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.  The grouch and the sudden rage were not for us.  Anger is the dubious luxury of normal men, but not for us alcoholics.  It is poison.”  Bill Wilson  AS BILL SEES IT pg 5

embarassed

humbled

“a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become who we could be.”  Bill W. 12 AND 12 pg 58cropped-brilliance.png

Bill Wilson’s definition of humility can be extremely difficult if I try to cover it with my old ideas about being humble.  I don’t want to be weak.  I don’t want to be submissive.  I don’t want to turn the other cheek.  Humility is not the American way.  We are proud, strong, and invincible.  Then I take a look at my flawed condition and my brokenness.  “Yeah, and look where your pride has taken you,” a voice inside says to me.

That inventory which we are guided to do early in recovery can be a very excruciating experience when we go into it honestly with courage.  I shuddered at the list of transgressions and defects which had to be shared later with God and another person.  I did not want anyone to know my deepest, darkest secrets.  Exposing myself like that would shatter the self-image I presented to the world.  “Yeah, and look where that image has taken you.”  Damn that voice inside.

“His admission is the beginning of humility – at least the newcomer is willing to disclaim that he himself is God.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT pg 191, from a letter of 1966

“a clear recognition of what and who we really are….”  Like most newcomers to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I had lived a life apart from the concept of God.  Some of us never knew God, some of us refuted the God which we knew.  When my new sober friends advised that initially the group itself could be the greater power necessary to begin me on the road to recovery, I cautiously accepted that idea.  I had no choice.  My way was described as ‘self-will run riot’ and I had to reluctantly agree.

I love Bill Wilson’s connection between Higher Power and humility.  It tells me that I am not in charge, that I am not in control, that I am not God.  And Bill goes on to say “this is the beginning of humility.”  In my active alcoholism, I had never given credence to the thought of not being the master of my life.  It was an alien idea and totally un-American.

I am not God.  When the miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous is undertaken with this understanding, the 12 steps are not a daunting, unpleasant experience, especially steps 4 and 5.  I am humbled in a fellowship which advocates honesty and courage.  Sober living becomes second nature because I am no longer forced by ethic or tradition to be the man in charge.  No, I don’t control the miracle happening.  I am still a work in progress.  I am still flawed and broken.  But today I know a Higher Power who can heal and fix me.

“Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”  1 Peter 5:6

namaste rainbow

 

 

powerless?

cropped-cropped-powerless.png

We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.  Really?  I had heard my well-meaning friends who told me to practice controlled drinking just on weekends, I had promised to do better when all in my family said I owed it to them to live soberly, I feared for my job when my boss told me to straighten up or get out. Indeed, I plotted and planned on how to extricate myself from the mess that I called life.  I had the gumption to do it by myself.  Self-help books, jogging, new diet regimen would all be a part of the new Larry.  And now the first thing I hear when I walk into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is that I am powerless.  Really?

Then they continued by saying that my life was unmanageable.  Powerless and unmanageable!  Never!  But, I stayed in the room to hear more from those people, we read from their “Big Book”, we listened to the reading of the 12 steps, and then, listening to their stories of how it was, what happened and how it is now, I finally admitted that just maybe my life was a wee bit unmanageable, but I was not going to admit that I was powerless.

I didn’t trust them.  In my world the people who did not drink were fringe losers.  They were religious fanatics, goody-two-shoes folks who believed themselves better than me.  They stood on the street corner handing out tracts or knocked on my door wanting to save my soul from hell and damnation.  They went to church on Sundays and Wednesday evening prayer services.  They were always clean-shaven, dressed well and mannerly.  Gaaawd, who wants to be like that?

But, these AAers were different.  They sported beards, ragged blue jeans, long hair, ratty sneakers and they looked at me with an intensity that made me uncomfortable because I knew they could see deep into the ravaged soul that tormented me so badly.  They knew all about me and I had just met them.  I wanted to run.

And they did not drink.  Or at least that is what they told me.  I was sure that probably after the  AA meeting they all got together at the local pub to celebrate sobriety.  In my little world everybody drank.  It was unnatural not to partake of alcohol.  But then they talked about the typical alcoholic.  Do you drink alone?  Do you sneak a drink at work?  Do you spend your family’s grocery money on booze?  Do you do things when drunk that you are ashamed of doing?  Do you have blackouts?  Do you think about suicide?  Does your money never stretch far enough to cover your monthly bills?

Yes, yes, yes……but doesn’t everyone have those same problems?  The smiles on their faces collectively said “no, there is a better way.  But first you must admit that you are powerless over alcohol.”

Me, powerless?  I could admit that possibly my life was somewhat unmanageable.  But I control my destiny, I run the show, I am in charge.  They responded,  “and how are you doing with that?”

“Ouch.  Nailed me.  Maybe I’m not doing such a great job.  Ok, I’ll come back tomorrow night and hear some more of your sobriety talk.”

Then they gave me a list of their phone numbers and invited me to go down with them to the local coffee-house for coffee and donuts.  “Who are these people?” I thought, “Why are they so nice to me?”

That is a brief synopsis of my first contact with Alcoholics Anonymous nearly 37 years ago.  It has been, as a lady confided last night at a meeting, one helluva ride.  Just because I quit drinking does not mean I immediately got fixed.  I am still broken in many areas of my life and I continue to look for healing.  But, I find comfort in knowing that there is a Power that will cover me with understanding and compassion, that there is a Power in presence at the tables of my AA meeting, and today I am perfectly content knowing that “I AM POWERLESS”.smiley 3