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.”

namaste rainbow

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

 

forgiveness – remember no more

namaste rainbow

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

 

 

“…..I will forgive their iniquity; and I will remember their sin no more.”  Jeremiah 31:34

Forgiveness.  It is commanded.
We ask it in our prayers,
“Forgive my shortcomings as I forgive others.”
And then, remember no more.
Am I capable of not merely forgiving,
but remembering no more?
Do I hang on to those transgressions against me?
What good does that do for me?
Perhaps, I feel vindicated.
Perhaps, I feel superior
when I return to past transgressions against me.
I am told that my sobriety does not benefit,
that my sober walk does not mature.
I must remember no more.
I must forgive and remember no more.
Can I do that?

“If we ask, God will certainly forgive our derelictions.  But in no case does he render us white as snow and keep us that way without OUR COOPERATION.  That is something we are supposed to be willing to work toward ourselves.  He asks only that we try as best we know how to make progress in the building of character.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 204

 

to guard against a slip

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

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Feeling ashamed and sorry for our actions,
promising to change,
to never do it again,
we again stumble,
falling deeper into
addiction’s hell,
begging for relief,
crying in our darkness,
pleading, “Thy will be done.
Restore me into your glory and grace.”

Have you found relief?
Do you see a light in the darkness?
Do you know you are not created to live in darkness,
to stumble through alcoholism?
The One I name God
may come to you
with another name.
It matters not
for we all must claim that spirit as ours
and declare freedom from the demon  alcohol.

Recovery is claiming our freedom and becoming the beacon which we were created to be.

 

“Suppose we fall short of our chosen ideals and stumble?  Does this mean we are going to get drunk?  Some people tell us so.  But this is only a half-truth.

It depends on us and on our motives.  If we are sorry for what we have done, and have the honest desire to let God take us to better things, we believe we will be forgiven and will have learned our lesson.  If we are not sorry, and our conduct continues to harm others, we are quite sure to drink.  These are facts out of our experience.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 52

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humble

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

Much of my early adult life was spent believing that I, LarryPaulBrown, marched to the beat of a different drummer.  I continually envisioned myself as a step ahead of the crowd, a few watts brighter than most, a loner totally comfortable with only me as my fan club.  I read all the newest self-help books and listened to only PBS or BBC.  I knew the latest diet fads, drank only spring water, and avoided fried foods like the plague.  My favorite beverage was scotch and water chased by a beer, usually many beers.  Life was a self-contained, self-directed, self-driven existence which everyone could see as a fiasco except me.

Finally at age 34 with the admission that I was an alcoholic, a number of my fondest assessments of myself got knocked down a few notches.  With continued fellowshipping amongst other sober people and with my first 4th step inventory, I became acutely aware that “me, me, me” was not the center of the universe, that actually the universe did not need me at all.  That in itself was a sobering revelation.  Thank God my fellow AAers just smiled and said, “Welcome to the real world.”

Recognizing that I was one of the most insecure, immature, and directionless men I had ever met, the task of rebuilding a wrecked life seemed monumental.  I struggled with anxiety, depression, and sober panic attacks while sitting at the tables with my newly discovered sober friends believing they could not see what was going on inside my head.  Later, I realized that they did indeed know because they, at one point in their early sobriety, suffered the same craziness.  I gave up the thought that marching to a different drummer was cool.  The other fantasies I had about myself slowly disappeared as my own sober time grew.  And the craziness also mellowed to a controllable, occasional period of melancholy.

Life is good today.  It is manageable.  It is uncomplicated.  It is unfettered by emotional highs and lows.  It is no longer a roller-coaster thrill ride.  Humility has been the cornerstone of my recovery.  Humility is defined by Bill W. as….“consisting of a state of complete freedom from myself, freedom from all the claims that my defects of character now lay so heavily upon me.  Perfect humility would be a full willingness, in all times and places, to find and to do the will of God.”  AS BILL SEES IT, pg. 106

Like most newly sober drunks, the last thing I wanted to hear was a lecture about the virtue of humility.  I had been humiliated, degraded, brought to my knees, and defeated by our common enemy of alcoholism. That to me was humility.  I did not need to feel any more inferior to my fellow-man.  But, as stated in his definition, Bill W.’s correction of my misconception about humility established a new playing field.   Self-esteem and self-respect developed.  I learned that I loved myself more fully when I gave myself away; I discovered how a life free of myself was a bold step into a liberation never realized before.  Freed of the restrictions and defects which had previously defined me, I stepped into a world of self-sacrifice previously unpracticed.

Another definition of humility by Bill W. is…..“a clear recognition of what and who we are, followed by a sincere attempt to become who we could be.”  TWELVE STEPS AND TWELVE TRADITIONS, pg. 58

Life is still a work in progress never expecting that there will ever be perfect humility.  Familiar words from the Big Book state, “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”  But, the horizon encountered soberly always offers  a better understanding of my Higher Power with which I hope to become a man who is less addicted to self and more interested in others.  I don’t do anything perfectly, least of all practicing humility.  But, I’m getting better and I know I am at my best when self-will-run-riot takes a back seat to “Thy will be done”.

 

mercy

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

A key element in sobriety is forgiveness.  Bill W. comments that until I have completed a 4th step inventory and then gone on to a place of showing and accepting mercy, aka forgiveness, I will not understand or achieve sober-living.

The power in this act is that it is a mutual undertaking, it’s a two-way street.  I ask my Higher Power to forgive me, I ask those whom I have offended to forgive me through amends-making, but I also must forgive those who have injured me in any way by word or deed.

This is a facet of the powerlessness necessary to overcome self.  When I am able to accept the forgiveness of God and of other people, I am giving up that sense of pride which has been telling me that I’m better than mercy, I’m going to accept forgiveness on my terms.  “Self-will run riot” is quick to return to me unless I am vigilant.  God uses me best when I am fully powerless, when I am humble.  Humility is defined in the “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”, pg 58, as “….a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be.”  Step 5’s admission of my defects to another human is a step toward humility.

“Withholding forgiveness is a form of power over another person, a way to manipulate, shame, control, and diminish another.” cac.org

That’s a convicting indictment of my unwillingness to forgive.  My Higher Power does not play that game and neither should I.  In retrospect, owning up to the control freak that I can be, I should not be surprised that accepting forgiveness from God or from others has been difficult.  I did not want to become powerless.  Grudges are a result of this unforgiveness.  Grudges justify my resentments, my need to be right, and my anger.  And, yes, I have held grudges, resentment, and anger toward God.  It’s part of my alcoholic personality.  It’s part of that old personality which refuses to accept responsibility for myself and my actions.

“But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of harboring resentment is infinitely grave.  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT , pg.5

Forgiveness is the gift of mercy in action.  I desire mercy but, I also need to extend it.  In the Beatitudes, the message of Jesus compacted into the book of Matthew 5: 3-11, the author says:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  

 

 

 

 

praying rightly

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

namaste rainbowSeveral years ago at my recovery meeting the topic of discussion turned to prayer.  It’s a hot button issue to people who are willing to start a minor skirmish over God and the definition thereof.  I had opted to not share but then the meeting chair called on me to speak.  Oh no!

Briefly, I tried not to get into specifics by citing only the need for prayer in our programs. However, I made the mistake of saying that I do not make requests for God to fulfill my wants or desires.  Immediately, I sensed the intensity of the man sitting next to me, a person I had never seen before.  Sure enough, when I had finished, he jumped my frame.

“When I pray, if I want a new car, I ask for it.  If I want a girlfriend, I ask for it.  If I need money, I ask for it …..blah, blah, blah.”

The man was angry and turning red.  Looking around the room I noticed other people smirking and shaking their heads.  I then realized again why I don’t discuss at meetings the actual phrasing of prayer, only the need to pray and the confirmation that a Higher Power will  indeed respond.

What do you pray for?  No, I’m not digging into the privacy  of your prayer life.  Let me share a story.  For years as a teen-aged boy growing up and as a young man caught up in alcoholism, my prayers centered around me.  And they always ended with, “Hear my prayers, give me what I ask and I will live a better life for you.”  I was trying to bribe God and I always ended, as I was taught, with the words “in Jesus name.”

It was an egocentric trip to the candy store where I expected the proprietor to dispense forgiveness, mercy, and heavenly favors and then put the bill on the tab of a man called Jesus, someone I scarcely remembered from Sunday School, someone whose name I used more often in fits of rage than in worship.  But I prayed heartily.

Today we joke about the bowl prayer:  “Oh Lord get me through this night and I will never drink again,” as we hang our drunken heads over the toilet bowl.  But it was a nightly occurrence years ago.  I must remember those nights lest I convince myself that it wasn’t really that bad.  Again, my prayer was a communication with God which invoked a promise that I never intended to keep.

Even in early sobriety, my prayers were centered around me and my needs.  But, I did learn to start with a gratitude list and then a sincere thank you.  Changing habits takes time and work.  Changing prayer habits usually takes a kick in the butt by God interceding on my behalf through the words of another brother/sister in brokenness.  As my friend was praying aloud with me, he emphasized the  words, “….and Thy will be done,” looking directly and intensely into my eyes.

Why was this such a profound revelation to me?   And why was the timing right?  I haven’t a clue.  All my life the words, “thy will be done” were included in my prayers.  But, on this particular day I finally understood that we were not talking about my will, but rather God’s will for my life.  My petitions would be filtered through God’s will.  And that’s how I learned not to pray for specific things, not for specific actions, not for specific favors.  Why?  Because God knows every one of my needs even before I do.  They will be fulfilled, or not, according to the wisdom of a Higher Power.

Today, the reason for my prayer life is to specifically list the things for which I am grateful, list the things which I have done in error, beg for forgiveness, and intercede for other people.  And then, “thy will be done.”

But, that’s not the end.  There is a price to pay.  Self-sacrifice.  Theology says God’s grace is free but the book of James 2:20 says, “faith without works is dead.”  Those works are the things I must pursue in service to my fellow-man.  I am in no way trying to tell anyone how, when or where to pray.  I know better than to go down that thorny trail.  But, I can testify to the miracles that happened for me when I turned my prayer life from one of “me, me, me” to one which implores, “thy will be done.”

“We had not prayed rightly.  We had always said, ‘grant me my wishes,’  instead of ‘Thy will be done.’  The love of God and man we understood not at all.  Therefore we remained self-deceived, and so incapable of receiving enough grace to restore us to sanity.”  Bill W., AS BILL SEES IT, pg 295


 

faith without works

I have a tough time feeling grateful.  My bank account does not rank up there in the stratosphere with the top one percenters; my transportation is a 21 year old pickup truck; my wardrobe is the finest the local thrift shop can provide; my daily menu is usually a variation of beans and rice.  Yes, when I compare to my neighbors and friends, Larry has missed the prosperity boat.happy thanks

Then I go to Reuters or Aljazeera or BBC, networks which present the world uncolored by rose-tinted glasses and news not saturated by American politics, and there I see the rest of humanity struggling in war-torn desolation, there I see a father unable to provide survival necessities for his family, there I see poverty which is unparalleled in our sheltered, ego-driven society……. and I get grateful for my beans and rice menu and my second-hand clothes.  A majority of the world’s population subsists on poverty level income often without even the basics of clean water, shelter and food.  Oh Larry, I say to myself, you are such an ingrate.

I cannot fathom the poverty of the world for I have been blessed to live in an America which has seen the greatest material prosperity ever witnessed by humanity.  Three car garages, college educations, designer jeans, meat and potatoes on the dinner table, boats, exquisite jewelry, penthouses, retirement accounts, golf resort vacations, all these are commonplace in the America I see surrounding me.  And still, Larry sometimes feels ungrateful and poor.  Then God says, “Rejoice!”

“Really? For what?  The country is going to hell in a handbasket, our government is corrupt, the poor are getting poorer, the rich don’t give a damn, and Florida State has a losing record this year.  What is there to be happy about?”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3

“Oh.”

It has just now been pointed out to me by HP that “poor” is not a bad thing, at least not spiritually.  Those who, with humility, realize and recognize that they are impoverished in spirit and need assistance are indeed blessed for it is then that God can and will intervene if that intervention is sought.  Only then can God fix what is broken in me.  It is not something I can buy at WalMart, it is not a commodity available through a broker, it is not a shiny new vehicle.  Even my church does not hand it out at the front door.  I need to earnestly assess my own weakness and spiritual poverty in order to be blessed.  I need to get grateful for the love and compassion given to me by a gracious God and then share that same love and compassion with humanity.

Gratitude is an attitude.  Gratitude is also an action.  Just as the feeling of love becomes active through participating compassion, gratitude is useless if it is not shared.

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  James 2:17

“We believed that faith without works was dead, but we have now conclusively proved that works without faith is dead also.”  Bill W. letter of 1940

What a concept!  Faith demands works and works build faith.

smiley 3

 

 

 

the angry tongue

CANDLEWorking with a new guy in the fellowship is a privilege never to be taken lightly.  I have been blessed many times with this challenge sometimes successfully, other times not so successfully.  Having pulled back in recent years from a rigorous association with Alcoholics Anonymous and focusing on a church affiliation, I was somewhat cautious about once again extending myself to a young, homeless man who chose me to help him.  In retrospect I know that it was God leading this broken man to me.  In all the times of reaching out to another alcoholic, it was I who received the blessing and it was I who stayed sober regardless of what my newbie did.

I am not a young man full of energy these days.  My afternoon naps are important to me and bedtime seems to crawl upon me earlier in the evening.  Habits and routine have made life more manageable.  Therefore, adjusting my schedule to meet the needs of someone who believes I can guide him through the craziness of early sobriety does not come easy.  I still remember the powerful healing days of early AA fellowship, meeting new friends, giving up old friends, doing 90 meetings in 90 days, and forging a life which before was unimaginable.  But then that voice from within said, “Larry, it’s time to refresh yourself in Alcoholics Anonymous, to recommit to the program.  Do 90 in 90.”

“Oh no,” was my first response.  ” I don’t have the time.”

“Really?  I gave your life back to you when you were a basket case.  I sat up with you when you spent nights in sheer terror afraid you were going crazy.  I brought you through the valley of the shadows.  And you don’t have time?”

My Higher Power settled that argument without further dispute.  Now, you all need to understand that although patience is a virtue, it is not always readily available.  Sometimes, especially for an old man, it is in short supply.  My new protégé is someone I have known for several years who recently suffered reversals in life which, hopefully, brought him to his ‘bottom’.  And because we have been friends, the conversation is usually free-flowing and lively.  Sometimes it gets out of hand.  As most of you know, I am still a broken vessel needing a lot of healing and mending.  My mouth still opens before the brain is engaged and, as happened a few days ago, words which were not of a spiritual nature flowed freely.  Ouch!

After a few solitary hours in my private attitude adjusting cubicle, I offered a sincere apology, a hug, and a promise to count to 10 before offering my lame – brain diatribes.  It is once again “well with my soul” and peaceful in my household.  But, that’s the beauty of sober living.  We can be honest, we can argue, we can disagree, we can yell and then promptly make amends.

It’s the yelling part that concerns me because that was a strong feature of my active alcoholism.  Just flying off the handle over stupid stuff, being irrational and abrasive is not who the sober Larry wants to be.  Wisdom gleaned from the literature of AA and Christian scriptures warns me of the consequences of a mouth which spews indiscriminately.  I believe during the next few months of readjusting my life to the needs of someone who is reaching out, I will need these readings more often.

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”  James 3:10-12

“He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”  Proverbs 13:3

“A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.”  Proverbs 18:6  

“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 not for us alcoholics.  It is poison.”  Bill Wilson  AS BILL SEES IT pg 5

embarassed

humbled

“a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become who we could be.”  Bill W. 12 AND 12 pg 58cropped-brilliance.png

Bill Wilson’s definition of humility can be extremely difficult if I try to cover it with my old ideas about being humble.  I don’t want to be weak.  I don’t want to be submissive.  I don’t want to turn the other cheek.  Humility is not the American way.  We are proud, strong, and invincible.  Then I take a look at my flawed condition and my brokenness.  “Yeah, and look where your pride has taken you,” a voice inside says to me.

That inventory which we are guided to do early in recovery can be a very excruciating experience when we go into it honestly with courage.  I shuddered at the list of transgressions and defects which had to be shared later with God and another person.  I did not want anyone to know my deepest, darkest secrets.  Exposing myself like that would shatter the self-image I presented to the world.  “Yeah, and look where that image has taken you.”  Damn that voice inside.

“His admission is the beginning of humility – at least the newcomer is willing to disclaim that he himself is God.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT pg 191, from a letter of 1966

“a clear recognition of what and who we really are….”  Like most newcomers to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I had lived a life apart from the concept of God.  Some of us never knew God, some of us refuted the God which we knew.  When my new sober friends advised that initially the group itself could be the greater power necessary to begin me on the road to recovery, I cautiously accepted that idea.  I had no choice.  My way was described as ‘self-will run riot’ and I had to reluctantly agree.

I love Bill Wilson’s connection between Higher Power and humility.  It tells me that I am not in charge, that I am not in control, that I am not God.  And Bill goes on to say “this is the beginning of humility.”  In my active alcoholism, I had never given credence to the thought of not being the master of my life.  It was an alien idea and totally un-American.

I am not God.  When the miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous is undertaken with this understanding, the 12 steps are not a daunting, unpleasant experience, especially steps 4 and 5.  I am humbled in a fellowship which advocates honesty and courage.  Sober living becomes second nature because I am no longer forced by ethic or tradition to be the man in charge.  No, I don’t control the miracle happening.  I am still a work in progress.  I am still flawed and broken.  But today I know a Higher Power who can heal and fix me.

“Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”  1 Peter 5:6

namaste rainbow