Recovery

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.

I'd like to think that everyone in recovery from addiction is surrounded with love that is kind,… Click To Tweet

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

Ho-Hum About Recovery? Notice Your Words

It’s our responsibility in recovery to use respectful, honest, health-giving words. We can no longer use defeating, shaming, or derogatory words. ~ Touchstones: A Book of Daily Meditations for Men ©1986, 1991 by Hazelden Foundation.

Well damn. There’s that three-letter phrase that all-too-often kicks my butt: “responsibility in recovery.” Whenever I read the words or hear them, I revert to a dirt-kicking kid who whines, “No, I don’t wanna be responsible (add a foot stomp for emphasis).”

The Touchstones reading says that we have a responsibility to use words that are positive, or “health-giving.” We’re even told the kind of words we can’t use–not shouldn’t use–but can’t use.

Or else what? That’s my question; maybe yours too.

Or else we lose recovery? Possibly, in a manner of speaking. I may not drink alcohol again if I speak badly of myself or others, but I know from repeated experiences that I will probably end up consuming a cocktail of bitterness laced with guilt and regret.

And those are the things that could cause an addiction relapse.

The power of words

The words you use are the thoughts that become your experiences. #PositiveWords Click To Tweet If you’re a Tony Robbins fan, you’re probably aware of his Transformational Vocabulary approach to describing experiences.

Tony says the words that you use to describe your emotional state become your experience.

Speaking of words, the Global Language Monitor reports there are 1,250,109.8 words in the English language, as of January 1, 2014. (By the way, the millionth word was Web 2.0, which seems like two words to me, but hey, tomato/tomahto.)

Robbins claims there are more than 3,000 words in Roget’s Thesaurus for various emotions. Of those, 1,051 words represent positive emotions and 2,286 are for negative emotions.

Let that sink in for a minute. We are more than twice as likely to describe our emotions with negative words than with positive words. Remember: The words you use are the thoughts that become your experiences.

Is this hocus-pocus language stuff true?

I believe my state of being–of how I show up each day–tells the tale. Lately, I’ve been agitated, short-fused, impatient and overly sensitive. I haven’t been sleeping well and I’ve been jumping into work most mornings without my usual quiet journal time.

When I go back and look at the language I’ve used to describe my feelings, the phrases are I’m not worthy, I’m not good enough, I’m not smart . . . you get the idea.

Well, jeez, it’s no wonder I’m all out of sorts! It’s time to turn this ship around!

I read an article recently that made me realize I’m practicing irresponsible recovery, the opposite of what the Touchstones reading advises. See what you think: “Do You Have an Addictive Personality? There’s Hope for You” in TheElephantJournal.com.

Author Monique Amado lists 10 ways we can improve our recovery lives by focusing on what we do want instead of what we don’t want. You’ll see why I’m enamored with this whole language thing.

1. Acknowledge that you can’t go on like you have.

2. Change your thinking by replacing disempowering thoughts with empowering thoughts.

3. Become aware of the words that are coming out of your mouth.

4. Stop saying mean things to yourself.

5. Start saying kind things to yourself.

6. Be intentional about your action.

7. Tell someone.

8. Notice.

9. Be gentle with yourself.

10. Don’t give up. Ever.

If you want to go a little deeper into what Monique wrote, be sure to click the link above the list. It’s really great stuff. If all 10 are too much to tackle, focus on the ones I’ve highlighted in bold, and especially on #10.

As a wise woman said to me recently, you’ve got to learn to love yourself. Do not ever give up on you.

Observations From a Month Underwater

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Water, water everywhere. Most of the country knows about the intense flooding in Texas where I live.

There was enough rain in May to submerge the entire state–all 262,000 square miles–in eight inches of water. At this writing on the last day of May in North Central Texas, we’re experiencing a sunny day, one of only a handful this month. In the past week alone, we swam through double-digit inches of falling water.

Just as I’m grateful for the sun today, I’m also grateful for a refreshed commitment to recovery.

Celebrating sobriety?

May is also the month that I entered recovery 24 years ago. Although I picked up my chip and participated in my group’s recovery celebration, I spent the better part of the month wondering whether I deserved the recognition. I guess you could say that my recovery, like much of Texas, was underwater.

Recovery for me had become as cloudy and overcast as the Texas skies. Turbulent and unstable patterns threatened both my mental condition and weather conditions. To be fair, there were several factors that contributed to the perfect storm formation, but like an amateur storm chaser, I refused to believe the conditions were beyond my control.

My ego pushed me forward in repeated attempts to right-size when I should have leaned into the wall cloud of change. The bruises and battering could have been avoided, but then, I may have missed the lesson in how to… Click To Tweet

Now I know that I needed to flounder in the murky undercurrent so that I could once again appreciate the quality of clear-water living.

Getting into the solution

We know a little bit about being sick and tired of living sick and tired, don’t we? As years accumulate within this fabulous adventure of recovery, we get to watch the tides of high- and low-water moments.

I don’t know about you, but even at this junction of life and sobriety, I can still slip deeply into low- thinking. May found me swimming with the twin sharks of low self-worth and self-esteem. It seemed that the harder I swam, the more those damned sharks bit at me.

Finally, on Memorial Day, a thought popped into my mind, a GUS-inspired thought (God-Universe-Spirit):

Stop swimming.

The thought swelled enough that I did stop long enough to hear the second thought:

Drop the rock.

What rock? I didn’t realize I was swimming with a gigantic rock around my neck; it had been there long enough that I stopped noticing.

As quickly as GUS pointed it out, I saw it. The Rock was all the accumulated debris of a mind flooded with sludge thoughts.

What makes you think you’re worth that 24-year chip? What do you have to offer? Careful . . . if you screw up they won’t want you anymore. Oh please, do you really think they’ll want to keep you around when the project is finished? Watch out . . . any minute they’ll figure out you’re a fraud.

Please, God, help me drop the rock.

Help me let go of everything that builds a dam of unworthiness in my soul. Show me how to let the clean waters of good attitude flow again. Teach me how to once again sparkle and shine with your sunlit solutions.

Together, let’s begin the cleanup process. Yes, it’s been a wild and unpredictable May, but it’s June now and it’s time to come out from underwater.

Photo courtesy of kconnors

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.

Standing still in chaos--from forces around you or inside you--will fix a hurting heart. Click To Tweet

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.

My ego doesn't know jack about recovery. Click To Tweet

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