Recovery = Balance

     After 8+ recovered years, I’ve changed my tune a bit. I used to think that non-stop recovery was essential to lifelong health. Don’t get me wrong, in early sobriety, we have to work our asses off if we are to fully recover. Without question, we must go to any lengths to get better. That means that we never procrastinate, never ignore our conscience, and actively seek out opportunities to give back. That means that we take rigorous action. We write inventory, we read it, we pray, we meditate, we give service, we give to our families and we make our amends – all without hesitation. We put our spiritual growth above all else and we don’t stop until we are sane once again. And yes, we will always continue doing the work.

     But one thing I have learned is that there is a time for everything. Sometimes I focus more on my recovery, sometimes more on my family, sometimes more on my career. I’ve also learned that we can’t give every second of the day and every cell in our body to working with other addicts. Why? 1) because we’ll burn out due to self neglect and 2) because if that is our only source of fuel, then what happens when we stop? We won’t know how to be okay without helping people 24/7. What happens when we go off into the world to pursue the rest of our lives? What happens is that we suffer. We must learn to be okay whether we’re helping people or not.
The answer: Balance.
     When I look back over my path, I realize that the reason I am still strong, happy and successful is because I didn’t go off the deep end in any direction. After a few gung ho years, I pulled back a bit to focus on my family and my business. I also pulled back to take better care of myself. After working non-stop with knucklehead teenagers at the (total waste of taxpayer money) recovery school, I sensed myself burning out a bit. So when I left, I exercised more, I played tennis and golf, I went to the beach, and I nourished my creativity. I also got back to praying and meditating. Other times I gave more to my friends and family. And yet other times I stretched myself with work and starting a business.
     I now realize that it isn’t too healthy to go overboard with any of these things. We can and will burn out. And then what good are we to ourselves, to others, to recovery, and to God? That’s right, we are no good at all. The point of recovery is to always be okay, so that we can stay recovered throughout life and always be in the position to give back if need be. There is no point in burning out. All of the people you help rushing around will wonder if they were following the right guy when he goes nuts again, relapses and destroys everything he worked so hard to put back together.
     Don’t burn out. Listen to your gut. Give yourself what you need, when you need it. It’s okay to be selfish sometimes if we are doing so to stay fit for others and for God.

Spiritual Realm

     Is there a spiritual realm?

     Yes. There is without a doubt much more happening than we can see, hear, or touch.

     As I knelt down to pray one night up North, I was touched by something beyond comprehension. The scope of Its power is something I can’t even fathom. It cannot be described or measured. It is beyond man-made definitions, boundaries and conceptions. It is beautiful, mystical, and unexplainable. And in a single moment, it freed me from the lifelong chains of fear, anger, sadness, depression and emptiness.

     So why spoil something that we fragile, flawed, and fleeting humans can barely handle? We have to box everything, define everything, describe everything, own everything, and assert doctrines, codes and creeds as if they are absolute and come from this Power. Who are we to define and possess God? Who are we to fight over God?

     Forgive me, but it feels like some of our man-made conceptions of God seem rather silly, if not altogether ridiculous. Trying to ‘create’ God, if you will, with our limited brains and faculties appears to me to be a fruitless endeavor. How can we define something that we cannot truly understand or comprehend?

     Unfortunately, God is such a loaded word, which is why I had to look beyond words and symbols, buildings and rituals, traditions and doctrines. I had to look beyond human capacity. Not to exude jade towards organized, mass worship, but when you have a mind-bending spiritual experience, man-made anything goes out the window.

     So what is this great Power that people try endlessly to define? The truth is that I have absolutely no idea. Question: Would there be so much petty religious violence if we all admitted that we have no clue? Isn’t it more a show of humility to say ‘yes’ to getting underneath something but ‘no’ to defining and possessing It? Are we really so very special?

     The truth: I don’t know what God is. I don’t know His depths or limits, other than to assume that He is limitless and well beyond the boundaries of space and time. Therefore, why should I have the arrogance to think that I understand God? I don’t have a clue, and I’m pretty sure nobody else does either. Perhaps some of us have meditated long enough to have a slightly deeper glimpse into the spirit world, but those are men and women who have done more work on themselves than 99% of us could even conceive of.

    One thing I do believe now is that God can do anything God wants, whenever it wants to. My advice is to get on the right side of that trade, if you will.

The Face Of Therapy

     Sorry, but most psychotherapists aren’t going to tell addicts to just enlarge their spiritual life, take some right action, and then send them on their way. And, uh, have you ever met an active alcoholic or a drug addict? It sounds like this: blah blah blah blah-blah blah blah blah-blah-blah…

     Probably the very last thing an addict needs is to be talking incessantly about their addiction and depression, whether sober and miserable or active and manic. By digging into our past and finding even more problems, more reasons and more stuff to blame, it distracts us and ultimately delays our recovery. We don’t become empowered by blaming our problems on some trauma in our lives, thereby recusing ourselves of ownership and responsibility. We become empowered by moving on from the past, blaming nothing and no one, and getting our asses off the therapy couch and taking action – rigorous action.

     Therapists (especially psychiatrists) have little understanding about the nature of the illness of addiction, and thus have no ability or tools to help us, but at the same time think we need therapy. We can liken their industry to corporate advertising or marketing, where we’re told that we need some product to be okay and live a good life. They have us believe that there is some profound, deep-seated, complicated and devious reason for all of our problems.

     Why go there?

     Putting a spotlight on ourselves and our feelings and delicately placing our lives up on a pedestal is the last thing we need to get better. On the contrary, we need to STOP talking so much and get over ourselves. We need to get outside of ourselves. In fact, the solution is the opposite of self-focus, which defines psychotherapy. So much inward focus is selfish, and selfishness is our #1 problem. Selfishness is the one and only thing preventing us from getting better. And there is without a doubt way too much me, me, me involved in therapy.

     I’m curious, where are they getting their information, from the textbooks (i.e. status quo, secular propaganda) of prestigious colleges and universities? I learned more from a couple of junkies and the Big Book than I did in 10 years of psychotherapy, blabbing on and on about a bunch of nonsense. Just like the actions we take, the thoughts and feelings we have are 100% caused by us and therefore 100% our fault. We give birth to them and we own them. We choose how we respond to life events, even when someone else has wronged us.

     Growing up isn’t about looking backwards. It’s about shutting up, taking action, and looking forwards. Therapists should do one thing and one thing only: Tell us to stop coming. In the time it takes for an addict or alcoholic to figure out his entire psychological condition, he may very well overdose and die. Talking every week for an hour (sorry, I mean 55 minutes) isn’t going to do much good if you wind up dead on the floor. Needless to say, it’s our prerogative if we want to pay somebody to be our friend and listen to us. We all need to be heard. But hey, why not save the money and go get a couple of good friends?  

God, teach me that it’s not all about me. Teach me that action, not talking, is the solution…

Addiction 101

     “There is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic. Science may one day accomplish this, but it hasn’t done so yet.” -Alcoholics Anonymous, p.31

     Translation: Physically, we are screwed. Oh, and science still hasn’t done so… but even if it did someday, I would refuse such a procedure with a resolve as strong as gold. I think I’ll take the incredible and mystical life that I have now as opposed to muddling through as a mundane zombie, locked inside my small, narrow, 3-dimensional world.

     You can turn a non-addict into an addict, but there is no turning an addict back into a non-addict. We have an ‘allergy’ to drugs and alcohol that we will die with. It doesn’t matter if we are sober for half a century. Give us a drink and we will react physically as does any chronic alcoholic. It won’t be long until we are falling down drunk 24/7 and back in detox. This is what both addicts and families MUST understand. Our bodies NEVER recover. We will never drink normally once we break our bodies. And there is nothing on this earth that can change us back into a normal drinker. Nothing. No person, no pill, no book, not even a profound spiritual experience. Bottom line: We will die with the body of an addict.

     What we can do away with is the insanity that makes us drink despite knowing that we respond abnormally. We can recover from the mental obsession – thoughts to drink or use that do not respond to ration or reason. Knowing that we are abnormal and yet continuing to drink is surely a form of insanity. We somehow think that it won’t be the same this time around. We have a very special form of lunacy where we somehow forget who we are and how we react once the thought to drink saturates our minds. Our entire history of chaos and disaster just disappears from our consciousness. And even if our history is not lost on us, it certainly doesn’t have much weight when compared to our new idea to start drinking again, because this time we can control it! Like when I told myself that I didn’t really have a problem with OxyContin because I bought a few 80s and cut them up into little pieces for each day of the week to be controlled and moderate… um, until three o’clock in the morning when I had plucked them all from their hiding spaces, crushed ’em up and inhaled them like a pig.

     So an active addict is broken both physically and mentally. He will NEVER recover physically and thus can never drink or use again. If he does, he will have an allergic reaction and will break out into more and more. His only choice is lifelong abstinence. However, if we have an entire psychic change, then we will never have to worry about drinking or using ever again because any thought to do so will have ZERO power over us. We will always be free from drugs and alcohol so long as we maintain our spiritual health through right action. Small price to pay, if you ask me.

     To note, that doesn’t mean we need to beat ourselves up 24/7. On the contrary, we need to rid ourselves of guilt and self-pity, as that is selfish and prevents us from being useful to others. Achieving recovery and health is about balance – sometimes we help ourselves, sometimes we help others, sometimes we focus on our families, sometimes we focus on our jobs, and sometimes we just relax and go have some fun.

God, teach me what I can do and what I can’t do…

Take the Garbage Out

     I don’t know who coined the phrase, Take The Garbage Out, but this is exactly what we need to do when it comes to our minds and all of our petty, worldly problems. The late Suzuki Roshi said that if we practice zazen everyday, problems will cease to exist. It’d be nice if psychotherapists told us to just go meditate and save us the 20 years and the $200,000, but I suppose 8 years of student loans wouldn’t exactly be worthwhile if they didn’t keep us eating out of their hands.

     If I hadn’t meditated everyday after I got home from treatment, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have altered my bio-chemistry back to normal. I wouldn’t have conquered my fear or the mind-blowing depression. I wouldn’t have freed myself from the prison of psychological diagnoses such as major depression and bipolar disorder. I wouldn’t have freed myself from the brainwashing I got from doctors who told me that I would forever need to be medicated. 8 years of prayer, meditation, inventory and service and I am as free and successful as anybody I know… and 100% unmedicated.

     So do we addicts need to be medicated or do we simply need to meditate?

     One of the meditations I learned while up North, I still do today. Our friend called it Progressive Tensioning & Relaxation and Controlled Breathing.

Sit Comfortably.
Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
Gradually tense every muscle in your body from your toes to your head.
Gradually relax every muscle, again working from your toes to your head.
Take a few more deep breaths.
Breathe in through the nose to the count of 4.
Hold for the count of 4.
Breathe out through the mouth to the count of 4.
Hold for the count of 4.
Do this until you have forgotten that you are meditating, or at least until you have stopped thinking so much and calmed down a bit.

     Or you can just sit or stand, close your eyes, and follow your breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try not to move to scratch an itch or something. The itch will eventually go away if you have the discipline to ignore it. It’s just energy moving through your body – a good sign. And if you find it difficult to stop thinking, say ‘in, out, in, out…’ (in your mind, not out loud) as you breathe in and out.

God, teach me how to meditate…

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Why Alcoholics Hurt People

     Sadly, people who find this blog often type in the search phrase, ‘why do alcoholics hurt us?‘, which results in an older post I wrote about why drinking is selfish. I renamed that post, Selfish No Matter What, and hopefully this one will come up instead.

     First, let me tell you that it’s not because of you. You are not the reason. There is no person, place or thing to blame. We have only ourselves to blame for our selfish actions.

     Alcoholics and addicts hurts others because their addiction comes first before everything. And if our addiction is our very top priority, then we will do anything it takes to use the way we want, even if that means lying to you, stealing from you, manipulating you, deceiving you, abusing you, hurting you and breaking your heart.

     Many of us probably don’t want to hurt you at all, but if we are addicts, our addiction comes first, and that means nothing and nobody will get in the way of us drinking and using to our little hearts’ content.

     The truth is that you will never come first, because even if we recover, we will have to put our spiritual health above all else. But don’t worry, because if an addict actually puts spiritual growth above all else, then our relationships and every other facet of our lives will end up in the best possible condition. For us, if our relationship with God becomes second to anything, we will lose everything anyway… and then nobody will get what they want. It’s all or none for us. We can’t worship anything worldly or we will become sick and eventually relapse.

     We hurt others because we are perhaps the most selfish and immature people in the world. We hurt others because we are infantile narcissists who feel as though nobody suffers quite the way we do and therefore we have the right to do whatever it takes to remain in our comfort zones. We hurt others because we are pathetic, whiny children who have no clue that life is not about us feeling good all of the time. We hurt others because our minds have become twisted and warped from drinking and using so much that we cannot even see that we are hurting you. We have become deranged and delusional, only believing what we need to tell ourselves to keep our habit going uninterrupted. We hurt you because we have begun lying to ourselves, and when we lie to ourselves, we don’t know if what we’re doing is up or down, left or right, right or wrong, real or unreal. We have broken our minds and therefore we are insane. Insane people don’t know what they’re doing. They only do what they think they need to do to maintain the phony existence they are living.

     There is no excuse for addicts and alcoholics to hurt anyone, and without a doubt, we hurt people just by picking up a drink or drug, let alone the various forms of abuse we inflict. If we have lost control of our drinking or our using, then every time we drink or use, we hurt others. There is no getting around that. There is no using in a vacuum.

     So my advice to my fellow addicts is to realize that you are fake, and then grow up and go get better. Get better because you have given up the right to drink and use drugs. Get better up because you don’t deserve to focus on making yourself feel more comfortable 24/7. Get better because it is the right thing to do. Get better because you owe it to everybody in your life… and you owe it to the entire world. Contrary to what you might believe, the world owes you nothing, so get better because the only other option is to die a miserable death, and spiritually speaking, you don’t want to do that and wind up in some awful place, or wind up coming back to learn the same lessons you were too much of a coward to learn this time around.

God, please show me how much I have hurt others… 

Self Will For God’s Will

     “Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. ‘How can I best serve Thee – Thy will (not mine) be done.’ These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is proper use of the will.” -Alcoholics Anonymous, p.85

     Translation: I can use my self will until I’m blue in the face… to do God’s will.

     Why is it so difficult to understand the difference between self will and God’s will? Every time people discuss some horrible tragedy, someone always asks, “Golly gee, why did God let this horrible tragedy happen!?” Acts of horror have nothing to do with God’s will. Acts of abuse and violence are purely an act of self will, not God’s will. God’s will involves listening to and following our conscience. And yes, we do have one, except for the sociopaths and psychopaths. It is that visceral feeling we experience when we see, hear, or do something wrong and harmful. Where does it come from? Are we taught it? If so, then why does it occur on a cellular level?

     If we are relatively normal anatomically and cognitively, we should have been born with an innate sense of justice, although some are probably just born evil. But our problem is our individual actions, choices and exposure to cultural decay after birth. The French existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, stated perfectly that our “existence precedes our essence” – we make ourselves who we are. Once we act wrong over and over again, once we get used to lying, stealing, manipulating and hurting self and others, our conscience takes a beating. To add insult to injury, we live in one very sick culture and de facto banana republic, but I won’t get into that right now or I’m sure to offend someone.

     Self will is any word, thought or action that is negative and causes harm or damage to self or others. God’s will is any word, thought or action that is positive and causes love, wellness, growth or productivity to self or others. So it’s not that we can’t ever use our self will… it just depends how we use it. We can use our self will all we freaking want to in order to do God’s will.

Also see: Self Will vs God’s Will

God, help me use my will to do Your will…

Jean Paul Sartre
Banana Republic

Don’t Care What You Believe

     I don’t care what you believe. It really doesn’t matter… compared to what you do. We can believe in the most noble, lofty principles in the world and still be useless sacks. We can believe in every good thing known to man and not evolve spiritually in the slightest. We can have our doctrines of choice memorized front to back and never change at all. We can be religious show-offs who can throw passages around like no other and still be deranged monsters. What matters is what we do, not what we believe.

     I also don’t care how you feel. I don’t care if you’re sad, angry, depressed, anxious, or feel like a victim. It doesn’t matter because your feelings have nothing to do with getting better. Discussing your feelings or digging into them with a friend, social worker or psychotherapist is a waste of time. Instead, we addicts and alcoholics need to get over ourselves, do some work, and start changing. We need to stop thinking and just do the right thing. 
     It is action, not feelings or beliefs, that will give us freedom.

See Also: Don’t Care How You Feel 

God, please give me the willingness and the power to grow along spiritual lines…

There Is No Worse Than

     Once we cross over that line, we are all the same…

     A speaker that I once looked up to stunned me one night at a meeting. He was handing out a 1-year sobriety chip and essentially glorifying how ‘bad’ of an addict this girl was. The money quote was, “She wasn’t just some suburban dope sniffer…” As if it’s harder to get better because of what we use, or the way we use, or what town we come from, or our ethnicity, wealth, status or privilege.

     The very second we cross over that line and become addicts, we are all equally screwed and the mountain we have to climb to recover is the same exact height. Just ask two vastly different recovered people how easy it was to actually go through a rigorous, thorough and honest 12 Step process. It’s not easy at all, no matter who you are. To go from being insane to sane is a miraculous feat, and one that requires spiritual help. And the internal effort it takes to access this spiritual Power is pretty much the same for all of us.

     Bottom line: Neither wealth nor poverty will prevent you from becoming a full blown addict. And neither wealth nor poverty will fix you once you get there. No matter who we are, where we come from, or what we use, we are all equally screwed once we acquire this allergy to drugs and alcohol. The only difference amongst addicts and alcoholics is that some of us are ‘recovered’ and have been joined by taking Steps and others are simply ‘recovering’ or ‘in recovery’, meaning that they are still insane and subject to relapse at any point in time.

God, help me remember that I am one drink away from detox…

Don’t Forget To Have Fun

     Between a barrage of frantic questions that I desperately needed answered, my sponsor calmly smiled and said to me, “Hey, don’t forget to have fun. We need to have fun, too.” That was 8 years ago and I still often forget.

     But he made a good point. After all, we are addicts and we will grab onto anything and everything that makes us feel good. We can become consumed by recovery, which is not a bad thing, but we must remember not to take life so seriously all of the time… or ourselves for that matter.
     Go hang out with an old friend and engage in some uncontrolled self-deprecation. Go to the mall and make fun of the mall walkers. Go out to eat at the Cheesecake Factory and try to get through one of their monstrosities… or not. Go to the batting cages with a friend and smash the hell out of a few balls. Go to the movies with your wife or girlfriend. Go to the beach, lie down on the sand and fall asleep. Drive to Vermont and take the Winooski approach up Camel’s Hump mountain. Eat chocolate. Make cookies and eat the raw batter… or not. Drive into Boston and go to improv comedy in the North End after pasta and gelato. Go to the apple orchard with your family, drink some cider, and try to wait 5-mintues before inhaling the cider donuts. Do some yard work… or not. Meet up with some friends in recovery and don’t talk about recovery. Watch all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad in a week. Go play golf or tennis. If you don’t know how to, go learn. Or if you don’t have golf clubs, then don’t worry about it. 
     Maybe just sit down and relax. 
     Remember that you’re alive and you made it and you have everything that you need. Feel good knowing that you have conquered your demons and have changed yourself profoundly, which is rare. Or if you haven’t changed at all, then go do some work on yourself and don’t make excuses… and then feel the peace and calmness that comes along with having some purpose and some meaning in your life. You are free. Anything is possible.
God, help me to trust in my recovery so that I can let go and have some fun…