HAMLET – neither good nor bad

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” 
HAMLET – William Shakespeare39

My grandmother was a wise yet simple farm woman.  She knew how to gather any vegetable from the garden or berry from the woods and cook it into a delicious casserole or jam.  The storage shelves in the cellar were filled each year with mason jars of wonderfully colorful canned vegetables and preserves.  And in her spare time she crafted from scraps of dresses and coats gorgeous quilts or blankets.

I learned from her that a man “is what he eats.”  The foods which a person consumes will ultimately determine the health status of his/her body.  Unfortunately, I strayed from Grandma’s wisdom regarding foods and nutrition as a young adult resulting in various difficulties with the Western culture health epidemics plaguing us today.

I also strayed from the spiritual/life lessons learned from my farming community as a young boy leading to addiction and behavioral patterns which controlled the years when I should have been maturing into a responsible adult.  Living life soberly has been a prolonged process of ‘catching up’ to others who learned their lessons well and pursued G.O.D. – Good Orderly Direction – rather than waste precious years cavorting as a prodigal son in the far country. (see LUKE 15)

Those of us who share these experiences of addictive exile have a choice to make in our recovery years.  The times were neither good nor bad – they simply were.  What we did, the hell we created for others and ourselves cannot be reversed.  The heartaches and pain inflicted on loved ones including ourselves must be accepted as part of the process leading to sobriety.  Today I know with certainty that I was a royal A-hole back then.  However, today I also know that I don’t have to sit in this chair ten years from now looking back and saying, “Damn, what an asshole I was back on September 18, 2019.”

They say that humility is all about acceptance – accepting and reconciling my past, who I was and what I did, but then recognizing who and what I am destined to be as a sober-minded man living a life that doesn’t really belong to me.  It’s a journey with G.O.D.

So, now you ask, “Larry, what does this have to do with Shakespeare and Hamlet?”

Everything, absolutely everything in life is neutral, neither good nor bad.  It is the thinking which you and I attach to ‘everything’ that makes it good or bad.  We have the choice to create the life we want.  My physical pain suffered today from poor habits of eating and addiction years ago is a good thing because I choose to marvel in the complexity of a body which uses pain to remind me that, yes, I am still alive.  The morning leg and knee pain awaken me to a new day saying a prayer of gratitude,

“Thank you Lord for giving me breath and heartbeat.  My leg hurts, my knee hurts, but they still function and, oh, just look at the glorious sunshine awakening me.”

Am I always successful deferring thinking about everything that crosses my radar screen?  Of course not, I continue to be a member of the human race and therefore frequently offer an opinion, good or bad.  But, another tool learned in my recovery journey is the Serenity Prayer,

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things I should, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

For me, the wisdom is in knowing when my opinion matters and when it does not.  When should I apply thinking to the never-ending parade of drama in today’s life?  As I process this choice I realize more often than not that my opinion truly does not matter.

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control freak – who, me?

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, wisdom to know the difference.”

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Most of us in recovery are failed control freaks.  Read those words again.  You and I have been miserable failures at controlling our lives. Lord knows we did our damnedest to cajole, manipulate, wheedle, urge or threaten loved ones, family and friends to think and do the ‘right way’ which, of course, was always our way.  I see some of you out there denying it, but let us just take a moment of truthful inventorying our past behavior before claiming innocence.  Yeah, just as I thought.  Guilty as charged!

Sometimes our game of controlling others actually worked and we felt victorious.  But our success came at the expense of ruffled feathers, resentments, anger from our victims.  The end result was that we distanced ourselves from those around us who loved us the most.  Ultimately, through the progression of our disease, we reached a point where, in the depths of our self-imposed exile from reality, we could not even control ourselves.  In those depths, alcohol was the victor controlling every aspect of our being.

Enter sobriety and the grace of a Higher Power.  We repeated in the recovery rooms of AA the Serenity Prayer.  Sometimes our discussions centered on the words of the prayer analyzing each word and each part of the three statements.  What do they mean?  What do I control?  What can I not control?  And when does the wisdom appear in my life?

Sobriety is not a commodity to be purchased at the recovery store.  It does not happen miraculously on the first day of not drinking.  We hang out with others like us, we listen to the wisdom spoken in the rooms, we take our thoughts to the quiet space within and begin to process what sober-living means.  Contrary to the previous drinking before which carried us to the depths of our personal hells, sobriety becomes our beacon of hope, our lifestyle resurrecting us to a purposeful place in society.

And eventually we discover the truths of control.  I accept that I control no other human being on earth, I control no other entity on earth, I control no political undertaking, no politician, no corporate CEO.  I do not control my spouse, family nor friends.  I don’t even control Max, the cat.  Lastly, I do not control the recovering friend who decides to go back out and do some more ‘field research’ on drinking.

“Pheeeew!  What a relief,” we exclaim, “I am not responsible for anything.”

Whoa, not so fast.  Yes, we are responsible.  “Whenever anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to be there.  For that I am responsible.”

“Courage to change the things I can.”

In order to be a helping hand, I must change the only thing I can…and that is me.  I must change my thinking, my attitudes, my responses to others, my behavior, my prejudices, my lifestyle.  I must change myself to reflect the grace freely given on that first day of recovery when I walked into my first AA meeting a scared, hopeless drunk.  And therein is the wisdom to know the difference.  Today, I know how and when to surrender Larry, the control freak.  Not always easy, not always first choice, but always the path to serenity.

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HERE COMES THE SUN – serenity prayer

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photo by JOHANNES PLENIO

Perhaps it’s an age thing – at this advanced chronological time in life, the ways of personal survival which have been learned and applied successfully over a lifetime, no longer hold validity in the eyes of the ‘younger ones’, those who are far more intelligent and cognitive.  Perhaps their ways are more sensible for today’s times; but, my way is exactly that – MY WAY.  And I still like my way.

Ahhh, did someone get out of bed this morning with an attitude?  You?  Spouse?  Children?  Neighbor?……Me?  Even the normal yoga, meditation, and exercise routine did not prepare for the annoying, “Well, you should do it my way, it’s better,” from the first interloper of the day.  Hmmm, go back to bed and start over?

Politicians, telemarketers, door-to-door salesman, Bible-thumpers can be annoyances.  Car salesmen, loud rap music, insurance agents, Republican neighbors, slow drivers in the passing lane can be annoyances.  But, loved ones should not be.  We call them loved ones because we love them and they love us.  And that’s all we need to know.  Let’s not categorize them as annoyances.  So, how can we do that?

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things (insert people) I cannot change….”

“…courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Yes, a few simple words with a huge promise can redirect my day, and yours.  Memorize the serenity prayer, say it out loud, repeat it again and again and again until you mean it.  And then receive the blessing of unbridled serenity.

and now that you are calm and serene….here’s an annoying thought from a Texas lawmaker

Responding to a vaccine researcher who urged Texas lawmakers to reverse the upward trend in vaccine exemptions – ” state Representative Jonathan Strickland told Dr. Peter Hotez to ‘do our state a favor and mind your own business.  Parental rights mean more to us than your self-enriching science.'”  VACCINATION IS SORCERY

PLEASE GIVE 4 MINUTES OF YOUR TIME TO LOVE OUR EARTH

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me worry? never

Youth in D.C. march video denounces ‘outright lies’ about him

 

The next possible victims of the shutdown: Your food, flowers and toys

 

Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria after missile fired at Golan Heights

 

Islamic State targets US convoy in northeast Syria

 

Honestly, I did not need to look far on my MSN homepage to gather these news headlines.  If I were a journalist or a reporter for the major news media, I would likely be on a diet of pharmaceuticals – some to keep me happy, some to keep me relaxed, some to keep me sane, some to keep me awake, and then a few to help me sleep.  All this activity in the world about which I should worry.  Yeah, let’s add some Xanax to the menu.

Tell me again how all of you maintain a sense of composure in the heat of national and international news flashing up-to-the-minute headlines on your media screens.  Which drugs (or alcohol) work best for you?  What?  You’re clean and serene?  Hmmmm, let’s talk.

I have a confession to make.  I am absolutely controlled by a situation that does not involve sex, alcohol or drugs.  Aw c’mon, please don’t run away.  I need to talk.  Every weekday night after supper I plan my evening before bedtime.  Read that great book I’ve been wanting to dive into, write another chapter in the short story I am composing, listen to Beethoven and Mozart, get a sheet of paper and do that letter to my aunt, find an interesting episode on PBS, get into Netflix and rent a great movie.

It is all for nought.  Around 7 PM, I am magnetically drawn to the TV remote, although I swear that remote somehow magically finds my hand.  “I’ll just see what’s happening on Family Feud.  Eh, boring.  Ok, how about ESPN?  Shoot, nothing but basketball.  Well, just a quick view of CNN.  Wow!  Did Trump really say that?  Got to go to MSNBC to verify and get details.”

I am hooked.  More powerful than any bottle of scotch.  Four hours later finds me wrapping up with Lawrence O’Donnell and deciding if I should keep on watching Brian Williams just to be sure I did not miss anything important.  I know, I know.  Where’s my willpower?  Am I not bigger than MSNBC?

Ooooh, please don’t think less of me.  Deep down I am a good person.  I remember the days when I read the morning newspaper for my news and watched “I Love Lucy” before going to bed.  I was a God-fearing Christian man who worked on the assembly line for a 10 hour shift, stopped for a beer with the boys, went home for supper and snuggled with the little lady to watch Johnny Carson.  I was not addicted to instant news.  Whatever world catastrophe was pending, it could wait until morning.

BINGO!  There have always been pending world disasters and we survived without 24/7 news coverage.  How was that possible?  Back then we cared just as much about the riots in China and the tsunami in Indonesia as we would today, but we allowed those news events to unfurl at our leisure.  We did not allow the networks to interfere with our daily routine.  We had more important things happening with the job, the wife, the kids, their school, Pastor Johnson’s dalliance with Mrs. Brown, the YMCA, the local library, the latest cops and robbers story.

That’s the answer.  Back then, my waking hours were not trespassed upon by images and stories over which I had no control.  Watching 4 hours of cable news tonight will not give me 1 second of measurable control over what is happening.  I can sleep like a log ( I was going to say baby, but we know babies keep us up all night) and catch up on headlines in tomorrow’s newspaper with a cup of coffee.  That’s much more civilized, don’t you agree?

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I should, and wisdom to know the difference.”

K.I.S.S.

Just 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.

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Keep It Simple, Stupid

For those of you who are unfamiliar with 12 step recovery programs, this life-changing saying hangs on most meeting room walls.  It shares wall space along with “Let Go, Let God”, “Easy Does It”, “One Day at a Time”, and the Serenity Prayer.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

But, for mortals, especially those of us recovering from addictions, keeping it simple is, well, not all that simple.  It took numerous collisions with “self-will run riot” and retractions of my surrender to God to reach any semblance of simplicity in my life.

At the year of my 28th sobriety anniversary, I was plunged into the horrors of bankruptcy in 2009 due largely to the world-wide recession.  As small business operators, my partner and I suffered equally the devastation of losing a trucking business of 15 years, the equipment, the accumulated toys, the savings, great credit standing, and my house.  More devastating to me, a man 62 years old, was the loss of hope for a financial recovery.  I came out of the bankruptcy tired and disillusioned.

“Aha,” said He, my Higher Power.  “Maybe now you will learn from me.  Why not let me run your life?  I am not that difficult to live with.”

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart;  and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  Matthew 11:29

My life changed.  Gone were all the concerns about finances and credit ratings and running a business.  Gone were the responsibilities of owning a house and a bunch of toys.  I slept like a baby at night and found voluminous amounts of time to walk, hike in the woods, jog, read, and enjoy leisure time with friends.  I embraced Gandhi’s exhortation to “Live simply so that others may simply live.”  And I learned to live life claiming the words of Jesus in the book of Matthew, chapter 11.

I think Jesus would have approved of our modern-day acronym KISS.  What do you think?

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the serenity closet

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

Back then, I launched myself into the world, as I knew it, with a fervent determination to change everything that was wrong, right every injustice, and set every errant soul on the right path.  Oh, the fact that I was drunk most of the time did not change my resolve.  Every night with a bottle or two of my favorite wine, I sat at the kitchen table late into the night writing my letters to the editor sharing the world as Larry Paul Brown saw it.

Back then, not much of my writing got published.  Some things just don’t change, do they?  Today, as a sober man, I continue to write, but my efforts are tempered by accepting “the things I cannot change.”  Those unchangeable things are, well, unchanging.  Infinite wisdom, not mine but that of a Higher Power, tells me the truth of this world and it is my choice to accept that truth or keep on spinning my wheels in futile attempts to right all the wrongs.

The savior complex led me into many situations where I was not qualified to guide, direct, or even advise.  My walk through sobriety has worked for me, why should it not work for you?  “Listen up, pilgrims.  This is how you do it.”  Many disappointments and much heartbreak later, I finally latched on to the first line of the Serenity Prayer in earnest.  I learned to approach life with the question, “what can I not change?”  And guess what?  My serenity closet suddenly became a mansion.

I cannot change you and your way even when I assuredly know my way is better.  I cannot change the world; I can only strive to make MY WORLD a better place in which to live.  And, no matter how much I regret about my past, I cannot change the past; I can only change the person I was in that regrettable past.

Anyone can build their own mansion with a spacious serenity room overlooking the beauty of the world outside, aware of the ugliness in that world, yet wise enough to know what can and cannot be changed.  Go to that quiet place, inventory the inner peace or turmoil and ask for the wisdom to know the difference between things that cannot be changed and things that ought to be changed.  Usually the wise answer will direct an action looking inward at change within rather than outward at change in others.  Change my thinking, my perception, my speech, my behavior.

A favorite verse in the wisdom writings of Judaism is Psalm 46:10:

“Be still and know that I am God…..”

Got to that room in the spacious mansion of sobriety, sit down, shut up, and listen to the voice of a Higher Power speaking.  Then, kneel in perfect submission with,

“Yes Lord, Thy will, not mine, be done.”

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YOU ROCK

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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“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS step 3, pg 59 in How it Works.

When was the last time you read those words or listened to them recited at a meeting of recovering alcoholics?  Do we understand fully the significance of this life-saving concept which gave us the credentials to be a part of God’s family even after years of separation and denial ?

At my 1st AA meeting I was scared, I was sick, I was morally and spiritually bankrupt.  I knew I was going to die either by a black-out car wreck or by suicide.  My personal life was a disaster and my job was in jeopardy.  Most of my friends abandoned me, a few stood by me, but all knew that Larry was a sick puppy.  All except Larry.

You see, Larry had learned to play the game.  I’m talking about that mind game we alcoholics master at some point in our drinking careers.  I had my list of scapegoats lined up to cover every conceivable mishap in my life.  I conned, connived, and lied my way through the car wrecks, the lost jobs, the broken relationships, the days of alcohol-induced sickness.  In the end days of my drinking I truly believed my own cons.  Finally, reaching out to mental health services at the hospital in desperation, the psychologist assigned to me listened to my con for one minute before asking, “How much do you drink?”

My surrender was immediate because I was sick of being sick.  I replied, “A few beers once in a while,” but I knew then in the psychologist’s office that the only person I had been conning all this time was me.

“My name is Larry, and I’m an alcoholic,” I announced at my 1st AA meeting.

There, I had done it.  For the first time in many years I got honest with myself.  And then I listened.  I tried to convince myself that I was not as bad as they were.  But, I found myself relating to what they were saying and agreeing, “Yeah, I did that, too.  That’s me.”

Someone talked about God and I freaked.  “You don’t really believe that stuff, do you? There is no God.  Intelligent people don’t need God.  I sure as hell don’t need God.”

A fellow at the end of the table quietly responded, “And look where that got you.  You’re sitting in a room at a table with a bunch of drunks.”

Again, that moment of surrender.  “OK, OK, you’re right.  Maybe I’m not as smart as I thought I was.  I’ll listen to your stories about God.”

And so it began, my journey in sobriety.  The God of my understanding was nothing like the God of my childhood which had burdened me with guilt and shame for 34 years of my life.  It was a unique feeling, a devotion which I had never before experienced, this God of my understanding.  What an amazing concept!

Today I celebrate that I am no longer excluded from a worshipful relationship with a higher power just because I don’t profess the ‘right’ God according to other people.  I no longer feel unworthy just because I’m a broken man trying to be a better man.  I no longer feel condemned to hell just because I’m not convinced by their idea of heaven.

Are you in love with sobriety?  I am.  Do you remember your first meeting?  I do. Amazing, isn’t it, that we should be loved so much by a God of our understanding?

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Thy will, not mine, be done.”

 

“WAGON TRAIN”

larry6My keyboard has been inactive recently.  My mind has not been able to wrap itself around spirituality or sobriety in writing.  It’s not a depression which I am feeling nor a sense of disconnect.  I see this as a time of self-appraisal.

I was a huge fan of the TV series “Wagon Train” many years ago.  Ward Bond as Major Seth Adams led his trekkers across the plains to a new life following the Civil War years.  He was the essence of wisdom and patience.  Many dangers threatened the wagons and their occupants during the months-long trip.  Whenever the hostile natives appeared atop the surrounding hills, Major Adams would signal the wagons to circle and form a defensive front to fight the attackers.

That describes me today.  I’m circling my emotional wagons in anticipation of difficult times ahead.  My focus remains on my Lord, my sobriety continues to be a mainstay of life, but, as David lamented in the Psalms, my enemies surround me and appear to be preparing an attack.

Some of those enemies are real and imminent.  One is declining health associated with aging.  The oomph disappeared several years ago being replaced by aches and pains.  Today, upon reminiscing over accomplishments of the 45 year-old me, I am truly amazed that I had the energy and capacity to do those things.  My focus now is fighting off the numerous maladies which are inherited gifts of DNA.  If I allowed it, I could easily wallow in those things over which I have no control.  I would do well to embrace the “serenity to accept the things which I cannot change.”

Another pervasively disturbing realization is that my idealistic world view is not shared by all of humanity.  Many of my species do not want peaceful co-existence nor spiritual enlightenment.  Many do not uphold the value of each human experience nor the equality of all human beings.  Seriously, I question what Pollyanna world I have lived in for much of my life.  Until recently I have imagined that the entire world dreamed of world peace and brotherhood just as I do.

So, I circle my wagons.  I know that I am not alone, that I have Major Adams to console and calm me, that I have other trekkers crossing the plains to share my ideals.  But, those enemies of a life which we hold dear to us are on the hilltop horizons with tomahawks ready to scalp and arrows ready to pierce.  They despise our ways, they want to destroy our values.  They disguise themselves as world leaders and church leaders, as politicians, as patriots, as sheep.  Beware!

MATTHEW 7:15

“WAGONS HO!”

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trust

Trust is confidence, belief, faith, certainty, assurance, conviction, credence.  The word “trust” gets batted around often in our daily interactions;  “do you trust your politicians?christmas emoji 3  do you trust your best friend?  do you trust your spouse?

It starts with me.  Am I trustworthy?  Would you trust your life with me?  Would you trust your financial savings with me?  Would you trust your deepest secrets with me?  If you were to answer “yes, unconditionally”, then I should probably call you a fool.

Although I am a child of God, I am still suffering the human maladies of greed, pride, and covetousness.  Although I am not who I used to be, I am not yet perfected into what my Higher Power wants me to be.  God’s example, Jesus, sets the perfection bar to be reached.  That bar is high, it will never be reached in this lifetime, but, it is the goal I seek despite my humanness.

In our recovery programs, specifically AA, trust is an important facet.  I trust the principles of my program which are set forth in the 12 steps, I trust the conscience of the fellowship, and I, without reservation, trust the Higher Power which I understand.  Sometimes, I extend unmerited trust to friends forgetting that they are also subject to the vagaries of our human condition.

That trust can be betrayed.  It is painful, it is emotional, it is often taken as a reason to withdraw from the fellowshipping which is my lifeline to sanity and sobriety.  In these times I must remember that I control nothing.  I am putting in the footwork, planning the action, but, do not control the results.  A friend’s betrayal of my trust should not trash my personal serenity.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Trust is a cornerstone of my faith.  Faith is my hotline to God.  I need the blessed assurance of the trustworthy Comforter and Counsellor to keep that line of communion open.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6 merry christmas 5

 

 

all men are created equal

Following is a daily petition inspired by Marianne Williamson in ILLUMINATA

“….cast from me all harsh and critical nature, cast from me all anger and violence;  cast from me  all doubt and insecurity, cast from me all fear and hatred.”

Just as the SERENITY PRAYER was my mantra in early sobriety and continues to be a source of strength today, my version of Marianne’s supplication is a mainstay in the cultural and political chaos of not only America but the entire world.  When insight, understanding, and compassion seem to fail, what is left is either a plea to think, speak, and act in a civil and fearless manner or to react, respond, and attack in a hostile manner indicative of our prehistoric gene pool.

And therein is the solution to any and all issues facing us today.  We live in a world which has polarized its population into two groups.  The one advocates for the inherent rights of all people, the other attempts to continue the tribal instinct of self-protection at the expense of the remainder of mankind.  One is the path to enlightenment and global co-existence, the other leads to oppression and eventual species annihilation.  The choice of which direction to pursue is an individual decision.  It sounds too utterly simplistic, but each one of us needs to decide on which side we will stand in the evolution or regression of mankind.  We will all eventually exit this life in this world as dead carcasses so, it’s a matter of eternal legacy, isn’t it?  Which legacy am I pursuing?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…..” DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE