Sobering Thoughts

Archive for the tag “recovery 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.


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.


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.

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.

“No Opinions on Outside Issues”

Part of our Recovery  literature discusses the importance of avoiding outside opinions (political, social, etc.) during meetings; the 12 Traditions which are the guidelines for our groups and similar to the 12 Steps which are guidelines for the Alcoholic, make it clear that the group conscience not the individual conscience govern us. For obvious reasons this focuses the meetings on things pertaining to getting and staying sober by working the 12 Steps.  I suspect this is also why, when we share our “experience, strength, and hope” it is through the lens of our life with alcohol and our new life without it – with specific attention given to what happened during our “psychic change.”  The importance of our “common purpose” cannot be overstated here.  I have recently become concerned, however, that  because of social media and Facebook’s friends this concept is becoming harder to uphold. I used to have a Sponsor who said: “We must love everybody in Recovery, but we cannot or should not like everyone.”  I hear these words in my head repeatedly this last few weeks as I read the venomous filled posts of people I have allowed to call me their friends.  How can I possibly listen to them with any seriousness when they claim they will be there for me when I am going through a difficult time in Recovery? Yes, I too make posts, and what I haven chosen to post are opinions on outside issues.  In my defense, however, I read and research the facts first and do not ask everyone to be my friend. But the larger point here, is that we need to be careful. The larger question is why are we chosing friends based on acquaintance or affiliation (haven’t we learned this from the problems our kids face on these websites?).  We should be chosing friends because we trust and value them as people.  Social media, like Facebook, is a place to share ideas, thoughts, images, and stories. I have decided it is not a place to build trusting relationships for Recovery. In fact, I have unfriended people who will lead to the disintegration of my Recovery because they violate the fabric of trust that I need in place to stay “honest and open and willing” in my meetings.  In other words, when I go to a meeting it is important that I reach out to any and all newcomers; this action of service helps me stay sober.  The reality is that I do not need to know the beliefs of a newcomer to help them. However, I am now becoming aware that the longer someone stays sober and the more they share about themselves and their opinions on outside issues, the harder it is for me to believe or trust them.  As a therapist once said, you must discern in real life what you will let in.  I am for All people and for All human rights because Recovery has taught me we are all the same.  More importantly, I do not want to live separate lives anymore, I want to practice principles in All aspects of my life.  Recovery gives me choices and I have made the choice today to start choosing my friends differently. When I was in the gutter drunk someone stepped down from their perch to help me. I sincerely wonder if some of the people in Recovery speaking with such disdain for those less fortunate, would do the same.  Ask yourselves if reading these messages helps or harms your Recovery and act.


The word paradox literally translates to unbelievable and the unbelievable truth is that some people stay sober and some do not.  It makes me incredibly sad when this happens, but the truth is I cannot stay sober for someone else and it is not my job to “carry” the alcoholic.  The Recovery program is full of paradoxes, another of which is that when someone else drinks I learn how to stay on the right track by listening to what happened to them and avoiding their mistakes.  To an outsider this may seem harsh, but to an Alcoholic in Recovery it means that “the sermons we see not the sermons we hear” are our greatest teachers. So when I help another Alcoholic through service like sponsorship, leading meetings, and giving leads, it is I who am saved even when they may drink.  To me this is the greatest paradox; through my actions toward others I receive the grace of God and continued Recovery.  This bittersweet truth about the nature of Recovery is that our actions keep us sober.  In the end then we learn that our individual actions, purposeful thinking is what keeps us sober.  I believe the obsession of the mind is broken when we turn toward others and away from self.  If this chain of thinking and behavior is not broken, however, we continue to live in isolation as it is says in the Big Book chapter “A Vision For You.”

“Never could we recapture the great moments of the past. There was an insistent yearning to enjoy life as we once did and a heartbreaking obsession that some new miracle of control would enable us to do it.  There was always one more attempt – and one more failure.”

This line describes the awful paradox of needing a drink and not being able to drink. Until this thinking is replaced and a psychic change occurs the Alcoholic is doomed to failure.  However, the Recovering Alcoholic must continue to reach out to these people (we were once them) to save ourselves.

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.”

Who Left The Window Open?

“…and sometimes it feels like an intruder found a way in–those life-changing, habit breaking people and situations. But if you are honest with yourself, you can admit that you left a window open. Secretly hoping they’d creep in and disturb your restless sleep–shatter all you’ve ever identified with. As you lay there exposed, sacrificial style, its terrifying and breath-ta-kingly beautiful all at once. Something in you knows that nothing will ever be the same… if you do it right.”

These words are from a former “non alcoholic” student.  A grown up now, her words convey so clearly what happens when we give up or surrender to being victimized by our situations.  She recognizes “her part” in the mess of things (she left the window open) but then quickly realizes that it is this very place where transformation begins.  Ownership – if the program of recovery has taught me anything it is that I own my life, it does not own me.  When I work the Steps to identify and correct the patterns that have brought me anxiety, I own my defects and my assets, they do not own me.  When, in Step 7 I give everything to God for good use, I find a freedom from myself that is hard to explain.  I did know that first time I did this that “it will never be the same.”  The program of Recovery has shown me how to be honest about my life: I was harmed and “left the window open.”  Taking responsibility has taught me that it is the price we must pay to live full and purposeful lives.


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