Sobering Thoughts

Archive for the tag “journey”

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.


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.


I had no idea when I first decided to join the Recovery community that I was insane. I had certainly lost “hope”  and sensed that I was “powerless” over Alcohol as it said in the 1st Step. However, “unmanageable” was not a word I could use to describe myself because I had not yet lost anything material. It has been my experience that until I lose things, I can live in an alternative reality that I create from my own lies.  I learned, and continue to learn by working the 2nd Step, that I am broken, that my life is made up of pieces that do not fit together anymore.  As I came to believe in a “power greater than myself,” I was able to see how my will was the culprit.  My will made only eg0-based decisions that allowed me to believe that life was a game of survival of the fittest and everyone was my enemy.  When everything is about survival, winning, and out-smarting your foes it becomes more and more clear that you are insane.  So,  I have had to learn how to align my will with God’s will.  It is hard to accept this reality, because it requires me to trust that God has my back, and this faith is a life-long pursuit.  It has also been my experience that people think this that  an individuals will does not matter; I couldn’t disagree more!  This alignment of wills has shown me that survival is not recovery.  Thriving is what recovery is about – learning in the Rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous to be in relationship with other people and then going back into the world to “practice the principles in all our affairs.”  Today I know that I have “come to believe that a power greater than myself” and that this power has “restored me to sanity.”  Sanity, which comes from Sanskrit, means “wholeness.”

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 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 Untapped Resource

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.”   Thoreau

Gratitude is like an underground spring – just below the surface lies an untapped resource.  When you act your way into gratitude (even when you don’t feel it) you tap an otherwise unknown reservoir of abundance.  Once I had experienced this, I never wanted to go without it again.  I have learned in my daily Recovery that gratitude springs forth as the result of giving away what I have received and thanking God for the opportunity to be useful. Gratitude is the result of specific actions I take to be  literally giving away my thanks. What is perpetual is the abundant flow of energy that is tapped, and flows forth untainted with negativity and sadness, when I remember to do this.


“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


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.


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