power of friendship

The first few months of sustained sobriety were exciting and exhilarating for those of us recovering from alcoholism.  New ways of thinking, new habits, new friends, and a new spirituality kept us coming back to the rooms and tables of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Day by day we grew stronger in our commitments to live life without the crutch of a potion which we knew was killing us.  Some of us, however, continued to stumble over the name of God in the prayers and in the readings.  Too much God baggage from our addictions made it difficult to sincerely think about the Higher Power in any but the simplest of terms. Those with continuous sober time told us to use the group conscience as our reference point for God.  It worked.  Eventually, having done our inventories and amends, we cast aside the vindictive, judgmental concept we carried for far too many years and we could say and think God with conviction.

Very special friendships developed as we found others with like interests and shared histories.  Many of us began new lives plagued by financial problems carried over from our past lives and we found it necessary to share living expenses and housing.  It was a perfect solution to the loneliness imposed on us by our disease.

Roommates in recovery discovered that living together could be just as problematic as our marriages or relationships had been previously.  We were sober but we were not yet cured of the issues which turned our living arrangements into living hells prior to Alcoholics Anonymous.  We had not arrived at serenity, we were still works in progress.

My first roommate as a sober man was Jackie L.  He had several years sobriety, attended numerous meetings weekly, and was a person of deep, very deep, Catholic convictions.  We spent hours delving into the mysteries of the great writers of religious tradition.  Our commitment to sober living was never questioned and, in retrospect, that commitment kept us from going off the “deep end” with religion.  We had witnessed that happening to some of our friends; they got into some heavy theology and lost their sobriety as a result.

Jackie was described by some friends as a brooding, moody man.  I learned by watching his eye color change from a bright hazel to a deep green when Jackie had something on his mind.  And it was only a matter of minutes before we were in deep discussion about that “something”.  Being the younger in terms of sober time, I was also more explosive with emotions while my roommate maintained a calm composure.  That thoroughly pissed me off as we explored the problem we were having.  He already had the upper hand with his poise and wisdom while I sat there spitting and sputtering trying to argue my point.

Those days of early sobriety were extremely important in developing the interpersonal skills we somehow mismanaged while perched on our favorite bar stool at the local watering hole.  Finally, we had an opportunity to jumpstart our emotional growth which had been at a standstill for so many years.  And  make no mistake about it; this was tough, painstaking work.  We were ill-equipped for behaving like mature men and women.  But somehow we survived.

Jackie and I have lost touch over the many years since 1983.  But, I shall never forget his famous line whenever he was about to take the high road in our numerous arguments as roommates.  He, with those dark brooding eyes, would look at me with a slight curl on his lips and a mocking laugh and then ask,

“Well Larry, now how spiritual was that?”

That has stayed with me for all these years.  When I do or think something which is less than serene and clean, I ask myself, “Well Larry, now how spiritual was that?”

Today I believe the world and its problems could learn a lesson from Jackie and me if people would simply ask themselves, “How spiritual was that?”

 

labels

As a retired guy trying to get by on social security, I welcome offers from friends to help them occasionally on painting jobs.  My “expertise” accumulated over many years as a painting contractor fits hand-in-glove to their need for experienced casual labor.  Such has been the case over the past few days.
The client on this most recent endeavor is an extremely pleasant woman whose gift for gab is obviously a plus in her customer service business.  Quick to smile, offering us egg rolls for lunch, and helping as much as possible, this lady talks easily about her adventure in life.  Born in Vietnam, lived in Saigon, she remembers the Vietnam War and shows by her attitude her delight in being American.
Yes, she is American, just as I am.  There was a time during the height of the War when I uncharitably would have tacked on more adjectives to my description of this lady.  My HP has changed my thinking and my ways, but even today I catch myself sending out a simple,  “Lord, forgive me for being such a jerk back then.”
My ego has a need to differentiate me from others.  It urges me to attach stereotypes, to use crass descriptions, and to believe I am better than others.  My ego wants me to label everyone I encounter in an effort to separate from their own humanness.  I unwarily fall into ego’s need to control and define who I am.  This temporary drift into “uniqueness” is in direct contradiction of the higher Essence which lords my life.

I know today that ego is not the controller.  All the labels I use to define me, to describe me, to stroke my sense of self are merely attempts by an ego wanting to be back in control, to preserve its identity.  And all the labels I put on others are attempts to put separation between me and fellow humans.

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St Francis, in a well-known prayer, ends with: “…..for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying to self that we are born to everlasting life.” prayer of St. Francis
Rumi, a 13th century Muslim and Sufi mystic, wrote: “What have I ever lost by dying?”  Rumi
Rumi and St. Francis knew the joy and rebirth realized by death and dying of ego.
“Only after you have fallen into the True Self, will you be able to say with the mystic Rumi, ‘What have I ever lost by dying?’ [2] You have discovered true freedom and liberation. When you are connected to the Whole, you no longer need to protect or defend the part. You are now connected to something inexhaustible.”  Richard Rohr

bends, turns & detours

As with any journey, the destination is not always what we imagined it should be and quickly we discover that there are bends, turns, and detours to negotiate.  Such is the quest for sanity and serenity in sobriety.  When I had accomplished what seemed impossible, one year of continuous sobriety, I thought, “Aha, this is it, I have arrived.”

Yes, in a way, I did arrive.  But, I soon realized I had just touched the surface of what sober living entailed.  Thirty-six years later, I have yet to arrive.  The drinking is no longer the problem.  It’s actually easy now.  Don’t drink and I won’t get drunk; one is too many and ten is not enough; I won’t drink even if my ass falls off.  No, it’s not the alcohol anymore, it’s me and all the baggage stowed away in my head which continues to need an inventory and cleaning.  I suppose all of us are like that and the main difference is that we recovering alcoholics are fortunate enough to have a program geared specifically for us in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Perhaps the most difficult clean-out of the brain is releasing the religious indoctrination of our early years.  Today, as an old man approaching the septuagenarian decade of life, I no longer judge harshly the experiences of a childhood overwhelmed with a theology of condemnation and hell-fire although those experiences were definite contributors to my addiction.  I don’t harbor anger and resentment over injustices done in the name of a vengeful God.

But, I also do not forget.  The quest I am on leads into new and exciting ventures in the realms of spirituality, it leads into exploration of varying faith communities, it leads into appreciation for the ancient religions established long before the advent of Christianity.  And I do this comfortably because my mainstays are  love, compassion, peace, and nonviolence.  If, in the scriptures and writings which I encounter, those four companions of universal Oneness and solidarity don’t jump off the page and fill my brain with a sense of completeness, then I must move on.  I trust that inner spirit today.  Where it leads, I will follow.

And so, I try to walk the path of Buddha, worship corporately with Lutherans, and fellowship with sober people.  It’s a fine mix of all the best things in life when I maintain priorities and always remember that my name is Larry and I am an alcoholic.

take stock & regroup

When I undertook this format for writing several years ago, it was with the intent to share my experience, strength, and hope in my personal quest for sanity and serenity as a recovering alcoholic.  I had no aspirations for a blog that would draw thousands of readers or ambitions for a post that would go viral.  And, I have not been disappointed.

The events of the past year have tilted my concerns and attentions to the political arena.  Certainly my personal opinions are valid, my voice needs to be counted, and my vote will continue to be registered, but, continual attention to a situation which is beyond my control exacts a toll on serenity and composure.

Today, I realized that common sense will ultimately prevail, that goodness and mercy will prevail, and that life will go on with or without my input.  But, I also came to understand that our culture ( Western, specifically American) is driven not by a sense of spirit, but rather by a sense of self.  We are a culture of egoism and self-absorption.  It is the only explanation for the politicians we have installed as leaders of the free world.

A wealthy friend, let’s call him Joe, is a minor millionaire who spends more money on a pair of shoes than I can spend on monthly groceries.   Joe has called our current President a pig.  He has questioned our President’s shady connections.  He is one of the voters who voted for the least worst of the worst candidates in decades.  Yet, Joe confided that the stock market is doing great, he is making money and therefore he is happy with the pig with shady connections who is currently posing as POTUS.  Another pair of designer shoes for Joe and maybe a Rolex are in his offing.

Yes, today has been a time of refection and redirect.  I know who I am in God’s world, I intend to strive on for a compassionate, caring, communing interaction with the world’s peoples, creatures, and environment.  This is the only wealth which is worth chasing, it is the eternity detailed in the chapters of the great scriptures, it is that which the greatest of God’s messengers have attested as truth; it is the way of Jesus, the path of Buddha and it is available to all who will subdue themselves to the greater power so simply presented in the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Oneness which we call God, or Allah, or Brahman will continue with or without us.  The universal, omnipotent power of the Oneness will do this…with or without us.  Our reason for being here on this earth in this life is to promote and assist the physical/spiritual welfare of our brothers and sisters, to cherish the creation and to protect the environment.  We are not here to promote our version of God, to defend our version of God, or in any way assist our version of God.  The one you name as God, the one I name as God is perfectly capable of handling those details.  Let’s appreciate the simplicity of our solidarity.

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live simply

gandhi

Our world today seems overwhelmingly complicated for most of us, especially when we are trying to balance sobriety and its demand for spiritual growth with our social needs in an ego-driven society.  At some point all of us have experienced ‘burn-out’ with our lives.  It happened to me many years ago when my burnout coincided with chairing an AA meeting.  I suggested that very issue as the meeting’s topic of discussion.  Not many in the group participated and I soon realized it was a negativity which was not good fodder for a spiritual conversation.

Living simply, of course, applies to our physical presence on this earth in many ways.  Our consumer habits, our use of natural resources, our food preferences all contribute to the footprint we leave behind as humans.  We are urged by ad councils and corporate America to buy, buy, buy.  Buy this item and you will be beautiful.  Buy our brand and you will be keeping up with the Joneses.  Buy a shiny, new automobile and, baby, you have arrived.

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”  A PROVEN PLAN FOR FINANCIAL FITNESS by Dave Ramsey

As important as these issues are, it is the inner application of “live simply, so that others may simply live” that is extremely challenging.  How do I bring my mind to a place which embraces all humanity as a brotherhood?  How do I simplify and refine my ethics code to a common denominator of tolerance and inclusion?  My inner simplicity determines my outward display of compassion and acceptance.  When my mind analyzes and rationalizes it is not maintaining a core of simplicity.  I am my best self when I become one with you and with all humanity, when I am in solidarity with brothers and sisters worldwide.

rainbow-solidarity

Humility

“……a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be.”  pg 58  TWELVE STEPS & TWELVE TRADITIONS

http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/twelve-steps-and-twelve-traditions

Humility is not about being a shrinking violet or assuming an attitude of deference.  No, our sobriety literature says humility is an act of celebration followed by stepping out into the world and embracing the restored life our Higher Power has given us thus empowering us with a renewed involvement in the world.

12 STEPS OF AA

STEP 1 “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.”

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Step 2 “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

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Step 3 “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives to the care of God as we understood God.”

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Step 4 “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

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Step 5 “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

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Step 6 “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

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Step 7 “Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings”

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Step 8 “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”

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Step 9 “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

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Step 10 “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it”

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Step 11 “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out”

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Step 12 “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs”

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BY THE GRACE OF GOD WE ARE UNSHACKLED

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http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/twelve-steps-and-twelve-traditions

rainy days

We tend to pack our days with yard chores, outdoor activity, social events, volunteering, etc.  Seldom do we get up in the morning and plan nothing.  Zilch, nada, nothing.  Then, checking in with our weather source, we see the spreading green blob of precipitation heading our way.  What now?

The most pleasant days can be spent relaxing under the tin roofed porch, curled up with a great book, listening to that rain softly beating rhythmically on the roof.  We reflect, we meditate, we lounge, we create emptiness in our overworked minds.  The planned activity slips away into oblivion as we take a tour of what’s happening within.  Sometimes we actually connect with moments of clarity and insight.  What a perfect way to spend a rainy day!

Life can be a continuum of well spent rainy days or it can be a rush of forced activity.  It’s our choice.

recovery basics

  1. Don’t drink and you won’t get drunk
  2. One drink is too many, ten are never enough
  3. K.I.S.S  (keep it simple stupid)
  4. God aka g.o.d.  (good orderly direction)
  5. People, places, things.  Sobriety demands change.
  6. “GOD IS”.  Yep, that’s it.  God simply is.  There is no need for further definition or description.

 

Live & Let Live

One of the wall posters which first grabs attention in the AA meeting room is, “LIVE & LET LIVE”.

“Great sentiment, but so impractical.”

However, it was soon discovered that this simple thought was one of the keystones to a contented and successful sobriety.  We, a roomful of recovering alcoholics, had one mission.  It was our desire to stop drinking and to share our experience, strength, and hope with any who wanted to listen.  We lived by the creed of “attraction rather than promotion”.

Years after my first AA meeting, I again fell into the chaos of fundamentalism believing I needed more spiritual growth and thinking the local independent church could encourage that growth.  Again I swooned in the mindset of absolutes.  This way is absolutely godly, that way is not. No need for me to think or discern because it’s all laid out in black or white and the inerrant, infallible book of scriptures is direct discourse from God himself.  Just trust your preacher and elders to give the straight scoop on all things spiritual.

My day of reckoning within that fellowship came when I was asked to go door to door with a few of the “brothers” to distribute tracts and bring lost souls to Jesus Christ.  What could be more commendable than saving the lost and dying?

“Live and let live. Attraction rather than promotion.”  The words swirled through my head as I excused myself from this proselytizing endeavor and shortly thereafter from the brotherhood of self-righteousness.

In spite of what we would like to believe and what we profess in faith, we simply do not know.  Nobody has returned from death to verify heaven or hell.  God could be exactly what the fundamentalists proclaim or God could be an ancient space alien who populated the earth with creatures similar to himself.  Or, God could be an eternal void following death.  Kudos to those who can faithfully thump their theology with absolute certainty while remembering that theology is nothing more than religious philosophy frequently formulated for political power and financial gain.

Life was lived contentedly by the wisdom of “live and let live” for many years of blissful sobriety until the elections of 2016.  Then that element of hypocrisy which had been encountered decades ago become painfully visible again when numerous fundamental evangelicals lined up behind a man who displayed none of their self-proclaimed ideology.  That segment of evangelical Christianity appears to be dissatisfied with an equal slice of the American pie which celebrates the entirety of America’s diversity.  It has become evident that they want the whole pie.   Legislated morality has reappeared from the days of Jerry Falwell’s ‘moral majority’ with a vengeance.

America is often defined as an experiment most aptly described by Emma Lazarus:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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!”

These ‘tired, poor, homeless, and huddled masses’ whom she welcomes are not only those who yearn to be here, but also Americans who follow the beat of a different drummer in philosophy, lifestyle, and creed.  We are here to stay and we shall breathe free in the face of a stifling, increasing, fundamentalist presence.