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Sobering Thoughts

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Happy Birthday

One of the first things we hear, and are encouraged to remember when we enter a Recovery program is, “one day at a time.”  Many of us are over-achievers, despite our Alcoholism, and it would be easy to get overwhelmed if we did not heed these timeless words.  As I have evolved in my Program I have come to believe that my higher power can be found in the present – not in the past or future – but in the now.  Ironically, this present is where my actions matter more than my words.  What we do today reflects what we have done with our past and where we will ultimately move to in our futures.  Coins are how we honor the culmination of sober actions and attitudes represented by living “one day at a time.”  For new comers we help them reinforce this philosophy by offering up 30, 60, and 90 day chips to encourage a further commitment to this new way of living.  Just as families celebrate the birth of a new child, when a member of the Recovery community reaches the 1 year mark we honor them with a coin or chip to celebrate their AA birthday and continue to honor them each subsequent year that they stay Sober. For example, with the grace of God, I will celebrate my 22 birthday (or anniversary depending on where you live). There  is a huge caveat here, a but, because while birthday and anniversary celebrations are about our individual Sobriety, they should not ultimately be about us.   Recovery is about surrendering to a power greater than ourselves. Sure, we followed the direction of a sponsor and the literature, but what we really did is stop fighting because our higher power helped us see that it could be different from when we running our own lives.  So, as the wonderful Ed F. taught me, “I did not quite drinking, it simple quit working.”  These celebrations are in place to honor the spirit of recovery, to show all people who may wander in to a meeting that the “spiritual life is not a theory.”  By standing up and saying, “Hi, my name is X, and today I celebrate X years of Sobriety,” not only do we show others it works, we commit ourselves to continued Sobriety “one day at a time.”  This helps us go from event living to daily living according to spiritual principles.  So we briefly, pause to encourage others who come behind us that it works, but we know that it is our commitment to the relationships, and the changes we have made in Recovery, that we are celebrating.  Just like secrets that will kill us if not exposed, we must expose our celebrate to the Recovery world; speak up and say Happy Birthday when it is your turn so we know who you are and that it works, it really does.

A Family Affair

I used to hear people say “I never hurt anyone.”  In retrospect it is clear that I needed to hear this and to believe this because it would have been overwhelming to accept anything else as I was beginning to figure out how to live.  “Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly” is a slogan that now makes perfect sense. The process of making amends to others and to ourselves is a long one; it is quite possible in early sobriety that we honestly believe we did not harm others.  Complex does not begin to describe how entangled our relationships are when it comes to unraveling the mystery.  Whether we are the Alcoholic who disrupts the family with our sprees, or the co-dependent co-signer of the Alcoholic behavior, in order for the family to heal we must all begin to see and own are parts in the mess.  However, this process can be laden with potholes as one member begins the journey of Recovery and others linger behind.  It is hard to be the first in an Alcoholic family (this does not mean they all drink, it is their kind of thinking) to begin Recovery.  As you begin to recognize the setting you grew up in and how you were shaped by it long before you took a drink, if you are like me you were relieved that you found Alcohol to survive.   But then an awareness comes that your means of survival backfired at some point and began to implicate you in the family affair – my behavior was as sinister and complicit was as bad as those I accused of harming me.  I needed to forgive them to forgive myself for not being perfect.  Once I had made my first amend, it became clear that this was going to be traveling on a new high way of reciprocal forgiveness – ironically, the forgiveness toward one family member often is reciprocated by a new-found relationship that arises because I am not living in past anger and resentment.  Remember the amends I make are because I have changed and want to do the right thing, not because the person I have harmed will forgive me.  Amends are not apologies. The Big Book has a chapter called “The Family Afterwords” and it says:

“The painful past may be of infinite value to other families still struggling with their problem.”

“We grow by our willingness to face and rectify errors and convert them to assets.”

Of course our “experience, strength, and hope” helps others when we have done the work of the 6th and 7th Step that these quotes speak to.  In the end, it is ownership that the Steps bring us to.  When we own our relationships, good and bad, we move from the sordid affairs of our families to the deep and loving relationships that we so craved by illuminating the dark corners of our past lives.  It is why we say “we shall not regret the past of shut the door on it.”

Present Tense

The narrative is written everyday in the small, the simple, and the common.”       ~Author Unknown

When I was drunk I lived my life in the past tense.  Always looking back wondering why things did not go my way; the promotion or the relationship were always just out of reach.  Today I know that my Alcoholic thinking was with me long before I took my first drink.  In fact, Alcoholic thinking permeated everything I touched.  By the time I met, and fell in love with Alcohol, it was the only thing that could ease the ache of my obsessive mind.  I became a daily drinker to eliminate the warped thinking that “if only x would happen” my whole life would be better.  I did not stop looking to the past to shape my future until I did the Steps and the hard work of therapy, were I uncovered some of the faulty thinking I had developed in my childhood. Today I am aware that my future happiness depends on the actions and the people with whom I engage.  Our narrative lies in the gestures of kindness and grace that lie at our Recovery doorstep. When I open the door on a daily basis my narrative is rich and without regret.  When I don’t write my life in the present tense, I fall victim of “morbid reflection.”

Help

Please help me.  This is where my Recovery attains a sense of equilibrium between knowing and not knowing.  Asking for help humbles me and I am at my greatest spiritually when I do.  Today  I sacrifice my ego for the guidance of God and others.  This shared sacrifice creates community, a place to co-exist with my fellow human beings.  When I utter the three simple words, please help me, I assume my right size in the larger scheme of things.  When I ask for help, someone else is of service and when someone asks me for help,  I am of service.  Our pleas become a reciprocal process of renewal and survival.

Amen

Spiritual Flowers

I am not the same man I used to be.  In fact, it is almost inconceivable that I am alive to speak given the fatal nature of my disease. But, I am here, you are here, because we have changed.  Once we accept that we are alcoholics with an illness Recovery truly begins.  Over the years my life has slowly evolved: I am like the “cool river in a thirsty land” I read about this morning.  I figuratively offer water and food wherever possible and this act of compassion and grace continues to change me. My actions are filled with love and service and they are the “trees and flowers of Recovery.”  When I pick up the tools I have been given today, I cultivate life.  When I don’t the land hardens and drought sets in. Yesterday I destroyed my life because I ignored, or could not feel, the spiritual sunshine at my back.  I no longer hide in the shadows because I prefer the light.

Perfection

When I was young to be perfect was a goal drilled into my head by my military father.  What we strive for in our adult lives has often been dictated to us by our families or friends during childhood.  During my 4th Steps I have always stumbled with this defect of character, because I thought that perfection meant I was striving to be the best I could be.  This desire to reach for excellence is important, but perfectionism is not excellence it is an obsession; the problem is I had unconsciously begun to associate effort and achievement with perfection.  There were so many years I spent trying to be perfect, to make you believe I was perfect, to convince myself that I was not a failure because I wasn’t perfect, and to create a persona that I thought you would believe was perfect. Today I know that I can be successful without being perfect.  Today I actually believe I am imperfectly whole, that who I am and what I believe is based on the acceptance of all aspects of my character not just my strengths.  In essence my Recovery has helped to shatter the illusion that to be successful is to be perfect.  While this is a new idea to me it is, and always has been, an impossible goal.  I was lucky that somewhere in my early days of Sobriety, my sponsor began to point out how much “spinning” I was doing around controlling others and justifying what I was doing. Now I clearly see that my striving for perfection gave me the illusion of having the upper hand; it allowed me to feel that I had more power and control than others because I was perfect.  Writing this sentence today I am aware of how incredibly arrogant that was and how the judgement it entailed created a wall between me and other human beings.  It is incredibly isolating when you try to be perfect. You see others as the enemy of your vision unable to live up to your ridiculous expectations – ironically, that is exactly how I felt under my father’s leadership. Perhaps there is no greater sign of my healing today that I take photographs of things imperfect; flowers, bent trees, muddy rivers, curling oak leaves and the like.  I believe today I live the mantra that suggests I seek “spiritual progress not spiritual perfection.”  Because I am not wasting all my time being something I am not, I can take pictures. As a child I felt that my inability to achieve perfection was a failing.  As an adult I realize it is my imperfections that give me the opportunity to be transformed and or celebrated.  My defects often become my greatest assets.  It is not about perfect symmetry, it is about the imperfect symmetry of acceptance of who and what I am – “nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.” 

A Reminder

Our world is often a precarious place.  However, as the result of Recovery and reading our literature, my purpose is very clear:

“Those of us who have spent much time in the world of spiritual make-believe have eventually seen the childishness of it.  This dream world has been replaced by a great sense of purpose, accompanied by a growing consciousness of the power of God in our lives.  We have come to believe He would like us to keep our heads in the clouds with Him, but that our feed ough to be firmly planted on earth.  That is where our fellow travelers are, and that is where our work must be done.  These are the realities for us.  We have found nothing incompatible between a powerful spiritual experience and a life of sane and happy usefulness.”

The Classroom

In Recovery a meeting is classroom. Alcoholics and Addicts are taught that going to class is essential to Recovery.  We have learned that “meeting makers make it.”  It is true that when I do not regularly attend meetings (the number needed varies by Alcoholic – only he or she can determine if they have not been to enough), I get “restless, irritable, and discontented.” For many years I went to at least 1 meeting a day, sometimes 2.  After all said my first sponsor, “you drank every day, right?”  It is true, I was what the Big Book calls a “maintenance drinker.”  It made sense that if I drank daily in order to function, I would need a meeting to help me function in sober manner.  You see, alcohol was the fuel that kept me going; today, meetings are the fuel that drive my life.  However, we need more than fuel ~ Alcoholics need to take care and make sure they are handling the maintenance of their program; meetings are only one part of our”design for living.” Sadly, I have known so many people who go to meetings to cut the edge off a difficult day and never do the necessary Step work to get at the “causes and conditions” that underlie their discontent.  I have truly come to see our meetings as our classroom, where we come to share our “experience, strength, and hope.”  Frankly, this does not always happen (some days are just bad and an Alcoholic must share where they are, honestly).  Sometimes I feel that I have heard only doom and gloom and a message that promotes a culture of sickness.  So the truth for me is that every meeting is good one, but not every lead. If I am not doing the homework of the Steps outside of class, and I am not talking with a sponsor who is like a teacher, I will not be able to hear that no-so-good lead with a compassionate and open mind.  This has often caused problems for me since I love and need meetings.  As I have continued to work the Steps, however, this resentment over poorly led meetings, or what I judge to be “unsponsored” people giving leads has abated.  Today, after 21 years of sobriety, I still go to at least 4 meetings a week and I still hear new and innovative things that help shift my perspective, which is a miracle for someone with a “disease of perception.”  Our founders new that our “society” was a place to come together and learn the necessary things that would take us back into the larger world where we could live as productive citizens.  So this society, that I call a classroom, is full of things I can learn.  A case in point is the lead I heard yesterday.  Two lines were treasures:

“Today I have the freedom to do the things I do not want to do.”

“Pain is not the touchstone. Today, I choose to change, first.”

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