Take Your Hands Off The Controls And Slowly Step Away

4654586-300x225Recently I was listening to an NPR broadcast and during the program they told a story that really captured my attention. It was about a plane that was on a long international flight headed out across the vast ocean. Once their altitude was reached, the course set, and all the instruments were reading the accurate information, the captain set the plane on autopilot. As is normal during the course of a long flight the pilots took turns sleeping while the other remained in the cockpit to monitor the plane. Halfway across the ocean, while the co-pilot was taking his turn in the cockpit, it seemed to him that the plane was approaching some rather severe weather. The co-pilot became convinced that some sort of evasive action on his part was needed. The co-pilot was of course completely qualified to handle the situation, he was well trained, and he had read all the manuals. The problem was—he took matters into his own hands and did not rely on his training. Instead of trusting the autopilot, the instruments, gages and above all what he had been taught, the co-pilot switch off the autopilot and took over the controls. He determined that the best route would be to avoid the looming clouds.

For some unknown reason according to the reporter, the co-pilot proceeded to put the plane in such a steep climb to rise about the storm clouds that he caused the plane to stall. The plane paused for a moment and then began to drop in a free fall towards the ocean. The captain rushed into the cockpit, but unfortunately nothing he or the co-pilot did to restart the plane worked. Hurling toward the ocean within minutes the plane hit the water like a pancake, killing everyone on board. The expert investigators determined if the co-pilot would have left the plane on autopilot the crash would never have occurred—if he would have trusted the autopilot and his training, the plane would have been absolutely fine continuing on the predetermined route. Instead the co-pilot caused the very thing he was afraid of in the first place.

The story mulled around in my head for a few days as I thought about why the co-pilot did what he did. Why didn’t he just trust? Why didn’t he just let the autopilot do its job?

Then I had to ask myself—why do I always grab for the “controls” in life? Seriously, I do it all the time and it has become abundantly clear that this is a big problem for me. An obnoxious and insufferable character defect of which I was completely unaware I had until I started working the 12 Steps.

It seems to appear most often in the area around relationships—all relationships. Mostly it occurs when someone is not being who I think they should be, or it could be a perceived threat that I think will change the relationship, or perhaps something occurs as small as feeling lonely or not loved. Whatever the present situation may appear to be, in reality the root of it all is self-centered fear. I’m afraid that I will not get something I want or that I will lose something I have; so my immediate reaction in life is to grab for the controls. What ends up happening? Just like that airplane, I crash every time. Just like the co-pilot, I end up actually creating the very thing I was afraid of in the first place.

The 12 Steps didn’t just allow me to discover this about myself; the Steps also provide clear and precise directions of what to do about this tendency of mine to grab the controls and it also shows me how not to crash and burn. I have been given the manual, I have the instructions, I have many amazing captains who have years of experience they are willing to share on a daily basis and I have a spectacular “Autopilot” in my life to do all the flying. Now it is up to me to simply use what I have been given, to trust the process and above all—keep my hands OFF the controls!

I’m Living “Whelmed”

images1GR9QO0RClimbing carefully onto the sailboard, as it dipped up and down with the small waves, I slowly pulled on the rope connected to the sail and started hauling it up and out of the water. As soon as the edge cleared the water the wind caught it and my board began turning downwind. Hauling on the rope faster now as my balance became more difficult I raised the sail all the way up, positioned my feet toward the rear of the board, grabbed the boom and instinctively adjusted the sail until it filled with wind. My board surged forward, propelled by the wind. Around my hips is a harness that has a hook protruding in the front and as the wind threatens to rip the sail from my grasp I quickly snag the boom rope with the hook and settle back, guiding the sail with my hands, but using my hips and lower body strength to counter balance the wind.  The right combination of board, sail, skill and wind makes for an exhilarating ride. Getting in the grove, I lean way back, the board rides on its side rail—and as us windsurfers call it—I start “nuking” across the water.

However, the problem is getting just the right combination of wind and sail. The goal is to neither be underwhelmed nor overwhelmed. Too little wind or too small of a sail just leads to frustration; with too little wind, you can’t hook in because the opposite force of the wind against you won’t hold you up, the board will lay flat on the surface of the water instead of up on one side or on the “rail” and it is far more difficult to go where you want to go. Too much wind or too big of a sail will cause you to be overpowered and completely out of control. Plus if the wind grabs the sail just right, causing it to slam down in the water, you will be flung projectile style like a sling shot out and over the water as the hook releases you right at the apex of the arc.  So I suppose the goal in windsailing is to be “whelmed.”

In sobriety I need the correct combination to live “whelmed”—which means to “flow or heap up abundantly.” Often in sobriety for me life feels overwhelming and way more than I can take. I feel as if I am careening through my days, out of control and on the verge of being catapulted into some sort of disaster. Other times my life seems sooooo underwhelming, even boring.  At times I find it difficult to live one day, one step, at a time as I learn how to take care of all the mundane, ordinary tasks that normal people seem to do easily.

So it got me thinking what is the “right” combination to live “whelmed” in sobriety—how do I live right in the flow, with life heaped up abundantly?  My sponsor taught me that the three parts of our program are recovery, unity and service. Those three are the solutions to the three-part disease of alcoholism—physical, mental and spiritual. It seems that when I follow the specific directions outlined in the Big Book, with practice I get the combination right. More and more I am able to pack amazing things into the stream of my life.  More often than not I am able to live happy, joyous and free in a life that is only getting better and better. Yes there are still days when I am extremely overwhelmed and even more days when I am completely underwhelmed, but those are getting fewer and farther all the time.  These days, more and more, I am hooked in, leaned back and “nuking” across my 24 hours.

Practice, Practice, Practice

1361607184_grand_piano_by_wolfgirl17591When I was a young child I watched my older sister play at a piano recital and it was magical. I remember sitting on a red velvet seat in the dark auditorium and the only lights on were brightly shining on a grand piano standing center stage. Finally my sister, wearing a flowing beautiful dress and looking like a movie star, walked out on stage to the crowd’s applause. Calmly, confidently she sat down and began to play. I have no idea what music she played, but each arrangement was complex, impressive and selected to showcase her amazing talent. Ending the final piece in a flurry of notes, her fingers flying up and down the keys in an extraordinary crescendo of sound, there was a pause as the last note drifted off into silence. The applause that followed that silence was thunderous. I remember jumping to my feet clapping wildly straining to see around the adults who were standing clapping in front of me. My sister gracefully got up from the piano bench, walked a few steps and bowed to the standing ovation. The applause seemed to last forever, my sister’s smile was radiant as a young girl walked up to her with a bouquet of flowers. Right there, right then I knew I wanted to play the piano–well actually to be more honest what I wanted was to play in a recital.

So I begged my parents to sign me up for piano lessons. From day one I hated it. I hated having to sit on the bench in front of the piano practicing my scales every afternoon, day after day after day after day. I wanted to do anything but practice. I wanted to be outside playing with my friends or hidden in a corner somewhere with a good book, anything but training my fingers to run up and down the scales over and over, or to practice the stupid “row, row your boat” style songs that my teacher gave me. On a daily basis there were many tears from me and over the 4 long years to come a lot of scolding, threats from my parents plus one or two—ok, actually dozens spankings throughout the years. Every Thursday my mother would load me into the car and drive me to my piano teacher for a weekly session. The lessons with my teacher were pleasant enough, she was a kind, grey hair older lady and after the lesson she always let me pick something out of her candy bowl. However, for some reason, which to me was a mystery at that age, no matter what I told her she could always tell how much practice I had done on my scales and assignments that week. After 4 long agonizing years I talked my parents into letting me quit. I never had a recital.

Today of course I know that there was no mystery of how my teacher knew the amount of practice I was doing. The evidence of my daily work or lack thereof spoke for itself, loud and clear. Looking back I now know that the magic was not in that night I watched my sister perform on stage. The real magic happened in my home every evening for at least an hour every day, year after year after year. The amount of time, energy and effort my sister gave on a daily basis practicing, learning, fine tuning and perfecting playing the piano was what made her into the amazing talented performer.

Some days in sobriety I don’t think I’ve change much from that 10 year old sitting at the piano. If you could see my internal spiritual practice, there are many day you would find me sitting on that bench in tears, not wanting to practice, not wanting to use the tools I’ve been given, trying to convince others that I really am practicing and most of all pouting because I haven’t been given a recital. There are days when I get caught up thinking the magic is in some sort of recovery or spiritual recital that will of course be all about me. There are days, weeks, months when all it seems I do is practice, practice, practice. I still don’t like practice, however, I’m beginning to learn that it is not about waiting for a recital. I have found that there is tremendous freedom, strength, comfort and peace in the daily practice of the 12 Steps and a spiritual way of life.

The funny thing is that now my view of recitals has changed. Today my recitals look like seeing a new-comers eyes light up for the first time, it feels like the hugs, it sounds like the laughter in the rooms, or joining in on the applause when a sponsee take a year cake. Now instead of that child fighting against having to practice scales, my first question of the day is always “what Steps do I get to practice today.” And trust me; it makes for some beautiful music.

12 Stepping for some Wabi-sabi

imagesHV7L5GST   I should be out hiking today in the Badlands with my friend.  The sun is shining, the sky is blue and today is the first day in four months where the temperature will get over 40 degrees. It would be chilly but fantastic to get out of the house and into nature.

But I didn’t go—I have responsibilities, work to do, grocery shopping and the house needs cleaning.  However, my mind keeps drifting to the image of my friend driving down the interstate, listening to great tunes, drinking coffee, hiking the trails with the brisk air shocking the lungs and the sense of freedom.  It is difficult to admit but it seemed that my friend’s invitation to go hiking was actually extended only halfheartedly; almost as resigned to the fact that rarely do I accept and already knew what my answer was going to be. Now I am left with a sense of regret, a tinge of sadness, a trickle of self-pity and a brooding sense that I need to make some major changes in my life. In fact it appears that my life needs not just changes but a major overhauling in a plethora of areas.

I am an all or nothing kind of person. It is zero or 90 miles per hour with me and I don’t seem to have anything in-between those two extremes. If I don’t have time to clean the entire house I won’t bother to pick up my closet, if I can’t train for a half-marathon what is the use of exercise at all, if I can’t eat a strict healthy diet I will eat strictly junk food, if I can’t be perfect in meditating every day why bother. I have a sneaky suspicion that I have always been this way, I certainly drank full throttle and my life revolved only around my drinking. If alcohol wasn’t involved—I wasn’t involved. When I first got sober the entire focus of my life was all about “not drinking” and how to survive the “not drinking.”  Today—due to the guidance of a fantastic sponsor and working the 12 Steps—my life has expanded so far beyond anything I could have anticipated.  Not only am I free from the bondage and obsession of drugs and alcohol I have also found a path to total freedom in life. Problem is I’m not used to freedom and I’m still spiritually sick, very undisciplined, a little nuts in the head and my life is unmanageable. Some may call me a slow learner but I prefer to say I’m perfectly imperfect.

This morning, as I was experiencing the discomfort of being restless and discontent with many of the areas in my life, a friend sent me the word “wabi-sabi.” Yup I had to Google it and the first definition that popped up stated that Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept of finding beauty in imperfection.

I loved that and so kept reading. I discovered that taken separately Wabi refers to harmony, peace and tranquility. Someone who is perfectly authentic, content, free from greed, lives simply, free in their heart and never craves to be anything else would be a wabibito.  Sabi by itself means “the bloom of time,” to understand that life is fleeting, that beauty is to accept growing old and to carry the burden of our years with dignity and grace.  So I learned that basically Wabi-sabi is a mind-set—it is learning to be satisfied with life as it is, to strip away the unnecessary and to live in the moment. It is from this place of peace, harmony, and fellowship that the true wabi-sabi spirit will emerge from within me.

What I think is really cool is that wabi-sabi is exactly what the 12 Steps and my sponsor have been trying to teach me this entire time. So today I am going to start over and put a little wabi-sabi in my recovery—good thing I know just the Steps to take to get it.

Dude, eat a Snickers

snickers  I love those Snicker commercials.  You know the ones where a group of guys are playing rugby with Bette White running around on the team and she gets brutally tackled in the mud. Or the one where Robin Williams is an NFL coach and during a timeout starts telling his players to make balloon animals, cozies and to kill the other players with kindness. The end result is always that someone walks up to Bette White, Robin Williams or whatever other famous actor is in the commercial and says to them, “Dude eat a snickers.”

The famous actor responses with a simple question of “why?”—then takes a big bite of the Snickers and turns back into the normal rugby player or football coach. The friend simply states, “You’re just not you when you’re hungry.” If a commercial can make me laugh and want to eat a Snickers bar it’s a pretty darn good commercial.

Tonight I was sitting in a meeting and in front of the podium someone had placed a pile of mini Snickers. I was hungry and the candy bars reminded me of the commercials.  As I sat there contemplating whether I would eat one during the break it occurred to me that at one point alcohol was my Snickers. Let me explain. No matter what I was doing, camping, boating, watching a movie, dancing (I’m sure nobody can relate to that one), going to dinner, sitting at home, hanging out with friends, vacations—the list goes on endlessly—I could never be myself so I needed alcohol to be whoever I thought you wanted me to be. I never felt comfortable, connected or fit without alcohol.  Dude, in life I am Bette White in a rugby game unless I had a drink.

Once I came into the rooms I experienced a dilemma. If I wasn’t supposed to drink how was I going to feel comfortable, to connect, to fit—how was I supposed to be me?  No longer a funny TV commercial it was for real now—I was showing up as Bette White and was just about to get brutally tackled by life. However, as the result of a wise sponsor who grabbed me by the collar, told me the truth and took me through the Steps I had a spiritual awakening and the transformation from Bette to the real me started taking place.  I discovered that alcohol wasn’t my Snickers. My Snickers is the program of AA, the 12 Steps, service to others and conscious contact with my Higher Power. It is only because of AA that the real me could come out and play.

Unfortunately the reality of walking this journey of recovery is that I still have Bette White days—more than I would like to admit. I’m in the game but getting tackled in the mud by my ego, fear and self-centeredness. There are days when the people around me would definitely say that I’m just not me. However, the good news is that today when the Bette White syndrome hits instead of the answer being, “dude eat a Snickers” or “dude have a drink”, I have people in my life who grab me by the collar and remind me by saying, “dude work your program.”

Work the program—let the real you come out to play. It works, it really does….plus it’s zero calories.

The Gorilla

imagesWhen I started my journey of recovery the path initially seemed to be very difficult and take quite a bit of effort.  Yes I was trudging the “Road of Happy Destiny,” as it is known, but I was not at all happy to be trudging. However, I did have a sincere desire along with a great deal of willingness, which was based upon a clear memory of my most recent disasters and provided a great deal of incentive. In short order I began to see that others in the rooms had found peace, joy and happiness in sobriety. I longed to have what they had so I quickly figured out that I had to do what they did to get it.  One thing people talked about nonstop was that I needed to get a sponsor—so I got a sponsor. I was not really sure I wanted a sponsor or someone else to know my whole story; I was very apprehensive about having someone know who I really was but I was desperate enough to make a good go of it. At first I told my new sponsor some things, but not the really in-depth stuff. I wanted to be liked and I wanted to convince everyone and myself that I was “doing the deal”, as they say.

I recently heard a story that illustrates my experience fairly accurate and it went something like this –

After a short time trudging the road of recovery I came to a fork in the broad highway and standing at the intersection of these two paths was my sponsor. I was not sure what this was all about but I approached and looked at the two paths. The one on the left was bright, smooth and appeared very cheery. The one on the right had rocks strewn about it, deep potholes and weeds growing along it. My sponsor looked at me and said, “It is an illusion. I suggest you pause, pray and that you take the path on the right.”

“That can’t be the right path.”  I thought to myself as I looked at the difficult path my sponsor suggested I take and since I had heard that everything in AA is just a suggestion I said to my sponsor, “Thanks for the suggestion but I’m in a hurry so I’m going to go down the one on the left.”  My sponsor gently replied, “There is a gorilla down that path.

Certain he didn’t know what he was talking about or at least didn’t know what was best for me I proceeded down the path. After a little while on this bright, sunny path I was startled as a huge gorilla jumped out of the bushes, grabbed me and thoroughly thrashed me. This was a beating unlike I had ever had before. I struggled desperately and eventually escape—badly bruised, limping and with a throbbing headache. Bewildered I suspected that perhaps this may just have been the “dues” I had to pay for my newfound sobriety. Battered and stunned I but consoled by this thought I continued on down the path.

After a time in the distance I saw another fork in the road. Again standing by the fork was my sponsor with that “sponsor look.” You know the one—a little frustrated, a little curious but mostly loving.  I approached my sponsor and stood looking at the two paths. The one on the right was bright, cheerful and smooth. The one on the left had large boulders, potholes, weeds and was uphill.  I glanced at my sponsor and stood there for a minute or so staring into those kind eyes. After a bit my sponsor said, “It is an illusion. I suggest that you pause, pray and take the left path. There is a gorilla down the right one.”

I was dismayed to hear this as because I longed to take the path that looked best to me. I stood and looked at the two paths for a time, trying to appear as though I really was praying as he suggested and that I really was seriously considering what he said about which way to go. Finally I said to my sponsor, “I really appreciate all you do for me, but I think I’ll take the one on the right. Even if the gorilla is there I will be extremely careful. I will watch and avoid it. Trust me I can do this.”

A little apprehensive that I may be making a mistake but confident that I really do know all about what might befall me and how to address it off I go. As I travel down the path I stay on guard and watch vigilantly for any sign of the gorilla. As the days past during which I see no sign of a gorilla so I grow a little cocky at proving my sponsor wrong and begin to thoroughly enjoy the lovely path.  One sunny easy-go-lucky day out of nowhere a gorilla appears out of nowhere and snatches me up in it’s grip before I can even react.  Terrified I desperately struggle, fighting for my life and endure a thrashing far greater than the last time.  After a violent struggle I at last extract myself from the bedlam, finally break free of the gorilla’s grasp and run for my life.  Once the gorilla is no longer in sight I take stock of my injuries—I now have bruises in a variety of hues of green, purple and yellow all over my body and in places I didn’t know I even think was possible.  I was severely limping and could hardly see through my swollen black and blue eyes.  Wounded, scared and upset as I hobbled down the path I vowed to myself that never again would I do anything to put myself within the grasp of the gorilla. A few days pasted as I limped along on my journey and eventually I began to feel better as the bruises faded, the throbbing in my head dissipated and I begin to feel somewhat whole again.

In no time I once again saw another fork in the road up ahead. Sure enough, there stood my sponsor with that same sponsorly expression that made me a wee bit nervous. I approached cautiously and stand face-to-face staring into those eyes. This “stare-down” continued for a few minutes and then I surprise myself by uttering the heartfelt words, “Where is the gorilla?”

“I suggest you pause, pray and take the right path,” said my sponsor.  Still in a fair amount of pain and feeling strangely humble I take my sponsor’s suggestion. I pause, I pray and turn to journey down the path to the right. Almost instantly I am frustrated because the path is strewn with boulders that I have to climb over or push out of my path. Potholes of every size make my footing uncertain and weeds growing everywhere snag at my shoes.  Progress seems painfully slow because most of the time all it seems as if I was doing was moving boulders, filling potholes or pulling weeds that tangled and tripped me. However, once in a while as I walk I encounter others on the path and they share with me ideas and tools they had acquired to move boulders, fill potholes and pull weeds. Meeting these fellow trudgers and hearing their stories was a welcome relief and kept me trudging step by step.  However, as the path continued steeply uphill I began to get extremely discouraged and seriously doubt my sponsor’s sanity.  I started to grumble, wondering out loud if this journey would ever get any easier. Nevertheless my altercations with the gorilla were still keen in my mind making me fearful to turn back or find a different route.

One day discouraged, tired and feeling sorry for myself I was convinced I couldn’t go on any longer. I had had enough.  I stopped dead on the path, threw my head back and shouted towards the gloomy sky, “This bulls##t! This is so NOT fair!

My yelling was greeted with complete silence. Defeated I slowly sank to my knees and quietly cried, “I can’t do this. Please help me!” All of a sudden I noticed my sponsor was right beside me on the path—quietly standing and watching me. Looking up at him I had so many questions, but the one that tumbled out of my mouth surprised me. “I don’t understand—tell me about the gorilla.”

There seemed to not be a sound or a movement anywhere until my sponsor started to smile, a loving grin that stretched from ear to ear. His eyes were like stars, twinkling brightly and he gave a small chuckle that broke the stillness. Then in a very loving tone of voice my sponsor said, “You are the gorilla.”

After giving me time to absorb the information he continued on. “Your old ideas, plans, and behavior made one path look correct because it was smooth and enjoyable. But you run into yourself – your unchanged self – time and time again. Each altercation with your old behaviors and self centeredness grows more and more painful. Eventually if you continue to take that path it will lead to your death. The path I always suggested, the one that appears to be difficult to you, is just strewn with the boulders of your resentments, the potholes of your fears and the weeds of your sex conduct.  As you are willing to address each of those you begin to change and you corrected the part of the path where you have traveled. Look around you, behind you. Can you not see that during your walk on this path you have cleared up much of the wreckage of your past?  Now look ahead—do you notice that the boulders are fewer and smaller, there are less and less weeds and potholes? See those flowers just ahead and how the path is gently leveling out?”

I looked around as instructed and was delighted to see what my sponsor said was true. Relief, encouragement and a new surge of motivation flooded over me. My sponsor reached out and grabbing my hand helped me to my feet.

Love and concerned was etched in his expression and a sense of urgency was in his voice.  “One day you will come to a fork in the road and I will not be there to suggest what path to take. But if you do the work, learn from the paths you traveled and remember to always pause, pray and ask your Higher Power for guidance, even though the path may be very difficult at times your Higher Power will always walk with you and the path will be safe. And as you continue to walk in this way your path will become bright and sunny with flowers growing along its borders—not because of an illusion but because it will reflect the beauty that lies within you.”

Thank you Steve for being the first to tell me about the gorilla (also Scott, Roger and most recently Mari) and for pushing me to go directly to the Source.

I got the “buzz”

“Good morning Hope Manor.” I answered the phone as always and waited for a response. The woman’s voice that came over the phone was thick, slurred and incomprehensible, but I did understand one word—“help.”

It took quite a while and a lot patience but I was finally able to get an address, I headed over to the apartment complex where she was crashing with a “friend.”  Walking into the building I was appalled at the conditions; flickering lights gave the dim hallways an eerie feel; holes in the walls and sections of the ceiling left on the floor where they had fallen.  Arriving on the 3rd floor I had to step around feces laying on the stained, dirty carpet and I had a false optimism that dogs were allowed in the building. Finding the correct door I knocked and was let into a room, which was only large enough to hold a bed, a chair and a TV. On the bed I found the women, barely coherent but still able to take long pulls off the vodka bottle beside her. Her gulps clearly showing the desperation of an alcoholic who could no longer find that bliss or obliviation that was once possible.  Since she was asking for help and willing to leave, my friend and I bundled her up and got out of there without delay.  That was the start of a three day adventure which began with taking her to the ER, where after giving her some medications they then sent her to jail in order to free up the ER bed. Unfortunately the jail will only keep a person for a maximum of 8 hours regardless of their condition, weather or time of day so I was then back picking her up at 1 a.m. when the jail released her back on the streets and I took her to my sober living home. For the next few days we got her through the dreadfulness of detoxing, delirium tremens, hallucinations, more trips to the ER and cleaning up after her as she threw up.  The date of the phone call was November 3rd—she was dying, unemployable and her existence was one of incomprehensible demoralization.

Although I took her into my sober living home I had very little hope that she would stay much longer then to get a few nights sleep and a few square meals—I thought this because I had previous dealings with this lady. She had been to treatment 15 times prior, she refused to work the 12 Steps, refused to get a sponsor, never smiled, was never happy, had a demanding and entitled attitude and she definitely did not like me.  Honestly I was not super fond of her either.  After about 5 days it appeared I may be right because as she got better physically the ticking time bomb of the obsession of the mind began. The rest of the women in the house pushed back like little warriors, presenting the program of recovery and surrounding her with love.

One never knows exactly what will be another person’s “moment of clarity” or by what means the message will be carried. For this particular lady it was around day six and involved someone we call Jack from Wing (Wing, ND).  Jack heard we had a new lady in the house kwho had nothing and so it took it upon himself to bring bags of food for her.  As she stood in the kitchen surrounded by all the food, something cracked in her soul and she began to weep.  I don’t get it, I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it, but a light/truth flooded into her soul and from that moment on things were very different.  Rarely have I seen someone embrace everything, do everything, read everything and listen to everything dealing with recovery but she did—with gusto! Daily we saw transformation in this lady and often I would find myself asking, “who the heck is this?”

Fast forward to Christmas morning, December 25th. Two short months ago she was unemployable, one week ago she was named employee of the month at work. Two months ago she couldn’t even smile; today her laughter is contagious as it fills the house. Two months ago there was bitterness, self-pity and entitlement; today she throws herself aggressively into service of others.  Two months ago she was defiant, angry and miserable; today she works the Steps, listens to her sponsor and is active in the recovery program.  Two months ago her sister had refused to speak to her for 6 years; two days ago her sister stopped by with a Christmas gift and forgiveness. Two months ago I would not have trusted her to walk a dog; today I am training her as an assistant manager.

I don’t know what her journey of recovery will look like, but I do know that this program works 100% IF the person works it and I do know that if she continues to do what she is doing on a daily basis she never has to return to the hell from where we found her.  I also know that my faith, my program and my life has been made so much richer having being blessed to witness her spiritual awakening.

2014-12-27 15.17.39

 

Puppy Love

Puppy

I love the idea of owning a puppy. I love the idea of a cute little wet nose, cuddling a soft bundle of golden fur, kisses from a tiny tongue, walks on warm summer evenings and the wonderful feeling to be greeted at my door. I really want to post cute puppy pictures on Facebook and I long to be part of that mysterious click of puppy owners. Yup it is true, I really want the benefits of having a puppy. However, when greeted by the reality of owning a puppy I bail. I do not want to change my lifestyle, I do not want to puppy proof my house, I do not want to pick up puppy poop and I refuse to walk a puppy in minus 10 degrees. I think what I really wish for is a puppy who behaves like a well-trained dog. I know having a puppy would be great for me and would bring an enormous amount of joy and happiness to my life—puppy owners tell me all the time how wonderful it is. The truth is I just don’t want the work or inconvenience to get what I want.

There are those of us who like the “idea” of sobriety, but are not as thrilled about the day to day reality of what it takes. People enjoy the fun times, the fellowship and the warmth embrace that can be found within “the rooms.” We find the opportunity to share personal struggles with people who do not judge but instead understand us, to be very comforting.

But when it comes to the reality of submitting to the process of the 12 Steps we often bail. The 12 Steps are not so warm and fuzzy at first glance. In fact to a newcomer the Steps appear to be downright terrifying. The Steps require some very specific actions and revolutionary ideas such as—a Higher Power, a moral inventory, admitting our wrongs to another person, addressing our sex life and fears, making amends and helping others. All of which go completely against our self-centered alcoholic nature. The 12 Steps also look like a hell of a lot of work to the newcomer. What becomes very clear, very fast is that to maintain sobriety a daily practice is required.

But what is not as clear to the newcomer is that the results of actually doing the 12 Steps far surpass anything a person can imagine. “AA has filled my days with friends, laughter, growth and the feeling of worth that is rooted in constructive activity. My faith in and contact with, my Higher Power shines more brightly than I dreamed it could. Those promises I thought were impossible are a viable force in my life. I am free to laugh all of my laughter, free to trust and be trusted, free to both give and receive help. I am free from shame and regret, free to learn and grow and work. I have left that lonely, frightening, painful express train through hell. I have accepted the gift of a safer, happier journey through life.” Big Book, page 543.

And that my friend is even better than a puppy 😉

Heroes

This evening has me thinking about the heroes I have had throughout my life. Some I have perhaps for trivial reasons—like my very first hero, my bother Jon, who was always there helping me out of the jams I got myself into. Case in point was growing up in Australia during our summer vacations my family would spend a number of weeks living in a camper out on my uncle’s property. On one particular summer night when I was about 9 years old I needed to use the outhouse, so although I was scared of the dark I let myself out of camper and headed out in the night. Once outside, reflected in the moonlight I was startled to see some large shapes move. Terrified, I paused to run for my life–until the shapes turned into kangaroos and they hopped a short distance away from the camper. Realizing they were not a threat I continued walking towards the outhouse all the while watching the kangaroos.

Now at this point I need to pause and add that my uncle had recently drilled huge holes (I’m guessing about 6 foot deep and maybe 3 feet across), in preparation for some construction project. I had been told about the holes and was warned not to fall into the holes.  But…..due to keeping a careful eye on the kangaroos and anything else that might jump out of the night to terrify me, I completely forgot about the holes, nor was I watching where I was going. Yes I stepped off into thin air, free falling into one of the huge, deep holes, landed hard and my terrified howls filled the night. My brother Jon shot out of the camper like a rocket and reached the top of the hole within one minute flat.  Seeing my dilemma he laid flat at top of the hole and reached down towards me. What I saw and will always remember is similar to movie clip of a  camouflage painted face of Navy Seal dude appearing above, clasping a falling comrades wrist, holding on with all his might and looking down into his friend’s eyes saying “if you go, I go.”  In reality what my brother actually said as he clasped my hand was “shut up and quit jumping.” Jon dragged me out of that hole, probably gave me a brisk smack on my back and scolded me for crying.

Many, many years later I found myself in a far deeper, more terrifying hole and one that I had absolutely no hope of ever escaping, that is until I met a few of my greatest heroes in life. The hole was alcoholism and drug addiction—the heroes had the inner strength and courage of a Navy Seal, they grasped my hand, showed me the way out of the deadly pit I was in and helped save my life.  Now some of these heroes I know very well because they personally gave me their experience, strength and hope. Their guidance, love and patience were unlimited as they revealed the steps necessary that would draw me out of the hole.  However, some of my heroes I have never met and actually will never get to see in this life time.

Those are the heroes who have gone on before me, who were faithful in carrying the message and who led by example. Throughout the decades and across far distances their example, their lives and their words profoundly touched the sick, broken and dying woman that I was and forever altered my life.  These heroes are a select few—whose lives and lights have burned so brightly that it touched thousands, including me. Heroes who were faithful in carrying the message, who lead by example; heroes who saved my life and hundreds just like me. Most of these heroes I will never get to meet in this lifetime. However, what I can do is follow the tremendous example set before me. Like my heroes, I am responsible to reach down into holes, I am responsible to grasp the next outstretched hand, I am responsible to carry the message, I am responsible to show the next suffering person the steps so they too can escape the hole.

Tonight I lost one such hero. A hero I never got to meet and one I will never be able to thank. Tonight my world is a little darker, my heart is simply sad at the loss. One thing I do know is that wherever my hero is he has made brighter just with his presence and he is probably already busy doing service work. I also know that he was greeted with hugs, a cup of coffee and a “well done, faithful and trusted servant.”

imagesFD4L112F

A Real Live Hollywood Star

Is it tacky to name drop?

It was one of those days when the unexpected happened. Due to a chance meeting I found myself sitting in a restaurant next to a very famous gentleman who is a two time Grammy winner, a song writer, movie actor, guest on the Tonight Show 48 times, a published author, the list goes on and on. He was keeping the table entertained with stories of his current projects, life adventures and his fellow Hollywood friends. After a while the conversation naturally turned to recovery and spirituality since he has 20 plus years of sobriety and the subject of prayer came up. The famous gentleman shared with the group the prayer he prays every morning and has done so for years—“God surprise me today. Lead me where you need me.”

At this point I need to pause and explain that when I got sober I was one of those people who come into “the rooms” full of vehement hostility against God, religion and I even bristled with antagonism at the generic phrase “higher power.” After 11 months into “sobriety” and refusing to address my resentments and outright hatred towards God, I was in a free fall towards relapse. All I had been doing for 11 months was sitting in 12 Step meetings—I had zero recovery, no spiritual awaking and nothing that could be described as anything close to a psychic change. I was beyond miserable. I had come to a place where I could not imagine life with alcohol, but I also could not imagine continuing to live in my current daily hell of life without alcohol. I was at the end of my rope where returning to drinking or suicide appeared to be viable options. In the middle of this internal warfare a series of events occurred and I ended up relocating to a different city, which is where I was thrust into a hardcore recovery community and introduced to a person who then became my sponsor. This sponsor saw my spiritual bankrupt state and the danger I was in and aggressively set to work guiding me towards the spiritual solution contained within the 12 Steps. I finally had to find, face and resolve all my old ideas, fears and prejudices surrounding this whole Higher Power thing—in fits and spurts I became willing to be wrong and in doing so I found freedom.

Fast forward three years to the table at the restaurant; as the full impact of the celebrity’s prayer sunk in I was completely flabbergasted. I turned in my chair and looked at him in horror. I am sure that my alarm was evident on my face as I asked him, “Oh my god, isn’t that a terrifying prayer to pray?”  He turned his head my way and with a piercing gaze looked right past my eyes into my heart. Without skipping a beat he responded in a voice palpable with love and compassion, “oh no sweetie. God only wants your highest good.”

Simple words capturing maybe six seconds, but to me a significant spiritual experience. I felt like a baseball bat slammed into my chest and I was knocked back in my chair. No one was aware of the impact his words had on me and the conversation at the table continued buzzing around me. After all my Step work, after 4 years of sobriety, after thinking I had the “higher power” thing down I had a moment of clarity—I was absolutely terrified of God. It also occurred to me that it is not possible to willingly turn my life over to a power that I distrusted and feared. To entrust my very life to a power that deep down I firmly believed was not “out to care” for me but rather “out to get me” would be the very definition of insanity.  Thus began a timid yet exploratory relationship which has actually continued to grow for the past year.

It may be tacky to “name drop” but in the least likely of times, in the least likely of places and from the least likely of people (my famous friend), I met—God.

images

A blessed mystery

For sweeter souls did not survive

But if you’re lucky, when it’s done

Somewhere deep inside

The dreamer’s still alive – Paul Williams