Walking with an Attitude of Gratitude

cdmMy wife tells me that I am truly a creature of habit.  One habit I have gotten into is walking to church on Sunday morning.  At a leisurely pace, the trip takes about 15 minutes.  This past Sunday the sky was overcast and rain seemed likely.  I could have driven but I made arrangements instead to get a ride back home if a typical New Orleans deluge hit.

Despite the rain, I wanted to walk because I have come to value the entire church going process as a big part of my weekly recovery – an opportunity to escape my false self/persona for a bit and explore and live into my true self.

As I walked this Sunday I reflected how I traveled these same streets some 40 years ago as a practicing alcoholic.  Then my frame of mind was on how life sucked, everyone was out to get me, etc. etc. and if you had to deal with all that, you would drink too.  I compared that past with my standard line today – I have not a problem in the world that is not of my own making.  This Sunday, I felt an exceptional rush of gratitude that in retirement I am able to have a second shot at living in my favorite city in North America.  I had the same sense of well-being when I went to the French Quarter last night in the rain for some coffee and beignets, assured the Cafe Du Monde would be reasonably empty of the tourist crowd.  I thought about how my wife and I came to New Orleans on our first trip together, later spent our honeymoon here, and now have been able to return.

And I realize too that all of this only comes through continued recovery and it all goes away if I choose to drink, drug, or live into my addictions today.

For all that, I am truly grateful.

Asking the Why Question, Part 2

eckoFollowing up on the last post . . .

Only those who go through something of Calvary and of the descent into hell, not alone but in solidarity with Christ who has been there, can find that life which comes through deliverance from the captivity of the false self.

Kenneth Leech, We Preach Christ Crucified, p. 83, Cowley Publications.

 

Death is not just physical dying, but going to full depth, hitting the bottom, going the distance, beyond where I am in control, fully beyond where I am now . . . When you go into the depth and death, sometimes even the depths of your sin, you come out the other side – and the word for that is resurrection.

Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond pp. xx-xxi, Josey-Bass

 

To qualify my use of the above quotes.  I don’t mean them as bible thumping tracts of crucifixion and sin.  Rather, I use these examples as a hitting bottom and a surrendering to the reality of addiction.

So, I wonder if that action of hitting bottom is something that is not unique, but certainly prevalent, in addiction recovery or the reality of dealing with any extreme trauma/issue.  And hitting bottom means making a decision to engage something along the lines of the first three steps 1) admitted we were powerless and unmanageable, 2) recognizing the need for a reliance on something outside ourselves for recovery, 3) made a decision to develop a relationship with that entity to start the recovery process.

And that process can result in a resurrection with such a profound feeling of rejuvenation and gratitude that when asking the Why question, a prominent focus is Why am I so blessed to be in recovery when so many others continue to suffer?

So, is it the resurrection that allows one to prioritize the positive over the negative when asking the Why question?  Is it because those who have been resurrected and released from their bondage of addiction know the negative but want to live into the positive?

Just some thoughts . . .

Asking the Why Question

luminoussunriseI was in a discussion group of non-alcoholic folks the other day.  The topic for the discussion was asking the “Why” question along the lines of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and so forth.  All of the questions focused on why negative stuff happens.  The leader of the group noted we tend to only ask the question why bad things happen.  The negative focus struck me as odd. For the past 10 years or so, the “Why Me?” thought has been in my head as well.  In fact, I have a half-formed series of essays for a book I had already titled – “Why Me?”  But the “Why Me?” I had been thinking about was asking why I have been blessed with now over 30 years of sobriety through the 12-Step recovery process of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I am reasonably new to the discussion group of folks and wondered if I was somehow missing the point.  I hesitated at first, but then I decided to speak.  I noted how fortunate I considered myself, when noting that the success rate in addiction recovery is notoriously poor.  I continued about how I knew recovery had nothing to do with intelligence or even an objective need – there were plenty of smart people who were dying of the alcoholism.

I like the odd person out.  Only one other person out of 20 commented along a similar positive line, and noted their activity in an Alanon Program.

On reflection 24-hours later, I am more convinced than ever of the correctness of answering the question in the affirmative as well.  I certainly don’t want to dismiss my co-participants as somehow only dwelling on the negative, but giving priority to the positive is an incredible gift I have been given in recovery.  For that I am grateful.

So, What is this Sobriety Anniversary All About?

bandI have given this sobriety anniversary business more thought.  A couple of folks here and on Reddit took me to task for my last post. They reminded me that sobriety anniversaries are less about me, and more a demonstration to others that the program works.  These responses are important.  I have posted before about how I “recycle” my sobriety coins at each anniversary.  I reconsidered the essence of my thinking on this point. I concluded that I wanted to double down on my sentiment, and the message I pass on to others as well:

  • My recovery has less to do with the fact that I have not engaged directly in my “addiction of choice” for a certain period, but more how I have lived through those years.  I have posted before that my behaviors in recovery have been less than ideal and sometimes I question if the appropriateness of my behaviors are commensurate with my length of sobriety.
  • Part of my thinking on this certainly comes from my eating disorder recovery process.  (For the non believers, I consider ED as serious/lethal as alcohol or drug addiction.)  In OA, everyone defines their own abstinence, and the definition can be a moving target.  For example, while I was up at 12,000 feet for several weeks this summer, I adapted my diet to include some foods I would not eat in New Orleans.  And so forth.
  • I am less interested that my sobriety anniversary is August 4, 1984, my nicotine-free anniversary is December 31, 1997, and my eating disorder abstinence date is December 15 (?), 2015.  What is important to me is that in August of 1984 I made a decision to begin living life on life’s terms instead of practicing my addictions to escape.  If I relapse on alcohol tomorrow, eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, or smoke a cigar that first decision date in 1984 will remain the same.
  • I have come to view not actively practicing my addiction as the opportunity to begin the process of discovering and living into true self.  I don’t believe I can do that while anesthetized with my addiction of choice.  I also know that from my experience over the past three decades, that my behaviors at times have not been ideal and have the potential to be filled with as much “self-will run riot” as when actively practicing my addictions.
  • I don’t want to be viewed primarily as an old-timer with accumulated experience, strength, and hope based on seniority.  Yes, over the years I have learned a lot about what works and what does not work in recovery, and can/do pass that on – in fact, that is my primary reason for writing this blog!  But I thoroughly enjoy, count on, and look forward to knowing that I can learn as much from the person with one week of sobriety about living into true self and recovery as someone with three decades of sobriety.  I want to stay “green” in that regard and open to those possibilities.

In the above contexts, I am not primarily interested in sobriety anniversaries.   More important than my length of sobriety is what I have chosen to do with that recovery opportunity.  For that, I am grateful.

No More Sobriety Anniversaries?

My HipstaPrint 4[2]I had an interesting experience yesterday.  August 4, 1984 is my sobriety anniversary.  Yesterday was August 4 marking my 32 years of sobriety – and I completely forgot about it!  I remembered only when checking my email about 9:00 PM last night and I received a congratulatory note from a friend.  My explanation for the forgetting is two-fold.  First, yesterday was a 21-hour marathon trip back to New Orleans from Lima, Peru and I was engrossed in that activity.  Second, and more importantly, of late I have been thinking about the significance of these anniversary dates.

It seems when I hit 1, 5, 10, and 20 years of sobriety, those were significant milestones for me – intervals that seemed good markers of time.  But the longer I stay sober, the less significant are annual anniversaries, and the more significant is each day and the entire thrust of my existence.  I find that as time passes, I am more reflective of my recovery process.  This reflection is reinforced by my finally dealing with my compulsive overeating addiction.  As I have talked about in the past, dealing with eating disorder is truly a day-at-a-time process and certainly requires more attention to the “isms” that I have eaten over well before I picked up the first bottle of alcohol on July 4, 1962.

So, I am finding that the longer I travel down a recovery road, the more I am able to focus on the daily process and find the annual events take a backseat.  More than ever before, I am coming to ascribe to the understanding that I have only as much recovery as I put into it, today.

 

 

What Recovery/Sobriety/Abstinence Means to Me.

vinetreeFor the past 7 months I have been “abstinent” in Overeaters Anonymous.  I define that abstinence by not adding sugar to what I eat, not eating something in which one of the first three ingredients is sugar, and not bingeing on food.  I have been nicotine free following a 12-Step program for some 18 years.  In one week I will be sober in Alcoholics Anonymous for 32 years.  What does all of this really mean?  A few points:

  • I am reasonably in awe of the fact that were I not in recovery, most of what I do today would not happen.  As I write this, I am sitting in a colleague’s house in Lima, Peru.  The colleague was a childhood friend of the daughter of my wife.  I met my wife when I worked in Northeast Louisiana after receiving a graduate degree from the University of Illinois, where I had received a full scholarship after graduating with an MA from the University of Cincinnati where I had gone back to college in 1985 after waiting the recommended one year before making any major life decisions in sobriety.  As my pre-recovery attempt at college produced a whopping 0.7 GPA, I can reasonably attribute sobriety to launching me on the path that led me to sitting in Lima, Peru, today, where I type this post.
  • For alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, “sobriety” is unambiguous – I don’t put those substances in my body.  Abstinence from compulsive overeating is not so universally defined.  In OA the individual defines their own abstinence.  To some, such a self-definition is the equivalent of deciding to drink only beer and not hard liquor, etc for a self-defined sobriety.  I view abstinence as the same as sobriety in abstaining from those foods or eating behaviors that cause me problems.  Sugar is one.  Binge eating is another.
  • In recovery from compulsive overeating, a rigid adherence to a set of rules or regulations would be akin to a diet – something that has never worked for me.
  • I have learned in the past 30 years that recovery has little to do with actual substance to which I am addicted.  Putting down the bottle, the pill, the cigarette, the food only allows me the clarity to begin living life on life’s terms and a path toward discovery of true self that I masked with my various drugs of choice.
  • In this way, when I entered the University of Cincinnati in 1985 with one year of sobriety, being physically sober allowed me the clarity and the ability to take tests, write papers and perform the mechanics of going to school and being accountable.  But the process of recovery, an attitude of gratitude, a belief in hope, and a desire to live life fully enables me to take those steps forward and to climb out of the bottle of addiction.
  • In this way, recovery is marked less by the date I stopped using a specific substance to avoid living life, but rather the day I decided to move forward with living life fully on life’s terms and to begin the journey to discover my true self.

 

The Honor of Being Asked in Recovery

dinner

My annual month or so trip to the rural Peruvian Andes usually ends around the time of my sobriety anniversary – August 4, 1984. Given the timing and circumstances, I tend to be reflective about life in recovery during these trips.

The other night my Peruvian colleague Elizabeth and I hosted a small dinner for a family with whom we have become quite close. In a week or so we will serve as Godparents for a baptism in the family and Best Man and Maid of Honor at the parent’s wedding. At the dinner, besides sharing a meal, kicking the soccer ball in the kitchen with the children, and general conversation, we also discussed the wedding and baptism plans.

The father expressed apologies for needing to change the date for the events.  Locating his baptismal certificate proved a problem, taking him to several nearby towns seeking out clergy who might have the record. You cannot be married by the Roman Catholic church in Peru without a baptismal certificate. Turns out that because the father was so ill as an infant he was given an emergency sacrament short of a baptism because he was not expected to live. I don’t get that theology. Ultimately though, a payment to the local clergy of 100 soles (about $30.00 US) was able to secure a baptismal certificate, without the need of the actual administration of the sacrament. I do understand that theology.

The mother who was raised by her grandparents did not remember ever being told she was baptized, nor did the grandparents have any recollection of the event. However, a visit to the church 2 hours away did produce a baptismal certificate for her.

The children’s baptisms and wedding will take place at 8:00 AM on Friday morning –  a convenient time for the clergy. The mother noted the early hour would require leaving the village at 3:00 AM to get to the city in time to get the children dressed and the girls’ hair styled properly. We suggested instead that we go down the night before, pay for a couple of hotel rooms that would have hot water so everyone could be well rested and fully ready for the events. We will make a visit down a few days ahead of time to make all the necessary arrangements for the hotel, clothes, celebration, food, and other details.

Elizabeth and I have expressed and reflected on the honor in the roles that we are invited to play with the family. I have known the family for about 4 years now, more regularly and well for the past 3 – Elizabeth for the past 6 years. Several things about the family stand out to me. The mother and father always have friendly and playful conversations. The children are simply a delight – well adjusted, bright, caring, and friendly little people. Their home is a place of joy and comfort. Both the father and mother work very hard to build a future for their family.

I am honored to play a small role in their lives.

What does all of this have to do with my sobriety anniversary and recovery in general? Thirty plus years ago I was broken – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – I had nothing to give and only sought for my next drink. Were it not for my walking a recovery path, one day at a time, I would never have the opportunities I have today.  I would never have gotten to know Elizabeth or the Peruvian family. I am grateful too, though this is a one-day-at-a-time program, that the rewards of recovery continue to pile up to allow me to participate more fully as a human being in this world. I am blessed with over thirty years of recovery from alcoholism. I just realized that this year at the age of 64, with 32 years of sobriety, I have been sober half as long as I have been alive.  That too is a blessing.

The ultimate relevance of this story to recovery is what I remember reading in the AA Big Book during my 30-day detox program.  The goal of AA was to allow alcoholics to become functioning humans contributing to society.  That is all I ever wanted, and I have gotten that and so much more!