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Sobering Thoughts

Reframing to Move On

It has been awhile my friends since I have written.  There is s time to write and a time to act.  A simple conclusion with a complex set of precepts that I must accept in order to get unstuck.  One cannot think there was into change, one must face the pain and do what hurts psychologically in order to break through the pain of despair.  Alcoholics know the comfort of pain and disillusionment, but must learn the joy of living – oh how strange and foreign these feelings are! Not until recently, after over 22 years of sobriety, have I truly come to see how some of my behaviors were predating sobriety; in IMG_0105other words, I was not drinking but  I was acting the same way as the damaged little boy before he started to hide behind a drink.  It was how I was processing, or not processing, my feelings that led me to the old way of thinking and behaving, it was because it “seemed” like I could control things this way.  Of course, I can’t and never could.  Perhaps this issue of truth and honesty, as the 1st Step suggests, is really the only Step we must do so that we do not  return to drinking. We say over and over in our program “sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly” and the truth is for me it has been very slowly.  Perhaps the search for truth about ourselves and our relationships to our higher powers is all the 11th Step is really about.  Emerson has said many things about the truth and how we must discover it within ourselves, including some thoughts about fitting in: “the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.”  The problems I can change lie within myself and are faced as the willingness to grow flourishes within me.  The sickness of alcoholism seems to really lie in my lack of willingness to change even when it hurts. I struggle so much with knowing I need to change, but still being afraid – usually hidden under the anger.  Recently, a man much smarter than myself pointed out that the key to it all might simply be honoring the feelings, even if each day is full of fear or anger, acknowledging these feelings might lead me to the others… and this may be the spiritual realm at its finest.  For so long, I have heard the negative language of the sinner, whose feelings and fears are the root of all evil.  I have a disease, not a lack of faith, though as Emerson alludes to so brilliantly in 2nd Step fashion is that we are always looking for that restoration to sanity (wholeness) that only a higher power can provide.  I know now that I looked to blame others, rather than change what I could.  But I am grateful for this experience as it has helped me break free from the people who enabled me to stay stuck in the past.  The past is a damaged boy, denying the past in order to survive. The future is a healing man moving, having learned from the past, moving on to the next great adventure, fully present, feeling, making mistakes, taking risks, and treating his illness.   Recently I saw this unidentified quote that illuminated my thoughts perfectly:

“There’s a world of difference between revisionism and reframing the past.  Revisionism leads to denial and a repetition of the past and reframing leads to learning from the past, healing memories, and moving on.”

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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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Many Gifts

 

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It is easy to get caught up in “stuff” during the holiday season.  I try to remember that gifts are symbols to represent something deeper, on the inside, invisible to all around us. These are great paradoxes that we want external validation when we need internal, that we want to see God when we must know and believe.   How lucky we are to have a Recovery program that reminds us of all the real gifts we receive when we live a Sober life.  Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, understood this:

“Is sobriety all that we are to expect of a spiritual awakening? No, sobriety is only a bare beginning; it is only the first gift of the first awakening. If more gifts are to be received, our awakening has to go on. As it does go on, we find that bit by bit we can discard the old life – the one that did not work – for a new life that can and does work under any conditions whatever.”

Even the greatest Spiritual teachers have learned that the teacher and the student are one, living in the balance of reciprocal joy.

 

 

Twelve

It is a time when many of us are celebrating the 12 days of Christmas as we busy ourselves with family and friends.  I sat this morning looking at the ornaments on the tree and read my twelve and twelve.  Here is the passage from the twelfth step (I have taken out the word God) that exemplifies what I strive to be:

True leadership, we find, depends upon able example and not upon vain displays of power or glory… Service, gladly rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a common effort, the well-understood fact that all human beings are important, the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no longer isolated or alone in self-constructed prisons, the surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes but can fit and belong in the scheme of things – these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, not heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes. True ambition is no what we thought it was.  True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly… For it is only by accepting and solving our problems that we can begin to get right with ourselves and the world about us.

As a sober man, each time I work a Step, I receive a small gift in the form of piece of mind.   May each of you this season, pick up the real gifts of a Sober Christmas, and work the twelve Steps of Recovery.  There is no greater gift, no matter what you believe, than becoming the man or woman you want to be.

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Thanksgiving Everyday

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, thank you, that would suffice.”                                                                                        Meister Eckhart

The blossom of all Sobriety is gratitude; the stem a willingness to ask for help and the ability to stand in the “sunlight of the spirit.”  It is not until I ask for help that I am planted firmly in the soil of Recovery.  When I ask for help and thank my higher power, daily,  I grow into the person I am meant to be not the person my disease dictates.  Even on a day when my bloom has faded or I have lost my luster, I still see the beauty of the process.  So today I say thank you for all gifts that are heaven sent.

The Promises of Giving

I came to Alcoholics Anonymous a broken man.  Through the willingness to do the work and the grace to accept a spiritual solution to my problem, I have been made whole again.  It never occurred to me that I would reap the benefits of a great harvest though they were promised me from my earliest days Sober.  I am grateful for all the promises offered to me throughout the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but specifically the 9th Step promises repeated below.

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.  No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” 

I am so thankful that my sponsors encouraged me to remain as vigilant to my Recovery as I had been to my drinking.  I remember Ed F. saying, “how many hours a day did you spend on a bar stool?,” to remind me that I must make Recovery as much a part of my day as was my drinking.  This is what is meant by “painstaking,” I now realize.  I was,and I am, continually “amazed” by the life I have today as the result of working the Steps.  As a result of the “psychic change” my glass is truly half full at all times.  And it was not by accident.  The conscious decision to turn my “will and my life over to the care of God as I understand him,” has allowed me to get honest, which has allowed my deficits to become assets.  It would never have occurred to me that the damage and despair of my early life could become the sustenance of my life today.

 

The miracle of Recovery is that by giving away our time and energy, sharing the pain and suffering of our Alcoholism, we are promised a life of purpose and usefulness.  God, thank you for chosing me and giving me a chance to serve you.  Amen.

Make A Wish

I remember so clearly those early days in Recovery when I wished I could stop drinking.

As the Big Book says:

“It may seem incredible that these men are to become happy, respected, and useful once more.  How can they rise from such misery, bad repute and hopelessness?  The practical answer is that since these things have happened among us, they can happen with you.  Should you wish them above all else, and be willing to make use of our experience, we are sure they will come.  The age of miracles is still with us.  Our own recovery proves that!”

These words from the founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous explain so much.  I did wish and then come to see, through the example of Sober people, that I could have recovery too.  Little did I know that a wish was actually a prayer.

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