Heart Connections

It’s Time to End the Silence

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See the photo above this post? It was taken last week on a sultry summer afternoon near the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

Now imagine the grassy area that you see stretching toward the Washington Monument filled with tens of thousands, maybe upwards of 100,000 people on October 4, only 70 days from this writing.

Can you see them on both sides of the reflecting pool? If you look closely at the photo, you can make out the World War II Memorial which looks like it’s right next to the Washington obelisk. Actually, it’s about halfway between the Lincoln and the Washington monuments.

About three quarters of a mile past the Washington Monument lies the Capitol Building currently encased in scaffolding. From the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall stretches nearly two miles.

Can you picture the scene on October 4th? People from every state in the nation, every walk of life, every diverse background, coming together to form a united bond against the common enemy: addiction.

It’s time; it’s our time

The UNITE to Face Addiction Rally is all-systems go for October 4th. I hope you’ve heard about it by now; I’ve written about it here a couple of times.

What is UNITE to Face Addiction? It’s a transformative event that will make history as thousands come together to ignite and build a movement to address one of the most pressing health issues of our time.

UNITE to Face Addiction is a grassroots advocacy initiative bringing together people, communities, and organizations working on addiction solutions across a wide spectrum. We are coming together 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 and do get well. Addiction can no longer be ignored.

October 4th is our day; it’s our time. At this writing, we are 70 days away from October 4th, the day 50,000+ people descend on the National Mall to help the 22 million Americans with addiction, to stand up for the 23 million in recovery and to end the silence around the crisis that kills 350 people every single day.

That’s right. One person, usually a young person, dies every four minutes from an alcohol- or drug-related incident.

It’s our time.

The National Mall

My sweetie and I wanted to get a taste of what it might feel like to be at the Rally on October 4th.
Sitting on the steps beneath the Lincoln Memorial, I could almost hear the echoes of all those who took their place in history while leaving the memories of their causes on the Mall.

I thought about how the ground had shaken with the footsteps of marchers for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights. I thought about how the water in the reflecting pool had collected all the tears shed for lives lost when breast cancer and AIDs were shameful secrets.

The very air around us absorbed decades of cries demanding freedom to live with respect and dignity, free from stigma and discrimination, deserving of empathy and respect.

Soon–in less than 70 days–people in recovery from addiction, their families and friends and entire supportive communities will take to the National Mall to stake our well-deserved place in history.  It’s time to end the silence that shrouds addiction and come together as a single unit demanding solutions.

It’s time to let the nation and the world know that we are Facing Addiction. It’s time to Recover Out Loud.

Join us, please. For more information, go to FacingAddiction.org.

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

Faith is Pointless Unless It’s Tested

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There are times in life when you come face-to-face with the naked truth and it scares the crap out of you.

I don’t care how much life you’ve lived, how much recovery time you have or what kind of experiences you’ve faced. Those are the factual details of the history of you but are not the heart of you.

And that’s what I care about–the heart of you, because when your heart hurts, you can feel like your faith is being tested.

At least that’s my experience. The trick is learning how to stand still and let your faith be tested.

Fixing a hurting heart

Here’s my naked truth: Wednesday, May 20th, is my 24th anniversary of entering recovery. Here’s what my ego has to say about the occasion:

“You would think that after 8,760 days of sobriety and somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 meetings, you would stop misplacing your faith. You’re no more than a non-drinking, 12-step fraud.”

Yikes. The words sound harsh even to me as I type them but they do speak to how I’ve felt lately.

I can’t say I’ve been restless, irritable and discontent. Floundering, distracted and lack of focus more accurately describes my state of mind.

Oddly enough, there are plenty of things that are right with my life. We had a vacation in paradise recently, my work is going well, the bills are getting paid and our dogs are healthy. But this one little-bitty area of my life–my recovery–feels off.

12-steppers are quick to point to the Big Book for answers. Lack of sponsorship, they say. Go to more meetings.

Yes, I hear you, and I need more.

I read a reference to the story of Moses leading his people out of the desert while being chased by Pharaoh’s army. When Moses and his tribe hit the Red Sea, he looks back and sees all those chariots fixin’ to run up his tail pipe. He cries out to God for help.

God tells Moses to stand still. Wait. Have faith.

Moses may well have had the faith of the ages but until that day, his faith was pointless.

[bctt tweet=”Standing still in chaos–from forces around you or inside you–will fix a hurting heart.”]

We create our own difficulties

Does your ego ever tell you you’re a fraud like mine does? After the latest round of the Who Do You Think You Are Game, I discovered that 24 years of recovery means I’m much better at recognizing my ego’s BS.

I’ve also decided that my ego doesn’t know jack about recovery. If it did, it would know that creating strange mental blank holes for me to fall into are traps that faith sees from miles away.

What are some of those strange mental black holes? They’re things like blaming sources outside of me for my pain, shaming myself for allowing something to happen and assuming something is always going to be the way it is right now.

Those things are my pharaoh’s armies. The inclination is to run harder and faster when in reality I need to heed the advice given to Moses–to stand still.

Standing still allows me to see that every single thing in my life is a result of a choice I made and if I don’t like my circumstances, I can choose differently.

[bctt tweet=”My ego doesn’t know jack about recovery.”]

Nothing is absolute and everything is changing. Just because something disturbs me today doesn’t mean it’s a forever thing, unlike the fallacies that my ego tries to pass off as truths.

The difference between happy and sad is a decision. Until my faith in the process of recovery is tested, it isn’t really faith at all.

Come to think of it, that’s quite a lot to learn in 24 years.

Photo courtesy of pippalou

9 Ways to Bring Your Vacation Back to Work

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My sweetie and I just returned from a long-overdue vacation week in the Virgin Islands. We unplugged from electronics and the web and found ourselves grateful that Verizon is the only stateside wireless carrier that doesn’t serve the islands.

Our one exception to online avoidance was to borrow wifi and log into our dogs’ playtime at Top Paw Pet Resort.  The ODoggy app let us watch our babies play!

Sucked into a spiritual vortex

Looking back over the week, two things were apparent: 1) We willingly surrendered the stress choking us, and 2) God fills the spaces where stress exits.

The first morning on the beach, I stared at the azure water encircling the mountains and thought, “what stress?”

There is something mesmerizing about sea lapping against sand that helps stress melt away. I could almost feel it oozing from my pores. I believe there is something holy about beach bumming.

Our home base on Sapphire Beach, Hill Bay with its dried out mangrove roots, Magens Bay and our Sunday morning 12-step meeting, Honeymoon Bay, Trunk Bay and the British Virgin Islands all served as the means for God and I to get tight again.

I learned a critical lesson: Whenever peace eludes me, it’s never where I search or where I think it should be. Peace is the byproduct of reconnecting with who I am and then giving myself deep and abiding love.

The re-entry after vacation

As the week drew to a close, a pit of dread started to grow in my gut. The transition back into the real world is never easy; this trip created such an imprint on my soul that I knew the reentry would be extra-tough.

During the fight home I made the decision not to bitch and moan about sliding back into real life. Instead, I decided to bring my vacation back to work with me.

How? Here are nine tips that are working for me:

1) Admire what’s at a distance without giving it your complete attention. Before this trip, I had never been face-to-face with mountains and the ocean/sea. I couldn’t stop my awestruck staring at the sheer magnificence of rock rising from water but I was aware too of the beauty right in front of me. In life, we too often focus on a future event or outcome and deny ourselves the wow-factor of the moment.

2) Look closely at what’s beneath your feet. One of our favorite past-times is searching for sea glass and shells. Sometimes the coolest pieces are found with your next footstep! IMG_4778You never know what treasure lies with each step, so keep looking!

3) Dive deep to see hidden beauty. Snorkeling is another favorite thing. This trip was the best snorkeling ever as we ventured into the caves of Norman Island, made famous by Robert Louis Stevens’ Treasure Island. We saw the most beautiful coral, rainbow fish and even a barracuda. Don’t be afraid to plunge beneath the surface of your life to catch a glimpse of hidden treasures!

4) Spend time quietly listening to the voices of nature. There is little that is more soothing to me than listening to waves splashing against the shore or seagulls in boisterous conversation. Relax, listen, and renew every single day.

5) Acknowledge fear for what it is and keep on walking. A major crime occurred at our resort shortly after our arrival that sent shockwaves throughout the island. A reporter wandering the beach (and obviously trying to sensationalize the event) stopped my sweetie and asked if she feared for her safety. Her response was classic: “No. The crime was family-related so there’s no danger of anything happening to anyone else.” Still though, we took the time to talk about our fears and then moved on. The same advice can be used in life situations.

6) Share your story and be of service. Within 24 hours of our arrival, I was asked to share my recovery story at a 12-step meeting. I also had the privilege of sharing some of my experiences with a new recovery friend dealing with family issues similar to mine. Whatever your story, sharing can pay off in amounts far greater than you expect.

7) Stretch and push to do things you don’t think you can do. My new friend suggested a terrific beach that we needed to check out. She said it was a 20-minute walk through a trail in the woods but neglected to tell us about the inclines and declines. I refused to let anything stop me–even when I saw that first steep and rocky climb! You shouldn’t let anything stop you either!

8) Be spontaneous–right now. We signed up for a tour of a new beach-front timeshare on St. John because we would get a free all-day boat trip to the British VIs. And guess what? We bought the timeshare! It felt good and right and sometimes you just have to go with your gut and trust the process.

9) Embrace new friends and friendships. We found an immediate kinship with two women in recovery. Now that we’re going back next year (and for years to come!), I am so stoked to watch these friendships blossom. I really don’t think we can ever have too many people in our friendship corner, so when the chemistry is there, fan the flames!

If you’re headed back to reality this week, I feel your pain. I hope these tips help ease your transition! If you liked this post, please share on Facebook and Twitter. You’ll have my unwavering appreciation!