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Archive for the tag “god consciousness”

Promises, Promises

“It is by going down into the abyss that we discover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

Joseph Campbell’s words are true for anyone.  However, for the alcoholic I think he offers even more insights.  When we come into Recovery we hear for the first time that others have thought and felt like we did; this shared camaraderie allows us – the great “we” – to admit we are in the abyss and together we begin the slow climb out.  These “treasures of life” we call the promises.  Not only are these little gems hidden ( We can look the world in the eye is a promise made in the 5th step) throughout the first 169 pages of the Big Book which is our basic text for Recovery, there are specific, more well known 9th step promises on page 83:

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

When you face the abyss and see it for what it really is, you can begin to look the world in the eye. I have slowly found that the light at the peak of the mountain is made more manifest by the darkness at the bottom; the person I am today is a tapestry of dark and light.  I try not to judge either and find that the treasures of the abyss are aluded until I accept help from my fellow travelers and consult with a power greater than myself. We call these promises, but for me they are guarantees, when I work for them.

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Light and Shadows

“I will not dwell on the past or the future, only on the present. I will bury every fear of the future, all thoughts of unkindness and bitterness, all my dislikes, my resentments, my sense of failure, my disappointments in others and in myself, my gloom and my despondency. I will leave all these things buried and go forward, in this new year, into a new life.”

It really is this simple if the pledge I make is based on rigorous honesty.  These words are from a meditation book I have read now for 22 years (January 1 – Twenty-Four Hour A Day Book) and these words still resonate – while “we do not regret the past” we cannot be governed by it either.  We must do the work so that it, the awful its – resentment, fear, anxiety, and self-loathing do not become the life we live.  To identify the patterns behind these states and do nothing with what we find is to re-create and perpetuate the self-made prison of alcoholism.  We must uncover the its, the shadows of our old lives, so that they are merely frames on an new way of living.  Because I am a recovering alcoholic, I have found a way out and for that I am grateful.  I have been despondent drunk and sober.  But despondency is a choice.  All around me are people who know me and know how I feel and when I look at them and try to help them my own light shines too; they are a mirror.  It is because I am broken, and took action, that I have been repaired.  It was in my brokeness that I found the “sunlight of the spirit”  – in the rooms, in the fellowship, in the steps, and a higher power.

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From the Gutter to the Curb

I have said for many years that there is not much distance from the gutter to the curb.  If I forget where I came from – not literally but figuratively – I can easily return to the comfort of the gutter where I would attempt to fix all problems with a bottle. Now that I have been around for awhile I see the problem; the view from the curb can be misleading as it can suggest you are cured.  Many folks sink into a pattern of behavior believing that they have all the answers and then impose them on others as “shoulds.”  When people say to me, you should, I often questions how they really know what is best for me or what God’s will is for me.  Many in Recovery have good intentions and sober experience, but they are still alcoholics and still capable of falling into old habits – a common myth exists that they are different than the rest of us. While I have benefited greatly from their insights, I have also seen their lack of humility – what I call the “you do this and I’ll do that behavior.” Image

They have more experience with sobriety, but our literature repeatedly tells us that sobriety is based on a daily reprieve and contingent on our spiritual condition which is generated by the hard work of climbing the steps.  The Little Red Book says we are “physically, mentally, and spiritually sick.”  This mental condition can exist long after we have recovered physically and no longer crave alcohol.  Today, my main goal in recovery is to achieve mental and spiritual balance and as someone who knows alcohol did serious damage to my nervous system,  I know that signifcant work must be done to restore the mental imbalance that resulted.  This is hard work, and at times seems unsupported by those who believe simply being dry is enough. Emotional sobriety requires that we honor our feelings, not just blame them for screwing us up.  When we know what we feel, we can change.  Our thinking about our feelings allows us to assess whether our feelings are accurate or based on old ways of thinking, usually patterns that began when we were young.  For me this was around 7 years old – to this day my first reaction starts as a 7 year old. In fact, many of us find that our alcoholism kicked in strongly when we had a marked emotional upheaval, a personality change as the result of prolonged negative thinking.  My go to response today is still negative and I have to stop and correct this.  Perhaps this is why I had such a hard time with gratitude lists… I need to be more pro-active and less passive.  I have found that a list of goals, a change list is much more powerful. One like this:

  • Try to experience life today, not judge it
  • When agitated reframe – remind yourself you are not a sinner but have a sickness
  • Elimate thinking that bases success on being a “good boy”
  • Stop validating the crazy stuff you believe is true in your head
  • Remember you have survived, the real goal is living…

Ironically, active participation in my own recovery makes me grateful. A therapist said to me recently, “you have a good spiritual life, but what you want to do is add to your prayer and meditation actual changes you want to see in your behavior.”  If I come to believe that my life magically gets better because I stop drinking, I begin a pattern of dilussional thinking that says I do not have a three fold disease – my physical addiction can go away but nothing then is restored in my mental and spiritual life. Sadly, it is the mental trigger that could lead me back to a drink if it is not treated daily to new thinking.  As I said, the curb has a view that can lead to spiritual arrogance.  Today I believe the only thing keeping me on the curb is my continued willingness to know that my thinking about who and what I am, must evolve.  The freedom from false-pride and an honest evaluation of how things are brings me the humility to see the world as it is in all its glory, not my limited view of its discontents.

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)

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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