12 Steps

Musings on My Faith Journey

A recent lesson: When I say yes to the Universe, a spiritual vortex activates and I can absolutely trust that whatever I think about my perceived lack of time gets nullified. God steps in, says, “I’ve got this,” and I just show up. Thank you Kathryn and Christie.

One of my recent aha’s has been around how I’m the only one making choices for my good. It seems like a simple idea, yet one that is so hard to consistently execute! I even have the bonus of working a 12-step program that allows me the ultimate freedom to stay on the spiritual beam and yet I still spend too much time face-planted in the mat.

However, a recent meeting reminded me that being present to the 12 steps is something I forget–regularly. I get waaayy too busy and full of my self-importance to put God ahead of my plans.

The voices I hear in the shadows of doubt and the storms of news cycles sometimes make it hard to come back into the sunlight of the spirit. I wonder if that happens to anyone else.

When I say I’m a sensitive sort, I don’t just mean that I tend to get my feelings hurt easily. I mean that I get drawn in to others’ drama and chaos and pain, not in a let-me-fix-you way, but in a way that my soul absorbs angst and hurt and lets those things affect my present moments.

I don’t like this one little bit because feeling hopeful in those moments is nearly impossible and without hope, I really have nothing.

Oh, what to do, cries my tortured psyche! The answer is simple, but not easy . . .

Plugging into my spiritual connection, which includes living in the sunlight of the 12 steps, keeps me God-centered. I am grounded. I function where my feet are planted.

I become much less prone to worry and stress because I am trusting God in all things. My purpose is to be right here, right now, and to affect others with my good energy. If God and I are in sync, what I’m presenting are God traits of sweet love, compassion and joy.

The sunlight of the spirit is available to me all the time. Even when I forget. Even when I fall into the world’s stresses or get caught up in politics or social media or, man’s inhumanity to man.

These days, there is a channel for spreading hate that seems vicious and loud and always on. At times, it drowns out the Love Channel where soothing voices tell universal stories of redemption and truth.

Is it time to turn up the volume on our stories? Or convince others to share their personal stories?

I think so because the voices of doom and gloom are insidious and they come from bullies who believe they can shout us into silence, wear us down with their intentional divisiveness.

Standing and amplifying our voices is hard work. It’s easier to just go along, but that choice is becoming less acceptable, not when we’re in a war for love and kindness. Instead, lets get familiar with each other’s stories and raise the energy of peace and empathy for our fellow travelers.

Ready to walk? Say yes!

Celebrate Recovery Month 2016

niagara

A friend of mine sent me a text yesterday saying she relapsed with addiction. She asked me to take her to a 12-step meeting–we’re going tonight so she can establish a new sobriety date.

I’m proud of her for reaching out. But why wouldn’t she? If she suffered with food allergies and ate chocolate cake even though chocolate and gluten cause an allergic reaction, would she tell me?

With every other health condition, when we “relapse,” we get the help we need, whether it’s medical, behavioral, spiritual. There is no shame, no blame, no judgment.

Addiction is different.

I’ve often said that if I relapse I don’t know if I could face my recovery support system–my friends, my sponsor, my meetings. Man, talk about internalized shame.

But if I practice what I preach–that shame and stigma should be eliminated from every facet of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery from addiction–then I would hold my head high and say, yes, I did relapse into my disease. The chemicals in my brain rearranged my thinking and caused me to take an action I knew would be harmful.

If I practice what I preach, I would say, although I relapses, I’m here now. I’m grateful that I have X amount of time in recovery, in spite of this relapse. Yes, I have a new sober date but I’m ready to move on.

That’s likely what I’ll say to my friend tonight.

Every day is a miracle day, a day to celebrate recovery from addiction.

If you’re nice to people, do good things for others (including animals–definitely animals!), apologize when you’ve been an ass, treat yourself decently and remember to thank the God of your understanding for your recovery, then addiction stays in the back seat.

Recovery isn’t rocket science; it’s actually fairly simple. But my magnificent, magnifying mind can eff it up in a heartbeat.

When I start thinking about my needs, my plans, my desires, I’m screwed. Maybe not today. Maybe not even next week. I might be able to get away with grisly behavior for a few days, but not much more than that.

Did I run my needs, plans and desires by God? Did I pause when I was agitated or did I say the first asinine thing that came into my head? Who exactly has been in the front seat driving my MINI?

Lucky for me those errors in judgment that make me and those around me crazy have not sent me back to alcohol or other substances. I don’t know why I’ve been spared that hell on earth while others around me die every single damn day from addiction.

It could be me tomorrow. Or my beautiful love. Or my father. Or my friend.

But today, please God, let us be sober. Let us feel your power and your love, feel it surging through us like water surging at Niagara.

Then, let us turn to our brothers and sisters who struggle, to their families, and figure out a way to help them find peace. Show us how to reach out, how to open our hearts and our minds to help another who suffers.

Let us do what you would do if you were here. Let us love unconditionally as if our lives depended on it, because, in fact, they do.

Happy Recovery Month.

25 Years of One Day at a Time

Becky and Me Step-Repeat

Within 25 years, one generation begats the next. A child is born, grows up, graduates college and starts a career.

Twenty five years ago, Tim Berners-Lee introduced the web browser and the internet was made available for unrestricted commercial use. The U.S. was involved in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The 911 emergency system was tested in northwestern cities.

On May 20, 1991, in Independence, Mo, I admitted I was powerless over alcohol and made a decision to try to stay sober one day at a time. I was 30 years old and had no idea what was in store for me. All I knew was something had to change–if it didn’t I would probably kill myself.

Fast forward 25 years

Anyone who invests in his or her recovery eventually stumbles upon a milestone. Gosh, I sure didn’t know one would arrive so quickly!

Early on, there were things I had to do to stay sober. I worked with a sponsor, went to a ton of 12-step meetings, read literature and got involved in service work. Generally, I did what I was told because that’s how it worked for millions before me.

As a few years piled up, life got better and I grew more comfortable living life without alcohol. I found out that people who drink socially didn’t really understand alcoholism or its basis in medical conditions. Friends and people close to me fell away, or at a minimum held me at arm’s length, never quite sure what to make of me.

People didn’t talk about addiction back then, not outside of church basements and smoky meeting rooms. No, 25 years ago, the public talked about “those people who could quit if they really wanted to.”

Today, thankfully, we’ve made much progress when it comes to seeing addiction as a treatable health condition. The world of recovery has changed a bit for the better, although we have a long, long way to go in ridding the collective public mind of reasons to shame “those people.”

The next 25 years and beyond

There is still so much to be done because only one out of 10 people who needs treatment for addiction gets it. Someone dies every four minutes in this country.

Think about that for a second–every four minutes. That’s about 350 people each day. Then think of a fully-loaded airplane falling from the sky every day in America. Every single day.

On October 4, 2015, more than 25,000 of us staked a claim in the soggy ground around the Washington Monument in our nation’s capital. We were UNITE to Face Addiction and on that day, we ended the silence around how we treat addiction in this country.

I’m privileged to work with Facing Addiction, the national non-profit birthed on that muddy day in DC. We want to reduce the human and social costs of addiction year-by-year until this devastating public health crisis ends.

You see, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve spent the last 20 years working in the field of prevention, treatment and recovery and I’ve always been pretty open about my recovery. Now, at 25 years of sober time and 55 years on the planet, I’m through hiding anything about who I am.

Now it’s time to figure out how I can really be of service. I’m talking big picture, as in, what’s my purpose, why am I here and how can I best be of service? Not small questions, to be sure, but I think I’m up to the task of finding the answers.

One day at a time that is.

K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Sweetie

_DSC0862One of my early recovery mentors was a diminutive woman named Shirley Rapp who lived and breathed the 12 steps.

Shirley, who died a few years ago, wrapped her recovery around me when I was new and scared. She’d say, “Now honey, you’re gonna be alright. All you have to do right now is stay sober and God will take care of everything else. Just keep it simple, sweetie.”

An acronym of love

I don’t think KISS–originally known as Keep It Simple, Stupid–is talked about much anymore. I never liked that version of the acronym anyway. Shirley’s version–Keep It Simple, Sweetie, is much gentler and more loving.

When you’re new to recovery, keeping things simple is a really, really good idea (not a bad plan for long-term recovery either!) but attaching a derogatory term like stupid only emphasizes a recovering person’s low self-image and esteem.

Instead, using sweetie eliminates the negative connotation. It’s softer and helps me take it easy on myself.

Most recently, Keep It Simple, Sweetie has opened my eyes to the beautiful surroundings of working the 12 steps all over again with a woman who reminds me a little bit of Shirley.

Step One: Powerlessness and Unmanageability

Working through the steps with a couple of decades of sobriety is an interesting proposition. For instance, I didn’t really understand that honesty is involved in becoming aware of my lack of power and seeing how my life is unmanageable.

Digging into what honesty means is daunting. Think about this one: Dishonesty includes the delusion of control.

Being honest implies telling the truth which is fairly easy until you begin to consider all the lies we tell ourselves, like: we’re happy when we’re not, we’re satisfied when we’re not or we’re okay when we’re not.

So, are you completely honest today?

Acceptance is the key

The trick is to do this work with no judgment. Any thought I have like, I should know this already with 24 years in recovery needs to exit the head space.

Instead, I keep it simple, sweetie. Go easy, be loving, be gentle. Listen to the words of Melody Beattie as you say then aloud:

We do not move forward by resisting what is undesirable in our life today. We move forward, we grow, we change by acceptance.

And these words:

Overcome not by force. Overcome by surrender.

Just as I never really thought about Step One including honesty, I also didn’t realize that it included acceptance.

I’ve always just plowed through the first step as it’s written: I am powerless over alcohol and my life is unmanageable.

There’s a fairly famous story in the book Alcoholics Anonymous called “Acceptance Was the Answer” (fka “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict”) in which the author describes finally getting to the core understanding of how it is possible to stay sober.

Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept my life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

Indeed, acceptance is the necessary response to  all my problems–real or perceived–today.

Now that’s what I call keeping it simple, sweetie.

Photo courtesy of scottsann

Gay Marriage: Yay! Now, Addiction Recovery . . .

file701299029783There’s a part of me that remains awestruck by the Supreme Court decision that makes gay marriage legal anywhere in the United States. I mean, seriously, did I ever think that the law would change in my lifetime?

No I did not.

I want to believe that love always wins but then I see so many of my friends posting on social media that they’ve had to “unfriend” people they knew, were even close to. In the meantime, purported Christians with a pulpit or lectern–let’s be clear that they’re mostly just old white guys–thump their chests and quote the Bible.

“Jesus says you’re a sinner . . . but he would forgive you and so do I.” Can’t you feel the condescension? Then they try to convert you to their brand of righteousness.

Some people are natural-born dividers.

They shove a wedge between themselves and whoever thinks, acts or believes differently from them. Oh, their righteous and religious indignation is impressive, but in the end, they lose.

Why?

Because love does always win.

I’ve lived long enough and have been in recovery long enough to know that no matter what swirls around us, if we want to be happy we have to love and be loved.

Sad and depressed people focus on the things that divide us instead of choosing to see what unites us.

If it were easy, more people would choose love. But setting your sights on love takes commitment, fortitude and a willingness to let shit go. I’m telling you, love ain’t for sissies.

We’re told in 12-step meetings that love and tolerance of others is our code. Tolerance and acceptance of others’ behavior is a problem for a lot of us, especially when our “rights” are trampled.

Don’t get me wrong. I am over-the-moon thrilled that the Supreme Court ruling fell on the side of love. But I have to honest. I’m also jealous.

There is still so much love missing for people with addiction. The LGBT community suffered decades of shame and stigma before the gay marriage ruling. When will people in long-term recovery, their friends, families and supporters get to shed the shame and stigma attached to addiction and recovery?

[bctt tweet=”We don’t need a Supreme Court ruling to do right by addiction recovery.”]

Will we get a flag of freedom raised after eliminating employment and housing discrimination or criminal justice inequalities or inadequate treatment care options?

Yet people in recovery struggle every day. People trying to get into recovery fight the system’s substandard levels of response every day.

People die from addiction every single day. In fact, one person–typically a young person–dies every four minutes from addiction. That’s the equivalent of a jet falling from the sky with no survivors–every single day.

The time to show love is now.

We’re ramping up to a phenomenal rally on the National Mall in DC on October 4th. Called UNITE to Face Addiction, tens of thousands of people will descend on the nation’s capital demanding recognition of the love that it takes to stand up for recovery.

My sweetie and I will be there. I’ve already told her to prepare for me to be a blubbering mess. I don’t care because on that day, I’ll stand on the Mall as a gay woman with marriage rights and as a person in long-term recovery.

I can almost feel the love now.

Photo courtesy of Arashdeep