Sobering Thoughts

Archive for the tag “Self-Awarness”

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.


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.


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.

Many Gifts



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.




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.


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.


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.”

“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.

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.

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