Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Lists...

Dianne Arbus
John Belushi
Lenny Bruce
Richard Burton
Truman Capote
John Cassavetes
John Entwhistle
Chris Farley
Errol Flynn
Judy Garland
Margaux Hemingway
Jimi Hendrix
Abbie Hoffman
Billie Holiday
Whitney Houston
Howard hughes
Michael Jackson
Janis Joplin
Jack Keouac
Alan Ladd
Heath Ledger
Bruce Lee
Corey Monteith
Keith Moon
Jim Morrison
Marilyn Monroe
Chris Penn
River Phoenix
Edgar Allan Poe
Elvis Presley
Frieddie Prinze
Hank Williams
Amy Winehouse

and now...Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Everyone has their personal list of celebrities who have been felled by addiction. Certainly, these are familiar to you, and the list could go on and on.

But, perhaps you don't know of others...

Max Weidemann
Henry James Loughlin
Ben Sugarman
Depok Chandra
Leslie Simpleton
Rose Maryland

These are people I have known who died of drug or alcohol overdoses within the past 24 years.

We always yell out, when another famous person dies of a drug overdose, that the insanity that is robbing us of the soul of creative arts must end. And, we also rail against the drugs and alcohol that are killing our friends and loved ones.

But, the slaughter continues. Every year there are about 90,000 deaths due to alcohol-related causes (5,000 among young people under 21 years old), and 77,000 deaths due to drug-related causes. And, that doesn't count the number of deaths in which alcohol was a factor...suicides, auto accidents, and murders.

There are only two reasons why people use alcohol or other drugs: To enhance pleasure, or to kill pain. Frankly, alcohol and drugs are very good at doing both. In fact, it is hard for normal life on life's terms to compete with these poisons that are so effective in transporting people from their realities and altering their conscious awareness.

But, even drunks and junkies know there can be limits. In nearly every case of a person who uses alcohol or other drugs to such an extent that they are lost inside the addiction, there has been a sense that they know they are pushing the limits of the drug experience. They are forcing the drug to take them to the limits of living. They are dancing on the line between life and death. And...they love it. How else do we account for the umber of people who scoff down shots of alcohol at a frenzied pace in order to see who can pass out first. How else do we explain that perhaps the first thing literally thousands of heroin addicts said after learning of Hoffman's death was, "Man, I need to get me some of that stuff!" How else do we explain that in virtually every known suicide death there are alcohol or drugs present in the person's body.

I have learned that, in the end, the only thing that the rest of us can do is pray for these people and others who will die of the disease of addiction. We also pray that it does not happen to us, or the ones we love.

There are ways we can inoculate ourselves against the chances of dying of the disease of addiction. It starts with the loving, of ourselves and of others, and continues on through to the appreciation for being alive and the mindfulness of how delicate our life really is. It is feeding our minds full of the nutrients that prayer and meditation can provide to grow healthy brains and not allow our thinking to become so warped that we think something that is deeply harmful to us can be the answer to all our problems. It is our willingness to believe is some power beyond ourselves - another person, a group, God - can fortify our daily lives and give our lives meaning and purpose.

Maybe with that approach, lists like the one above will always be an abstraction for us...something about someone who lives far, far away in another place and at another time.

All the best,

Roger W.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Practice...

Life is my practice;
Practice is my life.
-        Kyoku

One of the great benefits of taking part in the practice period at the Clouds in Water Zen Center is the ability to hear the profound ideas of the teachers, especially mine - Kyoku.  Such a chance gives for me - with just shy of two years as a practicing Buddhist - a rare opportunity to savor the words of the teachers and luxuriate in the light they provide.

I have been doing the practice of bowing three times at each meditation sitting twice a day, reciting the wisdom of the teachers and chanting prayers since it began on September 29. I have been faithful to the regimen, but I have come to know the essence of why it is a “practice” because sometimes my heart wasn’t in it – especially when I forgot the prayers before meals or at the end of a long day.

Several features of the practice have had a noticeable effect on my life. I now take refuge in Buddha (Teacher), Dharma (Lesson) and Sangha (Community) every day as I gain strength to handle the ebb and flow of my life. I am moving more slowly when I walk, eat, or drive. I am more connected to people by knowing many others are practicing at the same time. I read more about Buddhist traditions running through my lineage in Okamura’s Living by Vow. I feel lighter and freer. I am more at peace with myself and the world because of this practice.

In many respects, I feel as if I am a man emerging from a deep, dark and chilling forest into the warm sunshine of a meadow of fresh, glowing grass and fragrant flowers. My journey out of that forest has been guided by the bright light of the teachings.

Each day, I am making my life all about the practice of Buddhist values of doing no harm, being mindful of my life, and taking action. In return, I am gaining a practice that is all about my life.

All the best,

Roger W. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Taking a break...

Folks, I'm really up against it this time of year. I'm counseling and teaching three courses at two colleges and organizing a fourth online course for the Spring, as you know, and it's really a brutal schedule.

So, I'm taking a brief break from The Happy Hour.

I'll be back.

All the best,

Roger W.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Words to recover by...

Stop leaving,
and you will arrive.

Stop searching,
and you will see.

Stop running away,
and you will be found.

                                                                       - Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu wrote those things in charcoal on bamboo tablets seven thousand years ago. A Chinese philosopher who was a contemporary of better-known Confucius, Lao Tzu wrote many profound things that are relevant to us today.

Lest we think they are only the meanderings of an ancient philosopher, it seems only human to be on the run in modern life, and we forget that the pace was probably hectic in its own right for people back then. It is true that, running so hard, it is a problem that one often leaves the scene before the miracle happens. We often look so deeply into things that we miss seeing the obvious. And, it's also true that we often run so hard that we cannot find ourselves much less have others find and bond with us.

So, this poem has great meaning for me.

I vow to be more present in order to arrive at my goals, to look less intently at things and accept life as it unfolds, and to stop the frantic running away from being found.

All the best,

Roger W.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Old & new connections...

When I was using, I did not manufacture or otherwise produce my own alcohol or drugs. I became addicted to these chemical poisons after I got them from some person, my “connection,” who was holding the drug and offered it for sale. Moreover, I had more than one connection to the drug just to play it safe - and I was never out of my drug of choice.

I never started out in my using career to become addicted. I knew literally nothing about the alcohol or drugs I was exposed to – starting at about 19 years old – and had to learn from my connection how to procure and even use the drugs I took. Becoming an addict or alcoholic is somewhat of a learned behavior in addition to a biological disease, and I learned how to be a drunk and an addict from my all too willing connections.

The parallel of this process for recovery is amazingly strong. I was actively addicted to alcohol and other drugs, and eventually knew how to be good at using them, but I had a very poor sense when I first put them down of what it takes to be in recovery. Many rumors persist among fellow active users about what it takes to be in recovery, but, in fact, this is the blind literally leading the blind about recovery and how to achieve it. I, like many people, knew or understood little about the recovery process despite the fact I had been abstinent a few times before finally getting clean and sober. I needed to learn about how to maintain abstinence and move into the world of recovery.

In the beginning it soon became clear that, in order to make a move to recovery, I needed a new "connection." I literally needed to have someone to whom I could go to “procure” my sobriety. And, in recovery, like in active addiction, I frequently needed more than one person to whom I could go to get that sobriety.

In Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) there is a built-in system of providing newcomers with a new connection. It’s called the sponsorship system. Here, just like in the active addiction world, there is a person to whom a newly recovering person can go to procure some recovery. Usually this sponsor is someone who is “holding” the same type of recovery that the recovering person wants…higher-level spirituality, serenity, peace of mind, hard-core instruction in maintaining abstinence, or detailed instruction on how to behave. The sponsor is also the connecting link to the world of recovery made up of other people in recovery, meetings where people go to congregate and learning about recovery, and literature that can be read to fortify commitment to recovery.

My first sponsor, a crust old guy named Don from West Palm Beach FL, taught me a lot in those early days about how to find recovery through daily abstinence...he literally saved my life. Two others along the way...Sal and Marcellus...were my connections to recovery.

There were other people that I have used as connections outside of AA. Priests, ministers, and even a rabbi often served as a connection to recovery by providing religious and spiritual refuge when I felt particularly vulnerable. Churches, temples, and a Zen Buddhist center often provided the social setting where people who were offering recovery would congregate, and I would associate with them to form new connections, meaningful relationships and enjoy the fellowship.

Regardless of the source, as a newly recovering person, I needed to realize that I knew very little about the recovery process in the beginning, and that there were people in the world who did. Just like in the days of my active use where I needed to seek out expert help in order to know what and how to use alcohol or other drugs, so too do I now need to reach out to others to find the ways and means to remain clean and sober. Without that process, there is little chance that I will invent a system to work any better than the one that is already widely used to maintain recovery for millions of people.

I think of this today as I feel the deep craving for peace of mind and the strength to fulfill my Higher Power's will for me in this world. I am without a sponsor right now and this is deeply troubling to me. I was taught I cannot do recovery alone, and I have the continuous need to reach out to new connections to make sense about what I am doing in my daily life. I don't have that now. Without a positive connection I am very much lost to the unpredictable negative forces that would drag me back to those old connections that were killing me. So, I am on an active search for a sponsor to ensure that I actually have a life to live.

I'm sure I'll find one But, in the meantime, I have to follow the lead of my other recovery connections and, as they say in Narcotics Anonymous, "So long as I follow that way, I have nothing to fear."

All the best,

Roger W.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

More about alcoholism...

I read another article on The New Relevant web site that looks further into how alcoholism occurs in the human brain that I think is worth looking at.

Entitled, Thanks to Rare Alpine Bacteria, Researchers Identify One of Alcohol's Key Gateways to the Brain, the article is one of many these days that touts the idea that one can stop alcoholism by stopping the drinking.

While it's certainly true that one will not get drunk if one does not take that first drink, what we know today is that alcoholism is a multi-faceted disease that manifests in more than just drinking. In fact, it is, as the AA Big Book notes, a disease of the body and an illness of the mind. I'll go so far as to agree with many people that the disease of alcoholism is also a deeply seated defect in one's spirituality that must be addressed in order for the disease to be arrested. If it is not, we usually get what is known as a cross over disorder...the person may stop drinking but move on to excessive spending, uncontrollable sexual activity, gambling, eating, or any other number of compulsive behaviors. The need is not just for the alcohol. The need is for the effects of that alcohol...effects that can be achieved by the obsessive and compulsive use of other substances or behaviors that produce the same feelings in the body and the mind.

So, while I pass this article along and value what it says, I think it is only a partial answer. It is at the cutting edge of what we know about alcoholism for sure. But, the information we have also known about for dozens of years about alcoholism as a disease expands this awareness. It's just too bad that research dollars are not being spent on finding out about the full nature of how alcoholism works. Maybe someday, but not today.

All the best,

Roger W.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The insanity of alcoholism...

I recent ran across an article that demonstrates, in about 500 words, how it is that alcohol causes alcoholism.

This process is not only little known by people who are not addicted, but it is literally missing in the knowledge base for most alcoholics about how it is they became addicted.

The article "The Brain is Re-Wired by Alcoholism" is an easy read. It will give you the information you need to know if you are ever talking to a friend or loved one about their drinking and the damage alcohol can do to the human brain.

One of the great frustrations for a "true believer" like me when it comes to the topic of addiction is that it is so difficult to inform and then convince people about the biological nature of the disease of addiction. Many will call it out as a disease, but then fall into a criticism of the alcoholic based on the "immoral" results of what a person with a diseased brain does when they drink. Well, it can't be both ways - a disease and a moral issue. Thankfully this article helps straighten that out.

Of course, there is another good source for this that has already been mentioned in the blog. Pleasure Unwoven, a superb video issued by the Institute of Addiction Studies in Utah, is the very best look - through the eyes on an addicted doctor - at what the REAL disease of addiction is.

I recommend both the web article and the video to anyone struggling with their own awareness of the disease of addiction or who may need help in convincing another person of the problem.

All the best,

Roger W.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another retreat...

Today I signed up for another retreat. But, it will not be like any other retreat I have ever been on.

The Lodge at Hazelden - a facility devoted to the study of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book and the spirituality that flows from it - is holding a special, free retreat for employees in two weeks. And, I'm rarin' to go! Here's why.

About two years ago, Hazelden published a book entitled, "The Book That Started It All." It is a large, oversized coffee-table book that is a very special book to AAers. In it were reproduced the original pages from the manuscript that Bill W. used to draw up what we now know as the first 164 pages of the Big Book. The pages are laid out, in order, and each page has the equivalent of a photograph of the original typewritten manuscript. You can tell it is old by the style of type of the old Royal typewriter it was written on (according to the secretary to Bill W. who wrote the Big Book). You can also see how it was faded and, in some places, torn or folded.

The most impressive part of it is that there are hand-written comments in the margins and crossed out or overwritten words throughout the pages. Many of these marks were made by some of the original proof readers of the manuscript - part of the corps of 100 drunks in recovery who formed the core of AA at the time. Hank Parkhurst was one of these people... you can see his trademark initials "HYP" in the lower left hand corner of every page. He was a professional editor at a magazine in New York and had a flare for presenting material in a very readable and acceptable way.

But, much of the marking up came from Bill W. himself. Bill was a brilliant amateur writer. He could put things in a certain way that the sentences rang out with clarity and precision. He was devoted to the topic, of course, but his folksy Vermont-based dialect was, and still is, an astonishingly wonderful way to communicate the process of recovery that these founders of the AA program went through. Bill was a pragmatist at heart: He knew that it was important to make compromises in the language of the book that could accommodate the needs of all the AA members. So, he willingly bent the sentences to make room for people under the broad tent that AA was to become for recovering people. Perhaps no more is this true than were Bill took Hank's advice and added the "...God as we understood Him" rejoinder to the places in the book that Bill had originally just let stand as "God."

So, in two weeks, I'll be among a small group of people who will examine this book in detail. It only deals with the first 164 pages of the Big Book. Throughout the years, these pages have survived four editions and numerous attempts to "refine" the original language. But AA, in its wisdom, has kept those original pages just as they were in 1939 when the first books rolled off the presses. So, we'll be studying history. We'll be deconstructing, page by page, the language and meaning that these words have for recovering people. We'll learn about how Bill did the writing (he dictated the entire book standing up over 9 months) and the philosophy that the pages put forth.

I'm really looking forward to that.

It's good to be back in AA after 24 years in Narcotics Anonymous where you couldn't breath a word about the Big Book or even mention Bill W.'s name. NA is still trying to carve out its own territory and is very sensitive to comparisons to AA. So, when I made the jump back to AA I found I was going home. This retreat is like settling in next to a warm fireplace in that home.

All the best,

Roger W.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The pressure of work...

There's nothing particularly new in my life these days, but I think it is worthwhile to write about some things that have been kicking around in my life these past few weeks.

I am busy preparing for the two new classes I will teach this Fall. I have undoubtedly stretched myself thin by agreeing to teach a second course on Co-Occurring Psychological Disorders at the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies. I already teach the Group therapy course to graduate students in counseling, and the out-going dean (who has become a good friend of mine) suggested that I teach the second course as a way to show my range and abilities as a teacher.

The second new course I will teach this Fall is at Concordia University. There I will teach an Introduction to Psychology course to undergraduate students as a part of the core Liberal Arts curriculum.

Things will REALLY get hairy in January 2014 when, addition to these courses, I will add a fourth course in mental health counseling for undergraduates at Concordia. At that point I will be teaching four courses at two schools and carrying a full counseling load myself.

I was quick to agree to do these new courses because I feel that such a commitment will show my loyalty to the schools and perhaps put me in a good position should a full-time professorship open up at either one. And, to say the least, I could use the money. I know there is a full-time, tenured job open at Concordia, and I think the offer to teach there this Fall is part of a tryout for the position. There is no guarantee, of course, that such will ever happen and colleges are notorious for using up part-time faculty to teach vital courses with the tenuous promise of full-time employment. But, I am doing both anyway. Such a decision has placed a big burden on me this Summer because I need to construct the Hazelden course from scratch, and my obsessive attention to detail means I am trying to get the bulk of lessons done in advance. While I've taught the Concordia Intro course before at other colleges, I need to make fundamental changes in the course structure because it will be taught twice a week - my existing lessons are designed to only teach the material once a week so the material must be broken up and re-assembled for this course.

So, instead of kicking back this Summer, I am chained to the computer and hammering out course material. All this in addition to teaching an Introduction to Psychology class to inmates at the local maximum security prison for the Summer and holding down a full clinical counseling caseload.

Of course a reasonable person would ask why I am pressing so hard at this. The answer is simple: I need to transition to a teaching job as soon as possible as my counseling career winds down. It's no secret at my existing job at Hazelden that teaching at the Graduate School would be a first choice for my work. They know it and actually take pride in knowing that one of their counselors would become a professor there. I'm not necessarily prepared to jump ship should a teaching job open at Concordia...I would need to negotiate such a position given how I would be taking a pay cut to do so.

Regardless, knowing that I cannot ever really retire, I need - at the age when most people are looking fondly over the fence at the pasture of retirement - to press hard to prove myself so I can get work in my old age. I am not alone. Recent studies by the AARP show that more than a third of all households headed by a Baby Boomer like me can never retire and will need to work for as long as they can into their old age. The economy, lack of a pension, and rising rental costs all conspire against an aging person these days and this academic activity is my response to it.

But, through it all I realize I am tired. I will not be able to press like this forever. In fact, I see this push this year as perhaps my last attempt to assemble a teaching career. I know I will not be able to do this as I approach 70 years old, so I am making hay while the sun shines. With any luck at all, I will be teaching full time at this point next year. Without that luck I will need to cut back at one of the colleges and consolidate my energies into perhaps a couple of the courses. And, I will need to re-double my efforts at my counseling job to ensure I am still meaningful there (It's perhaps coincidence that Hazelden is considering a wholesale revamping of the outpatient counseling program and my job in it for the Fall of 2014...perhaps another signal that the year may be a turning point in my career.)

So it is that I plod onward and upward. Every day I am grateful that I have such problems. I am clean and sober and able to face the challenges my life brings to me. I have a program of recovery I still practice every day. And, I have a foundation of love with my family and friends that helps me get through all this. Who could ask for more?

All the best,

Roger W.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Down the new road...

As I was contemplating whether or not to use the above photo as a billboard for The Happy Hour, I was intrigued by the ideas behind the action we must all take on the road to recovery. The metaphor of the new road we must travel away from the point where we stop the lifestyle of active addiction is an apt one for most of us.

If you're like me, we've traveled a rocky road to recovery. There were many twists and turns, many dead ends, and many potholes in the road of the life I was leading before recovery began in 1987. Up to that point, I thought I was on the super highway toward success. From the point when I graduated from college and had my first job secured, I thought I was going to race to the finish line well ahead of others and in fine shape. I could see no end to the road, no barriers in my way, and no detours...No, I was on a straight shot to becoming a success at anything I tried. And, it worked that way for a while. I had a good job and soon got another that was even better. I was a star in the workplace and bosses loved me. Surely, there was nothing to divert me from my goals.

But, there were signs early on that all was not going to be the way I pictured it. And, these signs came in the form of drinking alcohol to excess and smoking marijuana through my 20's, signs that I did not see as they whizzed by me as I sped along this road. In fact, it soon became apparent that I wanted to drink and smoke more than I wanted to work hard to deal with my problems. There were blocks in the road, but, until I was about 30, I had managed to swerve around them and continue at the fast pace I had set out for myself. Surely, I said during this decade between when I started using alcohol and drugs until it sank in that I had a problem, no one could manage to go from being a small town publicist to working in the White House press office without their being some kind of powerful engine propelling me forward. What I didn't realize was that, in the form of a true tragedy, there was something inside me that was so flawed that it spelled doom for me almost from the start. And, that doom did not show up until I was in my 30's when things were much rockier on that road with bumps and stumps and roadblocks that eventually made my road unusable.

It's no coincidence that I managed to get clean and sober through the efforts at people in a clubhouse for recovering people in Delray Beach FL called, The Crossroads. My life had truly come to a crossroads and I needed to get off the backroads of my using life and onto the super highway of recovery. When I decided to make the turn, things had become pretty difficult for me along that old road. I had lost some things, but I was about to lose even more right after I got clean because of the continuation of the problems even after I took the turn for the recovery road. It was just like this: Speeding down the highway of my life with the back seat full of baggage, I suddenly came to a stop with my using to avoid a deadly collision. But, the baggage just kept going forward at the same speed. Before you knew it, I had all the baggage of my life in the front seat of my existence, and I couldn't negotiate any more or see the alternatives. It wasn't until I unpacked that baggage in treatment and put it back into its proper place through using the 12 Steps that I could resume a sane journey.

That's what my life was for me when I stopped using alcohol and drugs: I had made the turn at the crossroads onto the road of recovery, but I had to deal with all the effects of my using over the years. Fortunately, coming to a stop like I did - with the help of people in Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous and my family - I was able to clear away the baggage in front of me and resume my journey down the road of recovery. While there are been occasional rough going on this trip, there has never been anything close to blocking my's been as clear a way as that shown in the photo above.

There is a passage in the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text that summarizes this road trip for recovery well..."Just for today, so long as I follow that way, I have nothing to fear."

All the best, Roger W.

Sunday, June 30, 2013 angel

This is a long entry today…so buckle up for the ride.

There are two sentences in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that I read recently. They refer to an important point about my own recovery that I sometimes forget - for strange reasons - given the enormous import an event had in my life while I was in a treatment facility many years ago.
Here’s the story. In mid-January 1988 I went to a treatment center for my alcohol and drug use. I had been “sober” starting about three weeks before when I stopped drinking on my own. Friends had come to visit for Christmas that year and I made it through the holidays in relatively good shape. But, my life had deteriorated so much before that abstinence period started that my brain simply stopped functioning after the New Year. I was a puddle of emotional stress. I was most often sweating and trembling. I was ranting and raving. My wife and I were in constant battles. My then 2.5 year old son acted as a referee several times between us – a graphic image of the sad mess my life had become. At the end it was clear: Either I went to a treatment center to stop the madness or I was going to be alone to wallow in the aftershocks of alcoholism and addiction and, eventually, death.

So I ended up at a hospital for alcoholics and my detoxification began. I was not a happy person there. In fact, I was rude, aggressive, hostile, insulting and miserable, and I wanted everyone there around me to know it and stay out of my way. For the most part, everyone in the treatment center did, including the technicians and counselors who were afraid they had a real crazy person on their hands and not your run-of-the-mill alcoholic.  I spent most of my time alone those first few days. And, this is the part of the story that relates to the Big Book quote I mentioned that was so important in turning my life around.

One night, lying on my bed feeling sorry for myself and tremendously angry about my plight, a young man came into my room I had never seen before. He was hesitant as he asked permission to come in. He was quick to note that the staff had warned him about me and he needed to know if it was OK to talk with me. I said nothing. Not deterred by that, the young man sat down quite a distant from my bed and started to talk.

He said his name was Michael and he was at the facility as a part of his recovery - talking to patients there as a part of his AA commitment to carry the message of recovery to still-suffering alcoholics and addicts. He said he heard about me being so angry and isolated and he wondered if he could talk with me. I said nothing. Not discouraged by my hostile rudeness, he started telling me about his life. He related his story of addiction, living on the beaches of South Florida, and falling apart emotionally and physically. He told me about what happened when he stopped using drugs and how AA had come into his life through other alcoholics and addicts who taught him how to remain clean and sober. And he told me that the same thing could happen to me if I gave up the fight, admitted I had a problem with alcohol and drugs, and decided to join him and others downstairs in a meeting. I said nothing.
He excused himself after those few minutes of self-disclosure and wished me well. When he left, I burst into tears. All the emotional pain inside me caused me to feel incredibly sad. I had squandered my life and I knew it. But, I had never felt, until that night, that there was ever any hope for me stopping the drinking. Michael had given me that hope by his simple presence, courage to talk to a lunatic, and message of recovery that made it possible for me to think the same could happen to me. When I was finished feeling so bad and crying, I went out to the staff office and started talking. You could literally not shut me up for the remaining three weeks. I talked about everything, all my experiences with the insanity of drinking and drugging, and I usually spoke about what happened to me that night when Michael came to see me.

That reference in the Big Book talks about what happened to a man in a hospital bed when another recovering alcoholic came to him and shared his experience, strength and hope. It reads…”I knew that this man had something. In that short period he built within me something that I had long since lost, which was hope.” (page 244)

Now, the truly strange thing is that over the past 25 years that mental image of Michael being in my room that night has dimmed: Sometimes I don’t believe he actually was there. Yet, the emotional memory of it has remained strong.  It is so dim, but so memorable, that I frequently wonder these days if there really was a Michael.  Or, was this an hallucination? Was this event some spiritual process whereby my Higher Power placed in my mind the idea that there was some angel who visited me that night and provided the hope I was missing? Was this really Michael the Archangel come to help me through this life-shattering experience and give me the strength to carry on in recovery?
Who knows the answer to these questions? All I know is that something happened to me in that room. Something came over me when I was physically and emotionally beaten that gave me the strength to admit reality – that I was an alcoholic – and that I could actually do something about that if I had faith that I would not only survive, but prevail. And, I think that’s the same thing that the man in the Big Book experienced.

I never saw Michael again after that night. He never showed up at the dozens and dozens of AA meetings I went to during the ensuing years.

But, he has never left me.

All the best,

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lesson for today...

My teacher at the Clouds in Water Zen Center I attend on Sunday mornings had a wonderful message today about how we get and use power in our lives.

Using as a metaphor the electrical power outage we had last night due to the most violent thunderstorm I have ever seen, she taught that it is not infrequent for people to experience periodic power outages themselves when they get stressed. In the seemingly endless search for ways to reduce suffering in our lives, we expend energy daily trying to cope and make sense of what is ultimately non-sensical. We manipulate people, places, things and situations as best we can to have them turn out as we wish them to be. We sometimes pull the covers over our head when we fail to get what we want: The unpleasantness of failure is something we most often try to avoid by closing out the world. And, we sometimes look for power in all the wrong places to see if we can effect change.

The moral of her lesson was that mindfulness - living in the here-and-now of the present moment - will allow us to let go of our demand that things go the way they "should" go. It will also give us the perspective to rise above the things that concern us and are out of our control. A person can practice mindfulness anywhere and the usually boring or quiet times in our lives are always good times to stretch the mindfulness legs a bit. It doesn't require formal meditation (although that helps): Instead, it just requires gentle reflection on the moment to give it a careful look and realize what we can control and what we can't. Mindfulness can be likened to the Serenity Prayer in this respect.

I was immediately reminded of a little brochure I published when my son Joe was born. I called it "Son Power Lights Up Our Life" and showed a picture of two-day-old Joe whimsically staring at the viewer. In fact, Joe's birth did restore a sense of power to me at the time when I was swimming with problems and deeply entrenched in drinking and drugging in a futile attempt to make sense of my world. I had squandered the love and power that came to me through my daughters Jen and Becca. I had pulled the plug on my own life and felt the darkness all around me like a shroud.

But, while she was speaking I was also reminded of a page in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that addresses the kind of power that comes into our lives when we live by principles brought to us through the 12 Steps. In it the writer says...

"Here [in the Steps] I found the ingredient that had been lacking in any other effort I had made to save myself. Here was - power! Here was power to live to the end of any given day, power to have the courage to face the next day, power to have friends, power to help people, power to be sane, power to stay sober. That was seven years ago - and I haven't had a drink during those seven years. Moreover, I am deeply convinced that so long as I continue to strive, in my bumbling way, toward the principles I first encountered in the earlier chapters of this book, this remarkable power will continue to flow through me. (page 386)

In that simple paragraph lies the answer to the power problem for not only alcoholics in recovery but anyone troubled by life's events and suffering inside. Having admitted that we were powerless over alcohol in Step One, now, through the remaining 11 steps, we find the power to effect change in our lives. It is hard to describe how this happens. It seems to only come to those who work hard on integrating the principles of the 12 Steps into their lives. It seems to manifest daily in those people who have faith and courage to face the day without drinking. And, it seems to come to those whose belief in a Higher Power that can transcend suffering in this world can carry them forward every day.

For those not in a recovery program, the same practice can yield remarkable results...and you don't have to be a Buddhist either. The effort is to be mindful and practice healthy principles in our life. The payoff is greater serenity, feeling peace of mind and the sense of accomplishing what used to baffle us. I'd say that is worth the effort.

All the best,

Roger W.