OK. It is official. Immanuel (God with us) has arrived into a world filled with heartache, hatred, poverty, fear and, oh yes-don’t forget the pandemic. Welcome, Jesus. Sorry, I could not clean up our mess for you.
Lord, sometimes it is just too much to process. That’s why we have you. Our Father gave you to us to set the standard, to show us how we are supposed to live in a loving humanity of brothers and sisters. Guide us in your ways. AMEN
We are blessed every day with breath, with heartbeat, with functioning bodies. We awaken each morning to the glorious beauty of Your creation. For those of us saved from the ravages of alcoholism and associated addictions, we remember what we did last night, where we were, whom we slept with and where we parked our truck when we came home. We awaken unashamed of last night’s activity and sure that our coming day will be filled with continuing peace and understanding. And we look forward to another day basking in the light of Jesus.
We anticipate fulfilment of the promises we have read in our recovery literature. The truth of sobriety is synonymous with the commitment to sober-living. It’s not only about “not drinking and using”. It’s about changing who we are, how we think, what we do and how we relate to the world. No longer are we individually the center of our universes. No longer do we fear social situations or financial difficulties. Sober-living leads us to an understanding which was impossible for us as drunks and addicts.
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to realize a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret our past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic adversity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, pgs 83-84
Are these extravagant promises? Absolutely not! Millions of recovering alcoholics living successfully and productively will testify to the results. Those results will always materialize if we work for them.
Living sober is not about the ‘right’ God or the ‘right’ theology. I choose the God of my youth, my religious tradition, to guide me through a world that assaults and profanes my innate sense of moral compass. Jesus is the North Star of that compass. Celebrating the birth renews and revitalizes a life-long faith tradition. But, each of us must find the “God of our understanding.”
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” STEP 3, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
“MY CHAINS ARE GONE – I’VE BEEN SET FREE”
Many of us in recovery from addiction tearfully and prayerfully remember our brothers and sisters who have died or are still suffering and we quietly say, “But, for the grace of God, there go I.”
We believe it was grace, not luck nor will power, that brought us to our knees in humility seeking a better way, a return to sanity, a reason to continue on our journeys as participants in life. It was grace that set us free from the hell of alcoholism and drug addiction. It is still today that amazing grace which keeps us clean and serene. We praise the power whom we address as Lord and Savior as we thankfully remember the many others along the way who have knelt with us, cried with us and prayed with us.
“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
The word emancipation has been used frequently over the past few days – and it should be. When we can celebrate together as One the freedom of all, we will then be socially emancipated. All groups of immigrants coming to America’s table of equality desired emancipation – Germans, Irish, Asian, Catholic, Muslim, etc. It’s an innate destiny to live our lives as designed and intended by a Higher Power. Our nation is unique in that we have historically welcomed any who wish to be a part of our melting pot culture. Lady liberty, standing in New York Harbor, shares these words:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
But, emancipation is more than the freedom granted by society. It is also personal and spiritual. That shameful habit that we have hidden within hoping no body would discover our little secret, that unlawful act we committed decades ago, that extra-marital affair with our best friend’s wife….all waiting for the grace of emancipation. It can happen only when, “we admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” STEP 5, TWELVE & TWELVE, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
Getting honest is not a fun thing. It can be heart wrenching and difficult. The Big Book tells us to be fearless and thorough in our personal inventories. But, there is a light at the end of that dark tunnel. It is the freedom brought about by the emancipation of our souls. For some of us it is a return to foundational principles learned young, but then squandered during our addictions. Come to the table where equality dwells and find your freedom now.
“…..if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” JOHN 31-32
Really? Do I remember where I was last night, whom I was with, what I did? Do I know where I parked my truck? Am I reeking of stale cigarettes and whiskey? Must I extend apologies (again) to my friends and family?
NO! Today is not just another day. Today is a spectacular day in the sobriety journey. It is a day to rejoice and be grateful.
You and I are sober today – get up, get motivated and let’s give ourselves and our HP 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.