practice, practice, practice

 

sober emoji SOBER TODAY ?  Give yourself and your Higher Power a hand.

“The advantage of most spiritual practices is precisely that they are about practice rather than belief…open to religious people and to nonreligious people.”  RUPERT SHELDRAKE

The chapters HOW IT WORKS & INTO ACTION (chapters 5 and 6 of the Big Book) present the plan which has proven successful in the recovery of millions of alcoholics.  In summary the final words of chapter 6 are a telling description of who we are:

“We alcoholics are undisciplined.  So we let God discipline us in the way we have just outlined.  But this is not all.  There is action and more action.  Faith without works is dead.”  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS pg. 88

For many of us this is the core of our recovery program.  Belief is a wonderful thing which leads to a miraculous transformation, a peace and serenity beyond comprehension.  However, we love to stagnate and procrastinate.  Call it ‘wallow’ if you like.  Wallowing gets us into trouble.  That wonderful belief, our personal transformation, the peace of mind cannot withstand the powers of addiction if a rigorous program of action is not enacted.

The wisdom of the ancients in scriptures says:

“As the body without spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”  JAMES 2:26

What are my deeds today?  Do I show gratitude for the gift of sobriety in my actions, verbally affirm in prayer, reach out to the still-suffering alcoholic, follow the behavior necessary to avoid wallowing?  I am, after all, by nature undisciplined.  If I were a disciplined man I probably would not have spent uncountable afternoons sitting on a bar stool rather than tending to my favorite recreation, gardening.  If I were a disciplined man I would have appreciated the woman who shared my life rather than carouse the honky-tonks at night.  If I were a disciplined man I would have succeeded in college, in the military, in the jobs which I trashed while chasing my demons.

Then again, maybe not.  My nemesis is cunning, baffling, and powerful.  It wanted to see me dead or institutionalized.   It told me the lies which I wanted to hear.  It was the higher power of my life before I embraced the actions of recovery.  It did not care whether I was disciplined or not.  Seeing another sucker for the allure of the jukebox and the bottle, alcoholism claimed 17 years of my life.

Appreciating sober-living involves belief.  But, keeping sobriety is all about practice, practice, practice.

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what do you see?

Where do you go for comfort, reassurance, consolation?  In our past lives many of us found our fix sitting on a honky-tonk barstool listening to jukebox favorites as we watered down our drinks with tears while sharing sad stories with the unwitting stranger sitting next to us.  We always had misery and heartbreak riding on our shoulders and, unfailingly, it was never our fault, was it?

This will not be a war story, there are millions just like mine; rather, it’s a testimony of personal victory gained through the power of Alcoholics Anonymous, the dedicated people sitting around the tables of a recovery meeting, and the grace of a God as I understood God.  Trust me, in those early days, understanding God was a challenging proposal because in 1981 at my first AA meeting, a more strident atheist than I could not be found.  “Don’t talk to me about God, don’t expect me to pray, don’t give me any God literature.  All I want out of this group is to learn how not to drink or, even better, to learn how to drink socially like my buddies.”

The first 90 days were a long and tedious journey through numerous nail-biting nights of sheer terror fearing the old demons would reclaim me.  But also, bringing me back to the tables day after day and night after night (yes, I was one of those freaks who did at least 2 meetings daily) was the promise from others in the rooms and from the Big Book that I too could get better, that even for me there was hope.

One of those AA guys with a no-nonsense demeanor which I admired took me aside one night and suggested that I use g.o.d. as my higher power until I became ready and willing to consider a sober-minded understanding of God.  Good Orderly Direction served me well for the time necessary to clear the alcoholic fog from my brain and explore the joys and promises of a developing spirituality.

The time from then to now is my story, a fantasy trip surpassing any drunk or any high I ever experienced prior to sobriety.  It has been filled with absolute joy and unbearable sorrow, heights of fulfillment and lows of abject despair, moments of awe and days of drudgery.  Guess what?  That’s life.  It is the same as it always was – suffering sprinkled with joy and peace. But, today I don’t have to sit on a barstool crying in my beer.  I am changed.  Me, a few good friends, and g.o.d. can handle anything that comes along.

Not surprisingly, comfort and strength can be found visiting with an old friend.  I find sustaining reassurance through many of the foundational hymns and verses learned as a young boy, but rejected later in life as lies and deceit.  Today, I am an integral part of the stories and songs I remember.  I am the prodigal son, I am the doubting Thomas, I am the denying Peter, I suffer with Jesus on his cross.  These are my friends from years ago who have taken new meaning in a spiritual awakening.

Sobriety does not force us to find religion, to profess creeds, to do weekly confessional.  Sobriety does, however, expect that we will surrender to a Higher Power and pursue changed perspectives.   An aspect of those changed perspectives is our approach to worldly things.  Especially in today’s tumultuous social and political atmosphere, the words of Helen Lemmel, a writer and hymnist who lived 1863 to 1961, urges us to turn our eyes upon Jesus (an old friend), look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.  

Don’t need to worship, don’t need to adhere to any particular faith walk, don’t need to bow to any deity – just know the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his life and work, his compassion.  Then look upon that as a path to living life soberly in spiritual comfort and reassurance.  Perspectives will change when the things of earth grow strangely dim.

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Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow him there

Helen Howarth Lemmel

burning mid-night oil

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I’m sure there has been a song written for this sleepless night of worry and insecurity that is keeping me from my comfortable bed drinking coffee when I should be cutting ZZZZZZs.  Fortunately, I don’t have a job which will set my alarm clock to jingling at 5 o’clock AM – or perhaps not having a job is unfortunate.  Is that why I worry?  If  I had an income other than my monthly social security, I would probably not worry and feel insecure.

Naw, I would worry anyway about other things.  Where is the USA heading?  Tonight I believe I’ve been blowing smoke up my butt about this country which I have learned to love, the one which I served in uniform many years ago, the one which I boasted to be the best in the world on so many occasions.  Could I have been so blatantly bamboozled about its people all these years?  Is it possible we are nothing more than a racist tribe of self-serving bigots who are just now creeping from our underground sewers?

I would worry about the plight of our earth.  Assault after assault on its delicate balances and natural beauty will not be tolerated by our Mother much longer.  We devastate in the name of profit and threaten mass destruction in the pursuit of power.  She will prevail in the end, but I fear we, the human species, will not be here to witness her victory.

I would worry about my blogging friend, Jill.  She steadfastly burns the late night oil informing her readers of the corruption and deceit being foisted upon us by a government which obviously does not serve WE THE PEOPLE.  Like me, Jill is also tired.  I wonder if she worries.

Ahhh, I think maybe now I will go to bed.  The sun is about to rise as it has for billions of years, the birds will greet its rising, the oceans’ tides will flow, the stars will retire for the day, and mankind will continue to confound the creating powers with his violence, greed, pride and lust for power.  Nope, not much has changed since we appeared on the scene and me worrying about it won’t change a damned thing.

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And yes, there has been a song written about tonight…..thanks to Freddy Fender

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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let go – let God

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In the King James Version of the American Standard Bible there are 400 verses that mention the word “peace”.  The BARNES’ NOTES commentary on a passage from Philippians 4:7,

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding…..”

writes that “this peace is that which is felt when we have no anxious care about the supply of our needs, and when we go confidently and commit everything into the hands of God.”

“….shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

The commentary goes on to say that ‘shall keep’  was translated from a military term meaning guarded and preserved lending further definition of peace as freedom guarded from the intrusion of anxious fears and alarms.

LET GO – LET GOD

In my first recovery meeting room, those framed words were hanging on the wall in front of me.  “What in the world does that mean?  Let go of what?  How does a man do that?”  Not an easy undertaking for an alcoholic dedicated to self-will run riot for his entire life.  “Absolutely not, I will not surrender anything to something I can’t see, touch or talk to.”

I was urged by the others, sitting at the tables sharing their stories, to embrace steps 1, 2, and 3, the surrender steps of the 12 step program which had graced their lives with sustained sobriety.

1) Admitted we were powerless over  alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable. 2) Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3) Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.

Surrender – once and done?  Not really.  It became a daily practice which for most of us continues even after years of sobriety.  It directly affects the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding.  Without surrender I will not enjoy peace. Without peace, life once again becomes unmanageable and insane.

This way of living, sober-living, is not about religion and Bible passages.  Neither is it about performing the 12 step programs perfectly until completion.  It is the way we approach all of life’s challenges and surprises.  It is an ongoing surrender to the energy which we call Higher Power.

One of my most trusted prayers is the prayer of St. Francis.  It begins:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace…..”

When I reflect on those words, it is not a request to send me out into the world as a peacemaker among friends, peoples or nations.  No, it is directed inwardly to create a space within which is free of worry and anxiety.  The world’s insanity will probably not embrace peace in this day, but I can.  Join me?

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joy or misery – it’s a choice

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Let me repeat that.  In this new day we can choose to be joyful or we can choose to be miserable.  Within each of us is the power to wallow in this world’s drudgery or soar on wings of joy – and it is possible without the use of pharmaceuticals, alcohol, or any mind-altering substances.

“…..we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness….we will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace…”  from the promises, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

The promises listed are not just fancy ideals written by a successful recovering alcoholic.  They are reality for millions of alcoholics who choose to follow a program of sober-living earnestly and honestly….“are these extravagant promises?  We think not!”  That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of our lifestyle.  Today, we have choices which were dismally not available before.  Joy or misery is one of those choices.

Alcoholism is a disease of the mind, of the body and of the soul.  It is cunning, baffling and powerful.  It wants to see you and I either in a mental institution or in the grave and it will not rest until it destroys us.  But, we have resources available that can conquer our disease.  For some it is Alcoholics Anonymous, for others it is Celebrate Recovery, still others discover sobriety through numerous spiritual programs.  They all present to us a way of changing our lives and living victoriously as new men and women.  They rebuke the power of alcohol in our lives and replace that demon with the power of choice.

The joy of living soberly is directly linked to an attitude of gratitude.  What is on this morning’s gratitude list?  Nothing?  Let’s think again.  Did we sleep in a warm, comfortable bed last night?  Do we remember this morning where we were last night, what we did?  Do we suffer from blackouts?  Are we filled with self-loathing because of what we did last night?  Were we unfaithful to our spouses?  Did we spend the family’s grocery money on booze?  Are we calling the boss and lying about why we will not be at work?  Yeah, we have much about which to be grateful, don’t we?

I suffer varying degrees of arthritis pain on a daily basis.  Many of us endure medical and physical conditions that limit activity.  Are we going to allow these maladies to diminish joyful living?  Absolutely not.  The pain I feel this morning is a reminder that my body is still alive and functioning.  When the day arrives that this body is not responsive to stimuli, good or bad, then I shall likely be dead.  And although that is neither good nor bad, I am not yet ready to be dead.

So let’s make our choices.  Will that choice be a joyful interaction with all that has been restored to us through the grace of recovery or will it be a miserable day of drudgery wallowing in the pit of negative thoughts and behavior?  Which will we choose?

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this little spark of mine – I’m gonna let it shine

 

“We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness. Whatever mistakes we have made in the past, whatever problems we may have in the present, in every one of us this beautiful-cropland-dawn-1237119‘uncreated spark in the soul’ remains untouched, ever pure, ever perfect. Even if we try with all our might to douse or hide it, it is always ready to set our personality ablaze with light.”  EKNATH EASWARAN (1910-1999) cac.org

(Eknath Easwaran was an Indian born spiritual teacher and author, as well as translator and interpreter of early Hindu texts such as the UPANISHADS and the BHAGAVAD GITA.)

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) taught:

“Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name in history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts.”

The world, specifically Western Culture, might do well to listen to the words of all religious traditions whose mystics searched beyond the limits of this life experience for truer meaning and self-less examination.  Escaping the insanity of violence, war, poverty, genocide, persecution, religious intolerance and greed is critical for a path to a sustainable co-existence of the human species as well as the ecosystem of earth which inarguably is essential to our survival.

Giving up self-indulgence is not easy.  Just ask any other recovering alcoholic or addict.  A primary symptom, if not the most salient aspect, of our addictions was ego-driven selfishness.  Unfortunately, that does not miraculously disappear upon our first day of the recovery process.  For most of us, especially me, this change in focus becomes a lifetime endeavor.  Some days are better than others, but the spark is there.  An AA saying that resonates is, “A belly full of booze and a head full of AA don’t mix.”  It’s the same with recognizing the divine spark within each of us.  Once you experience it, you can no longer ignore it.  That inner essence demands change.

I continue to be amazed that for some people this change is easily accomplished.  Involving in service work, rejoining their communities, whether in civic groups or church groups, seems to be a cakewalk for them.  Not for me.  You can drag me to a town hall meeting, but I will be kicking and screaming all the way.  It is not natural for me to do something that is not all about me, me, me.

We don’t hear WWJD very often these days.  “What Would Jesus Do?”  In no way have I perfected this approach, but when I ask myself this question, I can usually depend on a positive, forward-moving answer.  It doesn’t matter whether one believes a divine Jesus, a virgin-born Jesus, a reverential Jesus or a bodily resurrected Jesus, the keys to successful, peaceful, empowered living are contained in the writings which are attributed to the words of Jesus of Nazareth.  Those nuggets of inspiration and truth culled from the Bible’s chapters detailing Judaic history, folklore, and ancient wisdom present a lifestyle and mindset that lead to the change demanded by each individual’s inner essence.

Not surprisingly, this truth can be gathered from most of the world’s great spiritual traditions if we put aside the hype and tribal prejudices of religion and instead search for the reality of inner discovery.  History’s mystics lead that search.

 

 

It’s a zoo

Sue and Stu
lost at the zoo,
devilsaid Stu to Sue
“What shall we do,
it’s a very large zoo?”

Frank and Hank,
over by the shark tank,
said Hank to Frank
“Let’s play a prank
on Sue and Stu.”

But Mary and Jerry,
friends of Sue and Stu,
overheard Hank and Frank’s prank
over by the shark tank-
diabolical, evil and rank.
Said Jerry to Mary, “it truly stank.”

So they conspired with a man
whose name was Stan,
a very diminutive man,
and they hatched a plan.
Stan found an empty soup can
and over toward Frank and Hank he ran
“Benny, Benny, get back in your can.”

Behind the shark tank hid Jerry and Mary, Sue and Stu
watching as the little man approached Frank and Hank.
“Hello, may name is Stan and this is my can.”
“Well howdy Stan, I’m Frank, this is Hank, how do you do?”
Sue and Stu, Mary and Jerry watched curiously from behind the tank.
“Gosh, feller,” said Frank, “you sure are a little man.”
“Yes,” said Stan, “but once upon a time I was as tall as you.
I had an important position working in a bank.”
Mary and Jerry, Sue and Stu whispered, “What is Stan’s plan?”

Whaaaaat? Do you really think I know the plan of Stan, the little man?
Heck no, I’m just another man in the zoo.
There isn’t much that I can do.
The rest of this story is up to you.

Why did Sue and Stu get lost in the zoo?
What was the diabolical prank of Hank and Frank?love emoji
Why was Stan with a plan such a little man?
And who the hell is Benny?

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OPINIONATED

Heck no! I’m not opinionated
I am merely rightlaughing emoji3
always.

I’ve spent many days pondering
religion
politics.

sex
women
men.

No, not opinionated
simply always right
seven decades pondering life.

observing
interacting
discerning.

Nope, not opinionated
simply wise
prudent.

Sensible
pragmatic
logical.

Reasonable
rational
perceptive.

You, sir, are opinionated
always thinking you are correct
never admitting fault.

Closed-minded
narrow
conceited.

I, on the other hand, am simply a man who is always right.laughing emoji2

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ain’t going back no more

I spent too much of this past weekend reflecting upon my stint in the Navy as a hospital corpsman during the Vietnam era. I returned to the insanity and chaos of the war years as I remembered and honored my brothers who died in those jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. Tonight, my soul aches anew. I still sometimes feel guilt for not being one of them. I should have been there beside them. For many years I thanked the God of my understanding for keeping me safely out of harm’s way. Today it’s easier to simply say I was just one of the lucky ones. My number was not drawn, my reassignment orders did not say Marine Corps training for assignment to Vietnam. But, was I really one of the lucky ones? They paid the supreme price, the family received condolences, insurance money, a flag, and a medal, and another warrior found eternal peace having died a war-time hero.

My duty station was the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Having completed training as a psychiatric tech, none of the schooling prepared me for the pain I saw of returning warriors broken in limb and mind. They shared their horror stories, stories of terror and fear in the rice paddies and the jungles where they stayed high on dope just to survive the craziness that filled their minds. Those who lost arms and legs were rehabilitating in the orthopedic wards on the other side of the hospital grounds. They visited my wards in their wheelchairs and together the broken ones tried to heal one another.

One of my special assignments was that of body escort for a returning corpsman killed in action. My military bearing was never up to snuff from my first days in boot camp and it did not improve with time, but I somehow stayed out of trouble and made rank. It was considered an honor to escort a fallen warrior. I had lots of time to think as I rode with the dead young man to his funeral site in Virginia. I met the grieving family at the funeral home and began doing what body escorts are supposed to do. After the body was lowered in the ground, after the volley of gun fire, and after final taps from a nearby hillside, I returned to my motel room, cried like a baby and got drunk as hell.

I friggin hated war, I hated Vietnam and most of all I hated the government which had sent thousands of courageous men to their graves for the enrichment of the privileged, white boys back home in the safety of the USA. From that day forward my life tail-spinned into the drunken story of a sorry-assed man who couldn’t forgive himself for still being alive while too many had died. My untimely discharge from the military gave me ever more reason to pursue a new found career in drinking. Espousing anti-government sentiments from my barstool pulpit, I spent many nights with Jack Daniels and Cutty Sark informing other barroom patrons of the inherent evils of ‘their’ government.

I have detailed my sobriety story many times on this blog. It is indeed a miracle which has led me to self-forgiveness and acceptance of things which I cannot change. My drinking was my way of leaving my personal jungles and rice paddies behind and I am OK with it. I titled this post before I started writing it and now I know it’s a lie. I must go back remembering those who died, those who came back broken in spirit and body, and those who never again had a chance to live normally. They are all a part of my story and I can never forsake them.

Duane, Bryan, Joe – I’ll see you when I get there. SEMPER FI