Sober today? The thin line separating life in sobriety from the death hold of alcoholism is the blessing of a Higher Power known worldwide by many names. Our sobriety is an undeserved, unmerited gift. Give your Higher Power a hand.
Sober today? The thin line separating life in sobriety from the death hold of alcoholism is the blessing of a Higher Power known worldwide by many names. Our sobriety is an undeserved, unmerited gift. Give your Higher Power a hand.
He who sits alone, sleeps alone, walks alone,
who is strenuous and subdues himself alone,
will find strength in the solitude of the forest.
BUDDHA, DHAMMAPADA, 305
How many of us wish today, as adults, that this wisdom would have been shared with us as children? It simply was not considered normal for a child to prefer the solitude of the woods to activity with other children in the park. We were called wall flowers when we did not keep up with the chatty ones at lunch break. We were graded as slow learners when we did not engage in classroom discussions. Yes, my elementary school report card (do they still have report cards?) had a space to inform my parents that I was not a team player, not a participant. Do they realize the damage inflicted on a young boy who merely wanted to enjoy his solitude, a boy who did not rely on friendships and social activity for his fulfillment? The birds, animals, and flowers in the countryside fields and woods were my intimate companions way back then. I enjoyed the peace and quiet of these gifts infinitely more than the company of rowdy playmates in games of baseball, tag or hide-n-go-seek.
I reached adulthood believing that I was deficient. My waning social activity supported that idea. Not a joiner, not a member, not a community person, not a party person. Even my growing alcoholism, ages 17 to 34, revolved around drinking in the woods with a few select friends or by myself at home. It became a problem when I began to avoid social commitments with loved ones and friends. My perceived deficiency controlled most aspects of my younger years as I nosedived into deep depression and obsessive alcoholic behavior – a symptom of the misconceived impression of Larry, the socially awkward introvert.
However, looking back on those years, I don’t remember ever feeling lonely. A lover would slam the door when leaving in anger and disgust saying, “You don’t need anybody, do you?” Sadly, the truthful answer confirmed those words. I didn’t need anybody to fill my empty spaces. I became a socially deficient drunk who just wanted to be left alone.
Recovery from alcoholism has demanded even more intense self-scrutiny and introspection. Initially, I had to learn to love myself as I was, not as someone else thought I should be. In the meeting rooms I met many other men and women just like me – socially awkward and withdrawn from life. We held each others’ hands, cried together, prayed together, hugged, and instilled a sense of completeness in each other that had always been missing before. The healing was slow and painful, but we became participants in life even in our own quiet, unassuming ways.
Western culture places an enormous emphasis on assertiveness and achievement. We are considered weak if we are not pushy and demanding. Those of us who are perfectly content with the quiet and peace of a meandering stream through the meadow or a walk along wooded trails or an afternoon reading poetry are sometimes deemed lazy and unproductive.
To others like me, I say STOP! Just stop! Stop being a people pleaser trying to fit into a preconceived social mold. Introvert is not a cuss word. Not everyone can be extroverted, nor should they try to be. When I appreciate the person whom the God of my understanding created, when I accept that today at this moment I am a perfect product of this creation, then life can also be perfect. Doesn’t mean that I don’t pursue growth and try to make tomorrow’s version of me even better. It simply means saying quietly and thankfully, “Just as I am, Lord. Receive all of me just as I am.”
The word has a ring to it that piques my attention. I have been writing blogs for several years and never had opportunity to use the word ostensible. Now is my chance to realize another of life’s dreams.
“I ostensibly bought the two bags of candy for my partner because he loves candy.”
And since that candy was on sale at the grocery store, BOGO, (buy one, get one free) of course I had to take two bags. One does not refuse a BOGO offer. Who in their right mind would not take the second box of cereal, or the second package of chicken, or the second can of tuna? Lord forbid!
Friends, I had a major slip last night. For 3 months I have been adhering to the keto lifestyle which excludes, along with grains and refined seed oils, SUGAR. Yes, sugar is a major faux pas with keto-genic. AND, this old man loves his sugar snacks. Force me to choose between the life of my best friend and a Snickers bar and I would need a minute or two to make that decision – the Snickers bar of course.
I should know better. I am a recovering alcoholic. An alcoholic does not tempt his sobriety with a bottle of his favorite whiskey. He does not buy it at the liquor store just because it is on sale and his best friend (the one he just betrayed for a Snickers bar) loves that brand of whiskey. He does not honestly believe he can take that whiskey home and not think about sneaking a swig.
I sat in front of my TV for 3 hours trying to convince myself that I was deep into the football game – it was a good game. The occasional thought of the recently bought candy in the candy dish certainly would not break my resolve to avoid sugar in my newly found dietary keto-genic miracle which had enabled me to drop 25 excess pounds of belly fat, eliminate my diagnosis of pre-diabetes, and astound my Medicare doctor with my healthy lipid profile. No, hell no! I was stronger than those wonderful chocolate morsels just waiting to touch my tongue with their delicious mouth-watering delight.
This morning I am a defeated man asking myself, “How did it happen, how could I have been so clueless?”
If you are one who prays, please pray for my recovery. If you cross fingers (or any other body parts) please cross now. Above all, please don’t hate me. I’m just another human trying to negotiate the powers of addiction. Oh Lord, why can’t I be addicted to foods like sardines or avocadoes or celery sticks…..or kale?
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?
Have we ever considered what it is about others than disturbs us the most? Is it their conceit, their crass behavior, their selfishness? Or is it their love of possessions, their disregard for society’s moral conduct, their dishonesty? Of course, the next question would require us to look into our own selves wondering what it is about them that trips our trigger.
In my early recovery years, as I was complaining to my sponsor about a group member who embodied everything which I despised, he responded this way,
“All that you hate in others are elements of your own personality that you are afraid to look at.”
“Hell no, that’s not true,” I replied defensively. “I am not like that.”
And I truly believed that. But, the seed had been planted and would not allow me to rest until I took it to my quiet space within and considered my sponsor’s words. Jerry could be shallow and selfish – yeah, me too, we are, after all, alcoholics. Jerry could seem arrogant – yeah, me too, but that was due to my insecurity with others. Jerry seemed disinterested in his group members – yeah, me too, but again I was shy and felt awkward with people. Jerry didn’t seem to grasp the humility in recovery, his concept of a Higher Power was weird – really? What did I profess as a Higher Power? A vengeful, old, gray bearded, eyes on fire, lightning-spitting man sitting somewhere in the universe on his throne of judgement? How weird is that?
In due time I learned a lot about myself from Jerry. He mirrored my own ego which at that time totally controlled who I was. Eckhart Tolle in his book, A NEW EARTH -AWAKENING TO YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE, writes:
“The particular egoic pattern that you react to most strongly in others and misperceive as their identity tend to be the same patterns that are also in you, but that you are unable or unwilling to detect within yourself. In that sense, you have much to learn from your enemies. What is it in them that you find most upsetting, most disturbing? Their selfishness? Their greed? Their need for power and control? Their insincerity, dishonesty, propensity to violence, or whatever it may be? Anything that you resent and strongly react to in another is also in you.”
The initial response is probably, “no way, not true.” But, as with any planted seed, this will not disappear until it is either choked with weeds and dies or nourished and brought to fulfillment. The question becomes whether we will wither in our denial or respond and grow. That, essentially, is what recovery is about. It is much more than living without alcohol and drugs or whatever our addictions entertain. It is a continual recognition of the external forces and internal thoughts that attempt to control our true identity, that state of Being which the Buddha called anata – no self. Words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in the 8th chapter of Mark, verse 34, “whoever wants to be my disciple (follow my Truth) must deny self…..” which, in other words, is to deny ego control of our response to the world in which we live. Peace or drama? How will we choose to live?
Our world has become one of us versus them. Nationalism, tribalism, religious intolerance – they all try to convince us that we are superior to them. The them are always wrong while us are always right. Eons ago this mindset meant only that the caveman with the best clubs and biggest stones would win and the others would need to move on to find another cave in which to live.
We are not cave dwellers. We have missiles and nuclear weapons instead of clubs and stones. Our separateness cannot be resolved by conflict and violence. There will be, in a World War 3, no winners. Our species and probably earth as we know it will be eradicated.
The next time I watch on media screens a national leader or world power whom I despise, the next time I see a religious leader lead his flock astray, the next time I look at my neighbor with disgust, I must remember the lessons which Jerry taught me in early sobriety. Despite the outward appearances of polarizing differences, we are the same. What we do, how we think will determine whether this species of ours sees a 22nd or 23rd century. It’s our responsibility to grow our planted seed into selfless maturity.
“We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness. Whatever mistakes we have made in the past, whatever problems we may have in the present, in every one of us this ‘uncreated spark in the soul’ remains untouched, ever pure, ever perfect. Even if we try with all our might to douse or hide it, it is always ready to set our personality ablaze with light.” EKNATH EASWARAN (1910-1999) cac.org
(Eknath Easwaran was an Indian born spiritual teacher and author, as well as translator and interpreter of early Hindu texts such as the UPANISHADS and the BHAGAVAD GITA.)
Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) taught:
“Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name in history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts.”
The world, specifically Western Culture, might do well to listen to the words of all religious traditions whose mystics searched beyond the limits of this life experience for truer meaning and self-less examination. Escaping the insanity of violence, war, poverty, genocide, persecution, religious intolerance and greed is critical for a path to a sustainable co-existence of the human species as well as the ecosystem of earth which inarguably is essential to our survival.
Giving up self-indulgence is not easy. Just ask any other recovering alcoholic or addict. A primary symptom, if not the most salient aspect, of our addictions was ego-driven selfishness. Unfortunately, that does not miraculously disappear upon our first day of the recovery process. For most of us, especially me, this change in focus becomes a lifetime endeavor. Some days are better than others, but the spark is there. An AA saying that resonates is, “A belly full of booze and a head full of AA don’t mix.” It’s the same with recognizing the divine spark within each of us. Once you experience it, you can no longer ignore it. That inner essence demands change.
I continue to be amazed that for some people this change is easily accomplished. Involving in service work, rejoining their communities, whether in civic groups or church groups, seems to be a cakewalk for them. Not for me. You can drag me to a town hall meeting, but I will be kicking and screaming all the way. It is not natural for me to do something that is not all about me, me, me.
We don’t hear WWJD very often these days. “What Would Jesus Do?” In no way have I perfected this approach, but when I ask myself this question, I can usually depend on a positive, forward-moving answer. It doesn’t matter whether one believes a divine Jesus, a virgin-born Jesus, a reverential Jesus or a bodily resurrected Jesus, the keys to successful, peaceful, empowered living are contained in the writings which are attributed to the words of Jesus of Nazareth. Those nuggets of inspiration and truth culled from the Bible’s chapters detailing Judaic history, folklore, and ancient wisdom present a lifestyle and mindset that lead to the change demanded by each individual’s inner essence.
Not surprisingly, this truth can be gathered from most of the world’s great spiritual traditions if we put aside the hype and tribal prejudices of religion and instead search for the reality of inner discovery. History’s mystics lead that search.
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.
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.”
I have a confession to make – my name is Larry and I am a TV news show junkie. Not baseball, not sit-coms, not movies from 1948, no, I sit for several hours watching the latest developments from national leaders unfold on my screen. You might say, “Well Larry, that’s a good thing. It is good to stay on top of current events.”
No, no, no this is not a good thing. How do I know? I know that when I have viewed a great movie classic or an exciting baseball game, when I have guffawed uncontrollably over the antics of a sit-com cast, I feel good. However, when I have spent 4 hours watching this political figure or that wannabe leader spout a stream of accusations and innuendo, defame people who are my heroes, immaturely slander others who aspire to make a difference in our society…when bedtime rolls around, I am angry, disturbed, depressed and vindictive. My internal dictionary tells me that these are negatives. That is not a good thing. I try not to entertain negatives in my life.
Denying that I have a problem does not help. Believing that I can practice controlled viewing does not work. When 7 PM rolls around I am magnetically drawn to the remote control, I am savoring the first few minutes of updates. Ten minutes is too much and four hours is not enough. My mind is putty in the hands of those celebrity pundits appearing on my screen. Hold me, caress me, teach me the things I need to know about society and politics. Yes, yes, yes, form my opinions, make me intelligent and witty, give me the words to argue with any of my neighbors. Here I am. Take me now and we will dwell forever in digital ecstasy.
Pretty damn sad, isn’t it? So, as you may have noticed, the title of this post is “IT’S A GREAT DAY! – weakness.” When I was a young boy working with my grandfather on his farm, the farm hands who assisted in the summer months were young, mature, worldly men who had been around the block a few times. They knew the pleasures and the secrets of life. Full of advice for a boy growing up totally naïve, they always joked with me about girls and the mysteries of puberty and adolescence. But invariably, with dead seriousness, they would then end the conversation with, “Life is great if ya don’t weaken.”
“Hmmm,” I wondered to myself, “what on earth are they talking about?”
Trial and error answered my question. Many trials and many errors in dealing with sex, in finding my place in society, in succumbing to numerous addictions. If anyone learned about life the hard way, it was me. ‘Life is great if ya don’t weaken’ took on painful profundity as I battled the demons which were in control of Larry, the young man.
When I share my concern with the news programs addiction, we know it is somewhat in jest. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say this evening pastime of national events is incongruous with the mindset I want for myself and that I need to corral that remote control by setting limits upon what networks it can access. Yeah, that sounds like a winning course of action. Honestly, an intelligent, reasonable, well-grounded man cannot possibly be ‘addicted’ to TV……can he?
I have a great start to this day. Upon awakening I hugged the sleeping cat aside me, I brewed my first cup of coffee, I dwelled upon the dawning day, and then set a course for honoring the master of my life. Meditation, yoga and a light workout got my lungs breathing and heart pumping. I have a few chores for this afternoon and a list of options for this evening….baseball, a book to read, maybe a classic movie. Please wish me luck as I battle my latest affliction and try not to weaken by 7PM. It’s a great day at my house and in my mind! How about you?
So, you’re a gambler? How often do you win? Excites you, doesn’t it? The thrill of the bet, the risk-taking, the ecstasy of a win, the personal satisfaction in knowing you have beaten the odds. Ok, good for you.
How often do you lose? How much? A lot? Really? Sounds like you might be losing more than you win. Yeah, I know it’s just entertainment; after all, you’re not addicted, right?
Do you gamble with your life? A risk-taker? Do you jump out in front of moving traffic? Do you play Russian roulette with your friends? How about unprotected sex? It’s just gambling, right?
Life is more than just a roll of the dice. When you wake up in the morning, rolling those blocks of chance, giving the day’s promises to Lady Luck is going to guarantee one of three outcomes. You will either win or you will lose or the day will wind up a wash-out. That’s just 1 in 3 chances of having a great day.
Try this instead. Open your eyes, look around the room, appreciate the bed in which you slept comfortably, and let the first words out of your mouth be a sincere “Thank you. I am so greatly blessed.”
Monkey brain will attempt to engage. Will you allow it? Got to clean the bathroom, must call the pharmacy, need to get groceries, Johnny needs a clean shirt, the cat has fleas, North Korea is going to bomb us, the world is ending, I’ve got to vacuum the rugs…..”oh Lord I’m so weary already!”
STOP! Don’t let monkey brain begin your day. Instead, breathe in. Air is rushing over your lungs, aerating the blood, pumping fresh life into your organs, bringing life to limbs. Wiggle those toes, shake out the cramps from sleeping on your arm, wipe the sleepies from you eyes, hold that breath and then…..exhale. Release the thoughts trying to capture your thinking, inhale again. Exhale, inhale, exhale. Envision your body parts waking up to a great new day. Breathe in, then breathe out.
Now, you are ready to swing those legs out over the bed and rise to greet this day ahead of you. Are you going to roll the dice? No, of course not. You will make this the best day ever, the beginning of the rest of your life. Imagine how you want to enjoy today. Have a cup of coffee or tea on the patio listening to the melody of songbirds in the nearby oak trees. Watch the mother duck leading her hatchlings to the pond. Become amazed by the roses sharing their aroma in the morning air. Are you feeling it yet? Life is wonderful and a great day lies ahead.
Of course, if you would rather roll your dice, go for it. Read the morning headlines, turn up the volume of the TV. Fuss at Johnny for not putting his dirty shirt in the laundry. Scold the cat for being a cruise ship for fleas. Yell at your spouse for being such a slob in the bathroom. It’s your choice. Roll the dice and hope for the best or give the day a fighting chance to be terrific by waking up to the splendor that surrounds your life.
Wasn’t it Erma Bombeck who wrote, “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?” And remember what Confucius said? “When life gives you a bunch of lemons, make lemonade.”