Viewing entries tagged
serenity

3 Signs That You're Letting Fear Take Over Your Life

    3 Signs You’re Letting Fear Take Over

 

    Fear is a natural emotion that pervades every aspect of our lives. It has been vital to the evolution that mankind has made, and continue to make, as a species. Without it, people all would have been eaten, poisoned, or crushed to the point of extinction long ago - very likely before we had the chance to walk upright. Fear gets a bad wrap sometimes, but that’s because too often it takes over; the same guy who feared the tigers still needed to get out of his cave to hunt, or he would have starved to death.

 

    We find that our lives are a delicate balance between real fears that present valid consequences, and unfounded fears based purely on the ego’s attempts to limit our potential. Weighing whether any particular fear presents actual or imagined repercussions is a task we address on a daily - and hourly - basis.

 

    Here are three signs that you’re letting fear start to run things, instead of using it as the valuable tool that it can be :

 

  1. You can’t sit still - When you find yourself unable to sit quietly and peacefully - provided it’s not because you are swamped at work or home alone with three young kids - ask yourself what is driving your restless behavior. Your body moves in response to your mind. If your mind is obsessing over a few  - or many - problems, ask yourself - can you solve any of these problems right here and right now? If not, can you put the problem(s) aside until the opportunity arises for you to address it/them? Like unwanted baggage, put down the worries that you have no control over until such time that you do.

  2. You can’t be alone - When your mind is racing, you feel like you are your own worst enemy and your own worst company. Craving the company of others to distract you from yourself is a sure sign that fear is chasing you. It has you going around and around in your own head, a domain that is your sovereign territory. But through the company of others, you can pretend the turmoil in your mind does not exist, at least for awhile. Additionally, if a calm exterior can fool others into believing that you have it all together, you can sometimes convince yourself of the same thing.

  3. You actively seek distractions - Distractions from yourself can also come in the form of activities. When these activities begin to take over, they can become even more important than the avoidance of self that originally enticed you. At this point, you likely have developed an addictive behavior. Regardless of this possibility, the active avoidance of self causes you to miss out on the really wonderful things that life has to offer.

 

    At Love and Addicts, we have seen fear drive people to addictive behaviors. And we have seen people who are in recovery from one addiction be driven by fear into another kind of addiction. It is a process to step back enough to have an awareness about the fear that is running your life. As we come to realize how much it is holding us back we begin to search for other ways to live, knowing that how we are living now is exhausting. This transitional process can be so liberating when we begin to find relief, peace and more deep breaths in our everyday lives.

 

     We know that learning to live with fear while still stepping through it is a challenge. If this is something you face and want see if we can help you can reach us by email at hello@loveandaddicts.com to set up a free 30 minute couples in recovery consult. The challenges with fear rearing its ugly head can seem insurmountable, but when you use love and the strength within, nothing is impossible.

 

Codependency Recovery: 3 Steps Toward a Healthy Relationship

Codependency Recovery: 3 Steps Toward a Healthy Relationship

 

    In 12-step recovery, we address the issues surrounding addictive behaviors and the person who participates in these behaviors - the addict. While the addict must focus on him/herself in order to recover, there is an innate need in life that distracts from that focus, and that is the love for another person. Any behavior that pulls the addict outside of himself, thereby offering a temporary escape, poses a threat to sobriety. But feelings of love for another person is something that most of us strive to experience; life is not complete without it. An honest program of recovery must acknowledge and allow for this need, whether the addict is 24 hours clean or 24 years.

 

    When someone loves an addict, that person comes into close proximity of a world of addictive behaviors. Sometimes that person becomes completely immersed in that world, ultimately acting out in ways that are as sick as the addict’s. His/her behaviors largely center around and are driven by reactions and responses to the life that the addict lives - whether the addict is sober or using. Here at L&A we call this person the re-addict. If the addict escapes himself in addictive behaviors, the readdict escapes himself in the addict. Essentially, both use behaviors in an attempt to avoid their own lives and themselves.
 

    After my wife and I met, she became obsessed with my recovery, and the majority of her actions were centered around maintaining my sobriety for me. In response, I tried to maintain my sobriety for her, sometimes lying and hiding “bad” behaviors, other times overtly displaying “good” behaviors in an effort to reassure her that I was sober and would never relapse again. Each of us was trying to manipulate the other, and no one was happy. Something drastic had to change, or our marriage wasn’t going to last.

 

    So we established a program that supports a conscious awareness of three elements that are crucial to any healthy relationship, whether it is with a romantic partner or otherwise. We strive to develop and nurture each of these on a daily basis :

 

  1. Focus on the self

The only person who can truly decide to follow a particular line of thinking or course of action, especially when either of these is in contrast to the typical thoughts or actions of the past, is the individual who is going to have the thoughts or perform the actions. Change is difficult. The only way to have any success at creating change in your life is to commit to doing the work that you need to do, to tackle the challenges that you face, to face the tasks that lay in front of you. In other words, mind your own business.

 

  1. Focus on the partner

This doesn’t mean you don’t care about the other person, however. While it is true that you can’t do the work for him/her, there are ways you can offer support without being nosy, pushy, or obtrusive. Listen when the other person is having a particularly difficult time, without giving unsolicited advice. When it’s appropriate, lend a hand without hidden agenda or expectation of payback. Tell the person you care and that you believe in them. Do something simply because it will make the other person smile, without working the angle that benefits you. In other words, be nice.

 

  1. Focus on the couple

One of the best things you can do to keep a relationship of any kind alive and healthy is to participate in activities that emphasize the joy you both receive from it. Don’t have unrealistic expectations of bliss or of carefree interactions. Difficulties exist in every relationship ; deemphasize these as much as you can and accentuate the good parts. Don’t regret the past or agonize over future uncertainty. Stay present and relish the presence of the other person in your life. There are many lonely people in the world, but neither of you are one of them. In other words, count your blessings.  

 

    These elements are products of the work we do at Love and Addicts. Our goal is to help couples in relationships as well as other people who are involved in some way with an addict who is in recovery. We strive to help people form and maintain healthy and fulfilling relationships that previously suffered from issues surrounding codependency. We offer individual and couples coaching. If you like what you read here, go to LoveandAddicts.com and sign up and look out for our free ecourse to get started repairing and strengthening the connection you have with an important person in your life. Relationships take work, and most can benefit from some outside help. I hope you reach out to us so we can work together.

 

Truth in a Book

There are a lot of books out there, many written by authors of great inspiration. Although reading seems to go in and out of fashion, largely due to the fact that people seem to find great difficulty in holding onto a coherent thought for more than a minute or two at a time, books still have a great impact on tens of millions of lives around the globe. There are works of fiction and nonfiction, and there are historical texts. You can find how-to books, autobiographies, and entire wings of bookstores are dedicated to self-improvement. And then there are the books that tell you how to live your life. 

    Essentially, the author is trying to impose his version of the truth onto your life and your circumstances, through the form of the written word. Despite its apparent waning popularity, the written word still exerts an incredible amount of influence over the lives of the populace. This is largely due to the fact that an individual can pore over the manuscript repeatedly for hours or even days, dissecting and reevaluating passages, phrases, words, and even punctuation in order to coax the meaning from the text that will give him the answers he seeks. 

    I’m inclined to wonder what makes any particular author the authority of that which is true in my life. Or your life. Or anybody’s life, except his own. I understand there are some pretty powerful tomes out there. Weighty pieces of work that speak the word of God, in the many names that people use to reference Him (or Them). And there are guides like the Big Book from Alcoholics Anonymous that endeavor to help escort people from the throes of addiction back to a healthy life. 

    What if the truth can't be found in the pages of a book after all? Perhaps the Truth - your “Truth” , as it specifically pertains to you, in your life, at this point in time, corresponding to and deriving from your thoughts, your actions, and your experiences - can only be found within yourself. No one can just hand you the Truth. You have to work for it. You have to earn it by actively seeking it. Meditate, devote time to self-introspection, climb a mountain, spend time in nature, commune with those who would help you look at things differently (not with absolutes and ultimatums, but with suggestions and new perspectives). There are as many paths to the Truth within yourself as there are books that would place it there for you, without any effort on your part. Truth doesn't come to the sheep. It comes to the hunter.

    Much can be gained by referencing as many external sources as possible in your pursuit of Truth. There is a great body of work dedicated to finding it and understanding it, and you can learn a lot from the efforts of those who have come before you. But because you are the only one who exists exactly in your time and space, it is only you who can ultimately decide just how exactly you fit in there. It is only you who can grasp Truth, as it defines you and how you define it. Trying to insert someone else’s Truth into your reality is like going shopping for a suit that fits. You see the styles that look good on other people, and there are many brands, shapes and sizes to choose from. But ultimately, there is always compromise to be made, because it was not custom-made for you. 

    The problem with shopping for a version of Truth that you find is an acceptable fit to your life - rather than building your own - is you end up with something that has been mass-produced. It has been watered down so as to accommodate as many lives as possible. By gratifying a few basic needs, such as security, acceptance, or the promise of a reward for prescribed behaviors, it attracts as large an audience as possible. There is strength in numbers. This breeds validation for followers and power for those who spout the rhetoric of their Truth.

    Beware those who would impose their Truth on you through fear of impending consequences for not heeding their call. They may have an agenda. And that agenda may be a lot worse than the imagined consequences they claim they can keep you safe from. There is absolutely nothing wrong with borrowing and test-driving pieces of their prescribed lifestyle and behaviors. Study them with an open mind and see how they speak to your mind and heart when you enact them. This is how your truth evolves with you as you evolve with the passage of time. But don’t force ideas and ideals to fit you, nor force yourself to fit them. If they don’t speak to your soul, do not hesitate to throw them out and move on!

    Truth, as it pertains to you, is not a model or an object that exists outside of you that must be located, acquired, and operated, like a used car. It is created within your thoughts and inspiration. It is then manifested in your life through action. When there is discomfort in your life, ask yourself :
Have you actively sought your Truth, or did you follow the crowd and end up there? 
Did you reach for your Truth with open eyes, ears, mind, and heart, or was it thrust upon you?  
Has your Truth encouraged change and growth in your life, or has it limited you?
Have you stepped into your Truth with confidence and joy, or did you receive it with hesitation and fear? 

    You are more than the equation 2 + 2 = 4 . You are more than a mindless array of zeroes and ones. The energy that forms you, your reality, and the relationship among them needs constant monitoring. The ultimate authority to oversee this process is you. 

Getting Off the Zoloft

It was my turn to put the kids to bed, and I was lying near the feet of my six-year-old son, who was, I hoped, on the verge of sleep. Getting our three young boys to go to sleep at night, in the same room, is a process that transpires in a series of steps. Step one, where I am trying to get them into bed, was done. Step two, where people have calmed down and are starting to fall asleep, was almost complete. The third step, where I wait for the oldest boy to drift off, has me lying quietly, checking the calendar on my phone, going over that day’s events, and planning the following day, Frequently, it is during this step that I end up briefly falling asleep myself.

    On this night, I'm not sure if I had yet fallen asleep, but I became acutely aware of confusing and unusual thoughts, which I perceived to be memories. They seemed too lucid to be dreams. And yet, facts and ideas seemed jumbled and without any discernable order. I tried to organize them into coherent trains of thought that I could examine and try to understand. I tried to gather them together, like picking up sticks, but they were elusive. As I mentally approached the group of associated thoughts, the group started to fall apart. And then they vanished, like dissipating smoke . 

    As soon as one this first group of associated ideas was completely gone, another one presented itself. I couldn’t even describe to myself what it was that I was trying to grasp. It was like I could sense the presence of thoughts but they stayed just out of view in my mind. The ideas were there, but they were hiding in the dark. 

    I marveled at how persistent they were in their need to be acknowledged and dealt with. They seemed urgent so that I had to accept their presence and deal with them immediately. They would not be ignored. And yet, as I tried to shape them into a comprehensible mass of ordered and rational thought, they began to pull away from me. I repeated the aforementioned process, trying to make sense of these thoughts which had appeared so suddenly, as if from nowhere and with no apparent provocation. I tried to gather everything up and make sense of the new concept, but it proved to be elusive as before. Then it was gone. 

    This progression of events must have repeated itself eight or ten times. Each time I became more desperate to catch at least the gist of meaning but ended up with nothing I could hold onto in my mind, nothing that I could use as evidence that my mental faculties were not slipping. Each time there was a main idea or central theme that seemed more concrete than the others, and to which the others seemed anchored. I pursued the “side thoughts” or “complementary thoughts” first, believing each time that I had the luxury of getting to the main - and obvious - thought after I gathered up the smaller, scattering pieces. Then I would be able to put them all together and build one basic concept. Inevitably, however, after all the little fragments had escaped, I would turn to the main one to look at it more closely, and it would have disappeared as well.   

    What was particularly unsettling was not knowing whether these assaults on my memory banks were from intangible dreams or actual experiences. There was much apparent evidence to support either explanation. That they were so hazy and difficult to pin down or hold onto made me certain they must be dreams, but the force with which they demanded to be acknowledged gave them the appearance of tangible and concrete events that I had witnessed and in which I had participated. Dreams usually were acknowledged upon wakening, rather than waiting until day’s end to show up - then quickly retreat - in the conscious world. Memories of events tended to gently drift in and out of active thought, rather than ambushing the unsuspecting mind with an aggressive game of mental hit-and-run. The elusiveness of my thoughts and the confusion that they presented made me think they must be dreams, but their intense presence made me think they must be real memories of actual events. I had been assaulted by dozens of seemingly unrelated and random thoughts with no previous ties to me (dreams) that had at once demanded to be heard and recognized with such force as to suggest familiarity (events). 

    Somewhere around the fifth or sixth “dream assessment” I began to earnestly question my mental stability. I was convinced these were no mere dreams or intangible mental wanderings. They were too powerful, too relevant. But why was it so hard to see them clearly? Was I on the verge of accessing another dimension or universe - a universe that had been there all the time but that very few people have access to? Was I developing a unique ability or possibly just a very rare one? Was I on the verge of an amazing, as yet unimaginable, life? Was this a dream gift or a hellish burden? 

    Seriously - what the fuck was going on?

    I texted my wife and told her I was experiencing something very strange and I really needed to talk. I knew she was at work, but I couldn't explain what was happening in a text. I thought if I just spoke to her briefly, I might gain some sort of sane perspective. At least she might be able to talk me down off the ledge of mental collapse. The boys were asleep, so I tucked them in and went outside. 

    As I waited for her to call, I started browsing my calendar of events for the next couple days, and I saw a notation to read my most recent, and as yet unposted, blog to check for grammatical and other errors. I opened Google docs and scanned through, looking for the entry. Between my wife and I, there are over 100 individual documents, but I felt confident that I would be able to find what I was looking for, as they are sorted by placing those which have been recently opened at the top of the list. 

    I couldn't find the blog. Nothing looked familiar. I had only written it five days previously, but it was nowhere to be seen. I came across one that looked like it might be what I was looking for because of the title. I opened it and started reading. I thought that Julie must have written it, because I didn’t recognize anything in it, so I closed the document and continued my search. I soon realized, however, that this was the document that I had written. When I opened it again and started reading, more closely this time, two things struck me. One, it was incredibly powerful, of a metaphysical or religious nature. Two, I had no recollection whatsoever of having written it. If it was so powerful, how could I have forgotten it? It had only been five days!! I began to wonder if it had been of divine inspiration. Had God spoken through me? Was I a conduit for His message? Was my life about to change, drastically and completely? Had I been chosen for a special purpose? Was this a one time thing, and, while it was incredibly powerful, was my usefulness to spreading the word of God at an end? Would my message from then on be mediocre in comparison? I wasn't sure which was worse - the burden of being a mouthpiece for God for the rest of my life, or the reality-check of being the mouthpiece once, then being thrust back into obscurity. 

    My wife called and we talked for a few minutes. She suggested that perhaps my getting off Zoloft was the culprit to this weird chain of events. I had been on Zoloft for about 20 years. The last six months saw me slowly lowering the dose. On the evening of this incident, I had not taken any of the drug for close to two weeks.


    I had decided to get off the drug because I wanted to live life with more clarity and fewer filters. Well, the filters are gone, and the intense desire to actually experience all aspects of life and reality has been reestablished by the wakening of a long-slumbering human psyche. Some believe that dreams are just the mind at play, but I believe that in many ways they help us live a life of infinite choices and limitless possibility. Dreams are one way that the mind helps us sort things out and find answers to questions that elude us. And they are only one of many ways that the mind provides us with information to help us cope, to help us grow, to help us thrive. I believe the deluge of mental images and ideas that came forth on that night had been locked in my drug-addled mind for years, impatiently waiting to be released into a consciously-decipherable form. There was a huge arena of sleeping brain cells where my life was locked up so as to protect me from myself, to deny access to the unpredictable, the unscripted, the unprotected part of being a human. I am done living my life with blinders on. I've taking off the seatbelt, and I'm heading down the highway at 100 miles an hour in a vehicle that is equipped to provide excitement and a little danger. 

    Since quitting the Zoloft, I've been crying over anything and everything - Father’s Day cards from my wife and kids, things my kids say, texts, songs… If you're using drugs - legal or otherwise - to take the edge off of life, you're missing out on some amazing stuff, like feelings, experiences, opportunities, deep connection to people and to yourself. 

    It’s time to wake up. 

Get Your Feet Wet

There is a reason the beach is used in so many analogies about life. It’s warm and dry, and it’s frequently sunny. There is fun to be had, people to hang out with, and, unless you’re a lifeguard, very little responsibility. We love the beach, or at least we love the idea of what the beach represents - no worries, no cares. Life is easy on the beach. And this is the very reason it’s so important to get off of it occasionally. 

    A little while back I wrote about the joys of spending time in your comfort zone and the importance of appreciating that zone, rather than feeling you ought not to spend any time there at all. But too much time spent in a place of ease or routine can breed complacency. And complacency breeds boredom. Addicts in recovery do not always fare well under the placid acceptance of boring daily routine. 

    There is a law of physics that states “an object at rest tends to stay at rest.” This is true of humans as well, in the sense that a lack of active engagement with life, when practiced consistently and over a period of time, becomes difficult to change. In other words, sitting on your ass and letting life pass you by can be habit-forming. 

    Getting involved in something - anything - other than the predictable day-to-day pattern does not have to be a huge undertaking, nor does it have to be frightening, although the definition of both is completely arbitrary, and will vary greatly from person to person. The most common factor in determining how difficult it will be to break routine is to ask yourself how long you have been going through the motions - or avoiding any movement at all. Not surprisingly, the longer a person has been following a safe pattern, the harder it will be to get out of it. 
    
    This means it is probably in your best interest to start today. 
    
    Change can be tiny at first, and the little ones can sometimes be the most interesting. Wear a button-down when you usually wear a T-shirt. Or vice-versa. Try driving a different way to work, or stop at a different gas station. Try going to a different meeting, or investigate some spiritually based literature instead of repeating your step work. Again. 
    
    If you are surrounded by people who live in a similar fashion, and who are also creatures of habit, there may be the added difficulty of breaking away from the crowd. Misery loves company, and is frequently camouflaged by conformity. Life’s limitless possibilities can get obscured behind the people around you, especially if they're doing the same boring shit you are. You may not be able to see or even imagine that there are alternatives, and you may experience great resistance from the others who are offended that you would even contemplate such possibilities. 

    I’m not suggesting you quit your job so you can dance in the chorus line on Broadway. I’m not suggesting you leave your spouse of 20 years. I’m not suggesting you start skydiving. Although any of these might be exactly what would get you off the beach of banality and into the ocean of enterprise and creativity, each solution is extreme and some consideration of consequences would be in order before you stepped in and possibly drowned. But the thing to remember is that “drowning” is an extremely unlikely result of augmenting change in your life. It is more likely that you will get cut on the coral or a big wave will knock you off your feet and you will get your wind knocked out. 

    On the other hand, maybe you'll hop on a surfboard and have the ride of your life...

    When trying to get out of a rut, tangible results are not nearly as important as the unpredictable by-product of growth. Cuts heal and embarrassment fades, but lessons and experiences last a lifetime. Try to remember that there is no failure in unexpected results, only the opportunity grow from the experience and maybe do it differently the next time. 

    It is not in your best interests to let life pass you by, rather, you want to actively travel along the path of your creation. If you fall, get back up. If you land in shit, take a shower. If you slam into an oak tree, bandage your wounds and go around it. If you find yourself strolling through a field of roses, enjoy the view and the aroma...but watch out for the thorns. 

    The point of living is not to avoid hardship, nor is it to seek perfection. The point is to move, to experience, to participate. We fear the demons that may drag us down, and certainly some people, places, and things are best left alone. But why get scared into paralysis? Where is the joy in existing in a “safe” room with padded walls, no windows, and no way out (and no way for new people or ideas to get in)

    If you were in chaos when you were participating in addictive behaviors, you may cherish the peace and quiet that comes with sobriety. This is not only understandable, it is commendable. We get as caught up in the maelstrom that results from bad ideas, actions, and consequences as we do in our addictive pursuit to avoid life and ourselves. The mess we create can become, in its familiarity, the only life we can imagine. When things calm down a bit, it's like heaven has descended upon us, and we cling to it vehemently. But once the dust has settled and the damage has been assessed, it's time to start healing. 

    Never assume a life without any risk is a life that is rich in rewards. Never confuse banality with serenity. 

        It's time to start living. 

Swim Solo

I’ve said it before : I love 12-step recovery. I’ve learned many lessons and acquired many tools that have helped me live my life, free from drugs and alcohol. The meetings, the fellowship, and the readings have all been wonderful aids in my recovery. Through numerous attempts and failures to stay sober, the program of 12-step recovery was always there to help me clean myself up in order to start again. 

    But here’s the thing : AA didn’t provide me with the one tool that I really took hold of, the one lesson that I needed to learn in order to change my life forever. It didn’t teach me how to love myself and, hence, it didn’t teach me how to cherish the life that I had been privileged to live. AA started me down the path of recovery by showing me basic tools of gratitude and acceptance and the benefits of hard work. It helped me make the early transition from drinking daily to total abstinence. But it didn’t provide real answers on how to find inner peace and happiness so that I would never WANT to go back to using again. 

    I know a lot of people have sought a solution to their substance abuse issues through the rooms of AA and NA. Many of these people have achieved long term sobriety, and many have not. Of those that have, some are the most miserable old pricks you will ever meet. Why? Because addicts, by nature, are loathe to follow directions, and 12-step is all about following rules or “suggestions” in order to make it through the day. A person who is subjected to non-stop monitoring - even if he does so of his own free will - is still under the thumb of an authoritative regime. This provides little room for creative expression or personal growth, and it assumes the person has neither the ability nor the desire to make healthy decisions in his life.

     Of course, most addicts in early recovery don’t trust themselves, as is warranted by their history of bad ideas and lousy behavior. But when does trust begin to be reestablished? Isn’t the desire to believe in oneself a huge reason that a person seeks recovery in the first place? How long do you need to be guided through every moment in order NOT to fuck up again? And when are you capable of learning from these poor decisions on your own? Do you need to be micromanaged every day of your life?

    Let’s pretend you’re drowning. You don’t know how to swim, and you just got leveled by a huge wave, which now is dragging you out to sea. Fortunately, you’re not far from the beach, and a lifeguard swims out and rescues you. He hauls you back to dry land and begins giving you CPR (if you want to pretend he/she is the man/woman of your fantasies, go for it, but let’s stay focused on the lesson here) You start to breathe on your own, you’re starting to come around. Open your eyes, slowly get up, catch your balance, get your bearings. Now you walk back to your towel and the friends you came with. A couple weeks later, you start taking swimming lessons. You learn a few different strokes and a bunch of safety tips. You do a little research on your own about tidal pull, waves, undertow, dangerous aquatic sea life, etc. 

    Are you now prepared to go to the beach by yourself? Or do you need your swim instructor to go with you? If you disagree with him as to which stroke you want to swim or what beach you want to visit, does that mean you’re going to drown again? Will you bring a manual on water safety and read it every morning? Do you need the lifeguard to remind you to put on sunscreen and to not swim too close to motorboats? At night, will you meet with other folks who have had scary experiences in the water? Will you ask them to tell their stories about almost drowning, and will you tell your story again and again? While none of these are necessarily a bad idea, they do limit your choices as to how you will enjoy future experiences in the water.

    It’s up to you to learn from your mistakes and get on with your life. A lifeguard will teach you the strokes but he won’t teach you how to love the sport. Many people who almost drown avoid large bodies of water for the rest of their lives, but that solution is extremely limiting, and it’s not foolproof (there are bathtubs and hot tubs, just to name two ever-present threats). My suggestion is to learn how to swim, don’t eat before you jump into the water, and, if the water looks too rough, stay on the beach until the conditions change.  But for God’s sake, GO SWIMMING AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE !!

    12-step recovery continues to be something I reach for on occasion. Its structure, its lessons, and the uniformity of the meetings I attend, all coalesce to provide consistent, solid, reliable support. I am eternally grateful for its inception and continued existence, and I continue to benefit from it while I live my life under the decision-making ability and leadership of my own free will. 

    Yes, I said free will. I don’t care who you are or how tight you are with your higher power, YOU are the one who keeps you sober. When you were tempted, who called your sponsor or another alcoholic? You did. When you needed strength, who prayed to your higher power? You did. When the opportunity presented itself to relapse, who stayed sober? You did. Who was at the last meeting you attended? You were. You, you, you, you, you. Holy shit! Maybe it IS all about you, after all (or at least mostly about you, as it appears from your perspective) And maybe that’s exactly how it is meant to be. 

     You are way more powerful than you give yourself credit for, but be careful how you wield that power. Tell yourself that you can’t be trusted often enough, and you will have no choice but to believe the authoritative voice in your head. Conversely, tell yourself that you are capable of changing for the better, of growing, of loving yourself, and of loving the present opportunity to live a joyous existence, and you will create a world that you don’t WANT to escape, and a life that you don’t WANT to avoid, and a YOU that you don’t WANT to get away from. 

    But always keep an eye open for sharks and jellyfish.

Recovery State University

Before I begin, let me assure you that I love AA and the 12-step program that it follows and that it has brought to millions of addicts and the world at large. AA saved my life. It showed me that I was not alone, that there were thousands of people who suffered from addiction and who lived in my area. I took great solace in the fact that I was not the only one who had issues with feelings of isolation, with fitting in, and with a past that was ravaged by antisocial behavior. 
I immersed myself in a community whose main focus, whose very reason for being, was the recovery from drugs and alcohol. 

    Sorry - I mean the recovery from alcohol. If you need to recover from drugs, you have to attend a different meeting, even though alcohol is a drug; the only differences are that it’s a liquid and that it’s legal. And that’s frequently a topic for much debate. Most people who suffer from alcoholism also have a history of drug abuse, stemming back to the stories you can read in the Big Book wherein the various authors mention drugs as part of their stories. Despite this, most AA meetings begin with a request for those who share to limit their comments to their struggles around alcohol. 

         Meetings, and the programs they support, need structure in order to be effective. With structure comes rules of conduct, and general streams of thought that are intended to produce a desired result. Add to this, the oft-present tendency for addicts to lie and manipulate, and you end up with a rock-solid list of expectations on the part of members for themselves as well as each other. 

    This is where 12-step begins to lose its ability to help every person who is struggling and who is looking for some outside assistance. Any program that has a set path intended to get you from point A to point B, without regard to your individual and unique gifts (and faults) will lose some people. There is no “one size fits all” with regards to recovery, nor should there be. And yet, when an addict suggests that perhaps 12-step recovery isn’t for him, the pervading assumption is that he has relapsed, is planning to relapse, or that he will relapse in the near future, despite yearning to stay clean. 

    The founders of AA never claimed the program was (or would be, in the future)  free from disagreement among its membership. I would go so far as to suggest that they deemed the presence of argument to be a crucial factor in recovery. Argument arises when new ideas are voiced, and the opposing sides need to think as they debate. New ideas and perspectives, and the controversy they provoke, all encourage introspection and growth. The ultimate result is change. Without change an addict will die. 

    Of course, it is change that 12-step tries to invoke in its members, but it is change under the strict guides of a structured program. Change directed by “accepted” literature and led by people who have followed those who preceded them. Do as you’re told, read the books, attend the meetings, “stick with the winners” , get active in service, come early to meetings and stay late, take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth...it all becomes a little like you’re being seduced by a cult. If you question any of it, it is assumed you are shying away from the hard work that must be done in order to affect successful change in your life. Aversion to structure and authority are a natural trait inherent to many addicts, so there is much time and energy devoted to dissuading them from succumbing to the desire to leave the program before they can see the results - “before the miracle happens” . 

    Again, let me assert that I love AA and the 12-step program. I can’t tell you exactly what my life would look like now, had I made different decisions in my past, but substance abuse was killing me. And AA helped me recover. But 12-step simply is not for everybody. The prevailing axiom that “12-step is not for those who need it. It’s for those who want it.” This is true, but that is not to say that those who do not follow a 12-step program will never attain lasting sobriety. The implication made by many who say say the axiom is “12-step is for those who are willing to do exactly as they are told (exactly as I have done), and the rest are doomed to suffer their addictions until they die” . This is NOT true. 

    Addiction, in its many manifestations, holds no prejudices as to who it will infect. 12-step is, for the most part, as open in its acceptance of those who would join one of its programs. Perhaps the members could be as open to those who choose NOT to join their ranks, in favor of alternative pursuits to sobriety. 

    Here at ArcoftheSpirit, and our corresponding programs that we run at Love&Addicts, we are always looking for new ways for the individual to get and stay sober. Our main message is one of love. Love of Self, of Man, of God, and of the Universe. We believe all of this is inextricably connected. We believe Man has lost sight of the importance of living in love in all aspects of his Being. Addicts in recovery are especially susceptible to losing sight of the omnipresence of love. It’s everywhere, but we have let it get lost among bad ideas, misdirected journeys, escape from the Self, and guilt over our pasts. 

    12-step programs are a wonderful way to break from active addiction and begin recovering. The brightest gifts they offer (besides sobriety!) is the introduction of the idea that the addict does not suffer alone, nor does he need ever suffer from active addiction again. But those in recovery who are interested in more than just being clean, those who yearn to live with inner peace, inner purpose, and INNER JOY will benefit from pursuing additional and alternative means to recovery. 

    Take the long, difficult, and rewarding journey within yourself. Take time for silence and meditation. Find and develop the love for who you are and why you’re here. You are not here to go to meetings and give rides to meetings for those who have no car. You’re not here to make coffee or to list every wrongdoing you committed in active addiction. You are here for a higher purpose that is yours to discover and share, thereby lifting your fellow man just a little higher than he was before you showed up on earth. 

    Addiction drew you down as far as it could. 12-step can help (or has already helped) you curtail your descent. To truly soar, you need only look within. 1

Chaos vs. Serenity

An addict lives in chaos. It comes in different degrees; the need to act out every weekend and make apologies on Monday, the need to sneak out of work for a few minutes/hours to satisfy the cravings, or the need to get up at 3:00 am and have a few drinks. It comes in various forms; “How am I going to keep all these lies that I’ve told straight?” , “Here’s ANOTHER number on my cell that I don’t recognize - who is it and what does HE want?” , “How am I going to explain (and pay for) the damages?” , or  “What day is it, and where the fuck am I?” Regardless of the particular circumstances, a life consumed by addiction is one that is permeated by chaos. 

    One of the biggest and most immediate perks of getting sober is that the individual no longer has to endure new consequences to addictive behaviors. No more hangovers. No more empty wallet in the morning. No new charges (from the police or the credit card companies). It is a powerful and exhilarating period of early sobriety, often referred to as the pink cloud. 

    The problem with the pink cloud is that it doesn’t last. There is a huge relief that comes from escaping the downward spiral that one’s life was turning into, but instead of segueing into a pervasive sense of ease, this relief frequently transitions into an overall sense of boredom. Chaos brings excitement and lots of activity that is sorely missed when it’s gone, although the addict may find it hard to admit that this is the case. Frequently, one finds it necessary to make a gratitude list. The list contains all the things life IS NOT, DOES NOT, and WILL NOT be, if one remains sober. It is examined and reexamined, hopefully on a daily basis, as a way to constantly remind oneself of how much better life is, now that the bad habits have been dropped. 

    But memory has a way of glorifying bad ideas and downplaying bad situations. The highs that were chased appear to be attainable and the consequences that were suffered appear to be avoidable. The possibility of successful reconnection with addictive behaviors dangles in an addict’s mind like the magic of Christmas morning to a six-year-old. And all the time that has been freed up by not participating in these behaviors gives the mind way too much time to ponder the pros and cons of caving into ever-present urges. 

    What an addict needs is a list of healthy habits that replace the old ones. He needs something to put time and effort into. Merely avoiding negative consequences does not create a fulfilling existence, nor does it provide healthy alternatives to the coping mechanisms that, up to now, are all he used. He needs to DO, to TRY, to EXERT, to SWEAT. The opposite to his previous life of avoidance is action. He needs to build a new life around ideas that drive him and ideals that inspire him. Even his response to the inevitable backlash from those who disagree with him gives the addict something to put his energy into and distract him from the old way of thinking. The negative energy that others may throw his way gives him something positive to work on. 

    If addiction’s agenda is to destroy everything it can get its claws into, the ultimate weapon an addict can yields against it is creation. And creation requires action on the part of the creator (and the Creator, but let’s not get off topic). It takes time. It demands mental and physical effort. By its very definition, the act of creating something entails work. And therein lies the huge benefit. When an addict immerses himself in work, he leaves little energy to fuel the urge to act out. 

    Conversely, when an addict focuses solely on everything his life DOES NOT HAVE or IS NOT ABOUT any longer (failed relationships, squandered potential, self-delusion, lies, manipulation, deceit) he is living a life based on lack. He lives in a void of discarded habits and lingering self-recrimination. He creates nothing, and how can you build on nothing? What is fulfilling in a void? The human psyche craves some sort of input, whether it be sensory, spiritual, or mental. An addict living in a bubble that provides none of these is far too susceptible to the call of old behaviors to fill it.

    As an alcoholic and addict, I have been in and out of recovery more times than I wish to admit. Every time I threw my hands up in frustration and returned to the rooms, I vowed to get a sponsor, a home group, a long list of numbers...everything they told me to do. I would follow suggestions for a few months, get bored and dissatisfied with the program of recovery I was exposed to, disconnect from the program, and eventually go out again. As much as I gained from 12 step recovery, I still felt there was something vital missing.

    When I went to prison for my fourth DUI, I began a long journey inward that continues to this day. Deep inside myself is where I connected with my higher power and began learning about myself, who I was, where I wanted to go, what I was meant to be and what I was meant to do in this life. It began a long process of gaining awareness through observation and sharing insights with others who were sick like me. The journey has been at times daunting, fraught with doubt and fear, confusing, enlightening, joyous, difficult, and a host of other emotionally-charged adjectives that change, at times, minute to minute. It has been almost all-consuming in its demands of my time and efforts. It has provided long-sought-after answers to many of my life’s questions. It has kept me sober, and it has provided great comfort in my sobriety.

    It has helped me create serenity in my life. 

    Your serenity depends on your ability to create something out of your deepest, brightest, highest self - not on your ability to avoid repeating the mistakes of your past. 

    Time to get to work. 

For Those We Love Before They Die

My mom died recently. As I write this, it has not even been two weeks, so the wound is very fresh. In many ways, the reality - and the finality - of her death has not yet registered in my mind. Just this morning, as I was cooking breakfast for my wife and myself, I had a question for her which I subsequently realized I would not be able to ask. It was inconsequential, but nonetheless poignant in its permanence - an insignificant fact that I would never be able to attain. 

    The question I had was what kind of peppercorns did she put into the largest of her pepper grinders. She had several grinders in her kitchen, and this morning I was using the one that stands about 18” tall. She had this one for years, and, as I’ve always liked it, I took it home with me after she died. It works really well - grinding the pepper into a super-fine dust or into larger chunks, depending on what the user desires. I’ve bought plenty of grinders for myself over the years, but I never found one that was really good and eventually threw most of them away. I believe this grinder was in their kitchen more for my dad than my mom, and, for all I know, it may have been a gift from me. Regardless, it reminds me of her and of him, and I took it home. 

    As I prepared the eggs for our morning omelette, I found myself wondering how full of peppercorns the grinder was. It’s fairly tall at 18” so it holds a good amount. But it will run out eventually. And what then? I have no idea what style or flavor the pepper is. Did it come from some faraway location? Was it harvested on a mountainside in Asia? Are there other spices mixed in? I’m no connoisseur - I just like fresh-ground pepper in my food, and I think it’s cool to use an over-sized pepper mill while I cook. Subsequently, it just doesn’t matter what kind of pepper is in there currently. When it’s empty, I’ll buy whatever they carry at the grocery store. Maybe, if I’m feeling motivated, I’ll check out one of those specialty, gourmet kitchen shops and get a small container of an over-priced, exotic-sounding blend. 

    And yet…

    There is an echo of a question that bounces around inside my head. It was sent, but it has nowhere to go and no one to receive it. If I had sent an email, I would at least get an auto-response that the account is no longer active or that the message is undeliverable. But there is nothing. Just a void. A silence. And a slow realization that I probably will never know the answer. The person who could have enlightened me has left the building. There will be no encore. No last-minute advice or nuggets of inspiration. The recipient to my query has moved on with no forwarding address or contact information. I’m on my own to figure it out myself or to always wonder... 

    My mother and I were very different people. If our two paths had crossed under different circumstances - if we had not been related - we undoubtedly would not have had anything to do with one another. She was very conservative. I am not. She was a strong believer in the Christian version of God, Jesus, the teachings of the bible, etc. I believe that God exists in all of us and that we are all connected by the energy that binds the Universe together. She followed the rules. I questioned them. But we had something significant in common - we both drank too much. 

    Over the years, I finally came to accept that I am an alcoholic and drug addict. My mother readily accepted this as true. But she never admitted to having any issues with addiction herself. As I live in and work through recovery, I have come to the conclusion that resentments are one of the biggest threats to continued sobriety. My resentment toward my mother at the fact that she could so easily label me as an alcoholic, while offering not even the slightest degree of acceptance that she, herself, might have had a problem, is undoubtedly the resentment that I have struggled the most to come to terms with. 

    The thing about resentments is, left unchecked, they can grow like weeds, choking the relationship between any two individuals. People need to stay in touch with one another. They need to check in with those people that they care about to keep their love strong and healthy. Resentments can’t grow when the familiarity between two people stays fresh, and each person keeps up to date with the changes that the other goes through. Life happens to all of us, but ill will and anger only affect our feelings for others when we forget that we are not the only ones who have struggled. 

    Forgiveness is crucial in life and in recovery. It is a decisive force against the power of resentments. Unfortunately, it is usually most difficult to find forgiveness for those we love the most and have known the longest. As an alcoholic in recovery, I am all too familiar with the difficulty of learning to forgive the shortcomings of others. I exacerbated the situation with my mother by avoiding the uncomfortable task of dealing with resentments through conversation. I told myself it was pointless to talk about certain things with my mother and that I would be unable to calmly discuss my feelings. I never gave her a chance to tell her side of things. I never gave her a chance to say she was sorry. I never gave myself a chance to experience the healing power of forgiveness. 

    And now it’s too late. The resentments bounce around inside my head, because they have nowhere to go to find resolution or peace. The recipient is no longer able to explain her side, to give me a fresh perspective. Unanswered, my resentments are free to flourish and grow. They stir up unhappy memories and make it hard to conjure up good ones. They cloud visions of my childhood, making it easy to forget the many sacrifices my mother made for me and my siblings and my dad. They color scenes in my mind’s eye with an unpleasant hue that brings emphasis to the crap and ignores the good times. My mother was a hard woman to like sometimes, but she had my best interests, and those of my wife and kids, at heart. She loved us the best way she knew how. She had shortcomings, no more and no less, than any other human. 

    It is hard to lose a loved one, even under the best of circumstances. I want to be free to miss my mom and be sad that she’s gone. But there are too many unresolved issues and the ensuing emotions leave me feeling more confused than anything else. I wish I had said so many things. And I wish I had given her a chance to respond. 

Serenity in a Bottle

As an alcoholic and addict in recovery, I have achieved a little sober time. The term “little” is highly subjective, of course. I’ve run into people with decades of sobriety who say they have a little sober time, and I have met those who have been sober for a month or week or day who say the same thing. From my perspective, the length of time they have been sober is huge in either person’s case, but I like when a person uses the term “little” because it implies humility on the part of the speaker. And a healthy dose of humility is a vital part of any solid program of sobriety. 

    As I said, I have achieved a little sober time. Currently, I don’t attend as many 12 step meetings as I would like. This is mainly due to the fact that I don’t currently have a license to drive. (It pains me when I think of how slow the law moves when dealing with DUI and other substance-abuse/traffic violations. People who commit these types of offenses continue to drive for months or sometimes years after they are arrested and before punishment begins. I know this from experience. I only wish I had started to serve my sentence sooner, so as to have been done with this phase of the sentence sooner. But I digress) Many people in the rooms would say that my lack of regular attendance at meetings is a recipe for disaster. Meetings are one of the basic needs for many in recovery, and people who skip them tend to have a much higher tendency to go back to their addictive behaviors. 

    There is, however, a basic need that many people in recovery overlook but which I address regularly and with as much energy as I can muster; the need to search the inner self for the light that resides therein. There is inherent beauty in every human being that lives now or in the past. Discovering this beauty, admiring it, sharing it, and celebrating it are key elements to an individual’s most productive and happiest existence while here on earth. This applies to everyone, not just addicts in recovery. And in many ways, it is the absolute basis from which any successful recovery must grow. 

    The advantage I have over those who have access to as many 12-step meetings as they desire, is that I don’t get sucked into the naturally-occurring group-think that tells those in recovery to focus on all the bad crap they’ve done and all the unhealthy ways they think. This is seen as the surest way to stay resist the all-too-common urge to backslide into old habits. But I contend that the most common result is to encourage the addict to berate himself for his mistakes to the point that he feels he is worthless and possibly beyond help. Alone at night, he may see the only way to escape the pain is to go back to the behaviors that always helped him escape in the past. It is an unfortunate fact that the percentage of people who get sober, then stay sober for the rest of their lives, is less than 15%. And the suicide rate of those who stay sober for years is much higher than the average. 

    The focus on the positive, in myself and in what I experience as my reality, is vital to my recovery, and in the happiness I feel in my sober life. It is what keeps me out of the darkness when life gets challenging, and it is what gets me through those times that the darkness comes, despite my efforts to keep it at bay. It makes the good times better, and it helps create more of those good times. Certainly, an improved attitude has not made life simple or trouble-free. But it is far more satisfying and infinitely sweeter than it was when I fixated on things I shouldn’t have done, things I shouldn’t be, and things I shouldn’t think. 

    The vast majority of addicts, if not every single one, has used, or still uses, addictive behaviors to avoid life, and themselves. That’s a lot of avoidance. Life goes on 24/7, and a person lives with himself the same amount of time, so the behaviors that are developed to get away from all that have to be pretty extensive and very thorough. Recovery demands that an addict stop all those behaviors completely. So what happens to the massive chasm that opens up in a life that was so centered around avoidance of itself? An addict is told to walk away from that gap and meet life head on, on life’s terms, which are difficult to the most well-adjusted person, under the best of circumstances. How can the addict, when encountering a moment that life pushes hard against him, manage to NOT get thrown right back over the edge, into the hole that is now wide open at his feet? Will he push back, armed with the lessons he learned that he is vulnerable, powerless, weak, manipulative, untrustworthy, dishonest, sneaky, self-centered, etc? Is this really his best defence? Are these really the tools that are the most effective?

    Anyone in recovery needs to fill that hole with meaning, with purpose, with desire - and not desire for self-gratification, but desire to create something good, to share something important, to spread some joy. When the hole begins to fill with something of substance, a person begins to feel whole. There becomes less of a need to avoid everything that he is NOT, because he begins to see all that he IS, and all that he CAN BE. 

    This all starts with self-love. 

    Finding, maintaining, and actively appreciating a person’s self-love is a journey that lasts a lifetime. Fortunately, this leaves little time for self-deprecation. 

    Which is not to say that a person who follows these suggestions will never find time to be afraid of what’s coming, or to doubt himself, his path, and his choices. On any given day I may find myself mired in fear and doubt. I may not want to get out of bed or I may just be counting the hours until I get to get back into it. I may spend time going over my gratitude list or saying affirmations to myself in the mirror and wonder “Why am I wasting my time?” And there are many times that I ask myself “Isn’t there something - anything - that I can use to take the edge off?” This is a very dicey road to go down, obviously. As a former substance abuser, I know that, deep down, there will always be a part of me that yearns to ingest something that will get me out of the present moment and into a place of peace and quiet.
    
    Is there something that I can take that won’t give me a buzz, and therefore create a false desire within myself to seek it out at times that are neither appropriate nor opportune?

    When I was introduced to the world of essential oils, I had no idea how big a part they would play in my recovery. There are a variety of oils that have been used for centuries to encourage a way of living that is free from addiction. Additionally, there are oils that help create feelings of peace, serenity, grounding, and calm. I have often taken comfort in the knowledge that I have this blend of oils and others in my home, at my disposal. When things start to unravel, the blend helps induce a sense of calm so I can think straight. It helps me get a good night’s sleep, which is imperative for me to have the energy to face a new day. As with many addicts, I have issues with anger - that are tied in with depression and a host of other self-esteem issues - and the blend helps maintain an even-keel, without as many outbursts. 

    I suppose I still rely on substances to maintain my every-day existence, but the oils don’t lead to me losing all the things I hold dear - my family, my health, my self-respect, and my sobriety. They don’t get me high. They don’t create a false reality where all is euphoric and fantastic. Rather, they help me appreciate that which is good in my reality when I’m having a hard time staying level-headed, peaceful, and grateful.  
    
    And I don’t need a dealer, or even a prescription, to get them.