Alcoholism

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

Surrender to Recover; UNITE to Face Addiction

5057210527_b5d69ae811_zHave you ever wondered why some people “get” recovery and other people–actually, most people– don’t?

I’ve asked myself that question for years. Come to find out, so has my dear friend and recovery mentor, John.

Don’t you love honest and transparent conversations with people you love?

Miracles and a servant’s attitude

I’ve known John for more than 20 years. I’ve always appreciated his direct, often matter-of-fact way of looking at recovery from alcoholism and other addictions.

He’s the one who taught me about the ickiness of self-pity (“Sometimes we sit in our own s*&t because it feels warm.”).

I’ve admired his compassionate nature and his dedication to the active growth of his spiritual life.

Last week, I learned something new about John, and it’s a biggee. I learned that as a man in long-term recovery, he never gives up on people who are so very sick with addiction, even when their lives are at risk. He never lets go of hope.

“How can I?” he asked me. “I don’t know when God is done with them.”

John believes in miracles and in being a servant of God.

The gnawing, haunting question

So, why do some people stay in recovery while a majority of people don’t?

John and I drilled deeply into the why behind never drinking or using drugs again. Or maybe a better question is why do some people surrender completely and some never do?

For me–and for John–the willingness to surrender our lives every day is a beacon that guides our travels. Oh, we continue living as willful, bull-headed people, but we make sure that the Power that guides us is bigger than our wills.

People who surrender are willing to change, to accept new ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions. They stay open to learn new things. Perhaps above all else, they are honest with themselves.

Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness–those are the essential elements that drive my life in recovery. Millions of people never reach the H.O.W. of recovery though. I believe the layers of fear, shame and self-loathing are wrapped too tightly, making it hard to break free.

Society doesn’t help–doesn’t do a very good job of ripping those layers away from the outside. If it did, maybe my brothers and sisters who struggle with addiction would find the inside work easier.

We’re working on it, though. There’s a nationwide campaign underway to help people understand why it’s necessary to treat everyone with addiction with the same love and hope that John shows his friends.

UNITE to Face Addiction

Lapel StickerUNITE to Face Addiction is a grassroots advocacy initiative that is demanding solutions to a national health crisis that impacts more than 45 million people directly.

On October 4th, the group will mobilize on the National Mall in Washington, DC to let the nation know that addiction is preventable and treatable, that far too many of those affected have been incarcerated and that people can recover.

We can eliminate the shame and stigma that can keep people with addiction trapped in a cycle of self-destruction. It’s not their fault . . . finding fault is not the point. Finding solutions is the point.

We have to make recovery mainstream so that more people and their loved ones have a welcome and broad entry point. It’s about time, don’t you think?

I’ll be on the National Mall the first weekend in October. I’d love to see you there too.

We are–and will–UNITE to Face Addiction.

Photo courtesy of Portland Prevention

What Do Josh Hamilton and I Have in Common?

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The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is human connection. ~ Johann Hari, Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs

Baseball lovers hold mighty big dreams as they follow their teams through the valleys and peaks of a 162-game season–and then maybe score seats to a World Series game.

My year was 1985–an eternity ago–when my Kansas City Royals came from behind to beat their Missouri nemesis the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Seven of the I-70 Series.

I caught the World Series long ball again in 2010 and 2011 as a newly minted Texas Rangers fan living in Dallas. My sweetie and I were able to attend several games courtesy of Major League Baseball (and their work with our former employer, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids).

That’s how I first connected with Josh Hamilton.

Josh’s dramatic rise and fall . . . and rise

One of the detriments to a public figure’s life is that everything is revealed and nothing is sacred. When I entered recovery, I worried about my employer and friends learning my deep, dark secret of addiction (Thank God we’re making HUGE strides to eliminate that stigma; more about that in next week’s post.).

But Josh had the media, including so-called “citizen journalists” circling him constantly as he trudged through his early recovery days. I tip my hat to anyone who deals with public sobriety with grace and dignity. Josh certainly did.

And his fans rallied behind him. Who cares whether they selfishly rooted for his bat or for his personal life. I’d like to think it was more of the latter than the former.

[bctt tweet=”I’d like to think that everyone in recovery from addiction is surrounded with love that is kind, gentle and unconditional.”]

Before the 2010 Series, one of my former Partnership colleagues wrote in an online journal, “I will be rooting for Josh Hamilton because he is living proof that drug addiction is not hopeless and those suffering from this disease are not helpless. Recovery is possible with the support of family, friends, professionals and in Josh’s case, caring, thoughtful teammates (who celebrated their ALCS Championship without alcohol out of respect to Josh’s recovery).”

The recovery path of Josh Hamilton hasn’t been an easy one, as is the case for so many. Maybe he distanced himself from unconditional love or maybe he succumbed to temptation.

There’s no point in picking apart why his disease came out of remission. The only person well-served by that exercise is Josh himself. But once again, the media–God bless them–scoured through his life.

A few of them found and wrote about what I know to be true about Josh–and I’ve never even met the man. Addiction is a disease that fries the brain’s circuitry and causes people to make bad decisions that put their wellbeing and those they love in grave jeopardy.

The truth about addiction

Only someone who lives with MS or cancer or heart disease can truly relate to someone else living with MS or cancer or heart disease. They don’t need to know the specifics; they just know what it’s like. The rest of us can only sympathize, love and offer support.

The same is true with addiction. Only someone with addiction can really get what it’s like to live with addiction.

That’s the bond that Josh Hamilton and I have. I may never meet him, but he is my  brother in recovery.

The very best thing anyone else can do for us is sympathize, offer support and surround us with love. That’s the key to addiction recovery.

Fortunately, after a disastrous move to Anaheim to play for the California Angels, Josh is back with the Rangers. He debuted with the team earlier this month . . . to a standing ovation of support.

He responded with several days of consecutive hits, including a pinch-hit, walk-off double to beat the Red Sox.

Coincidence? Not if you have faith in the power of human connection.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison