Thursday, December 15, 2011

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. (Alcoholics Anonymous, 88)

I once had the misfortune of experiencing the consequences of resting on my "laurels." It was the first time I worked the twelve steps. I was impelled into a recovery community where I had a spiritual experience and a psychic change. I got a sponsor, took my inventory, confessed my secrets, made amends, prayed daily and carried the message. In short, I worked the twelve steps thoroughly.

For a time I continued the daily practices. But, once I began to reap the fruits of recovery, a restored marriage, career, family, hobbies, and all sorts of other personal affairs. My spiritual activities began to drop off. The result was that one day I woke up alone in a hotel amid a relapse. I banged my fist on my head and wondered "how did this happen?"

It took me a few tries again to work the program have it stick. Each time I wondered "where did I fail?" "Did I not really mean it last time?" "Was that not really a 'vital spiritual experience'?" "Am I just never going to get it?"

I noticed (acrimoniously sometimes) that others did not have nearly as much understanding, belief, or devotion to the twelve step process as I felt that I did. Some did not practice the steps as thoroughly nor know as much about them as I did. In fact, I felt like I was one of "the winners" subgroup. But, why was it that some of them stayed sober and I didn't.

I also noticed that some people did some things more thoroughly, for longer, than I did. Some people continued to write inventory daily. Some devoted more focused time in meditation. Some went to more meetings than I was willing to go to (especially further along into their recovery). But none of what they did was not in the book, they just followed it more precisely, for longer, than I did.

Long story short, I eventually found the willingness to keep sobriety a priority past the six month mark and beyond. I made it past the hump and it stuck. The answer for me was to keep up my spiritual program of action, even after I experienced a recovered life and busier affairs.

I like to draw a parallel to physical fitness. I know how to eat right, work out, and keep fit. I believe in physical fitness, and I could preach it well. But, I don't actually practice a fitness program. Fortunately for me I have a high metabolism and am thin so I appear fit. I know some folks who are heavier that me but work out every day. If they had to run 3 miles to save their life, they could. But I might not make it.

Thus it is with spiritual fitness. Other people might not have to work at it. They might just have to commit to moral good and be able to pull it off. I on the other hand have experienced spiritual malady and recurrence after recovery. I must practice a spiritual program of action to keep spiritually fit.

The bonus is that I get a life that is better than good.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why do I need to pray for willingness? I thought it was odd that people talked so much about willingness and even more so that some would pray for it. To me it seemed a simple act that was already undertaken. But once I followed the seemingly irrelevant act of praying the "willingness prayer" for 7 days in row. I only complied because I was absolutely desperate. The crazy thing was that it worked. After 3 days or so, I had a complete change of attitude. My problem lost it's relevance and I gained a sense of motivation to engage in recovery.

But still the concept was an enigma for me. Later it came up again when I was trying to take step 2 of the 12 steps. It wasn't so much that I couldn't intellectualize that belief in a Higher Power could restore me to sanity, but more that i couldn't become willing to believe that It/(He?) would. So before moving to step 3, I gave up my exertion to find it and just prayed to Him for willingness. Long story short, it worked! I woke up and had a period of spiritual ecstasy (delirum?) in which all my objections shifted to connections.

Later again, when I completed my inventory, I found character defects that I knew were problematic but I didn't want to let go. I got honest with my sponsor in step 5 and told him so. He guided me to the part of step 6 that suggests that if we are not entirely ready to let them go then we should pray for willingness. I realized then that willingness was not a simple act. Or at least, not just a simple act.Willingness was an attitude as well.  I had only ever thought of the act superficially. The attitude encompassed a few dimensions that are important to the process of recovery such as favorable disposition, inclination, by choice, without reluctance, and by the will.

Tonight at a meeting we read about willingness related to step 3 from the Twelve and Twelve. That willingness is the key to the door to commitment. I thought of the idea of the balance sheet. The balance of willingness to unwillingness.

Today someone spoke to me about the need for commitment strategies. Hmm, perhaps a good strategy would be to examine the motivational balance sheet.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Bold Proposition

"In our belief any scheme of combating alcoholism which proposes to shield the sick man from temptation is doomed to failure. "  Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 101

The first time I read this statement it stopped me dead in my tracks.  I thought that I had read it wrong and had to reread it.  Perhaps I was having trouble understanding the wording, surely it meant the opposite.  What I had read so far had little specific advice for practices to avoid drinking.  There was no step that said "Avoid slippery people and slippery places." I had predicted it would come in this chapter ("Working with Others"), or possibly in "To Wives." 

Then it struck me what a bold statement this was!  Especially so in light of the circumstances at the time the text was drafted.  At that time there were 100 members, none of which had more than 3-5 years of sobriety.  They were trying to get this fledgling organization off the ground and build credibility.  The safe thing to do would have been to either make a cautious minimal statement about safe places and people, or to avoid the subject altogether.  But instead they chose to stick to their conviction that recovery was primarily dependent upon a psychic change.

I remember thinking that the founders either took a reckless gamble, had a naive belief, or experienced a truly convincing miracle.  At this point it resonated so deeply with me that I became convinced myself.  At the time I was struggling with step 2 and this was a critical building block of my belief.  I knew to my core that they were right, no matter where I went I would find an Eskimo with some booze and an eight ball.  The only shield that would work would be a psychic one.  

This proved itself out for me in the days, months and years following the step work and spiritual awakening.  I moved back into my home and realized it was the most slippery place of all, especially my bathroom on a Friday night.  I remembered the family and business events that I went to where drinking took place.  Drinking friends and drug dealers attended and invariably tempted and propositioned me, but I had spiritual tools and resilience to protect me from a slip.

For me the best practices for slippery situations have been preventative ones.  True that taking a friend, using the phone, having an exit strategy are all essentials, but they are useless if I am not spiritually fit.  The best actions are daily prayer, meditation, continued inventory, regular fellowship, and working with others.  In short steps 10, 11, and 12, the spiritual fitness tools.

The text does give some advice and qualifications for going to places where there is drinking, I thought it best to list them:

  • "if we have a legitimate reason for being there."
  • "Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place?"
  • "be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good."
  • "if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead!"

The only other measure that I use as an addict is that I do not need to be anywhere that illegal activities are occurring, period.  The moment that anything illegal occurs I no longer have a legitimate reason to be there. 
 These principals help me to make the decisions without having to rely on my feelings.  I must remember that I can't trust my feelings in these matters.  

Monday, August 9, 2010

Such Unfortunates

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates....  There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.  Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 64.

It was a hot, oppressive Texas evening as I sat in my chair at the 12 step meeting where I started this term in sobriety.  The windows seemed to loom over me and scoff at the validity of my willingness.  I couldn't blame anyone if they chose not to sit with me, but instead to "stick with the winners."  I almost wanted to give up and check out, but I stayed for my son whom I so desperately wanted to be there for.

As the meeting got under way my mind bounced back and forth like a pinball from question to question, why couldn't I get it?  What happened to me?  How could I have failed again?  I had finally been willing to take the 12 steps.  I had had a spiritual experience.  I had recovered.  I had been one of the winners, yet I relapsed.

This was not so bad, as many first timers have a slip, but I then went through a year of repeated attempts, and repeated failures, six in all.  Perhaps I was one of those "unfortunates" who was destined to go through the revolving door until the bitter end.

Then the standard reading started "Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path... There are such unfortunates."  I thought "Wait a second, this reading is about psychopaths or sociopaths, men without conscience, who were constitutionally incapable of being honest."  Could I be a sociopath?  Then the reader got to the part stating "There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders..." Suddenly I realized, possibly for the first time, that this was a point of distinction from those "unfortunates."  They could not be describing the psychopath because that certainly qualified as a grave mental disorder.

I wondered then who they were describing.  What type of disordered person was incapable of being honest? Was this just a construct of self-righteous, religious morality as the emphasis on honesty always seemed to infer to me?  Then I re-read the passage and realized that it said that they were "constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves."  It dawned on me that this sounded a lot like denial.  But, if this were the case then wouldn't that be all alcoholics and addicts?  If so, what distinguishes them from those who do recover?

The answer was right there in the reading, "Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program,"  But I had done this, I had given myself.  I looked around the room and thought about how I had become more knowledgeable about the steps and been more thorough than 50% of the room.  Yet why had they stayed sober and not me?  Just as I thought about this, the reader was reading steps 10, 11, and 12.  I thought about how I had resisted being thorough about writing an evening review, about how I didn't have time to pray or meditate until I got in the car to go to work, about going to meetings for what I could get, not to try and carry the message, about not following my sponsor's advice to do a regular H&I because I did not think I was as bad an addict as him.

"Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path."  "That's it" I thought, I have been measuring my thoroughness by what I think the other people in the rooms do, not by the path of the founders.  Being thorough probably means following the specific directions as written.

Thus my willingness was passed on to me from those that had also been constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.  I had a new experience with the first step of step one, "We admitted."

That was six years ago as I write this.   I have received the willingness to go to any lengths ever since then.  Tonight when this was presented as the topic of the same group,  I was thinking back through my life to try to carry this message. I remembered this experience and realized it was the anniversary. I was amazed at how God carried the message to me, just as I was trying to carry the message to them, and my faith was renewed once again.

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Actor

"Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show... In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous."    ~ Alcoholics Anonymous, Pg. 61

     I originally thought that simply doing God's will and taking a personal inventory were not the real path to sobriety for me because I was a person of good morality, good will, and good conduct, except for my drinking and using.

   I was just an actor then.  My morality was a superficial act put on so that I could get along and get what I wanted.  I had some realization of conformity but I didn't truly know the nature of the workings of the psyche and I was limited by my self-centered perspective.  

     When I took the inventory I found that there is a deeper level at which my morality and conduct operated in which my discontent (that led to my drinking) was formed.  I didn't realize that people could be so good on the outside but be so bad on the inside.  But I realized that I did know this all along!?  Yet I lived in this delusion!  I learned how I truly needed the power of commitment to God and the perspective of others to break the distorted perception of my self-centeredness.

     Today I have to ask myself, "Am I still the actor who wants to run the whole show?"  Am I truly willing to let God run the show, or am I trying to wrest satisfaction and happiness from this world by managing well?  I can still fall into the trap of becoming the actor in sobriety.

  Am I living in spiritual make-believe where I tell myself that I am spiritually virtuous and self-sacrificing but life doesn't treat me well?  Am I trying to manage too many things or accomplish too much in the time I have under the justification that they are morally righteous?  Am I discontent over my unrealized ambitions?
Am I setting expectations for the moral and spiritual conduct of others?  Do I have a simmering discontent over the circumstances in my life?  Do I live in a delusion?

     God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Who are We?

The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined. The tremendous fact for every one of us is that we have discovered a common solution.   Alcoholics Anonymous Pg. 17

From the time I first began attending 12 step meetings I noticed what seemed to be two sets of voices.  There were those who talked explicitly about their past and their problems, but vaguely about the solution.  Then there were those who spoke in general terms about the past, but precisely about their nature and how to recover.  I saw the merits of both, but those who talked too much about the program of action seemed rigid and shrill to me, even though they made sense and seemed more forthright.

Being that I was rationally undisciplined, and identified more with drugalogues and issues, I gravitated toward the easier way.  The bunch that did not say things that pressured me with any difficult ideas were much more attractive to me.  This path was broader and less demanding.   But, I could not find the stable and lasting sobriety that I needed.

The identification, friendship, and support that I receive from the fellowship is great catalyst for beginning recovery, it is indispensable, but it has a shelf life. I will eventually run dry unless I take action to get connected to a Higher Power.  I am grateful for those who stood by the principles of the program and were not dissuaded by the desire to please everyone.  I was able to remember their perspective when I needed to consider what I should do different.

I had to come back to the 12 step fellowships several times before realizing lasting sobriety.  I found the willingness to commit myself to the spiritual solution and to practice it.  When I orient myself to the part the sober network that guides me to do the work, I establish and maintain an unlimited connection to that Power which is God.

This being said, I have found that if all I talk about is the work, then I don't make that connection to the addict who is still suffering.  It is very easy for me to get on a spiritual mountain top and think that identification is not important.  I have to make a conscious and deliberate effort to balance my attitude to include both elements of the cement that binds us.

Today I am bound to my fellows by what it was like, what happened, and what it's like now.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Step 4

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Alcoholics Anonymous, Pg. 64

I often took stock of things when I would try and get sober.  I would look at my finances, my physical fitness, my housekeeping, the upkeep of my vehicles, etc.  But I could never bring myself to take a thorough look at my ideas and beliefs. The thought of taking moral inventory was highly objectionable to me.  After taking step 2 I began realizing that my I had undue revulsion for this and I began to question it. I realized that my distorted sense of morality was defending itself from inquiry.  This is where my addiction lived.  It was afraid to have the light of truth shine in and reveal it for what it was. I was afraid.  

The fourth step is the key to unlock the door of denial and to allow me to move out of self-centeredness.


This is a blog about one man's experiences in 12 step recovery and the spiritual life. ~