Sobering Thoughts

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Finding Voice

I went to Alcoholics Anonymous a lost and broken man.  The admission in Step 1 of powerless and un-manageability led me to believe in the power of the Spiritual solution offered in Step 2.  In the rooms I also learned that I had a three fold-disease: physical, mental, and spiritual.  Today, through daily treatment of my disease and my Spiritual malady, I live a life full of promise and opportunity.  I work to leave behind the “bondage of self” and the insanity it brings.  The best advice I ever received was to ask for help.  The two words, help me, changed everything. When I ask for help from others, or God, I find my salvation.  As a result, I am able to go back into the world instead of hiding in self-imposed exile. Perhaps this is why the founders of the program called AA a mini-society?  I choose to believe it is so we could practice our humanity and return to the real world stronger. It is in AA and in the word that I am finding my voice and live the motto on some of our anniversary coins:  “To Thine Own Self Be True.”  It is the great paradox for us that by serving others we find our true selves.  We find our voices when we are restored to sanity.  Mary Oliver says it so well in the last lines of “The Journey”

“as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do –

determined to save

the only life you could save.”

No Leaders

I had a great private email just after the posting of the 3oth blog entry at SBWords. The writer asked if I was talking about Alcoholics Anonymous when I refered to my Recovery program.  The short answer is yes, but the long answer is that I do not speak for AA; I speak only of my experiences and my interpretations of this wonderful program.  In most recovery programs, many of which are based on the 12 Step model, we learn to “share our experience, strength, and hope with each other that we might solve our common problem.”  What is so wonderful about the program that I participate in is that we do not have leaders.  We are spiritually anonymous, placing “principals before personalities” as our 12th Tradition states. That is why I would like to encourage dialogue on the blog – there are many ways to interpret the program and a myriad of different stories and experiences that can benefit us all. We learn early that the ideas outlined in our literature on the 1st 164 pages of “The Big Book” are but suggestions.  This blog offers advice only.  It is not intended to represent the literal truth about sobriety or how it works, that should be left up to the individual and his/her sponsor.  This blog is simply a forum to share ideas about how we are trying to live a good and sober life.  It was designed to celebrate the amazing 12th Step programs that have sprung up to help so many people throughout the world.  This writer knows that nothing can replace a meeting and face-to-face work with another alcoholic~recovery begins with one alcoholic talking to another.  But this writer also knows that what we talk about can become a part of who we are and who we want to become.  Why not talk about recovery as we would shopping?  Good habits must be reinforced which is why I write and share my thoughts with others.  The writer of the email reminded of Margaret Mead who said that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous would be remembered as one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century.  She said this not because it helped so many people, but because it welcomed so many different groups and was run by the people not a dictatorial leader.  As it says, over and over, “no human power could.”

Imperfectly Whole

“We shall not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it,” were words I actually used to get angry about when I heard them.  It took years for me to understand that, with the work outlined in the 12 Steps, I could actually come to feel this way too!  In fact, the longer I was sober and the more I put off the work, I had glimpses of how failing to look honestly at my past was ruining my present life. Paulo Coelho’s quote and picture remind me that when we do the work of the 4th Step, we find out the patterns that damaged our relationships with others and the world around us.  I came to see and believe, sometimes reluctantly, that I was actually illuminating those dark corners in a way that would light my path forward.  In doing this I came out of the dark and was able, with God’s help, to turn my deficits into assets.  More importantly, I have learned that there can be no light without darkness.  We all have good and bad in us, pros and cons we face in our lives, and these are the things that make us human.  We do not need to be perfect, just imperfectly whole.  It is easy to see now how I missed the point so many times when I was trying to be perfect and trying to make others that way too.  Carl Jung helped the founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob see that if we did not “embrace our shadows” we would never be free.  So in my 7th Step I ask God to take all of me, unedited.  It is my whole being that he takes and makes useful.  What are you doing to accept yourself as you are?  Let go of your perfectionism; if you take a risk maybe you will discover something new about yourself that is beyond your wildest dreams. Today I do not regret my past, because the patterns I have identified, with my sponsor, allow me to avoid past mistakes and build a new foundation for living.

“Clean Edge of Change”

There was absolutely nothing “clean” about changing when I was new in recovery. In fact, most things I attempted were messy. But I had heard that “the same man (and woman) will drink again,” so I persevered as best I could.  I remember an old-timer saying that, “life was like a rubber band that sometimes needed to be stretched to the point of breaking.”  He chuckled and then went on with, “but you don’t need to worry, it will find its shape again.”  Changing was so hard though, I swore it would break me in two; little did I know that it would actually fuse me together.  It was especially difficult after I had made my 6th step list of defects and was trying to humbly ask God for help in the 7th.  In the song “Clean Edge of Change,” there is a line that rings so true: “…as if by this the will of God could be bent to my version of right.” Muddling my ability to change was the need to control everything instead of simply accepting God’s will for me. Managing and manipulating are hallmarks of my alcoholic thinking, but when I am more spiritually fit accepting and surrendering take over and the edge of change is cleaner.  You would think after years of living in my addiction that the last thing on my mind would be running my own life, but that is the scary part of this disease.  As many of us in recovery will attest: “we have a disease that tells us we do not have a disease.” My problem today is thinking, not drinking, so I must continually try to change the way I think. By asking people for help and working the steps, I start to behave in a way that makes me more willing and humble about asking God to “have all of me good and bad.” However, what culminates with the Step 7 is almost impossible if I am trying to run the show.  Today I realize that practicing change is essential and it begins by admitting “I am powerless over people, places, and things” and that I can change if I seek direction.  When I practice, clunky change becomes cleaner change.  Overtime, like anything, it becomes easier.  My first thought is no longer how to bend God’s will for me through rationalization, rather to allow God’s will to fuse together those parts that are in disharmony with the world around me.

Hide and Seek

Many of us probably played this game when we were small. I realize now that most of the game involved searching for my friends who had cleverly hidden themselves. I clearly remember thinking that the most important part of this game was hiding so I could not be found ~ perhaps this was because I was not good at searching.  In fact, I never seemed able to find my friends so I eventually gave up all together. Ironically, the actual name of this game is “Hide and Go Seek,” which suggests that the real action of the game was the command to seek out those who were hidden. It should not surprise anyone that the searching involved in recovery and the procurred discipline that we are asked to seek  in Step 11, can be challenging for me. This childhood game went against the grain of my thinking; I wanted to disappear and never be found.  The strategy that I needed to adopt, in order to win, usually meant looking right in front of me, very close to where I was standing.  It was awful because I never looked for the obvious; the same is true for seeking a higher power and his will for me. But now, after a a number of years in recovery, the search is not about distance it is about awakening; it does not celebrate hiding it celebrates uncovering.  I believe that my problem all along was that I did not understand the purpose of the game.  I have now learned Victor Frankl’s premise in “Man’s Search For Meaning,” that “those of us who know the why of our existence can tolerate any how.” In hindsight I know that searching led me to recovery, that I came to believe because I was searching, that “my searching and fearless moral inventory” revealed my primary purpose which established the “why” of my existence and the “how” that would require me to “go to any lengths.”  I continue to be amazed by the ego because it often creates a need to hide.  But it is humility that creates a need to come out into “the sunlight of the spirit.”  The old hymn has it right:

I once was lost

but now am found

was blind

but now I see.


Walking In The Rain

I am on a short trip to South Florida where we are experiencing a significant amount of rain.  In between there have been breaks in the sky and the sun has visited.  Life is like this isn’t it?  We expect everything to be perfect, perfect in that it is the way we want it.  But perfect is not the way we want it, it is the way God wants it.  When I can actually stop my demands and expectations for the way things should be, I can accept the way things are.  My first sponsor used to stay, “just take off your shirt and walk in the rain.”  If it is not dangerous, just enjoy the wash of rain over your body and think of it as a cleansing.  As I have become more skilled at going against my will, I have discovered the beauty in all aspects of nature. It is that old adage that you cannot know the light if you do no know the dark – it takes both elements to make the world perfectly whole.  The alcoholic and addict is like this too – if we do not marry our darkness and our light we can never be perfectly whole… “restored to sanity.”  Sanity has come for me as I have stopped expecting myself to be perfect and let God be the judge of what makes me who I am.  When I stop beating myself up with expectations and demands, I can accept and enjoy any day. Today I will walk in the rain; walking through mother nature’s shower I will let all things fall off my back and float into the ocean.Image

Not Denial

When I was new in the program I heard all the time that alcoholics lived in “denial.” It was about three years in to my recovery when my sponsor pointed out how inaccurate it was to say we are in denial.  The “Big Book” is clear; in Chapter 5 (after the How It Works passage we read at every meeting) is the following rhetorical question tucked into the 3rd Step:

     “Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?”

I was guided to put this question into a personal statement about me:

     I am a victim of the delusion that I can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if I manage well.

When I wrote this down the first time, I cringed. Being brought up by a strict military father, I never questioned that it was my responsibility to “manage well.”  What I have learned through working the steps is how dangerous this self-reliance is, because it leads me to do the wrong things.  Even the word “wrest” suggestions that I am manipulating situations to satisfy me, and make me happy, instead of merely living according to a set of spiritual principles.  I know today that the decision to turn my life over to a higher power is the only way I can achieve happiness.  This decision allows me to correct the instincts that deluded me when drinking and redevelop my character.  The promise to “intuitively handle situations that baffled” me is achieved when I do the right thing.  Happiness today is a bi-product of right living, not a struggle for power. When I correct my delusional thinking by putting the needs of others ahead of mine (count the word “self” in Chapter 5), I see everything differently.


A Powerful Word

It is only a two letter word, but I had a love hate relationship with it until I got sober. Frankly, I am not even sure how many meetings I attended before I really saw the first word of the 1st Step – We.  Looking back on my life I can see how I gave up on the concept of a we anything; I had tried to join groups but ended up walking away. I know now that I had alcoholic thinking long before I picked up my first drink, and, in addition, my dad was in the military and we were always moving every year. Choosing to be alone and isolate always felts like a better option than being rejected time and again. It would be years before I realized that my “ism” was all about this need for isolation; if alcohol can get me alone, it will kill me.  So the program is brilliant in that it recognizes this about me and replaces my powerless little “i” with a slightly stronger “we” in the very 1st step.  I can see now how much easier it was to admit powerlessness when I saw everyone else doing it.  Admitting the problem as a “we” helped me look for the common solution as a “we” too.  There I was out of my house for the first time in a long time, coming together in  a spirit of cooperation, and this very act seemed to verify that I could no longer do it alone (this is hindsight, as I would not have had the words then to explain this phenomenon).  I used to have a sponsor who said, “some of us have a higher power that takes two steps back from Steps 2 and 3 to lend us the faith needed until we can find him and the courage to begin with all the changes that lie ahead.” The pain of admission to alcoholism was replaced with the healing salve of hope.  Today I know that I am not as important as the group.  By going to meetings and admitting my alcoholism, whether I speak or not, my actions say that I am part of our solution.  Every time I do this I remember there is no I in We, and I learn the importance of unity to our continued primary purpose which is to carrying the message to those still suffering.  Have you been to a meeting lately? What are you doing to reject isolation for community?

It Is A Gerund








After writing about being, I am struck by how much being is a result of acceptance. This quote says it perfectly: ‎”Peace is something that we can bring about if we can actually learn to wake up a bit more as individuals and a lot more as a species; if we can learn to be fully what we actually already are; to reside in the inherent potential of what is possible for us, being human.”  Kabat-Zinn is suggesting to me that my recovery is all about finding what was once there.  If I identify what is inside me, perhaps covered up, I can reconnect to my potential and build anew.  This is about potential.  The potential to be a good person gives me hope, and hope is a direction.  When I have hope, I am willing.  When I am willing, I am recovering. Recovering is a gerund ~ both a noun and a verb.  This person, place, and thing (me) is, and is awakening. What are you doing today to be fully awake?


One of the benefits of unemployment (self-imposed) is that you learn the important lesson that you are not your work.  I have heard for years that “we are human beings not human doings.”  I remember when my dad retired from the military; he did not know what to do with himself.  The first thing I had to get used to was the silence.  For the first time in twenty-five years there are no daily demands and it is precisely these external demands that I had come to rely on for motivation.  By living for the big events and deadlines, I missed the daily now where the bliss could be found.  My first recognition of needing big events came in my early sobriety when I told my sponsor I was bored.  He laughed and said, “you are finally feeling your first serenity.”  Looking back I can see how true this was… there were no demands real or manufactured.  Not working has allowed me to see that “God is my employer.” Regardless of whether I go to work or not, he seems to be telling me to focus on being.  When I operate from a place of being, I am able to break my actions down into smaller bits that contribute to my well-being, avoiding being torn and twisted in different directions.  If I do not turn to the ultimate employer right now, my self-will would get the best of me.  When I live from event to event or job to job, I forget the spaces in between.  It reminds me a quote: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”  If I only lived during a time with answers, I would miss a huge portion of my life.  The message that “I am” helps me live, each day, in spite of what is impacting me externally.  When we are aligned internally the right externals will eventually follow.  In the past, when I have tried to put my externals first, I have ended up with work or relationships that did not match what I needed inside.  Today, while it may be difficult, I try to live so that my insides dictate my outsides ~ a place where being is more important than doing.   A flower is, does not do, merely grows toward the light.

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