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Sobering Thoughts

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

I Remember Why

I remember…

itching, scratching, compulsively counting, paranoid thinking, pacing the room, hearing voices and talking back, feelings of hopelessness and despair.

I remember…

sneaking down the alley to buy liquor, switching liquor stores to avoid the label “drunk,” drinking every night until passing out, wanting to stop but knowing I couldn’t,  switching drinks for affect, and feeling like my head would explode if I didn’t drink.

I remember…

alcohol was my solution to everything because without it my head would surely explode.

I remember…

learning Alcohol was only a symptom of my problem.

I remember…

denying that my life was unmanagable and that I was powerless over Alcohol.

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I remember…

accepting that I was an Alcoholic.

I remember…

because to forget is to die drunk.

I remember…

because that day my life began

when I finally asked for help.

 

 

(placed first calls for help March 17, 19, and 20 – 1991)

“The Rooms”

Most of us think that what lies “out there” beyond our reach is what we are really after.  We set goals and try to achieve them; it might even be said that because few people actually achieve these external goals we now reward everyone – on a stage recently every single child got a medal because he or she attended not because he or she had traveled over time and faced obstacles to reach the stage that day.  I was reading recently about Medieval Pilgrimages which became the model for what some call the hero’s journey.  If we have learned anything from these pilgrimages it is that as pilgrim’s traveled they had “the slow realization that the ultimate goal was not ‘out there’ but the awakening that of an identity that lies within.”  For an Alcoholic, coming to Alcoholics Anonymous is part of a similar journey.  When we arrive in “the rooms” we are able, through shared stories, to travel inward.  Many of us soon realize, by listening to others and working with a mentor (sponsor) that we had mis-perceived IMG_7635the whole point of living our lives, that, in fact, our instincts had “gone awry.”  When we enter  “the rooms” with regularity we begin to change; we are safe there as if we had returned home.  It is in “the rooms,” for the first time, that we are able to actually hear similar stories and the new message of Recovery.  Is is in “the rooms” that we dare to believe that we might have gotten it wrong and that we need to change something, in ourselves, that can right our relationship with God and other alcoholics.  In the hero journey this is called the “transformation” and in “the rooms” it is referred to as a “psychic change.”  In my experience real change comes when I stop thinking too much about outside solutions and judging others instead of getting honest with myself.  When I turn inward , I see the things that I can change and those that I cannot.   But it is the countless hours spent in “the rooms” of Alcoholics Anonymous throughout the country (meetings are everywhere!) that I have “ceased fighting everyone and everything.” When I take the action to stop fighting, I can feel the love and acceptance offered by all the Recovering Alcoholics around me.  When I get honest (Step 1), when I become open (Step 2), and make a decision (Step 3), I can take the necessary action toward achieve a  “psychic change” and live an emotionally sober life.  And when I go back into the real world , I can actually live and “practice the principles in all my affairs” which keep me from chasing those unattainable external rewards.  Then I return to “the rooms” to share this on-going story of triumph over failure that results from a psychic change, one I believe is initiated by the grace of a power greater than myself.  I must tell my story so “the rooms” witness that “I am in a different place from where I was yesterday” and sothey learn “Hope is born while facing the unknown and discovering that one is not alone.”  You are not alone today and finding “the rooms” will never leave you feeling hopeless again.

Things Tell Stories

deskAmid the myriad of books on my desk and shelves, at work, is a white box next to a tiger.  The box is made from a poem I wrote titled “I Folded You;” a student literally folded it into this box while I was sharing it during writer’s workshop.  What strikes me most about this memory is how much the student taught me about my own poem. What I mean is that the poem was all about a failed relationship and the need to control the feelings by folding them into a safe place to heal, but I did not fully understand this until my words were acted upon by this intelligent young person. Ironically,  I could not see what I had said until he showed me what I had said.  I think that this complex marriage of ideas and actions is how Recovery works.  I have found that my books lead me to my writing just as working the steps lead me to emotional sobriety.  For alcoholics, of course, we have the Big Book as our true guide that leads us from our reading to “right living.”  I have learned with each reading that these instructions ask me to go beyond the words on the page. They foster in me a need to build sustainable relationships with a higher power and other alcoholics.  When I get sidelined by life’s twists and turns, I return time and again to the Big Book to sustain my faith just as I do with the books on my desk at work.  When I look at these titles, I see how they are about reading, writing, and knowing the world around me in my daily life; Borges, Palmer, Tagore and many others sustain me until I can act.  The gift I received from this young man, however, was the understanding that “of myself, and only books, I am nothing.” Isolation’s cure comes when I share with another person, alcoholic or not, my goals and ambitions, ideas and plans, and fears and successes.   Self-knowledge is limited to my own confining perspective, my “thinking disease.”  If the box reminds me I was trapped,  dad’s tiger reminds me of the courage I receive from a higher power.  My hungry, intellectual curiosity can only be satiated by my spiritual quest.

Magic in the Forest

“Into the Woods” is about people who have to go into the forest to find something – a slipper and a milky white cow.  The story and the music engage us, because we all have our own experiences of going into the metaphoric “woods” of our own lives.  I was struck when I watched it recently; it is rare that we choose the woods and even rarer that we willingly go without a struggle.  Perhaps becasue we all know that lurking in the dark forest are giants, those creatures of evil who are ready to crush or pounce on our ambition, so we opt for the stagnation of the familiar.  When I consider my own life I have often chosen “comfort over character” since it feels better or familiar.  Through practicing the 6th and 7th Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous I have changed though, maybe even learned the larger message of the musical.  But the truth is, it is really hard to be daring and couragous; it requires a faith maybe only possible if there is the hope of change.   However, what I have learned on my own recent trip to the woods (some of you have noticed my absence), is that I rarely remember on the journey that I am not alone.  In fact, many people are on their own journeys, fighting their own giants right alongside me.  The brilliance of this musical,”Into the Woods,” is that people collide with unexpected outcomes that can only be discovered in the heart of this woods.  Call it the “heart of darkness” if you will, a place where being forced  to see the character of the those around us, transforms us.  The woods then symbolizes all that I must give up; sacrifice and safety are replaced by bounty and freedom.  While there is great tragedy, there is also great joy in accepting what is left behind. Rarely have I known what lies ahead, but what has always defined me is the willingness to stay on the trail. Even as the forsest deepens and the light diminishes I march on and on and on… until an unexpected stranger or opportunity finds me to re-illuminate the path. And if you are wondering why a grown man is speaking about fairy tales let me offer you this: When I was a child fairy tales taught me right from wrong, but as a grown up they teach me that magic is faith, the belief that all things are possible.

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