Thanks to THE PURPLE ALMOND for posting this great video.
Thanks to THE PURPLE ALMOND for posting this great video.
The first few months of sustained sobriety were exciting and exhilarating for those of us recovering from alcoholism. New ways of thinking, new habits, new friends, and a new spirituality kept us coming back to the rooms and tables of Alcoholics Anonymous. Day by day we grew stronger in our commitments to live life without the crutch of a potion which we knew was killing us. Some of us, however, continued to stumble over the name of God in the prayers and in the readings. Too much God baggage from our addictions made it difficult to sincerely think about the Higher Power in any but the simplest of terms. Those with continuous sober time told us to use the group conscience as our reference point for God. It worked. Eventually, having done our inventories and amends, we cast aside the vindictive, judgmental concept we carried for far too many years and we could say and think God with conviction.
Very special friendships developed as we found others with like interests and shared histories. Many of us began new lives plagued by financial problems carried over from our past lives and we found it necessary to share living expenses and housing. It was a perfect solution to the loneliness imposed on us by our disease.
Roommates in recovery discovered that living together could be just as problematic as our marriages or relationships had been previously. We were sober but we were not yet cured of the issues which turned our living arrangements into living hells prior to Alcoholics Anonymous. We had not arrived at serenity, we were still works in progress.
My first roommate as a sober man was Jackie L. He had several years sobriety, attended numerous meetings weekly, and was a person of deep, very deep, Catholic convictions. We spent hours delving into the mysteries of the great writers of religious tradition. Our commitment to sober living was never questioned and, in retrospect, that commitment kept us from going off the “deep end” with religion. We had witnessed that happening to some of our friends; they got into some heavy theology and lost their sobriety as a result.
Jackie was described by some friends as a brooding, moody man. I learned by watching his eye color change from a bright hazel to a deep green when Jackie had something on his mind. And it was only a matter of minutes before we were in deep discussion about that “something”. Being the younger in terms of sober time, I was also more explosive with emotions while my roommate maintained a calm composure. That thoroughly pissed me off as we explored the problem we were having. He already had the upper hand with his poise and wisdom while I sat there spitting and sputtering trying to argue my point.
Those days of early sobriety were extremely important in developing the interpersonal skills we somehow mismanaged while perched on our favorite bar stool at the local watering hole. Finally, we had an opportunity to jumpstart our emotional growth which had been at a standstill for so many years. And make no mistake about it; this was tough, painstaking work. We were ill-equipped for behaving like mature men and women. But somehow we survived.
Jackie and I have lost touch over the many years since 1983. But, I shall never forget his famous line whenever he was about to take the high road in our numerous arguments as roommates. He, with those dark brooding eyes, would look at me with a slight curl on his lips and a mocking laugh and then ask,
“Well Larry, now how spiritual was that?”
That has stayed with me for all these years. When I do or think something which is less than serene and clean, I ask myself, “Well Larry, now how spiritual was that?”
Today I believe the world and its problems could learn a lesson from Jackie and me if people would simply ask themselves, “How spiritual was that?”
When I undertook this format for writing several years ago, it was with the intent to share my experience, strength, and hope in my personal quest for sanity and serenity as a recovering alcoholic. I had no aspirations for a blog that would draw thousands of readers or ambitions for a post that would go viral. And, I have not been disappointed.
The events of the past year have tilted my concerns and attentions to the political arena. Certainly my personal opinions are valid, my voice needs to be counted, and my vote will continue to be registered, but, continual attention to a situation which is beyond my control exacts a toll on serenity and composure.
Today, I realized that common sense will ultimately prevail, that goodness and mercy will prevail, and that life will go on with or without my input. But, I also came to understand that our culture ( Western, specifically American) is driven not by a sense of spirit, but rather by a sense of self. We are a culture of egoism and self-absorption. It is the only explanation for the politicians we have installed as leaders of the free world.
A wealthy friend, let’s call him Joe, is a minor millionaire who spends more money on a pair of shoes than I can spend on monthly groceries. Joe has called our current President a pig. He has questioned our President’s shady connections. He is one of the voters who voted for the least worst of the worst candidates in decades. Yet, Joe confided that the stock market is doing great, he is making money and therefore he is happy with the pig with shady connections who is currently posing as POTUS. Another pair of designer shoes for Joe and maybe a Rolex are in his offing.
Yes, today has been a time of refection and redirect. I know who I am in God’s world, I intend to strive on for a compassionate, caring, communing interaction with the world’s peoples, creatures, and environment. This is the only wealth which is worth chasing, it is the eternity detailed in the chapters of the great scriptures, it is that which the greatest of God’s messengers have attested as truth; it is the way of Jesus, the path of Buddha and it is available to all who will subdue themselves to the greater power so simply presented in the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The Oneness which we call God, or Allah, or Brahman will continue with or without us. The universal, omnipotent power of the Oneness will do this…with or without us. Our reason for being here on this earth in this life is to promote and assist the physical/spiritual welfare of our brothers and sisters, to cherish the creation and to protect the environment. We are not here to promote our version of God, to defend our version of God, or in any way assist our version of God. The one you name as God, the one I name as God is perfectly capable of handling those details. Let’s appreciate the simplicity of our solidarity.
Peggy Lee, a popular contemporary vocalist of the 1950s and 60s, recorded a song which reached into the top of the charts in 1969. “IS THAT ALL THERE IS” expresses disillusionment and disappointment with a life which should be filled with unique experiences. She suggests that we “break out the booze and have a ball—if that’s all there is”. Peggy Lee died in 2002.
Sometimes our life’s experiences parallel the lyrics of this song of hopelessness and melancholy. We strive to achieve, to find acceptance within our communities, to perform according to the edicts of our traditional religion. We fear the god of vengeance and punishment portrayed by exhortations from the pulpits of our churches while we fervently pray to that same god for forgiveness and redemption. Yet in the secret recesses of our inner selves we intuitively know that the god of our religions and churches somehow misses the mark of truth, compassion, and relevance which we earnestly desire in our lives. This inner search drives us to search for another day when we can sincerely say “yes, Lord, I will follow”, when we can finally change the word god to a capitalized God.
“9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Luke 11:9 KJV
That day of transformation from god to God reveals to us an inner trek which fills our lives with the beauty, mystery, awe, and inspiration which God intended for us. It is not a new realization; rather, it has been practiced for thousands of years by Teachers sometimes called “mystics”. They and their followers shared the wonderment of God residing within and without, present in all beings and all creation, available to any who would seek. The Kingdom of God is not reserved for the righteous; it is not a distant, heavenly sphere of religious correctness; it is not the eminent domain of any of the world’s religions.
“21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21` KJV
The writings of the New Testament attribute the above verse to Jesus, one of the Teachers who understood the mysteries of the inner search for truth. When his sayings, as recorded in the Bible, are processed in the realm of spiritual rather than worldly understanding we become keenly aware of the depth of inner communion with a God who becomes intensely real and personal.
Luke 17:21 is the essence of “TREKKING WITH THE MYSTICS” and the basis for a necessary life-changing redirect. If our “rock and fortress” dwells within then surely hatred, bigotry, intolerance, government agents, worldly oppression shall be powerless in the presence of the great “I AM”. We are proclaimed to be instruments of and witnesses to that which is Truth and Light. We are destined to walk the earth fearlessly pursuing for all people equality, social justice, and personal liberty. Doing so is our birthright and our Supreme duty.
Have you ever momentarily experienced in your meditation a time of absolute serenity and peace? All trains of thought have stopped. The world around you is non-existent. It is tranquil and quiet within. All is well with your soul.
You try to hang on to it as long as possible but, the phone rings, the kids scream, and the dog barks. Poof! It’s gone. That brief, unearthly respite was a God moment. For a mere second you and the God within were in communion. This mysterious indwelling essence became the Lord of your life on the day you made sobriety the top priority of your life.
We alcoholics are not unique in this discovery. Many before us, many who are not addicted to any behavior or substance have also known the God within and have fully experienced the pure joy and peace of inner communion. Buddha and his followers, Jesus and his followers, Muhammad and his followers all exercised the mysticism of an inner experience of meditation and contemplation. The Kabbalist Jew in his esoteric practice also embraces mysticism.
This has nothing to do with his God, her God, the church’s God. This is your very own, very personal Higher Power which has no need to be translated by religionists or theologians. You don’t need dogma or faith creeds or a list of “thou shalt and thou shalt not” because it is within the deepest recesses of your soul’s being that the God of your understanding can be found.
Faith in this inner God experience of the mystics does not negate or diminish the presence of spirituality that is enjoyed by worshipping with others corporately in the church, the mosque or the synagogue. This time of singing, prayer, and teaching only enhances that which we know within. However, we can experience an exhilarating freedom when we understand how and where to find a personal God of our understanding. Scriptures which we have learned and known for a lifetime come alive with new and deeper meaning. Our journey is no longer hindered by questions concerning the right pew in the right church with the right congregation worshipping on the right day of the week preaching the right gospel with the right Bible, Torah or Koran in hand. That spiritual experience which is deep within is always right.
“To thine own self be true.”
Perhaps one of our greatest challenges in life is walking that mile. We have endured painful obstacles in promoting a healthy family atmosphere. We have worked in jobs that were nothing more than a weekly paycheck. We have served our country to the best of our abilities only to be spat upon and denigrated. We have given beyond expectations and then been told “that’s not enough.” We have sacrificed personal comfort and security in vain attempts to be the people we thought we ought to be.
Yes, we are good people; no, we are GREAT people. None on earth can dispute America’s generosity and charity as shown through numerous relief agencies and private funding of world need. Good will is synonymous with the United States of America.
Yet, individually, many of us are unwilling or spiritually unable to walk a most difficult mile. We are quick to point out another’s deficiencies, to make judgements, to take inventories and absolve ourselves from personal responsibility for that person’s well-being. We no longer value our role as the keepers of brothers. Ego and self promotion are the founding principles in our lives. Perhaps we have always been this way and only now in our condensed, sardine can society it is more obvious.
How much more effort and sacrifice would be required of us to take that most difficult mile, the one walked in another man’s shoes? We have all heard this bit of wisdom; some say it’s American Native folklore. But what would happen when, instead of condemning a man for his behavior, we could change places with him, envision our behavior in his situation, consider what we would do given his circumstances?
Even then, when we have walked that mile with him and our attitude remains harsh, our HP takes us to another principle of his Kingdom. Forgiveness, for most of us, is just as difficult but, equally necessary.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others” is a fundamental tenet of our fellowship and for anyone who seeks a ‘clean and serene’ life. As recovering brothers and sisters we believe our HP has forgiven our lifetime mess and continues to forgive our human nature while we continue in His service. To deny forgiveness to others is akin to denying that God has forgiven us, that our sins were too great to be forgiven even by the most awesome and omnipotent power in the universe, and that his example of forgiveness is not applicable in our lives. When we don’t forgive, we are rejecting the power of HP to transform our lives.
We do not aspire to perfection. Growth is our objective. Let’s be willing to walk that difficult mile with our brothers and sisters and then extend the forgiveness which our HP has accorded to us. For most of us this is the most difficult mile we will ever walk. But, it can also be the most beautiful, enlightening experience of a lifetime.
“Father, we honor in holiness your name; we seek your kingdom as we yearn for your will in our lives. Let it be here within us that you dwell. Give us spiritual food for this day. Forgive our trespasses and guide us to forgive our brothers and sisters just as you have forgiven us. May our fellowship with others in sober living and our love for You keep the temptations of alcohol at bay; protect us from our demons. We recognize and revere your omnipotence and power which is everlasting. Amen.”
On a very cold, wintry, January night of 1981 a 34-year-old man entered the parking lot of the Episcopal church in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. The lot was empty of vehicles as it was a Thursday night and the man, although early for his appointed meeting, sat for a few minutes in his vehicle contemplating the events of the past few weeks and what he anticipated to happen that evening. Not normally timid or shy, he was shaking, not from the weather but from anxiety over his decision to take a life-changing direction that would be so vastly different from any other of his life’s experiences. It was an extremely difficult choice to make but, he knew he had come to a dead-end. More often than he cared to admit, suicide had become an increasingly favorable option and he was absolutely terrified of where his mind had been taking him.
Psychoanalysis had helped, counseling had helped, well-meaning family members had tried to help but, the feelings of despair, self-loathing, and worthlessness continued to haunt him. In the darkness of that church parking lot he battled the urge to run, to wage the struggle alone just as he had faced so many other hurdles in life, or to maybe, finally, find the courage to end it all.
Why were no other people here? Was he too early or was the meeting cancelled? Did they not know how desperate be had become? He already believed he was not worthy of anyone’s concern and now it was being proven to him. Nobody was showing up for his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Yeah, the world really sucked and he was the world’s biggest fool for believing anyone cared.
It was 7:30 o’clock, time for the meeting to start and the church was dark, the parking lot was still empty. From his car he could see just one doorway to the social hall where they were supposed to meet. A light hanging over the doorway barely illuminated the walkway up to the door. It was cold, dark and desolate. Shivering, he shifted into gear and decided to leave, maybe stop for a beer at a nearby pub. It was a stupid idea anyway. How could a bunch of whining ex-drunks sitting around a table commiserating over not being able to drink anymore…how could they help him?
Ready to pull back onto the street, he looked back one more time to the lighted doorway. Standing there under the light, shoulders huddled, pouring an icy mist from his nostrils was a man beckoning him to return.
“Lord, where did he come from? He wasn’t there just a second ago.”
“Hey, my name is Tom,” the voice said as the angel walked toward my car. “I think you’re probably at the right place. The meeting’s at 8:00 o’clock. C’mon in, I’ve got the key.”
Lord willing, January 22nd of 2017 will be my 36th sobriety anniversary. I can even today see Tom standing in that doorway and I remember the details of my first meeting, the people who were there, and most of all, the immediate realization that, just as Tom had said, I was at the right place, and indeed he and AA had the key to personal liberation and a life victorious over the demon alcohol.
My name is Larry and I am an alcoholic. On that cold night nearly 36 years ago I had two doors before me. In one door stood my angel beckoning me to be bold and courageous in pursuit of recovery from alcoholism. The other door questioned by whose power did I believe a drunken wretch like me could survive even one day without alcohol. The darkness in that door told me I was unworthy of anything other than the hell of addiction.
Do I believe in God’s amazing grace? You betcha.
“We have an opportunity at this time in history to completely change the course of human culture. That opportunity is not simply an option anymore, it is a gauntlet thrown down by the forces of history before a generation still not decided whether money and power or love and brotherhood should form the basis of our civilization. And we will decide, or life will decide for us. The human species will learn to become profoundly compassionate toward itself and toward all life. We will learn it through wisdom, or we will learn it through pain. But we will learn, because it’s God’s will that we become the people he has created us to be. It’s not up to us where we are going—but, how we get there and when is determined by every choice we make, every moment of every day.”
Marianne Williamson, “EVERYDAY GRACE”
Whom are we created to be? The world’s movers and shakers today chase after money and power while over 75% of our world’s population lives in poverty only dreaming of having enough food or proper sanitation or potable water. Corporate and personal wealth in the United States is mind-boggling yet one in five American children go to bed hungry. The compassionate world our God intended was not one divided over issues of power, wealth, and theology. The world’s massive wealth was not intended for just 1% of the world’s population. Every sacred scripture points to enlightenment as a civilization where all are created equal, where all are deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, where all share a piece of God’s blessing in brotherhood.
We seem to forget that our Creator had a game plan. Whether you believe in the creation story of the Jews and Muslims, the Hindus, or the Buddhists is unimportant. We were created as a compassionate species whose sole purpose was to please and venerate our Father. We seem to forget that God is holding the trump card, that his will shall prevail with or without our approval and cooperation. So, how do we conduct ourselves? Shall we learn through wisdom or through pain? It’s our call.
If you are one of millions who see the Christmas season as a time of extreme emotional turmoil and you are one who somehow misses the joy and excitement everyone around you is celebrating, then may you find peace in knowing you are not alone. Turn to the comforts of your AA groups who understand; lean upon each other for the support necessary to survive another holiday episode. We, as a family in recovery, find within the fellowship others who have walked this tightrope many times. We have experienced the fine line associated with sociable interaction with “normal” holiday celebrants and the challenges of not stepping over that fine line into relapse. The booze is flowing, caution is often thrown to the wind, we are tempted to have “just one”. It need not happen.
Know your program, know your limits, be on firm ground with your HP, and finally, always have your contact numbers with you if you are anticipating a holiday social affair or work party including booze. Don’t push it. If you find yourself out of your comfort zones, don’t be afraid to run for the hills and the safety of an alcohol-free atmosphere. It’s your sobriety and your life. Nobody at that party will care as much about your sobriety as you do.
Well meaning friends and family have in the past chided me, “Aw, c’mon, you’ve been sober over 30 years, a glass of wine won’t hurt. You’re not an alcoholic anymore.”
And that’s OK. They don’t understand the nature of the beast. But, I do. I pray to never forget the heartbreak, the lying, the cheating, the self-loathing, the stealing, the pain and agony of the bottle. Even 36 years later, all that is just one drink away. I am as close to a relapse as any one of you. Whether we are celebrating 24 hours, 30 days, 1 year, or many years of sobriety, all of us are just one drink away from the misery we knew in our active addictions.
One of the demons of the Christmas season is the loneliness. Don’t feed it. Go against your feelings to isolate. Avoid depression like the plague. We all have different ways to cope with negativity. Indulge yourself and a sober friend in a luxurious, expensive meal. How about a winter cruise? Shop for a new outfit for yourself. One of my favorite head-cleaners is a hike in the forests nearby. And, of course, meetings, meetings, meetings. Helping and reaching out to other alcoholics is a sure cure for the holiday blues.
As we progress, we learn what to avoid. One of my undeniable downers is the mall at Christmas. The decorations, the laughing children, and Santa Claus invariably bring back memories which should stay buried. Christmas music is another. I limit myself to listening just a few days towards the end of the season. We are all different in how we handle the rampant emotions. You will find your remedy and you can stay sober.
In closing, this is my Christmas wish for you. God bless you for finding the courage and desire to maintain sobriety in a crazy, screwed-up world. We are not alone because we know there are millions just like us worldwide. We are a brotherhood of God’s children who once lived broken lives. We have been redeemed. We have been made alive. We are not perfect but, God knows, we are better than we used to be. Your HP and mine loves us more than anything in the world. That gift of love is the true magic of Christmas. It was created to be shared. Share your love, share your life. Value and protect your sobriety for it is indeed a treasure from God. Merry Christmas.