Viewing entries tagged
strength

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. 

The Strength of an Addict

   In 12-step recovery, the addict is encouraged to dig deep into his past, and into himself, and honestly look at all the wrongs he is guilty of - in action and in thought. Not surprisingly, the process is painful, and it is frequently met with a considerable amount of resistance. But it is urgently suggested as a crucial part of any real recovery. To lay claim to the misdeeds of one’s past and the unhealthy thoughts that exist in the present is to begin to build the base from which a healthy future may evolve. By contrast, to ignore one’s indiscretions is to ignore responsibility for one’s life in its entirety, as opposed to just taking credit for the good stuff.        

    Not that you will find many addicts bragging about - or even mentioning - many of the good things they’ve done or are capable of doing. Go to a 12-step recovery meeting, and you will hear tales of manipulation, crimes committed, and degradation. Honest and open monologues will contain confessions and self-reproval. Once a person gets comfortable in the rooms, he discovers the huge relief that comes with divulging the truth. He finds he can talk about things that he dare not discuss anywhere else, and it is incredibly liberating to get the garbage off his chest. He begins to be free from the suffocating weight of the lies and deceit of which he is guilty.

    Unfortunately, the relief found in confession too often leads to pleasure taken from personal derision. What begins as a tool for self-improvement becomes an exercise in self-pity. An addict loves any action that provides immediate pleasure, and the diatribe that derives from internal conflict provides instantaneous and powerful release. It becomes easy to spew the rhetoric of resentment, because there is little work involved. All you need is a person to face while you complain. 

    Frequently an addict will be stuck for years in this part of his recovery. The spiritual flagellation he subjects himself to becomes as much a bad habit as his drug/behavior of choice. Eventually, he builds himself up to be the martyr who deserves to never be free from the ever-present guilt that he welcomes into his soul. He is grateful for the feelings of self-deprecation and defines himself with them. He may laugh and joke while among his brethren in recovery. He will smile while being quick to volunteer service to other addicts in and out of recovery. But away from the rooms, he is miserable. His truth is that of an irredeemable and undeserving soul.

    But what part of the truth remains undisclosed? 

    What too many addicts fail to concede is their own brilliance. There are astounding qualities that exist amid the sea of crap that they envision as their life. The problem is that digging deep to discover, nurture, and share these qualities takes work. And most addicts in recovery are sick of digging, because digging a hole to hide from life is what they did for so many years.  

    I challenge you to go to a 12-step recovery meeting and tell 5 of the attendees that they are beautiful souls who deserve peace, love, and happiness in their lives, regardless of what they may have done while in active addiction (or recovery!). At least four will look back at you with doubt in their eyes and say nothing. Or they may deflect the statement with a comment about how they are grateful that their lives are not worse, although past actions could have easily made them so. Or they will flatly deny that they deserve anything but repercussions for their sins and a life sentence of active atonement.

    I have found very little encouragement for recovering addicts to celebrate the good aspects of themselves. There is a lot of talk about gratitude, but it is always in reference to things outside of themselves, or the good fortune that their addiction did not create more mayhem than it did. It is extremely rare to hear anyone express joy simply for the fact that they are a powerful, living spirit. Nobody says they are awesome or that they have much to contribute to society. Each and every addict has something inside that the world sorely needs, but this fact is actively ignored. Instead addicts are told to list all of their shortcomings, to share with one another their misdirected thoughts, and to remain alert for unhealthy desires. They were in the throes of addiction, and they are still susceptible to addictive thinking and actions. To combat their dark side, they are told to focus on all the wrongs, the bad, the ugly. 

    I assert that all this self-disparagement is a waste of time. Yes, you did some crappy things, and, yes, you are a less-than-perfect person with the propensity to make mistakes or even to do unto yourself at the expense of others. Undoubtedly, there is room for improvement. But you’re not going to change anything by sitting around, exclaiming what a waste of human tissue you are. Beating yourself up is non-productive, self-serving, and easy. Nobody can cry a wider river of tears for you than you can. It is very possible that most of those people who you harmed don’t think about you nearly as much, nor with as much intensity, as you think of them. You probably are just not that important to them. 

    On the other hand, when is the last time you thought about any of these people without regret, remorse, or guilt? Do you remember, did you ever know, what made any of these people wonderful human beings, and how did they touch your life in a positive way? Certainly, if any of these people have absolutely no redeeming factors in the way their lives intertwined with yours, they are far in the minority. And if there are no good thoughts that go out toward these people, have you at least saved any for yourself? What did you tell yourself today that was an affirmation about how incredible you are? What interesting and unique gift do you possess that you took a moment to appreciate? Where do you place yourself on your gratitude list? Are you even on it?

    If you take only one thought away from these words you are reading, let it be this : 
    You are a child of the Universe.

    I’m not going to get into a discussion of who or what you believe in, because has no bearing on the above statement. The two indisputable facts that have relevance are : you were born, and you exist in this Universe. You want proof? Just look into the mirror - there you are. Now look out the window - there it is. 

    You were born to shine. One way or another, emitting one type of ray or another. It’s up to you to find out how to shine and what colors to transmit. This is the part that takes work. It’s what will cause pain and confusion and frustration. But it will also bring about the fullest sense of happiness and purpose you can imagine. And it can only be achieved by letting go of debilitating guilt about the past, while retaining the responsibility of ownership of the past. Addicts are most hard-pressed to find the beauty that lies within. But it’s been there since birth, and it cannot be destroyed. Poke around inside your mind and you’ll find it. Keep looking, and you’ll figure out how make it an active part of your life. Once you do that, you won’t have time to drag your feet and talk about what a terrible person you are. 

    Everyone who walks the earth has a responsibility to lift us all just a little higher than when he arrived here. You can’t lift anything when you live in negativity. And when you focus on every lousy thing you ever did and every lousy thought that passes through your head, you are doomed to live in negativity. Try being nice to yourself, loving yourself, admiring yourself, trusting yourself. Own the awesome power that lies within. Be as open and honest with your good points as you are with the bad. You will be able to help lift the human race by sharing yourself with the Universe in ways that you may never have imagined. 

    The important thing to realize is this -  You still can shine. Today, tomorrow, next week. No matter how much time you spent in the darkness, and no matter how deep you dug. The opportunity to live again is in front of you right now. Begin by loving yourself for all the wonders that are you. They don’t have to be unusual or unique to be amazing. The tiny and seemingly inconsequential ingredients all play a part in the mix of mind, body, soul, and stardust that is walking around this earth and answers to your name. 
   
     But you can't heal if you focus only on the poison.