Sobering Thoughts

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Glorious S’s


Silence. Stillness. Serenity.  These words are foreign language to the alcoholic until here or she truly decides to live in Recovery. With the admission of addiction and the acceptance of a power greater than ourselves, the sweet, silky sound of the S’s can float into our lives.  Once we have tasted peace we will crave it as we once did alcohol or drugs and we will seek through prayer and meditation for the power to carry out anything that is set before us.  When I sat down to meditate this morning and image of water to clear and so clean came to my mind and I thought of these words by Edward Abbey:

There is something sweet,

calming and benign

in the general stillness,

a quiet never distrubed by any

sounds more harsh

than those of the wind

rushing through

the tall grass,

the music

of falling water,

the scream of a hawk.


“There was joy in concentration, and the whole world afforded an inexhaustible wealth of projects to concentrate on.  There was joy in effort, and the world resisted effort to just the right degree, and yielded to it at last…  Effort alone I loved.”                                                                        Annie Dillard – An American Childhood

I love this book and these words by Ms. Dillard.  In recovery we seem to call effort willingness.  I have learned that if willing I am putting in the effort to do the work necessary to bring about a continued psychic change.  This quote tells me what happens:  When I make the effort, I feel the joy.  When I make the effort, I feel the resistance that comes with all change.  When I make the effort, I am closer to God’s will for me. And somewhere in between effort and surrender, I am born anew.  The miracle is that this can happen everyday.  Amen


Long on Insight

I have the Serenity Prayer on a tapestry that hangs in my bathroom.  Courage and action are essentials for my recovery so I need daily reminders.  There are so many places to learn about this mysterious prayer, but sometimes it is just worth reading the longer version of the prayer, before it was shortened.  When AA adopted the poem, it was shortened to its current state.  I prefer to believe that while it is apparently from a sermon on Christianity, its relevance stems from what it is saying about waring nations, or like me, people who are used to fighting with themselves.


The original, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, is:

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.

Simple Words

“It is your day

Your way

And I am okay.”

This prayer was recited at a retreat I attended about 15 years ago.  I laughed and made fun of it when I heard it; of course this judgement took place in my mind.  Like all spiritual lessons, however, over time I have come to see the incredible insight in these simple words.  Prayers, it turns out, need not be beautiful or complicated.  I have come to believe that God is more interested in my getting in touch with him, than how I get in touch with him.  He does not seem to evaluate my communication – God just is.  I need a process – God just is.  Whether you believe in the group, a higher power, or anything that is not you, turning it over with these simple words can be magic.  So, try it: “God, it is your day, your way, and I am okay.” Darkness can turn to light, sadness to joy, and attitudes to gratitude with a daily prayer.

Pain. In-The-Neck?

Who can forget the oft repeated mantra in Recovery that “pain is the touchstone”? It is true, at least for me, that I rarely do anything until it hurts.  When the pain became so unbearable and alcohol could no longer provide the salve to cure it, my drinking career ended.  In many ways this has been true in all aspects of my life. Recently, I quit my job because I could no longer tolerate the pain my employer caused and it actually started to keep me from doing my work efficiently and effectively.  Once I quit working, just like when I quit drinking, the pain continued. However, I learned that If I am able to stop trying to “figure it out” and simply say I AM IN PAIN, it seems to lessen.  It is only recently that I have been able to truly recognize this power that pain has over us.  No matter what the source of our discomfort, we must accept it for what it is before we have any chance of being pain free.  I continue to live in awe of the minds ability to impact our bodies – I was a psychosomatic child having learned that it was okay to be physically sick, but not mentally.  Now in my early 50’s I recognize that I have a choice – pain seems to double its effect when I think about it too much – so I try to say things like this hurts, this doesn’t, and I am not sure how I feel in order to affirm pain is okay.  This seems true to me with other feelings like joy and sadness to name a couple.  But to my point, I have a pain-in-my-neck.  Not a person (although one can crop up quickly to distract me from the real pain), but an actual pain that started in my back a few months ago and has slowly worked its way into the bend of my neck.  It is sensitive to movement and can be prickly to the touch.  I have been fighting it, but realized in the last few days, a need to accept it.  I am obsessed and spinning over what it could be… the alcoholic insanity enters here to illicit all my worst fears. FYI –  If you have an on-going problem with your health, please go to the doctor and have it checked out!  But if you have a pain that is moving in your back and neck in accordance with your sick thinking (?)… try accepting it.  Practicing the 2nd Step and how you talk to yourself can actually offset the psychic pain that is triggering our physical instability.  We have a disease that is not just physical, but mental.  In addition, working the Steps like 4, to find out the deeper source of our pain, can help too!  It has become more clear with time, that my untreated insanity will create a feeling of pain that is so great that I might actually be tricked into believing I must drink again to alleviate it.  Vigilance against this kind of thinking is critical to my well being.  Perhaps then pain is a gift, a pain-in-the-neck that helps me focus on the spiritual discipline necessary to cure what ails me.


Disease of Perception


We often hear paraphrases like “the eyes are the window of the soul” and you need to “wipe clear the windows of perception.”  As an alcoholic, I know how important it is to change or correct my perception.  Real or imagined, my perception impacts my attitude.  I go to meetings, work with others, and start my day with prayer and meditation because my thinking is often restricted because of faulty perception.  My inner thinker is a dangerous thing if I do not realign my will with God’s on a daily basis. God somehow allows me to believe that there is goodness in me and others.  God literally changes my attitude from why me to why not me.  When this occurs I can see the richness of the world and the opportunities that await me as I go out the door in the morning.  A deepening faith has truly changed my perception and I usually see the world in full color rather than black and white.  What I know today is that what I see is a reflection of what I think.


The Hardest Words

“Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is the infirmity of the will.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have always been fascinated with the connection between writers like Emerson and those of the New Age or Recovery movements.  It is intriguing to look at people who are ahead of their time; the ethic of America often promotes the individual and his/her ability to rise up and master destiny.  I do not read this quote as a historian, but as someone who knows that people’s ideas are often controversial.  When I read this quote, I see how fitting it is as advice in a modern world that still promotes rugged individualism and celebrates the individual will.  I can feel the trap that self-reliance sets for addicts and alcoholics who must give up self-reliance to survive.  If asked, I would probably say the only ingredient necessary for successful recovery is the willingness to let go of “self” and ask for help.  The hardest words in the English language for me to learn were “please help me.”  However, once I learned them I began to live in a state of humility that was completely foreign to me for awhile.  The more I asked for help the more I realized that I struggled to dominate others and this, in fact, caused a sickness or “infirmity” that eventually isolated me.  My will, my ego is a huge problem that can only be remedied when I step toward others.  I remember a friend telling me once that I would some day fill that hole in my soul if I could learn to connect with others in a deep and meaningful way. Today I know that I am healthy when I run toward others, instead of turning inward and trying to solve my problems on my own.


We All Have A Story

“Why don’t you come this meeting I chair and tell your story” is a refrain heard by many in the Recovery community.  We are often asked to “give a lead” and “share our experience, strength, and hope” in an effort to solve the problems we have had with alcoholism.  In fact, when we agree to speak to other alcoholics we are actually entering into the treatment/solution model.  Our Big Book also has a section following the first 164 Pages tittled “Personal Stories.”  I was taught that these stories are about how 42 alcoholics “recovered from their malady,” but more importantly, they focus on the psychic change and the diverse ways that a higher power is made manifest in the life of alcoholic.  In many ways the stories read as a “coming to believe” statement.  To me they represent theImage

coming together of the dark and light sides of our personalities, a story of our drinking, and then the evolving story of our sobriety.  I do not believe they are a how to of the steps as that is left to two alcoholics, usually a sponsor, working together. While we have a clear delineation of the Steps, we do not offer a set way to accomplish this task beyond working all 12 in order. One of my favorite stories in the Big Book is written by a woman who lived in Evanston, Illinois.  The last page so clearly articulates what has happened to me during my sobriety.

“The last fifteen years of my life have been rich and meaningful.  I have had my share of problems, heartaches, and disappointments because that is life, but also I have knowne a great deal of joby and a peace that is the handmaiden of an inner freedom.  I have a wealth of friends and, with my A.A. friends, and unusual quality of fellowship.  For, to these people, I am truly related.  First, through mutual pain and despair, and later through mutual objectives and newfound faith and hope.  And, as the years go by, working together, sharing our experiences with one another, and also sharing a mutual trust, understanding, and love – without strings, without obligations – we acquire relations tht are unique and priceless.”

The story goes on to state that aloneness is replace with belonging.  For me, this is the key to the kingdom that the stories title aludes to:  The more I share my story, the less secrets I have and the more opportunities I provide for others to identify with me.  It is here that this mutuality of trust and respect begins.  What is your story and who have you shared it with?  How might it help the person still suffering?

Misery Is Optional

I recently attended a meeting where the speaker talked about “fear of success.” The lead triggered a memory of early sobriety and the man who helped me initially.  Jerry R. said to me then, “you seem to be more afraid of success than failure.”  The irony is that years later while doing some 4th Step work, in fact, it was revealed that I was looking more to be invalidated than validated.  In retrospect I can see how much easier it was to be a victim which was perpetuated by this need to be invalidated, judged, and shamed.  How lucky I am that my higher power keeps directing me to people who help me break these patterns of thinking.  “Avoid then the deliberate manufacture of misery” the Big Book says and the people I admire in Recovery really try to do this.  One way to achieve this is through a deepening faith in something greater than me, identifying the patterns that cause my victim thinking, and then really turning the good and bad, my defects and assets, over to God: Steps 2, 4, and 7.  It is the challenge that one of my readings said today: “To feel deeply secure in the fundamental goodness and purpose in the universe.”  What better proof that we have had a “psychic change” than to have a secure foundation in the goodness of the world. I certainly never did when drinking.  It is when I fall off the beam that this goodness leads me to create drama and chaos in order to feel fully alive.  Years of living in fear make me crave the safety of knowing what to expect.  Sadness, misery, and fear are what I know, but faith, peace, and joy are what I am learning.  I remember someone who used to say, “when you are doing this right it will feel strange and different.”  She was right… all things new require the courage (mine comes from God) to be clumsy and awkward.  Most of us feel this way when we are successful but learn to be gracious in receiving compliments.  It may be as simple as learning to say “thank you” when you are complimented until you believe it.  My sponsor used to have me practice saying this and reminding me not to add a statement that invalidates the praise.  Today I do believe in the fundamental goodness of the world and try to reject my old thinking that wants to create problems – this to me is alcoholism’s greatest threat: It wants us to be miserable and justify a drink.  I go to meetings, call a sponsor, work the steps, and provide service so that I do not let me disease of perception take over and try to isolate me in misery. I have learned that when I accept my failures I can celebrate my success the same way I did with my defects and assets.



What a loaded word is bondage.  To say that I was afraid of people, worried what they said about me, and feared they would not ask me to join their groups would be an understatement.  This type of thinking dominated me, swallowed me, and threatened to kill me when I drank over it.  For many years alcohol was the social lubricant that allowed me to fit in with other people.  When it stopped working, I felt abandonned by it, too, and literally shook with fear when I quit drinking.  I obsessed over how I could face the world without my best friend alcohol. I had an email, the other day, from someone who displayed all of the thinking that I described above, and it brought back immediately the emotional state that I lived in.  Luckily, I quickly flashed on the reassuring reminder from my sponsor in the early years of recovery.  Ed would say to me, “never forget that you can get sober – and stay sober – ‘regardless of anyone or anything.'” He sensed that my “people problem” was not actually about them, but about my fear that I would not be able to stop from turning to alcohol for support.  He knew that, while people and situations are often cruel, the real problem was my fear and lack of faith.  Yes, he knew that the problem was not outside of me, it was inside, what the 3rd Step refers to as the “bondage of self.”  Funny how the work of recovery has helped me see that, as a result of this “psyhcic change,” I am actually living my life from the inside out. I had no experience living life on life’s terms, I was looking to blame anyone or anything but me for my drinking problem. Learning to get honest and accept my problem allowed me to work the Steps and figure out the people who were on my side.  This is a very complex problem and required that I seek help about my thinking related to people and relationships – the truth is my perception was usually wrong.  However, I understand why the work of relationships in Step 8 and 9 is so critical and usually takes place after identifying the “causes and conditions” around my thinking and behavior.   I am far from perfect when it comes to relationships, but I have the capacity to be honest and to correct my behavior when I am wrong.  I believe that accepting my imperfections has freed me from the prison I lived in for a long time. Today as I move toward relationships rather than run from them, I do have compassion for those who struggle with living with and among other people.  It is in our natures to try and dominate and control others… a small example of this is Bill W. himself.  In the early 1950’s, at the 1st Conference on Alcoholism, Bill wanted the literature to say “an honest desire to stop drinking” and he was overridden by the group conscious because they agreed that the only person who could judge your desire was you – self honesty is what mattered. The literature we read now says, “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”  It is with these words that many of us have left the prison of alcoholism and joined the world again.  I will celebrate my freedom today by helping another alcoholic who has a desire.

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