emotional hangovers

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”orange tree

Most of us had created in the previous life as drunkards our own private drama clubs naming ourselves as President, Vice-President and every other club officer necessary to carry on our business of drama.  Additionally, we were the most vocal subscribing member.  The meetings were exhausting with inner dialogs that covered every aspect of anger, resentment, disappointment, and insecurity simmering in vehement self-righteousness.  Only our hangovers from drinking were more devastating and debilitating.

Are you still a member of your club today?  Am I?  How often do we spend our sober days reeling with “brain fog” as a result of a dalliance in our drama club?  It’s easy to do, but fortunately we now have the tools to immediately withdraw from participation if so desired.  And that’s the key, although sometimes we prefer to wallow in whatever satisfaction is derived from being overly dramatic and engaged in club activity.

“When a drunk has a terrific hangover because he drank heavily yesterday, he can not live well today.  But there is another kind of hangover which we all experience whether we are drinking or not.  That is the emotional hangover, the direct result of yesterday’s and sometimes today’s excesses of negative emotion – anger, fear, jealousy, and the like.”  Bill Wilson, AS BILL SEES IT, pg 48

Using our crutches in these times of emotional discord is not a weakness.  With a physical impairment such as a broken leg, crutches are meant to provide stability as we walk.  That uncomfortable cast keeps the leg aligned properly as it heals.  It’s the same in recovery from alcoholism.  The prayers, verses and sayings are meant to give us emotional support as we ambulate through the difficult times healing from the brokenness of our lives.

Sometimes the crutch we dismiss most is the fellow alcoholic whose phone number we have but don’t want to call.  Maybe it’s our sponsor who feels honored to have you as a “pigeon”, but we don’t want to be a bother or we don’t want to admit that we are hurting and needy of help.  Whatever the reasons are, the end result is a day spent miserably, or worse, a relapse into drinking.

For us, those forays into unnecessary drama can be a matter of life or death.  It need not happen.  We must gird ourselves with the tools of our program, surround ourselves with sober people, and meditate within our private space.

“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.”  STEP 11, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

“Oh, I can’t do that,” we said, “I don’t know how to meditate.”

Being the alcoholic that I am, I researched meditation and determined I would do meditation perfectly.  My first attempt at sitting on the floor cross-legged in lotus position promptly reminded me that my body did not understand the reason for such discomfort, much less did my brain associate this pain with a practice to discover inner awareness.

Just as I found my path to meditative discovery,  others have also.  I have learned that there are no rules or proper positions.  It is the ongoing practice of feeling connected to a Universal source, learning who we are in that realm, and finding peace within the Higher Power of our understanding that we are seeking in meditation.  When we are able to allow and then dismiss passing thoughts, positive or negative, and return to contemplation and inner searching,  we are accomplishing a serenity that was impossible during our drama club days.

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SOBER TODAY – one, two, three

“Admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

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

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When I first inserted this graphic, I said to myself, “I can’t use it because it is too blurred.”

Really?  Doesn’t that describe who and what we were in our addictions?  A big blur.  And the word POWERLESS is clear and distinct.  Yes, sometimes the words and pictures unplanned in what we write say more than 1000 words could say.

For some of us the transition from “me in charge” to God in charge was immediate, but for many it was a slow process which had to be renewed every morning, every hour of the day.  One, two, three every day for an extended period of time finally got us to the point where “admitting, believing, and turning it over” were as instinctive as breathing or pumping blood.  How often did we think, “My life wasn’t really that unmanageable?” or, “Maybe I could just drink socially like my buddies do? ” or, “I’ll decide what I turn over to my Higher Power?”

Cunning, baffling, and powerful!  Such is the nature of our disease which will not be satisfied until we are insane or dead.  Our fellowship friends who decided to test the waters of drinking again sometimes returned to reassure us that nothing had changed “out there”.  They were the fortunate ones.  Many never returned.

A recovery is a Godsend.  It is God’s grace giving us a chance to live sober lives.  We should never, ever, assume that we will have more than one opportunity to be victorious over alcohol.  It is not guaranteed.  Not because God is unwilling, but because we are fallible, broken men and women who are powerless over alcohol.

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SOBER TODAY – sainthood

NAMASTE“We are not saints.  The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines.  The principles we have set down are guides to spiritual progress.  We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, pg 60

 

Affectionately known as THE BIG BOOK, the handbook for Alcoholics Anonymous refutes the belief that life has to be perfect, especially the spiritual life.  Most normal people learn this as an aspect of maturation, but,  for those of us who are not normal and have spent a great deal of time doing field research chasing the many dead ends of substance addictions, this can be a most difficult thing to accept about ourselves.

Upon achieving a few days or weeks or months of sober-living, we wanted to do everything perfectly.  It’s as if we were trying to catch up on time lost doing what came most naturally to us, drinking and drugging.  We tried to immediately resume our positions within the family and community.  We strived to be our employer’s best employee.  We wanted to grasp with utmost urgency the faith which had always eluded us before.  That’s who we were in early sobriety and can still be today.  “I want it and I want it now.”

“We are not saints,” sponsors would remind us when the brokenness we had created for ourselves overshadowed our attempts to be perfect. We launched into days of despair and depression over our shortcomings forgetting the wisdom, “We claim spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.”

It’s not easy to practice “EASY DOES IT” as the signs on meeting room walls advise.  It’s not easy to live “ONE DAY AT A TIME”.  When we are told to “LET GO AND LET GOD” our natural instinct is to give God only that which causes us turmoil rather than every moment of every day.  It is not easy becoming a spiritual instrument which our Higher Power can use to serve the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and then, progressively,  greater humanity outside the rooms of AA.

This devotion to sober-living becomes our spiritual calling in life leading to an acceptance that we will never graduate to receive a diploma or attain sainthood.  We can only aspire and in that aspiration turn our will over every day to the One who saves the wretched and covers with grace their imperfection.  That is the spiritual awakening promised by following the steps of recovery programs such as AA and CR.

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SOBER TODAY – becoming unshackled

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There are times when a person reflects upon things he or she has written or said and with a querying mind asks, “How can I ever justify what I aspire to achieve spiritually when my thoughts, words, and actions are so undeniably human?”

Actually, that ‘querying’ mind is often self-condemning, is it not?  In these times of internal conflict we must remember that the spiritual progress promised in recovery programs, the Way of Jesus, and the Path of the Buddha are exactly what they claim to be, a course of progressive growth.  They are the trek each person must take to become vessels of wisdom and compassion within the power of the Divine Essence.  Undertaking this trek is not done with any expectation of perfection.  Progress is the goal.  Often the trail we walk slides off into a ravine of selfishness and unkind behavior, but pulling back onto the way forward is always awaiting.

The fellowships of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and CR (Celebrate Recovery) both recognize humanness and brokenness as elements of addictions.  Their step programs offer, not a miracle cure, but rather a way of living which enables members to rise above this inherent human condition of self-absorption.  Joining hands with like-minded men and women intent on becoming more than empty vessels tossed mercilessly on the seas of alcoholism, drug abuse, behavior addictions and emotional stress, these adventurers want not a perfect life, but a better life, a life of freedom from the prisons of self and ego.

Similarly, Jesus and the Buddha, holding all of creation in reverence, offered a lifestyle of service and compassion as the way to a personal heaven and a path to enlightenment.  Their disciples were ordinary examples of humanity who became extraordinary trekkers.  None of them were perfect.  Insecurity, anger, ego plagued their journeys through earthly temptations.  Yet, they understood that even though heaven or enlightenment was the desired outcome, a perfect life was not the path.  Humans must endure growth through the vagaries of humanness in order to become the spiritual beings which a Creator has intended.

Those who follow the life of Jesus Christ as their example must remember that, along with his obvious love and compassion for his Father’s creation, he also endured the human life fraught with temptation, desire, insecurity and anger.  According to the writings of the ancients, his public ministry lasted a scant 3 or 4 years before the crucifixion.  Where was he before the ministry, what was he doing?  Believing that Jesus traversed the same road of searching that every earthly human walks gives a great insight into the purpose of his life.  Those who portray Jesus as perfect at birth from a virgin’s womb seem to be missing the entire reason for his story.  Anybody can be perfect when born perfect.  Only a totally human experience of failure and disappointment combined with joy and ecstasy provides the sojourner with the necessary tools to crawl from the depths of hell to a life of peace and contentment.CANDLEcopyright 3

meditation

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“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God……..”  from Step 11 of ” TWELVE STEPS AND TWELVE TRADITIONS, Alcoholics Anonymous

Did we ever meditate when we were drinking or drugging?  Probably not too much.  My meditative thoughts encompassed the vintage of my bottle of wine and whether I had enough to get a good buzz.  Oh sure, sometimes when suffering a debilitating hangover I would meditate on why I was such a weak person unable to control my drinking and enjoy alcohol like my non-alcoholic friends.  That process usually ended with me saying, “Oh, what the hell,” as I headed to the liquor store for the next round of fortification meditating on whether it would  be Colt 45 beer, Cutty Sark scotch or a few bottles of Chablis or all three.

Seriously, for most of us newly sober drunks, meditation was something only the Buddhist monks did while chanting.  It was a new and foreign activity which did not come naturally.  But, we tried, we practiced, and we did not give up until some results were realized.  I learned to appreciate the fleeting peaceful moments and the clarity of thought following 10 minutes of meditation.  I knew that something within was being manifested which I had never known before.  Not sure if it was a God thing or mind manipulation, I nevertheless pursued this newly discovered tool of sobriety because it often countered the insanity and chaos filling my head.

Many years later meditation and prayer are mainstays of sobriety happening sometimes in the quiet of a darkened room, sometimes under a bright blue, sunny sky, often in a straight back chair listening to soothing music such as that of classical masters, and occasionally chanting with the Buddhist monks on YouTube.  I have also done meditative walking.  Now that’s a trip which can transport a person out of this universe within less than a mile of step-ping, step-ping, step-ping.  For me the variety of settings prevents the repetition which can lead to boredom and mental distraction.

I am by no means an expert.  However, when I learn a new habit which enhances my sense of wellness, I try to incorporate that habit into a daily routine.  As with all experiences in sobriety, I pursue spiritual growth rather than perfection.  When I was searching for the “proper” way to meditate, I tried to emulate those whom I saw sitting in lotus position straight-backed and legs crossed.

“Oh no”, my body said, “we cannot sit that way.”

Feet firmly on floor, sitting alert in a straight back chair, with hands opened upward in my lap is my position of choice.  The position is not set in stone.  Other meditative trekkers have different approaches.  For me it is not the body position, the mantras or the music that matters.  It is where we go, God and I, during that time of quietness and introspection.  It is what God and I accomplish during that half hour of communion.  How’s your good heart today?

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no longer strangers

NAMASTE

 

 

LUKE 15:11-32

The PRODIGAL SON in the book of Luke in Christian scripture is undoubtedly my favorite of the parables taught by Jesus.  It is my story.

I was raised within the love and protection of a community of hearty, salt-of-the-earth farmers.  Their lives were dedicated to raising families and raising crops.  Very simple needs, even simpler desires.  I often have reminisced that we were the prototype for the “Waltons” of television fame.  Indeed, it is true.  My extended family of great-grandparents, grandparents, mother and two aunts lived in an early 1900s house with 9 upstairs rooms which could be used as bedrooms when necessary.  During the years previous to my arrival in 1947, the household consisted of numerous children and a full live-in housekeeping staff plus an assortment of farm-hands.  During the harvest season Mammy (my great-grandmother) assisted by her daughters prepared a lunch table groaning with several meats, 2 or 3 potato dishes, vegetables fresh from the garden and at least 4 pies for dessert.  They fed 6 to 12 hungry men.  As was customary, the women folk ate after the men had finished.

But it was a hard life.  I was earning a wage by the time I was 12 years old, had after-school chores, and during the summer worked long days in the fields as well as helping to tend the cattle, pigs, and chickens.  It was a very hard life.  I determined early in my youth that I was not going to be a farmer.  When my friends from town came to visit they were awed by my lifestyle.  I, on the other hand, was envious of their freedom to join social groups and participate in extracurricular school activities.  They enjoyed the farm chores which to me were onerous.

Church attendance was mandatory.  Through the eyes and ears of this thirteen year-old, the preaching was ominous and the threats of a punishing God were overwhelming.  I finally accepted that anything which felt good was probably a sin.  When I turned sixteen I was no longer required to attend services or participate in my family’s religious tradition.  When I turned seventeen, one of my multiple addictions had already consumed much of my life and another two, smoking and drinking, kicked in with a vengeance.  By nineteen I was fully controlled by substance and behavior addictions.

My grandfather, who raised me as his own son, offered me his farm.  I ridiculed the offer saying that no way in hell was I going to be a farmer.  Fifty-two years later I am still haunted by the look of rejection on his face.  We never recovered that father-son relationship.  My last remembrances of him are of a sickly man sitting in his favorite chair which offered a view of the highway.  Reading his Bible he would look up to see who was driving by.  Sometimes it would be the community’s undertaker, a solemn man named Lawrence.   Looking at me with his clear blue eyes, Grandpa would quip in his Dutch accent, “Well, maybe next time Lawrence will be coming for me.”

I had an idyllic upbringing and a wonderfully simple life surrounded by people who loved me.  But, I thought something was missing.  I thought that those city folks living in the midst of glitz and excitement were offering a dream which my community and my family’s traditions could never provide.  And at age nineteen I chased after that dream.

Drinking, smoking, drugging, and carousing assured me that finally this farm boy had arrived.  Life was going to be grand and lavish.  Partying every night, trashing relationships became the norm and for a few years I loved it.  Never looked back on what had been sacrificed.  Lost my job because of drinking, failed college because of my drinking, destroyed a military opportunity because of my drinking…..”Aw what the hell?  That wasn’t the life I wanted anyway.”

Then the blackouts began.  The car wrecks, the addiction-imposed poverty, the broken promises to friends and family stirred within me memories of a much simpler life, a life of hard work, joy, and focus.  Like the prodigal in the book of Luke, I asked myself if I could go back home.  Could I return to age sixteen and redirect?

Of course my answer was no.  The farm had been sold, my family was cautious of their wayward son, no eligible prospects for a relationship wanted to take a chance with me, and my faith walk had virtually dead-ended.  I was spiritually, morally, and physically bankrupt.  I was a broken man at age 34 with no hope for redemption.

With nothing to lose except my wretched life, I arrived in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Something about those AAers sparked hope within me.  Their message of sobriety through a Higher Power and a fellowship with kindred sober-living drunks offered a glimpse of a new life through recovery.  I latched on to the enthusiasm and promise which I discovered in those rooms and held on to it for dear life.  Unspeakable joy interspersed with debilitating depression controlled many of the early days getting sober.

My Father welcomed me with open arms as if we had never separated.  He told me that those arms were wrapped around me all of the 17 years spent in the far country.  I finally understood that God walked that trek every step of the way protecting and loving me while patiently waiting for me to return.  The parable of the Prodigal tells me that Father was overjoyed to have me home.  He prepared a feast and a celebration for my return.  The celebration continues.  We are no longer strangers, I have come home.smiley 3

 

 

 

down to the river

you will be changed,

never the same

 

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

……down to the river to pray……..

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”  John 7:38  (emphasis are mine)

CANDLE