Looking Ahead

From “The Forum,” August, 2015, p. 19:

“I’m so grateful I found a way out of sadness, a way to take care of myself each day, and a relationship with the God of my understanding, who will never abandon me. The pain I’ve felt in the past is equal to the measure of joy I feel now.”

That’s quite a mouthful. Whoever wrote those words in “The Forum” is saying that somewhere between despair and happiness she or he did some work, and found some answers. For me, anyway, I entered into a state of grace. I quite deliberately let go of my precious wounds, which served no further purpose in my life. The lessons they taught me have been learned. I’ve put my sadness in a back drawer—and replaced it with positive thoughts that keep me motivated to reclaim my life, my remaining loved ones, and keep my heart ticking.

Grief is not a badge I wear anymore. Joyfulness is.

“The Road Less Traveled”

From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, January 1:

“Acceptance of our past, acceptance of the conditions presently in our lives that we cannot change, brings relief. It brings the peacefulness we so often, so frantically, seek.”

The drama that filled my life when my daughter, Angie, first got sick was overwhelming. Eventually, it broke me. And I needed to step back and take a look at my behavior. The first thing I did was remove “frantically” from my vocabulary. Next, because I realized that my guilt and inflated sense of responsibility were actually harming her and preventing her from learning, I needed to step way back and detach, but always with love. Loving detachment need not be a slap in the face to our loved one, but rather it gives him/her the freedom and opportunity to be accountable for choices they made, often under the influence. If I continually step in and try to fix everything for my daughter, she will have little or no opportunity to accept life on life’s terms. And isn’t that, without resorting to substance use disorder, what we all need to do?

Life on life’s terms. Substance use disorder around the world is a deeply disturbing reflection of how people respond to loneliness and alienation. When emotional longing collides with the easy availability of substances—dangerous drugs, too much food, alcohol sold at gas stations—that’s a recipe for problems which might end with physical illness, but they didn’t begin that way. Emotional pain, Dr. Edwin Shneidman calls it “psychache,” came first.

There isn’t a nation on earth that doesn’t have people with some form of emotional pain that he writes about, and their solutions vary. In America, though, there has been a growing epidemic of substance use disorder for many years. The experts can figure out what this means, but as a substance user myself, I’m observing my world, and the world of all my friends in recovery, from that perspective. Only time will tell how the pandemic will affect those of us who used various substances to lessen our “psychache.”  But I’m grateful, one day at a time, to continue the work on my emotional sobriety and enjoy the positive effect it has on those closest to me. My world may be turning slower than it used to, but it’s still turning!

“But For The Grace Of God…”

“There’s always going to be someone out there with far less than I have who is happy.”

It’s so important to keep things in perspective. Even though the compounding tragedies that bring us together in the rooms consume us, they needn’t. When I take a fully inventory of my life and recognize that my blessings far outnumber my losses, I know how much worse things could be.

And, for me, that makes all the difference.

Keeping things in perspective is a daily balancing act for me. Especially now, when everyone’s life is out of whack, it’s easy to get overly emotional and overreact to small things that we used to ignore. In a way, with all of our worlds reduced to the inside of our homes, we are living under a microscope. Families that used to send three kids off to school every day with husbands and wives sharing the car with public transportation are having to remain inside their home, constantly bumping into each other.

This is not something I’m experiencing, but millions of other families are, and results from this new normal will start pouring in. All anyone can do is try to make the best of a new situation. Hopefully many families will be stronger on the other side of this. My recovery demands that I remain grateful for my blessings because “there’s always going to be someone out there with far less than I have who is happy.” I’ll take a page from his/her book.

Reaching For Faith

From Each Day A New Beginning, May 11:

“Our attitude is crucial. It determines our experiences. A trying situation can be tolerated with relative ease when we have a positive, trusting attitude. We forget, generally, that we have an inner source of strength to meet every situation…I can turn my day around. I can change the flavor of today’s experiences. I can lift my spirits and know all is well.”

All is well. To firmly believe that, when our lives are roiling with chaos and heartache, requires a certain amount of faith. And that’s something that can’t be taught.

Faith came to me when I was on my knees, broken. When I finally realized that, despite all my efforts to help her, my daughter Angie was going to do as she pleased, and I needed to let go of my desperate attempt to save her. It was then that I started to understand the concept of accepting things I could not change.

But acceptance came with heartache, and I wanted some relief from that. So I turned my eyes upward, and prayed for release from my unremitting pain. The harder I prayed, the more faith I was given. The less I relied on myself and the more I relied on (my concept of) God, the more I believed with certainty that all was well.

I completely understand why people all over the world gather together to worship. It breaks our spiritual isolation. It’s hard now, in the time of coronavirus, to physically come together. So creative churchgoers are meeting in drive-in movie theaters, and what a wonderful idea! The point is that faith is a gift that must be regularly nurtured, either in a church or elsewhere. God has graced me with faith that my life is unfolding as it was meant to. And when I remember that, especially in times of trouble, I feel the peace and serenity that is promised to me. A faith-based attitude of acceptance, gratitude and love carries me through every day.

When I remember to adjust my attitude, I know that all is well.

A Brave New World

From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, April 12:

“’Make yourself a blessing to someone. Your kind smile or a pat on the back just might pull someone back from the edge.’ ~Carmelia Elliott

We are healed in our healing of others. God speaks to us through our words to others. Our own well-being is enhanced each time we put someone else’s well-being first…We are all on a trip, following different road maps, but to the same destination. I will be ready to lend a helping hand to a troubled traveler today. It will breathe new life into my own trip.”

Easter, 2020, seems to be ushering in a brave new world to us all. I remember hearing the term “globalization” about twenty years ago, and I wasn’t sure what it meant because I wasn’t experiencing it personally. Now, in the throes of a worldwide pandemic that I’m gratified I saw in my lifetime, I am experiencing what it means.

I’m glad I’m living through this crisis because it is unveiling so many unsung heroes. My confidence in the human race is soaring. My grandchildren getting home-schooled by two loving parents tirelessly stepping up to the plate in a game they never planned for. Health care workers risking their lives so that we might live another day. Postal workers, baggers at the grocery stores; the list is endless. But what I’m seeing as a result of all this courage is what Ann Frank saw in that attic in Holland before she died: “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”

It’s not every day that our lives, and how we live them, are brought into such sharp focus, from frequent hand washing to thinking twice before we hug someone. How life has changed for us all! Now it is abundantly more clear to us how what we do in our individual spaces has an impact on the community we live in, and in neighboring communities and so on. I’ve learned a great deal about what happens in a petri dish.

But of much more interest to me now is how the health crisis has brought out the best in millions of people around the world. There are also sad, angry stories of corruption popping up like weeds in my garden. But I don’t focus on them any more than I focus on anything else I can’t control. I am heartened by this Easter’s celebration of humanity and hope in a time of fear and uncertainty. And how creative we are! Drive-in movie theaters have become venues for church services. And long after Easter Sunday this year there may be a revival of drive-in movie watching!

“Revival…” My Latin tells me that word means “live again.” Is that what we’re all doing now? Learning how to live again?

We’re Good Enough

From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, December 1:

“’And it isn’t the thing you do, dear, it’s the thing you leave undone which gives you a bit of a heartache at the setting of the sun.’ ~Margaret Sangster”

A quality many of us share, a very human quality, is to expect  near perfection from ourselves, to expect the impossible in all tasks done. I must rejoice for the good I do. Each time I pat myself on the back for a job well done, my confidence grows a little bit more. Recovery is best measured by my emotional and spiritual health, expressed in my apparent confidence and trust in “the process.” This is especially true now, in the middle of our national health crisis, as we learn to put aside our egos, sometimes staying at home, in the interest of protecting others.

Creeping perfectionism is a strange form of self-sabotage. At first it seems like such a good and healthy attitude. But setting realistic goals and doing my best to achieve them is very different from placing unyielding demands on myself and feeling “less-than” if I fail to meet them.

It all boils down to being honest and knowing myself as I am, not as I think I should be. Knowing myself and coming away liking myself—well, for many of us that’s a process that takes a long time. Holding onto realistic aspirations can be a healthy thing. But demanding perfection of myself and worse, punishing myself when I fall short, is not healthy. It’s a bitter tyrant holding a whip at my back.

Strong language, yes. But not as strong as the sting of that whip on my back. I’m happy to be free of it. I love my recovery fellowship where I’m just one in a community of equals, where I can mess up and they love me anyway. I’ve grown up in the rooms all these years and I’ve learned to love myself, warts and all. This is where I found my humanity. I am truly blessed and happy to be alive, now more than ever as we join elbows 🙂 to strengthen our communities. Thank you, HP!

Rain Dancing

The road to my spiritual life began when I was a young child growing up in an alcoholic family. But I didn’t start to walk down this road until halfway through my life when my daughter fell ill with substance use disorder.

I was very unhappy growing up. It’s a classic story of family dysfunction that many of us have experienced as children. But back then I didn’t have Alateen to go to. My father was never treated and died prematurely because of his illness. I, too, was untreated for the effects of alcoholism, and grew into an adult child.

Well, many of us know how rocky that road is: low self-esteem, intense self-judgment, inflated sense of responsibility, people pleasing and loss of integrity, and above all, the need to control. I carried all of these defects and more into my role as a mother to my sick daughter, and predictably the situation only got worse.

I was a very hard sell on the first three steps of Al-Anon, and my stubbornness cost me my health and my career. But once I did let go of my self-reliance, my whole life changed for the better.  The Serenity Prayer has been my mantra every day. I’ve learned to let go of what I can’t change. I don’t have the power to free Angie of her disease, but I can work hard to be healed from my own.  This is where I’ve focused my work in the program.

My daughter has gone up and down on this roller coaster for nearly eighteen years, and right now she’s in a very bad place. But that has only tested me more. My faith grows stronger every day when I release my daughter with love to her higher power, and I am able to firmly trust in mine.

Friends of mine ask me, “How do you do that? You make it sound so simple!”  I tell them, “First of all, getting here hasn’t been simple. It’s the result of years of poisoning my most important relationships with the defects I talked about earlier. I knew I had to change in order to be happy. Secondly, I fill my heart with faith-based unconditional acceptance of whatever happens in my life. It’s my choice.

Somewhere in the readings, someone wrote ‘Pain is not in acceptance or surrender; it’s in resistance.’ It’s much more painless to just let go and have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. There’s a reason that HP is running the show the way he is. I just have to get out of the way; I’m not in charge. I also read somewhere the difference between submission and surrender: submission is: I’ll do this if I get XYZ; surrender, on the other hand, is unconditional acceptance of what I get.  Well, the latter is easier because I’m not holding my breath waiting for the outcome. I just let go—and have faith. Again, it’s a very conscious choice.

We all have different stories. What has blessed me about a spiritual life is that I can always look within myself and find peace regardless of the storms raging around me. I’m learning how to dance in the rain.

The Spirit Within

“The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles…only by a spiritual journey…by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.” ~Wendell Berry

Without the gift of spirit in my life, I would be drifting on an island in the middle of the ocean. Spirit can be anything we want it to be: some people say God, or Higher Power; others focus on a statue or a tree in the garden. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it’s not US. “My best thinking got me here.” (into the rooms of recovery)

Here’s another acronym: EGO=Easing God Out.

That floating island in the middle of the ocean can be a dangerous vessel without a steering wheel. Maybe not dangerous; just completely self-reliant and without guidance.

Self-reliance was something I learned as a child because I had to. The adults in  my life were often distracted with their own problems, so I learned to do things by myself. This was a vital survival strategy when I was a child. But as an adult, it became a huge defect.

As an adult, I’ve too often carried that survival tool into situations in my life that required outside guidance. Too proud sometimes, or afraid, to ask for help or advice, I steered my ship into some dangerous waters. Like everyone else, I’ve made mistakes, and some of them were preventable if I’d had the humility to ask for help.

So, again like everyone else, I’m just a child of (God, a tree, the stars), and I’m growing every day, learning (hopefully) from my mistakes and trying to do better. Humility is a great leveler, and it has brought me closer to the one thing I’ve missed all my life: being part of a community of equals. When I’m in touch with the spirit within me, I’m no longer alone or isolated. I’m at one within my fellowship—and it feels good to be alive.

Something To Leave Behind

My shell collection is extensive and surprisingly sturdy. I’ve dragged them around with me from all my travels over the years. But I’ve run out of space to display them. And I wonder why I’ve collected so many. What have they represented to me? Maybe the assurance that something of me will be left behind.

Ego. Such a fundamental part of the human condition, the very thing that makes us human, and separates us from God. It’s ego that keeps us struggling in our relationships, ego that keeps us from accepting things as they are and feeling content with what we have. Ego and our willfulness beneath it that traps us in our restless search to outdo ourselves and others.

And it’s ego that makes us want to leave an imprint in the sand.

All human beings wrestle with ego, but substance users have found a solution that elevates them from their soul sickness: losing themselves in substances and behaviors that provide oblivion for a time. “We want what we want when we want it.” That tired old phrase smacking of egocentricity and immaturity.

Substance users in their disease are all about themselves. In Alcoholic’s Anonymous, one definition of an alcoholic is an “egomaniac with low self-esteem.”

To be “relieved of the bondage of self,” as the Third Step Prayer states in the Big Book, I’m learning how to nurture a relationship with God and remember my place in relation to him.

My importance is next to nothing in the scheme of things. This keeps me right-sized and humble.     

I’m just another grain of sand on the beach.

Loosen Your Grip!

White knuckling it through life is exhausting. Different methods to relax work for different people. Yoga, prayer, knitting, running, reading, listening to music—the list is endless. The best thing for me to relax is the Serenity Prayer. It has become my mantra:

“God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

I embrace this prayer in big and little ways every day. Its wisdom keeps me right-sized and humble, while at the same time encouraging me to make changes in my life that are within my reach.

We are all challenged, of course, by the last line. That’s why I keep going back to recovery meetings!