a time of surrender

44

Even after years of continuous sobriety, Step 1 of the AA program is as relevant today for me as it was back in 1981.  They called it “self-will run riot” at the meeting tables.  We, if we were honest about our situation, could heartily agree with the unmanageable existence that had become everyday life under the control of alcohol.

But, there had to be more than merely admitting that we had a drinking problem and that our lives were unmanageable.  We had to change who we were, how we processed life situations.  We had to change our thinking and our priorities.  It was not easy.   Many did not make the transition and returned to old ways under the clutches of addiction.

So, you might ask, “what made the difference, why would some succeed while others slipped back into drinking?”

SURRENDER.  Surrendering to the wisdom at the meeting tables, to those who cared enough to share their stories, to those who sat up into the wee morning hours to guide us through moments of weakness, to the inspiration given in the writings of Bill W. and Dr. Bob, and finally to a power greater than us – that Higher Power which appears under innumerable names and philosophies.  We had to surrender everything which told us that we were special and unique, separate from the gutter drunk or the teenaged hustler on the street corner.  We had to accept that “but for the grace of God, there go I.”

Have I surrendered today?  Have I turned over all my concerns, all my fears, all my prejudices, all my doubts and insecurities?  Have you?

We are told that we no longer need to live lives of continual turmoil.  We don’t need to worry about the stock market, about wars in distant lands, about turmoil in our country, about pandemics that could kill us because ultimately we do not have control over anything outside the heart and soul that comfort us.  We, if we have surrendered, trust in the goodness of humanity and the grace of a Higher Power.  It is the only pathway to internal peace.  Internal peace is the only pathway to a world of peace.  Worrying contradicts surrender and robs us of peace.  What’s our choice going to be?

A favorite passage from the book of Luke tells me:

“…can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single moment to the span of your life?”  LUKE 12:25-26

animals-elderly-forest-40873

let go – let God

adult-adventure-backlit-915972

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?

beard-beggar-face-35015

 

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.”

44

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.

UNSHACKLED 2

crazy?

 

UNSHACKLED 2

Are we crazy?  Many people think we are when we express belief in a formless, invisible power which can’t be touched or seen.  How often have acquaintances and family ridiculed our naiveté when making reference to the One who gives life and breath, the One who transcends all human understanding and reasoning?

“Well,” they say.  “Define it.”

“Can’t.”

‘”Describe it.”

“Can’t.”

They question further, “Where does this undefinable, indescribable power live?”

“Within me.”

“Ohhhhh, I see.”

Yep! Undoubtedly and indubitably crazy.  They didn’t get it.  They didn’t understand that I had to go crazy with love for the Higher Power that pulled me out of the insanity of alcoholism.  They didn’t know, as I did, that there is a difference between crazy good and insanely stupid.  Why was I insanely stupid?  Because every time I sat down on that bar stool, I thought that this time was going to be different from all the other times.  I thought that I would have two social drinks and then go home.  I was sure that my drinking habit would miraculously change.  Why?  Because I had will power.

Many years passed with innumerable drunken escapades resulting in hangovers, lost car keys, misplaced wallets, puke-covered shirts, broken relationships, car wrecks and a shattered self-image.  I finally understood the insanity of my alcoholic behavior.

Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.

It was insane to think I could drink and expect a different outcome at the end of the night.  It was never going to be a night like that of my buddies who knew how to drink socially.  You see, I would drink with them at the nice bars, bid them all a good-night when they went home to their families and then sneak to the other side of town where the action was.  You know – the sleaze bars where it was easy to score and the potential one night stands got smarter and better looking as the night progressed.  And that’s when I went crazy.

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Initially, family and friends thought it was extremely cool that I was on the wagon.  “Hey, Larry’s not drinking anymore.  Awesome.”

But, Larry had to change more about himself than simply not setting his butt on a bar stool every night.  There were deep-seated issues that needed attention.  Issues of insecurity, anger, envy, pride, and laziness.  And that’s when the heavy artillery had to be called in.  Detox, psychotherapy, meetings, meetings, meetings.  Changes had to be made and I could not do it without help.  I surrender, I give up.  HELP!

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

I took the “as we understood God” part of step 3 very seriously and, unfortunately, not many people (family and friends) got it.

“Crazy!  He’s crazy with religion.  He went from a drunk to a Jesus freak.  I liked him better when he was drinking.”

Yep, I’m crazy….but at least I’m not insane anymore.

 

 

 

psalm 51

Picture1.pngstep7.png2

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.  3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Psalms 51: 1-3 The Voice The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

These verses were sometimes referred to as the “Hangman’s Prayer.”  A sentenced convict was given an opportunity to set things right with the One he/she called Almighty before the noose tightened.  Grace and mercy reigned when that Power was called upon.

In addiction we also receive the sentence of death for our walk into hell.  It is a spiritual death often more onerous than the finality of a hangman’s noose.  Surely, I often prayed for a physical end to my suffering for I could not fathom a life other than that of an alcoholic.  Others were able to drink socially or totally abstain, but not me.  My demons would not allow it and my God, yes I did believe, would never forgive me.

Picture1.pngconfession

I am a miracle who walks aside millions of others like me who finally faced the toughest decision of our lives.  Admitted, believed, and made a decision to turn it over.  That “God of my understanding” listened to my confessions, forgave every one of my transgressions, and then transformed a wretched human into something useful, clean and serene.

God, make a fresh start in me,
    shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.  Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me.  Bring me back from gray exile,
    put a fresh wind in my sails!

Psalms 51:10-12 The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

unshackled-2

SOBER TODAY – one, two, three

“Admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”

POWERLESS 1

When I first inserted this graphic, I said to myself, “I can’t use it because it is too blurred.”

Really?  Doesn’t that describe who and what we were in our addictions?  A big blur.  And the word POWERLESS is clear and distinct.  Yes, sometimes the words and pictures unplanned in what we write say more than 1000 words could say.

For some of us the transition from “me in charge” to God in charge was immediate, but for many it was a slow process which had to be renewed every morning, every hour of the day.  One, two, three every day for an extended period of time finally got us to the point where “admitting, believing, and turning it over” were as instinctive as breathing or pumping blood.  How often did we think, “My life wasn’t really that unmanageable?” or, “Maybe I could just drink socially like my buddies do? ” or, “I’ll decide what I turn over to my Higher Power?”

Cunning, baffling, and powerful!  Such is the nature of our disease which will not be satisfied until we are insane or dead.  Our fellowship friends who decided to test the waters of drinking again sometimes returned to reassure us that nothing had changed “out there”.  They were the fortunate ones.  Many never returned.

A recovery is a Godsend.  It is God’s grace giving us a chance to live sober lives.  We should never, ever, assume that we will have more than one opportunity to be victorious over alcohol.  It is not guaranteed.  Not because God is unwilling, but because we are fallible, broken men and women who are powerless over alcohol.

unshackled-2

copyright 3

 

 

Step 1

“Admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This is our first hurdle when entering the fellowship of AA.  Some of us put up arguments but, the AAers were quick to squash any notion that controlling drinking was a viable option.  A few of us opted for the ‘controlled drinking’ theory, did more field research and returned defeated and humiliated.  We finally made the admission and went forward with step 1 accomplished.

Much of AA wisdom is based on ancient tenets of the world’s faith walks.  Bill W. and Dr. Bob knew that preaching religion would get them nowhere in recruiting drunks to their newly formed recovery program.  Instead they called God a Higher Power and incorporated many precepts of Christianity and Buddhism into the 12 step program we have today as a way to recovery.  Obviously it worked.  Millions who would never darken the doors of churches are victoriously sober.

The first of the Beatitudes in Christian scripture says, “Blessed (or happy) are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

When we come to AA we are humbled by the demon alcohol.  We have been emptied of all self-respect.  We are begging for relief from our addictions.  We have nothing left of ourselves to contribute to life.  We are like children, beginners searching for a way to live sober lives.  We have tried cures, religion, medication, hospitalization, therapy to no avail.  We are empty, we are beggars, we are nobodies.  Then at our first meeting the old-timers tell us we have to admit powerlessness and unmanageability.  Unthinkable!

“Well,” they say, “Go back out there and try some more drinking.”

“Poor in spirit” is the powerlessness referred to in Alcoholics Anonymous 1st step.  The writer in the book of Matthew 5:3 uses the Greek word ptochoi, for poor which literally means, “the very empty ones, those who are crouching.”  That is an accurate description of us at our first meeting, is it not? cac.org

This first step of AA and this first Beatitude of the teachings of Jesus both lead us to a way of living which emphasizes giving up ourselves in service to others.  And the irony is that just as Jesus did not say the kingdom of heaven will be theirs, rather, the kingdom is theirs, the program of AA does not say its benefits will be realized in another life.  We are not applying for life-time memberships in the eternity club.  No, we will know serenity and peace in this life.  We will realize the “promises” of AA as we empty ourselves of selfishness, arrogance,  and self-preoccupation. AA PROMISES

When I lose myself in service work with other alcoholics, I become free.  Jesus on the Mount was saying, “Happy are you (blessed are the poor in spirit), you’re the freest of all (the kingdom of heaven is yours)”.

Yes, I am powerless today.  I am powerless over alcohol and I am powerless over the turmoil in this world.  I am a beggar, a loser, a misfit, and a runaway in the eyes of “successful” America.  But, I no longer need to compete in worldly games.  Competitors are preoccupied with winning.  My Higher Power has already won my  race for me.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  Janis Joplin – ME AND BOBBY MCGEE

 

 

 

powerless?

cropped-cropped-powerless.png

We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.  Really?  I had heard my well-meaning friends who told me to practice controlled drinking just on weekends, I had promised to do better when all in my family said I owed it to them to live soberly, I feared for my job when my boss told me to straighten up or get out. Indeed, I plotted and planned on how to extricate myself from the mess that I called life.  I had the gumption to do it by myself.  Self-help books, jogging, new diet regimen would all be a part of the new Larry.  And now the first thing I hear when I walk into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is that I am powerless.  Really?

Then they continued by saying that my life was unmanageable.  Powerless and unmanageable!  Never!  But, I stayed in the room to hear more from those people, we read from their “Big Book”, we listened to the reading of the 12 steps, and then, listening to their stories of how it was, what happened and how it is now, I finally admitted that just maybe my life was a wee bit unmanageable, but I was not going to admit that I was powerless.

I didn’t trust them.  In my world the people who did not drink were fringe losers.  They were religious fanatics, goody-two-shoes folks who believed themselves better than me.  They stood on the street corner handing out tracts or knocked on my door wanting to save my soul from hell and damnation.  They went to church on Sundays and Wednesday evening prayer services.  They were always clean-shaven, dressed well and mannerly.  Gaaawd, who wants to be like that?

But, these AAers were different.  They sported beards, ragged blue jeans, long hair, ratty sneakers and they looked at me with an intensity that made me uncomfortable because I knew they could see deep into the ravaged soul that tormented me so badly.  They knew all about me and I had just met them.  I wanted to run.

And they did not drink.  Or at least that is what they told me.  I was sure that probably after the  AA meeting they all got together at the local pub to celebrate sobriety.  In my little world everybody drank.  It was unnatural not to partake of alcohol.  But then they talked about the typical alcoholic.  Do you drink alone?  Do you sneak a drink at work?  Do you spend your family’s grocery money on booze?  Do you do things when drunk that you are ashamed of doing?  Do you have blackouts?  Do you think about suicide?  Does your money never stretch far enough to cover your monthly bills?

Yes, yes, yes……but doesn’t everyone have those same problems?  The smiles on their faces collectively said “no, there is a better way.  But first you must admit that you are powerless over alcohol.”

Me, powerless?  I could admit that possibly my life was somewhat unmanageable.  But I control my destiny, I run the show, I am in charge.  They responded,  “and how are you doing with that?”

“Ouch.  Nailed me.  Maybe I’m not doing such a great job.  Ok, I’ll come back tomorrow night and hear some more of your sobriety talk.”

Then they gave me a list of their phone numbers and invited me to go down with them to the local coffee-house for coffee and donuts.  “Who are these people?” I thought, “Why are they so nice to me?”

That is a brief synopsis of my first contact with Alcoholics Anonymous nearly 37 years ago.  It has been, as a lady confided last night at a meeting, one helluva ride.  Just because I quit drinking does not mean I immediately got fixed.  I am still broken in many areas of my life and I continue to look for healing.  But, I find comfort in knowing that there is a Power that will cover me with understanding and compassion, that there is a Power in presence at the tables of my AA meeting, and today I am perfectly content knowing that “I AM POWERLESS”.smiley 3