divide & conquer

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.  The grouch and the sudden rage were not for us.  Anger is the dubious luxury of normal men, but for us alcoholics it is poison.”  Bill Wilson, AS BILL SEES IT

When was the last time you screamed at or threw a middle finger to your TV screen?  Last week, yesterday, maybe a few minutes ago?  And did it accomplish anything? Probably not.

Today I understand how fragile my inner ecosystem can be.  My emotions are not like those of normal men and women who view or hear an outrageous story deserving of anger.  They process the news, digest it, and respond in a constructive manner.  I do not, although, I am infinitely better than I once was.  No, I can still be the guy standing in front of his TV screen flailing arms and fingers, hurling profanities at the image which has provoked me.  Do I believe that person heard or saw me?  No, of course not.  But I sure told him a thing or two, did I not?

Anger destroys every inch of peace and contentment that dwells within.  It alters the thought processes which lead to a God-honoring state of mind.  One minute of outrage can develop into 24 hours, or longer, of festering resentment.  Just one moment of anger can do that.  Am I willing, today as a sober man, to sacrifice my serenity for anger?

It’s one of the seven deadly sins according to numerous faith walks.  Let’s call it a character defect.  My inner demons use anger very effectively to divide and conquer.  When my mind is consumed with discord it cannot process the love that awaits in communion with a higher power.  All things spiritual are ushered to a back burner while the negatives boil away at a furious burn. Division conquers.  Calling 911 to God’s help line is the only solution.  Pray, pray, pray.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

I certainly cannot change the doofus on TV who has taken control of my emotional state of mind.  Lord, why would I willingly give a conduit of hatred and division such a presence in my world?  Divide and conquer is not only an inner manifestation that destroys my serenity.  It also works for political figures and world leaders intent on personal power and prestige.  Divide the people, then go in for the kill.

I don’t have to play the game.  Sobriety has opened a world of possibilities for a life apart from the games politicians play.  Religious leaders also sometimes deserve that middle finger of dissent.  Divide and conquer.  “My God is better than yours.  I’m going to heaven, you’re going to hell.  I am unique and special.”

Does that kind of rhetoric meet the standard set by Jesus or any of the messengers of truth which have been shared with us?  Many years ago, a wise old man advised me, a newly sober man searching for a better way, “If your religious affiliation doesn’t teach love and compassion for your fellow-man, then it is not of God.”

Take that advice with a grain of salt – or adhere to it like I did.  It has made the search for truth in theological philosophy mind-blowing and simultaneously comforting.  Consider these words from my foremost first read every morning:

“Buddhism affirms that there is only one of us, and therefore we are each responsible for every link in the web of being. Christianity offers us the unconditional mercy of an incarnational God who permeates the whole of creation with love. Judaism urges us to demonstrate our love for God in the way we treat each other and care for creation. Hinduism kindles the fire of devotion for reunification with the Beloved who is no other than our own true Self. Islam shares the peace that comes with complete submission to the One.”

FATHER RICHARD ROHR   Mirabai Starr in The World Wisdom Bible: A New Testament for a Global Spirituality, Rami Shapiro, ed. (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2017), vii-viii.

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it’s my party

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A friend asked this morning, “How are you getting along these days?”

“Just fine and dandy, couldn’t be better.”

I lied.  But I truly could not put a finger on what I was feeling.  Where was my head floating?  Was I sad, depressed, melancholic?  Or was I just lazy and unmotivated?  Then, those thoughts that help us decide whether to get up and function or just lay around accomplishing nothing, yes those thoughts that are familiar to everyone, swirled through my brain and before I knew what was happening, I was engaged in a full throttle emotional crisis. What in tarnation is wrong with me?

I ran a few more words through my brain.  Nope, not that.  No, that’s not the problem.  Well, maybe I’m just over-tired.  Yes, I could be playing the control game again, I’m very good at that.  And then like a bolt of lightning it hit me.  I recognized what the problem was.

Irrelevance.  I have another birthday next month and I realized how irrelevant I have become to society in year 2018.  This old caveman from the 1960s simply does not like 2018.  Oh sure, girl scouts still try to help me across the street and 50 year-old men call me sir.

“Sir can I help you, may I get that for you, sir?”

“Bug off, sonny, I ain’t dead yet.”

They are just being nice, but they don’t need me for anything.  They still have a purpose in this world.  My life has become….well, jaded and irrelevant.   I want to go back to 1968 when life had meaning, when the future was bright and promising.  Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix cranked me up every morning and the Doors put me to sleep every night.  Life was good.

I don’t own a smart phone because I refuse to have a device that can make me swear like a sailor.  I watch ads on TV for services and electronics about which I haven’t a clue.  What’s that thingamajig for?  My vehicle is a 22 year-old pickup truck.  It has a key to open the door and start it, and a cassette player.  The dashboard shows speed, RPMs, gasoline, oil, and voltage.  Yes, they are the old fashioned gauges just like pop had on his car.  If I should ever need to buy another vehicle I will need operational lessons to simply drive it.

My 8 year-old neighbor spied me talking on my flip phone and immediately turned to his mother,  “He’s really old, isn’t he?”  AARP has stopped mailing me applications for membership.  The stores which I shop give me the senior discount without asking if I am a senior citizen.  Out on the highway, younger folks pass by flipping me the bird because I’m driving the speed limit.  I get phone calls from local funeral homes asking if I’m ready to prepay my final expenses.  People automatically raise their voices when speaking to me thinking I’m just an old deaf man.

Yep, I’m irrelevant in this world.  I haven’t left my mark nor have I made my fortune.  There are no children nor grandchildren to aggravate me and my friends are moving into assisted living or rehab centers.  Now, does anybody really think there’s any rehab going on in those rehab centers? Heck no!  They put you in a bed aside a total stranger with a severe case of flatulence, they feed you food that Grandma would have thrown to the hogs in the pigsty, they make you participate in silly games or arts and crafts, and than you die.  Old Mr. Irrelevant gets two or three lines in the obituaries, ashes get tossed in the ocean, and in about a month people will ask, “What ever happened to old man….ah, what was his name?”

Irrelevant, totally irrelevant.  Unnoticed, unnecessary, unconnected.

Phew!  Well, I’m glad that pity party is over.  Was it as much fun for you as for me?

“Self-pity is one of the most unhappy and consuming defects that we know.  It is a bar to all spiritual progress and can cut off all effective communications to our fellows because of its inordinate demands for attention and sympathy.  It is a  maudlin form of martyrdom, which we can ill afford.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT

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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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longsuffering

“Dear lord, please lift me up and heal me.  Cast out of my mind all thoughts that are not of You.  Cast out of me all harsh and critical nature.  Cast out of me all violence and all anger.  Cast out of me all demons from my past.  For I would be made new.  I wish to walk so close to You that we might be as one.”  Marianne Williamson, ILLUMINATA
truth

“Harsh and critical nature, anger and violence”.  We betray the truth of our lives, the love and compassion of a Savior, when we fail to speak our truth kindly.  Our Lord’s truth cannot be spoken in any other way.  Tolerance, patience, and forbearance are synonyms of the old English “longsuffering”, a word which occurs frequently in Scriptures.  Probably the most familiar is:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith…”  Galatians 5:22

and in the Buddhist tradition:

“The greatest prayer is patience.”  Lord Buddha

Is one born with patience?  Probably not.  Most agree that patience is earned the hard way.  Life situations teach us patience.  Other people teach us tolerance.  Compassionate listening is developed by listening for hours to the trials of another person.  Children teach us unconditional forbearance.  Our friendships are the result of communications tempered by attitudes of longsuffering.  When we enter into a life occurrence with anything less than a prayer for patience on our lips, the outcome will likely be less than spiritual.

“Our first objective will be the development of self-restraint.  This carries a top-priority rating.  When we speak or act hastily or rashly, the ability to be fair-minded and tolerant evaporates on the spot.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT, pg. 113

Finding a patient friend is a blessing of the greatest order.  Being a patient friend is more desirable than fame and riches.  Nations have crumbled, politicians have failed, families have disintegrated, wars have been waged, and genocides have been initiated because one person failed to engage another in conversations of tolerance and longsuffering.  Words that are harsh and critical, angry and violent will never establish mutual understandings which are necessary to peaceful survival.  And that is our mission, that is our evolution.  We are commanded by all of God’s messengers to live as a brotherhood of mankind speaking our truth kindly.

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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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fear

smiley-face-2Just 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.

“….So false pride became the reverse side of the ruinous coin marked ‘FEAR’.  We simply had to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 46

Often, I have heard “fear” defined as the absence of love.  In acts of unconditional compassion and love, there is no thought given to the “what if” moment.  What if this person is scamming me, what if that homeless man intends to harm me, what if my spouse is cheating on me, what if I lose my life trying to help my friend, etc.?  The list of “what ifs” can be endless.  They will control who I am and undermine my commitment to be fearless and thorough in all my actions.  Fear will always keep me from realizing my full potential as a person in recovery.

In addition to concerns about physical safety, which are healthy in certain situations involving the unknown intentions of people I encounter, fear has always been a tool used to hide my deep-lying inferiorities.  Having endured bullying at the hands of “the big kids” in junior high school, I convinced myself that, yes, the names those boys used were accurate.  I was everything they called me and I was inferior to “normal” guys.  I learned how to fend for myself, not by fighting back which would be against the faith in which my family raised me, but by justifying the self-hatred growing inside me.  I deserved their attacks because I was ugly, I was stupid, I was a coward.

My driving response to life became fear.  Fear that friends would not like me if they saw that which I saw inside of me.   I despised myself and therefore expected others would also feel that way when they came to know the “real” me.  I learned very effectively to present a persona completely contrary to the insecure man into whom I had grown.  Alcohol aided that deception tremendously.  Under the control of my demon, I eventually believed the lies I portrayed about myself.  Honesty was replaced by justified lying.

Fear, fueled by alcohol, led me into a life of torturing self-doubt and an inability to form any semblance of intimacy with another person.  When that possible mate reached a point which required absolute commitment, Larry bailed out.  My fear refused to accept that any other person could love me unconditionally.  How could they?  I certainly could not love me because I despised whom I was.  How could anyone love me?

Fear, consoled by alcohol, took me to a place where the walls were high and the moat was filled with emotional tools to protect myself from the intrusions of life.  I refused to participate in those events which brought joy and camaraderie to other people.  I convinced myself that they did not truly want me to be a part of their lives.  I resorted to my indwelling unworthiness to seclude and detach.  My concept of happiness was living in a cave of a cliff-side monastery baking bread and meditating on the meaning of life.

Fear, having consumed every second of life, finally brought me to a personal ultimatum.  It said to me, “You are worthless, you are useless, you are a failure, you should probably die.”

The absence of self-love in my existence was preparing the final victory for fear.  It was a demoralizing moment in an alcoholic’s life.  My constant companion, alcohol, had taken me to a place where human determination and self-will could no longer hide me.  There were no more places where I could run and continue life.

So, when I remember and when I tell others about the miraculous intervention of a Higher Power at that point in this alcoholic’s life, I joyously give all the credit to a God and a fellowship which loved me more than I had ever been able to love myself.  And guess what?  That love eventually rubbed off on me.  From my deepest insecurities flowed a healthy self-awareness of whom I really was.  From the self-loathing came an appreciation for the person God had discovered within me.  From the loneliness of a self-imposed cave on a cliff-side sprung a home among millions of brothers and sisters who had also been saved from lives of despair and worthlessness.

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right Spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

It required a thorough, internal house-cleaning  and a complete restoration to bring the demon alcohol into submission and defeat.  The praise and the victory belong to a commitment to sober-living, the power of God as I understand God, and the fellowship of like-minded survivors.  If you are sober today, give yourself a hand.

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cease striving

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

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Be still (cease striving) and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

Embrace my soul in warmth,
lift from me that which disrupts,
quietly lead me to your abode,
hold my hand in comfort,
open my mind to magnificence,
to light, to beauty, to stillness.
In this place we are one,
you and I are One
we release the pain,
the concern,
the sorrow.
We release it to your fire.
The realm of discontent passes,
it pales and disappears,
only You and I in the stillness,
the warmth,
the quiet,
the comfort.

It is well with my soul,
I do not fear,
I do not desire,
I do not despise,
it is well
for we are as One

“We have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol.  For by this time sanity has returned.  We can now react sanely and normally, and we find that this has happened almost automatically.  We see that this new attitude toward liquor is really a gift of God.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 121