Sobriety & Mardi Gras

rcatrayne

On duty at the Port-o-Potty station at Rayne Memorial.

Where we live in New Orleans is referred to as the Mardi Gras Box.  That means we are boxed in by the Uptown parade staging area and the parade route that have been very active for the past ten days.  The mode of transportation that works best is a bicycle.  Although I enjoy the season a lot, by a couple of days ago I was pretty much Mardi Gras’d out and look forward to a quiet Lenten season beginning this Wednesday.  This year is the first time since the mid-1970s I have been in New Orleans for the entire Mardi Gras season.  Like the Christmas season that extends well into the pre-Thanksgiving period, the same is true for Mardi Gras parades.

Yesterday I had a revealing reflection on Mardi Gras Past and Present.

I took a geographic cure out of New Orleans in the fall of 1975.  I remember a couple of distinct events from that year’s Mardi Gras.  I had been suicidal from the absolute depths of depression but had kept from effectively acting on same.  On Mardi Gras day as the parades ended, I remember running as fast as I could down Tchoupitoulas Street because I was afraid if I stopped running my brain would leave my head and I would never be able to get it back – demonstrating my ability to hallucinate from alcohol consumption beyond the imaginary cockroaches and tremors when I tried to detox on my own.  I don’t remember much else from that day, except I was apparently responsible for “borrowing” a neighbors car without their knowledge, and woke up on the river levee sometime later.  After leaving New Orleans in 1975 I still had another nine years of drinking left before I got sober.

coat

Initial fitting a month ago of my coat of many colors.

Mardi Gras in 2017 is quite a bit different.  This past Thursday I was volunteering at the port-o-potties that my church sets-up as a youth fundraiser on the St. Charles Avenue parade route.  My church, Rayne Memorial, is also located within “the box” and just a 10-minute walk from our house.  During my five shifts of directing folks to an open unit or in administering the post-use squirt of hand-sanitizer, I experienced friendly convivial festival folks, mostly families – the antithesis of my drunken state over 40 years ago.  At our church service on Sunday, the spirit was one of celebration.  Tomorrow, is Mardi Gras and my wife and I will join another couple and take a slow walk along the St. Charles Avenue parade route to the French Quarter, watch parades along the way, have lunch, and then with any luck get a taxi back uptown, or walk if need be.  I will be sporting my “coat of many colors” that my wife made for me, and will dye my hair and beard blue.  I will remember it all and expect to have a thoroughly enjoyable day.

My wife and I will wake up the next morning to the peace and quiet that only Ash Wednesday brings to New Orleans.  I will start transplanting the germinated cucumbers, okra, basil, and other herbs and vegetables I started a couple of weeks ago.  There are sunflowers, purple cone, and bunches of other stuff to get going as well.  We still have several raised beds that we want to build this year near our citrus trees.

I remain eternally grateful for the opportunity to return and live in my favorite city in North America and experience a Mardi Gras of celebration, knowing fully that I am one drink away from the hallucinations and insanity of the past.

garden

My view as I write this from our porch with a view to our back yard with in process raised beds and gardens.

 

 

 

What Do I Want From Life In Recovery?

img_2159

Stop what you are doing. Take several deep, cleansing breaths. Ask yourself: “What do I want for my life?” Listen for the initial responses. You can even jot them down. Keep asking yourself, “What is beneath that? What is my heart’s deepest longing?” When you finally hear the response at the bottom of your soul, write it down. Keep it simple. Say it in one sentence: “I want….”

Then begin to meditate on the phrase that comes to you. Do not try to figure it out. Do not get caught in the mind’s resistances, the many reasons why that life is impossible. Do not waste time wondering what people will think. Do not try to figure out how that life can work practically. The soul is not practical. The soul simply wants what it wants. Life will dance with the soul to find a way.              ~ William Thiele

 

The above quote is from a blog post written by William Thiele, the founding Spiritual Director of the School for Contemplative Living here in New Orleans.  If the above resonates with you, I urge you to read William’s entire post.

Here is why the exercise William proposed resonated so much with me – When working with young adults, I encourage them to think long, hard, and broadly, about how they envision their ideal career.  We go back and forth over multiple sessions examining possibilities of how to have their deep passions meet the needs of the world.  But for myself, I have not thought that through deeply for my life beyond career.  At the age of 64, my standard response to the question posed by William “to have meaning” is not adequate.

This question applies to my addiction recovery life too.  I have blogged before how the AA Promises have certainly come true in my life.  I recollect quite clearly laying in a detox bed on August 4, 1984 and only wanting to be a normally functioning member of society.  Since that time I received so much more.

But today in retirement, I find that I can replace my freedom from all those dreaded meetings and reports of my work life with a myriad of other tasks and projects that divert and frustrate me – and I wonder how I got into this or that commitment that does not really feed what I seek in life.

Here are some cases in point:

  • This morning I overheard someone of about my age who recently spent a couple of weeks in intensive care, now in full recovery, comment how for years he kept an Atlas under his bed and would take it out and dream of places he and his wife could go.  He noted it was now time to stop dreaming but doing.
  • My wife and I have had dreams, many that we have lived into and made real.  Yet we realize the continued need to be very intentional about how we spend our most precious commodity, time, as we live into the future.
  • Today in the U.S., there is a pressing need for action on a very broad range of social, political, and economic needs.  Where can my skills and passions be best used?
  • Living into my Christian values and responsibilities of justice for all of God’s creation certainly can take me down many paths.

And the list goes on.  I commit in the coming months to follow William’s exercise, to think mindfully and meditate on the phrase or thought that arises, and be willing to live into what comes forward when asking “What do I want for my life?”

What does all this have to do with recovery? Had I not started down a recovery road over 30 years ago, I would not be asking myself these questions today.  I fully suspect I would be dead.  If still living I would be in such deep throes of my alcoholism that such life affirming questions would be the furthest thing from my mind.

Co-Creation in Recovery

img_2159

By and large, what human being want is resurrection without death, answers without doubt, light without darkness, the conclusion without the process . . . When the Spirit is alive in people, they wake up from their mechanical thinking and enter the realm of co-creative power.

Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance, p. 146

 

In my professional life over the last 30 years I worked in the field of cultural heritage where I published a bunch of articles and some books.  A couple of years ago I noticed that the past half-dozen or so pieces I published had the word “co-creative” in the title.  I am rather evangelical about cultural heritage professionals co-creating with a community to meet the expressed need of that community.  When I see the word “co-create” in any context, I usually take note, such as the Richard Rohr quote above.

My sobriety and recovery in general is very much a co-creative affair.  My expressed need is sobriety/abstinence that is co-created with the support of other folks, organizations, or entities who can provide their experience, strength, and hope.  As in my professional world when working with communities, if I am not willing or interested in “co-creating” that recovery, it ain’t going to happen.

That is the obvious and simple part of lesson.

The more exciting part is the end product of co-creation.  In the museum world, when the process is truly co-creative and based in the community interests, and not what I perceive to be their interests, the end results are richer and more rewarding than anything I could dream up on my own.  In a similar way in sobriety, through living in the process over the years, and co-creating with the resources provided by so many others, and not just going on my own, I am amazed at the possibilities recovery has brought.  I so distinctly remember laying in that detox ward on August 4, 1984, wanting only to somehow function on a day-to-day basis in the real world.  The years have brought me so much more.

As the title of this blog clearly states, I too have learned that recovery is a process and not an event.  I remember an experience in my first year of sobriety.  I was desperately waiting for a situation to resolve itself.  At the time, I recalled that in the past I would have just gone out and drank over the issue.  But, I also thought that if I just stuck it out sober, I would learn from the experience and the next time would be easier to get through the same thing without drinking.  That insight in year one of sobriety proved so incredibly true, particularly in three decades of hindsight.

What I have learned over the years is that if I trust in the process, live into the process, not as an isolated being, but as part of a luminous web of interconnected co-creating humanity, I stay on the recovery road, with all of its blessings and responsibilities.

Truth & Relevance in Recovery

img_1036

My own experiences with mystical truths are within the realm of experiences that result in an affirmation of beliefs.  For example, a mystical truth for me is found in Matthew (7:7-8) in my own recovery from alcohol addiction. “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

This is such a core truth for me that I have no interest, desire, or ability to explain or particularly articulate the truth.  I know the truth of this statement regardless of the probability that the historic Jesus uttered the words or not.

Me – from a talk I gave a long time ago.

This quote is from a series of classes titled “Evolution: Scripture, Tradition & Reason” I led in a Sunday School over ten years ago.  Recently, I passed on a section of that talk to the leader of a Sunday School I currently attend.  The section I passed on describes the different types of truths as discussed in Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millenium by Bennett J. Simms.  The leader of the current Sunday School e-mailed the section out to the 20 or so members of the class.

I was walking out of church this past Sunday and a woman I knew from the class approached me.  She is a long time member of the church, and I am quite new.  She is clearly from a socio-economic status far above mine.  She wanted to talk to me.  She had received the email that discussed the different types of truths and initially thought that was all fine and good, until she got to the statement on mystical truths I quote above. The woman teared up and told me that “truth” was the answer to something that she was struggling with, and in reading my statement she found direction.  She just needed to let me know.  I thanked her.

Here is my point –  the details of the woman’s situation are unknown to me and irrelevant.  But the Step 2 Came to Believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity approximation of the scriptural quote from the Christian Gospel of Matthew is relevant.   The incident is relevant too that in these times of divisive and polarized rhetoric and behaviors, by speaking all of our truths in our experience, strength, and hope, healing and the next indicated step is found.

Serenity and Living Sober

My HipstaPrint 4[2]Today is the birthday of one of my granddaughters, let’s call her Serenity.  She came along unexpectantly.  As she was raised in a single parent household, I had the opportunity to spend a good bit of time with her. I picked her up after daycare, routinely babysat, and developed a strong bond with her early on.  She has taught me a lot over the years:

  • I took her to the doctor for her one-year-old shots, which completely violated my rules of grandparenting – to cause no pain or displeasure.  When I handed her over to the doctor and she got stuck with the needles she looked at me like the traitor I was.  But I also found that a trip to Toys R Us after was able to resolve any long-term resentment.
  • I was raised in a violent household where physical abuse was the norm.  I recollect well as an 18-year-old entering college, while drinking beer in the university pool hall, a freshman psychology major informed me that I would of course abuse children too.  I was terrified of the possibility and it always stayed in the back of mind.  One day when Serenity was about two, as she took a nap, I stared at her and realized there was no way I could ever hit a child, and that fear was removed forever.
  • When Serenity was four, she was diagnosed with leukemia.  We got the call at the start of what I had earlier proclaimed to my wife would be our most fun vacation ever – taking backroads along the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca in Minnesota down to New Orleans.  After getting the news in Bemidji, Minnesota, our 24-hour drive back to Jackson, Mississippi was mostly silent.  When we got to the hospital the room was filled with family and friends.  Serenity asked me if I would take her out of the room so she could show me how she rode in the plastic cars through the hallways of children’s floor.  My job was to be certain to keep her IV stand in pace with the car as she sped around the corridor, ala the Flintstone’s foot power method.  After a couple of laps we stopped by her room and she parked the car.  She started to get out of her car, and with a somewhat embarrassed look, said her back hurt too much and she could not get up and asked if I would pick her up and carry her to her bed. That 30-seconds of time is forever etched in my brain.
  • For the next several years we spent a great deal more time together.  She often could not be in crowds depending on her “counts” of blood cells.  A favorite memory was that she was particularly fond of my focaccia bread that we would take out to the Natchez Trace Parkway and eat.  It was on the Natchez Trace that I rode my first “Century Ride” for some sort of cancer fundraiser in her honor.

Today Serenity turns 16, in remission from her leukemia.  We now live in different cities and see each other less, but still have a strong bond.

What does all of this have to do with recovery?

  • Were I not sober, I never would have had the wherewithal or likely even the desire to be a person in Serenity’s life.  I would still be racked by the conflicts of my own physical abuse as a child, waiting for that behavior to be unleashed at some point – it never has, and never will.
  • Were I not sober, I would have been to pre-occupied with my addiction to even be a presence in the life of someone else in need.
  • Were I not sober, I never would have met Serenity’s grandmother and mother, and become a part of that family.
  • Were I not sober, I would never have been trusted to have a child in the car with me.  Though I somehow avoided ever getting a DUI, I drove drunk on a very regular basis.
  • This list goes on.

Serenity is a true gift of my life in recovery for which I am grateful.

Centering Prayer & People & Recovery

Today I was sitting on a bench by the pond/lake up at Audubon Park in New Orleans.  There seemed a whole bunch more ducks than usual, making a lot of racket.  I was reading the Divine Dance by Richard Rohr for a book study with the School for Contemplative Living here in New Orleans.  I read a portion equating the Christian concept of the Trinity with the Indian concept of sat, chit, ananda.  I was struck by this is something to think about for a bit.  And I thought of the practice we do before the book study of centering prayer, which in my rather unsophisticated level, I equate to meditation of some sort.

So I set my cell phone alarm for 20 minutes, sat upright, eyes closed, and started with the inhale/exhale with the Indian words, and that was not quite working, so I reverted to the words I had used before our book study inhale/exhale – be/long – and that worked for a couple of minutes, and then I just focused on the birds and the ducks and swishing of water, and got into the zone, as it were, focusing on the squawks and the water swirling, and I came into the middle of it all with the sound completely surrounding me and the folks on walking/biking path maybe 20 feet behind me blended into an indistinct murmur and the it was all ducks and water coming from all sides – and then the cell phone alarm went off after the 20 minutes and brought me back. Bang.  I opened my eyes and adjusted to the light.

Sitting next to me now on the bench was a young African-American woman – early 20s.  I don’t know when she sat down in the 20-minute period.  It seemed odd.  There were lots of other benches along the pond that were empty.  She had on a pink biker’s helmet with her bike pulled along the side of the bench.  My bike was in front of me.  She was fidgeting in her backpack, pulling out stuff, putting it back, then she got out her cellphone and started taking pictures, stretching out to the right and so I thought perhaps she sat down to photograph the ducks, but then I saw her reflection in the cell phone and realized she was taking a selfie and then thought perhaps she was stretching to such an angle to get the 64-year old white dude sitting prone on the bench into the frame, for some study in contrast.

I reached down and pulled the Divine Dance back out of my backpack.  I broke the conversational ice and said something like “lots of ducks here today” to which she replied “Yeah, I don’t know why, maybe because of the rain yesterday” to which I said “so do you come here to watch the ducks” to which she said “well I really just stopped here for a rest from biking.”  And then the conversation took off – so she is a Biology senior at Loyola on the other side of the Park.  She had an old clunky bike but a friend gave her the one she had now which was good and she wanted to ride more.  She was from the Virgin Islands and we talked about that and how she can vote in Presidential elections because she has lived as a student in New Orleans for the past 4 years.  I asked her questions about the logistics on voting and the status of the Virgin Islands as a U.S. Territory, and she replied as she could, and then on a couple of points she did not know, smiled and said that was a good question.  I raised the possibility that she could have a couple hundred of her friends from the Virgin Islands come to the New Orleans, register to vote, and she could then get elected to some local council position, which she thought about for a second, before she got my sense of humor.

She then introduced herself as Revel and I said my name is Robert.

We then went from my poor aptitude for natural sciences and how I had used my 5th grade “All About” books so that I could understand college genetics which led to discussing Young Adult Novels and I could not think of the title of a particular book I had really liked in the YA genre, but she offered that by just doing keyword searches in Google I could probably find it, and I did Made You Up by Francesca Zappia and she made a note in her cell phone because it sounded interesting.  We talked about what she was going to do when she graduated, how she enjoyed doing service work.  She then asked if I came here often to which I said I either come here or go to the Fly when I have our dog because she would not be able to deal with all the people at the Park, plus there are benches at the Fly to sit and watch the sunset on the Mississippi.  She then asked where the Fly was that she had heard about it, and it was on her bucket list to go to before she left New Orleans, and I explained it was only on the other side of Magazine St. between the River and the Zoo.  I thought to say, I could take you up there now as it is less than a 10-minute ride, but thought better of it, for some reason.

Our conversation went on about as long as the centering prayer had.  She then got back on her bike and headed toward Loyola, said she hoped to see me around the park again – and have a Happy New Year, to which I replied in kind.

What does this have to do with recovery?

  • I find that I really am interested in things outside of myself and enjoy engaging in conversations with others.  Everything from an extensive conversation with our nextdoor neighbor on her cat that disappeared for a couple of days and came back with a clipped ear and whether that was a sign some animal rights do-gooder had the quasi-feral cat spade as a clipped ear is supposed to be a sign of same – to a convo at the P.O. with the fellow there on why he put different size stamps for the same amount on two packages I brought in that weighed the same and he smiled and explained that to me and seemed to enjoy that I was interested in a humorous sort of “this guy has a lot of time on his hands to worry about that” and he smiled too.
  • I had finished up writing a report I had struggled with for quite a while earlier in the day and rewarded myself with the afternoon off and a bike ride – instead of a 6-pack of Dixie (do they even make that anymore?) which would have led to much more.
  • In my life today, I read not just to get data in my head, but to have good things to think about and mediate on.

All of which led to a fine Friday the 13th afternoon in New Orleans, for which I am grateful.

 

 

 

Giving & Receiving in Recovery

sun-house4

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

The above words are commonly attributed to the 13th century Christian, Francis of Assisi though circumstantially, the attribution does not hold up.

The first half of the prayer talks about good and right things to aspire to sow.  But I have been thinking more about the “in giving that we receive” part.  And truly, without exception, when I take part in any “service” work in recovery, I am rewarded with a more meaningful existence.  I suspect this inherent desire to do service, to be a part of, to be in community with, or to share our experience, strength, and hope is something that is hard-wired into our True Selves.

Further, consider – when I deliver meals on wheels, serve food to the homeless, give money to a person in need, I always “feel better” after the fact.  My wife and I hosted a young woman from another country in our home for a couple of years while she was in graduate school.  Several of her family members attended her graduation.  They expressed very sincere and abundant thanks to us for hosting their daughter/niece/granddaughter.  I responded that I was very appreciative of their thanks, but needed to express my thanks to them for the opportunity to do the hosting and be in relationship.  I experience a similar sense of gratitude to the students I worked with over the years.

It is in giving that we receive.

I do not write this post to allege that I exude some sort of hyper level of altruism.  I don’t think that is the case.  I do believe that when we are mindful of “in giving that we receive” we recognize that basic truth.

The reciprocal situation is accepting from others so that they can experience the in “giving that we receive” as well.  My favorite Christmas card I received this year was from a man who “receives” where I go on Tuesday afternoons to help serve a meal and provide a night of shelter to homeless folks.  He handed me the card in an envelope.  Nothing was written on the card or the envelope.  When he gave me the card, he said, “This is not much but it is in the spirit of Christmas.”  I thanked him for the card.  I wondered if he was too rushed to sign the card.  I wondered if he had never received a Christmas card before and did not know that you were supposed to sign your name.  That is all pretty immaterial.  Accepting and thanking him for the card allowed him to be a part of the in “giving that we receive” equation.

The card sits on my desk today.

How do you take part on both sides of the “in giving we receive” equation?