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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applause please

clappingIf you are sober today, give yourself and your Higher Power a hand.

It is quite a miracle, you know.  We, who could not put together two days of sobriety now embrace a lifestyle of sober-living with all the wondrous beauty and amazement which accompanies our daily reprieve from alcoholism.  We who could not live without our liquid fortification now enjoy days and nights free of the desire and the temptation.  We know, when we awaken in the morning, exactly what we did last night, whom we were with last night, where we  parked the car last night.  We know those things now because we did not saturate our brains with alcohol.  Give yourselves a hand.

The praises to a God of our understanding cannot be overstated for it indeed was an act of divine intervention.  All our efforts to practice controlled drinking, all our readings of self-help books, all our attention to heathy diets, all our promises to loved ones to quit could not defeat the curse of our common demon.  As much as we tried to be better as spouses, friends, employees, those efforts paled when that first drink of the day stood in front of us.  We finally admitted that we were powerless.

But, let’s not diminish the tremendous efforts on our part in the sobriety story.  Remember the field research we endured sitting night after night at our favorite watering hole romancing the bottle rather than a loved one at home.  And then the brilliance of that initial revelation that there was indeed a better way to live.  Sometimes it happened after an especially violent argument.  Or perhaps a dear friend urged us to “straighten up and fly right.”  A car accident, a lost job, a divorce, a financial crisis.  At some point the God of our understanding revealed God’s plan for our lives and we said, “Yes, I am willing to surrender.  I must surrender or I will die.”

That was just the beginning of another sobriety story joining the millions of other souls who had discovered a better way.  Chapter one of that story detailed the nights waking up in sheer terror after dreaming we had given in to the allure of alcohol and had been out drinking.  We roller-coasted from exquisite moments of clarity to abysmal thoughts of suicide.  We loved, hated, enjoyed, despised, hoped, despaired, laughed, cried and yet through it all we did not drink or drug.  The physical demands of our addictions lessened with each sober moment until after about 90 days, the challenge was essentially emotional and psychological.

Then began the realization that drinking was just the tip of the iceberg.  We had inflicted upon ourselves grave emotional damage that needed to be addressed in our new way of living.  We could no longer run to the bottle to hide the deeper, underlying defects of character which had plagued us long before we used alcohol as a cover-up.  Lifetime habits became glaringly problematic for us as sober men and women.  Facing necessary changes was grueling work which required a team effort.  You, your fellowship, and your Higher Power became that team.  For the first time in our lives, we understood the power of the nemesis called “self-will run riot.”  The intervention and ensuing miracles were acts of God, but we did the grinding work.

If you are sober today give yourself a hand.clapping

 

 

 

SEX

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

Aha!  Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about something that is highly over-rated and miserably misunderstood.  Trust me.  I know from experience that all the hype before I actually became a participant was gleaned from locker room banter and behind the barn experimentation.  That’s just the way my generation’s parents dealt with the “birds and the bees.”  I can’t recall any of my friends receiving the father-son talk at puberty.  What we learned about sex was learned from older brothers or older friends who had as much insight into sexual relations as the bull in the barn.  After we had been active for several years, the school’s gym teacher broached the subject in junior high school with instruction that covered only the physical aspects of anatomy and not the emotional/psychological/spiritual responsibilities.  At home instruction consisted of a terse, one sentence directive: “Keep it in your pants.”

Easy to understand why, as budding alcoholics, the sexual aspect of our lives was most often colored by a hodgepodge of misinformation and selfish activity directed by the developing “self-will run riot” mantra which controlled us.  Of all people, alcoholics were the least qualified people to enter into committed relationships and rear families.

In order to attain a completeness in sobriety we had to make drastic changes in thinking and behavior.  Of course, the grace of a Higher Power guided us into that new way of sober-living.  Giving up old ideas about sex was probably the most difficult change to master but we knew that  gaining healthy attitudes about sex was necessary for us to return to roles as husbands and fathers in our families and community.  To that end, pubescent boyhood sex-play had to mature into adult manhood sexuality.

Understanding that sex is a God-given, joyful responsibility rather than a sinful, hidden activity, for some of us, was a huge hurdle.  Our early experiences were often saddled with guilt and shame.  Our religious upbringing did nothing to enlighten and dignify the most powerful human force known to mankind.

As Peggy Lee lamented in “Is That All There Is?”, a very popular song of 1969, we often developed in our sex lives the same addictive behavior which controlled our use of alcohol and drugs.  More experimentation, riskier encounters, and less emotional satisfaction drove us to places in which only fools and derelicts attempted to find fulfilment.  Not surprisingly, we became losers, misfits, and runaways in our addictions of substances and behavior.  Only the grace of a loving God was able to restore us to sober-living in all aspects of our lives.

“We tried to shape a sane ideal for our future sex life.  We subjected each relation to this test: was it selfish or not?  We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them.  We remembered  always that our sex partners were God-given and therefore good, neither to be used lightly or selfishly nor to be despised and loathed.”  Bill W., AS BILL SEES IT, pg. 142

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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

 

 

 

hangovers

heart manateeJust another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

Hangovers.  We who partied hearty with the demon alcohol probably remember them well.  And it is good that we do lest the allure of the good times overshadows the misery of the bad times.  I continue to have drunk dreams occasionally and I welcome them as my Higher Power’s blessing.  Those dreams keep me in touch with the reality of alcoholism.

We can also experience emotional hangovers.  This past weekend all the excitement of worldwide “marches for our lives” built up to a crescendo of incredible hope for a humanity free of violence.  The millions who participated displayed an energy uncommon in our society, one that brought together like-minded brothers and sisters who value the sanctity of all life over the various interpretations of citizens’ rights.  The young speakers were amazing, the crowds were peaceful, and a sense of dignity for all humanity governed the atmosphere.

Then, later that evening, the disparaging tweets, comments, and hatred filled our airways and moved across our viewing screens.  Yes, it was an amazing day, but now the reality of what we are as a society hit with a vengeance. The emotional hangover set in. Once again we faced the truth of a world which says that even as voices concerned with species survival speak peace, governments and government agents do not, the powerful do not, and those lost in the darkness of self do not.  They thrive on discord and discontent.

At these moments I have a decision to make.  1) Forsake my truth to venture into their world of strife or 2) grab onto the power which leads me into a place of green pastures and still waters.  President and Mrs. Obama called it “taking the high road”.  Oprah defined it as “not giving power to negativity.”  It’s one of the Buddha’s teachings: observe the thoughts that pass through our minds, do not dwell, do not judge, just allow them to be and then pass on. My serenity depends on preserving an inner sanctum, a space within where the world’s activity is observed and then dismissed.

That emotional turmoil does not need to be the controlling factor in life.  That muck of strife and discord does not need to be wallowed in.  Recognize it and then allow it to pass.  Know it is out there, but don’t participate in its life-sucking discourse.  That is what the Obamas, Oprah, and the Buddha encouraged us to do.  Instead of wallowing, set a course on positive, empowering energy which will encounter and conquer that which is dehumanizing and hateful.

A childhood Sunday School ditty says it all:  “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

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world peace

larry6Often I wonder if the characters who are portrayed as spiritual stalwarts centuries ago could survive in the madness of today.  Would they be as courageous in the face of modern-day persecution?  Would they be as capable of finding the quietness of contemplation and meditation of which we are so desirous in today’s culture?  My answer is always a resounding “yes”.  Although the connections of social media and news media were not as immediate as that which we have today, I believe the issues were the same and I know from historical accounts that the persecution was extremely horrendous.  The coverage that rolls across our viewing screens continues to depict the unfathomable inhumanity of man against man.  It is historical and it continues to be the ungodly force which defines mankind.

But, I don’t have to live that way or be deterred by hatred and violence in my life’s journey.  You don’t either.  Realizing that the hope for our world lies not in the might of peace enforced by military power or governmental control, but in each individual member of mankind who is determined to live according to the message of ancient and modern mystics by recognizing an indwelling God, some call it Spirit, and God’s directive to love one another as we have been loved.  We are called to replace devotion to self with service to neighbor.  It’s an attainable solution to a worldwide problem which is leading our species to annihilation.

The message of God’s messengers from Buddha to Jesus to St. Francis to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. has always been social revolution by peaceful resistance to violence.  And that revolution begins with you and with me.  It’s a readily available inside solution to an earth-threatening plague.

And it’s not that difficult.  Many of us in recovery know the power bestowed upon us when we “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” and then, “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”  steps 2 &3, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

We were lost in the insanity of addiction much as the world today is lost in the insanity of hatred and violence.  Addiction and hatred are both soul-killers and the cure for both will be found when we turn to the indwelling divinity which does not need to be sought or discovered from outside sources.  It is innate and readily available.  Just “be still and know.” Psalm 46:10

This journey of discovery is a life-time process which I will never do perfectly.  But, I can travel through this experience as a fearless sojourner who relies upon a Higher Power which wants nothing but goodness and mercy for me and for the world in which I live.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Psalm 23:6